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If I were to begin meditating, what practical list of advises would you give me?

  • What is this thing you call enlightenment? Why do you "want" enlightenment? And after you achieve this thing, then what? – esh Aug 5 '16 at 2:39
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    Hi Richard, welcome to the site! What you asked is a short question (i.e. without a lot of detail in the question). Some users think your question might be easier to answer, if you added more information: like how do you define 'enlightenment' (what is your goal)? Are you only asking about meditation (is 'meditation' the only path to enlightenment)? How much have you learned of 'Buddhism' already? I don't want to oblige you to answer such questions ... other people think this is already a practical question that can lead to practical advice. – ChrisW Aug 5 '16 at 12:19
  • I want to set my mind free without resorting to any extreme that implies self harm, or that explicitly relies on the collection of material posession in order to stabilize my life and thoughts. If there is any metaphysical way to achieve this, that is honest and, above all, real, I'm willing to indulge in learning about it first. The only other reward, if there is one to expect at all, is to be of help to others. – useranonis Aug 5 '16 at 18:06
  • I honestly don't know how else to put it apart from the fact that you need to ask yourself the right questions and learn along your journey in life. The answers are in every moment. How you see it is left to you. – esh Aug 6 '16 at 15:50

10 Answers 10

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The shortest explanation of the path to enlightenment is to not crave or cling egoistically (possessively) to anything, which includes meditation & enlightenment. For example, in meditation, if everything becomes peaceful, calm & blissful, the mind does not think: "I am blissful" or "I love this bliss". Instead, the mind just experiences the bliss, without thinking about or judging it.

Similarly, when reading or hearing about 'breathing meditation', the mind should not try to do breathing meditation because this is craving. Instead, the mind should just quietly & gently free itself from craving (while sitting in meditation) and allow the breathing meditation to occur by itself.

While 'non-clinging' is not exactly the same as 'non-judging', for a beginner, it is similar. Therefore, a short path to enlightenment is described as follows:

You should train yourself thus: 'When seeing, merely see what is seen; when hearing, merely hear what is heard; when sensing, merely sense what is sensed; when cognizing (a mental object), merely cognise what is cognized.' In this way you should train yourself, Bahiya.

Bahiya Sutta

Meditation for enlightenment requires the foundation of non-harming; with the aspiration to not harm anything or anyone. This makes & keeps the mind pure, without obstacle or hindrance. It also generates compassion, which is an important energy for meditation. Here, a clear v ision/view in respect to sexual morals is especially important because the primary obstacle to meditation for enlightenment is often sexual desire. When there is non-harmful view about sex, the instinctual sexual drive can be transformed into compassion.

Also, beginning by doing a short meditation retreat (7 to 10 days) in a meditation centre or monastery can be particularly useful; not so much for the teachings; but for the atmosphere.

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You would like to know where to begin this Path to Enlightenment, and you want the answer to be short. The question is whether you are clever enough to have confidence in the Dhamma that Buddha had explained systematically and in detail. If you cannot develop an unflinching belief in the Buddha (Saddha), you will not go far. If Buddha’s advice to you is to first practice the meditations of ‘Asubha Sanna’ (idea of the impurity of the body), Loathsomeness of food, not taking delight in worlds, Considering all Sankharas as impermanent, and thinking of death before getting into Breathing Meditation, but you think otherwise, then you will not go far.

A person who accepts the Buddha’s Teachings is in it for the long run. He will not be in a hurry. His will be a slow, continuous, methodical, orderly practice. Even if it takes five to ten years to get results, he will not falter. If such a person fails to realize Enlightenment (Nibbana) in this life, he will definitely do so within seven lifetimes the most.

When meditating such a person will only have one goal – that is to liberate from this never ending Samsara – the never-ending cycle of re-becoming. To have this level of confidence you have to ONLY read the TRUE teachings of the Budddha and accept it. There is an inherent calmness in such a person. He is never in a hurry. This calmness is not a forcefully formed one. All these starts with ‘Sadda’ - the unflinching belief in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Arya Sangha – the Arahants.

