Meditation and the Mind: The Sharpest Tool in the Shed
October 28, 2012 8 Comments
This review of the Cosmology of the ancients, their similarities and differences, their relationship to power and authority, were all intellectually interesting and of course relevant for that thesis that Charlie had to produce, but not so relevant for Charlie himself as he tried to navigate this increasingly interrelated and complex world, a world that had for the most part abandoned the dogmas of organized religion in favor for materialism and science and one where he had to make sense of the world without having the luxury of simply adherence to the doctrine or practices of a local church or synagogue.
But his curiosity had led him to the Eastern philosophical, rather theo-philosophical, systems of belief, religious systems that were founded on the notion of personal illumination, individual spiritual practices, and the existence of energy systems within the human form that were directly connected to, or at the very least very much related to, their cosmic counterparts. For in the Cosmology of the ancient peoples lay an inherent belief in the connection between the individual human form and cosmic consciousness and the ground of all being, albeit in metaphorical form, a connection that was lost as advanced society evolved and the Cosmology of the ancients was subsumed for the science of modern man.
One of the many metaphors for the bliss of the union of the divine, the goal of the practice of meditation in all its forms, is that of the sky and the earth underneath it. Wherever we go on this wonderful planet Earth, we always have the Sky as our backdrop. We cannot escape it, although most of the time we are wholly unaware of its presence and its connection to our daily lives and its relationship to the ground of our existence. It is just so with meditation. The experience of deep meditation is the sky that provides the backdrop for the events of life. And it’s this backdrop, this omnipresent source, from which the manifestations of life in all its forms springs forth, in all their various gross and subtle forms; from the crassness and cruel reality of the physical word where life and death coexist in natural interdependence, the doctrines of survival of the fittest and natural selection that Darwin “discovered” and explored, to the more subtle and finer world of the mind and spirit which provided for the ground of our being and the being of all life form on the planet. All have the same beginning and end and all evolve and devolve into the same omnipresent and omniscient consciousness, this was the ultimate message of the ancient cosmologies that were so core to the belief systems of the ancient civilizations from which modern society emerged.
One need only to sit calmly for a few moments and attempt to completely perceive the nature of this underlying reality, the birthright of every single one of us that walk this great Earth, in order to get a glimpse of that which cannot be known and that which cannot be understood and yet can be experienced and perceived at the same time. It is from this seed or practice, of the direct perception or Reality that the meditational experience can root itself and upon which sat the metaphysical systems which the Eastern traditions had kept alive all these centuries.
At first, when one sits in meditation practice one will find that thoughts toss themselves turbulently about the sea of the Mind. But just as the nature of “I” is unclear as one’s meditation practice begins to take hold, the nature of Thought itself becomes unclear as well. What are thoughts? Are they real? Does what we think define who we are? What of the creative nature of thought? From whence are thoughts born? What is the true effect of thoughts upon the reality within which we perceived the world around us? Are these thoughts, these impressions, simply a backdrop from which we experience the world around us as it happens or do they frame and construct the reality which surrounds us? Do they create our reality or are they a function of reality? A classic chicken and egg problem Charlie thought.
Charlie remembered his first meditation experience quite clearly. Odd he thought that there were some events in life that were timeless to some extent, memories that did not fade no matter how much time passed. And his first experience of focusing the mind on the eternal, looking inward, was something he always carried with him and something he always found spectacular and at the same time strange and odd – and yet real, in the sense that it had carried with him despite the passage of a great deal of time and life experiences.
He had started reading about some of the more esoteric mystical traditions of the East. He had been on the road for many months in Europe, embarking on his arguably failed professional tennis career, and found a lot of free time to read and study during his travels. All of his work and scholarship at during his undergraduate studies, his preparation and ultimate authorship of that darned thesis, had given him an appetite for learning, and an appetite and enjoyment of study and writing. He hadn’t considered these skills very much when he was grinding through his studies, or even when he was preparing his thesis, but once he left academia, he found that what he had learned as an undergrad chasing that elusive concept of cultural borrowing that Professor Lumina had planted in his mind, the true gift that he has given he later found, was the beauty of being an academic, a student and an author, an gift that last a lifetime or so it seemed.
