A most essential question
What convergence is there between the journey of the ascetic Tibetan yogi Milarepa and that of the little-known great French mystic of the Seventeenth Century, Madame Guyon ? between Ramana Maharshi and the famous sufi Al-Hallaj ? What is the common denominator between these extraordinary beings who, in such apparently dissimilar ways, climbed the rungs leading to the ultimate realization ? Is it not a question of the greatest importance, to conjecture about what is essential and what is of incidental value, about what is truly the core of a practice and what relates to a cultural context and epoch ?
What is of primary importance for an aspirant on this path is to learn to get away from his habitual state of being, the ordinary state into which he constantly falls each time after he has made the vital effort to rise and be connected anew to his Inner Source.
This habitual condition of being—or rather of not being and of not sensing himself—in which the human being generally passes his entire life is the very dragon in him to be overcome and transformed.
If a seeker can really see and understand what takes place in him every time the mists of this strange inner death descend upon him and mysteriously swallow up the awareness he has of his existence, he will have gained a further precious insight into himself and found a weapon with which to combat the enigmatic problem of his self-forgetfulness .
This difficulty can thus be used by a wise aspirant as an additional means to rise spiritually. Each time he catches himself flattering or disliking someone, saying something unkind, being untruthful, or even playing a certain role with people, if he follows up the source whence all these have sprung, he will generally find it to be a form of wrong self-consideration.
This will, in turn, be an alarm signal for him to realize the immediate need there is to try to disengage himself from the grip of his inferior state of being and of feeling himself into which he has once more sunk. The aspirant will find that, each time he makes a genuine effort to redirect his gaze inwardly to dwell in the silence of his true abode, he will at that moment begin to experience a state of pure and uninvolved impersonal awareness.
In this state, there will be neither the time nor the place in him for personal consideration or anything else arising from his lower nature.
For all its problems, uncertainties, and pains, life as it is affords the human being the indispensable and only means of learning right and noble conduct, and with the chance to sublimate himself through these very difficulties.
After death, the conditions necessary for his transformation will no longer be there. Without these harsh trials, it is ordinarily impossible for a human being to evolve to higher planes, just as it is impossible for a glittering pot of gold to come into being if it has not passed first through fire.
World Honored One, I remember when, as many kalpas ago as there are sands in the Ganges, there was a Buddha in the world named Contemplating the World’s Sounds. It was under that Buddha that I brought forth the Bodhi-resolve. That Buddha taught me to enter samadhi through a process of hearing and reflecting.
I received from that Thus Come One a transmission of the Vajra Samadhi of all being like an illusion, as one becomes permeated with hearing and cultivates hearing.
That in which the mind becomes silent and still by the practice of Yoga: that in which the Self is seen within in the Self by the Self, and the soul is satisfied.
That in which the soul knows its own true and exceeding bliss, which is perceived by the intelligence and is beyond the senses, wherein established, it can no longer fall away from the spiritual truth of its being.
That is the greatest of all gains and the treasure beside which all lose their value, wherein established he is not disturbed by the fieriest assault of mental grief.
It is the putting away of the contact with pain, the divorce of the mind’s marriage with grief. The firm winning of this inalienable spiritual bliss is Yoga; it is the divine union. This Yoga is to be resolutely practised without yielding to any discouragement by difficulty or failure.
When we sit down to meditate, we are trying to transcend our everyday consciousness, the consciousness used to transact ordinary business, the one used in the world’s marketplace as we go shopping, bring up our children, work in an office or in our business, clean the house, check our bank statements, and all the rest of daily living. That kind of consciousness is known to everyone, and without it we can’t function. It is our survival consciousness, and we need it for that. It cannot reach far enough or deep enough into the Buddha’s teachings, because these are unique and profound; our everyday consciousness is neither unique nor profound, just utilitarian.
In order to attain the kind of consciousness that is capable of going deeply enough into the teachings to make them our own and thereby change our whole inner view, we need a mind with the ability to remove itself from the ordinary thinking process.
Attaining this sort of mind is only possible through meditation. There is no other way. Meditation is therefore a means, and not an end in itself. It is a means to change the mind’s capacity in such a way that it can perceive entirely different realities from the ones we are used to.
