This is a slightly revised version of the little guide to meditation which gets mentioned in the forums from time to time. I posted it here in blog form for ease of access. Please leave any questions in the comments section or on the Ex-C Epic Buddhism Thread: http://www.ex-christian.net/topic/49256-the-ex-c-epic-buddhism-thread/
The usual disclaimer to satisfy the Dharma Police: I am not a recognized or certified Dharma or meditation instructor in any tradition. These are simply my own ideas and thoughts from my experience.
Recommendations for a meditation location:
1. Enough room for you to sit comfortably either on a cushion or on a chair.
2. The wall and floor of the location should be as plain as possible (ie, solid colors, wood
3. Out of the main traffic areas of the home or able to be separated for the duration of one's sitting
session. This is to limit the amount of disturbances.
4. Not lit too brightly or not brightly enough. (Personally I prefer candlelight or natural sunlight)
For outdoor sittings find a location that is quiet and private so you are not disturbed. Recommendations include:
3. Level ground
4. Shielded from wind
Preparing for sitting:
It is a good idea before you start any sitting, but especially if you are going to engage in multiple sessions, to get some light stretching in before you begin. Be sure to stretch your back, neck, shoulders, knees, hips, glutes, and flanks. This is to help ensure that you do not cramp up while sitting still for extended periods and to get the blood circulating, helping to prevent your extremities from falling asleep.
Hydration is important to meditation as well. Always keep some water handy just in case you start to feel a bit parched. Tea has been used for hundreds of years to keep practitioners awake. Avoid coffee and soft drinks while sitting meditation.
One should also avoid eating large meals before sitting.
Be sure that the time you set aside for meditation practice is regular and uninterrupted. If you have to turn off the ringer on your phone and do not answer the door during your practice session.
Recommendations for posture:
(a note: This section originally included pictures. I do not own the rights to those pictures so instead I have to describe posture through text.)
Perhaps the easiest posture for beginners is what is called “chair sitting”. You will need a chair. Unfortunately, your recliner will not do. Any chair without arms that allows your feet to touch the floor firmly will do. Sit near the edge of the chair with your upper and lower legs at a ninety degree angle. Again your feet should fully touch the floor. Also the chair should not wobble when you are seated in this position. You have a natural curvature to your spine, so you do not want to force it into artificial rigidity. Do not slouch since this will also cause discomfort while you are sitting. Allow your shoulders to hang loosely and naturally. If you try to keep them square, this will only create tension in your neck and shoulders. It is not a posture you should devote any conscious thought on holding. The more natural the posture, the easier it will be to meditate.
The traditional sitting posture is what most people think of when the word ‘meditation’ is used. You can sit directly on the floor, but there are issues with one’s buttocks falling asleep. You will need either a special meditation cushion or a folded pillow (I’ve found that ‘body pillows’ work very well.). Your upper body is held as described in the chair sitting description above. The problem areas of floor sitting are the lower back, pelvis and legs so I will focus on these areas. You should sit near the edge of your cushion allowing your legs to be at roughly a 45 degree angle to your spine. Your knees should rest firmly on the floor but without any of your weight applied- much like your feet in chair sitting. Crossing the legs is more difficult to speak of. You can Google ‘full-lotus’, ‘half-lotus’ and ‘Burmese’ postures for images and possibly even instructional videos of how to sit in these postures. Unless you are rather flexible or have some experience with the Lotus postures, I would recommend looking into the Burmese posture.
I am not aware of any traditional method of standing meditation. However, because I work at a job where I must stand, I did improvise a method. Place you feet shoulder width apart and stand in an erect and relaxed posture. Do not lock your knees.
There are many videos on youtube offering examples and instruction on walking or moving meditation forms. These can range from Theravadin and Zen walking meditation to Taoist ‘qi walking’ to Qi Gong and Tai Chi Chuan exercises.
The most common hand position is called the cosmic mudra. You simply place your right hand, palm up in your lap, rest your left hand (also palm up) in the palm of the right. Gently touch your thumbs together to create a circle/ oval shape with your hands. There should only be enough pressure to hold a piece of paper between your thumbs. Alternately, you can rest your fists or hands on your knees.
“Open or closed?” is sometimes the topic of debate in meditation circles. The standard suggestion is to sit with the eyes partially open and down at a 45 degree angle. Personally, I find it difficult to sit with the eyes like that for extended periods of time. I would suggest that the eyes be kept open normally and focused on the blank wall, floor or a patch of ground a short distance away. Remember to blink normally. The eyes can be closed while meditating. However, it should be remembered that it’s easier to fall asleep or start daydreaming with the eyes closed.
The clothing worn during meditation should be loose enough to accommodate your sitting posture and appropriate to the climate of your sitting spot. Otherwise there is no dress code for meditation.
Most Zen teachers recommend a session length of 30-40 minutes, twice a day. Not everyone has the luxury or physical ability to practice this way. If you are new to meditation, it is better to work yourself up to sitting for longer periods. Begin your meditation practice with 10 minute sittings and work your way up to longer sessions. You can also use 10 minute increments and meditate multiple times during a single practice session.
You can use any means you have available to time yourself. There are mp3 format timers you can upload to a player, organize as a media play-list, or burn to a CD. There are also a few applications you can download and some internet browser based timers.
To begin your sitting, take several deep breaths from the abdomen. It is usually recommended to be mindful of your breathing while you are sitting. As you progress you will notice that your breathing falls into a natural rhythm. If your mind begins to wander during meditation, bring it back with a couple of deliberate, deep breaths.
The Point of Meditation:
Much is said about the benefits of meditation, but it is important to realize that in expecting the benefit we negate it. Don't get hung up on the described results, such as "dropping away body and mind,” "kensho," "oneness," or other terms. Just sit, breathe normally and pay attention to your mind.
The Mind and Meditation:
Meditation is basically a concentrated state of mind. Because the mind is concentrated on one
thing, it derives enormous relief from the huge weight of thought that it usually experiences.
Imagine for instance the sound of an 80 piece symphony orchestra, with all the musicians playing different pieces of music. This is like the mind’s normal condition – a skull-numbing cacophony of thoughts, tumbling through our minds and if truth were told, most of it is utter dross and totally irrelevant to what we actually want to do with our days. It’s amazing that we can put up with such a noise, but we do and this is why we get so tired and stressed. Now imagine what a joyful relief it would be if all the musicians stopped and left a single flute playing a single pure note.
This is what the mind is like in meditation – resting on one single pure thought.
~Shankarji, English sadhu