If you have been reading my previous posts you may have noticed that I mainly tend to deal with the psychology of Zen Buddhism and the practises that we can derive from that psychology. There is a psychology or an attitude that comes out of Zen but it is not an easy task to impart this psychology mainly because it runs counter to a persons normal mode of operation and can seem somewhat undesirable to many people. It is a psychology of renunciation and self control, a psychology of telling yourself the truth about yourself and your motivations. It is a psychology of self examination and a retreat from self deceit and indeed conceit. We all pretend whether we know it or not. The more self aware among us recognise this trait in ourselves and find it distasteful; we recognise our own conceit. This doesn’t make us bad people, we are simply acknowledging that this seems to be a part of the human condition. Our conceit doesn’t lie in us being bad people although that can obviously be the case in some, it lies in our constant need to affirm ourselves. We are if we are honest a bit obsessed with this activity of self affirmation.
All of this leads to the question of how to get out of this mess and to become someone who doesn’t need to pretend, who doesn’t need to continually affirm themselves. What in other words is the ideal psychology to bring us out of this state of affairs. In my post To Be Awake Be Asleep I point out that an ideal psychology would be to be like the sleeping person, completely unconcerned, psychologically asleep but consciously awake. I pointed out a number of strategies for developing such a psychology. There is however another approach we can take that is very powerful and that leads to the psychological state outlined in that post. This approach involves thoroughly taking on board the implications of death and acting in accordance with those implications. Most of us act as if we are never going to die, that is until we find our selves face to face with the prospect of death. At that point a persons attitudes and outlook can begin to change profoundly. We often hear tales of people who become life threateningly ill but who recover and feel “reborn”. They have a more positive and appreciative attitude to life. The truth is that such a person has had such a scare that they have frightened themselves into new attitudes. Faced with the prospect of death, they have had to re-evaluate everything. What’s really important to them? What’s really matters? What mistakes have I made? What regrets do I have? Death is a great task master because he can’t be messed with. He is the real deal and those who face him know it. With death all pretence must be dropped. You can’t pretend with death.
It can be seen from this that thinking carefully about death and it’s implications could be very beneficial. Done thoroughly enough it has the power to induce a state of mind very conducive to personal development. The important thing here is to make the experience as real as possible, to actually feel a degree of alarm, to feel that thing in us that desperately wants to live. Once we feel it we can address it and look in to it. We can face our most primeval fear and then deliberately start a process of relaxation, of surrendering to death. To do this we must face the feeling of fear itself and to engage with it in a way that requires bravery. The fear is very real and it constitutes the neurotic part of the underground stream discussed in the posts Intention. What Is It Why Is It A Problem and Are You Back To Front. Bringing this underground stream to a halt and breaking through it is one of the key goals of Zen. The underground stream represents our hidden mentality, the source of our neurotic mentation and this mentation must be destroyed. It must be evaporated and with it we evaporate our neuroses’ and our grasping. Our mentality then becomes “transparent” and free of mentation, replaced by direct perception and intuition.
How then do we go about this? A valuable meditation is to pretend to the utmost of your ability that you are going to die in a very short period of time, tomorrow say or perhaps even better, immediately. Think deeply and carefully about the implications of this. Think about how frightening this is going to be. You are going to be extinguished. You are going to go out of existence. Pretend you are on your deathbed. Envision what it will be like when you actually have to face this in the future. One day you will have to face it, so do it now instead. Don’t wait until the day when this comes upon you like a surprise, as if you never contemplated such a moment. As you think about this let the fear and alarm bring your mind to a halt. It is very important to actually feel a sense of fear or alarm. This meditation will not work as some theoretical intellectual exercise. It relies upon a real sense of alarm and fear to bring the mind to a halt and thus allow you to look in to the fear and alarm. Once you feel and see the sense of alarm you will tend to recoil from it because it is not a pleasant sensation. Try not to recoil. Face it directly and peer in to it. The longer you can maintain your gaze the better. Ultimately we want to reach a state where we can look at this sense of alarm continually no matter what we are doing. Whether we are walking, talking or sitting we continually want to gaze at this sense of alarm.
It is worth pointing out that if you have the ability to simply stop your mind dead in it’s tracks the same sense of alarm and discomfort will arise. This is because stopping the mind, truly stopping the mind, is the very thing the ego or underground stream is afraid of. It fears immobility and it therefore resists the stopping process and it resists and fears death. It is the unenlightened persons fear of immobility that keeps them from enlightenment. Immobility feels unpleasant, it feels tiresome, it feels alarming, it feels pointless. But this is because the unenlightened person cannot see through that immobility. If they could just maintain immobility and keep their gaze upon it permanently, it would eventually evaporate. The unenlightened persons problem is a constantly moving underground stream that poisons their psyche. The stream is neurotic and insecure and consequently can’t shut up. It is frightened of the world because it fears being extinguished by that which it perceives to be “not-self”. It is therefore in a state of constant neurotic vigilance. Stopping the mind or envisioning the moment of death means immobility and thus induces a feeling of alarm.
Here is the meditation in brief:
Envisage the moment of death and allow the sense of alarm generated to bring the mind to a halt. Alternatively halt the mind and feel the sense of alarm
Look in to the sense of alarm and perceive the neurotic, fearful underground stream
Maintain the attention on the sense of alarm and try to dissolve it by inducing humility into the heart of the sensation. With every out breath induce more and more humility
Try to maintain this practise as long as possible and get into the habit of doing it regularly. With practise you can stop the mind at will with this technique but it requires effort and use of the imagination. You really need to alarm yourself or halt the mind decisively. The humility part is also very important. You dissolve the underground stream with humility.