He was playing in France, and in France they were known for their hospitality. He was traveling with his old friend Niels, and two Aussie buddies he had picked up and met along the way. And he was winning some, in a way that he hadn’t really done before. He won some key matches, picked up some travel money, had gotten a decent ranking and a reputation that came along with it, and was starting to gain some confidence in his abilities on court. And at the same time, his studies began to deviate from straight ancient history, theology, and philosophy, to mysticism; the practice and art of the experience of bliss that were so painstakingly described and outlined in the various systems of Yoga from the East, India in particular.
Charlie didn’t know it yet but it was Raja Yoga, or in its more esoteric form Kundalini Yoga, that he was reading about at that time. He didn’t yet understand Yoga’s relationship to the Vedic tradition, or the premise that all the yogas – Bhakti, Jnana, Raja and Karma Yoga – must be practiced together in concert in order for the spirit to progress along its path as smoothly as possible. This synthesis was perhaps best described by the Yogic adept Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), the chief disciple of the great 19th century Indian sage Ramakrishna, an enlightened mystic of the Yogic tradition by any measure who played a significant role in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world in the beginning of the twentieth century.
But Charlie landed on the tradition of Kundalini Yoga first, primarily as a mental practice in his quest for greater focus and concentration on court. For what he found, and what all great athletes find eventually, was that concentrated mental focus, particularly at key moments in a match or contest, many times made the difference between a win or a loss. And it was wins or losses that made an athlete at the end of the day, as much as some might believe in the old adage, “it’s not whether you won or lost but how you played the game” that counted. Charlie found it humorous that Martina Navratilova, one of the greatest tennis champions of all time was said to have once joked that whoever said that must have lost. That always made Charlie smile.
And Kundalini, or Raja, Yoga more so than all the other Yogic disciplines, spoke of the mystical and supernatural doors into the nature of reality and existence that lay latent in the human form, the ultimate power that lay dormant within all of us the serpent of Kundalini, that lay dormant at the base of the spine, and could be awakened through the disciplined practice of meditation. And he was fascinated again, fascinated by this system of energy which it described, a system of energy that he already intuitively knew and manipulated, energy he could feel and tap into as he sprinted about on the tennis court chasing after that yellow fuzzy ball in the dance with his opponent chasing after points, games, sets and matches as a professional tennis player. He was fascinated again, just as he was as a small child fascinated with the myths of Achilles, Hercules and Odysseus in his reading of the Greek myths and the gods and goddesses whose trials and tribulations they described.
He had sat for the first time on a small tree trunk outside one of the tennis facilities he was playing at in France at the time. He had picked up a book on Raja Yoga, on the power latent within us that coursed through our chakras, or wheels of energy that ran up and down the base of the spine, and had starting reading the sections about Kundalini, the serpent power that lay latent within us, and how to awaken it.
The concept of the chakra system originates in ancient Hindu texts, featured prominently in in the Tantric and Yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, most notably the systems of Patanjali whose eight limbed practice of yoga had been adopted so widely in the West. Its name derives from the Sanskrit word for “wheel” or “turning” and refers to wheel-like vortices which are believed to exist in the more subtle form of the human spirit. The chakras are said to be “force centers” or whorls of energy permeating, from a point on the physical body, the layers of the subtle bodies in an ever-increasing fan-shaped formation, rotating vortices of subtle matter, they are considered the focal points for the reception and transmission of energies, energies which once understood could be manipulated through yogic practices like asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and concentration (dhayana) and ultimately meditation where the object of concentration and the concentrator himself merged into one.
And so, one day after a training session, he wandered into the woods behind the courts and simply sat, and rested his mind and focused his attention on this latent serpent power, this power that he was already attune to given his training as a professional athlete. His posture was not bad, he was sitting upright with his back straight, and just as soon as he closed his eyes, he felt a rush of energy well up within him and quite suddenly and the world’s bottom seemed, in fact did, drop out from underneath him and the expansiveness of space and time opened up before his mind like the revealing of rainbow in the sky, a rainbow that was sitting before him all the time but yet had not noticed it until he had sat and opened his mind to receive its perception in all its glory. Space expanded, time itself ceased to be, and he could sense that the source from which he came was not, and yet was at the same time, his physical body or the mental sheathe that covered it and awareness, his consciousness, expanded well beyond what he had ever thought imaginable.
