Wednesday, June 11, 2014

WHAT TYPE OF MEDITATION IS BEST?

Now, in a sense the question, ‘What type of meditation is best?’ is a silly one. ‘Best’ for what? The question implies that meditation has some inbuilt purpose. If so, then meditation is only a means to an end. The truth is this---meditation is both the means and the end. Sadly, there is a deep tendency in all of us to look for purpose everywhere. For example, we ask, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ Well, friends, there is no purpose or meaning to life. Life just is. The important thing is to give your life purpose and meaning.

Having said all that, when you boil things down there are two basic types or kinds of meditation, namely, mindfulness and concentration meditation of which there are a few sub-types including mantra meditation and object-focused meditation.

The practice of concentration meditation, where you focus and fix your attention on some single object (physical or mental) single mindedly and without interruption until the mind eventually enters a deep, trance-like stillness, can lead to some positive results such as calmness and peace as well as beneficial physiological changes in the body such as a reduction in blood pressure. However, most of the beneficial effects of concentration meditation are fairly short-term and short-lived even when (and if) that trance-like stillness is achieved. 

The Indian spiritual teacher, international speaker and author J. Krishnamurti [pictured left] was quite dismissive of concentration meditation. This is what he had to say about a commonly practised form of concentration meditation known as mantra meditation (where you repeat some mantra over and over to yourself):

The other method [mantra meditation] gives you a certain word and tells you that if you go on repeating it you will have some extraordinary transcendental experience. This is sheer nonsense. It is a form of self-hypnosis. By repeating Amen or Om or Coca-Cola indefinitely you will obviously have-a certain experience because by repetition the mind becomes quiet. It is a well known phenomenon which has been practised for thousands of years in India---Mantra Yoga it is called. By repetition you can induce the mind to be gentle and soft but it is still a petty, shoddy, little mind. You might as well put a piece of stick you have picked up in the garden on the mantelpiece and give it a flower every day. In a month you will be worshipping it and not to put a flower in front of it will become a sin.

Krishnamurti went on to say:

Meditation demands an astonishingly alert mind; meditation is the understanding of the totality of life in which every form of fragmentation has ceased. Meditation is not control of thought, for when thought is controlled it breeds conflict in the mind, but when you understand the structure and origin of thought, which we have already been into, then thought will not interfere. That very understanding of the structure of thinking is its own discipline which is meditation.

Perhaps Krishnamurti was a bit too hard on concentration meditation and in particular mantra meditation. He saw it as 'utterly mechanical' and something for 'the frustrated, narrow, shallow mind, the conditioned mind.' However, many people find it helpful. Me? I don’t. Concentration meditation of whatever form is just another attachment, and it actually strengthens attachment because it relies almost entirely upon the use of one's conditioned mind and constant repetition. There is far too much focus on one thought or object. That is not a good thing. I like to get rid of attachments. (I’ve had quite a considerable number of them in my lifetime, and all they ever gave me was suffering.) You need to know this---concentration meditation doesn't lead to freedom from suffering, for where there is attachment, there is suffering. Also, concentration meditation does not provide you with any insight nor does it lead to wisdom in any deep sense (or at all for that matter). Did you get that? Concentration meditation will not give you any perspective on yourself. It throws no light on the basic problems of our lives---namely, our innate selfishness. The latter is the result of too much self-absorption. If anything, concentration results in more self-absorption, but you wouldn’t know because you’re too busy focusing your damn attention on some silly candle or statue or mantra. Not my cup of tea.


On the other hand, the practice of mindfulness (or insight meditation as it is also known) does lead to wisdom and insight. The essence of mindfulness is non-attached (note: not attached, but rather detached) objective and choiceless awareness of what is actually present from one moment to the next. The expression choiceless awareness means awareness without discrimination, judgment, interpretation, or analysis. Anything, absolutely anything, can and ought to be made the subject of your awareness. The great thing about mindfulness is that you can ‘do’ it all day long. It’s not something you do for just 20 minutes in the morning or evening although that is highly recommended as well. Mindfulness is simply ... living mindfully. All the activities of daily life can and ought to be the objects of mindfulness, that is, your awareness: occurrences outside of you as well your own bodily actions and sensations, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and mental images of all kinds. Nothing is ignored or suppressed when it comes to awareness---not even awareness itself.

As I’ve said so many times on this blog, in the practice of mindfulness you simply observe and note what is happening by way of occurrence both inside of you and outside of you. You then let go of the objects of your awareness---one by one---as they variously and severally appear and pass away. Unlike concentration meditation you do not keep your mind fixed on one thing exclusively. Although some concentration is needed for the practice of mindfulness, it is only at the level of momentary concentration (‘bare attention’). This concentration is just enough attention to ‘wake up’ and stay awake and alert, open, and curious to the action of the present moment from one moment to the next. The concentration required is absolutely nothing like the type and depth of concentration required for the practice of concentration meditation. The essence of mindfulness is captured in these wonderful words from Saraha’s Treasury of Songs

Look and listen, touch and eat,
Smell, wander, sit and stand,
Renounce the vanity of discussion,
Abandon thought and be not moved from singleness.

The regular practice of mindfulness enables you to see your mind and to ‘view’ its contents. Yes, you come to look and see. You no longer seek to control or subjugate the mind as in concentration meditation. You no longer try to quieten the mind. I have said this before but it’s so important I will say it again----if you want to make spiritual progress, stop trying. The secret is letting go, but first you must let be, that is, let things be exactly as they are (at least for the time being). True contentment and peace of mind, and real spiritual growth, comes from subtraction and not addition.


You see, what you need is already there, within you, in abundance. Get rid of a few things---things such as judgmentalism, condemnation, and analysis, as well as all forms of self-absorption and self-centredness---and you will find what is already there. You do not have to ‘work’ for it in the sense of concentrating hard on some damn object. What is needed is to dis-identify and dis-relate the mind … with an effortless and gentle kind of effort … the effort of non-effort, it’s been called. Yes, let go of all attachments. Concentration is just another form of attachment, and more attachment will just keep you in the prison-house longer. Don’t be bound by anything---not even meditation.

I love these other words from Krishnamurti. He was talking about mindfulness---even though he didn't actually use the word ‘mindfulness’---when he said the following:

You are not analyzing, criticizing, judging ... you are listening, are you not? Your mind is in a state where the thought process is not active, but is very alert. Yes? And that alertness is not of time, is it? You are merely being alert, passively receptive, and yet fully aware; and it is only in this state that there is understanding. Surely, when the mind is agitated, questioning, worrying, dissecting, analyzing, there is no understanding. And when there is the intensity to understand, the mind is obviously tranquil.

Did you hear that? He said, ‘it is only in this state [that is, mindfulness] that there is understanding … [a]nd when there is the intensity to understand, the mind is obviously tranquil.’

Yes, awareness in the form of observation---and especially self-observation---leads to self-knowledge, insight, and wisdom … as well as real, lasting calmness, peace, equanimity, and serenity. Who could ask for anything more?


Note. The 'Keep Calm and Aum' image is courtesy of http://www.doyouyoga.com/the-power-of-aum/. All rights reserved.



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