Monday, March 2, 2009

What is Meditation? - Meditators Perspective

Week 4 - Post Class Notes

As psychological research tells us so little about the actual experiences of the meditator, the sensible thing is to go to meditators themselves and ask them to tell us in their own words the effect that meditation has upon them. Following are two examples from westerners who have studied meditation under Eastern meditation teachers.

From Jane Hamilton-Merritt, an American writer who spent some time in intensive meditation practice in Thai monasteries:
"Meditation... is among many things a learning to still the mind, to control it, to center the mind's potential energy... ther mind expands and is capable of producing more acute realisations... the body and mind seem to come together in a harmony or centring because separateness, or duality, of the body and mind which prevents humans from knowing their true self and is consequently the source of much struggle, of much unhappiness, of much suffering. The process of meditation seems to involve a shedding of desires, of the need for unnecessary possessions, of a demanding ego..when these fall away.. it becomes possible to know something of the true self. In this new state minus all these hindering distracting trappings, the mind can be centred and achieve personal equanimity." - [A Meditator's Diary, p.142]

On the subject of this personal equanimity, Hamilton-Merritt confirms that 'there is a calmness, an understanding, a harmony in my life which has developed as a result of meditation'.

The second example is by Timonthy Ward, another American who studied in a Thai monastery, and gives us a tasted of the experience of 'samadhi', a deep level of meditation.

"My breath came through clearly, easily. It sustained itself with a perfect concentration never before achieved. Thoughts arose from time to time but they could not intrude. I was aware only of balance, of ease... It was a surprisingly active state of mind, nieghter automatic or trancelike. Only moment by moment concentration could sustain it. It required energy but produced no stress... I felt I could sustain the state indefinitely.. What I cherished was the feeling of ease." -[What the Buddha Never Taught', p.150]

Both these examples describe something over and above what emerges from techniques like relaxation training, no matter how similary the physiological effects may be. The literature produced by relaxation training contacins no accounts of the knowledge of the 'true self' gained by Jane Hamilton-Merritt, no accounts of the samadhi experienced by Timothy Ward. Evern the literature produced by those who have undergone the various psychotherapies developed in the West contains nothing directly comparable.

The literature produced by meditators is full of similar examples. The more one delves into this literature and talks to and observes practising meditators, the more one becomes aware that here is a tehcnique like no other technique, a practice like no other practice. A practice that can transform, that brings with it a richness of understanding and imparts a wisdon hard to put into words but which transports thow who sample it into a deeper dimension of experience.

For in the way that my first tentative attempt at meditation subtly transformed the shapes and the colours of the room around me, so meditation alters not only the perspective one has of oneself - the way one thinks and feels about and experiences oneself - but also the perspective one has of the outer world. There is a shift not only in one's mental and emotional condition but also, as it were, in one's sense perception. One becomes more open to the environment, more aware of the beauties and colours of nature, of the joys and sorrows of others. One 'feels' the texture of life, in the way that a parent feels the smooth warm skin of a baby, or the potter the clay on the wheel, or the gardener the petals of an opening flower.

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