But what Charlie had yet to learn, yet to fully absorb, was that the mind was an instrument. This is what they taught in the Eastern theo-philosophical traditions. The Eastern mystics had studied the mind, in a seemingly scientific and empirical way, for thousands of years and they had come up with various language and terms, as well as specific approaches and techniques, to harness this mind and use it to reveal the true nature of Reality, a Reality which at its core was unknowable and yet at the same time directly perceivable. In fact they had created and formulated a language, an architecture of principles along with a means for its revelation, with which to not only describe the nature of mind, but also the process by which its true underlying and all-encompassing nature is revealed.
Sanskrit was the language that was used to describe this science of the mind, and its roots dated far back into ancient times, stemming from the Indo-Aryan nomadic peoples that roamed the Near and Far East well before the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt rose in the Mediterranean and Near East in the third millennium BCE and subsequent centuries.
Vedic Sanskrit was the language of the Rig-Veda, the oldest text of the Indo-Aryan people whose authorship was dated by most scholars to as early as 1500 BCE and according to some scholars and academics reflected oral and other ritualistic traditions that dated back much earlier, perhaps even as far back as the fourth or fifth millennium BCE based upon the civilizations and practices which it described and the corresponding archeological evidence from the region of modern day India and Pakistan which is where the ancient Indo-Aryan peoples are believed to have originated from.
Let’s look to the science of the mind then, this great instrument that the seekers of old, the rishis, or great seers, described in the Vedas, and see how they described it and how it was best put to use to illuminate the mysteries of life and reality – what language they use and how they describe the utility of this mind, this tool that frames the world around us and has promoted and elevated the human species beyond the confines of the base physical world in the last few millennia since the dawn of the Neolithic Revolution and in no small measure has driven the evolution of civilized mankind and its dominion over the earth.
The Sanskrit term for mind is manas. It stems from the root ‘man’, which is a Sanskrit verb meaning “to think” or “mind”. So it is the subjective, nominative concept of this term which is used to describe this most powerful instrument of ours. Once could describe it from a Vedic point of view as ‘that which thinks’ or ‘that which minds’. One can also think of this faculty, this gift that separates us from the lower forms of life, as our own computer, or interface, with the world of name and form around us. The touch points, or sources of input for this system are the five senses – touching, tasting, hearing, seeing and smelling. And each of these sources of input work together to experience the world around us. This act of experiencing includes a subject and an object that together, along with the our faculties of sense perception, to create an experience, or event, all stemming from and processed by this manas, or mind, from which we experience the world around us.
And manas’s job then (and let there be no doubt that manas is supposed to work for the jiva, or individual soul, and not the other way around) is to process this event and experience for the individual, categorize it alongside other events and experiences that share similar characteristics, and in turn take learnings and concepts from the experiences to further along the mind/body system to which that manifestation of manas is associated, the individual Jiva or Soul. From a Darwinian sense the development of manas can be looked at as a tool that has helped us survive, helped us to domesticate animals and develop agriculture which in turn helped the advent of great cities, civilizations and then in turn empires. But from the Vedic point of view, the ultimate utility of this instrument was not survival, but liberation from this great wheel of life and death and the ultimate perception, realization, or our oneness with the ground of reality of essence of the universe.
Manas then, after thousands of years of evolution, is the highly developed and sophisticated instrument that could be considered the artificial intelligence portion of this mind/body system, continuing with our software and technology analogy from above. It is constantly adapting to the world around it, processing and storing hundreds of pieces of information a minute, dozens at least every second, and is able to rapidly apply this information – these memories and lessons learned you could say – to another unfolding event or experience that immediately follows the previous one, and yet at the same time is wholly integrated with the experience before it. It is the greatest gift of man, and yet so little of its power and essence is understood or studied by mankind ironically, at least outside the field of psychology or mysticism, both fields that take a back seat to the materialistic and capitalistic societies that dominate the Western world today.
