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The Phiroz Mehta Trust December 2019 Newsletter

Cover of the Phiroz Mehta Trust December 2019 Newsletter

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The Eternal Song of Life

A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Elmau, Bavaria on 24th September 1977

You have heard me say that this psycho-physical organism which bears our name is one meaning of the Garden of Eden. For us as we are it is perhaps the more important meaning. There is another meaning also. What applies to us as microcosms applies also to the totality of manifestation, the macrocosm, the whole cosmos as such. And whilst within us there is the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden as well as the Tree of Good and Evil in that selfsame place in the middle of the Garden, there is only the Tree of Life as such in the macrocosm, the total cosmos. This total cosmos is alive, every bit of it. There is nothing which is not alive. We are so brought up and taught that we think of Life in biological terms principally. But the word Life in the old scriptures of the world, as taught by the Perfected Holy Ones, applies to all that exists without exception. You will find for instance in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad this wonderful statement: Brahman (the Absolute All) is Prāṇa (Life, Life power, creative energy). Brahman is the Void, not to be regarded as that which is a vacuity containing nothing whatsoever. It is the Void of the nature of self-containment. When we ourselves are complete and perfect, we are void of all that limits, all that is evil, but we remain self-contained. In that sense, not in the sense of a box containing things, Brahman is Void, and Brahman is bliss. Brahman is the Tree of Life also therefore, or to put it in our ordinary English language, the One Total Reality is Life.

Now with us, because something new had to emerge into manifestation, namely this power of looking within ourselves and starting our long journey out of the limited animal awareness in which we started to full total consciousness, we had to develop this discriminative consciousness which we have, separating this from that, the good from the bad, the kind from the cruel and so on, and thereby introducing conflict into our lives till we transcended all. Because of this, in plucking the fruit of the Tree of Life, of which the Gods eat quite freely without any ill consequence, we, not being yet sufficiently prepared, plucked of the Tree of Life and scarred that Tree through our discriminative consciousness which has not recognised yet (even today mankind has not recognised) what is the goal of our development and its fulfilment, namely the realization by Transcendence of Itself as perfect Man through us. Therefore that is our fundamental ignorance and blindness. And it is towards the freeing of our vision, by perfecting this limited self, that the whole process goes on until once again this Tree of Life will stand in the body of man, the unscarred Tree. And its fruit will be that awareness, that mode of existence, that awareness of existence, which means that once again we are in complete communion within the total body of Creation.

This creative process is like a vibration, it is hard to compare it with anything earthly and mortal that we know of. It is an extraordinary pulse of creative activity. This creative activity, this pulse, we may compare with what we call a sound. Just as a musical note has a rate of vibration, this sound, this rate of vibration, is the Eternal Song of Life. I say eternal because it is Transcendence Itself, and Transcendence knows no limitation in terms of space, time and matter. Therefore time is completely subsumed, taken up into the Timeless. It is in that sense that I use the word subsumed. It is completely taken up into the Timeless. If you want to look deeper into the meaning of the word subsumed, recall how in Christian scriptures it is said of Jesus that the manhood was taken up into the Godhead, in that sense subsumed. That is why we are held always within Transcendence whatever we do, and Transcendence sings the Song of Life eternally. Listen for that Song of Life. You will hear that Song of Life if you do not expect anything because that Song cannot be analysed, cannot be described by us. Any song that we know is in terms of time. The rhythm of Transcendence is unrestricted by the beat of time, one, two, three, four. If you can feel that Song of Time in its Eternity, if you can be so quiet and still that it suddenly is there, and you do not hear it with your ears (I can only use that word hear), if you hear it with the Eternal Spirit within you, you will discover something very strange about that song. That Song of Life in Eternity sounds all its tones at the same time. All its tones are there together at once. Its tones are the differences, as we call them, which we with our limited vision and hearing can see and hear in the cosmos. So for us they are different sounds. But our seeing takes place no faster than the speed of light, our hearing takes place no quicker than the speed of sound, a mere three hundred metres or so per second. But that sound is something which is simultaneous throughout the cosmos, and what we see as the difference is something which takes place totally in terms of Eternity which you cannot split up. And yet it is a multitudinous, incalculably multitudinous variety of sounds, and they are all together.

