|Death is a Doorway|
There is a wonderful continuity to life, isn't there? Continuity comes in different forms; there is the continuity of being – the sense of self, awareness of this world, of your life, and the elements in your life. Things that you think and feel, things that you desire and you want to have and to experience. Things that you would like to avoid, unpleasant things, pain, frustration, depression. The continuous awareness of self, a sense of yourself continuing in time and space is continuity – continuity of awareness. One of the funny things about awareness, within that frame work, is that it never assumes that it will end. In a way it does, and in a way it doesn't.
When we are alive we never picture ourselves dying, yet some day each one of us dies. Some day in a room somewhere, perhaps in a hospital room, in an automobile, or perhaps outdoors, you will leave this world. You won't be here anymore and everything you know will fade from your view, and it will happen at the darndest time. You'll be quite convinced that it couldn't be happening then, and yet you will be powerless to stop it. Then another kind of continuity occurs, and that's the continuity that's beyond death.
Death is a doorway, but it is a small, thin, doorway and only a portion of our being can walk through that doorway and the rest stays behind and it's lost, or transformed into something else. At the time of death we walk through a doorway and our spirit which is very thin slides through into another world, another existence, another experience.
For now we are here, we are in this world, and in this world there are limitations, and no one likes to be limited. We all want freedom; we all want to be limitless. Limitations exist in the mind. Freedom exists in the mind. There are objective circumstances and situations. You can be in jail and you can be free. You can live in a country with restrictions on travel. You can live in a country where they don't restrict your travel. But happiness, awareness, and consciousness have little to do with physical restrictions.
There are Ten Thousand States of Mind, ten thousand planes of awareness. Most people spend their entire lives confined to a few of these states of mind. Let's imagine then, in a scale going from the left to the right, let's say that number one is all the way to the left and ten thousand is way over to the right. Number one is very dark: it has almost no light in it at all; it's hard to distinguish it from complete darkness. Number ten thousand is bright light, and it is hard to distinguish it from light, yet there is a subtle difference. There are gradations in between 9,998 to be exact. Naturally, since there are ten thousand, there is something more beyond ten thousand. But the Ten Thousand States of Mind are the place, the area of experience, where you spend your time and your life.
Most human beings only experience a few of these states, and most of them are very far down in ranking, down around a hundred. Each state of mind is not simply a mood. Moods exist within the state of mind, but it is a way of seeing life and experiencing it, a way of knowing. Your state of mind creates a view, or your window on life. You may live in Beverly Hills, in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. You may live in a tenement in East Harlem, alone, in poverty. But your house is a window, and it looks out on something. It may look out on your swimming pool with your kids playing in it. It may look out the gang down the street who is selling drugs to passing buyers.
You have a window and that window, which is your state of mind, determines everything that happens to you. It affords you a view on life. Opportunities, creative ideas, or the lack of them, happiness, frustration, brilliance, talent, success, failure – all these things are determined by the state of mind that you are in. You are the experiencer of states of mind. Yet your state of mind dominates your awareness to such an extent, that you can't conceive of any other state of mind, other than the state of mind that you are in.
Concentration and meditation are practices that enable you to alter your state of mind. Within a state of mind, the state of mind that you are in now, there are different possibilities. There is a higher end to the state of mind and a lower end. The higher end let's call it, the right side of that state of mind, borders the next state of mind and has a better view; it has more light in it. The lower end has less light. If you spend enough time at the lower end of the state of mind, and if you lose enough energy, you can drop to the next state of mind down. You can drop down from a hundred to ninety-nine. If you spend enough time on the right hand side, and you accumulate power and energy, you can kick up to maybe a hundred and one. When you change a state of mind, your whole life changes. Nothing remains the same. Nothing looks the same, because you have changed. You yourself are a continuous awareness.
We grow accustomed to thinking of ourselves as a personality with a history. I've been here and there. I've done this. I like this. I don't like that. All these ideas that we have about self are the accumulation or an aggregate within a state of mind, and they chain us to a state of mind. Zen is about breaking out of your ideas and experiencing life and not ideas.
For example, when most people see a tree, they don't see a tree at all. What they see is an idea that they have developed throughout the course of their life of what a tree is. Only when they were very young they really saw a tree. Only at that time were they at all aware of what a tree looked like or perhaps it would be more precise to say what the tree felt like. Other than that they have no idea of what a tree is. As they grow older and they accumulate more ideas and experiences around trees, through associations with trees, experiences with trees, they no longer see what a tree is or feel it. Instead they have a more limited view of what a tree is, an idea. This is true not just of trees but of squirrels which live in trees, people, dogs, cats, jobs, the world, philosophies, everything. The more ideas you have, the less you feel and see life directly. Zen which means meditation, stopping thought, is about going beyond ideas.
A person who undertakes the study of Zen, and learns concentration and meditation is like a gymnast. Most people can do limited things with their bodies, but the gymnast can do a lot more. You become a gymnast of the mind. Very few people have any idea of what life is about, of what their minds can do, or of the forces that affect them throughout the course of their life that cause success, failure, pleasure, pain, and awareness. But in the study of Zen, through the practice of concentration and meditation, you will expand your awareness to gain knowledge, power, and illumination. You may just gain a little knowledge, power, and illumination if you only practice Zen a little bit. If you practice Zen deeply, then you will discover that you are a limitless being and you may attain Enlightenment, which is the ability to freely transact within the Ten Thousand States of Mind without a continuous self or awareness, without the limitations that are generally imposed by conceptual mind.
Meditation and concentration are practices that enable you to become more conscious, and to utilize the moments in your life completely. Concentration and meditation are also taught in other forms of self-discovery, in yoga, and in other practices. Zen differs from many other practices in that it's emphasis is almost exclusively on concentration and meditation in two forms. One is zazen, which is the practice of direct concentration and meditation, where for a period of time you are not active physically. You sit down to practice concentration and meditation exercises. The other one is mindfulness, which is a practice that an individual engages in at all other times. Which is an advanced use of the mind in a variety of different ways: to increase the power of the mind, to develop it fully, and to employ that development in direct physical, mental and psychic ways. The practice mindfulness enables you to use your mind in an extremely effective and precise way. It allows you to succeed at whatever you would like to, whether it's material success, psychic success, or whatever you want to do, you have your total mind at your disposal.
How to Meditate
The best way to learn how to meditate is to go and study with a teacher. If you attend a class on a regular basis and you practice what the teacher shows you, you'll learn naturally. But for starting on your own, I have this simple program that I would suggest you follow. If you practice this program, even if you don't have a teacher, it will enable you to make very steady progress in concentration and meditation. Then, someday perhaps, you will meet a teacher for more advanced instruction, not simply someone who can repeat the things that I'm telling you, but someone who has the ability to transmit experiences and awareness, a Master of Mind.
If you are new to meditation, I would suggest that you meditate once a day for fifteen minutes. Then, eventually twice a day for fifteen minutes. Once you are comfortable with that, I would increase your time to half an hour twice a day, then forty-five minutes twice a day, then an hour twice a day. Once you have reached a hour twice a day, it is not really necessary to add more time to the practice of concentration and meditation. Rather at that point, you should increase the proficiency of the two hours a day. You should spend your two hours a day, an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, with less and less thought. Don't increase the time after that point – increase the power of the two hours.
If you are a beginner, perhaps for the first few weeks or a month or two, practice fifteen minutes twice a day, after a month or two add a second session. After another month or two, maybe after four months or six months, or you may just find that you want to do it sooner, increase your time to a half an hour twice a day. After nine months or a year, increase the time to forty-five minutes twice a day and after about two years increase the time to one hour twice a day. The time is not the key element. The key element is what you do during the time. I wouldn't jump to an hour twice a day to start with, because you would be wasting your time. You would not be able to sustain high levels of awareness for that period of time. It is better to meditate for a short period of time intensely, and then go do something else with that extra time than to sit there and space out, and just think that you are concentrating and meditating.
Only a few people are capable of a very intense level of concentration and meditation for long periods of time. But you develop that ability the same way that you develop muscles by working out. In the beginning you can only do a few push ups, maybe one or two, then five, then ten, then fifty, then a hundred. Your mental agility and power will develop through practice. That's a simple training schedule for you.
