Meditation Blog : March 2005 Archives
In the mail yesterday, I received most of the The Collected Works of J. Krishnamurti (1933-1967) (the complete set is out-of-print), which I ordered from the Krishnamurti Foundation in California. The collection compiles Krishnamurti's talks (as recorded by tape or shorthand) over a forty-five year period. Each talk is followed by questions from the audience on a comprehensive variety of topics. For those with a serious interest in meditation, or more broadly, are challenged by Socrates' dictum to "Know thyself," Krishnamurti's writings form an invaluable record.
Each volume of the collection contains a brief preface about Krishnamurti. As Krishnamurti himself often said, what is important is not the person, but the words. However, it's interesting to see how Krishnamurti is presented biographically. The challenge is to balance the personal details while expressing the content of Krishnamurti's concerns. The preface in this collection does an admirable job of it:
Jiddu Krishnamurti was born in 1895 of Brahmin parents in south India. At the age of fourteen he was proclaimed the coming World Teacher by Annie Besant, then president of the Theosophical Society, an international organization that emphasized the unity of world religions. Mrs. Besant adopted the boy and took him to England, where he was educated and prepared for his coming role. In 1911, a new worldwide organization was formed with Krishnamurti as its head, solely to prepare its members for his advent as World Teacher. In 1929, after many years of questioning himself and the destiny imposed on him, Krishnamurti disbanded this organization, saying:
Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be forced to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free.
Until the end of his life at the age of ninety, Krishnamurti traveled the world speaking as a private person. The rejection of all spiritual and psychological authority, including his own, is a fundamental theme. A major concern is the social structure and how it conditions the individual. The emphasis in his talks and writings is on the psychological barriers that prevent clarity of perception. In the mirror of relationship, each one of us can come to understand the content of his own consciousness, which is common to all humanity. We can do this, not analytically, but directly in a manner that Krishnamurti describes at length. In observing this content we discover within ourselves the division of the observer and what is observed. He points out that this division, which prevents direct perception, is the root of human conflict.
His central vision did not waver after 1929, but Krishnamurti strove for the rest of his life to make his language even more simple and clear. There is a development in his exposition. From year to year he used new terms and new approaches to his subject, with different nuances.
Because his subject is all-embracing, the Collected Works are of compelling interest. Within his talks in any one year, Krishnamurti was not able to cover the whole range of his vision, but broad applications of particular themes are found throughout these volumes. In them he lays the foundation of many of the concepts used in later years.
The Collected Works contain Krishnamurti's previously published talks, discussions, answers to specific questions, and writings for the years 1933 through 1967. They are an authentic record of his teachings, taken from transcripts of verbatim shorthand reports and tape recordings.
Of course, by concluding in 1967, this collection doesn't cover the entirety of Krishnamurti's output—he continued speaking until his death in 1986. A more ambitious project is in the works. The Krishnamurti foundations in the U.S., England, and India, have begun work on the Complete Teachings Project, which will comprise the full body of his work from 1933-1986. The Krishnamurti Foundation of America's Fall 2004 newsletter (PDF File) describes the project:
As you may know, the scope of this project is enormous, encompassing Krishnamurti's public talks, dialogues and question-and-answer meetings, small group discussions, radio and television interviews, seminars, educational material, dialogues with individuals, notes, statements, and poems. In addition, books written or dictated directly by Krishnamurti will be included in their complete published version. The full title for the project is The Complete Teachings of J. Krishnamurti 1933 to 1986. It requires the collaboration of the Krishnamurti Foundation Trust in England, and the Krishnamurti Foundations in America and India. Mark Lee, of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America, is the project director. The purpose of the Complete Teachings Project is to provide an authentic historical record of Krishnamurti's teachings, for preservation and dissemination. It will be distributed free to interested libraries and universities throughout the world, either in book (75 volumes of 500 pages each) or CD format.
