About practice…yeah I still do that thing. I've crossed a couple of practice rubicons recently. Let me share what I've learned:
The Energy Flow of Meditation.
I was always taught by Buddhist meditation teachers to sit up straight, but with my head tilted down, chin slightly tucked in toward the chest. After ten years of practice, I have found that this doesn't work for me. It tends to squelch my energy; it makes me feel dull and bored during meditation, and tired afterwards. I found that it even contributes to depression. Allowing my head to tilt slightly downward causes a number of problems with my sitting posture. It cuts air flow and causes upper and lower back pain, caused by an overly curved spine, which is caused by the downward tilt of my head.
What works for me is holding my head upright, eyes to the horizon, so that the underside of my chin is level with the floor. This is so much better for me. It corrects so many problems with my sitting posture if I just hold my head erect. My spine is automatically straighter with little effort.
Moreover, it increases my energy level during meditation. It brings up the energy from my lower body ('root chakra') up through my torso and up to my chest, neck and head. I don't recall any Buddhist meditation teachers talking about the energy flow of sitting meditation. Yoga meditation teachers talk about energy flow all the time because the yoga tradition is all about energy, the chakras, kundalini energy, and so forth.
I'm not talking about "raising the kundalini" energy; that's for advanced yoga practitioners who are trained in that technique. I'm just talking about increasing the energy level throughout the body during meditation and especially in the upper body and head. I have been practicing this for a few weeks, holding my head up and intentionally raising my energy up through my body during meditation. I find that I have more upward energy flow both during and after meditation. It increases energy flow to the head, the mind. I don't know if that's supposed to be a "bad thing" for Buddhist practitioners, but how could it be? It seems like the techniques taught by Buddhist meditation instructors, shamatha in particular, are intended to calm, soothe, slow down, sedate the mind and body, to repress your energy. Yoga meditation is intended to raise your energy levels throughout the body-mind. Meditation that squelches your energy contributes to dullness and depression, a lack of motivation, in a word, suffering. Raising your energy levels contributes to feelings of joy, motivation, responsiveness to people in your life, and like, happiness.
Vimuttidhamma: Tantric Theravada
The above illustration is from a book (now online as a pdf) called Vimuttidhamma; from Chakra to Dhammachakra, by Piyadhassi Bhikkhu, a Thai monk. It's a handbook of tantric approaches to Theravada practice. As you can see by the illustration, the technique builds on the energy flow of meditation. It integrates the chakras, the energy centers of the body, with Buddhist techniques on the jhanas; it marries Yoga and Buddhist meditation practices.
Dhammakaya: Modern Tantric Theravada
The Dhammakaya movement is huge in Northern Thailand, and I'm not going to focus on that here, since I know very little about it, except that the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple looks like a spaceship. (Read Why is Wat Phra Dhammakaya so Controversial? in HuffPost).
(Image: Wat Phra Dhammakaya. You could probably see this temple meditation event from space, and it looks like some kind of interstellar hailing signal.)
What I would like to discuss is the Dhammakaya meditation technique, because it is so unlike any Buddhist meditation techniques I've ever been taught. It appears to be a tantric technique because it involves visualization of a crystal ball, or a crystal seated Buddha, which one moves (through visualization) through points on the head and then to the center of the body. One moves the crystal ball image to the prescribed points on the body while intoning a mantra silently in one's mind, "Samma Araham." And then one holds the image of the crystal Buddha at the center of the torso, precisely two finger-widths above the navel. The point is to focus one's concentration on the center of the body. I have tried this technique with a guided meditation video on YouTube. The combination of holding the image at the center of the body and intoning the mantra focuses the mind very powerfully, inducing great concentration. The Dhammakaya technique, unlike shamatha, raises the energy level to the center of the body, and the mantra energizes the mind, increasing the power of concentration. And dare I say it—it's fun to do! Who knew Buddhist meditation could be fun? I actually enjoyed the experience. It's no wonder people flock to the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple by the tens of thousands to practice this meditation.
I came across this meditation technique because I've been investigating tantric Theravada, or South Asian Esoteric Buddhism, a tradition which was nearly extinct in South Asia, but is being revived in forms such as the Dhammakaya movement. I was looking for a tantric practice to compliment my Theravada practice because I had started in a Tibetan tantric tradition (Shambhala), and I missed some of it's warm and humanistic features, which I felt were missing in modern Theravada. But more on that in another blog post (someday).