Over the years, I’ve encountered many fellow practitioners who are very concerned with “proper sitting form.” When I first began formal practice, I also was concerned about achieving a respectable lotus or half lotus position, believing that this was the ideal posture for sitting. This view reflects a misunderstanding of the teachings, particularly the Buddha’s instructions for mindfulness meditation given in the Satipatthana Sutta.
First, the Buddha specifies four postures for meditation: sitting, standing, walking or lying down. We largely ignore two of these in the West. Second, new practitioners wrongly interpret”doing” meditation properly by emphasizing the trappings, the form, rather than the substance of the Buddha’s teaching. I was recently reading some teachings from Ajahn Maha Boowa, one of the great Thai forest masters who passed away in January 2011. He said that it is not the posture you take that is important, but rather the “quality of your attention.”
Formal practice, in any of the four postures, teaches us to develop not just mindfulness, but mindfulness with discernment. It provides the vehicle for us to learn how to be mindful throughout our day with whatever phenomena are arising. It helps us to meet, with discernment, the circumstances of our lives.
Form is important, in that it provides the container for practice. Too often, though, we use our inability to establish “perfect” conditions for practice as an excuse not to practice. “It’s too noisy….too quiet….too many distractions….my back hurts….I’m too ill…..” How many of us have made these excuses without realizing that we can bring attention to whatever is happening (illness, boredom, noise, quiet, aching muscles, etc.)?
I’ve found it helpful to remind myself: “My life IS my practice. Whatever is happening right NOW is my practice. What quality of attention can I bring to this moment?”