How do I develop a Buddhist meditation practice?

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Answered by: Jack, An Expert in the Practice Category
When we go about considering the best ways to develop a Buddhist meditation practice, we might first choose to give some thought to what we are trying to achieve. Doing so will assist us in clarifying our personal objectives, and therefore make it more clear to us if and when we have achieved our objectives. Following are some points that might be of assistance in clarifying personal objectives and mapping a course for developing a productive and rewarding Buddhist practice.

Sometimes we just want to test the waters, so to speak; find out what is going on and see if it is for us. This can be accomplished by means such as reading some introductory books on Buddhism and attending some Buddhist events conducted in our geographic areas. Topics for reading might include a basic history of the Buddha, explanations and descriptions of mindfulness in daily affairs, and basic meditation, or sitting, techniques, among other subjects. Local events of interest might include attending a sitting group, visiting a ceremony or sitting at a monastery, and attending what is known as a dhamma talk, which is a presentation conducted by a respected Buddhist teacher.

If we have already tested the waters and decided that we are indeed prepared to more fully commit to a regular sitting practice, we might then proceed in carrying out certain plans that will facilitate the process. Such plans would include trying a number of sitting groups until we find the one that works best for us, and maybe even periodically visiting a number of such groups. We might also decide to try a residential or non-residential meditation retreat. These types of efforts are important in helping us develop a commitment to regularly sitting, and thus cultivating mindfulness and other benefits of the practice.

The support that we receive from our fellow meditators, or what is know as the sangha, is very powerful. This support keeps us focused and committed as we both receive and give it, providing others with support as they provide it to us. This is also how, in time, we may come to have a teacher of sorts.

Knowing that we are under the guidance of a skilled and qualified teacher can be a very important part of our practice, as well as a very comforting and rewarding experience. This might ensure that we are reasonably correctly interpreting the vast amounts of new and interesting information that we are now discussing with others and reading about on a regular basis. A teacher might also be there for us during times of emotional and spiritual trouble, helping gently steer us and keep us on course.

Such a teacher can be found through sitting groups and retreats. Virtually all sitting groups have a facilitator of some type or other, and retreats are led by experienced and qualified teachers. In many cases, very respected members of the Buddhist community are in such roles as sitting group facilitators and leading retreats.

With a bit of thought in identifying what we are seeking, we can then go about finding it. Whether we are looking to just find out a little more about Buddhism, take a relatively serious approach to the philosophy, or something in between, we can indeed develop a Buddhist meditation practice in the manner that works best for each of us.

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