Re: Shinzen Young
Posted by Eddie on 02/16/2011 13:45:06
In reply to Re: Shinzen Young posted by sorrisi on 02/14/2011 08:10:19
I kept having the nagging feeling that Shinzen had came up here in
class before, so I ran a search by typing in his name in the search
box for this site…and wala! Then I started to remember and found where
some of those of us that were regularly coming into Classroom Talk
back then (I used the handle of “a wizard’s apprentice” back then he
he.) were posting our New Years Resolutions and Jeff posted:
Posted by Jeff on January 05, 2001 at 09:40:13:
In Reply to: Re: Resolutions posted by a wizard's apprentice on
January 04, 2001 at 16:29:49:
I'd like to be able to get out of the way of trucks...
Meditation and Consciousness: A Dialogue between a Meditation Teacher
and a Psychologist
An Interview with Shinzen Young by Charles T. Tart, Senior Research
Fellow, Institute of Noetic Sciences
Life is so full these days. My gratitude for this classroom is great.
have been able to hook up with some folks here that meditate as a
group. We shall see how it goes.
So at any rate I thought it would fit with what we are talking about
here in class today one decade later. And the youtube clip of Shinzen
almost a decade later as well. Were we can maybe pick up on any subtle
changes on his take/experience. And i am not awear of any videos Coach
ever made. Scot or Perk would be the ones that would likely have the
answer to that one.
Meditation and Consciousness:
A Dialogue Between a Meditation Teacher and a Psychologist
An Interview with Shinzen Young by Charles T. Tart, Senior Research
Fellow, Institute of Noetic Sciences
Shinzen Young: When I meditate I apply a few axioms, which embody for
me the basic principles of meditation. The first axiom is the
axiom "mindfulness": clarity of awareness is preferable to murkiness
of awareness. To illustrate: A person might say "I feel angry". That
represents a certain amount of clarity. They know they're angry versus
not angry. But they could be more clear by saying, for example, "I
have a sequence of negative thoughts about this situation, and at the
same time I have certain sensations that are rising within my body."
That represents a greater clarity. Instead of one bit of
information "I'm angry", there's a richer information flow, a
higher "baud rate". One has become specific about the types of
thoughts and feelings that constitute the anger.
One could become even clearer still, and recount the exact sequence of
thoughts, their interrelationships and the locations of the body
sensations. This is what is meant by mindfulness.
Charles T. Tart: So one way to look at what you call clarity here is
the richness of a perception, or the articulatedness of it. From a
conventional scientific perspective, though, or even a "common sense"
perspective, someone might ask, "How do you know that increased
articulation is true detail of what is there? What is truly clearer
perception and what is vivid fantasy about perception?" One might have
a muscle tension due to anger in the body and generate many fantasies
starting from that tension, versus being more clearly perceptive of
how those muscles actually feel. How is the distinction made?
Shinzen: Actually, I would say from my experience that, in meditation,
we just want to be more clear about what seems to be real. So, in a
sense, the distinction between fantasy and actuality is not so
Charles: You just made thousands of philosophers roll over in their
Shinzen: From my point of view, the process of meditation is not the
same as the endeavors of philosophy or of science.
The endeavor of meditation is a utilitarian endeavor. It is to know
the truth of one's own internal processes. Even if those processes
are "illusory", you strive to have more knowledge about the specifics
of the "illusion". Meditation has a goal: that goal is to allow a
person to experience the mind-body process without feeling limited by
and trapped within that process. It's not to find some kind of cosmic
truth outside of whatever truth you need to know in order to be a free
In meditation you are simply observing the mind and body as it is
experienced in the moment. If they happen to be lost in illusions of
different sorts, then your job is merely to trace, in real time, the
course of the illusion, to experience its comings and goings, rather
than try to get rid of it. At least that's one approach to meditation.
So "mindfulness" is a first axiom. A second axiom is the axiom
of "equanimity": that it is desirable not to grasp or block the flow
of the mind-body process. Our ordinary tendency is to grasp or block,
to fixate or freeze the on-going process of consciousness, and that is
what brings us a sense of limitation and suffering.
So we sit down and we begin to observe, to develop heightened clarity.
and we make a conscious effort to be, moment by moment, as accepting
of this process as possible.
A third axiom is the axiom of "realization". It states that when we
meditate in accordance with the first two axioms, important
transformations will take place within us. These will culminate with
some very dramatic experiences which represent permanent
transformations, such that we no longer feel trapped in the mind-body
process. Therefore we will realize an abiding, constant sense of
freedom and fulfillment, which is independent of conditions and
Posture for Calming Mind and Body
Shinzen: The posture aspect in meditation is related, I would say, to
developing calmness of the mind and body. Calmness of the mind and
body is virtually identical with one's ability to focus and
concentrate, and concentration plays the role of what we might
metaphorically call a microscope. You turn that microscope towards
aspects of the mind-body process and observe them. So if you sit in a
posture that is "perfect", it is true that it is easier to get a
settling of the mind-body, and at the same time it involves an
alertness. The settling, plus the alertness, is the microscope.
However, a person can begin this process of exploration without having
a particularly deep state of microscopic awareness, and it is also
true that it is possible to develop an attachment to certain positions
and postures. I have heard of teachers that discourage the use of
special postures, and make you do your meditation as a day-to-day
activity, while you work, play, eat, go to the bathroom, etc. This
might seem a hard way to go, but that is the method of what is
sometimes called sukkhavipassana, or "dry mindfulness meditation".
It's just completely dry awareness; it's not watered by any of the
bliss of special concentration states. And you can do that in any
posture at all.
Charles: Most of my experience is in what you call dry mindfulness.
It's been work I've done in the Gurdjieff tradition, which says
develop this self-remembering, this quality of presence in the here
and now, a simultaneous awareness of body and psychological self
coupled with simultaneous enhanced awareness of that is going on
around you. Certainly there is no special posture involved; you do it
in the midst of life. For me to practice traditional meditation, where
I'm sitting still in a quiet place, is very different.
Shinzen: Remember, though, some "traditional" teachings are that way,
too, like what you call the nontraditional.
Charles: My finding to date has been that these two methods both seem
necessary to complement each other. I've learned to produce a certain
kind of mindfulness through self-remembering in the midst of intense
activity. It's valuable in a variety of ways. But it's like learning
to balance on an actively moving surface, like surfing must be.
There's a very high activity level while I'm doing it. The kind of
self-remembering I do does not generally get me in touch with very
subtle mind-body processes, although they may be going on in the
background and ultimately affecting my foreground experience.
When I sit down and practice the traditional sort of vipassana
meditation, the subtle processes are much more visible because they're
not being swamped by the activity/noise of everyday life. At the same
time, this awareness at a more subtle level feels like a problem in
some ways. A level of thought, for instance, that would not interfere
in the hurly-burly of life with a certain high degree of mindfulness
now seems like a rampaging storm!
Shinzen: You've raised a lot of interesting issues. We can branch out
in a number of ways here. Before we go any further, though, I'd like
to clear up a couple of things.
What constitutes a special meditation posture is a posture that allows
for stability with alertness. Any posture that allows for that is
valid. There is nothing magic about twisting yourself into a pretzel.
Any posture is useful only insofar as it allows for stability and
alertness. The fact that the spine is kept upright affects the posture
sensors that are connected to the reticular activating system. An
upright posture keeps the activational level of the brain up. If you
start to allow the posture to degenerate in different ways you get a
direct physiological impact on alertness.
On the other hand, you want a meditation posture that gives you not
just wakefulness, but a real sense of "settled-in-ness". In Japan they
have been doing physiological research on Zen meditation since before
World War II. They did electromyographic studies of the muscles
showing readouts as though they were asleep! They are that relaxed. So
you know that a profound physiological change is taking place in the
musculature to allow a person to sit in such a rigorous posture with
muscles relaxed as if lying down, asleep.
So, it's not so much that the legs have to be crossed, or anything
like that, but the position has to give relaxation and alertness at
the same time. That could be achieved in a chair, depending on how you
use the chair—-if you don't slouch.
Skillful Experiencing of Pain
Shinzen: I described these traditional meditation postures as being
stable, settled, comfortable. In point of fact, though, to learn them
you probably are going to have to go through years of discomfort. That
may seem the opposite of the goal.
As you're sitting there holding one of these postures, you have a
baseline of discomfort. You begin to notice that your sense of
suffering around that baseline of discomfort goes through ebbs and
flows. Every once in a while you'll have a significant experience. The
discomfort will not have changed, but something in your relationship
to it changes—-spontaneously.
That's because there are moment-by-moment fluctuations in your level
of "grasping" or "resistance". Psychological grasping is your main
source of suffering, not the physical sensations in your legs—-that is
to say, how much you are tightening psychologically around those
sensations is the main source of suffering.
You may be spending most of your time in habitual tightening or
resisting of the sensations, but if you sit there long enough, every
once in a while, just because of the impermanent nature of things,
your resistance will lessen for a moment, just spontaneously. At that
time you begin to make a correlation. Diminished "resistance" brings
about diminished suffering. You literally train yourself out of the
habit of suffering.
What you learn in this way with respect to pain of physical origin is
immediately generalizable to pain of psychological origin. Suffering
is a function of two variables: one's discomfort and one's habit of
resisting that discomfort. Put mathematically: s = f(d,r).
Charles: But I wonder about "unnecessary" pain. For instance, Shinzen,
you don't have us wear hair shirts when we meditate. Hair shirts, as
were used in medieval Christian mysticism, would definitely add to the
pain. You don't have us lean sideways ten degrees, which would
considerably increase the muscle strain and consequent physical pain.
Shinzen: Pain does two things. If it is experienced in a "skillful"
way, the energy in pain will break up the knotty, hard parts of one's
being. This is true whether the pain is of physical or psychological
origin. On the other hand, if pain is experienced in an unskillful
way, it does just the opposite, creates more knots, making a person
brittle and rigid.
Therefore, there is nothing whatsoever to be said in favor of pain per
se for meditators. It can just as much create new blockages as it can
break up old ones. Everything depends on one's degree of skill in
experiencing it. Very little depends on the intensity of the
discomfort itself. A small discomfort greeted with a large amount of
skill will break up old knots. A small discomfort greeted with a large
lack of skill will create new knots. The same is true with respect to
big discomforts. The trick is not so much to endure massive doses of
pain, but to develop that skill which will allow you to get the
maximum growth out of whatever happens to come up.
For example, sometimes I'll do a practice where I'll lie in bed and be
completely motionless for several hours. Somewhere along the line I
feel that I'd like to move part of my body in some little way. I get
subtle pressures here or there. I find that if I can detect and open
up to those subtle pressures completely, I really get somewhere. These
minor irritations are likely to come up at any time, so if you can
greet each with great skill, they are opportunities for growth.
"Skill" with sensation means to be relatively more clearly aware of
the sensation and relatively more accepting of the sensation than you
would be otherwise. When a person greets a minor pain with great
awareness and great acceptance, then it has a much more powerful
growth effect than to greet a major pain with grudging endurance. This
was nicely summarized by Thomas Merton. Merton was a Christian monk
with a great appreciation of the Eastern meditative traditions—-not an
uncommon combination nowadays. I'm paraphrasing, but somewhere I
remember him saying something like "I did not become a monk to suffer
more than other people, I became a monk to suffer more effectively."
Learning to Relax
Charles: In my reports on my meditation experiences, I noted that when
I settled down to meditate, and I consciously put attention to my
body, one of the first experiences is that of tension patterns.
Sometimes just being aware of them results in their automatically
relaxing, sometimes it doesn't. It's variable. If you feel an
obviously useless tension, such as noticing that you're sitting there
clenching your hand for no good reason, should you deliberately relax
the tension, or should you just study it as it is? I think you already
said something to the effect that you would be mindful of whatever it
is you do with it.
Shinzen: You've just asked a really interesting question. I believe
that there are two ways of learning relaxation, because there are two
distinct levels at which a person can relax. I speak of top-to-bottom
relaxation versus bottom-to-top relaxation. "Top" refers to the
surface conscious mind, "bottom" the deep unconscious.
Top-to-bottom relaxation is what most people think of when they think
of relaxation. It's voluntary relaxation, like a progressive
relaxation where you make an effort to relax. When a person sits to
meditate I think it is good to do whatever possible to relax the
overall body. I usually try to get an overall sense of the body
relaxing. I call it a "settled-in" sense. For example, I notice that
during sitting sometimes my shoulders will come up, so I'll relax them
as an act of conscious intention.
This form of relaxation, although it's valid and useful, is also
limited, because there are certain things that you can't relax
intentionally, like the kind of intense sensations that come up when
you stub your toe. You can't go through a progressive relaxation, and
just relax the sensations going on in your stubbed toe. And what about
the sensations that go with a stubbed ego? For that type of
phenomenon, it is desirable to learn about a second kind of relaxation
which I call bottom-to-top.
Bottom-to-top relaxation deals with the source of tension which is
deep within the unconscious mind and way out of the range of conscious
control. How can you relax tensions that are not within conscious
control? By observing them with skill. "Skill" means heightened
awareness, a sense of accepting the tension as is. Bottom-to-top
relaxation is an attitude. You watch the tension very, very carefully.
You get very specific in terms of location, shape, flavor, rates of
change, etc. You just keep pouring awareness and equanimity, awareness
and equanimity on the tension pattern.
That tension pattern is a conduit into the unconscious mind. By
flooding the tension area with the "super-adult" qualities of "witness
awareness" you are helping the unconscious infant/animal levels of the
mind to untie their own "knots". The tension pattern will start to
break up on its own. Paradoxically, the quickest way to have it break
up is to stop wanting it to break up. The attitude of wanting it to
break up adds subtle new knots. For the really deep relaxation, a
person has to be willing to watch tension in a skillful way, without
Consistency: The Fourth Axiom
Shinzen: Remember I said that I like to reduce the teaching of
meditation to certain basic axioms. I mentioned three of them already:
The first axiom, "the principle of mindfulness", is to be as alert and
precise as possible with respect to events in the mind-body process.
The second, "the principle of equanimity", is to maintain an even-
minded, matter-of-fact attitude while observing.
The third, "the principle of realization", is that the habitual
practice of mindfulness and equanimity will bring about dramatic,
positive transformations in a person's life.
There is a fourth axiom I call the "axiom of consistency"; it is
possible that reactions will arise as the result of observing the mind-
body process —- reactions such as fear, bliss, boredom, irritation.
These reactions are part of the mind-body process and should
themselves be consistently observed with even-minded awareness.
For example, you have told me that when you try to just observe
tension you get bored and annoyed. The boredom and annoyance is a
reaction to your attempt to observe. Observe the boredom and
annoyance! How to observe it? Well, your boredness and annoyedness can
only present themselves to you through two "doors". One is the door of
thinking—-ideas, concepts, images, inner dialogue. The second is the
door of sensation—-feelings which pop up in the body. Note the contour
and cadence of the thinking. Note the flavors and locations of the
associated feelings in the body. First you had been observing tension,
then you felt bored and irritated in reaction. That boredom is now the
dominant phenomenon. So observe it. You just consistently keep on
applying the first two axioms.
Thought: Not the Enemy
Charles: I say that I'm "succeeding" in meditation if I'm having at
least partial contact with body sensations, and I'm "failing" at
meditation as soon as I get lost in thought or imagery. Some of this
certainly comes from having too harsh a superego. But I haven't
learned another way to handle this at the moment.
Shinzen: It's a very practical thing to ground oneself in body
sensation. Some vipassana teachers emphasize body sensation as the
only domain of investigation. Other teachers say that you should watch
any aspect of the mind-body process, including thoughts, sounds,
images, and things like that. So one could almost say that two major
trends exist in the world of vipassana. One is a trend to just stay
with the body sensations as your primary object, and the other is a
trend that says watch any of the six senses. By the way, sense number
six is the thinking sense. And you get arguments—-not violent
arguments, of course, but mellow arguments—-between vipassana teachers
as to which way is the way to go.
Thought is definitely not the enemy. Your enemy is the lack of moment-
to-moment clarity about rising and passing of thought. Thought is
every bit as much part of the flow of nature as body sensations are.
Indeed, your entire being is part of nature!
A time comes in meditation when you come to realize that the nature of
thought is in fact just effortless vibration. At that point, there's
no need whatsoever to stop the thought process in order to meditate.
At that point, you might say that you have cleaned away all the
ignorance surrounding the thinking process.
The thinking process is driven by subliminal feelings, subtle
pleasures and pains that we are not ordinarily aware of. When we clear
away the ignorance surrounding the thinking process we are able to
detect the subtle "flavors" of pleasure that seduce us into thinking
as well as the subtle flavors of discomfort that goad us into
thinking. The unconsciousness and grasping around these feelings turn
the feelings into "driver sensations" which mercilessly agitate the
mind. When these sensations can be detected and experienced with
equanimity the addiction to the thinking process comes to an end. The
mind still thinks but not in a driven way. It begins to function in a
spiritually intuitive mode. In other words, it dines on reality as
opposed to trying to gobble it up.
The reason some teachers so strongly emphasize working with body
sensations is that the body can be sensitized, can become a "high
resolution screen" within which these subtle drive sensations can be
detected and "felt through".
Am I Doing It Right?
Charles: If I'm sleepy or my mind is drifting very easily, if I put
more force in trying to focus or look at something, I seem to get more
results. Not always, but sometimes. So at times I have a conflict
here. I say to myself, "Well, being gentle with my attention is
actually a rationalization for being lazy and not trying very hard to
meditate; no wonder I don't get very far. I should really
concentrate." I remember reading stuff about how if you're really
doing Zazen, for instance, you'll be sweating like a pig even if it is
the middle of winter! Is it right to be gentle or should I be really
Shinzen: I think the important thing is to avoid the conflict about it
by realizing that there are no absolutes in meditation. One just feels
I know that questions like that are a big thing that people get
tripped out on. "Am I doing it right? Most people have to learn to
meditate the way a baby learns to walk. The baby falls to the right,
falls to the left, and gradually gets its equilibrium. So you just
have to get a "feel" for what's right. Something could be said for
either the gentle or forceful approach.
A question somewhat similar to this was once put to the Buddha. His
response was that the meditation should be done the way that a person
tunes a stringed instrument. You don't want to put too much tension on
the strings, neither do you want the strings to be too slack. There is
a middle degree that gives you the right tone. So one possible answer
to the question is that you want to find that combination of bearing
down versus gently focusing that works for you.
There is another strategy that I know exists in one of the Tibetan
traditions which you might find interesting to try sometimes:
Consciously alternate the two. You do a period of really intense
bearing down, ten minutes, half an hour, whatever, and then you do a
comparable period of laying back and gently watching, and then bear
down, then gently watch, etc.
Another way to look at it (which you already hinted at in the way you
made your comment) is that if you're feeling sleepy, you should bear
down. We call feelings like sleepiness sinking. Sinking is broader
than just sleepiness. It is any sort of dimming of awareness. If you
find that you're sinking, the bear down. If you find that you're
getting real tense, then you can do gentle focusing. Which you do
depends on the situation. It is what we might call an allopathic
approach; you oppose the problem.
Shinzen: Here's an addendum to an unfinished thread we were talking
about before, when you asked me about aches and pains and what to do
about these aches and pains. I said that there were two questions you
were really asking. One is what to do about aches and pains, and the
other is, what does sitting there and feeling your butt aching have to
do with realizing God?
There are many valid descriptions of the meditative process, and there
are many valid techniques for coming to realization. Further, there
are many valid descriptions of what realization is. Nowadays, even
Buddhist teachers sometimes speak of realizing God! I just happened to
us that word God here, but we could just as well use words like "the
ground of being", or the "natural state".
So what does feeling your butt ache have to do with realizing "God" or
the "true nature of things"?
By learning to feel sensations within the body with an attitude of
equanimity, one is unlearning the habit of locking around feeling.
This is the earliest locking we acquire. When the baby matures and
begins to think, the habit of locking carries over into the thinking
process. Eventually all six "sense doors" (hearing, seeing, smelling,
tasting, feeling, thinking) acquire the habit of moment-by-moment
microscopic freezing. That prevents us from experiencing these sense
doors as part of the flow of nature.
Start with any sensation whatsoever, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral,
and begin to observe it in what I refer to as a skillful way--you are
beginning to unlearn the habit of blocking the flow of consciousness,
unlearning it at the most primitive level, where that habit first
started. Pretty soon you find that you are able to think without
freezing the thinking process, the eye begins to function without
freezing the visual field, and the entire flow of consciousness begins
to take on the qualities of ripples spreading on a lake. The
operations of the senses have an effortless, spontaneous, "just
happening" quality. This unblocked flow is also the nature of the
creative spirit that gives rise to the appearance of the world. So
there is a direct link between just sitting there, watching your
trapezius twitch, and realizing God.
But also watch your desire for God with equanimity. Watch it come and
There are a couple of things which, if you can watch them in a
meditative way, are very productive. One of them is your desire for
enlightenment, your desire for God. One quick way to get to direct
experience of God is to watch your desire for that experience come and
go, until you realize the insubstantiality, the impermanence of that
desire. Then the blockages to realization go away and the state that
you want starts to shine through of its own.
In other words you can't reach out and get enlightenment. You can,
however, eliminate the blockages to enlightenment, and then it will
shine through of its own. Paradoxically, a major blockage to
enlightenment is the desire for enlightenment. So if you can watch the
desire for enlightenment (or your desire for something special in
meditation) come and go with equanimity, then enlightenment is not far
Another way to put that is that all you have to do to be completely
happy is to break through each moment of unhappiness. As you're
sitting there, if there's the feeling that "I want something more in
this moment", then if you can work through that feeling, then you've
worked through one tangible block to happiness. And then another
feeling of wanting something, something different, something other,
will come up, you transcend it, and so on.
Stopping the World
Charles: In formal meditation you're safely sitting inside, so you can
shift in the direction of far more attention on the internal process
and explore some aspects of the fundamental nature of mind. I suppose
there must be some advanced level of vipassana meditation where you
can walk across the street, aware of the transitory nature of
existence, but still get out of the way of a truck. Can you comment on
Shinzen: When we first come into this life we form a self in order to
cope with the world. The baby has rather scant self and commensurately
little ability to deal with the world. We develop a self to deal with
the world, but we also develop the habit of solidifying that self, and
that solidifying habit congests the flow of nature, leading to
The process of going from infancy to adulthood could therefore be
called the process of forming a solidified sense of self. Some adults
decide to start growing again, that is, to go from being an adult to
being a super-adult. In order to do that, one has to learn the process
of unsolidifying the sense of self.
The unsolidified self (which could be called the big self or the no-
self) begins to arise within the super-adult. That no-self has to
gradually learn how to deal with more and more complex aspects of
life, just as the solidified self did.
As the beginning the no-self may not be able to do anything except sit
there--or maybe chant. Gradually the no-self learns how to do more
complex things, like maybe sweep the yard. Eventually it learns how to
talk, how to drive a car, how to carry on contract negotiations, and
anything else that needs to be done. But, just as for the self, it
takes a while for that no-self to learn how to do things. Eventually
most of ego's activities get taken over by the no-self activity. The
no-self knows full well how to get out of the way of trucks.
There are two ways that people can fool themselves. One is "I have to
sit in a certain posture, and have the body absolutely aligned
perfectly in order to meditate". the second is "I don't ever need to
sit in a posture like that; I meditate in daily life".
The way that you know if you're meditating in action is to see if you
can stop on a dime any time you want. You should be able to go, at any
time, into an absolutely stable, motionless state without struggle if
you're really "meditating in daily life".
Scholarly Discussions of Mindfulness Training 
Posted by John on January 25, 2001 at 00:34:23:
This is offered as the second discussion for study in a new "thread
topic" in Classroom Talk, called "Scholarly Discussions of Mindfulness
Let's try this out, if any of you are interested, and see if it works.
I would appreciate it if we would attempt to focus these discussions
the best technical information and explanations that we can find which
pertains to the actual methods by which different schools approach the
teaching of mindfulness. I am NOT asking for scientific discussion of
cognitive or neurophysiological questions like "how the mind works"
here. *Please note that. I am asking for scientific discussions of
"how mindfulness training works."
Postings to this topic may be widely separated over the weeks or
but if we use the title: "Scholarly Discussions of Mindfulness
Training," or perhaps just "S.D.M.T." in our title-bars when we are
intending to post on this subject later on, that will enable us to
track over the long haul of the continuity of this series of
as "a separate class topic" on our bulletin board.
And, regarding any of the papers or whatever is posted for study in
"side-class," so to speak, now or later, you students here may always
feel free to post your own comments, or not, as you please.
Back on January 5th, Jeff pointed our attention to:
Meditation and Consciousness: A Dialogue between a Meditation Teacher
and a Psychologist. — An Interview with Shinzen Young by Charles T.
Tart, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Noetic Sciences.
This Shinzen/Tart dialogue got into interesting questions about the
technology of mindfulness training from the respective standpoints of
each of the participants—that is, Vipassana Buddhism, and Gurdjieff
Work. It seemed to me to serve as a kind of "beginning point," or, a
base position, so to speak, from which ongoing discussion of the
technology of mindfulness training can be further examined. So, I'm
recommending that dialogue as the "first" discussion suggested for
in this proposed series of discussions.
Seeing this dialogue, Perk faxed me two pages from "Freedom from the
Self," by Mohammad Shafii (1988). This teaching addresses some of the
same core issues that Shinzen and Dr. Tart are engaging with, and
further "fleshes out" our over-all discussion here from a Muslim Sufi
point of view.
Shafii is quoted here verbatim, as follows:
Goleman (1977) divided meditative methods into two types:
1. Concentrative Meditation
The meditator is instructed to fix attention on a single object. The
object of meditation may be sounds (mantras), ideas, images, feelings,
or physiological functions, such as breathing. " . . . the mind is not
only directed toward the object but finally penetrates it, totally
absorbed in it, the mind moves to oneness with the object (p. 7).
Concentrative meditation may be further divided into active or
In active concentrative meditation, the meditator is instructed to
resist wandering thoughts, suppress daydreams and fantasies, and
and forcefully return attention to the object of meditation. Some
examples are japa of the Bhakti Yoga tradition, samadhi of Tibetan
Buddhism, siddha yoga of Kundalini Yoga, and the contemplative
traditions of Christianity.
In passive concentrative meditation, the meditator is attentive to the
meditative object, but does not actively suppress thoughts, fantasies,
ideas, or sensation. The meditator follows the thoughts, ideas, and
fantasies, and then gently brings attention to the object of
for example, zikr of Sufi meditation, mantra of Transcendental
Meditation, and focusing on the sound of the word "one" in the
Relaxation Response (Benson, 1975.)
In mindfulness, there is no mantra, nor predetermined object of
meditation. In mindfulness, " . . . the meditator methodically faces
the bare facts of his experience, seeing each event as though
for the first time. He does this by continuous attention to the first
phase of perception when his mind is receptive rather than reactive"
(Goleman, 1977, p. 21). The meditation focuses attention on sensations
and thoughts. He or she avoids judgment, reflection, suppression, or
pursuit of thoughts and sensations. Thoughts and sensations are
dismissed after being noticed. The premise is that the meditator will
become aware of the disjointed, random nature of his or her mind, and,
it is hoped, further insight will follow.
Mindfulness can also be further divided into active or passive. Active
mindfulness is a type of meditation which emphasizes active focusing
thoughts and sensations. An example is the "self-remembering" of
Gurdjieff. Passive mindfulness is a type of meditation which reflects
freedom from concentration and fixation on meditations or even
sensory perceptions, thoughts, or ideas. At this level, one transcends
the need for zikr, mantra, koan, or attention to thoughts, ideas,or
sensory perceptions. Passive mindfulness, which is referred to as
"emptiness" in Zen Buddhism, or fana in Sufism, is the highest level
meditation. The individual is freed from meditation; the beginning and
the end become one (chapter 5). Examples of this type of experience
shikan-taza ("just sitting") of Zen Buddhism, fana of Sufism, and
"nontechnique" of "self-knowledge" of Krishnamurti (Goleman, pp. 93-
Sufi Meditative Techniques
If we apply Goleman's classification of meditation, we will notice
the Sufis use a variety of meditative techniques in their practices.
For example, silent meditation (zikr) begins with the passive
concentrative meditation of quietly and silently inhaling and exhaling
one of the names of God. Thoughts, feelings, fantasies, ideas, and
sensations are not actively suppressed. The meditator allows him or
herself to experience feelings and then gently brings attention to the
object of meditation.
As the Sufi becomes more experienced in meditation, each meditative
session begins with passive concentrative meditation, but gradually
moves to a state of mindfulness. The Sufi transcends the experience of
breathing, zikr, and goes through the phase of active mindfulness by
focusing on thoughts, sensations, and feelings, eventually reaching
state of passive mindfulness. In this state, the Sufi is totally free
from concentration on zikr or specific sensory perceptions, feelings,
thoughts. The Sufi experiences "moments of fana" similar to the
experience of "emptiness" in Zen Buddhism and nirvana in Yoga (chapter
The Sufi also practices another type of meditation which they refer to
as zikr-i-jali or glorious outward meditation (chapter 2). In this
meditation, a short verse from the Koran, a melodic Sufi poem, the
of one of the attributes of God, or the name of a Sufi pir is
rhythmically chanted and actively concentrated upon. Gradually, this
active concentrative meditation may move the meditator towards passive
concentrative meditation, active mindfulness, and at times, culminate
passive mindfulness and the experience of moments of fana. This type
meditation is similar to the active concentrative meditation of
Yoga, japa of Bhakti Yoga, samadi of Tibetan Buddhism chanting in
Buddhism, and contemplative traditions in Christianity.
—from "Freedom from the Self," by Mohammad Shafii (1988)