The three energies (three Gunas)

There is a school of ‘Hinduism’ called Sankya, which is a yogic school, and it classifies the energies into three basic types. These are known as the three gunas. This teaching was later incorporated into other schools such as vedanta and taught in scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita. Despite its apparent overly simple nature – there are only three energies – this classification can be incredibly useful for the seeker – do not underestimate it!

This classification can be incredibly useful for the seeker – do not underestimate it!

The three energies/gunas are:

1. Tamas (dull/negative)
2. Rajas (passionate/active)
3. Sattva (peaceful/intelligent)

1. If your energy is predominantly tamasic, you will, generally, feel negative, tired, and low. Your motivation and energy levels may be low, you may be lazy and lack direction. You may find it hard to understand things clearly, be confused, and lack clear On the positive side of tamasic energy, you may find it easier to rest, relax and sleep. Tamas is the lowest of the three energies.

2. If your energy is predominantly rajasic, then you will tend to be more active, eg. constantly doing things and achieving things, be much quicker at thinking, but you may perhaps have too many thoughts. (2a) On the positive side of rajasic energy you may achieve many things and do much good in your environment, whatever that may be. You may be dynamic, social, extroverted and a ‘mover and shaker’. (2b) On the negative side of rajasic energy, there can be much anxiety and stress, your mind may become exhausted from-over thinking, and your body may be exhausted too. You may find it difficult to find peace of mind, rest, calm and contentment. Rajas is the second lowest of the three energies.

3. If your energy is predominantly sattvic, then your mind is happy and calm, not low in energy, but not phrenetic like rajas. The mind is calm and clear, and gives rise to seeing things clearly, with less bias. Both tamasic and rajasic energies distort perceptions, which in turn leads to poor judgement and greater suffering, but sattva is pure, clear, harmonious and intelligent. Sattva is the highest of the three energies.

What does this have to do with spiritual practice, you may ask? Well, knowing what energy predominates can help you understand what spiritual practice you need and vastly speed up your spiritual journey. It can also help you understand why different people are attracted to different paths at different times, and accordingly help you be more open and compassionate towards others on their path, as well as be more open and understanding towards other spiritual paths in general.

If you would like to learn more, see this article here.

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J. Krishnamurti: How to meditate, a wonderful wonderful path

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Jiddu Krishnamurti famously did not prescribe any methods and was generally against spiritual paths and spiritual authorities including gurus. However, sometimes on rare occasions, he did prescribe a method and give hints and clues about meditation, often when speaking with children at the various schools he visited. This is what we will look at here.

Here is a wonderful example of how he simply and profoundly explains meditation to a student. It is a rare example. The following excerpt is taken from ‘On Education’ page 58.

Bold type has been added by myself for emphasis, and my comments are interspersed in red, with Krishnamurti’s words in black. Try reading the text both with my comments and without them to get a feel for it. If you can, try to see how my comments are related to the specific words and phrases in the text. I hope you will clearly see where I have added my own thoughts, and feel free let me know what you think.

Best wishes to you all!

With love

Tom

Krishnamurti: Do you know anything about meditation?

Student: No, Sir.

Krishnamurti: But the older people do not know either. They sit in a corner, close their eyes and concentrate, like school boys trying to concentrate on a book. That is not meditation. Meditation is something extraordinary, if you know how to do it. I am going to talk a little about it.

First, Krishnamurti introduces the topic of meditation in a wonderful way. He states its extraordinariness and implies its non-mechanical and non-formulaic nature.

First of all, sit very quietly; do not force yourself to sit quietly, but sit or lie down quietly without force of any kind. Do you understand? Then watch your thinking. Watch what you are thinking about. You find you are thinking about your shoes, your saris, what you are going to say, the bird outside to which you listen; follow such thoughts and enquire why each thought arises.

Here we see how gentle Krishnamurti’s approach to meditation is. Everything is unforced. Even the initial sitting is unforced. His approach is to be gentle, relaxed and uncontrived throughout, whilst allowing the natural intelligence to function. He says to sit or lie quietly without force of any kind.

Next Krishnamurti will follow on from that, how we are not to suppress, but to remain with each and every thought and feeling. This is not to be done in a mechanical unconscious way as is often taught, but one should notice patterns in how thoughts and feelings arise, without suppressing them or judging them as food or bad. Incidentally, this is completely in line with the Buddha’s teachings on mindfulness as found in the Pali suttas, eg. the Maha-satipatthana Sutta, where the Buddha urges us to notice patterns as they arise in order to generate insight.

Then Krishnamurti goes one step further: not only are we to watch the thoughts but crucially we are to enquire why each thought arises.

