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Out of Darkness, From Chaos to Clarity via Meditation

 

Out of Darkness

From Chaos to Clarity via Meditation

 

Cecil Messer

Copyright 2016

Shakespir Edition

 

 

Out of Darkness: From Chaos to Clarity via Meditation

 

Copyright 2016 Cecil Messer

 

All rights reserved. Permission is granted to copy and use material in this book in the manner consistence with its intended purpose of spiritual awakening and with the provision that the source is credited.

Mailto: [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

TwoCrows Publishing

Asheville, NC, USA

 

 

Dedication

To each precious teacher, human or otherwise,

who appeared in the guise of friend or enemy

and briefly touched my heart.

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Dedication

Prelude

PART ONE: THE GROUND

Chapter One – Introduction

Our Current Predicament

The Journey of Awakening

How to Practice Meditation

Sitting Fundamentals

Sitting Session – 1

Chapter Two – Preparing the Garden of Meditation

Sitting Session – 2

 

PART TWO: THE WESTERN APPROACH

Chapter Three – Ageless Wisdom

Sitting Session – 3

Chapter Four – Esoteric Perspectives

Sitting Session – 4

Chapter Five – Religious Traditions

Sitting Session – 5

 

PART THREE: THE EASTERN APPROACH

Chapter Six – Tradition of Yoga

Sitting Session – 6

Chapter Seven – Meditative Serenity

Sitting Session – 7

Chapter Eight – Meditative Insight

Mental Training

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Reminders

Insight Meditation

Sitting Session – 8

Chapter Nine – Union of Serenity and Insight

Sitting Session – 9

 

PART FOUR: INTEGRATION

Chapter Ten – Meditation and Love

Sitting Session – 10

Coda

Chapter Eleven – The Seer Who Walks Alone

Experience of Beauty

Sitting Session – 11

Chapter Twelve – Search for the Self

Cloud Formations

The Self and Dying

Further Analysis of the Self

Sitting Session – 12

Chapter Thirteen – Origin and Composition of the Self

Origin of Me

Composition of the Self

Self and Spaciousness

Sitting Session – 13

Chapter Fourteen – Interdependence and Emptiness

The First Seal

The Second Seal

The Third Seal

The Fourth Seal

Sitting Session – 14

Chapter Fifteen – Recapitulation

Primordial Heritage

The Overview

Continuing the Journey

On Practical Matters

Conclusion

Song of Realization

Sitting Session – 15

Epilogue

Glossary

Credits and Consults

About the Author

 

 

Prelude

Sitting in the shade of an umbrella tree

—dying (as are you),

Oblivious to the resonance of death’s distant drumming,

The immense sky, profound and unfathomable,

Deepened its spectral transition in blue

from azure to indigo.

 

Its spaciousness accommodated the sun’s radiance,

Who displayed fingerlike shadows

across the mountain ridges.

Softly compliant, enjoying the surface texture of every

untouched peak and valley,

They felt unrestrained

And caressed the warm earth.

 

The wind too moved freely

As it affectionately combed and waved

undulating fields of grain

And frolicked amidst the hedgerows.

 

Occasionally a few small clouds passed over,

Forming a complementary panorama of

light and shadow on the distant mountains.

 

As the sun was still bright, the ground beneath the trees

captured ever-changing shadows of leaves

Dancing with the breeze.

The portent of nature’s imminently coming

period of stillness,

Began to reveal itself.

 

(Strangely, amidst the magic of this phantasmagoria,

subtle residues of anxiety tingled the solar plexus)

Perhaps a harbinger of the potential beauty in the

unfolding stillness of heart and mind.

 

In the background, children sounded their delight

and displeasure;

And in their peculiarly parallel society

birds too voiced their joys and sorrows.

Along with the sporadic noise of distant trucks, the

Occasional alarm of a ground squirrel

warned his kin of an imagined danger.

 

As one, all elements formed a coherent and rhythmically

changing spectrum of light and sound.

Joy permeated the entire mandala;

Nothing was out of place;

Distractions were not of this time.

 

Radiant Darkness approached and hovered over her brood

Gently drawing a blanket—enveloping all in love.

Visual patterns faded and sounds returned to their source.

Stillness settled naturally—without coercion,

Compelled not by withdrawal through fear or weariness

but from the spontaneous movement of

order and grace.

 

Once again, wholeness rested in the benediction of

absolute luminosity,

The appearance of a new universe assured with

the coming of the morning light.

PART ONE: THE GROUND

Chapter One

Introduction

 

Out of Darkness refers to a movement away from our present status as alienated beings residing in a confused world of our own making. As the subtitle From Chaos to Clarity via Meditation suggests, there is a path of return to our primordial source of being—our personal mythical Eden, our natural home. To support this life-altering journey, this book is like a GPS guide for the confused and disoriented emigrant. My aim is to inspire those ripe ones who have reached a plateau of dissatisfaction in their search for meaning to participate in a transformative personal project—to connect with a generative spiritual practice. Out of Darkness provides a highway from the vale of the West to the high plateaus of the East and opens the gate to a spectrum of meditation approaches to enlightenment. It systematically explores these avenues to illuminate our mental afflictions and initiate a process of holistic healing—liberation from suffering. Our inquiry initially focuses on prerequisite qualities distilled from core teachings of sages. Subsequently it goes deeper into perennial ways of viewing the reality of our existential predicament.

Beginning with a prose poem, The Prelude sets the ambiance for connecting with the journey and embodies the essence of the book’s intent. This continues with an overview of plans and preparations for our journey. It lays out a map of the pertinent territory to be explored and presents the framework for meditation practice. Each chapter concludes with a brief meditation practice session designed to assimilate its theme. These meditation practices will help the reader/practitioner connect with a renewing spiritual experience.

The meditation practice schema is structured to encourage the reader/practitioner to effortlessly relax into a profoundly subtle and interiorly oriented state. Progressing in nuanced stages, each session produces a measure of wholeness—a feeling of coherence and ease. Thus begins the process of coming into relationship with the fruits of meditation: radiant love and luminous clarity.

 

Our Current Predicament

Remember a time when you were a child reclining on the grass in a woodland meadow gazing at the sky, viewing in wonderment the ever-changing cloud formations. Recall sitting on a river bank or ocean beach watching the wave patterns constantly dying and renewing themselves in their ebb and flow. Since then, you may have witnessed many unexpected vicissitudes of life and endings of death.

Reflecting on these experiences, we see that impermanence and change mark all situations, relationships, phenomena, and material objects. How do these observations relate to our existential situation, the stream of our life experiences? Science proclaims that the entropy of the universe is increasing: all matter and energy— all systems— steadily deteriorate and move toward a state of inertness, i.e., death. Living things decay and return to dust; mountains weather and become deserts; even diamonds may be crushed into powder. Salaries, perhaps previously increasing every year, begin to lose value; our faith in government at all levels declines. Mundane tasks—washing dishes, grooming hair, and cleaning rooms—must be endlessly repeated and are never finished. A former soul mate now loves another; the climate is becoming harsher and more unpredictable; the car needs repair and a treasured jacket is threadbare. Enthusiasm for a favorite pastime grows dull and former joys wane and wither like spent flowers; aging is relentless. Our reaction to these forms of impermanence is generally painful. Nevertheless, fortunately seeds sprout and things grow and bear harvest; life refreshes itself and continues. Is it possible for us to develop a new relationship with the suffering associated with change?

Many may have long ago concluded that individual freedom is a myth since all thoughts, emotions, and actions spontaneously respond to and depend on present circumstances and our relationship with other beings. Our actions are governed by personally conditioned hopes and fears. Caught up in the urge for a shiny new motorcycle or bottle of whiskey, the husband raids the family bread money; wearied by her status of subservience, the wife indulges in gossip and consumerism to boost her self-esteem. We may feel compelled to wear appropriate attire—fine linens to the temple, suit and tie to the office, punk rags to school. Taxes are mandated and restrictive regulations are imposed by the prevailing government. Latent spiritual ideals and aspirations are often compromised as they dissolve and die in the satisfaction of belonging to a local organized religious sect or the latest “New Age” movement. Gradually finding these to be unsatisfactory, our search for meaning may degenerate into an apathetic rejection of all nonsecular matters. Moreover, depending on time and place, we may participate in or be subjected to extreme, yet largely accepted, societal norms such as violent conflicts, apartheid, genocide, and a variety of perverted class distinctions. Nevertheless, the dominant cause of our imprisonment stems from the conditioning born from ego’s ossified thought and behavior patterns. Is it possible to escape this self-generated dungeon of unhappiness and find a path to real freedom?

Rather than looking at our self or another through fresh eyes, we see them through the cataracts of memory with its accumulated hurts and pleasures. Consequently, our perception is distorted and resultant actions are largely predetermined. We form closely held opinions and stand by as our relationships solidify. I might see a stranger on television that looks exactly like a grown-up version of my worst childhood enemy so I immediately classify him as a mean bully, only to learn that he just saved the life of a drowning puppy. Memories are not only recorded from present-life personal experiences but have been absorbed and accumulated from the collective patterns of society as a whole since beginning-less time. We might think that only the people who look and talk like us are normal or that those who go to a different church are doomed to a less favorable afterlife. Because of the prevailing affliction of not seeing things as they are, we experience isolation, tribalism, division, violence, sickness, and war.

It is evident that few people sustain real happiness or experience enduring contentment throughout their lifetime. If asked to consider whether or not you are happy, your answer probably depends on what is occurring at that moment in time. Happiness for most of us consists of moments of pleasurable activities such as eating chocolate, watching a football game, lounging on the beach, or conversing with loved ones. Unfortunately, all of these micro-pleasures are temporary and may turn at any moment. We may gain weight from over-indulgence, our team may lose the game, we may get sunburned, or we may become caught up in an argument. For those living in misery, simply having moments of freedom from pain and suffering is a meaningful happiness; any relief at all is a fountain of cool water to parched lips.

In pursuit of a more rewarding happiness, we may come upon a significant clue by carefully observing our feelings while involved in an act of spontaneous unselfishness, such as aiding a lost child or comforting a wounded bird. This experience of happiness, unlike the aforesaid common situations, seems to be of a higher order. Yet that glow is difficult to sustain because of the automatic tendency of wanting recognition and satisfaction. We ask: ‘Is there happiness beyond pleasure and warm fuzzies that is independent of time and conditions?’ If so, how is it attained and to whom does this happiness belong? Pertinent aspects of these questions will be approached in Chapter Thirteen.

Suffering is operative regardless of whether we reside in the ostensible paradise of the powerful, rich, and beautiful or are relegated to the despair of the downtrodden, poor, and ugly. Although one may have more moments of little pleasures, neither group is necessarily happier than the other; each experiences differing modes of unhappiness. Ironically, the perpetual stress of the privileged is the mirror image of the distress of the underprivileged. We whose social status falls between these extremes cannot escape the characteristic afflictions of daily life either. Even during periods of outer calm, many often feel disturbing periods of dread, loneliness, and a subtle but continuous underlayment of insecurity.

We are attached to loved ones but separation occurs; we cling to possessions and pleasures but losses occur. Energy and time are squandered by worrying and protecting the status quo, inevitably to no avail. Few escape the ever-present wake of chronic dissatisfaction in their stream of being. Most of us will experience the pain of sickness, decline, and old age; all will meet death. Moments of joy or freedom from strife appear rarely and fade away all too swiftly like last night’s dream. The perpetual carousel of life dizzily spins out of control with its cyclic ups and downs. In short: samsara simply sucks. This is the apparent existential situation created and shared by beings on this planet.

Nevertheless, sages assert that this scenario is neither our fundamental natural condition nor our preordained destiny; it is our ultimate challenge—life’s manifest task. Nietzsche’s view on suffering seems evidentially correct: To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. However, we shall go beyond mere survival and look into the nature of suffering: its causes and its cessation. Moving from the darkness of ego’s confusion to the clarity of knowing the true nature of oneself, a luminous capacity arises that enables us to truly benefit self and others. This open path of return to our primordial home is the liberating approach that engages a special way of looking into the roots of suffering. This is our genesis trek, a journey by way of meditation that culminates in a natural radical awakening.

Others have taken this journey. Long ago in the northern part of India, a prince was born to the queen and king of the country. The king received an omen that this child was special and destined to become a teacher or holy man. Naturally, the father wanted his son to continue the royal lineage and follow him as king. So he devised a cage of material and psychological protection around the boy. Confining him to a great palace—surrounded by vast gardens and lakes—with attendants catering to all his wants, the plan seemed to be working. The king was quite happy when his son married a beautiful princess and had a wonderful child. Nevertheless, a kind of restlessness grew in the mind of the prince, so early one morning he had his most trusted attendant saddle his horse. He surreptitiously left the confines of the palace to explore the outside world and proceeded towards a nearby village. Almost immediately, on both sides of the road, he encountered squalid little huts, each with several inhabitants. Many of the people appeared sick and miserable. A crippled old woman approached him and asked for food. He gave her what he had and continued his exploration. On the side of the road, in a ditch, he came upon a dead person covered with flies and vermin. Overwhelmed by these experiences of poverty, sickness, old age, and death, compassion arose in his heart. He resolved to find a way to end suffering and he did.

 

The Journey of Awakening

This arduous journey from the trailhead of our present status of chaos and ignorance to the target destination of clarity and enlightened living is grounded on the premise that the essence of being, spirit, is innate to all beings. Living beings, from the smallest microbe to the largest mammal, desire happiness and wish to be free from suffering. Acknowledgment of this simple observation forms the basis for sharing our common burden of unhappiness. Fortunately, the human genus has the mental capacity to look into the causes of unhappiness and the altruistic will to pursue enduring happiness for all. To start afresh on the path of meditation—the avenue of awakening—does not mean we should discard the core values of religion. However, we must be willing to cultivate an open mind and remove obstructing accoutrements. Like barnacles on the hull of an old seagoing vessel, many stylized religions and philosophies are heavily encrusted. Within the collective karma of the human race, relatively few of us are fortunate enough to be born:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. With a reasonably sound mind and body,

*
p<>{color:#000;}. In a moderately hospitable environment free of war and strife,

*
p<>{color:#000;}. With adequate food, clothing, and shelter, and

*
p<>{color:#000;}. With access to educational nourishment and spiritual teachings.

Rare are those who even wish to begin this journey of awakening. However, for those who are ripe, opportunity awaits.

Once in a magic land of timeless time, the child of five or six years—pure of heart in that age of innocence— visited his grandmother one summer. A favorite pastime was to explore the surrounding woods and stroll along the creek bank, frequently stopping to gather wild flowers for Grandma. She always exhibited delight and surprise when presented with a colorful bouquet. From her core of being, joyfulness and grace came as blessings whose fragrance permeated their relationship. After a period of time, the child fully perceived their deep connection. An inner flower bloomed into the realization that: because humans mutually experience the suffering of the stream of life and share the joys and sorrows of relationship, all interconnections are as profound as if all beings have been our grandmother—or most precious loved one— many, many times. The attainment of happiness for all beings thus becomes our noble mandate and motive for action. From this compassionate perspective of interconnectivity, wise ones have created accessible guidelines for our liberation and left trail markers for recognizing and acquiring the treasures needed for our trek.

To initiate the journey, let us assume the relevance of four axioms for perusal throughout our exploration. These will help us transition from a haphazard searching mode to a guided engagement mode.

1. The primary cause of our existential situation is not recognizing who we are, not knowing our real genesis. Imprisonment is endured in a self-imposed matrix of confusion. Our deluded self-image is maintained through the conditioning of habituated ego-cherishing.

2. Our innate core status as spirit coupled with the inherent benevolence of the universe underlies the possibility of liberation from the misery of self-delusion. Out of the darkness of ignorance, there is a path of return to clarity and luminosity—a journey of awakening through meditation.

3. Our personal relationship with meditation constitutes that path. It provides the way of return to our natural primordial condition—the freedom of wholeness, a state of sanctity.

4. Meditation practice fosters the seeds of awakening. To know who I am and how things really are, a totally different kind of intelligence—free of conditioning—must naturally arise. The seed of that new intelligence is conceived and nurtured in the womb of meditation.

When embarking on the spiritual search, we may be instinctively drawn towards a symbol of that which is beyond reach like a caterpillar’s compulsion to find a quiet place to begin its process of pupal envelopment. When we see the silhouette of distant mountains framed in the dawn of a rising sun, a partially obscured mountain beckons with hidden promise. It holds in trust a unique and sacred jewel of meaning. Our inquiry into meditation is a rigorous endeavor analogous to approaching and crossing a forbidding mountain range; its way is shrouded in mystery. The journey is to find and develop natural ways of traversing from here to the other shore, to break out of our chrysalis of self-obfuscation and to metamorphose into a state of clarity. Only after the caterpillar loses itself in the cocoon may the glorious butterfly emerge.

The mirror of meditation will be applied to peer into some perennial questions:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. “Who am I?”

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p<>{color:#000;}. “What to do?”

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p<>{color:#000;}. “What is the nature of my relationship as the meditator to meditation?”

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p<>{color:#000;}. “How does meditation relate to my study, practice, concentration, thinking, visualization, listening, reflection, contemplation, and attention?”

These activities are within the realm of thought and time; yet,

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Is not meditation beyond thought and time?”

*
p<>{color:#000;}. “Is a ‘system of meditation’ a trick of the conditioned mind, another conundrum?”

*
p<>{color:#000;}. “Is there a way of preparing the field of my mind and heart that will enable the right receptivity for meditation?”

To approach these questions, we will examine perennial wisdom gleaned from representative wise ones whose teachings affirm that there is such a way. We must first host a proper reception for these sources by maintaining an open mind—the essential condition for hearing and communing with truth. A subsequent review of words and concepts will enhance our understanding at the level of intellect. Reflecting on this understanding deepens it in the continuum of heart and mind. Finally, through the practice of meditation, the teachings are integrated into a transcendental realization. The grace of meditation then becomes our ground of being as well as our mode of appearance in the cosmos. Just as in death, we die alone; in the end, the way of meditation is to be traversed alone.

“Meditation,” as defined by The New Oxford American Dictionary, is “a written or spoken discourse expressing considered thoughts on a subject.” Its definition of “meditate” is “think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” It defines “contemplation” as “the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time”; or as “religious meditation”; or in a religious context as “a form of prayer or meditation in which a person seeks to pass beyond mental images and concepts to a direct experience of the divine.” Although the latter phrase is somewhat relevant, none of these definitions sufficiently illuminates the path beyond the process of thinking. Meditation points to a rare state of consciousness and has been given many names such as: “samadhi,” “trance,” “rapture,” and “enlightenment.” For the present, let us suspend our eagerness for closure and leave the word “meditation” to rest undefined. A preemptive definition might relieve our discursive tension but may also obstruct the process of inquiry. Meditation, so delicate and ephemeral, is like a hummingbird: when sought, it eludes grasping and flies away. Therefore, we will approach it tentatively, yet with confidence, allowing it to manifest through patient watching and waiting.

Similar to the production of a masterpiece of music or painting, successful meditation practice depends on unfolding innate qualifications of clarity, love, and basic goodness. Masterpieces are distinguished by their transcendent qualities beyond the applications of acquired skills. This potential unfoldment with its pertinent qualifications will be elucidated and nurtured throughout our journey. Practical guidelines will be offered although, as an art, meditation practice cannot be taught; nevertheless, it can be learned. Diligently engaging in meditation practice gradually exposes the deeper meaning of meditation. From the power of Beethoven’s passionate love of music, his inner listening flowered into the creation of a sonata. Similarly, our meditation practice can yield the sacred fruit of clarity and luminosity. The art of meditation practice is the most important vocation in the world. Just as the breath is fundamental to the sustenance of our body, meditation is vital to the nourishment of our spirit. Meditation practice is the sword that pierces the veil of conceptual delusion and a way of loosening excessive attachment. It vaporizes the clouds of poisonous emotions and blesses us with the direct perception of reality.

