Quality relationships are both the foundation and the primary benefit of meditation practice: by reducing the turbulence in our outer lives, we reduce the turbulence and stress in our minds and bodies. When our body is relaxed and our mind is calm and clear, we are better able to live mindfully, think and listen deeply, and awaken greater wisdom and compassion through our meditations, which in turn improve the quality of relationships.
Throughout the ages, countless men and women have awakened to their true nature. Depending on their culture, language and traditions, they have been regarded as a buddha, an avatar, the Christ, a saint, a bodhi-sattva, a wisdom keeper, or a shaman. Each of these individuals had a profound sensitivity to the circumstances and needs of their communities, and to the skillful means most suited for awakening the individuals to whom they ministered. The teachings of such people reflect both universal truths and the societal realities, traditions, worldviews, science, and mythologies of their times.
The greatest of our teachers have repeatedly reminded us to regard all the world’s great spiritual teachers and teachings as expressions of a universal compassion that will find its way into the world wherever the human heart-mind is open. The teachings of all the world’s great religions and great teachers speak universal truths in the particular way most suited for the people of their place and time.
In the case of Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha — or the “Awakened One” — for forty-five years, he traveled and introduced countless men and women to the inner sciences of awakening. Teaching from a place of profound intuitive wisdom, he, like other great teachers, was able to speak to each person in a way that was intimately attuned to their conditions and help them to awaken more fully. According to some accounts, the Buddha taught 84,000 methods of awakening, while the more mystical traditions say that he taught 84 million methods of awakening. But what is it, you may ask, that the Buddha awakened to? What did he teach others to be awakened to?
First, he taught people to be awake to the far-reaching impacts of their intentions and actions in the world and to bring meditation into action, to be more present and mindful, and to live in a kind and ethical manner.
Second, he taught people how to tame mental and physical energies to develop greater mindfulness and to reduce the mental dullness and agitation that lead to mindless living.
Third, he taught myriad ways to apply mindfulness to the investigation of the nature of reality — through analysis and deep intuition — in order to discover the true nature of all phenomena and the true nature of oneself. There are many levels of awakening to this true nature of reality, and of our selves.
At the first level, we awaken more fully to the frustrations and sufferings of our lives, which have been caused by living in mindless and ignorant ways. This ripens within us a fierce determination to be free of our suffering and evokes a commitment to seeking out methods, teachers, and communities that will support us in our search for true spiritual freedom and happiness.
As our meditations deepen, we start to realize a wide variety of benefits. We awaken to the discovery that everything and everyone is profoundly interrelated, and as our mindfulness of the “inter-being’ — to borrow a word from Thich Nhat Hanh — of all beings deepens still more, we awaken to an even greater wisdom and compassion.
As our meditative insights continue to deepen, we continue to realize even deeper benefits. We awaken to myriad dimensions of our being that are multidimensional and universal. This may happen gradually over time, or suddenly. As we awaken in this way, we come to live in a way that honors the divinity and sacredness that is present as our deepest identity.
[Adapted from the book “The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation” by Joel & Michelle Levey]