Thought after thought, we spend our days. We live, love, and laugh; we hate, grieve, die and weep thinking the whole time—thought after thought.
In the Surangama Sutra, the Buddha recommended that we try out several different meditations and meditation objects, and then carefully choose one to stick with, the one that seems (mostly) effortless to us. Some teachers stick with the methods native to their tradition and insist that their students use those, even if those methods are difficult for the student.
I read an account from a teacher/friend saying that the first few years of meditation were mostly pure hell. He eventually pushed through that, and now his sits are serene. He feels that pushing through that mental dissonance is an important part of the practice, an element of growth and insight.
The Surangama Buddha would call bullshit. Overcoming pain and dissonance don’t do anything to help us uncover our True Nature—the True Mind or Self—it just reinforces the grasping, storytelling mind that causes suffering. You go from a tortured hero struggling with demons to a triumphant one who can now help others; that’s a story.
The Awakened Mind doesn’t have a story. There are no villains or heroes, no long, struggling journey that comes to a tidy and fulfilling close. There are no characters, no plots, and no sense of attainment or actual personal growth because that’s all ego. That might all occur on the peripheral, but it isn’t taken seriously.
Meditation is supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to fit like a glove, to mold into someone’s life so naturally that it seems like it’s always been a part of it. Like meeting your soulmate or taking the top off of an Oreo so perfectly that not one speck of cream remains. That’s what it’s like when you find the appropriate method. It’s fun.
Life is short. Unless you’re placing your bets on rebirth, why maintain a discipline that isn’t fun and engaging? You’d be better off smoking peyote in the desert with a bunch of friends than meditating if your meditation isn’t relatively effortless, playful, and immersive.
But that’s just my view. Studying and practicing Buddhism is fun to me. It has been since the day I cracked open Taking the Path of Zen five years ago. This shows you that I’m both incredibly odd and boring at the same time.
The Buddha said that, when trying out meditation objects, it’s skillful to go through the eighteen dhatus (elements of experience) and then pick one that we can easily concentrate on. Those are:
- Eyes, seen, seeing
- Ears, heard, hearing
- Nose, odors, smelling
- Tongue, flavors, tasting
- Body, touch, touching
- Mind, thoughts, perceiving/thinking
He used a weird equation to claim that the dhatus related to hearing, tasting, and thinking were the most efficacious since they have a broader field of experience than seeing, smelling, and touch. You can only see in front of you and a little to the sides, but you can hear in all directions.
He also suggested concentrating on the seven elements:
- Earth (solidity)
- Water (liquidity)
- Wind (breath, impermanence)
- Fire (heat, motion)
- Space (openness, stillness)
- Perception (discriminating, this or that consciousness, selective attention)
- Awareness (nondiscriminating consciousness, peripheral awareness)
I recommend experimenting. The Surangama praises listening above the others, but it just depends. In other works, the Buddha advocated for body awareness, breath awareness and many others. Our “like a glove” meditation style and object depend on our karma—our views, habits, and dispositions.
It took me five years of fumbling through them in all their varieties to stumble on one that fits: thought.