One way of approaching the spectrum of meditation is by studying philosophy, theosophy, esotericism, and the major monotheistic religions of the West. Communion with representative saints and sages may continue eastward: through Krishnamurti, the iconoclastic teacher; through Patanjali, the yogic sage; and into the radiance of the Buddha’s teachings (dharma) on the true nature of reality. Nevertheless, as the Enlightened One (Buddha) advocated, none of these teachings should be considered to be the final word. Words themselves are mere symbols or pointers that easily dissolve into useless concepts and platitudes unless we have personally discovered the truth within. We will be open-minded but a bit skeptical, like the laborer receiving an ugly rock from the paymaster who claims there is a nugget of gold hidden in it; he must first crack it open before he puts it in the bank. Transcending the complicity of cherished concepts, the truth that is born of meditation is inherently genuine. Our journey culminates with immersion into the authenticity of our own insights—the true baptism that transforms mind and heart.

Sages have pointed out that meditation is the transcendental quality of being fully awake in original natural awareness—beyond the limitations of conditioned conceptual mind—wherein the world is recognized as it is in its primordial purity. Perhaps we have come close to the experience of meditation in one of those rare moments when our mind was truly quiet. Attention was totally present and the self rested in abeyance. It may have been in the form of an insight beyond thought or an ecstatic feeling of joyousness beyond pleasure—like unexpectedly coming upon the vista of a rainbow that momentarily graces us with its presence and then fades back into thin air. Its beauty lingers as the fleeting afterglow of gratitude and a tantalizing refusal to be grasped.

After a restful night’s sleep during which dreaming occurred, try to understand the mental processes associated with your dreaming. Immediately on waking, before the regular activities of your mind set in, you may feel vivid emotions such as delight or fear. They are the surreal offspring of the remembrance of the dream. But quickly intruding on the reverie, you may see that the events, people, and other objects in the dream were not substantive—simply illusions. The thoughts and emotions, palpable and intense, were based on mirage-like appearances in your mind. Gradually, images and feelings subside and depart, leaving only a few dream memory remnants. Similar to recognizing the nature of dreams, the flame of meditative awakening exposes and purifies hidden delusions. This profound experience of consciousness relates to the ordinary waking state just as the ordinary waking state relates to dreaming.

Our journey of awakening is designed to reduce the accretions and sediments of our personal consciousness, not to accumulate knowledge for our memory bank account. Vital understanding is not built on conceptual foundations; therefore, we will avoid becoming sidetracked by the allure of comfortable ideas. This process of inquiry starts from the stance of not-knowing; like an empty vase, we are receptive and without expectations. If we come upon a truth, we may marvel at its beauty and profundity; but unless we engage with it and live with it, it is merely cosmetic window dressing.

The brightest star in a clear dark sky does not shine directly on the path; however, if we look, it does give us a sense of direction. Throughout history, special teachers have left maps and guidance applicable to our journey. Tradition records that during a span of forty years, the Buddha gave eighty-four thousand dharma teachings in recognition of the diversity of human minds. Be confident that during this journey, we will encounter requisite teachings suitable for each and every temperament. Our approach to meditation will be both passionate and tentative. Communion with the sources will be respectful; however, no traditions are immune to the light of inquiry. So let us step gingerly into the waters of the meditation practice river and have confidence that meditation itself lies across the river—beyond the other shore.

 

How to Practice Meditation

If our mind was as calm and clear as a still forest pool, there would be no need to “practice” meditation. Unfortunately, our minds are like a “monkey-mind,” conditioned to be hyper-occupied by chasing thoughts of the past or bouncing off plans for the future. Various disturbing emotions arise continuously, often leading to confusion and anxiety. Hence, there is the need to train our mind to bring it to a stable state of calmness and clarity. As a preliminary focus for beginning the practice sessions, simply attend to relaxing the mind into a quiet mode and the body into a comfortable position with a reasonably straight back. As experience is gained, gradually incorporate the detailed instructions given in the “Sitting Fundamentals” below. The practice sessions are progressive and sequentially designed to be repeated until one feels ready to proceed to the next. Consistent daily practice at an auspicious time and place is beneficial and establishes a natural rhythm and routine. When a session is too prolonged, fatigue and discouragement come into play and begin to take over. Ambitiously extending the sitting time becomes counterproductive; ditto for allowing aching sit-bones to escalate into a distraction.

 

Sitting Fundamentals

These instructions are intended to provide guidance for the meditation practice itself. In order to feel relaxed and at ease with no induced tensions in your mind or body, it is crucial to soundly initiate the meditation practice session by providing the most favorable conditions.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Select a convenient time based on your personal circumstances and find a suitable location relatively free of distractions that allow you to sit in privacy.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Assume an upright sitting posture either in a chair or on the floor, whichever is comfortable, and release your bodily tensions.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Use a firm cushion for support when sitting on the floor in a simple upright cross-legged position. The pelvis should be tilted slightly forward with the knees touching the floor. Alternatively, you may sit upright on a chair with uncrossed legs and feet flat on the floor; if necessary, place books under the rear chair legs to obtain a slight downward tilt.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Rest the cupped hands, traditionally right over left with thumb tips touching, in the lap or alternatively, place your hands, palms down, directly on the knees.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. In either case position your elbows somewhat away from the body like a vulture letting air beneath its wings.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Tilt your chin down a little and slightly open your mouth letting the tip of the tongue touch or float freely near the palate to mitigate frequent swallowing.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Your eyes should be half open, without movement, and in soft focus into the empty space “an arrow’s length” ahead. Rather than focusing on a single point, try a panoramic fuzzy focus. If fortunate enough to be sitting on a mountaintop on a clear day, focus far into the depths of the empty sky.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. If you’re too easily distracted by visual objects, close your eyes.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Finally, imagine a cord attached to the crown of your head, suspending your spinal column, then settle into a relaxed, natural alignment.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Begin a session by slowly cycling a few deep breaths through the nose and slightly opened mouth. Inhale the freshness of joyful relaxation and exhale the stale poisons of anger, attachment, and delusion.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. A religious person may voice an opening prayer expressing thanksgiving and faith. A secular person may reflect on his or her good fortune in having the opportunity and capacity to practice. This step creates a special ambience and may invite the benevolent forces of nature to participate.

Collectively, these actions generate comfort and ease; they also fine-tune the alignment of specialized inner channels to facilitate the flow of subtle body energies. This set of actions comprises the meaning of the injunction “set the stage” for beginning the practice.

To “seal the practice,” it is beneficial for you to close each session with an expression of generosity and gratitude. Project the wish that others may also benefit from your practice. Elevate the energy all around you by sharing harmonious feelings experienced at this time. A religious person may feel that a healing prayer will be readily heard at this point and wish to share the benediction in that manner. This end-of-a-session action multiplies the effect of the practice for yourself and others.

 

Sitting Session – 1

Using guidelines given in the “Sitting Fundamentals,” set the stage and attend to any bothersome discomforts. Once relaxed and settled in, with the breath moving regularly and easily through the nose and mouth together, begin to observe the breathing process. To perceive this cyclic process, be minutely aware of all its associated sensations. Feel the diaphragm rise and fall, the cool sensation of the breath over the lips or tongue, perhaps a gentle breeze through the nose. The breath may sound like a distant wind in the trees. Tune in to the process and begin to count the number of breathing cycles. Normal breathing consists of breathing in and out but for this practice, three stages of breathing are observed: inhaling, holding the breath momentarily at the area just below the navel, and exhaling; thus, count each: in — pause — out movement as one cycle. Let the breathing become rhythmic and natural; don’t try to control it.

Initially, what generally happens is that we will count a few cycles and forget to pause the breath. This is easy to happen because that is the only breathing stage when we are at liberty to minimize without dire consequences. So just recall the task at hand and start over. Also, your attention may have strayed to thinking about something that happened yesterday or that might happen tomorrow. When this occurs, come back to observing the breath and start over. Be persistent, even if it takes several sessions to keep on track. After succeeding in counting ten or so complete cycles without wandering off into “la-la land,” a significant milestone has been reached and it is time to move on. At this point, let go of the notion of counting.

Next, give full awareness to the normal breathing process without the mental activity of counting or any other thinking process. When thoughts or emotions arise, don’t chase after them as if they were pearls about to fall in the drain gutter. Don’t become involved or entangled with them like hens at a gossip party; simply marvel at their variety and abundance. Similar to the reaction of a fizz pill in a glass of water, thoughts tend to bubble and froth. Floating to the top, they eventually disappear into oblivion. So when the arrival of unwelcome intruders is noticed, there is no need to forcefully repress or chastise them. We simply and politely say good-bye to the uninvited guest and gently return to the practice of watching the movement of the breath. Stay with this for a little while. Seal the practice (see the above “Sitting Fundamentals”).

In the early stages of practice, our mind seems to be chattering like a covey of quail out on a lark. We may feel that the barn door of the unconscious was left open. Actually, the proliferation of thoughts and emotions was present all along; we just weren’t aware of the cacophony. After a few sessions, notice that the volume knob has been turned down a little. Attentiveness in the practice is necessary for the next stage of our journey.

Chapter Two

Preparing the Garden of Meditation

 

Meditation is like the subtle, fleeting fragrance of a newly opened flower bud. It cannot be touched or seen directly but may be uniquely sensed and thereby becomes integral to our consciousness. The practice of meditation has prerequisites analogous to those required for growing flowers in a garden from seeds. The expansive virgin field of the mind is to be readied for a profound conception to occur in the garden of meditation. The weeds of self-centeredness are to be rooted out and noble aspirations of loving-kindness to benefit others are protected. The plants nurtured in this garden of meditation are precious and perennial for as given in Genesis 1:11 they are as:

 

. . . fruit trees bearing fruit

That carries its own seed.

 

Virtuous qualities are a universal hallmark of the spiritual quest. Cultivation of these profound traits is essential to fully connect with the process of meditation. Religious traditions also advocate special requirements for approaching the Divine.

 

Through Moses came the Ten Commandments giving rules of conduct. From Psalms 46:10:

Be still and know that I am God.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed:

Blessed are the pure in heart

For they shall see God.

To surrender to the Divine Will, the Prophet Muhammad categorically advocated the Great inner jihad. His preeminent teaching was oriented towards an internal, individual, and spiritual struggle for self-improvement and personal moral purification.

From his insight into Sufism, the esoteric dimension of Islam, the representative poet and mystic, Rumi, says:

Whether you love the One or another human being,

If you love enough, in the end you will come into the

Presence of Love itself.

Helena the Theosophist urges aspirants to climb the golden stairs of a:

Clean life, an Open mind, and a Pure heart,

And to attain to the temple of Divine wisdom.

She affirms the existence of an Ancient Wisdom that informs the esoteric basis for the world’s major religions.

The Chinese sage Lao Tzu says to those who wish to follow the Tao:

Like a lake without winds, one must have a heart that is calm and quiet,

With great depth beneath it.

The Tao that can be expressed is not the Eternal Tao.

Nevertheless, something there is, formless yet complete.

In the beginning it existed. Its name is not known,

But it is called Tao. It is the

Mystery of Mysteries.

From a Confucian sage, Mencius:

Try your best to treat others as you would wish

To be treated yourself,

And you will find that this

Is the shortest way to goodness.

From a Jain prayer:

Friendship to all living forms,

Delight in the qualities of the virtuous ones,

Unlimited compassion for all suffering beings,

Equanimity towards all who wish me harm,

May my soul have these dispositions now and forever.

From the Sikh sacred scriptures (Adi Granth):

The One God pervades all:

And seeing Him,

I am wholly in bloom.

The Shinto approaches the

Divine heart of truth through sincerity,

A pure heart,

And uprightness.

The Hindu sage Patanjali gave spiritual guidelines to attain the meditative state of mind.

These include abstaining from harmful behavior and cultivating generosity and devotion.

The dharma teachings of Gautama Buddha, the Enlightened One, lead to the wisdom of compassion and liberation from suffering for all beings. Thus he taught the Noble Eightfold Path detailed in Chapter Eight.

These imperatives embody the truth that negative qualities cause suffering and a virtuous mind generates happiness. They are essential to our inquiry and furnish the requisite seeds to be sown in the garden of meditation. Plants harvested here will generate a cornucopia of benefits for our self and others. Let us take to heart Jesus’s “Parable of the Sower” and give great care in preparing this garden. Early in this process, having recognized and grown weary of our life drama, a warrior-like fearlessness and determination to proceed will begin to sprout in our heart.

Obstructing our journey are six major poisons: Delusion, Attachment, Anger, Greed, Jealousy, and Envy.

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. Delusion or ignorance is not seeing things as they really are. The results masquerade under many attractive guises; rarely do they appear as ugly or malodorous weeds. Witness our gullibility when faced with the pervasive contagion of charismatic politicians’ disingenuous utterings (outright lies) or the news media’s propensity for sensationalism, misinformation, and exaggeration. Proliferations of delusion include the entertainment media’s pandering to our baser fantasies and the advertisement industry’s clever solicitations that fool us into responding with unrestrained consumerism. Looming over these rather mundane delusions is the great delusion of self to be addressed in Chapter Thirteen. Maintaining the delusion of thinking that we are mostly free of negative characteristics only fortifies their grip on our heart. If we were poor and hungry, would we steal food for our self and family? If we were a soldier in battle and a friend was killed, would we try to hurt the enemy? If we were a politician running for office, would we cheat to achieve our goal? If we were born in fortunate circumstances and have never known poverty, conflict, and temptation, is it certain that we are free of selfishness, greed, racism, violence, and immorality? In the absence of discriminating wisdom, we inevitably sink into the oblivion of ignorance, which allows the noxious latent seeds within consciousness to sprout and take root at will.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Attachment reveals itself in many ways such as desire for attractive things and fondness for possessions including my spouse, my opinions, and my self. Resistance to examining cherished beliefs thinly cloaks our attachment to ego. I hold certain religious beliefs and don’t want you to show me any errors in my holy book. We are so attached to outcomes that we become extremely upset if things don’t go our way. If my candidate loses the election, I and my country will suffer greatly. We are really quite reluctant to change our mind about liking or disliking practically anything because we are so comfortable with our delusions.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Anger or hatred are extremely destructive forces in our relationships with others. Their effects range from estrangement to violence and outright war. When we believe we are simply annoyed, impatient, or resentful, we may be denying latent anger.

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p<>{color:#000;}. The grossest form of greed is simply accumulating more than we need and being reluctant to share our bounty with others. A subtle form of greed disguises itself under the mantle of seeking praise or gratitude for apparent generous deeds. The rich person donates a huge fortune to a charitable foundation but also wants his or her name emblazoned in big letters anywhere that is prominent.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Jealousy combines delusion, anger, and attachment in a way that leads to unfounded suspicion and feelings of extreme anxiety, fear of loss, or rage. Conditional love for another engenders the drama of jealousy. Real love is unconditional and only wants happiness for the other.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Envy combines the same three poisons as jealousy with a greater proportion of attachment. We desire the superior qualities or possessions of another and are discontent at our lack thereof. Envy’s mottled persona shows itself when there is no feeling of empathetic joy for the good fortune of another.

 

These weeds and their seed pods are to be culled and burnt prior to our final harvest; otherwise, their spawn will continue as sources of our misery. We may have realized that a life involved in the constant pursuit of pleasure or power is hollow and devoid of meaning, always in the penumbra of dissatisfaction. No matter what successes are enjoyed, failures loom. We never feel secure or completely fulfilled. In a relational context, personal interactions with others are often marked with anxiety; the ebb and flow of kind deeds, words, and thoughts may become contrived and joyless. An indifference to the suffering of those outside our immediate sphere of attention may lead to hardening of the arteries of compassion. Awareness of these observations informs and supports our motivation for undertaking this journey.

Two and a half millennia ago, the Buddha taught the great perfections (Skt., paramitas), which uniquely encompass the basic qualities necessary for leading the spiritual life. When perfected, these become the transcendental virtues of full enlightenment. The Sanskrit word paramita refers to having crossed the “river of suffering” to the “other shore of peace and awakening.” The paramitas are traditionally formulated as a set of six modes of behavior characterizing those who wish to follow a spiritual path to benefit others. They are: Generosity, Discipline, Patience, Diligence, Meditation, and Wisdom.

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. Generosity is the quality of being kind and open-hearted. Three kinds of generosity may be discerned. The most obvious is directly sharing our material wealth with those in need. Wise ones say that the seeds of generosity are inherently present within each of us. Witness a young child’s joyful natural behavior while sharing a bag of candy with playmates and strangers. Because generosity is innate, these seeds can be nurtured by training. It is good practice to personally present a gift to a recipient (in contrast to mailing a check to a charitable institution for distribution and a tax break). Make it a habit to seek out and directly place some food or money into the hands of a homeless person. A second kind of generosity is giving protection from fear. Mothers naturally give this to their babies; fathers to their family; and first class governments to their citizens through health care, disability assistance, and old age security. Third, and the greatest generosity, is to share dharma teachings to the extent we are capable. Leading by example, most of us can teach a child about kindness and forgiveness. If we know more than another about something, is it not our duty to share what we have learned?

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p<>{color:#000;}. Discipline includes actions supporting right ethics and moral conduct. This also has three aspects. First is to do no harm. Similar to the ethic embodied in the Hippocratic Oath (as pledged by some medical students: a vow to not injure a patient with their treatment), we resolve to never hurt any sentient being, whether human, animal, or the planet’s Gaia. Second is to perform virtuous actions that benefit others. This accumulates karmic merit in our life’s savings account. Third is to take care of our self by cultivating virtue and practicing the dharma teachings of meditation. This action builds the kind of self-esteem that induces happiness and well-being in those around us while elevating the self-worth of ourselves and others.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Patience attenuates anger. We endeavor to harbor no ill-will or resentment towards others. Jesus taught: Love your enemy and judge not others. Be patient with this injunction because many of us humans have professed this for over two thousand years and still haven’t got it right. Another aspect of patience is to avoid expressing anger towards another. At least count to ten or take a long deep breath before responding to an obnoxious stimulus. This action is not the same as repressing anger: this action allows time and space to see the anger raise its ugly head and subside like a wave in the ocean. Cultivate an attitude of forbearance towards difficulties presented by others. We probably created or at least contributed to the situation, anyway. As Helena the Theosophist puts it: Have patience sweet which naught can ruffle.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Diligence refers to a joyful attentiveness, always mindful of the actions of body, speech, and mind. It doesn’t let the body become injured through ingesting harmful drugs or unhealthy foods, taking on hazardous occupations, or neglecting our body’s need for care and sleep. Being aware of the action of speech, we won’t utter hurtful words, gossip, or slander, and will refrain from propagating wrong ideas. This awareness leads us to speak kindly to and of others. We may resist destructive actions of the mind such as holding wrong views, being overly attached to desirable objects, and clinging to hatred of another. Most importantly, diligence entails constantly practicing the dharma without procrastination or laziness. We may take great delight in wholesome actions.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Meditation here refers to the virtue of being calm, clear, and collected. By following the right spiritual path and practicing the mindfulness discussed in Chapter Seven, we attain a mind of calm abiding—like a still forest pool capable of reflecting perfectly.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Wisdom, when perfected, exhibits transcendental awareness and vast compassion. From the practice of insight meditation as discussed in Chapter Eight, we begin to see things as they really are. On the basis of stabilizing the mind in a state of calm abiding, we may see into the nature of mind itself. Through full realization we can truly benefit others; otherwise, our helpfulness will be temporary. For example, if we feed candy to hungry children today, tomorrow they will again experience the same hunger. If this thought causes one to discount mundane charitable actions, then know, “O Pilgrim,” that you have strayed from the path and may become lost in the morass of despair.

 

These six modes of action emerge as a display of character as our meditation practice skillfully progresses. Their accomplishment will cause four sublime innate qualities, traditionally known by Buddhists as the Four Immeasurables, to flower as:

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. Loving-Kindness – the extension of unlimited, universal good will to all beings without discrimination, including the wish that all beings be happy and obtain the causes and conditions of happiness.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Boundless Compassion – the wish that all beings be free from suffering and the causes and conditions of suffering.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Unbridled Empathetic Joy – delight in the success, welfare and happiness of all beings.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Universal Equanimity – sense of even-mindedness and impartiality toward all beings, friends and enemies alike, in all vicissitudes of life.

