A Talk from Wisdom's Goldenrod Summer Studies 2013
by Jeff Cox
The primary purpose of practicing meditation is to learn to focus the mind on a specific thought or object so that we can develop the concentration necessary for stabilization of the mind. Once the mind is stable enough, it becomes possible to make a sustained, penetrative inquiry to discover our true nature. With stabilization and sustained inquiry, it becomes more likely that there will be (through the blessed response of grace) a shift of our identity from the personality and body to the Overself—a permanent shift, not merely a life-transforming glimpse!
We cannot over-emphasize the necessity of concentrative focus for success on the spiritual path (or any pursuit for that matter). Our habitual distractedness and laziness must be overcome if we want to cease being a slave to the forces of desire, anger, and stupidity and instead have our body/personality become an inspired expression of our Overself.
Anthony used to say that one could meditate on a door knob—this could certainly develop concentration. Concentration is usually required to achieve anything. So why not learn to concentrate by playing tennis or doing math? Why should we have to sit in a silent space doing nothing “useful” when we could be learning to concentrate on what will advance us in what we want to achieve in life?
It is true that, like anyone who devotes a lot of time to a discipline, we can practice specific concentration to excel in those areas that we want to benefit us. However, if our goal is to learn concentration for the purpose of Overself/God realization, then we are not merely trying to hone some personal skill but rather to invite a shift of identity that transcends the person completely.
So while door knobs can provide a concentrative focus, they do not accord with the goal we are seeking! For this reason, it is important to bring inspired focus and feeling to this process--without devotion and clear purpose, we may easily lose interest—because in the end, there is not much in this for the personal not-Self except to become more refined and then surrendered. Mantra recitation offers an appropriate spiritually-oriented practice for meditative stabilization and inquiry.
Mantra means “to protect the mind.” Protect it from what? one might ask. The mantra keeps the mind focused on the truth of our being and on the path that we are following. It works to counter the extroverting and deadening habits of wrong thinking, reactive emotions, and harmful actions—it develops the introverting current in our life-force that opens us to intuition and inspiration.
Mantra meditation uses special phrases rooted in spiritual traditions that are inspired expressions of reality (Deities, Buddhas or Truth Affirmations). By meditation on these mantras, we can not only develop concentration but also be inspired and transformed by what they represent. To imbibe a mantra’s meaning, it is important therefore to learn what we can about it. As we do the practice, we will simultaneously be giving ourselves a powerful transformative suggestion as we develop our ability to concentrate.
Anthony gave his students one of two mantras for meditation (as far as I know)—OM MANI PADME HUM which is the mantra of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) and OM NAMO AMIDA BITSU. (Amitabha Buddha is the Dhyani Buddha from which Chenrezig is derived). Here we will discuss the practice of the first.
OM MANI PADME HUM -- The Mantra of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara)
In the Tibetan tradition, this mantra is used to invoke the blessings of Chenrezig, who is the embodiment of compassion. Chenrezig is the patron deity of Tibet. The Dalai Lama is thought to be an incarnation of Chenrezig. So this mantra is deeply connected to everything Tibetan. You can find many images of Four-Armed Chenrezig on the internet.
The great teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche says that there is not a single aspect of the Buddha’s teachings which is not contained in this mantra.
The Dalai Lama explains the mantra as follows:
OM = Body, Speech, Mind (impure in the practitioner and exalted in a Buddha) [the basis to be transformed through our practice]
MANI = means Jewel—and here refers to Compassion—the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the benefit of others has the power to remove obstacles through the generation of great merit by practicing the six perfections.
PADME = means Lotus—and here refers to Wisdom that removes the mis-conception and mis-perception of otherness or duality. It is the perfection of wisdom that recognizes selflessness and impermanence and “perfects” the nature of the other five perfections.
HUM = the unity of wisdom and compassion—the spontaneous wisdom and compassionate activity of a Buddha [the fruit = Buddhahood]. All beings have a Buddha Nature waiting to express itself fully in the human that has become a Buddha.
So the mantra embodies the intention to transform our immature body, speech, and mind into the mature body, speech, and mind of a Buddha through the development of wisdom and compassion.
The accompanying chart offers more specifics about this practice. Each of the syllables is related to one of the six realms of existence described in Buddhist doctrine, and each has a corresponding energy that dominates in each realm. These are represented by one of the six planetary powers (the Sun represents the Buddha Nature or Overself that we are—and so is not one of the six powers--the six are the personal powers we feel to be ours to use and transform). Each power is a cause of suffering when used to promote self at the expense of others, and becomes perfected when functioning selflessly.
Each syllable is associated with a planetary color as well and these can be visualized in three different ways according to one’s inclination (or not used at all):
1. Heart Centered: Focus on the space of the spiritual heart and visualize the syllables one by one, either as white syllable on a blue background or focus on a colored syllable on a white background. The white represents Overself as Witness and each syllable is one of its powers.
