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Want to Experience the True Benefits of Meditation? Do This.

Sure, we’d all like a taste of tranquility in our lives. A glimmer of clarity. A dash of bliss. A pinch of joy.

And it would be just dandy to clear away at least a few of the mental dust bunnies that seem to breed even more prodigiously than their physical counterparts.

But if we practice meditation with the intention to gain these goodies only for own benefit, whatever perks we enjoy will be transitory, at best.

The people around us are still going to push our buttons. And all those ghastly little uncharitable thoughts and feelings are going to gather in a big lump under our mental carpet, lying in wait to trip us up at the worst possible moment.

At worst, we’re simply engaging an exercise of personal gratification. We’re reinforcing our sense of a separately, solidly, independently existing self—which defeats the whole purpose of meditation.

Genuine meditation is about breaking down walls. It’s about busting through the dichotomies of “self and other” and “my stuff and your stuff.” Such distinctions actually underlie our sense of disconnectedness, of smallness, of powerlessness. The itchy feeling of unease that drives us to try meditation in the first place.

In order to experience the true benefits of meditation practice—and to sustain and expand them over time—we need to build our practice upon an ethical foundation. If we’re not practicing to benefit others, we’re not truly benefiting at all.

Sounds like a big deal, right?

Not really.

All it requires is a shift in motivation. And that’s pretty easy to accomplish.

There’s a short prayer that Mahayana Buddhists around the world recite every day, often referred to as the “The Four Immeasurables,” because the aspirations it encompasses extend to all beings in all directions, without limitation:

May all beings be happy and have the causes of happiness.

May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

May all beings never be separated from the great joy which is free from suffering.

May they always remain in the great equanimity which is beyond attachment and aversion.

I’m sure there are other prayers in other traditions that convey a similar aspiration. The point is to incorporate the motivation to benefit others into our practice. To extend whatever goodies we experience, whatever relief we experience, to all beings everywhere.
Yes, even the ones we don’t like or disagree with.

Perhaps especially to them. Because they’re suffering, too. They’re angry, too. They’re uncomfortable, too—even if they don’t or can’t admit it.

And would this world be a nicer (or at least more civil) place if those who are blind to their own anger and their own pain found a little relief, too?


Do you incorporate a motivation to benefit others into your practice? How do you do it? Tell us in the comments!

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