What is meditation?

Meditation is Mental Development (in Pali Bhavana).

Extract from Buddhism in Daily Life, Chapter 5.

The Buddha said that one should realize the impermanence of all things. Everybody is subject to old age, sickness and death. All things are susceptible to change. What one is enjoying today may be changed tomorrow. Many people do not want to face this truth; they are too attached to the pleasant things they can enjoy through eyes, ears, nose, tongue and bodysense. They do not realize that these things are not true happiness. The Buddha cured peoples ignorance by helping them to have right understanding about their life; he taught them Dhamma. The Buddha taught different ways of developing wholesomeness: dana or generosity, sila or morality and bhavana or mental development. Bhavana is a way of kusala kamma which is on a higher level, because wisdom is developed through bhavana.

One may wonder why wisdom, panna, is essential. The answer is that only understanding things as they are can eliminate ignorance. Out of ignorance people take what is unwholesome for wholesome. Ignorance causes sorrow. The Buddha always helped people to have right understanding of their different cittas (consciousness). He explained what akusala (unwholesome) cittas and kusala (wholesome) cittas are, in order that people could develop more wholesomeness.

We can verify in our life that the Buddha taught the truth. His teachings are true not only for Buddhists, but for everybody, no matter what race or nationality he is or what religion he professes. Attachment or greed (in Pali: lobha), aversion or anger (in Pali: dosa) and ignorance (in Pali: moha) are common to everybody, not only to Buddhists. Should not everyone eradicate lobha, dosa and moha?

People do not always realize that lobha, dosa and moha lead to sorrow. They may recognize unwholesomeness when it is coarse, but not when it is more subtle. For example, they may know that the citta is unwholesome when there is lobha which is as coarse as greed or lust, but they do not recognize lobha when it is more subtle, such as attachment to beautiful things or to dear people. Why is it unwholesome to have attachment to our relatives and friends? It is true that we are bound to have lobha, but we should realize that attachment is not the same as pure loving-kindness (in Pali: metta). When we think that we have pure loving-kindness, there can be moments of attachment too. Attachment is not wholesome; it will sooner or later bring unhappiness. Although people may not like to see this truth, one day they will experience that lobha brings unhappiness. Through death we are bound to lose people who are dear to us. And when sickness or old age affect our sense faculties we may no longer be able to enjoy beautiful things through eyes and ears.

If we do not have the right understanding of the realities of life we will not know how to bear the loss of dear people. We read in the Udana (Verses of Uplift, Ch VIII, Paialigama, 8, Khuddaka Nikaya) that, while the Buddha was staying near Savatthi in East Park, at the storeyed house of Migaras mother, Visakha came to see him. Visakha who had lost her grand-daughter came to see the Buddha with wet clothes and wet hair. The Buddha said:

Why, Visakha! How is it that you come here with clothes and hair still wet at an unseasonable hour?
O, sir, my dear and lovely grand-daughter is dead! That is why I come here with hair and clothes still wet at an unseasonable hour.
Visakha, would you like to have as many sons and grandsons as there are men in Savatthi?
Yes, sir, I would indeed!
But how many men do you suppose die daily in Savatthi?
Ten, sir, or maybe nine, or eight. Maybe seven, six, five or four, three, two; may be one a day dies in Savatthi, sir. Savatthi is never free from men dying, sir.
What think you, Visakha? In such case would you ever be without wet hair and clothes? Surely not, sir! Enough for me, sir, of so many sons and grandsons!
Visakha, whoso have a hundred things beloved, they have a hundred sorrows. Whoso have ninety, eighty... thirty, twenty things beloved... whoso have ten... whoso have but one thing beloved, have but one sorrow. Whoso have no thing beloved, they have no sorrow. Sorrowless are they and passionless. Serene are they, I declare.
People who see that it is unwholesome to be enslaved by attachment to people and to the things around themselves, want to develop more understanding of realities by applying themselves to bhavana, mental development. Studying the Buddhas teachings and explaining them to others is kusala kamma included in bhavana. In studying the teachings panna will be developed. If we want to understand what the Buddha taught it is essential to read the scriptures as they have come down to us at the present time in the Three Collections: the Vinaya, the Suttanta and the Abhidhamma. Study alone, however, is not enough. We should experience the truth of Dhamma in daily life. Only then will we know things as they really are. Teaching Dhamma to other people is kusala kamma of a high degree. In this way one not only helps others to have more understanding about their life, one develops ones own understanding as well. Teaching Dhamma is the most effective way of helping other people to develop kusala and to eradicate akusala.

Another way of kusala kamma included in bhavana is the development of calm or samatha bhavana. In samatha there are specific meditation subjects which can condition the calm which is temporary freedom from lobha, dosa and moha. One must have right understanding of the meditation subject and of the way to become calm. When samatha has been highly developed different stages of jhana or absorption can be attained. However, the attainment of jhana is extremely difficult and one must have accumulated the right conditions in order to attain it. When the citta is jhanacitta there are no lobha, dosa and moha. Jhana is kusala kamma of a high degree. Jhana is not the same as a trance which might be experienced after taking certain drugs. Those who take drugs want to obtain the desired end in an easy way and their action is prompted by lobha. Those who apply themselves to samatha have the sincere wish to purify themselves of lobha, dosa and moha; they do not look for sensational or thrilling experiences.

Samatha can purify the mind, but it cannot eradicate unwholesome latent tendencies. When the citta is not jhanacitta, lobha, dosa and moha are bound to arise again. The person who applies himself to samatha cannot eradicate the belief in a self, and so long as there is the concept of self, defilements cannot be eradicated.

The clinging to the concept of self can only be eradicated through vipassana. Vipassana or insight meditation is another way of kusala kamma included in bhavana. Through the development of vipassana ignorance of realities is eliminated. One learns to see things as they are in being aware, for example, when one sees, hears, smells, tastes, when one receives impressions through the bodysense or when one thinks. When we experience that all things in ourselves and around ourselves are only mental phenomena or nama and physical phenomena or rupa which arise and fall away, we will be less inclined to take them for self.

What is the reason that we all are inclined to cling to a self? The reason is that because of our ignorance we do not know things as they really are. When we hear a sound, we are ignorant of the different phenomena which occur during the moment we are hearing that sound. We think that it is a self who is hearing. However, it is not a self who is hearing; it is a citta which hears the sound. Citta is a mental phenomenon, it is nama, that is, the reality which experiences something. The citta which hears experiences sound. Sound itself does not experience anything, it is rupa. Rupa is the reality which does not experience anything. Sound and earsense are conditions for hearing. Earsense is rupa as well. One may wonder whether it is true that earsense does not experience anything. Earsense is a kind of rupa in the ear which has the capacity to receive sound, but it does not experience the sound. It is only a condition for the nama which experiences the sound. Each citta has its own conditions through which it arises. Seeing is conditioned by eyesense which is rupa and by visible object which is also rupa. There is no self who performs different functions such as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, receiving impressions through the bodysense and thinking. These are different namas, each of which arises because of its own conditions.

copyright [Zolag] Revised 1/12/99, e-mail: