what meditation isn’t t 19
of“maybes”thatwouldgiveKingSolomonhimselfaheadache.The
nextdayyouarewashingthedishes,thinkingaboutsomethingelse
entirely,andsuddenlythesolutionisthere.Itjustpopsoutofthe
deepmind,andyousay,“Ahha!”andthewholethingissolved.This
sortofintuitioncanonlyoccurwhenyoudisengagethelogiccir-
cuitsfromtheproblemandgivethedeepmindtheopportunityto
cookupthesolution.Theconsciousmindjustgetsintheway.Med-
itationteachesyouhowtodisentangleyourselffromthethought
process.Itisthementalartofsteppingoutofyourownway,and
that’saprettyusefulskillineverydaylife.Meditationiscertainlynot
anirrelevantpracticestrictlyforasceticsandhermits.Itisapracti-
calskillthatfocusesoneverydayeventsandhasimmediateapplica-
tionsineverybody’slife.Meditationisnot“other-worldly.”
Unfortunately,thisveryfactconstitutesthedrawbackforcertain
students.Theyenterthepracticeexpectinginstantaneouscosmic
revelation,completewithangelicchoirs.Whattheyusuallygetisa
moreefficientwaytotakeoutthetrashandbetterwaystodealwith
UncleHerman.Theyareneedlesslydisappointed.Thetrashsolution
comesfirst.Thevoicesofarchangelstakeabitlonger.
Misconception7:Meditationisrunning
awayfromreality.
Incorrect.Meditationisrunningstraightintoreality.Itdoesnotinsu-
lateyoufromthepainoflifebutratherallowsyoutodelvesodeeply
intolifeandallitsaspectsthatyoupiercethepainbarrierandgo
beyondsuffering.Vipassanaisapracticedonewiththespecific
intentionoffacingreality,tofullyexperiencelifejustasitisandto
copewithexactlywhatyoufind.Itallowsyoutoblowasidetheillu-
sionsandfreeyourselffromallthepolitelittleliesyoutellyourself
allthetime.Whatisthereisthere.Youarewhoyouare,andlyingto
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20 mindfulness s in plain english
yourselfaboutyourownweaknessesandmotivationsonlybindsyou
tightertothem.Vipassanameditationisnotanattempttoforget
yourselfortocoverupyourtroubles.Itislearningtolookatyourself
exactlyasyouaretoseewhatisthereandacceptitfully.Onlythen
canyouchangeit.
Misconception8:Meditationisagreatway
togethigh.
Well,yesandno.Meditationdoesproducelovelyblissfulfeelings
sometimes.Buttheyarenotthepurpose,andtheydon’talways
occur.Furthermore,ifyoudomeditationwiththatpurposeinmind,
theyarelesslikelytooccurthanifyoujustmeditatefortheactual
purposeofmeditation,whichisincreasedawareness.Blissresults
fromrelaxation,andrelaxationresultsfromreleaseoftension.Seek-
ingblissfrommeditationintroducestensionintotheprocess,which
blowsthewholechainofevents.ItisaCatch-22:youcanonlyexpe-
rienceblissifyoudon’tchaseafterit.Euphoriaisnotthepurposeof
meditation.Itwilloftenarise,butshouldberegardedasabyproduct.
Still,itisaverypleasantsideeffect,anditbecomesmoreandmore
frequentthelongeryoumeditate.Youwon’thearanydisagreement
aboutthisfromadvancedpractitioners.
Misconception9:Meditationisselfish.