March 30, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink
Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950), one of the most important figures in science fiction, taught philosophy and psychology at the University of Liverpool. Like his contemporaries, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Stapledon explored his ideas in novels of the imagination. While writing, Stapledon wasn't aware that science fiction existed, though he became a formative influence on the genre. His greatest works, "Last Men and First Men" (1930) and "Star Maker" (1937), he termed "histories of the future." In "Last Men and First Men," Stapledon tells the comprehensive story of humanity from the present time until a future two billion years from now. "Star Maker" takes on a broader scope — the history and future of the universe itself. The science fiction writer, Kim Stanley Robinson, eloquently describes these two books:
There is nothing else in all of literature like Stapledon's two cosmological novels. Every few pages contain all the material of an ordinary science fiction novel, condensed to something like prose poetry; and their profound view of our place in the scheme of things is a joy to experience.
At the core Stapledon's works focus on moral, spiritual, and religious evolution. In his future histories, he measures the success and failure of a species by the degree to which it attains an awareness of an underlying unity in the workings of the universe. In "Star Maker," which Arthur C. Clarke called, "Probably the most powerful work of imagination ever written," one of the many creatures Stapledon documents is the plant-men. Half-human, half-vegetative in nature, they are mobile workers at night, then sink roots and rest by day. Stapledon describes their resting period as a rejuvenating, meditative state of communion. The following excerpt contains Stapledon's literary description of their meditation, and a feeling for the moral purpose in his writing:
Briefly, the mentality of the plant-men in every age was an expression of the varying tension between the two sides of their nature, between the active, assertive, objectively inquisitive, and morally positive animal nature and the passive, subjectively contemplative, and devotedly acquiescent vegetable nature. It was of course through animal prowess and practical human intelligence that the species had long come to dominate its world. But at all times this practical will had been tempered and enriched by a kind of experience which among men is very rare. Every day, throughout the ages, these beings had surrendered their feverish animal nature not merely to unconscious or dream-racked sleep, such as animals know, but to the special kind of awareness (we learned) belongs to plants. Spreading their leaves, they had absorbed directly the essential elixir of life which animals receive only at second hand in the mangled flesh of their prey. Thus they seemingly maintained immediate physical contact with the source of all cosmical being. And this state, though physical, was also in some sense spiritual. It had a far-reaching effect on all their conduct. If theological language were acceptable, it might well be called a spiritual contact with God. During the busy night-time they went about their affairs as insulated individuals, having no present immediate experience of their underlying unity; but normally they were always preserved from the worst excesses of individualism by memory of their day-time life.
[Star Maker, p. 118.]
On the following page, Stapledon further describes the quality and content of this meditation:
And this experience afforded him an enduring ecstasy whose quality was almost sexual, an ecstasy in which subject and object seemed to become identical, an ecstasy of subjective union with the obscure source of all finite being. In this state the plant-man could meditate upon his active, night-time life, and could become aware, far more clearly by day, of the intricacies of his own motives. In this day-time mode he passed no moral judgements on himself or others. He mentally reviewed every kind of human conduct with detached contemplative joy, as a factor in the universe. But when night came again, bringing the active nocturnal mood, the calm, day-time insight into himself and others was lit with a fire of moral praise and censure.
[Star Maker, p. 119.]
One of my favorite books by J. Krishnamurti is "Think on These Things", first published in 1964. Krishnamurti often spoke of the importance of education and helped found schools in India, England, and the U.S. In "Think on These Things," Indian schoolchildren ask Krishnamurti questions. Coming from children, the questions have a simplicity and directness. They are not afraid to ask questions that an adult might overlook. Krishnamurti responds with seriousness and care, never talking down to the children. Here are some of the questions they ask:
Why do men fight?
What is jealousy?
Why am I never satisfied with anything?
What is shyness?
Why do we want to be famous?
What is happiness in life?
Sir, why do we want to have a companion?
For the sake of what we love to do should we forget our duty to our parents?
Why are we naughty?
What makes us fear death?
What is the difference between you and me?
Why did the British come to rule India?
Is man only mind and brain, or something more than this?
Of course, these questions have as much relevance to the old as the young. Here is Krishnamurti's response to the question "Why are we interested in asking questions?"