 

Generosity is particularly relevant to accomplishing our journey, for it prevents the constant stumbling and tripping over our ego. Meditation masters advocate purification in the fountain of a generous heart as the preeminent qualification to begin right meditation practice. This action lightens our burden of ego-cherishing. Implied in axiom 2 in Chapter One, which asserts our innate core status as spirit, is that generosity—like all real virtue—lies latent in the heart of everyone. Virtue doesn’t come from nothing; if there was no seed present, the four ghosts in the Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol could never have transformed the cold-hearted miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, into a kind and generous philanthropist. Fortunately, generosity can be nurtured, unfolded, and manifested since it is inherent to our nature.

What should we do with the hard fact that sometimes we are not very generous? Unfortunately, fabricated virtues are generally pseudomorphs—disguised forms of greed and self-aggrandizement—that merely induce complacency and self-satisfaction. However, simply seeing into our basic motives initiates right action. Letting go of any ambition to acquire virtue as a personal possession, we may begin cultivating generosity for the benefit of others. Practicing little deeds of generosity forms a magical basis for transformation. This action is not so much a process of conditioning our mind but rather a process of deconstructing poisonous habit patterns, thus making space for the unfolding of innate virtue. Although at first these deeds are fabricated, eventually with practice they become ingrained and genuine. To germinate these seeds, we may start by giving away small possessions. With no sense of pride or superiority, no embarrassment, directly hand a timely gift to a stranger-in-need; be grateful for our good fortune that makes this action possible. Gradually, there will be no sense of reservation even when giving away your most prized possession. He or she who realizes the futility of being possessive and whose generosity arises out of a pure wish to help others is called a bodhisattva. The perfection of generosity arises when the narcissistic notion of your self is abandoned—the ultimate sacrifice to spirit.

Imagine that the treasure we seek, the jewel of enlightenment, is hidden at the top of a distant mountain. To find the jewel, we must first connect with the process of meditation. Unfortunately, we begin the treasure hunt in unexplored territory with obscure maps and undeveloped skills. Without the right view and preparation, the seeker will become lost and the treasure will not be found. Lacking generosity, fearlessness, and other essential qualities to lighten our backpacks, you and I—and closely connected others—may become sidetracked or diverted into endless wanderings.

To begin this journey, it is sufficient to appreciate the beauty of the idea that conjoins the virtuous life with meditation practice. Like confronting the teaching of the Virgin Birth, a Christian may reflect on the response of the philosopher and self-proclaimed aesthetic Catholic George Santayana. When asked about the truth of it, he responded, “It [the Virgin Birth] is such a beautiful idea then it must be true.” As we continue along the path, there will be time for the gestation of motives to sustain us throughout the journey. Gradually, requisite virtues will unfold and tentative ideas will ripen into the certainty of aspiration. We may step gingerly into the edge of the baptismal waters; however, full immersion in commitment is necessary to cross the river to the other shore. There awaits the main trailhead, the staging place for our climb to the summit.

 

Sitting Session – 2

Refer to the Sitting Fundamentals in Chapter One and set the stage. Be aware of sounds and sensations around and within. Include sounds of the breath, the pulse throb, and the high frequencies of the nervous system itself. Be aware of other sensations: itching skin, muscle or joint pain, presence of odors, the taste around the tongue, the blueness of the sky, and lingering worries. No need to become attached to any of these; simply notice and let go. If bothersome distractions still hang around, attend to them by wiggling the sit-bones, scratching the itch, relaxing the muscle tension, or telling the worry that we will talk about it later.

As the object of this practice, observe the in-out motion of your breath and give full attention to the whole breathing process. When your attention wanders off, gently return to observing the breath’s movement. After a short while, seal the practice (see Chapter One, Sitting Session – 1).

In the immediately following post-meditation period, with your mind in a relatively quiet place, attend to any residual worry by calmly examining its content and noting its present status.

 

PART TWO: THE WESTERN APPROACH

Chapter Three

Ageless Wisdom

 

Meditation is like a jewel of many facets with each surface reflecting different colors depending on the viewpoint. Noble intentions and altruistic actions form the medium through which rays of meditation light are refracted and transformed into the rainbow-like beauty of insight or wisdom.

Coming up the gentle slopes to the first plateau of our journey, we enter a special land cultivated under the auspices of the ageless wisdom or theosophy. We gaze in wonder upon the vast fields of different ways of approaching the spiritual life. The word “theosophy” stems from the Greek theosophia, or divine wisdom. The spectral band of theosophy represents a Western nonsectarian approach to integrating religion, science, philosophy, and esotericism based on the ageless wisdom traditions. Truths revealed in these traditions are said to originally spring from the roots of spirit and form the core of all religions. Theosophy is not a religion but a referent to religion itself. Theosophists declare there is no religion, no doctrine, and no body of thought higher than truth regardless of the age of its scriptures, the dominance of its culture, or the multitude of its adherents. Theosophy is not primarily concerned with after-life phenomena, magic, clairvoyance, astrology, or related metaphysical topics. Although these are valid subjects for specialized inquiries, they easily become sidetracks into the barren regions that surround the garden of wisdom. Theosophical ideas may be studied and understood intellectually, but the truth in them can only manifest in one’s heart as the fruits of meditation and right living.

The Theosophical Society was formed in New York City in 1875 by the seminal Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (aka HPB and Helena the Theosophist) and others to promote the keystone concept of forming a nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity. Its motto is: There is no teaching higher than truth. The Theosophical Society is widely credited as being the first East/West nexus organization of this era to illuminate the deep inner side of all religions and to advance concepts such as reincarnation and karma into our modern vocabulary. Theosophy advocates the practice of meditation, study, and service as the key components of living the life of altruistic spirituality. It also acknowledges the importance of cultivating special virtuous qualities, (i.e., the paramitas), in support of meditation practices. In his commentary on HPB’s the Voice of the Silence, the esteemed Christian priest and clairvoyant C. W. Leadbeater, contends that one can’t fruitfully practice meditation in the absence of these qualities nor can one perfect them without meditation.

Echoing the perennial advice given by sages that a measure of generosity is especially vital for the neophyte aspirant, one of HPB’s spiritual teachers suggests (abstracted from a private letter):

 

Beware then, of an uncharitable spirit,

For it will rise up like a hungry wolf in your path, and

Devour the better qualities of your nature

That have been springing into life.

Broaden instead of narrowing your sympathies;

Try to identify yourself with your fellows,

Rather than to contract your circle of affinity.

 

The influential works of Annie Besant, the famous British women’s rights activist and second president of the Theosophical Society, are representative of a general theosophical view of meditation. She advocates control of the mind and regular meditation as qualifications for discipleship. She also recommends training the mind by constantly concentrating on lofty ideas without allowing the mind to wander. Her views relate to the specific type of meditation practice described in Chapter Seven. After the mind can readily maintain concentration or one-pointedness for an appropriate period of time, the next stage is to drop the object and to maintain the mind in this attitude of fixed attention. She feels that meditation is “the opening out of the soul to the Divine and letting the Divine shine in without obstruction from the personal self.” This opening relates to aspects discussed in Chapter Eight.

Steady and regular practice is advised; however, obsessively trying to force a noisy mind to become a quiet mind is counterproductive and only yields bitter fruit. There was a young mother who desperately wanted to do a meditation practice based on instructions she found in a so-called spiritual book. In addition to her home-making duties, every morning she would diligently sit for exactly thirty minutes concentrating on various objects and religious verses. One day, after a few months of this practice, she was in the kitchen anxiously preparing dinner, and her five-year-old daughter was sitting nearby playing. Seemingly out of the blue, the little girl looked up and asked, “Mommy, why is it that the more you meditate, the meaner you get?”

In connection with immoderate concentration practices, this story illustrates a relatively mild form of a commonly seen side-effect—a kind of fettered tenseness that explodes into unshackled anger. Another condition that may come up for some is an onslaught of repressed memories that become quite distressful. If they are not overwhelming, we may deal with the situation by simply returning to our chosen object of concentration. However, if the feelings are too strong, an intelligent way of handling the situation may be to consult with an experienced meditation teacher or psychotherapist. There is no danger associated with meditation practices that apply a common sense approach and employ mindfulness as the guardian at the gate. It is of no use to be ambitious or anxious about attaining the goal of a peaceful mind. After all, we have lived in the fog of noisy mental habits for a very long time. We must instead learn to relax and apply awareness to each situation through meditation practice.

Although the Theosophical Society has no official doctrine on meditation, it traditionally publishes literature on the subject and suggests practices representative of their collective viewpoint. In a pamphlet, The Art of Meditation, the editors summarize a view of meditation as: perfect stillness—silence of body, speech, and mind. To find this stillness, one learns the art of allowing thoughts and emotions to arise without letting them control us. We cannot force the stillness, “but we can withdraw our consciousness from its restlessness. Meditation is our deepest natural state—our pure consciousness.

Radha Burnier, a past president of the Theosophical Society, expresses the necessity of observation in building the foundation for meditation by comparing the human consciousness with a lotus bud. She says: “By careful watching and listening, the power of consciousness unfolds itself. It begins to blossom, which means it becomes more open to what life is telling. It is sensitive in its apprehension of what exists, and sensitivity is necessary to discover what lies deep down . . . the hidden truth. To learn to awaken the consciousness, so that its present hidden potentiality flowers into a state of absolute plenitude, is meditation.”

 

Sitting Session – 3

Up to this point, we have used our breath as the object of meditation practice. There are other physical and mental objects worthy of attention. Consider objects such as a candle flame, a sonata, a flower’s fragrance, the wind in your face, a baby’s eyes, or a sunset. Mental objects might include a scriptural verse, a poem, a virtue, an abstract idea, or a personal religious image. Select a single meditation practice object that interests you and hold it in your mind. For a verbal object, first memorize its lines.

Again, refer to the “Sitting Fundamentals” and set the stage. Become aware of all exterior sounds and interior sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Acknowledge each one as it comes into your awareness and let it go. Attend to the breathing until feeling fully relaxed; then bring the selected meditation object into the session. Examine all aspects of the object until there is resonance with it. From this position of resonance, suspend the examining process. Hold it very carefully, very sensitively, as if it were a fragile butterfly, until the boundary between the hands and its wings—the subject/object dichotomy—disappears. Allow yourself to merge with it. Seal the practice.

 

Chapter Four

Esoteric Perspectives

 

An extraordinary esoteric view of the spiritual journey is represented in the works of mystic Helena the Theosophist (aka HPB). On the summit of her esoteric writings, Voice of the Silence, a unique jewel box laden with precious gems awaits viewing. These gems metamorphose into magical seeds when rightly gazed upon. Labeled by her as a “book of instruction,” it is a masterpiece of source material for objects of meditative inquiry. It affirms the paramitas as the basic conditions for leading the spiritual life, the “golden keys . . . that open the gates of the portals . . . that lead the aspirant across the waters on to the other shore.” In Voice of the Silence, HPB directs attention to the possibility of two paths to spiritual liberation.

 

Which wilt thou choose, O thou of dauntless heart?

The . . . meditative stabilization of Eye Doctrine,

Fourfold Dhyana [meditation practice], or

Thread thy way through Paramitas, six in number,

Noble gates of virtue leading to Bodhi and to Prajna

,

Seventh step of Wisdom?

Subsequent passages make it clear that though the path of meditative concentration is useful and important, an even loftier and steeper path exists that is grounded in the whole of the paramitas. The singular practice of concentration can lead to individual liberation from suffering. However, it may invite an unwitting detached indifference towards the suffering of others that could result in a superficial or cosmetic compassion; hence, HPB designates it as the “Eye Doctrine.” She asserts that this approach is insufficient because it doesn’t advance the spirit of universal brotherhood, the “Heart Doctrine.” The final paramita, wisdom, implies the integration of the two paths into one, the marriage of heart and intellect.

HPB’s advice on “study practice” is pertinent to approaching meditation practice. She says a new and different kind of mental effort or mode of thinking is required for serious spiritual study. At first, vague conceptions will arise and subsequently form into mental pictures. However, we must not be deluded into thinking that these represent reality. For as we work on, even greater pictures will arise until the true student realizes: “. . . no picture will ever represent the TRUTH . . . and so the process goes on, until at last the mind and its pictures are transcended.”

The central theme of unity characterizes her main teachings. From the “Proem” of her magnum opus The Secret Doctrine, she draws attention to the first page of an “Archaic Manuscript.” Helena the Theosophist sees “. . . an immaculate white disk within a dull black ground.” She presents a poetic description of esoteric mystical elements designed to push a student’s comprehension from the perspective of intuition versus rationality.

 

The one circle is divine Unity,

From which all proceeds, whither all returns.

Its circumference . . . indicates the abstract,

Ever in-cognizable PRESENCE, and

Its plane, the Universal Soul,

Although the two are one.

 

In consonance with this, she opens her meditation teaching to her “inner group” students by drawing on her “Diagram of Meditation.” She directs them to “First conceive of Unity by Expansion in space and Infinite in Time.” Within the context of the word “conceive”, perhaps HPB wants their minds to become pregnant with the seed of unity. More than merely giving rise to a noble conception of oneness, the idea must take root and develop. From the sprout of this development comes the blossom of compassion: the rational knowing of the kinship of all life, the basis for a universal brotherhood. We usually think of space as the container of things or objects and time as the container of happenings or events but Helena the Theosophist has set her own stage for the terms “space” and “time” in Stanza I of The Secret Doctrine:

 

The eternal parent (space), wrapped in her ever-invisible robes

Had slumbered once again for seven eternities.

Time was not, for it lay asleep in

The infinite bosom of duration.

In her commentary on the stanza, she says that space is the one eternal thing most easily imagined. It is “immovable in its abstraction,” is not conditioned by the presence or absence of objects, is “without dimension and is self-existent.” She states that time is “an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness as we travel through eternal duration” and therefore only exists in that consciousness that is susceptible to illusion.

 

Sitting Session – 4

The meditation exercises in these series have been designed to facilitate progress in stages by bringing in new features of practice. In the previous chapter, the meditative objects were more or less familiar. Some of the potential objects of meditation in this chapter are quite abstract. So this session introduces the use of imagination to give life and form to these objects. Begin with a singular concept such as “space” or “unity” as the meditative object. Later, use compounded conceptual elements such as those given collectively in Stanza I above as a higher order integrated meditative object.

Set the stage and settle into the basic sitting position. Attend to the breathing for a short while until mind and body have become quiet and relaxed. Gently allow the meditative object to arise in awareness and carefully examine it. If it involves movement, see where it comes from and where it goes. Afterwards, just let it be. Seal the practice.

Chapter Five

Religious Traditions

 

At the core of every monotheistic religion is the theme of unity with the Divine. The word “religion” comes from the Latin root religare—to bind [back to the source] again—signifying the bond between humans and God. It also comes from the Latin religio—reverence for the sacred. This common ground manifests itself in accordance with different cultures and traditions. In Islam, this union is represented by Allah, the name of the one true God. In Christianity, union with the ineffable—God is through the personage of Jesus, the Christ. In Judaism, this union is through Adonoy, the one God. To practice these religions, one must prepare oneself to receive the blessings of divine union and to recognize therefrom that we are all one family. So far, so good; these views are coherent and do not lead to the mischief of extremism.

What is meant by the word “God”? To the vast majority of followers of each of these religions, God is the Supreme Being, the creator of the universe. Many anthropomorphize a personal God (usually but not exclusively masculine) as a being separate from them—an outer form looking down on the world from above. This relative God has attributes and resides in a heavenly mansion. He is fabricated from the gold refined from our own image. He has feelings and expresses love as well as wrath. There is another view of God that is absolute and beyond description, yet is within our being. In the Qur’an, Allah is depicted as transcendent and immanent, too ineffable to be comprehended, yet divinely present in everything.

This principle of unity is beautifully captured by Rumi, the Sufi poet and professor of Islamic law (adapted from The Way of the Sufi by Idries Shah):

 

He went to the door of the Beloved and knocked.

A voice asked: “Who is there?”

He answered: “It is I.”

The voice said: “There is no room here for me and thee.”

The door was closed.

After a year of solitude and want,

He returned to the door of the Beloved

And knocked.

A voice from within asked: “Who is there?”

The man said: “It is Thou.”

The door was opened for him.

 

This same principle of unity is also succinctly portrayed by the apostle John in the New Testament. Christians take to heart these profound teachings:

 

The one who does not love

Does not know God,

For God is love. (1John 4:8)

God is Love;

Whoever lives in love lives in God,

And God in them. (1John 4:16)

 

 

Again, Jews also view God as a principle of unity as evidenced by their most ancient and traditionally important prayer, the Shema. From the Torah:

 

Hear O’ Israel,

The Lord is our God.

The Lord is One. (Deut. 6:4)

 

The predominant established spiritual practices of these traditions typically involve prayers directed towards their deity and usually take the form of worship, petition, or thanksgiving. Communication with him is either directly through prayer or through an intermediary such as an imam, a priest, or rabbi. It is said that “praying is like asking God a question, and meditation is listening for the answer.” Additional practices include reading, reflecting, and meditating on God’s holy words. God’s Word was transmitted by him to inspire prophets—suitable vessels— who subsequently inscribed their visions for posterity. These original autographs have long been lost; only replicas now exist. These artifacts have been copied and translated for ages by many different humans and are therefore subject to human inaccuracies and interpretations. No doubt God’s Word is perfect and without error; but it does not follow that the writings purported to preserve them are free from error. Just because a book is very old does not mean it is necessarily true. Nor can the interpretations made by men whose understanding may be imperfect be wholly relied on. For these reasons we should be very careful in choosing secondhand concepts to lock onto.

One way to test our derivative views is to examine them side by side with the core principles of unity. Without enjoining the hermeneutic interpretations of the Bible, Qur’an, or Torah, there are other ways to recognize our limitations in discerning valid concepts. Modes of thought and behavior can be classified in two ways, those on the side of love and those on the side of hatred. All creeds and associated actions not on the side of love are suspect. When we go astray from core concepts and begin to emphasize extremes of interpretation, radical behaviors such as violence, war, and genocide erupt. Let us, in all humility, set aside questionable doctrines and trust those that resonate with our deepest conscience and noblest feelings.

Unfortunately, it is common practice in many religious cultures to approach spiritual matters in a manner that diverts primary attention of the adherents from the inner to the outer phenomenal aspects of the stories and teachings depicted in their literature. Getting stuck in one or more conceptual features leads to division into denominations and sects. These are often at odds with each other. These actions inevitably degenerate into religiosity and the focus becomes sidetracked into a preoccupation with the more glamorous secondary topics such as: the “virgin birth,” the Ark of the Covenant, the Shroud of Turin, “judgment day,” and its concomitant “eternal damnation.”

Pertinent to our present inquiry are those religious practices that emphasize and follow the wisdom of the teachings of their religion and lead to a profound renewal of mind and heart, one is born again. The Islamic scholar Rumi said that those Muslims who follow only the outer form of Islamic prayer such as frequently kneeling and touching their forehead to the ground are like chickens pecking grain. But the chicken is smarter because at least it gets something in return. He said that the outer form of worship is of no value without inner understanding. Like the other monotheistic religions, Islam is noble at heart, inspiring a spiritual and ethical way of life. However, if interpreted in a sectarian way, it may become a source of evil.

Christian representative teachings are given in the “Sermon on the Mount” and in the New Testament parables. There the words of Christ advocate forgiveness and admonish judging others. They include meeting violence with nonviolence and the edict renouncing the old law of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” to the radical imperatives of “Resist not evil!” and “Love your enemies!” If being a Christian is defined as one who believes in Christ and therefore tries to follow his teachings, then how many nations or organizations or individuals are truly Christian? Perhaps many of us believe, but few act. Sadly, some self-christened Christians are like connoisseurs who are so fascinated by the gilded frame holding a Rembrandt masterpiece that they never see the beauty in the art.

