3 Questions People Normally About Their Meditation Practice Schedule
Typically, there are three questions that beginners normally ask about meditation.
The first is: What's the best type of meditation for me? What type of meditation should I try first?
The second question they usually ask is: When should I meditate? What time of day is best? Morning or night?
The third most typical question is: For how long should I meditate?
Well, the answer to these three questions is pretty simple. Most of all, the answers revolve around the fact that you simply have to get started at meditation, firmly establish the habit of practice, and then go from there. You must not ask any questions about meditation techniques or practice schedules that are really disguised ways to look for an EXCUSE not to meditate.
In other words, many times people ask questions hoping to get a response that they are not willing to commit to, and thereby allow themselves off the hook of the personal responsibility to meditate. In cultivation you have to practice self-honesty, and this is part of the equation. Am I making sense?
You would be surprised how many people hope to hear "nighttime" is the best time to meditate, knowing they have no time at night, so they can thereby relieve themselves of the habit of practice effort. Similarly, just as many are looking to hear "morning time" for just the same reason. And as an aside, this is one of the reasons that a religion like Islam has wisely set up a system that forces people to practice a cultivation technique throughout the day, and thereby enable the culture to accumulate merit over time, otherwise people just would not do it. I have experts from all fields - medicine, sports, business, etc. - who tell me people go out of their way to spend loads of money on some system or technique and STILL don't put it into effect, and these are the motivated ones! So you can see why a culture has to be STAMPED on people in a way that actually forces them to accumulate wisdom and merit, otherwise the vast majority just wouldn't do it.
In answer to the specific questions, though, first of all, Shakyamuni Buddha told people two thousand five hundred years ago that you should try a meditation method for a number of weeks to see if you make progress with it...usually about 40 days minimum. There are so many meditation methods you can try which is why I wrote a book, Twenty-five Doors to Meditation. You can also find a lot of techniques in Meditation for Beautiful Skin.
Nevertheless, the basic meditation technique or principle within most cultivation techniques is watching your thoughts until they still down and you develop a peaceful, empty mind. That end goal is the beginning entry point of cultivation, and there are thousands of ways to get there. As my own teacher said, he's got 10,000 techniques he can talk about and you just use what's suitable for the situation. If sitting in a rocking chair will help you calm your mind, then do so. Then again, don't cheat yourself that using some minor stilling technique like that is cultivating, or that it will get you to samadhi, or win you the Tao. Let's be serious about this, because people will use some form of that excuse, too, to let themselves off the hook. Then again, I want you to recognize that you can use any method as a cultivation technique if you know the principles of practice and approach it correctly.
For the person, for the culture, for the stage of life or environment…the method you use is just a matter of expedient means to still the mind and develop one-pointed samadhi concentration. So even if you're smack in the middle of warfare or are stuck in a prison cell, the method you use should be the one attuned to your situation in such a way that it will help you succeed in cultivating samadhi, or mental quietude, as an entry door into the spiritual path. Outside of a particular environment, perhaps a different method is best and so your method can change accordingly.
That's also a wisdom principle -- don't get fixated on one technique if it isn't doing anything for you, which is especially the case with religions that only offer 1-2 techniques for their practitioner who need a wider variety to accommodate the propensities of the students. So borrow freely from other schools in selecting a technique as long as it's a virtuous technique. If you tell me that you found a religion where killing chickens was part of the ceremony to help you cultivate and get samadhi, once again I'd say you missed the instructions entirely.
How do you find the method that's best for you and your situation, based on your age, occupation, environment and stage of life when you don't have a teacher? You must try several in turn.
You can practice visualization techniques as an instance and you should also try mantra techniques. Everybody should practice japa (mantra recitation) at least once in their lifetime in order to calm their mind and generate some merit for the spiritual path. Reciting mantras is like reciting the rosary. It doesn't matter what spiritual stream you're in because they all have mantras or prayers you can recite. There's ALLAH, AMITOFO, BRAHMAN, OHM MANI BEI ME HON, and so forth. It's good to recite mantras with japa practice if you listen to whatever you're reciting and let go of it to still your sixth consciousness, the discriminatory mind. That's the purpose of the practice rather than there being any holiness in the sounds or words, though then again it's true that the sounds do more than just still the mind. But don't go overboard with superstition or laying heavy religious connotations on things. Once again, use your wisdom. The cultivation path is a very clean, pure affair that's based on pure science.
