There are all these self-proclaimed meditation teachers that make a mixture of meditations, and keep it at a superficial level, promoting meditation as a way to feel happier, blissful, and less stressed. They usually teach bare attention, mindfulness and insight, in the wrong way.
You have to be careful because practicing meditation in this way is only going to lead you to get attached to peace, bliss, and happy feelings. Buddha, the greatest meditation teacher of all times, teaches us not to waste our time dwelling on the bliss and peace of a concentrated mind which is achieved through tranquility meditation, but to move forward to the analysis and uderstanding of reality with the practice of insight meditation or Vipassana.
Now, watch out! there’s another big misunderstanding in our present world. Lots of people are skipping the necessary practice of tranquility meditation to go directly into insight meditation. The problem is they are just practicing bare attention instead of vipassana or insight meditation. Why are they doing this? Mainly because they have bad meditation teachers.
Bare attention can be useful, sure, it’s better to be paying attention than being distracted. In the same way, the “be here now” instruction taught by all these new age teachers can help you be more present and less stressed. But mindfulness, is much more than that and vipassana is even more than bare attention as well.
First we need to have a good foundation on ethics, so, we need analitical meditations that help us work with anger, attachment, ignorance, pride and jealousy, and that help us cultivate compassion, loving-kindness, patience, etc. With these as a base we practice tranquility meditation to develop a concentrated peaceful mind but not just for 20 minutes a day!. Our goal is to achieve samadhi (highly focused attention), and then we don’t just hangout in that peaceful focused space but we continue to develop wisdom through our practice of insight meditation.
So, don’t follow those people who believe that bare attention is all there is to meditation. Study, reflect and then meditate wisely.
In this video I show you some beautiful ink forms created by accidentally spilling ink on my sink. When something spontaneous like this happens, you can enjoy contemplating how it develops as you rest your mind in the present moment.
When you finish a course or meditation retreat, you find yourself with a great challenge, to give continuity to your meditation practice. During the retreat you had a schedule with a routine and group discipline, you did not have many distractions, there was no Internet, nor did you have to worry about making your food, work and other things. Everything was organized. But when you come out, you get involved with many activities, people, commitments, and very soon you find yourself distracted and not finding time for your meditation. As William James said, what you attend to becomes your reality. So, very soon your reality is different, your past habits return, they pull you back into putting the urgent tasks, your work, social commitments, housework, etc., before your meditation.
This is when you have to remind yourself every day what your priorities are, and this is easier if you dedicate 5 minutes in the morning to reflect on what is significant for your life, and how you can be of greater benefit in the world.
In order to cultivate discipline it is good to set times to do your meditation sessions every day at the same times. When you wake up as I mentioned, it is good to do a mediation session to help you start the day focused and with good motivation. After lunch make another session and before sleeping another.
They can last 15, 30 or 60 minutes. Ideally you want to progress until you can meditate one hour in the morning, one at noon and one at evening. Three hours of meditation a day have a great effect on your mind and you can progress in the practice of shamatha.
Do not worry if you feel you do not have time, if you dedicate 5 minutes, 3 times a day you will begin to feel better and little by little you will find the time to increase your sessions.
During these sessions, it is important that you see them not as a job, but as moments where you can completely relax from all your stress and worries, where you can enjoy the joy that comes from being in the present. This will not only make you feel good, but it will make you want to meditate more. Remember that meditation is not only to release stress, what we are cultivating is a balanced mind, which can be relaxed while developing a lot of concentration, attention, vividness, mindfulness and wisdom.
It is also important to try to be aware during the day of all our actions of body, speech and mind. This is where we apply the practice of mindfulness with discernment, choosing to act in an ethical way, restraining our impulses to offend, criticize, judge, etc. and instead practice patience, generosity, loving kindness, compassion and equanimity.
A practice we can do while interacting with people at work or on the street, is that of Tong Len (taking and giving) where with each inhalation we wish all beings (animals included) to be free of their suffering and with each exhalation we wish them to find genuine and lasting peace and happiness. When you do this practice with people you dislike, wish them to be free of their anger, pride, ignorance, envy, etc., and to develop wisdom, compassion, kindness, patience, and all the virtues you would like them to have. In this way, instead of creating negative karma, you are cultivating a loving and equanimous mind, which includes both friends, strangers and enemies.
Remember, every moment of your day can be transformed into a mental training practice.
I hope these tips help you practice meditation, if you have questions or comments leave them below.
