and contemplation are both exercises in concentration. The normal deluge of conscious thought is restricted, and the mind is
brought to one conscious area of operation. The results are those you find
in any concentrative practice: deep
calm, a physiological slowing of the metabolism and a sense of peace and
which is also purely concentrative. The traditional basic exercises
consist of focusing the mind on a single object a stone, a candle flame, a
syllable or whatever, and not allowing it to wander. Having acquired the
basic skill, the Yogi proceeds to expand his practice by taking on more
complex objects of meditation chants, colourful religious images, energy
channels in the body and so forth. Still, no matter how complex the object
of meditation, the
meditation itself remains purely an exercise in concentration.
tradition, concentration is also highly valued. But a new element is added
and more highly stressed. That
element is awareness. All Buddhist meditation aims at the development
of awareness, using concentration as a tool.
The Buddhist tradition is very wide, however, and there are several
diverse routes to this goal.
uses two separate tasks. The first is the direct plunge into awareness by sheer force of
will. You sit down and you just sit, meaning that you toss out of your
mind everything except pure awareness of sitting. This sounds very simple.
It is not. A brief trial will demonstrate just how difficult it really is.
The second Zen approach used in the Rinzai school is that of tricking the
mind out of conscious thought and into pure awareness. This is done by
giving the student an unsolvable riddle which he must solve anyway, and by
placing him in a horrendous training situation. Since he cannot flee from
the pain of the situation, he must flee into a pure experience of the
moment. There is nowhere else to go. Zen is tough. It is effective for
many people, but it is really tough
is nearly the reverse. Conscious thought, at least the way we usually do
it, is the manifestation of
ego, the you that you usually
think that you are. Conscious thought is tightly connected with self-concept.
The self-concept or ego is nothing more than a set
of reactions and mental images which are artificially pasted to the flowing process of pure awareness.
Tantra seeks to obtain pure awareness by destroying this ego image. This
is accomplished by a process of visualization. The student is given a
particular religious image to meditate upon, for example, one of the
deities from the Tantric pantheon. He does this in so thorough a fashion
that he becomes that entity. He takes off his own identity and puts on
another. This takes a while, as you might imagine, but it works. During
the process, he is able to watch the way that the ego is constructed and
put in place. He comes to recognize the arbitrary nature of all egos,
including his own, and he escapes from bondage to the ego. He is left in a
state where he may have an ego if he so chooses, either his own or
whichever other he might wish, or he can do without one. Result: pure
awareness. Tantra is not exactly a game of patty cake either.
is the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices. The method comes directly
from the Sitipatthana Sutta, a discourse attributed to Buddha himself.
Vipassana is a direct and gradual cultivation of mindfulness or awareness.
It proceeds piece by piece over a period of years. The student's attention is carefully directed to an intense examination of certain
aspects of his own existence. The meditator is trained to notice more
and more of his own flowing life experience. Vipassana is a gentle
technique. But it also is very, very thorough. It is an ancient and
codified system of sensitivity training, a set of exercises dedicated to
becoming more and more receptive to your own life experience. It is
attentive listening, total seeing and careful testing. We learn to smell
acutely, to touch fully and really pay attention to what we feel. We learn
to listen to our own thoughts without being caught up in them.