Want to learn more about meditation?

Doesn’t it seem like everyone is meditating these days?

Churches and synagogues host all sorts of meditation groups, and community-based meditation (and yoga) centers are opening all over.

I guess it’s no surprise given our stressed-out, racing-for-time, recession-weary culture.

tjndc5-5ftmfxpazk3x2wz89zn_layoutA few years ago, I wrote about an in-depth, three-year class in Buddhism for meditators who want to go deeper in the traditions and beliefs behind…sitting (that’s what meditators call it). It was a terrific program offered at the Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel.

I recently heard that the monastery has started a new three-year cycle, and I bet there are a lot of suburbanites out there who would love it.

The website explains:

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The program is designed to give students an in-depth understanding of Buddhism and Buddhist practice in the three major traditions–Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

The first year of the program provides a broad overview of Buddhism. The second year focuses on Buddhist sutras. The third year focuses on Buddhist philosophy and applications such as science, psychology, and psychotherapy.

New students may enter the program in any of the three years and, having completed all three years in any order, are awarded a certificate. An optional fourth year (by invitation of the teacher) prepares students to become lay Dharma teachers. Those who complete the fourth year satisfactorily may be ordained in the Dharma Teacher Order.

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If you have questions, there are a bunch of answers on the website.

The teacher is The Ven. Dr. Thich Tri Hoang, who was ordained in Vietnam at the age of 24. He is a terrific sense of humor and seems to genuinely enjoy teaching Americans from diverse backgrounds.

Meditation — new and improved (maybe)

Can one go deeper into meditation?

I know that many Western believers (and non-believers) have been experimenting with meditation in recent years, intrigued by the growing interest in Buddhist practices.

tjndc5-5emdoadp98o18ceanjxz_layout.jpgThere’s “Jewish meditation” and various forms of “Christian mediation,” not to mention many more traditional forms that are available to everyone (there are plenty of Zen centers here in the burbs).

I came across a funny piece in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle by a veteran “sitter” (slang for one who meditates) named Barry Evans.

After years of meditating, he concludes that meditation does not get better or deeper over time — but just is. He writes:

For me, meditation is a haven away from the ubiquitous world of self-improvement. It’s not just that there’s no such thing as “bad� meditation, but there’s no such thing as “good� meditation either. It is what it is. So when I hear words like “effort� and “discipline� and phrases like “deepening one’s practice� and “advancing along the spiritual path� spoken in the same breath as the word “meditation,� I wince. Just sitting (shikantaza)—doing and wanting nothing, breath coming and going unbidden, eyes seeing, ears hearing—in this effortless state, thoughts flurry like falling leaves.

So can a so-called experienced meditator offer anything to someone new to the practice? Probably not. If what we’re really talking about is awareness, how can we help someone notice what’s going on? This is what’s going on: no more, no less. Unlike a subject like, say, carpentry, where we learn from the experience of those who have gone before us, meditation is defined by spontaneity, by not knowing. As the Roshi says, “practice only one level.� Perhaps the best we can do is to reassure newcomers that each of us starts over with every sitting and every breath.