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If observing this principle means that you gain a reputation for being a quiet person, well that's fine. You find that your words, if you're more careful about doling them out, start taking on more worth. And at the same time you're creating a better atmosphere for your mind. After all, if you're constantly chattering all day long, how are you going to stop the mental chatter when you sit down to meditate? But if you develop this habit of watching over your mouth, the same habit then comes to apply to the meditation. All those mouths in your mind start going still.

The fourth principle for creating a good environment for meditation in your life is finding some solitude. There you can get a sense of perspective on your life so that what's going on in your mind can stand out in bolder relief. Try to find as much solitude as you can. It's good for you. When people have trouble living in solitude it shows that there's lots of unfinished business inside.

So make a little solitary place in your home. Turn off the TV, turn out the lights, and allow yourself to be alone without a lot of distractions. Tell everyone you need to have a little time alone on a regular basis. When you do this, you find that things submerged in the depths of your mind come up to the surface—and it's only when they come up to the surface that you can deal with them. When you're without a lot of outside input, the mind will tend to stay with the meditation more easily. There may be a lot of mental chatter at first, but after a while you get fed up with it. You prefer just to be quiet. At the same time, you get away from the influence of everybody else's thoughts and everybody else's opinions. You are forced to ask yourself, "What do I really believe? What are my opinions? What's important to me when I'm not swayed by the opinions of others?"

This leads to the fifth principle, which is to develop right view. Right view has two levels. First, there's belief in the principle of karma—that what you do really does have results. And you have to acknowledge that it really is you acting; it's not some outside force acting through you, not the stars or some god. You're making the decisions and you have the ability to make them skillfully or not.

It's important to believe in this principle, because this is what gives more power to your life. It's an empowering belief—but it also involves responsibilities. This is why you have to be so careful in what you do, why you can't be heedless. When you're careful about your actions, when the time comes to meditate it's easier to be careful about your mind.

As for the second level of right view, the transcendent level, that means seeing things in terms of the four noble truths—stress and suffering, the cause of stress and suffering, the cessation of stress and suffering, and the path of practice to that cessation. Just look at the whole range of your experience: instead of dividing it up into its usual patterns of me and not me, simply look to see where there is suffering and stress. Ask, “What am I doing that gives rise to that stress? Can I let go of that activity? And what qualities do I need to develop, what things do I need to let go of, in order to let go of the craving, the ignorance underlying the stress? When I drop craving, can I be aware of what's happening?” All too often when we drop one craving we simply pick up another. “Can I make myself more aware of that space in between the cravings, and expand that space? What's it like to have a mind without craving?”

According to the Buddha, it's important to see things in this way because if you identify everything in terms of yourself, how can you possibly understand anything for what it actually is? If you hold on to suffering as yourself, how can you understand suffering? If you look at it simply as suffering without putting this label of "self" on it, then you can start seeing it for what it is and then learn how to let it go. If it's yourself, if you hold to the belief that it's yourself, you can't let go of it. But looking at things in terms of the four noble truths allows you to solve the whole problem of suffering.

So start looking at your whole life in this light. Instead of blaming your sufferings on people outside, look at what you're doing to create that suffering and focus on dealing with that first. When you develop this attitude in everyday life, it's a lot easier to apply it to the meditation. You create the environment where it makes more and more sense to stick to the noble path.

Whether you're a new monk living in a monastery or a lay person living outside the monastery, these are the factors that create the environment for meditation: you want to stick to the precepts, keep restraint over the senses, practice restraint over your conversation, create quiet, secluded places for yourself, and develop right view. When you follow these principles, they create a conducive environment for concentration, as well as a receptive environment that allows the results of concentration to permeate your surroundings. This way your practice, instead of being forced into the cracks of a hostile, alien environment, has room to grow and to transform everything around it.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery in San Diego County, California. He is the author of Wings to Awakening and Mind Like Fire Unbound.

Creating a Good Ground for Meditation, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Shambhala Sun, May 2004.  

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