By Robert Taylor
On a pleasantly warm Thursday evening, I rode my bike down to E-Vam for the first of the three evenings of Buddhist meditation teachings as part of the under-35s program. Greeted and signed in by the ever-warm Mark, a total of seven students met together in the gompa with our meditation facilitator for the next hour and a half.
Through a wide-ranging discussion, we were introduced to the four foundations of mindfulness and some of the basic elements of meditation practice: posture, intention, awareness. The group had plenty of questions that reflected a range of backgrounds and experiences with meditation and Buddhism. Topics touched on included lineage, impermanence, attachment, agitation, contemplation, sleepiness, motivation, and compassion. It was wonderful to have the time to engage thoroughly with the theory and ask questions. The session included some brief practice of the meditation exercises that were introduced – exploring the body and contemplating its constituent parts and working with awareness of the breath within the body. Reading the refuge and lineage prayers together at the beginning of the session gave a sense of context to the class, and the recitation of the dedication at the end helped tie together and integrate the experience into a larger purpose. My ride home was very peaceful.
Study of the mind is not separate to the goings on of the world, and current events meant that our second scheduled class was moved to an online setting. No gentle bike ride to the gompa this time, but rather a cup of tea at my desk with my laptop and slight sense of trepidation about how the new format would work. At the allocated time the room opened, and there we all were – initially perhaps a little awkward – but together as we had been in at the centre. The facilitator didn’t miss a beat, and after an acknowledgement of country and the recitations of the refuge and lineage prayers we quickly picked up where we had left off in the previous session. After checking in with each student around our experiences with any practice we had engaged in over the past week, we drilled down further into mindfulness of the body, exploring the four elements and practicing some meditation on this topic. The change in format was quickly forgotten. The class moved similarly through teachings, questions, answers and practice, leaving us with plenty to dwell on and occupy ourselves with until the next class. The final class brought the teachings to an end, with a reflection on the importance of intention and dedication in meditation practice. With this behind us, we learned about the four immeasurables through loving kindness meditation practice. We finished with a discussion of structure and ritual, framing the practices we had learnt and experimented with in terms of the impact on ourselves, as well as those around us.
For someone who has had half a toe in the water of the dharma for a little while, the classes have been the perfect opportunity to learn the fundamentals of Buddhist meditation while also being able to indulge questions that arise from my own experiences and practice. I am very grateful for this opportunity, as it has been an inviting and gentle way to approach what can seem at times an esoteric and opaque practice.