This year I did my second Kopan course, it seems incredible that the first one was 13 years ago! It was like coming back home, I had so many memories of the 4 months I spent in retreat here.
Kopan is a beautiful Tibetan monastery built on a hill in Nepal, which offers a month-long course every November for Westerners, where the Lam Rim (the gradual path) is studied, a text that teaches step by step the stages on the path to enlightenment.
On this occasion I also did volunteering work as a simultaneous translator into Spanish and leader of the Spanish-speaking discussion group. Which required a lot of effort and concentration but it made me feel very happy to be able to help other beings understand the teachings.
This time I had the fortune to enjoy a single room with private bathroom and hot water, unlike my first course where I had to live in a quadruple bedroom with shared bathrooms and cold shower. This gave me the opportunity to have the necessary space to rest after each intense day of work, study and practice. In addition to being able to do my personal meditation practices very early or in the middle of the night.
The schedule was very intense, starting at 5:30 am with a meditation of purification.
At 6 we had tea in silence, watching the sunrise in the middle of a spectacular landscape, with the mountains and the view of the monastery of another of my teachers, Ayang Rinpoche, which is on the hill in front of Kopan and has a beautiful design that gives you that feeling of being in a mystical land of the East.
At 6:30 we had an hour of shamatha meditation, this session sometimes I rathered do it in my room, since this is a practice that I have done for years and I prefer to do it without a guide.
At 7:30 they served breakfast, usually rice porridge, white bread with peanut butter and jam. This meal was not really healthy, so I preferred to have breakfast in my room, one of the many apples I bought before starting the retreat, a couple of dried figs and a couple of almonds.
From 9-11: 30 we had teachings with Ven. Alisa, an eloquent Australian nun, whom I translated simultaneously into Spanish through a microphone while the Spanish speakers who needed translation listened on a radio frequency. This was a wonderful experience since I could not escape a word and therefore I learned a lot, topics that I had already studied but this time I could understand them a little more deeply. In addition, the challenge of improving my skills as a translator and being of benefit to other people motivated me to give my best.
After lunch we still had silence. After this, we could talk.
At 2 pm we met in a terrace or garden with our discussion group, as group leader I received a daily paper with three questions to generate and coordinate the discussion in our groups. My group had people from Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Spain and of course the Mexicans, couldn’t be missing. For me it was an interesting experience to motivate the discussion, to give space for everyone to have an opportunity to speak and help clarifying a topic when it was difficult for them. All beautiful people who contributed a lot of their own inner wisdom to the group. We laughed, we learned, we comforted and supported each other for a month, and in the end we were family. I miss them!
From 3:30 to 5 p.m. there was another session of teaching and translation, the most difficult part was translating the parts in which the instructor read a book, since they were fast and sometimes there were words in a somewhat poetic English. Class themes were sometimes very difficult for students to assimilate, particularly those related to karma, rebirth and the sufferings of samsara (cyclic and conditioned existence).
Then we would do an analytical meditation on the subject of the teachings.
Many of these meditations are difficult because you have to reflect on a topic and many times we are just thinking instead of meditating. In my next guided meditations I want to touch some of these topics in some way that I can guide my students step by step until they can connect with a recognition of a certain subject in a more experiential way.
In the afternoon tea and during dinner, people socialized and took advantage of the little time to meet more people. The group initially had about 240 people, 10% left for various reasons. But still it was a large group.
At evening on the last session we did the purification practice of Vajrasattva, which at the same time was a small introduction to the tantric practices of Tibetan Buddhism.
When we came to the subject of Shamatha practice, which means development of single-pointed attention, or calm-abiding. Ven. Alisa asked me to give a talk to the group on this topic telling them about my experience in retreat and giving them practical advice. Many people told me that it helped them a lot and later some people asked me questions about their practice, I was glad to be able to support them and advise them about their plans for retreat.
At the end of the course, Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived and gave us teachings on the themes of emptiness, the development of bodhicitta (the mind of awakening), etc. He was wonderful, his way of speaking and his personality reminded me of Yoda from Star Wars, a character that was actually based on Tibetan teachers. There is no doubt that Lama Zopa is a wise, loving and compassionate teacher.
The penultimate day we went as a group to visit the Stupas of Swayambu and Boudha. A Stupa is a monument that symbolizes the body, speech and mind of a Budha, so it is said that circumambulating these has much merit while reciting mantras or reflecting on a subject of the teachings.
At the end of the course, we had a great closing celebration with dances and Tibetan music, some members of the group also sang a funny adaptation of the song “Let It Be” by the Beatles. The monastery prepared a delicious meal that we enjoyed outdoors.
