As a Buddhist. Why meditate?

Some people face these questions:

  • My day to day life doesn’t allow me to meditate at all.
  • I have the feeling that i do not progress in my meditation.
  • The retreat was fine, but now all the calmness and serenity is fading away again.

Your goal would be one of the following. Reach for a place of resting, don’t reach simply for the reaching:

A.) Meditate until you get to know and master the 4 jhanas. Done. Enjoy them for the rest of your life. Meditation stops to be a struggle and becomes a dessert.[link]

B.)You want more then heaven in the next rebirth or you fear that watching a 100 bigbangs might get boring after a while? Try your local Vipassana retreat and head for at least the “Udayabbaya” stage, the insight-knowledge of rising and falling. Chances are you might enter the stream before you die [link]

C.) You prefer to taste the fruit of a stream-enterer before your death. Meditating on nibbana and experiencing deathlessness motivates you enough to go on retreats (plural) which might take several months each – at least thats what you are willing to do. Good. You might at least reach “Sankharupekkha” in this life, the insight knowledge of the equanimity with regard to all phenomena. If you happen to be a Bodhisatta with a real (and i don’t mean i-like-to-help-others or compassion-as-mainstream) determination formed over numerous lives you would not be able to push your insight meditation beyond this barrier. That’s good to know too, isn’t it. [link], p 103.

D.) You are not satisfied with the prospect of another 7 lifes in samsara, or just two, or for that matter, one. Even if they mean watching from the gallery with the personal experience of liberation. Then, probably, it is best time to think about entering the order and becoming a monk or nun in an established meditation monastery of which there are quite a couple. Let us know when you attained to Arhatship…but i guess, you won’t tell us then. [link]

So, what is your goal? At least strife for a position (and know there exists one – this text was written to bring you the news…) which means abiding, not struggling. Many prefer to imagine they reached a shore when they sit on a raft and forget to paddle. Likewise wary is the situation for those who strife, but don’t know in which direction.

PS: Sorry, forgot two alternative goals…this posting was too Theravadin anyway :-). Okay, here comes choice 5:

From stream-entry to the peace and perfection of an arahant: that’s too easy for you. You prefer to either help millions of others reach for enlightenment, knowing, the whole concept of others might just be a part of a delusion – but genuine compassion makes you determine to become

  • a disciple of a future Buddha
  • a paccekabuddha (an Awakened being without teaching others – much like an arahant but without getting any help)
  • a Buddha yourself

In any case those three options are not for the faint hearted. They will mean you keep on going in Samsara.

In case you wonder what that means for your meditation: Chose between A) and B)

PS: In case you find this article offends your “Buddhist understanding” of goal-lessness i encourage you to read this post next

One of the reasons for this post was especially to counter the widespread (modern) notion that Buddhism has no goals. The Buddhist teaching does point out a goal, which is Nibbana, the end of goals. In fact, an amazing characteristic of the Buddha’s teaching is that it in a scientific and pragmatic manner shows exactly how to get from the first step to the last, explaining milestones on the way as well as experiences so that anyone can check his progress and repeat what the Buddha discovered 2550 years ago.  

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8 comments

  1. As a Buddhist, one has always to keep in mind that the goal of practice is to liberate oneself from all sorts of suffering as well as causes of suffering. This is the common aspect that all Buddhists share, whether they are Theravadin or Mahayanist. The goal is not to become a “Stream Enterer” or “One Who Will Not Return, or other labels like that because then one would be attached to the lables and as a result will always be stuck within the net of samsara.

  2. theravadin

    The word “suffering”, “we as Buddhists”, “Buddha” and “Nibbana” are as well labels or pointers. Buddha’s teaching makes use of labels like “virtue”, “meditation” and “insight” to point to the path and goal beyond all labels, definitions, in fact, beyond nama-rupa, name and form. However, not making a step on the path because one fears the usage of labels reminds of a person seeing a pilot but he does not want to train as a pilot or achieve a certificate in a flight school, because he wants immediately to be a pilot flying a 747. Sure the label “pilot” is not the same as “being” a pilot. But how, without teaching, instruction and description of what a pilot is or does will you ever become one? That is not a very pragmatic approach. So yes, the only moment the label “stream enterer” may become an obstacle is when doing vipassana and getting stuck and forgetting to note thoughts like “i want to be a stream enterer”. However, if a person never even starts doing meditation because he fears that the motivation itself will be an impedement that won’t help either IMHO. I suggest reading this very enlightening sutta on the subject of “desire for the desirelessness” (AN IV 159) where Ven. Ananda explains that: ‘And yet it is by relying on craving that craving is to be abandoned.’

  3. I see your point, but still it would be misleading to tell the beginners that the goal of practice is to *become* a Stream Enterer (or other later stages), because then they might think that Buddhist practice is the same as mundane practices where one practices a skill and become good at it. Yes meditation is a skill and one can certainly become very good at it. But that is not the point. The point is to eliminate suffering. If one enters the Buddhist path thinking that one would like to become a Stream Enterer because one wants to show one’s practicing skills off to others so that others praise him or her or things like that, then the path to Liberation would not be achieved.

