Meditation today has become a tool, a technique. People talk about meditation as a way of controlling their mind, or calming their mind. There are hundreds of techniques that masquerade as meditation techniques. And there are dozens of teachers teaching meditation and several hundred books on the subject.
Is the goal of meditation really to achieve a silent mind?
It is possible some people might experience a stillness in their mind during meditation as thoughts die down. This is what they assume to be the fruits of meditation. But can they carry that stillness through the day? It is difficult. The daily life once again creates disturbances in the mind, stokes the fires of thought and the mind is once more in chaos. So the person thinks he must deepen his meditation practice and meditate harder, put more effort in his meditation, resolve more strongly to silence the mind, and so on. Then there are those people who cannot achieve any form of stillness of mind during their meditation and they think meditation is useless or they are useless.
In all this merry go round, somewhere the essence of meditation has been lost.
For a moment, let’s keep the word meditation aside and look at life in a simple way. If your mind is agitated due to some reason, will you be able to sit quietly for some time? It would be difficult. Thoughts would come and go and suddenly you will find yourself acting on some thought or saying something or thinking even more. Your mind is not silent. This is the normal life. We go through our day from one thought to another, from one action to another, fueled by inner thoughts or external stimulus of what you see, what others say to you, what they want you to do, and so on.
Now supposing, it is early morning or late evening or a time where you are not disturbed and you are all alone. And you are not doing anything special. How long will you be able to sit like that without your mind wandering all over the universe? It is certain that suddenly you will find yourself doing something. Most people don’t like that aloneness with their own minds and want to keep their mind occupied – for instance watching television or watching movies or doing some hobby work.
Is your mind really silent during these activities? No, it is not. It is merely guided by the flow of images and sounds so it does not have to be on its own. The television soap or the movie is telling a story and your mind is following that. If you are working on your hobby, your mind is working on a goal and therefore is seemingly silent.
But as soon as that external support is over, the mind is active once more and starts to wander and feel agitated. This is the normal human state and nothing to worry about. But some people’s minds are too troubled by old memories or habitual emotions that their mind wants to do something about it – to put an end to their suffering.
This is where, the mind starts to believe that meditation will help silence their mind. But this is a big mistake.
Meditation just becomes one of the ways to keep the mind occupied, like TV or movies. The mind wants to struggle with itself and quieten itself. So it goes around like a dog trying to catch its own tail. So for some time, the mind becomes still but as soon as the meditation session is over, its back to the normal monkey mind once again. It’s like you had put a monkey in a suitcase for 20 min and now opened the suitcase. The monkey would go crazy as soon as it is out of the suitcase. Sometimes, the monkey falls asleep in the suitcase but wakes up after some time.
The point is, so long as you have a monkey, there is no meditation.
There is meditation only when there is no monkey mind. This is the meditation after the mind is silent. This is the real meditation. It is sitting quietly doing nothing.
Dogen, before he became enlightened, had a doubt as to why masters even after attaining enlightenment still practiced sitting meditation. He was totally confused and it because a big koan for him. If meditation is to attain enlightenment, then why meditate after you have attained it? And then he cracked the koan and became enlightened.
So if you can understand this point, you will have a completely different view of meditation. True meditation can happen only after you have a silent mind. It will be difficult to accept this view because the mind then has no recourse to silencing itself (keeping itself occupied in other words) but to face the monkey within.
All efforts to silence the mind, including so called meditation are simply the work of the monkey mind. So now how will you attain a silent mind? I will leave you with that question. Best wishes.
May you realize your enlightenment.