Complete Attention: Meditation and Meditative Walking
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Elmau, Bavaria on 22nd September 1975
I think that everyone present here has heard the word karma which we use in India, sometimes spoken of as the law of karma or the law of cause and effect. I want to put this fact for your consideration this morning. Every single thought, feeling, word and action makes an impression upon the whole psycho-physical organism, the body-mind complex which is living man, every thought, feeling, word and action. Let us spend a few moments just absorbing, meditating on the significance of this fact, because it is related most intimately to the great question of justice. Is there cause and effect and how does it operate? We have been taught in all the great religions of the world, and it is the belief of all mankind (or perhaps not all mankind), that no one can escape the consequences of his actions, and yet in the ordinary way we sometimes see that men who do evil get away with it, as it is said, that they have successful lives, happy lives and so on. There is a superficial apparent truth in that statement but not a real complete truth in it.
In order for us to understanding the complete truth of the situation, meditate for a few moments on this fact, and it is an actual fact, that every single thought and feeling, word and action makes an impression upon the whole organism, the psycho-physical organism. I suggest that that is the reason why it is impossible to escape our karma. Action, word and thought produce their own result inside us straightaway to start with. Let us not leave it at the level of a mere thought, meditate on it and absorb the truth of it. We’ll spend just a few minutes on that first.
You will remember that I said over the last two or three days that any prayer, or meditative activity energizes the whole psyche, our good aspects as well as our bad aspects. We must remember that the psyche, the mind, does not function in little bits. In the body for example the liver performs its own function, the kidney its own function, the heart a different function, and so on. Each has its own function. But the psyche is not like that. The psyche is one whole, you can’t separate it out and say that this part of the psyche registers good thoughts, that part bad feelings, this part something else and so forth. The whole psyche is in a particular condition. So when you feel fear the entire psyche is that fear. When you feel happy, the entire psyche is that happiness. Therefore you see that any such procedure, as concentrated attention or meditation or prayer or whatever it is, releases energy in the whole psyche, so that when a stimulus comes, which causes fear (you suddenly see a tiger standing in front of you wanting to jump on you), the whole psyche feels the fear. That is why the release of this mental energy, collecting and growing in strength, energizes the entire psyche, and when it functions as fear or a feeling of generosity or whatever it is, the whole of it functions that way.
Therefore all these techniques, prayer or whatever they are, energize the entire psyche so that its good and bad expressions, what we call good states and bad states, are expressions of the living psyche. So they are stronger than ever whatever the expression is.
We started off just now with contemplating the fact that every thought, feeling, word, action, makes its impression upon the living organism. It particularly affects the psyche. What happens in the ordinary way when an impression comes to us? We just feel a part of it and don’t pay further attention to it. This means that the energy of that impression is not completely worked out. If you want to dust a room, you would rather dust and clean the whole room, but if you dust just a little part, the rest of the room is waiting to be cleaned. In the same way with the psyche, we get an impression and we feel or think something and it is superficial. But the major portion of that effect remains unattended to. Do you quite follow that? This is most important; this is one of the key things, the most important point. Therefore there is an accumulation of unattended business, so to say. It all piles up on your table waiting to be answered, waiting to be dealt with later.
This is what India really meant by the accumulation of karma. It is the unattended part and it sinks into the well of the unconscious mind. It is no longer being attended to, it is in your own mind, it is there in the depths. But if you pay complete attention to anything whatsoever as it arises immediately, then it is fully worked out and the mind remains clean, it remains pure, transparent.
Do you follow that carefully? This is the central point which would help us to understand the process by which the soul is cleansed. All the mystics of the world have taught that if the soul is to stand in the presence of God it must stand utterly naked. This is the meaning of it. There is nothing inside here, in the psyche, in the mind, to prevent the light of Transcendence shining through us and the light within ourselves from burning without any smoke for ever.
This is why I keep on saying that our power of mindfulness, our power of attentiveness is our supreme power of salvation lying within us, because if we do not attend we shut out the light. People say, “But the grace of God is always there and it is for sinner and saint alike.” Yes, it is there, but the difference is just this. Who prevents the grace of God from working on you? Only yourself. It is not a reward for being good. But if we are not clean, we just shut out the light, that is all. And God never forces entry, never. He waits with infinite patience in eternity. But we have only time to deal with, because we will only live fifty, seventy, a hundred years and no more. Therefore it is our duty now to effect the purification. And this is how attentiveness brings about the purification. The purification means an emptying of the mind of the effects of all the impressions made upon it by attentiveness. Attend to the thing completely, totally, with your whole being and the thing is fully worked out. Mind you, this is difficult of course, it is a Herculean task, a Himalayan task. But that is how it is.
