Although there are many subjects of meditation, we strongly
recommend you start with focusing your total undivided attention
on your breathing to gain some degree of shallow concentration.
Remember that you are not practicing a deep absorption or pure
concentration technique. You are practicing mindfulness for
which you need only a certain degree of shallow concentration.
You want to cultivate mindfulness culminating in insight and
wisdom to realize the truth as it is. You want to know the working
of your body-mind complex exactly as it is. You want to get
rid of all psychological annoyance to make your life really
peaceful and happy.
The mind cannot be purified without seeing things as they really
are. "Seeing things as they really are" is such a heavily loaded
and ambiguous phrase. Many beginning meditators wonder what
we mean, for anyone who has clear eye sight can see objects
as they are.
When we use this phrase in reference to insight gained from
our meditation, what we mean is not seeing things superficially
with our regular eyes, but seeing things with wisdom as they
are in themselves. Seeing with wisdom means seeing things within
the framework of our body/mind complex without prejudices or
biases springing from our greed, hatred and delusion. Ordinarily
when we watch the working of our mind/body complex, we tend
to hide or ignore things which are not pleasant to us and to
hold onto things which are pleasant. This is because our minds
are generally influenced by our desires, resentment and delusion.
Our ego, self or opinions get in our way and color our judgment.
When we mindfully watch our bodily sensations, we should not
confuse them with mental formations, for bodily sensations can
arise without anything to do with the mind. For instance, we
sit comfortably. After a while, there can arise some uncomfortable
feeling on our back or in our legs. Our mind immediately experiences
that discomfort and forms numerous thoughts around the feeling.
At that point, without trying to confuse the feeling with the
mental formations, we should isolate the feeling as feeling
and watch it mindfully. Feeling is one of the seven universal
mental factors. The other six are contact, perception, mental
formations, concentration, life force, and awareness.
At another time, we may have a certain emotion such as, resentment,
fear, or lust. Then we should watch the emotion exactly as it
is without trying to confuse it with anything else. When we
bundle our form, feeling, perceptions, mental formations and
consciousness up into one and try to watch all of them as feeling,
we get confused, as we will not be able to see the source of
feeling. If we simply dwell upon the feeling alone, ignoring
other mental factors, our realization of truth becomes very
difficult. We want to gain the insight into the experience of
impermanence to over come our resentment; our deeper knowledge
of unhappiness overcomes our greed which causes our unhappiness;
our realization of selflessness overcomes ignorance arising
from the notion of self. We should see the mind and body separately
first. Having comprehended them separately, we should see their
essential interconnectedness. As our insight becomes sharp,
we become more and more aware of the fact that all the aggregates
are cooperating to work together. None can exist without the
other. We can see the real meaning of the famous metaphor of
the blind man who has a healthy body to walk and the disabled
person who has very good eyes to see. Neither of them alone
can do much for himself. But when the disabled person climbs
on the shoulders of the blind man, together they can travel
and achieve their goals easily. Similarly, the body alone can
do nothing for itself. It is like a log unable to move or do
anything by itself except to become a subject of impermanence,
decay and death. The mind itself can do nothing without the
support of the body. When we mindfully watch both body and mind,
we can see how many wonderful things they do together.
As long as we are sitting in one place we may gain some degree
of mindfulness. Going to a retreat and spending several days
or several months watching our feelings, perceptions, countless
thoughts and various states of consciousness may make us eventually
calm and peaceful. Normally we do not have that much time to
spend in one place meditating all the time. Therefore, we should
find a way to apply our mindfulness to our daily life in order
for us to be able to handle daily unforeseeable eventualities.
What we face every day is unpredictable. Things happen due to
multiple causes and conditions, as we are living in a conditional
and impermanent world. Mindfulness is our emergency kit, readily
available at our service at any time. When we face a situation
where we feel indignation, if we mindfully investigate our own
mind, we will discover bitter truths in ourselves. That is we
are selfish; we are egocentric; we are attached to our ego;
we hold on to our opinions; we think we are right and everybody
else is wrong; we are prejudices; we are biased; and at the
bottom of all of this, we do not really love ourselves. This
discovery, though bitter, is a most rewarding experience. And
in the long run, this discovery delivers us from deeply rooted
psychological and spiritual suffering.
