In the last discourse given by the Buddha called the Parinibbana Sutta, the Discourse concerning his passing away into total nibbana, there is a special section on body movement and posture:
And again when the meditator is walking, she or he is aware of walking, when standing, aware of standing, when sitting, aware of sitting, when lying down, aware of lying down. Whatever position or movement the meditator is in, that is what she or he is aware of.
In other words, sitting meditation is only a part of the meditation. What the Buddha wanted us to do was to develop a meditative life—to know what we are doing at all times, leading a life of full-time awareness.
The danger for meditators is to elevate the sitting meditation practice to the level of a magical ritual, as if all we need do is a little sitting in the morning and in the evening, perhaps, and liberation from suffering is assured. It is this dependence on meditation sitting, alone, that leads eventually to disillusionment and disappointment, and the abandonment of a ‘useless’ practice.
Sitting meditation is only part of the Buddha’s path and, in a sense, is the end piece, the finishing school. It’s what caps the whole method of purification. Too often meditators think there is nothing more to be done. I once met a meditator who was in despair over this point. He had been tremendously ardent, spending months in intensive meditation only to come out and live the high, fast life. After years of this so-called practice, achieving very little in terms of inner peace, he felt nothing but sorrow and despair. He felt that the five years or so he’d spent on the meditation practice had been a great waste.
But we can see quite clearly—especially if we look at the rules that guide the monastic life—that the Buddha wasn’t teaching simply a meditation practice, but a way of life, a way of living from day-to-day.
The Middle Path, then, is a description of how life as a whole should be led by someone eager to attain liberation from all suffering. This Middle Path in its broader aspect means not to fall prey to sensual pleasure, not to overindulge in sensual delights. Nor should we believe that self-mortification, such as long fasts, will bring us nearer the goal. Moderation in all things is the motto here.
Secondly, we should be careful not to transgress the basic moral laws, for this produces harmful effects for us and for others.
Thirdly, we should make great effort in improving ourselves by the practice of the Perfections. This is all put as the Four Great Efforts of the Eightfold Noble Path—to eradicate existing unwholesome habits and practices, and not to allow any new ones to establish themselves, to introduce new wholesome ways of thinking and behaving, and to develop what wholesomeness we already have.
Bodhidhamma Bhikkhu, an English monk of the Burmese tradition, is resident at Satipanya Buddhist Meditation Centre.
More articles by Bodhidhamma Bhikkhu here