I am asked quite often, “Why meditate?” One might just as well ask, “What is the purpose of an automobile?” Certainly its most obvious purpose is to get us from one point to another. However, as we all know the trip may be pleasant or unpleasant, smooth or bumpy, calming or agitating. The traveling itself may assume some values for us. Certainly we want our trips to be the best possible. Likewise, when we meditate we may become calmer, lower our blood pressure, achieve peace of mind, or find greater inner strength to get through a difficult day. However, as valuable as these may be they are not, the primary purpose of meditation. We meditate for the benefit of others. This is the Bodhisattva Way.
In the journey of meditation we often refer to our beginning point as “this shore” and our destination as “the other shore.” The Buddha likened meditation as a raft that we construct in order to cross a stream. And what is on that “other shore?” The innermost point of our original self. When one stands on that other shore and touches that innermost point, the consciousness of all sentient creatures in the universe is brightened. One has made a significant contribution.
I cannot describe for you that “other shore” because it is meaningful only in the context of your own experience - not second hand. I can, hopefully, assist you in constructing the raft. For this reason we have our practice. As we construct our raft we will be careful to make sure that it embodies the principles found in the “Five Aspirations,” i.e., the search for truth, fearlessness, ecology of spirit, benefit to others, and the heart. Consider these five the foundation of your meditation. I recommend that you start each of your meditation sessions with the mudras and the recitation: (For more on this see “Five Aspirations.”)
“May my meditation turn the Wheel of the Dharma
May my meditation be grounded in fearlessness,
May the Earth bear witness to my meditation,
May my meditation benefit all beings,
May my meditation be centered in the heart.”
Wherever we meditate we will consider that place to be the Zendo or meditation hall. Our Zendo may sometimes be outdoors in a natural setting or it may be indoors. More often than not the Zendo is a multi-use space. In many monasteries monks and nuns sleep on pads in the Zendo until the time for meditation. Then cushions are altered to make the room into a meditation hall.
We prepare the foundation for our meditation by how we approach the Zendo. While in the Zendo we must each do our utmost to create an atmosphere of harmony, humility, purity, and inner peace. The following Zendo rules provide some guidance.
Shrine tables may occupy the focal point of the zendo. You may want to create a special place in your own home for a zendo. Or perhaps just a special place to sit in your home to remind you of the importance of meditation. It helps to leave your cushion in that spot. The table shouldn't be too cluttered with busyness for the mind. Usually Buddhist shrines have something that represents each of the senses, e.g., a bowl of water for touch, a stick of incense for smell, a bowl of fruit for taste, a gong or bell for hearing, a wall hanging, a statue, or other object that brings to mind some aspect that you wish to nurture within yourself. The most important thing is that whatever special place you create for your zendo should be a place that draws you to meditation.
Traditional Zafu and Zabuton may be purchased from numerous sources. Some suppliers are listed in Links. However, if you sew, it's easy and inexpensive to make your own.
On the other hand, if you have a couple of old blankets you can make a zafu and a zabuton very quickly.