According to the tradition and philosophy of Vedanta, which arguably is quite simply the science of the mind and intellect and its relationship with Ultimate Reality, manas is bound to the senses and yields vijnana (practical knowledge of simply information) rather than jnana (wisdom or true knowledge) or vidya (understanding). This implies of course, that there is something higher than manas, something more subtle and powerful, something that guides manas – the charioteer of the mind if you will borrowing the analogy and metaphor from that great Hindu epic The Mahabharata where Krishna teaches Arjuna about karma, the nature of Reality and mankind’s place in it, and reveals ultimate wisdom to him on the eve of battle.
Manas presents its information to its maker, its ruler or its puppeteer, and it is this master principle that processes the information (vijnana) and determines or chooses how to react to all of the information being presented to it and what to do with it if you will. This principle, this determinative faculty that sits above and behind manas, is called buddhi, or intellect.
Manas is the perceiving faculty, our interface with the world that we deem ‘real’, reality being defined in this context as that which is perceived by our senses. Manas is no doubt a great and powerful instrument then, but it is an instrument or tool only, to be subjugated and controlled for higher means, according to Vedic tradition and philosophy, just as the horses are controlled by the charioteer. Manas furthermore is considered to be just one aspect of what we classically consider to be our mind in the classic western sense of the term, or the mental aspect of individual consciousness. The entire internal organ of the mind, according to the Vedic tradition, consists of manas, buddhi (intellect), chitta (memory) and ahankara (ego) and collectively is referred to as antahkarana, or “inner cause”.
In the Vedic tradition, or the practice of meditation as outlined in the various systems of Yoga, the individual is instructed to recognize the difference between buddhi and manas, and in turn to identify the presence of ego, or ahankara, in order to more closely identify with and be aware of the role of one’s buddhi in decision making and action in general. What we would classically consider mind, or psyche in the classic Western academic sense, is looked at in the philosophical system of Vedanta as all of these four components – buddhi, chitta, ahankara and manas – working together to drive behavior and action. Recognizing the distinctions and roles of these four aspects of our minds from the Vedic standpoint, allows the individual to understand the differentiate between the perceptive faculty of the mind and its corresponding discriminatory aspect, buddhi, allowing for separation and greater understanding of the workings of this great and powerful tool of mind or manas, that can be a destructive or degenerative force as well as a tool or instrument for liberation depending upon how the it is used.
In other words, manas perceives the outside world and processes and stores this information via the chitta aspect of mind. Chitta though, is not merely a storage mechanism; it also has an emotional aspect to it, which is manifested via what are referred to as samskaras, or deep seated mental impressions. Samskaras, according to Vedic tradition, represent the most powerful and emotional charged memories and impressions of mind that most influence and guide our behaviors and choices as we go through life in the present. (Samskara comes from the Sanskrit sam, which means ‘complete’ or ‘joined together’ and kara which means ‘action’, ‘cause’, or ‘doing’. Samskaras, along with referring to these deep seated psychology impressions that are associated with the Jiva and are a result of previous actions and the Jiva’s attachment to said actions, also sometimes refers to the personal sacraments that mark the major milestones of the life of the Hindu, from the moment of conception to the final scattering of his funeral ashes. It is the former philosophical meaning of the term samskaras that are pertinent in the role of the mind that we explore here.)
To make matters more difficult, manas and chitta are colored and clouded by ahankara, or ego, along with samskaras, and it is only through purposeful awareness of one’s buddhi, or intellect, that the individual can see the world around them for what it truly is, and forcibly guide one’s behaviors to desired results rather than one’s samskaras and ego guide our behaviors unconsciously, at times yielded undesirable results. According to the Vedic tradition, it becomes a question of who is driving the chariot, the charioteer or the horses, to boil down to its essence one of the essential messages of the Bhagavad Gita.
All of our thoughts, words, feelings, actions, behaviors and life experiences create impressions on our mind, or our subconscious as referred to by modern psychology. These impressions are called samskaras in the philosophical systems of Yoga and Vedanta. Samskaras are the grooves in the mental pathways of our mind, they can be thought of the current that drives us forward mentally which in turn drives our actions on the physical plane and at a very fundamental level create the reality of the physical world around us in the sense that it frames our perception of it and how we react to it. Samskaras can be positive or negative, and are typically driven by emotional attachments to what we desire, or in turn the avoidance of things or experiences which we associate with pain or suffering- that which propels us toward something we want or forces us away from that which we want to avoid.