We started yesterday with considering the obstructions to meditation, the hindrances, our pursuit of sense pleasures, our lust for pleasure, the lust for possessions, the lust for power, all self-assertions, which means putting a block in the way of life abundant. We also spoke about the other hindrances, anger, malevolence, ill will, resentment, hate, jealousy, sloth, putting aside for tomorrow what should be done now, because this has to be done now, every moment, because we are alive every moment. Every moment impressions are coming in and we are sending out reactions, impressions also. So it is now, not tomorrow, no sloth, immediately, the task has to be done completely, and then there will be no time or inclination to worry about anything or to have doubts, the wrong kind of doubt.
Let us spend just a few moments. Just stay quiet, and as a thought, or a feeling, or a memory, or a state of concern or worry or disturbance, or all the nice things, (they are equally obstructions to reality), as they arise in the mind, let us attend to them immediately, as completely as possible. It is this paying attention which is the spiritual alchemy, the spiritual magic if you like, by which the complete transformation takes place. When the man who is of clay, of mud, the man who is a sinner in the sense of someone who tried to divide the unity, is completely empty of all these things, then into that transparent mind flows the power of Transcendence itself and functions there always.
This is one of the deep secrets of meditation, and I hope I have put it as clearly as possible, it is very difficult to put this sort of thing very clearly in words.
Now we will spend five minutes on this. Whatever comes up in your mind, just be quiet and attend to it completely.
When you practise this sort of thing beware of letting a new idea take place. When you attend you just pay attention to that alone which is there in the mind, and that which is in the mind will dissolve. What is in the mind is like a solid substance between the light and you. When you look at it like that you dissolve it, it becomes empty and there is the light. Don’t put another idea instead, don’t let another idea come up. It will of course at first, you can’t avoid it, but if it does then attend to that new idea which has come up, and you will see why it has come up. And in all cases — well, perhaps I shouldn’t say in all cases — but in most cases you will find that whatsoever comes up in the mind has its roots in greed or aversion, in hate, in fear or in delusion. This may sound rather pessimistic but it is the truth. Whatsoever has its roots in that which is the absolute truth is transparent, it has no shape, no form, no substance, as we understand substance. Therefore there is no obstruction to this extraordinary condition which we call the light of Transcendence, a mode of awareness, a mode of consciousness or reality. This is specially the deepest field of religious experience.
So, when you practise like this, and another idea, another impression, something else comes up in the mind, then attend to it completely, don’t try to push it aside and bring back the old to which you were attending. Don’t bring it back. If another idea has come up, another memory or something, pay full attention to that, and if you are patient and you persevere, you will find extraordinary things happen. Insight, the power of unerring insight will grow. When ideas, convictions, beliefs and all the rest of it are out of the way, then the faculty of pure insight, acting immediately now, every moment, grows in you, pure intelligence in other words.
In that marvellous text of Mahayana Buddhism called the Prajñāpāramitā there is a sentence in which it is said that this insight, this supreme perfection of insight, or this supreme excellence of insight (prajñā, insight, pāramitā, excellence), is a magic spell. It says several things, but it also says that it is a magic spell. It is in the truest and the profoundest sense of the term, as ancient India knew it, the most powerful mantra, the magic spell, the thing of power. The thing of power is not just the spoken word, whether it is spoken, silently in the mind or loudly with the tongue, nor is it a thought or a belief or a trust in any sort of picture we may make of God or reality or whatever you like, nothing of that. It is the actual thing itself.
Practising this, if you do get to the state where that which you are attending to is completely worked out, you will understand what I am going to say now. Death is the spiritual means by which complete transformation is brought about into fruition, and you utilize Death whilst you are alive.
Here follows a period of meditative walking
Shall we walk silently? Pay complete attention to whatever the eye sees or the ear hears. Pay complete attention to it, don’t hold it in the mind, let it pass away, and in the background of the mind try and keep this last sentence, “Death is the spiritual means for the complete transformation which brings fruition.” Fruition, perfection. Keep that in the background of the mind, and as every impression comes in, just pay full attention to it (but don’t try to keep it, it will pass away), attending from moment to moment. When the mind is silent, what is seen or heard is no longer a case of “I see” or “I hear”. There is just the seeing and the hearing taking place. And when it is like that, with the consciousness completely quiet, then the seeing and the hearing and the touching, the walking is a continuous state of communion. Let the eyes see,
let the ears hear those birds, and the skin feel the sun. There is a seeing, a hearing, a feeling going on, and it is universal, because you and I as separate individuals cannot see or hear or feel unless all this is going on. And so you actually experience in inner consciousness without analysing it the wholeness, and in this the sense of Transcendence, the sense of holiness awakes in you and grows. It is an actual way of release of holiness, so let the eyes see. It is not I who am seeing but there is a seeing.
You will see one sort of beauty this way, you will see another that way.
Now, do you get the feel of it?
Science is discovering that pleasure has its place in our life for healthy living. There is one very interesting book by a Dr. J. H. Campbell about the pleasure areas in the brain. That is just a first step, it is still kindergarten stuff — not the pleasure which you or I deliberately seek but the pleasure which all life pours into you through the senses. Now this is what makes for health. Let there be seeing, hearing with the quiet, silent mind.
