Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo is one of the world’s most revered Buddhist teachers and one of the very first Westerners to become ordained into the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She is best known for having lived in a remote cave in the Himalayas for 12 years. In this 10-minute meditation, she offers the invitation to cultivate moment-to-moment awareness – the essence of meditation practice.
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo: The basic idea, what we are trying to do, is to develop the ability to be conscious, to be aware because so often when we are thinking or feeling or speaking or whatever activities we are undertaking, we are not present. We are just caught up in all our thoughts and we’re not even aware we’re thinking. So the practice is simply twofold to gradually allow the background noise of our thoughts to begin to calm down a bit. And at the same time to develop the ability to be aware, to be mindful. Mindful means just to know what’s going on when it’s going on, without commenting on it.
So the easiest way is to start with the breath because we are all breathing. And normally when we are breathing, we are not conscious that we’re breathing. So now we are simply going to bring the awareness to the breath, especially the out-breath and then allow it to come back in and then out again, without straining it. Keeping the mind very relaxed, very spacious, and all the thoughts going on in the background.
It’s like if one were in a room where the television is on, but we are reading a book or working on the computer. So although we are not turning the television off, it’s there in the background, but our attention is not on the television. Our attention is on whatever is our task in front of us.
So our attention here is on the breath and the thoughts are going on in the background. We’re not trying to stop the thoughts. We’re just not giving them any attention. And if we get caught up in the thoughts again, as soon as we recognize that, no problem, we just bring the attention back to the breath. So it’s very, very simple, and it’s very important not to be tense or tight, just leave the mind feeling very, very open, spacious, relaxed, but aware.
And this is the essence the practice. Later you go to giving attention to the thoughts, giving attention to inner phenomena et cetera, but the crux of it is the ability to be attentive to what we want to be attentive to. And here that is just very simply the breath.
I’m not guiding the meditation. This is why I’m telling you now what to do. So even during the day, if we’re walking, we can just be aware that we’re walking. When we’re sitting, we can be aware of sitting. If we’re agitated, we can again, bring the focus back to the breath. The breath and the mind are very interconnected.
And when the breath is smooth, then the mind also begins to calm down. If we’re excited, the breath becomes agitated. If we’re fearful, the breath changes. The mind and the breath are very interconnected. They say like the rider and the horse. So as our attention gets more settled, the breath also will begin to get more settled.
It’s such a simple practice, but the Buddha used it in order to become enlightened. It’s a very simple practice, but at the same time it is a very profound practice. And we shouldn’t think it’s not important because if the Buddha used it himself as his main meditation practice, I think that shows how deep and significant it really is.
And it’s so simple for everybody because we’re all breathing. So maybe we just sit for five minutes and just make the back straight, but not tight. It doesn’t matter if one is sitting on the floor, keep the feet so they are on the floor, on the cushion, eyes open, eyes closed doesn’t matter.
Keep the shoulders relaxed and then just breathe and know we’re breathing. Let’s do it.
So how to become the master rather than the slave of our minds, isn’t it? And how to open up the heart to unconditional love for all beings? How wonderful we have the potential within us. Isn’t it?
Thanks for joining us for this meditation with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo. Listen to our interview with her on women in Buddhism, the nature of the mind, and powerful, simple ways to bring meditation into modern life. If you’re interested to learn more about her teaching and activities, visit her webpage at tenzinpalmo.com.
Hosted by Scott Snibbe
Produced by Tara Anderson
Audio mastering by Christian Parry and Chris Boulton
Digital Production by Jason Waterman