Interview with Inge Hasswani, March 2004
With the growing interest in satsang-advaitas in Europe, there is some confusion around the meditation subject. I’d like to bring up this concern with you. The traditional Buddhist teaching enhances the role and importance of meditation, the neo-Advaita followers seem to think that there is no need to put in regular time for meditating.
Maybe you could start by defining the subject of meditation and the traditional purpose of the meditation.
To start at the beginning, meditation in Sanskrit is the word Dyana. Dyana is the absence of all thought and the intelligent clarity of open awareness. There is no one doing anything at all.
When Buddhism was brought to China by Bodhidarma, the word Dyana (which is pronounced in the Northern Indian dialects by dropping the last “a”) becomes Chan in Chinese. When Chan was imported to Japan, the same word was pronounced Zen. So the no-mind teaching of Buddhism is the same as the original Sanskrit.
True meditation is a 24-hour affair. It requires alert, relaxed vigilance. When Prince Gautama sat under the Bodhi tree, his commitment was to not get up until he had realized the truth. He did not sit with a timer and some plan of how long he would sit, and what would come next. This is true meditation. When Bodhidarma went to China he sat in silence for seven years. This is meditation. Sitting for twenty minutes or an hour a day is not true meditation, but rather practice, which has a different name in Sanskrit.
What is the place of meditation and its importance in your teaching, and why? Was it important in your own life experience?
I took my bodhisattva vows with Kalu Rinpoche, and in 1978 he appointed me the president of his first dharma center in Marin County. By then I had sat in profound bliss chanting bhajans with Swami Muktananda at his ashram in Oakland, and spent four years with my Chinese Taoist teacher practicing yoga, Tai Chi, and Chinese calligraphy.
My Taoist teacher, Chiang Shirfu, taught me the meaning of Kung Fu. “Kung” is time and “Fu” is man. Together they point to practice. Whatever you put your mind to you develop kung fu, whether it is gardening or drinking beer. I had been an undisciplined hippie when I started with this Shirfu; from him I learned the beauty of a disciplined life. I recommend everyone develop their Kung Fu, their practice, their attempt at perfecting a form. This will not lead to realization but can help in living a healthy, disciplined life.
For me, practice did not lead to deeper realization. All the experiences that arose from practice, while beautiful and deep, did not last.
In the 1980’s I spent some time in a Zen Temple. After dharma combat in a monastery in Japan, I was presented with a Zen Teaching Fan by my beloved O’Jiisan, of ChoShoJi Zen Temple. When my mind stopped at the Zen monastery after receiving the transmission of the head Priest, profound realizations resulted. In the late 1980’s an initiation ceremony on the coast of Morocco with a Sufi band also stopped my mind, and revealed deep mysteries; psychedelics and life-threatening experiences had the same effect as well.
But always, no matter how high the experience or deep the silence of the moment, the egoic mind would eventually return with its story and commentary, even incorporating the experience of no-mind into the new better reality. Neither the practice nor the deep experiences permanently ended the false identity of the practitioner.
In the teaching that was transmitted from my beloved satguru, Papaji, meditation must be a full-time affair. It is not limited to a certain time frame or a certain posture or a certain type of breathing. Meditation is essential. Meditation is what practice appears and disappears in. Nothing can be successful without it.
True meditation is not about perfecting a form. Who you are is already perfect and needs no practice to be itself. Meditation is the art of completely open, relaxed vigilance. True meditation is supreme relaxation in silence. When the mind is open and at rest, it is aware of the most subtle arising of mind waves. Vigilance is the willingness for the mind to be still and not pick up the next wave of thought. If you are not vigilant old story lines will be picked up, and the mind will become lost back in the dream of personal suffering,
Since true meditation is full-time and has no requirements, you are free to pursue the activities that appear in the field of consciousness without taking them personally. In the range of possible human activity, sitting quietly, meditation practice, chanting, yoga, tai chi, gardening, in fact anything can be beautiful practice and more fulfilling than idly wasting precious moments of awareness. The possibility is to fully meet whatever arises. Then you are living instead of practicing. You are Silence instead of someone practicing silence.
Is meditation necessary in order to prepare the way to Self-knowledge and Self-realization? And if not, why have the great spiritual teachers emphasized meditation, and quiet prayer or contemplation, as a prerequisite to contacting the very source of our existence ?
