Beginning Insight Meditation
        by Dorothy Figen

                              an excerpt from
                             and Other Essays

                              Dorothy Figen

                          Bodhi Leaves No. B 85

                 Copyright 1980 Buddhist Publication Society

                          First published 1980
                          Reprinted       1988

                      KANDY              SRI LANKA

                                 * * *

                         DharmaNet Edition 1995

                       Transcription: Myra I. Fox
                Proofreading & formatting: John Bullitt

        This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
            via DharmaNet by arrangement with the publisher.

                        DharmaNet International
                 P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951

                            * * * * * * * *

 For inspiration to write this little booklet I wish to thank my good
 friend and teacher, Anagarika Tibbotuwawa.  I also wish to thank my
 husband for his kindly suggestions and excellent editing.

 May all beings be well and happy!

                                        -- D.F.

                                 * * *


 For the beginning meditator I believe it would be helpful to establish
 an order in the various steps taken in meditation.  First, then, it
 would be wise to establish a place of quiet to which one may retire
 daily and not be interrupted in his endeavors.  Then wash carefully
 face, hands and feet.  Better yet, if time permits, take a cleansing
 shower and put on loose, comfortable clothes. It is wise to meditate at
 the same time daily to establish a habit.  I do it at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
 when the birds begin to retire in the evening.  Then when you begin to
 meditate consider your posture.  With spine erect and a spirit of
 awareness be mindful of sitting without strain but with complete
 alertness.  Now you are ready to begin.  But, first, some introductory

    As Sujata states in his little book //Beginning to See//, "Meditation
 is the best thing you can do for yourself."  However, it is far from
 the simple thing it may seem to beginners.  It takes a strong urge to
 peer deeply within oneself and beyond it.  It takes discipline and
 willingness to go farther than merely trying to escape or sidestep
 personal problems one may have.

    Why meditate?  There are many reasons.  But those that stand out
 most strongly are learning to think clearly, and to dispel ignorance,
 illusion, greed, hatred and craving.  This is the road to Nirvana or
 Nibbana through which one must lose all clinging to "self."  The
 feeling  of having a self is highly resistant to extinguishing.  It is
 persistent and devious.  Often one may feel it has vanished only to
 have it crop up again.  Only by diligence and persistence -- and the
 road for many may be long -- can victory over it be achieved.

    You are seated now, cross-legged on the floor, in a quiet chamber. In
 lotus position, if you can, or in half-lotus, or even on a chair if
 disability precludes otherwise.  Keep your head erect and balanced
 lightly on your shoulders.  Still, do not strain; be comfortable,
 relaxed and attentive.

    The first stages of meditation should be simply observation of
 breath.  Concentrate on the nostrils where the breath flows in ... out
 ... in ... out.  Be aware of the touch of air as it strikes the passage
 through the nostrils. In fact be aware of everything and nothing.  This
 sounds contradictory.  Yet it is really not.  For this is no time to
 daydream, to entertain vagrant and migratory thoughts. You are aware of
 your physical posture.  Then you forget that also.  You are aware that
 the past is dead, that it is gone.  Yet specific consciousness of your
 whole preceding life is absent.  The future does not yet exist.  All
 you have is "right now" ... the in ... out ... in ... out rhythm of the
 breath of life.

    The idea is to "empty the mind," to get rid of all "garbage," all
 fleeting and intruding thoughts.  Simply to breathe -- in out -- in
 out, never forcing the breath.  You are not even the breather, but the
 breathing breathing you, the you, which as time goes on, will grow more
 and more vague as it begins to dissipate, disappear.

    Just allow the mind to feel the "touch" of breath as it flows in and
 flows out.  In your first sessions think of nothing more.  You will
 find the breath thinning out as it becomes more subtle and finer until
 in time you begin to feel you are not breathing at all.  This is the
 calming of the breath flow.  It becomes very pleasant and satisfying.

    I keep a candle burning in the meditation chamber. It serves two
 purposes, maybe three.  At first, if the mind wanders, it serves as a
 point of focus.  The eyes, at first observing the candle, soon close,
 lightly, easily, by themselves.  But even through closed lids one feels
 the presence of the light.  One can see it in one's mind's eye. It
 restores the mind's wandering back to the present.  The second purpose
 is symbolic:  to me it signifies the //Light of the Dhamma//, the
 doctrine on which the meditation is based. And finally, it makes for a
 pleasant, lovely atmosphere. Incense, flowers, Buddha sculpture are
 nice but really not necessary.  One can, in truth, meditate
 //anywhere//, any quiet place where there can be no interruption.
 Wherever you meditate, if it is at home and you have a telephone, it is
 wise to remove the receiver to avoid incoming calls.

