Practicing meditation, we can reveal our True identity and profoundly enhance our experience of life. In the context of Simple Reality the purpose of meditation is to attain an experience of the present moment. In pragmatic language the purpose of meditation is to enable the choice of response rather than reaction. Obviously then, a profound practice of meditation means that our life becomes a continuous meditation employing the Point of Power Practice. It then is a simple matter to assess how successful we are from moment to moment at living in P-A as opposed to P-B. Am I at this moment experiencing the afflictive emotions of a reaction or the “feeling” of the Now? The following material on meditation will support the simple Point of Power Practice.
The reason that we must not identify with the mind, body and emotions, for example, is because it is through them that we express fear and this expression is the reaction that is the root cause of human suffering. It is through the practice of meditation that we begin developing the awareness that will allow our new identity to emerge.
Meditation for the beginner has a very specific goal. Focusing on the breath and observing the body, mind and emotions will begin to reveal the reality of impermanence. Sensations in the body come and go. The story (P-B) contained in the “monkey mind” shifts and changes in an endless stream of consciousness. The story also drives emotional reactions that feed energy back into the story and the emotions also morph endlessly into never-ending sources of suffering.
By focusing on and returning our attention to the breath, as we also continue to observe the body, mind and emotions, we will eventually experience a sense of separation between that which is being observed and our true self as the observer or witness. The realization that we are the observer and not our body, mind or emotions shifts our identity and we experience the insight which becomes the foundation for the actual shift into the present moment. Focusing on the breath can also transform energy from a reaction into a response. When this occurs we have had the experience of moving from P-B to P-A—we have had an experience of Simple Reality. By focusing on the “grounding” influence of the breath and choosing response over reaction we have chosen feeling instead of afflictive emotion.
Our life then becomes a meditation in the context of P-A wherein we get more and more secure in our identity as pure indestructible energy in the narrative of Simple Reality or Oneness. We are aware that we are engaged in the moment to moment process of reconditioning our behavior. We have had decades of training to react to the fear-driven craving and aversion associated with the three energy centers of the false self. Like the dog in Pavlov’s conditioning experiments, we automatically salivate when we hear the bell, the ringing desire for security, sensation and power that trigger our reaction. Because we have a new identity and the Point of Power Practice to employ in a constant state of vigilant meditation (present moment awareness), we are empowered to choose to not salivate (react) but instead we choose to remain in the Now and respond with our new identity. We are attaining freedom from the effects of the bell, freedom from the self-destructive influence of P-B. Meditation and life have merged in a compassionate, joy-filled dance to the music of the Universe.
Now, taking a broader look at meditation as defined and practiced by wise and perceptive teachers who lived across the space/time continuum of human history, we find a meditation technique that was faithfully preserved and passed down in a direct lineage from Buddha. The ancient Indian meditation technique called Vipassana was rediscovered 2500 years ago by Siddhartha Guatama (Buddha). The term Vipassana, translated as “Insight” meditation by some, means “seeing things as they really are” or for our purposes it means Simple Reality.
Using the process of observing the breath we learn that we are not our body, mind or emotions. The Buddhists who practice Vipassana meditation would say that they are realizing the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness or purification of the mind by self-observation. This is true and we could say, more simply, that we become the observer of our own false self, transcend P-B illusions, and enter the present moment (P-A) feeling the freedom, peace, compassion, joy and happiness of Simple Reality, reality as it really is. In so doing our identity shifts because we have provided a new worldview or context that will accommodate it.
The following story from Henepola Gunaratana shows the functioning of the mind and breath in the contexts of both P-B and P-A. “Ancient Pali texts [the lingua-franca spoken during the life of Siddhartha Guatama] liken meditation to the process of taming a wild elephant. The procedure in those days was to tie a newly captured animal to a post with a good strong rope. When you do this, the elephant [the mind identified with the body, the P-B story and the emotions] is not happy. He screams and tramples, and pulls against the rope for days. Finally it sinks through his skull that he can’t get away, and he settles down. At this point you can begin to feed him and to handle him with some measure of safety. Eventually you can dispense with the rope and post altogether, and train your elephant for various tasks … In this analogy the wild elephant is your wildly active mind, the rope is mindfulness [meditation or Point of Power Practice], and the post is our object of meditation, our breathing [our ability to respond].” A mind in P-A is a tamed mind, a disciplined mind that can distinguish between reaction and response and is willing to work day in and day out to attain true freedom.
