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What is Meditation?

In discursive meditations it is imperative that one's growing disenchantment with mundane existence is

 complemented with growing confidence in the real possibility of true freedom and lasting joy that transcends

 the vicissitudes of conditioned existence. Without this faith and the yearning for such liberation, the

 meditations may easily result in profound depression, in which everything seems hollow, unreal, and futile.

 Thus instead of polarizing one's desires towards the single-pointed pursuit of nirvana

one is reduced to a debilitating kind of spiritual sloth.

-- from Balancing the Mind: A Tibetan Buddhist Approach to Refining Attention by B. Alan Wallace

Nuns, Nepal

Many Thanks to Padmasambhava Buddhist Center of Tennessee

Meditation is an essential aspect of Buddhist practice. In Tibetan Buddhism, the ultimate goal is enlightenment, or the continual awareness of our true limitless and compassionate nature. In the process of the path, one becomes liberated from the habitual thought patterns that cause misery to ourselves and others.

For each person the path is a different length depending on where one is at the time he or she sets foot upon it, but every step can be a step forward.

All Buddhist branches teach calm abiding (shamatha) and analytic meditation (vipassana). In addition, Tibetan Buddhism adds a vast array of skillful methods, including mantra, visualization, tonglen (giving and taking), chanting, esoteric yogas and Dzogchen. By virtue of these methods, Vajrayana is thought to teach the quickest path to enlightenment, and our particular school, Nyingma, is among the most "practice" (or meditation) -oriented in Tibetan Buddhism.

Comments by some renowned Buddhist masters on meditation appear below. 

This section will be updated periodically.


Beginning Meditation

From The Light of the Three Jewels, by Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche. Edited by Ann Helm and Michael White. Dharma Samudra (1998).


Buddha Shakyamuni expounded many different levels of instruction in order to teach us how to maintain the true nature of mind and show compassion for all sentient beings. There are many different meditations for this purpose, such as shamatha and vipashyana, and the creation-stage and the completion-stage practices of the vajrayana. All these methods have only one object, which is to reveal the true nature of the mind. These different techniques are related to each other and they work together to help attain enlightenment.

When first learning to meditate, most people find it difficult to rest the mind so that the primordial wisdom can shine through. Thoughts continuously arise, one after the other, like waves on the ocean, and the mind is constantly moving. It helps to begin by sitting with good posture and then to remain focused. There are several techniques in the Buddhist tradition for settling the mind and uncovering wisdom. Two of the best known are shamatha and vipashyana.

Understanding the meaning of the Sanskrit terms can help us to understand the way in which we need to meditate. The Sanskrit word shamatha is made of two words, shama and tha. Shama means "peaceful or calm," and tha means "letting or abiding," so shamatha means "letting the mind be peaceful." Shamatha is also known in Sanskrit as samadhi, which is also two words put together. Sama means "motionless" and dhi means "holding," so samadhi refers to maintaining one's mind in a constant, unchanging state. For example, if you fill a bowl with water and do not touch it, the water does not move, it stays still. Similarly, when your mind rests single-pointedly, undisturbed by thoughts, it becomes calm..........

The second type of meditation is called vipashyana. Vipashyana is a Sanskrit word made up of vi, meaning "extraordinary,"and pashyana, meaning "seeing." Literally, it means "extraordinary seeing" but it is usually translated into English as 'insight" or "supreme seeing." Vipashyana goes further than maintaining a calm and unmoving mind. In vipashyana practice you examine the mind and its source. By penetrating the surface level of thoughts and emotions, you see that their insubstantiality is the true nature of the mind. This is the practice of extraordinary seeing, in which you realize that everything arises from great emptiness, and that the true nature of the mind is unborn, unceasing and free from concepts. When the mind relaxes in its natural state, all of the usual perceptions of solid existence are experienced as nothing more than a dream. This is the great equanimity free from mental fabrications.