Understanding how all of these aspects of mind work together, and the role of one’s buddhi in processing all of the information and determining how to act or react to a given situation or stimuli, allows for a much more profound and deeper understanding of the role of mind in our daily lives, and in turn how the mind can lead to bondage or suffering. This understanding, and tapping into the potency of buddhi, and at the very least the recognition of its existence, can also help us better understand why we think the things we think, why we have strong emotional attachments to some thoughts or ideas, and how these samskaras can be tamed to better guide and influence our behavior to desired results, rather than our behaviors and thoughts driving certain behaviors unconsciously. Knowing the charioteer exists gives us a much better chance of controlling the direction and speed of the chariot.
Charlie liked to refer to the machination of the mind as reflections and speculations. If you watched the mind for some time, stood away from it just a bit, he found that you could categorize the thought waves into reflections, the mulling over and processing of past events, and speculations, the creative part of the mind that is typically called the imagination that creates scenarios and situations that have yet to occur although they have some basis in reality, or the mental impressions of past experiences.
In effect, you could consider the workings of manas, that great and powerful tool, as a constant processing of information that is taken in by the senses, our interactions with others, and the application of this understanding to present or future events. This is what the mind does, this is its purpose. It is constantly organizing, generalizing and processing information from the world around us, comparing and contrasting it to past experiences and known modes of understanding, and then in turn filing away such information and storing it in the massive library, called chitta by the philosophical systems of Yoga and Vedanta.
Buddhi in turn, can be looked at as the charioteer, or the CEO, of this complex mental and psychological system. He sits atop all of this massive store of information, and if his presence is perceived and recognized properly, he can be the master construct that processes and stores all of this information that comes in from the five senses continually all around us, and can act on it as they deem fit, using the power of discrimination and wisdom. Better contact, comprehension and awareness of this guiding principle of the mind yields greater control over what would be called behaviors in modern psychology, and in turn a better chance of being able to achieve our desires and goals by framing our actions in a way that lead to desired ends rather than being bounced around in the world around us by the constant chasing of senses and desires.
As Charlie started practicing meditation more, he found that upon closing his eyes and focusing his mind he was immediately confronted by the waves of his thoughts. The deeper and stronger the thought or desire, the more it plagued or was stirred up, by his practice of meditation – his desire to be a successful competitive tennis player, to compete on the big stages of the world, his desire for love and companionship, concern about his family, etc. All of these thoughts stirred within him, and surged through his mind one after the other, with seemingly no end. In the practice of meditation then, Charlie was challenged with the concept of mind and the nature of thought itself, what it represented and how it defined who he was.
Upon his meditation on the nature of thought, the turning of the instrument of the mind upon itself as it were, his now new quest to understand the thinking apparatus within man, he concluded what the Vedic and Yogic traditions had taught for thousands of years, that thoughts had different potencies, the waves came in different strengths and shapes through the backdrop of the mind, the strongest and most powerful of these thoughts stemming from his deepest and most lasting desires or disappointments, i.e. samskaras.
Most of us have thousands of thoughts during the course of the day. They reigned over one’s life really. They provided the framework from which Charlie acted and reacted in his daily life. They framed people’s perception of him as well as one invariably must express themselves through words, and words and language and sound stem from thought. It is these thoughts themselves that provide the framework for the events of our life really.
But most people didn’t recognize this. They allowed themselves to be ruled by their thoughts, driven unconsciously by their samskaras, and were not aware of this subtle truth that drove their actions and behaviors, that their deepest and most relevant past impressions were in turn what more than anything else guided their present reality, and how the world around them shaped and adapted to them rather than the other way around. But when you stopped for a few moments, let yourself enter into the world of the mind to discover its nature, it was then when you begin to realize the great influence that thoughts have on defining who you are and how you perceive the world around you, and in turn how the world around you and your relationships in particular were shaped by your thoughts, particularly your reaction to them. Of course understanding their potency and liberating yourself from their bondage were two totally different things, the difference between a novice tennis player and a world champion, or master craftsman, so to speak.