The big thing is you have a whole smorgasbord of meditation techniques to choose from and what I suggest is that you try 2 techniques for a minimum of forty days of practice, at least 40 minutes per day if you can.
Here's the secret key if there is one: You should try one meditation technique you love and try one you positively hate.
The reason you should try one you love is because you want to get into the practice of meditating and if you love something, you'll probably do it. However, it doesn't mean that that's the best meditation for you or that you'll make progress with that technique. It just means you'll get started.
But what about the one you hate?
It's like exercise. The best type of exercise is the type of exercise that stretches you and you probably don't like that. And that means the type of meditation that's usually best for you is the one you hate and you hate it or subconsciously fear it because it's working or you know it will work in changing you and your life. Everyone hates change, and sometimes subconsciously hates a practice they did in their past life, too. But those practices are the ones that often get you up to speed quite quickly because of past merits from that sort of practice. Sometimes you hate a practice simply because you did it for so long in a past life and now you want something different. And sometimes you just hate it for other reasons, too.
When a cultivation method works it starts changing your chi, changing your fortune, and the whole inertia of that fortune rubs against the changes that are trying to happen, which is why a powerful cultivation technique often feels uncomfortable and you hate it. It's like taking a bitter medicine to cure what ails you....the medicine is bitter but it's the cure. When my teacher learned the Zhunti mantra, for instance, he told me that he HATED it and therefore he knew it was a powerful transformative technique. The popularity of the Zhunti mantra technique in Asia today is all due to him and his efforts to save it from oblivion, and now it's recited everywhere (and people forget who started the transmission again).
I had the very same experience in hating mantra when I first started but persevered until I, too, broke through the barrier that represented a push against progress, and now it's the easiest thing to do. The same for you -- in time a method you hate can become something you love because of the benefits. I've had quite a few married couples tell me they initially hated each other before they married, so that;s another example of this principle. Usually this type of result is due to past life familiarity with he technique, but that's not the only cause or primary cause.
Anyway, that's why I suggest you try two types of meditation: the type you hate and the type you like.
Now what time of the day is best?
Don't meditate right after you eat. If you meditate right after you eat, you'll usually fall asleep.
Some people like to meditate at night, some people in the morning, some people at lunch hour, some in the wee hours of the morning. Whatever is good for you, do it, because you know what is best and what you can do, regardless as to whether it's OPTIMAL or not. As I stated, when people are asking this, they're usually not really asking what time of the day is the best because there is no such thing. What they're really looking for is an excuse not to meditate. They're looking for you to say night time, and then they're going to say, " well I'm too busy at night so I can't do this therefore I'm off the hook." Or they're looking for you to say morning and they have some excuse for the morning.
Basically, use whatever time you can. It's like exercising in that the key is to get started. It doesn't matter when you exercise, just start. It doesn't matter what exercise method you use, you can't say any exercise method is best, just start exercising because that's the biggest challenge and then we'll go on from there. I'm told that 95% of the people never make the efforts to do anything in the world, so you can see that I'm addressing the 95% of the problem. So remember that the big problem is to just get the habit going, and adapt from that foundation. So don't ask all sorts of nit-pickety questions that pale in significance to the fact that you just get started.
See what I mean?
To be sure, there are times of day when the chi flows best, directions you can sit to absorb chi, feng shui auspicious places for meditation and all sorts of stuff like that, but the honest truth is that all that stuff is marginal, miniscule, not going to help you. Unless your chi channels have already opened, this information is useless for real spiritual progress and is like throwing a grain of rice on a ten mile wide garbage heap, hoping it will make a significant difference. Will it make a difference? yes, but significant, no! So I could also have answered NO and been right, too, but I'm pulling up the curtains and revealing the whole story. The problem with people today is that they're too superstitious and don't understand the priorities of things or what's important, and focus on esoteric trivia without ever making any true cultivation progress.