Do not try to change your thinking. See why certain thoughts arise in your mind so that you begin to understand the meaning of every thought and feeling without any enforcement. And when a thought arises, do not condemn it, do not say it is right, it is wrong, it is good, it is bad. Just watch it, so that you begin to have a perception, a consciousness which is active in seeing every kind of thought, every kind of feeling. You will know every hidden secret thought, every hidden motive, every feeling, without distortion, without saying it is right, wrong, good or bad. When you look, when you go into thought very very deeply, your mind becomes extraordinarily subtle, alive. No part of the mind is asleep. The mind is completely awake.

Again Krishnamurti emphasises not trying to change things, but rather to observe things as they are, and also to look to see why certain thoughts are being thought. What is the motivation behind the thoughts?

Krishnamurti indicates that through this being with thoughts and feelings without force or suppression, an observing consciousness naturally arises. This observing consciousness (my words) is often referred to by Krishnamurti as ‘choiceless awareness’, meaning awareness without the sense of a ‘me’ or egoic centre which is judging, condemning, suppressing, etc.

Also implied in the paragraph above is that through this process of meditation, all the unconscious tendencies will rise to the surface. What was unconscious, suppressed and hidden will be revealed and become conscious. At other times Krishnamurti sometimes refers to this process as the beginning of self-knowledge. When Krishnamurti uses the term ‘self-knowledge’ he is referring to learning about the psychological self and how it egoically operates, rather than how the term self-knowledge is used in Vedanta and yoga to mean knowledge of Brahman/the absolute or enlightenment.

Throughout this process, we are not to condemn or judge or suppress which Krishnamurti says would be a distortion. Similarly, although this is not stated, I would add that we are not to act out and indulge in thoughts and feelings, at least not too much, as this too is distorting.

Exactly how this works can be discovered for oneself but trying this practice out. When you come upon this for yourself, the words make much more sense. The correct balance of awareness, stillness and intellect naturally arises through this process of meditation. The mind becomes still yet intelligent and active, as opposed to still and dull. My interpretation is that in Vedanta, the still and active state is known as sattva (peace and intelligence) whilst the still and dull is known as tamas (dullness). 

That is merely the foundation. Then your mind is very quiet. Your whole being becomes very still. Then go through that stillness, deeper, further – that whole process is meditation. Meditation is not to sit in a corner repeating a lot of words; or to think of a picture and go into some wild, ecstatic imaginings.

So, after doing this, we realise that this is just the start of meditation. Initially we are allowing the mind to rise up, we are allowing thoughts and feelings to rise up. Through allowing them to arise without judgement, suppression [or acting them out], and through seeing why thoughts arise as they do, ie. through having insight into the hidden (egoic) motivations that underlie the thoughts and feelings, the mind, over time, naturally becomes still.

Very importantly, we have not made the mind still. We have not forced the mind to become still. The mind has naturally become still because what needed to come up and be felt and understood has come up and been felt and understood. In doing so, without trying to become still, which is egoic effort and egoic activity, without trying to become still, the mind becomes still.

So, what do we do now? Nothing. In doing nothing, we are deepening the meditation. We are not really doing anything per se – the choiceless awareness acts ‘of its own accord’. We are going deeper and deeper into the stillness. It happens by itself, without contrivance or effort. It is the natural unfolding of intelligence and the natural dissolution of ego/self.

Krishnamurti reminds us in the last sentence of the paragraph above what meditation is not; it is not a mechanical process such as mechanically repeating a slogan or mantra; it is not going off into flights of fancy brought on by images or idols; it is not to enter ecstatic states of mind where one is filled with supercharged bliss and love. It is this dynamic stillness which has its own quiet momentum, which naturally unfolds and cleanses without effort or intention.

To understand the whole process of your thinking and feeling is to be free from all thought, to be free from all feeling so that your mind, your whole being becomes very quiet. And that is also part of life and with that quietness, you can look at the tree, you can look at people, you can look at the sky and the stars. That is the beauty of life.

Krishnamurti now makes a leap. He describes how this unfolding into silence is discovering a freedom in which there is silence together with total freedom from thoughts and feelings. He does not go into this more here, but he is describing what could be thought of as the outcome or culmination of this ongoing process or movement that is meditation. A freedom, a total freedom, free from perceptual phenomena, one with this quietness and one with life: beauty itself. The silence he is speaking of is that which is without a centre, or without a ‘me’ or ego. The beauty he speaks of is the beauty of no-me, no-self.

