1.1. This relates to the issues that emanated from my post Meditation and Entropy. Each culture or a religious persuasion has its own understanding of the term meditation; and prescribes its own set of practices to attain what it considers is its goal. And, whatever is the process and whatever is the procedure prescribed by various sects, they all aim to transform a disturbed, stressful and incoherent state of mind into calm, clear and wakeful state beyond contradictions. Just as in the illustration of entropy I provided, you have at one end a system that is excited, chaotic and disorderly; while at the other end you have a calm, ordered system free from distractions.
1.2. In terms of entropy, when the entropy approaches near-zero level the mind tends to be thought-free. A thought- free mind is free from distractions and conflicts; and when that happens a state of calm and quiet envelops you. The two states of order and disorder are common to both entropy and meditation. That’s it.
Let’s look at the traditional explanations.
Magga the path
2.1. One of the commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga-sutra offers an allegory. It says our foot-soles have become soft and sore; vulnerable to injury and pain. The way we have to tread in the world is thorny. We have to either withdraw from the world or resort to a device that protects us from the hurt and pain. We might perhaps retreat from the world occasionally for brief spells; but can never run away from it. Even in case we stay away from it physically, our minds are ever full of the world; because, the hold of the world on human mind is subtle, strong and pervasive. The commentary further explains that meditation is one such device, which is protective and preventive. It protects one from the pricks of life and helps to manage stress and integrate the individual. Meditation can thus be positive and constructive.
2.2. Our Teacher, the Master, the Buddha took a more comprehensive and a purposeful view of meditation. He called it magga (Snkt. marga) the path, the strategy for attaining freedom (esa dhammo vimuttiya). He taught this path to whoever that approached him in earnestness, saying “dhammam desessami – I shall teach you Dhamma”.
3.1 The Buddha in his first discourse delivered at Saranath laid down the broad outline. It said, if you find the principles, you should also be able to find the method; because, the two are intimately associated (Satipatthana sutta). Here, the term principle refers to the reality that underlies all appearances. And, the method – the magga is the most expedient one within the reach of all people, irrespective of their learning, vocation, caste, gender, country or age.
3.2. The Buddha called the method anapana –sati; anapana meaning breath and sati (snkt.smruthi) is non-forgetfulness, being aware of it. The method he prescribed asked one to be aware of one’s breathing; in other words, to be mindfulness of breathing — of the body, feelings, thoughts, and other phenomena .But in the larger context, mindfulness is about paying attention so you don’t go about life absentmindedly. Mindfulness is all about conscious living.Mindfulness is embedded in ethics and compassion.
3.3. The principles that the Buddha spoke refer to mind as being essentially pure, clear and peaceful. The distractions, dispersions, confusions and agitations are all apparent. But the appearances could be troublesome and stressful. They need to be cleared. The method employed for removing the disturbances is the mindfulness.
3.4. In our normal state, our mind remains unfocused for most of the time and our thoughts move from one object to another in random dissipated manner; and at timesslipping into a stupor. By cultivating mindfulness we first learn to be aware of the fleeting nature of the mind; and later learn to gently fine-tune the mind directing it towards the objects we wish to focus.
3.5. As a Buddhist scholar explained ”The point of mindfulness meditation is not to zone out but to tune in’’. The Mindfulness becomes a gatekeeper guarding the doors of perception or a gateway to tranquility, pacification of the mind (samatha) and purification of thoughts and feelings (visuddhi)leading to insight into the nature of reality (vipassana).
The aim of these contemplative practices is to alleviate the suffering, especially the psychological and emotional afflictions; and to clear those afflictions.
As regards its practice:
4.1. Traditionally breath is seen as the ideal instrument for practice of mindfulness. Breathing is the bridge that connects the body and mind; between the gross physical form; and the subtle and formless thoughts. Breathing affects both.
4.2. Breathing is natural to every being. It is instinctive, effortless and essential. To be alive is to breathe; we all do breathe so long as we are alive. The breathing can be observed, watched and to an extent controlled. Breathing and mind are closely related like the charger and its rider. When mind is disturbed the breathing too is disturbed. And, if breathing is uneven, the mind is agitated. Therefore, take hold of the breath when the mind is agitated.
4.3. It is not hard to be mindful of breathing; and to watch the breath as it enters and exits the nostrils, be it long or short, deep or shallow. When the breathing becomes even and calm, the disturbances in the mind too recede.
5.1. The texts mention that before one begins to meditate one need to make a silent resolve not to allow the mind to be distracted either by the recollections of past experiences or the hopes, anticipations, fantasies or the fears of the future events.
5.2. The challenge comes when the mind drifts.As one sits in meditation all sorts of thoughts arise in the mind , like ever bubbling spring of internal chatter. Allow the thoughts to play out, without getting involved, without judging the contents and the quality of thoughts and emotions as good or bad. Altogether ignore appearance and disappearance of the thoughts. Return to the attentive observation, deliberate watching of the breath.
5.3. The purpose of this meditation is not to prevent thoughts and feelings entering into the mind. Mindfulness is only being mindful of whatever is happening; and nothing more. Mindfulness is not rational appraisal of thoughts and events. One is just watching without getting involved. It is mere observation, just watching. The only object of mindfulness is the breathe, which is basic to body and mind.
6.1. While watching the breath, no effort is to be made. Just turn attention on the breathing process; settle your mind on the breath. Watch where the breath originates and where it ends, running your mind along the course of the breath. This practice is called “following the length of the breath”.
Watching the flow of breathe arising from the navel region and rising up to the nostrils (exhalation) and the flow back of the breath into the body (inhalation) is what the Buddha called ana-apana-sati .It involves both the body and mind.
6.2. When the inhalation (in-breathing) and exhalation (out-breathing) are even in duration (in length) it is restful and relaxing. In the normal course of the day, they are not even. When the duration of inhalation and exhalations are even it is called saamya or samatva, the breath would be quieter, lighter and smoother. The mind too would tend to be calm and silent. One can watch the breaths even while lying down or while walking or sitting quietly.
6.3. As one goes along the path, one watches the breathe that comes in and spread throughout the body. At this stage, as one becomes aware of the flow of breathe, following the breathe deliberately, becomes rather unnecessary.
7.1. Initially Anapana meditation is focusing on the breath and then focusing on complete equanimity.
Gradually in the midst of the internal chatter one begins to notice its absence, a silence of no contents. At the beginning such states may only be fleeting, but as one continues the practice, one would be able to prolong the intervals grasping the basic experience of consciousness.
7.2. In the next stage, attention is taken off from the breathe that comes in and goes out. Now, the attention is on the nose tip, the point where the air enters the body and becomes the breathe; and, where the breathe exits the body and becomes air. This is a stage of meditation where the mind is tranquil and light. There is a glimpse of void or silence.
7.3. Awareness of an inner silence is not something easy to achieve. It can be confused with a state of dullness or being soporific, which is not the purpose of meditation.
With practice the mind attuned to being subtle and devoid of distractions would no longer cling to objects. It observes the inner workings of the body and the sense organs beyond attachments and reasoning.
But the practice does not stop here.
Ethics and compassion
8.1. It is not adequate to merely have a focused mind; but one must acquire the skill of probing the nature of the object The Buddha’s analysis of worldly existence in terms of dissatisfaction, misery and anxiety (dukkha), impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of ego-self (anatma) is contemplated upon.
8.2. B Allan Wallace, a Buddhist scholar and teacher, remarks it would be wrong to equate mindfulness with bare attention. Though by itself it could be helpful, bare attention is very limiting and it would not be a complete practice. Mindfulness is essentially rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state.The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity are all practiced with mindfulness.
9.1. Buddhist meditation teachers suggest that through careful observation of the mind, it is possible to see consciousness as being a sequence of conscious moments rather a continuum of awareness. Each moment is an experience of an individual mind-state: a thought, a memory, a feeling and a perception. A mind-state arises, exists and , being impermanent, ceases following which the next mind-state arises. Thus the consciousness of an alert person can be seen as a continuous series of birth and death of these mind-states.
9.2. Mindfulness aims to become aware of the impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of ego-self (anatma) and then to eliminate it by eradicating its causes.
9.3. Dharmakirti (c. 600 AD), a seventh century Buddhist philosopher, stated that through disciplined meditative training, substantive changes can be effected in human consciousness, including emotions. A key premise underlying his argument is the law of cause and effect, which suggests that conditions affecting the cause have an inevitable effect on the result.
9.4. Dharmakirti’s statement emanates from the position taken by the Buddha that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions that give rise to them. Therefore, if one changes the conditions of one’s state of mind, one can change the trait of one’s consciousness and the resulting attitudes and emotions.
Let’s talk more about consciousness especially the Buddhist perspective in the next segment.
Sources and References:
The universe in a single atom by HH The Dalai Lama; Morgan Road books; New York; 2005
Zen and Dhyâna by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru publications, Bangalore
B Allan Wallace -A Mindful Balance : http://www.alanwallace.org/spr08wallace_comp.pdf