Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Unconditioned Meditation – Part II

Buddha walking away from the ascets

Continuing with the subject of “meditation”, it is now time to consider some important implications of the term, since that word has been hijacked and it is used indiscriminately to speak of a variety of mental techniques, some of which can even work against the act of insightfulness.
The term meditation originally derived from meditatio, Latin concept for reflection; the verb meditari means in fact “to ponder”, “to reflect” [1]. Yet the root med, “to measure”, may help us recover an even older sense of meditation, as we will see.
The idea of meditation as a “discursive” process of thinking travelled from the ancient world through the Middle Ages and reached the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries. The famous book Meditations of Descartes was precisely the starting point of a new intellectual paradigm: the Era of Reason.
Later on, with the proliferation of Oriental studies during the XIXth century, scholars started using the term to translate the Sanskrit word dhyana [2], the seventh limb of the eightfold path of Yoga [3]. The problem is that dhyana can´t be a mere discursive-conceptual thinking, for it surpasses such a level. 
On the other hand, in the tradition of Yoga, dhyana is preceded by the fifth limb, pratyahara, the withdrawal or absorption of the senses, traditionally compared to a turtle that hides itself inside its shell. 
Now, isn´t sensory deprivation in contradiction with the clues of the previous post?
Of course, we look for a radically different sense of “meditation” that helps us see ourselves and find our true nature, cutting through the veils of reality, using all our refined senses, distinguishing that which is false or apparent from what is absolutely real and undestructible; an intelligent movement of awareness that finds and identifies the “masks” that turn humans into zombis, tyrans and idiots. Once the insight takes place, one is really in the position to make life real, To Be. 
This does not mean concentrative and reflective meditation are useless. These can be helpful, despite they are not unconditioned, because they still depend on certain external conditions and psychological functions that are limited.

The Fathers of the Desert were well aware of this. They became true experts in different meditative methods, such as the Lord´s Prayer and the examination of "psychological obstacles", but their texts (i.e, Philokalia) always stress the importance  of feeling the "silent divine presence" in us, which dissolves all inner conflict, cleaning our heart. That is precisely "unconditioned meditation".
A similar investigation that is worth remembering is contained in the Canon Pali, collection of texts that gathers interpretations of the teaching of the Buddha. They offer clues to understand the mental tricks that enslave humans. The study involves supportive methods such as reflection on the five constituents of the mortal self (skhandas); the observation of body sensations, breath and psyche as well as the clear recognition of each sensation, emotion, thought and impulse, and its place in the whole. For beginners, such a recognition can even be supported conceptually, with the so-called “mental noting”, i.e, “anxiety”, “daydreaming”, “agitation”, "irritation", etc, always keeping an inquiring attitude. A practice that can really be exhausting, for it demands diligence and burning attention, reason why it has to be dosified. 
A text from the Pali Canon gives us a picture of  attention to the body [4]:
...when walking, the monk is aware that he is walking. When standing, he is aware that he is standing. When sitting, he is aware that he is sitting. When lying down, he is aware that he is lying down. Or however his body is disposed, that is how he perceives it. And as he remains thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, any memories & resolves related to the household life are abandoned, and with their abandoning his mind gathers & settles inwardly, grows unified & centered. This is how a monk develops mindfulness immersed in the body.
Furthermore, when going forward & returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward & looking away...when bending & extending his limbs...when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe & his bowl...when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring...when urinating & defecating...when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert. And as he remains thus heedful... 
And once again, great Buddhist teachers point out that what really matters in self-investigation are not the methods of attention themselves, but becoming open to an “insightful vision”, known as vipassanaUnfortunately, many practitioners still mistake it for the attention to body, mind and breath. 

Undoubtedly, that type of body attention is more productive than reciting mantras like parrots or fixing one´s attention on a candle, cross-eyed. Yet anyone can understand that concentration and attention turn into "self-hypnosis" if Intelligence is not present. This is why in the Dzogchen doctrine of Tibetan Buddhism specifies that meditation, gom, really means getting familiar with the true Nature of the Mind, not just with the little ego-mind.
A living meditation is truly integrated in our daily life and does not look for enlightenment or higher experiences; it helps us see ourselves as we really are, not as we think we are or as a tradition says we are. This can be painful, but also incredibly liberating, for we no longer have to hide anything and suffer from self-imposed lies. And thus the Infinite can fill our heart.
Hence radical and critic teachers like J.Krishnamurti regarded concentrative meditation as deceptive. Siddharta Gautama did exactly the same when diverting from Brahmanism.

The so-called sitting meditation is, in any case, a preparation to potentiate the muscle of attention and prolongue the exposure to purifying energies, both very necessary. But in order to become really free from delusions and fear, shouldn´t our vision be free from the beginning, rather than after a silent sitting? Which person sits? Which one stands up? Is there coherence in ourselves or we are Legion?
Having said this, we may ponder now on something curious about the root of the term meditation, “med”, to measure. What is measured in the act of insight? What takes place in a process of measuring? Isn´t there a relation between a vast spaciousness and smaller items emerging in it? How do we measure ourselves in a deeper sense?
This sounds perplexing, doesn´t it? Yet, we can really find something extremely significant. And it should be a link to the next post, in which we will hear about a forgotten art known by teachers of the Ancient Greece, a vision that stands firmly on itself, turning out to be the only pathless path to reality.
Image from
[2] “dhyana” derives from “dhyai”, “to reflect on, think of”
[3] The limbs of Yoga are Yama (the shall-nots), Niyama (positive behaviours), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (absorption of senses), Dharana (observation and contentration on an object, such as the breath or the sensation of the body), Dhyana, discerning watchfulness that flows into Samadhi, reunification of consciousness with its object. The last four are internal Yoga, kown as Samyama, which completes the other limbs or yogic tools.
For an interesting and original video of Pierre Grimes on the subject:
[4] Majjhima Nikaya 119, Kayagata-sati Sutta, Mindfulness Immersed in the Body

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