Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Meditating on Meditation

Since the Universe has been kind enough to give me opportunities to meet many interesting people, I thought I’d share with you the recent chats I had with two well-known Buddhist monks who are currently visiting the country. One is Mingyur Rinpoche, a young and fine looking monk from Tibet with a beautiful smile, fine teeth and a happy countenance. The other is Ajahn Brahm, an Englishman who lives in Australia, had his Buddhist teachings in Thailand and extremely witty.

Both monks have a lot in common. Other than the tonsured pates and the flowing saffron robes, both have a ready sense of humour, plenty of anecdotes, personal stories and both are generous with their laughter and sincere smiles, which to be honest are lacking these days especially in people who command a religious respect and influence among their followers.

But then maybe it’s precisely the fact that they don’t dwell much on the formal and religious aspect of Buddhism that allow them to have a place in people’s lives all over the world, whatever their beliefs or cultures, despite the monks’ distinctive appearance and bearing. What they impart, whether through books, public lecture and workshops are stuff that one would normally find under the philosophy, psychology and self-help sections in the bookshop rather than the religious.

Armed with knowledge and the tools on how to achieve peace, lead a joyful life as well as attain wisdom and happiness, all with a fluency and articulacy of a career coach or public motivator, it is little wonder that both monks are frequent global travellers and much in demand, whether in the boardroom of highly stressed executives, amongst emotionally-charged urbanites or multi-tasking young people finding difficulty in focusing.

In short, they are a source of knowledge and skills that we all need to cope with life’s ups and downs without the religious strings attached to get tangled and knotted in. And what they are offering is an ancient and time tested tool effective in solving human problems as well as increasing awareness and understanding of the self, whatever one’s religion, race or gender: A tool that has now been scientifically tested and acknowledged by the medical practitioners.

That tool is Meditation, which according to Ajahn Brahm with a twinkle in his eye, was invented by Buddhists but which they don’t have a franchise on. It is free for anybody to use and moreover you don’t have to become a Buddhist to learn how to do it or really benefit from it. Meditating on a regular basis, says Mingyur Rinpoche, is good for your health, make you a happier person and peace of mind. Who in this world does not want to have that? He should know as Mingyur Rinpoche is an expert on the subject, having accumulated over ten thousand hours of meditation behind him and will soon go on a three year retreat to deepen his practice.

As a matter of fact, Mingyur Rinpoche has undergone several fMRI scan where doctors stick his body in an enclosed capsule for hours to video how his brains respond to various influences such as pain, viruses, shocks and other disturbances. Why he was willing to be subjected to what sounded like torture was beyond me, but the results showed that his meditative mind has a positive effect on the health of the body in the form of better immune system and faster healing process. Looking at him I have no doubt about his constitution. He looks the very picture of health.

According to Rinpoche, even as little as ten minutes of meditation a day has its benefits, if only to help calm down the monkey mind that most of us has, which loves to jump around, stirring our emotions in the process. Our mind is like a pool of water that is constantly being muddied and disturbed by our thoughts. When we meditate, we still the muddy water, enabling us to see through the clear water deep into the pool. There we will find revealed the gold of wisdom and the nugget of understanding that we all have within us, but until now obscured by the naughty monkey.

Ajahn gives an interesting example of what meditation is and why it’s important. He picks up a cup of water in his hands and holds it. The cup is light, he says. We have no trouble in holding it. Try to hold it for five minutes and it gets a bit heavier. Ten minutes and your arm hurts. Any longer and the weight becomes unbearable. When you finally put the cup down you give a sigh of relief.

Meditating is like putting the cup down and giving yourself a break. Imagine carrying all those thoughts, worries, emotions, anxieties, hopes, regrets and fears day in day out, for months, years, an entire lifetime without a break. No wonder the body gets sick, the thinking not straight and the emotions uncontrollable. The burden is too heavy for the mind and body to carry without reprieve.

When you meditate you set aside all those burdens for a few minutes by focusing on something else, something simple like your breath. Give yourself regular breaks from carrying all the stuff in your head and you will find that everything becomes a lot lighter, a lot less unbearable and your emotions much more in control. You will become a calmer, more focused and emotionally stable person.

I nod in agreement. From now on I will take up meditation on a regular basis. But before that I’ll take a little break and have a cup of tea. Aaah…

(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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