Meditation & Buddhism
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Bhavana or Meditation
- (The only way to Mental Peace.) -
By: Venerable Embilipitiye Medhananda Thero

Bhavana is the Pali term commonly used to mean meditation. However, the etymological meaning of the term bhavana is development, or culture. In the religious and spiritual sense, bhavana refers to mental culture, mental development. This dose not mean that physical development has no place in it. In Buddhism, the body and mind are interdependent, though mind is more important with regard to spiritual development. Therefore bhavana means the wholesome culture of the mind, which is related to the body. Hence bhavana includes the culture of all kinds of physical, mental and verbal activities, and related ritualistic activities which support the practice and success of bhavana.

Buddhism speaks of two kinds of meditation. These are Samatha and Vipassana. Samatha meaning the calming, concentrating, bringing of the mind to one-point (citta-ekaggata). It stills the constantly roaming and wandering mind. Vipassana refers to the development of penetrative knowledge, insight-knowledge which enables one to see the true nature of things, to see all things as impermanent (anicca), non-satisfactory (dukkha) and without a soul (anatta).

Meditation was there even before the rise of Buddhism. Scholars have traced the beginnings of meditation to the Harappa- Mohenjodaro civilization, which existed somewhere around 3000 B.C. Though the four vedas do not show any familiarity with mediation, the Aranyaks and specially the Upanishad clearly show the existence of the practice of meditation. These were many types of meditation practices with different aims and goals. Almost all these could be categorized as types of Samatha bhavana.

Some practised meditation to develop super-natural powers. The Upanishadic teachers advocated the practice of mediation to obtain the knowledge of unity between Brahman and atman. There appear to have been others who practised Samkhya-yoga in order to attain very high and subtle states of mental development and enter into different Jhanic states. Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta are two such teachers who practised mental culture to attain jhanic attainments. In fact the Buddha studied under both of them, and within a very short period of time, mastered their practices. But finding that the mental peace obtained through such practices are temporary, he stopped these practices and went in search of some meditational practice which is higher ( see the Ariyapariyasana Sutta in the Majjhimanikaya)

This the Buddha did not achieve towards their yogic practicing that were widely known at that time. There were many such yogic practices. Some of them are Bhakti-yoga and Raja-yoga. It was believed that through Raja-yoga one could unite with the supreme being, the God. Some advocated that by successfully practising the eight-limbs namely, Yama, Niyama, asana, pranayana, prathyahara, dharana dhyana and Samadhi one could attain mental one-pointedness leading to the realization of the absolute.

Then there were other kinds of yoga practices. One is Jhana-yoga through which one could realize the identity of the individual soul and the Universal Soul, the undifferentiated unity of atman and Brahman. Mantra-yoga was practised for the purpose of uniting with the God. Another very popular practice was the Kundalani-yoga. Those who engaged in this meditative practice believed that they could rouse the dormant power of the Kundalini which lies at the center of the Muladhara cakra, and gradually make it proceed upwards through the body, passing through different cakras or vital points, and reach its climax making the practitioner attain the bliss of highest Samadhi.

The Buddha did not think that bhavana is for such purposes. According to him man is in dukkha because of his defiled mind, and distorted vision. His aim was to use bhavana to culture the mind, to cleanse it, to control it, to make it one-pointed and then direct it to see the true nature of things and knowledge regarding the true nature of all things ( yatha-bhuta-nana).

With this purpose in view he adopted the samatha practices that were known to teachers before him. His aim of practising samatha was not merely to reach high states of concentration or to attain miraculous power (iddhi / rddhi); His aims was to prepare the mind for, through samatha bhavana, he cleansed the mind of five hindrances (panca-nivarana), brought the mind under control and made it become one-pointed (citta-ekaggata). Through this samatha practice he showed that it is possible to make the mind get "concentrated, pure, cleansed, free from blemishes, purged of adventitious defilements, supple, pliant, steady and unperturfed" ( evam samahite citte parisuddhe pariyodate anangane vigatupakkilese mudubhute kammaniye thite arejjappatte...) This is how the state of the mind that has reached the 4th jhana is described. Samatha is used to attain this state of mind.

The mind is directed to see things in their true nature. This is called vipassana, penetrative seeing or insight. This vipassana is the contribution of the Buddha to the practice of meditation. It is the Buddha who by finely blending samatha and vipassana made meditation the means of ending dukkha. Such a purpose was not known to other religious teachers.

Of course, bhavana could be very truthfully practised to obtain other worldly or mundane results. It is a good remedy for both mental and physical stress. As a stress-reduction method it is being widely used throughout the world. It is a very good remedy for various psychiatric problems and mental disorders. It could be used for character and personality building, for bringing about balanced thinking and refined mental attitudes.

Labotary research has shown that bhavana could control even physical diseases like cancer hyper-tension and many other physical disorders.

However, we have to keep in mind that though bhavana can produce such beneficial effects in our day to day life, and change our life patterns for the better, the ultimate purpose of bhavana is the ending of dukkha. So, as a first step in this direction one should start the practice of bhavana even though it is done to achive lesser aims, for such practice would gradually lead one to the true purpose of the bhavana practice namely, the highest bliss of the realisation of the end of dukkha.

-By Venerable Embilipitiye Medhananda Thero-

The writer Venerable Embilipitiye Medhananda Thero is a Buddhist monk who functioned as an advisor to our Association in Sri Lanka and currently lives in Thaiwan. We express our gratitude to the Venerable Thero for his advise and guidance.
-Sensei, Indishe Senanayake

* The giving up of all evil-The cultivation of the good
The cleansing of one s mind This is Buddha s teaching.

* I know what should be known, what should be cultivated I have cultivated,
What should be abandoned that I have let go,
Hence, O Brahmin, I am Buddha-
The Awakened One

* According to the seed that s sown
So is the fruit ye reap there from.
The doer of good (will gather) good,
The doer of evil, evil (reaps).
Sown is the seed and planted well.
Thou shalt enjoy the fruit thereof.

* Be loving and be pitiful
And well controlled in virtue s ways,
Strenuous, bent upon the goal,
And onward every bravely press.

* That danger doth in dalliance lie:-
That earnestness is sure and safe:-
This when ye see, then cultivate
The eight-fold Path, so shall ye realize,
So make your own, the deathless Way.


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