The practice of Meditation has been present in history since human appearance on earth. We know of the discovery of an ancient artifact of a pyramid roughly in human form: a meditator, sitting in the classic position. In this area, the traditions are many and the differences dependent on cultural and historical structures that do not invest core meditative processes: what changes are only the methods of approach and subsequent interpretations of the experiences obtained. The philosophies, religions and theologies, in fact, belong to the multiple and conflicting “world of the mind“, where meditation tends to emerge into the space of experience that is defined from time to time, as our “original nature”, the “primordial self” , the “pure awareness”, “being naked and simple”, “the state of no influence”, “the enlightenment”, Samadhi, and Nirvana.
Let us explain some things to clear this concept from some preconceptions and clichés. Firstly, meditation is not a prayer, at least in the sense of reciting prayers as we understand it today. When the term is mentioned in the Vedas, it means the sense of the evocative power with which man moves in the dimension of transcendence and comparison to the divinity. Vedic prayer, in fact, is not a simple repetition of words, a spell or a prayer, but rather a process that involves progressive stages of deep absorption which requires a purification of the whole being, which finally culminates in an illuminating elevation. We are therefore already in the field of meditation.
Secondly, meditation is not a state of reflection on abstract concepts, however elevated. When, in the Christian tradition, for example, you use the term “meditation,” it means just as a reflection, the activity of the thinking mind, concentrated on an idea or a theological or metaphysical problem. The true meditation, in fact, is exactly the opposite, namely, the interruption of mental activity, whether mechanical or conscious – the cessation of thought, a state of emptiness that allows access to a “different space”.
Finally, meditation is not even comparable to a concept of contemplation. In this case, in fact – as in the Sufi tradition, and also in Christian mysticism – you log on to an inner state so greatly vast, and merge with a spiritual principle which would cause the practitioner to identify with it. But this is still an emotional state, and almost certainly very dilated and depersonalized, and which still contains forms of separate ego.
Meditation according to the Vedas and Upanishads
One theory traces the origin of Meditation to about 5,000 years ago, to the Vedas, the ancient texts of Indian wisdom expressed in the form of myths and symbols, and is a practical key to relate to the Divine.
It progresses one through a route of different levels of absorption depths, which requires a purification of the whole being and culminates in a high illumination, through the power evocative of the prayer with which the person reaches the measure of transcendence.
It is probable, that in ancient times were also used substances, practices and techniques that favored status changes. Meditation techniques can be grouped into three categories ;
– Meditation mantra, based on repetition of words, phrases, chants, prayers, invocations, and praise.
– Visual meditation based on the gaze of icons of deities or their symbols.
– Meditation that combines heart and mind, based on a concept that can entirely absorb the attention of the meditator. From this fusion, clairvoyance deepens.
According to the ancient sacred texts of the Rigveda, to meditate means to suspend the activities of the mind, which may mislead one from finding the real man. This eliminates the effort to believe what one is and allows one to meet with his inner divinity.
But the meditation proposed in the Vedas, is later defined in the ancient sacred texts of the Upanishads, born as a commentary and conclusion of the Vedas and expressed in direct language. In the Upanishad, the Divine is already within us, and the distinction is clear between the psycho-physical “I ” and the “I” or spiritual self. Only this knowledge can lead man on the path of liberation from karma , freeing it from masks and blockages.
The mind which is engaged in deviant cognition, distorts things and gets lost in myriad words and concepts, instead of reaching the essence of things. Thence, the opposition and the continuing drain of ourselves in an effort at deception leads to the loss of our identity and a sense of emptiness, with the anxieties and fears. The way out of this situation of suffering and meditation, which suspends the activities of the mind and brings us falsely to find ourselves and the Divine within us, is the energy from our own inner power. Reintegrated with this energy, we have to meditate on its beauty, integrate it within us in our thoughts, so as to transform it into an enlightened view of reality. This knowledge is the door to the path of liberation from karmic ties.
