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Toni Packer on Meditation

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.]


Toni Packer's books at

Web site for the Springwater Center, where Toni Packer leads meditation retreats

Interview with Toni Packer as reprinted from Tricycle magazine

Yoga Journal article on Toni Packer

Shambhala Sun article on Toni Packer

Reprint of a chapter from Toni Packer's book "The Wonder of Presence" in the Shambhala Sun

Reprint of a chapter from Toni Packer's book "The Wonder of Presence" on Beliefnet


Toni Packer on the sense of self

March 7, 2005 | Meditation | Permalink


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