We start a series of articles about meditation, what is it, its benefits, techniques, etc. The first thing you should know before immersing yourself in the art of meditation is…
What is meditation?
In the West, the word meditation means a concentrated state of mind in serious reflection. The word meditation is derived from two Latin words: meditari (to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). Its Sanskrit derivation ‘medha’ means wisdom. It is an effort to heal afflictions of the mind, the hurt ego, by trying to understand the cause of the problem and finding a way to solve it, that is, by knowing what counter-measures to take. To meditate thus, is to deepen a state of understanding.
In the East, however, meditation does not mean thinking at all but fixing the mind in a spiritual ideal, to be one with it, or the thought-process dissolving in the consciousness of it. According to Zen, meditation does not involve any concept but is an awareness of inner silence. Awareness of an inner silence is not something easy to achieve. It can be confused with a state of dullness or being soporific, which is not the purpose of meditation. To meditate does not mean to have a good rest while sitting pretty, and silence is not productive without spiritual aspiration. On the other hand, few have the capacity to think clearly, and too much of mental exercise could lead to tension and confusion.
All that the mind can do, cannot be meditation — it is something beyond the mind, the mind is absolutely helpless there. The mind cannot penetrate meditation; where mind ends, meditation begins. This has to be remembered, because in our life, whatsoever we do, we do through the mind; whatsoever we achieve, we achieve through the mind. And then, when we turn inwards, we again start thinking in terms of techniques, methods, doings, because the whole of life’s experience shows us that everything can be done by the mind. Yes. Except meditation, everything can be done by the mind; everything is done by the mind except meditation. Because meditation is not an achievement — it is already the case, it is your nature. It has not to be achieved; it has only to be recognized, it has only to be remembered. It is there waiting for you — just a turning in, and it is available. You have been carrying it always and always.
Meditation is your intrinsic nature — it is you, it is your being, it has nothing to do with your doings. You cannot have it, you cannot not have it, it cannot be possessed. It is not a thing. It is you. It is your being.
Once you understand what meditation is things become very clear. Otherwise, you can go on groping in the dark.
The Tibetan teacher Mingyur Rinpoche explains that meditation is the best way to train our ‘crazy monkey mind’.
As important as knowing what is meditation, is to know…
What is not meditation?
Meditation is not concentration: To concentrate is to project your constant attention towards a particular task or activity. Meditation is no such projection that stresses out the brain; it is the watchful awareness of whatever is around us with indifference. One remains aware of the moment without choosing anything upon which to concentrate. Concentration might be helpful in the beginning to learn the technique of meditation. It can help you (particularly in the initial phase) to follow a certain procedure like the position in which you sit, or the place where you sit. However, that is not meditation.
Meditation is not relaxation: Meditation makes you relaxed, but meditation is not relaxation. The natural state reached while and after you meditate is relaxation.
Meditation is not self-hypnosis: In meditation, an awareness of ‘here-and-now’ is maintained, and the seeker is staying conscious of the meditative process as opposed to the unconscious state in which a person is, under hypnosis. In hypnosis, the person enters into a state of semi-conscious trance and become unaware of the moment, unlike in meditation.
Meditation is not a religious practice: Meditation is not a specific ritual demanding sitting in a particular posture, chanting some specific Mantras (powerful words having phonetic significance) or burning incense. Neither it means doing a particular exercise in a particular pose. It is true that it takes some time to learn Meditation and it requires some genuine effort on the part of seeker to learn meditation, but it does not mean that it is connected with any specific religion or ritual. However, because of its spiritual element it forms an integral part of some religions.
Meditation is not thinking: Meditation is not thoughtful observation. Rather it is the process of transcending the thought process. Our mind is a non-stop chatterbox that continues to create all sorts of good/bad, relevant/irrelevant thoughts incessantly. In meditation, we realize that we are not just our body and mind. There exists in us the awareness independent of all kinds of thoughts. Knowing this awareness is what meditation is all about.
Meditation is not a state of mind: Meditation is a state of clarity, not a state of mind. Mind is confusion. Mind is never clear. It cannot be. Thoughts create clouds around you — they are subtle clouds. A mist is created by them, and the clarity is lost. When thoughts disappear, when there are no more clouds around you, when you are in your simple beingness, clarity happens. Then you can see far away; then you can see to the very end of existence; then your gaze becomes penetrating — to the very core of being.
The Tibetan teacher Mingyur Rinpoche says meditation is not about blissing out, or blocking our thoughts and emotions.
Meditation is a state of choiceless awareness. It is a state of being. Meditation is doing nothing as opposed to doing something, anything. It is a state of total acceptance- of noise, of negativity, of bliss, or of anguish. Meditation itself is the journey of our consciousness towards the Self, of its realization. It is a state of total awareness. ‘Awareness’ is a term not very well understood. All that we do today is out of our unawareness because even though we think we know what is going on in our body through its movements, in our senses through the perceptions, and in our mind through thoughts; yet we are, usually, in absolute unawareness.
Where we usually are only conscious of our body and ego and consider ourselves apart from the rest of the universe, with the experience of deep meditation we become conscious of the cosmos and know ourselves to be a part of it and realize our unity with all of it. This is Realization, Cosmic Consciousness. It is our birthright and destiny to know this exquisite state first hand and enjoy the Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss that is our eternal true nature. Thus the justification in expending whatever energy is necessary to learn to meditate and to begin to make meditation an important part of our lives.
You can never go beyond the mind if you go on using it. You have to take a jump, and meditation means that jump. That is why meditation is illogical, irrational. And it cannot be made logical; it cannot be reduced to reason. You have to experience it. Only if you experience, only then you do know. So try this: don’t think about it, try – try to be a witness to your own thoughts. Sit down, relaxed, close your eyes, let your thoughts run just like pictures run on a screen. See them, look at them, make them your objects. One thought arises: look at it deeply. Don’t think about it, just look at it. If you begin to think about it then you are not a witness – you have fallen in a trap.
Even for a single moment, if you are capable of looking at this thought process without thinking about it, you will have gained something in witnessing and you will have known something in witnessing. This is a taste, a different taste than thinking – totally different. A taste that you have to experiment by yourself.
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