According to Judaism, Moses received the Ten Commandments directly from the Lord on Mount Sinai. The Talmud teaches that the Lord himself used his finger to inscribe a set of laws on two lapis lazuli tablets amidst much thunder, lightning, smoke, and fire. Perhaps this event was employed to emphasize these spiritual imperatives as a covenant with the people, the Israelites. Moses subsequently transcribed these rules of conduct in the Torah’s Book of Exodus. One of these injunctions, the Sixth Commandment, is commonly translated as: “Thou shall not kill.” Another convenient and acceptable translation is: “Thou shall not murder.” This is a more palatable version because it mitigates the unpleasantness of dealing with ethical issues such as killing animals for food, executing heretics for contrary views, stepping on bugs for being in our way, or dropping napalm on children for our security. Regardless of which version one adheres to, surely the moral law written in our heart by the finger of the Divine at least enjoins us to do no harm to others.

On the surface, popular forms of these religious traditions don’t appear to emphasize a close connection to meditation as advocated in this book. However, like many of the world’s other spiritual traditions, mainstream followers of the monotheistic religions—temple Muslims, church Christians, and Orthodox Jews— express their faith in observable forms and doctrines. Their ways may be contrasted with those of their more interiorly oriented brothers and sisters—Sufis, Christian contemplatives, and Kabbalists. These adherents employ further spiritual practices to enhance the process of opening their consciousness to the Divine. Though perhaps outside of formal wedlock, all religious traditions seem to have each birthed an inner or esoteric contemplative component. It is this offspring that arguably provides the sustaining life force of each religion. Nevertheless, all religious traditions are concerned with opening our hearts and minds to something extraordinary and sacred, a transcendent reality, beyond our personal selves.

Representative of these inner forms of practice are the Christian contemplatives and their profound connection to meditation. In preparing for the opening of mind and heart, most devoted practitioners probably agree with Father Thomas Merton, the highly revered Trappist monk, that: “You will never find interior solitude unless you make some conscious effort to deliver yourself from . . . [this] world.” To approach the spiritual Source, he advocates a kind of contemplation that is beyond the discursive meditation that focuses on abstract truths about the Divine. He points to a more direct transcendental meditation that is like an awakening, an intuitive realization or experience of union with God. In his New Seeds of Contemplation, he contrasts those two types of meditation with the assertion: “Nothing could be more alien to contemplation than the cogito ergo sum of Descartes. ‘I think, therefore I am.’ This is the declaration of an alienated being, in exile from his own spiritual depths.”

Father Merton expresses his passionate view of meditation: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life . . . is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life . . . is gratitude for life . . . is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant Source. [Contemplation is] “awareness of the reality of that Source. In contemplation . . . we know beyond all knowing or unknowing.”

The Christian monk Father Thomas Keating advocates a variety of Christian prayers for coming into the presence of God. From his Classical Practice of Lectio Divina, three practices are given: “Lectio Divina,” “Centering Prayer,” and “Contemplative Prayer.” The method of “Lectio Divina” in its classical monastic form is intended to lead one to this communion. He advocates visualizing four parts along the circumference of a circle joined to each other and to the center, forming an interrelated pattern. The center “. . . is the Spirit of God speaking to us through the text and in our hearts.” The elements of the process are:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Reading or listening to the Scripture passage (Lectio),

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Reflecting on the words and being attentive to your heart’s response (Meditatio),

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Responding spontaneously with prayer (Oratio),

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Resting in God’s presence (Contemplatio).

 

According to Fr. Keating, this monastic form of “Lectio Divina” is oriented towards contemplative prayer rather than to the more popular scholastic form characterized by discursive meditation. The scholastic form conceives the process as hierarchical, in stages, moving from one thought to the next. Spontaneity may become problematic if we get hung up in conceptual thinking, thus thwarting the movement to become fully engulfed in the divine presence.

“Centering Prayer” is a method of internal prayer intended to open our hearts and minds to God’s presence and action within. It prepares us to receive the Holy Spirit’s gift of “Contemplative Prayer,” which in turn enables us to directly experience his presence. Basil Pennington, a leading proponent of this method, delineates guidelines for its practice: Sit comfortably with your eyes closed; relax and quiet yourself; feel love and faith towards God. Choose a sacred word; let that word be gently present as the symbol of your intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to his divine action within you. Whenever you become aware of thoughts, feelings, or perceptions, simply return to your sacred word. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence for a few minutes.

The condition of being no longer engaged with thoughts is the state of unknowing referred to in the fourteenth century anonymous book The Cloud of Unknowing. As a categorical precondition, Fr. Merton points to one of the paradoxes of the mystical life: “. . . that a man cannot enter into the deepest center of himself and pass through that center into God, unless he is able to pass entirely out of himself and empty himself and give himself to other people in the purity of a selfless love.”

 

Sitting Session – 5

Set the stage and settle into the sitting position. Attend to the breathing for a short while until mind and body have become quiet and relaxed. As the meditative object for this session, you may wish to use a verse from the Christian tradition’s New Testament (John 1:1).

 

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

 

Alternatively, memorize a profound statement from any other source you consider sacred. Voice the sentence audibly or silently. Understand the words and concepts intellectually and reflect on this understanding until it is deeply heartfelt. If there is a spontaneous response, such as a prayer or feeling of gratitude, allow it to express itself. Return to feeling the words resound in your heart. Rest in that contemplation. Seal the practice.

PART THREE: THE EASTERN APPROACH

Chapter Six

Tradition of Yoga

 

Around 250 BCE, the Hindu religious practitioner and scholar Patanjali compiled the essential teachings for mental liberation and codified them for posterity as the Yoga-Sutra, one of the premier guides for enlightenment since writings appeared on this planet. A sutra (from the Sanskrit “thread”) is an aphorism or concise core spiritual teaching. The Yoga-Sutra is a coherent tapestry, a bridging material used by the aspirant to cross the chasm of delusion and despair to the far side where wisdom and happiness reside.

The Sanskrit root of the word “yoga” means “to join” and is usually translated as either “union” or “yoking,” depending on the context. In the “Second Discourse of the Lord Krishna” from the Bhagavad-Gita, the ancient Hindu scripture known as the Song of God, “yoga” has the meaning of “the state of union with the Divine” which is akin to the way our inquiry refers to the word “meditation.” Patanjali utilizes the meaning of yoga: “to yoke” not as a state of consciousness, but as that action necessary to unite consciousness with spirit, to marry pure awareness with the primordial natural condition of existence. This action relates to our expression “meditation practice.”

The famous core statement of the Yoga-Sutra is given here in Sanskrit to express the inherent beauty of its sound as well as its rhetorical effect.

 

Yoga citta-vrtti nirodhah.

 

Sound it out or voice it as yo^-ga, cheet^-a, vree^-ti, ni-ro^-dah. This declarative Sanskrit statement forms the thread of wholeness that weaves its thesis into the rainbow-like fabric of yoga and is preeminently translated by the scholar Chip Hartranft as:

 

Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.

 

Looking at the nature of consciousness, not through the eyes of the secularist or the religionist, but through those of a child or archetypal scientist: the essential purpose of consciousness is to know all things rightly. For Patanjali, the fundamental predicament of humanity— the basic cause of suffering— is the inability to see through the veils of delusion and self-centeredness. Sutra 2.4 reiterates:

 

Not seeing things as they are is the field where the [secondary] causes of suffering

[egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life] germinate. Lacking this wisdom,

one mistakes that which is impermanent, impure, distressing, or empty of self for

permanence, purity, happiness, and self.

 

Yoga is the process of deliberately bringing about a fundamental change in the operation of our conditioned consciousness so that we may return to our natural home as the welcomed prodigal offspring. Thus, yoga is identical in essence to meditation practice.

Often referred to as classical yoga, Patanjali’s yoga practice system consists of eight major parts, translated as “the eight limbs of yoga.” Two metaphors are useful in viewing this meditation practice approach: the metaphor of a spider suggests the equal importance of each limb’s acting in concert to facilitate progress along the path. The traditional metaphor of a plant is germane for its broad applicability to several features of yoga. The roots represent the connection with the benevolent mother source; the limbs are the yogic elements that enable growth through interaction with the inner and outer environment; and the flowering of the plant is the emancipation and realization that we may secretly long for. The eight limbs of this budding plant are: external discipline, internal discipline, bodily posture, breath regulation, sensory withdrawal, concentration, meditative absorption, and integration.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. External disciplines include harmlessness, truthfulness, honesty, chasteness, and generosity. These virtues are oriented towards an operational relationship with the outer world. They are cultivated to mitigate negative patterns of consciousness—the noxious weeds crowding the meditation garden. These weeds emit poisons that linger in the recesses of our mind and cause the fruits of meditation to wither and die.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Internal disciplines include mental purity, contentment, austerity, self-study, and devotion. These virtues gently nurture our inner self by forming the leaves of receptivity, which process the stilling required for our journey.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Bodily posture refers to maintaining a stable yet relaxed posture that supports the meditation practice. Sitting upright with a straight back promotes alertness and facilitates the flow of the subtle energies in our inner channels. The popular hatha yoga practiced in the West relates to the two limbs involving bodily posture and breath regulation. Its practice is helpful in calming our thoughts and emotions as well as supporting our physical health.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Breath regulation refers to observing the movement patterns of the breath—inhalation, exhalation, and lulls. In the words of Hartranft: “. . . the breath becomes spacious and subtle. As realization dawns, the distinction between breathing in and out falls away. Then the veil lifts from the mind’s luminosity. And the mind is now fit for concentration.”

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Sensory withdrawal means to shepherd the six senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and mentation into a readiness to serve attentiveness. This practice is not intended to numb or render the senses inoperable. Hartranft points out that external distractions must be transcended for concentration and absorption to develop enough to see that one only observes one’s consciousness of an object, not the object itself. We don’t directly perceive a thing or phenomenon, only its neural representation in our mind.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Concentration focuses attention and initiates the inner mental process of meditation practice by directing consciousness towards a field of interest. The process of concentration should be free of conflict, almost effortless. During a practice session, notice how attention drifts away from the object and carefully watch its manner of returning. This seeing of the movement of attention is central to meditation practice.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Meditative absorption seamlessly continues the process of concentration. At this stage, distractions have disappeared. The only thoughts in operation are those within the field of the object itself. In meditative absorption, we are able to look deeply into the afflictive causes of suffering in order to attenuate them.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Integration (Skt., Samadhi) moves beyond the processes of concentration and meditative absorption towards the goal of realizing the essence and nature of the object of meditation. In the state of integration, the influence of self-centeredness—the subjective nature of the mind—has disappeared. In the final stage, the light of consciousness itself can be seen in all its ineffable glory. In his book Yoga, the Art of Integration, Rohit Mehta uses the phrase: “Cloud of Benediction.” This refers to a state wherein there is no thought, no thinker—only pure perception. Consciousness has returned to its original and unmodified condition of absolute freedom. Although the opening of the bud is a process in time, the full flowering is beyond time.

 

Sitting Session – 6

For the next few practice sessions, use Patanjali’s limbs of yoga as candidates for meditation objects. As before, set the stage and settle into a sitting position. Attend to the breathing for a short while until mind and body have become quiet and relaxed. Now, with a nurturing feeling, imagine gathering the six senses (the five physical senses and the mind) together like a shepherd bringing a flock of scattered sheep back to their home. Each and every one has been fed and watered and is eager for rest in a warm safe place. Only the shepherd remains alert and attentive.

Focus on one of the limbs of yoga and examine all aspects of it until it resonates within. Next, suspend the examining process and from this position of resonance rest in full attention. Seal the practice.

 

Chapter Seven

Meditative Serenity

 

In the fifth century BCE, at dawn in Bodhgaya as the third watch was ending, a man named Siddhartha Gautama attained full enlightenment. His first words upon awakening as a Buddha were heard thusly:

 

The nectar-like truth is revealed,

Profound, serene, unfabricated,

Luminous, timeless, self-secret,

Non-conceptual, unconditioned.

 

While dwelling on Vulture Peak Mountain, the Buddha taught the primary qualities that awaken one to true enlightenment: the impartial attitude towards all beings; the altruistic frame of mind; the attitude of non-aggression; and the open mind that holds no prejudice.

Observe the operation of the mind for a short while. Notice that thought flits to and fro like a bird trapped in a room with closed windows. The predominant habit pattern of our mind is to chatter constantly except when caught in the momentary attention of attraction or aversion. In relatively quiet circumstances, our mind sometimes seems to be lost in thought; even then it is really quite noisy. Forms of noise range from the gross— anger or fear—to the subtle—inattention or discursiveness. Within this range of noisiness are desire, attachment, ambition, anxiety, worry, status speculation, hubris, close-mindedness, and ignorance. Meditation is seeing into this disorder. To approach the full meditative state, the mind must be quiet and reflective, like a limpid pool of mountain water devoid of muddy suspensions and without a single ripple on its surface. This state of calm abiding forms the basis for the perfect reflection of reality.

The words “serenity” and “tranquility” sometimes have quite different connotations. Tranquility, comparatively speaking, may be an induced dull state of mind, whereas serenity is a natural, yet cultivatable, alert state of mind. Tranquility, as a mood of laxity, can be brought on by the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sex, or the euphoria of success. Meditative serenity is neither a trance nor a mood; neither is it being spaced-out or dulled down. Serenity is like the preparation of a tea service: the cup must first be clean and empty, and then paired to a fine saucer with napkin and spoon. It must be receptive but not too eager, anticipative yet unexcited—entirely ready for service. The serving ensemble is like the meditation practice; the experience of the tea is the meditation.

The purpose of practicing meditative serenity is to prepare our mind to receive insight into the nature of mind. The right motivation to practice is the altruistic aspiration for liberation from delusion, both for our self and all other living beings. The heart of the Buddha’s teaching (i.e., buddhadharma) and the result of his insight is the dharma of bodhicitta. In this context, the Sanskrit word “dharma” means both truth and duty. The Sanskrit word “bodhicitta” refers to the awakened mind of compassion. Thus, the dharma of bodhicitta refers to seeing the truth of the necessity of altruism in a world where all beings and actions are interconnected. Serenity (Skt., shamatha) and insight (Skt., vipashyana) correlate with the fifth and sixth paramitas of the Buddha’s teaching: meditative concentration and wisdom (see Chapter Two). The renowned fourteenth century Tibetan Buddhist philosopher Tsong-kha-pa describes the arising of serenity as the result of focusing continuously so that the mind stabilizes naturally on the object of meditation. Our state of meditative concentration becomes serenity when we produce the “delight and bliss of physical and mental pliancy.” Serenity is not contingent upon either understanding an object’s reality or being drawn towards it; nor is it merely a state of concentration.

One evening, in the little meadow of periwinkles beyond the fence surrounding my house, the blessed cat— with mindfulness and stealth—crept closer and closer to a poorly disguised gopher hole. He sat very still, all senses alert, concentrating with intense interest on the hole’s entrance, or rather exit, from his perspective. Several distractions occurred but none was successful in diverting his attention. Obviously, he fully intended to draw that life within the hole into union with his life. Though he remained in a state of unruffled concentration, serenity did not arise. This tale is not to illustrate the meditation practice of a cat, but to highlight the teaching that although concentration is a necessary step towards serenity, it is not sufficient. Through the action of concentration, the cat may capture the gopher, but he will not understand the nature of the gopher’s desire for life. For the experience of compassion to grow in one’s heart, motivation beyond mere attraction or repulsion must foster the relationship of the mind to the object of meditation practice. Meditative serenity forms the basis for this understanding to take root as insight.

Sages have taught that the training for meditative serenity relies on the preconditions embodied in the first four paramitas: generosity, ethics, patience, and joyful attentiveness. Being mindful of the intent to accomplish these preconditions, we select the right object of meditation according to our particular character. For example, if our behavior is dominated by hatred, then meditate on love. If discursiveness is dominant, focus on breathing. To better understand the illusory nature of the self, reflect on the aggregates (to be discussed in Chapter Twelve), the constituent elements of body and mind. To eradicate the seeds of affliction, consider the truths of impermanence and suffering. The object may be either discursive or nondiscursive depending on whether analytical thinking is present or not, respectively. The former is an object for insight, the latter an object for meditative serenity. Be careful in selecting the meditation practice object.

Once there was a simple monk who wished to become a meditative serenity practitioner. After receiving some instructions from the teacher, he sat down in the temple, chose a cow as his meditation object, and began to diligently meditate on it. After many practice sessions, he went outside into a lush meadow, got down on all fours, and began eating vegetation from the ground. Upon seeing all this, the teacher asked the monk why he was eating as a cow eats. With grass and weeds dangling from his mouth, the monk raised his head and replied: “Moo-ooo.” Perhaps the cow-monk hadn’t understood the purpose of meditation practice and became attached to the wrong meditative object.

In the training for attaining serenity, we may notice that mental states or levels of attention develop in discernible stages: initially focusing on an object, gradually eliminating distractions, and subsequently pacifying the mind until we dwell in equanimity. These mental states arise through having cultivated virtue, followed by the practice of mindfulness, diligence, and enthusiasm until a relaxed familiarity or state of calm abiding is experienced. As a consequence, attention becomes alive—ever-present, spontaneous, effortless, and natural.

 

Sitting Session – 7

Set the stage and settle into a sitting position. Attend to the breathing for a short while until mind and body have become quiet and relaxed. In consonance with the serenity practice advice, examine personal predispositions and habit patterns and determine the right meditative object. Serenity practice is more beneficial when using an object that is both meaningful and concise. When choosing a pithy sentence or paragraph, try to condense it to a single word or concept and allow it to arise in the mind. For example, if you select the following passage from Rumi . . .

 

Whether you love the One or another human being,

If you love enough, in the end you will come into the

Presence of Love itself.

 

. . . you may choose to represent it by the word “love.” Stabilize your mind on love as the object with no accompanying analysis. Focus on love, not as a string of letters, but more like a feeling—a warmth, an ambiance. Merge yourself with the object so that there is no subject/object dichotomy in operation. This is not to identify yourself with the object but to lose yourself in it. Let go of any sense of effort, relax in the union, and rest in calm abiding. Seal the practice.

Chapter Eight

Meditative Insight

 

Shakyamuni Buddha, the sage of the Shakya clan, followed the ancient yogic practice of serenity meditation and attained the highest sublime states of samadhi. However, he perceived that course of action—though necessary—to be insufficient for full enlightenment. Although he experienced a great peace for himself, it did not bring happiness and freedom from suffering to other beings. Seeing the need for additional training, he initiated the practice of insight meditation. The essence of insight meditation practice is using attention and observation to transform mindfulness into full awareness. Meditative insight unfolds as wisdom, the sixth paramita of the Buddha’s transcendental perfections teachings. Wisdom manifests as compassion and the capacity to alleviate the suffering of others.

The insight we are inquiring into is related to but not the same as intuition. The word “intuition” is defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. [Intuition is] a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.” Intuition may arise from various sources; for example, as a product of subconscious conditioning factors, paranoid thinking, and perhaps even paranormal perceptions. Witness the situation when an unresolved issue or a particularly vexing problem is carried into the cycle of sleeping and dreaming. If the solution magically appears upon awakening, the process of resolution may be attributed to the action of the subliminal continuity of thought and is called intuition. Insight, on the other hand, is based on a fully conscious examination and analysis of phenomena in order to see the true nature of things. Helena the Theosophist implies that insight arises from practicing “. . . a clean life, an open mind, and a pure heart.”

The purpose of practicing meditative insight is to fulfill the promise of serenity meditation—the reception of insight into the nature of mind. Intuition, as well as ordinary thinking, is conditioned by our total collective past—individual and cultural. A mind conditioned by fear and anger results in confusion and conflict. A free and open mind results in peace and insight. Meditative insight resonates with the radical teaching of Jesus to Resist not evil and the Taoist teaching of wu wei, the effortless spontaneous alignment with right action. As we shall see in Chapter Nine, insight conjoined with serenity breaks down our entrenched illusions and leads to the direct experience of the real.