Ramana Maharshi certainly never recommended preparation for realizing your true Self. In some cases, for those who did not grasp his teaching right away, he sometimes recommended practices to keep their mind occupied and focused.
Teachers can only teach from their own experience. Ramana had no meditation background. As a sixteen year old boy he became terrified of death. He decided to lie down and discover who dies. This simple investigation led to his direct awakening. He is universally recognized as one of the great enlightened sages of our time. His teaching is simple: in this moment take the time to realize who you really are.
Hui Neng, the sixth Chan Patriarch, was an uneducated wood-cutter who overheard the Diamond Sutra being recited while delivering a load of wood. He woke up and became a great teacher, and the founder of the Southern School of Sudden Awakening in China, Since his awakening was sudden, he transmitted sudden awakening.
In my own experience, my initial awakening was not preceded by any meditation practice. In fact, all the meditation that I have mentioned, came after this initial awakening.
I am always amazed to see who receives the transmission. It is unpredictable. People who have been practicing for years often fail to get it, while others, complete beginners, can get it instantly. My teacher said that the Buddha’s Eightfold Path of right action, right speech and so on, does not lead to realization, but appears naturally as the fruits of realization.
Classically, there are certain requirements that are to be met before going to a teacher for final liberation. The first requirement is the ability to tell the false from the true, the unreal from the real. This capacity is honed by a willingness to tell the truth in honest self-examination.
The next requirement is the willingness to turn away from all sensory experience to face the unknown. Many meditation practitioners have experiences of this divine state. However, as the experience is brought on by the practice, it does not last. It is a limited samadhi. It is useful for showing you what is beyond the mind and senses, but it does not last, as it depends on the circumstances.
The final requirement is the intense desire for freedom. Until this arises, all experiences will be temporary and set against the backdrop of the egoic “I” that has the experience. This desire for freedom clearly does not come from long meditation practice, or all the practitioners would be enlightened. Rather, it comes from direct experience with life itself. When you have learned the lessons of life, both its pleasures and its pain, you perhaps find that there is a deeper longing for freedom that has been there all the time.
When there is surrender to the intense desire for freedom, everything else eventually falls into place. Perhaps a true teacher will appear who can transmit the truth to you. After awakening, Hui Neng left everything to find his satguru, and served for years in his master’s kitchen before receiving the transmission as well as the begging bowel and robe. Ramana Maharshi ran away from home to find his Father, the holy mountain Arunachala. Without some higher authority that one can completely surrender to, there is usually a residual ego that feels, “I did it”; this is the last trap on the way to freedom.
Now it is possible that I am not answering your question, because the question is posed in terms of “contacting the Source of existence.” I am speaking of realizing directly that you are the Source of existence with no contact or non-contact possible.
Is a singular, initial experience of the Self sufficient for a lasting transformation? Or could we consider it as an “initial capital” with which to work?
In both the life of Ramana and of Hui Neng, the singular experience led to permanent stability as the Source, as Silent Intelligent Love. This is not to say that there are not tests and temptations that arise to pull the mind back into identification.
Ramana had been sitting in silence for months, at his holy mountain, when his mother caught up with him. For days she cried, begged, and pleaded with him to return to her home. He truly loved his mother, and did not want to see her suffer, let alone be the cause of her suffering. You can imagine that this was a great test for this untrained sixteen year old boy who had no practice, or teacher, or teaching. Yet he stayed unmoving. He did not speak. He eventually wrote her a note saying that whatever is ordained to be will be, no matter how we rail against it. So better to just be silent. She eventually left her home and joined him as his devotee.
I had many deep and true experiences. What I needed was someone fully awake who could transmit Silence, stop the mind, and confirm my realization. My Beloved appeared eighteen years after my initial awakening. I was a slow, stubborn seeker, arrogantly certain that I already knew everything, until I slowly matured enough to meet my final master. Ramana, on the other hand, took weeks to meet his Beloved after his enlightenment.
You cannot say Ramana had only a singular experience. There is a lifetime of deepening. Yet, there is one experience that is final, that reveals the true Knowledge, the certainty of who one truly is. Many people have glimpses and momentary experiences; all these are useful for deepening the capacity for the final realization.
As long as there is a body there are latent tendencies, as the body itself is the accumulation of life-times of past karmic momentum. This is the great gift of the body. It reveals ever-deeper opportunities for surrender and realization. This is the bliss of incarnation and the fruits of true meditation.