Itcertainlylooksthatway.Theresitsthemeditatorparkedonalittle
cushion.Issheoutdonatingblood?No.Isshebusyworkingwithdis-
astervictims?No.Butletusexaminehermotivation.Whyisshe
doingthis?Themeditator’sintentionistopurgeherownmindof
anger,prejudice,and illwill,andsheisactivelyengagedinthe
processofgettingridofgreed,tension,andinsensitivity.Thoseare
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what meditation isn’t t 21
theveryitemsthatobstructhercompassionforothers.Untiltheyare
gone,anygoodworksthatshedoesarelikelytobejustanextension
ofherownego,andofnorealhelpinthelongrun.Harminthe
nameofhelpisoneoftheoldestgames.Thegrandinquisitorofthe
SpanishInquisitionspoutedtheloftiestofmotives.TheSalemwitch-
crafttrialswereconductedforthe“publicgood.”Examinetheper-
sonallivesofadvancedmeditators,andyouwilloftenfindthem
engagedinhumanitarianservice.Youwillseldomfindthemascru-
sadingmissionarieswhoarewillingtosacrificecertainindividualsfor
thesakeofasupposedlypiousidea.Thefactisthatwearemore
selfishthanweknow.Theegohasawayofturningtheloftiestactiv-
itiesintotrashifitisallowedfreerange.Throughmeditation,we
becomeawareofourselvesexactlyasweare,bywakinguptothe
numeroussubtlewaysthatweactoutourownselfishness.Thenwe
trulybegintobegenuinelyselfless.Cleansingyourselfofselfishness
isnotaselfishactivity.
Misconception10:Whenyoumeditate,
yousitaroundthinkingloftythoughts.
Wrongagain.Therearecertainsystemsofcontemplationinwhich
thissortofthingisdone.Butthatisnotvipassana.Vipassanaisthe
practiceofawareness,awarenessofwhateveristhere,beitsupreme
truth or trivial trash. What is s there, , is s there. . Of f course, , lofty
thoughtsmayariseduringyourpractice.Theyarecertainlynottobe
avoided.Neitheraretheytobesought.Theyarejustpleasantside
effects.Vipassanaisasimplepractice.Itconsistsofexperiencing
your own life events s directly,without preferences and without
mentalimagespastedontothem.Vipassanaisseeingyourlifeunfold
frommomenttomomentwithoutbiases.Whatcomesup,comesup.
Itisverysimple.
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22 mindfulness s in plain english
Misconception11:Acoupleofweeksofmeditation
andallmyproblemswillgoaway.
Sorry,meditationisnotaquickcure-all.Youwillstartseeingchanges
rightaway,butreallyprofoundeffectsareyearsdowntheline.That
isjustthewaytheuniverseisconstructed.Nothingworthwhileis
achievedovernight.Meditationistoughinsomerespects,requiring
alongdisciplineandasometimespainfulprocessofpractice.At
eachsittingyougainsomeresults,buttheyareoftenverysubtle.
Theyoccurdeepwithinthemind,andonlymanifestmuchlater.
Andifyouaresittingthereconstantlylookingforhuge,instanta-
neouschanges,youwillmissthesubtleshiftsaltogether.Youwill
getdiscouraged,giveup,andswearthatnosuchchangescouldever
occur.Patienceisthekey.Patience.Ifyoulearnnothingelsefrom
meditation,youwilllearnpatience.Patienceisessentialforanypro-
foundchange.
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CHAPTER 3
WhatMeditationIs
M
editationisaword,andwordsareusedindifferentways
bydifferentspeakers.Thismayseemlikeatrivialpoint,but
itisnot.Itisquiteimportanttodistinguishexactlywhataparticu-
larspeakermeansbythewords heorsheuses.Probably every
cultureonearthhasproducedsomesortofmentalpracticethat
couldbetermedmeditation.Italldependsonhowlooseadefinition
yougivetothatword.Thetechniquesworldwideareenormously
varied,butwewillmakenoattempttosurveythem.Thereareother
booksforthat.Forthepurposeofthisvolume,wewillrestrictour
discussiontothosepracticesbestknowntoWesternaudiencesand
mostoftenassociatedwiththetermmeditation.
