Should I meditate in a group or alone?

Bhante Sathi answers the question, “Is it better to meditate on my own or with a group.” As part of his answer, he goes into more detail on why we meditate.

Bhante Sathi teaching during the meditation session at the UU of MankatoHe explains how we spend our lives paying attention to sounds, sights, feelings, and emotions as part of our survival. But, how this is different when we are meditating. Then, we want to recognize sounds as just sounds (neither good or bad sounds), feelings as just feelings (not labeling them good or bad).

Any questions or suggestions for discussion?

The question is about the difference between sitting alone and sitting with a group.

[One of the meditators asks a question.]

Well, first of all, it will be better to understand what this practice is doing. Or, why are we practicing meditation?

I’m sure all of you are coming to meditation with some kind of expectations. Like when somebody has any physical challenge they would go to a doctor or they would meet with a therapist who would help them. We always do things because we want to accomplish or we want to achieve something. We come to meditation or we start to practice meditation by knowing this would be a practice that helps me to do something with my mind. The people who have some emotional challenges sometimes they are using trying to practice meditation. Some other mental challenges cause people to practice meditation. Especially people who want to cultivate mindfulness or awareness in the practice of meditation. And today it is very common for people to practice meditation to reduce stress.

So, I’m sure most of you are beginning meditation with some sort of expectation. Often I find people who practice meditation by themselves. And also find many people who practice meditation with a group. So, clearly, this meditation practice is about our mind. When people who are practicing meditation for a longer time, in the past, they recognized that there are certain disciplines or certain structures you need in order to practice good meditation practice.

Or in order to have a good result from meditation practice.

Your External Environment

So this structure comes from both internal and external. Basically, with external you have to have a quiet environment. Then, you have to have a good dress or support your dress Then, from external, you have to have a supporting posture.

Your Internal Environment

Now internally, you have to have a support for your mind. Which means, without freedom of your mind, you cannot introduce a good meditation or you cannot practice good meditation. As an example, just think that you are going to a party after the meditation, or, you have some kind of responsibility to do after the meditation. So, your mind is not free. Because sometimes people sit, but in their mind, they are planning for that party. Sometimes people feel good because they had a quieter time and they had time to think about something Even, sometimes people say, “Oh, I had a good meditation.” But, that is counting as a disturbance in your practice. Therefore, it is very important to have, it is beneficial to have, a freedom of mind. With no big obligations after meditation, and also you are not coming from a stressful day. I’m not asking you to stop coming to meditation if you have a stressful day at work.

But, the point is if you come with a strong or emotional day, what happens? Those memories will come and disturb you. That’s why you need some settling time before you come to meditation.

So, once you are free from external and internal, with the posture with the right clothing, you can start practicing meditation.

Now again, meditation is not just quieting your mind. Not just doing nothing. It comes with a few steps.

As a meditator, you will see we are always thinking. Even as a thinker you know you are always thinking. But, during the meditation, you will find how much or how your mind runs faster and engages with something. So, in the ordinary times, we engage and respond like if you have a challenge of your leg, then you are moving your leg. Because we are against having discomfort. We have a desire to not have discomfort. So, as a meditator, you are giving up that. You stop maintaining the same desire during the meditation. You are trusting yourself “Okay, I can sit with this posture now” That means “I’ll trust myself.” Sitting longer in my meditation practice. That is how you bring your determination and trusting yourself which builds your confidence. So, confidence is the most important ingredient or quality for your meditation practice.

Observing things for simply what they are

So, as that kind of person, you would know that the confidence will help you more which way you will know that whatever comes to your mind that is not important during the meditation. Therefore, as a meditator, you will end up seeing a thought as a thought. Not as a good thought or bad thought. Or, you will see a feeling as a feeling. Neither as a pain or a pleasure. sound as a sound. Neither as music or noise. So this is the skill we are cultivating.

Once there was an ascetic who came to Buddha and asked the Buddha to summarize all the practice of meditation. Buddha said, “If I summarize the practice of meditation I would say we are practicing to see things as scenery.” Or, “We are practicing to hear just sound as a sound. A feeling as a feeling. And thought just as a thought.”

But, we are giving value to sounds. We are giving values to pictures. And always, we are giving values to thoughts and feelings. We react or respond. During the meditation, we are practicing that basic training. To see things as they are seeing the scenery as just scenery. Feeling as just a feeling, sound just as a sound.

So, what happens when you happen to have a sound as a sound, or you happen to feel a feeling as a feeling? You recognize things are just arising and passing away. Whatever comes to us, even a sound, just rising and passing away. Whatever you see, it is always changing. But, what happens to us… We just grab into this picture as something we want. Then we want to maintain it. We want to maintain the beauty as we like. Or, we want to change the ugly into beauty. Because we criticize our sceneries. We criticize our sound.

So you love your cell phone when somebody calls you who you really like, or someone you are waiting to hear from. But, if someone calls you during the meditation, you get panic and you want to run and turn off the phone because you don’t want to disturb others. So, two reactions to the same sound. But, if you happen to have a phone call from someone you really hate. Then again, you really hate that phone, that sound. Notice how this same sound, affect different things in your mind, or two different reactions.

During the meditation, you are learning how to not respond in different ways. So, we can only do that if you can train your mind to catch yourself before you begin to react. So, now you can see, this is something against what we have done in our life. This is not the same as what we have value in our life the entire time. Because we survive by giving value to pictures. We survive by giving value to sounds. We survive by recognizing feelings and pain. So, that is what we have practiced in our entire life. Now, during the meditation, we are practicing the opposite. So, that’s why meditation is difficult for both of us. For most of us that are not normally what we are not used to doing.

When we happen to do something difficult, we need courage and support.

To do anything difficult thing, having support is very useful. That is why I will say the group meditation is much more supportive and effective. I often find people who buy treadmills or exercise machines to do their workouts at home. When they buy those machines, they have good intentions. They honestly think, “I am going to use this.” But, most of the people end up using these to dry their clothes. [laughing from the meditators]

Don’t they have intentions? Yes, they have intentions. But, courage and determination and lack of courage and lack of determination without the right support, they don’t place themselves into the machine. So, But, when you go into groups. Like even a gym or when you have a workout with other people, you have support from others. You have courage. When you see other people are doing you automatically want to do it. You get that support. And, at the same time, that group discipline is there. Supporting each other.

But, when you are by yourself, you listen to your mind, “Oh, I need to go to the bathroom.” Or, “I forgot to turn off a certain thing.” Then, what happens? You go and then it will be very difficult for you to bring yourself back onto the cushion.

So, yes, practicing meditation by yourself is really good for somebody who has longer training time with meditation otherwise I would really encourage people to stick to a group.

If you don’t have a group, make a group. Find a group. And, encourage others to do it and make a time to do that. Then you will find that a group discipline is really helping you to cultivate your practice. Often, people find that practicing in a group is easier than practicing by themselves.

I hope I answered your question. And, if anybody wants to share anything or are there any other questions led by that answer? I hope everybody is satisfied with that answer. [laughing]