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  • Written by  Ian Ives
  • // Tuesday, 15 March 2011 05:36
Ian Ives

The Real Essence of Meditation

Just last weekend in Nepal, I attended a public teaching on meditation with a well-known young Tibetan teacher at a picturesque temple situated in the hills above Kathmandu. The following extract comes from memory, but I thought it would be worth sharing.

“What is the essence of meditation?” asked Mingyur Rinpoche, with eyes twinkling and a smile ready to break across his face.

A variety of creative answers drifted back from the audience, which was made up of about 100 people: Americans, Tibetans, Chinese, and Europeans, all packed into a colorful medium-sized shrine room on a comfortably cool morning.

After listening to several honorable attempts to answer his question, Rinpoche continued, “Those are all good answers. But, the real essence of meditation is...


“Do you know what awareness is?” Rinpoche asked. “Raise your hand if you think you have awareness.”

Two-thirds raised their hands.

“How about if you think you don’t have awareness?”

A smaller number of hands went up.

“And how about if you think you only have awareness some of the time?

“Actually,” explained Rinpoche, “In order to say, ‘I don’t have awareness,’ you need awareness! Even when you think, ‘I don’t have awareness,’ that is awareness! This is because awareness means knowing or being able to experience things.  This is something we have with us all the time isn’t it? We have it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, because we’re always experiencing, aren’t we?”

The audience looked convinced.

“So,” continued Rinpoche, “If the essence of meditation is awareness, and awareness is something we have all of the time, then why do we need to study and practice meditation?”

Dead silence….

“I’m not going to just give you the answer, “chuckled Rinpoche after a few minutes, “because if I make it easy, you’ll forget immediately.”

Instead, Rinpoche began to tell a silly story.

“Once there was a man who worked hard at a well-paying job. He had plenty of money, a nice house and a good life. But, there was one problem…
He never knew what time it was!
Even stranger, he wore a watch on his wrist all the time. But unfortunately, he didn’t realize that it was a watch! He just thought it was some sort of lucky bracelet. So he never used it, and could never keep track of time.”
Unable to perform tasks on time, his boss had to fire him.  Soon after losing his job, without any money, he lost his house as well, and soon sank into a deep depression…all because he could never figure out what time it was.

One day he met his best friend for coffee, and after a few minutes he broke down in tears sobbing, “I’m completely desperate, could you please tell me what time it is?” His friend looked at him completely surprised.
“I don’t need to tell you the time!” he exclaimed with a laugh, “you’re wearing a watch on your own wrist! You can tell the time all by your self.”
“But I’m not wearing a watch,” protested the man.
“Of course you are!” said the friend, ”just look!” and he pointed to the watch on the man’s wrist. Sure enough, there it was. With a shock, the man realized he’d been wearing a watch all along.”

Rinpoche paused. “In this story, the watch represents our awareness, which is with us all the time. But just like the man with the watch, we don’t realize that we have this awareness, and so it we don’t make much use of it. As a result, we don’t realize our full potential.

The purpose of meditation is nothing more than to realize our awareness. There are many kinds of meditation, but even when you meditate by using an object to focus on, such as an image, a sound or your breath, the real point is not to connect with the object, but to connect with your own mind, which means to connect with your awareness. The various methods of meditation are simply a support to realize just that.”

“To return to the story, “continued Rinpoche, “The quality of a watch is to tell time, isn’t it?

“Yes,” said everyone.

“Now, is there any difference between the watch the man wore before he realized it was a watch, and the one he wore after he realized it?”

“No,” answered the audience.

“Right! “smiled Rinpoche, “The qualities of both watches is equal. It’s the same with our awareness; whether we realize it or not, its qualities never ever change. So the whole purpose of meditation is to realize our awareness, to realize what we’ve had with us all along.”

“In fact,” Rinpoche said with a grin, “When the Buddha was asked to summarize his whole teaching, he said, ‘the whole essence of my teaching is to realize awareness.’”

So, although I’m going to teach you several different methods of meditation, in the end they all boil down to one method of meditation: realizing awareness. I hope you’re not too disappointed.”

Looking around the room, it was clear that no one was disappointed. As patches of mid-morning sun peeked through the windows and illuminated the sparkling faces of the audience, the atmosphere in the room was alive, inspired and excited for more.


Coming soon: An excerpt from Rinpoche’s teachings on how to make friends with the Monkey Mind.