Some fairly advanced articles
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October 3, 2016
By Michael Erlewine (Michael@Erlewine.net)

I found it important to understand what dharma “practice” is all about. The great majority of those who have a dharma practice are doing just what the term says, “practicing” meditation, not yet meditating. And even more folks are engaged in various purification practices, practices that are necessary before any real meditating can begin. This was not carefully explained to me when I began, many years ago.

Back then, I thought that when I sat on a cushion, perhaps lighting a candle, trying to concentrate, that what I was doing was meditating. Far from it, and it took years before this became clear to me, and still longer to know what I could do about it.

It is also important to understand how the preliminary practices were introduced in this country. I don’t have room to go into that in great detail here, but the idea is that in Tibet meditation students are presented with a lot of very difficult purification practices BEFORE they ever begin to attempt to meditate. However, Tibetan teachers like the Ven. Chögyam Trungpa quickly grasped that Americans were not about to undertake this kind of difficulty and so those purification practices were not introduced early on, and that fact actually has made it harder for Americans to learn to meditate. Trungpa Rinpoche started Westerners right out with sitting meditation and heavy doses at that. The traditional preliminary practices were not introduced until much later.

Dharma practices, particularly those practices that are called Preliminary Practices, are essentially methods to purify our mind so that we can more easily learn to actually meditate. As I have mentioned before, the preliminary practices are ways to remove obscurations, much like a prize fighter works out to bring his bulk down to a fighting weight.

Obscurations do just that, obscure our mind so that we cannot see clearly. Sooner or later they have to be removed to make serious progress. So, what most folks do is first attempt to meditate, which only a very, very few can succeed at straight off. Most of us find meditation too difficult (and taking too long), so we turn to the preliminary practices as remedial steps to gradually remove whatever obscurations we have so that we can actually make progress with meditation.

In other words, it is easier to undertake the preliminary practices rather than learn sitting meditation straight away. The great majority of dharma practices are remedial practices designed to purify the mind so that actual meditation can be accomplished, in particular Insight Meditation.

Again, the idea of the Preliminary Practices is to purify ourselves of whatever obscures the actual nature of the mind, so that we can see to successfully learn meditation, particularly Insight Meditation. This process is like the old game of Pick-Up-Sticks, where we carefully take away stick after stick until there is nothing left to obscure our vision, at which time meditation can be successfully learned.

So, if you are practicing meditation and having difficulty (slow-going), then the workaround is to work with the purification practices until the mind is ready to actually undertake meditation. This is what I had to do.
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