Tag Archives: India

The Purpose of Meditation (Conclusion added Dec 2018)

The Purpose of Meditation

          Meditation began moving westward from Asia in a serious way in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An early example that has persisted to this day is the Kriya Yoga of the now deceased ParamahansaYoganada. Kriya Yoga is rooted in the Vedanta teachings of India and specifically the yoga sutras of the sage Pantanjali that were written around 400 CE. More recently Siddha Yoga (a.k.a. Tantric Yoga) was introduced in the west by the late Swami Muktananda. Tantric Yoga has its roots in the Tantra teachings of India. As early as the 1970s, the eastern process of meditation was being westernized. The Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson transformed eastern meditation into The Relaxation Response about which he said, “We claim no innovation but simply a scientific validation of age-old wisdom.” 

Eastern meditation was thus on the slippery slope that led from a phenomenological way of directly experiencing alignment with the source of all being to a medicalized, objectively validated way of managing stress and anxiety. Today it can be found under “scientific” scrutiny in universities and employed as an intervention procedure by clinicians. Western science has turned a spiritual practice into a scientifically validated health procedure and redirected its age-old wisdom from transcendence to stress management. For those who prefer dancing with shadows, I will leave you here with the sanitized version made “safe” for western peoples.

What I will now do, in a generic way, is introduce you to how I see the true purpose of eastern meditation. To begin with, let’s examine the worldview that lies at the root of meditation. In the origination stories of eastern traditions we find an explanation for the world that runs more or less along the following line. The material universe is a manifestation of a source state from which everything arises. This is often described as a primal vibration, frequency or sound. Interestingly, this has a parallel in western science by way of string theory in physics, which posits that everything in the material universe arises from vibrating stings of energy.

The source sound is often represented by the Sanskrit symbol for the sound “Om.” While everything that manifests has its own unique sound or frequency expression, at its core or root is the primal vibration of “Om.” The source state has many descriptions and names, which can include: The Ground of All Being, All That Is, The Unified Field of Consciousness, Nothingness, Emptiness, Universal Mind, God, and so on. Let’s just call it Source.

Mystics throughout the ages, including some western mystics, have taught that a direct knowing of Source is available to each and every human being. To know Source one should look for it within. First one should “tune in” to one’s own unique vibratory pattern and then follow that inward to its core expression, which will be the primordial vibration of Source. In short, the way to Know Source is to come into harmonic resonance with the Source frequency, which is within yourself. Mystics often describe resonance with Source as a merging with the absolute and a feeling unconditional love. The only other way to Know Source is to experience it indirectly through experience of the personal expression of Source by one who is in harmonic resonance with it.

Looking at meditation from this perspective suggests that the purpose of meditation is to turn within and silently listen for one’s unique connection to Source. If one has “ears to hear,” then one will begin to move into harmonic resonance with one’s underlying vibratory nature. The greater the state of resonance the purer the reflected expression of Source.

Mystics describe several states that can be thought of as changing levels of resonance. To illustrate these states two charts adapted from two different perspectives are provided. Assuming that one begins in the ego state (fictive-self) where one is identified with the body/mind, then the state prior to Self-realization is what I have called the natural mind and others have described simply as I AM. One is on the cusp and in a state of consciousness in which the dominant mode of being is presence, a state in which one has recovered the state of resonance with the natural self into which one was born. Such a shift moves one away from always using the enculturated top-down perception learned during development to the ability to employ the bottom-up perception of a young child whenever desired. In other words, you can see the world clearly as it is and unencumbered by beliefs, stories and conceptual schemes.

While meditation can be made into a complex subject, it is simplicity itself. It is not a doing but a being. It is not had by mastery but by surrender. Transformation, when it comes, takes one. It is not an achievement. Or, in the words of Michael Valentine Smith, “With waiting comes fullness.”

The essence of meditation, inclusive of its many variations, can be thought of as a doorway into presence. Or, as I sometimes say, “meditation is presence on training wheels.” It is not surprising then to find that there are teachers who de-emphasize formal meditation and advocate for immersion in presence. In other words, life becomes your meditation. Meditation isn’t something you add to your life and engage in daily at 7 am. It is not another of your activities. It is not a search for something that isn’t here. It is your way of being in the world.

