Q&A On Meditation

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Q-01Is it necessary to be a Buddhist to do mindfulness meditation?

A Lay Devotee
A-01Definitely not. For instance, it is not necessary to be an English or an American to speak English. Anyone who learns how to speak the language is able to do so. S. N. Goenka is, probably, one of the most well known meditation masters ever to live. People came to his meditation retreat holding their own religions and faiths. They went back with the same religion and faith as well. But most of them recognized that they were better persons and could handle their mental weaknesses better than before. Meditation can be done by anybody. One only needs proper guidance.

With Metta,
U Cittara
Q-02May I ask regarding sitting meditation? How do we position our legs when meditating? I am currently meditating cross-legged. There were several occasions where I found that my feet was numb (blood circulation restricted) after meditation, and had difficulty walking for a while after that. May I know how I can mitigate this problem?

With Metta,
A-02This is one difficulty that most if not all beginners face in meditation. All beginners should receive proper guidance and instructions before embarking on his/her meditation journey. This is to minimise all discomfort and problems, like yours. So, the first advice would be to join a class and receive right and useful instructions and help from a “trained” teacher.

With your current sitting position, relieve would only come with more right practice and patience. You may want to try the following methods so that you will be able to find your most comfortable position to relax and enjoy yourself.

keep legs a little apart from each other
keep one foot to rest on the other crossed thigh, while the other rests beneath the opposing crossed leg
keep one foot to rest on the opposite crossed thigh, while the other foot rests in front of the crossed leg

All these sitting positions are not the only positions, a meditator can practise with. You may sit on a stool or in a chair. The sitting position of your choice should suit you and be comfortable for you. And your sitting position should make you elegant and graceful while you're sitting in meditation.

With Metta,
Ashin Acara
Q-03I have been learning Buddha Dharma from different masters, teachers and friends. Recently I noticed many things going on about meditation. It is wonderful and I am ignorant about meditation. Some people said meditation is a way to calm the mind. Others said meditation is a way of practice. Some said meditation is a way of looking at phenomena. I am a little bit confused. I know some meditation practices but I don't know the meaning of meditation. So could you please explain the meaning of meditation? Thank you.

With Metta,
A-03It is understandable that you are confused about the meaning of meditation as the “meditation” is the interpretation of the Pali word “Bhavana”. There are some Pali words to express Bhavana or meditation.
For example,
Metta-bhavana is loving kindness meditation.
Buddhanussati is a reflection on the virtues of the Buddha.
Kayanupassana is the contemplation on body parts.
Bhavana, anussati and anupassana also refers to meditation.

Therefore there are different definitions and approaches to meditation.

Depending on meditation method used, definition can differ. The definitions that you described are essentially different methods. “Meditation is the way of practice.” This term is often used by mindfulness meditation masters. And “the method of calm mind” is instructed by samadhi or concentration or one-pointedness meditation masters. Finally “meditation is a way of looking at phenomena.” This is explained by vipassana or insight meditation masters.
You may be also confuse about the names of meditation such as mindfulness meditation, awareness meditation, concentration meditation, one-pointedness or samadhi meditation, vipassana or insight meditation etc.

These are in fact, the stages in spiritual progress mindfulness (sati), concentration (Samadhi) and wisdom (panna). Mindfulness is followed by concentration and concentration is followed by insight knowledge or wisdom which is realizing the true nature of the object of concentration.
That is why some emphasized on mindfulness, so it is called mindfulness meditation. Some focus on concentration, so it is called concentration meditation. And insight meditation is given to those who pay more attention to insight than other meditations. Different interpretation of meditation is given depending on different meditation methods. All the interpretations make sense.
Dear Viriya, I would suggest that you choose the type of meditation that you think is good for you, practice it, and you will understand the meaning of meditation through your own experience. You may even be able to add more definition of meditation, after all.

With Metta,
U Cittara
Q-04May I know why my mind has this music playing in my head during and post- meditation? (Background: I hardly listen to any music)
During meditation, I can focus on the in-and-out movement of the stomach even though there is a tune playing in my mind. However, I am concerned that it will affect my meditation practice.
Thank you for giving us the meditation classes. I am grateful for it. I have been attending it, and it has been very enriching and extremely helpful to me, even though it is only the third class so far. Thanks.

