1. First Train in the Preliminaries
To ensure the success of any meditation that we practice, we should always prepare by reciting the Aspiration and taking sincere refuge in the Three Jewels: the fully awakened being (Buddha), the truth (Dharma), and those intent on virtue, or the spiritual community (Sangha). When meditating, try to sit in a comfortable, steady posture, the spine elongated, the hands placed in the lap, the eyes unfocused, and the mouth relaxed, with the tongue pressed gently against the palate.
Prior to the main meditation we will discover many extraneous thoughts breaking like a storm into our mind. Since these must be eliminated for any successful contemplation, we should initially practice simple breath awareness. While placing the concentration on the breath, there are four things to avoid:
- breathing so heavily that we can hear our breath going in and out,
- giving effort to breathing,
- breathing out so far that we have to suck back in quickly, and
- breathing too rapidly.
Placing the mind on the breath is like looking down on a busy market place and watching the movements of just one person. The confused bustle gradually fades into the background. It is up to the individual to determine when these extraneous thoughts have been pacified and to realize whether or not firmness of concentration has been achieved. For some people it takes only seven or twenty-one rounds of breathing to reduce internal gossip, but for others it may take much longer. When a state of mental stability has been attained, we can proceed to the more advanced objects of contemplation, because now the mind will be more able to remain on them steadily.
Once the mind is calm, we can proceed to contemplate the basis of all Dharma instructions:
- the precious human form,
- death and impermanence,
- actions and their results, and
- the faults of cyclic existence.
We should meditate thoroughly on these four points and try to realize them correctly from the very beginning of our practice. If we fail to do this, our meditation will lack a firm foundation, and it will be impossible to realize the more profound aspects, such as the relative and ultimate awakening minds. Just as a person who wishes to become a school teacher and teach others effectively must first gain the prerequisites by following the appropriate studies, so must we first engage in all the preliminary practices in order to attain higher realizations.