Monthly Archives: May 2010

Be still and know that I am ..

      Meditation seem a big thing in buddhism. Everyone seem to talk about it and very few actually sit. Many misconception surrounds meditation. We often believe that we can get peace of mind, the stillness of mind when we meditate but in truth we can only meditate when we have peace of mind.  The noble 8-fold path was designed by budda precisely to achieve this. Only with the peace of mind of an ethical conduct can we achieve meditative state that will lead to liberation. A non-ethical mind can never find peace. It is always finding ways and means to prop up the ego base, to appear good and honourable and to be accepted by others.

      Every spiritual tradition that I know of spoke of this stillness. We often mistake this stillness for the stillness of the mind where there’s no more thoughts. Thoughtlessness brought about by forced of concentration (jhana) is NOT meditation and will not lead to liberation. Such thoughtlessness, while pleasant and blissful, dulls the mind. We become stupefied by the dalliance of bliss, calmness, colour and possibly even smell.

      How then do we become still ? The key lies in awareness. The teaching of satipathana sutta is the key teaching that will help us develop this awareness and through awareness stillness is seen.  But before we can get down to the mechanics of this meditation we have to know what is awareness and what is stillness. Without knowing it we will never have the requisite feedback to know if we are doing it correctly.

     Buddha was asked once what was the difference between awareness and concentration and buddha gave the example of holding up a cup of water that is filled to the brim. We hold it in front of us and then walk up a mountain side(according to tibetan buddhist story – zen has a different version and so does the amitabha group). The focus of the mind on the brim helps us to adjust ourselves to prevent spillage. The peripheral vision provide us with sense objects but the mind is on AWARE of its presence but is unable to interpret it and therefore do not KNOW what it is. If it knows what the object is then the mind had darted over to it, interpreted it. We have then lost our awareness in our "knowing". 

      This is where many hinaya teachings on the satipathana sutta became distorted. There is the believe that "knowing" mentioned in the sutta means perception and therefore labelling it is a legitimate technique to cultivate awareness and thence insight. But the complete sentence in the sutta was "know the body in the body", "feeling in the feeling", "perception in perception" etc. Labelling a body sensation with the perceptual faculty would be to place the body in the perception ; contravening what buddha wanted us to "know". 

      The example given by buddha on what awareness means is very clear. It is the state where our consciousness stop to project or are captivated by the objects that arise from the senses, the feeling skandha, the perception skandha and the volition skandha. Let’s take an example.

     If we stand on the side of a street, we have people and cars all moving pass in front of us. If we see a foxy lady and our mind says wow! she’s beautify we have engaged our consciousness with the external object by projecting on to it our opinion. Beauty is from our mind and not from the object. If we follow her and entertain all manner of naughty thoughts then our consciousness is captivated by the desires that arose in us. The desires again is from our side and not from the external object.

     If all the people who pass us by are strangers then most of the time our consciousness don’t engage them unless something out of the ordinary jars us out of our "stupor". Such a mind is not aware. It is dulled by boredom and self-absorption of the thoughts that emerge randomly in our mindstream. When someone we know came into view immediately there’s recognition and our mind take on a different train of thought. Our consciousness is drawn by this new sensation. 

     Meditative awareness is sensitive, alive, open and free. Only with this awareness can we know what is stillness. So where can we find stillness ?

     We can go to a mountain overlooking a bright open expanse. The breeze is blowing gently and the eagle soar gracefully overhead. Within this scenic atmosphere there is a stillness.

      We can go to the side of a roaring volcano where all lifeforms are retreating in great haste to safety. There were much fear and trepidation and even the trees sway in great apprehension. Within all the turbulence there is stillness.

      We next find our way to a mountain stream with water falling in thunderous applause on to the valley below. In the quiet recesses in one corner was a insect skirting on the water surface. The sun was glaring down with great intensity. In the midst of all the symphonic movements of nature there is stillness.

        Coming home to a city in a busy thoroughfare. Impatient drivers were swerving in and out of the traffic lane. And irate drivers were blaring away with their horns. And sweet and sickly smelling ladies with their cheap perfume were quickly making their way through the crowd to get home. In all the haste and heightened pace of life there’s stillness.

        What is this stillness that only our pristine awareness can discern ? In fact it is the discernment of this stillness of all of life and reality that is the true measure of this meditative awareness. This awareness never chooses, never engage, never project and is never captivated and therefore always free. This is pristine awareness that leads to insight and to liberation – it is sensitive, vibrant, alert and full of live and death. We can never have life without death. But you may argue that this is a paradox because how could an alert and sensitive consciousness be still ?  Even when there’s a lot of thoughts the consciousness can still be in a state of pristine awareness when we do not project on to the thoughts, engage and chase after it. All the thoughts rise, remain and fall dependent on conditions and causes. When this happens the volition skandha is de-activated and no emotions, no volition and therefore no karma will be created.  It is this state that we read in diamond sutra that "we should give rise to a thought that rest no where." Or in the Song of Mahamudra according to Tilopa :

      Mahamudra is beyond all words and symbols,
          but for you, Naropa, earnest and loyal, must this be said :

                     The void needs no reliance,
                          Mahamudra rests on nought.

                      Without making an effort, but remaining loose and natural,
                           one can break the yoke – thus gaining liberation.

      Why is pristine awareness sensitive, alert etc ?  Let’s consider what happen when we are not in this state. If we look at a beautifully decorated ice-cream we feel delight. Here our consciousness is engaged with one sense object. When we start to eat it our consciousness is again engaged. When desires arose and thoughts that threatened to make us feel guilty our consciousness are captivated by these desire and hatred. In short when we focused or pay attention to only one sense object at a time we unconsciously shut out all the rest. This is why our consciousness is not alive and is sleeping within the confine of its thoughts and sense objects.

       But if we can disentangle our consciousness from sense objects our consciousness become free…our whole being come alive and tingle and become vibrant even up to the cellular level – we become one with all of life. Then and only then will this stillness be seen for the first time. This is mahamudra – the great perfection, the great peace – the consciousness without limit.

        Be still and you will know…….