Beyond Religion
eBook - ePub

Beyond Religion

Ethics for a Whole World

The Dalai Lama

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  1. 210 Seiten
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eBook - ePub

Beyond Religion

Ethics for a Whole World

The Dalai Lama

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A guide to leading an ethical, happy, and spiritual life beyond religion and cultivating key human values, from a beloved world religious leader.

Ten years ago, in the best-selling Ethics for a New Millennium, His Holiness the Dalai Lama first proposed an approach to ethics based on universal rather than religious principles. With Beyond Religion, he returns to the conversation at his most outspoken, elaborating and deepening his vision for the nonreligious way—a path to lead an ethical, happy, and spiritual life. Transcending the religion wars, he outlines a system of ethics for our shared world, one that makes a stirring appeal for a deep appreciation of our common humanity, offering us all a road map for improving human life on individual, community, and global levels.

"Best Religious Books of 2011" Huffington Post "A book that brings people together on the firm grounds of shared values, reminding us why the Dalai Lama is still one of the most important religious figures in the world."—

"Cogent and fresh
This ethical vision is needed as we face the global challenges of technological progress, peace, environmental destruction, greed, science, and educating future generations."— Spirituality & Practice

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Meditation as Mental Cultivation

WE HAVE NOW explored in some detail what spirituality and ethical living entail in terms of personal practice. We have discussed some ways to bring mindful awareness into everyday life, some ways to develop greater awareness so that we can learn to regulate our emotions, and, finally, some ways to actively cultivate our inner values. Since all these practices, especially the last two, involve some degree of disciplined application of the mind, in this final chapter I would like to say a few words about cultivating mental discipline. For myself, such cultivation is an indispensable part of daily life. On the one hand, it helps reinforce my determination always to act compassionately for the well-being of others. On the other, it helps me keep in check those afflictive thoughts and emotions by which we are all assailed from time to time, and to maintain a calm mind.

A Process of Transformation

How, then, does this process of mental cultivation lead to spiritual and inner transformation? Here it may be helpful to invoke the idea of the “three levels of understanding,” as found in the classical Buddhist theory of mental transformation. These levels are understanding derived through hearing (or learning), understanding derived through reflection, and understanding derived through contemplative experience. For example, consider people who are seeking to understand the deeply interdependent nature of today’s world. They may first learn about it by listening to someone talk about this issue or by reading about it. But unless they deeply reflect upon what they hear or read, their understanding remains superficial and closely tied to their knowledge of the meaning of the words. At this level, their understanding of a given fact will be only an informed assumption. However, as they then reflect more deeply upon its meaning, applying analysis as well as dwelling mindfully upon the conclusion they reach, a deep sense of conviction arises of the truth of the fact. This is the second level in the process of understanding. Finally, as they continue to cultivate deep familiarity with the fact, their insight into it becomes internalized, making it almost part of their own nature. They have then reached the third level of understanding, which is characterized in the classical texts as experiential, spontaneous, and effortless.

Forms of Mental Cultivation

All the major faith traditions emphasize the importance of developing one’s inner life, and many of the techniques found in my own tradition exist in some form in other traditions as well. In particular, there are many similarities between the various mental training practices used in different Indian contemplative traditions. But large areas are shared with other spiritual traditions too. Recently, for example, I attended a very enjoyable and informative talk on contemplative prayer given by a Christian Carmelite monk who pointed out some striking similarities between Christian and Buddhist techniques.

Dealing with Procrastination

For the beginner, the first requirement for mental cultivation is a serious commitment to practice. Without such a commitment, it is unlikely that a person will ever get around to starting at all! I sometimes tell a story in connection with the problem of procrastination. There was once a lama who, to encourage his students, promised he would take them on a picnic one day. This incentive had the hoped-for effect, and the young monks eagerly applied themselves to their studies. Yet the promised picnic did not materialize. After some time, the youngest student, not willing to let go of the prospect of a day off, reminded the teacher of his promise. The lama responded by saying he was too busy at the moment, so it would have to wait awhile. A long time passed, and summer gave way to autumn. Again the student reminded the lama, “When are we going on this famous picnic?” Again the lama replied, “Not just now, I’m really far too busy.” One day the lama noticed a commotion among the students. “What is happening?” he asked. A dead body was being carried out of the monastery. “Well,” replied the youngest student, “that poor man over there is going on a picnic!”

Planning Our Practice

At the outset I should sound a note of caution. As the beginning meditator will quickly discover, the mind is like a wild horse. Like a wild horse, it takes a long time as well as familiarity with the person who wishes to tame it before it will settle down and obey commands. Similarly, only with gentle persistence over an extended period will the real benefits of meditation become apparent. Of course it is all right to set aside just a few days to try out a short program of mental training, but it is wrong to judge the results before you have really given it a chance. It may take months, even years, to realize its full benefits.

Relaxing and Settling the Mind

Once you are settled, the first thing to do is take a few deep breaths. Then, breathing normally again, try to focus on your breath, noticing the air as it enters and leaves through the nostrils. What you are trying to achieve is a mind in a neutral state, neither positive nor negative. Alternatively, you can take one inhalation and one exhalation while silently counting from one to five or seven, and then repeat the process a few times. The advantage of this silent counting is that, in giving our mind a task to perform, it makes it less likely to be swept away by extraneous thoughts. In either case, spending a few minutes just observing your breathing is usually a good way to achieve a calmer mental state.

Reflecting on the Benefits of Mental Training

One very useful exercise at the beginning of a session is to consider the benefits of practice. An immediate benefit is that practice gives us a brief respite from the often obsessive worrying, calculating, and fantasizing with which our minds are habitually occupied. This by itself is a great boon. Another benefit to reflect on is that practice is a sure path to the highest wisdom, even if that path is a long one and there will be many obstacles to overcome along the way.

Some Formal Practices

A more formal meditation practice is the cultivation of sustained attention through single-pointed concentration. Here, you choose an object as the focus of your attention. It may be a flower, a painting, or simply an orb of light; or, for a religious practitioner, a sacred object such as a crucifix or an image of a Buddha. Although, when you begin, it may be helpful to have the actual object in front of you as an aid, ultimately the physical thing is not the focus of your attention. Instead, once you have chosen your object, try to cultivate a mental image of it, and when you are quite familiar with the image, you fix it in your mind’s eye. This mental image of the object is what serves as the anchor for your meditation.