Teach Yourself Meditation
By Naomi Ozaniec
by Cory Verellen
Excerpted with permission from Teach
Yourself Meditation by Naomi Ozaniec (Teach Yourself
Books Series). Visit Naomi Ozaniec's web site at www.naomiozaniec.co.uk.
Chapter 1. Beginning - The First Step
Meditation begins with sila which is virtue or moral purity.
Daniel Goleman, The Meditative Mind
It is wisely said that the journey of a thousand miles begins
with a single step, so let us begin. Your journey towards meditation
will take shape as you find yourself this very day. This path will
be built within your life as you find it now. The practice of meditation
will arise from your own needs, aspirations and intentions. The
life that is yours today, is like a seed-bed in which you have
chosen to plant the possibility of meditation. Your behaviour,
attitudes, values and commitment will determine whether this seed
dies or flourishes. People come to meditation for many differing
reasons. It can begin out of curiosity, or as a dimly felt need.
It can commence as a purely intellectual interest or an antidote
to stress. It is sometimes triggered by a crisis. More often it
the end result of a long process of discontent and dissatisfaction
with the goals offered by society. It is possible to be successful,
financially independent, surrounded by the trappings of family
and career and yet still feel empty. Some people just have an instinctive
feeling that there is more to life than just a succession of experiences.
From the outset it should be understood that meditation touches
the whole life and the whole person. Therefore the first step towards
meditation consists in taking stock of the person we are today,
of the life we have today, of the whole situation in which we find
ourselves. This is no idle suggestion but a serious request and
an opportunity to build your future meditation practice on a firm
foundation. Please, take some time for personal reflection. What
factors have led you towards meditation?' What hopes and expectations
do you have? Do you feel ready to plant the seed of meditation
in your life? Are you willing to be changed through meditation?
We should not forget that meditation has always been part of
a wider spiritual life. Meditation is a an integral aspect of all
Buddhist and Yogic practice. Taking the practice out of its wider
context is not without difficulties. By contrast, meditation remains
undeveloped in theory and practice within mainstream Western spirituality.
Despite the fact that we find relatively few deep cultural hooks
to which we may attach practice, we seek meditation with sincere
heart and genuine need. We may profitably look to the older, long
established traditions of the East while at the same time bearing
our own cultural and spiritual circumstances in mind. This particular
period offers great opportunities. Meditation is not static but
dynamic. The West has its own needs. Recognising and meeting our
needs may legitimately give rise to new forms of ancient principles.
Meditation can take many forms as history shows. Through time,
practice has evolved as enlightened teachers have arisen and nourished
the tradition which nourished them. There can be do doubt that
meditation is a living stream. The West may drink deeply here too.
It is valuable to understand the origins
and developments of the great spiritual traditions of the world.
Buddhism which now has several forms began with the life of Prince
Siddhartha Gautama son to king Shuddhona and Queen Mahamaya.
Wise men were consulted to explain a dream received by the queen.
It was foretold that the child could either become a great universal
monarch, or a great religious teacher. His father, the king determined
that his son should pursue the life of the world. He created
a fabulous world of pleasure and plenty to occupy the prince.
Time passed, Siddhartha grew, married and had a son. But he longed
to see beyond the palace. Despite every intent, the king could
not prevent the curious Siddhartha from seeing the real world.
For the first time, Siddhartha encountered death, sickness and
old age. He was deeply moved and shocked. On a fourth outing,
Siddhartha met a wandering holy man and saw a new possibility.
Though he returned to his palace, his thoughts now turned to
leaving the life of plenty. Finally he left for the world and
undertook the great quest. He passed some six years and mastered
the spiritual practices of his time. He learned concentration
and followed the path of extreme asceticism. But he knew that liberation
still eluded him. Determined to find enlightenment he settled into
meditation beneath the shade of a tree. With each hour of the night
came revelation. By dawn he had attained enlightenment. He thought,
"I have attained the unborn. My liberation is unassailable.
This is my last birth. There will now be no more renewal of becoming."
He was transformed from the man, Siddhartha Gautama to the Buddha,
'One who is Awake.' The prophecy of the wise men was set in motion.
Details of the birth of Patanjali are more legendary than factual.
