• Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association

The Truth About Meditation

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Sir, I’ve been driving all the way from Norway to the South of France with the intention of visiting you. If possible, I would like to discuss some of the important points that one must bear in mind about meditation. I’ve read several chapters in your books about this subject. Your writings are quite clear but I like to know more, if you have the time to spare for this purpose, especially because my life is devoted to meditation. I’ve meditated for years but I’ve failed to change. There’s in me a deep dissatisfaction. As you can see for your self, I’m a middle-aged man, a sort of recluse - recluse is too grand a word - I’m a loner. I became more of a solitary after I broke up with my second girlfriend this year. I don’t work: I don’t have to because I inherited a fortune from my parents who are no more. I’m not in close touch with my relations and I’ve no friends either. So I live alone in a quiet house close to Oslo. There’s a big garden and the conditions are ideal for meditation. So, without more ado, shall we get down to exploring the subject?

Please don’t regard me as an expert in this field because I’m also an explorer. Years ago I used to peruse the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, wanting to learn about meditation, but I felt somewhat confused even after studying them over and over again. Some methods of meditation entailed interfering with the thought process, whereas I met religious teachers who maintained that the thought process should only be watched but never checked, controlled or disciplined. I was totally baffled. Early in life I met an eminent Indologist who informed me that, following a lifetime of Buddhist studies, his research left him with no choice but to conclude that over the centuries monks and scholars had inserted foreign matter into the scriptures. On account of these interpolations the reported discourses of the Buddha are not absolutely authentic. Therefore can anyone be sure about what the Buddha had to say about the all-important question of meditation? There are conflicting commentaries and interpretations of his instructions on how to meditate.

This is an unpleasant situation. So what is one to do about it?

The systems of meditation are far too numerous to mention. Do you have the energy to experiment with all of them?

I think I’d enjoy trying out each system.

Even after spending several lives on such an assignment you might still not succeed in discovering real meditation

Sir, please tell me straightaway the technique of real meditation. And don’t forget to give me the name and address of a genuine meditation master whom you can recommend.

If meditation merely consists in the mechanical practice of a technique, such as observing the inhalation and exhalation of your breath, that would be quite easy. It will certainly help tocalm yourself down. One can understand why this kind of socalled meditation is hugely popular. If meditation were simply a technique that can be learned in a few minutes, then I’d gladly impart that skill to you. But I’m afraid meditation isn’t a technique. At present we’re like robots in the sense that we behave in the manner of machines, always reacting to situations according to the way our minds have been conditioned. We’re all enslavedby our past.

I regard meditation as a means of finding freedom from my past. I’ve trained myself to look at what’s going on inside me in the hope of attaining spiritual liberation.

Why train your mind to look at your thoughts and feelings in any particular way? For instance, in some techniques the meditator’s mind is disciplined to view every new thought and feeling that arises “as a passing event” or “as a temporary thing”. The imposition of the attitude that “everything is impermanent” on the thought process is also a form of conditioning. The transitoriness of all things might well be a correct description of the nature of the mind; however, this is a truth that awaits discovery. Having reduced the truth to a dogma, many meditators make the mistake of imposing it on their minds. The ultimate attainment of the state of nothingness is vitiated by the presence of such an imposition; it is spoilt by any concept; every belief becomes an obstacle. Real meditation becomes possible only when the mind is no longer moving in any set pattern or direction.

You have requested me to provide the name and address of a genuine meditation master. Teachers, I’m afraid, can only pass on information about techniques. Teachers can only tell you what to do, but real meditation is devoid of any activity whatsoever. An art teacher, for instance, can teach me how to mix colours or give instructions on matters such as the use of perspective, but can anyone inculcate a sense of beauty, if it is not already there? The sense of beauty is either existent or non-existent. Does the sense of beauty lend itself to transference? Similarly, can any master hand the meditative state over to you? If you find yourself in a meditative state, that is only because the right conditions for its automatic emergence were already present. The meditative state, being a spontaneous blossom, cannot be learned by going to a so called master. Is it something that can be given or taken? Masters mislead insofar as they are all teachers of techniques.

