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Buddhist Meditation

Theology 3728, L01. (Fall, 2015)

Meditation Journal Assignment

For the purpose of familiarizing yourself with the practice of meditation, there will be a
requirement that all students experiment with meditating on a daily basis. I would strongly
suggest that you all try to sit in meditation for at least 5 minutes a day, for the entire

In order to incentivize you to participate, I will grade you on keeping a meditation journal,
with 3 entries per week, where you can write a log of your experiences. Entries can include:

Any description of your meditation what you did, for how long, what techniques you
used, where you learned about the technique.

Any questions that arose for you during the meditation.

Your response to the sitting that day (exciting, boring, confusing, stimulating, filled with
guilt, filled with awe, nothing at all).

Anything else that comes up.

This journal will show me that you have made an honest effort at experimenting with a
practice. Who knows, you may even find this discipline to be valuable for yourself.

Important Qualifications

As this is a college course, you will be graded on your journals (15% of your final grade).
HOWEVER, to be perfectly transparent, I will not be evaluating the profundity of your
comments, the mastery of meditation that you claim, the content of the responses that you
write, or anything of the like. I will simply grade you on your dedication to experimenting
with sitting meditation and your diligence in writing down your thoughts at least 3 times per

It will be obvious to me if you fake entries all at once at the end of the semester! Please do
not do so. It would defeat the purpose of this exercise, which is simply to incentivize you to
experiment with meditation practice. Every day. (if possible)

Are you trying to make me a Buddhist?

No. Of course not. We will talk about this in class. There are many, many, many different
approaches to meditation that do not demand that you make any personal commitment to
Buddhism, Buddhist ideas, Buddhist goals, or Buddhist communities. You are free to
experiment with whatever form of meditation that you like you should feel free to use
instructions that you find in a Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, New Age, secular, or any other
source. I truly do not care what you choose, only that you commit to actually try meditating
everyday. If you have any discomfort about this, please consider talking with me outside of
class. I am more than happy to hear your concerns and will not pass any judgments.

Why is this important to our class?

We will talk plenty about this. Seeing as we will be discussing the many claims that Buddhists
have made about how meditation leads to knowledge, I would like you to develop some of
your own, if preliminary, ideas about how you might answer this question for yourself. Having
even some very basic familiarity with the discipline of meditation will prove helpful in this

How do I learn to meditate?

(1) I urge everyone in the class to attend a meeting of the Fordham Interfaith Zen Sitting
Group, which meets weekly on Tuesday nights (6:10-7:45) in the Blessed Rupert Mayer, S.J.,
Chapel, Lowenstein 221. I will email you with suggested times for your first visit.

(2) We will walk through some very basic meditation instruction in class, with a focus on the
(3) I recommend the following simple sources, should you want something to read (and
reread, and reread) over the course of the semester. These sources all have some relationship
to the Buddhist tradition.
New York Insight Meditation Centers how to meditate instructions, excerpted on the
next page.
Venerable Henepola Gunaratna, Mindfulness in Plain English, pp. 57-63 (on Blackboard)
Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, pp. 25-31, 34-36, 38-40, 57-59, 76-79 (on reserve)
John Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life
pp. 103-135

Other Nice Sources (there is no shortage on the market!):

Pema Chodron: How to Meditate (2013)

Kathleen McDonald: How to Meditate (2005)
Chogyam Trungpa, Mindfulness In Action (2015)
John Kabat Zinn: Mindfulness for Beginners (2011)

How to Meditate (New York Insight Meditation Center)
L.J. Kelly, April 2001.

Part I: How to establish a daily sitting practice

Before you sit

As with all things, start where you are. You have everything you need right now. First, decide
to sit each day. Next, plan the time, place and duration for your sitting meditation.

Choose a time
Morning is often best because the mind is calmer than it is later in the day. However, the
best time is the time that you can commit to on a regular basis. If one longer sit isnt
possible, try two shorter ones.

Choose a space
There is no perfect place. If possible, dedicate a space exclusively to your daily sitting.
Choose a relatively quiet space where you can leave your cushion (or chair) so that it is
always there to return to. You may want to create an altar with a candle, inspiring photos or
statues. These are not necessary, but are beneficial if they help to motivate you.

