Meditation: A Three-fold Approach
Within Western research settings, interest into the health-related applications of Buddhist and Buddhist-derived meditation techniques is rapidly growing. Indeed, Buddhist meditation has been shown to be effective for treating a large variety of both somatic and psychological health conditions. Examples of such conditions include chronic pain, cancer, fibromyalgia, anxiety, stress, depression, and addiction disorders.
As part of trying to understand Buddhist meditation, scientists have begun to dissect and analyse the various components and processes of meditation. A result of this is that in the research and clinical setting, individual meditative components have been removed from their original context and deployed as standalone clinical techniques.
Consequently, there now exists an entire plethora of Buddhist-derived interventions including (for example): Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy, Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (targeting drug and alcohol abuse), Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Therapy, Loving-Kindness Interventions, Vipassana Therapy – and the list goes on. Whilst a number of these interventions have demonstrable efficacy as healthcare interventions, many of them are working with just one element of the overall meditative process.
In their traditional Buddhist setting, rather than standalone techniques, mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness, vipassana – and all the other individual aspects of meditation – are practiced only as part of a composite and interdependent array of spiritually inclined perspectives and trainings. According to the Buddhist perspective, the development of sustainable meditative realisation arises as a result of the inter-play of three key elements:
(i) wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā), (ii) ethical discipline or ethical awareness (Sanskrit: śīla), and (iii) meditative concentration (Sanskrit: samādhi). These three elements are known in Buddhism as the ‘three trainings’ (Sanskrit: trishiksha) and provide a stable platform and context for the successful cultivation of meditative proficiency.
Let’s take mindfulness and the Noble Eight Fold Path as an example. The Noble Eight Fold Path represents a fundamental Buddhist teaching and can be practically and theoretically stratified according to the abovementioned threefold division:
- 1. Right view, 2. Right intention
- 3. Right speech, 4. Right action, 5. Right livelihood, 6. Right effort
- 7. Right mindfulness, 8. Right concentration or meditation
Thus within Buddhism, mindfulness is taught as only one aspect (i.e., the 7th aspect) of the Noble Eight Fold Path. As part the teachings on the Noble Eight Fold Path, ‘right mindfulness’ arises interdependently with, and in reliance upon, the gradual and simultaneous practice of each of the other seven aspects of the path. In other words, in traditional Buddhist practice, mindfulness enters into a process of ‘cross-fertilisation’ with wisdom, ethical discipline, and concentrative elements. The importance of this ‘cross-fertilisation’ process can be highlighted by the examples of ‘right view’ and ‘right intention’ (that appear as the 1st and 2nd aspects of the Eight Fold Path). ‘Right view’ refers to the realisation of an accurate view of self and reality as a result of intuiting concepts such as impermanence, non-self, and emptiness. According to the Buddhist teachings, it is not possible for a person to become fully mindful of the present moment unless they have a solid understanding of the true and absolute mode in which the present moment exists. The same applies to ‘right intention’ which refers not only to a decisive determination to develop spiritually, but also to the cultivation of an altruistic (i.e., rather than selfish) motivation for practice. Buddhism teaches that a person cannot establish ‘right mindfulness’ of their thoughts, words, and deeds without a profound awareness of how such actions will influence the ‘spiritual happiness’ (Sanskrit: sukha) or suffering (Sanskrit: duhkha) of others.
Thus, all of the elements involved in the practice of meditation are intimately and intrinsically interwoven with one another – they are all mutually interdependent. In forthcoming posts, we will explore these elements in more detail and will begin with ethical awareness. Ethical awareness will assist us in living a steady, stable, and centred life that is wholesome for us and for others.
Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon
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