People who chase after this sort of stuff never make any progress but are so fixated on facing north or south or whatever that it's no different than someone who insists on following some scriptural teachings to the letter but who never actually cultivates. So ignore that stuff until your gong-fu is high enough, and then you'll know that stuff naturally. Even then, you'll just ignore it. My teacher, for instance, knows feng shui perfectly but always ignores it and so do most feng shui masters I know. But to get into t he whys and wherefores will stray us from this discussion.
The last question is for how long should you meditate?
Well, the same thing holds. You really should meditate for at least 15 minutes. In actual fact, it should be about 30-40 minutes minimum. You know, some people say 15 minutes, but you're never going to get anywhere with 15 minutes a day but then again, every teacher would tell you "hey, 15 minutes is good enough" Why? They just want you to get started and in time they hope you'll expand it to 30 minutes and then 40 minutes and then 1 hour and then 2 and so forth. So you see, their answer is all expedient means just to get you started. Don't get fixated on whether it's 40 minutes, or 2 hours (because that's how long the chi cycle is), or 37.5 minutes or whatever. Once again, that's focusing on the wrong thing, the trivialities and nonsense. Do what you can, establish your basis of practice, and in time it will expand. And if it can't expand, then don't sweat it. Just use a different technique throughout the day based on your wisdom.
Nonetheless, let me tell you that if you really want to get up to the high stages of meditation, you're really going to have to be meditating for hours at a time. It doesn't mean you have to do that entirely with your legs crossed, but you'll have two or three or four hours of devoted meditation time without very much break at all, and when the chi channels in your legs open up that won't be a problem. But initially to get started, I tell you, if you can do forty minutes a day, that's great. If you can do forty minutes twice a day, that's fantastic. If you can only do 30 minutes once a day, that's great, too. If you can only do 15 minutes, well, you're not going to have me criticizing you, but now you already know that's really not enough. Then again, if I wanted to encourage you, I'd say that's great too.
See how it works? Now you know the expedient means behind the answers.
So let's summarize: the best type of meditation method is the type you use, but if you really press me, I'd say use two: use one you love, use one you hate and stick with it for at least forty days. See what happens.
When should you meditate? Whenever you have the time, whenever you can fit it into your schedule. Eventually you want to get to the point where you're meditating all the time because you have samadhi and you never lose it. That's why so many meditation schools stress mindfulness. Mindfulness means you hold on to that meditation technique until you get samadhi and then when you get samadhi you hold on to the samadhi, you never lose it. It's not like you're gripping it, but you always stay in it and you don't lose it, so that your progress keeps continuing.
For how long? In fact, Buddha said we're always in a state of samadhi all the time but we just don't know it. Even knowing your thinking is a type of samadhi, but people just don't realize it. But what I really want you to do is if you can try to do forty minutes a day, that's great. And if you really, really, really are a diehard and can get up to two hours a day, because that's how long it takes for your chi to change or your breathing habits to change, that's fantastic, but you're not going to hear me criticizing you if you can't do it.
Remember, don't use any of these answers as an excuse not to meditate because you say "well, I can't spare that time . . ."
Look, everything starts small. Becoming wealthy starts with just one dollar in the bank and that becomes two, four, eight, sixteen dollars, and on and on it goes until someone accumulates millions.
The same with getting an education. You start with your ABC's, you learn words, next you're reading books, then you graduate elementary school , you graduate high school, you get a college degree, diploma, etc. The same thing goes with meditation. Don't look at a mountain and say "It's so big I can't climb it." Just start from where you are. If you've ever had a leak in your roof and put a bucket under it, you know that you can fill that bucket with tiny drops of water that accumulate over time. It just takes THE CONSISTENCY OF PRACTICE.
The other day I was reading about people who were stranded on the ocean in a life raft , worried about water and food and, you know what they did to survive? They just focused on one day at a time and that's what got them through things until they were saved. The same thing applies here-you just keep focusing on practice one day at a time, trying not to miss your practice schedule, trying to delve deeper and longer into your practice, until you lay a good foundation for getting the Tao. So just try to establish the seeds of the practice habit, keep studying the dharma, stop doing bad deeds and do good deeds to accumulate merit and develop this positive connection with the dharma … that's all I can ask for.
Now you know the answer to the three questions on whether you should meditate and how you can meditate.
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