You can visualize the syllables of the mantra circulating the heart or just appearing one by one. Feel free to intuitively follow your own inner guidance regarding this.
2. Chakra centered: Visualize the colored syllable in each chakra and circulate through the chakras as you visualize each.
Like the rainbow with its pure colors, we are developing the exalted rainbow body as we work to transform previously self centered energies into powers serving our Overself. This visualization may help inspire us to do so.
1. As you say the mantra, you may find it helpful--when experiencing distraction or sleepiness--to increase the size of the syllables or decrease them to a tiny form—try it and see what helps keep the mind focused.
2. You can also experiment with the breath as you say the mantra:
a. raise the breath from the navel to the head as you breathe in to brighten the mind or focus on a downward breath to settle or calm the mind—depending whether you are trying to overcome sleepiness or distraction.
b. Say half the mantra on the in breath and half on the out breath.
c. Say the whole mantra on an in breath and the same on the out.
d. Say one syllable with a single breath
e. Or just breathe naturally and put all the concentration on the syllable.
3. Speed up or slow down. This is also a way to counter the sluggish or distracted mind.
Slowing down the mantra can help to open the space between syllables to remain as Witness. You can also remain as Witness as the mantra flashes by quickly. The Witness is the natural stability of mind.
We are trying to be as relaxed and focused as possible. Each of us is differently constituted and so there is no one formula for practice for everyone.
NOW LET’S STOP READING AND DO THE MEDITATION – Let’s start with the simple visualization of the white syllables appearing in the deep blue space of the heart center. Let’s start with a pace of one syllable per second and hold the image of the white letters firmly in this heart space.
To summarize, here are some helpful quotes from The Notebooks of Paul Brunton--
Meditation has as its first object an increasing withdrawal of the mind from the things of this world, and also from the thoughts of this world, until it is stilled, passive, self-centered. But before it can achieve any object at all, attention must be made as keenly concentrated as an eagle's stare. (4-3-75)
To achieve this kind of concentration where attention is withdrawn from the outer world and held tightly in itself, a determined attitude is needed of not stopping until this sharply pointed state is reached. All other thoughts are rejected in the very moment that they arise. If at the start there is aspiration and devotion toward the Overself, and in the course of the effort too, then eventually the stress falls away and the Stillness replaces it. (4-3-188)
One of the causes of the failure to get any results from meditation is that the meditator has not practised long enough. In fact, the wastage of much time in unprofitable, distracted, rambling thinking seems to be the general experience. Yet this is the prelude to the actual work of meditation in itself. It is a necessary excavation before the building can be erected. The fact is unpleasant but must be accepted. If this experience of the first period is frustrating and disappointing, the experience of the second period is happy and rewarding. He should really count the first period as a preparation, and not as a defeat. If the preliminary period is so irksome that it seems like an artificial activity, and the subsequent period of meditation itself is so pleasant and effortless that it seems like a perfectly natural one, the moral is: more perseverance and more patience. (4-3-2)
[Jeff comments--]Focusing on a mantra gives us feedback about the nature and condition of our mind. Are we staying with the mantra or do we wander? Any wandering is usually the result of attachment to our story, to our personality-based identity. The wandering is driven by desires, fears, hatreds. We get to see these as we practice and experience our bondage. In turn, this helps increase our aspiration to align with the presence of the soul that we are. What do we choose? Feeding our story? Lost in our dreaming? This re-orientation takes time but the fruits of our efforts gradually wake us up to the presence of the Overself and the realization that this is what we are…not the appearance of a self in the life-dreaming.
The inward stillness which is attained during meditation affects the character in this way: it shows the meditator a joy and beauty beyond that which animal appetite can show. It gives a satisfaction beyond that which animal passion can give. This one discovers and feels during meditation periods; but its after-effects also begin to linger more and more during the long intervals between such periods and to permeate them. (4-1-295)
What it is necessary for him to do is really to surrender his fears and anxieties, whether concerning himself or those near and dear to him, or those who, he thinks, want to hurt him. He should surrender all these to God and be himself rid of them. For this is what giving up the ego truly means. He would then have no need to entertain such negative thoughts. They would be replaced by a strong faith that all would be well with him. To the extent that he can give up the little ego with its desires and fears, to that extent he invites and attracts divine help in his life. (18-4-129)
As a final offering….a prayer written by Anthony in one of his books:
OM MANI PADME HUM!
To my dear Lord—truth of my being—the God within my innermost consciousness—
reveal thy grace, deliver “me” from ignorance, guide me to thy Lotus feet…..
teach me surrender.
Oh thou unknown God—have mercy, have mercy…..