Very simple: because one is curious. Don't you want to know how to play cricket or football, or how to fly a kite? The moment you stop asking questions you are already dead—which is generally what has happened to older people. They have ceased to inquire because their minds are burdened with information, with what others have said; they have accepted and are fixed in tradition. As long as you ask questions you are breaking through, but the moment you begin to accept, you are psychologically dead. So right through life don't accept a thing, but inquire, investigate. Then you will find that your mind is really something quite extraordinary, it has no end, and to such a mind there is no death.
March 21, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink
Ainslie Meares (1910-1986), an unorthodox Australian psychiatrist, placed meditation at the center of his therapeutic treatment. Meares believed that meditation was most effective when pared to its essence, as simple stillness, rather than as a meditative technique.
The biographical note from his book "Life Without Stress" reads:
He worked for thirty years as a psychiatrist and used meditation extensively in the treatment of psychoneurotic and psychosomatic illnesses. In 1976 in the Medical Journal of Australia, he first reported on the regression of cancer following intensive meditation. This step away from orthodox medicine's cancer regime of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery, brought him into direct conflict with the medical profession. However, in 1981 the Lancet published his findings on regression in the absence of any orthodox treatment and eventually his meditative techniques became accepted by the medical profession as a whole, with the exception of the oncologists. Dr. Meares was the author of thirty books on both technical and popular aspects of psychiatry...
In "Life Without Stress," Meares dissects the nature and causes of stress, then prescribes meditation as the antidote. Here, I'll liberally excerpt from the book's chapter on meditation, which gives an overview of his pragmatic approach:
The key to our management of stress lies in those moments when our brain runs quietly in a way that restores harmony of function.... First, there are many different forms of meditation in which the brain functions in quite different ways. I have abundant evidence to show that the form of meditation which I am about to describe is much more effective than other forms in restoring the harmonious brain function that relieves stress.
In classical meditation as in yoga, in Zen Buddhist meditation, and in the meditation as practised by the early Christian mystics, the thought processes of the mind are helped by will power concentrating on some object or spiritual concept. The mind is active, striving to attain and maintain this ideal. In the meditation that I would advise you to practise there is no striving, no activity of brain function, just quietness, a stillness of effortless tranquility.
This is not the tranquility of drowsy somnolence. The mind is clear but still. At first, until the meditator has learned the art of letting his mind run in this way, there will be moments of stillness, but these are soon interrupted by the intrusion of thoughts. Do not try to dispel the thoughts by actively driving them from the mind. Just let them be and they will fizzle out, cease, and stillness will come again. Then thoughts will recur. And again, if they are let alone, the stillness that we want, will become longer and longer.
At the start this process will come and go, very much like the natural rhythms that are all about us, night and day, the tides, our very heartbeat. There may be a tendency for the beginner to get cross with himself with the recurring thoughts. This, of course, brings the meditative process to a halt.
Another error, which may befall the beginner, is a tendency to examine the situation. 'How am I going? Am I doing it properly?' Of course, any enquiry of this nature involves activity of the mind, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid. At the start it is best just to let ourselves experience a sense of being. Just being. Not even being in the room. Not even being alive. Just being. This state of mental activity, or rather inactivity, is a step towards the real stillness of mind experienced in full meditation.... We are seeking a form of relaxation which arises in the brain itself....
In classical meditation the meditator is taught to be constantly aware of his breathing. The breath goes in and out, in and out. The awareness of it means that there is continuing activity of the mind. which means that this process produces a type of meditation quite different from that which I advocate. There is another point. The awareness of our breathing gives the mind something to do, and so reduces the intrusion of thoughts. This makes meditation easier. So those learning to meditate easily fall into the habit of stilling their thoughts in this way. But if we are meditating with awareness of our breathing, our brain never achieves the quiet stillness which is so effective in restoring harmonious function and so relieving stress....
These same principles apply to the technique of visualization.... The main problem that leads people into visualizing is that the inexperienced see it as something practical as opposed to the rather mystical idea of stillness. Visualization is an easy technique as it gives the meditator something to do. This overcomes the initial difficulty of the meditator learning to let his mind run in stillness, but it leads to an inferior type of meditation.
It does not require long periods of meditation to obtain relief from stress. Ten minutes twice a day has produced dramatic relief in some hundreds of people who have consulted me professionally....
As we learn to meditate in this way, it soon becomes a pleasant experience. It is something to which we look forward. This comes with the ease that there is about it. There is no making ourselves relax, no making ourselves meditate. It is all very simple and natural. That is why we soon come to like doing it. Then we come to feel less stressed, and our motivation for our meditation is further increased.
Besides, there are many fringe benefits! The effects of successful meditation flow into our everyday life. Although we may initially have been meditating to control stress or some psychosomatic illness, there are many side-effects, and they are all positive, and all good. They include inner peace, better interpersonal relationships, clearer thinking, increased work capacity - even tycoons agree on this, better sexual relationships due to less tension, absence of disturbing dreams, and smoother physical reactions often shown in better performance in sport.
One of the patients Meares successfully treated for agoraphobia, Pauline McKinnon, went on to become a therapist. Like Meares, she employs meditation as the core of her treatment, calling it Stillness Meditation. Here's an excerpt from an article on McKinnon from the Australian newspaper The Age:
McKinnon says her technique is no technique - no mantra to forget, no breathing rhythms to fumble. After eight years of high anxiety, McKinnon discovered the "stillness" meditation devised by renowned Australian psychiatrist Dr Ainslie Meares 20 years ago. It worked for her and now she's keen to spread the word, through her book, In Stillness Conquer Fear, and her classes - McKinnon even teaches squirmy primary school children to chill.
March 16, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink
I recently discovered Martin LeFevre on the New Zealand web site Scoop. Lefevre writes regular columns on meditation (and politics,) and makes a point of differentiating technique-based meditation from simple, unconstructed awareness. His views complement those of Toni Packer and J. Krishnamurti, as discussed in the last two entries.
The biographical note below his Scoop articles reads:
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years.
Some autobiographical information on his interest in meditation can be drawn from his letter to the editor in an issue of The Link, a quarterly publication discussing Krishnamurti's work.
If you are familiar with Krishnamurti's work you will notice a similarity in the way Lefevre expresses himself. For example, when Lefevre speaks of meditation his descriptions are grounded in references to nature—a motif common in Krishnamurti and Packer's writings:
Obviously, it takes goals, planning, and effort to farm the land or build a house. But goals and effort have no place in spiritual life. Indeed, they are antithetical to inner growth.
New Age or old school techniques of meditation still require intentionality—that is, effort and will. And so they perpetuate division and conflict. But true meditation dissolves the duality between the thought and the thinker, and so dissolves at its source the divisiveness that is destroying humanity.
To awaken observation in which there is no observer, just the action of observing, is a difficult art, but I am sure anyone can do it if they question and experiment within themselves. And when enough people begin to end egoistic activity through right observation, a revolution in human consciousness will ignite.
A cold wind bites into the skin as I ride my bike into the country on winter day in California's Central Valley. A mound of snow shimmers in the distance, beyond the foothills that are beginning to green.
Arriving at the little creek at the edge of town, I find that the recent rains have turned it into a small torrent. A short distance away a great sycamore sweeps upward, its white bark gleaming. The trunk bifurcates, forming an exquisitely symmetrical shape. Black and white magpies squawk from its bare, upper branches.
Under the cobalt sky, meditation comes gently, imperceptibly, and as always, unexpectedly.
[Excerpted from "Dissolving the Roots of Division."]
Related: Articles on meditation by Martin Lefevre at Scoop
March 11, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink
Continuing on the theme of the previous two entries — exploring a meditation free of methods — we'll now take a look at what Toni Packer has to say.
Toni Packer was born in Germany in 1927, escaped to Switzerland with her family amidst the post-war turmoil in 1945, where she met her American husband before moving to the United States. She initially encountered meditation at the Rochester Zen Center in the 1960s. A quick study, she was slated to take over the main teaching responsibilities from the retiring teacher, Philip Kapleau, one of the first Americans to study meditation in Japan. In the midst of this process, her doubts about the formal, institutionalized meditation of the zen center coalesced when she encountered J. Krishnamurti's writings. She left the zen center and with friends founded the Springwater Center, a non-sectarian meditation and retreat center in the Western New York countryside. She continues holding retreats there to this day.
While not so widely known, Toni Packer is perhaps the most direct American meditation teacher living today. On the subject of meditation and meditative techniques she writes (as adapted from a talk):
Being concentrated is not the same as being here, present, and clearly aware. We can practice concentration for years and become highly focused, even perform feats that seem miraculous. But does it help in understanding who we truly are, clearly, directly, beyond the shadow of a doubt? It is hard to put into words, but when this is clear, it is clear. It is not the product of concentration or imagination. I am not knocking concentration. It has its useful function in daily life, in arts, sciences, sports. In the kitchen, if I'm not concentrating, the food will burn. Acrobats need enormous concentration to stay on the highwire, and so do bookkeepers to avoid making mistakes.
It is possible to control the mind with practices like concentrating on the breath, a mantra, a mandala, a spot on the forehead or below the navel. This is concentrating by cutting off distractions. And what do we get in that process? Don't we get a concentrator, either a good or bad one? The effort that comes from the thought of getting someplace or being something reinforces, in subtle ways, the sense of me. It reinforces the me as having to do something, being somebody, attaining something, or still lacking something. These are all ideas and images, deeply programmed and constantly reinforced in the human mind....
Here in the work of this moment we are not trying to mold ourselves to a preconceived path or "stages." Teachings that postulate stages grab the thinking mind. We wonder what these stages are like, and trying to figure them out is an exercise in headaches. Of course the main interest is, "What stage am I in? How many more will I have to go through?"
Can we drop the idea of stages and not pick it up again, even though it is prevalent in many traditions? Can we see and feel that any such conceptualization is already a straightjacket? Thought is so powerful — thinking what I am now, what I will be next, judging myself about what I think I am and what I could be. The power of such thoughts cannot be overestimated. They prevent a presence, an awareness that defies all definition.
We may think that effort is the source of awareness, but in presently awaring this thinking, there is no effort. It's just happening. Listen — rain is gently dropping on the roof, hitting the window panes, breath is flowing, crows are calling. We hear it clearly, don't we? Any effort?
[The Wonder of Presence, pp. 19-22.]
March 7, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink
In our last entry we took a critical look at meditation techniques and methods. Now, let's hear from those who advocate that meditation be free of such systemization. Perhaps the two most eloquent voices on this subject are J. Krishnamurti and Toni Packer. We'll first take a look at Krishnamurti.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was born in India in 1895. He was schooled in India and Britain, and moved to the United States in the 1920s, where he remained based until his death in 1986. As a child he had been groomed by a quasi-religious organization, the Theosophical Society, to carry the mantle as their prophesied "World Teacher." In 1929, he rejected the annointed position, disbanded the organization that had been prepared for him, and famously declared that "Truth is a pathless land." For the next sixty years, he traveled internationally giving thousands of talks on the problems of living from the perspective of a meditative mind. Krishnamurti was adamantly independent of any organization, critical of traditional approaches to meditation, and encouraged listeners to learn by observing their own lives. He published numerous books, and regularly engaged in dialogue with artists, scientists, philosophers, religious figures, and politicians. While he achieved a certain amount of recognition in his lifetime, he remains greatly under-appreciated. Krishnamurti's books are widely available and highly recommended.
Here's a passage in which he discusses meditation in relation to meditation techniques:
There are various schools, in India and further East, where they teach methods of meditation — it is really most appalling. It means training the mind mechanically; it therefore ceases to be free and does not understand the problem.
So when we use the word "meditation" we do not mean something that is practiced. We have no method. Meditation means awareness: to be aware of what you are doing, what you are thinking, what you are feeling, aware without any choice, to observe, to learn. Meditation is to be aware of one's conditioning, how one is conditioned by the society in which one lives, in which one has been brought up, by the religious propaganda — aware without any choice, without distortion, without wishing it were different. Out of this awareness comes attention, the capacity to be completely attentive. Then there is freedom to see things as they actually are, without distortion. The mind becomes unconfused, clear, sensitive. Such meditation brings about a quality of mind that is completely silent — of which quality one can go on talking, but it will have no meaning unless it exists.
March 4, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink
Meditation is usually taught as a technique or method. Examples of techniques are visualization, mental repetition of a word, or concentration on the breath. The common element among such methods is the concentration of the mind on an object — an image, a word, the breath. By concentrating on an object, distractions are eliminated and the mind is made quiet.
In such technique-based meditation the mind is used to quieten the mind. But if it takes mental activity in the form of directed concentration to achieve and maintain this quiet, is the mind really still? Let's look at this more closely. A common meditation technique is to concentrate on or "follow" the breath. According to this method, we focus on the sensations of the breath as it enters and exits the nose. Inevitably we become distracted by a train of thought. Upon noticing our distraction, as instructed, we return our attention to the breath. The repetition of this process is the meditation practice itself.
J. Krishnamurti takes issue with such an approach, making the case that technique-based forms of meditation are just a form of concentration, and not authentic meditation:
Is meditation something you practise? Is meditation something that somebody says, 'Meditate and you will get this' — whether it is transcendental meditation or the meditation of a particular system, and so on, the Zen meditation and all that. A system, a practice, a goal, an end to be achieved. Right? This is what you call meditation. And to achieve that end you follow a system of daily practice. You know what happens when you practise something over and over and over again? You become mechanical, your mind becomes dull, insensitive...
So we think meditation is a process by which we can attain understanding, enlightenment, something beyond man's thought. This is generally what we mean by meditation. Right? Have you practised meditation, any of you? No? You have. What for? And you have practised it, learning to control thought. Right? And you have never gone into the question: who is the controller. Right? Who is the controller that is controlling thought? Is the controller different from the controlled? Or the controller is the controlled? You are following all this? So first you divide the controller and the controlled. Right? First you divide it, and the controller then controls, tries to hold thought in a particular direction. But the thought that wanders off, is that different from the entity that is trying to control that particular thought that is going off? Have you understood my question? Are they not both the same? Which is, thought.
So meditation is to understand the proper place, or where thought belongs. You have understood? Without control. Have you ever tried to live a daily life without a single control? You haven't. And when you go into this problem of meditation, you have to understand why man has developed this sense of controlling everything, controlling his thoughts, his desires, his pursuits — why? And that is called — part of it — concentration. Right? You know what happens when you concentrate? You are building a wall of resistance. Aren't you? Within which you say, I must concentrate on that, and therefore push everything else aside. Which is to exercise will, to hold thought in a particular direction. And will is the expression, the essence of desire. And in concentration there is conflict going on. Your thought wanders off, all over the place, and you bring it back. Keep up this game. So you have never asked why thought should be controlled at all. The mind chatters endlessly. And to find out what part, or the right place for thought, not controlling thought, it's right place. You are following all this? Then if you have an insight, if you see where thought belongs then there is no problem of control of thought.
And as there has been no system, no practice, no control of thought, then you have to find out what it means to be attentive. What does it mean to attend? You see attention means, if you have gone into it very deeply, as we are going into it, if we can, attention implies an observation without the centre. You have understood? The centre as the 'me', as my desire, my fulfilment, my anxiety, when you are attending, which means giving your nerves, your eyes, your ears, everything you have, that total energy, in that attention there is no centre as 'me'. You see that? Now, just experiment with what is being said. Are you attending now? That is, are you listening completely? Listen which means not interpreting, not translating, not trying to understand what he is saying, but the act of total listening. If you are, there is only that sense of hearing without a single movement of thought.
[Excerpted from a public talk on April 20, 1975.]
Concentrative practices may affect the mind and have a utilitarian function, but they remain within the realm of mental conditioning. Such practices are different from the non-divided meditation of which Krishnamurti, among others, speaks.
As we noted, the approach to meditation that is based in techniques is widespread. Whether in books about meditation or at a meditation center, it's the form most commonly presented. So who are the advocates of a meditation free of methods? We'll discuss this question in our next entry.