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The Romantic Urge of Meditation

Man wanders lonely as a cloud; meditates.Man wanders lonely as a cloud; meditates.

Like many folks, one of the Buddhist websites that opened a whole new world for me was Access To Insight. In addition to being an incomparable resource for sutta translations and the writings of the Thai Forrest Masters, it also contains some of the clearest and most helpful Buddhist writing for beginners I’ve ever come across.

One such article is John Bullitt’s own Befriending the Suttas. Befriending the Suttas is a great introduction to reading Canonical Buddhist Literature, and offers many helpful points for approaching and understanding suttas. However, the first time I read it, so many years ago, one provision always struck me as odd:

A good sutta is one that inspires you to stop reading it.
The whole point of reading suttas is to inspire you to develop right view, live an upright life, and meditate correctly. So if, as you’re reading, you feel a growing urge to put down the book, go sit in a quiet spot, close your eyes, and attend to the breath, then do it! The sutta will have then fulfilled its purpose. It will still be there when you come back to it later.
(From Befriending the Suttas)

When I first encountered Buddhism I could only vaguely hope to read something that would powerfully move me, and could never imagine being moved to meditate of all things. More than anything it was Bullitt’s italics that sold me, which I imagined being expressed with a grin, a gesture, and a boisterous ‘thumbs up’ pointing towards the sky.

While the most important aspects of meditation happen day to day when we Commit to Sit as my esteemed colleague so eloquently blogged before me, I do wonder about these moments of romantic meditation – when one is either inspired or filled with the sense of wanting to or the importance of meditation – when one is gripped with the need to sit right now.

There are many times in Buddhist legends when meditation is made heroic and inscribed within an epic frame. The Buddha, immediately before his awakening, vows that he will not move from his spot until he has released himself from birth and death, and withstands the myriad armies of Mara in his pursuit. But I wonder if these times of inspired meditation in our own lives can lead to great fruit, or if they are the products of too much mental formation.

I’d love to hear your own stories of inspired and uninspired meditation in the comment section.