Now the next question is what to do when you are sitting there practicing concentration and meditation. A few general suggestions: wear comfortable clothing, nothing that restricts you or makes you feel uncomfortable. Try to be always physically clean. Take a shower beforehand – it helps – or wash your hands and face. If that's not possible, you can still do a fine meditation, but these things are helpful. Most people find it helpful, if they meditate at home, to find an area of the house where they meditate on a regular basis, maybe a room, or an area of the bedroom. Perhaps outside on the porch, on a nice day, or on the lawn. You can find a few areas that just feel right: they have a good energy. And you sit there, and you meditate, and you build a vibration there, and a force there that makes it easy to meditate. Sometimes it's fun just to meditate in a different place to break up your routine.
There are two practices: concentration and meditation. For the first year or two, you will probably would almost exclusively practice concentration; you'll try meditating but it won't come until later. When you concentrate, you are focusing on something. When you meditate, you are letting go and dissolving. You lose awareness of anything in particular at all. Even the awareness of awareness. In meditation you are seeking to stop all thought. It's very hard just to stop your thoughts – try it – not to have one thought, image, idea, or associative feeling in the mind. It is somewhat difficult for most people. Rather trying to stop your thoughts, which is hard and frustrating, it is easier to concentrate and focus on something. As you focus completely on something, all other thoughts will be forced out of the mind, because your attention will be dominated by the object of concentration. This develops your mental power greatly.
Let's take a simple session as an example: you are going to sit down, you are an absolute beginner, and you are going to meditate for fifteen minutes. If you are an absolute beginner, I would suggest that you meditate with a watch or a clock and make sure that you sit there for fifteen minutes, and that you put in a whole fifteen minutes. In the beginning is it good to spend most of your time concentrating with your eyes open. You need to sit up straight. If you want to sit on a chair, that's fine, or in a cross-legged position on the floor, whatever suits you, but the back should be straight. You may be bothered by this initially, it might not be comfortable for you; that's because the muscles in your back are weak. It is desirable to sit in a cross-legged position, but it may be uncomfortable for you. If you'd like to be able to do this, I would suggest that you take some yoga lessons, and learn stretching exercises that would loosen up the leg muscles, so that you can sit in a comfortable cross legged position. This is a well balanced position where you can sit for protracted periods of time with ease and with balance. The main thing is to sit down, and keep your back straight.
You should have an object on which to concentrate. You might use a candle flame, a brightly colored rock, a yantra which is a geometrical design specifically for the practice of concentration and meditation, or something else. Place the object within your view, hopefully at about eye level, you might have to look down a little bit. Some people have a meditation table on which they put an object of concentration, a candle, or a yantra, so that they don't have to stare down to the ground an object, which might be uncomfortable and would put your head too much in a downward position.
The use of background music is also recommended. The musical group "Zazen" has recorded several albums which have been specifically designed to help you meditate. This music creates a strong buffer around your subtle physical body, which facilitates and empowers your concentration and meditation practice.
It is a good idea to use a mantra before you begin a session; it is not necessary, but I think it helps. A mantra is a powerful sound which when focused upon clears the mind, and helps bring you into a higher level of awareness. The most powerful of all mantras is AUM; you probably have heard it. If you repeat that sound several times with your eyes closed before you start the session, while you are sitting there, it will help clear your mind. It has a vibratory energy that helps eliminate thought. But you don't simply just repeat the sound, you focus on it.
You chant the word AUM. When you chant that sound three or four times, or you could even do it silently within the mind, but it is easier to focus when it is done out loud. That's a good beginning. Then, open your eyes and focus on the object of concentration for the next ten or fifteen minutes. In the first two thirds of the time that you have allowed for the practice of zazen, you are going to simply look at the object, blink whenever your eyes become uncomfortable and focus on it. As thoughts come in and out of your mind, ignore them, simply continue to concentrate. Then about two-thirds of the way through, close your eyes. Now I would like to spend the remainder of the time focusing your attention on a chakra.
A chakra is an energy center that exists within the subtle physical body. Our physical bodies are surrounded by a body of energy, which is not perceptible to most individuals. But as you develop your psychic abilities, with the practice of zazen, you will be able to see and feel this body of energy around you. The subtle body has certain junctions or points of intersection that we call chakras. They are like windows that look into other dimensions. There are three chakras that are useful for concentration practice: at the navel center, in the middle of the chest, and between the eyebrows and a little bit above. There are more, but these are the most usable for the practice of zazen.