Both serenity and insight meditation practice can take the relative (conventional) or the ultimate (real) aspects of truth as their objects. The distinguishing characteristics of these practices are that serenity is non-discursive stabilization on these objects, and insight is the wisdom that knows the nature of the same objects. The great Indian teacher Asanga asserts that meditative serenity is one-pointed attention on an object of meditation, while meditative insight is the wisdom that discerns its meaning. Insight may be enhanced by gaining knowledge of reality through the study and reflection on the teachings of sages. We should use our best judgment to determine which sources to rely on. We may wish to use scriptures or teachings of our own religious or philosophical persuasion for guidance. However, be on guard, for the literature of religion and philosophy has no dearth of false prophets. The Buddha spoke out against blind belief including taking his own words as ultimate truth. Through careful selection and a tentative trust in those holy ones who seem to have authentic knowledge, we may fan the embers of our latent capacity for discriminating awareness. The ultimate goal of insight practice is to come upon the essence of truth, to attain the view that sees the real nature of phenomena.

 

Mental Training

When the Buddha began his teaching on meditation, he emphasized the application of mindfulness in one’s daily activities. He formalized this practice in his famous discourse on mental training, now referred to as the Presence of Mindfulness, in which he described four categories of mental cultivation. These four forms or foci of meditation practices take as their objects the body, the feelings, the mind, and the mental formations.

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. In connection with the body, one quietly sits and observes the breathing process, body postures, body constituents, and physical sensations. A practice related to the body that can be done in any situation is to be constantly aware of our physical and verbal activities. An example of this is the practice of “walking meditation,” wherein we carefully monitor the motions of our body parts while walking in a slow and deliberate manner. These mindfulness practices entail being attentive and simply living in the present moment of meditative serenity.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. The second category of mental cultivation regards our feelings or emotions. The practice is to be aware of whether our feelings are pleasant, unpleasant, or indifferent. When a feeling presents itself, examine its nature, how it arises and disappears in our mind, where it comes from and where it goes, and whether or not we feel attached to it. From the Southern Buddhist tradition exemplified by Mahasi Sayadaw’s “noting” and “sweeping” systems, several prominent Western meditation teachers emphasize both of the foregoing mindfulness techniques involving the body and feelings in their practices of vipassana meditation.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. The third category of training is the meditation practice dealing with the mind itself. Observe and be aware of the condition or state of the mind both while it is at rest and in movement. Be aware of whether the mind is with or without the afflictions of anger or resentment, excessive desire or attachment, and ignorance or stupidity. Know whether it is distracted or not, attentive or not, and free or not.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. The fourth category of mental cultivation is the meditation practice of using our mental formations as objects. Mental formations are one’s psychological preconditioning—primarily, the mind’s unconscious habit patterns. These mental objects are to be observed, studied, pondered, analyzed, and reflected upon. They include obstacles to enlightenment such as: desire, illwill, languor, worry, and distrust. They also include beneficial factors in support of the way to enlightenment such as: mindfulness, interest in sacred doctrines, energy, joy, relaxation, concentration, and equanimity. At least forty such mental objects were discussed by the Buddha.

 

The Four Noble Truths

Subsequent to his enlightenment, the Buddha journeyed to the Deer Park in Benares, India, where he chanced upon his former comrades—his ascetic fellow seekers. They were now ripe and receptive with “ears to hear,” so he began “turning the wheel of dharma” by giving them a set of basic teachings that mirrored his insight into the nature of suffering. Known as the Four Noble Truths, they comprise the Buddha’s teachings as the truth of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path of liberation from suffering.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Truth of suffering – Suffering is the primary existential affliction that all sentient beings experience without exception. Generally, there are three kinds of suffering. The “suffering of suffering” is the most obvious because it refers to the tangible pains associated with sickness and injury, hunger and thirst, heat and cold, etc. The second kind is the “suffering of change,” which includes feelings of decline, disappointment, and boredom. It includes the experience that all pleasant feelings are temporary and often become precursors to misery or loss. For example, love for another—joyful at first—waxes and wanes. Jealousy may displace love if the other’s affections turn to someone else. The object of our love may grow mean or ugly, so our love may turn into indifference or hatred. In any case, love becomes grief when the other dies. In his poem “Keramos”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow speaks of this impermanence.

 

Turn, turn my wheel!

All things must change to something new,

to something strange.

Nothing that is

can pause or stay;

The moon will wax,

the moon will wane,

The mist and cloud will turn to rain,

The rain to mist and cloud again,

Tomorrow be to-day.

 

The third kind of suffering is the innate underlying feeling of uncertainty that “all is not well,” that something is not quite right—incomplete and unfinished. It manifests as a fundamental discontent, a vague notion that there is more to life than eating and defecating, working and taking pleasure, and sleeping like a corpse. It is not a tangible experience of misery or unhappiness but rather a subtle sense of being conditioned or limited, feeling inauthentic or lost, like a fish might feel when removed from the ocean and placed into a small jar of water. Perhaps we feel the double-pronged existential angst of uncertainty and inevitability: the uncertain outcome of the self-becoming process, simultaneous with our subconscious certainty of dying.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Origin of suffering – The Buddha taught that all suffering stems from the root causes introduced in Chapter Two: the three afflictions of excessive desire, hatred, and ignorance; to put another way, the three poisons of attachment, aggression, and delusion. These causes manifest as the all-pervasive suffering in the dungeon of the defiling mental states. These mental states perpetuate suffering through the actions of karma across many lifetimes. All of these causes arise from a fundamental lack of awareness of things as they are. As illustrated in Chapter One, suffering is experienced universally throughout history.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Cessation of suffering – Although suffering knows no boundaries, it can be ended; that is the purpose of our journey of awakening.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Path of liberation – The basic dharma teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, the Enlightened One, lead to the liberation from suffering for those who wish to be free. Thus he taught the Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation. During our present journey, we will learn that the Buddha again “turned the wheel of dharma” and generated a subsequent set of teachings that emphasize the wisdom of compassion—that real happiness for all beings come when selfishness has given way to altruism. The momentary bliss of egonorance, the ignorance of giving credence to a separate self entity, is merely a temporary and illusory happiness. This concept will be discussed in Chapter Thirteen.

 

The Four Reminders

The Four Reminders, sometimes called the Four Mind Changings by Buddhist practitioners, are observable facts regarding everyone’s present status of being. They include the preciousness of this human life, the verity of impermanence and death, the action of karma, and the defects of samsara.

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. Preciousness of this human life – Recognizing the preciousness of this human life causes one to realize and appreciate our relatively fortunate situation of having the capacity to think and follow our chosen path. This realization may encourage a deeper inquiry into the meaning of this life.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Impermanence and death – Recognizing the truth of impermanence, the precariousness of favorable situations, the fragility of loving relationships, and the certainty that death is one breath away may spur us to undertake meaningful actions without procrastination.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Action of karma – From the Bible, Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Karma is the universal law of cause and effect; for every effect, there must have been a cause. Karma is like gravity; its action is certain, unfathomable, and impersonal regardless of which planet you stand on. If you put your hand in the fire, you will get burned. If you slip and fall on the ice, you might break a bone. If you get bitten by a mosquito, you may or may not get malaria. These are relatively simple and straightforward examples of karma in action. However, unlike gravity, the manifestations of karma are not generally predictable. Nor is it preordained fate even though it may often seem to be the reward or punishment for conscious deeds performed. The actions of karma are extremely subtle and complex because the relationship between cause and effect depends on a multitude of unknown conditions. One of the most pertinent conditions—the motivation of the doer—is not readily known.

The concept of karma coupled with the theory of reincarnation form a beautiful synthesis for understanding why bad things happen to good people. Causes set in motion by us in this or a previous life will surely play out. However, because we do not remember our past lives, combined with the fact that we have personally changed with every passing moment, the way in which karma manifests may appear as a mystery. Recognizing the inevitable consequences of karma may cause us to be more mindful of the actions of our body, speech, and mind. We may feel compelled to exert effort to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you do not believe in karma and reincarnation but do believe in God or Allah, then the idea of justice and fair play becomes a logical conundrum. If you think that some of the suffering in this world is unjust or immoral, five explanations are possible to deal with your enigma. 1) God exists, is good and all-powerful, but for reasons beyond our comprehension, chooses to allow suffering. 2) God exists but is not good and is all-powerful. 3) God exists and is good but is not all-powerful; he simply cannot prevent injustice. 4) God exists but is not good and is not all-powerful. 5) God does not exist. Your choice.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Defects of samsara – Reflecting on the fourth reminder, the defects of samsara—the perpetual dissatisfaction with or incompleteness of life—may lead to a relaxation of everyday anxieties and worries; attachments to hopes and fears may loosen. Thus, our mind and heart may open to new directions for spiritual growth.

 

Insight Meditation

The northern or Himalayan Buddhist tradition includes and goes beyond the Buddha’s initial teachings on mindfulness. The practice of insight meditation (Skt., vipashyana) in this tradition is concerned with gaining insight into the ultimate non-dual nature of reality—the union of cognizance and emptiness (Skt., shunyata). In the end stages of vipashyana the subtle presence of a meditator is absent, yet the nature of mind is experienced. To reiterate, there is an initial level or stage of meditative insight that looks at phenomena including ideas or concepts, and a subsequent stage actively concerned with the nature of that which is looking—mind itself. The Dalai Lama points out a subtle distinction in the objects of meditation. The relative aspect of concepts such as emptiness or selflessness may be taken as the object of meditation. First one reflects on it, and then one apprehends it. Another approach focuses on the absolute aspects of love or compassion—not on their concepts. Meditating on love doesn’t mean taking love as an object, but rather “seeking to transform our whole state of mind into that state of love or compassion.” As described in Chapter Nine, serenity practice may blend with insight practice as one is enjoined to reflect on the nature of the body, its parts, its constituent elements, and their death and decay. These reflections are preliminary stages in approaching the reality of non-duality in which there is no subject/object dichotomy.

 

Sitting Session – 8

Set the stage and settle into a sitting position. Attend to the breathing until mind and body have become quiet and relaxed. As in the previous sitting session for serenity meditation practice, select a meditative object such as a profound idea with the goal of increasing your conceptual understanding of it. Concentrate one-pointedly on the meditation object and begin to examine and analyze its meaning in detail. After thoroughly reflecting in this manner, drop your focus on the discursive understanding of the object. Allow a more intuitional relationship to unfold; then briefly rest in the ambience of the process. Seal the practice.

 

Chapter Nine

Union of Serenity and Insight

 

When approaching meditation practice, it is necessary to have both a purposeful aim and right effort. The aim is simply to awaken from our dream-world to reality. The method is to connect the practices of serenity (stabilizing) and insight (analytical) meditation. Referring to the advice of the great fourteenth century Tibetan Buddhist philosopher Tsong-kha-pa, the Dalai Lama addresses a particular group of confused practitioners who previously discarded their studying and reflecting practices and became satisfied with resting in the bliss of the nonconceptual state. He says that if one doesn’t explore the analytic faculty of the mind and merely remains absorbed in serenity meditation—simply maintaining nonconceptuality—then intelligence and the wisdom to discriminate between right and wrong decreases.

Tsong-kha-pa claims it is insufficient to cultivate either serenity or insight alone to travel the right path. He gives the example of using an oil lamp to view a picture in the middle of the night. If the lamp is both bright and undisturbed by the wind, the details of the picture will be very clear and sharp. Otherwise, if the lamp is dim, or is bright but flickering in the wind, the image details will be dull. Similarly, to clearly understand the profound meaning, we need the brightness of the insight meditation that discerns the meaning of reality, as well as the unwavering attention of the serenity meditation , which stabilizes the object. Possessing an intellectual understanding of reality is not sufficient to fully understand the reality of things because one will be “disturbed by the winds of uncontrollably fluctuating discursive thought.”

Serenity meditation or calm abiding generates “the delight and bliss of physical and mental pliancy,” which establishes the basis for authentic insight to arise. Serenity alone does suppress manifest afflictions such as anger, greed, and ignorance; however, insight conjoined with serenity eradicates their seeds. Pliancy comes about as the result of an integrative process that occurs spontaneously with the union of serenity and insight. Subsequent to the analytical meditation, practice serenity meditation to stabilize the insight. Weaving the warp and weft of the practices of serenity meditation and insight meditation into the fabric of wholeness is the necessary action for attaining enlightenment. When this union has been attained, compassion naturally arises, and with it the capacity for relieving the suffering of self and others.

To skillfully traverse this path requires more than mere sentimental or wishful thinking. The contemporary Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says that we should not think that the meditations of love and compassion consist in only imagining that “they are like a pure white cloud which slowly forms and gradually spreads out to envelop the whole world—then they will have no effect; they are only a cloud of the imagination. A true cloud can produce rain. If love and compassion are real, they will be evident in our daily life, in the way we talk with people and the way we act in the world.”

Signs begin to arise during our journey that indicate the proximity of a looming and formidable obstacle, the abyss of self-cherishing. This abyss has the power to draw us deeper into samsara, the whirlpool of cyclic existence, wherein it can swallow our spiritual aspirations and intentions. Prior to this point in our inquiry, meditation objects of a preparatory nature have been employed to purify obscurations and remove impediments. To confront this particular obstacle, both the serenity and the insight meditation practices should begin a process of reorientation with the view of self-less-ness as the principal meditation object. The abyss is there and must be crossed to continue the journey up the mountain path of meditative inquiry. The time for the wedding ceremony of serenity and insight draws near. The view of selflessness will be examined in Chapter Thirteen.

Meditative serenity has the characteristics of: nondiscursiveness, unwavering attention on a single object, clarity that is free from laxity and excitement, and the benefit of bliss. The mark of serenity is that attention stays where it is placed without distraction. One of the greatest marks of insight is to know the reality of selflessness. Tsong-kha-pa says one may gain certainty through meditative analysis with discerning wisdom. He quotes Asanga: “Because the path of serenity is unencumbered by striving, insight is pure, clean, comes after serenity, and is fully suffused with delight. Therefore, your serenity and insight combine and are balanced; this is called the path of the union of serenity and insight.”

 

Sitting Session – 9

Set the stage and settle into a sitting position. Attend to the breathing until your mind and body have entered serenity. While allowing awareness of the breathing process to continue in a background mode, notice that thoughts and emotions occasionally arise. There is no need to identify or become enamored with them and—particularly—not get entangled with them. Just let them go their own way. Reflect on the process of thoughts arising and disappearing. Look into the question: “Who is reflecting?” Allow these reflections to fade into the afterglow and rest attentively in that. Seal the practice.

 

PART FOUR: INTEGRATION

Chapter Ten

Meditation and Love

 

Is there an intimate relationship between meditation and love or devotion? The word “devotion” comes from a Latin root meaning consecrate or to make sacred and in that context refers to religious worship of a deity. In a broader sense it includes love or loyalty for a person, activity, or cause. The word “love” has a wide range of usages, some of which function as conceptual veils or inadequately convey their deep meaning: from emotional attachment and affection for a particular object to the all-encompassing feeling of union with the Divine. Using devotion in this latter sense conveys an attitude of attunement to love in a way that may be universally understood. Ineffable love is approached through surrender of one’s self to that. Then only may the power of devotion manifest as communion with the source. This communion is meditation.

From the Christian tradition, let us examine the epiphany of devotion in Brother Lawrence, an uneducated footman prior to becoming a lay brother among the barefoot Carmelites. His conversion was the result of his relation to a “dry and leafless tree standing gaunt against the snow.” He contemplated deeply the new life promised by the coming spring. From that moment on, he blossomed forth in communion with God endeavoring “to walk as in His presence.”

From his second letter to his priest, witness excerpts which convey a sense of his abiding devotion while engaged in his mundane duties as well as his formal periods of prayer or contemplation. First, Brother Lawrence exposes his heart:

And I make it my business

Only to persevere in His holy presence,

Wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to God,

Which I may call an Actual presence of God; or, better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God, Which causes me Joys and raptures inwardly and outwardly.

 

Then with ingenuous humility:

I consider myself as the most wretched of men

Who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King.

Touched with a sensible regret, I confess to Him all my wickedness, and ask His forgiveness.

I abandon myself in His hands that He may do what He wishes with me.

My King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me,

_Embraces me with love. _

Thus am I from time to time in

_His holy presence. _

 

And the internal sensation when he applies himself to prayer:

I feel all my spirit and all my soul lift itself up without any care or effort of mine.

It continues as it were suspended and firmly fixed in God,

In its center and place of rest.

 

Finally, the soul’s desire:

I cannot bear that this should be called delusion,

Because the soul which thus enjoys God

Desires nothing but Him.

If this be delusion in me,

It belongs to God to remedy it.

 

St. Teresa of Avila, a contemplative Christian nun, explores various kinds of raptures in her The Interior Castle. She speaks of an interior rebirth that “through her devotion and His grace, all her errors are forgiven.” In referring to the divine favors granted to the soul in a state of suspension or meditation, she writes: “There are truths about the greatness of God that are so firmly planted in the garden of the soul that even if she didn’t have faith dictating who He is and compelling her to believe that He is God, the soul would adore Him as God from that moment forward.”

St. John of the Cross in his Dark Night of the Soul speaks of a meditation that brings an inner peace. “This peace—so delicate and subtle —does its work in stillness and solitude. God no longer communicates himself through the senses. He does not make himself known through the analytical mind, which synthesizes and divides ideas. Instead, he begins to come through pure spirit, through simple contemplation, untainted by discursive thought.” Referring to the infused contemplation God bestows on the soul, he says: “Contemplation is nothing other than a secret, peaceful, loving inflow of God. If given room, it will fire the soul in the spirit of love.”

Patanjali considered devotion to be one of the necessary preliminary practices leading to meditative integration. It involves self-sacrifice and helps to unite our conditioned consciousness with pure awareness. Paraphrased from the Bhagavad-Gita:

 

When the yogi’s attention is fixed on the Self,

Free from hope or fear or desire,

Then is one said to be harmonized.

As a lamp sheltered from the wind does not flicker,

Just so is the yogi of subdued mind absorbed in devotion to the Self.

 

In his book Self-Realization through Love, the eminent theosophist Dr. I. K. Taimni notes two stages on the Hindu path of devotion. The first stage involves constant effort and self-discipline to prepare and purify oneself for the expression of devotion. The second stage is reached when the aspirant has the experience in which the “Love of God” wells up from within naturally, constantly, and effortlessly. This is the direct awareness of reality—the highest state of love of God wherein the devotee “sees nothing but God, hears nothing but God and thinks of nothing else except God.”

The paramitas taught by the Buddha are grounded in love and compassion. The practice of generosity enables us to garnish the endeavor of meditation with love and gratitude. The attainment of wisdom—the fruit of meditation—provides the insight to truly benefit self and others. If trace elements of unconditional love and compassion for the suffering of all sentient beings are not present, the soil will be barren and the potential harvest of our practice will dry up and wither.

The connection between devotion and love is the epiphany of meditation. From ancient times, sages and holy ones have taught that the paths of devotion and meditation ultimately merge. The first step of our practice sessions, “setting the stage,” purports to generate a special ambience to facilitate this merger. Empathizing with the inner state of these mystics enables us to give energy to the practice of meditation. Devotion renders gratitude palpable so that we may feel open, receptive, joyous, and selfless. These four: openness, receptivity, joyfulness, and forgetting the self are invitations to enter the sanctuary of our innermost being.

 

Sitting Session – 10

Set the stage and settle into a sitting position. Let mind and body become quiet and relaxed. Bring to mind an object towards which you may feel devotion or gratitude. Focus on the image of this object, be it a religious icon, a concept, a person, or a meaningful experience. Then drop the image and attend to the feeling of devotion associated with the object. Allow the feeling to unfold without adjusting it or tampering with it. Gently lose yourself in the nurturance of the process. Seal the practice.