And there is something else which is very curious. When you hear that sound, it makes no noise. It is a silent tone, and that is the meaning of silence in its profoundest sense, as far as I can present it to you. That silence contains all that we understand as sound, and we understand it as sound only in terms of differentiation, separation, whereas that is the undifferentiated sound. That is why in its creative activity it produces a cosmos which manifests the life of the Eternal. If all those sounds were heard simultaneously at this moment by us as we are, it would completely shatter us. In fact it would shatter the cosmos too, if it was sound in our sense of the word, because it would be a predominant vibration which breaks down manifestation, overwhelming vibration. If you are marching over a bridge you break step, otherwise the rhythm of it becomes so terrific that the bridge breaks down. It is a little bit like that.

But listen to that Song of Life by being quiet, quiet inside. You may be talking, you may be driving a car, but if in your innermost awareness there is this silence, that silence will be that single tone which is the Song of Life itself. And you will find that the brain will become quiet then in the midst of turmoil, bustle, noise all around. Be very careful not to be self-deceived. This is the difficulty which arises when this sort of thing is written down or a speaker speaks it. If the ideas appeal to you, then your own desire to experience it crops up. But if my desire is present there, the Divine is silent; I cannot hear that Song. Not my will, but thine; not my desire but thy creative activity in which all my desire, which is the potentiality of Transcendence within me, will get fulfilled. You see how different selflessness is from unselfishness. Unselfishness is merely the opposite of selfishness and the two are in conflict. But when you transcend the whole self, then you have transcended the opposites; the conflict is out. The Tree of Good and Evil, at least for the time being, inside your being has become the Tree of Life, the pure Tree of Life, unspoilt, unscarred. You see the magic (I am using that word deliberately) of religion, the religious life and the vision which comes into being, true vision, unspoilt by merely aesthetic imaginative activity.

Imaginative activity deludes us. Imagination has its play in our lives, in our childhood. It is necessary for the psychical growth of the child in a right and happy way. But when you are approaching spiritual and psychological adulthood, maturity, then imagination and all intellectual acquisition is a burden, it is a drawback, it deceives, because we never know, unless we learn this, that all this belongs to the realm of the finite and the mortal, it is not the reality of Eternity, of the One Total Reality. That is why you have to beware of imagination, be careful. Otherwise imagination which operates within the bounds of the self will spoil the truth and spoil the beauty, the real order, that eternal order which is expressive of the creative action in Eternity of this primordial creative power, this creative energy to which we have given so many names, God, Transcendence, the Infinite, whatever you like. So listen, listen silently without expecting anything, without wanting anything. It will happen, it will come to you. Truth, Beauty, the Reality, the Supreme Thing within us which we may call man, will suddenly come upon you. In this sphere and state you do not have to seek the Beloved, you do not have to long for the Beloved, because, if you do, then there is a separate I longing and seeking another which is called the Beloved. When the self is totally un-selfed, suddenly the Beloved is there. It is like that.

You see what we, who have evolved out of the animal, are growing towards. It may take some millions of years, who knows, for Mankind, all Mankind in the world, to fulfil this. But there are always those microcosms which, by the grace of the Eternal if you like, somehow come to fruition, to fulfilment. Do not try to manufacture explanations of why that is so. They may satisfy intellectual curiosity, but all those explanations are faulty, or they are positively wrong. You do not seek explanations there. That is why they say: Shut your eyes, look down in the presence of God because that light will blind your eyes. Similarly listen to this Song in the right way and its vibrations will not shatter you. It will sustain you and will release you into the Transcendent realm of the Ultimate Real, whatever that may be.

