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Meditation - the Expanding Consciousness

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 33: Meditation: the Expanding Consciousness

Friends: The present age - the age in which, at about the middle of the twentieth century, we are now living - has been given, by various people, all sorts of names. Sometimes it is called, for instance, the Age of Anxiety; sometimes again it is called the Age of Psychology. Whether it is called the Age of Psychology because it is called the Age of Anxiety or vice versa I don't know, but these are just two of the names which are given to the age in which we live. This name: the Age of Psychology, we could say, is particularly appropriate inasmuch as, at present, what we may call the mind, or consciousness, is being very much studied. In fact we may say, from an empirical, a mundane, point of view, humanity probably at present knows more about the mind, more about its workings, its inner workings, more about its hidden recesses, than ever before in history.

When we mention the word psychology, most of us at once think of Freud, and we remember that Freud, for instance, discovered (as we may say) the subconscious mind; even though poets and philosophers had had some intimation of its existence long before; but Freud placed the whole concept of the subconscious mind on an irrefutable scientific basis. Then again, to mention another great modern psychologist, Jung went even further: envisaged not only the subconscious mind (which he called the personal unconscious) but envisaged the unconscious itself, with a capital U - not, perhaps, a very helpful term, because it does include contents which we may say, on their own level at least, are certainly conscious. But all these facts go to show how much the mind, consciousness, the psyche, is being studied nowadays. We also find that various hidden powers of the mind have been made the subject of scientific investigation. I think we can now say that telepathy, thought transference, is an accepted scientific fact; so, perhaps, is pre-cognition; possibly even the experience of clairvoyance - of seeing things at a distance. I think we can also say that nowadays we probably know much more about abnormal mental states (which used to be called conditions of insanity) than we ever did before in our history; at least we are more aware of them. We may not always be able to do very much about them, but they are being, they have been, studied, and the importance of the study of these stages is very widely recognised.

More recently still, especially in very recent years, we may say that all sorts of researches have been going on into the effect of various drugs, especially LSD on the human mind. And it does seem as though, in all these various ways, ever more fascinating vistas are beginning to be revealed. And strage to say we may even go so far as to observe that even professional psychologists, even psychoanalysts in some cases - psycho-therapists - are beginning to take serious something at which they previously laughed, many of them: that is what we may call even mystical experience. Some of them are beginning to consider seriously even this.

And all this is, indeed, extremely interesting. I've skipped, as you've seen, over a vast field; I've just given a pointer here and there (because this is all, as it were, introductory); it all adds up to one thing, one point; that our concept of the mind, in the West, is changing, in fact has been considerably enlarged, is being all the time more and more enlarged. We used to have in the West a very limited, a very superficial notion of what the mind of man was. We thought of it as something relatively static, we identified it with the conscious mind, with the individual consciousness, and so on. We tied it up with the body very much. But this is all now changed or beginning to be changed, and we're beginning to realise, we're beginning to see that the range of mind, the range of consciousness, is far greater than we had ever previously thought. Depth Psychology particularly is very fond of the image of the iceberg: we all know that the iceberg is an enormous mass of ice and six-sevenths of it is submerged, (I think it's six-sevenths; the exact proportion doesn't matter) and only one-seventh shows above the surface of the waves. And we are often told that the mind is like this, the conscious tip as it were protruding above the waves of the unconscious. It's very small. It's only a very tiny fraction of the whole. And underneath, corresponding to the submerged portion of the iceberg, there are layers and layers, levels and levels, which are not conscious; of which normally we are not aware.

So this is the sort of image, as it were, which Depth Psychology presents to us, but we may say that this is not the whole truth; we may say that it's only half the truth. We may say that the mind is not only like an iceberg, six-sevenths of which is submerged, but the mind is also like a mountain; like the mountains which one sees not only in Alps but in the Himalayas, as I've seen them so often, towering thousands and thousands of feet up but the summits, the higher slopes as it were, covered with cloud. You see only the lower slopes, you see only the foothills, but those higher peaks, most of the time, you don't see at all; they're covered with an impenetrable blanket of mist and cloud. So we may say the mind is also like this. The mind has not only depths of which we are unaware, it has heights of which we are unaware, too, so that if we want to get a correct, a complete, picture or image of the mind we should combine both these images: the image of the iceberg with its submerged depths and the image of the mountain with its veiled peaks. Both of these represent different aspects of the mind, revealing that the mind has depths below mind and heights also above.

Now all this of very great interest from the point of view specifically of Buddhism. We all know, I am sure, that Buddhism is very greatly concerned with the mind. We may even go so far as to say that Buddhism is concerned with very little else than with the mind. For instance, as some of you may remember who have heard the talks on Zen Buddhism, Zen is defined in one of the lines of the four-line verse which gives its essence; Zen is defined as 'a direct pointing to the mind'. This is all that Zen does, in a sense: it just says 'Look at your own mind'. It directs attention to the mind. So this is very characteristic, very typical, of Buddhism. Almost every school of Buddhism is saying in one way or another, in one form or another: 'Look at your mind.

Look at yourself. Be aware of the heights and the depths of your own consciousness.' So Buddhism knows quite well, has known from the very beginning, has known for thousands of years, that the mind - our so-called everyday mind - has heights and has depths of which normally (or usually, I should say) we are unaware.

Now we'll be going into all this - or many aspects of all this - later on in the year when we have our course of lectures at the Kingsway Hall on 'Aspects of Buddhist Psychology', in which many of these topics will be systematically explored. We shall, of course, not only then but now, be more concerned with the heights than with the depths, and concerned not only theoretically but practically, because the emphasis of Buddhism all the time is not just on the theoretical but on the practical. It not only envisages heights of mind beyond mind but is also concerned with the scaling of those heights. It's also concerned, we may say, with the expansion of consciousness, of the expansion of awareness, beyond its present limits to the very heights of mind.

But of course the question arises: how far is this to be done? How are we to scale these heights? How are we to expand our minds, expand our awareness, expand our consciousness? And the answer - the traditional answer of Buddhism - is - in all its schools - that this is to be done through the practice of meditation. Meditation, in fact, may be defined, for general purposes, as the systematic expansion of awareness or consciousness.

Now most of you, most of you I know, are practising meditation (or at least, concentration) in one form or another, regularly or fairly regularly. Many of you, I know, attend the weekly meditation classes which we hold at Sakura. Quite a number of you also have participated in our two retreat weeks which he had at Haslemere recently. So most of you, that is to say, have experienced, as a result of your own practice of meditation, some degree of expansion of consciousness, of awareness, of the mind. And meditation, indeed, is something to be practised, something to be experienced and not so much talked about - not even perhaps, really, lectured about. At the same time, it is very useful for us to have a general idea of what we are supposed to be doing when we meditate; whither we are supposed to be going, otherwise we may practise, we may get a certain definite benefit out of the practice, but we may, at the same time, feel that we are rather groping in the dark; we may have no real sense of direction in our practice. So therefore, this morning, I want to deal with this topice of meditation, of the expanding consciousness, in a very practical way, to help mainly those who are actually practising to orient themselves and to deal with it by way of a consideration of four principle themes or topics.

First of all: Why we Meditate - that'll be the first topic. Secondly: The Preparations for Meditation. Next: The Five Basic Methods of Meditation; and fourthly and lastly: The Three Progressive Stages of Meditational Experience. And, as I have said, the emphasis here will be practical rathe than theoretical, and we shall be aiming at helping those who are actually meditating to get their bearings and to help them be more clearly aware of what it is that they are doing when they sit down and meditate. (Now, as I see several people have ...

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