What is Meditation
Meditation is a method of familiarizing our minds with virtue.
The more our mind becomes familiar with virtue, the more calm and peaceful it becomes. When our mind is peaceful, we are free from worries and mental pain and then we experience true happiness.
If we train our mind to know peace, we will be constantly happy even in the most difficult situations, but if it is not peaceful then we will not be happy even if we have good outer conditions. It is therefore important to train our mind through meditation.
There are two types of meditation: analytical meditation and placement meditation. Analytical meditation is contemplating the meaning of the Buddhist teachings and instructions that we have heard or read. Contemplating these instructions in depth ultimately leads us to formulate a precise conclusion or to instill in us a particular virtuous state of mind. It is this conclusion, or state of mind, that is the object of placement meditation.
Having found our object through analytical meditation, we then single-point focus on that conclusion, or righteous state of mind, for as long as possible to become deeply familiar with it. This single-pointed concentration constitutes placement meditation. Analytical meditation is often called "contemplation" and placement meditation "meditation".
Placement meditation depends on analytical meditation, and analytical meditation depends on listening to or reading Dharma instructions.
If we practice this with patience , the distracting thoughts will gradually diminish and we will experience a sense of inner peace and relaxation.
Our mind will feel clear and spacious, and we will feel refreshed. When the sea is rough, the sediment is stirred up and the water becomes cloudy, but when the wind drops, the mud settles slowly and the water becomes clear.
Likewise, when we succeed, through concentration on the breath, in calming the endless stream of our distractions, our minds become unusually clear and lucid. It is good to stay in this state of mental calm for a while.
Even though breathing meditation is just a preliminary step in meditation, it can be quite powerful. This practice shows us that simple mind control enables us to experience inner peace and contentment, without having to depend in any way on outer conditions.
This feeling of contentment and well-being helps us cope with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Much of the stress and tension experienced in normal times comes from our mind, and many of our problems, including health issues, are caused or made worse by this stress. By meditating only ten or fifteen minutes a day on the breath, we will be able to reduce this stress.
Our mind will feel calm and spacious, and many of our usual problems will disappear. We will cope more easily with difficult situations, we will naturally feel warm and sympathetic towards others, and our relationships will gradually improve.
If we are to achieve permanent inner peace, and if we are to be completely free from problems and suffering, we must progress beyond mere breathing meditation to meditation practices like the Twenty-One Cycle of Lamrim Meditations, explained in the New Meditation Handbook