I have said that this single tone creates the cosmos. It is that same tone which gradually withdraws the cosmos into primordial chaos. But this withdrawal is not a process merely in time and space. It is a timeless activity which goes on. It is free of the limitations of distance and separation. If you can sense that, you will get an idea of the deeper meaning of space especially as used in the old days in the East. That Sanskrit word ākāsa, which is translated as space, is not just our ordinary modern conception of space, something which contains the galaxies and the sun and the stars and so forth, it is something else. This space is actual being, it is substance almost. So this withdrawal takes place in a mysterious way. And again, to make the mystery more extraordinary, it happens simultaneously with the creation of the cosmos. Now perhaps you may understand a little bit better this thing which people in the past called Life/Death as the creative pulsation, which I prefer to call Life/Other Life. When I make a gesture like this, obviously there is separation. But it is an inflowing and an outflowing together at the same time. Imagination cannot visualize it. Sometimes when you see on something like television this sort of vibrating movement going inwards and going outwards, your eyes usually separate out the two movements, although they are absolutely simultaneous. It is like that, it happens simultaneously. If you can feel this you will understand how and why the microcosm, you yourself, I myself, is totally contained in the macrocosm. So it is impossible to break the relationship with Transcendence, with God or the Infinite or whatever word you like. It is impossible to break it. We can hide it, as the clouds will come and hide this indescribable beauty of Elmau on a morning like this. Clear sunshine and the mountains and everything speak another message.

Supposing we are taken up into this state and supposing this creative activity, this cosmos, this spirit of Life were to talk to any one of us like a human being talks in language, what sort of language would Transcendence use? Transcendence is The Alone, and when we are taken up into this kind of condition, we also microcosmically, individually are The Alone, not lonely. If I am lonely, I feel separateness, I feel I am cut off from all the rest. But when I truly awake to the fact that I am The Alone, then I am in total relationship. I am in perfect rhythmic at-one-ment with the Transcendent Alone. If you can appreciate this you will understand why, as part of the discipline of the Holy Ones, they always went apart for a time, during the day or the night, in order to commune, to meditate, to pray. This is the real, deep meaning of prayer, this mystery of the interaction of the Alone, which is oneself, with the Alone which is God. Now supposing God speaks in our language, He speaks only through the presence of His feminine aspect, His active aspect is feminine, what we mistakenly (we can choose our words of course) call the negative. Just think of the actual fact in matter, the atoms which have a positive nucleus and negative electrons revolving round it, associated with it. It is those negative electrons which are the active part and determine the properties and modes of manifestation and activity of that particular chemical element. That is why I call Nature the Bride of God. She is the one who does all the work. He is the one that inspires and is the source of the power which Nature wields, just through presence, that inspiring presence. It is just through sheer presence that there is perpetually through the universal process this thing which is the Immaculate Conception, and that Immaculate Conception constantly expresses itself as a perpetual Virgin Birth. So Nature, the Mother, ever producing, remains the immaculate, unstained Virgin. This is the origin of the religious teachings with regard to marriage and its sanctity and so forth. In the lives of some human beings this gets fulfilled (but only some), fulfilled with a wonderful perfection.

If the Spirit of Life speaks, especially with a day like this which is very favourable, if you walk out alone meditatively, you might hear that voice say, “I move in the waters and the air and sustain your life. I stay still in the mountains and give you power and the strength and will to stand on your own feet and realize the Aloneness within you. My invisible glory soars to the zenith out from the topmost peaks and draws your aspirations unto Me and teaches you silence. Now, here, as you are, you see only the reflections of Me, the handiwork of the Bride of God is but the reflection of inspiring power. But you will know the substance of Me when you live wholly open to My most benign and gracious messenger, Death.” Death the Other Life, not Death the disrupter. The disrupter, the breaker up in illness, not merely physical but the illness of the soul, breaks up the form which has outlived it usefulness and its function of being the true representative of the Eternal. “My most benign and gracious messenger, Death.” Feel it out and you will be at home in this pulsation of Life/Other Life/Life/Other Life which takes place simultaneously. If you do not obstruct Death, then you will find that your awareness will get more and more in rhythm with that indescribable vibration of Transcendence itself. It will never be like it, because the living form cannot stand that; it will break. But you can be in tune with it, just as if you are sounding the note doh or re in the bass with few vibrations, you can be in tune with doh or re some octaves higher up, not out of tune with it, in that way you can feel it and know it. And that is the messenger who brings you the wine of Eternal Life. Do not obstruct that messenger, he is there perpetually.

