Sunday Morning Format – Beginner’s Guide
This form of meditation can be done by sitting on a cushion, a meditation bench, or a chair.
A meditation cushion is used to elevate the body so that the spine can be straight, and the knees touching the floor. The knees are bent, with one leg in front of the other on the floor (Burmese style), or if you prefer, you may sit in lotus or half lotus position, or Indian style even. (Pillows are provided for you to use as a cushion. Should you be interested in purchasing a cushion or a bench, ask us where we purchased ours.)
If sitting in a chair, the feet are placed flat on the floor, and the spine is kept straight, usually by placing a pillow between your back and the back of the chair.
One can have their eyes closed, or opened and softly focused. One places their hands on their thighs face down, or bending the arms, places one hand’s fingers over the other hand’s fingers face up in their laps. The thumbs can be slightly touching, or grasped together. (Probably most texts say right hand over the left, but the writer of this puts the left over the right.)
In other words, there are no strict rules for the placement of the hands, or legs. It is desired only that the spine is straight, and the body relaxed around the straight spine.
Focus on your breath at the tip of your nose. There, notice your breath as you inhale, as you pause, and as you exhale. You can then count 1. Notice the next breath and count 2. When you get to 10, start over again at 1. You will notice that your mind wanders off. Simply bring your attention back to your breath, and continue counting. If you lose your place, start over again at 1. Please, expect your mind to wander off. When you realize you are off, congratulate yourself as you have just awakened yourself from some thought, and return to your breath.
If you cannot feel your breath at the tip of your nose, try further up the nose towards the sinus. Some people feel their breath on the upper lip. If that doesn’t work, focus on your chest or abdomen. Once you find a spot, keep the focus there for the remainder of the meditation period.
This is an active form of meditation. Choose a space where you can walk back and forth for about 10-20 feet. You may do this in the meditation hall, some other part of the building, or outside.
Begin by standing straight with your hands at your side, or by bending your elbows and placing one hand over the other at about the navel area. Take a breath. Then begin to move. The purpose is to be mindful, or aware, of the movement of walking. Lift your foot slowly, slowly move it ahead, place it down, lift the other foot, and so on. One can coordinate the breath with the movement of the feet, or can ignore the breath and focus on the movement alone. Again, expect your mind to wander off, and again congratulate yourself when you return. When you reach the end of 20 feet, notice your steps as you turn around.
The pace of the walking is up to you. Some people walk very slowly, and some more quickly. Here you can look around and see what others are doing, and pick something that seems comfortable for you.
At the end of this meditation, a bell will be rung, telling you to return to the hall for sitting meditation.
We begin the first sitting with a chant. Please do not feel like you ever have to chant. If you do not want to, you never have to. The first chant honors the Buddha for becoming enlightened on his own without a teacher, and for teaching what he learned. It also honors the Buddha nature within us. We then chant that we take refuge in the Buddha, take refuge in the Dharma (the teachings), and take refuge in the Sangha (those who kept the teachings alive so that we can learn them today). This refuge part of the chant is said three times. We chant all this in the ancient language of Pali, and then we recite the refuge portion of the chant in English. If you do not understand the reasonings for this, or it seems odd to you, that is ok. Someday it might, or might not, and that too is ok.
At the end of the second sitting, we recite the Heart Sutra. This is not from the Theravadin tradition of Buddhism, but is an amazing sutra. To a beginner it means very little, but it comes to mean more and more as your practice progresses. This is recited in English.
There is a handout for both these chants, and you are welcome to take one and follow along as they are chanted. Please return them at the end of the sittings, so they can be used the next week. Thank you.
The Dharma Talk/Discussion
Sangha members volunteer to read something they found particularly interesting, or to challenge themselves by writing and reading something of their own.
For beginners, sometimes only a little of what is said is understood. This is great. A great teacher encourages us to continually have what he called Beginner’s Mind. Allow the words to just flow over you. Come with a curiosity, and listen to what is said. If you have questions, please join the discussion at the end of the talk. We welcome you, and your questions. We continue to learn from each other.
Please do not feel you must join the discussion. It is strictly voluntary. You may come and just listen. You may also pull one of us aside to ask questions one on one.