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.
• Excerpts from a talk given by Ven. Jian Hu. To view the entirety of article Benefits of Meditations & Mindfulness of Breathing from the section of Dharma Gems-Dharma Lectures.
Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in Eight Weeks
ScienceDaily (Jan. 21, 2011) —
Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a study that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers report the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain's grey matter.
"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day," says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study's senior author. "This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing."
Previous studies from Lazar's group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced mediation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.
For the current study, MR images were take of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation -- which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind -- participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval.
Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.
"It is fascinating to see the brain's plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life." says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. "Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change."
Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training's effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, "These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amygdala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR's potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder." Jha was not one of the study investigators.
James Carmody, PhD, of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School, is one of co-authors of the study, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the British Broadcasting Company, and the Mind and Life Institute.
1. Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36 DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
Massachusetts General Hospital (2011, January 21). Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in eight weeks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 23, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2011/01/110121144007.htm
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