A definition I like to use is, “Meditation is an activity involving the cultivation of mindfulness and the application of techniques to change ourselves in order that we become more fulfilled and more able to see things as they really are.”
Meditation is about becoming more fulfilled, but also has the function of helping us to more clearly understand the nature of the world we live in. These two goals are really the same, since we can’t be fulfilled if we have serious misunderstandings about life. In particular we have to learn what conditions (actions, thoughts, etc.) give rise to happiness and which to unhappiness.
Meditation gives us tools to quiet the mind so that we can become more aware of the mental processes that lead to greater fulfillment. It also offers us tools to change our mental states so that we become happier.
No. You don’t have to adopt any religious belief system in order to do the meditation practices that we teach here.
Pretty much. People who have experienced schizophrenia should be cautious about taking up meditation, and although meditation can help with depression I wouldn’t advise anyone to start meditating while they are feeling profoundly depressed (they should wait until they’re feeling more balanced).
Apart from that. I think just about anyone can learn to meditate. Those who get least from meditation are usually those who want instant results. Meditation is like going to the gym — you have to actually do the work to get the benefits. Let go of that quick-fix mentality and accept that some changes take time, and you’ll find your meditation practice will be very helpful.
Meditation is a particularly effective way of dealing with stress. It helps us to calm down and to become more aware of how stressful feelings arise.
What kinds of meditation do you teach here?
We mostly teach the most widespread meditation practices, including mindfulness of breathing, development of lovingkindness, and walking meditation. These practices are found in virtually every major Buddhist tradition. In addition we teach mantra meditation, which is mostly associated with Mahayana Buddhism, although some of the mantras we teach come from the Theravadin (pronounced TEY-ra-VAHD-in) tradition.
Transcendental Meditation is an adaptation of Hindu mantra meditation, involving the recitation of the “seed syllables” (the essential names, if you like) of Hindu deities. Although TM can be effective, the organization that teaches it is very money-oriented, and charges a lot for the practices they teach.
Do you need to have a teacher?
Like most skills, you can learn a lot on your own, but a teacher can be helpful to guide you when times get tough or when you have a blind spot. You can teach yourself to paint, for example, but having a teacher can speed the process and make learning more interesting and productive. It’s the same with meditation.