Mindfulness practice is the practice of one hundred percent
honesty with ourselves. When we watch our own mind and body,
we notice certain things that are unpleasant to realize. As
we do not like them, we try to reject them. What are the things
we do not like? We do not like to detach ourselves from loved
ones or to live with unloved ones. We include not only people,
places and material things into our likes and dislikes, but
opinions, ideas, beliefs and decisions as well. We do not like
what naturally happens to us. We do not like, for instance,
growing old, becoming sick, becoming weak or showing our age,
for we have a great desire to preserve our appearance. We do
not like someone pointing out our faults, for we take great
pride in ourselves. We do not like someone to be wiser than
we are, for we are deluded about ourselves. These are but a
few examples of our personal experience of greed, hatred and
When greed, hatred and ignorance reveal themselves in our daily
lives, we use our mindfulness to track them down and comprehend
their roots. The root of each of these mental states in within
ourselves. If we do not, for instance, have the root of hatred,
nobody can make us angry, for it is the root of our anger that
reacts to somebody's actions or words or behavior. If we are
mindful, we will diligently use our wisdom to look into our
own mind. If we do not have hatred in us we will not be concerned
when someone points out our shortcomings. Rather, we will be
thankful to the person who draws our attention to our faults.
We have to be extremely wise and mindful to thank the person
who explicates our faults so we will be able to tread the upward
path toward improving ourselves. We all have blind spots. The
other person is our mirror for us to see our faults with wisdom.
We should consider the person who shows our shortcomings as
one who excavates a hidden treasure in us that we were unaware
of. It is by knowing the existence of our deficiencies that
we can improve ourselves. Improving ourselves is the unswerving
path to the perfection which is our goal in life. Only by overcoming
weaknesses can we cultivate noble qualities hidden deep down
in our subconscious mind. Before we try to surmount our defects,
we should what they are.
If we are sick, we must find out the cause of our sickness.
Only then can we get treatment. If we pretend that we do not
have sickness even though we are suffering, we will never get
treatment. Similarly, if we think that we don't have these faults,
we will never clear our spiritual path. If we are blind to our
own flaws, we need someone to point them out to us. When they
point out our faults, we should be grateful to them like the
Venerable Sariputta, who said: "Even if a seven-year-old novice
monk points out my mistakes, I will accept them with utmost
respect for him." Ven. Sariputta was an Arahant who was one
hundred percent mindful and had no fault in him. But since he
did not have any pride, he was able to maintain this position.
Although we are not Arahants, we should determine to emulate
his example, for our goal in life also is to attain what he
Of course the person pointing out our mistakes himself may not
be totally free from defects, but he can see our problems as
we can see his faults, which he does not notice until we point
them out to him.
Both pointing out shortcomings and responding to them should
be done mindfully. If someone becomes unmindful in indicating
faults and uses unkind and harsh language, he might do more
harm than good to himself as well as to the person whose shortcomings
he points out. One who speaks with resentment cannot be mindful
and is unable to express himself clearly. One who feels hurt
while listening to harsh language may lose his mindfulness and
not hear what the other person is really saying. We should speak
mindfully and listen mindfully to be benefitted by talking and
listening. When we listen and talk mindfully, our minds are
free from greed, selfishness, hatred and delusion.
As meditators, we all must have a goal, for if we do not have
a goal, we will simply be groping in the dark blindly following
somebody's instructions on meditation. There must certainly
be a goal for whatever we do consciously and willingly. It is
not the Vipassana meditator's goal to become enlightened before
other people or to have more power or to make more profit than
others, for mindfulness meditators are not in competition with
Our goal is to reach the perfection of all the noble and wholesome
qualities latent in our subconscious mind. This goal has five
elements to it: Purification of mind, overcoming sorrow and
lamentation, overcoming pain and grief, treading the right path
leading to attainment of eternal peace, and attaining happiness
by following that path. Keeping this fivefold goal in mind,
we can advance with hope and confidence to reach the goal.
Once you sit, do not change the position again until the end
of the time you determined at the beginning. Suppose you change
your original position because it is uncomfortable, and assume
another position. What happens after a while is that the new
position becomes uncomfortable. Then you want another and after
a while, it too becomes uncomfortable. So you may go on shifting,
moving, changing one position to another the whole time you
are on your mediation cushion and you may not gain a deep and
meaningful level of concentration. Therefore, do not change
your original position, no matter how painful it is.
