Annotated Table of Contents for Buddha’s Map:
I introduce myself as a case study of someone whose meditation progress reached a plateau despite stubborn determination. Then I met a monk who taught me the Buddha’s original meditation. Suddenly my practice filled with euphoria. This narrative introduces some of the unusual elements of this style of meditation: ease, relaxation, humor, jhanas and treating distractions as friends.
An extended metaphor gives a broad-stroke picture of the path the Buddha described. Each leg of the journey reveals new insights. These insights reveal ways to adjust the practice to find the next stage of the path. In this way, insights and practice reinforce each other to move the student very quickly up the mountain. This chapter also gives beginning instructions.
Each chapter in this section explores an insight that is key to the Buddha’s map. The insights are introduced with stories to illustrate seemingly esoteric ideas clear and relevant. They are presented not as philosophical ideas but as practical aids to meditation.
A woman stared at a Picasso painting and muttered, “That is not a cow.” Picasso overheard and whispered to the woman, “Madame, you are correct. That is not a cow. That is a picture of a cow.” In our minds we create pictures and ideas about the world around us. Too often we mistake our ideas for reality.
Buddhism is not a philosophy or set of beliefs about the world. It is a phenomenology exploring direct experience. The Buddha outlined five categories of experience (called khandhas). One khandha is raw sensation. Another is all of our ideas and thoughts. Sensation comes from the splinter in our finger. But suffering comes from the thoughts in our mind about the splinter.
Everything has a cause. And that cause has a cause. Learning to observe and release the links of causation is the core of the Buddha’s teaching. The five khandhas give a Reader’s Digest version Dependent Origination. This chapter gives the unabridged version with easy to understand examples.
There are three popular strategies for avoiding suffering – grabbing, pushing and ignoring. We might experience these as neediness, anger and spacing out. None work in the long run. The secret to thriving in difficult times is relaxing the tensions that arise in our experience. This relaxation breaks down the links of Dependent Origination.
We humans are chameleons: we create a sense of self by identifying with our experience. People identify with almost anything: thoughts, feelings, history, jobs, families, bodies and more. This chapter explores the gross and subtle ways we create a sense of self and how to relax into selflessness.
As we meditate, external and internal distractions hijack our attention. These hindrances are personal trainers trying to show us how to practice effectively.
A hologram is different from a painting in that each part of the hologram contains the whole image from a unique angle. Anywhere we enter the Buddha’s teaching, we find the whole of his teachings from a different angle. This chapter opens with the Four Noble Truths that can be summarized in three phrases: “be kind, pay attention, relax.” These are reflected in all the other key teachings.
The Insight section ends with a reminder that smiling and lightening up is key to successful meditation.
This section describes the eight jhanas or stages the Buddha taught. These are not to be confused with the one-pointed concentration taught in some contemporary schools of Buddhism. Each chapter begins with a story or metaphor that reveals the essential qualities of the jhana. This is followed by instructions specific to that stage. And each chapter concludes with some of the Buddha’s own words about that jhana.
We begin by sending kindness, healing, ease or wellbeing to a friend. As the mind settles into this process, we feel short bursts of joy that fade into mellowness. This is the first jhana.
No matter what jhana we are in, there are moments when our attention is stolen by thoughts or sensations. The Six Rs–recognize, release, relax, re-smile, return, and repeat–turn these hindrances into insight. This chapter explores the Six Rs in depth.
This chapter answers questions about posture, as well as supporting practices like walking meditation and forgiveness.
This chapter returns to the flow of the jhanas. The second jhana is characterized by an increase in confidence and the spontaneous fading away of discursive thinking into “noble silence.”
With the third jhana, we have so much serenity that joy no longer arises. Instead, like a duck settled in ocean waves, we rest in equanimity.
Eventually we become so relaxed that body sensations fade. Now we are considered advanced meditators. A series of specific practices confirm this jhana. The mind becomes very subtle.
The quiet of the fourth jhana gives rise to vast spaciousness.
When spaciousness relaxes, we experience breaks in the flow of phenomena. We turn our attention into these gaps.
The seventh jhana is traditionally called “the base of nothingness” but might more aptly be called “the base of no things.” We no longer notice things outside the mind. It is “pure consciousness” or “pure awareness” because there is nothing outside of the awareness. But there is still a lot going on in “nothingness.”
Any attempt to enter the eighth jhana creates enough tension to block it. But if we relax and get out of the way, the processes of perception and consciousness start to shut down. We discover a subtle way of seeing and knowing that is deeper and subtler than ordinary perception or consciousness.
It takes a tiny amount of tension to store a memory or recognize a perception. As this last bit of tension softens, we subjectively black out–we have no perception or memory. This “winking out” is the prelude to cessation and nibbana. This chapter concludes with some speculation about how these “states beyond states” may be experienced differently in Eastern and Western cultures. We arise out of these with a depth of joy and clarity that is beyond worldly happiness.
This chapter summarizes the key differences between the Buddha’s meditation and the meditation generally taught in contemporary Buddhist traditions. It helps experienced meditators find bridges between practices they may have learned elsewhere and the Buddha’s practices.
The book ends with a story of meditating in the wee hours of the morning with a cat. It offers encouragement to continue on the path.
This appendix gives brief description of Bhante Vimalaramsi’s Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center. Those wanting to study with a jhana master will learn a little about the center and how to contact it.
This appendix gives bare bones meditation instruction for all stages.
This appendix reinforces the element of playfulness that aids meditation. It offers a collection of “meditation games” that can enhance a practice.
This appendix explores some of the difficulties with translating Pali (the language of the Sutras) into English.