The technique for vipashyana begins the same as with shamatha, with good sitting posture and normal breathing, and then you look into the mind itself. When thoughts and emotions appear, you look for their origin and their destination. Where do they come from and where do they go? When you look into the mind in this way, you reach the true nature of the mind. Then, simply relax effortlessly in this state, having confidence in the true nature, knowing that there is actually nothing to gain and nothing to lose. This is the original state from which we all come, the state where the whole universe originates. If you meditate in this way without effort or fear or discomfort, you will discover that everything exists in one state of equanimity that transcends suffering...

On Dedicating the Merits of Your Meditation
from "Buddhism for Beginners" by Thubten Chodren

What is merit?

The English word "merit" doesn't convey the Buddhist connotation, because it reminds us of getting gold stars in school and being rewarded because we did well. That is not the meaning intended here, and therefore "positive potential" is a better translation of the Buddhist word. No one is rewarding us when we act constructively. Rather, we leave positive imprints, or seeds, on our mindstreams, and when the necessary cooperative conditions are present, they will bear fruit. This isn't a physical seed or imprint, but an intangible one, a positive potential.

Why must positive potential be dedicated? What should it be dedicated for?

Dedicating our positive potential is important in order to prevent it from being destroyed by our anger or wrong views. Just as a steering wheel guides a car, dedication guides how our positive potential ripens. Dedicating for the most extensive and noble goals is best. If we do so, all the lesser results will naturally come. If we dedicate our positive potential, however small, toward the ultimate happiness and enlightenment of all sentient beings, this automatically includes dedicating for a good rebirth and for the happiness of our relatives and friends.

Can merit be transferred to deceased relatives or friends?

"Dedicating" positive potential (merit) rather than "transferring" it conveys the meaning better. We cannot transfer positive potential the way we can transfer the title to a piece of property or the way I can give you my car because you don't have one. Those who create the causes are the ones who experience the results. I cannot create the cause and have your experience the result, because the imprint or seed of the action has been implanted on my mindstream, not yours. So if our deceased relatives and friends didn't act constructively while they were alive, we cannot create good karma and then give it to them.

However, our prayers and offerings on their behalf can create the circumstances necessary for a positive action they created to bear fruit. A seed planted in a field needs the cooperative conditions of sunshine, water, and fertilizer to grow. Likewise, a seed or imprint of an action will ripen when all the cooperative conditions are present. If the deceased have done beneficial actions while they were alive, the additional positive potential we create by making offerings or engaging in virtuous actions-reciting and reading Dharma texts, making statues of the Buddha, contemplating love and compassion for all beings, and so forth-can help them. We can dedicate the positive potential from these actions for the benefit of the deceased, and this could help their own virtuous seeds to ripen.

On Relaxation

"In the beginning of meditation, the important thing is just to be present in a very relaxed manner. Nothing in the world matters but becoming one with your breathing- just flowing with it and letting the thoughts come and go without taking notice. Focusing on something simple, such as one's breath, reduces the sensory, emotional, and cognitive static that usually swamps pure awareness, allowing it to emerge. The point is not to concentrate on anything- breath included- but rather to "relax the mind into a spacious awareness that's the foundation of all our consciousness."

Tenzin Palmo (nun), in Spiritual Genius, by Winifred Gallagher

"When we are relaxed, calm and open like a pool in a glade, the quality of our inner nature stands out clearly. We have a keen and direct perception of ourselves and our interaction with everything that is going on around us. Our energy is well-focused; able to think clearly, we can plan and organize our thoughts effectively. We are self-assured: We know what we want to accomplish, what our obstacles are, and how to dissolve them. We work with ease, moving fluidly, in tune with our work rather than resisting its requirements, simply doing what needs to be done."

-- Tarthang Tulku, Skillful Means

"This is why the experience of the spiritual path is so significant, why the practice of meditation is the most insignificant experience of all. It is insignificant because you place no value judgment on it. Once you are absorbed into that insignificant situation of openness without involvement in value judgment, then you begin to see all the games going on around you. Someone is trying to be stern and spiritually solemn, trying to be a good person. Such a person might take it seriously if someone offended him, might want to fight. If you work in accordance with the basic insignificance of what is, then you begin to see the humor in this kind of solemnity, in people making such a big deal about things.

--Chogyam Trumpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism



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