The Three (Higher) Trainings are:
The practice of ETHICS entails abandoning negative actions of body, speech and mind (such as killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, intoxicating the body, harmful speech, greed, etc). And cultivating virtuous actions of body, speech and mind (generosity, patience, gentle speech, etc).
The practice of CONCENTRATION entails developing single-pointed attention on a meditative object (such as the sensations of the breath, a mental image, thoughts and the space of the mind, etc) by cultivating relaxation, stability and vividness. There are 9 stages for the this practice (shamatha) and the culmination is a refined mind that experiences bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality. At this point you are able to focus your attention effortless for long periods (4 hours or more) without any distraction or internal chit-chat, this state is called samadhi.
The practice of WISDOM entails, gaining insight into the nature of reality, this means understanding experientially and not only conceptually how all phenomena and oneself exist. Everything exists as an interdependent matrix of causes and effects, and everything is empty of inherent existence.
The first step is to begin practicing the Four Applications of Mindfulness:
Applied Mindfulness to the body, feelings, mental events and phenomena. These practices imply not only being mindful of the body sensations, thoughts, etc, but also to develop wisdom by questioning if these things exist as we perceive them or if they are impermanent, interdependent and lacking an inherent, real, solid existence. After becoming good at these practices you can also practice analytical meditation, debate, and Dream yoga to start questioning the solidity of what you call reality.These practices are called Vipashyana and one applies them also to the I, until one finds that one doesn't exist as an independent ego, but as a matrix of interrelated phenomena and that we also lack inherent existence. There's a risk here to think we don't exist at all and becoming depressed or nihilistic, so it's important to practice also Dzogchen, Mahamudra or similar practice to understand and realize that we are pure awareness and by recognizing this primordial consciousness we transcend the concepts of existence and non-existence and we become enlightened.
This insights can only be sustained if you have achieved single-pointed concentration (shamatha) first, otherwise with an unbalanced, wandering mind trying to develop wisdom is not possible. And concentration can only be achieved if one lives an ethical way of life, because a mind that is filled with mental afflictions such as anger, craving, greed, attachment, ignorance, arrogance, etc, is a wandering mind unable to find peace and develop concentration, furthermore an afflictive mind is ignorant and unable to develop wisdom.
The recent article on Mind and Life by Thomas Rocha "The Dark Knight" talks about how meditation can have negative effects for some people. This is a misconception, and the reason for which I wrote this article in which I explain that meditation IS NOT the cause of these negative effects, but is doing meditation in a WRONG WAY.
Can some people feel lost and confused when doing meditation? Sometimes this can happen when people start meditating by their own based on books and without any guidance. There are many misunderstandings about topics such as emptiness or the three marks of existence: impermanence, dissatisfaction, non-self. If someone meditates on these in the wrong way and for a long time they can become depressed and feel that everything is meaningless.
That's why it's so important to have:
1. A qualified teacher,
2. "Sangha" or spiritual friends, people who are on the same path who can support you.
3. Having a good balance of practices.
If someone meditates only on the no-self, the ego is going to feel threatened, or better said, fear and anxiety can arise. ego in the sense of grasping to a reified self. On the other hand there is the healthy Ego which some psychologist talk about. It's confusing to call it in the same way, because this is a sense of self esteem, confidence and acknowledging the existence of the self within conventional reality.
Some people who do meditation on non-self, miss the point that we DO exist...but how? in interdependence with all phenomena, in a state of flux, in dependence of causes and conditions, what we lack (are empty of) is an inherent existence, independent of all phenomena, this doesn't mean we don't exist at all!
It's very important to practice the Four Immeasurables (loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity) to balance your Shamatha (attentional balance) and Vipashyana (insight) practices. Also, it's important to STUDY, REFLECT AND MEDITATE, and not only to do one of these.
