Why Meditate? — Words Do Not Cook Rice

The way I was taught about meditation is that you study the “manual” under the guidance of your teacher, figure out what’s going on a little bit, then you practice, you study, practice, study, practice. Without a clear view of the whole process, it’s possible to just roam and fumble around for decades or lifetimes for that matter. Developing clarity in the “view” means understanding why we should meditate and how do to go about it. So having a clear view is the first step and then actually doing the practice is the second step.

You could have a totally clear view, you could completely get it. You could understand everything fully. But if there is no practice, the whole thing becomes purely theoretical and conceptual. As Charlie Chan’s #1 son used to say, “words do not cook rice.” It’s happened many times in the past that a person’s so smart, got such a strong clear view, but no practice. Sometimes their mind can feel like uncooked rice even to the casual observer. So practice is stage two.

The final or third stage is called the fruition, or the realization — sometimes called the action. We’ll be talking more about the fruition in a moment. This way of looking at things is called three-fold logic — ground, path and fruition, or sometimes called view, practice and action.

The practice that we’re going to do for most of the time we’re together is called shamatha in Sanskrit. In English it is often called mindfulness. Shamatha can be translated as “calm abiding”. The meaning of calm abiding is that we are settling down and taming the wildness of our mind. There’s also another connotation of developing one-pointed concentration, of developing that capacity. So what’s the view for shamatha practice? The view is simply that there’s no real fundamental problem in our world. There’s no ultimate problem. However, out of force of habit, our minds, which are perhaps our greatest resource, are distracted and somewhat out of synch. So we’re going to work on that.

We’ve already done all kinds of work on our body and that’s a good thing. But deep down we know the body’s going to go — it’s not going to last forever. In our lives, we face difficult circumstances, pleasant circumstances, whatever. Circumstances are going to change. But it is your state of mind is that is riding through all of those circumstances, through all those changes. And it is your state of mind that allows difficult circumstances to become workable, up until even the most difficult of circumstances like old age, sickness and even death. Even if you’re paralyzed or you have a very serious disease, your mind can stay very clear and open. There are definite examples of that — people we know or have heard about. Those people are a real inspiration.

Through the force of habit, our mind can often feel cluttered and distracted. Therefore there’s confusion and fixation on all kinds of things which don’t really help us to be productive. The speed and scattered quality of our own state of mind actually creates discomfort, suffering and anxiety for us. We can’t even have a cup of tea and appreciate and enjoy it because our mind is so distracted. Even if we’ve had a beautiful meal and wonderful circumstances, we’re still worried about whatever. So it’s clear that simply optimizing the physical situation does not always produce peace and satisfaction, and likewise that even in the most difficult of circumstances, it is still possible to have some peace and a sense of fundamental well-being.

So when we practice meditation, we look right at the mind and ask ourselves, “is it possible to train our mind, to tune it? Just as we can tune the body through exercise, diet, and rest, so we can also tune the mind to feel more spacious, attentive and at ease. The fruition of shamatha meditation practice is that we can cultivate a more peaceful state of mind with equanimity and balance.

One of the great one-liners that my teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, said to me when I was having a rough time was, “when things are going badly, don’t freak out, and when things are going well, don’t relax.” I thought, “woah, pretty good.” I had to think about it for a couple of decades but I still go back to that one as a real winner. Because if you think about it, there’s this tendency to freak out when things are going badly, and then, ok, you just got a big check or whatever, and now everything’s cool. So up and down and up and down we go. Our practice can train us to stay tuned and resourceful no matter what the external circumstances are — whether seemingly positive or negative. That’s equilibrium, that’s equanimity, that’s a really good quality — you’re going to like having that.