Awareness and insight Inner vision Meditating on the Self Meditation techniques Presence and being present The Essential Meditation of the Buddha

The Essential Meditation of the Buddha

Hi Everyone,

This week’s article focuses on some of the subjects and practices that I first began my meditation path with. Every time I return to them I find they always provide me with a valuable source of insight and wisdom. Beneath the article are the details of a meditation class that I will be teaching on the same topic this coming Wednesday 16th November. 

I have recently returned to teaching my classes at Basic Essence, feels great to be back there.

Thanks for reading!

Yours in the spirit of the journey,


The Essential Meditation of the Buddha

The Three Sets of Teachings of the Buddha

Looking at Buddhism from the outside it can seem like there are so many different teachings on meditation that it is a little difficult to see the how they all relate together, especially as some of the instructions seem to “contradict” or give very different advice from others. Historically Buddhist teachings evolved into three principal groups: The Hinayana, those teachings emphasizing personal liberation, the Mahayana, those teachings emphasizing great compassion and the path of the Bodhisattva, and the Vajrayana or tantric path emphasizing the union of bliss, emptiness and the “already enlightened, already perfect” nature of things as they are.

The Core of What Buddha Taught

Looking at this tremendous breadth of teaching it can be useful to understand the common core of Buddha’s teaching. This core is that everything he taught has two basic aspects:

1)      First he indicates that the basic experience of someone with an unawakened awareness is that of suffering.

2)     Then he points out the way in which we can ‘wake up’ and become liberated from that suffering. This ‘waking up’ is always primarily a change of our fundamental state of awareness rather than any actual change in our external environment.

Every teaching of the Buddha falls into either the first or the second category above.

Three Core practices Arising From the Buddha’s Teaching

Three practical practices arise from the Buddha’s core teaching:

– Observing and knowing deeply that we suffer.

– Understanding that a main cause of our suffering arises from misconceiving our world as permanent, meditating on impermanence

– Further understanding that the primary underlying cause of our suffering is misconceiving the nature of our self and our environment, meditating on “No-Self”

Observing and Knowing Deeply That we Suffer

The first thing that Buddha pointed out is that the everyday conditioned experience of human beings has the nature of suffering. Suffering here has a slightly deeper meaning that that which we normally ascribe to it. To quote Francesca Freemantle in “Luminous Emptiness”, her commentary to the Tibetan Book of the Dead:

“Suffering in this case is not just worldly pain as opposed to pleasure, but a deeper, more pervasive sense of lack and unreality which is inherent in worldly existence itself”.

Meditating on the pervasive experience of suffering that we experience and as a result developing a strong wish to “drop it” is the first core practice of the Buddha’s meditation. This wish to drop our suffering is sometimes called renunciation.

Meditating Impermanence

The first core reason that we suffer according to the Buddha is that we grasp at ourself and our world as being fixed and permanent when in fact if is transient and ever changing. So the first practice to overcome our inner suffering is to be aware of our grasping at permanence and focus on grounding our awareness on the impermanence of all things, most fundamentally ourself.

Meditating on “No-Self”

The second core reason that we suffer is that we imagine there to be a true self where there is in fact no self, and where there is the true self we imagine no-self!  Here Buddha points out our instinctive tendency to imagine our real or true self to be our body, or our mind, or the combination of our body mind, when in fact these are an impermanent, ever changing amalgamation of things that are not the self (For a slightly more detailed of the search for the true self see my previous article on “Finding and Meditating on Your True Self”). 

In Summary:

Buddha’s basic teaching is that our ordinary, conditioned experience is that of suffering, and that we can drop this suffering by meditating on the truth of impermanence and no-self.

 A Simple Meditation Practice For Meditating on the Three Cores of Buddha’s Teaching.

So, obviously there is a lot of depth and nuance in the three aspects of Buddha’s teaching that I have only just begun to touch on, but here is a really simple practice that you can begin to work with in meditation that to start developing your own experience of these essential meditations:

Step 1: Identify an experience of suffering that you are experiencing, whether it be some kind of manifest emotional or physical pain, or the underlying existential anxiety that underlies so much of our everyday awareness. Simply practice acknowledging it and being with it.

Step 2:  Reflect on the impermanence of both the experience of suffering that you are going through and of yourself as the experiencer of that suffering. See how deliberately recognizing your own impermanence and the changeability of the suffering affects the way in which you experience it.

