Why those who Meditates are more Successful and Happier

From the Autobiography of Ajahn Mun (1870 – 1949)

Meditative development means training the mind to be clever and unbiased with respect to basic principles of cause and effect, so that we can effectively come to terms with our own inner processes, and all other related matters as well.

Instead of abandoning the mind to unbridled exuberance, we rely on meditation to rein in our unruly thoughts and bring them into line with what is reasonable – which is the path to calm and contentment.

The mind that has yet to undergo meditation training is similar to an untrained animal that cannot yet properly perform its appointed tasks and is, therefore, not as useful as it might be. It must be trained to do those jobs in order to gain maximum benefit from its work. Likewise, our minds should undergo training as a means of understanding ourselves as we carry out all our daily tasks, be they mental or physical, significant or trivial, gross or subtle.

Those who develop meditation as a solid anchor for the mind enjoy reflecting carefully on whatever they do. They are not likely to take unnecessary chances in a situation they are unsure of, when a mistake could hurt them or someone else who is involved. Meditative development brings definite benefits, both immediately and in the future, but the most significant are those we experience here and now in the present. People who develop an aptitude for meditation will be successful at whatever they put their minds to. Their affairs are not conducted half-heartedly, but are well thought out with an eye to the expected benefits of a job well-done. In this way, people can always look back with satisfaction on the fruits of their labor.

Since they are firmly grounded in reason, people who meditate have no difficulty controlling themselves. They adhere to Truth as the guiding principle for all they do, say, and think. They are mindful not to leave themselves open to the myriad temptations that habitually arise from the kilesa (negative mental habits) of craving – wanting to go there, wanting to come here, wanting to do this, wanting to say this or think that – which give no guidance whatsoever to right and wrong, good and bad.

Craving is a very destructive defilement that tends to lead us repeatedly into misery in countless ways. In truth, we have no one to blame but ourselves, so we are left to accept the consequences as something regrettable, trying to do better the next time.

When sufficient mindfulness is maintained we can reverse this trend. But if we do not have enough mindfulness to reflect prudently on these matters, everything we do will have adverse effects, sometimes irrevocably so. This is the real crux of the kilesas – they inevitably lead us toward misfortune.

monkeys on seats and floor

Meditation is a good means for making a clean break with the unseemly business of the kilesas. Meditation techniques are arguably somewhat difficult to practice, but that’s because they are designed to put pressure on the mind and bring it under control, much like trying to bring a monkey under control in order to tame it.

Meditation techniques are actually methods for developing self-awareness. This means observing the mind which is not content to just remain still but tends instead to jump about like someone who’s been scalded with hot water.

Observing the mind requires mindfulness to keep us aware of its movement. This is aided by using one of a number of Dhamma (Spiritual Truths or Teachings) themes as an object of attention to keep the mind stable and calm during meditation. A very popular method and one that gives good results is mindfulness of breathing. Other popular themes include the use of a word such as “buddho”[1], “dhammo” or “sangho”, or meditation on death, or whatever theme seems most suitable.

The mind must be forced to stay exclusively with that object during meditation. Calm and happiness are bound to arise when the mind depends on a particular Dhamma theme as a good and safe object of attention. What is commonly referred to as a ‘calm citta’ (Mind) or a ‘citta integrated in samãdhi’ is a state of inner stability that is no longer associated with the initial object of attention, which merely prepared the citta by holding it steady. Once the citta has entered into samãdhi, there exists enough momentum for the citta to remain in this state of calm, independent of the preparatory object, whose function is temporarily discontinued while the citta rests peacefully. Later, if time permits, attention is refocused on the initial Dhamma theme when the citta withdraws from samãdhi.

When this is practiced consistently with dedication and sustained effort, a mind long steeped in dukkha (suffering) will gradually awaken to its own potential and abandon its unskillful ways.

The struggle to control the mind, which one experiences in the beginning stages of training, will be replaced by a keen interest in the task at hand.

The citta becomes unforgettably calm and peaceful once it enters samãdhi. Even if this happens only once, it will be an invigorating and indelible experience. Should it fail to occur again in subsequent attempts at meditation, an indescribable sense of loss and longing will linger in the citta for a long time. Only with further progress, as one becomes more and more absorbed in increasingly subtler states of calm, will the frustration of losing the initial state of calm be forgotten.

When hearing about meditation, you may fret and feel mentally and physically inadequate to the task, and be reluctant to try. You may be tempted to think:

Fate has surely conspired against me. I can’t possibly manage it. My duties and responsibilities both at home and at work make it difficult. There are all the social obligations, raising children and looking after grandchildren. If I waste time sitting with eyes closed in meditation, I’ll never be able to keep up and make ends meet and I’ll probably end up starving to death!

Thus, you become discouraged and miss a good opportunity. This way of thinking is buried deep within everyone’s psyche. It may be just the sort of thinking that has prevented you from ridding yourself of dukkha (suffering) all along; and it will continue to do so if you don’t try to remedy it now.

Meditation is actually a way to counteract and alleviate all the mental irritations and difficulties that have plagued us for so long. Meditation is not unlike other methods used in the world to relieve pain and discomfort; like bathing when we feel hot, and putting on warm clothes or lighting a fire when we feel cold. When hungry, we eat and drink; when ill, we take medicine to relieve the symptoms.