And you might hear that voice say, “Beloved Son, My living image, I am God. No words or thoughts reveal Me. When all thy separate selfness is gone, thou wilt know Me because thou art Me.” When selfness is gone, then pure Love, this Transcendental Love, which is God, which is the activity of Transcendence bringing into being the cosmos, that Transcendent Love will fill your whole being and make you “My living substance.”


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Zen Meditation

By Ron Martin

Part 5

Chapter 8: Practical Meditation (1)

Meditation, even at its highest level, begins with using the faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling, so that there is a pure experience without concepts. It is not, as one psychologist claimed, simply a matter of achieving coherence (‘coherence’ is when the left and right sides of the brain function together) even though tests with the electroencephalograph have shown that this happens during meditation. This led him to the conclusion that meditation is no different to being half awake — the state we are in when we are just coming out of deep sleep but are not fully ‘ourselves’ — and yet there is a grain of truth in this.

Most of the dreams we have in deep sleep, if not all, are experiences without an ego consciousness. This is probably why sleep is so refreshing, even though some of the dreamed experiences may not be all that pleasant. If we awaken naturally (not by an alarm clock) the intermediate period can last a minute or so and our immediate reaction is akin to how a baby would view the same scene. But anyone who has truly meditated knows that it is very different to being half awake. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference is to take, as an example, a baby and a music-lover listening to a Beethoven symphony; they both hear the same sounds; neither is conscious of an ‘I’ hearing those sounds, yet would it be correct to say that they were having the same experience?

However, of greater interest to the would-be meditator than ‘scientific’ explanations of what meditation is are the practical ways of setting about it, what the experience is like and whether the benefits, if any, last beyond the session of meditation.

The first problem we encounter is that of time. Our everyday life is one of relativity and so, whatever we may think about meditation being the experience of the timeless, in practical terms it does take time. However, as mentioned in the Introduction, it is the quality of the meditative experience that matters, not the amount of time devoted to it. Initially about twenty minutes, twice daily, should suffice, although for much of these periods the mind will be wandering into thoughts about all sorts of things, instead of concentrating on the actuality of the moment. (A technique described later should help in this respect).

In theory, as the amount of leisure we have increases, so should the problem of finding time reduce but, unfortunately, the human mind does not work this way. We are so intent on escaping from reality that we create activity, or distractions, without realising why we are doing so; and although it fails to give us deep satisfaction this very dissatisfaction spurs us towards yet more escapism. Ultimately, we have to make the decision as to whether we really want to carry on in this way, or ‘sacrifice’ time in order to savour the timeless.

We also have to decide whether to meditate on all the experiences we have at a given moment or give our attention to just one of them. At a later stage it should be possible to cope with all experiences with equal facility but, initially, this presents considerable difficulty and the reason is not hard to understand. If we consider the totality of concepts we have constructed around our experiences it will be found that the great majority are concerned with vision. We have names and descriptive terms for a whole range of objects — their colours, their shapes and purposes — whereas we have far fewer concepts for touch and sound.

Taking a clock as an example; there is only one sound we hear (that of its ticking) but, if we look at it, a multitude of concepts come to mind — its size, its shape, its colour, the type of clock it is and the numbers on the dial. We are also tempted to be aware of the passage of time, whereas we are trying to savour the timeless! Not only this but the clock may be surrounded by other objects which attract our attention — that souvenir from Devon, that photograph of Aunt Agatha, those brass candlesticks and, behind them all, the pattern on the wallpaper. Close your eyes and all these vanish, leaving just the sound of the clock ticking. There could be an occasional sound of a jet airliner passing overhead, or of a bird chirping in the garden, but even these extraneous sounds have a simplicity which does not apply to actually seeing the objects making the sound. Of course, we might be able to isolate a single visionary experience by careful arrangement but, generally speaking, this is not easily done and it also constricts meditating to within a narrow set of circumstances.

