Enlightenment: A Quick Start Guide

Is it possible to sum up the practice of Buddhist meditation in a few sentences?

I ask this question with tongue in cheek — but not entirely. It’s been on my mind ever since I posted about the Buddha’s words to a dying man.

Out of all the books I’ve read about Buddhism and all the dharma talks I’ve heard, what’s the essence?

This question is fun to ponder, and it might even lead to something useful.

Fortunately, I am not the first person to attempt this. In The Mind and the Way, for example, Ajahn Sumedho says:

The teaching of the Buddha is a very simple teaching, because it comprehends things in terms of the conditioned and the unconditioned. Conditioned phenomena are those which rise and pass away. They include everything that we perceive and know through our senses, through the body, feelings, thoughts, and memories. They are conditions; they begin and they end.

In meditation, you eventually see gaps between conditioned phenomena — such as the space that shows up after one thought ends and before the next one begins.

What is that space? It’s the unconditioned, the ultimate reality. To see this directly, free of concepts, is a milestone on the path.

Liberation from suffering comes when we allow unconditioned things to arise and pass without resistance. In the words of Ajahn Chah:

Do everything with a mind that lets go. Don’t accept praise or gain or anything else. If you let go a little you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace.

I’ll end by linking to a quick start guide from meditation teacher Kenneth Folk. Notice everything that arises in awareness, he says — perceptions, thoughts, body sensations, mind states. Instead of identifying with them, see them as objects separate from you, events that you simply observe.

After a while, turn your attention to the observer. Who is this? Who watches all those conditioned things as they begin and end?

Taking a cue from Kenneth, I offer my two-sentence quick guide to enlightenment:

Take refuge in the witness. Then allow the witness to disappear.