WithintheJudeo-Christiantraditionwefindtwooverlappingprac-
ticescalledprayerandcontemplation.Prayerisadirectaddresstoa
spiritualentity.Contemplationisaprolongedperiodofconscious
thoughtaboutaspecifictopic,usuallyareligiousidealorscriptural
passage.Fromthestandpointofmentalcultivation,bothofthese
activitiesareexercisesinconcentration.Thenormaldelugeofcon-
sciousthoughtisrestricted,andthemindisbroughttoonecon-
scious area of operation.Theresults are e those youfind d inany
concentrativepractice:deepcalm,aphysiologicalslowingofthe
metabolism,andasenseofpeaceandwell-being.
OutoftheHindutraditioncomesyogicmeditation,whichisalso
23
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24 mindfulness s in plain english
purelyconcentrative.Thetraditionalbasicexercisesconsistoffocus-
ingthemindonasingleobject—astone,acandleflame,asyllable,
orwhatever—andnotallowingittowander.Havingacquiredthe
basicskill,theyogiproceedstoexpandhispracticebytakingon
more complexobjects s of f meditation—chants,colorful religious
images,energychannelsinthebody,andsoforth.Still,nomatter
howcomplextheobjectofmeditation,themeditationitselfremains
purelyanexerciseinconcentration.
WithintheBuddhisttradition,concentrationisalsohighlyvalued.
Butanewelementisaddedandmorehighlystressed:theelement
ofawareness.AllBuddhistmeditationaimsatthedevelopmentof
awareness,usingconcentrationasatooltowardthatend.TheBud-
dhisttraditionisverywide,however,andthereareseveraldiverse
routestothisgoal.Zenmeditationusestwoseparatetacks.Thefirst
isthedirectplungeintoawarenessbysheerforceofwill.Yousit
downandyoujustsit,meaningthatyoutossoutofyourmindevery-
thingexceptpureawarenessofsitting.Thissoundsverysimple.Itis
not.(Abrieftrialwilldemonstratejusthowdifficultitreallyis.)The
secondZenapproach,usedintheRinzaischool,isthatoftricking
themindoutofconsciousthoughtandintopureawareness.Thisis
donebygivingastudentanunsolvableriddle,whichhemustsolve
nonetheless,andbyplacinghiminahorrendoustrainingsituation.
Sincehecannotescapefromthepainofthesituation,hemustflee
intoapureexperienceofthemoment:thereisnowhereelsetogo.
Zenistough.Itiseffectiveformanypeople,butitisreallytough.
Anotherstratagem,tantricBuddhism,isnearlythereverse.Con-
sciousthought,atleastthewayweusuallydoit,isthemanifestation
ofego,the“you”thatyouusuallythinkthatyouare.Conscious
thoughtistightlyconnectedwithself-concept.Theself-conceptor
egoisnothingmorethanasetofreactionsandmentalimagesthat
areartificially pastedtotheflowingprocess of pureawareness.
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what meditation is s 25
Tantraseekstoobtainpureawarenessbydestroyingthisegoimage.
Thisisaccomplishedbyaprocessofvisualization.Thestudentis
givenaparticularreligiousimagetomeditateupon,forexample,one
ofthedeitiesfromthetantricpantheon.Shedoesthisinsothorough
afashionthatshebecomesthatentity.Shetakesoffherowniden-
tityandputsonanother.Thistakesawhile,asyoumightimagine,
butitworks.Duringtheprocess,sheisabletowatchthewayin
whichtheegoisconstructedandputinplace.Shecomestorecog-
nizethearbitrarynatureofallegos,includingherown,andshe
escapesfrombondagetotheego.Sheisleftinastatewhereshe
mayhaveanegoifshesochooses—eitherherownorwhichever
othershemightwish—orshecandowithoutone.Result:pure
awareness.Tantraisnotexactlyapieceofcakeeither.
