Zen author Steve Hagen tells you why.
WHY BOTHER TAKING UP the practice of meditation when, even in its simplicity it’s so difficult?
As soon as we hear this question, we come up with a list of reasons to justify meditation. We think that we’re going to get something from it– that it will lower our blood pressure, reduce our stress, calm us down, or enhance our concentration. And, we tell ourselves, if we meditate long enough, and in just the right way, it might even bring us to enlightenment.
All of this is delusion.
As long as we insist that meditation must have some use or purpose or meaning, or fulfill us in certain ways, we fail to understand it. As my teacher (and many other teachers before him) used to say, meditation is useless.
One of the obstacles we face when we first begin to practice meditation is our desire to know and reap its benefits. “How can meditation help me?” This approach assumes we are fundamentally sick and in need of spiritual medicine to make us whole. So, when we hear that meditation is useless, that it’s not about generating some benefit we wonder, “Whats the point?”
But if we are to understand meditation (or anything at all), we must drop our preconceived notions, biases, prejudices, and expectations at the door. Instead, lets look at the mind we bring to this practice. If its a mind of getting somewhere, a mind that seeks peace, calm, enlightenment, or freedom, then it’s not the mind of enlightenment. It’s a mind that seeks gain and keeps coming up short, a mind of strain and frustration.
Here is why meditation is useless: meditation is, finally, just to be here. Not over there, in some other place called peace or freedom or enlightenment. Not longing for something else. Not trying to be, or to acquire, something new or different. Not seeking benefit.
We need to understand that the wanting mind is the antithesis of the mind of meditation. The mind of meditation is a mind not driven by desires and fears and longings. Indeed, a mind that seeks to rid itself of these painful mental qualities is already the dissatisfied and confused mind from which we seek to free ourselves.
When we desire the desirelessness, we remain trapped in desire. When we want the wantlessness, we bind ourselves with yet another chain.
We can’t do meditation for any reason other than to be aware. We have to learn to see all of our desires and expectations as the forms of immediate dissatisfaction that they are, and then forget them.
If you’re sitting in meditation to get something– whether it’s tranquility, lower blood pressure, concentration, psychic powers, meaningfulness, enlightenment, or freedom from the desire for enlightenment- you’re not here. You’re off in a world of distraction, daydreaming, confusion and preoccupation.
Meditation doesn’t mean anything but itself– full engagement in whatever is going on. It’s not about looking for something.
To look for meaning or value is to look for a model, a representation, an explanation, a justification for something other than this, what’s immediately at hand. In meditation we release whatever reasons and justifications we might have and take up this moment with no thought that this can or should be something other than just this.
Meditation is not our mental and emotional business as usual. It’s about deeply seeing what’s going on within our own mind.
If we wish to free ourselves from a mind that’s tormented by greed, fear, obsession, and distraction, we must first clearly recognize that it’s the same tormented mind we are using to blindly pursue meditation. Since we can’t throw away this tormented mind, we can instead begin to honestly look at it, with all its expectations, fears, and desires.
In meditation, we don not try to forcefully detach ourselves from the feelings, thoughts, and expectation that arise in the mind. We don’t try to force anything into or out of the mind. Rather, we let things arise and fall, come and go, simply be.
In meditation, the things you like come up, then pass, then come up again. The same goes for things you fear or dislike. In meditation we simply see this clearly, without trying to grip or control any of it.
There will be times in meditation when we’re relaxed and times when our minds are agitated. We let both of these states be what they are. We do not seek to attain a relaxed state or to drive out our agitated and distracted mind. That is just more agitation.
When we allow the mind to function and just be here, with whatever comes up, without grasping, the mind settles on its own.
If we stay with meditation and continually keep our eyes open, gradually the unhealthy aspects of the mind including ideas we have about what we’re going to get out of meditation, will drop away on their own.
Steve Hagen comes from the Zen tradition of meditation and is the author of other great books including Buddhism Plain and Simple, and Buddhism is Not What You Think. He began studying in 1967 and became a student of Zen master Dainin Katagiri receiving the endorsement to teach (or Dharma transmission) in 1989. For more info about Steve Hagen, go to www.dharmafield.org