BEFORE RUSHING INTO ANYTHING, it is advisable to do some research; this applies to spiritual matters no less than to material concerns, for if we rush into things, we might go wrong for a long time, suffering as a result, and regretting it later on. Some time given to the investigation of things would probably be well-spent.

We seem to have a propensity to grasp onto things, thereby becoming stuck. Perhaps it is the fragility and insecurity of life that compels us to hold onto things as a means of support and defense, much like the proverbial drowning man clutching at straws. We hold onto ideas, concepts and beliefs more firmly than to material things; for example, we can go through life holding the same beliefs, little changed, but might move house several times, have many cars, selling one and buying another, and even get divorced a few times, like some movie-stars. We crave psychological more than material security, but this is not surprising, as security is really a state of mind, and if we do not feel secure mentally, no amount of material possessions can compensate for it. If we feel insecure, we grope around looking for someone or something to support us; we worry, doubt, and ask people if they really do love us— parents, children, husbands, wives, friends— and become tedious thereby. To feel insecure is quite horrible, and leads to many other negative and undesirable states of mind. How is it possible to be happy if we feel insecure?

The last few years have seen an upsurge of interest in meditation; meditation has become popular, as if it’s something new that we’ve never known before. Many of us plunge into practicing meditation without much understanding or preparation, and often either out of greed to attain something we’ve heard may be attained, or from fear of not attaining it and thus remaining as we are— the prospects of which are not very appealing— or of even slipping back. Unaware that meditation, in a sense, is something ordinary that we’ve been doing— or that has been going on in our minds— ever since we began to think, we dive headlong into all kinds of practices which we have been told, and so believe, will lead us to Enlightenment. Eagerly we begin, but lacking a firm foundation in ourselves, many soon grow discouraged when we get no quick results, and easily quit. Others continue, convinced that the path we are on is the right one, merely because it is our path. Because we so desperately want to attain something, it often happens that we bring about a self-projected end, and see just what we want to see, ignoring everything else. Some of us are so impatient for results that we can think of nothing else, and either become fanatics about it or/and ‘blow a fuse’ and short-circuit, becoming mentally deranged. Many get stuck on what we consider to be the correct posture for meditation, and insist that it be done in the lotus position, with right hand on left hand, thumb-tip lightly touching thumb-tip, eyes down-cast and half-closed, fixed on a point just in front, etc. Somewhat naughtily, perhaps, I like to ask: "If a person has lost his legs, and cannot sit in the lotus-posture as a result, does it mean he cannot meditate?" The mind is not in the legs, is it?

Now, I’m not implying we shouldn’t sit in meditation in this manner, and that it is all a waste of time, for it does have its benefits, as long as we are careful how we go about it, and know why we wish to do this particular thing. We must be careful not to defeat our own aim, which we would if we set about meditation with the idea of becoming enlightened or gaining insight thereby, for meditation like this has a center— the self, or the one who is meditating— and whatever has a center will also have a circumference, even if it is a million miles away. And so, starting off with self at the center, we will ultimately meet self again at the circumference, and lo! will be back where we began, and still in Samsara.

Though it is useful as a disciplinary exercise of the mind, it will not lead to enlightenment if we are looking for it, for when we look for something, we do so with an image or idea in mind of what we are looking for. This is fine if we already know what we are looking for, because then we will recognize it if/when we come across it. But since we have not yet any knowledge or experience of enlightenment— full enlightenment, anyway, if there is such a thing— how shall we begin to look for and recognize it? This is the problem that the practice of meditation gives rise to.

But there is a kind of meditation that has no center and therefore no circumference, that is not practiced or done, but which, rather, comes to us, or creeps up on us when we are not looking for or expecting it. It is hard to say if there are any conditions for its arising— and better not to say, as people would try to create those conditions in the hope that the meditation would automatically follow as a result, and thus, once again, it would be a manufactured thing with a center. It seems to come when we are at ease with our surroundings, at peace with the world, not worrying about anything, not looking for anything, when the mind is calm and clear, when we are sensitive, open and receptive, when joy is near the surface.

But, though I have named some of the factors that appear to be present when this meditative state arises, I must stress that it cannot be produced, that it is not within our capacity to ‘make it happen,’ and in that sense, we— that is, the ‘I’ in us— cannot become enlightened. "Why not?" you might ask; "Then what is the point of following the Dharma?" You see? Just look at the nature of this question: clearly, it reveals the desire to get something out, without which there would be considerable doubt and hesitation about following the Way. "If I’m not going to get anything out, then why should I bother to live by the Dharma? I may as well live without restraint, having a good time and enjoying myself!" Clearly, those who think like this— and it is not rare— are wrongly motivated. Why follow Dharma? Because it is the natural thing to do once we have seen how life is; it is not a matter of getting something out, but of putting something in.