A devout woman, Gonika prayed for a worthy son. At the same time,
Adisesa, Lord of Serpents, bearer to the God Vishnu, began to meditate
on who would become his earthly mother. In meditation Adisesa saw
the figure of Gonika. In her world, Gonika meditated upon the sun
and as she did so a tiny snake emerged on her palm and immediately
was transformed into a human who asked to become her son. Gonika
was delighted. She named him Patanjali. Pata means 'fallen'
and Anjali means 'hands folded in prayer.' Even though it
has been suggested that the 196 Aphorisms attributed to him are
in fact the collected works of more than one author, Patanjali
is always referred to as svayambhu, an evolved soul who
incarnated in order to help humanity. These uncertain details need
not detract from the wisdom to be found in the Yoga Sutras which
open with a code of conduct and close with a vision of man's true
At this point we may profitably look at the principles which
sustain Buddhist and Yogic practice. Both the Noble Eightfold Path
of Buddhism and the Eight Limbs of Yoga provide a context in which
meditation can take root. If we do not set meditation within the
context of a whole life, we make the fundamental mistake of believing
that we can simply add practice to daily live without truly making
the space to incorporate and integrate its effects. There is some
noteworthy similarity between The Noble Eightfold Path and The
Eight Limbs of Yoga. In each case a moral framework precedes meditation
practice. Both traditions establish clear moral ground rules which
cover behaviour in all forms, social, moral and ethical. Buddhism
sets out the Five Precepts: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct,
lying and taking intoxicants are expressly forbidden. Yoga commences
with the Five Yamas: non-violence or non injury, truthfulness,
not stealing, chastity and non acquisitiveness. Both traditions
build the practice of meditation upon a period of moral and ethical
preparation. A period of preparation has value which should not
be overlooked. In our present culture of moral relativism, we are
ready to ignore the idea of a preliminary moral training. Yet this
always precedes Eastern practice. As a result Westerners are ill
prepared for the psychological changes which rightly take place
during the period of preparation. Meditation which is the development
of consciousness and the discovery of a deep one pointed state
of mind, can only truly arise from the moral life.
The Noble Eightfold Path
I take refuge in the Buddha,
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha
- Right Understanding: This sets out the first step on the path.
It asks us to set out with the right attitude about the journey
which we have chosen to undertake. Right understanding includes
understanding the karmic nature of events and understanding that
the the true nature is to be found in impermanence.
- Right Thought: This stresses the importance of the thoughts
that arise in the mind. Right thinking means being aware of desires
that arise in the mind.
- Right Speech: This covers interactions with others. It includes
speaking the truth, avoiding slander, gossip and harsh language.
Right speech establishes harmony and peace between people.
- Right Action: This restates the moral precepts. It includes
not killing, minimising pain to others, not stealing and avoiding
- Right Mode of Livelihood: This covers social and economic
relations. Work should not be harmful to others, involve stealing,
dishonesty or killing.
- Right Effort: This refers to the fact that effort is required
by the individual.
- Right Intellectual Activity: This refers to the mindful use
- Right Contemplation: This refers to one-pointedness of mind.
It is the ability to stay focused on a subject.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Let us bow before the noblest of sages Patanjali, who gave
Yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity
and purity of speech, and medicine for perfection of health.
Prayer of Invocation
- Yama - Self Control or Restraints: The five yamas are
non-violence or non injury, truthfulness, not stealing, chastity
and non acquisitiveness.
- Niyama - Observances: The five niyamas are purity,
contentment, religious effort, the study of scripture and devotion.
- Asana - Posture: Asanas are familiar to all students
of Yoga as the physical poses of the tradition. However the asana
is not merely a physical action but a bridge between mind, body
- Pranyayama - Breath Control: Prana means life force
and ayama means ascension, expansion and extension. Pranayama
is the application of the controlled breath to the life force.
- Pratyhara - Sense Withdrawal: The work of stilling the five
senses builds naturally upon the practices already established
and prepares the mind for the practice of meditation.
- Dharana - Concentration: Concentration needs to be developed
as a basis for deeper meditation.
- Dhyana - Meditation: Meditation proper flows from the development
- Samadhi - Contemplative Experience: The state of Samadhi stems
from the established meditative mind. It is a state of deeply
These principles provide a solid foundation from which the spiritualised
life may arise. Western spirituality does not offer a counterpart.
Once again it is worth taking the time to reflect and consider.
