Meditations (Shambhala Classics) Paperback – 10 Sep 2002
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Both his style and substance make Krishnamurti's works difficult for those unfamiliar with him. He dislikes context because he thinks it substitutes superficial intellectual understanding for direct perception, and his insights often seem hinted at rather than fully expressed because he has a horror of their being turned into mechanical methods or systems.
Each meditation is a passage excerpted from his talks, writings and diary notes, and varies in length from one sentence on a page by itself to a number of paragraphs on two facing pages. There is no apparent organization to the passages and, since they are excerpts, there is even less context than is usual in his books. The passages vary in style from terse general pronouncements on the nature of meditation to poetic descriptions of his experiences while meditating in natural scenes.
Let us compare K.'s approach and the more conventional meditational practice of Soto Zen Buddhism to illustrate their differences and what might be gained from Krishnamurti's thought by meditators at various levels of practice. In a Soto Zen meditation group, the main method or discipline is called "zazen," watching and counting one's breaths from one to ten and then beginning again at one. One notes each thought as it arises, then returns one's attention to the breath. One usually practices in this way while seated in the lotus posture or some variant. The mind is occupied with the trivial task of counting breaths, and attention is free from the stranglehold of the ego and its schemes. Awareness of the breath then automatically activates the relaxation response-- a cascade of calming physiological processes--, and patterns of egoic thought and associated bodily responses gradually dissolve.
Commenting on zazen, Joan Halifax, a Zen teacher, says "Students often start this practice full of ambition to attain special states of mind. As they mature, they come to realize that just sitting in awareness is the goal." More precisely, they realize that awareness is both the means and the end.
K.'s criticism of such practices is typically direct and logical. Rather than looking for some method to quiet the mind, he asks what creates conflict in the mind in the first place. His insight is that inattention creates the conflict in the mind. Since we meet the current moment with knowledge, ideals, and values from the past rather than looking at it directly, there is a mismatch between the situation and our response to it, causing conflict. His detailed analysis of how conflict arises is covered in his "Freedom From the Known" and other works. Instead of some system or method, K. recommends emptying the mind of both thoughts and the thinker by a constant process of direct awareness, the reverse of how we create them.
K.'s approach is all insight and no structure. He is against all formal meditational structure, whether it be spiritual/religious authorities or organizations, meditating in groups, concentration, special postures or breathing techniques, mantras, etc.
He begins his approach with emphasis on the mind, like the "direct path" methods of the Non-dual Vedanta school of Hinduism. It is not progressive in that no goal is posited. It is just awareness all the way. Since it starts with attention to the mind, his approach does not initially elicit the relaxation response.
Let us take a closer look at how Krishnamurti's approach and Soto Zen Buddhism compare as far as their stages of spiritual practice. A Korean film with a Zen Buddhist theme, "Why has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?" divides spiritual life into 3 stages. The first stage is that of the conventional world, where doing, thinking, and raw conflict reign. Literally and figuratively above this stage is the temple on the mountain, where monks strive to quiet their minds and attain a state of being/awareness. And still further up the mountain is a hermitage and a master who has arrived at the state of being/awareness and left behind not only the conventions of the world, but those of the temple as well.
How is it that practitioners of zazen and someone like Krishnamurti, who advocates an approach of direct awareness without any formal practice, wind up in a similar place when their approaches are so different?
K. is speaking from the third stage, that of being/awareness, but he is such a spiritual genius that he skipped the conventions and practices of the temple. I also believe his direct approach worked for him partly because he did not pick up conditioned thought patterns to the extent most of us do and partly because he lived a life of relative leisure as a young man and had plenty of time to pursue his approach. Leaders of the Theosophical Society plucked him from poverty at age 15, and a wealthy benefactress made him financially independent when he was in his early twenties.
Because of his unique personality and history, I believe that he has little to offer the typical beginning meditator concerning spiritual practice. Most of us need the structure of a formal meditation practice, at least at the beginning; we can't just jump from a lifetime of doing and thinking to one of being/awareness. Imagine if a novice meditator were able to make it through this book, grasp the rudiments of K.'s approach, and try his method of constant direct awareness. My guess is they would typically run screaming from their room after about fifteen minutes of watching their mind jump around like a crazed monkey. And that's trying to use his method in a quiet room. Trying to apply his approach throughout the day, as he recommends, would be even less practical.
But I believe K. does have great insights to offer someone further along the spiritual path. Consider an experienced Soto Zen meditator who has sensed but not consciously realized that in their practice, over time there has been a gradual attenuation of the sense of consciously working towards a goal and more a sense of settling into a state of being/awareness. Let us say this person encounters the following meditation from this book:
"There's no meditator in meditation. If there is, it is not meditation"
just at the time they are psychologically ready to receive this hint. K.'s words could act as a match which sets off an explosive realization and brings their meditational practice to a higher level, perhaps one in which a sense of self is almost entirely absent.
Another meditator with slightly less experience might encounter K.'s same meditation and feel intuitively that it is true, but not fully realize it until some later time when their knowledge and practice had deepened. Their full realization of this idea might be gradual and undramatic.
I am going to discuss one final level of meditator to illustrate the level of Krishnamurti's thoughts about meditation. A powerful spiritual awakening struck Eckhart Tolle, author of "The Power of Now," like a lightning bolt, leaving him unable to function and searching for an explanation of what had happened. Previously he had no interest in spirituality. He is an example of someone who jumps spontaneously and directly from a state of doing and thinking to one of being/awareness.
I believe that if he had read this book following his awakening, he could have understood almost everything in it, or at least understood enough of it to put into practice and realize fairly quickly. If we were all Eckhart Tolles, this book would be selling like the Harry Potter series.