I’ve noticed how my will became stronger and stronger when I was practising techniques during my younger years.

How true! Instead of dissolving their egos, the practitioners of techniques become increasingly self-centred! We’ve both realised something profound! We can see that real meditation is effortless because the ego, the exerciser of will, is totally absent in the state of effortless awareness. This and this alone is what I call the meditative state.

Somewhere in your writings I remember reading an observation that the level of intelligence is at its highest whenever the mind becomes meditative. I like to know why.

A good definition of intelligence is the capacity to see the hidden side of things; it is the ability to read between the lines. We can all see the obvious but that which is not easy to notice eludes us. Once the mind has managed to divest itself of its psychological problems - sometimes called psychological luggage the mind becomes extraordinarly observant. It begins to see things that would otherwise remain unseen.

The driver of a motor car, being preoccupied with his marital problems, failed to notice a man walking across a road while using a pedestrian crossing; consequently, the driver knocked down the poor man who became permanently paralysed. Had the driver’s mind been unoccupied with thoughts at that time, he would have observed the man’s presence there and thereby avoided the terrible accident.

The deaf become adept in the art of reading lips. Similarly, after a time meditators develop the faculty of reading the thoughtsof others. In everyday life this is a useful faculty to have. On discovering that there is something sinister about a person by means of thought reading, one becomes a bit wary of that character.

In the West the practice of meditation has become fashionable. There are meditation classes in almost every European capital. Aren’t you pleased that the West is becoming more like the East than ever before?

Be careful whenever you come across meditation teachers who have put price tags on their courses! Did the ancient rishis of India charge anything when they offered their wisdom, including yoga, for humanity’s benefit? In the same way that every child should be shown the importance of personal hygiene free of charge, every genuine and conscientious meditation teacher should, having realised how important it is for every human being to meditate, never accept money or indeed anything, in return for imparting their knowledge.

There is a saying that the best things in life are all free. The open-eyed can appreciate the beauty of nature free of charge. Without having to make a payment for it, can’t you breathe in the fresh air? So why should you spend your money to learn about yoga or meditation?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you an unconventional teacher and practitioner of meditation?

Years ago I used to teach hatha yoga in my spare time but I’ve never been a meditation teacher. The very term “meditation teacher” is a misnomer since real meditation cannot be practised. For the reason that real meditation is not a practice, it cannot be taught either. Only techniques or methods can be practised, but there is real meditation only when the thought-process is never interfered with so that it is left free to follow its own course; in other words, the movement of the thought-process-this seemingly ceaseless procession of thoughts, feelings, abstract images, fleeting pictures and the like - is never disciplined, directed or dominated in any way.

During authentic meditation this process is given free rein in the sense that there is never a “censor”, “doer” or an “I” that sits in judgement and declares “good thought”, “sublime feeling”, “primitive trait”, “wholesome thought”, “unwholesome thought” and the like. One observes the thought-process with a sense of detachment as though it were traffic moving along a highway. One watches the inner procession without obstructing the flow. Just watch it with a relaxed attitude, without any effort whatsoever; in actual fact, it is a passive state. It is as though you are now under the watchful eye of Mr Awareness. Who is this person? That is a wrong question to ask since Mr. Awareness is not a person but a state of heightened alertness. But somehow it seems as though you are being looked at by a person other than yourself. So if you are occasionally being swept away by strong feelings or deep convictions, it does not matter. Be what you are, for awareness is conscious of the fact that you are being drifted around by forces beyond your control. What is happening now? An outsider, as it were, is paying close attention to every experience of yours. But no person, in truth, is observing you.

What has happened? The awakening of the new dimension of awareness has taken place within you. The thought process might move hurriedly or at a snail’s pace, you may have your ups and downs, your moods might swing from states of depression to ecstasy, yet all these changes are viewed from the standpoint of awareness. Everything is seen with absolute accuracy and perfect perception from the vantage point of pure awareness, which alone remains absolutely still, it being the passive spectator of the entire thought process.