The “I” outside the man is the product of the family, genetic inheritance, and environment, while his spiritual self is uncontaminated and unconditional. The individual self that is in us is part of the Cosmic Self, where it has its roots, and which includes All. Within us, here and now are the answers to the questions: “who are we?”, and “where do we come from?”The truth can be known through an inner experience, because it is within us. And we must also merge the masculine with the feminine part of ourselves to regain our original unit.
Summing up all the ideas in these texts, following different meditative practices, we arrive at a state of non-thinking which allows us to understand the fundamental truths of the human condition. And this knowledge must be “experienced.”
Meditation according to Buddhism
2500 years ago, during the Buddha’s life, meditation was practiced according to various traditions. He experimented with some methods, but without the satisfaction he wanted to eliminate suffering from the world permanently, through a radical change of the human condition.
The Buddha’s epiphany came during the now famous meditation under the Bo tree. What is significant is that under the tree, he started to meditate spontaneously, driven by a very strong inner need – not during a class, not through will, but from a strong , authentic desire within. The classes had given him the basics, intended to follow the will, but the real meditation was born from within him. In that meditation, he thought in length of what he had done, and then started to keep his thoughts from the outside, as if they belonged to others. Things appeared to have no content, only existing as interdependent effects of a gigantic process: even the “I” appeared as a temporary aggregate of functions: the essence of all phenomena is emptiness, that’s why efforts to be something fail. The fruit of his meditation was not the result of an effort to achieve something, but a real inner need. Effort has become the main obstacle to being the man himself.
For Buddhism, good intentions and right behavior are not enough to reach a state of Enlightenment. We also need a clear understanding and a penetrating awareness, lack of egocentrism and a constant meditation. The Buddhist scriptures distinguish between “arhat”, one who has attained enlightenment, but doesn’t help others to obtain it, and “Bodhisattva,” one who has attained enlightenment and seeks to help others to obtain it. This important difference has given rise to two currents of core Buddhism: Hinayana or Small Vehicle, and Mahayana, or Great Vehicle. The latter is based on the concept that the bodhisattva waives entrance into Nirvana and remains in the cycle of reincarnation to help other sentient beings to reach enlightenment. The bodhisattva would communicate and transmit a teaching which is not defined or conceptual, which is not possible to be expressed in words, but can be achieved only through experience. So, he remains a mediator between man and the truth, as the embodiment of the message, and gives to the word measure that it cannot have, because it is not enough only knowing the way, but we must also embrace it.
The bodhisattva is a help, but can also be an obstacle when the student surrenders to a contact person like his teacher, when there is no content realization. For this reason, the Zen warns: “If you meet Buddha, kill him.” The Great Vehicle favors a gradual liberation by devotion, ethics, compassion, reflection, and mental stillness, while the Small Vehicle favors the possibility of an immediate implementation of the mindfulness, awareness, and intuition. The Methods of Meditation of these two ways are similar and are preceded by 7 basic points, which are intended to prepare the student for meditation through behaviors, knowledge, and purification , and with meditation is the Eightfold Path:
– Right opinion, that knows the true reality of things
– Right thinking or right intention, namely attitudes marked by compassion and harmony, selflessness and emotion
– Right speech, that is, in strict truth
– Right action, ie. not do any act in any way that may create pain
– The right way to live, that is, not to take unnecessary actions
– Right effort, namely to combat the evil which exists and work to prevent it
– Straight memory, or recall the fundamental truths
– Right meditation, or meditation that gives strength to the seven paths above. This is the point that distinguishes Buddhism from other ways which are full of precepts, rules and commandments, from paths paved with good intentions, but unable to transform the personality. The Meditation is that which allows these items to penetrate deeply into the pupil’s being, to direct his life and to promote its substantive change.
Buddha has merged elements of various traditions of meditation techniques that allow the switch from utterance, knowledge, and intellectual understanding to reach the Realization.
Meditation according to the Tao
The Tao Te Ching, is the fundamental book attributed to Lao Tzu, a master who lived in the 6th century BC. The Tao is the “ultimate unknowable“ that cannot be defined, but which allows the knowledge. It is the perpetual change, the continuous transformation from non-being to being and being into non-being.