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A summary of ‘Krishnamurti’s Method of Meditation’



Based on the above, we can briefly summarise Krishnamurti’s method of meditation as follows:

  • One needs to, at least initially, make space and time for meditation.
  • In a gentle and unforced way, sit or lie quietly. This itself should be without any force of any kind.
  • Allow and don’t suppress or judge: Allow thoughts and feelings to arise. As they arise, do not suppress or judge them as being good or bad, but allow them to arise. Also do not indulge or act out the thoughts and feelings, but instead remain quiet and aware.
  • Develop insight and understanding: Gently and patiently question and observe why certain thoughts and feeling occur. Notice if there any patterns arising. Notice any underlying motivations present in the thinking and feeling.
  • Natural self-healing/purification: In this way, the once hidden and unconscious mind will, over time, reveal itself and become conscious. Naturally, though the above steps of allowing and insight, the mind will heal itself and empty itself of pain, suffering, addictive tendencies and egoic tendencies (ie. purification). This is just the foundation or first step of meditation in which the unconscious pain and egoic ways are naturally and non-egoically cleansed.
  • Unforced silence: This, over time, and without being forced or contrived, will naturally give rise to a silence. This is the deeper or true meditation, the second step you could say. This silence is an active dynamic and alive silence, one that is suffused with intelligence (sattva), and not dull and dead like the silence that is trained or forced through a mechanical method such as mantra repetition (tamas).
  • Go further still, allow silence to deepen: This is where many prematurely stop after an initial taste of silence only. When the mind is naturally still without being forced, do not ‘stop’. Continue. Allow the still mind to naturally deepen of its own accord, going further and further, deeper and deeper into stillness. The aware-intelligence energy naturally recognises egoic thought and the egoic movement and effortlessly cleanses it as it arises. Purification is happening on a deeper and moe subtle non-verbal level now.
  • Freedom: There one will naturally discover a freedom beyond words, a freedom that is not sought, that cannot be sought, that has no authority, that is natural, present, ungraspable and uncontrived. A freedom that is non-separate from life. It is simultaneously silent (ie. no ego), free from life (ie. thoughts, feelings, sensations, the world) and one with life.

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What if this meditation is too difficult?

I would add that for many people this type of meditation is very difficult due to the strength and force of mental and egoic tendencies. Krishnamurti seems to have naturally had a quiet mind which did not require much else to enter into meditation.

However my view is that we can add a preceding stage in which one can, again in a gentle and unforced way, steady the mind by following the breath or repeating a mantra.

Whist this is clearly a mechanical process, and one that Krishnamurti did not recommend, my experience is that it can allow an unruly mind to become stable enough to take up ‘Krishnamurti’s method’. The key point is that this mechanical process is not the end-all and be-all of meditation, but just a mechanical trick to get one started. It of course must be let go of.

Similarly, the eyes can be kept open initially for 10-15 minutes, which can also aid mental stability, as I have found that for most people closing the eyes too early in meditation is not conducive to taming a mind that is used to extroversion and stimulation. Thereafter one may open or close the eyes as one pleases.

At other times, Krishnamurti recommended keeping the eyes looking straight ahead, with the eyeballs unmoving. Again, this is something that is not always easy to do, but feel free to experiment with this too.

Concluding comments and further analysis: purification and insight

We can see how Krishnamurti’s approach is wonderfully natural and non-violent to the body and mind. It does require, at least initially, time and mental space in which the meditation can occur, and may also need other preliminary steps for some people, in my view.

It also beautifully and naturally allows our innate intelligence to arise and function, and heal ourself. As the mind is allowed to rise up and become fully conscious, it heals itself (ie. purification), and the egoic process dissolves and disappears (ie. insight, then end of vasanas and the dawn of liberation).

The healing process by which the egoic tendencies and past hurts arise and are cleansed is what I would usually call purification. A natural choiceless awareness arises and functions, free from life and one with it simultaneously. This is the start of the ending of the egoic movement (vasanas or habitual egoic tendencies).

Initially the egoic process is seen and transcended in ‘step 1’, where it is allowed to function and be felt but without indulging in the ego/acting out the tendencies. Later the egoic process almost completely disappears and becomes temporarily dormant and the mind becomes still (‘step 2’). When one is not meditating, the ego again rises out of its dormancy.

During these times, what I call insight (into no-self) dawns: it can become clear that there is no separate self, no doer, no thinker, no centre, just one unitary movement in Freedom. This insight can initially seem to come and go, as the egoic process/ego is present or absent to varying degrees, and the apparent insight will also vary accordingly.

