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“The object of meditation is to transform oneself, not to have good meditations”
Sangharakshita, Peace is a Fire
What Meditation Is and What It Isn’t
Often one of the first things one learns when one comes into contact with Buddhism - and sometimes even before that - is meditation. However, it is not always clear exactly what meditation is, or easy to articulate it! In the last 5 years of The Buddhist Centre Online there have been a number of different responses to that question. The London Buddhist Centre have made some pithy videos both explaining what meditation is - a means of becoming more aware of, and transforming, your experience and making deeper contact with your life; as well as what meditation isn’t: being in a special posture, being religious, or emptying your head of thoughts.
Paramananda, a much loved meditation teacher, also emphasises the importance of the body in meditation, proposing that it is better to think of meditation as something we do with the body rather than just with our heads. For a more personal take on ‘what mediation is’ you can also listen to a series of short talks from members of the Triratna Buddhist Order talking about what meditation means to them.
Learning to Meditate
Of course, like many things, it is best to experience meditation for oneself, rather than simply talking about it. The Triratna Buddhist Community has many Buddhist Centres around the world where you can learn how to meditate - and a number of groups on The Buddhist Centre Online regularly post updates on their upcoming meditation classes, retreats and events such as the Coogee Buddhist Group in Australia, Portsmouth Buddhist Centre in the US, and the Sadhamma Pradeep Retreat Centre in India. And if there isn’t a Centre or group near you, you can also meditate online with our Online Meditators Group, which meets on Tuesdays at 2.30pm EST/ 7.30pm UK.
Resources for Meditation: Online and Offline
There are many useful resources online to help you with your meditation practice. There’s this very helpful introduction to the two main meditation practices taught at Triratna Buddhist Centres from Kamalashila: the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Metta Bhavana (Development of Loving-Kindness). There’s also an introduction and led meditation for parents with young children looking to either start or reconnect with meditation. There are many other useful meditation resources to be found on Free Buddhist Audio: talks about meditation and texts around meditation practice, as well as guided introductions, retreat recordings and even recordings of bells to mark the stages of the practices.
Windhorse Publications has also published a number of books specifically on meditation. Most recently they have published Vajragupta’s book ‘Wild Awake: Alone, Offline and Aware in Nature’ which focuses on going on solitary retreats in nature, as well as ‘A Meditator’s Life of the Buddha’ by Anālayo which explores the Buddha’s life from the perspective of his role as a meditation teacher and practitioner. Later in 2018 Windhorse Publications hopes to publish additional books, including a book on the Satipatthana Sutta by Anālyo. And if you are a parent you may want to check out this list of books on meditation and Buddhism which are suitable for children.
Deepening Your Meditation Practice: Going on Retreat and Retreat Resources Online
Once you know how to meditate one of the best ways of deepening your practice is to go on retreat. Retreats provide a wonderful opportunity to get away from your everyday life and put yourself in the most ideal conditions for meditation. Over the past 5 years the team at The Buddhist Centre Online have been bringing the teachings and resources from Triratna retreats to everyone online: there’s the Tonglen Retreat in 2014, a retreat for mothers at Taraloka in 2015; as well as the complete recordings from Ratnavandana’s retreat on the Brahma Viharas, and the Spiritual Receptivity Retreat in Adhisthana with Vessantara in 2017. There are also recordings from meditation retreats available on Free Buddhist Audio, including one from an Anapanasati retreat in Padmaloka in 2016 and a retreat on the Satipatthana Sutta in 2017.
And for those who would like to get on retreat but simply can’t for one reason or another, it is possible to go on retreat in the conditions of your life: it’s called an urban retreat! We’ve done 3 of these international “Urban Retreat” retreats with an active online component – each time a week of online talks, teachings, led meditations, and other resources – all designed to help you practise the Buddha’s teachings more effectively as you go about your day. You can access these resources online anytime
View the Urban Retreat archive on ‘Sailing the Worldly Winds’
View the Urban Retreat archive on ‘Blazing Like the Sun’ (Metta practice)
View the Urban Retreat archive on ‘Living in the Greater Mandala’
Meditation for Transformation
As Sangharakshita makes clear in the quote above, meditation is about transformation. But how does it transform? And is it just about transforming oneself? Yashodeva in this short talk about Metta (Loving-kindness) shares a fascinating story about Anjali, an Order Member who, when held up in traffic due to a car crash with some friends, decided to meditate for those in the accident. Some time after that, a person who had nearly died in the car crash - having had an out-of-body experience during the accident but being drawn to the atmosphere around Anjali’s car and somehow made a note of the car registration number - managed to track Anjali down to ask what they were doing in the car!
There have been a number of street meditations organised with the very aim of highlighting the power of meditation to transform: in 2015 the Dublin Sangha organised a ‘Welfare not Warfare’ street meditation to mark the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, and did another one in 2016 ahead of the Irish General Election to highlight the need to tackle climate change; last year during Buddhist Action Month the Shrewbury Sangha organised a ‘Transforming Self and World’ meditation which linked to the anniversary of the murder of British politician Jo Cox, as well as a street meditation in Oxford. These actions challenge the idea of meditation as being a private affair, but rather something that is very much part of, and for, the world.
The ‘Metta for Merida’ initiative is another example of bringing out the transformative aspect of meditation not just for oneself but for the world. This group was set up in 2017 with the aim of supporting the Merida Sangha in Venezuela, a country experiencing great economic and social turmoil. Vajranatha, the only Order Member in Venezuela, talks in a short video about the network of meditation creating a collective consciousness around what’s happening in that country.
Now that this year’s Buddhist Action Month (BAM) is underway, find out more about how you can get involved transforming the world – and keep tuning in to The Buddhist Centre Online for more resources on meditation!
Read all our 5th birthday reviews of the best of The Buddhist Centre Online
Sign up early for this year’s International Practice Week: ‘Turning Arrows Into Flowers’ (Coming in September 2018)