Perhaps at this stage of our journey it is appropriate to extend the benefit of the practice to other beings by reciting the following:

 

Coda

May all beings, with each of whom I am profoundly connected,

Be happy and obtain the causes and conditions of happiness.

May all beings, each of whom is a reflection of my most precious loved one,

Be free from suffering and the causes and conditions of suffering.

May all beings be filled with unbridled empathetic joy and

May all beings relate to friends and enemies alike with

equanimity and impartiality.

May I attain a measure of enlightenment so that I may point others to the .

Great happiness—the awakened mind of compassion.

May I receive the blessings of this meditation practice so that

Love and Compassion, Joy and Equanimity,

Devotion and Faith, and the Power to help

May grow and flourish in my heart, naturally,

and that I may be free from delusion and doubt.

Chapter Eleven

The Seer Who Walks Alone

 

The eminent teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti (aka Krishnaji; also the “Seer Who Walks Alone”) portrayed a meditative mind with a seminal view of the matrix of meditation. His approach to meditation stands in sharp contrast to some of the traditions we have come across thus far. Like counterpoint in music, which interplays different melodies in such a manner as to weave a harmonic whole, uniqueness has its role.

Krishnaji’s entire work reflects a passion for meditation and is primarily concerned with communing with those having the capacity to hear. After his long daily walks through the local countryside, Krishnaji would often record the observation that not a single thought came to his mind during the walk. Obviously, perceptions occurred as evidenced by his descriptions, but there was no involvement, no entanglement with thought. Perhaps thoughts or emotions arose but could find no place to dwell; they were naturally freed, like wisps of clouds on a sunny sky. Walking, watching, and listening were integral with thought-free awareness.

The original beauty of his teachings is easily corrupted both through interpretation or ready acceptance. During the immediate experience of listening to Krishnaji speak or even while reading passages from his transcripts, one sometimes feels a certain resonance with truth. Afterwards, when trying to recollect the experience, facts may be ascertained but truth dwells not in the residue of memory. If we are “lucky,” unobstructed awareness may sharpen our inquiry and foster a direct connection with the truths unveiled. In a state of meditative serenity, Krishnaji wrote the following vignette in his Journal.

 

In the silence of deep night and in the quiet still morning when the sun is touching the hills, there is a great mystery. It is there in all living things. If you sit quietly under a tree, you would feel the ancient earth with its incomprehensible mystery. On a still night when the stars are clear and close, you would be aware of expanding space and the mysterious order of all things, of the immeasurable and of nothing, of the movement of the dark hills and the hoot of an owl. In that utter silence of the mind this mystery expands without time and space . . . This is love. With this the whole mystery of the universe is open.

 

Krishnaji approaches the problematic issue of seeing the fact of what is when he speaks of a kind of observation that perceives without judging, without desiring to become larger. He refers to this condition as choiceless awareness—it sees the whole, actually what is. That clarity of seeing is inherent to freedom from conditioning and sacred to meditation. Looking at life from a particular viewpoint prevents one from totally seeing. The truth of something seen only intellectually is at best partial, for thought, which is inevitably limited and conditioned, has colored that observation. When illuminated with the light of open inquiry and reflected back onto a quiet and receptive mind, we come upon a characteristic wholeness inherent to meditation. The following passage from his Journal allows a view of that wholeness.

 

At night there would be extraordinary silence, rich and penetrating. The cultivated meditation is a sacrilege to beauty, and every leaf and branch spoke of the joy of beauty and the tall dark cypress was silent with it; the gnarled old pepper tree flowed with it. You cannot, may not, invite joy; if you do it becomes pleasure. Pleasure is the movement of thought and thought may not, can in no way, cultivate joy, and if it pursues that which has been joyous, then it’s only a remembrance, a dead thing. Beauty is never time-binding; it is wholly free of time and so of culture. It is there when the self is not. The total inward non-action is the positive attention of beauty. In the quiet stillness of the mind that which is everlasting beauty comes, uninvited, unsought, without the noise of recognition.

 

Although we have crossed many peaks and valleys during our climb on this mountain of inquiry, we have not yet given the meaning of meditation in a declarative or a definitive sense. Perhaps one cannot really know what meditation is, but one may know what it is not. From his Notebook, Krishnaji addresses the question this way: “Meditation is not a search; it’s not a seeking, a probing, an exploration. It is an explosion and discovery. It’s not the taming of the brain to conform nor is it a self-introspective analysis; it is certainly not the training in concentration which includes, chooses and denies. It’s something that comes naturally, when all positive and negative assertions and accomplishments have been understood and drop away easily. It is the total emptiness of the brain. It’s the emptiness that is essential not what’s in the emptiness; there is seeing only from emptiness; all virtue, not social morality and respectability, springs from it. It’s out of this emptiness love comes, otherwise it’s not love. Foundation of righteousness is in this emptiness. It’s the end and beginning of all things.”

In his last journal, Krishnamurti to Himself, he rotates the jewel of meditation to reveal another facet: “In meditation there must be no measurement . . . Meditation is a movement without any motive, without words and the activity of thought. It must be something that is not deliberately set about. Only then is meditation a movement in the infinite, measureless to man, without a goal, without an end and without a beginning . . . And in meditation which is without measurement, there is the very action of that which is most noble, most sacred and holy.”

On a more leeward tack, in Freedom from the Known, he again turns the jewel and further describes what he sees on the next facet: “Meditation is one of the greatest arts in life—perhaps the greatest, and one cannot possibly learn it from anybody: that is the beauty of it. It has no technique and therefore no authority. When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy—if you are aware of all that in yourself, without any choice, that is part of meditation. So meditation can take place when you are sitting in a bus or walking in the woods full of light and shadows, or listening to the singing of birds or looking at the face of your wife or child.”

Occasionally, we have the good fortune of coming upon a phenomenon of breathtaking beauty. An experience arises that is full of splendor and bliss, defying description. However, the fidelity of its memory soon degrades and we realize the memory is not the thing. Once, while walking on a trail up the side of the mountain and nearing the top of a ridge, I was confronted with the following:

 

Experience of Beauty

A panoramic view of the immense valley suddenly revealed itself.

Across the glowing green fields, the glorious sunset spread its wings

over the mountaintops.

At the instant of perception—prior to conceptions forming,

Bliss enveloped the whole earth.

 

Prior to the onset of mundane pleasure, intense joy and an ineffable

sense of timelessness and sheer beauty arose.

In that initial contact, there was no subject looking

no object looked at;

There was only pure awareness, naked—unadulterated.

Beauty was complete and alone—

Time itself was not.

 

Abruptly, without apology, the response of pleasure and its

Acquisitive tendencies engulfed my experience

thus intruding upon the pure perception.

The fullness of the original beauty went into hiding,

never again to expose itself.

What happened to the beauty?

 

Conditioned habit patterns sprang into action with guileful abruptness.

My mind sought to reify the extraordinary experience,

to enlarge itself.

I named, measured, captured, possessed, and struggled to

sustain the experience.

Thought, in pursuit of Becoming, once again consumed the moment,

Thus increasing its storehouse of self-referential experience.

The desire for security and continuity correlates

with the response of grasping and leads to self-embalming:

Preserving that which is already dead.

 

Can the pristine be seen through the veil of conditioning?

Can the mind come upon beauty without destroying it?

Echoing Helena the Theosophist’s Voice of the Silence,

Is the mind the great slayer of the real?

 

In the interval between the first contact of perception and the initiation of the thought process, love and beauty flourish. Similarly, where there is no selfishness, no motive, no desire for special experience, meditation freely sheds the accoutrements of conditioning and fully blossoms. From Mabel Collins’ Light on the Path:

 

In the deep silence the mysterious event will occur which will

prove that the way has been found.

Call it by what name you will,

It is a voice that speaks where there is none to speak.

It is a messenger that comes,

A messenger without form or substance; or

It is the flower of the soul that has opened.

It cannot be described by any metaphor.

 

When the personal ego is operative, meditation will not enter the sanctuary of the heart. Seeing the truth of this leads to the unfolding of the mystical power of love. Before one can experience this ineffable love, the giant weed of self must be burned in the flame of meditation. Again from Light on the Path:

 

Grow as the flower grows, unconsciously,

But eagerly anxious to open its soul to the air.

So must you press forward to open your soul to the Eternal.

But it must be the Eternal that draws forth your strength and beauty

not desire of growth

For in the one case you develop in the luxuriance of purity;

In the other you harden by the forcible passion for personal stature.

 

Referring to meditation in Freedom from the Known, Krishnaji comments: “One asks oneself then whether it is possible to come upon this thing without inviting, without waiting, without seeking or exploring—just for it to happen like a cool breeze that comes in when you leave the window open. You cannot invite the wind but you must leave the window open.”

In conversation with a young student about meditation, recorded in Krishnamurti on Education, Krishnaji says: “Sit very quietly and be still not only physically, not only in your body, but also in your mind. Be very still and then in that stillness, attend. Attend to the sounds outside this building, the cock crowing, the birds, somebody coughing, somebody leaving; listen first to the things outside you, then listen to what is going on in your mind. And you will then see, if you listen very very attentively, in that silence, that the outside sound and the inside sound are the same.

Sitting Session – 11

This session is to integrate the meditation practice into our daily life and so will not be a formal “sitting” practice. Nevertheless, set the stage and allow the mind and body to become as quiet and relaxed as circumstances permit. Deliberately bring awareness to the specific current situation. For example, while walking down the street, be aware of thoughts and emotions arising and dissolving. Notice the quality of attention while changing a diaper, doing dishes, greeting a neighbor, or watching your spouse comb her hair. When driving a car, examine the fear or anger that arises when another driver “cuts you off” or rudely blows his horn. What is the nature of the impatience felt during traffic delays or the guilt when you fail to “let someone in”? Give special attention to psychological responses to interactions with others. In summary, the practice is to simply be mindfully aware of thoughts and feelings as they occur. Don’t try to judge, control, repress, manipulate, obsess, or become attached to them. If fortunate, meditation may arise in the gap between thoughts or emotions. Seal the practice at appropriate breaks.

 

Chapter Twelve

Search for the Self

 

 

Cloud Formations

While lying in the company of the other flowers and creatures of the

meadow one day,

The child watched the clouds form their fantasy shapes and figures

in the open sky above him.

The vastness of the bright space invited wonderment and the question

arose in his mind:

Who am I?

 

This generated a deluge of thoughts which culminated in his pondering

the meaning of death.

Being familiar with the fact that people and animals die,

Does it follow that I die when my body dies?

 

So began a childhood quest to understand the relationship between the “I” and the body. To approach this problem in a rigorous scientific manner, he employed a thought experiment using his unbound imagination. He mentally removed his body parts one by one, starting with his toes and finishing with the top of his head. Each part was checked to see if any part of his self was hidden in it. As each part was eliminated, the residue was systematically examined to see if a sense of “I” was there. After hypothetically removing all body parts in this manner, he happily concluded that “I” was indeed still present—in fact, quite near. He began to think: I am not really my body. His sense of self seemed to exist as a nebulous center in the space encompassing the general locale of his head and heart. Through this line of inquiry, he began to see that identification with his body was a mistaken view and that body is merely a concept, a name assigned to a collection of body parts. After his experience of dissociation from the body, no overt fear of death or loss was felt since a feeling of “I” always seemed to remain. An intimation of immortality lingered; yes, completely losing oneself was simply unimaginable. Although from the force of habit, he still tended to identify with his body; the bonds of illusion were forever weakened. The first step towards liberation had occurred.

Beyond leading to the recognition of not being a body, the “removing parts” analysis changed the very basis for belief in the existence of “I” from my body to the mind. A new primary factor of self-identification began to focus on the mind with its thoughts and feelings. After all, where there are thoughts and feelings, there must be a thinker and feeler; thus the child became an unwitting fellow traveler with Descartes and his baggage: “I think, therefore, I am.” The conclusion of this phase of analysis seems to be that: I am a mind and I have a body.

However, a new conundrum arose when the child noticed the habitual tendency to make reference to my mind: my mind went blank; my mind is confused; I am out of my mind, etc. This conundrum may also be conflicted with thoughts about a soul: I hope my soul will be saved from hell; my soul will rest in the hereafter, etc. In this context, the terms “mind” and “soul” are essentially synonymous. In either case, there seems to be a different entity, a possessive self, separate from the mind or the soul. What is the nature of this entity who conceptualizes “mine”? Does it constitute the real self?

Unlike the body (including the brain), the mind is immaterial. However, the mind is also made up of parts such as thoughts, perceptions, feelings, emotions, memories, and a variety of processed sense consciousnesses including awareness of visual, auditory, and mental events. Unfortunately, the “removing parts” analysis used to determine that the “I” was not the body is not so readily adaptable to the question: Am I the mind? A different analytical approach examines this issue by looking into the nature of the mind itself. The mind apprehends the body but cannot directly perceive itself. It can only think about or produce concepts depicting the mind. Although it definitely functions, the mind itself seems to be an intangible accumulation of memories, thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Am I merely a reservoir of conditioned mental parts? By looking into each of these mental elements and systematically eliminating them as comprising the “I,” the child reasonably concluded that identification with the mind was also a mistaken view. Although the perennial habit of “I” was still somewhat present, the next step towards liberation had irreversibly occurred.

 

The Self and Dying

Having heard that when people die their souls continue on to heaven or hell or took rebirth in a new body, he wondered: Am I a soul that possesses a mind and a body? Is this apparent conception of me—the soul, also delusional and impermanent like the body and mind—hence, no real existence? The discrimination of insight necessary to resolve these imponderables had not yet matured in his mind. Nor had they been gifted to him.

If the child had carried the inquiry further, some subtle aspects of the self-nature may have revealed themselves: the innate desire for self-continuity; the instinctive self reflexivity in relationship with others; the constant striving of becoming more; and the undercurrent of existential angst from the fear of dying. Obviously the body dies and returns to dust. But does the soul or the self die? Corroborated by research into near-death experiences, many secularists tend to think that one may not totally vanish into the great ethereal dustbin. Most religious traditions believe in some sort of afterlife. The monotheistic religions assert that when a person dies, his or her soul withdraws from the physical body and moves to another realm: perhaps a blissful heaven of everlasting communion with God or a fiery hell of eternal damnation supervised by the Devil. The more esoteric forms of the monotheistic religions such as the Gnostic Christians, the Kabalistic Jews, and the Muslim Sufis hold a belief in reincarnation: that shortly after death, the mind or mental body transmigrates to a new physical body. The Buddhists and the Hindus add the role of karma to this conception. Governed by one’s personal karma accumulated from this and previous lives, the cyclic process of rebirth continues until the attainment of liberation or enlightenment.

Every moment of our life, there is continuity with the self of the past that meets the present, modifies or conditions itself, and projects itself into the future. When using the flame of a candle to light a second candle, the flame of the second to light a third, etc., it is not said that the flame of the first candle is the same as the flame of the third candle; nevertheless, they are dependently connected. Similar to the candle flame, when you die, the same you is not reborn. There is no immutable self; yet there is continuity.

Considering that living is the ongoing process of propagating the self through experience and memory, then dying may be defined as the ending of the self’s identification with “me” and “mine.” As a heuristic exercise, reflect on what it means for an attachment to die. Suppose I am involved in the habit of cigar smoking, but on a new day I unexpectedly experience a visceral revulsion towards the odor of tobacco. The desire to smoke suddenly and totally disappears. The previous cigar-smoking self has died and a new self—free of the revulsive odor—has taken its place. This new self hardly remembers the old cigar-smoking self. The fact of smoking is remembered, but the feeling of craving and its anxiety are gone forever. Only a gray wisp of memory—an inauthentic artifact—remains.

What are the features of death when there are no attachments? Is it possible to die to all psychological afflictions? When one spontaneously nurtures the wounded bird, when one gives unconditional kindness to another, when one does a truly unselfish act, the self is in abeyance. For that moment, the self-center is not, yet there is joy. Every moment we die to the self we may experience a new birth. Each time an old viewpoint or habit effortlessly drops because of the gift of insight, there is a mental renewal or rebirth. Even the cells of the physical body are constantly renewed, so the body itself is not the same today as it was yesterday. Understanding these things, there is no fear. What then is your basis for the fear of dying?

When you are alert and sleep comes easily, you may observe that the onset of sleep is a kind of dying. There is no unfinished work, no unfulfilled expectations; all is complete; all is right—that is the beauty of death. In the deep sleep beyond dreaming, the sense of self is in pristine suspension. Out of the ashes of the baggage of ego, there comes a new birth. The mantle of the fear of death has dissolved like a blanket of frost in the rays of the sun.

 

Further Analysis of the Self

Returning to the status of the child’s understanding: from merciful ignorance, the thought lingered that because thinking was present, surely I really existed. That reasoned conception camouflaged itself behind a mask of self-assurance and a comfortable feeling of security. That feeling would have been short-lived if the child looked under the bed into the face of the ghostly omen, the death mask of the beloved “I”—the perennial semantic fiction.

Try the following personal heuristic experiment. Sit in a quiet place and ask the question: Who am I? The initial set of answers might go: I am Mary; I am a person who wishes to be rich; I am a parent; I am afraid of losing my loved one; I am the owner of that thing; I am jealous; I love flowers; I was a beauty queen; I will become president someday, ad infinitum. All these responses relate to a self-image derived from past memories or future projections. They also indicate that the sense of self, me in contradistinction to you or it, is reinforced by identifying with our own desires, fears, and possessions. After all, it is logical to think that where there are possessions there must be a possessor.

Repeat the experiment with an additional factor: Imagine a sudden case of amnesia wherein all psychological and individual memories are erased. The only thought remaining is the present question: Who am I? You might think: I’m sitting on a chair in a quiet room; I see furniture and an open window; I smell roses; my back aches; my eyelid itches; and I don’t know who I am. These thoughts don’t derive from a previous self-image but are the direct immediate perception associated with experiencing these sensory stimuli; there is still a bodily referent and a sense of possession. Thought has created an “I” that owns its response to stimuli: my place, my visions, my pain, and my anxiety. Thus the process of building a self-image began by identifying with the thoughts or feelings arising within.

Add a new constraint for yet another experiment: Imagine being in an isolation chamber with no external sensory inputs and a completely anesthetized body. This setup is more sophisticated and radical than the child’s initial thought experiment of eliminating body parts. Again, assume that memories are wiped completely clean except for the initial question: Who am I? Under these conditions would I know who I am? I can’t know where I am or what I am doing because there are no sensory inputs. There is no dreaming because there is no past to remember and no future to ponder, for the future is based on projections from the past. Would thoughts arise under these conditions? Internally, I may long for a reference point—a visceral centeredness—a living presence. At this stage, maybe there remains only pure unconditioned awareness—the womb of love and compassion.

The purpose of this foregoing process—the search for the self was to find a logical basis for existence of the self. We have not been able to find a separate independent self. We have determined that the self is a name we assign to a collection of mental and physical parts; its existence is merely imputed. Seeing the truth in this, we still act as if we are separate selves; however, we may notice that our relationships have mellowed, attachments have relaxed, and the walls of demarcation with others have begun to crumble. Perhaps there will be less violence.

 

Sitting Session – 12

Set the stage and settle into a sitting position. Attend to the breathing for a short while until the mind and body have become quiet and relaxed. As before, watch the process of thoughts and emotions arising. Try to identify the self in this process. If a separate independent self cannot be found in this bag of blood and bones or body of light, then where is the entity that is searching? Don’t hurry to arrive at a conceptual conclusion; rather, notice a loosening of the attachment to the searcher. Rest in that and let things be as they are. Seal the practice.

Chapter Thirteen

Origin and Composition of the Self

 

Once upon a time, while working in the garden, a rather simple person received a sudden flashback to a moment of beginning. The strange feeling came not as a dream or conscious recall but a magical tuning-in to the indelible records of human memory. The first moment of becoming self-conscious was remembered; although this particular life entity already existed, there were no referent personal pronouns for its past existence. Using the vernacular of Helena Blavatsky’s theosophy, this day-dreamed story unfolds.

