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There is a pithy saying for keeping fit that goes

The 'best exercise you do' is the exercise you do

i.e. the most important thing is to find something you enjoy and you can stick with rather that do the scientifically proven 'more effective exercise' that you maybe don't enjoy as much.

So I was wondering is the same true of meditation i.e.

The 'best meditation you do' the meditation you do

So to fill it out - is it more important to find the meditation that suits you personally and perhaps adapt and tweak it until it really suits or is it better to pick a tradition and follow their methods to the letter and force your way through it?

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I have not heard of any teacher in any tradition that would say: "Yes, go ahead and shop around, get the best elements from every tradition and construct a teaching and practice that works for you" -- Never.

Every teacher seems to have confidence in their tradition. That said, some of the teachers I personally came in contact with, stayed fairly hands off and minimalistic when it comes to meditation instructions.

My Zen Master famously said "Don't go with the thoughts; don't go against the thoughts" - that's it. No other instructions! He did write a book that had a chapter on meditation, so anyone could read that if they wanted, but he never insisted on meditation to follow a strict order.

Dza Kilung Rinpoche gave rather verbose instructions, as is customary in Tibetan Buddhism but as a Dzogchen Nyingmapa his sentiment has always been that meditation only begins as something guided, because that's how beginner's mind operates, but then as you progress you get to pick your own course in the overall direction prescribed by the teacher or the level you are on.

In my own opinion, meditation is something impossible to pin down and put in a box no matter how hard you try. So even if someone would speak about some particular type of meditation as if many people had the same meditation experience - that would only be a theoretical construct, a figure of speech. In reality every person's meditation, and every meditation session, is different and unique.

It also depends on the situation, the person, the problem, the level, the question, and the current goal. For example in my case, my meditation for many years has been to avoid getting carried away by thoughts. That's what I did, sat and fought with my thoughts and tried to stay in the present. As that did not work too well, I tried meditation that focused on subtle feelings in the diaphragm and lower abdomen, with the goal of discovering and letting go of all tensions and blockages. That worked better and has been helpful. Then for a period of time I meditated on the overall well-being, trying to generate a bright and open, happy mind. That worked quite well. These days I meditate on "no conflict in the mind", in other words the focus of my meditation is sukha-approaching-suchness.

From my perspective, any rigid meditation method is a lie that depends on the student either being blind to the fact, or pretending to not see, that their mind is a not simple mechanical machine but an endlessly fluid spontaneous process with multiple feedback loops.

So in my own personal opinion, of course "it is more important to find the meditation that suits you personally and perhaps adapt and tweak it until it really suits" and no, I would never recommend to "pick a tradition and follow their methods to the letter and force your way through it" - regardless of how many traditional teachers would say so.

That said, it is important that your meditation is not an act of fooling yourself, not an act of indulging in what rubs your ego the right way, but an authentic discovery process. Meditation is the time and place to be absolutely honest with yourself, to see what you normally don't want to see, to feel what you normally don't want to feel, and to get clarity about all this.

For me this type of honesty with yourself is a lot more effective than "to force your way through it".

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I guess there are different types of exercise with different results (strength, endurance, longevity, balance, weight loss, weight gain, or doing it for a living), though conventional medical advice is that any (reasonable) amount and type is better than none. On that subject, it's not exercise alone that's healthy -- it's a troika i.e. exercise, nutrition, and rest. Exercise is a stress, and nutrition and rest let the body recover from (and adapt to be able to support) those periodic demands -- which is healthy because if you can exercise then e.g. climbing a flight of stairs isn't going to stop you.

Similarly I'd guess that, to the extent that there are different types of meditation, they may have different results. They might all be called Buddhist though to the extent that they align with Buddhist methods and ideals.

One of the more detailed descriptions of motive that I read on this site was here -- and I suppose that's not the only truth but is a truth.

For a number of reasons, I don't want to criticise the question, but just very superficially it reminds me of, "caught within the logic of calculating mind, calculating merit" -- and at the risk of making a gnomic statement (which, I think, is often silly), my first reaction to reading the question was to think, "I thought that meditation was a form of not doing, for a change."

The question also mentions "something you enjoy", so, a complete logical answer might have to touch on that topic: whether and why meditation is enjoyable, whether (and why or how) to do it if or when it isn't, whether to do it regularly, whether a variety, and so on.

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A farmer buys a wild calf at the market, and brings it back to the farm. He thinks, this calf is used to being in the wild, going where ever it wants, when ever it wants. So he drives a stake into the ground, and ties the calf to it with a rope. The calf isn't used to the rope at first, so it struggles against it. After putting up a struggle for a few days, it finally calms down and becomes tame since the struggle is doing it no good.

This is how it is with a daily sitting practice. Our minds and bodies are untrained, untamed. So our thoughts are jumping around, like a wild calf on a rope. As long as we remain tied to the rope, we eventually learn to adapt to it.

