Why do many people experience no result, or little benefit from meditation? In my own practice, I often wondered, “Why am I practicing? Why doesn’t this seem to be leading anywhere? Why aren’t I getting the results I read about in the books?” In my experience, there are three main reasons:
1. Mixing different teachings
If you’re mixing a little bit of yoga, maybe some T’ai Chi, a little New-Age positive-thinking philosophy, a little bit of the Buddha and this and that, you’re not going to get anywhere. Here’s why: each of these methods is a system with its own methods and aims, its own philosophy, tradition and culture. If you try to mix them, who knows what the result is going to be?
In India we used to call this kiccarī-yoga. Kiccarī is a dish you make by taking whatever is around in your kitchen and throwing it into a pot. So if you’re window-shopping, looking into different traditions, trying this and trying that, you’re not going to make much progress—if any at all.
In fact, it’s quite possible that by mixing different incompatible ideas and practices, you’ll get confused and mess up so badly it will set you back. Before you can make real progress in meditation, you have to make a commitment to a path and a teacher: someone who can show you an example of the perfection of your practice.
2. Not following the principles or precepts
Assuming that you’re practicing the Buddha’s path (although really this applies to every authentic type of meditation) not following the rules and regulations will hold back your progress. In the Buddha’s path there are five main precepts:
- No killing
- No stealing
- No sex
- No lying
- No intoxication
Especially celibacy—the ‘no sex’ rule—is very important for spiritual progress. I know from personal experience that if you’re not practicing celibacy, you’re not going to get very far. Or your progress is going to be extremely slow; it will take years for you to reach even a beginner level of proficiency in meditation. We don’t really have that much time.
Of course there are more precepts. There are always more rules that you can follow—in the Buddha’s teaching there are 227 precepts for monks—but these five are the main ones. Following them in your daily life without making a big deal of it will accelerate your progress tremendously.
3. Not duplicating the teaching
This is the most common, and also the most subtle reason people don’t make progress in their meditation practice. What do we mean by duplication?
The Buddha left literally thousands of Suttas, records of his teaching over a 45-year period, in the Pāli language. To really get the benefit, you have to make an exact copy of those instructions in your own mind. This is a fundamental issue in learning anything.
Whatever you could want to know comes from some source material; to learn it, first you have to duplicate that source material and create a model of it in your own mind. If you do this successfully, you can practice on the same level as your teacher.
I first started meditating according to the teaching of the Buddha late in life. Nevertheless, I got almost immediate benefit—profound cessation of suffering—in just a few weeks. But I personally know people who have been meditating, trying to follow the path of the Buddha, for many years without getting anywhere near the same results.
What’s the difference? Simply that I know how to duplicate instructions, I follow the Buddha’s precepts strictly, and I don’t mix different paths and practices.
The Dharmasar Solution has published a four-hour online series on how to learn and practice any subject: Matrix Learning. Please go through the series and take advantage of this great technique for learning. Learning how to learn is the most important thing that you can teach yourself. Once you learn that, you can teach yourself anything, especially meditation and spiritual life.
Meditation is very subtle. In fact, the highest results of spiritual practice can’t even be expressed in words. But the methods of attaining self-realization and enlightenment certainly can be expressed; and by duplicating the Buddha’s methods exactly and following them precisely, you are guaranteed success and results.
What happens if you don’t duplicate or follow them? Well, who knows? The result is undefined. But we see many meditators who have been messing around unsystematically without results for years, even decades.
So if you really want success in your practice, try to learn how to learn by duplicating the original teachings—not somebody else’s interpretation, not some contemporary new-age version. Go back to the original source, the Buddha’s words in the Suttas.
It’s even a good idea to learn the original language of the source teaching—in the Buddha’s case, Pāli—at least enough to verify that the translation you’re using is authentic. Then you can be sure that you’re applying the right technique, and you can be certain of getting results in your meditation.