Choose one of these three points, and hold your attention there, just as you held your attention on the object. Let's say you were looking at a candle flame. You focused on a candle flame for ten minutes. Thoughts came in and out of your mind, but you focused more intensely. Then after about ten minutes, if you are a beginner, close your eyes and now focus on your navel center. The first time you do it, or the first few times, you might even want to touch that spot for a minute or two. Hold your fingers very lightly about an inch below your navel, or in the center of your chest around the area of the heart, or between the eyebrows and a little bit above. As you press very gently there, it will be easier for you to focus. These are not random spots, there are windows here, windows that lead into other levels of mind. Each will generate a different type of experience.
The chakra located about an inch below the navel area is the power chakra, and as you focus on this center you will develop tremendous willpower. The heart center, which is on the center of the chest, develops psychic abilities, sensitivities, and also brings about a tremendous stillness within the mind and extraordinarily develops the ability to experience love and beauty. It also develops your ESP, happiness, and many other things. The third eye, which is between the eye brows and slightly above, develops your intuitive wisdom, knowledge, your higher mind, and gives you visions into other planes of reality.
In other words, the bottom center is connected with power, middle center is connected with feeling, love, awareness, and the top center has to do with knowledge. The combination of knowledge, power, and feeling, creates a balanced individual. That's why I suggest that at different times you focus on each of these chakras.
Initially it might not seem like you are doing anything, and you are just thinking a lot. But you are doing something, as long as you are trying. It’s like doing push-ups: you could be doing push-ups all the time thinking that it is not doing anything, but obviously as long as you are trying and doing them, you are getting stronger. After you practice doing push-ups for a while, not only after two or three sessions, you will begin to see a difference. You won't see yourself with big muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but after you practice for a while you will be able to see and feel the difference. It's the same with the practice of concentration. Initially it won't seem like anything is happening, but something is. Inwardly your mind is becoming stronger and you are gaining personal power. After a while that power will begin to manifest in your life. You will find that it is easier to study, it is easier to do your job. Your mind will be clear, sharp and defined. You are more aware, and a feeling will come out. After a while, you will just feel better, and you will be more in touch with everything in your life. Then, knowledge and power will come to you later through these practices.
So for five minutes or so, focus on one of those three areas. Hold your attention there, and after your five minutes are up chant the mantra again. Chant AUM, or another favorite mantra, and at the end of a session we always bow down to the ground. That's our way of giving the meditation to Eternity, of letting go of it, letting go of ourselves.
If you practice this way, you will develop your mind tremendously. Practice fifteen minutes once or twice a day, then a half an hour, then forty-five minutes, then an hour. After you have practiced for a while, you might want to try something a little bit different. You should spend one third of the time focusing on something outside: candle flame, yantra, colored rock, whatever it is. Then the next third of the time, focus on one of the three chakras. Finally, take the last section, and don't focus at all, simply let go.
This is not something that I recommend that you do too much of at the beginning, because most people will sit there and space out. Their letting go won't have power. This is meditation. In other words, during the letting go phase, you want to strive to have no thought whatsoever in the mind. If you are just sitting there with zillions of thoughts are whipping around, it is not accomplishing anything. It's better, if that's the case, to focus. You will get more from that. Once you have become accomplished at meditating, you will discover that you can sit there for those periods of time without thought or with reduced thought. Eventually after some years, you may find that you'll sit for half the period of time without any particular focus at all, and you are able to stop thought. Eventually you may be able to sit for two hours without one thought. At that point it is no longer necessary to practice concentration. Although it is still kind of fun, to tell you the truth.
If you follow this program, you will find a tremendous increase in your mental awareness, if you practice it faithfully. Most people who do this see dramatic increases in their level of personal power and success. You will accrue more power, and higher levels of mind will start to open for you. Once you are doing this on a regular basis, and you are seeing progress in your life, then it is time to seek a teacher, someone who can show you the next steps, because meditation is a very vast subject.
Concentration and meditation is a practice in which you learn to use your mind in ways that are foreign to most human beings. Most human beings have almost no mental control at all. Concentration and meditation are not taught in schools. In school we are taught subjects: to read, to write, things like that. But we are not taught about mind, states of mind, and how to use mind in a variety of different ways. The study of mind is the study of life. All of life interacts with mind. We can't dismiss aspects of our life, our careers, our relationships, our loves, our hates: all of these things are bound into the study of mind.