The man who is not able to observe what happens, notices, reflects, meditates, and who uses the will without regard to the circumstances, who lives according to rationality, rigid will to power, bewildered by too many words and opinions, eventually will fail in his efforts.
Everything is in progress – each pole is alternated with its opposite. Everything, every event is conditioned by another and influences others. The Taoist knows that all Will, effort, desire, and ambition, activates the opposite force – opposites generate each other. Each thing that happens has a meaning in relation to the whole, and has a feature within the Creation and life.
The fundamental principle of Taoism is not acting against nature, but to pander to the events. The attitude of the hardness of the reaction of the conquest, of force and power are always losers. So, do not fight, but join, do not impose, avoid collisions, and best to stop.
The Taoist meditation asks us to seek the total emptiness, to forget everything and join with what is all- encompassing. The substance of things is a core of emptiness is the not being, but which gives form. For Taoism, emptiness is a continuum, an immortal and indestructible field of action.
The road is indefinable, always changing, but you can reach it: there are always signals that allow the careful observer to figure out which direction he is going toward, what results he is going to encounter, and which behavior is preferable. From this concept is born the I Ching, or Book of Changes, which allows us to investigate events in order to know them and use them.
The technique of meditation is the difficult art of non-intervention, non-action, and the observation made on tiptoe to avoid disturbing events, but which leads us to know them, join them and be supported by them.
Meditation according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Patanjali lived in the 2nd century BC and made the first attempt to summarize the Yoga teachings. He started from a philosophical base that gives us a classification of structures of the world, both material and spiritual. He did not believe that only metaphysical knowledge can lead a man to liberation, but indicated that there is also an ascension and meditating way. It is necessary to stop the mental activity, so that one can achieve that physiological technique that may replace the normal state of consciousness- a state of understanding and identification of metaphysical reality. In practice, to achieve a state of freedom from ignorance, errors in knowledge and the resulting suffering, one must follow the eight stages of Rajayoga, as described in the Yoga Sutras: moral requirements, disciplinary requirements, physical postures, breath control, control of emotions, concentration, meditation, cessation of mental activity and the achievement of illumination. In practice, the Yogi is free from any obstacles in this life and must return to the original condition that is Divine.
About 15 centuries ago, Bodhidharma, the Indian master of meditation, went to China to bring his techniques that have taken the name of “Zen”. At that time, Chinese Buddhism was rich in ceremonies, rituals, gods to be worshiped, dogmas, sacred texts, but poor in content. Bodhidharma brought a renewed spirit, necessary and healthy for that time and place.
Metaphysics and morality are products of the mind and the mind is the main obstacle to achieving Enlightenment. The Zen, as a technique that abolishes any tinsel, externality, tradition, and philosophy, is the essence of meditation – meditation as direct absorption. The thought of something can never be the same thing. Any instrument of observation interferes with the observed object, so also the mind superimposes its cognitive categories to known objects. So, the Zen Meditation goes straight to the source of the spirit, the original face of each of us, to the core of the not- thinking that generates thought.
Rigor and simplicity are its prerogatives. According to the Zen, the only possible way is to eliminate thinking to be able to see without it, because the awakening occurs with direct contact with things stripped of concepts and meanings.
The Zen teaching is transmitted from master to student, from spirit to spirit, not on verbal bases, because in that discipline, any concept can represent the reality. Besides, even the Buddha didn’t like philosophical disquisition, and Lao-Tzu said: “Who knows the Tao does not speak and who speaks doesn’t know.” The Koan are the tools of Zen practice – and are a kind of non-sense logical propositions, which aim to understand that reason is unable to solve the core problems of self-knowledge.
The Koan is used to destroy reason and is to show the limitations of the mind. Indeed, no discourse, however lengthy, leads to any solution, but with long reflection on the Koan, a pupil reaches the emptiness of mind, the state of not thinking – when he can receive the enlightenment.
Some methods used by Zen aim to highlight the contradictions and limits of mind and bring the intellectual tension to a breaking point where reason stops by itself, because it is no longer able to continue.