To avoid changing your position, determine at the beginning
of meditation how long you are going to meditate. If you have
never meditated before, sit motionless not longer than twenty
minutes. As you repeat your practice, you can increase your
sitting time. The length of sitting depends on how much time
you have for sitting meditation practice and how long you can
sit without excruciating pain.
We should not have a time schedule to attain the goal, for our
attainment depends on how we progress in our practice based
on our understanding and development of our spiritual faculties.
We must work diligently and mindfully towards the goal without
setting any particular time schedule to reach it. When we are
ready, we get there. All we have to do is to prepare ourselves
for that attainment.
After sitting motionless, close your eyes. Our mind is analogous
to a cup of muddy water. The longer you keep a cup of muddy
water still, the more mud settles down and the water will be
seen clearly. Similarly, if you keep quiet without moving you
body, focusing your entire undivided attention on the subject
of your meditation, your mind settles down and begins to experience
the bliss of meditation.
To prepare for this attainment, we should keep our mind in the
present moment. The present moment is changing so fast that
the casual observer does not seem to notice its existence at
all. Every moment is a moment of events and no moment passes
by without noticing events taking place in that moment. Therefore,
the moment we try to pay bare attention to is the present moment.
Our mind goes through a series of events like a series of pictures
passing through a projector. Some of these pictures are coming
from our past experiences and others are our imaginations of
things that we plan to do in the future.
The mind can never be focused without a mental object. Therefore
we must give our mind an object which is readily available every
present moment. What is present every moment is our breath.
The mind does not have to make a great effort to find the breath,
for every moment the breath is flowing in and out through our
nostrils. As our practice of insight meditation is taking place
every waking moment, our mind finds it very easy to focus itself
on the breath, for it is more conspicuous and constant than
any other object.
After sitting in the manner explained earlier and having shared
your loving-kindness with everybody, take three deep breaths.
After taking three deep breaths, breathe normally, letting your
breath flow in and out freely, effortlessly and begin focusing
your attention on the rims of your nostrils. Simply notice the
feeling of breath going in and out. When one inhalation is complete
and before exhaling begins, there is a brief pause. Notice it
and notice the beginning of exhaling. When the exhalation is
complete, there is another brief pause before inhaling begins.
Notice this brief pause, too. This means that there are two
brief pauses of breath--one at the end of inhaling, and the
other at the end of exhaling. The two pauses occur in such a
brief moment you may not be aware of their occurrence. But when
you are mindful, you can notice them.
Do not verbalize or conceptualize anything. Simply notice the
in-coming and out-going breath without saying, "I breathe in",
or "I breathe out." When you focus your attention on the breath
ignore any thought, memory, sound, smell, taste, etc., and focus
your attention exclusively on the breath, nothing else.
At the beginning, both the inhalations and exhalations are short
because the body and mind are not calm and relaxed. Notice the
feeling of that short inhaling and short exhaling as they occur
without saying "short inhaling" or "short exhaling". As you
remain noticing the felling of short inhaling and short exhaling,
your body and mind become relatively calm. Then your breath
becomes long. Notice the feeling of that long breath as it is
without saying "Long breath". Then notice the entire breathing
process from the beginning to the end. Subsequently the breath
becomes subtle, and the mind and body become calmer than before.
Notice this calm and peaceful feeling of your breathing.
To Do When the Mind Wanders Away?
In spite of your concerted effort to keep the mind on your breathing,
the mind may wander away. It may go to past experiences and
suddenly you may find yourself remembering places you've visited,
people you met, friends not seen for a long time, a book you
read long ago, the taste of food you ate yesterday, and so on.
As soon as you notice that you mind is no longer on your breath,
mindfully bring it back to it and anchor it there. However,
in a few moments you may be caught up again thinking how to
pay your bills, to make a telephone call to you friend, write
a letter to someone, do your laundry, buy your groceries, go
to a party, plan your next vacation, and so forth. As soon as
you notice that your mind is not on your subject, bring it back
mindfully. Following are some suggestions to help you gain the
concentration necessary for the practice of mindfulness.
In a situation like this, counting may help. The purpose of
counting is simply to focus the mind on the breath. Once you
mind is focused on the breath, give up counting. This is a device
for gaining concentration. There are numerous ways of counting.
