Meditation is about becoming aware of the activities of the egoic self, and realizing its emptiness at the gross, subtle and causal levels of mind. Meditation is realizing the emptiness/awareness as one’s true nature which is beyond all changing phenomena. Meditation itself can help us to penetrate into the illusory nature of all phenomena that is arising and passing away (annica). Yet any technique we learn is part of the illusion and can become an obstacle or conditioned pattern itself. For this reason some teachers object to any form of formal meditation technique. J. Krishnamurti is famous for saying that no one can teach you true meditation. Ultimately of course he was right. He points out that what passes for meditation in meditation centers is mostly conditioned activity, and the ego trying to achieve something. He points out how absurd it all is, all these people sitting on cushions trying to awaken, because in most cases it is simply the mind trying to attain something. Seeking to attain something is what the mind always does, but now it is going for spiritual attainments. The mind wants to become more enlightened, more pure, or more free. True freedom requires the giving up of all seeking and all craving and aversion, which is the prison of the self. There is value to meditation techniques, but one’s relationship to them and understanding of the practice is the key, otherwise one can fall into the trap that J. Krishnamurti so poignantly describes.
If one starts out using a meditation technique, one is essentially using the mind to become free of mind, or using illusion to become free of illusion. We are literally cleaning or purifying our self of our self. It is like using a thorn to remove a thorn. Once any technique has served its purpose, one must let it go, otherwise it become a conditioned pattern itself and an obstacle to realizing stillness. One ultimately cannot use an activity to realize stillness. One uses subtler and subtler activities as stepping stones so that the mind becomes quieter until awareness is simply present in a way that is unfiltered or unmediated by mind.
In Zen there is a great story to illustrate the most fundamental point about meditation. A Zen master saw a student sitting in zazen (traditional Zen meditation posture). He said to the student “what are you trying to accomplish by sitting there?”. The student replied “To attain Buddha-hood”. The Zen master picked up a piece of tile and began to polish it. The student asked “What are you doing?”. The teacher said “I am polishing this tile so that it will eventually become like a mirror.” The student laughed, “How can you make a piece of rock into a mirror?”. The Zen master said “How can you make yourself into a Buddha?”
The egoic mind can’t become Buddha. No matter what technique the mind tries, it will never become other than mind. In Taoism there is the most subtle realization of Wei Wu Wei, or “doing not doing”. It is an effortless effort, or a doing that is actually just simply being. J. Krishnamurti spoke of a natural state of choice-less awareness as the state of true meditation.
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” ~ J. Krishnamurti
The tile analogy can be taken to an even higher level of truth. The ultimate cosmic joke is that when one awakens it is realized that the tile was already already the mirror. The mind of the student was always already Buddha nature; primordial awareness, disguised as the the student. When we observe without mind, without concept or memory, we can observe the true nature of a thing, seeing through the disguise to reveal primordial awareness. When one observes without the filter of the limited mind, one is observing as the unlimited mind, which is all that is. Then there is no more localized “me” that is observing; the seer is immanent in all things.
Meditation, if it is to be useful, has to lead beyond any limited ego-centered activity of mind, to less and less pathological thinking and doing. If we are just polishing tiles when we are meditating, we are engaged in a futile activity and it is just the ego trying to meditate. It is in the still depths of one’s being that one’s true nature is revealed.
Once you realize Samadhi through “be still and know”, it is possible to “be in motion and know”.Stillness and motion are realized as “not one, not two”. The “I AM” never moves from that still point that is everywhere and nowhere. We realize fullness as emptiness, stillness as movement, self as other, and understand that it is the limited mind that creates these separations and distinctions. The “I AM” is unfathomable to the limited mind, and is something far beyond its comprehension. The Source is simply using the self structure as an instrument, an avatar to play in the world of form and to know itself. As the Heart Sutra says:
“Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness is exactly form”.
Stillness and motion are ultimately just a duality created by the limited mind. From the absolute perspective no such distinction really exists.