We essentially keep ourselves locked in an endless spin of nirvanic and samsaric experiences, moment after moment, day after day after day…. through our thoughts, speech and action.
According to Buddhist teachings, SAMSARA in Sanskrit refers to our ‘unenlightened and ignorant state of existence’, ‘rebirth after rebirth’. NIRVANA, on the other hand, is the state of ‘being enlightened’ where we are ‘no longer trapped in the endless cycles of rebirths’. Which makes nirvana the most profound state of wisdom possible.
In addition, the Buddha teaches us that we continue to be caught in the web of samsara as long as we have not learnt to control our afflictive mental states of craving, aversion, pride, and jealousy. They are afflictive because they undermine our peace of mind and cause us nothing but grief. And they are cyclical in nature, because day in, day out, these emotions spin around themselves, causing us to lose sleep and peace of mind. So, it’s either we are masters over them or they are masters over us. Or, more accurately, master of that ‘monkey’ mind.
Four Noble Truths
Soon after attaining nirvana or ‘the state beyond sorrow’, a state of true peace, the Buddha began his teaching The Four Noble Truths, which is essentially about the nature of suffering and how we can end it. The first is that of mental and physical suffering. The second is that suffering arises from pleasurable sensations and experiences rather than the opposite. The third says suffering exist simply because we exist. All existing phenomena is bound up in the nature of suffering. It’s a fact that we cannot escape. As long as you exist, you will be subject to suffering. Or, is it?The fourth is there is a way out of this suffering.
The Buddha teaches us how we can free ourselves from being caught in the wheel of suffering. Suffering can end if we are able to recognise that we are essentially without self. And hence no ego. Which is why more than half of the time, most religious teachings encourage us to shed the ego.
What this means is that if we didn’t have an ego, then logically, we too do not have any enduring, permanent and personal self that is subjected to afflictive mental states that in turn cause us grief. Instead, the teachings show us that what we have in essence is only a mind that is essentially pure, luminous and untouched by anything. Even if the sky fell, we can maintain calm and equanimity.
The way out of suffering is through living the Noble Eightfold Path.
To cultivate this luminous mind is therefore essential to our peace of mind and this is the be-all and end-all goal of meditation.
Indeed, ‘meditation is the antidote to afflictive thoughts and emotions because it can eradicate the root of our unenlightened existence by liberating us from suffering’.
If you have ever tried to sit, chances are you will soon realise that while on the cushion, when you aren’t going anywhere, and have hit the pause button for any one of the multiple roles you play be it Managing Director, CEO, mother, son, etc, chances are you will still find your mind running all over the place planning this, wondering that, being upset, remembering this or that, etc, etc. It is exactly this helter, skelter nature of the mind that creates our ‘suffering’ and this is where meditation is the ‘cure’.
The beauty of it all is that you have to try it for yourself to feel its effects. Truly, like how the story goes, you have to taste the tea for yourself.
Beyond the cushion
Fruitful meditation brings us beyond the cushion. Its effects will show up in the way we conduct ourselves and our lives because we have changed in the way we think and perceive of ourselves and of our world. We deepen our insights into our existence. And that is when we will find our true purpose in life.
In other words, we will come to fully understand our place in the bigger scheme of things – why we are here, what we can do to make a difference, how we can utilise this one precious life for a meaningful cause, and what to leave behind that is of value and benefit. By now, you truly understanding that we are essentially self-less. We no longer live to feed that self. That is the true purpose of meditation. To arrive at ‘No Self’.
Video: Meditation 2.0
Here is a superb video that delivers a clear message as to what meditation really means. It is also about whether we have been truly fruitful in our mediation and whether we can function in the marketplace when we are off the cushion. That’s the real test. And like my Zen teacher would say,
“There’s no need to go to any mountain.”