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Logical and Spiritual REFLECTIONS

Book 4. More Meditations

Chapter 1. Go directly and keep going

After preparing the environment for meditation so you will not be distracted, you sit down comfortably. As soon as you do so, remind yourself why you are doing so: your purpose is to meditate for the next hour (or whatever time you have decided) – not to dream or think of various things, not to fantasy, reflect, decide, plan or calculate. Remind yourself that meditation requires a sustained effort of attention; it is not an opportunity for letting your mind wander busily or lazily in all directions, or doze off.

I find this introductory resolve against mental agitation and dullness saves a lot of time, maximizing the time spent in actual meditation. If you resolve this from the start, it is relatively easy to keep it going.

Now, go directly to the contemplative mode. In principle, there is no need to resort to various artifices to connect with the mode of consciousness we seek. If we practice meditation regularly, and remain true to it in our everyday life, then as soon as we sit we can reconnect with the higher form of awareness we previously attained. The meditation then consists simply in sustaining that way of looking at things for the maximum amount of time. It is very difficult to describe in words the experience here referred to; you recognize it when you encounter it.

However, if your attention starts to lose energy and wander, or you find yourself at all mentally and/or physically restless or tired, you must for a while make use of some appropriate technique to focus your attention again. Certainly do not use such difficulties as an excuse to put off or stop meditating – but tell yourself that the difficulties are evidence of just how much you need to meditate. Redouble your efforts and keep trying.

If your mind’s wandering is mainly visual – then try focusing it on some (mental or physical) visual object. If your mind is mostly absorbed in verbal thoughts – then try reciting some mantra (mentally or orally). If your body tends to fidget, rest your awareness in your body, feeling its discomfort or pain more attentively (without trying to relieve it). Alternatively, in all such cases, try more general means, such as focusing on your breathing or on the chakras (energy centers) along your central nervous system.

Use your judgment to find the best means to return your consciousness to its highest level. Experiment as necessary – but also persevere in such experiment, don’t jump nervously from one technique to another. Remember, techniques are means, not ends in themselves. If you gaze at a candle, or recite a long deep “OM”, or watch your breath in your nostrils and abdomen – the phenomenon that you focus on is of no great interest per se. It is just a way for you to avoid distractions and get to concentrate on your true object of meditation – which is the contemplative mode itself.

If I meditatively stare at a wall or concentrate on a sound, it is not because I expect to find ‘reality’ in that material or mental object. Such concrete objects are not themselves the key to the reality sought in meditation. Rather, what happens after sustaining such effort for some time is that another mode of consciousness appears, a mode in which particular objects lose their customary importance. Our concrete experiences become irrelevant, and the emphasis is rather on the consciousness itself. It is wide and deep; it is calm and secure. The self vanishes and the world bubbles on.

Consider seriously the idea that all mental and physical objects are like a dream or mirage – a projection of images, sounds and other sensations in space and time. Reality is what lies behind them, and these illusions act as veils in front of it. It is as if you are wearing transparent spectacles, in which images are optically reflected (or electronically displayed); these images capture your interest and distract you from seeing beyond or in-between them. According to this view, just as mental projections veil over physical objects, so do both mental and physical objects veil over ultimate reality.

Meditation consists effectively in learning how to look through that interfering curtain; gradually, it becomes more transparent and we get to see through it. Such meditation is just attentiveness, avoiding total seduction by appearances, remaining aware that the apparent may conceal more than it reveals. Whether sitting or in motion, we are mindful, watching out for any clue to what all experience really conceals and reveals.[1]

Another way to express what I refer to here as “going directly” is to use the horse and cart metaphor. The Zen master Nangaku said to Baso: “When a cart does not go, which do you whip, the cart or the horse?”[2] Clinging indefinitely to physical sensations or perceptions, or to emotional or mental experiences, is like whipping the cart. Rather, whip the horse – by tuning in to your intuitive awareness. This takes you straight to the core of meditation, relative to which all phenomenal experiences are a mere sideshow.

Forget the past; forget the future; forget even the present[3]. You become aware of a vacuum. Then just sustain that awareness. Sustaining does not mean clinging to some ideal outlook on things or experience – but pumping in energy, to renew moment by moment the meditative effort of increased consciousness. Sustain the cause, not the effect – for the effect may vary.

[1] In Kantian terms, we look out for the noumenal behind or above or beneath the phenomenal.

[2] See S. Suzuki, p. 81.

[3] This meditation advice echoes the more general advice in the Dhammapada, v. 348: “Leave the past behind; leave the future behind; leave the present behind”. See also Bodhidharma (p. 75): “But sages don’t consider the past. And they don’t worry about the future. Nor do they cling to the present.” Paramananda (p. 151) quotes a passage of the Udana in a similar vein, enjoining us not “to add” anything to our experience; the moment we but call the now “now” (or even just judge it so, wordlessly), we add to it.

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