As this silence continues further and deepens further, what is really happening is that purification/cleansing of ego is deepening and spreading through all aspects of the body-mind system. The ego is naturally and effortlessly being rooted out by the innate intelligent, one could say. The ego/egoic tendency, initially periodically dormant, over time becomes annihilated, meaning that the ego-tendency does not rise again (ie. the egoic vasanas are annihilated). The illusion of separation and duality has ended, not temporarily or partially as before, but totally and irrevocably. This is tantamount to liberation in the Buddhist, Vedanta and yogic traditions.

For more on my approach to purification and insight, see here.



Q. How does one meditate on Pure Being, as suggested by the scriptures?

Q. In Advaita Bodha Deepika, Chapter 3 verses 31-32 it states in the path of yoga* one should meditate on Pure Being, free from all qualities in order to attain liberation. Isn’t ‘free from all qualities’ another quality?

Tom: No. Only if you are only seeing it intellectually.

Q. I don’t know any other way to see it. If I am awake, I see only intellectually.

Tom: The words are misleading, as if you can meditate on ‘being free from qualities’. It just means to (mentally) keep quiet, allow the mind to relax and be still. You are what you are. Being simply IS.

*often when the word yoga alone is used, it is referring to Patanjali’s system of Raja Yoga, the path of meditation.

Q. How to practice the 4 yogas?

Q. Don’t all the yogas go together? It’s not like you can either chose Bhakti (devotion) or Karma (action) yoga, but you practice them both together. Is that correct?

Tom: Well for some it starts with a single yoga, for example bhakti yoga, and then as bhakti yoga progresses, all the yogas end up coming together. This is the same for all the yogas. Usually people start off with an affinity for one of the yogas, be it, raja yoga (meditation), bhakti yoga, karma yoga or jnana (knowledge) yoga.

As the yoga progresses, the body-mind becomes purer, more integrated, and naturally develops an affinity for one of more of the other yogas. Eventually all the yogas come together, merging in stillness of mind (samadhi).

The ultimate yoga is for the ego to simply be still, dormant, and in that dormancy, through the ‘grace of God’, it can collapse, at least that’s how it appears. It can be seen there is no ego, there is no doer/author of actions.

You see, in reality all of this is false. There never was any ignorance. There is no ignorance. Ignorance is of the ego. Ignorance is the ego. Ignorance, yoga and liberation are all the ego’s projections, and the ego itself is a fiction. Who is searching, and for what?

Ramana Maharshi: ‘nothing is as good as meditation’ (and how to practice and enhance your meditation)

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The following is taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 371. My comments are interspersed in red italics, any bold text has been added by me for emphasis:

The first part of this talk is about the path of yoga:

There was a group of three middle-aged Andhras on a visit to Sri Bhagavan. One of them kneeled and asked: I am performing hatha yoga, namely basti, dhauti, neti, etc. I find a blood vessel hardened in the ankle. Is it a result of Yoga?

Ramana Maharshi: The blood-vessel would have hardened under any circumstances. It does not trouble you as much now as it would otherwise. Hatha yoga is a cleaning process. It also helps peace of mind, after leading you to pranayama.

First Bhagavan Ramana states that Hatha yoga has likely been beneficial to the questioner. Ramana has also hinted that it is a purification or ‘cleaning’ process which helps the mind to become peaceful, and is but one of several steps towards liberation. The questioner continues, asking about pranayama or the yogic practice of controlling the breath:

Questioner: May I do pranayama? Is it useful?

Ramana Maharshi: Pranayama is an aid for the control of mind. Only you should not stop with pranayama. You must proceed further to pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Full results are reaped finally.

Make no mistake, Ramana is stating that pranayama, or formal control of the breath, is a useful practice. He states it is helpful for controlling the mind, but one must not stop there but should proceed to pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (the presence of vivid awareness without thoughts or other mental impressions arising). Practitioners of yoga will recognise that this sequence represents the final four stages of yoga as prescribed by Patanjali the Yoga Sutras in which eight stages are outlined and prescribed. Ramana is essentially stating that he is in agreement here with Patanjali, emphasising this with the final part of his statement ‘full results are reaped finally’.

Now Ramana is asked about how to overcome negative mental tendencies:

Another of the group asked: How are lust, anger, acquisitiveness, confusion, pride and jealousy overcome?

Ramana Maharshi: By dhyana.

Questioner: What is dhyana?

Ramana Maharshi: Dhyana is holding on to a single thought and putting off all other thoughts.

