Meditation Gone Astray

by Dr Lynie Gunasekera

Reproduced from: Thorathuru Newsletter of the Sri Lanka
Association of NSW (Vol 1:3, March 1999)

The final goal of a Buddhist is to become an Arahat, and in so doing attain Nirvana. There are only two ways of achieving this. The first is to be taught by a Buddha or another Arahat capable of teaching like Assaji or Sriputta. The second is by Meditation or Bhaavanaa. The Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth factors of the Eight-fold Path constitute Bhavana, or Buddhist Meditation. The Buddha has referred to the Eight-Fold path as the "only Path". He referred to Meditation as the "only Way". If you believe, the Buddha said this you undertake to follow his teaching when you say "Buddha.m Sarana.m Gacchaami"

The Buddha practised what he preached. We can study his preaching and we can study his biography. His biography consists of three Lifestyles. The first is that of Prince Siddhartha the house-holder. He gave this up to become Gotama the Ascetic. By practising correct Meditation he became The Buddha the Arahat. Even as a householder there is evidence he dabbled in Meditation. He found that saddled by a young wife and new-born baby he could go thus far and no further. If not for this reason his leaving his wife and child was an act of rank desertion. He was to call his son Raahula the fetter. His subsequent life as Gotama the Ascetic show clearly that at this stage of his life he was only interested in Meditation.

His lifestyle as Gotama the Ascetic was to become the role model for a Buddhist Monk. What he did not do is as important as what he did. This stage of his life started with retiring alone to the forest to meditate. The phrase "A monk gone to the forest" recurs in all his Suttas dealing with Meditation. The Buddha had the habit of repeating important teachings. The phrase appears in both Satipa.t.thaana Suttas. This is his main Sutta on Meditation. It is there in the Mahaa Raahulovaada Sutta, in which he teaches his own son to Meditate. He tried the extreme practises of other ascetics, found them counter productive and gave them up. He adopted what is now popularly known as the Middle Path. He tried Meditating with a group of five friends and soon gave it up. He tried going to the then expert on Meditation, Aalaara Kaalaama and gave him up. He gave up anything that did not bear results, and modified and improved on those that did. He taught the Raahulovaada Sutta to his young son and literally packed him off to the forest alone to practise Meditation. Saariputta, his chief disciple, and friend and Mentor to Raahula was around but was not sent to supervise him. An Aalaara Kaalaama was not necessary. The Sutta was easy for even a little boy to understand.

The Satip.t.thaana Sutta, the Buddha's main teaching on Meditation is also easy to understand. The Late Rev. Soma Mahaa Thera, gives a complete translation in The Way to Mindfulness. Sometimes teachers tend to omit from the original Suttas parts that are embarrassing to them. In the last paragraphs of the Satip.t.thaana it is clearly stated that if you meditate properly, Anaagaami should be achieved in a maximum of seven years. It goes on to state that Anaagaami can be achieved in seven months or seven days. If a monk whose first priority is to Meditate and achieve, has not, according to the Buddha, reached Anaagaami in seven years it can only mean that there is something wrong in his method of Meditation. When a medical student enters a medical course the Professor expects him to get his final MB.,BS in six years. Can students who have failed to do so appoint themselves Professors of Medicine and teach others? Can they set up Medical Schools? Is this not a case of the Blind leading the Blind? The result is everyone gets nowhere. The question arises "Why no Arahats?" Could it be that Meditation has gone astray.

There are Monks and then there are Priests. Monks are for Meditation, and Priests are for performing rituals. There are Monks and Ascetics keen on Meditation even in other religions. In Buddhism there are only Monks. The Buddha ordained a specialised group from among the householders. He made his purpose quite apparent. They were to be the respectable unemployed. He provided them a social security scheme in the way of the four requisites to be provided by the laymen. This is Food, Clothing, Shelter and Medicine. Two of the extra five precepts absolved them from sex and having to deal in financial matters. The Vinaya and the Ptimokka rules show his grand design. As the Gotama the Ascetic he pursued only Meditation. He had no time for his young son and wife. He did not visit his father to see how he was managing the kingdom. It is unfortunate that modern monks have become Priests at the expense of Meditation. What Meditation has lost Rituals have gained. To this world an Arahat is worth a hundred thousand monks turned out in a Bikkhu training centre.

The ten fetters separate Arahats and Non Arahats. Of these ten fetters Desire, Craving, and Ignorance prevent the correct interpretation of the Dhamma. This is probably why the Buddha has urged each of us to interpret the Dhamma for ourselves. We may have qualifications next to our names and dress in all manner of costumes but by virtue of the tenth Fetter we are ignorant. Wearing a Ariya Sinhala suite, a bow tie or a saffron robe does not release us from the fetter of Ignorance. Respect for the Robe is a myth. The Buddha had the habit of sitting on a folded Robe. This can hardly be a show of respect. You don't rest your buttocks on something you respect.

Maintaining the order of Monks is an expensive business. Laymen have to foot the bill. The monks owe it to the laymen to see that their money is well spent. Monks are for Meditation. Meditation must produce results. Anaagaamis and Arahats, as stated in the Sammaa Sambuddha's Satipa.t.thaana Sutta. To say that "Nowadays it cannot be done" is a poor excuse. The Buddha Dhamma cannot be the truth, if advancing knowledge makes it more difficult to practise.