When considering why you should meditate (other than the plethora of health benefits that warrant an article of their own) perhaps it is wisest, first, to remind yourself of the Buddha’s (Enlightened/Awakened One’s) words after being asked what he gained from meditation.
Nothing! However, let me tell you what I have lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, and fear of old age or death.
What brought Siddhartha Gotama, fundamentally, to Enlightenment and “Buddhahood”, was a purification of the mind. Buddha realised that our thoughts determine who we are, or in his words, “what we think, we become”.
Our thoughts may be physical and determined by the physical world around us, but ultimately, by definition, the only events we control are the ones that result from our own actions. And, again by definition, what motivates actions carried out by us is our own desires.
Thoughts can become bad thoughts, which become bad desires, which become bad actions, which result in bad consequences. If one could understand how through dependant origination (the fact that all things, our own suffering and evils included, have causes) our own bad thoughts were created, we could develop a mind so strong and resilient that we would never again be the source of our own pain.
Buddha diagnosed three unhealthy mental attitudes that provided the fertile soil, or stormy sea, for samsara (the cycle of suffering): ignorance, attachment, and hate. Ignorance is in a sense an intellectual ill, attachment an emotional one, and hate a moral one, though, after deep analysis, it becomes clear just how intertwined each of these three vices are.
The futility and anti-realism of negative mentalities is expressed by the Buddhist idea that, if a problem can be fixed, it is futile to be down about it as it will only cloud your judgement when your main goal is always to overcome (not complain about) evil. If a problem is actually illusory or impossible to solve, then no amount of negativity will ever change that, so devote instead all of your energies to alleviating/preventing any psychological anguish.
Meditation, similar to some of the ‘deep prayer’ techniques we see Christian monastics use, is about ending our ills at the source. End your ignorance by contemplating the true nature of the world and goodness … the ephemeral nature of reality, how suffering is created, what makes Enlightenment a worthy goal. The importance of wisdom in the Indic philosophical tradition cannot be overstated.
End your attachment by grasping perhaps the central truth of Buddhism: all things change. The ultimate nature of existence, a constant state of flux, can provide us the motivation to stop obsessing over the temporal. Nurture a state of mind that allows you to find the silver lining in all things, and recognise that your happiness is no more important than everybody else’s. We are all as fragile, and as desperate for fulfilment, as each other.
End your hate by eliminating prejudices, consider in your mind all the people you feel are “other”, and then remember every one of us is in fact equal and born with fundamental human dignity/rights (or the “Buddha-seed”, sentient beings’ potential to be moral agents and be the objects of moral action through their ability to experience happiness).
What it all comes down to is that meditation is our way of gently moulding ourselves, altering our own natures organically by focusing on the best of what is already within us. We all acknowledge the power and value of love, so we should also all accept the need to nourish positive mind-sets throughout our lives.
An old Cherokee legend makes the case for Buddhist practice more eloquently than most ever could.
One evening an old Cherokee was telling his grandson about life’s central challenges. He said, “My son, a battle is going on inside of me. It is a terrible fight between two wolves.
One is evil – it is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good – it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
They who cannot conquer themselves conquer nothing, this is the central lesson of meditation.