The “gaining idea” in meditation
OK, if you’ve been working methodically through this practice you know the score by now. Try doing all three stages for a few days. Practice them every day, if possible, and get to know them well.
Watch out for any tendency to want to skip over one stage (maybe because you don’t like it as much as the others). Each stage has its own special function, so remember to do them in the correct order.
You might want to make your meditation a little longer now, perhaps five minutes per stage, making fifteen minutes.
Shunryu Suzuki, the famous Zen teacher who founded the San Francisco Zen Center and who was a major influence on Western Buddhism, talked about “the gaining idea.” This rather awkward but incredibly useful phrase points to the problem that arises in our practice when we’re hungering for results. We want be enlightened right here and right now. Or we simply want to rush on to learn the whole practice so that we can check that off our list of things to do. The gaining idea is a major hindrance to developing skill in meditation.
As Suzuki Roshi said, “When a gaining idea arises in our practice, it is a sign that our practice is in trouble.” The reason for this is that we’ve actually incorporated our restless, grasping mind into our meditation practice. Our practice has been taken over by the mind that craves, yearns, and tries to appropriate results without following the path that leads to those results.
These attitudes of grasping, craving, and greedy hunger are the very things that cause us suffering in the first place. Because we suffer we want to meditate, because meditation is the antidote to craving and suffering. And then what happens? Our craving takes control of the meditation! It’s as if the antidote to the poison itself accidentally becomes contaminated with poison!
It’s useful if you learn to recognize this gaining idea, this notion that somehow your best interests will be served if you rush through the practice. That notion is false. Meditation is about letting go of grasping so that we can experience freedom. So start doing that now by deciding that you’ll pause where you are right now, and that you’ll explore the stages of the meditation practice and really get to know them before you move on to the next stage.
As part of that exploration come back to this section and read a bit more about the issues that can arise in this stage of the practice.