In Vedantic literature awareness is sometimes termed Pure Consciousness. Vedantists regard the mind, which is comprised of the conscious layer and the subconscious layer, as passing super impositions on Pure Consciousness or Awareness. Awareness is the backdrop of the mind. The mind is born in the womb of Pure Consciousness. The dissolution of the mind, which is termed Liberation, occurs in Pure Consciousness. It can there fore be said that Pure Consciousness or Awareness is both the womb and the tomb of the mind.

After readers have familiarised themselves with your writings relating to meditation, do you have streams of visitors from France and elsewhere who like to know more about the subject?

You’re the only one! As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a great loss. Thankfully, I’m not like a politician who carefully courts the media. What I have to say about meditation is often a great disappointment for the vast majority who regard meditation as merely a means of quietening themselves, especially because they have been condemned to live in such a tensed-up world. People turn to meditation for relieving stress, whereas in the Buddhist world people should regard meditation as a prelude to the right understanding of the eternal verities that the Buddha so eloquently expounded. Today, however, that aspiration is overlooked by modern man in his eagerness to use anything, including meditation, for lessening the strains of life. For him, alas, meditation is only a comforting and soothing balm. Yet the enjoy ment of calm is not the raison d’entre of meditation: serenity is only an incidental benefit of meditation. Tranquillity is only a by product of meditation.

Are you suggesting that authentic meditation, as described by you, puts people off, since all that is hidden, horrible, ugly and unpleasant within ourselves rises to the surface?

Yes, people are not drawn to genuine meditation because seeing oneself as one truly is can be unsettling; some might find it a traumatic event. What happens when one looks at onself with any uncensored mind that is neither restrained nor inhibited in any way? What happens when the thought-process is no longer repressed? Like the stinking sewerage that pours forth through the dark sewers in a city, each and every negative trait begins to manifest itself in the broad daylight of awareness. Once the gates of the unconscious are kept wide open, the Vasanas - the Sanskrit term for the impressions and attachments that remain in the mind these previously veiled vasanas, these persistent pictures are given the chance to reveal themselves. Long is the list of the troublesome traits that will come out, but come out they will only if the exit is unblocked. We might be taken by surprise when we come to know our hitherto unknown traits. Some of these traits are as follows: avarice, greed, anger, jealousy, hate, pride, vanity, lust and self-centredness. The existence of homicidal tendencies expressions of our violence, anger and aggression, as well as states of melancholia or depression, might shatter the sense of self-esteem and arrogance of many.

Because the meditative mind has succeeded in liberating itself from all its conditioning that had thus far been distorting perception, it transforms itself into an unblemished mirror, which enables one to see with exactitude the entire movement of the thought-process. One can see oneself reflected in the mirror. Seeing one’s latent tendencies, especially our animalistic tendencies, our aggression for instance, will not by any means cheer us. Since we are drawn to the pleasant and repelled by whatever is unpleasant, it is not at all difficult to understand why many are not keen on genuine meditation. So can’t you see why hordes of people have settled for various palliative techniques that can calm themselves down in the belief that they are practising meditation?

I would be extremely appreciative if you could describe this meditative state.

I shall describe one instance of how the meditative state operates. A workman who had promised to repair the roof of our
house failed to arrive at the appointed time. If he had been two or three hours late I would have been prepared to overlook a small failure like that. But the workman in question never came. I was upset by the way he had treated us, especially because the rain water continued to leak into the kitchen for several days. One day I ran into him in town. On seeing the workman I noticed how my anger was surging inside me. I looked at that emotion fully in the sense that I simply faced the fact that I was angry; I did not brush it aside. I suddenly saw the ugliness of it. I let go of the irritation. In an instant I became a warm and friendly person. I was able to shake his hand with sincere affection.

