The title of your book is Buddhist Meditation. Why do you think we should want to meditate, or why do we need to?
I think, from my own experience, the most basic thing that meditation allows me to do is to tune in with how I actually am – it makes me more familiar with my own heart and mind processes – and on that basis, it allows me to act more harmoniously with myself and with other people. Living in the modern West (and especially in cities), we can often feel quite isolated from others and maybe even from our own experience as well, so without a practice like meditation, there is the danger that we might quite easily become disconnected from our own mental and emotional processes. This can lead to us doing quite a bit of damage to ourselves and other people in the long term. So meditation allows us to really feel part of the world we’re experiencing, and by getting in touch with the way our unique minds organically work, we can begin to cultivate specific qualities that we’d like to develop.
In meditation, you see the mind, and you watch it change. You see your mental states for what they are – they are impermanent. With this experience comes the understanding that you can do anything with your mind, and this is a really exciting and powerful thing to learn. By meditating we can, for example, literally cultivate compassion – we can become kinder, more generous human beings. Meditation will change you, in the same way that everything that we do with our bodies and our minds has an effect on the people we become. There are consequences to all our actions, and meditation is just one type of action which has consequences.
What do you think that meditation can offer those living in the modern West in particular?
Many of us live really busy lives: we have jobs, families and social commitments, and we can become overwhelmed by these sometimes. Those of us who get into the habit of meditating, even for just ten minutes each day, know that meditation opens up a space in our lives – we feel less stressed, less pressured and are in a better state of mind to use the time that we do have. I know that it can feel quite difficult to find the time to meditate at first, but I think that after trying it and seeing the benefits that come with it, you will feel like putting the time aside.
Earlier I also mentioned that by practising loving-kindness meditation we can become more compassionate, more generous human beings. I think this is especially attractive now, in the context of the credit crunch and the recent banking crisis, because we can see these qualities lacking in our world. After meditating for a while, we naturally become less greedy because we know that we are happier when we need less. We become aware that living a greedy lifestyle only results in us exploiting others, and also our own energies, as we constantly try to manipulate our external circumstances to get what we want. So meditation can open our eyes to the fact that ceasing to see progress solely in terms of getting more and better things is to begin to live in a more sane, more realistic world.
There are lots of books out there on meditation. What makes yours stand out from the rest?
I think my book is unique in giving an in-depth overview of Buddhist meditation practices as well as detailed advice on how to practise them. There are descriptive, informative sections of the book along with sections which are directly related to practice, and there is something in there for people who are new to meditation as well as more experienced meditators. It’s a guide to meditation practice in the West, and I think it’s comprehensive and useful one.