Step 3: Drop your self-sense for a period of time.  Just try and go from moment to moment as if you had forgotten that you exist. See what it is like to experience your body and the moment to moment flow of your awareness without a continuous sense of “I” grasping at the experience. Experiment and see what it is like to experience your world from the perspective of “no-self”

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website


Meditation Class on Wednesday 16th  November: The Essential Meditation of the Buddha

Facilitator: Toby Ouvry

Time: 7.30-8-30pm

Location: Basic Essence, 501 Bukit Timah Road, 04-04 Cluny Court

For directions click HERE 

This one hour meditation class will look at the meditations taught by the Buddha on true sufferings, impermanence and no-self.

These three subjects comprise the core teachings of the Buddha. In this class Toby will be explaining their value and relevance as meditation topics for those of us in contemporary society seeking for enlightened solutions to the problems and challenges that we face in our life.

We will be looking at:

– The importance and necessity of being able to see clearly our own pain, anxiety and discomfort in order to be able to overcome it.

How to turn the realities of impermanence and change into friends and allies in our life, rather than fighting against them all the time.

What Buddha meant by the wisdom of “no-self” and how meditating upon it opens up a door to a genuine and lasting liberation in our life.

The class will consist of a 30-40 minute practical meditation, and a twenty minute or so talk.

Cost for Class: $25, includes MP3 recording of talk.

To register for class: Contact Basic Essence on 64684991 or email





Awareness and insight Inner vision Meditation techniques One Minute Mindfulness Presence and being present

Dropping Your Conceptual Leaves

Hi Everyone,

This week’s article focuses on the value of adopting a periodically more minimal mental approach to our life’s challenges.

Yours in the spirit of the journey,


Dropping Your Conceptual Leaves

Seasonally the beginning of November in the northern hemisphere sees the change from autumn to winter, the leaves having started to turn brown and whither in September and October now begin to drop from the trees in earnest, leaving behind the naked skeletons of the trees across the landscape. Life in nature, although still present becomes much more minimal and quiet with the onset of the winter months.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been using the image of a tree in late autumn and winter as an image in meditation. I become the tree and imagine my leaves dropping away. As I do so I also feel all my excessive conceptuality and mental baggage dropping away. I let go of ideas and preconceptions and just allow myself to rest in this state of minimal awareness, like the stillness of a bare tree in winter, its life quiet and hidden but nevertheless fully present deep inside its structure.

Dropping your conceptual ‘leaves’ like this on a regular basis is a very healthy thing to do. So many of our ‘problems’ are actually just labels that our overly conceptual mind has placed upon things that disturb us, rather than being vitally important life problems in themselves. Quietening our mind and sitting in silence allows us to see which of our problems are really worth solving, and which can be solved simply by dropping our mental label of them as problems.

As you can see I like to meditate with the energy of the seasons, so the coming months are a period where I deliberately set aside a little more time for very simple silent sitting meditation, as a reflection of our movement into the latter part of the year. You might like to consider this too!

Practical suggestion.

Take the tree dropping its leaves image described above as your object of meditation. Become the tree. As you drop your leaves feel your conceptual thoughts falling away also. Sit and relax deeply into silence. Once your mind is quiet you can drop the image of the tree if you like, and just focus on the inner silence.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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Awareness and insight Inner vision Meditating on the Self Meditation techniques Presence and being present Tree of Yoga

Finding and Meditating on Your True Self

Who am I? What are the characteristics of my True or “Real” Self? This is one of the fundamental questions that the great wisdom and meditation traditions of the world all ask, and when we experientially find the answer in meditation it always indicates an enlightenment experience.
One of the key understandings we need in order to search for our True Self is that it is theultimate subject, it looks out onto the world and at objects from a subjective point of view. The True Self is always the subject of your consciousness.
If we have something that we think may be our True Self, we can see if we can turn it into an object with objective qualities. If we can do so, then we can be certain that that thing is not our True or Real Self.

Lets’ take a few examples:

Is my body my True Self?
Certainly much of the time our sense of self is based around the feelings and experiences of being in a physical body. If someone says to us “You look like a bit of a fatty today!” we will most likely respond as if they have insulted our real self! But hold on, if we check it is actually quite easy to change our subjective identification with our physical body into an objective experience. For example we say “My body”. This indicates that the body is the possessed and we the self are the possessor. Since we can observe our body as an object in this way we can conclude that it is not our True or Ultimate Self.