What characteristics would you consider to be important as a foundation
for a spiritually based life? Let there be no mistake the practice
of meditation is derived from the monastery and the ashram. It
may have travelled into the outside world with good effect, but
it remains the spiritual discipline par excellence. We should not
make the mistake of attempting to separate the practice of meditation
from the life in which it is lived.
The Spiritual Path
If you wish to know the road up the mountain,
you must ask the man who goes back and forth in it.
It is common to speak of the spiritual life as a path. This metaphor
has value, it gives us the idea of a journey with a beginning and
a destination. It is also comforting to realise that we are not
alone, others have trod this same path before us. The idea of the
path is established most strongly in the East where monastic communities
have a long history. In such specialised environments a shared
language evolved naturally. Generation upon after generation ensured
continuity through lives of study, practice and discussion. The
path is a natural consequence of long lived continuity. Buddhism
offers the Lam rim which is the graduated path to enlightenment.
Hinduism recognises diversity in unity. It offers several avenues. The
Karma Marga is the Path of Action. The Bhakti Marga is
the devotional path. The Jhana Marga is the Path of Knowledge
and the Virakti Marga is the Path of Renunciation. These
various avenues recognise that individuals bring different temperaments
to the spiritual life.
By contrast the idea of a path is less developed in Christianity.
Christian mystics have indeed existed but where mystical experience
has successfully evolved into a line of transmission, the Christian
mystic has proved to be the exception rather than the rule and
as a result, a lineage of mystical transmission has never evolved.
The concept of the path is not absent from Western esoteric tradition
however. Through the lifelong work of Alice Bailey, a new and extensive
corpus of esoteric material was incorporated into the Western heritage.
She acted as a telepathic receiver for a figure who chose to be
known simply as the Tibetan. In these recent works we find a helpful
The Universal Path
Nothing can arrest the progress of the human soul on
its long pilgrimage from darkness to light from the unreal to the
real from death to immortality and from ignorance to wisdom.
Djwahl Khul, Problems of Humanity
The Tibetan describes the spiritual path into three stages: the
Path of the Probationer, The Path of the Disciple and the Path
of the Initiate. The Probationary Path corresponds to the period
when the spiritual call has been sensed in some way. It is a time
of distinct questing and searching. According to the Tibetan, this
period is characterised by self-aware character building, a conscious
desire to assist the side of evolution, a rudimentary interest
in the Divine Wisdom and a desire to be identified with transpersonal
intent. This period of life is outwardly active. Books are avidly
read, teachers are sought, groups are joined. It is often a challenging
and frustrating period; disappointments go hand in hand with discoveries.
However diligent questing does bring a reward, the seeker finds
a spiritual home which provides support and sustenance. The individual
is able to deepen both commitment and understanding. The quest
does not cease but expands in scope continuously.
The stage of discipleship as the name implies, establishes the
unshakeable commitment to spiritual principle. However this too
is a time of challenge and personal growth for the doors of spiritual
responsibility now open to new horizons. The seeker becomes committed,
aspirations begin to change, values shift and priorities are altered.
The frenetic activity of the early years is replaced by a more
focused but settled outer life. According to the schema written
by the Tibetan, the Path of Discipleship is characterised by a
deeper commitment to serve humanity and its evolution, the development
of the higher faculties of consciousness, a shift from the personal
to the transpersonal and a deepening realisation of the spiritual
responsibilities that come from spiritual awakening.
Finally the consolidating work of the Path of Discipleship flowers
into the Path of Initiation. This is characterised by successivly
deeper spiritual experiences, a continuous expansion in consciousness
and an increased understanding and interaction with the non-physical
levels of reality. This brings a total transformation of being
at all levels. The path and the individual merge, the initiate
takes up the challenges and work of the tradition with fullness
This outline has universal application, curiosity changes to
commitment, spiritual questing brings its reward, consciousness
is expanded. Meditation is the single key to the unfolding of this
pattern. Without the unifying practice, curiosity will remain idle,
questing will be incomplete and consciousness can do no more than
We can begin to unravel the complexities of meditation by drawing
upon the familiar image of a target. As a target serves to direct
our aim, so the subject of a meditation serves as a target within
the mind. Quite simply during meditation, the practitioner will
attempt to keep the mind focused on the subject of the meditation.