Samskaras. Charlie had yet to be exposed to that term when he first sat in meditation on that stump long ago in rural France, but that was the realm he was beginning to explore. Moving from the raw physical world he sought so hard to master on the tennis court, into the more subtle world of the mind to try and find the secret of peak performance. A journey which led into the nature of mind itself. His inner journey had started.
Once Charlie had embarked into the realm of thought, he began to try and gain control of these thoughts, control by focus, that was the practice. To sift his way through all the thoughts that he had, and consciously try to choose and focus his thoughts, the onepointedness of the Buddhist and Yogic traditions. Some thoughts he chose to cultivate, and others, he chose to ignore or push away. The thoughts still emerged to and fro upon the surface of his mind, but by choosing which thoughts to cultivate, Charlie began to reflect on their power, and contemplate their source. Charlie had yet to realize the true import of visualization, the source from which mandalas and other visual representations of the divine, stemmed in the Eastern traditions.
And after the passage of some time, Charlie found, through the calming practice of meditation and the observing of thoughts as they passed through the undercurrent of Mind, one might find that these thoughts would slow, and begin to merge and coalesce into more pointed or singular thoughts or concepts. One would climb the ladder of abstraction until it reached some its highest rungs. And as it moved higher, the physical plane of existence becomes more and more distant, and the meditator began to merge into the world of thought, and into the source of all thoughts. This world around the Jiva, the experiences and their impressions that they leave upon the mind of the individual, reflects the potency of this concept Maya, or illusion, that they speak of in the Vedic tradition, as looked at from the non-relative standpoint and from higher levels of perception.
Charlie knew for example, that one of the thoughts that plagued him on his second serve, was the double fault. The dreaded double fault. The gift wrapping of a point for your opponent. And the potency of this little thought that had the potential to chip away at the foundation of his serve. When he tossed that ball, sometimes that thought would creep into his mind, and his arm and back would seize up and tighten, and invariably, even if the serve went in, it had nothing on it. A veritable meatball in the eyes of his opponent. Despite all the energy he put into it, the ball had little velocity, and his accuracy was shoddy at best when this thought crept into his mind before his serve. The thought, the fear of the double fault, had a direct physical manifestation in his physical body as he went through the physical motion of his serve.
So how to quell this thought? How to drive it from your mind so that you can relax and be as fluid as possible in the complex motion of the serve that was so critical to setting the stage of the point and giving yourself the best possible chance to win that point? For it is this fluidity, this relaxed state of mind, from which the velocity and accuracy on your serve came. Charlie understood this and yet at the same time that dreaded thought would sometimes creep into his mind before he served, despite everything he might do to set it aside.
In all sport, the more complicated a physical motion, the more relaxed and peaceful your mind must be to accomplish it, to find the perfection in it. To channel the energy in your body in the most complete and effective way to send that yellow fuzzy ball into the exact spot you were aiming, with the exact velocity, and the exact spin. You couldn’t break it down, you couldn’t think about all the complex physical attributes and movements that needed to take place in order to achieve it, you needed to simply feel it. An in order to feel it, your mind had to be empty, or said in another way, full in its perception and manifestation of the fluid and clean motion that yielded the serve that you were looking to execute on.
The serve, ironically enough given that it was the only shot in tennis where you could set the time table upon which it was struck, was where this state of mind, this emptiness, was needed most. The serve was only stroke that had no external variables associated with it outside of your own physical presence and posture and the ball which you held in your hand. It was just you, and the ball, standing up there next to the baseline. A simple toss with one hand, a coiling of the hips and shoulders, a bit of a knee bend to get your legs into the motion, and then “thwap!”, that ball came off the strings and was sent barreling over the net (hopefully), over to the opponent’s service box. The more relaxed you were in the motion, the more it came from true feel, the more effective the shot was and most certainly the more velocity you had on the ball. This was true of the serve more so than any other shot.
