The Gerson Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine

Scott Gerson, M.D., Ph.D. (Ayurveda) Medical Director, Jupiter Medical Center Dept. of Integrative Medicine Division of Education and Research

Jupiter Medical Center at The Calcagnini Center for Mindfulness
1210 S. Old Dixie Highway, Jupiter, Florida 33458, Suite M-117.2


 


 (561) 263-MIND (6463); option #2 or (561) 510-3833
 
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On Meditation

The Nature of “I”

So deep within us all and more intimate than our personality, our habits, our beliefs, our morals, our faults, our prejudices, our talents, our aspirations and all the other things that contribute to our sense of being a unique individual self, there is a dimension of our identity that defies description.

We all know what it means to say “I” -- we use the word constantly. But do we really know what this word means. We can label many of the things with which we identify ourselves, but the underlying Self that is the “identifier” is much more elusive.

Attempting to describe the Self is analogous to using a flashlight to seek the source of the flashlight’s light. The light can illuminate all the objects in its path but it could never illumine the source of its own light. It is the same when we try to describe the nature of “I.” We can only observe various facets of the Self that the light of our consciousness happens to shine upon -- personality, memories, ambitions, habits, beliefs, emotions, etc. But just as the flashlight cannot find the source of its own light, nor can the human mind find the source of its own experience, the unchanging, permanent core of one’s being.

On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. "One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes." --The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Expery

This does not mean that conscious human beings cannot come to know their true Self. It simply indicates that rather than knowing through the mind or senses, another kind of knowing is required. What is required is not perceiving or thinking but rather being. It is pure knowing itself, comparable to a source of infinite and eternal radiance.

However, because our five senses and logical mind are much more developed than our capacity to access the deeper realms of mind and what lies beyond, we are only faintly aware of our inner nature. We are blind to our true essence. Instead we identify ourselves with our more external, tangible attributes -- our physical form, our personality, our profession, our social status, etc. Such attributes are acquired and can change with time. They do not constitute a single, permanent, unchanging, effulgent Self.

To realize the nature of the underlying Self has been an eternal quest of humanity in every corner of the Earth. In the Vedic tradition, the supreme way to realize the Self is through meditation. It is important to understand the true meaning of meditation, because in modern times its significance has become largely obscured.

Āhamkara—The Illusion of Self-Identification

At the core of every form of meditation is a method to ultimately quiet mental activity and merge with the spiritual essence that exists within us all.

The attainment of this state of consciousness has been called by many names-- enlightenment, samadhi, nirvana, or cosmic consciousness. Cosmic consciousness is not something that we create through meditation. It is already there, deep within, behind the barrier of the thinking mind, patiently waiting for us to realize it.

When the thinking, rational mind (manas) can be quieted one can begin to recognize the false mental distinction which is created between perceived objects and the perceiver. The part of the mind responsible for this illusion is known as āhamkara, the ego. In this sense, ego not only means ones identification with all the features of personality, opinions, desires, likes and dislikes, etc. Āhamkara also encompasses the very ingrained programming coloring our lives which create the illusion of our separateness.

Āhamkara is the limited egoic self or ‘I’ with its dual delusions of ownership and action. It makes us think of ourselves as (1) independent entities of consciousness whose awareness is our own private domain rather than a momentarily appearing wave rising on the ocean of universal consciousness and (2) the originators and doers of our actions.

Āhamkara is a state of maya (illusion), which entangles ones understanding of one's true Self with a created and limited thing. These created things are always external to the Self. It could be a tangible, material thing -like a beautiful home or a Swiss watch- or an intangible, subtle thing - such as an idea, e.g. I am a meditator, I am a mother, or I am a human being. In every case, the ego is involved in constructing the illusion through mistaken identification of the Self with another much smaller and limited thing. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna brilliantly though succinctly explains this to Arjuna.

prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah
ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate (BG 3.27)

“The bewildered individual self confused by ahaṃkāra thinks “I am the doer” of all and every activity, which in reality is performed by the gunas of prakriti under the witnessing influence of Pursua”.

It should be noted, however, that although ahaṃkāra is a state of illusion, while in that state, glimpses of one’s true nature can sometimes appear. This can occur spontaneously or due to an unexpected personal trauma. If this should occur, one can momentarily become detached from the illusion of separateness. Commonly one starts to recognize a higher sense of ethics, kindness and compassion which are the first steps on the path to enlightenment. Without a sufficiently developed and powerful ahaṃkāra as a foil, some say it’s difficult to initially put forth the level of effort necessary to reach higher levels of consciousness. It would be accurate to state that all meditation techniques are ways to transcend the illusions of ahaṃkāra.

