On Practicing Concentration

Concentration should be practiced in a systematic and orderly way. The Buddha thus set down a civilized and flexible pattern of four postures, in line with what he himself had practiced: sitting meditation, standing meditation, walking meditation, and meditation lying down. When you practice concentration in any of these four postures, you are said to develop skillfulness through meditation. The Pali word for meditation—bhāvanā—literally means to develop what is good and worthwhile within the heart. Meditation is a duty for all Buddhists, lay as well as ordained. The skillfulness arising from meditation is the exclusive possession of those who do it. Those of us who believe in the doctrine, its practice, and the resulting attainments, should thus practice accordingly.

Sitting: Here we will review the basic method once more: Begin by formulating the intention to observe perfectly the five, eight, ten, or 227 precepts, in line with your position and abilities. Once you see that your virtues are pure, sit in a half-lotus position with your right leg on top of your left. Hold your hands palm-to-palm in front of your heart and call to mind the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha as your refuge. Repeat the formula for the four sublime attitudes, then Buddho me nātho, dhammo me nātho, saṅgho me nātho, then Buddho buddho, dhammo dhammo, saṅgho saṅgho. Lower your hands to your lap and silently repeat a single word—buddho—in conjunction with your in-and-out breath as your mind’s preoccupation.

Limit your attention to the body. Don’t pay attention to anything outside. Focus on the physical properties present in the body—the properties of earth, water, wind and fire—and then let go of these aspects, bringing your attention to the breath, coordinating buddho with its in-and-out movements. Make yourself fully aware. Only if you don’t let your attention wander will you be true to the word “buddho,” because “buddho” means one who is awake, mindful and alert.

Standing: Meditate in the same way as above, simply changing the posture. Stand in a way that is composed and self-possessed, keeping your body erect and your mind firmly mindful of what you’re doing. Place your hands down before you, your right hand covering your left. You may keep your eyes closed or leave them open, as you like. Focus your mind on buddho, keeping your attention restricted to the body and to your sense of immediate awareness until your mind is firmly established.

Walking: Walking meditation, termed caṅkama, is done as follows: Decide on a path as long, short, broad, or narrow as you like, making it level and even, with no ups or downs, so as not to interfere with your walking. You can walk fast or slowly, taking short steps or long, whichever is most comfortable. Hold your head on an even keel, neither lowered nor tilted back, and keep your gaze on the path before you. Place your hands down in front of you, as in the standing posture, and meditate in the same way as in the postures already mentioned.

Lying down: Lie on your right side, your right hand pillowing your head, your left arm placed straight down the side of your body. Don’t curl up, lie on your stomach, or lie on your back: Lie on your right side. This is the posture of a noble person, brave, victorious, and virtuous; not the posture of a miserable person at his wits’ end. Once you’re in position, keep your mind on the repetition of your meditation word as in the other postures.