What do you believe?

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In the old style of meditation the teacher says: “This is what we believe. If you think carefully about these matters you will come to believe as we do. This is our sacred book, and most important commentaries on truth and liberation. Read these books carefully and you too will come to understand that our sacred books are true.”

In the new style of meditation the teacher begins by asking questions: “What do you believe?” Are there any beliefs about whether God exists or not that you are completely sure are true? If so what are those beliefs? How do you know they are true?”

“If there are no beliefs that you are sure are true, are there any spiritual, philosophical, or ethical beliefs you feel may be true, which you are willing to explore further? If so what beliefs about spirituality, atheism, or ethics are you willing to explore more carefully to see if they are true for you?

In the new style of meditation the teacher is seeking to help the student find out what is their vision of life, truth, love, and ethics by asking some very basic questions:

1) “Do you believe God exists, or do you believe there is no God, or are you really not sure one way or the other?

2) “In such matters what are your most important doubts and unanswered questions?”

3) “What is the center of your moral compass?”

4) “What changes do you wish to make in your life?”

5) “From where can you find the inner strength needed to make the changes in your life that you have been unable to make so far?

Depending how the student answers these question, will determine what manner of meditation practice is best suited for them. For meditation can be of great benefit to those who believe in God, those who do not, and those who are not sure what to believe.

It needs to be added that for this approach to meditation to work, the student must freely choose to embrace high standards of sincerity, honesty, open-mindedness, and personal integrity in their search and in their dealings with all other people. Assuming a person freely embraces these high standards and demonstrates an ongoing commitment to them, they are a good candidate for meditation practice. If a person has no interest in such a commitment then there probably is no need for them to spend much time thinking about meditation one way or the other.

The teacher’s responsibility is to have a wide range of knowledge of many different meditation practices and beliefs so they can help the student find the style and resources that work best for them.


Jomo and the Tale of the Six Buckets

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First Installment 2-7-13

Jomo decided he wanted to study meditation. So he went to speak with one of the monks who lived in a hut in the hills above the village fields.

Upon reaching one of the elders he asked, “Please sir, would you be kind enough to give me some instruction in the basics of meditation?”

The Elder replied: “Jomo I have not known your family well, but I know you are already familiar with the basics of meditation.  The first step is to set aside a place in your home that is your place to meditate.  If you want, you can decorate this area with some painting or statue that evokes for you a quiet and reflective mood. Then sit quietly either cross legged or in a chair with your back up right in silence and stillness for 20 or 30 minutes at the beginning of the day and in the early evening.

The Elder continued, “Many of the monks and nuns prefer to use a sacred word that they repeat over and over again as they seek to quiet the mind. Others prefer to use the breath as it passes in and out of the nose. In either case,when the mind wanders very gently bring your attention back to the breath of sacred word. What is most important is to bring the attention back to the breath without any condemnation or self-reproach.

These are the basics of sitting practice. But there is something else I suggest.

Please find 6 buckets in your father’s barn and bring them up here to the hills and stay in one of the empty huts for a day or two when you have the time to do so.

In the first bucket place every teaching of spirituality that you are sure is completely true.

In the second bucket place every teaching of spirituality that you are not sure is true but which you think may be true and which you are willing to study further.

In the third bucket place whatever you feel are your most important doubts and unanswered questions about spirituality or philosophy.

In the fourth bucket place every teaching of spirituality you have said you believe but which upon closer scrutiny you realize you either do not really understand or feel it may not actually be true.

In the fifth bucket place every teaching you really do not understand at all and cannot see any way to ever find out if it is true or false.

In the sixth bucket place every teaching which you feel is just plain wrong even if many other people tell you forcefully that it is true.

Once you have sorted these different teachings out and placed them in the different buckets this is what I suggest that you do. Spend as much time as you wish reflecting on the teachings or doubts in the first three buckets. Then take the other three buckets and empty them out and set them aside. You can always fill them again later if you feel it is important to do so.

With that the Elder smiled and Jomo did as well for he understood clearly what the Elder had said.

Taking the time to understand what beliefs you are sure are true and what are your most significant unanswered questions is an important discernment to make as you begin serious studies and meditation practice.

For the beliefs we hold to be most true shape the nature and tone of our approach to silent meditation.