Vipassanais theoldestofBuddhistmeditationpractices.The
methodcomes directlyfromtheSatipatthanaSutta,adiscourse
attributedtotheBuddhahimself.Vipassanaisadirectandgradual
cultivationofmindfulnessorawareness.Itproceedspiecebypiece
overaperiodofyears.One’sattentioniscarefullydirectedtoan
intenseexaminationofcertainaspectsofone’sownexistence.The
meditatoristrainedtonoticemoreandmoreoftheflowoflifeexpe-
rience.Vipassanaisagentletechnique,butitalsoisvery,verythor-
ough.Itisanancientandcodifiedsystemoftrainingyourmind,aset
ofexercisesdedicatedtothepurposeofbecomingmoreandmore
awareofyourownlifeexperience.Itisattentivelistening,mindful
seeing,andcarefultesting.Welearntosmellacutely,totouchfully,
andreallypayattentiontothechangestakingplaceinalltheseexpe-
riences.Welearntolistentoourownthoughtswithoutbeingcaught
upinthem.
Theobjectofvipassanapracticeistolearntoseethetruthsof
impermanence,unsatisfactoriness,andselflessnessofphenomena.
Wethinkwearedoingthisalready,butthatisanillusion.Itcomes
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26 mindfulness s in plain english
fromthefactthatwearepayingsolittleattentiontotheongoing
surgeofourownlifeexperiencesthatwemightjustaswellbeasleep.
Wearesimplynotpayingenoughattentiontonoticethatwearenot
payingattention.ItisanotherCatch-22.
Throughtheprocessofmindfulness,weslowlybecomeawareof
whatwereallyare,downbelowtheegoimage.Wewakeuptowhat
lifereallyis.Itisnotjustaparadeofupsanddowns,lollipopsand
smacksonthewrist.Thatisanillusion.Lifehasamuchdeepertex-
turethanthatifwebothertolook,andifwelookintherightway.
Vipassanaisaformofmentaltrainingthatwillteachyoutoexpe-
riencetheworldinanentirelynewway.Youwilllearnforthefirst
timewhatistrulyhappeningtoyou,aroundyou,andwithinyou.It
isaprocessofself-discovery,aparticipatoryinvestigationinwhich
youobserveyourownexperienceswhileparticipatinginthem.The
practicemustbeapproachedwiththisattitude:“NevermindwhatI
havebeentaught.Forgetabouttheoriesandprejudicesandstereo-
types.Iwanttounderstandthetruenatureoflife.Iwanttoknow
whatthisexperienceofbeingalivereallyis.Iwanttoapprehendthe
trueanddeepestqualitiesoflife,andIdon’twanttojustaccept
somebodyelse’sexplanation.Iwanttoseeitformyself.”
Ifyoupursueyourmeditationpracticewiththisattitude,youwill
succeed.You’llfindyourselfobservingthingsobjectively,exactlyas
theyare—flowingandchangingfrommomenttomoment.Lifethen
takesonanunbelievablerichnessthatcannotbedescribed.Ithasto
beexperienced.
ThePalitermforinsightmeditationisvipassanabhavana.Bha-
vanacomesfromtherootbhu,whichmeanstogrowortobecome.
Thereforebhavanameanstocultivate,andthewordisalwaysused
inreferencetothemind;bhavanameansmentalcultivation.Vipas-
sanaisderivedfromtworoots.Passanameansseeingorperceiving.
Viisaprefixwithacomplexsetofconnotationsthatcanberoughly
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what meditation is s 27
translatedas“inaspecialway,”andalsointoandthrough“aspecial
way.”Thewholemeaningofthewordvipassanaislookingintosome-
thingwithclarityandprecision,seeingeachcomponentasdistinct,
andpiercingallthewaythroughtoperceivethemostfundamental
realityofthatthing.Thisprocessleadstoinsightintothebasic
realityofwhateverisbeingexamined.Putthesewordstogether
andvipassanabhavanameansthecultivationofthemindtoward
theaimofseeinginthespecialwaythatleadstoinsightandfull
understanding.