In the end the group was considerably reduced and we had one more week of silent retreat dedicated to meditating on each one of the topics seen during the course.
In general it was a very nice experience. I highly recommend you take this one-month course, if you have the interest to explore the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in a traditional way in a monastery. But I don’t recommend it if you do not like rituals and are looking for a meditation retreat with a secular approach.
I also advise you to read a little about the Gelug lineage of Tibetan Buddhism before deciding on this retreat, since the approach is one of study and analytical reasoning.
If you have questions leave them in the comments below and I will gladly answer them.
I woke up this morning and found my iPhone full of messages from my family and friends, first I began to see some photos of disasters and then I saw a building collapsed in the center of the city where I grew up, in that moment I realized that something horrible had happened. While I was sleeping a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Mexico City, my birth-town, the City of Cuernavaca where I grew up and the City of Puebla where I lived and studied university. The three states are united by the great Volcano Popocatepetl, who has given me beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
I have family and friends in all three states. Everyone is afraid of more tremors coming.
So far Cuernavaca has the highest number of deaths from the earthquake.
A close friend and her daughter are injured today and lost everything, as the building where they lived, Torre Latinoamericana, collapsed completely (see photo below).
On the road that connects Mexico City with Cuernavaca, which I have traveled on countless occasions by car and bus, a bridge collapsed, the pavement opened and giant stones fell.
There are several videos circulating, which show the falling of buildings in Mexico City these are the ones that shocked me the most.
Puebla, one of the most beautiful cities of Mexico, also was terribly affected.
Returning to my city Cuernavaca, it gave me great sadness to see the damage on the Cortés Palace and the Cathedral, the two most beautiful and historic buildings we have.
The same day, 32 years ago September 19, 1985, Mexicans experienced a mega-earthquake that destroyed much of Mexico City and I remember it took years to rebuild it and for people to recover emotionally. I also remember many people who were homeless and frightened moved to live in Cuernavaca, I remember that we received a family in our house while they found a place to live. The teachers in the schools were afraid and made us practice again and again the drills in case of trembling. It was an event that affected us all in many ways. And now… we will have to live all of that over again.
I feel sad for Mexico. It is a beautiful country with wonderful people, historyand traditional towns but it also has people who do us much harm, like narcos, corrupt politicians, thieves, policemen who don’t do their work, etc. We Mexicans have suffered a lot because of this type of people who don’t love their country and their people. It is not only sad to see my family and friends frightened day by day. Now also in this month two earthquakes have manifested, generating even more suffering.
Right now all the attention is focused on Mexico City but Cuernavaca City has the highest number of deaths from the earthquake. I want to ask the world for help for my city. There are many people and many organizations helping and doing well, but there are other corrupt ones that you can not trust. So I am collecting donations from friends all over the world and I will make sure they get to the people who need it.
So much is required such as medications, baby and adult food, blankets, diapers, etc. Your donation can bring these things to the victims of the earthquake.
You can donate now, by PayPal or by credit card on this link (PayPal should appear connected to this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you want to help us, please share this article and donate if you can do it. Thanks, your help is appreciated.
Many of you don’t know me but some of you know that I have practiced and taught for many years the Buddha’s teaching of living an ethical way of life and for the benefit of others.
Recently I taught a course on Shamatha meditation at Yamantaka FPMT center in Bogotá, Colombia. Shamatha means calm-abiding and attentional training through meditation. At the end of several weeks of teaching and practice, we had a meditation retreat to put all the things learned into practice.
Have you ever felt motivated to do a project that at the time seemed very significant, or get involved in a job or activity that would be of much benefit to others? But as you started to develop it, you started to face the obstacles that come with any type of business or project?. You realized that in order to do that, you had to fight tirelessly, to do things that were unpleasant and that required money and effort and that there was no guarantee of success, not even knowing if it would really benefit humanity.
You questioned whether your motivation behind this project was not in some way also dominated by some self-centered desire, to get recognition, or money, or some kind of personal benefit. You met people who opposed or discouraged you, telling you that it was not worth investing your time, or that it was not a good idea nor a useful project.
Little by little you felt more and more discouraged, less motivated, and finally decided that it was not worth putting more time and energy into that project. You finally quited. And you started to wonder what’s really worthwhile?
