Meditation is such a vast topic, but Eric and I whittle it down to what it means to him. Firstly, before undertaking a spiritual path, Eric was deeply addicted and involved with various substances. Meditation helped him break away from his afflictive behaviour. Listen above to hear about both our meditation journeys and pick up some advice! Here is a brief article on my views on meditation:
Meditation is ancient.
Scholars trace its findings to 5.000BC in what is now modern-day India based on figurines sitting in the lotus posture with closed eyes. We then have the first written records in 1.500BC in the Vedic literature. For example, the Rig Veda outpours at least three states of meditation that rishis (seers) gave guidance through their own experiences:
- “Mantric meditation or meditation on the Vedic mantras with concentration,
- Visual meditation or meditation on a particular deity with illumined thought,
- Absorption in mind and heart or meditation on illumined insight residing in the mind and the heart.”
And, in the Upanishads, which are much more explicit philosophically and revelatorally, we have the additional mention of:
- “Samadhi or the experience of the ecstatic state of Brahman was the fourth state of Brahman, which is not mentioned in the Rigveda but described in the Mandukya Upanishad as the Fourth state (turiya)..”
On from this, we have the mention of the terms “Dharana” and “Dhyana” in both Jaina texts and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. According to Pantanjali in his eight limbs of yoga, Dharana precedes Dhyana as a means of reaching Samadhi. Dharana is one-pointed concentration on an object/idea with inevitable associative thoughts on the object. In Dharana, if one is meditating on a cup, one might think of the concept of morning or what the cup could be filled with or the shop the cup came from; the personal ego is still there. In Dhyana, the cup is the cup without associations and the meditator is not aware of him/herself as a personal ego associated with the cup; they become one. Dharana is becoming aware of the thoughts and Dhyana is uninterrupted flow with no sway by the thoughts. Samadhi is the highest form of meditation where the meditator and the cup become one and the same with a state of bliss, because there is no separation and concentration is complete.
Historically, we can see that meditation can encompass spiritual reflection, oral or silent mantra recitation, concentration, Tantra, and Samadhi — which all lead to bliss and peace eventually. This is when the Buddha steps into the picture and gives new additions to meditation: mainly Mindfulness, which can be found in the Satipatthana Sutta, and the Jhanas. Beautifully, the Buddha came to enlightenment through intense reflection under the Bodhi Tree, re-thinking his patterns, behaviour, and life decisions. All styles are valuable.
Living in Vedic society and undertaking at least six years of aescetic practices, the Buddha was quite adept at knowing Vedic philosophy and regularly debated with Brahmans. Thus, some instructions are quite similar and have roots in ancient Dharma.
His meditation instructions range from practices in concentration, to mindfulness, to the Jhanas, to Samadhi, and various instructions in between. Mindfulness, as it is known in popular culture, is not simply paying attention to the present moment nor the breath – though those are the basic foundations. The Sutta includes meditations on the five elements, what are called the cemetery contemplations, the repulsiveness of the body (which is recommended if one is naturally inclined towards worshipping the body as the self), mindfulness on bodily postures, and generally paying attention to the activity one is engaged in.
Meditation is like a rung of the ladder on the Buddha’s 8-fold path to reach this ultimate goal. In both the Vedic and Buddhist Dharma, ‘equanimity of mind’ has to be cultivated first by most people until it is permanent. Whether Buddhist or Vedic, meditation’s ultimate goal is either Moksha (Vedic) or Liberation (Buddhist sense). Liberation/Moksha comes after Samadhi and is the end of the suffering mind
First and foremost, as in Vedic history also, the Buddha instructed concentration practices, because he found the mind is prone to wandering and has a life of its own; it does not yet contain peace. As we go along in Buddhist meditative practices, concentration is not so important. What is important is realising self as non-existent, as it is wrong identification that binds us. The more a person meditates, the more spacious one becomes, until the lines of conditioned reality are blurred and separation between self and other – including inanimate objects – disappears.
