It is best when starting meditation to seek instruction from a qualified teacher such as a monk or lay practitioner who has been so trained. The reason is that the many corrections and focused guidance that are needed are best done when first undertaking meditation so that a good meditative practice can be formed. Corrections given at a later stage are more difficult for the practitioner who will have to ‘unlearn’ practices that were self-taught.
Creating a space
If you are meditating in your home, ensure that the place you choose is a quiet one where you will be undisturbed by others. Also, we live our lives in the midst of busyness and you will need to create a space between your active life and your meditation. This can be accomplished by turning off all external distractions (radio, TV, computer, phone) and doing something that requires quiet focus like washing up or cleaning the room where you are to meditate.
Sitting down to meditate
Ch’an Master Sheng Yen encourages practitioners to bow to their cushion and make a vow. The vow is often a simple one, to sincerely sit and single-mindedly ‘take up the method’ and meditate. Buddhist practitioners may wish to start with recitation of the Buddha’s name, the Bodhisattva vows, the Three Refuges or the Heart Sutra before meditating.
When sitting, adjust your posture so that your spine is straight and your back muscles are not engaged. To make sure you are seated correctly, rock from left to right and then forward and back to ensure that your body returns to an upright posture. Place your hands initially on your knees as this helps in the relaxation phase
Guided instruction to relax
As noted before, relaxation is the key to meditation. Developing a practice of checking the body from head to foot once or twice before beginning meditation will help enormously in your practice.
With your hands placed on your knees, begin by mentally checking the parts of the body, not by mentally asking yourself, ‘Am I relaxed here?’ but by placing the focus of the mind on that part of the body to sense whether it is relaxed. Your relaxation practice should consist of successively bring this awareness systematically on the parts of the body from head to foot and in each case observing if it is relaxed and, if it isn’t then relaxing it. Go through this relaxation method once or twice before meditating. Should you break your meditative state before the end of the session, you should go through this exercise again until the body is relaxed and the breath is natural.
Physically relaxed, mentally alert
while the purpose is to relax the body, the mind while being relaxed remains alert. The eyes can be either closed or open slightly. If the latter, then they are directed 45 degrees in front of you and unfocused since you are not looking at anything. If closed, then the eyes are kept relaxed but looking forward.
When ready for meditation, place the left hand into the right palm with thumbs slightly touching and resting comfortably on your lap. If the palms cannot rest naturally, use a towel.
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