Are my mind, feelings thoughts and opinions my True Self? 
Like the physical body we can generate extremely strong self-sense based around different feelings, thoughts and opinions that our mind generates. However, like our body it is possible to take an objective stance and watch our mind objectively, so our mind fails the subjectivity test too.

Is the body-mind combined my True Self?
The combination of body and mind is a tempting thing to place our sense of self upon, but since we have already seen that both can be objectified, it follows that the combination of both can’t be the True Self.

Is my spirit my True Self?
Many spiritual people would jump onto this one. The True Self must be the luminous, formless ground of being that we discover when we go beyond the mind into silence and the inner space that lies beyond the mind. However, although a subtle and deeper aspect of self than the body or mind, our spiritual being can be observed objectively like the everyday body and mind, thus it too fails the test of being the True Self, the only aspect of self that we cannot turn into an object.

The Witness Consciousness
What is it that remains constant whether we are observing our body, mind or spirit? Termed most often as the “pure witness consciousness”, this aspect of self has only one quality; it is the witness of whatever is arising in our mind. Beyond this witnessing there it has no other qualities! This is our True Self. It remains at all times the same, whether we are focused on our physical world, mental world or spiritual world.

The Non-Dual Self
Moreover it is the same witnessing consciousness in me that is in you, the witness within me and the witness within you are indistinguishable. Thus by connecting and meditating upon the witness self we connect to the Universal Self, that unified Self that lies within the heart of all living beings without exception and looks out through an infinite number of pairs of eyes!
By meditating upon the True Self or Witness Self we also therefore arrive at an experience of Unity with the Selves all other living beings. Multiple selves in infinite living beings become the one True Self looking out through the eyes of all. In this sense by discovering our own True Self we have also discovered the Non-Dual Self, the One-Self that lives in all living beings.

Meditating on the True Self
The above explanation of how to find and connect with the True Self as I mentioned is implicitly found in all of the great wisdom traditions of the world, but the wording borrows most explicitly from the Hindu Vedanta tradition. Essentially meditating on the True Self is very simple, but infinitely deep and can be done in two parts as follows:
1)  Observe the flow of your awareness from moment to moment, become aware of that which is watching and observing the flow of sensory, mental and spiritual objects though your awareness. Recognize this subjective, witnessing awareness as your True Self and focus upon it gently.
2) Once you have some familiarity with step 1, then become aware that the witness awareness that you are now recognizing as your True Self is the same witnessing self or True Self within everyone else. In this sense it is the Universal or Non-Dual Self that is present in yourself and every other creature that you meet. As you are placing your focus upon your witnessing awareness, integrate the recognition that it is the True Self and also the Universal Self, the Self that is one in all and all in one.

There you go, simple enough for a beginner, deep enough for the most practiced Yogi!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Inner vision One Minute Mindfulness

Mindful of the Thinning of the Veil

Traditionally within the Wheel of the Western Year (by that I mean the progression of the year through the seasons) there are two times when the “veil” between the worlds of our inner and outer perception are thinned, making visionary and dream experiences somewhat more pronounced and vivid. These two times are before and after May the 1st of May or “Mayday”, and the few weeks before and after Samhuinn, or Halloween as it is most commonly known nowadays from October 31st to November 2nd.

Certainly I find that right now in the run up to this years’ Samhuinn my dream life is becoming very vivid, meeting many different characters and  taking strange journeys in my sleep. This time of year is also a time of “reversals” where bad appears as good, good appears as bad. It can be a time of confrontation with our own shadow self , and with the shadow self of the group unconscious. It can also be a time where the spirit of our ancestors attempts to contact us.

Because of all the above things, if you are at all psychically sensitive this can feel like a really chaotic, somewhat dark and “mixed-up” time of year. For me over time I have come to enjoy it as a time where the seeming order of my life becomes much more fluid, and so there is an opportunity to facilitate positive change, and let go of any “skeletons in the closet” that may have built up in my life over the year(!), and look for clues as to the inner work to be done over the coming months.