Since experiencing Reality (wholeness, or holiness) needs for its realisation timelessness and egolessness, it might be thought that listening to the ticking of a clock is hardly the best way of achieving the former. In practice, providing we concentrate on the sound of ticking as a pure experience, it is much easier than it seems in theory. By far the more difficult condition to realise is that of egolessness, because the ego is the prime source of ‘original sin’. So long as the sound appears to be coming from ‘out there’ then the delusion of a separate self continues to exist. Similarly, when we looked at the lawn, if the grass appeared to be ‘over there’ then we had a self (the subject) seeing green grass (the object) and this, as we are already aware, is the condition of duality. It is not that sound and vision should seem to come from ‘in here’ either, since this pinpoints the source of Reality as being the individual mind, which is not the case — the grass would still be there even if no-one was looking at it! However perplexing this may be no further explanation can be given, because it would be attempting to describe Absolute Reality in conceptual terms, which is impossible.

The main problem with using sound for a meditational experience is the possibility it holds of causing drowsiness, or even sleep. With our eyes closed, and the fact that meditation does produce coherence in brain activity, drowsiness is an ever present hazard. However, it should not be overlooked that tiredness is often caused by accumulated worry and stress, which may have prevented us getting refreshing sleep at night. If meditation releases the mind from these conditions then sleep is a natural consequence. Meditation cannot give us more sleep than we need but, if we are to gain real advantage from it, then sleep should be reserved for a more appropriate time.

If drowsiness is found to be a persistent problem then it may be better to use sound as the object of meditation in the morning, when we have just had a long sleep, and a visual form of meditation in the evening. It may also help if meditation is undertaken after having had a mildly stimulating drink, such as tea or coffee, but on no account should amphetamines, or other powerful drugs, be taken. For reasons that will not be examined further here it can be said that the use of powerful drugs, either to keep one awake, or to enhance awareness, is certain to result in failure; even the need for tea or coffee can be regarded as a sign of stagnation if it persists. Should this happen then one should either try a different object for meditation (e.g. one that is visual if the present one is aural) or seek guidance. Probably more people give up meditation altogether through stagnation than from any other cause.

Many statues of the Buddha depict him meditating in the lotus posture and in those countries of the Far East where meditating has been common practice for centuries even most adults can adopt this position without discomfort but, for most Westerners, accustomed to sitting in chairs, this is not so. Severe discomfort may be acceptable as a penance but it is not conducive to successful meditation. If the lotus posture cannot be adopted without it giving rise to acute backache and leg pains then it should be avoided. Some people make such a fetish of the lotus posture that they actually create problems where none exists and may make it more difficult for them to meditate. It is the state of mind that is all important, not the position of the body, and if we cannot empty our minds of thoughts (including thoughts about aches and pains) then we are not giving ourselves a chance to concentrate on a single, pure experience.

An alternative posture, suitable for the Westerner, is to sit in a comfortable chair with a cushion on one’s lap. Place both elbows on the cushion and then with lightly clasped fists put both fists over the ears, so providing a supportive triangle, which can be maintained for a long period. Perhaps the most surprising outcome of this is that it will actually amplify the sound of the clock ticking, whilst at the same time reducing the apparent directional source of the sound.

Chapter 9: Practical Meditation (2)

In our everyday life we have what one advertiser for a ‘mind training course’ described as a “grasshopper mind” — our minds flit from one thought to another in rapid succession and we have great difficulty concentrating on a given subject for more than a few seconds at a time. Even during breakfast we do not concentrate on eating, but think about what we are going to do next, or worry about problems we will face several hours hence. Try, for example, eating a bowl of cornflakes, thinking of nothing but consuming the cornflakes until the bowl is empty — which should take no more than about three minutes — and you will almost certainly find it extremely difficult, if not impossible. You have a ‘grasshopper mind’. It is not a question of failing to try hard enough, the greater the effort put into it, the harder it becomes to concentrate. If you are really determined to succeed the repeated failures may worry you so much that not only do you not enjoy your food but you get a feeling of inadequacy and hopelessness as well.

