Buddhist Meditation:
The Inner Vision of the Middle Path



Lawrence Graves
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RELS 531





Meditation, that quintessential aspect of Buddhism, has more facets to
its gem than can possibly be explained by any one religious label, or any
singular view reflecting off of the viewer's previous understanding.
Meditation, in its Eastern sense is far different than the Judeo-Christian
usage of the word. In that sense one muses on the works or even the Law of
the Almighty. As the psalmist wrote: "his delight is in the law of the
Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night;" (Holy Bible, Ps. 1.2)
this sense of meditation is more closely akin to contemplation. Reading,
saying aloud, or even mulling over scripture is quite a different affair
than the non-external activity, the poised reflection into oneself that is
often at the heart of Buddhist meditation.
It is helpful in building an understanding of meditation to agree upon
what it is not in the Buddhist perspective. Meditation in this perspective
is not just a "trancelike state in which all forms of existence disappear,"
(Mitchell 16) only to reappear as soon as the seeker exits that state.
Instead this practice seeks a more long-lasting result that really lies at
the core of the Buddha's experience - his enlightenment came only after his
famed and extended stay under the Bodhi Tree to meditate (Mitchell 18-19).

Control comes through as a dichotomy of capture and release as it is
placed in the context of meditation. As described by one Buddhist, his
practice of meditation leaves him "relaxed but aware," while not
superficially controlling his course of mental action: "I allowed rising
thoughts and emotions to move through my mind without thinking about them,
simply observing the movement but leaving no trace" (Pistono 14-15). This
form of meditation brings a quality of awareness that mere contemplation
cannot cultivate. This heightened awareness is the fruit of insight
meditation, so-named for its desired result. However this insight must be
grasped by a mind that has been pacified and cleansed of its inherent
agitation. Gethin advises that the practice of calm meditation "can
temporarily suppress or block the immediate defilements that disturb the
mind; the way of seeing clearly into the nature of the mind is by the
methods of insight meditation, which, in association with calm, can finally
eradicate those defilements" (175). A mind free of such constant defilement
is a step towards the liberation that Buddhism strives for. This is in fact
described by Gethin as a two-step process: "the basic principle...[is] one
[that] stills and clears the mind and then it turns towards investigation
and insight" (176). Such a progression may seem natural to some, but the
mind is notorious in its disobedience of natural order and orientation.
However, when one becomes more adept at calming the mind, the insight
gained from subsequent meditation will further define the mental landscape
the individual must cross on the path towards liberation.
Meditation stands in contrast to prayer. Other great religious faiths,
if Buddhism can be called a faith, enshrine prayer as a central part of
their beliefs. This is not the case with Buddhism. The Buddhist reliance on
meditation is not an appeal to a deity to intervene on behalf of the
supplicant; nor is it a forum for the offering of obeisancies to one's
deity - with or without the hope of meriting divine favor. The focus here
is inward; the results are in the hands of the seeker, not in heaven.
Today's world is moving at a faster pace than ever before. The
Information Age that we now find ourselves in has only exponentially
increased the sources of distraction while at the same time has decreased
the time that many need to take in order to attend to such practices as
meditation. The mind however, has not really changed. It is easy today for
many of us to identify with the words spoken by Arjuna long ago: "the
flickering mind is certainly turbulent, strong and obstinate; I think that
subduing the mind is more difficult than [subduing] the wind" (Bhagavad-
Gita, 6.34). Although these words were penned over two thousand years ago,
at roughly the same time as the birth of Buddhism, the windy state of the
human mind remains as hard to control now as it was then. So has the human
condition deteriorated now to the point that the cultivation of a calm and
insightful mind through meditation no longer possible? Perhaps not. No
matter how many clocks, cell phones, and