Simple Reality and the three basic causes of suffering (craving, aversion and ignorance) are mutually exclusive. The meditation practice of continually choosing response and not reacting is a process of reconditioning our behaviors or “purification” as the Buddhists would say. In short, this practice of meditation when combined with the Point of Power Practice eliminates all of our suffering caused by our reactions, because we simply are empowered to choose response instead of reaction. We have developed a new identity, characterized by self-reliance and the authentic power to transcend the unconscious narrative and the delusional identity of P-B. It no longer makes sense to choose self-destructive and reactive behavior, so we stop doing it.
Why the Point of Power Practice as opposed to other forms of meditation and why must our day-to-day life become a meditation? S. N. Goenka has taught Vipassana meditation for over 40 years. He says, “There are many techniques to develop concentration. One may be taught to concentrate on a word by repeating it, or on a visual image, or even to perform over and over again a certain physical action. In doing so one becomes absorbed in the object of attention, and attains a blissful state of trance. Although such a state is no doubt very pleasant so long as it lasts, when it ends one finds oneself back in ordinary life with the same problems as before. These techniques work by developing a layer of peace and joy at the surface of the mind, but in the depths the conditioning remains untouched. The objects used to attain concentration in such techniques have no connection with the moment-to-moment reality of oneself.” That “moment-to-moment reality” which must be dealt with is the continuous reaction emanating from our P-B conditioning.
How powerful is the Point of Power Practice? It is based on the meditation practice taught by the Buddha himself and reaffirmed by S. N. Goenka, who has become a world-renown teacher of Vipassana meditation. “One doesn’t react, and not reacting starts changing the habit patterns at the deep level of the mind … In my experience, I haven’t found a single person who has been unable to do it … Unless there is peace in the mind of the individual, how can there be peace in the world?”
In addition to the Simple Reality principles of impermanence and suffering, perhaps the most difficult to internalize is that of no “self” or no “I.” It takes a healthy ego or personality to contemplate the reality of not having an existence separate from the rest of creation. But Jack Engler warns of the dangers of insisting on “self-centeredness.” “You have to be somebody before you can be nobody. This is the paradox relating to the Buddha’s teaching relating to ‘no self.’ On the other hand, my experience teaching Buddhist psychology and Vipassana meditation has made it equally clear that clinging to a sense of personal continuity and self-identity results in chronic discontent and psychic conflict …”
Enlightenment is an accident: meditation makes you accident prone. Richard Baker Roshi
What are the fruits of a regular meditation practice that we haven’t mentioned specifically? “The Dalai Lama refers to meditation as ‘internal disarmament.’” We might imagine that he means internal peace. Thomas Troward who spent his career as a judge in India and wrote several profound books as a Western mystic, cites the reward of a regular meditation practice: “This, then, is the attitude of repose [meditation] in which we may enjoy all the beauties of science, literature and art or may peacefully commune with the spirit of nature …” Anyone declining to at least explore meditation and the possibility of transformation or transcendence is obviously missing one of the great opportunities of the life we have been given.
Meditation has a close relationship with the process of developing of a new worldview or a paradigm shift. From his excellent book, What the Buddha Taught, we have Walpola Rahula: “The word meditation is a very poor substitute for the original term … which means culture or mental development … It aims at cleansing the mind of impurities and disturbances, such as lustful desires, hatred, ill-will, indolence, worries and restlessness, skeptical doubts, and cultivating such qualities as concentration, awareness, intelligence, will, energy, the analytical faculty, confidence, joy, tranquility, leading finally to the attainment of highest wisdom which sees the nature of things as they are, and realizes the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana.” In other words, meditation is a way to examine and modify our feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values.
Rahula continues: “There are two forms of meditation. One is the development of mental concentration … leading up to the highest mystic stages … All these mystic states, according to the Buddha, are mind-created, mind produced, conditioned. They have nothing to do with Reality, Truth, Nirvana … He [Buddha] considered these mystic-states only as ‘happy living in this existence,’ or ‘peaceful living’ and nothing more. He therefore discovered the other form of ‘meditation’ known as vipassana ‘Insight’ into the nature of things, leading to the complete liberation of mind, to the realization of the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana … It is an analytical method based on mindfulness, awareness, vigilance, observation.” This is a perfect description of the Point of Power Practice. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche deepens our understanding with a simple definition: “Practice means ‘bring it into experience.’”
