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CONCENTRATION (Dharana): BREATHING (Pranayama): MEDITATION (Dhyana) - Part 2

MEDITATION

ZEN

People generally assume that when someone says, "Zen or Chan Buddhism" he is referring to a specific way of meditating, a way that separates Zen practitioners from all other devotees. This is simply not true. With the possible exception of Koan study, the methods of meditation Zen uses are known to all world religions.

Meditation, without a broad basis in ethics and spiritual devotion, often degenerates into a program of mind-control if, indeed, that is not what it began as. The different techniques used to access Tattva #5, True Meditation, are frequently used by people who consider themselves atheists or agnostics and who merely seek the ability to remain calm in the presence of agitating people and events. But there is a difference between tolerating and accepting just as there is a difference between calming oneself and not becoming agitated in the first place. And that difference lies not in the Zen part of the equation, it lies in the Buddhist and Daoist parts. Meditation is but the eighth step of the Eightfold Path, one that we cannot reach by simply jumping over the first seven steps.

Over the course of time, Buddhism split into a variety of sects, each claiming to represent the true teachings of the Buddha; yet, nearly four hundred years after the Buddha's death had passed before his teachings were written down. (The Dhammapada, a collection of maxims and wise observations, is considered the most reliable source of the Buddha's teachings.) But while Buddhist sects will argue about which doctrines are the "true doctrines," few, if any, will dispute that The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are central to the teachings of all Buddhist denominations.

Purification

Since every meditation is a journey into sacred space, it is prudent to have "clean hands" (to use a courtroom expression). To attain the required purity, a brief examination of conscience should be performed. Review your behavior since the last time you meditated; and any violation of the Precepts, or the Yamas and Niyamas, should be acknowledged - with a vow to correct or in some way atone for your bad conduct. Try to be sincere.

Do not neglect this cleansing of conscience. In the final analysis, this is the most important part of the program.

Cleansing the body is important, too.

We have discussed odors elsewhere, particularly the scent of aggression. The scientific study of pheromones, the body's chemical messengers, is still in its early stage, having been discovered only fifty years ago. But there is much anecdotal information available that can be beneficial to the spiritual aspirant.

We know how the scent of incense can lend sanctity to a room, an ambience that makes us receptive to spiritual messages. Scents of aggression can also affect the atmosphere in a room, but with the opposite result of disturbing our psyche. I once spent the night at a friend's house, sleeping in the guest room. I had a miserable night, dosing fitfully between bizarre nightmares. I could tell that the pillow cases did not have a pleasant, freshly laundered odor. It was as if they had been stored in a damp, moldy drawer. In the morning I was so on edge I couldn't wait to leave the house. My friend asked me what was wrong and the only unusual thing I could name was that pillow case odor. She then told me that her ex-husband, who lived in another state, had been to the house the morning before I arrived. He had driven there to see their children, but a snowstorm had delayed him en route. By the time he arrived, it was nearly time for him to leave. He was tired, irritable and unreasonably angry that she had let the children go to school without waiting for him. They argued and he went to the guest room to take a nap before he got back on the road. His head had not been on the pillows very long, but it was enough to transfer the scent of aggression to which I had reacted.

I worked with a man years ago who had always seemed happily married. One day he confided that he was divorcing his wife of twenty years. "I can't tolerate the smell of her," he said. He explained that a few years before she had begun to suffer from paranoia. He could handle her suspicions and irrational fears, he said, but the stench of her perspiration had a terrible effect on him. "It's on everything... the quilts, the bed linens, the towels, and if she hangs her coat in the closet and it's next to a jacket of mine, I can't wear the jacket until it's dry-cleaned. Every time I smell that stench, the hair on my neck stands up." There were few medications available at the time that could have eased her distress. I have known other people who suffered from paranoia; and in every case their perspiration had an unmistakable odor which provoked a peculiar tension and irritability in people who smelled it.

If a friend enters a room with a dog that is strange to us, we instinctively hold out the back of our hand as the dog approaches to let him know we mean him no harm. He smells our hand and knows that the scent of aggression is not on us. His tail then wags.

Any person who fights freeway traffic and experiences a little road rage on the way to his Zen Center and thinks he is going to sit down and meditate is deluding himself. Not only will his scent of aggression disturb him, but it will also disrupt the tranquility of those around him. And it will persist longer than he expects. Adrenaline is the chemical that signals fear, anger, and aggression: We can experience a fearful jolt, a kind of "Boo!" and be momentarily afraid. Immediately, our heart will pound, our blood pressure and heart rate rise. But it will require an hour or more for the body to wash the adrenaline out of its system. In such a state, we cannot meditate.

All spiritual paths suggest that the meditator first perform his ablutions. Bathing before we enter the Sanctuary is not done for some nonsensical protocol or exercise in etiquette. Ablutions are done to wash the body clean of intrusive odors.

Experiencing the Alpha State

brainwaves1.jpg http://altered-states.net/barry/
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There are four basic brain wave frequencies: the fastest one - the one in which we are alert - is beta. The next slower state, the relaxed state in which we usually meditate - is alpha. An even slower state is theta. This is a particularly imaginative state we often associate with psychic experiences and those bright little pictures that blink into our mind as we start to fall asleep or to awaken, and also the particularly creative ideas we have when we relax in a hot bath. Delta, deep sleep, is the slowest frequency.

Developing the ability to enter alpha is a good way to trigger an entry into meditation.

An alpha rhythm can be initiated by the proper breathing technique (preferably the Healing Breath). During alpha we can see, behind gently closed eyelids, shapes that undulate in the visual field. These grey or iridescent shapes will advance and retreat in a fascinating way. If a person can't generate alpha and wants to know what these shapes look like, he can take a ping-pong ball that has no logo printed on it, use a utility knife to cut it in half along the seam, use an emery board to file the edges smooth, put one half over each eye socket and tape it there with transparent tape... and then sit and face a bright light source. The calming effect is startling. And he will see those shapes clearly.

Pulse exercise

Another indication that we are ready to proceed with meditation is the ability to feel our pulse beat in any part of the body to which we direct our attention. (When people ask me what I use to keep the count of the Healing Breath, I tell them I count the pulse beats in my lips. To anyone who has not tried this, it seems difficult. And indeed, to anyone whose attention is distracted, it is impossible.) But simple relaxation and the ability to turn the attention inwards is sufficient to be able to feel a pulse beat in any part of the body.

To practice the Pulse Meditation, simply relax and let the hand rest comfortably. Focus the attention on the index finger. The heart beat should be felt there. It may help to place the thumb gently against the index finger pad. Eight or ten beats are counted and then the attention is shifted to the middle finger. When the pulse is felt there and counted eight or ten times, the attention is moved again to the ring finger, and so on.

Ultimately the "Hara" should be felt. The Hara is the point where the aorta bifurcates to become the femoral arteries. The blood slams into this fork in the artery and a very strong pulse beat can be felt there. It is the bodyís center of gravity and for this reason martial artists balance themselves around this focal center point. Difficulty with this experience can be lessened by lying naked on a bed, placing a sheet of paper on the abdomen, and watching the paper bounce to the heartís rhythm.

The exercise is repeated, producing a series of focal points or the entire hand can be used. This exercise is so seductive that it is much easier to start than to stop. We become so absorbed into our own heart beat felt in the hands, feet, lips, or hara that we have difficulty tearing our attention away.

Light Experience

Because the first "energy center" that must be opened is the Ajna Chakra (the Third Eye Chakra in the middle of the forehead), the experience of the dazzling white light is an absolute necessity. This light floods the head with its brilliance. It can happen in a dream or while sitting on a cushion. The light is unforgettable. Again, it does not matter if the person is awake or asleep. The burst of brilliant light will not be mistaken for anything other than a spiritual experience.

Since the advent of this burst of light is a matter of grace, there is no way to perform a step-by-step advance to obtain it. There are, however, a few visualizations that might assist in producing this light. One is to imagine a scintillating jewel in the lower middle of the forehead or a light beam that shines from the this same point. With eyes closed, look up to see the source of the light.

When conditions are right, meditation may be accompanied by unusual sounds or sights: For example, deep meditation accomplished in a sunlit room - with the eyelids gently closed - can produce an astonishing "ganzfeld" (complete field) visual field of a repeating geometric design. Diamond shapes, circles, in vivid colors (some outlined in black) that oddly stay within their own color group will appear. By this it is meant that there is a display of yellow, gold, olive and khaki. Likewise there are displays of reds - plum and magenta and crimson. These repeating geometric designs appear spontaneously and are quite unforgettable.

Using a Mirror

Concentration by fixing the eyes on an object, staring at it, is done to advantage using a mirror. Martial artists often prefer to do this exercise standing; the rest of us can sit comfortably.

The "Standing" posture is a martial-arts "on guard" posture such as the Horse Stance which is done by standing erect, feet spread apart half a meter or less, knees slightly bent; head and spine in an upright line; and your hands, one palm on the other fist; in perfect balance around the center of gravity, the Hara.

The mirror should be placed at eye level, about a meter to three meters away. It should reflect only the face.

In a seated posture, the mirror is placed on the floor or at eye level less than a meter away. Sit up straight, in a Lotus posture or similar controlled "seat."

Gaze into your image, focusing upon a point between your eyes, trying not to blink. Do not permit yourself to indulge in any discursive thoughts. If you do slip into a thinking mode, reject it calmly and return to the task of maintaining your focus upon the image.

Do not strain your eyes, but hold your gaze as steady as possible; and if your eyes tear, ignore the tears and gently persist in gazing into the mirror.

When your eyes are tired, they will close; and at that moment you should try to recollect the image that had been your "focal point." When you first begin this recollection practice, the image will wander around your darkened visual field. With practice you can make the image stay still. When your eyes are rested, return to the active mirror gazing.

As you stare at the point between your reflected eyes, the point will tend to become dark and tunnel-like. At this point you can do an active imagination exercise and take yourself into the tunnel and without having any expectations, see what you can see. You may also see the point glow with a kind of iridescence which may then become a strange, opaque white. Without thinking or analyzing these images, keep your attention focussed on the point.

Variations

The "macro-micro" exercise is a popular variant. Focus on your imaged nose and then mentally force the nose to expand until it takes over the whole image. When it becomes very large; relax the image and then force the nose to become as "small as a sesame seed" - as if it were a dot on the mirror surface.

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The mirrorís focal point (in the forehead between the eyes) can be observed as an archer observes the bulls-eye of a target. Your gaze becomes an arrow that strikes this point. When your eyes tire, let them close and then shift your attention to your head's interior, turning the focal point "inside out" so to speak. Instead of looking at the reflected "between the eyes" point, visualize it as going inwards from that point into your brain. It is as if you are inside your own head and the arrow-gaze has penetrated your forehead and you are now gazing at the back of your head.

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Visualize the focal point as a glowing point of Qi which you then circulate through the meridians of your body. You will be able to feel the movement of the ball. Do not take your eyes off the image.

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In another powerful variant, position the mrror close to your face and then mentally push it back, as if you are forcing it to recede into a vanishing point in the horizon.

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Another goal of the Mirror meditation is found in the Alchemical Solar Path's attempt to create a Nietzschean hero, a kind of Apollonian Divine Child, strong and wise, within the body as if it were an alter ego. In this meditation, the best kind of mirror to us is a concave or parabolic mirror, one that draws light into a focal point. A large mirror that can reflect your entire body also works well.

Sitting about a meter or so away from the mirror, perform a deep, controlled breathing exercise, then mentally get yourself into a "power" mode by evoking a small, interior "sun god" who dwells in the heart. Feel the presence in your heart of a god who is both imperturbable and commanding.

As you stare into the mirror, visualize this divine being as growing larger inside you. Continue to concentrate fiercely, feeling the interior god growing so large that he is just beneath your skin as a voluptuous presence.

The alchemists use this technique to fatigue the optic nerve in order to facilitate the imagined melting of your skin to permit the exposure of this sun god. Just as you first see the dawn and then sunrise, you first see this gradual melting and the emergence of the sun god whose persona you assume.

Or, if you are using a concave mirror, stare, without blinking, at the focal point of light in the mirror and youíll soon notice a black center-point begin to form. The black point will turn bluish and have an aura around it. Continue to stare, and the focal point will turn milky white and expand into a bright light, the so-called Astral Light.

The evocation of Vajra Sattva, the heroic savior of the Tantric path, is given by W. Y. Evans-Wentz in his Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines: (The Yoga of the Illusory Body.).

A portrait or photograph of a tutelary deity is positioned so that its face is reflected in a mirror. You should be positioned so that your own reflection does not appear in the mirror but that you can clearly see the deityís reflected image.

According to the text, "By looking at that mirrored form with fixity of gaze and mind, and meditating upon it, the figure will come to appear as if animated.

"Visualize it thus as being between the mirror and thyself.

"Next visualize thine own body as being like that reflected body of the deity; and should the visualization become substantial enough to touch, proceed to visualize any other body thou happenest to see, as also being the deity's body; and should this visualization similarly become life-like, then visualize all visible forms as being the body of the tutelary deity.

"By so doing, all phenomenally-appearing things will dawn upon thee as being the sport [i.e., the manifold manifestations] of the deity."

MEDITATION METHODS

Sound Experiences

Every meditation session begins with "Clearing the Nadis".... the sound channels also called the meridians. The Sanskrit word for a channel is "Nad" and sound as in "thunder" or "roar" is "nad" - the linguistic relationship is unclear, but there seems to be a connection through dictionary definitions such as, "vibrating current as in a tube or flute." The whirring Dionysian "bull roarer" also comes to mind. But regardless of any linguistic relationship, root wise, the Nad circulates through the Nad.

In many programs, Light, too, is visualized as a glowing, pulsing ball which is made to traverse the nadis or meridians.

There are other experiences with a holy sound that deserve mention. A meditator can hear a kind of white noise, or of bees buzzing, or of a receding echo. These and other similar "sounds of silence" are auditory phenomena associated with meditation.

More startling is the unique experience of being awakened from a deep sleep or reverie by the booming sound of an earthquake, or a trumpet blaring, or a waterfall or roaring train or tornado. Sometimes the deafening sound is accompanied by the feeling of being trundled or tumbled as in an avalanche. The sensation is obviously entirely in the mind; yet it is so real that the person has difficulty believing that it did not happen. He looks around incredulously. The rest of the world is sleeping peacefully.

If he is knowledgeable about the Path, he will immediately realize that he has heard the Holy Nahd or Shabd. These experiences are significant but, being spontaneous, and of the nature of Grace, do not lend themselves to any disciplined regimen. There are, however, specific "sound" meditations that are extremely effective and can be practiced.

The Music Meditation

This is a favorite form of meditation to experienced meditators. Select music with the proper tempo.

The heart beats at an average of 60 beats per minute. This means that the aorta pulses at 60 beats per minute. This beating creates a wave in the heart's major blood vessel, the aorta. The wave pulsates like a plucked stringed instrument. The spinal cord is alongside the aorta and several major meridians.

We know that if we start a dozen pendulum clocks in a room, they will, at first, all tick at their own individual cadences. If we leave the room overnight, when we return in the morning, they will all be synchronized, ticking with one strong, reinforced beat. So when we listen to music that keeps the same tempo as the heart, we reinforce its beat and initiate a resonance with all of the body's rhythms, in particular the spinal cord's.

We can find explanations of this phenomenon in the work of Itzhak Bentov. His Stalking the Wild Pendulum, for example, is an elementary, but illuminating, text on the subject.

Rhythmic experiences conduce to the meditative state. American Indians shuffling rhythmically around a camp fire to a drum beat is entrancing; Sufis dancing as "Whirling Dervishes" are another example of this powerful creation of a harmonic wave going through the body. "Spinners" at a Grateful Dead concert also demonstrate this effect. Folks keeping time clapping hands and stamping a foot at a sing-along revival meeting, or joggers running with a steady gait. It is all the same. It is movement that conduces to the meditative state via rhythm or tempo.

Just focus upon the music, It may help to assign yourself the task of identifying various instruments, or musical phrases, or of determining the effect that the composer is trying to achieve in any specific section of the score.

Or, you can simply relax and become "one" with the music.

Ambient Sound

Often a deep level of meditation can be reached by focussing the attention on ambient sounds - without analyizing any of the sounds that are heard. The mind simply functions as mechanically and indifferently as a tape recorder. The sound enters "one ear and goes out the other" - it is noticed as sound but it does not become the object of thought. You can hear a door slam - like a good tape recorder you note that a door has slammed. You do not wonder whose door it is that has slammed or whether it is now getting windy or if someone has angrily left a room, etc. Record only the sound of the door slamming. The sound's significance is irrelevant.

Be sure to guard against pausing to evaluate your experiences. This will allow your ego into the process and bring the experience to an immediate end. Resist with all your might any inclination to shift into a critical mode.

Clock meditation

A particularly effective meditation requires two inexpensive windup clocks.

Sit in your comfortable meditation posture, place one clock on the right side, slightly behind you, about a meter or two away. Place the other clock on the left in the same orientation. Focus on one clock's ticking. It will grow louder and the other clock will seem to fade into near silence. Then switch your focus. The clock that had seemed loud, now fades away and the clock that had been nearly silent, will grow quite loud. Try to relax and to time your periods of attention to each clock. It will require a specific number of ticks for you to make the transition from one clock to the other. Count the ticks as you listen attentively and add to the count the number of ticks required for the transition period.

Do not be draconian with the count. For as long as you are immersed in the count, absorbed by it, it is a good meditation. Some practitioners regulate their breathing to keep the cadence of the switch. Vary the meditation in any way you want. I would suggest that you obtain clocks that have similar ticks and also that the ticks not be irritating. The clocks will tick at a slightly different rate. Another variation of the meditation is to focus your attention on both clocks and mark the time that the ticks are synchronized and the time that they pull apart. There is a lever on the back of every wind-up clock that allows you to adjust the speed of the ticking. It's a good idea to keep one clock slower than the other.

On a personal note, Without intending to, I developed the ability to hear this clock continuously as a kind of "unheard" background noise. I had given one of the clocks away. The other I used every day. This clock I called "my sacred clock." When it would wind down and stop ticking, I knew immediately it had stopped. I had a neighbor who used to come for dinner one night a week. We'd later watch TV back in my bedroom. I recall twice when she was there that the clock stopped and I said, "Ah, my clock stopped." The first time I did this she checked her watch and said, "No it didn't. That's the right time." But I had heard the clock stop at its last tick. I said, "Listen." She was surprised that I could do this. I actually heard the clock stop nine times before it got so warn out that I ceased winding it.

Koan and Visual Construction Mditations

Koans are the most famous of Zen meditation techniques. Essentially, a koan is a "case" or "dossier" which presents a cryptic exchange usually between two Zen adepts or between a master and disciple. The specific story will involve irrational elements, either as a question and answer or as a bizarre physical response to a strange situation. Collections of such cases, each complete with an intellectual analysis and commentary have been published and studied. There is a peculiar allure to these cryptic queries, like a code that one is trying to solve, or a jigsaw puzzle of an unknown image that seizes the imagination of the person who becomes obsessed with assembling the pieces so that the picture will be revealed. Or, it is like a song that circles the mind like a rosary. The query and its insolubility infect consciousness and frustrate rational explanation. The desired result is that the ego will surrender in an abject collapse; and in its fall, the Buddha Self will be revealed. Koan study is mostly out of fashion now particularly because of the assumption that somehow, someway these assertions were intelligible, and so the written commentaries were memorized and the teasing queries lost their allure.

Examples of these "cases" are, "All things retreat to the One. Where does the One retreat?"

"You have heard the sound of two hands clapping. What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

"Without thinking of good or evil, show me your original face before your mother and father were born."

"A disciple asked, 'What is Buddha?' The Master replied, 'Three pounds of linen.'"

"A monk asked, 'Why did Bodhidharma come from the west?' and master answered, "A cypress tree grows in the orchard.'"

Koans can be accounts of actual experiences, or they can be the creations of Dharma teachers who want to dramatize a point. Time, and the vagaries of etymology tend to obscure the origins.

A particularly famous koan involves Master Nansen who came upon two factions of monks who were arguing about the possession of a cat. Nansen picked up the cat and asked, "If you can tell me one word of Zen, I will spare this cat. If not, I will kill it." Nobody could say a word of Zen, and so Nansen cut the cat in half. Later he told another adept, Joshu, about this incident and asked, "What would you have said?" Joshu put his slippers on his head and walked away. Nansen called, "If you had been there I would have spared the cat."

Volumes have been written about this koan - which, frankly, is a waste of time. If this case records an actual event, we don't know what specifically the monks were arguing about, or why a Zen master was walking around carrying a sword, or why the slippers on the head would have satisfied him, etc. If possession of the cat was, in fact, the issue, it is hardly a solution to kill a cat. Most monasteries are overrun with mice and rats; and especially if monks are arguing about its ownership, a cat is a valuable asset. Putting slippers on the head is the usual practice of protecting them when walking through mud or crossing a creek. Maybe Joshu's response was a way of saying, "It's getting too deep for me around here."

Seductive Puzzles

Aside from koans and other hua tou "thought problems" such as, "Who am I?" or, "All things return to the Dao. But where does the Dao return?" there are other ethical or intellectual problems that have a seductive aspect and can attract scattering thoughts. For example, as in King Solomon's decision, if we had a problem such as the one he faced when two women claimed to be the mother of a baby, what would we decide? What would we have done... or what would we do when two people claim to own the same property and there is no obvious way to establish ownership?

Also, from William Buckís translation of the Mahabharata we read:

"Kausika, the brahmana, who is now roasting in Hell, set his heart on virtue, and never told a lie, even in jest. Once, having seen their helpless victim run past him and hide, Kausika, sitting where the rivers meet, answered the thieves: "That way."

"So be as the swan, who drinks from milk and water mixed together - whichever one he choose, leaving the other behind."

What would we do if we were faced with the question that the thieves asked Kausika?

The Swan is a mythical creature that has the ability to distinguish the truthful essence or "spirit" from the material manifestation. This is usually illustrated by the dilution of milk. If we were to pour a glass of milk into a river, the Swan would be able to enter the water and drink only the pure milk. Or, as the verse suggests, drink only the water and leave the milk untouched. Thus, the enlightened man can see the One God in all men, or see merely the man.

Platonic Forms

Attaining Tattva #5, the true meditative state, is usually unequivocally determined by the experience of seeing one of Plato's Ideal Forms Laid Up in Heaven. These are the true "seed" meditations.

This remarkable experience can be attained starting with a simple exercise. Gradually building upon success, the exercise can be increased in complexity as the meditator sees fit.

Shiva The Harappan seal of Shiva as "Lord of the Animals" was discovered by Sir John Marshall. The prominent position of the Tiger, which is Kali's animal representation, may indicate Shiva's feminine counterpart. The Harappan civilization flourished between 4 to 5,000 years ago in the Indus River Valley (now Pakistan.)
shivasana.jpg Shi Fa Jun sits in Shivasana (Shiva's Seat)

There is an indisputable correlation between Plato's Forms and the yogic regimen given by Patanjali. A glance at Indian theological origins should serve to reveal this connection.

Shaivist philosophy flourished in the Indus River Valley (now Pakistan) at roughly the same time - give or take a millennium - as any of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, and Stonehenge civilizations. Some 5000 years ago Shiva was worshipped as the great cosmic principle.

Religions differ in their concepts of the godhead. Some regard the First Cause as an essentially passive or uninvolved creator. Hinduism's Brahman fits this model. Shaivism assigns the role of First Cause to the creative pair, ParaVach and Paramashiva who also passively regard their great Domain - the active role being assigned to Shiva/Shakti and their parthenogenetic offspring, Skanda and Ganesha. Mahayana Buddhism retains the same non-involved godhead, and attributes purely benign intent to a variety of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and a single Future Buddha, Maitreya. Both Christianity and Mahayana Buddhism are Trinitarian; but while Christianity emphasizes the Son's role as teacher and savior, Kashmiri Shaivism and Buddhism assign the savior's function to an androgynous Shiva or Shiva/Parvati; the Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara/Guan Yin; Samantabhadra as both warrior and courtesan; and so on.

The more we look into the literature of the Kashmiri Shaivist school's Right-Hand path, the more we see its similarity to the teachings of Patanjali. Both emphasize chastity and morality and stipulate that in order to qualify for spiritual transcendence, ethics must be elevated to methodology. To become accomplished in the spiritual Opus, we have to purge ourselves not only of sinful conduct but we must, in consideration of the Lex Talionis, obviate even the impulse or thought of sinful conduct. This is not a simple matter.

escanear0003.jpg The androgynous Bodhisattva Samantabhadrav (also called Vajradhara and Fugen Bosatsu) is the patron of the Lotus Sutra. Whether he is depicted as a male warrior or a female courtesan (see picture on left), the bodhisattva is usually shown seated on an elephant.
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Additionally, there is no importance given to reincarnation or, since no evil or immoral conduct may be ascribed to God or Godhead, to a punishment in hell. The punishment we receive for failing to know God is that we are stuck with ourselves in the material world. Like Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata, we must wander aimlessly among the dark ruins we have made of our life, unless Dharma, in his mercy, gives us an ultimate test, a final chance to experience Nirvana.

Until we know the Real World, this material world is the bitter and painful hell of our ego's insatiable desires, yet this same world - while not the exciting locale of our Trinitarian adventures, is a benign heaven when viewed through the eyes of our Buddha Self.

Patanjali's yoga and Shaivism share common sense ethics and methodologies that are varied and tested by time and use. They do not sacrifice the body of "means" to a single method, as, for example, in the mind-blanking or mantra recitation schools. Because it is believed that the ego will be crushed by sleep deprivation, fatigue, pain, and a suggestive cadence, intensive Iron-Man sessions of sixteen hour per day for five straight days of mind-blanking meditation, or twenty-four hour per day for three straight days of mantra recitation, are held in many monasteries.

In the latter case, I have seen Buddhist monks suffer through this ordeal, droning a mantra until their voices were hoarse whispers, their bodies wracked with pain, and the weight of sleep on their eyes so heavy that their chin seemed glued to their chest. The expectation that this assault will cause the ego to collapse and in its absence the Buddha Self will reveal himself is a vain hope. No one disputes the possibility of revelations experienced in times of unexpected extremity. But the premeditated psychological-physical stress endured as if to force the Satori experience delivers a person to hallucination or to an hypnotic trance, neither of which is meditation, much less Satori. The proof of this is the absence of the radical change in attitude towards life and that interior devotion which characterizes "the turning about in the seat of consciousness" considered by many to be part of the Satori experience.

At any rate, self-torture is hardly the proper way to enter sacred space.

Structured meditations are always superior at least until the meditator reaches the end-game Shunyata meditations of the Void.

Patanjali clearly favors what is called by us The Platonic Ideal Form meditation, a structured form. The meditation is described in the purely Kashmiri scripture, the Pratyabhijnahrdayam, The Doctrine of Recognition, which prescribes personal ethical purification and the reward of "cognizing" God for the second time (the first having been known in utero). So, we are searching for our Face before we were born.

The Pratyabhijnahrdayam prescribes a difficult regimen; but since its program is so similar to Patanjaliís, we can consult the commentaries of the legendary Vyasa on Patanjali's opening lines:

(Vyasa, you may remember, is the pandit who talks to the boy in the opening of Peter Brooksí wonderful film of the Mahabharata.)

"Yoga is contemplation, and it is a characteristic of the mind pervading all its planes. The planes of the mind are: Wandering; Forgetful; Occasionally steady or distracted; One-pointed; and Restrained.

"Of these the contemplation in the occasionally steady mind does not fall under the heading of Yoga, because of unsteadiness appearing in close sequence. That, however, which is the one-pointed mind, fully shows forth an object existing as such in its most perfect form, removes the afflictions, loosens the bonds of karma and thus inclines it towards restraint, is said to be the Cognitive Trance (Samprajnata Samadhi). And we shall explain further that this is accompanied by philosophical curiosity, meditation, bliss and egoism.

"When however all the modifications come under restraint, the trance is ultra-cognitive (Asamprajnata Samadhi)."

In other words, Yoga begins with the precise definition of a Platonic Form laid up in heaven. This is True Meditation, Tattva #5. According to Vyasa, we are not doing yoga until we have seen the object (no matter how ordinary) upon which we are meditating, in its pure, isolated, and pristine perfection glowing in our astonished mind. Euphoria and curiosity follow; and then, if the practice is intensified, we slide into that Ananda state of orgasmic bliss, Tattva #4, Divine Union.

The transcendental state begins, then, with Tattva #5; true meditation, and not with thought obliteration or hypnotic passivity. If we accept that there are other structured ways of achieving a genuine meditative state, we cannot reasonably limit Tattva #5 to the apprehension of the Platonic Ideal Forms; but at the very least their meditative experience has to be included in the regimen.

Plato (as we all recall) said that true knowledge is possessed by the individual "before he was born." It is innate. In the Meno he gives the famous illustration of the uneducated slave boy who has been given the problem of doubling the area of a square. There are then two kinds of information: visible and intelligible.

republic.jpg Chevignard: In Plato's "Republic" Socrates Likens Mankind to Prisoners in a Cave

Under "visible" Plato puts observation and opinion. In The Republic (in the Allegory of the Cave) he says that this kind of information is gained as if we are in a cave looking at shadows on a wall. To experience true knowledge - the recognition of what we already know by innate intelligibility, we have to come out of the Cave and into the Light. There we will find the Universals, the Ideal Forms.

Successfully meditating on Seed essentially equates to coming out into the Light and seeing the true, ideal form.

Plato confides that if you try to tell the people in the cave that they donít know anything significant about Light - having seen only firelight and not the true sun, theyíll think you are crazy. This is as true today as it was two and a half millennia ago.

Zen's Southern School prefers that a person meditate alone, for so long - and no longer - as his thoughts adhere to a structured progression towards the Void's entrance.

Here, then, are several versions of the Platonic Form meditations:

Simple version:

Pick a prosaic object: something that you frequently handle but rarely think about: a shoe, a slipper, a moccasin; a pencil; a fountain pen; an umbrella; a can opener. It is important that you do not take the object and examine it. The goal is to get into the proper relaxed mode. Then, with gently closed eyes, concentrate on the object while imagining that someone is coming tomorrow to demand that you show him how to manufacture the article. Piece by piece disassemble it. Note the color, texture, shape, substance, and function of each piece. You must feel the urgency of the task.

Lay the pieces out, one by one, as you take apart the object in your mind. If your concentration remains intense without any break in focus and your eyes remain gently closed, you will suddenly see the object in its complete form. Everything else will disappear as the object, looming large and glowing, is suspended alone in space before you. Its perfection is stunning. It is a breath-taking sight. No matter how ordinary the object, it appears pristine, illuminated like a celestial body.

More difficult version:

Professor Ernest Wood suggests a more complicated way to perform this meditation. Imagine the hub of a wheel with spokes radiating from it. The name of the meditation object is mentally placed in the center. Letís say that you have selected "cat" as the object. Relax and without exerting any effort, let your mind, itself, without any conscious prodding, produce words associated with "cat." Again, do not think about cats. No "I remember a cat we had back in Minnesota... Mitzi we called her." No. No. No. No thinking! Just wait for a word to bubble up to the surface.

When you are passive and receptive a word associated with "cat" will arise in your mind. Let's say "furry" comes up. Mentally write the word "furry" on a spoke of the wheel, and resume your passive attitude waiting for the next quality to arise. "Milk." Ok, label a spoke "Milk." "Claws." Ok. Label a spoke "claws." "Meow." Ok, write "Meow" on a spoke. "Mouse," "Purr," etc. If a word arises that has nothing to do with cats, say, "planet" - just let it settle back into your mind without paying any undue attention to it. Keep your concentration steady and intense, and youíll see the archetypal cat.

Complex Platonic Method

Scientists long ago determined that there were only four ways to consider an object: How we classified it; what we associated with it; what its qualities were; and what it was composed of, i.e., its parts.

In this exercise, a circle is mentally formed and divided into quadrants. Label each quadrant with one of these four possible ways to consider the object. Let's say that you label Quadrant I "Parts" (or any one of the other three designations); and label Quadrant II, "Classification"; and Quadrant III, "Associations;" and Quadrant IV, "Qualities."

Select an object... it can be a cat or an isotope of hydrogen or a hologram or a pencil.

Letís say you selected "Pencil" - mentally take the pencil apart as if you are going to examine its construction as best you can. Then relax the mind and let "ideas" come up. Letís say the word "wood" came up. Mentally place the word "wood" in the Parts quadrant because it is made of wood. Letís say "eraser" comes up.. put this also in Parts. Then "notebook" comes up. You "associate" notebook with pencils, so you place "notebook" in the Associations quadrant. Then "pen" comes up. A pen is an instrument of writing; therefore it is classified with pencils. You place "Pen" in the Classifications quadrant. Then the idea of chewing on a pencil comes up. Place "chewy" or "woody taste" in the Qualities quadrant. Perhaps "Yellow" will come up... that is a quality... its color.

Everything you know or associate with pencils will come up from your unconscious mind. Your mind is suddenly immobilized. All thought ceases. Everything vanishes except a solitary pencil, huge and splendid, illuminated against the darkness of space. It is awesome. You will be overjoyed by your complete knowledge of a pencil. This may sound bizarre, but this is precisely what happens. The euphoria will leave you in a matter of days; but you will know to a certainty that you have seen perfection in the form of a pencil.

Apprehending Platonic Ideal Forms, in any level of complexity, is the exercise that in another form the dabblers in occult phenomena use. For example, in so-called "reincarnation" or "previous life" experiences, a person actually slips into a trance and every "fact" ever recorded in the brain that is related to the "former" personís existence - the setting, the dialect, the preferences, every bit of information to which the brain was ever exposed - a book, a film, a conversation, will surface as part of the meditative object. The individual may have no conscious recollection whatsoever of acquiring any of these data; but while dreaming, or in the meditative state, or under an hypnotic suggestion - self-induced or by a therapist, his ego may access them and assume the attributes of an otherwise alien personality. The data are stored away in the brain and in a trance state they will surface.

This is why this particular meditation is and has been a favorite of scientists since at least Platoís time. Any item overlooked by the scientist will surface.

There is an old mondo in Zen that best describes this state: A novice keeps nagging his master about the time required to experience enlightenment. The master says, "When you came to my rooms last night, on which side of the door did you leave your slippers?" The novice cannot recall. The master says, "When you can tell me which side of the door you left your slippers, you'll attain enlightenment."

People imagine that this mondo indicates that an enlightened person has a photographic mind and that the details of the photographs are always retained in consciousness. This is not what it means at all. It means that when you can access your brain's memory banks - for information that you may or may not have ever consciously considered but that your brain has recorded - you will have mastered the fine art of meditation. Everything that is apprehended by the senses is recorded. What we choose to consider consciously is a determination made by our ego.

Meditation Without Form

Deliberate mind blanking properly belongs to the Void level of meditation, the Empty Circle or Origin Point of the Tattvas. The Origin should not be approached directly from Tattva #6 Maya. The orderly transition requires a passage through 5, 4, 3, 2 & 1, 0..

The "stilling of thought waves" that ancient masters required a student to master properly belongs to the Platonic ideation in Tattva #5. Yet, many Zen Centers and other groups teach a meditation form of origin-approach, a mind-blanking kriya (method) to beginners.

Usually, this practice consists in observing the breath, counting either the inhalations or exhalations, from one to ten, without permitting a thought to arise in your mind. Great tenacity is required to limit thoughts to a single static observation of the breath; and if this observation is broken and the count is lost or an alien through intrudes, you simply begin the count again or gently reject the alien thought. Ernest Wood suggests that the attitude you should maintain is that of a kindly adult who has taken a child for a walk. If the child lets go of your hand and stoops to examine something in the path, you take a moment to let him consider the object and to compose yourself, pick up the child's hand, and say, "We can't stop to linger here. Let's continue." And you begin your pleasant walk again.

Passive, breath watching concentrations are fine for training but they produce none of the salubrious effects of the Healing Breath which, as it happens, can be a particularly efficient way to attain deep meditation. As we've noted elsewhere, by inflating the lungs to capacity and holding the breath, the thoracic muscles are stretched and, like a yoga stretch, they will release serotonin when they are relaxed upon exhalation. This deep relaxing chemical causes breathing to slow down, heart rate and blood pressure to drop, and saliva to be secreted. Without this result, there is a tendency to slide into a hypnotic state.

To succeed in Tattva #5, True Meditation, and then to persist in our meditation, intensifying it, prolonging it, becoming totally absorbed by it, is to push ahead into Samadhi, Tattva #4, called Divine Union because it is an ethereal ecstasy or, as Mircea Eliade would call it, enstasy. It is a visionless state but it transports the meditator into a period of exquisite bliss, a tremulous "thrill divine" that may last an hour or more.

When the mind-blanking method is used at the Origin, i.e., the conclusion of the Tattva developmental stages, the sublime Void experience, Shunyata or the pure Dao - a splendid state of visionless purity is experienced. A proof of this state is the equanimity of the individual. He does not reflect his environment, taking onto himself the problems or joys of others. He knows neither depression nor elation; neither distress nor relief.

More advanced visual techniques, esoteric exercises, and an "androgyny" meditation will be given in a later section.

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