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We start to meditate because of individual circumstances and choices. However soon we find that two kinds of goals and aspirations inspire us to persevere on the meditative path. The first goal seems to be a short-term one. This is the aspiration to improve our state of mind, to become better people, to lead a meaningful life and to create less suffering for ourselves and others. This goal is often seen as ordinary and mundane but it is essential. It is an attainable goal and we can experience its manifestations. As we meditate regularly and steadily we feel that this helps us to become lighter, more open, attentive and caring.
There is no exact right way of doing meditation for it to work. There are many different methods that will suit many different temperaments and circumstances. What is most needed is enthusiasm as well as intention and practice. If we cultivate concentration and enquiry in a meditative way slowly but surely the effects of meditation will unfold in our life. Concentration will help us lighten and calm our mind. Enquiry will reveal the richness and possibilities of life in any moment. The cultivation of both concentration and enquiry allows us to develop a meditative awareness through all activities and circumstances. This meditative awareness will reveal us as compassionate and wise.
Experiencing the benefits of meditation in our daily life will reinforce our confidence and faith in ourselves and in the art of meditation. By seeing that it really works and effects changes in our way of thinking, feeling and relating, we find that we do not need to force ourselves to do it. On the contrary we realise that it gives us rest, reinvigorates ourselves and brings space in our mind and heart. Meditation is a source of calm but also strength, of steadiness but also openness to what life will bring to us. It is not something that we only practice when everything is easy and comfortable but also when we encounter difficulties. It makes us appreciate deeply the good times. It also enables us to rise to the challenges that life throws at us and helps us deal with troubles and problems in a creative and patient way.
The second goal is awakening. It can seem a long-term aspiration. It is often seen as elevated and sometimes even out of reach. Awakening is the full expression of our potential for wisdom and compassion. It is not as far or as improbable as we think. Zen Patriarch Hui Neng said: “Ordinary man and woman are Buddhas, defilements are awakening. A foolish passing thought makes one an ordinary person, while an awakened second thought makes one a Buddha. A passing thought that clings to sense-objects is defilement. While a second thought that frees one from attachment is awakening”. Here Hui Neng is telling us that we are not separate from Buddhas. We are not so far away from awakening. Any ordinary man or woman is a Buddha, he or she has the potentiality of being and behaving like a Buddha at any moment.
Furthermore defilements are awakening itself. Defilement refers to anything that is disturbing or compulsive: hatred, desire, delusion. It is a state of mind and heart when we are not centred, spacious and multifaceted but lost in a specific thought or emotion. When we hate someone we cannot think of anyone else. We barely have times for our loved ones or creative activities. We keep feeding the hatred and constantly plot revenge or wallow in our grievances. When we feel lust for someone or some object, the person or the object are constantly on our mind. We mull over the means to acquire the specific object or to have a certain person in our life. When we are lost in fantasies and dreams, we cannot see that we could be awakened in this moment. The obstacles are not the hatred, lust or fantasies but the clinging that gives rise to them. As Hui Neng shows us it is a foolish thought that makes us ordinary and confused but at any moment we have the possibility of giving rise to an awakened thought. For it is the clinging to sense-objects that gives rise to defilement and freedom from attachment that allows awakening to manifest itself. When we cling we are contracted and limited. When we respond with presence, wisdom and compassion we are free. Sometimes we cannot but be ordinary and sometimes we are blessed with the natural unfolding of our own awakening.
Zen Patriarch Huiko added: “The deepest truth lies in the principle of identity. It is due to our ignorance that a diamond is taken for a piece of brick. But lo! When one is suddenly awakened, it is realised that we are in possession of the real jewel. The ignorant and the awakened are of one essence, they are not really separated”.