With Metta,
A-04It may seem strange that a meditator could have unusual experiences since the mind or concentration is not very stabilized yet. One may hear music or one may hear someone whispering or telling something. We are sorry that we cannot explain “why” you hear this. From our observations, less than ten percent of meditators have such strange experiences. However, you need not worry about this so long as you can focus on your meditation object. Meditation is focusing on “what,” but not on “why.”
To illustrate, a meditator heard someone whispering while meditating. He failed to meditate on the “what” of hearing or “the sound.” Instead he went to “why.” He could not get any answer. He opened his eyes and looked around, but he found no one. For some more times he heard the same voices from different directions. And he similarly responded at each times. At each times he found no one was around.
Such meditators eventually found themselves either stopping at their meditation or they might even go the wrong way. This story gives a very important message to us. That is, a meditator must note “what” he hears and must not analyze “why” he hears. He noticed it, but suppose it did not go away, what a meditator has to know is that “it does not go away” and not be bothered by “why it does not go away.”
If a meditator is a beginner, he should ignore it and pay more attention to his primary meditation object. He should not be concerned with whether “it goes away or it does not go away”. It will go away after all because it is not reality. You will never go the wrong way so long as you can meditate on the “what” which is reality.

With Metta,
U Cittara
Q-05Bhante, how can we handle mosquitoes and ants while meditating?

A-05First of all, please do not kill them. They try to suck a drop of your blood and you respond by taking their whole life. It is not fair to go “tit for tat” to such a tiny being, let alone to go against the religious teachings and your current religious practice that is meditation.
You should take them away gently by generating your loving-kindness and compassion towards them even though they are biting you or sucking your blood. Treat it as blood donation!
Make sure the place where you meditate is kept clean before you embark on meditation. Dear Chua, in effect, most of meditation centers are kept clean and therefore you have less of an ant problem than mosquitoes. Please refer to my answer to Willian’s question too (next question, Q-06).

With Metta,
U Cittara
Q-06Bhante, I could not meditate well here (at Mangala Vihara) probably due to the noises from the road and traffic. Would it be advisable for me to go to forest meditation centers so that I can do meditation better?

With respect,
A-06A quiet and serene place is always better to do meditation. The Buddha advised us to do so.
I’d like to share my experience here. On one occasion, I had a thought similar to you. So I set forth to a forest. Well, avoiding the noises was easy but not the mosquitoes. I could, of course, use a mosquito-net while doing sitting meditation. However, it would not prevent the tiny mosquito from passing through the net and sucking my blood. Then, it would became so big and fat that it could not get out of the mosquito-net. Do you know what it was doing? This mosquito buzzed around my ears, making irritating buzzing sounds. So instead of noise from the cars and the traffic, I got noise from the mosquito. Here, please, compare the noise from the mosquito with the noise from cars. Which is more agitating? Definitely, the noise from the mosquito.
This experience taught me a lesson: “Do your best where you are.”
Sometimes we are not able to do meditation satisfactorily not because of the noise from the surrounding but rather our own mind. So my suggestion is to try your best here because you are here. You may, of course go to a forest meditation center and continue doing your best when you’re there as well.

With Metta,
U Cittara
Q-07Hi. I am very new to meditation and I have been practicing meditation through guided meditation from MP3s. I do not have access to any classes or Buddhists in my community. Is it ok that I practice meditation in this way? Also, am I supposed to be meditating on a specific thing, like a Sutra that I just read, or am I supposed to be clearing my mind and learning how to get rid of all thoughts?

Thank you,
A-07Hi, Christina. It is all right if the instructions from the mp3 are clear enough for you to follow and understand to do your meditation. Let us know about some of your personal meditational experiences so that we can provide you with some suggestions.
For your second question, the answer is “yes” and “no.” I think you already know about concentration and insight meditation. Concentration meditation means focusing one’s mind on a particular object whether it is a Sutra or other material objects. That is why realizing or contemplating a Sutra could be considered as a form of concentration meditation. However this practice would not help one to achieve a higher level of concentration as it is very easy to concentrate.
For your third question, I must say “yes.” But I apologise because I cannot help much as I do not know what kind of method you are practising.

With Metta,
U Cittara
Q-08Bhante, I learned from the Abhidhammattha Sangaha that there are 40 meditation subjects and the subjects are to be applied according to meditators’ suitability. And I learned that meditation on breathing is suitable for those who are with deluded and discursive temperament (moha-carita and vitakka-carita). Today most of meditation teachers are instructing meditation of breathing. Can you explain why they don’t instruct other meditations? I think different meditation subject should be given to different people with different temperament and different suitability.

A-08Ven. Viveko, Let me say “thank you” for your question. I will do my best to answer your question.
1. 40 meditation objects, as you said, are found in the Abhidhammattha Sangaha. In fact Abhidhammattha Sangaha is written by Ven Anuruddha, a Sri Lankan monk and not by the Buddha Himself. At the same time, the Four Foundation of Mindfulness (cattari satipatthanani) can be found in Mahasatipatthana Sutta which is preached by the Buddha himself.
2. The Buddha said: “Monks, this is the only way (ekayano, bhikkhave, ayam maggo).” And in this sutta he proclaimed and promised anyone who practised according to this sutta can attain the highest level.
3. Even though 40 meditation objects are found in the Abhidhammattha Sangha, there is no clear explanations on how to practise these 40 objects in Kammattha Sangaha, the last chapter of this book. However, the Buddha showed in details how to practise the Four Foundation of Mindfulness clearly.That’s why most of the meditation masters emphasise on breathing meditation.
4. Breathing meditation comes from the Mahasatipatthana Sutta.

