Frequently asked Questions about Meditation
Do I have to be a Buddhist to benefit from meditation?
No, anyone can learn basic meditation techniques and experience the benefits. Buddhists respect all people and are happy to help anyone regardless of whether they subscribe to another faith, or to none whatsoever.
Why should I meditate?
Meditation trains our mind to be calm and to develop and improve our concentration. The most profound purpose of meditation, however, is to acquaint and familiarize our minds with positive states and realizations and to eliminate negative ones. In this way, we gradually achieve minds free from the causes of unhappiness and suffering.
How does meditation work?
Meditation is a mind that concentrates on a virtuous object and is the main cause of mental peace and happiness. Meditation is a method for acquainting our mind with virtue. Virtuous states of mind naturally make us peaceful and happy.
Because our mind determines our experience and ultimately, the quality of our lives, we use meditation to gain control over our mind and focus it in a positive direction. Breathing meditations settle our mind and transformative meditations lead us to deeper and deeper experiences of inner peace and joy.
Gradually, we will find that our lives are improving, our experiences are less stressful and that we are happier regardless of our external conditions. Ultimately, we will keep working on our mind both in and out of meditation until we attain the supreme inner peace of full enlightenment.
How often should I meditate and what meditations should I do?
To begin with, getting into the habit of coming regularly – once or twice a week – to meditation classes will re-charge your batteries and make a big difference. Once you feel ready, it is very helpful to engage in these meditations at home on a regular basis. You will soon notice their positive effects on your life. Concerning how often, once a day is recommended, even it is only for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.
As to which meditation to do, it’s a good idea to start with breathing meditation until your concentration is stronger and to then gently start doing the other meditations you have learned.
Eventually, you will know how to incorporate all of the meditations you have learned into a three-week cycle of twenty-one meditations called “Lamrim”, or the “Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”. Please always feel free to ask the teacher for advice on your individual meditation practice.
Will my previous meditation experience be a problem?
We welcome you. Your previous experience can help you with many aspects of Kadampa Buddhism. If it is your intention to deeply pursue a spiritual path, it is important to remember that all Buddhist masters advise us to choose a path wisely and to follow it sincerely, gratefully and thoroughly.
Each authentic tradition is a complete method in itself, a sequence of progressive steps, not to be mixed or diluted. Should you choose the Kadampa path as your own, that is wonderful. Should you choose another path, follow it whole-heartedly with our blessings and good wishes.
I can’t seem to do the meditations…what do I do?
You are in the right place. We will do our best to answer whatever questions you have and respond to any concerns you wish to discuss. Your confusion will clear away if you take the time to contemplate deeply and thoroughly each aspect of the teachings. By putting them into practice joyfully and consistently in your daily life, your understanding and ability to meditate will naturally improve.
Geshe-la says, “Try, don’t worry!” Keep a light and happy mind, make steady effort and you will find that your concentration naturally improves. Geshe-la also suggests that we can improve our meditations by using mindfulness in our daily life: to try to keep a positive mind by relying upon the teachings and to practice moral discipline (avoiding actions which are harmful to ourselves or others).
I have a specific problem in my life. Can Dharma and/or meditation help?
People often find that they do. Buddha’s teachings give people ways to heal and transform their minds, granting access to deep relaxation, happiness and inner peace. Meditation is the vehicle by which we can deepen our clarity, concentration and experience of these teachings so that we can integrate them into our lives.
Dharma can help people to think about their problems in new and more helpful ways. Often when we have problems, we can “not see the forest for the trees.” Buddha taught a very wide view and by understanding this bigger picture, many problems can be put into a context which makes them easier to deal with.
Also, our Sangha is filled with compassionate people. As you get to know a few, you might approach one or more of them and discuss your concern with them.
What books should I read?
A great place to start is Modern Buddhism, a free electronic copy of which is available for download here. Another popular book for newcomers is Transform Your Life. If you are ready to do the cycle of 21 meditations based on the “Lamrim” (see above), you will be well-guided by The New Meditation Handbook. Additional commentary to these meditations can be found in Introduction to Buddhism and Joyful Path of Good Fortune. These books and other fine books are available in Vajradhara Center’s book store or from Tharpa Publications. Please feel free to ask us for advice!