Any counting should be done mentally. Do not make any sound
when you count. Following are some of the ways of counting.
a) While breathing in count "one, one, one, one..." until the
lungs are full of fresh air. While breathing out count "two,
two, two, two..." until the lungs are empty of fresh air. Then
while breathing in again count "three, three, three, three..."
until the lungs are full again and while breathing out count
again "four, four, four, four..." until the lungs are empty
of fresh air. Count up to ten and repeat as many times as necessary
to keep the mind focused on the breath.
b) The second method of counting is counting rapidly up to
ten. While counting "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine and ten" breathe in and again while counting "one,
two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten" breathe
out. This means in one inhaling you should count up to ten
and in one exhaling you should count up to ten. Repeat this
way of counting as many times as necessary to focus the mind
on the breath.
c) The third method of counting is to counting secession up
to ten. At this time count "one, two, three, four, five" (only
up to five) while inhaling and then count "one, two, three,
four, five, six" (up to six) while exhaling. Again count "one,
two, three, four fire, six seven" (only up to seven) while
inhaling. Then count "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight" while exhaling. Count up to nine while inhaling and
count up to ten while exhaling. Repeat this way of counting
as many times as necessary to focus the mind on the breath.
d) The fourth method is to take a long breath. When the lungs
are full, mentally count "one" and breath out completely until
the lungs are empty of fresh air. Then count mentally "two".
Take a long breath again and count "three" and breath completely
out as before. When the lungs are empty of fresh air, count
mentally "four". Count your breath in this manner up to ten.
Then count backward from ten to one. Count again from one
to ten and then ten to one.
e) The fifth method is to join inhaling and exhaling. When
the lungs are empty of fresh air, count mentally "one". This
time you should count both inhalation and exhalation as one.
Again inhale, exhale, and mentally count "two". This way of
counting should be done only up to five and repeated from
five to one. Repeat this method until you breathing becomes
refined and quiet.
Remember that you are not supposed to continue your counting
all the time. As soon as your mind is locked at the nostrils-tip
where the inhaling breath and exhaling breath touch and begin
to feel that you breathing is so refined and quiet that you
cannot notice inhalation and exhalation separately, you should
give up counting. Counting is used only to train the mind to
concentrate on one point.
After inhaling do not wait to notice the brief pause before
exhaling but connect the inhaling and exhaling, so you can notice
both inhaling and exhaling as one continuous breath.
After joining inhaling and exhaling, fix your mind on the point
where you feel you inhaling and exhaling breath touching. Inhale
and exhale as on single breath moving in and out touching or
rubbing the rims of your nostrils.
Focus you mind like a carpenter
A carpenter draws a straight line on a board and that he wants
to cut. Then he cuts the board with his handsaw along the straight
line he drew. He does not look at the teeth of his saw as they
move in and out of the board. Rather he focuses his entire attention
on the line he drew so he can cut the board straight. Similarly
keep your mind straight on the point where you feel the breath
at the rims of your nostrils.
Make you mind like a gate-keeper
A gate-keeper does not take into account any detail of the people
entering a house. All he does is notice people entering the
house and leaving the house through the gate. Similarly, when
you concentrate you should not take into account any detail
of your experiences. Simply notice the feeling of your inhaling
and exhaling breath as it goes in and out right at the rims
of your nostrils.
As you continue your practice you mind and body becomes so light
that you may feel as if you are floating in the air or on water.
You may even feel that your body is springing up into the sky.
When the grossness of your in-and-out breathing has ceased,
subtle in-and-out breathing arises. This very subtle breath
is your objective focus of the mind. This is the sign of concentration.
This first appearance of a sign-object will be replaced by more
and more subtle sign-object. This subtlety of the sign can be
compared to the sound of a bell. When a bell is struck with
a big iron rod, you hear a gross sound at first. As the sound
faces away, the sound becomes very subtle. Similarly the in-and-out
breath appears at first as a gross sign. As you keep paying
bare attention to it, this sign becomes very subtle. But the
consciousness remains totally focused on the rims of the nostrils.
Other meditation objects become clearer and clearer, as the
sign develops. But the breath becomes subtler and subtler as
the sign develops. Because of this subtlety, you may not notice
the presence of your breath. Don't get disappointed thinking
that you lost your breath or that nothing is happening to your
meditation practice. Don't worry. Be mindful and determined
to bring your feeling of breath back to the rims of your nostrils.