So how do you find this place where you can be at your most effective? Your most relaxed, and yet your most aware state at the same time? It was through ritual and through mantra. That was what Jim Loehr, the eminent sports psychologist, was getting at really. Through the rituals that surrounded the beginning and ending of the points, and through the repetition of a mantra or word that represented positive and powerful energy, you lost yourself in the rhythm of the game, your mind focused on the ritual, and the body was allowed to perform at its best – naturally.
This experience on the tennis court then, gave Charlie a deep sense of appreciation for the power of thought, the importance of ritual, and most certainly the power of mantra. He saw clearly the power of thought, and its defining quality in its manifestation in both the positive and negative sense. Once he understood this, and began to apply these principles of ritual and mantra into his game, and his meditation practice, his thoughts began to gain strength and focus, and take on a more positive, affirming form. Through the constant practice of meditation, Charlie began to refine his thoughts until they reached a purer state and more abstract state, and more importantly Charlie began to be aware of their potency.
For there is a great difference between a pure, crystallized thought, and a lazy thought that exists alongside of dozens of other thoughts. At the beginning then, Charlie found that meditation was simply the practice of refining his thoughts, of letting them pass through the substrata of your mind until the sea of thoughts was quelled, and the thoughts that stemmed up from the depths of the mind became more abstract, and more subtle, and the space between each individual thought began to expand and grow. This was the settling of the mind in action, the quelling of the sea of mind until its rough waves began to relax and calm.
This is where Charlie found the Buddhist’s traditions to be very helpful. Buddhism originated from Hinduism, just as Christianity had its roots in Judaism. Buddha was a Hindu just as Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. And yet Buddhism had taken the esoteric teachings of the Vedas and crafted a handbook of sorts for the struggling soul, a much more simplified handbook than the Vedic philosophical and metaphysical tradition, at least from Charlie’s perspective. The Four Noble Truths. What a beautiful gift to humanity it was. A guidebook to the realm of the spirit really, and a framework for living that would last over a thousand years.
The four noble truths of Gautama, spoken to his disciples just after his enlightenment under the buddhi tree, can be summarized as 1) the nature of this world is suffering, 2) suffering comes from desire and attachment, 3) suffering can be overcome, it can be conquered, and 4) the path to the cessation of suffering is the Eightfold Path. Charlie didn’t consider himself to be a Buddhist, but he was drawn to the teachings for their simplicity and elegance. And it was Sogyal Rinpoche’s work, his attempt to explain the deep mysteries of life to the Western mind in his seminal work ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’, where Charlie found the best explanation of this nature of mind that Gautama attempted to provide us with a guidebook to cross:
Just as the ocean has waves, or the sun has rays, so the mind’s own radiance is its thoughts and emotions. The ocean has waves, yet the ocean is not particularly disturbed by them. The waves are the very nature of the ocean. Waves will rise, but where do they go? Back into the ocean. And where do the waves come from? The ocean. In the same manner, thoughts and emotions are the radiance and expression of the very nature of the mind. They rise from the mind, but where do they dissolve? Back into the mind
In effect, when we begin our study of the mind, we begin our study of the surface of the oceanic mind. And it is the mind, in all its depth, that is the sky of life. It is in meditation that we perceive this mind most directly, and when we begin to explore its source. That all seemed to make sense to Charlie. He didn’t completely understand, but he was beginning at least to be introduced to the age old metaphors that would help him understand the true nature of Self, or the Atman of the Vedic tradition, and come closer to answering those nagging, age old questions: “Who am I and why am I here?”, the same questions that the ancients were looking to provide answers for in their mythological and cosmological traditions.
There is just so much activity in the day of the Westerner. It is virtually impossible for him to see through the illusion of the physical world into the gravity of the mind. Taking up of the practice of meditation however, gives you a totally different perspective on this collection of daily events and experiences. Furthermore, through the constant practice of the direct experience of the raw material for all existence, the light of truth began to become brighter for Charlie, and the nature of mind somewhat illuminated, if nothing else providing a more abstract and accurate construct from which to view the word around him and his life in general.
