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 ?

Ayya Khema : The “why” and ‘how” of meditation

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.

Reincarnation and rebirth: the necessity for this return by Edward Salim Michael

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

Dhammapada : All that we are is the result of what we have thought ;

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.


Ramana Maharshi : I am the Self, the Absolute.

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.

Ramana Maharshi

Ajahn Sumedho : The Sound of Silence – Nada –

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.

Ajahn Sumedho : The Sound Of Silence

Ian Stevenson : Reincarnation Evidence

Ian Stevenson (1918- 2007)

 Was a scientific. traveled extensively over a period of 40 years to investigate 3,000 childhood cases that suggested to him the possibility of past lives. His work was conducted with appropriate scientific rigor.


Yoga: Perfect Union with God

Yoga is the path by traversing which the individual soul realizes its real nature of immortality, omnipresence, peace, and bliss. The essential condition for the attainment of this supreme goal is the complete absence of the ego-sense. Self-control and self-discipline are the means. Yoga also signifies union with and absorption in the immortal Reality.

A steady, persevering, and concentrated effort and struggle alone can lead the aspirant to the realization of the Godhead. So long as man is hankering after the pleasures of the senses, his progress on the path is slow and erratic. He must be undaunted in his endeavor and determined in his purpose. He must leave no stone unturned to subdue and eventually eradicate the impure passions of his heart and mind. A purified and enlightened bud-dhi can alone entitle the sadhaha to enter the kingdom of eternity.

Yoga is not a thing to be merely talked about, read in books, and heard through others. Yoga is for practice in life. Yoga which does not soften the heart and fill it with the pure emotion of love, compassion, and peace is not worth the name. Real concentration of mind and meditation of God in the chamber of his heart does bring about an enormous change in the devotee. His transformed life becomes a beacon light for others. Through thought, word, and deed he pours out love and bliss upon all. If not to live such a life, what use is there for a man to speak of and wish to hear of yoga ?

Work is Worship When It is Done Selflessly

Ramdas does not want anyone to lead only a contemplative life. One must also serve one’s fellow beings in a selfless spirit. “Love thy neighbor as thyself does not mean that love should only be felt in the heart. It must be shown also in action, in the form of relieving distress and rendering help in all possible ways. To serve man is to serve God. In karma yoga, work is done as worship. Then alone it gives joy. It should be clone as perfectly as possible, with great care and love and never in a slipshod, clumsy, irregular, or half-hearted way. The inner beauty must reveal itself in outer conduct.

Do not renounce work but divinize work by doing it in full submission to the will of God. Work is worship when it is clone selflessly in a spirit of dedication to God. Do not run away from the work given to you by the Divine. Do it without the ego-sense. Become willing instruments in the hands of the Divine and cheerfully do the work, without any thought of the fruits. Work, and be a detached witness of the work.

{Thus Speaks Ramdas, paragraphs 38-39

Simone Weil : Intimations of Christianity

We must force this insatiable desire within us, which is always oriented towards outward things and has its domain in an imaginary future, to close in on itself and bring its main thrust round to the present.

Simone Weil

Apart from its primary goal (which is to succeed in recognizing the Source whence he originally emerged and into which he shall return at the time of his death), meditation also helps the seeker to live in the present.

During his attempts to remain conscious and awake within, he cannot fail to notice that when he manages to maintain the feeling of himself in a “continual now,” he leaves time and by doing so starts to be liberated from the regrets and pain of the past, as well as from his worries about the future, and that as soon as he loses this unusual feeling of himself (that is the feeling of “being” in a “continual now”), the upset and regret of the past, as well as torment about the future immediately regain the upper hand; he is then once again dragged into the movement of implacable time, into a future without respite. In this way, he finds himself dissipated in extremely fragmented inner states where, from one instant to another, he is never the same !

Edward Salim Michael : The fruits of the way to awakening

The Tibetan Book of the Dead – the Bardo Thodol

Meditation and the after death state.

As he is ordinarily, the human being does not realize to what extent, or in what manner, life and death are closely linked. During his whole lifetime, it never occurs to him that, at each moment that passes by, he is in the process of dying. And when the ultimate moment arrives when he has to leave his body, at the beginning — as stated in various mystical treatise — he does not know that he is dead. Habit being very strong, he believes that he still inhabits his physical body.It happens so often, particularly in the West where the intellect dominates, one meets seekers who entertain the vague hope that, because they have understood intellectually what a spiritual teaching consists of, all will be well for them when they leave this world and that they will be able, without doubt, to break the circle of births and deaths and thus attain liberation.

In order to understand better what happens at the critical moment of death, when the future destiny of the deceased is at stake, it is necessary to draw a parallel between certain stages of the after-death state, as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and what occurs during meditation.The citations in the following paragraphs are quoted from the English edition translated by W.Y. Evans-Wentz and lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oxford University Press).

At the very beginning of each one of his meditation sitting, for a very short instant, the aspirant may touch a most particular state of consciousness which gives him the impression of being simple emptiness only, but is, in reality, a state of immaculate consciousness of the highest subtlety and transparency. This state of consciousness which is so unusual and difficult to apprehend, only lasts for two or three seconds at first before being replaced by another state which, although not being his customary state of being, is, nevertheless, no more the same as what he experienced in himself initially.Failing to understand and appreciate the real value of this state of consciousness— which is so alien to him that, at first sight, it gives him the impression of being a vacuum without importance—, the seeker cannot, due to ignorance and lack of practice, find the strength to stay in it.  He loses it very quickly and despite his efforts to continue to meditate, he descends to another state of consciousness which is not what he experienced in the beginning.The same phenomenon — but on an entirely different scale — arises in a human being when he leaves his body, a phenomenon of which the implications prove decisive for his future. 

In other words, as explained in the Bardo Thodol (the Tibetan Book of the Dead), immediately after leaving this world, the deceased is confronted with the Supreme Consciousness in Its original purity. But, failing to apprehend It, he descends to lower and lower levels in himself until he becomes lost in a mental world which manifests itself in the form of a most impressive panorama, spreading out in front of his mind in such a spectacular way that, because of ignorance and lack of discernment, he takes it for being a reality.To be able to remain in this primordial state — which the Bardo Thodol calls either “Clear Light” or “Clear Consciousness” — represents a feat totally out of the ordinary, which can only be the result of long and persistent training, in the form of intense meditation practice as well as other concentration exercises carried out both at home and in outside active life.

It is precisely with the help of specific concentration exercises (such as those given in several of my books) which force the aspirant to remain intensely present during their execution that he can start to experience during his daily life moments of very particular self-awareness which come to him suddenly after varying lengths of time of inner absences. These moments of self-awareness are accompanied by the beginning of an inner awakening which he should try, with all his might, to prolong so that the day will eventually come when he will no longer lose it. At these moments, which will determine what his future will be, the seeker should realize that, in the same way he is faced throughout his life with choices to be made in order to be able to remain in this state of being and of consciousness which is not habitual to him, after death all incarnate beings will find themselves in a situation where decisive choices will be demanded of them.

In this regard, the Tibetan Book of the Dead continuously emphasizes that the deceased, after leaving his earthly body, will be faced, on several occasions, with two lights or two colors between which he must choose. Unfortunately, owing to ignorance and weakness, he will not be able to hold himself from turning toward that which is the duller.  Thus, unless he has devoted himself to a relentless spiritual practice during his life, he will begin to descend helplessly to lower and lower levels of being and of consciousness in himself, without being able to realize what is happening to him.

Edward Salim Michael