One of my favorite books on Buddhism after all these years is Ven. Yin-Shun’s book on Buddhism called The Way to Buddhahood. I was thumbing through the book recently looking for something, when I stumbled upon this lengthy explanation about the importance of meditation in Buddhism. Venerable Yin-Shun was a respected Chan Buddhist,1 and widely respected for the breadth of his knowledge, and for reviving Buddhism in Taiwan.
On page 94 through 96, he takes up the subject about the importance of meditation (trans. courtesy of Dr. Wing H. Yeung):
These people [who question the value of meditation] do not know that purifying the mind is the goal of the Buddha Dharma and that within the worldly Dharma, practicing meditation is the only way that one can achieve such a goal….
Why should one practice meditation? There are many reasons, but the most important is that in this sinful world meditation is the only means of curing two big problems: attachment to sensual pleasure and scatteredness. Humans are attached to various sensual pleasures: material goods and agreeable sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and sex. They cling to present sensual pleasures; they think about past sensual pleasures; they seek blindly for future sensual pleasures. When people are without sensual pleasures, they struggle to get them; when they have them; they are afraid of losing them; after losing them, they become utterly miserable. Do not all the problems in the human world —social, economic, and political — exist because of desire for sensual pleasure? One should not be attached to the sensual pleasures, for they are like the honey on a knife blade; the honey has a sweet taste, but tasting it causes pain.
The human mind is scattered, much more so than the restless movements of monkeys, and because of this people easily become emotional, unable to clearly recognize reality (those who are extremely scattered cannot even understand worldly knowledge), unable to control themselves, and continually influenced by their changing environments.
But how does one begin? Ven. Yin-Shun then explains two kinds of preparation:
First, one must have kindness. Do not practice meditation out of curiosity, to gratify desire for limitless sensual pleasures, to extend one’s longevity, or to activate supermundane powers in order to get revenge. Rather one should be motivated by kind thoughts and want to practice meditation for the benefit and happiness of sentient beings. With kindness, one will have a gentle heart and can easily succeed in one’s practice….Second, one must receive and keep the pure precepts (the ten good deeds,2 etc) with virtuous conduct, both physical and verbal. If one acts improperly, then practicing meditation will attract demons and evil.
And in discussing what to do before practice:
…one should have firm faith that practicing meditation is the most blissful of all worldly dharmas. In terms of worldly pleasures, nothing is better than the pleasures of the five desires, and of these sexual pleasure is extreme; but these cannot be compared to the pleasure of meditation. The pleasures of meditation are complete and permeate the entire body, as if rain were filling everything, from gutters to ponds and swamps. If one can have faith and understand that practicing meditation activates an incomparable pleasure, then one will not be bound to the pleasure of external objects and will practice with diligence and without interruption.
Speaking from personal experience, I have had that experience once of calmness and pleasure permeating the body, just like water. It really is true, though regretfully that was when I was in Ireland, and I haven’t had much time to meditate consistently since then. Still after reading these passages I may take it up again.
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
1 Chan Buddhism has common origins with Zen, but it’s important not to confuse the two. Japanese Zen has some differences with Chinese Chan Buddhism, but they also have some commonalities. Just saying.
2 The Ten Good Deeds are an extension of the basic Five Precepts:
- No killing.
- No stealing.
- No illicit sex. Homosexuality is not a problem, how you use could be…same applies to heterosexuality.
- No lying.
- No backbiting
- Not speaking harsh/abusive language.
- No frivolous talk (talk that leads to breaking other precepts, or just stupid, pointless chatter)
- No greed
- No anger
- No deviant views (with respect to Buddhism)
The Five Precepts are the baseline for keeping one from harming others, while the Ten Good Deeds is a broader list to cover speech, body and mind. A similar post on the subject (though a slightly different list of precepts) here.