  • I really like the non compromising disciplinary approach you speak of. However, even though I have been witness to experiences that strongly suggest to me the notion of the spiritual points to something that is real, I am not convince of the concept of Samsara. This makes me wonder if it is absolutely essential for me to embrace such an idea without evidence; or if not, will my journey towards enlightenment still be a worthwhile one. – useranonis Aug 5 '16 at 17:59
  • Try to develop confidence in the Buddha, and His Teachings @Richard Santiago. As Buddhists who took refuge under the Triple Gem, we have to often remind ourselves that we are disciples of the Gautama Buddha. We've got to develop our potential of seeing the life in the way that the Gautama Buddha taught us. The nature of how merits and demerits construct within one should be comprehended. A sincere effort should be made to prevent accumulating defilements. Most importantly one should be truthful to oneself with a great effort. May you be able to realize the Four Noble Truths. With Metta... – Saptha Visuddhi Aug 6 '16 at 1:58
  • I think your advice is very good for asians, but not appropriate for Western practicioners. – theDoctor Aug 13 '17 at 4:28
  • You maybe right @theDoctor. Also the advice given is for the conventional. If you look at suttas, there is no clear grammatical structure. It is the sound that gives the meaning and most verses have “double meanings”: There is an apparently simple meaning, but deeper meanings are hidden most times. In the conventional sense, “atta” means “a person”. The deeper meaning of “atta” is “in full control” or “the essence” or “the truth that is timeless”. I will write another answer – for the ‘Western’ mindset. Do give me a bit of time. – Saptha Visuddhi Aug 13 '17 at 9:52
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Technically each Dharma will finally lead you to enlightenment.

Start with the one that is easy for you, that you are happy to practice, that does not annoy other people, that you can afford to do.

Similar as you eat, pick up the food that is available for you, that you are happy to eat, that does not cause other being suffering, that you can afford to get.

Such as your name is Richard, you might start to think what is Rich, what does money do with my life, is it important to my life, and keep asking questions until you have answered many questions related to.

Such as your name is Santiago, you might start to ask what is ago, what is time, what has happened to me yesterday, what am I currently doing, what I m going to do tomorrow, do I remember what I did one year ago, what is happened to me when I was young, what happened to me before I was born, and keep asking questions until you are clear of many things related to.

There are lots of Dharma that Buddha has taught during his time. Pick one book and read, and practice according to what the dharma book.

May you be happy and enlightened soon.

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I'll try to give a logical answer (I'm worried that a ten-word answer would be easy to misunderstand).

Beware almost every word in the following answer is part of a technical/specialist vocabulary, and each word is the subject (topic) of innumerable "dharma talks" or essays: including words like enlightenment, suffering, cessation, ignorance, etc. They look like English words, but they're translations into English. The original words may have specific meaning and/or a range of meaning, e.g. "suffering" might be translated as "unsatisfactoriness" instead.

What is enlightenment?

Maybe start by understanding what 'enlightenment' is: what's the goal? There are maybe two definitions of enlightenment:

  • Cessation of suffering (and/or cessation of craving)
  • Cessation of ignorance

What is the path?

Canonically (according to the Buddha's first and most famous speech) the "path which leads to the cessation of suffering" is what's called the Noble Eightfold Path or the Threefold Training.

What of meditation?

There are at least two or three types of meditation:

  • Intended to concentrate or pacify the mind (Samadhi)
  • Intended to see phenomena clearly and learn wisdom (Vipassanā)
  • Intended to increase 'divine' attitudes e.g. good-will and equanimity (Bhavana and Brahmavihara)

Each type has different ways in which it can be practiced, i.e. there are various explanations (instructions) of techniques for how to practice them ... this answer is meant to be "in short" so I won't try to reference them here.

Note that meditation might be only one or two of the parts of the "Threefold Training".

What more about enlightenment?

Examples of suffering states or non-enlightened states are sometimes called afflictive emotions. There are long lists of them (for example this list ... and there are also lists of factors conducive to enlightenment).

It may be your experiencing these (afflictive emotions) which you'd equate with "suffering" and a desire for enlightenment might be a desire to not experience these.