But where exactly can we step beyond the nature of thought into the realm of the mind? How do you navigate through the realm of thought into the world from which all thoughts sprung forth? Sure, thoughts would get finer and finer in deep meditation. But as long as there was this sense of ‘I’, this sense of self that emanated from the attachment to thoughts and their associated emotions, Charlie felt trapped. He felt bound. The study of thought only revealed to him the subtle potency of thought, as well as the daunting nature of the task to go beyond thought, to lose yourself in the framework within which waves of thoughts originated.
The Buddhist tradition had some guidance here though. Captured elegantly by Sogyal Rinpoche once again:
In the ordinary mind, we perceive the stream of thoughts as continuous; but in reality this is not the case. You will discover for yourself that there is a gap between each thought. When the past thought is past, and the future thought not yet arisen, you will always find a gap in which the Rigpa, the nature of mind, is revealed. So the work of meditation is to allow thoughts to slow down, to make that gap become more apparent.
It is within this gap then, that we may find the gateway to the mind and the true nature of all experience. The study of thought is simply the first step along the journey. And this journey is in the realm of mind, leading from the small mind of the individual, to the greater massive mind of all consciousness. Meditation then, that purely subjective experience, formed the core principle of the eastern traditions, the first step toward the understanding of reality, the path upon which one must travel if the true nature of the universe from which everything in it has sprung can be known.
Easier said than done of course, and despite the elegant intellectual framework within which the East painted this picture of mind, and the means with which to quell it for peace and ultimate realization, Charlie was still left with all the same day to day challenges of life, no matter how good or revealing a meditation practice might be or how much “insight” it provided.
 For a good description on the etymology and meaning of Kundalini, and its reflection in the theological traditions of both the East and the West, see http://www.transpersonal.com.au/kundalini/definition.htm.
 Sanskrit was the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and its offshoots Buddhism and Jainism and virtually all of the ancient texts of these religions were authored in Sanskrit. Sanskrit’s position in the cultures of Greater India is akin to that of Latin and Greek in Europe and it has significantly influenced most modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, and it was the language used in the Vedas, the oldest texts of the Indo-Aryan peoples that described their cosmologies and rituals that survive and whose underlying rituals and theology carry into Hinduism and Buddhism even to this day. This qualifies Rigvedic Sanskrit as one of the oldest attestations of any Indo-Iranian language, and one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family, the family which includes English and most European languages.
 The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana. Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kauravas and the Pandava princes, the Mahabharata contains much philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four “goals of life” or purusharthas. Among the principal works and stories that are a part of the Mahabharata are the Bhagavad Gita, the story of Damayanti, an abbreviated version of the Ramayana, and the Rishyasringa, often considered as works in their own right. Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata.
 From the Sanskrit root term budh, meaning ‘to be awake’, ‘to understand’ or ‘to know’.
 Or extensions of our senses like microscopes, telescopes, thermometers, etc. which become relevant when looking at the results fields of the fields of physics, molecular-biology for example in modern times.
 Maṇḍala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle.” In the Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions sacred art often takes a mandala form. The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. These mandalas, or concentric diagrams, have spiritual and ritual significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism. Mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation. In Carl Jung’s psychoanalytic works, h saw the mandala as “a representation of the unconscious self, and believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.
 Maya or Māyā in the Vedic and Yogic traditions has multiple meanings, usually translated into English as “illusion”, the concept centers on the philosophical principle that we do not experience the physical world itself but are rather a projection of it, and reality is created by us as a projection of our mind. Māyā in these traditions is also referred to as the principal or deity that manifests, perpetuates and governs the illusion and dream of duality in the phenomenal universe, resting on the principle that in fact reality is one and indivisible and it is only through the illusion reflected by the power of Maya that a distinction between the subject and the object is perceived. For some mystics, this manifestation of duality and distinction between the observer and that which is observed is real (see dualistic Vedic philosophical systems such as Dvaita Vedanta), i.e. each person, each physical object, from the perspective of eternal unity, is like a brief, disturbed drop of water from an unbounded ocean. The goal of enlightenment is to understand this non-dual notion and the illusory nature of maya – more precisely, to experience this: to see intuitively that the distinction between the Self and the Universe is a false dichotomy that stems from ignorance and un-enlightenment. Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_(illusion).