Pamela, a physiotherapist, belonged to a small group of meditators who lived in a quiet suburb of Paris. A dozen or so ladies would meet every other evening at her home, not to enjoy some tittle-tattle over cups of tea, but to meditate, which they all did in the privacy of her airy drawing room. For many months the focus of their attention was the breath as it passed inwards or outwards through their nostrils. They observed it closely while breathing in and breathing out, realising in the process how extremely fickle their minds were. Thus they became conscious of the quicksilver quality of the thought-process, so much so that whenever they tried to fix their attention on their nostrils, they saw how habitually it would drift out to their numerous attachments. Their attention, alas, would wander here, there, and everywhere. They would start thinking about their holiday plans, their ailments, their husbands, the latest hairstyles, the newly discovered ways of losing weight and so forth. Like kites blowing in the wind, shifting from one direction to another, they became aware of the fact that their minds could not stay put, perennial movement being its nature. We have strong ties with things, ideas beliefs, human beings and pets. The thousands of things to which we are attached become magnets for our minds: hence the inability to concentrate on any subject for long. But once we stop holding on to our various attachments, the ability to concentrate comes into existence; it happens without any effort or struggle on our part. How few would want to break these bonds for good!

You started talking about Pamela but now your attention has shifted to other matters like concentration! What became of Pamela? I know a Norwegian lady who is also a meditation buff.

I shall talk about Pamela presently.

In my country certain well-to-do ladies like to sit crosslegged and practise meditation. Today it’s the fashionable thing to do!

Snob appeal might be one of the reasons why some people take to meditating. Even if it is the case that some are drawn to meditation for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t matter. After a time the practice of meditation makes men and women aware of their shortcomings. That very awareness develops a certain seriousness. The serious develop the capacity to delve deeply into themselves. Many who dabble in meditation only scratch the surface but the serious end up knowing themselves inside out. Soon their superficial outlook on life changes into a positive and profound one. Their defilements drop one by one effortlessly. Various virtues appear from nowhere. Without ever having to wage a war against one’s negative traits, these very same traits drop during meditation, thus transforming sinners into saints, criminals into moral men and moral women, as well as degenerates into decent citizens.

In the course of her spiritual quest did Pamela go far?

There were frequent clashes between Pamela and her twenty-year-old daughter Jennifer. Pamela had painstakingly and single-handedly raised her as a Buddhist. When Jennifer was five years old her parents had separated since Pamela’s husband had left her for a younger woman. At the time of their break-up Pamela was thirty years old. Pamela’s difficult relationship with Jennifer, her only offspring, was her main worry in life. Pamela’s great distress spurred her to keep on searching for a lasting solution to this problem.

Pamela particularly disliked the promiscuous sexual behaviour of Jennifer whose many suitors loved to spend a lot of money wining and dining her daughter. Pamela regularly practised sitting meditation, hoping to overcome her hostility towards Jennifer. How she longed to live together with Jennifer in perfect harmony!. But her intense hatred of Jennifer stood in the way of peace. Often while meditating, Pamela would think of her daughter and radiate Metta-loving - kindness - but her anger persisted. Pamela tried hard to wipe out her bitterness but it seemed to be indelibly imprinted on her mind; it was like a birthmark on her skin. Nothing is more sublime than Metta or loving - kindness. Using Metta, the quality which is most moral, she struggled to wash away that which is most immoral - anger, hate and ill will. Without exception, in every meditation session Pamela tried very hard to use Metta, the good, to vanquish what was bad in her mind. But all her attempts to change herself were doomed to failure.

Did she ever succeed?

This question suggests that you are interested in success. It seems to me that correct meditation becomes possible only when one is indifferent to both success and failure. Meditate for its own sake! Meditation is an end in itself and not a means to an end, be that end either peace of mind, or the elimination of anything unpleasant and problematical in the mind, such as the love-hate relationship between Pamela and her daughter Jennifer. The meditative mind is unbiased; it never judges; it neither condemns nor approves; it just looks at a problem. Solving Pamela’s problem might well result in a good rapport between mother and daughter. But let us concentrate solely on seeing this problem clearly, instead of becoming distracted from it, which is what will inevitably take place the moment we start thinking about reaping the rewards for dealing with the problem.

“I won’t have you returning home after midnight,” Pamela screamed at Jennifer, opening the main door of her home. “Didn’t you know that I was asleep? Almost every night you disturb me.”