Meditation…a still mind is a mind free from thought…free from emotion…free from daydreams, free from inner conversations about the past, free from concern about what may or may not happen in the next moment…the distinction between the perceived and the perceiver dissolves…the thinking mind has fallen silent…the ego-mind has been transcended.

Consciousness itself remains; you are still awake, you are still aware. You, the experiencer, still exist. For a while you are disengaged from your hopes and fears, your social status, your personality, and all those other things that gave you a sense of individual identity. You are free to just be… and to know the underlying universal Self.

Such knowing comes not as an idea or an understanding, for that would make the subject of experience an object of experience. Besides, the still mind is a mind that is not moved by ideas or understandings -- at least, not as we normally think of them. This knowing comes from a direct absorption into the Self. I simply am but I am not any thing; there is no substance or form to my being. Yet its reality is absolutely clear -- and undeniable.

It is this transcendence of the ego and remembering of one’s underlying nature that gives meditation its value. Here is the identity, peace and serenity that seekers been searching for all along. Here is the fulfillment for which we have been yearning. Then, when we come out of meditation, we return to active life with a persistent sweet aftertaste of this inner truth, and a little less attached to the things of the world.

No single moment of transcendence is likely to enlighten us forever. Our conditioning is so deep that it does not take long before we once again are caught up in our identifications, our hopes, fears, worries and concerns, and once again start looking for external sources of fulfillment. But a little of the taste remains, and our attachment to the world may not be quite as strong as it was before. And perhaps after another taste, a little less strong still. This is why regular meditation practice is usually recommended—to gradually awaken from our trance.

The Art of Effortless Rest

Meditation is often thought of as an activity of the mind, a kind of mental technique. However, any mental activity, however subtle, is the opposite of stillness. Meditation practices that involve effort and activity of any kind will not lead to an expansion of consciousness. True meditation does not quiet the mind by changing what one thinks, but by changing the direction and quality of one’s attention. Meditation is not a technique, but rather an art; it is the art of resting the attention. All meditation practices detach the attention away from the senses and sense and turn the attention inwards towards our inner being where it naturally rests.

As the mind continues to settle down it finds greater and great states natural inner rest and peace. The attention has found what it has been longing for, and needs no coercion to continue in this direction. It finds increasing attraction with every movement. This practice is, therefore, not only simple but also automatic.

Meditation is the essence of effortlessness. It is passive; just letting go -- allowing the mind to return freely and unaided to its natural state.

The only temporary difficulty, which can arise in the beginning, usually involves disengaging the mind. So strong is our attachment to our thoughts and the world of sense objects that the mind clings tightly to its cherished thoughts, emotions and beliefs. Even when we do let go and the mind begins to quiet and settle down, it usually is not long before it is disturbed again as some unfulfilled desire starts once more to work out ways of finding future imaginary satisfaction. The irony of meditation is that allowing the attention to rest is not so easy.

This is why specific techniques of meditation are of value -- not as things to do, but as aids to release the mind from its deeply-ingrained patterns. We learn to meditate not as one learns a skill to perform an activity but rather as one learns an art. Meditation is the art of disengaging our egoic mode of thinking.The purpose of meditation is not to try and achieve nirvana, spiritual bliss, or enduring peace and tranquility; nor is its purpose to cure any physical or mental condition or to evolve into a better human being. Meditation is simply the silent and passive witnessing of a subtle space which is eternally present within and without but normally hidden from us due to the mind's incessant activity. By simply entering into that space, doing nothing, we expose our intellectual blasphemies, our deeply-programmed self-deceptions, our veiled fears and desires and thus observe, transcend, and ultimately relinquish our neurotic mental patterns.

The effect of allowing the mind to rest in the stillness of pure consciousness, is that the distinction between oneself and others disappear. All indicators of individuality dissolve. We become aware that we are the light of consciousness, and that this light is the same light that shines within all beings. We recognize our oneness with all beings and the truth of the famous Vedic inscription: sarvajagat kutumbakam, “The entire world is one family”.

This is the supreme union spoken of by the ancient yogis and saints. They have said that meditation is one way to know the truth. They have all relentlessly taught that enlightenment can come in this lifetime only through direct personal knowledge. This is our real human purpose. Can enough of us wake up in time and emerge from our current state of semi-consciousness into the fully-awakened state which is our human birthright? It may sound like a distant aspiration, but it is, in fact, where each of our lives is taking us whether we know it or not.