Life meditation

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Everyday life provides opportunities to observe and guard our conduct and communication

Adapted from excerpts from a chapter in The Complete Book of Buddha's Lists -- Explained. David N. Snyder, Ph.D., 2006.

Another form of meditation that is not discussed much by most teachers is that of Life Meditation. To do Life Meditation you simply make your life your meditation. It is not discussed too much because teachers do not want people to do only this type and forget the core meditations described in other articles in this category.

A popular saying is “Life is what happens while you are making plans for something else.” How true this statement is. Most people are ambitious and want to succeed in whatever it is that they are doing. So we plan our next promotion or purchase or whatever. We are always “on the way to something better.” By doing Life Meditation we can try to be present in each moment, while we are cooking, while we are cleaning, while we are working, and while we are communicating with others.

There are some people, even some very famous meditation teachers who have spent years on the cushion, but still have had many problems when interacting with others. There is a joke that goes something like this:

A guy asked me how long I have been meditating. I answered, “about twenty years.” The man said, “You have been meditating for twenty years? But you are so messed-up, what has it done for you?” I answered, “Yes, but imagine how much more messed-up I’d be if I wasn’t meditating for all these years.”

There is another story about a girl who came from a fundamentalist Christian family and converted to Buddhism. Her family was very upset and opposed to her adopting of Buddhism. The girl said “my family hates me when I’m a Buddhist, but they love me when I’m a Buddha.”

The above two stories show the importance of Life Meditation. Buddhism is not just some set of beliefs and rituals to practice. It is to be lived and practiced as a way of life. Our intention is to become buddhas, not Buddhists. A Buddha acts out of compassion and respect for all and not as a dogmatic fundamentalist.

Some teachers have described sitting meditation to an analogy of a concert pianist. Sitting on the cushion is like the concert pianist practicing scales on the piano. The performance with Buddhism is Life itself. We are not supposed to be peaceful and content just on the cushion. We must transfer that peacefulness to everyday life.

There are some people who meditate on the cushion and then apparently forget what they were doing when the meditation session is over and immediately go back to biting everyone’s head off with harmful speech. This is why there needs to be an emphasis on Life Meditation as well as the core techniques described above of meditation on breath, sensations, and thoughts.

The Buddha talks about meditation and its importance to everyday life in numerous Suttas. In one Sutta in particular, he gives instructions to his son, Rahula in life meditation; see: Majjhima Nikaya 61.

To do Life Meditation simply go about your daily routine. Notice the breath at any occasions where you have a moment to spare, such as when you are waiting for something. Notice the sensations whenever possible and also notice the thoughts. You are still going about your normal routine, but with more mindfulness and awareness. When you communicate with others, guard the sense doors and your reactions.

Guarding the sense doors is one of the most important practices, according to the Buddha. It is through the sense doors that craving and attachment can come into our minds. In Life Meditation we can watch the senses and see if we are reacting to something out of craving and attachment or if we are responding with our senses in a wholesome way. For example, we may see some junk food and this stimulates our sight, which then stimulates the olfactory senses, and then convinces us to think about the taste. If we react blindly to these senses we may indulge in them, even though we are not hungry. Later on, we feel regret when we see the damage it does to our waistline and health. By guarding the sense doors we can have more awareness and mindfulness and less suffering.

A person asked Ajahn Chah the question:

Q: Is it necessary to sit for very long stretches?

Answer: No, sitting for hours on end is not necessary. Some people think that the longer you can sit, the wiser you must be. I have seen chickens sit on their nests for days on end! Wisdom comes from being mindful in all postures. Your practice should begin as you awaken in the morning. It should continue until you fall asleep. Don't be concerned about how long you can sit. What is important is only that you keep watchful whether you are working or sitting or going to the bathroom. Each person has his own natural pace. Some of you will die at age fifty, some at age sixty-five, and some at age ninety. So, too, your practice will not be all identical. Don't think or worry about this. Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become quieter and quieter in any surroundings. It will become still like a clear forest pool. Then all kinds of wonderful and rare animals will come to drink at the pool. You will see clearly the nature of all things (sankharas) in the world. You will see many wonderful and strange things come and go. But you will be still. Problems will arise and you will see through them immediately. This is the happiness of the Buddha.

As someone talks to you, monitor their speech to see if it is useful or wholesome speech. If it is not, politely avoid the person. If the speech is vicious and attacking, do not react immediately. Carefully size-up the situation and respond in a way that is not harmful, that is not hateful, that is not unproductive, or that is not hurtful to you, the other person, or others. How many times have we said things to someone that we later regretted? Whole friendships and marriages have been destroyed with a few misplaced words. If we had been more mindful and careful in our speech, a different result may have occurred. Therefore, it is best to practice this Life Meditation as often and as much as possible.

See also