By far the greatest difficulty in meditating is this inability to concentrate for prolonged periods. Some Schools of Buddhism have a method of mind training involving counting exhalations of the breath up to ten and then repeating this over and over again, without allowing the mind to wander from the process of counting. At first, the meditator has difficulty reaching even a minute without his mind wandering. After a long time, which may be many months, he may find it possible to concentrate on counting exhalations for several minutes at a stretch, without having extraneous thoughts.

One should not be too dismissive of this method, because it has been shown to work, but it is like the toad telling the centipede that he will be able to run if he concentrates, first on moving one leg, then another, until he gets all going in the correct order, without the legs getting in the way of each other. No wonder this method takes a long time to master, because it is asking the mind to train the mind.

The problem of concentration in meditation arises because we lose sight of what meditation actually is. To understand this in greater detail we need to return to the matter of a pure experience. Pure experience is pure experience no matter what form it takes. If, whilst eating the cornflakes, we are thinking about the train we have to catch to get to work, then that thought is as much a pure experience as that of eating — we know we are thinking about the train! It is because we believe that we ought to choose one experience from another, and call one ‘pure’ and the other ‘not pure’, that we give ourselves the problem of concentration in meditation. We may well have the ticking of a clock as the initial object, but we delude ourselves if we believe that this is the only pure experience we should have. The mind is a marvellous instrument and can accommodate an infinite variety of experiences, all at the same time. An experienced meditator would have no difficulty meditating in a tube train.

We must examine further this apparent contradiction. In the first instance it was suggested that we give our attention to the ticking of a clock, in order to exclude extraneous thoughts — indeed, the very choice of sound was dictated by the fact that we have far more concepts associated with vision than with sound. But then it was said that, even if we have these extraneous thoughts (experiences) as well we should not worry about them but accept them, also, as being pure. So why bother to meditate? If all experiences are pure, anyway, then our everyday life is composed of nothing else but pure experiences! Yes — and No!

The experience is pure provided there is no ‘I’ having that experience. The very moment the ego intrudes there is a subject having an experience and an object being experienced, a condition of duality that is unreal. But the ego cannot be excluded by intention, because the very act of intending the exclusion serves only to strengthen the ego — the belief that ‘I’ can choose ‘my’ experiences. All we need to understand is that we should be aware of experiences, without clinging to or rejecting any of them. To refuse to do even this until everything is explained is to be like the centipede, paralysed in the ditch because it wanted to understand every detail of walking before moving even one leg. Meditation is no more than a device for pointing our minds in the right direction; the rest must be left to ‘God’.

Since meditation is an experience of the timeless moment — the Here and Now — it is not surprising that we lose all consciousness of time (even if we are listening to the ticking of a clock) but what may come as a surprise is that, if there was a decision to allow twenty minutes for the session, we open our eyes when twenty minutes has elapsed (or thereabouts). Why is this? Is it because our unconscious mind has been logging all those seconds as they ticked by? The psychologist would probably give this as an explanation. Yet it still happens if we use a sound other than one with a regular beat. But, if we can ride a bicycle without knowing how we do it, why should this mystify us? Does the dog marvel at the way its tail wags when it is pleased, or droops when it is sad, and would the psychologist say that it was the dog’s unconscious mind that caused these actions? If the unconscious mind is the ‘storehouse’ of previously conscious experiences then the dog would, at some stage, have been conscious of its tail wagging, or drooping, for these actions to be controlled by the unconscious mind; so can we accept this as a plausible explanation?

The point this is leading up to is that there are no grounds for fearing that, if we experience timelessness with our eyes closed, we shall not be able to come out of the meditation without help from someone else (or an alarm clock). Meditation is most emphatically not a trance-like state to be in. On the contrary, it is a heightened awareness of the everyday world, but not as an observer or listener, we are that world!