When life becomes your meditation, you become a state of present awareness, observing your life unfold in the moment. You monitor to learn when your awareness is no longer focused on the moment, that is, when you have left a state of presence. Where can you go, you might ask? One teacher, Richard Moss, answers this question through the Mandala of Being. A mandala is often described as a circle. Think of yourself as standing inside of and in the center of a circle. When you are fully focused and centered in the circle, you are present. You are fully aware of what is right here, right now. If your focus shifts to the rear, you are focused on the past. You are engaged in memory. If your focus shifts to the front, you are focused on the future. You are engaged in imagination. If your focus shifts to the left, you are focused on your personal story. You are engaged with your identity-self or fictive- self, that is, who you think you are. If your focus shifts to the right, your are focused on narratives about the external world. You are engaged in your beliefs, opinions and concepts, that is, explanations you’ve created or adopted about the nature of things in your world.

Another teacher, Leonard Jacobson, points out in his book Journey into Now that, at root, there is only one place you can escape to from presence and that is into the mind. Memory, imagination, identity stories, beliefs, opinions and concepts are all products of the mind. He suggests that most of us, most of the time, are lost in the mind. We become deeply immersed in our memories, imagination, stories and beliefs. We are too self-absorbed to be truly conscious of our life as it unfolds in the moment. Jacobson doesn’t teach abandoning the mind but rather learning to recognize it for what it is — a tool. We use it when it is appropriate and then set it aside. Do you need to plan a trip? The mind is a great tool. Do you need to find an error in a computation? The mind is a great tool. However, we actually need this tool far less frequently than we think. We are susceptible to overusing the mind because we’ve become addicted to thinking and confuse ourselves with our thoughts.

You are not your thoughts. You are pristine awareness or as Ram Dass says, “loving awareness.” One benefit of being fully aware in the present moment is that you become an observer of thoughts arising and subsiding in your awareness. You neither cause them to arise or subside. Typically, you can and usually do focus your attention on them and begin unpacking them, which is analogous to chasing after a butterfly through a tangled forest. You usually spend endless hours lost in pursuit of elusive “butterflies” and become lost in the forest of the mind.

Jacobson simply asks that we learn to be aware of when we are lost in the mind and bring ourselves gently back to the present without self-judgment or self-criticism. For those of us strongly addicted to thinking, it may be necessary to find some way to cue ourselves periodically to monitor our thought. To reconnect with presence, Jacobson suggests that we find something in the moment to be present with to help us focus in the now. It doesn’t matter what it is. It can be a tree, a pet, a child, a spouse, a friend, the feel of bread dough being kneaded, the smell of onions being grilled, the sound of a piano playing, the feel of our body resting against a chair, the unfolding of the road before us as we drive, the feel of our breath moving in and out of our body and so on. Jacobson does not object to using meditation as long as it is focused on presence.

The program that Jacobson offers is first to return to presence any time you become aware that you have left it, other than to accomplish a task. This is continued until being present becomes habitual. The second aspect of his program is to become aware or conscious, if you prefer, of the things that, unnecessarily, pull you out of presence. Of these things, he asks that they be examined for commonalities so that patterns of “seductive” thoughts or escapes from presence can be identified, examined, understood and released. One handy clue about when you’re being seduced by your mind is when you find your thoughts cluttered with personal pronouns. The second activity is an important part of becoming anchored in the present. Once you are at home in presence, Jacobson says that the deepening process begins. The deeper into presence you settle, the greater your resonance with Source. At the deepest levels of presence one’s harmonic resonance with Source may bring you into unity with All That Is.

If you find it useful to begin with a program of meditation, there is no reason not to do this. You should go into a meditation program with the recognition that it isn’t an end in itself. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to being present for short periods of time during meditation, you should consider weaning yourself off of a formal meditation process. If you need a transition between meditation and being present in your daily life, I would suggest that you use a Buddhist meditation called rigpa, for which there is an example at the end of The Looking Glass. From a foundation in rigpa you can begin the transition to being present as frequently as possible in the course of your daily life. This is where the real action is and the sooner you can get there the better.

In conclusion, I should mention that in some traditions that employ meditation there is another goal that should be briefly discussed. This goal is to become so intensely focused on or present with an object of consciousness that one fully merges with it. This can be either an “objective object” or a “subjective object.” By objective I mean an object in the consensus environment that most everyone is aware of or could be aware of, whereas a “subjective object” is phenomenological, private or personal. The meditator becomes one with the object. Development of this level of presence leads not only to becoming one with the object but the realization that there is only one object — consciousness itself. The meditator ultimately becomes one with All That Is.

In western philosophy, this is similar to what Immanuel Kant meant by “knowing a thing in its self,” which he thought was not possible, and therefore, our ability to know anything was always “second hand,” so to speak. If you cannot know a thing in its self, you can only know it indirectly or by inference. To offer an analogy, suppose you were one of those rare people who have no ability to feel sensations elicited by objects. Thus, you would not, for example, be able to feel heat coming from an object and would be susceptible to having your fingers burned, though you would not feel it. In other words, you would not have any sensory awareness of heat. You could infer it by the effect that it has on your fingers, or you could infer its presence from the reading on a thermometer.

