Meditation and Mental Culture

Meditation and Mental Culture

Dear Noble Sangha,

Walpola Rahula explains the Pali word for meditation, Bhavana, as meaning “mental culture” or “mental development.” In this context, meditation is not, as it may be commonly misunderstood, an escape from life, a mental withdrawal, or a blank spacing-out. In describing meditation as a mental culture or development Walpola Rahula emphasizes the Buddha’s intention behind the practice of meditation: a transformation of mind. Ponlop Rinpoche gives a similar presentation of meditation, saying that the Tibetan word for meditation means to familiarize with. This, he says, means that we are both familiarizing our mind with certain states or attitudes, and we are familiarizing or getting-to-know our mind itself and its true nature. Of course, the word mind here may be too limiting, as we are talking about the entire attitude, approach, view, perspective, and understanding of an individual. Mind in this context is not merely the thinking or reasoning process. Mind is our experience, it is our reality. When we speak of transforming our mind, cultivating our mind, or developing our mind we are talking about transforming our reality. So when we come to the practice of meditation, we should remember that we are transforming our whole reality, our entire way of perceiving and responding. Specifically, we are transforming our reality with wisdom, insight, compassion, joy, and kindness. And when we realize mind’s true nature, reality’s true nature, then we see who and what we are.

This journey of transforming our mind and mental culture begins with cultivating a simple, non-judgmental, direct awareness of each present moment. We look directly at our object of focus, whatever that may be, and notice one moment at a time.