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One-word meditations

JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matterNetherlands Veteran

I was just thinking about why I’ve not gotten to grips with the eightfold path, and it suddenly occurred to me that I feel more freedom and satisfaction when I meditate on a single word than when I try to do for example right effort or right mindfulness.

Words I’ve meditated on the past have been “purity” and “attention”, and it generates a pleasant feeling of correctness when I do this. I keep the meditations short, perhaps ten minutes. I’m planning to do a series of these, and take the focus of my practice off the breath for a little while.

It occurs to me that this is a little like meditating with a mantra. A mantra for those who understand the language is also a focus of meaning and purpose, supported by deeply ingrained language patterns. It makes more sense to me than meditating on aum for example.

Have you ever tried working with something like this?



  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    "Simplify" Does it for me.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited January 2020

    I am experimenting with suggestions from a reading and we use four words and they are more elaborated exercises also if we wish. Things can vary from person to person though so my teacher says that although these are compiled in our sanghas written teachings it may be for a particular person that they find different words to 'get the right touch'.

    But our recommended words are: "wake", "heart", "present", and "space"

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    The word "Buddho".

    "Bud" on the in breath.

    "dho" on the out breath.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @Bunks said:
    The word "Buddho".

    Thanks @bunks, I’d forgotten about that one!

  • It makes more sense to me than meditating on aum for example.

    I am the reverse. I find a sound/mantra without too much language baggage more helpful. I also prefer more than one word. This does not negate your perfectly valid method.

    I do use the single beat reminder in another way. I use a stone, bead, coin or finger pressure to bring me back to mindfulness. The pressure is just enough to cause slight discomfort.

    “Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft can you be extremely hard and strong.”
    – Zen Proverb

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    I think I've used a technique along those lines from time to time. I kind of think of it like metta meditation only for other topics. So it doesn't necessarily have to be just one word, the point is to reflect on an idea or repeat a word or phrase to give rise to a feeling associated with it, when it does then switch to a concentration practice on that feeling to let it sort of soak in. When it fades then repeat the process.

  • ♾🆓💡

    Suddenly realised I do this with every word. Every letter. Every thing reminds me of the four jewels. We never talk about the fourth but she is the unsaid ... ;)

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 2020

    "The fourth jewel is the suspension of disbelief," he said, disbelieving himself.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 2020

    I was just reading an article called "Just Open Your Mouth and Say “A”: A-Syllable Practice for the Time of Death in Early Medieval Japan," when I suddenly remembered this thread on one-word contemplations.

    It is about deathbed contemplations which became very popular in Heian and Kamakura-Era Japan, which were alternatively of the Pure Land of Amitābha, or of the Pure Land of Śākyamuni, or whatever other tradition you would have been a part of. The article talks about how time-of-death practice began to be seen as highly important (rightly so) but also about how time-of-death practice also clearly became somewhat superstitious over time. For instance, the article talks about a fear of dying before their mantra was finished that some Japanese at the time apparently had, which privileged short mantras

    (namu amida)
    "I bow to Amitābha."

    over longer mantras

    oṁ a vi ra hūṁ khaṁ vajradhātu vaṁ
    (on a bi ra un ken bazaradato ban)
    "Oṁ: earth, water, fire, wind, space, the Diamond Realm, Vairocana."

    or more well-known ones that are also longer

    oṁ gate gate pāragate pārasaṁgate bodhi svāhā
    (gyatei gyatei haragyatei harasōgyatei boji sowaka)
    "Oṁ: gone, gone, completely gone, completely altogether gone, awakening, it is finished."

    In addition to wanting to finish their mantras, these death-shy practitioners (and who can blame someone for being wary of ill destiny at death?) would also want to die in various "auspicious" ways or in ways that seemed nice because, one supposes, they naïvely thought that inward purity would always necessarily be manifest outwards. Things like dying on a bed of flowers or while the moon shines on you. Ancient-day Instagram-type stuff. Here is the article, which I thought was very interesting, if anyone else is likewise interested. on Death in Buddhism/'Just Open Your Mouth and Say A' - A-Syllable Practice for the.pdf

    A certain Venerable Kakuban was the would-be founder of a New Kamakura single-practice school, like Jōdo Shinshū or the various Nichiren demoninations. Unlike modern day Japanese Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhism, which came from Tendai-offshoots, Venerable Kakuban was a Shingon offshoot. He taught a focussed practice of contemplation on and recitation of the mantric syllable "āḥ" adapted from Shingon meditative traditions.

    From the above article, some highlights of the words of Venerable Kakuban concerning the practice of the syllable āḥ:

    The three poisons and ten evils will change into the merits of the maṇḍala. The four pārājika offenses and five heinous deeds will transform and return to the secret practices of yoga. The hundred and sixty deluded attachments, without being cut off, will end of themselves; the eighty-four thousand defilements, without being countered, will at once expire. The practice to achieve buddhahood requiring three incalculable aeons is condensed into half a thought-moment; the extended practices of the six perfections are encompassed within this single contemplation. The dark sleep of delusion and samsara is now forever ended; the moon of enlightened wisdom and nirvana here for the first time appears. Those of shallow contemplation and limited practice shall, without discarding their present body, achieve the highest grade of superior birth in the Pure Land, while those of deep cultivation and great assiduity shall, without transforming their mind, become great radiant Vairocana of the realm of Hidden Splendor. In its ease of cultivation and realization, no path could surpass this practice.