Invipassanameditationwecultivatethisspecialwayofseeing
life.Wetrainourselvestoseerealityexactlyasitis,andwecallthis
specialmodeofperceptionmindfulness.Thisprocessofmindful-
nessisreallyquitedifferentfromwhatweusuallydo.Weusuallydo
notlookintowhatisactuallythereinfrontofus.Weseelifethrough
ascreenofthoughtsandconcepts,andwemistakethosemental
objectsforreality.Wegetsocaughtupinthisendlessthought-stream
thatrealityflowsbyunnoticed.Wespendourtimeengrossedin
activity,caughtupinaneternalpursuitofpleasureandgratification
andeternalflightfrompainandunpleasantness.Wespendallofour
energiestryingtomakeourselvesfeelbetter,tryingtoburyourfears,
endlesslyseekingsecurity.Meanwhile,theworldofrealexperience
flowsbyuntouchedanduntasted.Invipassanameditationwetrain
ourselvestoignoretheconstantimpulsestobemorecomfortable,
andwediveintorealityinstead.Theironyofitisthatrealpeace
comesonlywhenyoustopchasingit—anotherCatch-22.
Whenyourelaxyourdrivingdesireforcomfort,realfulfillment
arises.Whenyoudropyourhecticpursuitofgratification,thereal
beautyoflifecomesout.Whenyouseektoknowrealitywithoutillu-
sion,completewithallitspainanddanger,realfreedomandsecurity
willbeyours.Thisisnotadoctrinewearetryingtodrillintoyou;it
isanobservablereality,somethingyoucanandshouldseeforyourself.
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28 mindfulness s in plain english
Buddhismis2,500yearsold,andanythoughtsystemofsuchvin-
tagehastimetodeveloplayersandlayersofdoctrineandritual.Nev-
ertheless, the fundamental l attitude e of Buddhism m is s intensely
empiricalandantiauthoritarian.GotamatheBuddhawasahighly
unorthodoxindividualandarealantitraditionalist.Hedidnotoffer
histeachingasasetofdogmas,butratherasasetofpropositionsfor
eachindividualtoinvestigateforhim-orherself.Hisinvitationtoone
andallwas,“Comeandsee.”Oneofthethingshesaidtohisfol-
lowerswas,“Placenoheadaboveyourown.”Bythishemeant,don’t
justacceptsomebodyelse’sword.Seeforyourself.
Wewantyoutoapplythisattitudetoeverywordyoureadinthis
manual. We arenot t making statements that youshouldaccept
merelybecauseweareauthoritiesinthefield.Blindfaithhasnoth-
ingtodowiththis.Theseareexperientialrealities.Learntoadjust
yourmodeofperceptionaccordingtoinstructionsgiveninthebook,
andyouwillseeforyourself.That,andonlythat,willprovidegrounds
foryourfaith.Essentially,insightmeditationisapracticeofinves-
tigativepersonaldiscovery.
Havingsaidthis,wewillpresenthereaveryshortsynopsisofsome
ofthekeypointsofBuddhistphilosophy.Wemakenoattempttobe
thorough,sincethathasbeenquitenicelydoneinmanyotherbooks.
Butsincethismaterialisessentialtounderstandingvipassana,some
mentionmustbemade.
FromtheBuddhistpointofview,wehumanbeingsliveinavery
peculiarfashion.Weviewimpermanentthingsaspermanent,though
everythingischangingallaroundus.Theprocessofchangeiscon-
stantandeternal.Evenasyoureadthesewords,yourbodyisaging.
Butyoupaynoattentiontothat.Thebookinyourhandisdecaying.
Theprintisfading,andthepagesarebecomingbrittle.Thewalls
aroundyouareaging.Themoleculeswithinthosewallsarevibrat-
ingatanenormousrate,andeverythingisshifting,goingtopieces,
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