Why do I feel anxiety when practising mindfulness? Why don’t I enjoy meditating? The 3 Gunas explained
Many people find meditation and mindfulness difficult and sometimes it can even make them feel more anxious? Why is this? Tom explains why this can occur, using the teaching of the three gunas (Tamas, Rajas and Sattva).
With devotion to Sri Ramana Maharshi
For more on this teaching see here: https://tomdas.com/2019/02/18/the-three-energies-three-gunas/
This video was recorded live during a Satsang meeting with Tom Das and put together by volunteers.
To attend satsang, see here: https://tomdas.com/events.
For guided meditations see the ‘guided meditation’ playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/c/TomDasNonduality/playlist
For recommended reading for liberation see here: https://tomdas.com/2020/10/19/recommended-reading-books-for-enlightenment-liberation-and-self-realisation/
To book a 1 to 1 session with Tom see here: https://tomdas.com/nondual-spiritual-counsellor/
Your true nature – a guided meditation
A Guided Meditation/Contemplation: ‘What you are’
Difficulty Meditating? Tips for Meditation and Self-Enquiry
Ramana Maharshi on Jiddu Krishanmurti’s Choiceless Awareness
A young man from Colombo, Ceylon, said to Bhagavan:
J. Krishnamurti teaches the method of effortless and choiceless awareness as distinct from that of deliberate concentration. Would Sri Bhagavan be pleased to explain how best to practise meditation and what form the object of meditation should take?
Ramana Maharshi: Effortless and choiceless awareness is our real nature. If we can attain that state and abide in it, that is all right. But one cannot reach it without effort, the effort of deliberate meditation.
All the age-old vasanas (inherent tendencies) turn the mind outwards to external objects. All such thoughts have to be given up and the mind turned inwards and that, for most people, requires effort. Of course, every teacher and every book tells the aspirant to keep quiet, but it is not easy to do so. That is why all this effort is necessary.
Even if we find somebody who has achieved this supreme state of stillness, you may take it that the necessary effort had already been made in a previous life. So effortless and choiceless awareness is attained only after deliberate meditation.
That meditation can take whatever form most appeals to you. See what helps you to keep out all other thoughts and adopt that for your meditation.
The path of insight
Take the time to presently notice your thoughts without judging or suppressing them. Then, gently, question the underlying motivation and reason behind the thoughts. You will see that most of your thoughts, perhaps, are egoic, that is they are geared towards finding fulfilment and pleasure through subtle and gross objects and experiences.
But where do you need to go to find deep lasting peace? Is it to be found elsewhere? Or is it right here and now, fully manifest when this egoic movement is no longer in effect?
This is the path of insight, which, over time, leads to a natural unforced non-egoic stillness.
You cannot ‘be still’/ how to be still
‘Be still’ (ie. Nididhyasana) or natural stillness (ie. Samadhi), and the eternal peace of mind/end of suffering that seemingly emerge from that (ie. Moksha) – these are not something you do or create, or necessarily need to strive to practice. They can be a natural outcome of insight into the experiential truths of ‘no-doer’ (both in ‘yourself’ and in ‘others’) and ‘nothing else needed’ or ‘nothing to get’.
Similarly, insight is not something you have to do or achieve or create. It is a natural outcome of listening to the teachings (ie. Sravana) and contemplating them in a (relatively) clear and quiet mind (ie. Manana).
Therefore listen to the teachings, remember them, relax, and let the mind contemplate them unhurriedly. The teachings need time and space to blossom and bloom. 🌿🌼🌷
Seeking out teachings to listen to, actually listening to them and subsequently contemplating them is not something you do or chose to do or ever did. It is a natural outcome of a desire to end suffering (ie. Mumukshutva) together with having heard the notion or possibility that suffering can end (ie. Hearing about the concept of enlightenment or liberation). These factors naturally and automatically lead to seeking a teaching/teacher.
The desire to end suffering is not something you have created or ever ‘done’. It is the natural consequence of and intelligent response to suffering.
This is all spontaneous action and response. No doer entity or separate entity doing, authoring or creating anything.
Suffering is not something you chose to happen, or something you have created/caused. It is a natural consequence of living life with concepts of ignorance deeply rooted into the body-mind.
Hearing about the notion or possibility that suffering can end is not something you chose to hear. It is a consequence of God’s Grace.
Ignorance was not something you chose. It too was and is God’s Grace.
All this, one could say, is God’s Grace, unfolding beautifully. It is the way it is. What is is what is.
J. Krishnamurti: How to meditate, a wonderful wonderful path
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!
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 good 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.
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.
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.
Ramana Maharshi: How to meditate ‘nothing is as good as meditation’
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