You think of all the trees pointing upwards. There is a point, they come to a point. There is life energy moving upwards like that. Science knows a certain amount and we can talk in scientific terms of the forces at play by which the sap rises up and so on. But there are other energies still waiting to be discovered. Gradually they will be discovered, scientifically also. But in the sensitive mind, if some of these inner sensitivities are developed, you must let them release by being quiet. (And do remember, don’t let imagination just manufacture things, they have to be real sensitivities).
There are other energies which move upwards like that, and from the mountain peaks it is the same. There are immense potencies at work all the time. They go out from the earth right out into space. They interact will all the energies which come towards the earth from space, for us particularly from the Sun.
Science in the last century knew of light and heat coming from the Sun. Then it gradually discovered other things, cosmic rays and so forth. Now we know that all this energy from the Sun is the result of vast hydrogen explosions. The atoms themselves disrupt and turn into light and heat and radiate away. Now see if you can picture this vast reservoir of energy pouring itself out through death. The atom completely dies in order to become light and heat, completely dies. You and I can completely die to become God whilst we are living here. Don’t try to make a logical intellectual picture with the brain, it is useless. Don’t try to do it, it can come later on. What little I am able to say to you is the result of sixty years (I am 73 now) — it is the result of sixty years, right from the time when I was eleven or twelve. It is not a thought, it is living realization which is a different thing.
So, you have an opportunity here, look, look. And just let the silent mind feel. I have to give special shape to it in words and thoughts, otherwise I cannot communicate with you. Don’t you try to give special words and thoughts or keep hold of my words. Let the words just help the mind to be happy, to be at peace and quiet and open out. Just feel it.
And just as there are these subtle energies on the earth, out of the trees, the mountains, and ground, in addition to all that science has discovered about the Sun, there are these unknown energies, unknown as to their actual nature yet, which react with all these energies. And there is this great cycle of life, or living action, living creative process. The whole universe is alive, there is no such thing as dead matter, dead in our mistaken sense of the word ‘dead’. But the transformation takes place because death is complete and wholly experienced now through total attention. I can’t tell you how important this point is. It is absolutely at the heart of the truth that man can formulate.
As you sit quietly, let yourself be given to all this, to Mother Earth. Let oneself be absorbed by the whole, so that there is no sense of separation between that (meaning everything around one) and this, meaning oneself, no separation, complete relationship. Then there is only living wholeness in your awareness, in your consciousness, no diversion, no disharmony. The sound of a machine — don’t react against it, it is part of the whole.
What we do here you must do by yourself alone also. Especially when you are alone you can be completely united with the Totality, here on Earth. And if the mind will remain quiet, then in a strange way you will sense the play of cosmic energies. Don’t let imagination run riot and give shape to them, because they are shapeless. They are as mysterious as this thing we call life, we don’t know what life is. Here I am, a living being as we say, talking. Supposing suddenly the body dies. The body is still there but where is this mysterious thing called life?
So, we don’t know cosmic energies. But you can grow more and more sensitive to them. This morning is a special case where everything is very favourable for entering this deep subtle realm. Look at those peaks there. Man’s aspirations to Transcendence are like that, firm, perpetual — aspiration, not desire to grasp, no ambition, no self involved in it, utter purity of aspiration. And you cannot get that purity unless you give yourself completely to all that is around. Keep nothing back for self.
You will appreciate what a tremendous discipline is the discipline of religious living, and how far above all ritual or particular techniques and meetings and so forth it is. Just feel it. And contrast that — look how the clouds show up a special kind of beauty of the mountains, and when there are no clouds you get the whole range silhouetted absolutely starkly.
And that is a different kind of beauty. But whatever the change is, it is beauty. And clouds, the things which hide the sight, are the very means of releasing a new beauty.
In the same way, if we can treat our drawbacks, our failures, our sins, if I may use that word, if we can look at them the right way with pure attentiveness, they are like the clouds which reveal a new beauty. When you really feel that and understand that, you do not condemn either yourself or your neighbour. You see that a certain thing is clouded, is ill-shaped as we call it all, or whatever it is. You never hurt the living relationship between all things. And you will wake up to the truth that death is the spiritual means of transmutation. You don’t grasp, you let it go as it goes. And if you let go with complete attention, that is death at work, the letting go with complete attention.
Look the other way at the blueness of the sky and just feel that. The magic and the marvel of Elmau is not just in the organisation of conferences and meetings in the schloss or the guesthouse or anywhere, it is in Elmau itself. Elmau itself gives us a twenty-four hour communion every day, a twenty-four hour prayer which never begins, never ends. And God is not there but wheresoever you look, you listen, you touch, you feel, and above all totally give yourself.
You see the meaning of Immortality. This is not dying in the ordinary sense of the term, like the organism dies and it is buried. This is the real dying, which is the living transformation process. But if you want to keep back something, some idea, some thought, some method, some practice, then you die in the worldly sense, then it is painful, frightening, saddening. But this dying enables you to be in tune with the great creative energy of the universe itself, with the divine energy.