There are two modes of meditation

Dec 1, 2022


There are two modes of meditation. The accomplishment of the first one is single-pointed concentration and the accomplishment of the second is called insight. 


What the world vaguely knows as mindfulness is a version of the first mode. And it’s really just the beginning. With it you develop concentration. It happens to bring some pretty nice bonuses like clarity and bliss, but its main purpose is to prepare your mind to accomplish insight, which is the real meditation.


Insight into what? Well, how things exist. As Buddhists we are attempting to get insight into all aspects of the path, of Buddha’s view of reality: karma, the mind and how it functions, bodhichitta, emptiness. We need to make these part of our mind experientially. They are first known intellectually and then, through practice, they become our reality.


A typical meditation session using both modes is like you’d do your homework. Your teacher tells you the theory that one plus one is two and she says to go home and get insight into this, doesn’t she? She wants you to familiarize yourself with it and eventually experience the truth of it.


In fact, “to familiarize” is the translation of the Tibetan verb for “to meditate,” gom. That’s the method, and it leads to insight.


But first you need to get some focus, right? It’s practical. If your brothers and sisters are all shouting, how can you even begin to think about the meaning of this? You need some quiet. So you close the door, go to your little table, and get focused. Well, that’s the first mode of meditation.


Having got whatever level of focus you’re capable of you, you now go to the second mode and do the actual job of familiarizing your mind with the concept of one plus one is two until eventually the penny drops. “Oh, I get it now!” That’s an insight: the concept has gone from the head to the heart and become reality for you.


In English it’s a great word. In other languages they use mystical translations for it, but it’s so practical; we use it every day. “Oh, I got some insight into that problem.” It’s a great word: in sight – inner seeing. 


So, how do we get insight? Using the same method as you would get insight into one plus one is two: you’d use your brain: you’d think it through logically. 


This process is typically referred to as analytical meditation, which is just a fancy way of saying think about something. You don’t just sit there repeating to yourself, one plus one is two, one plus one is two, hoping for something to happen. No, you take the information you got from your teacher, the facts, and you think it through logically, and slowly slowly it becomes truth for you. 


That’s how you get insight into karma, impermanence, the way the mind works, bodhichitta and, finally emptiness. You get the facts, the theories, and think them through until they become the truth for you.


Of course, it’ll take more time and way more skill than realizing one plus one is two! But the method is the same — not to mention, of course, that you’ll need to have accomplished single-pointed concentration to get these insights.


So, one step at a time!

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