At its most intense level it is a state of wholeness (holiness) which reveals the source of all things; it is Mind that is greater than our minds; it is Self that is greater than ourselves. And yet, there is no difference between our minds and Mind, or between ourselves and Self! It is One without distinction, and yet it contains all the myriad of forms in the Universe. The One is eternal and yet every part of it is subject to coming into being, decaying and passing out of existence! The Tao Te Ching expresses it thus:

The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be defined is not the unchanging Name,
Non-existence is called the mother of all things.
From eternal non-existence, therefore, we serenely observe the mysterious beginning of the Universe;
From eternal existence we clearly see the apparent distinctions.
These two are the same in source and become different when manifested.
This sameness is called profundity.
Infinite profundity is the gate whence comes the beginning of all parts of the Universe.

And the Buddhist scriptures express it thus:

There is, O Bhikkhus, an Unborn, a Not-become, a Not-made, a Not-compounded. If there were not, O Bhikkhus, this Un-born, Not-become, Not-made, Not-compounded, there could not be any escape from what is born, become, made and compounded.
But since, O Bhikkhus, there is this Unborn, therefore is made known an escape from what is born, become, made and compounded.

Now, perhaps, it can be appreciated why the One cannot be explained, but has to be experienced! If attention is given to all the points mentioned, particularly the one concerning the need to be aware of experiences, without clinging to, or rejecting, any of them, then meditation should present few difficulties. But, there is one problem which is so important that it merits special consideration. Consider, for a moment, the reasons why we might want to take up meditation; perhaps it is because we want peace of mind, or perhaps it is because we want to be better able to cope with the problems of everyday life. But all these are self-ish.

The very desire to meditate is, itself, an obstacle to successful meditation! What is more, we shall have an urge to monitor the progress in meditation as it proceeds, day by day and week by week, by repeatedly asking ourselves, “Am I getting peace of mind” and, “Am I coping better with everyday problems” and so on, and this merely strengthens the ego concept. The result could well be that meditation does not have any beneficial effects at all and so would be a waste of time. And even if, during meditation, we had a joyful experience, it would not last, because the moment the session is over the monitoring would begin again. Yet without the desire to meditate we would not meditate at all, and without being aware of its benefits we would not continue!

So, what is to be done? Well, firstly we must accept that these desires are inevitable, since it is true that without them we would not start meditating, nor would we continue with it unless there was some appreciation of its benefits. But because these desires are inevitable it is illogical to feel guilty about them. A more positive response would be to recognise that there are two extremes. On the one hand the absorption in meditation can be so intense that there is no awareness of a self having peace of mind and communion with the Infinite and that this is carried over into everyday life, so that it amounts to a life of unbroken meditation. The lives of some Buddhist monks appear to be like this. On the other hand, our attitude can be so self-ish that meditation could do more harm than good. These extremes are probably very rare and most of us come somewhere in between.

One way to ease the situation is to make sure that we are in the right mood before commencing meditation. We are unlikely to be in the right mood if we have been watching an hour of wrestling on television, or we decide to make a short session of it so as to leave us time to get to the betting shop before it closes. The benefits of meditation are not like water, dispensed from a tap, which we can turn on and off as we please, but are bound up with a whole range of attitudes and behaviour, inter-linked in a complex manner. A shepherd on a Scottish croft, leading a simple life, does not have the same influences to bear on him as someone living in an industrialised urban community — indeed, his everyday life is, itself, very close to the meditational experience. He would, quite naturally, be in the right mood to commence meditation at any time. But, for most of us, the right mood is more difficult to acquire and so a certain amount of preparation is necessary except, perhaps, for an early morning session, since sleep is an excellent preparation for meditation — even if a nightmare was experienced during the night. (A nightmare is to be expected if meditation has begun scything its way through psychological repressions).

How we prepare depends on individual temperaments and interests and so there can be no firm rules. In the case of a music lover a record of deeply religious music (religious in the widest sense) could be played beforehand. A lover of poetry might choose to read some poems that give him a similar response; whereas an amateur gardener might prefer to spend a little while in the garden, contemplating the flowers and the trees. (“One is nearer to God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on Earth”).

Of almost universal use as a means of preparing for a session of meditation are readings from the Buddhist scriptures, although only a small proportion are suitable for this specific purpose. Some of the extracts given in a later chapter may be helpful in this respect, although they have been included primarily to strike a chord of recognition in those who have read this far.

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