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All together, meditation in Buddhism is extremely severe. I don’t want to convert you to this particular style or approach necessarily. But I think it is worthwhile to apply your exertion to the practice of meditation; that is necessary if you want to learn something from the practice. I have personally learned from this practice. I don’t mean this as a testimonial, particularly, but I feel I should share with you that I have gained wisdom and clarity myself from this practice. I’m giving it to you as I have learned it, as I received this myself. The only difference is that you don’t speak Tibetan.

According to the Buddha, meditation is a three-fold process. The first stage is what is called shamatha. The second process is vipashyana, and the third is the combination of the two: shamatha–vipashyana. Shamatha, which I am presenting here, means the development of mindfulness. It can be practiced in group situations or individually. The meaning of mindfulness is up to you to discover.

This particular approach to meditation practice is paying attention to what is happening. It focuses mainly on your breath, your ordinary breathing. If you’ve been running and then you stop and sit down, the first thing you do is to try to regain your breath. At that point, you pay attention to your breathing. Or if you are doing things and then you want to relax, then you sit down and say “phew.” So breathing plays an important part in ordinary experiences. Breathing is quite natural. It’s a natural situation, part of what we naturally associate with relaxation.

Shamatha literally means the “development of peace.” Peace in this case doesn’t mean a state without war. It has nothing to do with politics. We also are not talking about a psychedelic sense of getting off on peace. Here, we are simply talking about peace as non-action. If you are having an intense time with your friends, your parents, or with your business, you might sit down and say “phew!” Peace is that kind of flopping down. But please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. You can’t get this kind of peace instantly. You have to apply exertion and patience.

In the practice of meditation, we speak of peace in a very particular, extraordinary, and eccentric sense, as it was taught according to the Buddha. The Buddha was a very eccentric person, in that he attained enlightenment, which is extraordinary. Initially, we can’t actually understand what it means that he attained enlightenment—but he did. We are also on that path. We have no choice. In one of the sutras, the Buddha says that those who practice dwelling in peace, or shamatha, are building a staircase toward enlightenment.

That is what we are doing in the practice of meditation: constructing a staircase toward enlightenment. It requires very precise measurement of the boards to build the steps properly. All the angles have to be properly considered, and you have to use the right nails and hammer them in carefully, because this staircase has to bear the weight of people walking up it. Shamatha practice is building a staircase very deliberately, according to the Buddha. A staircase to what? To enlightenment? What is that? It doesn’t really matter. Just building the staircase may be good. No promise, no blame. Let us simplify the situation. Let us build this staircase very simply and directly.

When you practice meditation, don’t make a big deal about it. Just sit down, relax, and straighten your back, not to the extreme but in a deliberate fashion. Your posture is a bit like how you would hold yourself if you were going to ask your lover to marry you. Your approach would be semi-relaxed—friendly and somewhat seductive, but straightforward. That’s how your posture should be here. Then you place your hands on your knees, which is known as the mind-relaxing posture, or in whatever position you have been instructed in.

Then you should just feel your breath, your natural breath. It might be rough or deep if you had to run to get to the meditation room. Or your breathing might be quite shallow. It doesn’t really matter. Just feel your existing natural breathing. Sit quietly and listen to your breathing. To begin with, just listen to it for a few minutes. In that way, you can settle into the practice.

Then you can begin to discipline your state of awareness, your state of inquisitiveness. When you have nothing to do but sit and breathe, you begin to wonder, “What can I do with myself?” Those thoughts are fine, but then try to focus everything on your breathing. Listen to your breathing, feel your breathing, completely, properly, as much as you can. But don’t force yourself. Don’t hold yourself too tight, like an Englishman with a stiff upper lip. Here, you are dealing with your breathing very naturally. It’s just natural breath. You sit there as though you’re about to address your lover. You just sit there and go along with your breathing.

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