This is the time you should practice more vigorously, balancing
your energy, faith, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom.
Suppose there is a farmer who uses buffaloes for plowing his
rice field. As he is tired in the middle of the day, he unfastens
his buffaloes and takes a rest under the cool shade of a tree.
When he wakes up, he does not find his animals. He does not
worry, but simply walks to the water place where all the animals
gather for drinking in the hot mid-day and he finds his buffaloes
there. Without any problem he brings them back and ties them
to the yoke again and starts plowing his field.
Similarly as you continue this exercise, your breath becomes
so subtle and refined that you might not be able to notice the
feeling of breath at all. When this happens, do not worry. It
has not disappeared. It is still where it was before-right at
the nostril-tips. Take a few quick breaths and you will notice
the feeling of breathing again. Continue to pay bare attention
to the feeling of the touch of breath at the rims of your nostrils.
As you keep your mind focused on the rims of your nostrils,
you will be able to notice the sign of the development of meditation.
You will feel the pleasant sensation of sign. Different meditators
feel this differently. It will be like a star, or a peg made
of heartwood, or a long string, or a wreath of flowers, or a
puff of smoke, or a cob-web, or a film of cloud, or a lotus
flower, or the disc of the moon or the disc of the sun.
Earlier in your practice you had inhaling and exhaling as objects
of meditation. Now you have the sign as the third object of
meditation. When you focus your mind on this third object, your
mind reaches a stage of concentration sufficient for your practice
of insight meditation. This sign is strongly present at the
rims of the nostrils. Master it and gain full control of it
so that whenever you want, it should be available. Unite the
mind with this sign which is available in the present moment
and let the mind flow with every succeeding moment. As you pay
bare attention to it, you will see the sign itself is changing
every moment. Keep your mind with the changing moments. Also
notice that your mind can be concentrated only on the present
moment. This unity of the mind with the present moment is called
momentary concentration. As moments are incessantly passing
away one after another, the mind keeps pace with them. Changing
with them, appearing and disappearing with them without clinging
to any of them. If we try to stop the mind at one moment, we
end up in frustration because the mind cannot be held fast.
It must keep up with what is happening in the new moment. As
the present moment can be found any moment, every waking moment
can be made a concentrated moment.
To unite the mind with the present moment, we must find something
happening in that moment. However, you cannot focus your mind
on every changing moment without a certain degree of concentration
to keep pace with the moment. Once you gain this degree of concentration,
you can use it for focusing your attention on anything you experience--the
rising and falling of your abdomen, the rising and falling of
the chest area, the rising and falling of any feeling, or the
rising and falling of your breath or thoughts and so on.
To make any progress in insight meditation you need this kind
of momentary concentration. That is all you need for the insight
meditation practice because everything in your experience lives
only for one moment. When you focus this concentrated state
of mind on the changes taking place in your mind and body, you
will notice that your breath is the physical part and the feeling
of breath, consciousness of the feeling and the consciousness
of the sign are the mental parts. As you notice them you can
notice that they are changing all the time. You may have various
types of sensations, other than the feeling of breathing, taking
place in your body. Watch them all over your body. Don't try
to create any feeling which is not naturally present in any
part of your body. When thought arises notice it, too. All you
should notice in all these occurrences is the impermanent, unsatisfactory
and selfless nature of all your experiences whether mental or
As your mindfulness develops, your resentment for the change,
your dislike for the unpleasant experiences, your greet for
the pleasant experiences and the notion of self hood will be
replaced by the deeper insight of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness
and selflessness. This knowledge of reality in your experience
helps you to foster a more calm, peaceful and mature attitude
towards your life. You will see what you thought in the past
to be permanent is changing with such an inconceivable rapidity
that even your mind cannot keep up with these changes. Somehow
you will be able to notice many of the changes. You will see
the subtlety of impermanence and the subtlety of selflessness.
This insight will show you the way to peace, happiness and give
you the wisdom to handle your daily problems in life.
When the mind is united with the breath flowing all the time,
we will naturally be able to focus the mind on the present moment.
We can notice the feeling arising from contact of breath with
the rim of our nostrils. As the earth element of the air that
we breathe in and out touches the earth element of our nostrils,
the mind feels the flow of air in and out. The warm feeling
arises at the nostrils or any other part of the body from the
contact of the heat element generated by the breathing process.
