Two Views of Meditation

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There is an idea in meditation circles that there are two ways of approaching meditation, and practice generally. One goes something like this: “I should purify my behavior and development my practice and my meditation.” The other goes something like this: “I’m perfect as I am, and the main practice both in meditation and in daily life to is accept myself and the world exactly as it is with no judgement.”

There is of course some wisdom in both of these. If you are behaving badly, say committing genocide, you don’t just accept this about yourself and go on committing genocide. Likewise, there are thing that you simply have to accept. All of your past actions, for example, cannot be changed. The can only be accepted.

Still, if you are going to take either of those two teachings as your primary path, the Buddha pretty clearly came down on the importance of one side. Surprisingly for some, it is the path of purification. One of the most famous quotations from the most famous ancient text, the Dhammapada, sums up the whole of the Buddhist teachings like this: “Abstain from all evil, to cultivate good, and purify your mind.”

It’s true that we must accept what we cannot change. But the mind is something that we can and must change. If we can’t change or purify (at least to some extent) our own mind, then we are really powerless. Buddhism doesn’t spend a lot of energy and time on faith, on things that you have to believe. But the Buddha does say that the path requires that you believe one thing: namely, that your actions have consequences.

We must work daily to purify our actions, and we must work in meditation to purify the mind. Meditation is a practice. It is not about sitting, chilling, and watching the world go by. It is a practice of purifying the mind of defilements. The idea is to use all the tools of meditation that the Buddha put forward to temporarily put aside the defilements. That gives us, at least for a while, a new and transformative perspective. The perspective of the enlightened ones.

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