Benefits of Meditation / Mindfulness of Breathing
Zen-Seven Meditation Retreat

Transcribed and edited from a talk given by Ven. Jian-Hu on January 5, 2002, during the Zen-Seven Retreat at Buddha Gate Monastery


Four Benefits of Meditation

    There are many benefits to practicing Buddhist meditation. One sutra lists four such benefits. First you will be rewarded immediately in this lifetime. Many people are interested in meditation because it can help them relax, get rid of anxiety or sleep better during the night. These are all true, but they are not the only benefits of meditation. There are much greater rewards you can obtain in this life, in a few months, and even in this seven-day retreat. When you are able to concentrate and perceive correctly with single mindedness and with mindfulness, when you reach samadhi or are close to samadhi, you can feel an inner joy, a joy that is indescribable in words. It is something that you've never felt before, an experience with which you are not familiar. It is not an exciting kind of happiness; it is not pleasure resulting from the stimulation of your senses. It is a calm, quiet, soothing, pervasive and burden-free kind of joy. It is a very peaceful kind of joy, and from there you can go deeper and deeper into samadhi. But it takes practice. Even in these seven days and even if you haven't practiced meditation before, have faith in the teaching and in yourself. The first three days may be difficult, just endure, concentrate and observe.

    The second benefit of Zen meditation is to achieve a superior and true understanding of the self and the way things are. What is the world really like when you get rid of all the delusions and illusions? Do you know who you really are? Why are there conflicts in the world? How do we resolve them? How do we resolve the vexations in life, all the problems, all the sorrow, and all the pain? What is true happiness? We don't know and we are confused. We are not enlightened. Meditation can bring us this superior understanding. We need a mind of concentration, a stable mind that can perceive correctly.

    The third benefit of Zen meditation is the ability to discriminate with wisdom. We discriminate everyday. We say that this person is pretty or ugly, that I like this or I hate that. These are what we call false discriminations, undesirable kinds of discrimination. These are all based on our ego, based on a false perception. They are not based on the true understanding of the ways of the world. We don't see that everyone is inherently equal, that everyone can become a Buddha, that everyone should be respected. We don't see how the principle of causality works, so we do foolish things. We discriminate based on our own ideas and false conceptualizations. This is not intelligent discrimination. Meditation will bring us discriminative wisdom; the wisdom that enables us to distinguish between different situations without making false judgments, without clinging to particular views, and without clinging to discrimination itself. And this wisdom will also enable us to distinguish, classify, understand, and perceive without attachment. When we are attached to food (craving, overeating), it brings us suffering. When we cling to beauty, then ugliness brings us suffering. When we cling to life, then death brings us suffering. What we like or dislike is all very subjective. It is based on delusion. So, a clear mind, a mind of concentration and perception, will bring us the wisdom to distinguish between things without bias, without falling into one extreme or another, without clinging.

    The fourth benefit of Zen meditation is being able to eradicate all the delusions and all the ignorance that we have, to see the true nature of life and death, to transcend life and death, and to become a Buddha. Without a clear mind, without a mind of deep concentration, we won't be able to see the roots of our delusions. We won't be able to cut through, sever, or eradicate them. This is why we practice meditation. When we are able to extricate the roots of suffering, the roots of bad karma, and the roots of our delusions, then we will achieve true wisdom. We will be liberated. So, it is important to understand the right way to practice. There may be many different ways to practice but they all should contain these two elements, namely, concentration and truthful observation/contemplation.

    Finally, we should realize that samatha and vipassana are one and not two. While being mindful of the breathing, the fact that your mind or attention doesn't stray, that is called samatha. The fact that you can observe clearly and carefully very minute details of the breathing, that is vipassana. As a result, you will achieve samadhi, wisdom, and the four benefits of meditation. You need to have faith in the teaching, in the Dharma, and in yourself. Even in these seven days, you can do it.

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