Guided meditations on the Stages of the Path, Thubten Chodron

Guided meditation is probably the most accessible type of meditation for beginners out there. After all: all one has to do is listen. The voice of the meditation instructor will help you get back to the meditation when your mind wanders (which it will).

However, Thubten Chodron’s guided meditations may not fit your idea of meditation at all. If you’re in it hoping to space out, to get a rest from your life – pick another tradition. Thubten Chodron teaches within the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and that means that her meditations are what they call ‘analytical meditations’. In Western terminology: her meditations will help you contemplate your life, face up to your issues, clean up your messes, deal with your addictions, face your negative patterns and create positive ones. She will get you to face up to all kinds of issues while you contemplate attachment, karma, emptiness and Bodhicitta (universal love).

That’s because in Tibetan Buddhist terminology we’re talking about Lam Rim meditations here. The Lam Rim or the ‘Stages of the Path to Enlightenment’ is said to contain everything you need to become enlightened. It’s the full ABC. Following the Dalai Lama in this, Chodron has changed the order of the meditations around a bit, starting with attachment instead of devotion to your teacher, for instance. That’s the way it should be for us Westerners: we don’t relate to guru yoga much, in general. We do relate to issues with attachment and heartache.

There is a book too, but I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t read it at first. I bought the book to get the CD. I ripped the CD onto my phone and the audio meditations were part of my daily meditation routine for months. If you come to these meditations with no Buddhist training whatsoever you will probably come across ideas you weren’t quite prepared for. Since I’m being taught in the Gelugpa tradition Thubten Chodron is a nun in, I felt I could skip the book at first.

However, I do think Thubten Chodron does a good job of expressing the more difficult concepts in a way that make them palatable to the Western mind. Looking at the table of contents it’s clear that the book also helps in that respect. For instance: in her chapter ‘Enjoying the meditation practices‘ (p. 58):

The purpose of meditation isn’t to get a “hit” of good feeling. The purpose is to understand what life is about and how to make our lives meaningful. The purpose is to understand our Buddha potential and to actualize it for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Be brave and honestly acknowledge what is going on in your mind. … Do research in the “laboratory” of your own mind and heart. In the process, you may discover some biases and prejudices. It may become evident how you create the friend and the enemy and ignore everybody who doesn’t directly affect you.

These meditations have just the right length: between 15 and 35 minutes. I have sometimes done only half of a meditation file for my morning meditation, but that is generally not necessary.

After I went through all the meditations I decided to go with the text-version of each instead. That’s what I’m using as my daily analytical (aka contemplation) meditation a few months after I bought the book. I find that the format of the meditations is just right for me. Instead of sticking to the precise text she uses in the audio, she simply starts with a short quote on the topic, a short introduction (one or 2 paragraphs) and then a list of the aspects of the meditation topics she wants us to focus on. The result is usually a page, or a bit more (and these small pages) per meditation. Just enough information to give you something to think about and not so much that you don’t have time for your own thoughts. Since thinking about a topic yourself is the whole point of analytical meditation, that’s just perfect.

I bought the book in February. It’s now May and I don’t expect to be through the whole series till September or October. That’s almost a year of meditation for only a few bucks…

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