Cyclic recurrence is indispensable in the Universe for the human being to gather the necessary experience he needs to his understanding of things and especially of life itself. If there were only one day and one night in the whole Universe, after which this day and this night would disappear forever into total nothingness, one would suffer a sort of strange psychological death, making it impossible for one to comprehend what day and night are. It would—in a very particular way—not even be possible to realize that they had had any existence, let alone to try to conceive the least notion of their significance.
If there were only one life for the human being—without the hidden knowledge already in him of its possible recurrence, or at least continuity in some other form—and his existence really stopped forever after his physical death, he would spend his unique life in a state, so to speak, of curious mental obscurity as to the purpose and meaning of his sojourn on Earth, with little or no incentive in him for wanting to live and for wanting to learn anything. Moreover, when he died everything—including whatever knowledge he might have acquired during his single existence—would mysteriously die with him, vanishing forever in an invisible land of total oblivion.
All the experiences he so painfully gathered in his one solitary life would have been for nothing. For there would no longer be the possibility of putting into practice the harsh lessons learned from them, both in the service of the Divine and for his own inner growth and spiritual unfolding.”
The Law of Attention chapter 26
Not the unworthy actions of others nor their sins of omission and commission, but his own acts of omission and commission should one regard.
« He reviled me, he beat me and conquered and then plundered me », who express such thoughts tie their mind with the intention of retaliation. In them hatred will not cease.
All that we are is the result of what we have thought ; all that we are is founded on our thoughts and formed of our thoughts.
Vigilance is the path to Life Eternal. Thoughtlessness is the path to death. The reflecting vigilant die not. The heedless are already dead.
Meditating, persevering, ever strenuous in endeavour, the tranquil ones attain Nirvana, the highest freedom and happiness.
Can a man become a high officer by merely once seeing such an officer ? He may become one if he strives and equips himself for the position. Similarly, can the ego, which is in bondage as the mind, become the divine Self, simply because it has once glimpsed that it is the Self ? Is this not impossible without the destruction of the mind ? Can a beggar become a king by merely visiting a king and declaring himself one ? Similarly, unless the bond of the mind is cut asunder by prolonged and unbroken meditation, ‘ I’ am the Self, the Absolute,’ it is impossible to attain the transcendental State of Bliss, which is identical with the annihilation of the mind.
The Self is the Absolute and the Absolute is the Self. The Self is the Absolute alone. That which is covered with husk is paddy, and when husked becomes rice. So also, when under bondage of action one is the individual self, and when the veil is removed one shines as the Absolute.’
Thus proclaim the scriptures, which further declare : ‘ The mind should be drawn within and restrained in the Heart until the ego-sense, which sprouts as the ignorant mind, is therein destroyed. This is wisdom and meditation as well ; all else is mere lecturing and pedantry ; and in consonance with this final word, one should fix the mind on Him, be aware of Him and realize Him by every possible endeavour.
Just as a Brahmin actor does not forget that he is a Brahmin, whatever part he may be acting, so also a man should not confuse himself with his body, but should have a firm awareness of his being the Self, whatever his activity may be. This awareness will manifest as the mind gets absorbed in its own primal State. Such absorption leads to Bliss Supreme when the Self reveals itself spontaneously.
Then one will not be affected by pleasure and pain, which result from contact with external objects. Everything will be perceived without attachment, as in a dream. Such thoughts as ‘ Is this good or that ? ‘ ‘ Is this to be done or that ? ‘ should not be allowed to arise. Immediately a thought arises, it should be annihilated at its source. If entertained even for a little while, it will huri one down headlong like a treacherous friend. Can the mind which is fixed in its original State possess an ego-sense or have any problem to solve? Do not such thoughts themselves constitute bondage ? Hence when such thoughts arise due to past tendencies, not only should the mind be curbed and turned back to its true State but also it should be made to remain unconcerned and indifferent to external happenings. Is it not due to Self-forgetfulness that such thoughts arise and cause more and more misery ? Though the discriminating thought. ‘ 1 am not the doer ; all actions are merely the reactions of the body, senses and mir.d,’ is an aid for turning the mind back to its primal state. nevertheless it is still a. thought, but one which is aeces-sary for those minds which are addicted to much ihmfcisig. On the other hand, can the mind, fixed unswervingly in the- divine Self and remaining unaffected even while engaged in activities, give in to such thoughts as ‘ I am the body. 1 am engaged in work”‘.’ or again to the discriminating thought, ‘I am not the-doer, these actions arc merely reactions of’the body, senses and mind ‘?