The feeling of impermanence of breath arises when the earth
element of flowing breath touches the nostrils. Although the
water element is present in the breath, the mind cannot feel
Also we feel the expansion and contraction of our lungs, abdomen
and low abdomen, as the fresh air is pumped in and out of the
lungs. The expansion and contraction of the abdomen, lower abdomen
and chest are parts of the universal rhythm. Everything in the
universe has the same rhythm of expansion and contraction just
like our breath and body. All of them are rising and falling.
However, our primary concern is the rising and falling phenomena
of the breath and minute parts of our minds and bodies.
Along with the inhaling breath, we experience a small degree
of calmness. This little degree of tension-free calmness turns
into tension if we don't breathe out in a few moments. As we
breathe out this tension is released. After breathing out, we
experience discomfort if we wait too long before having fresh
brought in again. This means that every time our lings are full
we must breathe out and every time our lungs are empty we must
breathe in. As we breathe in, we experience a small degree of
calmness, and as we breathe out, we experience a small degree
of calmness. We desire calmness and relief of tension and do
not like the tension and feeling resulting from the lack of
breath. We wish that the calmness would stay longer and the
tension disappear more quickly that it normally does. But neither
will the tension go away as fast as we wish not the calmness
stay as long as we wish. And again we get agitated or irritated,
for we desire the calmness to return and stay longer and the
tension to go away quickly and not to return again. Here we
see how even a small degree of desire for permanency in an impermanent
situation causes pain or unhappiness. Since there is no self-entity
to control this situation, we will become more disappointed.
However, if we watch our breathing without desiring calmness
and without resenting tension arising from the breathing in
and out, but experience only the impermanence, the unsatisfactoriness
and selflessness of our breath, our mind becomes peaceful and
Also, the mind does not stay all the time with the feeling of
breath. It goes to sounds, memories, emotions, perceptions,
consciousness and mental formations as well. When we experience
these states, we should forget about the feeling of breath and
immediately focus our attention on these states--one at a time,
not all of them at one time. As they fade away, we let our mind
return to the breath which is the home base the mind can return
to from quick or long journey to various states of mind and
body. We must remember that all these mental journeys are made
within the mind itself.
Every time the mind returns to the breath, it comes back with
a deeper insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness.
The mind becomes more insightful from the impartial and unbiased
watching of these occurrences. The mind gains insight into the
fact that this body, these feelings, various states of consciousness
and numerous mental formations are to be used only for the purpose
of gaining deeper insight into the reality of this mind/body
To Do With Your Body
The practice of meditation has been going on for several thousand
years. That is quite a bit of time for experimentation, and
the procedure has been very, very thoroughly refined. Buddhist
practice has always recognized that the mind and body are tightly
linked and that each influences the other. Thus there are certain
recommended physical practices which will greatly assist you
to master your skill. And these practices should be followed.
Keep in mind, however, that these postures are practice aids.
Don't confuse the two. Meditation does not mean sitting in the
lotus position. It is a mental skill. It can be practiced anywhere
you wish. But these postures will help you learn this skill
and they speed your progress and development. So use them.
The purpose of the various postures is threefold. First, they
provide a stable feeling in the body. This allows you to remove
your attention from such issues as balance and muscular fatigue,
so that you can then center your concentration upon the formal
object of meditation. Second, they promote physical immobility
which is then reflected by an immobility of mind. This creates
a deeply settled and tranquil concentration. Third, they give
you the ability to sit for a long period of time without yielding
to the meditator's three main enemies--pain, muscular tension
and falling asleep. The most essential thing is to sit with
your back straight. The spine should be erect with the spinal
vertebrae held like a stack of coins, one on top of the other.
Your head should be held in line with the rest of the spine.
All of this is done in a relaxed manner. No Stiffness. You are
not a wooden soldier, and there is no drill sergeant. There
should be no muscular tension involved in keeping the back straight.
Sit light and easy. The spine should be like a firm young tree
growing out of soft ground. The rest of the body just hangs
from it in a loose, relaxed manner. This is going to require
a bit of experimentation on your part. We generally sit in tight,
guarded postures when we are walking or talking and in sprawling
postures when we are relaxing. Neither of those will do. But
they are cultural habits and they can be re-learned.