His Holiness, The Dalai Lama is well versed in modern scientific research as this description will affirm. “In Buddhism, this mental training is called bhavana, which is usually translated as ‘meditation’ in English. The original Sanskrit term bhavana carries connotations of cultivation, in the sense of cultivating familiarity with a given object, whether an external or an internal experience … Already experiments have shown that experienced meditators have more activity in the left frontal lobe, the part of the brain associated with positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, and contentment. These findings imply that happiness is something we can cultivate deliberately through mental training that affects the brain. The Buddha himself argued that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions of one’s state of mind (which normally give rise to particular habitual patterns of mental activity), one can change the traits of one’s consciousness and the resulting attitudes and emotions.”
In fact, whether we call it “cultivating familiarity” as does the Dalai Lama or being the observer in the present moment, meditation involves quantifiable brain activity. Barry Boyce says, “For example, what metaphysical beliefs might you harbor that would make you wildly excited to learn that when people pay attention in meditation, they show the same pattern of brain activity as when they pay attention anywhere else?”
Ken Wilber describes meditation in yet another way. “Meditation is, simply, a form of intensive attention training and its consequences, the major consequence being the triggering of an atypical sequence of adult development … According to the careful comparison of the traditions we have to conclude the following: there is only one path, but it has several outcomes. There are several kinds of enlightenment, although all free awareness from psychological structure and alleviate suffering.”
In the context of psychology, the observations of David Hawkins support our basic understanding of the dynamics of meditation. “Basic to the ego’s continuance and capacity to dominate is its claim to authorship of all subjective experience. The ‘I thought’ is extremely quick in interjecting itself as the supposed cause of all aspects of one’s life. This is difficult to detect except by intense focus of attention during meditation on the origination of the thought stream … It becomes obvious [to the True self] that one is the witness of phenomena and not the cause or doer of them. The self, then, becomes that which is being witnessed rather than identifying with it as the witness or experiencer …”
Hawkins continues, describing the function of the ego and its survival strategy in P-B: “The relinquishment of the ego self [false self] as one’s central focus involves the letting go of all these layers of attachments and vanities, and one eventually comes face-to-face with the ego’s primary function of control to ensure continuance and survival. Therefore, the ego clings to all its faculties because their basic purpose, to ensure its survival, is the ‘reason’ behind its obsession with gain, winning, learning, alliances, and accumulation of possessions, data, and skills. The ego has endless schemes for enhancing survival—some gross, some obvious, others subtle and hidden … The only simple task to be accomplished is to let go of the identification with the ego as one’s real self!”
Continuing in the language of psychology, Jack Engler adds that: “From the Buddhist point of view, concentration meditation induces transient states of happiness and conflict-free functioning by temporarily suppressing the operation of the drives [survival strategy] and the higher perceptual-intellectual functions [analysis, synthesis and evaluation]; but it is the insight [Vipassana] form of practice alone which liberates from suffering by bringing about enduring intra-psychic structural change … The meditator notes only the succession of thoughts, feelings [afflictive emotions] and sensations as these arise and pass away. In contrast to conventional psychotherapy work, no attention is paid to their individual content. Effectively, all stimuli are attended to equally without selection or censorship. Again in contrast to conventional psychotherapy, attention is kept ‘bare’ of any reaction [italics mine] to what is perceived … The aim is threefold: to come to know one’s own mental processes; in this way to begin to have the power to shape or control them; and finally to gain freedom from the condition where one’s psychic processes are unknown and uncontrolled.” This is a good description of why the Point of Power Practice is a simple and effective practice to bring about “intra-psychic structural change” or a paradigm shift.
Ken Wilber might also be speaking of a paradigm shift or changes in feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values in this next quote. In any case, his unique way of expressing it is refreshing. “Meditation frees the alert mind from external demands and also from the internal themes of unfinished business that pressure for planning and problem-solving. Like dreams, this special form of contemplative consciousness may allow a reworking of mental schemata and enduring attitudes in a unique way. Such changes in schemata may allow new conscious experiences, which then feed back to other changes. (Schemata are inner working models that contain information abstracted out of and generalized from earlier experiences. Mental development means elaborating existing schemata into new forms as well as nesting schemata into useful hierarchies.)”
