The purpose of meditation is to attain enlightenment. Over 2500 years ago, Siddhartha Gautama (now known as Buddha) sat beneath a large banyan tree. He vowed not to leave his spot until he had realized the highest Truth. After spending 49 days in a deep state of meditation, he finally became enlightened. This is quite far from home, and therefore I ask, “Do we truly practice meditation, or do we worship Buddha and thus fantasize about meditation?”
The above link is a well-summarized account of his life, and is inspiring to read. But in reality, that’s all it really is for me- an inspiring read. As Westerners we are quite detached from countries in South East Asia that practice Buddhism. The Asian cultures are notably different from that of a New Yorker, or Londoner, and other fast-paced countries. And as a person living in a westernized society (South Africa- no I’m not blogging from a mud hut next to a water hole), I’ve come to idolize Buddha, and realize how meditation has become rather dutiful. So I subconsciously believe that as long as I sit down every day and meditate, I will eventually become enlightened. This belief seems a little misguided, as becoming enlightened implies the complete letting go of the desire to become enlightened. But then how does one attain enlightenment?
It is said that Buddha did not want to be idolized at all, whether it be by people worshiping statues of him or images. And it makes complete sense. He knew that were this to take place, he would eventually be thought of as a God, and be prayed to as Jesus is in certain churches. And what’s interesting is that if you ask someone who knows little of Buddhism or Buddha, “Who is Buddha?”, they would likely to tell you that he is a God worshiped in India.
But he was a person that lived. Born a prince to an incredibly wealthy father, he eventually renounced his material-driven life and assumed extreme asceticism. This he later found to be foolish, as his body began to deteriorate through a long period of fasting, and realized that self-indulgence and self-mortification both would not dissipate his suffering. He thus chose a middle-way. His life is an example of how anyone can attain meditation, and that’s arguably all he wanted it to be. And whether you live in America or India, you have the same choice on how to approach meditation and think about Buddha. So instead of idolizing a statue of Buddha, it can rather symbolize the potential that all humans have to attain enlightenment.
I therefore think that it would be wise for all (including myself) to let go of the fantasy of meditation. There is nothing mystical about it. It is a state in which we were all born. And since we’ve experienced it before, it is logical to assume that we can experience it again. We must simply unlearn these habits that have come to control our lives. The best way to do that is to meditate, and through meditation, realize that you yourself are a Buddha that’s just been hibernating. You become Buddha, ‘The Awakened One’.