Gradually one should, by all possible means, try always to be aware of the Self. Everything is achieved if one suceeds in this. Let not the mind be diverted to any other object.
One should abide in the Self without the sense of being the doer, even when engaged in work born of destiny, like a madman. Have not many devotees achieved much with a detached attitude and firm devotion of this nature ?
Because the quality of purity (sattva) is” the real nature of the mind, clearness like that of the unclouded sky is the characteristic of the mind-expanse. Being stirred up by the quality of activity (rajas) the mind becomes restless and, influenced by darkness (tamas), manifests as (he physical world. The mind thus becoming restless on the one hand and appearing as solid matter on the other, the Real is not discerned. Just as fine silk threads cansiot be woven, with the use of a heavy iron shuttle, or the delicate shades of a work of art be distinguished in the light of a lamp flickering in the wind, so is Realization of Truth impossible with the mind rendered gross by darkness (tamas) and restless by activity (rajas). Because Truth is exceedingly subtle and serene. Mind will be cleared of its impurities only by a desireless performance of duties during several births, getting a worthy Master, learning from, him and incessantly practising meditation on the Supreme. The transformation of the mind into the world of inert matter due to the quality of darkness (jamas) and its restlessness due to the quality of activity (rajas) will cease. Then the mind regains its subtlety and composure.
The Bliss of the Self can manifest only in a mind rendered subtle and steady by assiduous meditation. He who experiences that Bliss is liberated even while still alive.
When the mind is divested of the qualities of darkness and activity by constant meditation, the Bliss of the Self will clearly manifest within the subtle mind.
In the silence of those nights he began to perceive the ever-present inner sound, seemingly beginningless and endless, and he soon found that he was able to discern it throughout the day and in many circumstances, whether quiet or busy. He also realized that he had indeed noticed it once before in his life, when he had been on shore leave from the U.S. Navy in the late ’50s and, during a walk in the hills, his mind had opened into a state of extreme clarity. He remembered that as a wonderfully pure and peaceful state, and he recalled that the sound had been very loud then.
So those positive associations encouraged him to experiment and see if it might be a useful meditation object. It also seemed to be an ideal symbol, in the conditioned world of the senses, of those qualities ol mind that transcend the sense realm: not subject to personal will, ever present but only noticed if attended to: apparently beginningless and endless, formless to some degree, and spatially unlocated.
When he first taught this method to the Sangha at Chithurst that winter, he referred to it as “the sound of silence” and the name stuck. Later, as he began to teach the method on retreats for the lay community, he began to hear about its use from people experienced in Hindu and Sikh meditation practices. In these traditions, he found out, this concentration on the inner sound was known as nada yoga, or “the yoga of inner light and sound.” It also turned out that books had been written on the subject, commentaries in English as well as ancient scriptural treatises, notably the Way of Inner Vigilance by Salim Michael (published by Signet).
In 1991, when Ajahn Sumedho taught the sound of silence as a method on a retreat at a Chinese monastery in the United States, one of the participants was moved to comment, “I think you have stumbled on the Shunrangamaa samadhi. There is a meditation on hearing that is described in that sutra. and the practice you have been teaching us seems to match it perfectly.”
Seeing that it was a practice that was very accessible to many people, and as his own explorations of it deepened over the years, Ajahn Sumedho has continued to develop it as a central method of meditation, ranking alongside such classical forms of practice as, “mindfulness of breathing” and “investigation of the body.” The Buddha’s encouragement for his students was to use skillful means that are effective in freeing the heart. Since this form of meditation seems to be very supportive for that, despite not being included in lists of meditation practices in the Pali Canon or anthologies such as the Visuddhimagga, it seems wholly appropriate to give it its due. For surely it is the freedom of the heart that is the purpose of all the practices—and that freedom is the final arbiter of what is useful and therefore good.