Buddhism should be simple. Buddhist meditation should be simple.
Buddhism often is not simple.
We have no reason to think that anyone is trying to make Buddhism complicated.
The Buddha’s basic message is pretty simple:
- Life is full of dukkha, which people translate in various ways, including “stress,” “suffering,” “disappointment,” etc. No fun. No one wants dukkha
- The origin of dukkha is craving, or thirst. Desire. We want stuff and we don’t always get it.
- The end of dukkha is possible.
- The way to the end of dukkha is the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Eightfold Path consists of
- Right view
- Right resolve
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
Okay, “eightfold” is not a word we hear much any more, but it means a single thing with eight parts. Think “fold,” like the folds in a skirt or curtains.
And what exactly the Buddha meant by “Right view,” or “Right resolve” could do with some elucidation.
But the bigger problem is that the Buddha taught consistently for fifty years after his awakening, and he was careful to tailor his message to his audience, so the complete set of the Buddha’s teachings, in what we call “sutras,” is compendious. No matter how simple the message, quantity can produce complexity.
Then, the historical Buddha died 2,400 years ago, and various followers have been avidly teaching his message ever since. Inevitably, different schools have grown up, each with its own version of the Buddha’s message.
And, voila: complexity.
To some extent, one reasonable solution is to pick a school and stick to it. The differences are not that big. Buddhists do not fight amongst ourselves over which school is right. Teachers from any given school are happy to borrow ideas and words from teachers in other schools. Picking a school on the basis of convenience is not a bad idea. Then you can just stick with your school. You can even pretend like it’s the only one if that matters to you.
One thing they all have in common is meditation, which should definitely be simple. Choose an object of meditation — the breath is popular, but anything you can focus your attention on will do — focus your attention on it, and, when your mind wanders, return it to the object of meditation. Wander, return. Wander, return. Wander, return, about fifty leven billion times.
We call it a practice for a reason. As you practice, you will get better. Your mind will remain focused.
That’s it. Simple. Keep it simple. You don’t need a fancy cushion. You don’t need a fancy outfit. You do not need a fancy app. You do not need a fancy device.
You need a quiet, comfortable place to sit. You will start to notice changes.
Five minutes per day is ample to start. Regularity is important. Try to develop a daily practice.
No telling how long it will take. You will hit various high points and low points on the path.
It’s not easy, but it is simple.