In other words, thoughts will be aimed a particular target. We
find this notion in the Judaic tradition through the classical
Rabbinical term for mental concentration, kavvanah which
is intentionality. The word is derived from kaven to meaning to
aim. The development of kavvanah is a central theme of the
Judaic mystical tradition. It is the same one pointed concentration
elsewhere called samadhi. It is the state of higher consciousness.
At it simplest meditation may be described as a state of focused
Diagram 1. (A Target )
Text : Meditation places a target in the mind.
Focused Awareness - The Path of Concentration
Using the idea of a target in the mind, it is easy to see that our
intention is to strike as near to the bull's eye as often as possible.
This is of course much easier said than done as anyone who has tried
will know. Nevertheless we should not be disheartened by early failure.
The difficulty of this apparently simple task has been recognised
by the sages and spiritual teachers of all times. In the Bhagavad
Gita, Arujna says, 'The mind is so relentless, inconsistent.
The mind is stubborn, strong and wilful, as difficult to harness
as the wind.' It does not take long to discover the truth of this
statement. Soon enough, we come face to face with our own mental
clutter, our boredom, our resistance and our inability to concentrate.
As we set out on the journey towards meditative practice, it may
be that we are considering the qualities of mind for the first time.
There is much to discover and much to learn. Geshe Rabten describes
meditation as 'a means of controlling, taming and eventually transforming
the mind.' (1) This ambitious goal begins in the simplest way; we
begin to develop a more focused awareness. This includes a level
of sustained concentration and additionally contains an element of
self observation. Using the mind in this way is quite different from
everyday awareness which makes no attempt to constantly review itself.
A simple exercise will introduce you to the idea of one part of the
mind watching another. Watch the stream of your own consciousness
by observing your own thoughts.
Although at first our concentration may be very brief, if we
persevere in the practice it will progressively lengthen.
Geshe Rabten, Treasury of Dharma
Exercise 1 Just Watching
Simply sit quietly for a short period of
time, no more than a few minutes will
be enough. Close your eyes and turn your
attention inwards. Try to watch and remember
everything that is happening inside your
mind. It is more difficult than it sounds.
When you have finished, write down all
the thoughts that came to you in that
The results are usually
surprising; distant memories, associations,
future plans and disconnected ideas flow
at an extraordinary pace. The idea of slowing
down our thinking is a helpful analogy.
The first attempts to focus our awareness
often proves to be disheartening. Unwanted
thoughts arise as if from nowhere. Developing
this skill as a sustained and reliable
ability will take time and effort. It will
not happen in a week, it will not happen
without frustration. It will not happen
without personal commitment. The advice
from the experienced is universally gentle
and comforting; don't give up, just carry
on. Don't get involved in your thoughts,
just let them pass. Return the mind to
the subject of the meditation, the target.
Allow other thoughts to flow through. Stay
focused. Stay aware.
Focused awareness clearly demands a development
in concentration. Unfortunately this particular
quality still smacks of the classroom and
enforced learning which is not helpful.
Too often we associate concentration with
mental strain, intense effort and difficulty.
Concentration is not an end in itself but
the necessary precondition which excludes
distractions and diversions. Without concentration
no subject for meditation can be held in
the mind. Geshe Rabten presents us with
six similes of concentration which enable
us to extend the concept of meditative
concentration to include qualities of calmness,
constancy, dynamism, clarity and lightness.
The Six Similes of Concentration
1. Concentration is likened to
the way a small child views a painting.
The child will be aware of the whole
canvas but oblivious to the small details.
In the first stage we begin to observe
the mind at work without the need to
observe the fine details of processes.
2. Concentration is likened to
the calmness of an ocean which is not
disturbed by the individual events taking
place in it or upon it. A calm mind should
not be disturbed by external events such
as a knock at the door.
3. Concentration is likened to
the sun shining in a cloudless sky. Mental
concentration should be bright and clear,
unclouded by dullness.
4. Concentration is likened to
the great birds such as eagles or vultures
in flight. These birds flap their wings
briefly and then glide for great distances.
The mind should be able to provide short
burst of energy which then sustain mental
5. Concentration is likened to
a bird flying in the sky. It leaves no
trail as it passes through the sky. Thoughts
come and go but the well developed concentration
6. Concentration is likened to
a cottonwood seed or piece of down which
floats gently on the air. When we meditate
we must concentrate in such a way that
our mind remains very light, not becoming
heavy and tired.