All these are methods that the world has used to relieve pain and discomfort over the ages without anyone ever dismissing them as being too burdensome or too difficult to do. People of every ethnic and social group are obliged to look after themselves in this way. Even animals have to take care of themselves by searching for food to alleviate their discomfort and survive from day to day. Similarly, mental development through meditation is a very important means of taking care of ourselves. It is work that we should be especially interested in because it deals directly with the mind, which is the central coordinator for all our actions.

The mind is in the front line when it comes to anything relating to ourselves. In other words, the citta is absolutely essential in everything. It has no choice but to accept the burden of responsibility in all circumstances without discrimination or hesitation. Whatever happens, the mind feels compelled to step in and immediately take charge, unfazed by ideas of good and bad or right and wrong. Although some situations are so depressing they’re nearly unbearable, the mind still boldly rushes in to shoulder the burden, heedless of the risks and its own inherent limitations.

More than that, it recites its litany of thoughts over and over again until eating and sleeping become almost impossible at times. Still, the mind charges ahead refusing to admit failure. When engaging in physical activity, we know our relative strengths and when the time is right to take a rest. But our mental activities never take a break – except briefly when we fall asleep. Even then, the mind insists on remaining active, subconsciously churning out countless dream images that continue overloading its capacity to cope. So the mind lives with a sense of intolerable dissatisfaction, never realizing that this dissatisfaction arises in direct relationship to its heavy work load and the unbearable mental aggravation it generates.

Because it is always embattled, the mind could well be called a ‘warrior’. It struggles with what is good and it struggles with what is bad. Never pausing to reflect, it engages everything that comes along. Whatever preoccupations arise, it insists on confronting them all without exception, unwilling to let anything pass unchallenged. So it’s appropriate to call the mind a ‘warrior’, since it recklessly confronts everything that comes across its path. If the mind does not come to terms with this dilemma while the body is still alive, it will keep on fighting these battles indefinitely, unable to extricate itself. Should the heart’s endless desires be indulged in without Dhamma to act as a moderating influence, real happiness will always be out of reach, regardless of how abundant material wealth may be. Material wealth itself is not a true source of happiness, and can readily become a source of discontent for the heart lacking inner Dhamma to serve as an oasis of rest.

The wise have assured us that Dhamma is the power which oversees both material wealth and spiritual well-being. Regardless of how much or how little wealth we acquire, we will enjoy a sufficient measure of happiness if we possess some measure of Dhamma in our hearts.

Unsupported by Dhamma and left to its own desires, the heart will be incapable of finding genuine happiness, even with a mountain of valuable possessions on hand. These are merely physical and emotional supports that intelligent people can use wisely for their own pleasure.

If the heart is not intelligent in the way of Dhamma, or Dhamma is absent altogether, the place where we live will resemble a wasteland, no matter what our choice. The heart and all its wealth will then end up as just so much accumulated waste – stuff that is useless for our spiritual development.

When it comes to being stoic in the face of adversity, nothing is as tough and resilient as the heart. Receiving proper assistance, it becomes something marvelous in which we can take pride and satisfaction under all circumstances. From the time of birth to the present moment, we have exploited our hearts and minds –mercilessly. Were we to treat a car like we treat our minds, it would be pointless to take to a garage for repairs, for it would have become a pile of scrap metal long ago.

Everything that we utilize must receive some sort of upkeep and repair to ensure that it continues providing useful service. The mind is no exception. It’s an extremely important resource that should be well looked after and maintained, just as we do with all our other possessions.

Meditation is a therapy designed exclusively for the mind. All of us who are truly interested in taking responsibility for our minds – which, after all, are our most priceless possessions – should care for them in the correct and proper way. This means training our minds with suitable meditation techniques. To use the car comparison: it means examining the mind’s various component parts to see if anything is defective or damaged; and then taking it into the garage for a spiritual overhaul. This entails sitting in meditation, examining the mental components, or sankhãras, that make up our thoughts; then determining whether the thoughts that surface are fundamentally good or harmful, adding fuel to the fires of pain and suffering. Thus, an investigation is undertaken to ascertain which thoughts have value and which are flawed.

Then we should turn our attention to the physical components; that is, our bodies. Do our bodies keep improving with age or are they deteriorating as time goes by – the old year inevitably turning into a new one, over and over again? Does the body continue regenerating or does it inevitably wear down and grow older with each successive day? Should we be complacent about this by failing to mentally prepare ourselves while there’s still time? Once we are dead, it will be too late to act.

This is what meditation is all about: cautioning and instructing ourselves by examining our shortcomings to determine what areas need improvement. When we investigate constantly in this manner, either while sitting in meditation or while going about our daily tasks, the mind will remain calm and unperturbed. We will learn not to be arrogantly overconfident about life, and thus avoid fueling the flames of discontent. And we will know how to exercise proper moderation in our thoughts and deeds so that we don’t forget ourselves and get caught up in things which may have disastrous consequences.

[1] This involves mentally repeating “bhud” as we breathe in and “dho” as we breathe out. Buddho stands for Buddha, Dhammo represents Dhamma and Sangho represents Sangha (the spiritual community).

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