Dharma Compass

Dharma Compass

by Jeffrey Brooks

As we navigate the vast ocean of our lives our senses continually come in contact with things: Things we like and things we don’t like and things we don’t care about at all.

These encounters disturb our peace. As we make a habit of chasing things we like and deleting things we don’t like we get agitated and unhappy.

If we have an overriding purpose that guides our actions and choices we may be able to navigate a course that is not based on responses to pleasant or unpleasant experience.  Instead we can set out to learn what  causes happiness and we get the skills we need to truly be of help to other beings.

One of the skills we need in order to do this is skill in meditation.

Buddhist meditation is different from other kinds of meditation. Its purpose is to train our minds to put an end to suffering forever.  Its methods are devised to achieve this purpose.

We sit in a calm stable posture. In a place that is not too cold or hot, not noisy or busy, free from bugs and wild animals, where it is not too hard to withdraw the senses from their objects of attention and turn our attention within.

Pleasant sensations like soothing music or words may calm our minds temporarily but when these sensations cease the calm vanishes with them.  So in Buddhist meditation we do not stimulate the senses.

There are two training steps in Buddhist meditation. One is to develop a calm clear mind: Mental focus so strong and stable that you can place your attention where you want it for as long as you want it there. Then we learn to use that attention to examine the nature of reality itself.

Gradually we learn to see our mind in operation, to see the flawed mental habits that cause us to suffer, and we learn how to eliminate those flaws.  We begin to do that through study, through the use of our ordinary intelligence and experience. Then we do it more deeply, in practice. Because the mental habits which cause our suffering are so deeply ingrained it takes a very calm clear mind to notice them.  Because they are subtle it takes sound explanation to recognize them, to see how they veer from the truth, to see why they cause us troubles, and what to do about them.

This is why Buddhist meditation is done in serene silence. Not to create a pleasant alternative to the agitation of daily life, but to provide a vessel where inner transformation can happen.

There is a third aspect of practice in Mahayana Buddhism:  training to care for all beings as the underlying motivation for everything we do. Developing that concern for others is a long and difficult training for most of us, due to the fact that our long standing mental habits cause us to encounter beings that appear as annoying and bad.

But training in it is possible and useful. It causes love to fill our hearts and our world.  And taking responsibility for others’ well being becomes the compass by which we navigate the ocean of our life.

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