Why Do I Meditate? Part 1

I am meditating on my inability to meditate by David Sipress

On Sunday I went by myself to Drepung Loseling Monastery for a second teaching. By myself is a big deal for me, because I don’t do well in strange or unaccustomed places. Crowds make me anxious. This week I wasn’t greeted by anyone or anything. I wanted to interact but I don’t really know how. I’m afraid of seeming too desperately needy.

Last week I was a little put off by the teacher, Geshe Ngawang Phende, at first. He looked very serious when he sat down and surveyed the room. His voice, when he began speaking was low and like many Asians he spoke quickly in a rhythm familiar from Bollywood and TV sitcoms. But then he began to get excited about his subject, why we really meditate, or at least SHOULD be meditating. He gestured broadly with his right hand, occasionally so moved as to also use his left hand, normally concealed by his yellowy-orange robes. He smiled and laughed and made eye contact with people in the room. And soon his speaking cadence was easier to understand. Though he apologized for his bad English and visibly groped for some terms, his command of English is excellent. I suppose that should not come as a surprise as Tibetan Buddhists rely so heavily on the English-speaking world for aid that fluency in the language is probably stressed and part of the qualifications for being posted to a major monastery.

Today, as last week the Geshe spoke about the real reason for any meditation practice. As I understand it, from the perspective of two whole sessions, the reason is the development of compassion for oneself, one’s family and friends, one’s enemies, the greater world, and all sentient beings (that wonderful Buddhist catch-all). He talked about how three things – our attachment, ignorance, and anger – color all our daily interactions with people in our lives. We create three baskets and put everyone into one of those three baskets.

The teacher said that every sentient being wanted the same thing – freedom from suffering – which leads to happiness. Wanting this for ourselves is intelligent selfishness and self-compassion. Wanting it for others is compassion. When we meditate on compassion, we are wishing that others be free from suffering and unhappiness. Since suffering and unhappiness is caused by attachment, ignorance, and anger, we are working to eliminate those things in ourselves and hoping that others can also free themselves.

But we cannot GIVE it to others, even if we have that freedom ourselves. It cannot come from without to within but must come from within oneself and the benefits of that, one’s own freedom from suffering, can then benefit others.

I was surprised, last week and this, about the emphasis on the family unit and couple relationships. The teacher talked at length about how important it is to begin letting go of anger and attachment, in the form of expectations, with one’s family first. Then that practice can radiate out to our work, shopping, and casual interactions with others and from there to all sentient beings.

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