Meditation consists of two elements. One is theory and that’s what we study in the text. The other is the actual practice or training of the mind, the body, and the emotions. It’s what we call self-cultivation. You’re cultivating this ground of your being so that there is some dialogue between the theory and the practice and eventually, they come together. The theory guides and forms the practice. It gives the basic concepts so that you can be sure that you are in a solid mode of training.
The practice done in the correct way starts to increase insights and understandings so that when you go back to the text, things make more sense. As the text makes more sense, the practice gets deeper. As the practice gets deeper, the text makes even more sense. Eventually, there’s a mutually responding cycle between theory and practice.
It’s self-sustaining so that if you come to enough classes and you get the basics, you can continue your practice on your own without the need for a monastery, temple or teacher. You can take the text as your teacher and your practice as your monastery and create this space for the dialogue between theory and practice.
If you just practice the meditation without the theory, they tend to be blind and just be experiences with no context or frame on which to evaluate them. On the other hand, if you just study and you don’t practice, it’s sterile. Nothing happens and it becomes just an intellectual exercise. The ideal thing is for the theory and practice to happen together. A famous monk said they were like two wings of a bird: one theory and one practice. With the two together, the bird can fly. With only one wing, the bird just flops around. This is why we do this methodology.
The sitting meditation is only one form of practice. However, for many people, it’s the preferred way because it’s so complete, so direct and brings everything together in a very tight experiential package. Moreover, you can do this with a minimum number of accouterments, images, statues, even the monastery itself. It’s particularly modern, portable and inexpensive. You do not have to buy those expensive meditation seat cushions. You can just use a towel and the same goes for the pad. It’s all about your mind.