Most of us come to meditation because we are in some way unhappy or dissatisfied in our lives, or out of a curiosity about the possibility of some dimension to life that we are missing. We think that meditation will provide us with a way out of suffering or with a new insight into our lives.
The Buddha was a human being just like us who was moved to investigate deeply the human condition. He was faced as we all are with change, pleasure, suffering, old age and death.
In the face of this challenge, he embarked on a quest for something beyond what life seemed to offer. After years of searching and investigation, he came to the realisation that the key problem is the suffering and unsatisfactoriness inherent in life. He saw that the cause of suffering was our identification with both pleasure and pain, and our failure to recognise the uncontrollability of life. He realised the end of suffering involved letting go our false identification with our experience, letting go the belief that happiness could be achieved by trying to satisfy our desires and push away what we dislike, the recognition of the impersonal nature of change. And he set out the path to this liberation or freedom, known as the noble eightfold path.
The practice of meditation is central to that path.
Meditation is not something that is confined to sitting on a cushion or a chair in the morning and evening. It is more an approach to life, an intention to be present to our experience in all circumstances, sitting, standing, moving, lying down, at home, at work, with the children, with our partners.
Ultimately, the choice is ours. Meditation is a gift to ourselves. We don’t have to accept it. If we do take it we are not giving up any of our powers of discrimination or choice. We do not have to embrace a whole new religion or set of beliefs. We just have to attend to our experience.
However, it is not a way of sidestepping any difficulties in our lives. We will be challenged. Shining the light of awareness on our lives will inevitably illuminate areas that we preferred to keep in darkness up until now. That is the path of growth and self-acceptance.
In his final words to his followers, the Buddha urged them to be a light unto themselves. He encouraged people to investigate for themselves, not to accept something just because he said or it, or because it sounded plausible.
The Buddha’s life story is one of facing the challenge of what it means to be human, of seeing clearly what this means, of freeing ourselves from ignorance about our true nature. Freedom is the taste of the practice.