A human life passes by very quickly, sickness and old age will advance upon us swiftly. Dharma practice can help you in better understanding what life is about and how to deal with the fear of death. Therefore, it is crucial to make full use of your time to practice the Dharma.

At Yachen, our primary practice is meditation. The preliminaries for meditation consist of three points. These are the seven-point sitting posture, the nine rounds of exhaling the Buddha wind and the generation of the Bodhichitta motivation. Following this, there is the supplication to the Guru and receiving of the four initiations.

At the basic level of meditation, one focuses on a Buddha image, or some other external support in order to train in concentration, to train in non-discriminating mind. What is meant by non-discriminating mind is that the mind is free from discursiveness or distractions. During meditation, dullness and agitation are the most frequently encountered obstacles. Generally, beginners are prone to be lost in dullness or agitation.

So what is agitation? What happens when the mind is turned outwardly in distraction? This causes the mind to beunable to experience stability or calmness. Which obstructs the mind from remaining on the object of meditation This is agitation.

What is dullness? Dullness is caused partly by ignorance. It causes the body and mind to become gross and heavy, without any pliancy, which will cause your body to feel heavy while your mind will feel stable, secure and comfortable feeling, as if having a very good rest with a lazy feeling. Dullness is the cause of sinking. It has different degrees of grossness and subtlety. Sinking can be classified as gross sinking, subtle sinking and very subtle sinking. Gross sinking is when one is completely unable to see the external environment clearly. This is sense of sleeping. In subtle sinking, one sees clearly the external environment but there is a feeling of having no wakefulness or one feels lethargic. The very subtle sinking seemingly has wakefulness or alertness, and there is some awareness but it is not entirely clear or pure. This kind of situation is considered very subtle sinking.

To deal with dullness or agitation, the fastest method is to adjust one’s mind. That is to say, when practicing meditation, one should adjust according to the upheavals or changes in one’s inner mind.

When mind is too lax or dull, it is easy for it to sink. At this time, utilize contemplation to drive the mind, think of a way to elevate or energize the mind, as ameans to increase awareness. Use methods that let oneself be more joyful or happy. For example contemplating on the qualities and benefits of Bodhichitta, or contemplating on the various qualities of the body, speech and mind of the Tathagatas. By utilizing this joy or bliss, one can make the inner mind more energetic and thus, the mind will not be overly dull.

If the mind is too energized and high, it could be easily agitated and distracted. When one’s mind is too distracted, in order to prevent it from going too high, one should use ways to make it calmer or more relaxed. At this time, one can contemplate on the suffering of suffering, suffering of change and the all-pervasive suffering and such. One can also think of the drawbacks of being under the control of mental afflictions. In this way, the mind will become more subdued and withdraw inwardly. However, when the mind is withdrawn, one needs to be careful of a particular type of situation. One must pay attention to dullness, especially for meditation practitioners. For example, if one sees the external environment clearly, but without any alertness, with a kind of lazy feeling, this is subtle sinking within the meditation. Some people mistake this feeling to be true meditation and regard this type of subtle sinking as an an ultimate meditative state to be dwelled upon and practiced. If one practiced meditation in this way for a long time, the person will become more and more stupid and sluggish. If one continues to dwell in such a state for a long time, one can reach a point where breathing stops. Such a state may seemingly be free of all discursiveness or thinking. But, because it is a type of subtle sinking, it will lead us to increasingly lose our ability to judge and evaluate. During meditation, we must maintain the alertness and awareness in our mind.

In the meditation, one must be aware of the presence of dullness or agitation. In general, there are two situations: first, is discovering the fault only after it has happened. The other, one can detect the dullness or agitation before it has even arrived or when it is just about to happen if one maintains a very good alertness and awareness,. We should strive to achieve the second situation. To be able to do this, one has to be mindful and maintain mindfulness and frequently observe the mind.

How should a beginner meditate? One should meditate in a greater number of sessions  with shorter durations. This can help to avoid dullness or agitation. One can increase the duration of each meditation session if one feels that dullness or agitation no longer affects one’s meditation.. In order to prevent the flaws of dullness or agitation, one can meditate in a high place. The best time to meditate is early in the morning. If one has heavy dullness or sinking, then it is best to sit in a very high place with a vast view with no limits. This is very helpful for maintaining alertness in our meditation. If one is experiencing very heavy dullness, and one can barely withstand the sleepiness, then it would be good to go out and take a walk or sight-see. It is emphasized  – one should not sleep during meditation. In short, adapt to the practical situation, repeatedly watching the mind to check if it is too loose or too tight, and using all kinds of skillful methods to counteract agitation or dullness.

Once one is familiarized with the correct type of meditation over a long period of time, and one is no longer assaulted or is less affected by the defects of dullness or agitation, then one does not need to consciously use mindfulness to observe, because one is free from such faults. If one continued to make efforts to observe at such a point, then this will shake and disturb one’s focus in the meditation and instead become an obstacle to the meditation.

When one’s dullness and agitation has been reduced, one will gradually obtain a kind of mental serenity or lightness. This is an indication of the removal from the grosser afflictions and having obtained some mental pliancy. After this, one will have physical serenity or lightness and be free of the body’s heavy grossness, attaining physical pliancy. Then mental joy and bliss be  will generated, followed by physical joy and bliss… these will be slowly experienced in one’s meditation.

Some people feel that such bliss and joy both in the body and mind, which they have never experienced before, is akin to having attained realisation. So is this really accomplishment? Or is it a level within the five paths and ten bhumis? Actually, this is still a worldly meditative state. It is still too early to say. Texperience is just the beginning of the meditative states belonging to the path that is common to both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. This experience is not an uncommon characteristic within the five paths and ten bhumis. The Solitary Hearers and Pratyekabuddha vehicles (Theravada) utilize this meditative state as a foundation upon which their view of Emptiness is developed. Similarly, the Bodhisattvas need this kind of meditation as a foundation for further development of their view of emptiness.

The methods for destroying mental afflictions can be classified into two categories, namely the temporary suppression of mental afflictions and the uprooting of the seeds of mental afflictions. By relying on the mundane meditations, one can suppress the mental afflictions. but only by relying on the supramundane meditations (meditations unique to the Buddhist path) can one uproot the seeds of mental afflictions.

What we have just discussed is mainly the gradual steps for practice. You have come a very long way to seek the Dharma, and this is not easy. So I wanted to explain this in a clear manner. When you return home, you can practice some of the basic practices that where discussed earlier. When you have established a good foundation, then we can discuss further the other practices.