The Simplest Meditation

In the opening editorial of our March 2020 issue, editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod looks at the perfectly simple lesson the Buddha taught.

Melvin McLeod
24 January 2020
Photo by / George Vieira Silva

How can everything be perfect if it’s so screwed up?

That question goes to the heart of the situation we find ourselves in, which Buddhists call samsara. That’s the endless cycle driven by our struggle to try to fix what’s broken—in ourselves, in our lives, in our world.

But what if nothing really is broken? What if our problem is that there is no problem, but we don’t know it? What if all our efforts to solve our problems are what’s creating the problems in the first place?

Who knows when and how this trap was sprung, but we’re in it. How do we get out?

We just stop. We do nothing at all, and see what we see. That’s what the four profound meditation practices taught in this issue help us do—stop and do nothing.

That’s what the Buddha did.

First he stopped material struggle, because he realized that wouldn’t fix the problems of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Then he embarked on a long spiritual struggle, but that didn’t work either. Finally, he just sat under a tree and stopped all his struggling. He sat there and did nothing, and enlightenment revealed itself like the morning star. No longer misled by the drive to achieve something, he realized that all beings are inherently enlightened, just as they are, and the universe is perfect, just as it is. There is nothing to fix. There is nothing we need to do.

This is simple—but not easy. Nothing is the hardest thing for us to do. Our entire existence is predicated on doing things. We think we need to do things to ensure our well-being, to make spiritual progress, to fix ourselves, to survive. Most of all, we fear that if we’re not doing anything we’ll discover we don’t exist. That’s called a glimpse of enlightenment.

Of course, this doing nothing is a little different from kicking back and relaxing. It means stopping what we’re doing at every level. It means not trying. It means not trying not to try. It means not philosophizing about not trying, or setting the goal of not trying. Our minds are so subtle and tricky. We have to step completely outside our funhouse of infinite mental mirrors. We have to sit down and give it all up, like the Buddha did.

Once we stop covering it over, even for a moment, it’s said that what we glimpse is the basic ground of reality—of ourselves, of all beings, of all phenomena.

In Buddhism this is called many names—enlightenment, buddanature, the true nature of mind, the Great Perfection, ordinary mind, or just plain “buddha.” The description I find most helpful is “emptiness endowed with all the supreme aspects,” from the Vajrayana tradition. This means the basic ground of reality is empty—free of all our mistaken projections—yet replete with all good qualities: wisdom, joy, compassion, peace, enlightenment.

In other words, once we stop screwing everything up, it’s all perfect.

Melvin McLeod

Melvin McLeod is the Editor-in-Chief of Lion’s Roar magazine and Buddhadharma.