To start a meditation, we first calm and focus the mind. To do this we usually concentrate on the breath or on an object. We then use this focussed attention to develop insight. The ultimate aim of Buddhist meditation is insight into the nature of mind – enlightenment.
Meditating on the Buddha, or on the Buddha-like qualities of one’s liberated or enlightened Buddhist teacher, accomplishes both of these. The outer form attracts and holds our attention. And with the insight that our own nature is enlightened like the Buddha’s, we can make fast progress.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation is a profound method that reaches deep enough to fully enlighten us. But while we’re still on the way to the ultimate goal, we might notice various other benefits.
When we get distracted during meditation, we bring ourselves back to the object that we’re meditating on. In this way, we practise not being carried away by our emotions or thoughts. We’re simply aware of them. And when this habit leaks out into daily life, we’ll probably find that our relationships with people improve. We’re not so quick to react with anger or jealousy. And if we do, we recover faster.
Meditation can give us a bigger perspective, which in turn can lead to less stress. Experiencing less stress gives a cascade of physical and mental benefits. Physically, we can experience better sleep and more energy. And psychologically, we are simply happier.
It’s natural for us to then use this surplus from meditation to help others. We try to use our increasing clarity to see what will give people the most benefit for the longest time. Then we put our power into that. Acting in this way creates more positive impressions in our mind, which in turn makes our meditation easier and more effective.
Tibetan Buddhist meditation
The principles of calming the mind (Tibetan: shinay, Sanskrit: shamatha) and generating deep insight (Tib: lhaktong, Skt: vipashyana) apply to all kinds of Buddhist meditation. A specialty of Tibetan Buddhism is exciting meditations on forms of energy and light. Some of these meditations also work with the inner energies of the body, and have very strong effects. They must usually be learned in retreat. Many of them are not so practical for modern Western lifestyles. The Yoga of Inner Heat, one of the Six Yogas of Naropa, for example, is very practical for keeping warm in the snowy mountains of Tibet!
One special meditation method, which is especially treasured by the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, is identification with the teacher (Sanskrit: guru yoga). When we meditate on an enlightened teacher, we remember that the teacher has realized the nature of mind. The outer form of the teacher thus represents to us the enlightened mind itself. If we did not also possess these enlightened qualities, doing a meditation like this would not have much effect. But we do. Enlightenment is beyond all limits, meaning it must be always and everywhere. All beings, including ourselves, are Buddhas who simply haven’t realized it yet.
Our openness to the living example of the teacher shows us what enlightenment looks like in real life. We realize that enlightenment isn’t something abstract or only for other people. This confidence in our Buddha nature allows us to actually experience it more and more. When we look at the teacher, we see the qualities outside; when we look into our own mind during meditation, we experience them inside. In the end we realize that this separation between inside and outside can no longer be upheld.
All Diamond Way meditations are, in a way, meditations on the teacher. This is especially clear in the meditation on the 16th Karmapa, the Guru Yoga from the Foundational Practices, and the 8th Karmapa meditation.