Beginners Meditation Instruction and FAQs
During this meeting you will be taught by one of the group’s senior members about how to start and engage with basic meditation; this will also include the importance of finding a meditation posture that will be suitable for you. In order for you to gain value from your evening’s experience, please don’t hesitate to ask questions at any time that you might have regarding either of these fundamental features.
Beyond the experience of the actual meditation, your understanding of which I hope will grow during the evening, you may have other questions, such as ‘What benefit will I gain from meditation?’ Or, ‘What has this meditation got to do with buddhism?’ Or other similar questions, general queries or reservations typically aired by newcomers. Our hope is that your queries will be answered either by this evening’s facilitator, or the FAQ’s that follow.
We hope you enjoy your evening with us and feel that you would like to come again to another meeting. If you decide not to come back then we hope you will take further steps somewhere else and continue with your decision to learn about meditation; learn about how you can take the fruit that meditation has to offer into your daily life, so that you become happier and more content.
What can I expect to get from meditation?
A more peaceful and relaxed experience of life. Meditation helps relieve stress and anxiety in our modern day living. It will also provide you with the opportunity to have a more positive relationship with yourself and prepare the ground for you to enter the spiritual path of freedom and liberation from suffering.
How long should I meditate?
As a suggestion, try 15 minutes once or twice a day. In time increase this to 20, 25 minutes. When you are comfortable with this you may like to increase the time to 40 minutes, which is the usual length that students of the group meditate.
Should I meditate regularly?
If possible, yes. The ability to meditate correctly and enjoy its benefits comes through a commitment to sit regularly, daily is ideal, if your circumstances allow it.
How important is the meditation posture?
Very. There are three options that you can choose from. The first is to sit on a mat and cushion in the traditional way and cross your legs. There are a couple of options that you can choose from to do this. Second, you can kneel on the mat with the aid of a stool or a couple of cushions. Third, you can sit on a chair.
Do I have to become a buddhist to do this meditation?
No. You do not need to hang any labels on yourself or join any club to enjoy the experience of this meditation. Meditation has a way of changing your life and therefore your perception of it. Enjoy the challenge of meditation and the adventure that can open up for you!
How does this meditation relate to buddhism?
Our form of meditation can be used as a ‘springboard’ to many other types of meditation. We use it to bring peace and stability to our lives, but we also use it to open up to the possibility of getting to know ourselves right down to the ground of our being. Using buddhist teachings and wisdom skilfully on that journey helps us to arrive at that place of liberation and so in time enjoy complete joy and freedom from suffering.
Is buddhism a religion?
This is often a contentious issue with people, so for those who have this difficulty it would be useful, and equally accurate, to instead consider buddhism to be a spiritual path. A spiritual path (which is something created by your own direct personal experience) can be cultivated successfully outside of any ‘religious’ dogmas and beliefs, and so avoid the negative experiences that many of us have had with our childhood upbringing, as well as the common perception of such things found in our western culture. Buddhism is about getting to know yourself and the changes that come from that knowledge. It is not about worshiping a creator god or anything external to yourself. Buddhism does not do dogma and belief systems, nor does it have a belief in any form of external power.
Do you have ritual in your group?
Because we are a wholly western group we don’t have any of the elaborate ritual you see performed in traditional buddhism. What we do have is a group form that helps support our practice. This form requires us to unify our individual characteristics into one way of behaviour giving the group a collective sense of discipline and strength. This allows us to train as one and enjoy the benefit of group unity and emotional support, as we learn to sit still and meditate without distraction and restlessness.
Why do you bow in your group?
We bow during group meditation because it allows us to remind ourselves why we do this training. We usually have a buddha statue (rupa) in front of us when we bow, not to worship, but as a reminder of why we do this training. The statue is a reminder of not only our founder Gautama Siddhartha, who, like us, was a normal human being, but equally significantly a reminder of our own innate human qualities and potential. A buddha statue can also been seen as a symbol of peace and contentment, and someone who is in perfect harmony with him/herself and with life and the environment, and so seen as a source of inspiration. When we bow we have the opportunity in our minds eye to gather up all of life’s burdens and hand them back to that deep untouched aspect of our own inner buddha (nature) that we believe all beings have, and which is forever free. As we bow we ask of it support and forgiveness, as we train to free ourselves from the stresses and strains of life and the causes of suffering.
Why do you chant?
Chanting falls into the same category as bowing and along with the ceremonial lighting of candles and the burning of incense they are what we call collectively aspects of puja (offerings). These are activities that are outside formal meditation but nevertheless help support and focus us on the meditation practice itself. In the grand scheme of buddhist chanting performed by all traditions, our collection of a few verses probably makes our puja the shortest. There are several reasons why we perform this ritual. We chant collectively because it helps unify the group. It helps us focus on the training and reminds us why we do it. Because of its emotional quality, chanting and reciting also helps to ‘soften’ the heart. All of our chanting is done in English, so we understand what we are saying and can therefore reflect on its meaning and significance.
Why do you wear white shirts in your group?
We are an independent western group, and therefore have no ties to any established tradition. Because of this we have no obvious visual means of identity that helps define who we are. We believe that having an identity is important to our practice because it gives a sense of unity of purpose and training. We wear white shirts to give us our unique identity, with some of the more established members wearing a stole-like garment around the neck as well. This stole is simply a visual reminder of their commitment to the group and also to their own training. We actually only wear white on group retreats and not on weekly meditation days, but even on retreat you would not necessarily be expected to wear white.
About the Group ?
Our group was formed in 2007 by Aloka David Smith who has been a practicing Buddhist for nearly 40 years, of which more than 10 of these years has been as a teacher. He has also published 5 books on practice. The group at present has a number of small local groups covering the UK and Ireland, and when possible members gather once a month in Birmingham for a one day retreat. We also hold residential retreats at various locations, throughout the year.
Because we are a western group, and therefore not affiliated to any of the eastern traditional schools, we are not obliged or expected to perform any of the elaborate rituals and ceremonies typically performed by affiliated groups. Nor do we wear any exotic eastern clothing. These trappings, that are alien even to our own spiritual traditions, are for many western dharma practitioners a real turn-off, mainly because they can’t relate to them. Yet the training in our group is pursued totally along tried and proved traditional lines of training, created by wisdom honed by enlightened masters throughout the centuries. But whilst rejecting particular eastern activities we believe that by doing so we have not fallen into the trap, common to many new forms of western buddhism, of negating important features of training, essential for the dharma to do its work correctly.