“Soon I’ll be leaving this damn house,” Jennifer shouted, stretching out her finger towards the door. “My kind-hearted boyfriend has asked me to move in with him - David’s got a lovely flat.”

“Once I was deserted by your father and now you’re planning to do exactly that!” remarked Pamela as she wiped her tears. “Who’ll look after me when all my hair goes grey?”

“You silly woman, you’re not in that situation now,” remarked Jennifer, giving her mother a cold stare. “Can’t you find yourself an old folks’ home?”

“How can you be so feelingless!” sighed Pamela.

Jennifer got up at dawn, packed all her belongings, took a taxi to David’s flat in Versailles and left her home for good without so much as even saying goodbye to her mother Pamela, who had painstakingly cared for her for two decades.

Every other day all her fellow meditators continued the practice of assembling in Pamela’s house for sitting meditation sessions; and as for Pamela, what do you think was uppermost in her mind when she sat cross-legged, shut her eyes and meditated? Pamela’s unpleasant images of that heated exchange between Jennifer and her would keep on surfacing in the screen of her conscious mind. From the deep and hidden recesses of her subcon scious these painful pictures would manifest themselves. Poor Pamela would be haunted by these maddening memories even though she never forgot to focus her full attention on the breath while practising sitting meditation. Much to her surprise and unease, these insistent impressions failed to disappear; on the contrary, they became a persistent problem, depriving Pamela of her long-awaited inner peace.

Late one night Pamela heard someone give several loud rings on her doorbell. Furious at having been wakened, she sprang out of her warm bed, slipped into her woollen pyjamas, dragged herself into the entrance and opened the door. It was Jennifer.

“Mum, I’m so sorry”, she said. “Were you fast asleep?”

“Yes,” replied Pamela, her lips quivering with anger.

“Mum,” said Jennifer. “I’ve dropped in on you only for a minute to collect my post.”

“Why have you shacked up with that awful David and ruined your life?” shouted Pamela. While shouting, Pamela focussed her attention inwards. Then and there her hitherto unknown thoughts and feelings propped up instantly. Pamela was simply amazed at the things she saw. She noticed what had long been buried away in the unexplored regions of her subconscious: “I wish darling David belongs to me”, “How wonderful if David takes me out so that we can wine, dine and dance together till the small hours in a posh night club!”, “How nice if Jennifer splits from David so that he becomes my man!”

The searchlight of awareness did lay bare her true nature, especially her undiscovered motives. Pamela saw the truth and the truth set her free in the sense that for the first time she understood the underlying cause of her unfriendliness towards her grown-up girl. In a flash she let go of all her animosity. Suddenly Pamela became very affectionate towards Jennifer. Pamela hugged her daughter tightly. Tears of joy, springing from the fountain of reconciliation, rolled down their faces.

Awareness, so to speak, caught Pamela red-handed, in flagrante delicto, in the very act of giving expression to her feelings of hate. It is particularly noteworthy that this interesting psychological insight had never arrived during a cross-legged meditation session in her home.

Alertness of mind is the essence of meditation. Not a moment passes without the meditative mind being watchful; it can be summed up in two words: eternal vigilance. Freed from the past, the meditative mind is capable of observing everything in both the inner world and the outer. Pamela was no longer bogged down in the process of trying to recall past events, having understood that remembrances were invariably inaccurate and unreliable, given the conditioned mind’s proneness to distorting facts. The newly transformed Pamela was so sharp that she fully observed every experience in detail as and when it was happening. She went through every experience in its entirety. At the end of every experience, she found herself unburdened of it. Thus her mind, living as it did in a state of never-ending watchfulness, was ever fresh and ever new. She lived in the eternal now.