I have been there, and the only thing I have found worthwhile is to watch my mind closely, to see how thoughts arise that crystallize into motivations, motivations that produce emotions that feed the energy that leads to action. Be aware, what is your motivation behind each action?. And when you discover that it’s a self-centered motivation, ask yourself if it’s really worthwhile.
Reflecting on our actions, becoming aware of our motivations, emotions and thoughts, is what really is worth, only in this way we begin to know ourselves, to become better people, more attentive, kind, generous and patient, and when we are dedicated to this observation and transformation we can begin to act wisely, effortlessly and selflessly. Action happens in a natural way. And when there is no necessary action, the stillness of our body, whether in the sitting position or in the supine posture, allows us to continue to observe our mind, in the present, releasing the clinging to the past and to the future.
Friends, here’s a great video of Ven. Robina Courtin in which she teaches us how to cultivate a brave compassion. The translation into Spanish was carried out by me during her teaching cycle in Bogotá.
Enjoy it and if you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.
Our motivation is what determines whether our meditation practice is a superficial patch to relieve some stress and relax us, or if it is a deeper practice that can lead us to completely free ourselves from dissatisfaction, pain, fear and discover genuine happiness. Moreover, our motivation may be so great that it leads us to practice meditation not only for our own benefit but also for that of others.
I recommend reading the article where I talk about how to structure your meditation session. Thus, when we sit down to meditate we spend the first 1 to 5 minutes of our practice reflecting on the motivation for which we meditate, trying to be honest with ourselves. We reflect on how important it is to train our minds to change habits, to cultivate attention and concentration and to free ourselves from mental afflictions. Think of the benefits of training your mind in attention and wisdom and cultivating emotional and mental balance. Think that your formal sessions are equivalent to going to the gym but in this case what you are training is the mind. And reflect on the positive effects of practicing daily. Thus we are motivated to practice properly.
Reflect on how valuable it is to have health, free time and desire to train your mind, and appreciate every moment in which you can sit and meditate, because you don’t know when disease, old age and death will come. Determine to take advantage of every moment, living in the present with a calm and attentive mind, cultivating a good heart and developing your wisdom.
At the end of our meditation, we commit to continue to be attentive to the motivations that move us to think, speak and act in a certain way. As we become more aware of why we do everything we do, we will realize what the motivations behind our actions are, and gradually we will realize that when we have selfish and self-centered motivations, we will be generating problems and suffering for ourselves and others. So little by little our main motivation will be to make ourselves and others happy.
The word meditation is sometimes used to refer to the act of reflection or relaxation. But in the context of contemplative traditions meditation involves habituating the mind, training it to cultivate specific mental states, habituating it to think or to visualize in a certain way or simply let the mind observe itself. There are also analytical meditations where you begin by reflecting on a topic but once the understanding is reached, you let the mind dwell in that understanding. So, meditation involves staying or arriving through a method to a non-conceptual experience.
Every day you meditate unconsciously, as you repeat and become used to certain thoughts, moods and reaffirm emotions and behaviors. Some of us are experts in meditating on anger, others on visualizing our enemies, self-criticism, and so on. There are also those who have trained to respond with patience and tranquility in any circumstance. But we all know that it is much easier to cultivate a negative habit than a positive one, because we tend to blame others and justify ourselves. Without realizing it, every day we are reinforcing habits and behaviors that cause us dissatisfaction and suffering.
Meditation is also called contemplation. Since it lead us to a state of contemplative or non-conceptual consciousness. This is not something from other world, we have all experienced it, for example when we are concentrated in an activity that does not require much analysis and reasoning, allowing us to enter a state of flux, we lose notion of time because we are totally present and relaxed. Like when we go out on the road and after some time of monotony in which we relax because there is not much to do, the driving is done almost automatically and there are few changes, we enter that state of relaxation that at the same time is very alert, but it doesn’t require a great intellectual process. Some authors speak of the left and right hemispheres, they say that when the left one doesn’t have a logical task to solve, it allows the right hemisphere to take control and this allows a more panoramic perception that includes all details and the relationships between them.
In many spiritual, philosophical, and contemplative traditions this ability of the mind to train itself has been valued greatly, and methods for consciously performing this training have been developed.
However, each tradition has given a different flavor to the contemplative practice, some have made it more devotional to produce certain exalted mental states, others have made it more technical for people who need to follow a technique step by step, others have developed analytical meditations to help people who are very rational to come to a conclusion through analysis and then to let go of the analysis while they rest to the mind allowing the acquired knowledge to settle, so to speak.
Thus, an endless number of different forms of meditation have been invented or discovered, with different aims and conditions.