No one can do any meditation without mindfulness and a basic level of concentration. This sutta teaches how to establish and develop one’s mindfulness and concentration. Only then, can one choose any particular meditation. As far as I know, meditation masters do not teach only breathing, but also some meditations such as loving-kindness, reflection of the Buddha’s virtues, the great four elements and so on. They teach if and when a meditator is capable of doing it.
Why not others?

1. No one knows another’s true temperament accurately, so it is not feasible for one to select a meditation object for someone else. According to some stories, even Ven Sariputta gave a wrong or unsuitable meditation object to a meditator.
2. No one possesses the ability to give a right object to a meditator except the Buddha.
3. According to Maha Satipatthana Sutta, it is safe and good enough to do breathing meditation for a start at basic level.

With Metta,
U Cittara
Q-09How can one send loving-kindness toward others if he does not have or does not practise loving-kindness? Please explain loving-kindness meditation. Is it really effective?

A-09First of all, I’d like to give you two examples - transferring money and reflection of candle light.
For the first example, it is true that if you do not have money you cannot transfer it to a second party. However, for the second example, the light from the flame of a candle will brighten the area around. Loving-kindness is more like the spreading of candle light rather than transferring of money.
I think you may be confused because of the different interpretations of loving-kindness. Sometimes it is interpreted as sending or radiating loving-kindness to all beings. This problem will be solved if it is translated as generating loving kindness. For example “May my parents be well and happy” means that you are generating loving kindness within yourself towards your parents. So, as far as I understand, loving-kindness meditation means generating and developing our loving-kindness within ourselves using other living beings as meditation objects. At the same time our loving-kindness is reflected towards others just like the light of candle.
Is it really effective? Of course it is.
But it depends on 1) the level of concentration a meditator has and 2) the mental situation of the second party. (Bhante, are you referring to the being used as the meditation object?)
Basically, there are two kinds of meditation. One is general and the other is individual. When we contemplate “My all beings . . .” it directs to all general beings. When we contemplate “May my parents or my father,” it is individual. One can choose whichever is more suitable for oneself.
If the level of concentration of a meditator is low and the second party’s mind is heavily polluted by hindrances such as anger, greed, illusion, conceit etc., the loving-kindness would not be very effective. So, first and foremost one needs to develop one’s concentration, then choose the time when the second party’s mind is less polluted before embarking on loving-kindness meditation.
That is why we are advised to do loving-kindness early in the morning or late at night when the mind is usually less polluted.
If you have doubts, I would like to suggest you do loving-kindness meditation on animals first, such as for a dog. If I am not wrong, an animal’s mind is less polluted than a human’s.
The Buddha won over Nalagiri, the drunk and giant elephant by emitting loving-kindness but not on Saccaka, the stubborn and ignorant man. Dear Teo, let us “walk the talk”. You will see the power of love.

With Metta,
U Cittara
Q-10Venerable Sir, I heard many people saying: "meditation can cure physical illness." Can meditation be medication? Can you explain how meditation can cure physical illness?

Tzu Chi
A-10I would say that this is possible. But one should not do meditation simply to treat physical illness. S. N. Goenka, the vipassana meditation master is a perfect example. I’d like to suggest that you read his biography.

Recently, I was told by a Singaporean meditator that he had been having problems with his hands. His hands were shaky and could not hold anything firmly. He tried many medical treatments yet his condition did not improve. However, after taking up meditation for two months, he was amazed that his condition has improved and he no longer has any problems with both his hands. I was glad to hear this.

Why is it that meditation has such positive curative effect? The main reason is the concentration and the meditation object. One of the Four Meditation object is feeling. Feeling can be classified into two, that is physical and mental. Physical illnesses are, in fact, physical unpleasant feelings. Therefore, if one’s concentration is strong and intense enough, it can impact one’s physical unpleasant feeling. Consequently, it is possible to recover from the illness. We all agree that the mental strength has some influence on the physical condition. When the mind is pure and powerful, it will generate positive results on the physical weaknesses. Therefore, my answer to this question is "yes" and I would certainly encourage you to do meditition if you can as a therapy as well.

With Metta,
U Cittara

Dhamma Questions are answered by Bhante U Cittara, resident monk of Mangala Vihara, and his assistant monks. Questions and comments on given answers are welcome.