Meditation begins with concentration,
the focused awareness. This is the first
step but not the last. Concentration requires
a subject, the target at which we will
We do not need to look to the arcane and
the distant but to the ordinary and the present
for meditation subjects. Meditation is considered
to be a means of uncovering the true nature
of the human being. Practice therefore often
commences with ordinary human activities
such as breathing and moving. Awareness is
focused on these mundane activities, daily
activities serve as serve as the target for
the opening of the meditative mind. The breath
is followed universally as a subject for
meditation. It is after all an obvious and
simple choice. Focused awareness become mindful
as we take in more and more everyday activities.
We begin to live mindfully instead of mindlessly
as we attempt to notice what we are doing
as it happens. So much of daily life is automatic
and neglected. Meditation brings awareness
into ordinary life.
Subjects for Meditation
Everything can be used as an invitation
Sogyal Rinpoche, Meditation
In complete contrast to the detached
observation of natural processes, meditative
practice may also focus on created visualised
images. This form of meditation draws upon
the mind's ability to create and hold internal
images. This approach is widely found in
Tibetan Buddhism and the Western Mysteries.
Such images are invariably symbolic and
often complex. A word has a particular
limited meaning but a symbol speaks volumes.
It opens the mind through a rich train
of assosciations and connections. Meditation
can take place on a single symbol or a
constellation of symbolic images. The symbolic
offers a rich vein for meditative and contemplative
thought. Symbols serve to expand consciousness
and develop the qualities of insight and
intuition. Symbols can be presented for
meditation through innumerable forms. Sometimes
a physical representation is used, at other
times the image is just created with one
part of the mind while it is simultaneously
contemplated. Symbolic paintings, constructions,
stories, statues, sacred objects, treasured
icons and even imagined realities all serve
to transform the mind.
Particular symbolic traditions have evolved
as certain forms have become regularly
employed. The mandala is a circular
symbolic representation of both universal
and personal forces. It is employed in
a particular way for meditation. The traditional
Tibetan mandala is drawn according to a
symbolic schema and approached through
a long established convention.
The yantra is another visual representation
but it uses geometric shapes to represent
cosmic and personal connections. The Shri
Yantra is composed on nine interpenetrating
triangles which symbolise male and female
energies. It represents the whole of creation.
The Judaic mystical tradition is unique
in representing a complex philosophy entirely
in symbolic form. This is a most remarkable
interplay between philosophy and symbol.
The single embracing image, Otz Chiim or
the Tree of Life contains a host of interconnected
symbols. Here is a lifetime's study and
Subjects for meditation are varied and
endless, traditional and emergent, widely
different yet unified in purpose. In startling
contrast to the symbolic and the ordinary,
Zen Buddhism holds a unique place among
meditative traditions. It takes no subject
as its subject and rejects all conceptual
tools, words, images, theories and mental
structures. It has created its own unique
series of subjects for meditation, namely
the koan, a riddle without an answer.
As we consider meditation practice in further
detail, we can remain open to endless possibilities.
Although certain subjects have become
traditional through extended use, we should
not feel confined by the past nor intimidated
by the learned. Sogyal Rinpoche takes meditation
right into the heart of daily life. He
reminds us to be inventive, resourceful
and joyful as we take the openness of the
meditative mind into the everyday world.
'A smile a face in the subway, the sight
of a small flower growing in the crack
of a cement pavement, a fall of rich cloth
in a shop window, the way the sun lights
up flower pots on a window sill. Offer
up every joy, be awake at all moments.'
Subjects for meditation are everywhere.
Joining the Company
Close you eyes for a moment and imagine
that you are standing beside a broad pathway.
People are walking along. Some walk in
groups, others travel by themselves. You
stand and watch them pass. You notice that
these people radiate a serenity and contentment
that you have only rarely seen. Someone
comes over to you and offers you a warm
You reply and ask, "What will I need
to take with me"?
"Everything that you are."
"Where are we going"? you ask.
"To discover all that you can be,"
comes the reply.
"When shall we start"? you ask.
You step onto the path, People greet you
with warm smiles knowing that you have
just joined them. Your journey has begun.
Excerpted with permission
Yourself Meditation by Naomi Ozaniec
(Teach Yourself Books Series). Visit
Naomi Ozaniec's web site at www.naomiozaniec.co.uk.
Copyright © 2003
by Naomi Ozaniec