In my recent Knowing your True Self (KYTS) sequence, written in the aftermath of the Three Brains Revisited exploration (see picture as a reminder), in the fourth post I mention Eknath Easwaran‘s excellent, down-to-earth and accessible book Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life.
Because I was triggered to go back to the KYTS sequence, I was moved to look again at Easwaran’s book, which had influenced that approach strongly. I noticed in the flyleaf that I had read it for the second time in May 2003. The penny then dropped, rather loudly and discomfortingly in fact, that much of my meditative experience has been shaped by this book, perhaps far more strongly than by the Buddhism or Psychosynthesis that I have trumpeted about since I started blogging in 2009.
It’s time then to begin to redress the balance.
I am now reading the book for the third time and having an ‘How did I forget that!’ experience. Almost every page hits me with an insight. Some of these are ones I consciously treasure but had forgotten where I found them. Others I recognised as deeply meaningful as soon as I saw them again but had no consciously active memory of them: heaven alone knows how much they have been influencing me subliminally.
The structure of the book is simple. The chapter headings say it all. It’s an Eight-Point Programme: Meditation, the Mantram, Slowing Down, One-Pointed Attention, Training the Senses, Putting Others First, Spiritual Companionship and Reading the Mystics, all of these to be practiced daily in the end. I’m about to re-read the last two. So far, nowhere have I come across my meditative bête noire – mindfully watching my thoughts.
I have no intention of quoting all the insights here – that would probably amount to half of his 219 pages. I’d rather you bought the book. I’m simply going to flag up a handful of the most useful from my point of view.
What is Meditation?
To begin with he places meditative practice firmly on the ground (pages 8- 9):
To begin with, meditation has nothing to do with the occult, the paranormal. . . . If you want to know how people have progressed on the spiritual path, just watch them in the little interactions of everyday life. . . . Can they work harmoniously with others? If so, they are evolving, though they may never have had a vision or psychic experience.
This is a great comfort to me, not because I believe I am a model of harmonious relating, but because I have never had any kind of dramatic mystical experience in all my years of meditating. He also makes clear that he does not see meditation as a kind of hypnosis nor any kind of navel gazing or rumination (page 9):
[Meditation] is, rather, a systematic technique for taking hold of and concentrating to the utmost degree our latent mental power. It consists in training the mind, especially attention and the will, so that we can set forth from the surface level of consciousness and journey into the very depths.
He moves on to analysing what for him are the three stages of meditation.
The first is recognising that we are not our bodies. Karen Wilson, whose book I reviewed last year, deals with that well so I won’t repeat it.
He then explains (page 20) his second stage that ‘we are not our minds either.’
I have also dealt at length in various places what my take is on this including in my review of Karen’s book. For me, I reserve the word ‘mind’ to refer to the accessible surface of consciousness, which reflects what the brain projects onto it like a captivating and convincing film. Once we begin, through meditation or some other means, to achieve a degree of ‘detachment’ (page 23) we can begin to recognise that even our surface consciousness is no more what is reflected in it or projected onto it than a lake is reducible to the clouds and birds we see reflected upon its surface. The surface of consciousness, as Easwaran of course recognises, becomes a gateway to its depths. I’ll stop nit-picking now!
His third stage is ‘the great discovery’ (page 24-25):
As long as we identify with the body and the mind we bob around on the surface level of consciousness, chasing after the fleeting attractions of life outside us.… now, in profound meditation, we drop below all that and become concentrated on one thing and one thing alone: our true identity. In this absorption, its great gathering within, we break through the surface of consciousness and plummet deep, deep into our real nature.
He points out that this leads to the realisation that (page 27) ‘All life is your family.’ We’ve been there many times on this blog, not least in discussing the Bahá’í concept of the oneness of humanity and my ideas about interconnectedness, so I’ll not rehash all that here again.
When he discusses the nature of meditation he explains that we access (page 30) ‘the ground of existence,’ what Amit Goswami terms ‘the Ground of Being,’ and realise, ‘this supreme reality is not something outside us, something separate from us. It is within, at the core of our being – our real nature, nearer to us than our bodies…’
Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
And also in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (CLIII page 326):
This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.
How Do We Start?
Easwaran advises using quotations as a core meditative means of training our minds: I’ve mentioned some of his thoughts on this before. Either of the ones above would be a good place to start for anyone who has not attempted this before.
He recommends the Mantram as something more portable, that need not be confined to the quietness of a room set aside for meditation. He explains the origin of the term (page 59): the word is linked to ‘the roots man, “the mind,” and tri, “to cross.” The mantram, repeated regularly for a long time, enables us to cross the sea of the mind. An apt image, for the mind very much resembles the sea. Ever-changing, it is placid one day, turbulent the next.’
For him, the mantram links us to (page 60) ‘the supreme Reality,’ whatever we choose to call it:
What matters greatly is that we discover – experientially, not intellectually – that this supreme Reality rests at the inmost centre of our being. . . . the mantram stands as a perpetual reminder that such perfection is within all of us, waiting to flow through our thoughts, words, and deeds.
He feels that (page 70) ‘the mantram works best when we repeat it silently in the mind with as much concentration as possible.’ He’s not in favour of counting with beads or linking it to the breath because it divides attention. These are things I tend to do most of the time. I’ll have to try sticking to his method for a sufficient length of time to test its effectiveness for me. He recommends we use the mantram at all moments of stress or simple waiting. It helps keep us calm and, for him, every repetition counts, taking us slightly deeper each time we repeat it with focused concentration. He strongly recommends we use it before we sleep.
Next time we turn to two topics that moved things up a gear for me, an unfortunate choice of metaphor in the context as you will see. My adaptation of the Three Brains diagram into an apparently upside-down Traffic Light design to place on my iPhone might give you a clue.