Most of our lives consist of empty space.
For context, Dzogchen, Advaita, and Vedanta all aim to incorporate practices that are open and spacious in nature. When space is created in the mind, one can begin to see that mind contains everything — including the contracted self or form we have taken to be ourselves all along. Then the mind can be transcended altogether.
What do I mean by this?
Take the body, for instance. We sincerely believe, and this is true for every human being, that we are a body which has had things happen to it in a continuum of time and space. Sometimes we were the doer, and sometimes things just happened to us out of our control. Every human being has to experience this point of view for survival reasons. We think we are the one looking out of our eyes in case there’s danger up ahead or there is some delicious food to eat within our sight. The mind’s job is to keep the body alive by searching, strategising, and planning. With more sophistication of the human species, however, especially as people have evolved into civilisations and societies that are relatively peaceful, survival is no longer such a struggle in the jungle.
In modern and even Vedantic societies (and most likely many societies before them) we are not so desperate to watch our backs all the time. Even so, the ways of the mind are ancient! We still have it in us that we need to struggle to feed our close relatives, make a living, be tribal and form exclusive groups, and worry about the future. This keeps us locked in the body/mind duality… unless there comes an interest spiritual progress.
The body and the mind never cease to function until death, yet, the body and mind believe wrongly that they are in control and thus, they try to prolong life or avoid death. This simply cannot happen – at least not the death part. Human beings can stay stuck in one mental system for an entire lifetime; conversely they can try everything in their creative power to change and manipulate the earth or their own and others’ circumstances – but this is not an antidote for death.
Meditation helps a person see, first-hand, that they are not the workings of the body nor mind, regardless of how fixed or fickle. It helps unlock the door to the vast, empty space that is “another part” of our being. In this space, our body and mind are contained. So, we are much larger than we think! The body and mind are limited, so when they are identified with, this creates a limited experience. This limitation is called a “person” with past, present, future, and innumerable assumptions based on the body/mind already knows or assumes.
Space creates insight. It cannot be any other way. Meditation is a key to putting a stop to Samsaric existence – also known as “the universe’s biggest status quo”.
How can we know what we don’t know, which cannot be answered by the mind?
Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who am I? How do I know God? Are there other beings, such as gods, goddesses, devas, ghosts, and intelligent life forms with material bodies in other places? What happens after death? Are people reborn? Where does consciousness come from?
These are all questions the mind cannot answer. Those who have written books about it or talked about it were either lying (I have to say this for logical conclusion) or have had their own answers through insight. True knowledge is obtained through experience and not reliance on others’ thoughts and feelings without experimentation. We know the sun exists, because we see and feel it everyday – we don’t have to read it in a book, though there are many books about it. So meditation instructions are there to gain insight and make real progress – not to gather what we commonly call “knowledge” in the Western sense. Real knowledge is called “Jnana”, based on our “Buddhi”. “Buddhi” is our wisdom faculty. It is the clear mind, cultivated through meditation and loving-kindness and compassion.
Some beings have the good fortune of coming into existence with a degree of these faculties already in place. For example, this would be a being who is already and naturally kind and non-discriminative towards others. Then there are those who may need to purposefully cultivate the qualities they wish to emanate, and this can be done through knowing the inner mind and reflection. For ideas, these qualities can be: the elimination of fear, consideration of others and their well- being, flexibility of personality, cooperation with circumstances especially out of one’s control, patience, awe, curiosity, wonder, not putting self or other down, humour, energy as opposed to laziness or sloth, and appreciation or gratitude.
Once the mind is looked into for its patterns (karma) and pitfalls, they can be overcome. Meditation is transcendental and trans-rational. Because we are in Samsara, our faculties are not yet used to their full potential. Their full potential is omnipotence and unlimitedness – when this discovery is made, then the body/mind can express its full potential and truest nature. And this is the point of meditation!