Even the Old Testament refers to meditation techniques and the prophetic schools. The prophets used harps, drums, and flutes and reached the ecstasy – the descent of the Spirit upon them.
The Hebrew prophet is the man who, inspired by God, seeks to restore the ancient purity in the religion and Jewish meditation, created by the word of God – an absolute God who does not like half measures, and for this , requires total dedication.
But the interpretation of a revelation made with the human language, with all its limitations, requires a great task. From this need came the Kabbalah, as a system of interpretation of sacred texts, which constituted the most important mystical and esoteric tradition of Jewish history. The sacred texts are considered a manifestation of the Divine, God’ s word crystallized into the written word. Thus, each name and each letter is a concentration of transcendent energy and has different meanings beyond any literal interpretation. Thus, each prayer, every repetition of a sacred name becomes a sort of Mantra – a higher vibration. Therefore, the Meditation is a mystical action that stimulates the creative power, rebuilds the original unity destroyed by sins. The “fallen“ soul, through the practice of the meditation, can trace the reverse path of materialization, proceeding towards spirituality.
In practice, the man, observing himself from the outside with detachment, arrives at a higher level of consciousness that, if maintained long enough, leads to access to higher levels; This can be achieved with the help of a teacher who uses traditional prayers and rituals, not only as representation but as an incentive to put into action the transcendent forces which would otherwise remain inactive.
In the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, there is confirmation that meditation is considered a way to get in touch with the Divinity which exists in all religions.
Jesus, with his critical attitude towards the Pharisees, indicates the rejection of a formal and external religiosity to encourage the search for God in our inner life: the Kingdom of Heaven is within us and also the “hidden treasure “ is near to us. The rapport between man and God is based on devotion, which is a form of meditation. Also, prayer and spiritual attention leads to a total union with God: “Awake, O sleeper, and Christ will shine on you.” The Christian Meditation brings us to rediscover in ourselves the divine spirit: we are children of God and, if we are his children, we are already his heirs and fellow heirs with Christ. The meditative prayer, whose goal is enlightenment and contemplation of God, was the preferred Meditation of Jesus, who both asked us to pray “in secret” and “not to multiply the words.” It is a method to communicate with the Divine, not to ask for something, but for a continuous, constant dialogue with God that is within us.
Eastern Christianity, which considers the contemplative and the mystics as the highest expression of spirituality, has much in common with Eastern meditation practices: detachment from externality, purification and concentration on returning to possess ourselves and all our powers. Western Christianity has always suspected these mystics as beings capable of withdrawing from the authority of the Church. Despite this, there are mystics in the Western Church that passed through the experience of Eastern meditation techniques. These include first of all, Augustine who, before converting to Christianity, practiced Manichaeism and studied Neo-Platonism. There are many saints who have left us very important and always relevant lessons: Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, and St John of the Cross, and others.
Islamic meditation is mainly in the form of mysticism known as Sufism. According to this tradition, the spiritual way may be embraced by those who do not need for anything, except God. Sufi is the one whose ego dies and is reborn to the truth. Sufism is a direct way to transcendence and therefore a denial of religious formalism, liturgy, and repetitive ritual.
To find God we must free ourselves from constraints, ties, possessions and all psychological identifications. The Islamic Meditation tries to get in touch with the transcendent and to remain in that state. The Sufi teachers try to awaken the soul from human sleep through mental shock and paradoxes through educational stories, legends, and aphorisms that may suddenly reveal hidden meanings.
There are several Masters and Sufi schools, which arose because of their charisma which is transmitted, not only through concepts and principles, but through students who become involved in the powers of their Master. This is why their teachings are kept secret or hidden behind hermetic symbolism to conceal them from those who are unable to interpret them correctly. Secrecy and fraternities organized in concentric circles (exoteric, mesoteric, esoteric) allowed them to survive despite numerous persecutions.
The Koran often stressed the importance of meditation as prayer and remembrance of the constant presence of God and as a psychological preparation to accept her.
But…. what is the core of Meditation???