 Kant argued that we are forever like the person described above relative to the world and universe at large. We can know nothing about a thing in its self. Our knowledge is always limited to what we can gain indirectly through our senses and by inference from data gathered through instruments that extend our senses. Some of the yoga traditions of India would say that this is a mistaken conclusion on Kant’s part and that it is in fact possible to know a thing in its self under the proper circumstances. The knowledge thus gained, however, is phenomenological and not public in the same sense as scientific knowledge. If you are intrigued by this notion, I recommend that you read this free e-book, What is Science?

Climate Change and Global Warming (Revised)

          The geographer Harm de Blij points out, in his book Why Geography Matters, that we are in an ice age, which is a long-term climate condition that been in effect for about a 100 million years. Within this ice age there have been numerous glacial and interglacial periods (see chart below). We are currently approaching the apogee of one of the interglacial periods. The last interglacial period ended around 80,000 years ago. At that time, the temperature peaked at above current levels and sea level was 15 feet above current levels. In that most recent peak, there can be little doubt that humans had very little if any impact on the climate cycle. Further, there also appears to be a shorter-term cycle of approximately 1500 years, which is also currently moving toward its apogee. The bottom of this cycle was the little ice age experienced a few hundred years ago. In short, our current conditions are probably mostly due to the unfolding of natural cycles that have been going on for a very long time. If anything, human activity may speed the cycles up somewhat or even slow them down somewhat. It is, however, very unlikely that we can stabilize the climate. Of course, we should exercise caution in activities likely to affect climate. Unfortunately, natural variations in climate are often catastrophic and largely beyond our control.

Anyone who thinks we can stop global warming is operating from a static conception of climate and is ignorant of or ignoring the dynamic nature of climate throughout the history of this planet. We might be able to marginally slow down the rate of warming, provided everyone, including developing countries like India and China, got on board with the program. A really concerted effort by everyone to employ methods advocated to slow global warming (e.g., Kyoto Protocol) would have an almost imperceptible effect. An atmospheric physicist, S. Fred Singer (Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service) estimates that such an effort would decrease the average global temperature by .083 (1/12th) of a degree by mid-century. The natural cycle seems to be that the warming phase triggers the events that contribute to the next cooling phase. One factor in this process may be the melting of the polar ice, which puts cold water into the oceans that change ocean currents and water temperature. Change in water temperature and currents are believed to affect weather cycles. The next glacial period in the climate cycle will make surviving global warming look like a picnic. Slowing down the rate of global warming buys a little time but doesn’t change the longer-term outcome. Even if the entire effect of human activity could be subtracted from the long-term cycle, it would only slow, not stop, the increase in temperature and rise in sea level. This cycle has been rising and falling for millions of years and human activity has only been a factor in the last couple of hundred years. To think that humans are the prime movers in this cycle is nothing but hubris.

One of the assertions that has been a problem for me is the proposed connection between CO2 levels and temperature increases often illustrated by the infamous “hockey stick” graph. This graph shows a strong concurrent correlation between CO2 levels and temperature increases. One thing that bothers me about this correlation is that it seems to be offered as evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship when anyone at all familiar with statistics knows that one cannot infer cause from correlation, only association. Another thing that bothers me about this proposed connection is the ice core data for the past one-half million years. The initial analysis of this data indicated a 800 year lag between an initial rise in temperature and a subsequent rise in CO2 levels. A number of climate scientists were not “happy” with this relationship and did additional analyses and finally reported they were able to tweak the gap downward to a 200 year gap instead of a 800 year gap. It is nevertheless still a significant gap and one that has temperature increasing before CO2 levels.

Recently, I read a proposed explanation for the gap. The proposal is that in past cycles when temperature begins to rise, this ultimately raises the temperature of ocean water. The long lag found in the ice cores is likely due to the amount of time it takes to raise the temperature in a huge volume of water. It should also be noted that there was no explanation offered for what exactly causes cyclic increases and decreases in global temperatures, which no doubt is involved in the climate cycles mentioned at the beginning of this essay. However, the proposal goes on to indicate that as water temperatures rise this causes locked up CO2 to be released from the ocean. As more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, it adds to the temperature increase that is already in progress and speeds it up since there are now, at least, two inputs. Thus, human produced CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide could very well represent a third input into this process. The additional input from human sources could conceivably increase the speed and the upper limit of the effect. However, assuming that you subtracted all the human input, the likely result would, at best, be a return to the underlying natural cycle, not a return of conditions to a hypothetical stable state.