For several years Pamela used to take her annual summer holiday in Anuradhapura where she would love to revisit ancient Buddhist sites and famous temples. During her previous visits, being totally preoccupied with her pressing personal problems, she had not savoured the luxuriant vegetation of tropical Sri Lanka, nor had she enjoyed watching exotic brids and animals. After Pamela had blossomed into a serious seeker with a meditative mind, she decided to have a vacation once again in Anuradhapura. Her inner change ushered in not only an expansion of consciousness but also a renewed body with finer feelings. All her sense organs developed a certain heightened sensitivity. Her taste buds became so alive that all the vegetables and fruits she ate had a better flavour; the mangoes were definitely tastier than ever before. The colours of the flowers in the garden of her guest house looked brighter. All the trees in the gardens and fields looked more beautiful. How the leaves sparkled like stars whenever they were kissed by the powerful rays of the sun! From the nearby forest Pamela started hearing sounds that had somehow escaped her attention during her earlier stays there. She found the sounds fascinating - the howling of jackals, the yelling of owls and the scary trumpeting of wild elephants.

When I go for walks in the evenings I sometimes run into an elderly couple who live in a nice house down the road. On meeting them I raise my hand in salutation and say “bonjour” out of neighbourly friendliness. They always ignore my greetings; in addition, they turn their heads away, showing their unconcealed contempt for me. I must confess that I felt slightly hurt the first time I was treated like dirt. Today, however, whenever the illmannered couple behave in this way, I remain unruffled since I have no ill feelings towards them whatsoever. Having unburdened myself of past memories, thanks to meditation, I do not bear grudges against anyone, expecially this aged man and woman; if anything, there is pity for the poor duo who are obviously suffering from mental maladies such as xenophobia, which is the fear and dislike of foreigners, and racism of course.

Did the purgation of your mind take place while you were meditating indoors with closed eyes? I ask this question because that’s how I meditate in Oslo.

No, not at all! In actual fact, it happened on the street when the couple turned their heads away from me, pretending not to see me! On realising that my antipathy towards them was like a virus infection that was going to have an injurious effect, I simply let it fall. Of its own accord my dislike dropped to its death. Don’t thoughts and feelings relating to hate, hostility and jealousy, including the whole host of other negative attitudes and emotions, if allowed to thrive, cause disease? Besides, don’t all such psychological traits, if permitted to exist, become a nuisance? Won’t these tendencies stand in the way of inner peace and joy? The multitudes know no quietude. But the very few who find it understand that stillness cannot be artificially imposed on the mind by means of practising any technique whatsoever. Techniques only further condition the mind and make it more mechanical. One comes by calm when the mind is purged of its impurities that lurk in the subconscious. Peace can be likened to a wildflower that blooms in spring without anyone ever having planted or tended it; it blossoms spontaneously. Similarly, the genuine and unending state of serenity, as opposed to strained states of short-lived steadiness, is the outcome of psychological cleaning.

What is the main benefit of meditation?

The purity of meditation is spoilt the moment it is driven by any motive. Whether or not there are benefits is a question of total indifference to me. It is not that there are no benefits but be clear at the very beginning of meditation that perception gets distorted whenever a reward is expected.

How shall I word my question so that I do not give the impression that I am seeking a reward? Therefore I will ask: Don’t you think that the mind becomes more efficient if I meditate regularly?

Yes, it does. Meditation brings about its own discipline. The meditator knows when to use his mind. He uses his mind to work and communicate. Meditators’ minds are never in a state of constant chatter. The mind is still all the time except when it has to work. Since the mind is no longer burdened by the past it is no longer sluggish. Every mountaineer knows how important it is to carry only a bare minimum of things when climbing. How can he climb great heights in comfort unless he is very light? Similarly, the mind functions quickly and efficiently, being less prone to error, when it is not weighed down by worries, unsolved problems, fears, resentments and the like. The meditative mind canascend to the very summit of the mountain of spirituality.

Please spell out what you mean by that.

The purgative path of the mystic consists in the dropping of defilements. Because the meditative person is prepared to let go of each and every experience, instead of storing it within, the mind is given the chance to renew itself. Then the mind reverts to its essential and primordial state of innocence, purity and peace. Whereas neurosis is born of the noisy mind, sanity springs fromthe silent mind. Nothingness is the soil wherein creativity can
thrive.

Dr. Susunaga Weeraperuma
“Villa Claudia”
338” Chemin du Colombier
83460 Les Arcs-sur-Argens
France
Website: www.weeraperuma.com

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