Remembering that repetition is necessary for deep and lasting reconditioning and transformation, let’s review the foundational principles of meditation once again. We begin with the importance of focusing on the breath. We use the breath as the ground of present-moment awareness because it is automatic. It requires no thought and is the perfect thing to observe or “witness” because as we practice observing the breath, we begin to create the separation from body, mind and emotions which is at the heart of a P-B identity. We are engaging in shifting our identity to that of the observer, to that which is free of false-self identification. “When we stop speaking and thinking,” as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “and enjoy deeply in and out breath, we are enjoying being in our true home and we can touch deeply the wonders of life.”
We might not expect a Roman emperor to have understood this, but it is clear that Marcus Aurelius had profound insights of his own relating to meditation. “… those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.” The Edgar Cayce readings revealed the power of observers to change their past conditioning. “Only by cultivating an ‘observer’ consciousness—what Edgar Cayce called learning to ‘stand aside and watch self pass by.’ Simply being able to make that objective, non-judgmental observation creates a kind of ‘observer energy’ that can break old patterns.”
Our identity shift includes letting go of our attachment to thinking of ourselves as having a “self” separate from the rest of creation. Piero Ferrucci puts it this way: “In practicing Buddhist meditation, we discover to our surprise that the protagonist we thought ourselves to be does not exist; we are only a momentary, impersonal combination of mental states. In fact, there is nobody there to be tortured by problems and anxieties. From this perspective, everything takes place in a state of indescribable lightness, no longer fraught with dramas or terrors.” Such is the radical freedom inherent in Simple Reality.
Just as we realize that we are not a separate self, we come to let go of identifying with the mind and emotions. “The subtle difference with mindfulness is that ‘while mindfulness recognizes the power of thoughts to shape our lives, it attends to those thoughts with acceptance. It doesn’t try to get rid of anything. You realize that the part of you witnessing these thoughts and emotions is not the thoughts and emotions. It’s your true nature. That’s what heals.” Steve Flowers has just reminded us that shifting from P-B to P-A is a process of becoming healthier both physically and mentally.
In experiencing Simple Reality we ultimately become more compassionate. Ken Wilber agrees: “Likewise, the soul is interior to the mind; it is not inside the mind—the only thing inside the mind is thoughts, which is why introspecting the mind never reveals the soul. As thoughts quiet down, however, the soul emerges interiorily vis-à-vis the mind, and therefore, can transcend the mind, see beyond it, escapes it. And likewise, spirit is not inside the soul, it is interior to the soul, transcending its limitations and forms. Apparently, then, theorists who claim that meditation is narcissistic imagine that meditators are going inside the mind; but they are rather going interior to it, and thus beyond it: less narcissistic, less subjectivistic, less self-centric, more universal, more encompassing, and thus ultimately more compassionate.”
Expanding meditation into our whole life with the Point of Power Practice helps recondition our reactive behaviors and supports the shift into P-A. Ken Wilber says: “It is important (particularly in our society, and particularly at this point in evolution) that one’s spiritual practice be integrated into daily life and work … Meditation, in my opinion, is not a means of digging back into the lower and repressed structures of the submergent-unconscious, it is a way of facilitating the emergence, growth, and development of the higher structures of consciousness. To confuse the two is to foster the reductionist notion, quite prevalent, that meditation is (at best) a regression in service of ego, whereas by design and practice it is a progression in the transcendence of ego … Equally important, the student is instructed to remain mindful of each and every other activity he engages in throughout the day, as he does it. In effect then, meditation is continuous and is ideally carried on without a break from rising to sleeping. This continuity in practice is the single most important factor in developing and maintaining that high degree of concentration which facilitates the development of insight.”
The ultimate goal of all human activity is represented by the many statues of Buddha sitting in peaceful repose. Remember Nissargadatta’s: “Do nothing. Have nothing. Know nothing.” Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche helps us remember that “The Buddha said, ‘My practice is the practice of non-practice.’ That means a lot. Give up all struggle. Allow yourself to rest.” Struggle is, of course, reaction pure and simple. Spiritual practices are all too often a form of reaction. To respond is to do nothing. That is true transcendence.
And finally, Joseph Campbell helps us keep a wholesome perspective in living a life with awareness. “And what then is finally the best austerity, what is the best discipline? The best discipline is to enjoy your friends. Enjoy your meals. Realize what play is. Participation in the play, in the play of life. This is known as mahasuka, the Great Delight.” Meditation is ultimately a healthy and joyful human activity and should not be undertaken as a burdensome and difficult task.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Who Am I? The Second Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Where Am I? The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival