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Meditation Techniques

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.

March 1, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink


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