The purpose of meditation is to cultivate those states of mind that are conducive to peace and well-being, and to eradicate those that are not.
If we examine our life we will discover that most of our time and energy is devoted to mundane activities, such as seeking material and emotional security, enjoying sensory pleasures, or establishing a good reputation.
Although these things can make us happy for a short time, they are not able to provide the deep lasting contentment that we long for. Sooner or later our happiness turns into dissatisfaction, and we find ourselves engaged in the pursuit of more worldly pleasures.
Directly or indirectly, worldly pleasures cause us mental and physical suffering by stimulating attachment, jealousy, and frustration. Moreover, seeking to fulfill our own desires often bring us into conflict with others.
If true fulfillment cannot be found in worldly pleasures, then where can it be found? Happiness is a state of mind, therefore the real source of happiness lies in the mind, not in external circumstances.
If our mind is pure and peaceful we will be happy, regardless of our external conditions, but if it is impure and unpeaceful, we will never find happiness, no matter how much we try to change our external conditions.
The method to make our mind pure and peaceful is to train in meditation.
Meditation is a method for acquainting our mind with virtue.
The more familiar our mind is with virtue, the calmer and more peaceful it becomes. When our mind is peaceful we are free from worries and mental discomfort, and we experience true happiness.
If we train our mind to become peaceful we will be happy all the time, even in the most adverse conditions. But if our mind is not peaceful, even if we have the most pleasant external conditions we will not be happy. Therefore it is important to train our mind through meditation.
There are two types of meditation: analytical meditation and placement meditation. When we contemplate the meaning of a Dharma instruction that we have heard or read we are doing analytical meditation. By deeply contemplating the instruction, eventually we reach a conclusion or cause a specific virtuous state of mind to arise. This is the object of placement meditation.
Having found our object through analytical meditation, we then concentrate on it single-pointedly for as long as possible to become deeply acquainted with it. This single-pointed concentration is placement meditation. Often, analytical meditation is called simply ‘contemplation’, and placement meditation simply ‘meditation’.
Placement meditation depends upon contemplation, and contemplation depends upon listening to or reading Dharma instructions.