Meditation is an intrinsic part of the Buddhist path. The type of meditation we practise is called Formless Meditation. Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training starts with an introductory course to this type of meditation.
Meditation has nothing to do with trying to make your mind blank, suppressing thoughts/feelings or creating a personal fantasy world. On the other hand, the practice of meditation could help us become more genuine, honest and effective human beings.
People are often drawn to meditation for a variety of reasons such as becoming less stressed, more relaxed, improved focus, greater clarity etc. Whilst these are important reasons for commencing the practice of meditation, they are considered important by-products of Buddhist meditation rather than the primary aim.
This primary aim is to experience some quality of awakening or ‘being’ which transcends our narrow way of experiencing ourselves and the world through thoughts or concepts. It is a journey towards revealing one’s true nature, beyond any dogma.
With any meditation practice it is always good to be able to clarify the meditation method by talking with a teacher who will be interested in your experiences and able to make suggestions based on their own experience. You can listen to Lama Shenpen talking about the importance of having a teacher and a lineage connection here. You can also find out more about our lineage within the Tibetan Buddhist Karma-Kagyu/Nyingma tradition here.
Meditation is about how we relate to thoughts, feelings and emotions. It’s about learning to be kind to all aspects of ourselves and developing a greater sense of spaciousness, in which there’s room for all experience. It is a journey of the heart and to the heart, which is full of ungraspable significance: a search for Truth.
The Formless Sitting Meditation that we practice is about simply resting in experience itself, without focusing on any particular form or object. Formless meditation involves two processes: calming and settling the mind (known as Shamata) and the other is developing insight or understanding (known as Vipashyana).
The only instructions for the meditation are:
Wake up into your immediate experience
Connect to the Heart
Be fully present
Open out into space
“We deliberately keep the focus simple. Do not be deceived by the simplicity however. The practice gradually reveals itself to be subtle and profound. We learn to make friends with ourselves and all our experience, good and bad, because the essence of both is the same natural and profound openness, clarity and sensitivity of our being.” – Lama Shenpen
To ‘wake up’ is to become aware of what you are experiencing right now, let go of the past and the future.
‘Connect to the heart’ here means let yourself breathe from the heart and let go from the heart, without any particular agenda.
‘Be fully present’ means to turn towards all your experience with interest in an open-hearted, confident and simple way. The object isn’t to clear the mind of thoughts, but to notice as thoughts naturally appear and to label them as ‘thinking’ whatever the content, and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Paying attention to the breath is very grounding and relaxing into the simple movement of the breath can be a stabilising experience. On the out-breath the instruction is to ‘let go into space’ but it’s important not to fixate on it in any literal sense.
“Meditation wakes us up to new possibilities for choosing how we experience our life. We have more freedom than we realise.” – Lama Shenpen
The Heart of Meditation book which we use as our guide and can be purchased from Amazon and it explains the instructions and practice in much more depth. The Heart of Meditation course is also offered as the first part of the Living the Awakened Heart Training, the donation based, distance learning course offered by the Sangha. Find out more about Formless Meditation practise within the AHS at our meditation website www.howtomeditate.org.uk or visit www.ahs.org.uk/training for full details of the home study course in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight.