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..:: Meditation ::..

By

Alan Schneider

                                         

             This author has practiced both Hatha and Kundalini Yoga for approximately three decades – both are fundamentally Hindu meditative traditions (although Kundalini is heavily associated with Sicdom, a cross-over tradition that is a blend of Islamic Mysticism and Hinduism). Some discussion of these traditions is appropriate before beginning the presentation of the Zen Buddhist form of meditation. 

            Probably the best source of “thick description” of Yoga in general is found in Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation by the noted Hindu author and Kundalini Ascentionist Harish Johari. This book has the added feature of full-size, full-color reproductions of the Kundalini Chakras, which have depictions of the specific “god/goddess-form” associated with each Chakra, the animal energy associated with each Chakra (represented as a literal animal image), and the inspirited energy associated with each Chakra (shown variously as religious archetypal symbols such as the Ring of Fire, Trident, brilliant colors and auras, The Divine Lotus, etc).  

            Johari begins his book with discussions of the principals of Tantra, the core concept of Yoga (Johari, 2000). Tantra is described as the inherent human drive to seek reunion with the Divine Mind of God. On the basest and least aware level, this is expressed by human beings through the practice of sexual intercourse – Left Hand Tantra. As the participants (hopefully) become more psychically and spiritually aware, their perception of sexuality and orgasm becomes more sensitive and intuitive, and less literal – the beginning of Right Hand Tantra. The ultimate conclusion of this process is seen in the Kundalini Ascension – a profound experience of direct reabsorption into the Divine Mind, accompanied by loss of the sense of the personal ego, occurring in deep trance in meditation (Johari, 2000). 

            Yoga is an adjunct to Tantra, and is a process of calming and disciplining the mind. Without this process, the mind tends both to wander, and to obsess on various fixations, the most notable of which is the aforementioned physical sexuality and orgasm. Other common fixations are food, sports, television viewing, gambling, general consumer behavior when practiced compulsively (as it customarily is in Western society), drug consumption (including lawful drugs like alcohol and tranquilizers), and compulsive religious devotion in any faith. Nor is this a complete list – it is provided in order to convey the normal extent of  human departure from the state of grace which is the goal of both Hinduism and Buddhism.  

            For Johari, the process of spiritual development is a progressive Ascension through the sequence of states of meta-consciousness represented by the Chakras. As the Aspirant becomes less and less focused on physical gratification, and concomitantly more focused on spiritual perception, the meaning of the Chakra sequence is progressively revealed in trance induced through meditation. The eventual experience that the aspirant has is the aforementioned complete absorption into the Divine Consciousness (Johari, 2000).  

             I have had several such experiences in my lifetime. Probably the best description of this state (called Samadhi in Yoga) is that it has the appearance of a completely inclusive, field of super-radiant White Light, the felt perception of Pure Love and unconditional acceptance, and the experienced identity of the I AM Presence of God. The actual experience of such an Ascension is quite indescribable in literal terms (something that confirms, incidentally, a fundamental tenet of Buddhism), hence the idealized nature of my terminology. Hopefully, my choice of descriptors at least conveys an impression of the experience involved.  

            Kundalini Yoga involves a specific set of moral prescriptions and physical practices designed to harness the inherent energy of the sex drive and orgasm, and focus it internally, particularly in meditation and the ensuing state of heightened perceptivity and relaxation known as trance. If the prescriptions are followed diligently (and this is an extremely frustrating, difficult task) the full Ascension will eventually occur. This customarily is a life-long endeavor. Obviously, very few people will have the will to succeed at such a task, and this challenge represents the circumstance that resulted in the emergence of Buddhism in general, and Zen practice in particular. It is perhaps appropriate that we begin our discussion of Zen with the mechanism of desire in the human psyche. Both Yoga and Zen hold desire as the source of the spiritual “Fall” of humanity, and this refers to sexual desire in particular. Why is this so? What’s so “fallen” about experiencing and subsequently gratifying sexual (or any other) desire?  

            Copulation temporarily dissipates what Freud called libido, the universal life force which is the driver of human affairs, and is not itself sexually differentiated. To Freud, libido was libido was libido, at the biological foundation of the mind. This is, in reality, the first objection to sexual practice – it dissipates something which, under other  (i.e. Right Hand) circumstances, can be used to trigger Ascension and enhanced awareness. In the event that libido is not dissipated in orgasm, the customary result is obcessional thought about the sex act. This also tends to effectively distract the mind from awareness of things spiritual and sublime in character. The bottom line: physical sex is unfortunately a negative in the quest for Enlightenment, whether consummated or not (Johari, 2000).  

            Buddhism emerged with a new vocabulary of Enlightenment, and with the new terminology came a fresh vision of what was possible and beneficial for humanity. Samadhi became Satori, and the emphasis of the experience changed as well. 

            Satori is a quite different term (from Samadhi), and the implications for human consciousness differ markedly as well. The goal of Satori in meditation is to experience a stage of consciousness that is free of all dualities and contradictions on every level of knowing – a completely unified mental state, free of the suffering born not only from desire, but from the lack of understanding known as ignorance in Buddhist philosophy (Brown, 2004). To be free from dualities means completely free, even from the ultimate duality that confronts every human being as long as they live – death and life. Buddhism describes this as the Duality of Being and Not Being. As long as even this duality is left in perceptual place, Satori cannot occur. Much of Buddhist practice has evolved to answer the riddle of death in realtime, emphasizing the reality that we must confront what we fear where and when we experience it, and sustain that confrontation until we have mastered that fear. This confrontation frequently begins with entry into the Buddhist lifestyle, and lasts until Satori is achieved. 