As the table below indicates, the human contribution of CO2 is the largest contribution of the greenhouse gases generated by man. To flesh this out a bit, the estimated amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 400 pp. The total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere accounts for 3.618% of the total greenhouse effect. The proportion of naturally occurring CO2 contributes 3.502% to the total greenhouse effect. Thus, the proportion attributable to human sources accounts for .117% of the total greenhouse effect. Note that the largest contributor to the greenhouse effect is water vapor, which makes a 95% contribution while the human contribution to water vapor in the atmosphere is minuscule, coming in at .001%.

Water vapor is the most significant greenhouse gas of all (see table at end). Water vapor is not usually factored into the computer models used to predict global climate at all, because it is too poorly understood and represents a very complex variable to model. It is roughly like trying to predict the peak price of wheat without taking into account the supply likely to be available when demand peaks. The principle way in which water vapor comes into play is through cloud formation. The more cloud cover there is the more sunlight is reflected back into space and the cooler the global temperature. Conversely, the less cloud cover the more sunlight reaches the surface of the earth and the higher the global temperature.

Recent research has shown that a significant factor in cloud formation is the interaction of cosmic rays with particles of water vapor. Thus, fluctuations in the amount of cosmic rays reaching the earth will have significant effects on cloud formation and cover. The largest source of cosmic rays is our sun and other suns in our galaxy. Short-term cosmic ray fluctuations are related to cyclic activity in the sun, which is affected by other planetary bodies in the solar system such as Jupiter. When large bodies of mass approach and recede from the near vicinity of the sun, its activity is affected. Long-term cosmic ray fluctuations are believed to be related to the movement of our solar system through its orbit in our galaxy. In the course of moving through this orbit, we enter regions where stars are more densely concentrated and where they are less densely concentrated. Since other stars like our sun are major producers of cosmic rays, one would expect that cosmic ray bombardment of the earth would increase in regions where star concentrations are more dense and decrease when they are less dense. There is some speculation that this may be a major contributor to long-term climate cycles mentioned earlier that have been going on for millions of years and can be measured in tens of thousands of years.

In conclusion, I would say that, yes, we are experiencing climate change related to a warming trend, but there isn’t anything new about that. Climate has been going through cycles of warming and cooling since long before man came onto the scene. Thus, it seems to me impossible to seriously argue that human activity is the cause of climate cycles. Could human activity be contributing to existing climate cycles? It seem likely that human activity could be a contributing factor. Trying to protect the environment from degradation seems like a reasonable goal regardless of its impact on climate. In addition to trying to reduce human emissions of CO2, there seems to me to be other initiatives that could be taken.

One initiative might be to develop methods for extinguishing underground coal fires. There are hundreds of these unintentional fires burning around the globe. These fires can last for decades to hundreds of years before they consume all the available fuel. One of these has been estimated to have been burning for 6000 years. It has been estimated by one environmental group that such fires contribute approximately 2-3% of all the carbon emissions in China where around 20 million tons of coal is consumed by such fires each year. Another initiative might be projects to reverse desertification. It is well known that desert areas are increasing around the world. When foliage dies off and large areas become deserts, a huge carbon capture process is destroyed. One researcher has argued that if we could regain the carbon capture lost through desertification, then atmospheric carbon levels could be reduced to pre-industrial levels without doing anything else. Third, initiatives are needed to stop the huge problems caused by chemical runoff from agriculture. This runoff is producing large dead zones in rivers, lakes and oceans. These dead zones have large impacts on the balance of greenhouse gases, not to mention fishing and the health of the planet in general. Further, consider that the population of the planet has increased approximately 800% since 1800 (see first chart below on population growth). This roughly corresponds to the period of industrial development and pursuit of expansive economic growth. Think of the possible effect on climate, not to mention the environment in general, of this huge expansion in population, with its demands for food, energy, housing, infrastructure and so on. I think the species is facing a very serious and escalating crisis about which most of the population is clue less. If a demographic implosion didn’t already appear to be in the making, probably beginning at the end of this century, one would have to be created (see second chart below on rate of population growth). Clearly, an initiative needs to be undertaken to plan how to keep population and the demands on the environment at a sustainable level once there is a significant decline in world population (Note, this is discussed in greater detail in “Is Economic Growth a Viable Long-Term Goal?.” Finally, I think belief that we can control the climate is hubris. We should never forget that once such a project is begun, unintended consequences are possible and they aren’t always good. I do think that reducing our impact on climate and the environment may be possible.