The study of concentration and meditation is not simply the study of exercises in focusing. To truly engage in the study, is to engage actively in every aspect of your life, and of course, a revolution occurs in your being. Just like the average person who studies martial arts, who after just one year or two becomes amazingly proficient is self-defense, and who can run into the common neighborhood bully and knock him with one kick. Because the bully's knowledge is simplistic, it may seem impressive if you are just a kid on the block. He has been in 50 fights and you've only been in one or two. But after a couple of years of martial arts, where you have studied the discipline of fighting, you can learn from an advanced master who learned from an advanced master, and so on. You are studying such a high tech form of self-defense that the bully with all of his knowledge and all of his battle experience will have no idea of what you are doing, when suddenly that foot connects with his head and he is on the ground, and it's all over.
In the study of mind you are engaging in a very high tech study – the ultimate high tech study, and that's the study of being. Even after a year or two of intensive study, let alone five or six years, or a lifetime, or many lifetimes, you will possess the knowledge and power of mind that far surpasses most human beings. Your ability to use mind in whatever way you choose, is outrageous. However, a lot will depend upon how intensely you approach the study, and the state of mind in which you begin. There are factors that influence progress; there are no guarantees, except that if you do it, your mind will get stronger. The high range powers and high range experiences come later.
If you study with an Enlightened Zen Master, then it is possible to have high range experiences from the beginning, not because of your ability or state of mind, but because the Master is capable of generating, even in the novice, very powerful experiences through the transmission of awareness and mind. His power is sufficient to boost you up, and give you experiences you would not yet have on your own. The purpose of these experiences is to rapidly progress you through the states of mind and encourage you to work harder. It's another window, you are afforded a window. You visit a wealthy person's home and look at the window and you see what it's like there, and that might inspire you to work harder if you want a window like that of your own. Whereas, if you have never seen such a thing, if you don't know that it exists, you might not try. That's why some teachers perform miracles: unless people see, they do not believe, they say in one book. The idea is that some people need proof.
One time I went to a demonstration at a karate school, and the teacher was trying to get some new students. He had all kinds of medals, and pictures of himself fighting, and things like that. He wanted to teach them the art, but to get the point across, what he did was that he took a few concrete blocks and split them with his head, and everybody quickly got the idea that there was something to this karate stuff. In the same sense, sometimes a Zen Master, or a teacher from another tradition will perform miracles, not to just delight and amuse people, but specifically to raise their awareness and show them that this miraculous occurrence, which is not the point, indicates that there is something more.
The study of mind generates a variety of different experiences, most of which are beyond the perceptual range of the average human being. Things that are impossible, or skeptics say are impossible, are everyday experiences when you live in advanced states of mind, when you live in a world of constant miraculous awareness, because you have learned to use your mind. The skeptics who say it can't be done are simply in very limited states of mind in which they can't even perceive the possibility of anybody doing anything that they can't do. But the real miracle is mind itself, your mind, and your mind is capable of incredible things. Through the practice of concentration and meditation, zazen and mindfulness, you will be able to accomplish so much, to succeed at what you choose to do. And there is so much that you can be, that you are not even conscious of yet.
So that's how to concentrate and how to meditate. If you practice these things, simplistic though they may seem, they will enable you to develop a great power in your life. It doesn't seem very complicated when the guy just lifts weights all the time, there is not much to that. It's a bar and some weights, and he keeps on lifting them, he can quadruple his strength. This is the same as working out; it is working out with your mind. Most people don't do it at all. The only concentration they have is on the television set; that isn't very powerful or profound. If you do this exercises on a regular basis and you become consistent, you will become a gymnast of the mind. Once you learn to concentrate and focus for extended periods of time, and then just stop thought, you will be ready for more advanced lessons.
I would encourage you to concentrate and meditate. There are thousands of worlds, and thousands of dimensions. The beauty of life is incredible, beyond belief. A clear and solid mind, let alone enlightened awareness, is the best thing. Life can be extremely wonderful, when you are in a state of mind to see it. Practice, and new worlds and new horizons will open to you. I wish you well in your practice.