Dhyana is a sanskrit word that is usually translated as ‘meditation’. Ramana, at least here in this passage, is clear: dhyana, or meditation, is the way. Traditionally the last three of Patanjali’s eight limbs or stages of yoga are grouped together: dharana (concentration) is when the mind is trained to become one-pointed and an object of choice is concentrated on. Dhyana (meditation) is when this concentration intensifies and remains unbroken. Lastly Samadhi is when this concentration intensifies and the object of concentration is dropped, so that all that remains is a vivid-free-spacious-awareness in which the notion of ‘I’ and ‘other’ or the subject-object duality is no longer present.

Now Ramana is asked about the technique of meditation:

Questioner: What is to be meditated upon?

Ramana Maharshi: Anything that you prefer.

Questioner: Siva, Vishnu, and Gayatri are said to be equally efficacious. Which should I meditate upon?

Ramana Maharshi: Any one you like best. They are all equal in their effect. But you should stick to one.

The key point here is that one should meditate. Specifically, this means one should, according to Sri Bhagavan Ramana, concentrate on an object of choice. What the object is matters not, just choose something that you like the most, and then stick to it (Siva, Vishnu and Gayatri are traditional objects of meditation). Ramana has already told us above that pranayama and pratyahara are useful aids to this meditation, but that we should then proceed to the real heart of yoga: meditation.

How exactly should this be done, and why/how does this work?

Questioner: How to meditate?

Ramana Maharshi: Concentrate on that one whom you like best. If a single thought prevails, all other thoughts are put off and finally eradicated. So long as diversity prevails there are bad thoughts. When the object of love prevails only good thoughts hold the field. Therefore hold on to one thought only. Dhyana is the chief practice.

Ramana is emphasising one-pointedness of mind.

A little later Sri Bhagavan continued: Dhyana means fight. As soon as you begin meditation other thoughts will crowd together, gather force and try to sink the single thought to which you try to hold. The good thought must gradually gain strength by repeated practice. After it has grown strong the other thoughts will be put to flight.

This is the battle royal always taking place in meditation. One wants to rid oneself of misery. It requires peace of mind, which means absence of perturbation owing to all kinds of thoughts. Peace of mind is brought about by dhyana alone.

Questioner: What is the need then for pranayama?

Ramana Maharshi: Pranayama is meant for one who cannot directly control the thoughts. It serves as a brake to a car. But one should not stop with it, as I said before, but must proceed to pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. After the fruition of dhyana, the mind will come under control even in the absence of pranayama. The asanas (postures) help pranayama, which helps dhyana in its turn, and peace of mind results. Here is the purpose of hatha yoga.

Here above, Bhagavan Ramana has in brief outlined both the technique of yoga and its mechanism of action. If one wants to end suffering, one needs peace of mind (bolded text above). How to achieve peace of mind? Ramana states that the only way is through dhyana, or sustained concentration (also bolded text above).

The earlier of the eight steps of yoga, such as those dealing with yogic physical exercises and postures (asana) and breath control (pranayama) are important and helpful aids to attain the higher goal of meditation. Initially these earlier stages are required, but later on they are no longer required.

So, what happens as our dhyana strengthens?

Later Sri Bhagavan continued:
When dhyana is well established it cannot be given up. It will go on automatically even when you are engaged in work, play or enjoyment. It will persist in sleep too. Dhyana must become so deep-rooted that it will be natural to one.

Many people ask how can one combine spiritual practice with daily life. Bhagavan Ramana has indirectly answered this question above: through regular formal practice of dhyana, the beneficial effects spill over into both active daily life and also even during sleep. The Dhyana must become deeply rooted in our hearts and minds.

Now the questioner, having heard both the essential method of yoga, namely dhyana, and also heard about the aids to attaining dhyana, namely asana, pranayama and pratyahara – the questioner still seems to have some doubts which are posed in the next three questions:

Questioner: What rite or action is necessary for the development of dhyana?

Ramana Maharshi: Dhyana is itself the action, the rite and the effort. It is the most intense and potent of all. No other effort is necessary.

This question is about rituals – what rituals and efforts are required. Ramana says the ritual and effort required is that of dhyana. Just get on and start. Another doubt:

Questioner: Is not japa necessary?

Ramana Maharshi: Is dhyana not vak (speech)? Why is japa necessary for it? If dhyana is gained there is no need for anything else.

Japa refers to the verbal repetition of a sound or phrase, like mantra repetition. Again, Ramana directs the questioner to just stick to dhyana.

Questioner: Is not a vow of silence helpful?

Ramana Maharshi: A vow is only a vow. It may help dhyana to some extent. But what is the good of keeping the mouth closed and letting the mind run riot. If the mind be engaged in dhyana, where is the need for speech? Nothing is as good as dhyana. Should one take to action with a vow of silence, where is the good of the vow?