A Suggested Practice:

Simply pay a little closer attention to your dreams and inner visions (both in and out of meditation over the next 2-3 weeks. Don’t be intimidated if they seem a little chaotic, look upon them as a chance to gain insight into areas of your life that you may normally be unaware of as they lie hidden in your subconscious!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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One Minute Mindfulness

Mindful of the Stress of Living in an Emergent Time

An emergent time is a time in history where there is a large amount of change, innovation, transformation and transformation going on within society and on the Planet as a whole.

All of this change and transformation can also give rise to the perception that there is more conflict, stress, confrontation, agitation and despair in the world, and that we ourselves as individuals are under more pressure, both on a day to day work/life level, and on an existential level.

I’m not sure whether there has ever been a time in known history where there has been as much change as there is going on currently in our time, or a time where the problems that we are facing, (climate, pollution, economy etc..) have ever been so global in their nature. So many challenges, wonders and horrors seem to be emerging all around us.

One question that I find it interesting to ask myself is “How am I responding or reacting to the pace of change? Do I feel and experience it as a good thing with a lot of positives, or is it something that my mind contracts away from with aversion or fear?”

Like everyone else I think I inevitably feel a certain degree of stress with regard to the pace of life these days, but I think it really helps me to have made a definite choice to envision our human and planetary future evolving in a wonderful, exiting and creative way toward a better future. This involves me making definite specific, practical visionary choices. For example:

– When I contemplate the global overfishing crisis, I imagine how it might lead to the creation of multiple marine reserves where humans actively start to protect and cherish life in the sea on a large scale (This is already starting to happen).

– When I think about fundamentally self-centered tendency that so many people seem to be stuck in, I wonder if the fact that we are all getting crowded into such tightly packed spaces (due to population numbers) will gradually start forcing us all to be a little less selfish, and discover that working together will really produce a better world.

– I can imagine that the internet will become a cause for everyone to become more educated and globally aware.

Of course I really can’t be sure what is going to happen with any of these things, but moving  into a future that seems to be e merging so fast, I think we all need to think consciously about what that future may turn into, and start holding a positive picture in whatever way it feel appropriate!

Practical Suggestion:

– Take one emergent crisis in our world that you think of often.

– Think creatively about the good that may come from it.

– Hold that vision of that good in your mind for a minute

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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Meditation techniques One Minute Mindfulness

The Little Reminders Work!

I recently listened to a talk by Roger Walsh on the Science of Meditation (well worth having a listen to, click the link to do so). In the talk he mentions that he spent about three years researching for his book “Essential Spirituality”, reading books and interviewing different spiritual teachers of the worlds great wisdom traditions.

One of the activities that he said virtually all of these teachers found effective themselves for daily mindfulness and consciousness development was the simply practice of placing small reminders in your living space. This means the post-it note on the bathroom mirror, the car bumper sticker, the messages that you write to yourself and place on the fridge. Simply being frequently reminded that you are training your mind, and what that training is is a very effective practice.

One of my own reminders is a picture of Buddha Vajrapani (embodying the spiritual and obstacle dispelling power of all the Buddha’s that sits on my desk. Whenever I feel discouraged I just let my eyes rest on this picture for a while and allow my determination and positive energy to build back up again.

What’s your “little reminder ” practice right now? It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than a message on a post-it on your bathroom mirror!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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Motivation and scope One Minute Mindfulness

Being Mindful of your Primary Motivation

Before you start something it is always worth spending a moment thinking “Why am I doing this? What is my primary motivation?” If you have a definite reason for doing something, then you can keep it as your focus, thus ensuring greater peace of mind and a higher likelihood of getting what you want from the activity.

– For example, if my main reason for going to play a game of tennis is fun and relaxation, being clear about that ensures that I can enjoy the competitive side of the match I play without letting it become too much of a focus point and thus spoiling my relaxation and enjoyment.

– Similarly if I go out with my wife for a dinner with the clear intention that it is relaxation time, keeping this in mind will mean that I avoid taking up difficult or conflicting topics of conversation that may get in the way of that quality down time.


– If my intention for playing tennis is to push my limits and play as well as possible, I  can make a conscious decision to set aside my merely recreational attitude for a temporarily more serious approach.

– I may deliberately go out for dinner with my wife in order to talk over a difficult or thorny topic, but the fact that I know what my/our intention is ensures that I can keep focused on the goal, and be prepared for the challenge that may come.

