Sunday, January 29, 2017


Those words – meditation is not what you think – were written on a bookmark I once received when I purchased a book from a metaphysical bookshop.

For some time – I must be slow or dim-witted – I pondered what those words meant. They seemed to be saying to me that meditation was something different from what I thought it was. Well, that was certainly true, for I was to learn that meditation was indeed something very different from what for many years was my limited understanding of the practice. Then, one day, it dawned on me what was the real ‘meaning’ of the phrase. Meditation is not what you think. Meditation is not about thinking. Meditation is not thinking at all. Meditation is something other than thinking.

What, then, is meditation? Well, meditation is many things such as waiting, listening, sitting in silence, observing, being attentive, being aware – that is, choicelessly aware – of the content of the action of our mind as well as the action of our surrounds.

Now, when we think about the activity of our mind – in particular, our conscious mind – we come to be aware of, and observe, what J. Krishnamurti (pictured) referred to as ‘the activity of the self’. Actually, there is more than one self in our mind. There is, for example, the ‘self that is judgmental’, the ‘self that hates immigrants and refugees’, the ‘self that loves pleasure’, and so on. Each of our innumerable likes, dislikes, views, opinions, beliefs, attachments and aversions is a ‘self’ of sorts. They are all our little ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ – and there are literally hundreds, even thousands, of them. The combined activity of these ‘selves’, none of which is the true person each of us is, is known as the ‘activity of the self’. This activity causes us no end of trouble. What sort of trouble? Self-obsession, self-centredness, self-absorption as well as addictions, obsessions and compulsions of various kinds. The activity of the self results in all manner of thoughts, words and deeds that are selfish

This is what Krishnamurti has to say about the activity of the self and meditation (This Light in Oneself, Seventh Public Talk in Saanen, July 1973):

Where there is the activity of the self, meditation is not possible. This is very important to understand, not verbally but actually. Meditation is a process of emptying the mind of all the activity of the self, of all the activity of the ‘me.’ If you do not understand the activity of the self, then your meditation only leads to illusion, your meditation then only leads to self-deception, your meditation then will only lead to further distortion. So to understand what mediation is, you must understand the activity of the self. …

Meditation can assist a person to become free from the bondage to self – free from the activity of the self. The ‘secret’ is to sit quietly and watch, non-judgmentally, the activity of the self. In the words of Krishnamurti (The First and Last Freedom, Chapter 19 (‘Self-Centred Activity’)):

If you watch yourself and are aware of this centre of activity, you will see that it is only the process of time, of memory, of experiencing and translating every experience according to memory; you also see that self-activity is recognition, which is the process of the mind. … Is it possible for the mind ever to be free from self-centred activity? That is a very important question first to put to ourselves, because in the very putting of it, you will find the answer. That is, if you are aware of the total process of this self-centred activity, fully cognizant of its activities at different levels of your consciousness, then surely you have to ask yourselves if it is possible for that activity to come to an end - that is, not to think in terms of time, not to think in terms of what I will be, what I have been, what I am. From such thought, the whole process of self centred activity begins; there also begin the determination to become, the determination to choose and to avoid, which are all a process of time. We see, in that process, infinite mischief, misery, confusion, distortion, deterioration taking place. Be aware of it as I am talking, in your relationship, in your mind.

In his many talks and writings Krishnamurti would often talk about the futility of self-forgetfulness, pointing out that there is no means of forgetting the self. In his Commentaries on Living, Series I, Chapter 41 ('Awareness')), we read:

Problems will always exist where the activities of the self are dominant. To be aware which are and which are not the activities of the self needs constant vigilance. This vigilance is not disciplined attention, but an extensive awareness which is choiceless. Disciplined attention gives strength to the self; it becomes a substitute and a dependence. Awareness, on the other hand, is not self-induced, nor is it the outcome of practice; it is understanding the whole content of the problem, the hidden as well as the superficial.

‘Problems will always exist when the activities of the self are dominant.’ How true that is! It is especially true of the addict – and we are all addicts of one kind or another. Not all of us are addicted to alcohol or other drugs but each one of us is addicted to certain ways of thinking, feeling and acting. We are addicted to our own views, opinions and beliefs, our own likes and dislikes. Meditation, practised as choiceless awareness, helps us to disengage, to dis-identify, from the objects of our addictions. When we observe – non-judgmentally – the activity of the self diminishes and reduces in intensity. In the words of Krishnamurti, we come to understand ‘the whole content of the problem, the hidden as well as the superficial’.

Meditation is not what you think. Meditation is not thought or words. Learn to empty your mind of the activity of the self. Refuse to identify with it. You are not those false selves that cause you so much grief and angst. You are a person among persons. A person caught up in the activity of the self is never free. He or she is in perpetual bondage to self. However, it need not be so. Meditate. Practise emptying your mind of the activity of the self. Let it go. Don’t hold onto it. Then, and only then, will you be free.

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