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Silence- The Essence of Perfect Meditation

Silence- The Essence of Perfect Meditation

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Published by: bde_gnas on Apr 25, 2013
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Silence: The Essence of Perfect Meditation
by Alistair Conwell
Let silence take you to the core of life.—Jalaluddun Rumi (1207-1277)MEDITATION is a categorical imperative for our spiritual evolution—a point oncemade by transpersonal psychologist and author Ken Wilber. If the statement istrue, then meditation has a significance that is unwise to ignore.But what exactly is meditation?When asked that question, Sufi Master Hazrat Inayat Khan replied:"Concentration is the beginning of meditation, meditation is the end ofconcentration; it is an advanced form of concentration. The subtle working of themind is called meditation. It is more profound than concentration, but onceconcentration is accomplished fully it becomes easy for a person tomeditate" (Khan 1996).Naturally, what one concentrates on in meditation is very important because weare a product of our thoughts. Everything we do or say springs from a thought,although sometimes we may not be consciously aware of it. Moreover, if weintensely concentrate upon something for a sufficient period of time, we can loseour sense of identity in the object itself. The following story from ancient Indiaillustrates this point.Eagerly seeking instruction in meditation, a young farmer named Krishna went tosee a sage. The sage advised the youth to recite aspecial mantra whilevisualizing his namesake god seated on a lotus. Hearing this, the young manbecame suddenly despondent. "Please forgive me," he said, "but I am only anuneducated farmer, and so I am unable to follow your instructions. They are toocomplicated, so I won't be able to remember them."Being in a lenient mood and since the youth was a new student of his, the sagethen suggested an alternative, which was to only visualize an
image of LordKrishna without anything else. However, again the young man took on a look of
despondency, saying, "Master, I don't think I will be able to do that either. I wouldhave to sit very still and look at the image at the same time."The master was a little perplexed, yet his immense patience was resolute. In asympathetic tone he asked the man what he was most fond of. With littlehesitation he replied, "The cow on my farm. I love her and constantly think of herbecause she provides me with milk, curd, and ghee."The sage then told the man to sit down and meditate on the cow to his heart'scontent for as long as he could. The man was elated and happily obeyed.Three days later, he was still sitting on the same spot, his mind firmly attached tothe object of his meditation.Finally, the master decided that enough was enough, so he called his neophyteto come indoors and take some nourishment. Rousing from his meditativeequipoise, the man responded with a loud "Moo!" and added in a tone tooserious to disbelieve, "I am too big to fit through the door!"Humor aside, in highlighting the power of our seemingly innocuous thoughts, thisold story also is a poignant reminder about the highest purpose of meditation: todissolve the ephemeral ego-based sense of self into the divine Great Self thatsome call God, others Buddha, Allah, and so on. The name, being a mere label,is unimportant. With this purpose in mind, sages agree that proper meditationmust include another important aspect, the act of listening.The French ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Alfred Tomatis was the first todraw a clear distinction between hearing and listening. His research into soundand the ear is so highly respected that some of his colleagues regard him as the"Einstein of sound" and the "Sherlock Holmes of sonic detection." Born in Nice in1920, Tomatis conducted research that distinguished two processes. One, whichhe called "hearing," is a physiological process because it relates to the ability ofthe auditory system to receive sound. The other, which he called "listening," onthe other hand, is primarily a mental process requiring concentration to focusselectively on, remember, and respond to sound.Arguably the most common advice in all scriptures across the world is to listen.For instance, musicologist Joachim-Ernst Berendtob serves that the word"hear" (meaning in context "to listen") isreferred to at least ninety-one times in thefive books of the Torah (Berendt 1992). Also it is no accident that the verb
comes from the root of the Latin word
"to hear or listen to." For to listen isto obey. Thus, the act of obeisance through listening is really an exercise inselflessness. Selflessness, of course, is the death knell of the illusory ego.Hence, ancient sages and philosophers tell us that our ego is the greatest barrierpreventing us from experiencing union withthe Divine.Therefore, if listening is necessary to destroy the ego, then meditative listeningcan be seen to be the direct route to Divine union. In fact, listening is animportant aspect in many forms of meditation. For instance, mantra meditation isa popular way to concentrate on a seed syllable like
, which is consciouslyheard as it is repeated over and over again. The utterance of the word may beaccompanied by the repetitious sounds of musical instruments. With or withoutthe musical accompaniment, clearly the concentration and listening aspects thatmake for proper meditation are present, and as a result many people around theworld have derived immense benefit from practicing this form of meditation.However, a more subtle variation of mantra meditation that involvesconcentration and a more introspective form of listening is koan meditation aspracticed in the Japanese Zen tradition.A koan is typically a succinct question or problem put to Zen students, whichseems unanswerable because it is illogical. The seemingly irrational element ofthe koan is supposed to make the meditator so focused in search of a "solution"that a fixed point of concentration is attained. So just as the mantra is chantedcontinuously (usually aloud but also silently), the koan is repeated over and overagain in the mind of the Zen student. Being the silent repetition of a question, thestudent seeks an answer within, expecting at any moment the solution to springinto the mind like a flash of enlightenment. This expectation draws the neophytefurther and further inward, to the point where an answer is not found but ratherthe object of meditation is finally achieved: single-pointed concentration, perfectlistening, obedience, the death of the ego.Ancient Zen masters valued the koan precisely because they believed it made forthe perfect listening that enabled the neophyte to face a symbolic death of theego. Hakuin, the eighteenth-centuryJapanese Zen master, explained: "When youtake a koan and examine it persistently, your spirit will die and your ego will bedestroyed. It is as if a bottomless, empty pit were to open up before you and yourhands and feet can find no hold. You feel as if you were looking at the face ofdeath and as if your heart were going up in flames. Then suddenly you are onewith the koan, and you are freed of body and spirit" (Berendt 1991).

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