My basic point here is that if you are mindful enough to have a clear idea why you are doing something (whatever the size or significance of the activity), then there is a greater chance you will achieve your goal and a greater chance that you will do so with enjoyment and true presence of mind.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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A Mind of Ease Integral Awareness Integral Meditation Meditation and Psychology Meditation techniques

Why is it so Easy to Think Negatively?

Contemporary neuroscientists now believe that our brain has a built in negativity bias. This is because biologically speaking in the thousands of years we spent as primitive tribesmen and women it was actually more useful survival-wise to be able to spot threats and dangers quickly than it was to be loving and relaxed. When you have a genuine threat from predators and aggressive humans from the next tribe, it really paid to be paranoid and think about the worst case scenario!
However, fast forward to 2011, and we have undergone 2-300 years of very fast cultural, social and industrial evolution, and now find ourself in a situation where we are actually physically SAFE most of the time. Unfortunately our biological brain has not evolved as fast as our environment, and so we still find our brain primed to seek out threats, spot the negatives in life, and remain generally neurotic.
Because our brain has not adjusted fully, but retains its built in survival negativity bias, we find that in our everyday life it is much easier to think negatively than  positively. As neuroscientist Rick Hansen (author of “Buddhas Brain”) puts it “Our mind is Velcro for negativity and teflon for positivity”, negativity sticks with no effort, whilst positivity has to be drummed in with effort!!

So, what to do?
The first take away from this understanding is that in order to enjoy a positive mind and perspective we should expect to have to exert effort everyday to think positive and let go of the negative.
The second take away is that we should realize that our mind will naturally exaggerate threats and negativity, so we need to be prepared for this, and make sure we do not give our power away to these over-reactions!

A Daily Practice
Here is one of the things I do each day to keep my mind oriented positively, and I do it religiously each day if I feel negative in any way. It is really very simple, but in the context of the above neuro-psychology you can see how important it is. All I do is write a list of reasons to feel good, positive, fortunate and so on. I write at least three things that I feel good about, but if I have time I write more. To show you exactly what I mean here is my list of three or more things that I feel good about right now:

– I feel good about the soul portrait artwork that I am doing for a client right now, and feel fortunate to be able to do art as a part of my living.
– I’m very excited about a new neighborhood that we may be moving to in the future, it has many of the characteristics that I am looking for!
– I’m enjoying the book I am reading right now “The Marriage of Sense and Soul” by Ken Wilber (recommended by the way!)
– Its good to have the wife around after her absence on a trip for a couple of weeks!

As you can see there is nothing unusual about the above list, but every time I do it what I am training and re-wiring my brain to pick up on the positive and use it as the basis for the way I feel about my life.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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One Minute Mindfulness

What Does Liberation From Suffering Mean?

Does liberation in the spiritual sense from suffering mean that we no longer feel any pain? I tend to think that we will still feel pain of one form or another after we have been liberated, but that pain will not be added to by additional mental suffering and negativeness.

To be liberated from suffering means for example that when you are in physical pain you no longer add to that pain by trying yourself up in knots about the situation you are in. You simply accept the pain as it is, if you can alleviate it you do so through your actions, but if it is just a matter of enduring it with patience,  you can do so without your mind making things any worse than they need to be.

If you can accept pain without it giving rise to mental suffering, then in a very real sense you are liberated from suffering.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot over the last 36 hours or so as my mind and body seem to be a in a certain amount of pain, and chaos. There is plenty of opportunity to buy into it and create suffering from the pain, but as long as I realize I have the choice not to and am mindful to exercise that choice there is no real problem. Pain does not need to become suffering.


© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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One Minute Mindfulness

Self Flagellation the Same Thing as Sheer Egoism?

This is an interesting quote from Herman Hess’s “Steppenwolf”:

“…his whole life was an example that love of one’s neighbour is not possible without love of oneself, and that self-hate is really the same thing as sheer egoism, and in the long run breeds the same isolation and despair.”

I find it very interesting to think of self criticism and self hate as really just being the flip side of egotism. We are very quick to out down ourself and other people for being egotistical, but seem much more tolerant of people (including our own selves) who are overly critical of themselves and have low self esteem.

If we really realize that these two activities are  EQUALLY egotistical, then how would that affect our current view and tolerance of self criticism?

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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