(An excerpt from a talk at the Black Mountain Unitarian Universalist Church – July 31, 2011)
Insight Meditation and Mindfulness practice introduces us to – as the Zen Master, Sekkei Harada once instructed us, the “one person we must meet: The True Self.”
Who is this true self? In 1951, the scientist/mystic Albert Einstein wrote:
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
This is the true transcendental vision – transcending the conventional egoic perspective of a world of competing, conflicting separate objects in which the purpose of life is to dominate – and in domination – destroy Beingness. This is the vision that can transcend and evolve humanity beyond the insufficient consciousness that has caused our problems as individuals and as the human collective.
Through meditation we can meet this True Self. In doing so, the first task is to learn to quiet the superficial dimension of mind that drowns all else out with its incessant talking and self-absorption. This is called Shamatha, Samadhi – Single pointedness of mind – Peaceful abiding.
You must learn to concentrate the mind on the peaceful, transcendent dimension of life happening through you – where the Universe happens as a living Being – through you. And the best vehicle for this is awareness of your breathing, the merging of the two fundamental dimensions of your existence – you as a living biological form and the true and elemental dimension of consciousness that is awareness.
You must realize that you are awareness – in a living biological form. Life in form and consciousness is happening through this mystery of a phenomenon that is a Human Being. Meditation properly directed awakens the realization that who you are is awareness – and this insight is of the absolute utmost importance.
No thought, no emotion, no sensation can be you – they all come and go – we have them – but are not – cannot – be them – we cannot be defined or captured by them – yet – we are conditioned by our society to invest them with our identity – MY thoughts, MY emotions, My perceptions. MY people, MY interests, I think, I feel. I think and care about what I am conditioned to think and care about. Everything else is “other.”
This is the prison that Einstein spoke of.
Buddhism teaches us to attend to that which does not come and go – What does not come and go? What in our experience has constancy? Awareness and Life – the same awareness that witnessed your first breath – when independent sustaining Life entered you – that same awareness sits here now – as Life. But we have become distracted from that which is essential. We are so caught up in our circumstances, our life situations – those thoughts and feelings that are our story about life – that we have lost connection with Life, its totality, the context of everything that comes and goes – with what is essential, with what is unshakeable, with what is the never wavering context for all that occurs.
With meditation, we can return to what is essential.
This is Samadhi meditation, and here are the instructions –
Sit straight – as you would sit to maximize alertness – but close your eyes – we are going to be looking within – As I like to say – “Sit like a Buddha” – as most of you have seen pictures or statues of this perfectly alert, relaxed, slightly smiling, serene figure.
In Buddhism, the statues and pictures are not meant as objects of worship, but rather inspiration, models of what a Human Being is capable of. Buddhism teaches that the Buddha – an awakened True Self lies asleep within us all. So Sit – so as to awaken this perfectly wise and compassionate self – your true self. Sit like a Buddha.
Now – Focus awareness into your breathing.
And with your breathing – relax into that alertness – be alert and relaxed.
With your exhalation, relax more deeply – shed unnecessary tension of body and mind.
With your inhalation, sharpen the clarity of alert awareness trained on the experience of breathing – just normal natural breathing.
When your mind wanders, return it to your breathing.
When your mind wanders it’s OK to note – oh, “thinking”– but rather than following the thought, getting caught in it, just return awareness to breathing.
(Try this now for ten minutes)
There – notice how you feel. Notice the peace of it. Notice the calm of it. Notice the deep sense of presence – really, peacefully, calmly, experience this presence. Feel the sanity of it. This is meeting your true self.
This is Samadhi training – single pointed focus – peaceful abiding. It is the first stage of Buddhist meditation. With its development, we can begin to open into the flowering of the development of the whole mind, into Vipassana – Insight meditation and mindful living – where we truly begin to meet our full true self – where we begin to meet where we and the universe are one. Where we begin “to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”