Your objective is to achieve a posture in which you can sit
for the entire session without moving at all. In the beginning,
you will probably feel a bit odd to sit with the straight back.
But you will get used to it. It takes practice, and an erect
posture is very important. This is what is known in physiology
as a position of arousal, and with it goes mental alertness.
If you slouch, you are inviting drowsiness. What you sit on
is equally important. You are going to need a chair or a cushion,
depending on the posture you choose, and the firmness of the
seat must be chosen with some care. Too soft a seat can put
you right to sleep. Too hard can promote pain.
The clothes you wear for meditation should be loose and soft.
If they restrict blood flow or put pressure on nerves, the result
will be pain and/or that tingling numbness which we normally
refer to as our 'legs going to sleep'. If you are wearing a
belt, loosen it. Don't wear tight pants or pants made of thick
material. Long skirts are a good choice for women. Loose pants
made of thin or elastic material are fine for anybody. Soft,
flowing robes are the traditional garb in Asia and they come
in an enormous variety of styles such as sarongs and kimonos.
Take your shoes off and if your stockings are thick and binding,
take them off, too.
When you are sitting on the floor in the traditional Asian manner,
you need a cushion to elevate your spine. Choose one that is
relatively firm and at least three inches thick when compressed.
Sit close to the front edge of the cushion and let your crossed
legs rest on the floor in front of you. If the floor is carpeted,
that may be enough to protect your shins and ankles from pressure.
If it is not, you will probably need some sort of padding for
your legs. A folded blanket will do nicely. Don't sit all the
way back on the cushion. This position causes its front edge
to press into the underside of your thigh, causing nerves to
pinch. The result will be leg pain.
There are a number of ways you can fold your legs. We will list
four in ascending order of preference.
1. American indian style. Your right foot is tucked under the
left knee and left foot is tucked under your right knee.
2. Burmese style. Both of your legs lie flat on the floor
from knee to foot. They are parallel with each other and one
in front of the other.
3. Half lotus. Both knees touch the floor. One leg and foot
lie flat along the calf of the other leg.
4. Full lotus. Both knees touch the floor, and your legs are
crossed at the calf. Your left foot rests on the right thigh,
and your right foot rests on the left thigh. Both soles turn
In these postures, your hands are cupped one on the other, and
they rest on your lap with the palms turned upward. The hands
lie just below the navel with the bend of each wrist pressed
against the thigh. This arm position provides firm bracing for
the upper body. Don't tighten your neck muscles. Relax your
arms. Your diaphragm is held relaxed, expanded to maximum fullness.
Don't let tension build up in the stomach area. Your chin is
up. Your eyes can be open or closed. If you keep them open,
fix them on the tip of your nose or in the middle distance straight
in front. You are not looking at anything. You are just putting
your eyes in some arbitrary direction where there is nothing
in particular to see, so that you can forget about vision. Don't
strain. Don't stiffen and don't be rigid. Relax; let the body
be natural and supple. Let it hang from the erect spine like
a rag doll.
Half and full lotus positions are the traditional meditation
postures in asia. And the full lotus is considered the best.
It is the most solid by far. Once you are locked into this position,
you can be completely immovable for a very long period. Since
it requires a considerable flexibility in the legs, not everybody
can do it. Besides, the main criterion by which you choose a
posture for yourself is not what others say about it. It is
your own comfort. Choose a position which allows you to sit
the longest without pain, without moving. Experiment with different
postures. The tendons will loosen with practice. And then you
can work gradually towards the full lotus.
Sitting on the floor may not be feasible for you because of
pain or some other reason. No problem. You can always use a
chair instead. Pick one that has a level seat, a straight back
and no arms. It is best to sit in such a way that your back
does not lean against the back of the chair. The front of the
seat should not dig into the underside of your thighs. Place
your legs side by side,feet flat on the floor. As with the traditional
postures, place both hands on your lap, cupped one upon the
other. Don't tighten your neck or shoulder muscles, and relax
your arms. Your eyes can be open or closed.
In all the above postures, remember your objectives. You want
to achieve a state of complete physical stillness, yet you don't
want to fall asleep. Recall the analogy of the muddy water.
You want to promote a totally settled state of the body which
will engender a corresponding mental settling. There must also
be a state of physical alertness which can induce the kind of
mental clarity you seek. So experiment. Your body is a tool
for creating desired mental states. Use it judiciously.