From the perspective of human history, what we know of meditation comes to us from ancient Vedantic traditions related to knowledge (the Vedas and Upanishads of India), the Persian teachings of Zoroaster, and that of the Tantric vision, which also comes from ancient India.
Such knowledge is sometimes fused with each other, as well as at other times, one has drawn upon the other. Moreover, since meditation is an existential experience which requires direct experimentation, it is hardly “inexplicable.” So, every individual who has experienced this state throughout the millennia has not bothered to forward it to others, nor has taken a particular expression which can be understood on many levels.
This is the case of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who received an extremely sophisticated vision – also very “technical” and analytical, in some ways – which is going to be the foundation of what is now widely known as a religion- Buddhism.
It is very difficult to explain in words what meditation is: it is a state of being that, rather than described, it should be experienced. What can be expressed, if anything, is the “how” to get there, what is the description of techniques, namely the means to access that experiential state.
How can one, then, “stop the mind”? How can one get to a state of ‘mental silence’ that seems to be the exact negation of the very nature of the mind which is always in motion? How can we inhibit the impulse to action, the “interior monologue”, the flow of thoughts that mechanically crowd the mind continuously without interruption?
I believe it is the common experience of having lived moments in a natural setting, in the presence of a sunset, a clear moonlit night, a calm sea that “breathes”, or a chain of mountains still and silent. Is it not easier to experience a state of calm, a depletion of thoughts and concerns, a more harmonious state of pleasure and well-being, when everything calms down? Has it not occurred “naturally”?
Well, this happens because nature is harmony and perfection of itself and us and when we are close to perfection, we are well, we feel reassured, more quiet and relaxed. Even our body, by its nature, is part of this perfection. From the onset, it is ordered according to the laws of universal harmony, perfect in its proportions and its processes and vital in its originality within its own membership of species. It is like a rose, a living organism, or an ecosystem more complex. Breathe like the sea, the wind in the trees, or the alternation between day and night …
In order to establish a state of wellness and harmony in any context, it is therefore necessary that our mind is connected to the body, which is an expression of the harmony of nature. We must start from the body, granting to it, its natural rhythm, to listen to it and to allow it to be free to express itself.
This is possible through a technical discipline (understood not as an element of coercion, but as education for work ordered and desired), that allows us to observe without interfering, to learn – not abstractly – to recognize what already naturally “is”. The technique is simply this: to make a conscious process that is already balanced by itself, without having to seek explanations elsewhere.
What connects the mind and body is the breath. Not the mechanical breath with which we are accustomed, and to which we are not aware, but “knowingly” in which the mind is always, moment by moment, aware of what it is doing – consciously, that is ” breathing”
.Our breath flows slowly, agitated, frantic, deep, light, short, without us – from within – you do something to intervene or, simply, it “plays” and then with a certain confidence, you “interrogate “.
It is impressive. Without the breath we can endure only a few minutes, and then our lives – the most precious asset we have – ceases. Yet, we tend to give much more emphasis on food, clothing, pleasure, on pleasing others …
The influence of breathing on each individual is great, because, alone, breathing influences everything within us- from what we hear, what we think, how we think, to what we fear, as we rejoice, or as we suffer. Everything is in close relationship with our dear breath. In fact, shallow breathing through a mechanical action is not a fully unconscious instrument at our disposal. Breathing mostly relates to the lungs, without using the diaphragm (constantly blocked by tension), the intercostal muscles and the abdomen, as we should. Ordinarily, we use less than one-seventh of our lung capacity, thus depleting the body (and also the emotional and mental functions) of valuable “fuel”.
The breath, in fact, is the “fuel” for the functioning of the body and mind. We have seen exactly how this fuel is also made up of “nonmaterial” energy, and also correct in purely physical terms (the ability to inhale oxygen, so to speak). By breathing well, we get more completely, the two basic things: oxygen for a better brain and for relaxing the body, dispersing less through tensions, anxieties and fears, real “flaws” of the system, and to increase our reserves of energy without waste.
To sit and breathe consciously is the true beginning of life. This is what approaches the chance to see our true nature, separate from what we believe – or lead us to believe – in ourselves, a real experience, in short, and not a mental projection.
The breath is therefore the starting point. Now, however, be faced with another difficulty: the immobility of the body. More specifically, “do”, the “drop”, the “letting go” (It is not easy as it sounds), until it comes to “feel” conscious. The observation of the breath does just that – just stay alert and listen. But the concept of “don’t” goes further and requires quality and intentions very complex.
Nothing that becomes part of our experience is really perceived as a mere part of it. Indeed, we tend to interpret it, to call it, to bring it into a scheme of knowledge, to render it as a universe unto itself, self-generating its own light. But doing so will limit the experience, “detaining” only the part immediately perceived, losing all the rest. In this way, the reality that runs continuously in time, full of facets – eludes us completely. As if immersed in a natural environment, we become lost there and watch a flower, knowing that, at the same time, we run around the clouds in the sky, the air that lashes the skin, thousands of creatures fly, crawl, run and breathe, water flowing behind and below us, while other flowers open to millions under the sun that warms and nourishes.
The reality is that we see only a small portion- what is illuminated by our mind, certainly the most beautiful, as enlivened by our existence, but only a part, and not the whole. We only see the content, only what, precisely is “on hold”, and we believe that reality is just that.
Immobility is the “resistance” to this type of movement – a bike that is exactly the thought, and moves in action, gestures and postures. Immobilizing the body is equivalent to paralyzing this restless mind, which tends to freeze into ideas and concepts which become static, already dead when they are formulated. Immobility leads, therefore, no longer to “hold”, or not to hold, but to knowingly let flow the clearest of rivers: our lives.
At this point, through the technique (breathing, relaxation and the correct position in complete immobility), we then begin to calm the chaotic thoughts, obtaining the condition of a mind more calm, with only one “thought” to observe what is happening. This is not a real thought, but rather a kind of intention, an intention that completely occupies our mental space. We have thus attained the status of the merger, the true “antechamber” to the meditation itself. The merger allows us to be strong and determined; gives us clarity and “power” (to do, deciding, understanding, etc.). It gives us more authority in ourselves. The mind that observes the prince is now in rest and finally the “clean” energy is sufficient to … move on.
Techniques, in fact, lead to concentration, not meditation. But only a mind so focused – “right concentration” of the Eightfold Path, as the Buddha called it – will be able to reach the stage of “thinking without thinking” that “mind – do not mind” the oldest quoted in the teachings.
For this, technique is no longer needed. We need a “jump” of another kind, an achievement that takes time and constant practice, and that can only happen within a mind which is in a perfectly stable state of concentration.
In this state, in fact, the mind is able to observe that it is the main “guardian” of a free expression of self, as if there were a function of “censorship”, produced by years of renunciation, judgments, self pity, fear and guilt – the mind a party which “loves” the free flow of mental contents and inhibits them at the source, judging according to parameters and paradigms absolutely antithetical to true freedom. It must therefore be a long process of emotional cleansing and purification by inhibiting these processes, a real learning opportunity to “take the real freedom”. Opening the possibility of “flying” with the mind, liberation, freedom to live in the full range of thinking as it manifests itself, leading to love and desire in totality, with no brakes or inhibitions of any kind.
It is a route that passes through the heart more than the thought, leaving more and more the mind – clear and calm – free to consider what is presented, as it is. Genuine liberation, in short, a total surrender to the fullness of its rhythm, its own feeling, from deep breathing, finally free to participate – but this time from within – to the ongoing process of thought.
In this way, you can come to “see” as in the birth and development of the same penultimate; final point as the perception by our senses is transformed into emotion and how emotion gives rise to the thought itself, in the form where consideration is schematic, simplistic and limited – the perceived. In a word, it is that conditioned reflex that ordinarily sets the screen of our mind we call “thinking”.
This is a magic moment: the very act of observing changes to “observer”, stating that there is a kind of austere principle in us, who watches over the process, a calm and compassionate entity, which awakens and watches from inside, embracing the thought, as if to protect it, finally allowing it to rise to the level of free and creative mind, free from any form or conceptual view, the only witness of the ineluctable presence of Being.