    So instead of telling the beginners that if they do this and that they will become a Stream Enterer, why don’t you tell them to be able to identify their own sufferings and suggest them a way out of those sufferings? Forget the labels, and then they might realize that they have already entered the stream all along.

  4. theravadin

    Sorry to disappoint you, but the labels are not mine, but Buddha’s 🙂

    Do you know the story of Nanda? He wanted to give up his training in meditation but the Buddha showed him heavenly goddesses. Suddenly, he was all too eager to meditate.

    You would say: What a profanity. How could the Buddha have done this?

    The story continues with Nanda, properly practising the teaching of the Buddha realizing in due course that his “goal” was very foolish and he finally reached Nibbana.

    Yes, the main reason why you practice Buddha’s teachings is to get rid of all suffering; but that does not mean your back pain from watching to much TV or to remain calm if you have to pay high taxes. It is this suffering found in samsara this unimaginable ocean of tears which is the main reason we would try to extinguish the fires of lust, hatred and delusion and head for the exit door “Nibbana”

    And the first sign that our progress in giving, virtue and meditation DID succeed is that we see immediate un-alterable changes in our character and experience of the world enjoying the bliss of peace – that is what the Buddha “labeled” a “Stream-Entry”.

    So, you may call it how you like…or you may not call it at all. Just make sure you have the proper goal which gives you enough motivation to make the maximum use of this very short life!

    You may also want to read the post “Craving for Nibbana”.
    I wonder: did you ever read the Sutta-Pitaka?

  5. theravadin

    Add-on:

    You said:
    If one enters the Buddhist path thinking that one would like to become a Stream Enterer because one wants to show one’s practicing skills off to others so that others praise him or her or things like that, then the path to Liberation would not be achieved.

    ->Well, this would imply that someone did not get the proper instruction on how to practice this Dhamma. If he did, he would either calm down his mind with samatha or see whatever arises with wisdom letting it go.

    As the Buddha said, he is just the sign board on the path…whether people walk the path or not is not up to him.

  6. What the story of Nanda tells us is that one who is deeply attached to worldly matters can be brought to see the Truth. But this is tenable only if one sees that any goals that one wants to pursue, be it the heaven or the goddesses or whatever, are ultimately unsatisfactory.

    This is because so long as one desires a goal, there is the feeling or an awareness that there is “one’s self” that is the one who is desiring. So if one is stuck with this belief that there is such thing that one calls one’s self, then the final Goal would be closed off from the beginning.

    One can talk of ‘craving for Nibbana’ as if Nibbana is some bliss in heaven, but then you should add to this that this is only “a way of talking.” In reality there is no one who craves, no one who is walking along the path. All these are just means toward the end.

    Nanda was brought by the Buddha’s power to see all levels of heaven, and hells too, then he sees the unsatisfactoriness of them all. That’s why he eventually became an arahat. He did not become an arahat just because of his “craving.”

  7. Another thing:

    When you ask others whether they have read the Suttas, you sounded as if you are looking down on them. If this is so, then it is an unwholesome act for you. In fact you never know who you are really talking with, even if it is talking face to face.

    (This does not imply that I am anything special, just a note that when you discuss the Dhamma you have to constantly watch your mind.)

  8. theravadin

    One can talk of ‘craving for Nibbana’ as if Nibbana is some bliss in heaven, but then you should add to this that this is only “a way of talking.” In reality there is no one who craves, no one who is walking along the path. All these are just means toward the end.

    -> Now you got it. That’s the whole point of this post :-). You will need talking and labels to point out the path and get “yourself” going, even if at the end you would realize that there is no core just conditions. But this higher understanding does not help you at the beginning, because it is, in itself, just another thought which you grasp.

    ——-

    This is because so long as one desires a goal, there is the feeling or an awareness that there is “one’s self” that is the one who is desiring. So if one is stuck with this belief that there is such thing that one calls one’s self, then the final Goal would be closed off from the beginning.

    Okay. But let us be pragmatic for a moment. If you have no desire for the end of suffering how does your practice look like? No motivation – no practice – no practice – no uprooting of dislike and like. Simply saying: i will not be attached to any label does not end your suffering, or did it?

    Consider it like pole vaulting. You use language as a pole to jump over the hurdle. Then you release the pole. Now if a person would say: Look, he is up there and gave up the pole – so if i just don’t take any pole in my hand i will also be able to jump over the hurdle. Isn’t that foolish?

    With regard to the question of whether you read the suttas. Now it seems quite obvious from your name that you are Thai. I was astonished by your reply and was just curious whether Thai people read in the Tipitaka at all? In Sri Lanka many lay people have no opportunity to, that is why i asked.

    It was not ment to look down on you, a feeling, whose origin only you can trace.

    Just a note that when you discuss the Dhamma you have to constantly watch your mind.

    LOL 😉 Let’s discuss kammatthana for a change!

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