So actually, if we let ourselves set our own limits, work our meditation in to our busy schedules, our minds never become tame. We have to set the recommended amount of time aside daily, then get up and do it. People typically complain that their wild untamed mind is a major problem, an obstacle. So they aren't sitting long enough. There is a saying with Zen priests that 2 hours a day is only "breaking even", but i find that if i sit about an hour, most of that time is fairly calm.

The other question is, find the meditation that suits you? There are some important features of skillful sitting meditation, it should be calming, yet it should not be putting you to sleep. One should not judge what comes up during meditation, don't judge yourself. It's not just about relaxation.

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If you're exercising for better health, then yes, the 'best exercise you do' is the exercise you do. In fact, increased physical movement of any kind, including taking the stairs more often, or walking to nearby locations instead of driving, can all contribute to better health.

However, if you're training to become a professional athlete, that does not apply. You must follow the rigid training program as closely as possible, and tailor it only slightly to meet your specific needs.

Once you have reached a certain high level of competency and proficiency, you can let go of the rigid training rules, because at this point, you understand how it all works. You know what to do to achieve or maintain the desired results. Or perhaps, it will become a second nature to you, that you don't need the training program anymore.

Similarly, if all you're seeking is more peace of mind or better concentration, then the 'best meditation you do' is the meditation you do.

However, if you're seeking Nirvana, then you can't do it according to your own style. You have to follow the rigid training program as closely as possible, and tailor it only slightly to meet your specific needs.

Once you have reached a certain high level of competency and proficiency, you can let go of the rigid training rules, because at this point, you understand how it all works. You know what to do to achieve or maintain the desired results. Or perhaps, it will become a second nature to you, that you don't need the training program anymore.

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Sitting Long and Getting Tired
Koan 17 of the Hekiganroku

Introduction

Cutting through nails and breaking steel for the first time, one could be called a Master of the First Principle. If you run away from arrows and evade swords you will be a failure in Zen. The place where even a needle cannot enter I’ll leave aside for a while, but when the foaming billows wash the sky, what will you do with yourself then?

Case

A monk asked Kyorin, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the west?” “Sitting long and getting tired.”

There are four basic kinds of meditation: ineffective meditation that sucks, transformative meditation that sucks, ineffective meditation that is pleasurable, and transformative meditation that is pleasurable. No one save for the most masochistic among us would stick with the first kind for very long. I mean, this is the Buddhist form of banging your own hand with a hammer. It might look impressive, but it generally proves detrimental over the long term. The last kind, well, if we all happened upon that from the outset, we wouldn't be asking questions, I don't think. This kind of practice does exist, but damn is it along way off and damn if it doesn't look anything like you're probably thinking.

So practicably, this leaves us with the last two - meditation that sucks, but is transformative and meditation that is pleasurable, but ineffective. This is kind of the crux of all Buddhist practice. And it's where people most often go astray. In the modern age, I think we've really been sold dog meat labeled as mutton when it comes to meditation. I mean, you can't go ten minutes without hearing claims of how meditation reduces stress, combats seasonal effective disorder, makes us loving people, and generally amplifies well being and happiness. Don't get me wrong, meditation does do all of these things, but damn those articles! They've always got some smiling monk or well proportioned model in white yoga pants sitting placidly on a cushion. How blissful they must be, right? They must be flying high on 700cc's of samadhi!!! Yeah, no. That's all marketing. And it's all a lie. Meditative bliss is real, but if we pursue our practice with only that in mind, we are going to hop off the cushion the second those first arrows begin to bristle on the horizon and we see Manjursri menacingly sharpening his sword. That's sad because it's only when we offer ourselves up to be cut, shot through, and made uncomfortable that real change becomes available to us. I mean, no one loses weight without going hungry. No one furthers their career without working hard. And that model? She ain't going to get anywhere on that cushion until she has a line of sweat dripping from the nape of her neck and down past her butt crack.

Any meditation is better than no meditation, just like one stick of broccoli is better than none. But honestly, what's one stick of broccoli going to do? Likewise, we may like Snickers bars - or a certain kind of meditation - but if that's the entirety of our diet, we're just feeding our baser instincts. We're giving our ego what it wants at the expense of our Buddha nature. The real trick is to find that edge, that place where you are just at the edge of your comfort zone. That's the real middle way. And you'll only ever discover it if you put your wants and expectations aside. Any tweak you make is going to come from your smaller mind's desperate attempt to preserve itself. You really need to dive in and trust the process - any process, any technique. Let yourself get beaten up by it. Don't force it, submit to it. The more you acclimate yourself to this kind of practice, the more delight you'll take in that challenge and that submission. After a time, you'll come to know that as the real place where meditation is both transformative and pleasurable.

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The best meditation is the meditation that leads you Nibbana(enlightenment). There are many ways that can lead a person to Nibbana so whatever method you use, it is better to use one of these methods that leads you to Nibbana and which is suitable to practise in daily life.

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