Assuming you may experience them there are things to know about them that may make them easier to cope with during meditation:

  • They're impermanent (they come and go), don't try to cling to them
  • They're part of a cycle of cause and effect
  • People (minds) are more-or-less susceptible to them, have more-or-less-well-developed mental immunity/habits. Some Buddhist traditions see enlightenment as gradual, a progression; perhaps at an early stage of enlightenment people still experience suffering, but more-or-less cope with it.
  • They tend to have an immediate cause (e.g. a cause like, seeing something, deciding that you like it, deciding that it ought to be yours and that you want it), and an immediate effect
  • The Buddha identified some root causes: e.g. craving, attachment, ignorance.

The first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path is "Right View". Developing right view is important, and (conversely) wrong view is a cause of suffering (or more accurately, doesn't lead to the cessation of suffering).

For example if you hold the view that "he hit me, he hurt me" then that's a view associated with suffering. It's wrong, not necessarily in the sense that it's untrue but in the sense that it's unwise or unskillful (to attach to this sort of view if you want to stop suffering -- therefore don't hold to that view).

Some examples of right view include, don't see something as permanent if it's impermanent; don't attach to self-centred views.

To wrap this up, one of the root causes of suffering is craving. One of the types of craving might be a craving for enlightenment! One of the views of enlightenment is that it's a state in which craving (which leads to suffering) has been abandoned ... so for example there's a sutta like this one: Brahmana Sutta. Another view is that it's a state in which you have removed the fuels (causes) of craving.

I recommend this answer because it points out (accurately, I think) that different schools of Buddhism have slightly different takes on what the problem is and what the solution is.

This answer is still short: it doesn't mention teachers, good (and bad) friendship, social responsibility, harmlessness as a guiding principle, other guiding principles such as timelessness or immediacy.

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For you, the path to enlightenment begins right here. Because that's where you put your consciousness, in a Q/A site called "stackexchange".

"Is this the right path" is irrelevant, because you already started by offering a piece of your own lifeforce (time, chi, whatever) into the arena.

So now the universe answers back. The only question is "do you hear it" (awreness)? Aim for the highest point. It could be GOD, it could be Nature or mysticism, or it could be some virtue (Truth, Justice, etc.). When you aim for the highest point, you will either fail quickly and learn within your lifetime or achieve greatness.

You have to understand what enlightenment is. On the one hand it means "to be aware" or PRESENT, on the other hand it means your burden is lighter -- because you working your karma -- paying back to those who were wronged before you.

So, there are always two trajectories until you are enlightened: going upward (seeking enlightenment) or going downward (addressing your karma) so you can go further upwards.

Be careful that your goal of enlightenment isn't burdened with subconscious quasi-goals such as being better than someone else (ego-driven). That is a common pitfall among Western Buddhists.

As one Buddhist master remarked "after enlightenment, the mountains are mountains" -- don't get wrapped up in the goal, the journey along the way is part of the path.

  • There is a truth in what you said @theDoctor. Your answer has got me thinking and the need to write another answer to the OP. If you look at suttas, there is no clear grammatical structure. It is the sound that gives the meaning and most verses have “double meanings”: There is an apparently simple meaning, but deeper meanings are hidden most times. In the conventional sense, “attā” means “a person”. The deeper meaning of “atta” is “in full control” or “the essence” or “the truth that is timeless”. – Saptha Visuddhi Aug 13 '17 at 10:00
  • @SapthaVisuddhi: In Jewish study, they recognize four levels of interpretation of scripture called Pardes (Jewish exegesis) – theDoctor Aug 13 '17 at 14:53
  • I edited your comment to fix the hyperlink. See here (which I formatted as [See here](https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/editing-help#links)) for a description of how to create hyperlinks on this site (personally I always use the "inline link" style rather than "reference-style link"). – ChrisW Aug 16 '17 at 14:21
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For me, the path to enlightenment begins and ends with the Four Right Efforts:

"[i] non-arising of bad, harmful, unhealthy mindstates that have not yet arisen.
"[ii] abandonment of bad, harmful, unhealthy mindstates that have arisen.
"[iii] arising of healthy mindstates that have not yet arisen.
"[iv] maintenance, increase, and development of healthy mindstates that have arisen."

This practice involves classifying all your mindstates in two types: healthy and unhealthy (harmful).

Why don't I divide my thinking into two sorts? Thinking imbued with desire for pleasure, thinking imbued with negativity, [and all other kinds of] harmful thinking - into one sort, -- and thinking imbued with renunciation, thinking imbued with non-negativity, [and all other kinds of] healthy thinking - into another sort.

