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Why Improvise?

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

Why Improvise?

Be your best self now!
Matthieu  Ricard
Matthieu Ricard More by this author
Sep 16, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Meditation is a practice that makes it possible to cultivate and develop certain basic positive human qualities in the same way as other forms of training make it possible to play a musical instrument or acquire any other skill.

Among several Asian words that translate as “meditation” in English are bhavana from Sanskrit, which means “to cultivate,” and its Tibetan equivalent, gom, meaning “to become familiar with.” Meditation helps us to familiarize ourselves with a clear and accurate way of seeing things and to cultivate wholesome qualities that remain dormant within us unless we make an effort to draw them out.

So let us begin by asking ourselves, “What do I really want out of life? Am I content to just keep improvising from day to day? Am I going to ignore the vague sense of discontent that I always feel deep down when, at the same time, I am longing for well-being and fulfillment?”

We have become accustomed to thinking that our shortcomings are inevitable and that we have to put up with the setbacks they have brought us throughout our lives. We take the dysfunctional aspects of ourselves for granted, not realizing that it is possible to break out of the vicious cycle of exhausting behavior patterns.

From a Buddhist point of view, every being has the potential for enlightenment just as surely, say the traditional texts, as every sesame seed contains oil. Despite this, to use another traditional comparison, we wander about in confusion like a beggar who is simultaneously both rich and poor because he does not know that he has a treasure buried under the floor of his hut. The goal of the Buddhist path is to come into possession of this overlooked wealth of ours, which can imbue our lives with the most profound meaning.

Developing our own positive inner qualities is the best way to help others. At the beginning, our personal experience is our only reference point. Our personal, self-centered experience, which tells us that we don't want to suffer, can become the basis for a much larger point of view that includes all beings. We are all dependent on each other and we all aspire to happiness. It would be absurd (if not impossible) to feel happy while countless other beings all around us are miserable. Seeking happiness for oneself alone is doomed to failure, since self-centeredness is a major source of our discontent. Even if we display all the outward signs of happiness, we cannot be truly happy if we fail to take an interest in the happiness of others. Altruistic love and compassion are the foundations of genuine happiness.

Altruistic love—also called loving-kindness— is the wish that others be happy and that they find the true causes of happiness. Compassion is defined as the desire to put an end to the suffering of others and the causes of that suffering. These are not merely noble sentiments; they are feelings that are fundamentally in tune with reality. All beings want to avoid suffering just as much as we do. Moreover, since we are all interdependent, our own happiness and unhappiness are intimately bound up with the happiness and unhappiness of others. Cultivating love and compassion is a win-win situation. Personal experience shows that they are the most positive of all mental states and create a deep sense of fulfillment and wholesomeness. Research in neuroscience also indicates that among all kinds of meditations, those focusing on unconditional love and compassion give rise to the strongest activation of brain areas related to positive affects. In addition, the behavior these forms of meditation give rise to is intended to benefit others.

If the deeds we perform for the sake of others are to have the intended benefit, they must also be guided by wisdom—the wisdom that we can acquire through analysis and meditation and that gives us a more correct understanding of reality. The ultimate reason for meditating is to transform ourselves in order to be better able to transform the world. To put it another way, we transform ourselves so that we can become better human beings and serve others in a wiser and more effective way. Meditation thus gives our life the noblest possible meaning.

About Author
Matthieu  Ricard
Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk who had a promising career in cellular genetics before leaving France to study Buddhism in the Himalayas 37 years ago. He is a best-selling author, translator, and photographer; and an active participant in current Continue reading