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Is meditation of any value to us?
This may seem like a silly question, but the fact is that every meditator who is in it for the long haul will probably ask this at one time or another.
The great siddha, Virupa, once became so disgusted with his practice that after meditation one evening he got up and threw his rosary into the monastery latrine, vowing to never meditate again. That evening, Nairatmya, a powerful tantric dakini, entered his dream and transmitted to him all the boons he was seeking.
After awakening—in two senses—he became a most renowned Indian tantric practitioner and author of many texts. He spent the remainder of his life initiating other yogis and yoginis in India and Tibet.
A point often echoed in different monasteries and different times, to monastics and lay practitioners as well, is that awakening often occurs when we come to a breaking point. The great Zen master Hsuan Hua said, “You don’t need anything special to study the dharma and practice meditation—a sincere heart is enough.”
But, as another Zen master once said, that sincerity must be so intense that we are “willing to die in the last ditch.”
Meditation is a confrontational practice and one that can get under our skin as it exposes our faults and calls into question all our attachments. How deep we go boils down to how much we are able to give up. Sacrifice is the name of the game if anything is to be accomplished more than sitting daily looking like a peaceful Buddha.
We are not statues, but living beings with hang-ups, afflictions, negative emotions, and conflicting desires. Seated meditation is like shadow boxing, and the “shadows” are those negative emotions that haunt us. Meditation illumines and prepares us for dealing with them when we get into the “ring”—or the real world. How well we fare there reflects better than anything else how well we are doing while on the cushion.
Meditation can also isolate us from the issues holding our progress back. Success or failure can be summed up in a single word: vulnerability. If meditation isn’t pushing our buttons big time, we are not vulnerable. And if we are not vulnerable, we can sit like a Buddha until we turn to stone and never feel fulfilled deep down in our heart.
Who said meditation is supposed to be pleasant? It can be rewarding when done correctly, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be pleasant. On the contrary, rewarding meditation generally entails a lot of “growing pains.”
The intensity necessary to move forward in meditation is dependent upon how much we are willing to allow meditation to transform our lives. The power of our meditation is going to be proportionate to our ability to yield to the influences our time on the cushion is placing on the table. If meditation influences us to change our way of doing things, often addressing issues we have long wanted to address anyway, then our time off the cushion becomes as important as our time on it.
Meditation doesn’t impose change upon us, but only reveals how we might bring about changes in our lives we’ve long felt were necessary, but had maybe been unable to accomplish. This is where fearlessness and trust come in, for we are inevitably led out on a limb and must be ready to “die in the last ditch.”
The meditating Buddha we are will be either impenetrable, like stone, or malleable, like clay.
A strong faith goes a long way as we step into dark places with seemingly no light on the other side, but like Hsuan Hua said, if your heart is sincere, even though it may be heavy, things will have a way of working themselves out—almost like magic. We must have faith in that. And faith never fails—it is the friend that will carry us miraculously through our most difficult times.
Illumination is the nature of the mind, whether we meditate or not. But we lose sight of that illumination when we become entangled with the drama of life. Meditation does not add “light” to our mind, but it does help us to disentangle ourselves from whatever is obstructing it.
While the light has never left us, we may have wandered away from it. The good news is that it’s not too difficult to get on track again, if we try.