The other day I was talking about daily practice. But what is it that we’re practicing anyway? In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition alone, there are literally thousands of meditations and practices. Some of them are long and complicated with detailed visualizations, intricate prayers and countless recitations of mantras. If someone had told me three years ago that these were all that meditation was about, I probably would have given up before I started!
Fortunately, as beginners, we can start out a little bit easier than all of that.
The first thing we need to work on is our sitting posture. If bodhicitta is the foundation of our practice, then the meditation posture is the framework.There are very specific instructions in the original texts that explain how to sit “properly”.
So without further ado, here they are: the seven main points of the aptly named Seven Point Posture of Vairocana:
1. The back should be made as straight as possible – like an arrow or like a pile of coins stacked on top of each other.
2. The legs should be crossed in the vajra or full-lotus posture.
3. The hands should be folded, 4 fingers’ width below the navel (not resting on the feet), right hand resting on top of the left, the elbows slightly out. The shoulders are held up and back ‘like a vulture’.
4. The chin should be tucked in slightly.
5. The eyes should be relaxed, looking into space at nothing in particular, about a foot in front of the nose.
6. The tongue should be held against the palate just behind the upper teeth.
7. The lips should be slightly apart, teeth not clenched. Breathe naturally through the nose.
These instructions don’t take into account people with bad hips, arthritis, blown out knees or an overall aversion to flexibility.
But fear not. We don’t all have to twist ourselves up into knots in order to meditate. If you need to, you can sit on a chair or even a couch. The main thing is to keep the spine straight and the mind awake and alert.
Like I mentioned before, it was following the advice of many books and teachers to start out slow that kept me at it. I didn’t try to push to hard; I just tried to do a little each day and stay with it.
So patiently and gently try this posture out. Experiment with it. See what works best for you.
Next time we’ll talk a little bit about what to do once we’ve found our seat…