What is the Point of Buddhist Meditation? My answer in 304 Words.

Via Benjamin Riggs
on May 10, 2012
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Photo: Chaojikazu

“It is not known how the understanding understands; if it understands at all, at least it can comprehend nothing of that which it understands. To me it appears not to understand, because (as I was saying) it is not understood; and I have not been able to understand this myself.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila

Most of us sit on the cushion in order to get some place. We want to get “it.”

We are all looking for the grand finale—the awe inspiring moment of insight that ends all moments of insight, enlightenment. Then we get frustrated when it doesn’t come.  We think, “I think too much to meditate!” or “Some thing must be wrong with me…I’ve tried to meditate and I just don’t get it.”

We seem to believe that realization is a matter of tweaking this or that, or seeing things from a more “spiritual” point of view. Much to our chagrin, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Ultimately, meditation is concerned with the awakened state. It is about surrendering to the basic state of wakefulness that underlies not only, the rapturous moments of bliss and the agonizing moments of heart-ache, but the terrifyingly mundane spells of boredom we all cycle through.

Wakefulness isn’t something you get, obtain or acquire. It isn’t something to be understood or figured out. Understanding and accomplishment are conditioned states of mind born out of intellectual effort. The unconditioned mind is spontaneous or effortless. Therefore, relaxing into unconditioned awareness is about consenting to the naturally emergent is-ness that is the ground from which all conditioned phenomena arise.

The unborn mind is not the product of philosophical algorithms or psychic visions of a spiritual realm. So, there is no need to indoctrinate yourself with an enlightened point of view. Just fall into the un-elaborated immediacy of the present moment, which is the spontaneous emergence of a bird outside the window just before it becomes a bird outside the window.

The awakened state isn’t a point of view. It is view without any point.

Meditation is the non-practice of not tampering with anything including the tendency to tamper with everything. Realization is the perfection of simplicity.

Below is a set of simple instructions for the practice of meditation.

These instructions might be simple, but as you will soon realize, it is their simplicity that makes them so elusive. In the beginning it will be nearly impossible to practice these instructions for long periods of time. They are extremely accessible for a minute or two at a time, and are most effective when practiced throughout your day for a couple of minutes every hour.

Just pause and reconnect with that basic state of wakefulness that is embedded in the human condition. Simply notice the breath at the tip of your nostrils, the rise and fall of your chest, your beating heart, fleeting thoughts, singing birds, and honking horns. Don’t limit your practice to the cushion. Taste the awakened state in the context of your daily life.


Pith Instructions for the Practice of Meditation by Benjamin Riggs.


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Editor: Kate Bartolotta


About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


6 Responses to “What is the Point of Buddhist Meditation? My answer in 304 Words.”

  1. karlsaliter says:

    Good stuff, Ben.

  2. […] Now is the only time. How we relate to it creates the future. In other words, if we’re going to be […]

  3. […] Everything is simply perception. Some people also like to talk about certain proposed “absolute truths” that are beyond the mind or the material plane and have to either be accepted on faith or experienced directly during say, meditation. […]

  4. William Space says:

    Dzogchen is the foundation of Buddhism but it is not Buddhist. It was what Chi Kung is to martial arts. It's the foundation of martial arts but it is not a martial art – like Tai Chi, which is a healing form of martial arts but should not be confused with Chi Kung. Dzogchen is the beginning and the end of the path. It's core meditation is the only meditation one ever needs on the path to enlightenment but it acknowledges that there are many extrapolations which basically only serve to keep the soul entertained and move things along. The meditation of Dzogchen is to watch all of your thoughts like reflections moving across the surface of a lake. The important part and the other half of the core Dzogchen which I think is not acknowledged in the West is that; The Mind is Self Perfecting. All thoughts givin' their space and aloud to go across the lake will always heal us and take us in the right direction.

  5. Helen Haynes says:

    Thank you for such a down-to-earth (but enlightening!) article. I for one always romanticized meditation…and then I did the Goenka 10 day Vipassana course. The hardest thing I had to deal with was the sheer and utter boredom of sitting still for 12 hours per day! The instructions were (as you well know) as simple as pie…but so difficult to do for more than a couple of minutes in a row! Very humbling. I entertained a love-hate relationship with it for the ten days and it was only when it was over and I was practicing on my own did I really start to enjoy the sittings. Would I do it again? Definitely!