The Noble Eight-Fold Path

by Dharma Master Heng K'ung
(cont. from VBS #124)

      Practicing concentration when not firmly rooted in morality is very dangerous work and one who does so can easily go astray. In practicing meditation techniques we want a stable outer life so that the inner life can unfold. If the outer life is not pure, the inner life cannot be property cultivated. The aim of meditation is to cut off desire. We can save ourselves a lot of toil and squirming on the meditation cushion if we begin by making all our affairs wholesome.

      Proper unification of the mind is known as concentration. What is the mind unified to? The mind becomes unified with the topic of meditation and nothing else whatsoever. Properly unified, one does not feel pain, or cold, nor does one have any of the usual false thinking. A mind properly unified with the topic of meditation will not give rise to thoughts that generate desire. While the satisfaction of desire is pleasurable, let us not forget that this satisfaction, no matter how pleasurable, is still related to a human body and the experience cannot transcend the sense-realm. Most of us are lopsided because we only know what lies within the realm of the senses and have neglected to develop awareness of that which causes the mind to think, the heart to beat, the nose to smell, etc. This is not to say desire is bad, for if we never became hungry, we would not be motivated to eat, and our body would waste away. But we must keenly recognize when the fulfillment of our desires nourishes us and enriches our lives and when the demon of greed slips in and causes us to create hindrances for ourselves.

      When the consciousness is evenly and properly fixed on a given object, in an undistracted, unscattered and unperturbed way, we have concentration. This means the meditator does not distinguish himself from the topic of meditation. One must have a sincere desire to end birth and death before this kind of concentration can be attained. A person casually interested in mediation can never achieve true concentration. One must develop will power strong enough to work for many years (or perhaps live without any perceivable results). As with growing a flower, you plant the seed, wait patiently, and one day behold. Cultivation is just that way. We have no way of knowing when our causes and conditions will ripen and the flower of understanding will bloom. We must start by examining ourselves and thinking of ways to change our bad habits. This is planting the seed. Bad habits impede us because they cause us to do upside down things and waste tremendous amounts of mental energy. Second we must see what aspects of our personality other people don't like and try to change them.

      One endeavoring to develop his concentration should seek a teacher and ask the teacher to be compassionate and give him a meditation topic. Why does one seek a teacher rather than selecting a topic from an orthodox sutra and proceeding sincerely on one's own? There are 84,000 Dharma doors--ways to practice—to suit the nature of an infinite variety of individual natures. A good teacher can observe the seeker and choose a method most efficient for him to practice and give additional advice as the cultivator makes progress on the way. A good teacher can help one distinguish which experiences are genuine and beneficial from
those that are purely mental fantasy. A good teacher can, in addition, help one over come personal hindrances and fears. Who is considered a good teacher? One who is clear about birth and death is a good teacher. Because he is clear about these major universal problems, he is easily able to see your personal faults and compassionately assist you in overcoming them. He can assist one in small details also, such as the scheduling of time, etc.

      For meditation must be practiced at a fixed time each day. He can also help to sever karmic attachments. One must learn to view all people as brothers, sisters,
fathers and mothers. The Buddha has said that in the infinite number of births and deaths living beings have undergone while spinning on the wheel, we all have been related at one time or another. Cultivators of the Way should choose good companions. The Buddha has said, 'If you cannot find one better than yourself as a companion or at least one equal then it is best to live alone.' Like choosing a topic of meditation, one should choose an occupation that is harmonious with one's nature which does not create a lot of anxiety for oneself. If a situation occurs that causes undue mental strain it should be handed over to someone else. If this is not possible, one's cultivation should be temporarily abandoned and a whole hearted attempt to resolve the situation pursued. After the situation is resolved, one will be able to cultivate with a clear mind.

When developed, desire to cultivate the Way gives tremendous strength to the meditation practice. When we begin, cultivation often times is disagreeable to us. We often times become bored or feel we are wasting our time, or we feel we could be spending our time in a better way. Often times we quit before any fruit is yielded. One must use great discretion when choosing a dharma-door, that is, mapping out a course of cultivation. We must be very happy each time we begin a meditation sit and during the day should look forward to our time allotted to meditation. We don't want to begin cultivating with so much vigor we soon become over-strained and abandon the practice, nor do we want to start with so little energy we soon encounter distractions and are lured away from our meditation. A middle way must be found that is comfortable and yet sufficiently demanding to challenge habitual patience of the mind.

-to be continued