Observing Breath

Ehs7FIlqGigZYAgUuwGkZgpUl0nJvnVkqfbCfNOtqrkIn the “Information Age” in which we live, information has flooded so much of our lives that there is almost no area which it has not reached.  Living in such a time, especially when living in the midst of highly developed information technology areas, it seems impossible to escape from the flood of information.  Our minds are being tirelessly bombarded by information everyday.  A mind that is filled with multiple, complex, and trivial information is inevitably entangled with scattered thoughts, polluted thoughts, unwholesome thoughts, or evil thoughts.  How can it not be difficult to train such a mind of complicity with the method of cultivating stillness?

No wonder some people believe that it is difficult to succeed in practice at this “Dark Age” or “Dharma Ending Age”.  In fact, it is not that people of this time are stupid; rather, people are more intelligent nowadays.  Also, it is not that people’s “karmic roots” are not sharp or that people do not have access to the Dharma, as the means for communication are so highly developed that the Buddhadharma has also been riding a wave and spreading widely to every corner in the world.  With access to an electronic device, one can so easily download needed information — although it does not necessarily help in Buddhist study and practice.

When the mind is complex and chaotic and difficult to focus, the way to counteract it is to practice concentration.  The Buddha taught the method of observing the breath in order to collect the scattered mind — Observing breath, counting breaths, or simply following the breath.  These are the simple steps to practice.  It is actually very simple and it is an effective way of helping the scattered mind.

This way of practice is not resisting, opposing, or suppressing thoughts.  The entire process of this method is to adjust and relax, regardless how restless the mind is, and simply count the breath.  No matter how many times scattered thoughts arise, just return to observing the breath, continuously practice, staying still, being interrupted again, and returning to the method again.  Eventually, the mind will settle and be able to concentrate over time.  Such process does not require complicated method. Simply focus on the breath, allowing the mind to quiet down and be still.

Actually, the methods that are considered “difficult” are not the problem; it is the mind of the practitioner that is difficult to train.  If one can patiently settle the mind on the method, gradually it will work and it will become easier to practice.

Does a mind of complicity wish to be simple?

(2005/3/26 Written at 怡保, Malaysia.  Published in 《閒事心頭》 by YBAM Buddhist Digest Publication Board) 

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