            The final duality of Being/Not Being can only be resolved in meditation. When the subject has sufficiently turned away from material gratification in an esthetic lifestyle, which ideally includes vegetarian dining, wearing of simple robes, and celibacy, while living in a dedicated setting called a Zendo, and continued to meditate faithfully and regularly, the otherwise permanent state of agitation in the mind provoked by incessant desire gradually subsides, alleviating ignorance in the through enabling Enlightenment in the process. (Barnhill, 2004).  

            The concept of celibacy is pivotal to the true experience of the Zen (or Unified State) of consciousness. Sexual desire stimulates attachment to the desire object, whether concrete or fantasized. Since all attachment is futile in the face of our eventual death, the powerful effect of sexual desire is seen as particularly important to overcome (Kaza, 2004). There are many prescriptions in Buddhist practice for reducing or eliminating sexual desire, including the avoidance of spicy foods (known to be aphrodisiac influences), provocative dress (hence the robes, which conceal the body), provocative behavior (any kind), and provocative thoughts (Kaza, 2004). Even lascivious fantasies are felt to be almost as agitated and agitating as lascivious realities

            The life/death duality is the last to go (rooted as it is at the very base of the seat of personal manifestation – the physical body), and is frequently described as fading away when the process occurs. When the ego is temporarily absent, the total evaluative function ceases, and a state of profound peace, associated with emptiness is experienced. So, Satori is a state of the complete inactivity of the mind, a cessation of normal waking ego consciousness. Rather than attempt to define any condition associated with this state, Buddhism in general, and Zen in particular, simply describes only how it can be attained. The presumption here is that the condition is beyond description, but not beyond experience. The implication of this concept for (among other things) semiotics and linguistics is staggering – there is an alternative state of awareness that is sign and symbol independent – the state of pure consciousness attainable in meditation, of non-acculturated consciousness that may be attainable for all human beings in this life, not a hypothetical afterlife.  Pure conscious perception beyond verbal experience. 

            The type of meditation emphasized in Zen practice neutralizes both the symbol and the meaning given to the symbol by a given culture. To Zen, words are words and nothing more (Fouts, 2004), in fact, words are literally nothing. This is frequently called meditation on the Absolute. The Absolute is not presumed to be God – an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Being present at the core of consciousness, but rather a condition of complete unity of experience without duality of any kind present at the core of consciousness. This is why Buddhism is not per se Deific. Rather than presume that the experience that transcends all experiences is Divine in character, Buddhism simply leaves it up to the individual to make the decision – was the experience apparently Divine? Fine! Then you met God. Was the experience simply one of profound peace and one-pointedness? Equally fine. Then you met the Void. The distinction can only be made intuitively, and is beyond the reach of semantics as a tool of understanding. It simply must be experienced, and meditation on the Absolute is the way to that experience (Barnhill, 2004).  

            In general, meditation in Zen has some similarities to meditation in Yoga. The well-known cross-legged Lotus position is equally suited to either tradition. Zen emphasizes the use of a specific hand position, called a mudra in the Hindu tradition, and a mala in Zen practice. The hands are to be loosely folded into each other, preferably left into right, without interlacing the fingers. Zen also permits the eyes to be closed in meditation, preferably with the head slightly bowed in humility, another key Buddhist construct. The universal emphasis of Buddhism is found in leading a peaceful, simple, austere life of meditative expression. 

            It is significant that meditation in general is considered to be an obscure practice in the American cultural Master Narrative – the qualities that we are conditioned to accept as right and desirable. And along with the signifier “obscure” comes the signifier “suspect”. To the casual observer, it appears as if nothing is occurring during meditative practice, and to do nothing in American society, accept while sleeping, is considered unproductive, a very devalued condition. In fact, the real experience of “nothingness” is possibly the single most powerful place for consciousness to reside – it is from this state of  “non-perceived perception” that all Creation emerges in the Dance of Life. 

            After attaining the correct posture, or physical state, the subject begins to work on attaining the correct mental state. Again, there is some similarity to Yoga here – deep, relaxed breathing is emphasized, along with the release of thought by simply noting the occurrence of specific thoughts, especially thoughts related to desire or suffering (Barnhill, 2004), and then allowing them to pass away. In fact the importance of semantic distinctions is evident here – Yoga defines a construct of meaning for the ultimate state of consciousness, and calls this God, while Zen defines only a vague descriptor – the Absolute. Is God the Absolute? The road to this destination appears to be much the same in either case. 

            The Void or Absolute condition of Satori that I have experienced was not possessed of any characteristics at all, while the Divine I AM Presence of Samadhi was just that, a Presence, and this alone is a qualitative feature, which can be described, even if such a description is quite daunting to perform. Perhaps in Samadhi, the self is simply taking another look, at The Self, where Satori is the ultimate non-look at everything. I will continue my investigation, and encourage the reader to do so as well!

                                                             References

Barnhill, D. (2004). Good work: An engaged Buddhist response to the dilemmas of consumerism. Buddhist-Christian Studies, 24, 55-63. 

Brown, B. (2004). Environmental ethics and cosmology: A Buddhist perspective. Zygon, 39, 885-900.

Fouts, A. (2004). Satori: Toward a conceptual analysis. Buddhist-Christian Studies, 24, 01-116.

Johari, H. (2000). Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.

Kaza, S. (2004). Finding safe harbor: Buddhist sexual ethics in America. Buddhist-Christian Studies, 22, 23-35.

                                          - With Love, Alan -

                         (Copyright 2009, by Alan Schneider)

 

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