Choose a duration
As long as is comfortable, plus 5 minutes. This is a general guide, not a rule. Even fifteen or
twenty minutes will seem an eternity in the beginning, but that impression will change with
time. If you sit each day, you will experience noticeable benefits (e.g., less reactivity, more
calm) and be able to increase your sitting time.

Every time you sit: Set your intention: It is helpful to recall at the start of each sitting
meditation why you are doing it. Remember that your purpose, to become more open and
free, will benefit you and those around you.

Set your posture

Alertness is one of the two essential ingredients in every meditation. Sit on a chair, cushion,
or kneeling bench as straight and tall as possible. In the beginning, sitting against a wall can
help you learn what a straight back feels like. Around this straight-back position, let the rest
of your skeleton and muscles hang freely. Let the hands rest comfortably on your knees or
lap. Let the eyes close, bringing the attention inward.

Relax deeply
Openness is the second essential ingredient in every meditation. Once you feel your spine is
erect, let everything else relax, hang loose, and soften. Breathing through the nose, loosen
the face, neck, hands, and stomach area. You may want to begin at the scalp and move your

attention slowly downward, methodically relaxing and softening each part of the body.
Please dont skip the step of relaxing/letting go! Consciously releasing body tension will help
you open to whatever arises during your meditation.

Choose an object of meditation

Once youve established this alert and open posture, you are ready to decide where youll
place your attention. Useful objects for beginners are:
The breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
Other body changes during breathing, e.g., the rise and fall of the chest.
Sounds as they arise from within the body or outside of it.
Other body sensations as they arise.
Whatever object you select, stay with it for at least ten breaths. Even with this effort, your
mind will insist on going to its usual places. Make note of this when it happens, and gently
lead your attention back to the chosen object of meditation. Your intention and persistence
are the key ingredients for cultivating awareness, not the number of times your mind
wanders. As often as you need to, check yourselfAlert and erect? Relaxed and open?
and begin again.

Part II: Common issues for meditators

Monkey mind
At first, you may be surprised at how active and uncontrolled your mind is. Dont worry
you are discovering the truth about your current state of mind. Accept and sit with
whatever comes up. Dont try to change it by force, use patience. Sit up, relax, and gently
bring your attention back again and again to the object of your meditation.
It is common to mistake thinking for meditating. It takes practice to distinguish pleasant,
dreamy thoughts from having your attention connected to the changing experience of this
moment. Staying focused on the body/breath is a good way to stay grounded in the present.

The hindrances
The classical five hindrances to practice are:
Grasping: wanting more (or something different) from whats present right now.
Aversion: fear, anger, any form of pushing away.
Restlessness: jumpy energy, agitation.
Sloth and torpor: sleepy, sinking states of mind and body.
Doubt: a mind-trap that says, its no use, this will never work, maybe theres an easier
Meditators experience all of these states. During sitting practice, if you notice one of the
hindrances arising, it is useful to name it silently to yourself, e.g., grasping, grasping or
sleepy, sleepy. If it is strong, try not to pull away from the difficult energy, but bring all of
your attention to it. Let yourself experience it fully through the sensations in your body,

neither getting lost in it nor pushing it away. Watch what happens without expectations, and
when it dissipates, return to the primary focus of your meditation. As Ven. Henepola
Gunaratana encourages in Mindfulness in Plain English: Examine [the hindrances] to
death. When you clearly see the suffering created by grasping and aversion, you will
naturally start to let them go.

Part III: Sustaining a practice

Here are just a few helpful hints for sustaining your sitting practice:
Sit every day, even if its for a short period.
A few times during each day, establish contact with your body and breath.
Remember that everyone wants to be happy, just like you.
Practice regularly with a group or a friend.
Use inspiring resources such as books or audiotapes of dharma talks.
Sign up for a retreat one day, a weekend, or longer. The experience will deepen your
If you miss a day, a week, or a month simply begin again.
If you need guidance, ask for help from an experienced meditator or teacher.