Analytical meditation is a method for cultivating wisdom arising from contemplation. At Nitartha, students first study Buddhist views in classes and at the same time are trained to examine the validity of the view. Through analytical meditation, the students explore the assertions, gain confidence in the view, and make it part of their own inner being, their own makeup while integrating it into life. The result of training in analytical meditation is the attainment of firm, unshakable certainty.
Two methods of meditation
In general, the Buddhist tradition distinguishes between two methods of meditation. One method is calming or settling the mind, or resting meditation, and the other is analytical, or investigative meditation.
Some practitioners might think that if one practices analytical meditation with all its mental investigations, one will no longer be able to place the mind evenly in resting meditation; and if one practices resting meditation, one excludes the possibility of analytical meditation.
Rather than thinking of resting and analytical meditation as opposing practices, we should understand that each practice supports the other. If we wish to accomplish genuine meditation, resting meditation and analytical meditation should be practiced in union.
What are we analyzing?
When we hear “analysis” or “investigation” we might think that we are evaluating objects. We might think we are identifying what is positive and should be adopted and what is negative and should be discarded. In the context of analytical meditation, however, something entirely different is meant by analysis. In analytical meditation, we examine the relationship between how things actually are—their abiding or true nature—and our conceptual perception of apparent reality. That is, we investigate the way in which things appear and how we cling to this appearance as genuine reality. We examine the question, “Do we perceive how things actually are or is our perception mistaken, and if so, how is it mistaken?”
As for “meditation,” we might think that it means coming to a state of complete quietness in which our minds become very peaceful. We might think a certain kind of tranquility, where nothing is happening, is meditation. While the state of silence, peace, and tranquility is necessary to practice meditation, it is not sufficient in Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition of meditation, merely resting is not really the point. The point is to develop our awareness, our insight. The revered twelfth century Tibetan master and poet Milarepa taught, “Do not become attached to the calm pond of shamatha, but let the foliage of insight grow.” Peaceful tranquility is all very well, but we need to wake up from our sleep of delusion. That is where the practice of analytical meditation comes in.
Some meditators may not be enthusiastic about analytical meditation because they think their thoughts and concepts will increase by engaging in analysis. They have somehow gained the notion that the meaning of meditation is to be without thoughts. As a result, they have developed the extreme idea that meditation should be without any mental activity whatsoever.
But is it really a problem if thoughts increase? We should look at this question. Analytical meditation is based on thoughts. It is true that when we practice analytical meditation the number of thoughts increases. Why is this? Let’s say that we have a thought of permanence. It is not just one simple thought, but in fact it is a massive, dense concept that we are carrying around. And by bringing this thought to the forefront of our awareness, we can begin to break it down.
Breaking down our concepts
When we engage in analytical meditation, we apply our awareness and intelligence to break up this massive, dense concept into many smaller, more manageable thoughts. Instead of one concept of permanence, we now have many thoughts apprehending many aspects of permanence and impermanence. When we have many light and small thoughts, our minds become more open and spacious and workable.
With analytical meditation, we are able to identify the basis of our confusion. The Buddhist tradition teaches that the earliest form of our mistakenness is fourfold. Above all, we cling to objects and persons as having a truly existent self. In addition, we cling to things as singular, we cling to things as permanent, and we cling to things as special.
Our work in analytical meditation is to overcome, or transcend, this clinging and recognize how things truly are in their abiding nature. At Nitartha Institute, analytical meditation is one of the main methods taught to all students as an indispensable tool to work with their mind and concepts.
This article is based on ‘The Practices of Analytical Meditation’ by Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen.