This is the second of two articles that were written with the intention of providing an overview of the approach to meditation and self-enquiry, that I took in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. To access the previous article, please click here.
I believe that the true practice of meditation, such as was taught by the Buddha, must be rooted in his psychology of non-dual wisdom. Hence my characterisation of meditation as resting as Consciousness. I have used these words frequently, to point to a core idea that is easy to miss. I have tried to explain them several times, but will take the time here to outline this principle once again. In the terms of the Buddhist ‘Five Skandhas‘ self-enquiry framework, what I am referring to as Consciousness (i.e. capitalised), is the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha – the non-personal, non-locatable, and indeed Transcendental principle that is at the centre of mandala of the five skandhas.
A Deeper Conceptual Framework for Mindfulness Practice
While the adoption of this sort of approach at the outset, as our entry point into meditation practice, is unfortunately currently relatively unusual, it is by no means without precedent in Buddhist tradition. Indeed it is, in my view, the approach that is now being adopted by all the best meditation teachers around the world. The modern audience of spiritual students is sophisticated, and is exposed, via the internet, to high-level non-duality teachings that only fifty years ago, would only have been available to dedicated ‘seekers’ – usually through prolonged periods of meditation and study in the East. For example, the traditional Buddhist dzogchen and mahamudra teachings, which express this idea of resting as Consciousness, are now available on YouTube in most languages.
The spiritual practitioners of the modern West (and the westernised East), as it begins to face into the psychological implications of the way that Quantum Physics describes reality, are I believe, ready for these so called ‘advanced’ or ‘high-level’ teachings – perspectives on practice that were previously only available to the most experienced and the most committed. Indeed, the whole idea that these are ‘advanced’ ‘high-level’ teachings seems erroneous – since they are just more sophisticated of talking about Mindfulness practice. Non-duality is a confusing notion to grasp however. This is partly because non-duality runs so strongly counter to everything that we generally assume about the nature of ourselves and our world. But we should not expect Mindfulness, the practice that the Buddha called ‘the Way to the Immortal’ to be unchallenging to the basic assumptions of the egoic mind.
There is perhaps, a failure on the part of many meditation teachers to engage with, and to effectively explain, the huge practical benefits of a non-dual approach to human psychology. There is a tendency to put non-duality, and the Buddha’s challenging anattā (no-self) doctrine in the ‘too hard’ basket, and to make it irrelevant by thinking of it as a difficult-to-understand feature of the distant goal, rather than a foundation for meditation practice – a perspective to embraced at the earliest possible stage. The Buddha’s ‘Noble Eightfold Path’ is best conceived a path made up of two stages or processes – an initial process of Vision, followed by a longer process of Transformation. Hence, the first limb of the Noble Eightfold Path, Perfect Vision, is the process of Vision, and the remaining seven limbs constitute the process of Transformation. This framing of the Buddha’s model gives great importance to the attainment the clearest possible vision of the goal, as a precondition for our effective practice of the subsequent stages.
It is not surprising that Buddhist non-duality teachings have tended to find themselves in the ‘too hard’ basket. Ultimately non-duality cannot be completely ‘understood’ in the ordinary way by the thinking mind. We can ‘point’ to it with concepts and with symbols, but ultimately we need to seek the actual experience of it within ourselves in meditation or meditative enquiry. The mandala is particularly valuable as a guide for those engaged in such an experiential exploration of non-dual wisdom, because it shows the multiple dimensions of our meditative experiencing in a very systematic and comprehensive way, and gives a great many pointers to the ultimate nature of mind – several pointers from each of the four directions of the mandala.
Resting as Consciousness – a brief explanation
In my ‘Meditation Guidance’ articles, on this website, I have been using the notion of resting as Consciousness as a shorthand for an approach to meditation that can tentatively be termed a ‘non-dual’ approach, and once you have experienced resting as Consciousness you will recognise that this phrase is very descriptive. I hope you find the explanation that follows in the paragraphs below to be helpful elucidation of this illusive idea.