The mindstates are harmful when they

...lead to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. They obstruct discernment, promote vexation, ... degradation, and defilement.

While the healthy mindstates are the ones that:

... lead neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both...If I were to think & ponder in line with that even for a night... even for a day... even for a day & night, I do not envision any danger that would come from it.

And now the practice is very simple:

Whenever harmful thinking had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.

So, you should practice this during the day, and when you meditate you practice the same. Rid your mind of harmful thoughts and mindstates, gladden the mind, and make it stable.

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In Tibetan traditions, especially in the old Kadampa and the Gelug tradition, there is a genre of teachings called "Gradual Path to Enlightenment" (Lam Rim).

It shows how relying on a qualified teacher matters and how to do so, how to meditate on death and impermanence, abide by ethical discipline, renounce the pleasure of this life, and so forth.

Atisha's Lamp on the path to enlightenment is a short Lam Rim that His Holiness the Dalaï-Lama Commented. Je Tsongkhapa wrote a short, middle-length and great Lam Rim. Here you find his short Lam Rim, The foundation of all good qualities, with Geshe Sopa's commentary.

All in all, my main advise to you: study with a qualified teacher. An I am not saying this teacher ought to be a Tibetan one, as long as he is qualified. Too often do we see people who did not study properly, who have wrong views (new-age like views or Hindu-like views at best) and who think they can understand the texts on their own. They end up thinking that "all is one", that "nothing exists whatsoever", that "this is all a dream". This is neither correct nor healthy. Focus on that rather than meditation. Dharma practice has to be ordinary, you should not hope for extra-ordinary experiences and that would be a risk if you engaged in meditation without having studied thoroughly beforehand.

  • And Buddha studied with a teacher? :) – esh Aug 5 '16 at 2:07
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    Yes he did in the sense that he followed instructions from teachers. The Pali canon shows how he reached the first, then the second, then the third jhana and so forth following teachers' instructions. – Tenzin Dorje Aug 5 '16 at 2:14
  • And now, we heave the Buddha's teachings to study and practice :) – Tenzin Dorje Aug 5 '16 at 2:15
  • @Dhammadhatu I recommend Atisha and so forth because although they are free from the fault of fabrication (i.e. they do not invent a teaching but merely explain the meaning of the buddha's teachings) they might be easier to access than, for instance, the Lankavatara Sutra. Furthermore, your statement "Was the Buddha such a bad teacher that he needed others to explain his error that being an arahant is not full enlightenment" is not accurate from the Mahayana viewpoint, since the Buddha himself taught so in Mahayana sutras. – Tenzin Dorje Aug 5 '16 at 2:38
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    I have to explain because you did not study the Mahayana teachings extensively and with a qualified teacher. If "language cannot be used in a rigid manner" then the word I used should not matter that much, but you say I could have chosen a better word. There is contradiction. In addition, I did not come up with 'fabrication'. For instance, Gyltsab Je says "b. Rejecting the fault [of this material being of Shantideva’s] own fabrication." – Tenzin Dorje Aug 5 '16 at 3:10
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The Buddha was very clear on this in the Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness):

This is the only way, monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely, the four foundations of mindfulness.

"This is the only way, monks" is a translation of the Pali

EKYĀNO AYAṀ BHIKKHAVE MAGGO

There are different interpretations to what is meant by this:

  • There is no other way leading to nibbana (= "Awakening") than Satipatthana
  • This way must be practiced by oneself alone
  • This way is not crooked, it's the direct/shortest way to nibbana

At the end of the teaching he says:

"Now, if anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for seven years, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return.

"Let alone seven years. If anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for six years... five... four... three... two years... one year... seven months... six months... five... four... three... two months... one month... half a month, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return.

"Let alone half a month. If anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for seven days, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return.

So practicing Satipatthana would be the best option for you. For a basic understanding of the practice you can read the original teachings itself, and read/listen to explanations by other teachers like these

Of course the only thing that really matters is your actual practice of meditation and mindfulness.