 

Origin of Me

In the beginning—but

In the middle of the third prototype phase,

On the fourth globe of this fourth round of the amalgamated cosmic dust of humanity,

The seed conception of “I” hovered somewhere above.

It had not yet found a fertile field for taking root.

 

While walking down the road to the mythical Damascus,

The “higher angels,” with dubious benevolence, descended upon the innocent beast.

Suddenly there was myself walking down the road.

Spontaneously, seemingly out of nowhere,

Possessions were acquired: my hands, my feet, my body, my food, my ax, etc.

 

Having accumulated little experience beyond survival instincts and with only a functional sense of separation from others,

Primordial innocence nevertheless remained.

 

However, as intelligence evolved, innate virtue began to dissipate.

Soon there was my wife, my family, my tribe, my country, and inevitably – my enemy.

New wombs pregnant with beings afflicted with the delusion of self-separateness, fated to be immersed in the murk of attachment and aversion, began to appear.

Other selves began to participate in the collateral collusion to propagate and solidify this new entity, the Self.

 

This gestation environment supported and nourished the root of suffering—the belief in a real self—

Me—in contradistinction to you.

This development, the biblical original sin, occurred long ago.

 

But wait up! Just this morning, I was walking down an unusually quiet road to Damascus

When suddenly, with a burst of light, there was no I walking; there was only walking!

This anachronistic experience was short lived and I soon found myself back in the world of duality.

 

Had I traversed a magic bridge or had I only briefly glimpsed the other shore in a moment of luck or grace?

Must I, by my own self-conscious efforts, breach the wall of selfishness and reenter the immaculate womb?

Was this an epiphany with demands for commitment?

 

Composition of the Self

The Swiss author Hermann Hesse in his Treatise on the Steppenwolf says: “Man is an onion made up of a hundred integuments, a texture made up of many threads. The ancient Asiatics knew this well enough, and in the Buddhist Yoga an exact technique was devised for unmasking the illusion of the personality. The human merry-go-round sees many changes: The illusion that cost India the efforts of thousands of years to unmask is the same illusion that the West has labored just as hard to maintain and strengthen.”

Ken Wilber, the Western integrative thinker, addresses the separate-self in his visionary book The Eye of Spirit by observing that the realization of the nondual traditions is uncompromising: there is only Spirit, there is only God, and there is only emptiness or spaciousness in all its radiant wonder. He says the separate-self is “. . . at bottom, simply a sensation of seeking. When you feel yourself right now, you will basically feel a tiny interior tension or contraction—a sensation of grasping, desiring, wishing, wanting, avoiding, resisting—it is a sensation of effort.”

The Buddha taught that all sentient beings are composed of five aggregates or sets of elements that comprehensively constitute the being’s body-mind complex. These are generalized categories, loosely structured yet exhaustively inclusive of the totality of elements comprising a living being. The first group is material and the other four are mental. The Buddha illustrated this concept by pouring five heaps of rice on the ground, intermingling with each other at their edges, to show that the distinct elements of body and mind are intimately interconnected. The five aggregates are generally given as: form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness.

 

1. The aggregate of form refers to the materiality of things. It includes our physical body; the six sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, tactile receptors, and brain; and their corresponding six subjective sense registrations or impressions: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking.

2. The aggregate of feeling comprises all of our physical, emotional, and mental responses to sensations. Predominately pain or pleasure, feelings are categorized under three types: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, depending on one’s predilections.

3. The aggregate of perception relates to the abstractions of qualities. Examples include: the color blue, a triangle, a circular shape, the taste of honey, the odor of roses, and stillness.

4. The aggregate of mental formations is the collective volitional activity of ideation and image or concept making. Examples include: compassion, love, hate, attention, will, determination, confidence, concentration, ideals, moods, wisdom, samadhi, ignorance, conceit, idea of self, attachment, and aversion. This aggregate is the unique generator of the actions of karma, the summation of causes and effects that accompany our life stream.

5. The aggregate of consciousness is the awareness of objects, both physical and subtle. Examples include: awareness of sound, shape, color, odor, taste, texture, emotion, and thought.

 

Where in this list of the five aggregates is a self found? Is there a single, independent, and permanently existing entity present, or is self simply the name given to the set of elements as a whole?

The operation of the aggregates is illustrated in the analysis of the hypothetical experience one may have during a sitting meditation practice: After watching the breathing for a while, my sit-bone begins to ache. Thought demands a shift in position on the cushion to alleviate my pain. So I move a little, make adjustments and resume observing my breathing, thoughts, feelings, and sounds. After a period of dynamic quietude, an image of the Immaculate One arises in front of me. It transforms into a brilliant golden light, which enters the crown of my head and settles in my heart center. An indescribable bliss permeates my being. Love radiates from my heart. The inner and outer worlds respond to the blessing.

The breath, sit-bone, chair, deity, light, crown, heart center, and world make up the aggregate of form. The pain, bliss, and love comprise the aggregate of feeling. The recognition of the objects, physical and mental, is the aggregate of perception. The volition to move, the attachment to the image, the glory of the experience, and the intention to share the love make up the aggregate of mental formations. The awareness of breathing, pain, thought arising, body moving, quietness, image arising, image transforming, bliss arising, and love radiating is the aggregate of consciousness. This meditation practice took place completely in the realm of the aggregates. Where in this description of a meditation process is there a self?

 

Self and Spaciousness

In the context of seeking reality, Tsong-kha-pa says: “The reality you seek to attain—the embodiment of truth—is total extinction of conceptions of both the self and that which belongs to the self. First, having contemplated in dismay the faults and disadvantages of cyclic existence, develop a wish to be done with it. Then research its roots, considering what might be the root cause of cyclic existence. You will thereby become certain from the depths of your heart that the reifying view of the perishing aggregates—or ignorance—acts as the root of cyclic existence.”

There are two approaches to destroying that root: the intellectual and the experiential. The first tries to completely understand the analysis that refutes the normal conception of self. The experiential approach is the meditation practice that looks deeply into the nature of the self. Based on logic and reasoning, the Buddha taught the view of emptiness or spaciousness (Skt., shunyata), which shows that the self only exists dependently; it has no independent inherent existence—its existence is merely imputed. Self is the name we give to the body-mind complex with all of its endlessly changing parts. That which we call the self is precisely the collection of the five aggregates. By carefully looking at each of the aggregates, it is seen that none contains nor constitutes an inherent self because each one is constantly changing and is dependent on a variety of causes and conditions. According to Walpola Rahula’s translation of the Buddha’s words:

 

When the aggregates arise, decay and die, O monk,

Every moment you are born, decay and die.

 

Also, there is no inherent self outside of the aggregates because by definition and observation, the aggregates are all-inclusive. Since each of the aggregates has no inherent self-nature then the collective aggregates are said to be empty of self. Although appearance and function are experientially evident, the self has no inherent self-nature. Self is simply a convenient label to apply to these aggregates operating together. Moreover, this fictional label represents a kind of reification and is a term exploited to propagate a form of collusion between my-self and your-self. This false substantiation ensures the existence of you and I as separate entities abiding in egonorance.

From the union of the serenity and insight meditation that examines selflessness as its object, one may apprehend the essence of no-self. Thus, the root of confusion that clings to and reifies an illusory self is cut. We then recognize the ignorance that causes sorrow and inevitably traps the pilgrim on the carousel of samsara and engenders the conditions of birth, life, death, and rebirth. This understanding consecrates the sacred union and allows us to dwell in the dynamic serenity that sees into the emptiness of self.

 

Sitting Session – 13

Set the stage and settle into a sitting position. Attend to the breathing for a short while until the mind and body have become quiet and relaxed. As before, watch the process of thoughts and emotions arising. Again, try to identify the self in this process. If no self is found, rest in that awareness and let things be as they are. Seal the practice.

Chapter Fourteen

Interdependence and Emptiness

 

In the “first turning of the wheel of dharma” the Buddha taught the pervasiveness of suffering and the way to end suffering. His first teaching cycle culminated in the view of egoless-ness—the absence of a real self entity or personal self as discussed in Chapter Thirteen. After a suitable period of gestation, the Buddha attended to a flock of relatively mature spiritual seekers at Vulture Peak Mountain near Rajagriha, India, and gave the “second turning of the wheel of dharma.” This audience consisted of those who had committed themselves to a life of altruism and dharma practice for the benefit of other sentient beings and were therefore ripe for the next stage. This cycle of teachings further expounded the view of emptiness or shunyata, and included four core teachings usually referred to as the “Four Seals” or stamps of authenticity. These are not mystical revelations but ordinary facts subject to verification by our penetrating examination. Dzongsar Khyentse summarizes these seals or truths as:

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. All compounded things are impermanent.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. All emotions are painful.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. All things have no inherent existence.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Nirvana is beyond concepts.

 

The First Seal

It is also true that all things and phenomena are impermanent. The Buddha included the word “compounded” to emphasize the implication of the third seal that all things are merely assembled parts and do not exist independently Whether as a farmer watching the seasons change, a mother seeing her toddler grow, an adolescent experiencing mood swings, a scientist observing the uncertain behavior of subatomic particles, or an innocent resident becoming a hurricane victim, we are constantly reminded of the truth of the first seal—the fact of impermanence.

Nevertheless, Dzongsar says that we are “. . . caught up in compounding and fabricating reality with hopes of achieving long-lasting happiness. Wishing for ‘happily ever after’ is nothing more than a desire for permanence in disguise. We intend to establish ourselves and our world, but we forget that the corrosion begins as soon as creation begins. What we aim for is not decay, but what we do leads directly to decay.” He points out that by being aware of assembled phenomena, we become aware of interdependence and thus readily recognize impermanence. “Such awareness prevents us from getting caught up in all kinds of personal, political, and relationship dramas.” Seeing this, we are less likely to be enslaved by our assumptions and hardened beliefs.

 

The Second Seal

The second seal was discussed in Chapter Eight, under the topic of the three kinds of suffering, specifically, the second type: the suffering of change. There we found that in addition to the obviously painful emotions such as envy and anger, even love could become jealousy or grief. Emotions sprout from the root of ignorance, the basic misunderstanding of who we are, and are midwifed by selfishness. The origin of all our emotions is fundamentally flawed; yet we give credence to illusory feelings as if they really existed. It is taught that emotions arise when particular causes and conditions come together. For example, if someone criticizes me, my feelings are hurt. If someone flatters me, I feel exuberant. If someone steals my lover, I become enraged. Dzongsar says, “The moment we accept those emotions, the moment we buy into them, we have lost awareness and sanity. To eliminate suffering, you must generate awareness and tend to your emotions.”

 

The Third Seal

The third seal is based on the Buddha’s observation that all phenomena are in the same sinking boat as the illusory self; they too have no inherent existence. Let us subject phenomena or objects to the same type of analysis used to refute the notion of a separate self. Consider a table: We can agree that a table is a special group of table parts put together in a particular way so that they function as a table. But wherein is the table other than the name we give it? Is the table in the parts or outside the parts? It cannot be in one of the parts or in the group of parts, for the parts themselves are comprised of more parts. Obviously, the table is not outside the parts. Perhaps the table is in the atoms forming it. If so, is it the top or bottom or one of the sides of the atom? And so the argument goes, ad infinitum. It seems that, through mutual agreement, the table is merely imputed to exist in dependence on its parts and configuration. In reality, the table has no inherent existence and is empty of an independent table-nature. Nevertheless, the fact that the table appears and functions is undeniable; it is not a void—a nothingness. The higher truth holds that all phenomena lack inherent existence; everything is empti-ness. Realization of the fact that the entire cosmos is merely an appearance gives us the freedom to avoid getting caught up in little dramas. We no longer vest power in the illusion of duality.

Although useful, intellectual analysis only yields a partial understanding of the real situation. Because of well-established and long ingrained habitual patterns, the analytical approach doesn’t lead to full liberation from the bonds of self-centeredness. The truth of shunyata or spaciousness is beyond conception and description and is only realized through right meditation. In his Eye of Spirit, Ken Wilber writes: “In nondual meditation or contemplation, the agitation of the separate-self sense profoundly relaxes, and the self uncoils in the vast expanse of all space. At that point, it becomes obvious that you are not ‘in here’ looking at the world ‘out there,’ because that duality has simply collapsed into pure Presence and spontaneous luminosity.” Signs of this deeper understanding occur when confusion, aggression, attachment, and the substratum of narcissism begin to dissipate and lose dominance over one’s life. The nineteenth century Irish philosopher Wei Wu Wei points out, “All our actions are essentially to benefit our self—and yet there isn’t a self.”

Through seeing into the truth of emptiness, the fear of death withers at the root, for that which dies was never real in the first place. Obsessing about death is like worrying about tomorrow’s swimming lesson while drowning today. Join me in viewing the situation:

 

Like a blind man who has once seen a flash of light,

One will never forget the experience of non-duality.

To allow the glimpse of reality to flower is ones joyful aspiration.

Compassion for all beings, wisdom in all things, and genuine

Humility indelibly mark the fully enlightened.

 

From the viewpoint of ultimate truth, there is no independently existent self. From the viewpoint of relative truth—a center of consciousness—the ego appears and functions. In fact, we originally produced it ourselves and even now continue to maintain it. So don’t disparage this self; relate to it as if it were a character in a movie or play. Make friends with it, for it serves as a convenient referent. However, be aware that the habit of ego-identification or self-reification is the ultimate addiction and source of suffering. Western psychology teaches that each human being experiences a process of self-development and that this sense of self begins to appear in early childhood. This process is primarily determined by genetics and environment. The major monotheistic religions own the concept of “original sin.” Stemming from the disobedience of our first ancestors, the Creator endows all humans at birth with this great existential burden. In the Buddha’s view of reincarnation, each person is born with a unique burden—their residue of unfinished good and bad karma accumulated from previous lives. This birthright includes the habit of ego-identification. Perhaps it is this burden that resonates with the notion of “original sin.”

The Buddha taught a linked set of causes and conditions that illustrate our situation:

 

From our beginning, there is ignorance;

From this ignorance of who we really are,

Mental errors and stupid habit patterns developed.

From these mental formations, self-consciousness arose.

From self-consciousness (sensing separation from others),

We took a name.

Sensation manifested as attraction or repulsion.

Desire and craving followed, which led to grasping/attachment.

From these, we became that which we appear.

Thus so, the cycle of birth, old age, and death repeats.

And the cycle continues ad infinitum for this earthbound pilgrim,

Until realization dawns.

 

Like an alcoholic or drug addict, it is not sufficient to superficially acknowledge the fact of one’s addiction; steps must be taken to alleviate the causes and conditions associated with the problem. Taking this ego to be real is the erroneous view that causes the operation of a recursive pattern of consciousness. This pattern identifies with and seeks to sustain the continuity of an illusory self-center. Where there is a self-center, there is me and mine. Where there is me and mine, there is attachment and aversion, greed and anger. From these afflictions, perpetual conflict and suffering arise. Embedding the recognition of these facts attenuates the habit of selfishness and causes one to become kinder and gentler, softer around the edges—like a ripened fruit. Realization occurs with the deconstruction of the delusion of ego and forms the basis for a categorical transpersonal psychology of being and way of living that alleviates the suffering of self and others. Thus, original sin is not set in concrete; there is a way out of bondage.

To profoundly see into this patterning is the fruit of the union of serenity and insight meditation. The revered twentieth century Tibetan Buddhist teacher and meditation master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche pointed out in Vajra Speech: “The extraordinary shamatha [serenity meditation], resting in the stillness free from conceptual thinking should be combined with the extraordinary vipashyana [insight meditation], which is recognizing the nature of that stillness.” In that way, shamatha and vipashyana—serenity and insight—are unified. This is also called the indivisibility of awareness and emptiness.

 

The Fourth Seal

If nirvana is truly beyond concepts, then how can one speak of it? I choose to take Wittgenstein’s advice and my own inclination as stated in the Epilogue and simply allow the question to gestate.

 

Sitting Session – 14

Set the stage and take a sitting position. Attend to the breathing for a short while until mind and body have become quiet and relaxed. As before, watch the process of thoughts and emotions arising; allow them to settle naturally. Look into the nature of that calm abiding. Who is resting? Who is asking? Let go of seeking answers and let things be as they are. Seal the practice.

Chapter Fifteen

Recapitulation

 

We began this journey of inquiry from an ill-chosen self-inflicted mode of being: the ontological status of each one of us was principally characterized by the fictitious semantic element I. We were imprisoned like a chrysalis in an impenetrable cocoon of delusion. During this journey, we encountered the opportunity of revealing a jewel encased in mud—the potential for the metamorphosis of conditioned consciousness into its original nature. According to the Apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said to his disciples: “Why ask about the end? For in the place in yourselves where you find the beginning, you will also find the end.”

Our journey of awakening is a movement from the apparent dark space of chaos, anxiety, and confusion to the original bright space of joy, clarity, and luminosity. It culminates in liberation and all-encompassing compassion. Liberation is the unfettered freedom from conditioning. Compassion is beyond mere pity; it is a boundless radiant open-heartedness towards all sentient beings.

 

Primordial Heritage

Timelessly—before a beginning,

Mind was pristine, unconditioned, and receptive.

Things appeared but their concepts didn’t form.

Perceptions were direct and intuitive—gracefully unnamed.

Mind abided in its own luminous clarity.

 

In our journey of return, back to genesis,

Empowerment enables us to see into our primordial source.

The way of meditation resolves the mind in its natural state—

Innate compassion and lucidity.

 

Having ventured into the depths of samsara,

Having danced and twirled in illusion’s ballroom for countless ages,

The prodigal returns home and receives its birthright—

The beatitude of awakening.

The Overview

We have now reached another plateau near the top of the mountain we purposely set out to reach. Looking back down the trail, the entire vista of every step is visible; from here we may reflect on the meditation places sojourned and validate our assumptions and conclusions. We may also bring to mind that which needs further illumination. In the clarity of unveiled perception, vast spaciousness comprises the earth. Along the path, verdant hills and lush valleys are marked by meditation gardens where the seeds of enlightenment are nurtured. Blossoms of little kindnesses are evidence of their sprouting. Judgmental thoughts are suspended and relax freely in the background of mindfulness like an old woman watching children play. To know precisely our position on this path, we may observe our actions, thoughts, and feelings in relation to others. Sages urge us to look into the mirror of relationship. With noble intent to liberate other sibling-like beings from suffering, there is no choice but to spontaneously continue the journey of awakening with joy and perseverance.

 

Continuing the Journey

The summit of our original goal still lies ahead; prior explorations and practices form a base station of empowerment for living a life of sanity, of genuine meaning. Although the continuing path must be traveled alone, at this point it is crucial to find the right teacher. An authentic teacher is necessary to point out the way. Unexpected opportunities for contact with qualified teachers will now begin to seemingly perchance arise. We must carefully examine the teacher for qualities of kindness and compassion, detachment from worldly aims, utter selflessness, and a measure of realization. We should also decide if there is the potential for a feeling of trust and devotion towards the teacher. To validate our examination, we must take this inquiry into our meditation practice.

The mystic poet and Indian saint Kabir makes lucid the subtleties of treading this path without wise advice (adapted from Robert Bly’s translation):

 

Friend, please tell me what I can do about this world I hold to, and keep spinning out!

I gave up sewn clothes, and wore a robe, but I noticed one day the cloth was well woven.

So I bought some burlap, but I still throw it elegantly over my left shoulder.

I pulled back my sexual longings, and now I discover that I’m angry a lot.

I gave up rage, and now I notice that I am greedy all day.

I worked hard at dissolving the greed, and now I am proud of myself.

When the mind wants to break its link with the world it still holds on to one thing.

