What is Meditation?
Meditation is a practice that makes it possible to cultivate and develop certain basic positive human qualities in the same way as other forms of training make it possible to play a musical instrument or acquire any other skill.
Among several Asian words that translate as “meditation” in English are bhavana from Sanskrit, which means “to cultivate,” and its Tibetan equivalent, gom, meaning “to become familiar with.” Meditation helps us to familiarize ourselves with a clear and accurate way of seeing things and to cultivate wholesome qualities that remain dormant within us unless we make an effort to draw them out.
So let us begin by asking ourselves, “What do I really want out of life? Am I content to just keep improvising from day to day? Am I going to ignore the vague sense of discontent that I always feel deep down when, at the same time, I am longing for well-being and fulfillment?”
We have become accustomed to thinking that our shortcomings are inevitable and that we have to put up with the setbacks they have brought us throughout our lives. We take the dysfunctional aspects of ourselves for granted, not realizing that it is possible to break out of the vicious cycle of exhausting behavior patterns.
From a Buddhist point of view, every being has the potential for enlightenment just as surely, say the traditional texts, as every sesame seed contains oil. Despite this, to use another traditional comparison, we wander about in confusion like a beggar who is simultaneously both rich and poor because he does not know that he has a treasure buried under the floor of his hut. The goal of the Buddhist path is to come onto possession of this overlooked wealth of ours, which can imbue our lives with the most profound meaning.
A Global Effect
So the primary goal of meditation is to transform our experience of the world. In addition, studies have shown that meditation has beneficial effects on our physical and mental health. For the last ten years, intensive studies on meditation and its long- and short-term effects on the brain have been conducted by major American universities, such as the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Princeton, Harvard, and the University of California at Berkeley, as well as research centers in Zurich, Switzerland–all inspired by the activities of the Mind and Life Institute, which is dedicated to the collaboration between Buddhism and modern science. In these studies, experienced practitioners who over time have meditated for between 10,000 and 60,000 hours demonstrated qualities of focused attention that were not found among beginners. For example, they were able to maintain more or less perfect concentration on a particular task for 45 minutes, whereas most people cannot go beyond 5 or 10 minutes before they begin making an increasing number of mistakes.
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