WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF BUDDHISM?
The essence of Buddhism is achieving wisdom not only to the worldly sense but also more importantly beyond worldly. It is wisdom that allows a person to be fully awakened from the sleep of ignorance. To understand the essence of Buddhism, one needs to understand in both relative and ultimate ways. Relatively, every appearance of phenomena is interdependently arising and does not truly exist as it is. So the relative appearance lacks the essence of phenomena and is nothing other than emptiness in nature. That appearance is the relative truth and that emptiness nature is the ultimate truth.
In the relative truth, we develop every good quality to overcome our bad habitual defilements. The selfless loving and kind attitude is the primary and important practice of Buddhism. That loving attitude is not just for temporary relief of the suffering of others. It is actually a total uprooting of it. For that, we need to develop the wisdom and ultimate ability in order to relieve the suffering of sentient beings.
There are so many different ways and methods to practice. Yet, the ultimate purpose is the same. Many different countries practice Buddhism and thus it is assimilated according to different languages, cultures and traditions. This may create some confusion to some people as they think Buddhism is vastly different due to the outer appearances and languages. From my personal understanding, Buddhists of the world follow the same principles and everyone abide by the teachings of Lord Buddha.
IS IT SUFFICIENT TO DO SHAMATHA MEDITATION ONLY?
OR BOTH SHAMATHA AND VIPASSANA MEDITATION SHOULD BE PRACTISED TOGETHER IN ONE SESSION?
Meditation is essential for every Buddhist practitioner and there are many methods of meditation. In Vajrayana, meditation can be associated with very profound methods of Yidam practice and through that, one can develop both Shamatha and Vippassana meditations. That is to say Yidam meditation has the essence of both Shamatha and Vippasana meditations. One can also develop the total realisation of truth and enlightenment.
Generally, one can embark in meditation by Shamatha meditation to calm the mind and thus make the mind pliable. It is like taming a wild elephant to make it adjust to the working conditions as we please. This can be achieved with Shamatha meditation.
Subsequently, one can train in Vippasana meditation to see the truth of phenomena and self. This can lead to realisation and thus eventually, enlightenment will take place. Therefore, we need to learn both forms of meditation though Shamatha should precede Vippassana. It is like a clear lamp in the still air. The windless state is the non-conceptual state of Shamatha and the illuminating lamp is Vippassana that brightens everything.
It is important to engage an experienced teacher who can guide you in the meditation steps and stages. It is certainly not advisable to read some books on meditation and then immediately try to meditate without any teachers’ guidance. One will not progress well in this way. So always engage a teacher who possesses the true transmission and who is also meditates. With the correct advice, one will progress well like a waxing moon and be able to achieve both Shamatha and Vippassana successively without hindrances.
Courtesy Jan-Mar 2014 Mudra Newsletter Karma Kagyud Buddhist Center, Singapore