  • This is the wrong place to start, in the scriptures the sutras begin with saying who the audience were, to indicate the level of difficulty and the prior skills and experience required, for a beginner to try to practice something meant for monks will be very difficult. You need to start with more basic foundational practices. – Yinxu Aug 7 '16 at 13:18
  • @Yinxu I don't know what you mean by 'something meant for monks'? – OidaOudenEidos Aug 8 '16 at 19:07
  • "Thus have I heard. At one time the Blessed One was living among the Kurus, at Kammasadamma, a market town of the Kuru people. There the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhu thus: "Monks," and they replied to him, "Venerable Sir." The Blessed One spoke as follows:" Usuallly the suttas begin with the audience, if it is a lay person the Buddha will give a simpler lecture on morality or basic practice. He only talk about difficult to grasp concepts to the advanced monks. – Yinxu Aug 9 '16 at 7:54
  • accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/merit.html "Of all the concepts central to Buddhism, merit (puñña) is one of the least known and least appreciated in the West. This is perhaps because the pursuit of merit seems to be a lowly practice, focused on getting and "selfing," whereas higher Buddhist practice focuses on letting go, particularly of any sense of self. Because we in the West often feel pressed for time, we don't want to waste our time on lowly practices, and instead want to go straight to the higher levels." – Yinxu Aug 9 '16 at 7:58
  • "Yet the Buddha repeatedly warns that the higher levels cannot be practiced in a stable manner unless they develop on a strong foundation. The pursuit of merit provides that foundation. To paraphrase a modern Buddhist psychologist, one cannot wisely let go of one's sense of self until one has developed a wise sense of self. The pursuit of merit is the Buddhist way to develop a wise sense of self." – Yinxu Aug 9 '16 at 7:58
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I would only offer two suggestions - find yourself a teacher and empty yourself of expectation. The first will guide you and the second will lessen the likelihood that you will be misled. The Buddhist path calls for trust. It is a forfeiture of belief and preconception done for the realization of true faith. Close your eyes, fall back, and let the hands of the patriarchs catch you.

  • The patriarchs are for a different people. The gurus of old don't know our Western world. It's origin story is different, it's destiny, and probably even it`s species. – theDoctor Aug 13 '17 at 3:19
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    Absolutely, wholeheartedly disagree. :-) – user698 Aug 13 '17 at 12:46
  • Why don't you ask your guru? – theDoctor Aug 15 '17 at 3:10
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    Afraid I don't have one. I practice Rinzai; my teacher is American. – user698 Aug 15 '17 at 12:03
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People here come up with all sorts of answers about enlightenment, believing in this or that. I hate to burst your bubble. They are not telling you about enlightenment because they don't know what it is. If nobody knows what the hell it is, how can they tell you how to achieve it? They only have concepts of something they read, which they have not verified.

Buddha really meant to reduce the suffering we are currently undergoing in our lives by techniques like meditation. How do you feel after meditating? If done properly, you will feel calm right? And then later you would be back, your villain mind will be back. This mind always looks after itself. It's ALWAYS LOOKING OUT FOR "YOU". So when this mind asks for "enlightenment" it is trying to add onto itself! "Become better" or something like that. It's looking for something more and then something more, endlessly. It's like wanting to be a billionaire.

We always desire this or that and think about the future or past. Be clear about this. Buddha did NOT talk about enlightenment. I repeat there IS NO ENLIGHTENMENT in the way you or your mind thinks there is. If you think so, you are unnecessarily bullshitting yourself and will chase your own tail and end up nowhere. It's not outside you. But if you clear yourself out, I hope you find it, God willing or yourself willing ;)

Gautama Buddha is only telling you about reducing your level of mental misery. The very fact that you are searching for something means you are not okay with whatever you have currently.

I'll only tell you one thing here. By looking at the enlightenment of other people, I think they mean self-annihilation or self-destruction. Your concept of your own self. Destroy that and see yourself as a part of everything in this universe. When I say "you" cannot achieve enlightenment, I mean this current thing which you think is "you". Enlightenment is when you somehow find out you are NOTHING but a blob of energy which will leave its current form when the universe needs it. That's it. Everything else is, I am sorry to use this word, bullshit.

Now I don't know how to do this clearly, because my thoughts get in the way everytime telling me this or that. That's all the karma. A memory of myself. I don't want to get into the details.

That's why I said you have to clearly know what you are looking for. If you don't know it, don't bother with it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Aug 9 '16 at 7:55

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