    But what dharma could be more difficult to encounter?

    This one I found particularly interesting, linking the mantra with speech itself, any speech, any sound with the voice really, and beyond that. He places "āḥ" not as a particularly articulated vowel with aspiration (ḥ) following it, but more as the sound the voice makes when it isn't up to anything in particular. The "natural" exclamation, if you will.

    From the moment you are born into this world crying “A!,” whenever you are delighted you laugh “A!,” and whenever you are sad you grieve “A!” There is not a single occasion when you do not say “A!” This A is the seed mantra representing the natural principle endowed with the truth of suchness. Thus all sorts of sounds and voices produced by any phenomenal existence, either good or evil, or by any non-sentient existence, such as the land, mountains, rivers, the earth, sand, pebbles, as well as the birds and beasts, are nothing other than the natural dhāraṇīs of the letter A.

    Venerable Kakuban further, as part of his Shingon education, was engaged in Kamakura-Era veneration and elevation of Amitābha Buddha. The popular figure of Amitābha Buddha, a saviour figure of peasant and "common folk" Buddhism in Japan, is merged in his teaching, as in the Tendai-derived teachings of his contemporaries like Venerable Shinran, with the Root Buddha (本佛) of Mahāvairocana, the insentient dharmadhātu which finds itself no different than the mind. The term "sahā world" here is a translation of "sahālokadhātu" (娑婆世界), meaning the aggregated, "sahāṁ," world-system, "lokadhātuḥ." The "Land of Utmost Bliss" is Sukhāvatī, the Pure Land of Amitābha Buddha.

    Apart from this sahā world, there is no Land of Utmost Bliss to contemplate. How could it be separated by tens of billions of other lands? And apart from Vairocana, there is no separate Amitābha. [...] Amitābha is Vairocana's function as wisdom. Vairocana is Amitābha's essence as principle. [...] When one contemplates in this way, then, without leaving the sahā world, one is immediately born in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. [...] This is the subtle contemplation for realizing buddhahood with this very body.

    He seems very influenced by the twin practices of the vajradhātu and the garbhakośadhātu maṇḍalas, and I am told by reasonable sources that Tendai and Shingon practice these two generally the same.

    Which all brings us to the "Far-Reaching Perfection of Wisdom, the Mother of all Tathāgatas, in a Single Syllable," which has the equally lengthy Sanskrit title of Ekākṣarīmātāprajñāpāramitāsarvatathāgatanāmamahāyānasūtra, and was one of the first quotes I posted when I joined this forum, in the "Sowing Sutras" thread:

    Thus have I heard: At one time, the Lord was at the Vulture Peak in Rajgir, together with eighty-three fully-ordained monks, and many hundreds of thousands of millions of bodhisattvas, who were all abiding together in one company.

    Thereupon, at that time, at that moment, the Lord gave teaching to the Venerable Ānanda thus:

    “Ānanda! This is the Far-Reaching Perfection of Deep Insight in a Single Syllable. For the benefit and happiness of all sentient beings, you should retain this!

    And it goes thus:ཨཱ། [āḥ]."

    The Lord spoke those words, and the monks, bodhisattvas, and all the assemblies of gods, humans, demigods and celestial spirits, along with the entire world, rejoiced: they deeply praised what had been spoken by the Lord, the transcendent and accomplished Jina.

    ཨཱ།, āḥ, a-, is the negation particle that forms avidya out of vidya, asatva out of satva, anitya out of nitya, and can be thought of as a "syllable of emptiness." In English, it forms atypical out of typical, asexual out of sexual, and atheist out of theist.

    Many lineages in Japan cultivate highly idiosyncratic meditations on short mantras, much like the buddho mantra of Thai Theravāda, on the syllables of either the Amitābha mantra (a mi da) or the Mahāvairocana mantra (a bi ra), and they are often very similar to Thai buddho meditations. One of these, on a bi ra, from Venerable Dōhan, a disciple of Ven Kakuban:

    The syllable A as existence arising through conditions corresponds to birth. The syllable A as the emptiness of non-arising corresponds to death. Thus dying in one place and being born in another is nothing other than the syllable A. [...] This is why Vairocana takes this single syllable as his mantra. [...] Birth and death are nothing other than the transformations of the six elements transmigrating in accordance with conditions. Buried, one becomes dust and is no different from the great earth of the syllable A. [...] Cremated, one becomes smoke and is equal to the wisdom fire of the syllable RA. In contemplating the non-transformation of the six elements, there is no longer arising and perishing, only the naturally inherent four mandalas that are the buddha essence.

    So that's an option for a one-word meditation: a prolonged, open-throated, neutral "ā" standing in for the "emptiness of X," by that X an empty mind, an empty dharma, or an empty mantra.

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