Seemingly infinite in his patience, Ramana continues to direct the questioner away from potential superficialities and towards the key message: ie. the need to get on  and practice dhyana. He emphatially states ‘nothing is as good as dhyana’. May a vow of silence be helpul? Certainly. Better still is to practice meditation, dhyana.

Now the questioner turns to the path of knowledge, or jnana-marga (jnana means knowledge, marga means path). There is a mistaken view amongst some that jnana-marga does not require meditation, which is why I suspect the questioner has asked this question, even though the scriptures in jnana-marga clearly indicate the need for meditation:

Questioner: What is jnana-marga?

Ramana Maharshi: I have been saying it for so long. What is jnana? Jnana means realisation of the Truth. It is done by dhyana. Dhyana helps you to hold on to Truth to the exclusion of all thoughts.

For such a long time now Ramana, together with the vedic scriptures, has stated that dhyana is the means to jnana, or realisation of truth. If this is true, then what about all the Gods?

Questioner: Why are there so many Gods mentioned?

Ramana Maharshi: The body is only one. Still, how many functions are performed by it? The source of all the functions is only one. It is in the same way with the Gods also.

Just as a single body performs a variety of functions, so the One Being appears to expresses itself as many things and processes, including all the many gods.

Now, why does one suffer?

Questioner: Why does a man suffer misery?

Ramana Maharshi: Misery is due to multifarious thoughts. If the thoughts are unified and centred on a single item there is no misery, but happiness is the result. Then, even the thought, “I do something” is absent; nor will there be an eye on the fruit of action.

Continuing on the same theme of dhyana, ie. making the mind one-pointed and remaining there, Ramana states this is the way to end suffering. Suffering is caused by the multitude of thoughts, but a one-pointed mind leads to happiness and peace. When the mind is one-pointed to the exclusion of all other thoughts, the notion of personal doership, itself a thought/concept, is abandoned, as is the attachment to outcomes of actions (‘fruit of action’).

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti: ‘Complete Attention’

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Jiddu Krishnamurti used words in a very specific and often unusual way. He, generally speaking, uses the word ‘attention’ to signify awareness without the presence of the ego or chooser, and therefore without resistance or direction. Below is an example, taken from The Book of Life, June 12th:


What do we mean by attention? Is there attention when I am forcing my mind to attend? When I say to myself, “I must pay attention, I must control my mind and push aside all other thoughts,” would you call that attention? Surely that is not attention.

What happens when the mind forces itself to pay attention? It creates a resistance to prevent other thoughts from seeping in; it is concerned with resistance, with pushing away; therefore it is incapable of attention. That is true, is it not?

To understand something totally you must give your complete attention to it. But you will soon find out how extraordinarily difficult that is, because your mind is used to being distracted, so you say, “By Jove, it is good to pay attention, but how am I to do it?” That is, you are back again with the desire to get something, so you will never pay complete attention. … When you see a tree or a bird, for example, to pay complete attention is not to say, ”That is an oak,” or, “That is a parrot,” and walk by.

In giving it a name you have already ceased to pay attention… Whereas, if you are wholly aware, totally attentive when you look at something, then you will find that a complete transformation takes place, and that total attention is the good.

There is no other, and you cannot get total attention by practice. With practice you get concentration, that is, you build up walls of resistance, and within those walls of resistance is the concentrator, but that is not attention, it is exclusion.


Also, see here: If you listen completely there is no listener

Self-enquiry and Buddhism/ the Jhanas and Ramana Maharshi

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In this article we will look at a Buddhist text that deals with the last step of the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma Samadhi (Right concentration). When we look at the method the Buddha actually prescribed, as written in the Pali texts, we cannot help but notice the similarity to the Yogic and Vedic teachings on meditation and to Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry. As always, if one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

If one wants to know the truth of the traditions, it pays to read the original texts for oneself, as often what is taught as being in the scriptures is not always the same as what actually is in the scriptures.

The earliest written Buddhist teachings come to us in the form of the Pali Suttas, or the Buddhist texts written in the Pali language, and when we read them, one of the most important and most often repeated teachings we come across is the teaching on Samma Samadhi or Right concentration, the final step of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Again and again we find the Buddha exhorting his followers to practice Samma Samadhi.

In the Magga-Vibhanga Sutta (SN 45.8), the Buddha gives an overview of the Noble Eightfold Path and defines in brief what each of the eight steps entails. Here is how he defines Samma Samadhi, or Right Concentration:

And what, monks, is Samma Samadhi?

There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.

With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’

With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This, monks, is called right concentration.

