Traditionally, what is talked about in Right Meditation is being able to concentrate single-mindedly on an object of meditation. However, I feel that before we can get to that point, we need to learn about single-minded concentration on our actions of body, speech and mind – our daily actions, in other words. How do we do this? We study Buddhist teachings, contemplate them and then meditate on them.
If we meditate, we make the teachings a part of our lives. We are able to bring them into every aspect of our lives. It also allows us to move beyond mere intellectual understanding to make the teachings our own. When we read books or hear teachings, we understand them on an intellectual level. This is knowledge, but we have to turn that knowledge into wisdom. The way to do that is to meditate.
The way to live a responsible life is to meditate on the Noble Eightfold Path. Make it a part of our lives and we can check our progress everyday at a daily review session.
While meditating on right view, you have to really understand the workings of karma. You have to realise that whatever intentional actions you do – be it with our body, speech or mind – they will create a reaction in the future. You need to meditate on this point, so that it becomes more than just intellectual information. You have to be naturally aware of it whenever you perform any intentional action.
You also have to study about the impermanence of all phenomena, and the non-existence of a true self. These two points should be studied with a teacher, as they are quite profound. You should contemplate them and ask questions to dispel any doubts you may have. Finally, you have to meditate on them.
After that, you should meditate on right intention. You should not harm others, nor have ill will towards them, and your actions should not be driven by any of the three poisons. All of our actions stem from our mind and so it is only we who can be held responsible for them. You must contemplate on your every action. In this way you will not be intentionally disturbing yourself or others.
Next, meditate on right speech. Many a time, we open our mouths before using our brains, and what comes out is harmful and unhelpful words. We lie, commit slander, use harsh words, and gossip with such ease, it is frightening. It is as if our mouth has a life of its own. How do you address this problem? It’s simple, meditate on your speech.
Lying is never going to help anyone. We may say we lied so as not to upset someone, but when they find out we have lied, they get more upset. When we slander someone, we are not making friends but enemies. Swearing on someone’s face is going to hurt them, and gossiping is a waste of time. Thus you have to meditate on how you speak and only then will you learn to talk in a way that is both helpful and kind.
Now comes right action. As Buddha advised his son, Rahula: ‘If there is a deed you wish to do, reflect this way: is this deed conducive to my harm, or to the harm of others or to both? Then this is a bad deed entailing suffering. Such a deed must be resisted.
If there is a deed you wish to do, reflect this way: is this deed not conducive to my harm, or to the harm of others or to both? Then this is a good deed entailing happiness. Such a deed you must do again and again.’
Thus, we must ensure we are fully in-tune with our actions, so that we are aware of when we are being led astray by the three poisons.
This brings us to right livelihood. Again, ensure that your work
does not harm anybody and bring suffering to them. Think about your chosen profession, and if you see that you are harming a living being, try to change jobs, or at the very least minimise the damage you cause. Here, we have to not only meditate on our livelihood, but we also have to be honest about the effect we are having on the world.
In all of the above ensure you put in the right effort and right mindfulness, because it is impossible to sit quietly and mentally still on the meditation cushion if you are not at ease. If our minds are agitated by hatred, consumed with jealousy, being held by desire and greed, if we are killing, stealing and lying, how can we sit and meditate peacefully and productively? This is why you need to study the Noble Eightfold Path, contemplate it, meditate on it and finally you will be able to live responsibly.
Let us try to put right concentration in a nutshell. When our minds are unguarded and we are not concentrating, our actions, speech and thoughts are also unguarded. On the other hand, when our mind is concentrating and guarded, our actions, speech and thoughts are also guarded. According to Shantideva in A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life :
O you who wish to guard your minds,
I beseech you with folded hands:
Always exert your selves to guard
Mindfulness and alertness!