As promised, I’ve begun work on a series of posts addressing my approach to meditation. While I’m sure this will be an organic, flexible exercise, my initial plan is to march through issues that confront the beginner, then the intermediate, and finally the advanced practitioner. This will be good for me, since it forces me to consider the level at which a potential reader is coming to this information, so that I can review the steps that inevitably lead to a life infused with bliss, joy and ecstasy.
You’ll just have to trust me that, having lived in Boulder for 16 years, having worked at a metaphysical bookstore for a good chunk of that time, and having spent way, way too much on spiritual literature of every sort during this time, I’ve been exposed to many approaches to meditation. There’s good information out there, but in almost every instance, the books tease the reader with a few instructions on technique, they offer some rudimentary instruction on getting started, and they often give a general philosophical background in defense of the need to meditate — but virtually none of them lays out the entire process, including the “secret” or “higher” instructions that a guru or master is supposed to pass onto the student when he or she has completed a rigorous preliminary obstacle course. You can, for instance, read the Bhagavad Gita, the major Upanishads, the works of Adi Shankara, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Muktananda and every other accepted authority in the field… but they’ll never give you the “good stuff” in a book. They (or their followers) want you to join the organization, take their classes, attend their retreats and hand over a portion of your income… and even then, you may never gain access to the “higher” teachings that are always alluded to. Or, in the case of Theravada Buddhism (not to mention most other religious hierarchies), the priesthood has subverted the Buddha’s teaching to the point where it no longer resembles its original presentation. You can hardly find a Theravada monk who knows from first-hand experience what meditative absorption is, or that the Buddha defined skillful meditation in terms of meditative absorption. They may be fine examples of human beings, but few of them have bothered to read the entirety of the Buddha’s original discourses, and almost all of them operate according to subsequent commentarial traditions that actually demonize meditative absorption.
Thankfully, there is an antidote to this almost total absence of comprehensive meditative instruction — an antidote that includes an accurate and detailed exposition on the ascending states of absorption (jhana/samadhi) that lead to so-called Nirvana (or Nibbana, in the Buddha’s liturgical language, called Pali).
The Buddha’s original meditation instructions have been preserved in the Pali Canon, despite the Theravada priesthood’s 2300-year-long process of subverting and sanitizing of the Buddha’s core message on meditative absorption. The idea that only certain monks can attain enlightenment in this very lifetime — and all the rest of us have absolutely no hope at all, except possibly in some far distant lifetime when we, too, may become Buddhist monks — is at the center of the priesthood’s hold on power and influence. The priesthood is actually threatened by what the Buddha actually taught, because if everyone got turned on to his or her innate ability to switch-on the light of meditative absorption, the monks would be in danger of losing their relevancy once and for all.
This situation may be in the process of changing, thanks to the work of a few contemplatives in and out of the priesthood who are beginning to challenge the accepted dogma. Meditators around the world, who have given rise to various absorptive phenomena as a natural byproduct of their practice, and who have received little or no help from their traditional instructors, are waking up to the fact that a personage no less authoritative than the historical Buddha left behind a complete blueprint for enlightenment — and these contemplatives are demanding that this 2,500-year-old information be removed from the official blacklist and given its rightful place at the center of traditional teaching. These contemplatives are demanding that their practice, which has produced the very fruits that the Buddha talked about ad nauseum, be given the respect it deserves. These contemplatives are living examples of what happens through the practice of skillful meditation, as described by the Buddha himself.
I, personally, have little time for the institutional struggle that is playing out. I’m too busy with my own practice, which consistently proves the efficacy of what the Buddha handed to the world. Meditative absorption is not a mental concept for me; it is the dominant feature of my daily existence, and I want to lend my support to an ongoing effort that seeks to make it available to those who are ready to organize their lives around a 24/7/365 practice that gives rise to, maintains and works with various levels of bliss, joy and ecstasy.
So, have patience as I attempt to put it all into words over the coming days, weeks and months. And please offer comments along the way, so that I can know what I’m forgetting to address. We’ll try to take it slow, but not so slow that you can’t stand another minute of it.