Where do the teachings of still-mind meditation come from? Tracy, a very insightful young teacher of still-mind meditation, rang me with exactly that query.
Considering that there is Buddhism and Zen and MBSR and the multitude of other titles for meditation – what she called ‘packages’ – it is a good question. And people who ask about learning meditation do often want to know what “the package” is. What do you suppose I answered? Of course I said it is about outcomes, not philosophy.
Still-mind meditation shifts awareness
From a mind’s-eye view of “me and everything else”, awareness shifts to an easeful, fluid merging with reality as it is.
Those who get it live differently from those who don’t
With an easeful fluidity, they move from experience to experience without either defensiveness or aggression. They recognise that they don’t need an opinion on everything that passes by their senses. After a while, they do not need “teachings” to guide their behaviour, and yet wisdom and compassion grow in the fertile soil of stillness watered by the sweet nutrients of regular no-thing, still-mind meditation.
This is quite different from living with a need for justifications, rules, certainty and control. Such common neediness brings separation from those whose rules are different – a breeding ground for defensiveness and aggression rather than peace and easefulness.
Not teachings – awareness
But those who do get it soon recognise that the original teachers were simply talking to the people who came to them, whether that was in Aramaic, or Japanese, or Sanskrit, or old Middle German, or Arabic, or Greek . They were not setting up an ism or a body of doctrines. While books and teachings can be helpful at first, eventually one just has to “get it”. “Getting it” means meeting every moment of every day with acute awareness.
Awareness of what?
Getting it is awareness that egocentrism (the view through the lens of I-me) distorts the experience of reality.
Paradoxically, subscribing to a set of beliefs reinforces that distortion. Not getting it is inevitable when one subscribes instead to a body of teachings, an ism, normally involving doctrine, dogma and rules for members. When holding on to an ism people generally try to be a little more loving, a little less selfish, a little more forgiving… sounds nice, yet in the process, life, self and existence is neither queried, nor examined. They work on modifying self-importance rather than examining where it comes from.
“Not getting it” is merely to modify egotism, while a more profound practice – stillness -brings recognition (“getting it”) that the roots of egotism lie in a world-view where the principle is: “I” am different from everyone and everything else, and really rather special. That world-view is egocentrism. Stillness is a route out of it.
Egocentrism versus egotism
Egocentrism is more pernicious than simple egotism. While egotism is just plain selfishness, egocentrism is a notion as ignorant as the theory that the sun revolves around the earth – which itself is flat, and made for the use of mankind.
Egocentrism is both personal – the feeling that self is at the centre of all there is, and the person has a right to use what there is for personal advantage – and also is a phenomenon of the human species. We practise the egocentric world view with personal selfishness and self-righteousness, and in biases at a much broader level, which are national, cultural, and species-wide. Humans at the centre of the universe.
“Getting it” is the reverse… from still-mind meditation, identification is with quiet awareness, where the question is not about “who I am”, or should I strive more, or how much we can become a good person or how much wickedness should be punished, or what is forgivable or what is not, or what will happen to us when we die. Identification is with consciousness itself, which makes no claim on I-me specialness – the origin of selfishness and cruelty – or superiority, by which we set ourselves up as the judge. There is simplicity, fluid easefulness and empathy.
Categories where you might find outcomes of still-mind meditation (but why bother with categories?)
If you must put that awareness into a category of teachings, for the sake of discussion, we can call it non-dualism, ie the unitary experience of being when “I-me” is recognised as a cognitive distortion of the facts of life. That really does not become visible without a practice of still-mind meditation.
The comprehension of it can be found in packages like
- some of mainstream Buddhism (but notice the ism)
- Meister Eckhart
- but not in Christian dogma
- perhaps in the Greek Cynics
- probably in Plotinus’s Enneads (if you can plough through them to find the gems)
- many of the stories of Nasruddin, whose origins are Islamic
- Arabic – the emotional poetry of Rumi, whose legacy also is Islamic
- Tao Te Ching, Chinese outline of what comes of still-mind meditation
And of course there is
- Hindu Advaita, which translated directly means Not Two, and was practised as still-mind meditation long before Gautama came down to central India and learnt about it from Yogis.
And Gautama just talked to people too. But then over centuries devotees turned him into The Buddha, and argumentation between competing opinions about his teachings, by people who had never heard him teaching, led to creation of a canon of doctrines, over which scholars still argue to show their learning. Well might the Zen Buddhist Shoju shrug and comment, “What are you saying!”
Yet the significant outcome of still-mind meditation is that we become easier with how reality is, and at the same time, we become easier to live with.