FOR MANY MILLIONS OF practitioners — perhaps even a majority — engagement in yoga or an equivalent meditation regime is very much in the realm of cause and effect. One follows a procedure of some sort and there is an apparent result, a noticeable perceptual change or shift. Given a certain amount of repetition and degree of proficiency, the practice becomes routinized, almost Pavlovian in nature — the activity being viewed as beneficial and reliable, one continues much in the manner of calisthenics or a musician’s scales and arpeggios. Indeed, such methodologies as Hatha Yoga and Transcendental Meditation are often presented and promoted as self-improvement programs to enhance physical and emotional well-being rather than as adjuncts to serious spiritual endeavor.
Given such experience, it’s entirely understandable that techniques designed in and for a context of realization can so easily become entrenched as mere habit, no more significant than one’s breakfast bran muffin or dinnertime vitamin supplements. Taking note of this syndrome, that least sentimental of 20th-century realizers, J. Krishnamurti, declared, “Meditation is not the repetition of the word, nor the experiencing of a vision, nor the cultivating of silence. The bead and the word do quieten the chattering mind, but this is a form of self-hypnosis. You might as well take a pill.” (From The Only Revolution, p. 19)
It would be tempting to infer that Krishnamurti was counseling against all formal practice, but his own lifelong Hatha Yoga routine and the yoga instruction in the schools that bear his name belie that interpretation. What is clear is his use of the word meditation to point toward a perceptual state rather than a procedure, something borne out in his more poetic writings where he often richly describes a sensory experience and concludes by calling it “a great meditation” or “a benediction.”
The fact is that most of us have experienced meditative states, however briefly, long before embarking on any intentional meditative practice. It can even be argued that we are born into such a state, as many who have gazed into the eyes of a very young infant will fervently testify. As adults, the catalyst for a momentary shift into meditation is usually a (preferably unexpected) glimpse of great beauty or awesome grandeur — who hasn’t been suddenly moved to utter perceptual silence by a first sighting of the Taj Mahal or the Grand Canyon, the first hearing of the Mozart Requiem or whalesong? Thought tends to quickly chime in to claim the experience as its own, but for a brief interval, perhaps only an augenblick, there is surely meditation. The reason these exceptional sensory events are received so vividly is not because something is somehow amplified or otherwise enhanced, but rather because the habitual activity of thought is no longer acting as an arbiter or filter interposed between awareness and the senses — thought has been shocked into silence.
Intentional meditation practices comprise attempts to create conditions conducive to a more sustained event or occasion of the meditative state. By establishing unusual sensory or attitudinal conditions, they seek to encourage or invite perceptual silence and loosen thought from its typical filtering role or position. As many a first-time meditator and more than a few long-term practitioners can testify, there are times when such techniques simply don’t seem to be effective, and others when their effects amount to “a form of self-hypnosis” in the words of Krishnamurti’s admonition. Such apparent failures are not necessarily due to shortcomings of the practice or practitioner (although incompatibility between the two is common enough to be worth looking into), but rather are an indication of the non-deterministic nature of all intentional practice, no matter how authentic in origin and skillful in design. Simply put, the practice we call meditation does not really cause or create the actual meditative state; at most it can help promote the aforementioned conducivity — it can be said to prepare the ground. The actual meditative state’s advent is just that, an arrival that is beyond our control.
Interestingly, the very fact of this intrinsic limitation of any and all practice can itself be a profound spiritual gift, a classic blessing in disguise. The actual meditative state is something beyond the reach of our best intentions — even given our most sincere efforts, it cannot be vouchsafed as a result. It is essentially choiceless, and it comes, to use Christian parlance, by grace. When encountering our helplessness in this matter, there is seemingly one last choice — we can simply accept it as an unavoidable aspect of our practice and resume our routine, or we can receive the fact of choicelessness viscerally and notice that the factor that permits the meditative state is the spontaneous absence of intent, of all effort. The apparent arrival of the meditative state is not an achievement in anything close to the usual sense of that word, it is rather a surrender sans objet — not a surrender to anything or anybody, but, in the words of my friend Saumen Sengupta, a “surrender in what is.” When that inevitable surrender is natural and effortless, there is a profound transformation in human consciousness.
For the so-called “realized” or “enlightened,” meditation has become an ongoing reality — no longer a rare event, it is the predominant or default perceptual state. That once-in-a-lifetime first glimpse of the Taj Mahal is no longer required to jar thought into silence, and neither is an intentional meditation practice — as a matter of fact, it generally takes some sort of sensory trigger to engage intellect, language, imagination, ego, or any other child of thought. Instead of acting as an habitual perceptual filter, thought has been relegated to the role of a situationally deployed tool, a servant. Thus is the appearance of a causal relationship between anything procedural and the meditative state forever sundered, and existence in its entirety is eternally a great meditation, world without end, amen.
Text copyright © 2001 Bruce Morgen
Bruce Morgen is a long-time Usenet participant and Internet mailing list moderator. For more of his writings, see his website. You can send email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jiddu Krishnamurti
Some quotes from this book:
“Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.”
“Meditation is the ending of thought, not by the meditator, for the meditator is the meditation. If there is no meditation, then you are like a blind man in a world of great beauty, light and colour.”
“Meditation… is not a silence which the observer can experience. If he does experience it and recognise it, it is no longer silence. The silence of the meditative mind is not within the borders of recognition, for this silence has no frontier. There is only silence — in which the space of division ceases.”
“It is one of the illusions most people have — that there is such a thing as inward comfort; that somebody else can give it to you or that you can find it for yourself. I am afraid there is no such thing. If you are seeking comfort you are bound to live in illusion, and when that illusion is broken you become sad because the comfort is taken away from you. So, to understand sorrow or to go beyond it, one must see actually what is inwardly taking place, and not cover it up. To point out all this is not cruelty, is it? It’s not something ugly from which to shy away. When you see all this, very clearly, then you come out of it immediately, without a scratch, unblemished, fresh, untouched by the events of life.”
This page was published on August 7, 2001 and last revised on April 6, 2020.