Traditionally associated with Indian Buddhism and Hinduism, the ancient art of meditation has found a global following and is now practised in a multitude of cultures and faiths. We are all trying to improve our spiritual well-being, but it can often be a struggle to find that immovable inner peace and sense of self that we’ve heard so much about. One man who has it figured out is Mingyur Rinpoche. Otherwise known as the Millionaire Monk*, Rinpoche was born in a small village in the Himalayas in 1975. As a child, he used meditation as a way to deal with his severe panic attacks and has been studying meditative practices since the age of nine. At just seventeen years old, he became one of the youngest lamas at the Sherab Ling monastery, eventually being appointed the abbot. With thirty years of Buddhist teachings and meditation knowledge, Rinpoche is currently teaching students around the world, including three public talks in Hong Kong this September. Hoping for our own moment of Eat-Pray-Love enlightenment, we sit down with him to see where we’ve been going wrong.
What are your five top tips for meditation novices?
First, allow for the fact that you might not be able to relax. Once you stop worrying about whether or not you can relax, you can actually begin to relax. Secondly, focus on breathing to relax your mind. The aim is to focus on one thing: so breathe in, breathe out, and concentrate on how that feels. My third piece of advice would be to not block thoughts: whilst you want to be focusing on one thing, that doesn’t mean that you can’t also have other ideas running through your head. They will come and go, but as long as you don’t chase them and remain aware of your breathing, then you are still meditating. Another thing to remember is that you can meditate anywhere, and anytime, for as long as you like: don’t limit yourself
One of the best times to meditate is while you exercise – research shows that our perception changes when we exercise because of endorphins in the brain. This can unlock a lot of positive energy which will take your meditation in a very positive direction. Doing many shorter meditation sessions can be as beneficial as one longer one – you have to find what works for you.
Finally, don’t get attached to a meditation experience. Meditation is an ocean: it goes up and down, like the stock market. No two experiences will be the same, and it will lead to disappointment if you expect that: on days when you are busy, stressed or feeling sensitive, you may struggle to meditate or have a different experience. Holding on to good experiences is putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when they start to meditate?
Many people believe that the meaning of meditation is to think of nothing. They believe that if you are thinking about stress, the past, the future, hamburgers, anything, that you are not meditating properly. But we cannot block thoughts and emotions, and we shouldn’t try to. If you tell yourself not to think of hamburgers, I can guarantee that all you will think about is hamburgers. Another problem for beginners can be having too strong a focus. If you are concentrating too hard, you are not relaxing – focus gently, and do not force yourself to think or not think about anything.
What are the three main benefits of meditating?
There are so many benefits! It is difficult to choose three. First, there is the effect on your mental and emotional well-being. You will have greater clarity, which will make you calmer. Normally, our minds are like crazy monkeys: and the mind is our boss, so how you think and feel will reflect in your actions. You can seek out material wealth – a nice house, an expensive car, a new phone – but if your mind is not happy then these things will not change your feelings. Meditation can help you to be happy within yourself – and then, whatever you have, wherever you are, you can find happiness.
Secondly, meditation gives you greater control over your mind and thoughts. It is more than simply being calm: you will understand yourself better and how to use your brain to focus on what is important. Consider this: you are trying to eat more healthily but you have a weakness for junk food. Without meditation, seeing a hamburger would have you breaking your diet in a heartbeat. But, with meditation, you can improve your self-control and it will become easier to stick to your resolutions.
Thirdly, meditation is good for our physical health. By releasing stress it improves our immune system, slows ageing and promotes longevity. It can help with illness, like high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Keeping a good mental state has a physical impact: some things are mind over matter.
Are there meditation courses and retreats in Asia that you would recommend?
There are so many great meditation courses and retreats in Asia to choose from. In Tergar, we have the Joy of Living courses and workshops, which are designed for everyone whether or not you are a Buddhist, or even spiritual. The courses and workshops teach the essential parts of meditation practice. It’s good for the body and mind, and will help to improve your personal and professional life. Your increased clarity will give you better ideas and more energy. The improved relationship you will have with yourself will have a positive knock-on effect on the other relationships in your life.
What did you learn from your four and a half years of solitude?
I set out to learn better meditation practices. When we meditate, we transform problems into solutions. At first, we have to meditate in a nice environment, with the right circumstances – a little bit like being on a retreat. But once you have some experience, you can meditate when you are presented with challenges or problems. While I was in the mountains I had no money, no house to stay in, no friends, no sure meals. I begged for food, stayed in the streets or in caves in the mountains. Solitude was the best way for me to focus on meditating in the face of adversity. But there were other lessons too that were unexpected. I learnt about life, and how other people live. Before my solitude, I was like a Dharma prince. I never had a normal life – sometimes we need to leave our comfort zones. Being out of that, I learnt so many things about different societies and communities. I am more compassionate now: I feel more human.
Find out more information about The Millionaire Monk's Hong Kong visit
Register for his free talk at the Chinese University here