From St. Benedict in the 5th century to the seven great women mystics of the medieval church to Thomas Merton and James Finley today, contemplative prayer (meditation) has been used to bring clarity into the lives of Christians by providing a springboard to the Divine. In Judaism, which has perhaps the oldest tradition of meditation, meditation can provide the highest form of spiritual experience, the direct experience of God. Similarly, in certain Islamic traditions (Sufi), meditation provides the means to the fusion of the individual back into the oneness of the Universal Reality.
In Buddhism, contemplation is analysis and observation, of a question or condition, and simultaneously of Self. It is analysis of a phenomenon so that we can see its true nature clearly; observation of Self and the realization that this self is just a conventional construct.
Contemplative meditation is just sitting down and thinking about something spiritual and specific. It is seeing what you can discover by observation, analysis, reflection, parsing, intellectual scrutiny, introspection, etc. It is establishing, as much as you can, continued attention to the particular thought, idea, concept, doctrine, practice, etc.
Note what you are observing and its implications for reducing suffering and living a more meaningfully beneficial life.
Usually one would start with a short contemplative period of meditation, say 3-5 minutes, maybe 10. This would be repeated several times over a period of days and weeks. In between meditations, the idea is to see how one’s observations can be applied to living a more peaceful, easier, more beneficial life.
Below, in no particular order, we offer various contemplative meditations with some practice suggestions
Emptiness and No-Self Contemplative Meditation
Meditate on these for 3-5 each, in sequence, three times a week for a couple of months. That’s 12-20 minutes, a few times a week, for a few months, to let the idea of emptiness and no-self sink deeply into your psyche.
- Contemplate the impermanence of events.
- Contemplate the absence of a coming and going in those events.
- Contemplate that there is no “beingness” to “inner” or “outer” appearing events.
- Contemplate that all “Truths” are only I-centered mental constructs.
Do this contemplative meditation for 3-5 minutes a day for a couple of weeks and it will change your life.
Contemplate the relationship of impermanence to patience, and of patience to impermanence.
Production and No-Self Contemplative Meditation:
First contemplate this: “The function of production, originating, making, doing, acting, changing, and creating, cannot be established.”
Next contemplate this: Since production cannot be established, “origination, duration, and destruction cannot be established. Created things cannot be established. Since created things cannot be established, non-created thing cannot be established, all sentient beings cannot be established.”
Start with Breath Stillness Meditation, Then Move On To Contemplation
This meditation is meant to train one to sit face-to-face with one’s Self, while creating a psychological isolation from the external world. With this, one enters into one’s internal world. Initially, one usually experiences recent desires, concerns, ideas, and images that have surfaced from daily life. A psychological reason for experiencing this wandering mind is the fact that one has lowered the level of conscious activity. When the level of consciousness input is lowered, previously unattended thoughts surface. However, these desires, images and ideas are just distractions, nothing more.
This meditation is divided into three stages:
- For the first 5 minutes, listen to the audible sound of the in-coming and out-going breaths. This is rough and “gross” breathing.
- Next 5 minutes, practice feeling the pathway of the in-coming and out-going breaths. Breathing at this point becomes “subtle” in that there will no longer be audible sound of the breaths but simply a stream of life-energy.
- In the third 5-minute stage there is no more feeling of the in-coming and out-going breaths. You let yourself sink into a deeper meditational state, noting the interval between inhalation and exhalation, which will discreetly become prolonged, i.e., the retention is breath is prolonged.
Three (of the Four) Part Kedrup Je’s Meditation
- Just Looking:
In your mind, without opening your eyes, scan the objects in the room around you. Pick one of those objects and focus upon it, just looking at it like a child would, with no analysis.
Now become aware of your feelings that this object is existing outside, from its own side; that it is existing towards you. Watch the feeling you have about that object — that it would still be there if you left the room. This is our ignorance of the object.
Drop everything that you are projecting about that object, just cancel it, and see what’s left. Then stay in that space of there being nothing else.
There are various ways in which Buddhists talk about something being dependent on something else. Contemplate each of these:
(1) Effects are dependent on causes and conditions,
(2) Wholes depend entirely on their parts (and vice versa), and
(3) Entities depend upon conceptual imputation.
(4) Consider how each of these points relates to emptiness, and then
(5) Define emptiness as you understand it from this contemplation.
Vasubandhu Not-Self Meditation
- One begins by “coming to heat,” by meditating first on the impermanence of events. Meditate on the impermanence of events (differentiating conditions from events).
- then upon the absence, in reality, of a rise and fall in those events. Meditate on there being no rising and falling, no coming and going in those events.
- then upon the realization that all the “Truths” are only constructs. Meditate on all phenomena being imaginary.
- then, the “Summit”, where we meditatively allow all mental marks to vanish. In this state all aversion-causing constructions have been shattered so it is called “forbearance.” Meditate on the difference between aversive events and patience.
- Next is the “highest mundane events” state which is where all the personality-factors “of the practitioner,” and everything “around them,” have weakened and “one” contemplates the non-arising of “own-beingness” in any “inner” or “outer” events. Contemplate the non-arising of self, of own-beingness.
- Finally, there is no more discrimination of any type within meditation. If you can, sit in pure awareness without discrimination of any type.
The Eight Negations
Contemplate that there are no beginnings and no endings (no arising and ceasing; no birth and death)
Contemplate that there are no comings and goings
Contemplate that there is no sameness and no difference
Contemplate that there is no permanence and no impermanence
Three Root Meditation on Death
INSTRUCTIONS: Contemplate #1 for 10-15 minutes; on the next day, contemplate #2; on the third day, contemplate #3. Finally, contemplate the first conviction. Repeat in a similar fashion with roots two and three.
Root One: Death is Certain
- There is no possible way to escape death. No one ever has. Of the current world population of over 7 billion people, virtually none will be alive in 100 years time.
- Life has a definite limit. And although it is not defined, each moment brings us closer to death. We are dying from the moment we are born.
- Death comes in a moment and its time is unexpected.
First Conviction: To practice the spiritual path, to cultivate positive, wholesome mental qualities and abandon unwholesome, negative mental qualities.
Root Two: The Time of Death is Uncertain
- The duration of our life is uncertain. The young can die before the old, the healthy before the sick, etc.
- There are many causes and circumstances that lead to death, but few that favor the sustenance of life. Even things that sustain life can kill us.
- The weakness and fragility of one’s physical body contribute to life’s uncertainty.
The body can be easily destroyed by disease or accident.
Second Conviction: To ripen our inner potential now, without delay; to practice as though our head was on fire.
Root Three: The Only Thing That Can Help Us at The Time of Death Is Our Spiritual Development (Our Karma)
- Worldly possessions such as wealth, position, money can’t stop death
- Relatives and friends can neither prevent death nor die with or for us.
- Even our own precious body is of no help to us. We have to leave it behind like a shell, an empty husk, an overcoat.
Third Conviction: To work with great diligent on purifying body, speech and mind, without staining our efforts with attachment to worldly things and concerns.