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The Buddha

Ugh. Do I have to?

Buddhists often talk about being present. What does that mean?

As your meditation practice develops, you will begin to notice how often, during an ordinary day, you are checked out. When you drive a route you know very well, you can get from point A to point B without noticing what is happening on any given trip. The human mind is an amazing place.

This is why the breath is a good object for meditation. No matter where your mind wanders to, your breath is always where you are.

Before he finally sat down and awakened completely, the Buddha learned the most advanced meditation techniques anyone knew about at the time, which were already the result of hundreds of years of Indian practice. He was already capable of intense focus at a level most people do not know is possible.

But he also still said, after his awakening, that anyone else could do what he did. It just requires determined effort. This is why the jhana states are so helpful. They are the Buddha’s explanation of the meditation practices he learned before he awakened. Meditation itself is an exercise in remaining present. The point is just to focus on the breath and notice whatever arises in your mind, without judgment. Don’t think, “good thought” or “bad thought.” Just notice, “thought” and return to the breath.

As your practice develops, you will notice that you spend less time checked out and more time being present.

This requires something of a leap of faith. You have to be pretty sure that awakening on the Buddhist model is worth the trouble. As you become more present, you will also start to notice that the reason you check out is because you don’t necessarily much like this being present business. The present is always where the old age, sickness, and death that the Buddha wanted to escape occur. Everything always happens in the present. The past and the future are not available to consciousness right now. They never are. There are mosquitoes and other unpleasant aspects of reality, many of them in your own head right now.

The great ancillary advantage of the jhana states is that they produce an irreducible, unaccountable happiness that acts as a defense against the unpleasantness that is now.

So keep meditating and getting more present. And happy.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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