Here the Buddha has introduced us to the Pali word Jhana, which is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word Dhyana. Interestingly (for me, at least), it is from the word Dhyana that the Chinese word Ch’an comes, which in Japan became known as Zen, and as Son in Korea. All these words mean essentially mean meditation.

In Yoga and Vedanta traditions, the word Dhyana refers usually to concentrative meditation in which one’s attention is made to focus on some kind of object, gross (eg. a physical object) or subtle (eg. the breath or a sound/mantra), in order to eventually turn the attention away from body mind and world. This in turn allows a different aspect of one’s consciousness to come naturally into focus, namely pure consciousness which is devoid of objects/phenomena. This is called Samadhi in yoga and vedanta. This Samadhi ‘experience’ is not a usual experience, as it is devoid of objects that can be experienced, and cannot be understood without entering into it and ‘experiencing’ it first hand. This process of turning away from body/mind/world and experiencing pure consciousness is the hallmark of the Vedic method of meditation, as described in the Vedas (Gayatri mantra), the Upanishads, the Yoga sutras, The Bhagavad Gita (See chapter 6 for the main exposition), the agamas and various subsequent Advaita Vedanta texts (ie. the Prakarana Granthas – see Panchadasi or Vivekachudamani). Here is a brief quotation from the authoritative Katha Upanishad, verse 2.3.10:

When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahman].

Similarly we see the same teachings from Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi, see here for an example.

Now the Buddha uses the same equivalent word as Dhyana, but in Pali: Jhana. The Jhanas are often taught as being states of concentration and absorption, and as I stated above, the Buddha repeatedly encouraged his followers to take up this practice. There are typically said to be 8 or 9 Jnanas, depending on how you want to divide them up, and when combined with the teachings on wisdom (Panna in Pali, Prajna in Sanskrit), they are said to lead to nirvana, or total and complete liberation from suffering.

Now let us look at one of the main Buddhist texts that deals with the Jhanas and how to access them, the Jhana Sutta. The Buddha states that the ending of the mental defilements (Pali: Asava) depends on the Jhanas. It should be noted that the ending of the Asava, or mental defilements, is tantamount to total liberation (nirvana), the ending of suffering (Dukkha) or what in early Buddhism is known as becoming an Arahant.

My comments are interspersed in italicised red:

The Jhāna Sutta  (AN 9:36)

First the Buddha makes it clear that liberation, or ending of the Asava, depends on attaining the Jhanas, or absorptive meditative states:

“I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana… the second jhana… the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

The Buddha then tells us how to enter the first Jhana. We should turn away from sense pleasures, from negative qualities, our thought should be one-pointed and we should remain mindful:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.

The Buddha proceeds, in what could be thought to be a very Vedic way of phrasing things. Of course, it is actually also a very Buddhist way of phrasing things too, the two paths being so similar in many ways: first he identifies all phenomena that appear in our experience/awareness – these are the five Buddhist skandas (ie. form, sensation, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness), which are loosely similar to the five koshas of vedanta.

Secondly he applies the Buddhist teaching of the 3 marks of existence to them (ie. (1) they are temporary, (2) attachment to them causes suffering, and (3) they are not-self).

And thirdly, lastly, and most crucially, he advises one turns the mind away from these phenomena and ‘incline his mind to the property of deathlessness’, what in Vedic teachings would likely be termed the Self (Atman) or the Absolute (Brahman).

“He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness [ie. the five skandas], as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self [i.e the three marks of existence]. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'”

In the last sentence of the above paragraph, the Buddha uncharacteristically uses some positive terminology, ie. describing the absolute/ultimate in positive terms of what it is: he uses the words ‘This is peace, this is exquisite’, expressing the wonder and positivity of this state. Then he, more characteristically, adopts the usual negative terminology which describes the absolute in terms of what it is not: the lack of mental activity, the lack of acquisitiveness, the end of craving, lack of passion, lack of bondage or suffering. It is clear he is referring to nothing else but total and complete liberation, or nirvana.

The buddha continues, this time stating the same teaching again, but preceding it with the metaphor of an archery student. The idea is that through practice, one gets better at entering the Jhanas, just as the achery student improves through practice. The implication is that what at first seems difficult, perhaps impossible at first, such as highly developed archery skills, becomes possible and second-nature with repeated practice. Everyone can do this.

