“My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and is too demanding. I suggest you ask for your money back, and go home. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you. So, it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.”
– Chögyam Trungpa
Meditation is an exercise by which the human awareness is brought to a single point of perfect stability in order to bring about conditions conducive to spontaneous contemplation, introspection and eventually transcendence beyond the confines of the ego through the destruction of ignorance, the root of every afflictive emotion.
Since the earliest forms of meditation began to emerge more than 2,500 years ago many varieties of the practice have branched off. Some of these branches have struggled or died, while others have flourished on a global scale.
To provide a general familiarization with meditation I would like to briefly outline the fundamental properties of Buddhism, particularly with respect to its journey from India to the west.
It all started with Gautama Buddha, about two and half thousand years ago under a Bodhi tree, where he meditated for 6 years and attained enlightenment. Actually, you could even take it back further than this. Meditation itself can be traced back to Brahmanism, as far as historical accounts are concerned, however you could safely assume that the act of focusing ones attention on an object of worship has roots throughout the historical development of the current human form.
The point in human history at which you could place a definite marker for the eruption of what is considered modern meditation would be under a tree in India, two and half thousand years ago, where the first spiritual worrior selflessly turned his powers inwards with the intention to liberate all sentient beings from suffering.
There was then a subsequent two eruptions to follow in the history of meditation at which traditional Buddhism undertook periods of exponential growth. The first of which being the transmission of Buddhism from its origin in India, to Tibet about five hundred years later by Padmasambhava, and then again in the last hundred years with its transmission to the west and explosion to the global community. This could arguably be referred to as the turning point towards the future liberation of the human race from the confines of its own mental constructs.
I believe the direction modern meditation is taking is potentially harmful. The form of meditation that is being practiced liberally in the west is designed to bring the mind only a superficial state in which it can rest in the awareness of the present moment. This is commonly marketed in western culture as “mindfulness” and there is nothing wrong with this at all, besides the confusion that “mindfulness” is not actually a practice but rather a side effect of meditation.
The problem arises when there is no pressing past this attainment of mental quietness. In Buddhist tradition the skill of bringing the mind to a peaceful state is taught and practiced as a preliminary step on the path to mastering the advanced levels of meditation, being the application of introspective contemplation and resting in a state of pure non-dual awareness, uninhibited by the constraints of the ordinary mind, such as the ego, subtle ego, laxity, excitement and so on.
As is typical of the western world, everything is broken down in order to make it profitable. To be profitable it must be palatable and attractive to the general public and this is no less true in the case of meditation.
When meditations potential as a marketable product was identified, so was it identified as being somewhat complex. Thus the first order of business was in isolating its digestible components, the main one of which being the stabilization of mind and development of “mindfulness”. This unfortunate process of abbreviation has resulted in a massive misunderstanding…
People around the world are joining at an incredible rate the so called mindfulness movement, and while this is generating a huge amount of positive potential, it also presents a significant problem.
When ever I talk to anyone who has recently taken up one of these “mindfulness practices” such as a friend or family member about their newly found spiritual endeavor, I always hear something like “wow, no matter how hard I try I just can’t seem to get my brain to shut up” or, and this is an example of a more serious problem, “wow, I’ve been meditating for a while now and it’s amazing how much more calm and peaceful I’ve become and how much less things worry me.” Lets address these examples respectively…
First of all, “shutting the brain up” in any way has never been the purpose of meditation. During the early stages of a meditational practice it is important that an individual first strives to develop the basic foundations. Discipline, clarity, concentration and stabilization of single pointed awareness are the building blocks on which higher states of conscious realization are built.
One of the confusions that came with the westernization and expediation of meditation is that the quietening of thoughts is being forced, and what happens when you force someone or thing that is immature or undisciplined? They, or it resist…
There is absolutely no benefit in suppressing the mind. The mind needs to be free and spacious. Instead of forcing the mind into a box you must treat it just like a child in its play room, merely supervising and providing occasional guidance is all that is necessary. This should be the meditation, the awareness of the mind rather than the mind itself. Let its activities arise without intervention, and just like a crying child calms once it realizes its cries are going unheard, the mind will also find peace.
Consider now a person that has embarked on a meditative journey who has, in contrast, experienced a great deal of apparent progress. They are finding everything in life to be increasingly tranquil as a result of their participation in “mindfulness” exercises.
The practice of bringing the mind to a state of peace is highly advantageous for the practitioner however there is a risk involved with meditation and it is given rise via the continuation of meditation without progress. This adverse effect is known by serious practitioners as ‘coming to rest in the state of the ordinary mind’.
By accomplishing a level of meditative proficiency at which the focus of the mind can be bought to rest upon an object of meditation without interruption for a relatively sustained period of time and then continuing to repeatedly apply this technique on a constant basis, the meditator develops a dullness of mind. In other words, they blunten their minds emotional and conceptual lucidity, making them un-excitable and emotionally cold.
Not applying the acquisition of this focus to other aspects of meditation with the aspiration to progress to higher realization will be counter productive in its promotion of mental laziness. When resting in this state of the ordinary mind, the individual may think they are meditating, while in reality they are merely resting, and rather than raising their awareness and sensitivity, they are instead sedating themselves.
Practicing without the intention to deepen the understanding of the mind further will ultimately result in frustration, boredom and eventually abandonment of the path to self-mastery.
It is not sufficient to accomplish quietness of mind. One must push beyond this for the benefit of all others, applying this stability to the introspective process of eliminating his or her imperfections, the subtle and insidious obstacles that present themselves along the path to enlightenment.