Why do I say we cannot become enlightened? Simply because enlightenment has no room for self; the idea of ‘self,’ as opposed to ‘others,’ must dissolve and disappear for enlightenment to arise, or, to put it another way: enlightenment burns out and destroys the concept of self. Whichever way we look at it, selfishness and enlightenment cannot co-exist in the same mind; one of them must dominate, and we all know which one usually does. Krishnamurti once put it this way: "To talk of so-and-so ‘attaining liberation’ is a misuse of terms. That which is liberated is always life, not the individual. Indeed, it is at the expense of the individual that such liberation is achieved."

Many of us go about meditation in a materialistic way: wishing to attain something, to get something out. It would be better, before we begin anything, to examine our motives for doing it; it might save us a lot of time and trouble.

Meditation is really a way of learning about life— life as it is, and not how we wish it to be. This requires we look with dispassionate minds, just to see what is here, instead of imposing our values and opinions on things, and saying things like ‘This is good/bad,’ ‘This is nice/not nice,’ ‘I like/ dislike this/that,’ etc. A good exercise is to look closely at something that one was formerly afraid of— if anything— such as a snake or spider, for example, and observe it doing what it does. The more carefully one observes it, the more closely one will feel with it, and in so doing, might realize that the fear of it has quietly ebbed away, replaced with a feeling of rapport, of atonement— ‘at-one-ment’— with it; one has entered into the spirit of the thing observed, and the fear of it that was formerly there has gone.

As we grow older, we tend to lose our spirit of inquiry, and become weighed down by the cares and concerns of the world; our vitality dries up, and we become like old bamboo, stiff and dry, and set in our ways. Yet is this inevitable? Must it be so? Have we no control at all over it?

It is vital to maintain our interest in life, and our research into it, so that our inquiries sink down into the subconscious, or deeper part of the mind, and go on there, even during sleep. Meditation is not just something that takes place when we sit in a special posture, but is something that can go on anywhere, at any time. It is a matter of learning about life, of seeing it as it really is, instead of wishing it would conform to our desires. We are all parts of life, fragments of the whole; we belong to life, rather than it belongs to us. If life were really ours, we could say, with all certainty, "I’m not going to grow old, get sick, or die." But the fact that we do grow old (if we are lucky), get sick, and die, shows that life is not ours, as a possession; on the contrary: we are Life’s! To recognize and accept this puts us in a different position: we will no longer pit ourselves against life, but will accept the way things are and align ourselves more closely with reality; our efforts will thereafter not be spent in struggling against the inevitable, but in working in co-operation with what cannot be changed. Needless to say, this requires wisdom, and not just a complacent acceptance of things. We must have wisdom to know what can and what cannot be changed. Meditation yields insight into the realities of life.

When we are very interested in something it is easy for the mind to stay focussed, whereas if we are not interested, the mind easily strays. This is the key we need: interest. Most of us are only superficially interested— if at all— in finding out what is true; because of this, we jump around like grasshoppers, from one teacher to another, from this method to that, and get very little for our efforts; we look outside of ourselves, and expect others to provide answers for us, to tell us what to do— in other words: to think for us. But how can this be?

Below is a picture of the Buddha preaching His first sermon to the five ascetics or yogis in the Deer Park at Sarnath, near Benares in northern India; it is a very illustrative picture, and much might be learned from it.

The yogis are not all sitting in the same meditation posture, like statues, but are relaxed— relaxed, but at the same time, attentive. They would not have been thinking of the past, of the future, or even of the present; nor would they have been thinking of or practicing meditation. They would have been in the present, would have been in meditation, and the meditation they were in would have no center and no circumference. I feel quite confident that most people have, at times, experienced this kind of unproduced meditation, even if they did not recognize it as such. As the Buddha spoke about the Four Noble Truths, one of the yogis— Kondanya, by name— understood, and the Buddha could see it, not just with His mental powers but with His normal vision, because when someone understands deeply and clearly, it shows on his face (I have seen it once, and it is a most remarkable and unforgettable sight, like a light shining outwards). He said: "Kondanya has understood! Kondanya has understood!" During the following days, the other yogis also became enlightened through listening to the Buddha speak. If we, by reason or effort, cannot reach Enlightenment, it is within our capacity to develop interest in life, in Dharma, to become more sensitive and receptive, to open the doors of our hearts and minds, to be watchful and alert. It is possible. Reality is all around and within us, never absent for a moment.

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