For people who have a propensity towards developing psychotic disorders or who already have been diagnosed with these, it's very important to have proper psychological and/or psychiatric treatment before going into meditation. The main problem here is that during meditation all kinds of things can arise such as negative emotions, depressive thoughts, etc. because you are not distracted and not repressing. Psychotic people tend to believe and grasp to every thought, this intensifies the mental affliction.
As you can see, meditation IS NOT the cause, but is doing meditation in WRONG WAY.
The instruction is not to grasp to these experiences and let them go, not to reify them, if one follows the instruction, they will be pacified, liberated, non repressed, not reified. As long as one recognizes them as appearances, they have no power. On the contrary, If you get obsessed over a thought, emotion, sensation, etc. it will intensify. But this happen to people without meditation as well because they have severe imbalances that need medical treatment, and if you sit one of these persons to observe their minds for hours, and reflect on topics that challenge the way we understand reality, the consequences can be very negative.
Now, it's not like there are only two groups of people the healthy ones and the psychotic ones, we all have mental imbalances, our grasping, obsessions, internal chit chat and repetitive thoughts are experienced by all of us, so that's why we use meditation to balance our minds, with the proper guidance is very effective. If someone has more imbalances such as hearing voices, having visions, etc, they NEED Psychological treatment first, some of these might also need Psychiatric treatment. If the psychiatrist is also skilled in meditation, they might be able to lead them slowly to develop first loving kindness, compassion, towards themselves, and other suitable meditation practices and not put them to do practices such as emptiness, tantric visualizations and others that are not suitable for them.
Meditation: Loving Kindness for oneself
Sit with your legs crossed. Generate the motivation to devote a few minutes to cultivate loving kindness towards yourself.
Take 3 deep breaths, releasing any tension or anxiety in your body and mind.
Let your breath in its natural rhythm, uncontrolled, only attend it closely.
After 5 minutes of mindfulness of breathing, visualize that with each inhalation, from all directions in space you get rays of light bringing you the well-being, health and happiness you want .
Visualize yourself also receiving material goods, talents and opportunities you'd like to have. And now also visualize that you transform your faults into qualities.
Transform yourself into the person you want to be and visualize how others perceive you in that way.
Now focus on the exhalation and with each one send light rays from your body towards all beings without exception, sharing with them your qualities, talents, material goods and feelings of kindness , compassion, love, generosity, patience and wisdom. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes.
Now release all visualization and all thinking and let your conscience rest in its natural state for a few minutes .
Finish your session with the aspiration that you can transform your limitations into opportunities and that you can benefit those around you .
Some people tell you that you spend too much time on the internet or you phone, you are addicted and lonely, they suggest face-to-face interactions are going to make you happier in the long-term and suggest that it's better to hang out with your friends than with your phone.
Others say that interacting with people on Facebook is as healthy as in person. As long as you are cultivating friendship.
The truth is it all depends on how meaningful your interactions and the use of your time is.
You can spend some hours playing football with friends and honing your social skills or you can spend the same amount of time doing volunteer work over the internet. Which is more meaningful and will make you happier?
The main factor to consider is your motivation. If you ask yourself, how much would this action benefit beings and the world around me? You will know if its worth spending your time on it or not.
Do not spend your time in activities just for the pleasure they offer, since this will certainly transform into something else leaving you empty and miserable. For example using compulsively the internet just with the purpose of feeling less lonely, or gaining some intellectual or sensory pleasure will make you miserable in the long term, same as playing football with friends for the same purpose.
But using the internet to learn skills, share advice, generating awareness in society or any other activity oriented towards benefiting others will make you happy in the long term same as playing futbol with a lonely friend in order to help him feel supported.
Self centered motivation can bring you immediate gratification but it will always bring you misery in the long-term.
Focusing your attention on the needs of others and in the way you can help them be happier, will always bring you happiness in the long-term. But it has to be genuine, don't fake it.
Theoretical Physicist talks about emptiness
Read full article here http://www.news.wisc.edu/22370
"The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation."