It is important to know what the true meaning of meditationis since the majority of practice is happening in sitting meditation, where energy and consciousness can reach their necessary depth and maturation.
Words are not absolute; they are relative. That’s why when we use certain terms, we need to clearly define their meaning. How one understands meditation is in direct relationship to what kind of perspective one has gained on the subject and how deeply one has realized oneself.
There’s not even a good word in the Western culture to describe the meaning of meditation. The root of the word meditation in Latin is ‘meditari[DP1] ’, which means to think about. It is a contemplative thinking. For instance, a Christian mystic may contemplate the meaning of the holy trinity, which is the holy ghost, the son, and the father. In Hinduism, meditation is called ‘dhyana’. In the original Yoga Sutras, it was one stage after ‘dharana’. Dharana is concentration on an object. This object can be physical or mental, like a mantra or breathing. But the way the meaning of dhyana is represented in the Yoga Sutras actually does not have much in common with the way we understand meditation. Dhyana aims to reach a state where the concentration on the object is uninterrupted – a constant flow of concentration.
In dharana, the concentration is still broken; there’s no continuity. But dhyana refers to the continuity of recognition of the object. So what we call meditation is closer in the Yoga Sutras to what is called ‘samadhi’, absorption, even though our description of vertical absorption is not included in the Yoga Sutras. In the Yoga Sutras, through the concentration on an object and reaching the uninterrupted flow of recognition, one somehow forgets oneself and reaches a kind of absorption. It is quite an incomplete description.
The word dhyana has been assimilated into Buddhism. For instance, in Chinese Zen, it’s called ‘chan’. In Japanese Zen, it’s called ‘zen’. Zen means dhyana. In Zen Buddhism, the interpretation of dhyana depends on the quality of the school. According to Bodhidharma, chan means direct insight into our essential nature, which is basically awakening.
One of the most accurate descriptions of meditation is found in Soto Zen, which uses the term ‘shikantaza’, just sitting, which is perhaps the closest description to the state of meditation as we know it. Of course, the state of just sitting is itself multidimensional – which is what we try to explain as going through different stages. So shikantaza is a simplification, but there is nothing wrong with this description as long as we understand that it includes several dimensions of awakening.
The field of meditation has been dominated by and suited to the observer because the observer is the sense of me, the sense of identity, that every human has – their only connection to consciousness is the observer. So all these meditation techniques are based on the observer trying to concentrate, trying to stop thinking, and whatnot.
Incidentally, the technique of the original Theravada Buddhism is ‘vipassana’, which means insight. On a superficial level, many think that this insight refers to insight into the impermanent nature of this reality, into suffering, and into the absence of self. What it actually means is that the observer, using its contemplative capacity, is recognizing that this reality has no substance. But this recognition is still in the mind and obviously will not bring any level of awakening or realization of peace. One is still stuck in this observer which is making its conclusions. This observer wakes up in the morning – if it’s a Buddhist observer – and it again reprograms itself to see this reality in a certain way, as having the nature of suffering and impermanence, and so forth.
This is how ego develops in different ways to cope with this reality, but it has nothing to do with true evolution. The higher meaning of vipasanna, or insight, is the same as what Bodhidharma described: insight not into the nature of manifestation but into the nature of our true self. That first insight ideally should reveal our pure consciousness. The problem with vipasanna is that the bridge between the observer and pure consciousness is absent. So one can keep practicing and never awaken because one does not know how to internalize consciousness.
The observer has no power to manifest awakening. That’s why self-enquiry also cannot manifest awakening – because it is also the observer thinking ‘Who am I?’ The most the observer can discover, if the observer is honest[DP2] , will be the observer itself. The conclusion of self-enquiry based on the observer is the sense of me. And if it’s linked to the quality of meditation, with some meditative energy, ideally it will result in the awakening of conscious me.
Dharana, concentration on an object, is being done by the observer. It is the observer putting forth all the effort to constantly keep this object in focus. There are some benefits to practices like this since they allow the observer to be more solidified, but there’s always the danger that it could become overly crystallized.
Certainly, dhyana– as the true meaning of meditation – is not the uninterrupted recognition of an object. It is the uninterrupted recognition of the subject, pure consciousness, meaning the direction of attention is turned back to its source. It is quite sad how many people on this planet are practicing meditation from their observer, wasting their time instead of waking up and making a sincere and intelligent effort to recognize their fundamental nature. But ultimately everybody gets what they deserve. If someone is truly longing for and seeking awakening, they will not agree to be stuck in a meditation confined to the efforts of the observer. They will seek other ways.
Meditation is a state of pure subjectivity. It is in fact the state of the soul. To be in the state of meditation is to be our soul. Of course to be our soul, we must simultaneously be in the state of surrender to the universal reality. We must be absorbed in the inner plane. To actualize the state of meditation, we have to reach complete awakening to our identity and then surrender into the source. Furthermore, the state of meditation includes integration and unification between our relative me and the soul. The state of meditation includes the qualities of clarity and pure, transparent intelligence.
The kind of meditation or samadhi where our natural functions are suspended and we fall into a state of trance is not constructive. It is like trying to switch oneself off, to not exist, or to minimize one’s existence. Some people are addicted to states of suspension; they sit with closed eyes and lose consciousness of their body and their sense of me – they are attached to that false freedom. But the moment they open their eyes and begin to relate to others, everything is lost; there’s no connection.
We are evolving into a realization of our soul, our fundamental nature, not just to transcend or get out of this reality, but to live in creation as complete beings. Awakening of pure consciousness and embodying pure me is the first step of entering meditation.
If our pure subjectivity is absent, we have no abiding place in the inner plane and we are locked in the mind, in the mental self and the observer. When the conscious me is more activated, more open, one can reach a condition of absence of thoughts and a state of relative subjectivity which is often called ‘awareness’. But that also is not meditation. It is an intermediate state or space between our relative self and our inner self.
To be stuck in awareness is another pitfall because it can be mistaken for consciousness quite easily if one does not have the knowledge to discriminate and if one is not sensitive enough to identify the limitations of awareness. Awareness is not rooted in I am; that’s why it is incomplete. Consciousness is embedded in I am; it is linked to the universal reality. Meditation happens in the space of meeting between the individual and the universal.
Meditation is simple and complex, and these two perspectives need to be integrated. If you look at a flower, it’s very simple, beautiful, but the way it is created is very complex. There are so many elements required for the flower to come into existence. Even a single cell in our body is like a microcosm, a whole universe. Whether we like it or not, complexity is part of this reality, and it has to be embraced and used for our benefit in order to actualize our multi-dimensional self.
On the other hand, meditation is the simplest thing in existence. You are just being yourself. Even in the process of surrender, you are not really doing anything. It’s like relaxing deeper and deeper into existence; the very process is blissful and beautiful. It’s not like the observer trying to concentrate, which is a lot of effort.
Meditation is a state without object, but that does not mean it is static. There is a constant flow of pure attention merging with the inner self, and the state of meditation is filled with pure feeling intelligence. But there is no object; there is only the subject relating to itself and to universal subjectivity. In order for that state without object to be complete – whether it is experienced on the level of consciousness or your heart –it has to be merged with the source.
The state without object can be experienced in the dimension of presence alone or in the unity with the dimension of absence, the source. So the fact that the state is beyond objects and already represents pure subjectivity does not mean it is complete. It must disappear in the source; it must merge with the light of creation – which points to our relationship with the vertical dimension. So, is it all complex or is it simple? Once you understand it, it is quite simple.
Even if a yogi devotes his whole life to follow the path of yoga – which is the path aiming at reunion with reality –he can never complete this path unless the doorway to I am is open. Additionally, in yoga the understanding of awakening of our individuality, of our soul, is entirely absent – meaning that if the state of samadhi is reached, one does not know who is in samadhi. This is how enlightenment and ignorance can coexist.
[DP1]I changed from ‘medita’ to meditari since medita is not truly the latin root…