[_Kabir says: Listen my friend, there are very few that find the path! _]

 

To engage with the action that enables liberation, we must have the faith and confidence to embody the truths encountered. In his Flight of the Eagle, Krishnaji says that one must lay the foundation of righteous behavior; otherwise, meditation is really a form of self-hypnosis. That foundation is built on the solid rock of the transcendental virtues. Unless one’s daily life is free from afflictions such as “the distortion of personal fear, anxiety, greed and so on, meditation has very little meaning.” In the Voice of the Silence, Helena the Theosophist records:

 

To reach Nirvana one must reach self-knowledge, and

Self-knowledge is of loving deeds the child.

 

The precious teacher of ninth century Tibet, Padmasambhava, the Lotus Born, was asked by the Lady Tsogyal: “How to practice the six paramitas?” He replied:

 

When you do not harbor any stinginess or prejudice whatsoever in your mind,

_That is the paramita of generosity. _

 

When you can skillfully relinquish your disturbing emotions,

_That is the paramita of discipline. _

 

When you are totally free from anger and resentment,

That is the paramita of patience.

 

When you are neither lazy nor indolent,

That is the paramita of diligence.

 

When you are free from distraction and attachment to the taste of meditation,

That is the paramita of concentration.

 

When you are utterly free from constructed concepts,

That is the paramita of discriminating knowledge.

 

 

After many years of asceticism, discipline, and self-mortification, a somewhat religious man, in conversation with Krishnaji, spoke of the wonderful visions, powers, and experiences he had enjoyed as a result of his meditation practice; they filled him with satisfaction, gratification, self-confidence, and a proud sense of self-mastery. But as he listened to and watched himself, he began to question the meaning of the whole process. In his Commentaries on Living, Krishnaji responded to his implicit query: “After all, what is essential is self-knowledge, which brings about a still mind. A still mind is not the product of will, of discipline, of the various practices to subjugate desire. All these practices and disciplines only strengthen the self, and virtue is then another rock on which the self can build a house of importance and respectability. The mind must be empty of the known for the unknowable to be. Without understanding the ways of the self, virtue begins to clothe itself in importance.”

On seeing the truth in this response, the man further asked how to get free of these self-constructed prison walls. Krishnaji replied: “The very awareness that they must go is enough. Any action to break them down sets in motion the desire to achieve, to gain, and so brings into being the conflict of the opposites, the experiencer and the experience, the seeker and the sought. To see the false as the false is in itself enough, for that very perception frees the mind from the false.”

 

On Practical Matters

We need to review some key points relevant to the sitting practice that may have been initially overlooked or understated. Let us expand and reiterate a few of these. We should avoid extremes and taking our self too seriously when engaging in practice. There was a man who took a somewhat heavy-handed somber approach to meditation practice. He deemed it necessary to sit with “knitted brow” upon a leopard skin in a full lotus position. So he sat for hours every day for three years enduring the misery of aching knees and joints until he became accustomed to the pain. After more years of sitting practice, he began to exhibit a superficial virtuousness spawned not from spontaneous goodness but from the habit patterns of organized discipline. Manifesting a rigorously controlled mind, he became humorless and pious under the cover of disguised narcissism; his ill-conceived degenerative meditation practice had yielded bitter fruit.

We should let go of a preoccupation with distraction in connection with meditation practice. Bodily discomforts, external annoyances, and the internal mental disarray of thoughts and feelings readily become opportunities to experience attentiveness and detachment. When we notice that our attention has drifted away and another thought has replaced the meditation object, recognize the intruder and usher it out the door. It’s okay to allow it to loiter harmlessly in the vestibule. The main point of mindfulness is to be aware of disturbances and our response to them. Simply don’t become attached to their content. The registration of distracting conditions is the beginning of freedom from them and a fundamental sign of success in the practice. As our awareness deepens, we will experience the true nature of the mind in distraction—that thoughts are merely the spontaneous response or manifestation of awareness itself.

Connect with the significance of the manner of opening and closing a practice session. Recall that the purpose of “setting the stage” is to prepare an auspicious environment for the benevolent forces of nature to participate. It is akin to properly engaging a zipper prior to zipping up our garment. “Sealing the practice” multiplies the effect of the practice by preserving the ambience developed in the session and allowing the newly unfolded attitude to continue its operation into daily activities.

Many people are concerned about the matter of time in relation to sitting practice sessions. There is the time of beginning and ending, the duration of each session, the frequency of sessions, and the factor of our natural circadian rhythm. However, conceptual or psychological time—which is thought—has no relation to meditation. Nevertheless, time must be accommodated to schedule obligations around the meditation practice session; but the clock is neither the master nor an obstacle. Thus sages advise: short sessions, many repetitions. End the sitting session when you notice that the freshness and clarity of your awareness begins to wane.

What to do after the meditation practice session? If there is no continuity from the meditation practice session to our mode of being in everyday life, then the practice has been barren. Allowing the eyes to remain open and without movement during the practice session is a useful and symbolic support to facilitate this continuity. Ultimately, there will be no line of demarcation between sitting and the post-meditation activity. Our conduct will be freshened by the clarity, mindfulness, and equanimity of the sitting practice. Sustaining this basis, we may approach the chronic problem of dealing with the demons of disturbing or poisonous emotions. Using the meditation practice as remedy may not completely eliminate them but will definitely dull their fangs and mitigate their destructiveness in our life. The feeling of anger ranges from a slight irritation or annoyance to a full raging inferno. Fear ranges from a slight anxiety in the solar plexus to full-blown terror. Ordinary desire is a natural attraction, whereas excessive desire is an overwhelming obsession. Jealousy and envy also have their extremes. As soon as you begin to experience a poisonous mental attack, bring the following steps to mind:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Notice the anger or fear as it first arises. Without analyzing its cause, simply be aware of the particular feeling’s presence in the mind.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Nakedly recognize and identify it; name it precisely. Locate its corresponding sensations in the body.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Acknowledge the feeling as yours alone; do not judge it or place blame on yourself or another. Simply hang with it; then let it go.

 

As we directly confront the bare feeling itself, it vaporizes in the fire of awareness.

 

Conclusion

This meditation practice schema of fifteen sessions is designed to encourage the practitioner to effortlessly relax into a profoundly subtle and interiorly oriented state. Progressing in nuanced stages, each session generates wholeness— coherent and peaceful. This approach establishes the foundation for the process of coming into relationship with the fruits of meditation—radiant love and luminous clarity. Repeat each session type until inclined to move forward; if there is a sense of affinity with a particular stage, abide with it. Gradually the self—the subject—will ease itself into the background without trauma. The movement of meditation begins with awareness of the content of consciousness, continues with looking at the processes of thought and feeling, sees the nature of mind and thought, and ends with losing oneself in the purity of primordial awareness.

Meditative experience comes through the openness and alert receptivity of undistracted cognizance. The alternation of serenity and insight culminates in their union and gives rise to compassion. The highest insight practice is looking into the nature of mind—simply seeing it as it is. Realization is the direct experience of that nature. It is critical to obtain essential instructions directly from a qualified teacher prior to experiencing the samadhi of suchness as nonconceptual wakefulness. The contemporary Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche provides the following guidance:

Don’t veil your natural face within the grip of a meditator

and his object.

Now is the time for direct experience!

The sign of experience is your nature turning gentle.

Faith and devotion spring forth spontaneously.

Love and compassion naturally well up.

The ocean of understanding and experience overflows.

 

Song of Realization

In the year of the Water Dog (1742), the Seventh Dalai Lama composed a joyful song of meditative realization (Glenn Mullin’s translation refreshed for rhythm):

 

An image of the sun enthroned in the heavens,

Radiating countless beams of light:

May one shower bright rays of love upon all living beings.

O, How excellent!

 

An image of a kingly eagle gliding high in space:

May one’s mind soar without grasping in the space of truth itself,

Clear and void.

O, How excellent!

 

An image of fresh, white clouds, bright, pure and drifting freely:

May one perfect clarity and blissful absorption in the glorious mystic mandala.

O, How excellent!

 

An image of a mighty wind blowing gracefully through the sky:

May one sustain an energy flow beneficial to others,

The best of spiritual practices, completely uncontrived.

O, How excellent!

 

An image of the vast sky everywhere free of obstruction:

May this song on emptiness, meditation, and action without hindrance benefit the world.

O, How excellent!

 

 

Sitting Session – 15

This concluding meditative exercise takes place in the empty projection of a center-less, boundary-less sphere. After setting the stage and settling into a sitting position, allow the mind and body to become quiet and relaxed. Bring to mind a luminous apparition of a sphere and enter into it. Therein are no directions. You will not move to the center for there is no you and no center. Let the peripheral wall fade into nothingness for there are no limits in meditation.

Descriptive terms such as vast, ineffable, intensely wakeful, blissful, and unbridled compassion are totally inadequate to convey the meditation experience. Nevertheless, the nectar of meditation will flavor all worldly actions. Nonattachment, compassion, clarity, and love will accompany all relationships. Allow awareness to open into that immense, thunderous, pregnant silence of spaciousness. Let go completely and rest alertly in the non-meditation of pure be-ness—nonconceptual naked awareness! Seal the practice.

Epilogue

In order to see the world as it is, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s final advice for transcending his own philosophical propositions informs the entirety of Chapter Seven of his Tractatus with the apologetic:

 

What we cannot speak about,

_We must pass over in silence. _

 

Matters too subtle for discourse—such as the fourth seal, nirvana, left deliberately unelaborated in Chapter Fourteen—are best approached vis-à-vis immersion in the pristine meditation of luminous wakefulness. That which we have understood, hold with care and tentativeness. That which we have seen as false, simply let go. That which we have not yet understood, let gestate in quiet reverence. Lastly, know that the outer signs of success in meditation practice are the display of a little more kindness and a little less selfishness. The inner signs are the welling up of love, faith, compassion, and an unbound intelligence. All other signs are suspect.

Immense gratitude is expressed for the essential guidance of the lucent ones, the pioneers who previously traveled this path and left signposts. Gleaning from their pure harvest, hopefully, nothing of my own has contaminated the process. It is acknowledged that the substance of this pretentious treatise: the ideas, the concepts, the viewpoints, the styles, as well as their inspirations were unpremeditatedly drawn from many named and unnamed sources. In the end, there is no method for attaining enlightenment, yet in the beginning there must be effort, without which the end cannot be approached. The purpose of this journey along the paths of meditation is to bridge the gap between our current status as existentially disconnected and the other shore of liberation. It is up to the sojourner to cross over.

 

Glossary

bodhicitta (Sanskrit.) – Awakened state of mind; the aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings

bodhisattva (Skt.) – Someone who has developed bodhicitta: the pure wish to help others

dharma (Skt.) – The Buddha’s teachings. Sometimes “dharma” can mean phenomena or mental objects, as well as attributes or qualities. Prior to the Buddha’s time, it tended to mean duty or law.

esoteric – Refers to the inner or core concepts of various religious denominations that are held to be their deeper truths. Islam has its Sufi tradition; Christianity relates to the Gnostic and Jewish Essene traditions; Judaism has the Kabbalist and Hasidic traditions. There are also other philosophical esoteric traditions such as the Esoteric School of Theosophy, the Pythagorean School, Co-masonry, and Neoplatonism.

Five Aggregates – Form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness

Four Immeasurables – Loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity

Four Noble Truths – 1) The truth of suffering: all delusion-driven life is suffering; 2) the truth of origin: the cause of that suffering is misunderstanding reality; 3) the truth of cessation: there is a way out of suffering; and 4) the truth of the path: a right way of living based on spiritual education in morality, meditation, and wisdom.

Four Reminders (Aka Four Mind Changings by Buddhist practitioners) – Observable facts regarding everyone’s present status of being. They include the preciousness of this human life, impermanence and death, the action of karma, and the defects of samsara.

karma (Skt.) – The universal law of cause and effect. It is not preordained fate: as the Bible says whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. The actions of karma are extremely subtle and complex because the relationship between cause and effect depends on a multitude of unknown conditions—primarily the motivation of the doer.

meditation – Seeing one’s intrinsic nature—how things really are

paramita (Skt.) – Refers to having crossed the “river of suffering” to the “other shore of peace and awakening.” The six paramitas are generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom.

reincarnation – A Buddhist doctrine that all sentient beings die and are reborn in new bodies life after life until they liberate themselves from ignorance and attain enlightenment. The theory of reincarnation linked with the concept of karma forms a beautiful synthesis for understanding why bad things happen to good people. Causes set in motion by us in this or a previous life will surely play out.

samadhi (Skt.) – A state of undistracted concentration or meditative absorption. In some contexts it means stability in the awakened state

samsara (Skt.) – Our ordinary reality, an endless cycle of frustration and suffering generated as the result of karma. It refers to a vicious circle of birth and death and rebirth, characterized by suffering, impermanence, and ignorance. The state of ordinary sentient beings fettered by ignorance and dualistic perception, karma, and disturbing emotions.

Seal the Practice – Close each meditation practice session with an expression of generosity and gratitude. Project the wish that others may also benefit from your practice.

Set the Stage – Initiate the meditation practice session by providing the most favorable conditions in order to feel relaxed and at ease with no induced tensions in your mind or body.

Shakyamuni – honorific of the historical Buddha; sage of the Shakya clan

shamatha – Serenity meditation practice concerned with mindfulness and calming the mind in order to rest free from the disturbance of thoughts and feelings

Siddhartha Gautama – personal and family name of the prince who became the Buddha

shunyata (Skt.) – the union of cognizance and emptiness

theosophy – From the Greek, theosophia, or divine wisdom. It is an integration of religion, science, philosophy, and esotericism based on the ageless wisdom traditions. Truths revealed in these traditions are said to originally spring from the roots of spirit and form the core of all religions. Theosophy is not a religion but a referent to religion itself.

vipashyana (Skt.) – insight meditation practice concerned with gaining insight into the ultimate non-dual nature of reality. The Northern or Himalayan Buddhist tradition includes and goes beyond the Buddha’s initial teachings on mindfulness.

vipassana (Pali) – the Buddha’s initial teachings on mindfulness. Also known as insight meditation practice, popular Western meditation teachers emphasize mindfulness techniques involving the body and feelings in their vipassana meditation practice.

wu wei (Taoism) – the effortless spontaneous alignment with right action.

yoga (Skt.) – union or to yoke. In this context, yoga is that action necessary to unite consciousness with spirit, to marry pure awareness with the primordial natural condition of existence.

 

Credits and Consults

Annie Besant, The Path of Discipleship (Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980, c1910). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.adyarbooks.com

 

Bhagavad-Gita (Discourse VI, v. 18, 19).

 

H. P. Blavatsky, Voice of the Silence, verse 198 (Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1968). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.adyarbooks.com

 

H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1. Ed. Boris de Zirkoff (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.adyarbooks.com

 

Robert Bly, The Kabir Book (Boston: The Seventies Press, Beacon Press, 1977).

 

Mabel Collins, Light on the Path (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1968). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.adyarbooks.com

 

Thich Nhat Hanh, Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1990).

 

Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2003).

 

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1929).

 

Ianthe Hoskins, ed., Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy (Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 2004). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.adyarbooks.com

 

Fr. Thomas Keating, The Classical Practice of Lectio Divina (http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org, 2008).

 

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, What Makes You Not a Buddhist (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2008).

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living, Second Series (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958). Excerpt reprinted with permission from Krishnamurti Foundation of America. www.kfa.org

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Flight of the Eagle (New York: Harper & Row, 1971). Excerpt reprinted with permission from Krishnamurti Foundation of America. www.kfa.org

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known (New York: Harper & Row, 1969). Excerpt reprinted with permission from Krishnamurti Foundation of America. www.kfa.org

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti’s Journal (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982). Excerpt reprinted with permission from Krishnamurti Foundation of America. www.kfa.org

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti’s Notebook (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). Excerpt reprinted with permission from Krishnamurti Foundation of America. www.kfa.org

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti on Education (India: Krishnamurti Foundation India, 1974). Excerpt reprinted with permission from Krishnamurti Foundation of America. www.kfa.org

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti to Himself (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987). Excerpt reprinted with permission from Krishnamurti Foundation of America. www.kfa.org

 

Dalai Lama, The Way to Freedom (India: Harper Collins, 1995).

 

Dalai Lama, Dzogchen, The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2000). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.snowlionpub.com

 

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Fleming H. Revell Company, MCMLVIII).

 

Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.adyarbooks.com

 

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1961).

 

Glenn Mullin, Meditations to Transform the Mind (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1999). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.snowlionpub.com

 

Padmasambhava, Dakini Teaching [_(_]Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1999). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher.

 

Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1974).

 

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, The Bardo Guidebook (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1991).

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, The Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher.

 

Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Fearless Simplicity (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2003).

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Vajra Speech (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2001). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher.

 

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Turning Confusion into Clarity (Boston and London: Snow Lion, 2014).

 

Idries Shaw, The Way of the Sufi (London: Octagon Press, 2004).

 

St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul (New York: Riverhead Books, 2002).

 

St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle (New York: Riverhead Books, 2003).

 

I. K. Taimni, Self-Realization through Love (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.adyarbooks.com

 

Tsong-kha-pa, The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, vol. 3 (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2002). Excerpt reprinted with permission from the publisher. www.snowlionpub.com

 

Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit, An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1997).

 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2001).

About the Author

Cecil Messer, an ardent inquirer into the core values of spiritual traditions, has presented classes at the Krotona School of Theosophy, Ojai, CA on meditation and spiritual teachings from Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Taoism, Theosophy, and other sources. He is a matriculant of the Esoteric School of Theosophy, Ojai, CA and conducted a yearlong online seminar Exploring the Heart of Meditation. He has published related articles in national and international periodicals. Born in Alabama, he currently resides in the mountains of rural North Carolina. He practices non-sectarian Buddhism and is a retiree of the NASA Space Program science and engineering team.


Out of Darkness, From Chaos to Clarity via Meditation

Out of Darkness, From Chaos to Clarity via Meditation refers to a journey of return to our primordial source of being, one’s personal mythical Eden or natural home. It is a life altering project for the confused and disenchanted—ripe ones who have reached a plateau of dissatisfaction in their search for meaning. Illuminating a high-way from the vale of the West to the high plateaus of the East, the ageless teachings of wise ones are distilled to expose our mental afflictions and begin the self-healing process. These perennial teachings are like a GPS that guides us through an open-minded inquiry into prerequisite qualities for undertaking the journey from our current morass of confusion to the peaks of spiritual sanity. Crossing the threshold to a spectrum of meditation approaches leads to liberation from suffering and enlightenment for the benefit of others. Meditation practices help the reader/practitioner connect with a profound spiritual experience. Progressing in nuanced stages, each session generates coherent wholeness and initiates the process of coming into relationship with the fruits of meditation—radiant love and luminous clarity. Structured in four parts, the Prelude sets the ambiance for the following fifteen chapters. Each chapter concludes with a simple yet timeless meditation practice session to ingest its theme. The meditation practice schema is designed to encourage the reader/practitioner to effortlessly relax into a profoundly subtle and interiorly oriented state. Are you ready to dive into the baptismal waters of a generative spiritual practice? “I have rarely if ever seen the spiritual path outlined so concisely and helpfully as here. It addresses the three basic questions: Who am I? Where am I going? and What to do with my life? Highly recommended. Once you’ve read and put into practice the teachings of this book, your life will not be the same.” Robert S. Ellwood, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Religion, University of Southern California “Here, then, is a basic guide to the spiritual journey, moving us from our present existential condition onwards toward ever widening horizons, towards enlightenment. One feels that the author has taken this journey of the spirit himself and reaped its benefits.” Joy Mills, former President of the Theosophical Society in America “This is an important book which addresses a critical need for an inclusive introduction to the field of meditative inquiry. Through the skillful use of prayer, poetry, and prose, it explains the spiritual charism of different religious approaches to meditation.” Reverend James Willems, Episcopal priest and authorized teacher of Buddhist meditation

  • ISBN: 9781370919451
  • Author: Cecil Messer
  • Published: 2016-10-09 18:50:29
  • Words: 32506
Out of Darkness, From Chaos to Clarity via Meditation Out of Darkness, From Chaos to Clarity via Meditation