We also have to think why the Buddha chose an archer specifically to demonstrate this idea of the importance of practice. The other aspect of the archery metaphor is that the archer is one-pointed in intent, having picked a single target and focussing in on that, and over time and after correctly applying themselves, eventually is able to hit the bulls eye – they reach the goal of nirvana through having a clear aim, focus, practice and concentration:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Now we see another important phrase: ‘Staying right here’. The Buddha points out, just as in the vedic scriptures, that this state is to be abided in. Abiding in this state leads to the end of the mental defilements. In Vedic or Vedanta terms we could say that Abiding as the Self leads to the destruction of the vasanas (habitual mental tendencies):

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana] . Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the first jhana.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.”

(Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhana.)

So basically the Buddha is saying that either all of the mental defilements will be destroyed through this practice of the first four Jhanas, and thus lead directly to liberation, or some of the mental defilements will be destroyed, leading to becoming a one-returner, ie. someone who is to born once more in a heavenly realm where they will then attain nirvana without being reborn a second time.

The teaching then repeats for the the remainder of the Jhanas. The next three Jhanas (Jhanas 2-4) are covered using the same wording as above. The last five Jhanas, also called the formless Jhanas, have a subtly different wording, as follows:

“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

We can see that the basic teaching is the same. The emphasis now is not on form (which is not mentioned – only the latter four of the five skandhas are now mentioned), but on ‘complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form’ and disappearance of resistance, and ignoring any thoughts or notions of multiplicity. This about a deep letting go in which effort and duality are both let go of.

The teachings continues is the same way as with the first four Jhanas above:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space [the fifth Jhana]. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with sensations, perception, mental activity, and consciousness, as temporary, causing suffering, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all mental activity; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental defilements [and attains nirvana]. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. I tell you, the ending of the mental defilements depends on the dimension of the infinitude of space.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.

(Similarly with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness [the sixth Jhana] and the dimension of nothingness [the seventh Jhana].)

For the last two of the nine Jhanas, the Buddha recommends you receive direct teachings yourself from someone who has mastered these already:

“Thus, as far as the perception-attainments go, that is as far as gnosis-penetration goes. As for these two dimensions — the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception [the eighth Jhana] & the attainment of the cessation of feeling & perception [the ninth Jhana, sometimes said to be Nirvana itself] — I tell you that they are to be rightly explained by those monks who are meditators, skilled in attaining, skilled in attaining & emerging, who have attained & emerged in dependence on them.”

The key to nonduality and yoga

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See if you can spot the common themes from the following 🙂


From Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’:

Q. What is wisdom-insight (jnana-drsti)?

Ramana: Remaining quiet is what is called wisdom-insight


From Advaita Bodha Deepika (one of Ramana’s favourite traditional scriptures), Chapter 3:

17. Master: With complete stillness of mind, samsara will disappear root and branch. Otherwise there will be no end to samsara, even in millions of aeons (Kalpakotikala).

18. Disciple: Cannot samsara be got rid of by any means other than making the mind still?

M.: Absolutely by no other means; neither the Vedas, nor the shastras nor austerities, nor karma, nor vows, nor gifts, nor recital of scriptures of mystic formulae (mantras), nor worship, nor anything else, can undo the samsara. Only stillness of mind can accomplish the end and nothing else.

19. D.: The scriptures declare that only Knowledge can do it. How then do you say that stillness of the mind puts an end to samsara?

M.: What is variously described as Knowledge, Liberation, etc., in the scriptures, is but stillness of mind.

D.: Has any one said so before?

20-27. M.: Sri Vasishta had said…


Also from Chapter 3 of Advaita Bodha Deepika:

29-30. D.: How can the mind be made still?

M.: Only by Sankhya. Sankhya is the process of enquiry coupled with knowledge. The realised sages declare that the mind has its root in non-enquiry and perishes by an informed enquiry.

D.: Please explain this process.

M.: This consists of sravana, manana, nididhyasana and samadhi, i.e., hearing, reasoning, meditation and Blissful Peace, as mentioned in the scriptures. Only this can make the mind still.

31-32. There is also an alternative. It is said to be yoga.

D.: What is yoga?

M.: Meditation on Pure Being free from qualities.

D.: Where is this alternative mentioned and how?

M.: In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Sri Bhagavan Krishna has said: What is gained by Sankhya can also be gained by yoga. Only he who knows that the result of the two processes is the same, can be called a realised sage.

33-34. D.: How can the two results be identical?

M.: The final limit is the same for both because both of them end in stillness of mind. This is samadhi or Blissful Peace. The fruit of samadhi is Supreme Knowledge; this remains the same by whichever process gained.


From Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’:

All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.’

Also see:

Does stillness of mind lead to liberation?

The ‘ultimate means’ to liberation

Ramana Maharshi: be still

Ramana Maharshi: a quick and simple method to self-realisation

False enlightenment