    Bear in mind that the place of meditation is not of key importance,
 but it is wise to return to the same place at the same time daily so
 that the habit of meditating becomes established.  The Buddha meditated
 under a Bodhi tree where he achieved enlightenment.  An advanced
 meditator can choose almost any place and it will serve his purpose --
 a crowded market place, a burial ground, a cave, a park or a refuse
 dump.  In his inward turning he becomes totally oblivious of his
 surroundings; or, contrariwise, makes the very surroundings, as he
 advances deeper and deeper into meditating, the subject of his
 thoughts.  The important thing to remember is that these thoughts must
 be schooled and channeled.  They must be kept "on center."

    But you, now, are still in your beginning stages. Untoward thoughts
 will persist in entering your mind.  This is only natural.  You  will
 be amazed at how many and how trivial these intrusions can be.  You
 must learn, however, to treat these intruders with courtesy.  Do not
 shove them away in anger.  Be gentle, kindly.  Label each one -- past
 -- present -- future?  Worthy?  Unworthy?  Animosity? Vanity?  Desire?
 Egotism?  Your very act of branding them will assist in their
 cessation.  As they begin to disappear, your mind will gently return to
 your nostrils, your breathing.  It will grow quieter and quieter.

    Other hindrances will obtrude themselves.  Noises will penetrate
 your consciousness -- children playing and shouting, buses or airplanes
 passing.  Label them as you do other passing thoughts.  Keep centering
 on the breathing, the slowing inflow, outflow.  In time the noises,
 too, will vanish.  Whenever you find yourself "out there," bring
 yourself gently back to "here" and to "right now."  When you have been
 able to accomplish this "no thought" for at least a half hour, your
 breathing will have slowed to a point of almost indistinguishable
 rhythm, to "it" breathing "you" and not the other way around.

    I find it helps in all of this to keep a semi-smile on my face such
 as that of the Buddha.  It aids in brightening the mind, makes it

    At this point in your beginning meditation, if you have been at it a
 half hour or longer, you may terminate it if you wish or continue as
 before.  Or you can go on to extend //metta// or loving-kindness.  This
 meditation subject is good because it //eliminates// hatred, envy,
 anger and self-pity.  It accomplishes love for all, destruction of
 self, sympathetic joy, and a good feeling for every being or non-being
 that lives or has left this life.  Your extension of loving-kindness
 should reach out to encompass the earth, the universe.  You will find
 it difficult in time, to snuff out the life of even the smallest

    In extending loving-kindness it is of great importance that you
 first love //yourself//.  In the right way, of course.  You accomplish
 this by ridding your thoughts of all "impurities."  Think to yourself
 "I will rid my mind of every defilement: anger, hatred, ignorance,
 fear, greed, craving.  I will make my mind clear, fresh and pure.  Like
 a transparent window is my mind.  Then with my stain-free mind, I pour
 out thoughts of loving-kindness, of love and of kindness."

    Try to get a mental image of each one you are extending this
 loving-kindness to.  Get //into// that person.  Feel his or her
 personality enter //your own// being and direct your feeling straight
 into the mind and heart of that individual.  You will find in time,
 that there is a sort of mental telepathy emerging.  You will feel the
 warmth of response.  Do not dwell on this.  Go on to the next person
 and the next and next.  Bring forth all the warmth and kindness of your
 spirit and instill this into the being or non-being it is directed
 toward.  If you do this once or twice daily, your horizon will widen.
 You will find yourself directing these vibrations to //all// beings and
 non-beings who have entered your consciousness, without exceptions.
 This will include brand-new acquaintances you hardly know.  People you
 do not even know but see pass by regularly or irregularly down the
 street.  All who live.  All who have died.  Known and unknown.  All
 animals, insects, trees.  Everything organic and inorganic.  And in
 this outflowing there will ride your //self//, vanishing into the

    When you have completed this meditation //sitting//, later try a
 //walking// meditation, and, in this, think of the Four Noble Truths of
 the Buddha; that all beings are born to suffer, etc.  Then go on to
 find the "way out"; the way out and the "end" of suffering.  Find this
 secure path and incorporate it into your daily life, and, this
 accomplished, find Nibbana right here on earth!

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