Why Meditate?

001 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<The Origin of the Current Meditation Boom in America and its Purpose>
The following is my personal view of the subject matter. ^^

The Buddhist practice of meditation — or the practice — is done to accomplish deliverance∙Nibbana. The Buddha, Gautama, had realized the truth only using his body and mind through practice 2,600 years ago.

However, people today use the practice for many benefits short of achieving deliverance Nibbana. Modern human beings learned and practiced Buddha's teachings and realized that even basic practice can be beneficial. In order to reduce the pain of life and increase happiness using this basic practice, various programs have been created based on the Buddha's teaching. One example is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which began in 1979 in the United States.

 

002 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<The Purposes of Applied Buddhism>
The following is my personal view of the subject matter. ^^

There are many programs similar to MBSR in the United States and many practice in such programs. I know that these kinds of program are available in Korea these days, too. The purposes of these kinds of program are somewhat different from the purpose of Buddha's teaching — deliverance∙Nibbana. A few examples of the purposes of such programs are as follows:

• To reduce stress and to prevent disease and cure disease
• To rely on meditation instead of pain medication or drugs
• To increase the effectiveness of learning
• To help children with behavior issues
• To rehabilitate criminals
• To achieve higher productivity at work
• To get along well with people around you

The accomplishment of any of the above would result in the increase of happiness in the present life.
So, what did the Buddha teach laypeople about increasing happiness in the present life?

 

003 Why Meditate?
—About Applied Buddhism

< What did the Buddha Teach Laypeople about how to Increase Happiness in the Present Life>
According to the Early Buddhist discourse, the Anguttara Nikaya,

“These four things lead to the welfare and happiness of a clansman in this present life. What four?
1. Accomplishment in initiative
2. Accomplishment in protection
3. Good friendship
4. Balanced living”
[Dighajanu Sutta, A8:54, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi]

“These four kinds of happiness that may be achieved by a layperson … What four?
1. The happiness of ownership
2. The happiness of enjoyment
3. The happiness of freedom from debt
4. The happiness of blamelessness”
[Blessing, A4: 62, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi]

In other words, “one must live a morally wholesome life and help others. The Buddha called this morality (sila) and generosity (dana). Likewise, one obtains happiness in the present life by learning and practicing one’s appropriate skills, living a morally wholesome life, and helping others.” [Introduction to Early Buddhism, authored by Bhikkhu Kakmuk]

 

004 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<What Practice did the Buddha Teach Laypeople to Do for the Benefit and Happiness in the Present Life>

In the Dighajanu Sutta [A8:54], “good friendship” covers this topic:

“Here, in whatever village or town a clansman lives, he associates with householders or their sons — whether young but of mature virtue, or old and of mature virtue — who are accomplished in faith, virtuous behavior, generosity, and wisdom; he converses with them and engages in discussions with them. Insofar as they are accomplished in faith, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in faith; insofar as they are accomplished in virtuous behavior, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in virtuous behavior; insofar as they are accomplished in generosity, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in generosity; insofar as they are accomplished in wisdom, he emulates them with respect to
their accomplishment in wisdom. This is called good friendship.” [Dighajanu Sutta, A8:54, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi]

 

005 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<The Meditation Boom and the Meditation Population >

Recently, a meditation boom is sweeping the earth. This happened first in America and then in China, which has gradually loosened its rules on religion and is rediscovering its roots in Buddhism. India is also rediscovering yoga and meditation. These three nations’ population —at 3 billion — is about 40% of total earth population of 7.6 billion. When we add to this the nations which typically follow America’s trends, I think it would be well over 50% of the total earth population who are potentially meditating. This trend is a truly astonishing development. One could call it the “Renaissance of Human Spirituality.”

The modern meditation boom started for a variety of reasons, including improving health, spirituality, and religion. Health is perhaps the primary reason people turn to meditation today. I wonder how monastics who have kept the Buddha's teaching through the ages view this trend.

 

006 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<How Monastics who have kept the Buddha's Teaching through the Ages see this Trend>

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi states,

“Meditation is being taught to help people obtain release, not from the cycle of birth and death, but from the strains of financial pressures, psychological disorders, and stressful relationships … Is the pure Dhamma being diluted for secular ends, reduced to a mere therapy? Won’t the outcome be to make samsara more pleasant rather than to liberate people from the cycle of rebirths? Did anyone ever attain enlightenment in a medical clinic? It is my personal belief that we need to strike a balance between caution and appreciation.
I call to mind a statement the Buddha made in the weeks before his death: ‘The Tathagata has no closed fist of a teacher with respect to teachings.’ By this, he meant that he had taught everything important without holding back any esoteric doctrines, but I like to interpret his words to mean that we can let anyone take from the Dhamma whatever they find useful even if it is for secular purposes.
At the same time, I also believe that it is our responsibility, as heirs of the Dhamma, to remind such experimenters that they have entered a sanctuary deemed sacred by Buddhists. Thus, respectful towards their sources, they should pursue their investigations with humility and gratitude.”

 

007 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<The Tsunami is Approaching>
The following is my personal view of the subject matter. ^^

Whether monastics and lay Buddhists approve the secular use of the Buddha’s teaching or not, I believe it is too late to harness this latest meditation movement. The bird has flown the coop. This “Renaissance of Human Spirituality” now has a life of its own and will evolve on its own. I compare this meditation trend to a tsunami. So, what should Buddhists do to prepare for the approaching tsunami?

 

008 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<A Practice Not Firmly Established on the Buddha’s Teaching>
The following is my personal view of the subject matter. ^^

Generally speaking, in America, when meditation is used for secular purposes, meditators are not familiar with the theory of the Buddha’s teaching. Often, the practice (meditation) has been simplified and modified to suit a particular secular purpose. In some cases, it is given a name of another religion as the origin of the teaching.
My deepest concern for these lay meditators is that regardless of their motives for their meditation practice, sooner or later, they will have unusual experiences borne of meditation. They will need the Buddha’s teaching to interpret these unusual experiences. If not, they will be led astray.

 

009 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<What would the Buddha want Us to Do>
The following is my personal view of the subject matter. ^^

The Buddha was born in Asia and taught in Asia. By and large, Buddhism has been a religion of Asia for the last 2,600 years. This means Asians have been the heirs of the Dhamma and have had a head start on Buddhist practice (meditation) for hundreds of years. I think Asian Buddhist communities have a moral responsibility to help the new meditators of the West. Is this what the Buddha would want Asians to do?

 

010 Why Meditate?
- About Applied Buddhism

<Future Plans>
The following is my personal view of the subject matter. ^^

What should We Do? What can We Do?

The West already has suttas, etc. in English. However, the West needs experienced Dhamma teachers. Although the number of Dhamma teachers is growing in the West, these Dhamma teachers are outnumbered by the vast number of active meditators in the West.

Are Asian Buddhist communities prepared for this missionary work?

These missionaries must speak English, have a thorough knowledge of suttas, have extensive meditation experience, and have teaching experience.

A most important factor for these missionaries to keep in mind is this: do not try to convert the meditators to Buddhism as a religion. Even the Ven. Dalai Lama, on his visit to America, cautioned us to not convert Westerners to Buddhism as a religion.

May many Dhamma teachers come to help newcomers to the Buddha’s path!