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The Meaning of Parinirvana

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by Sangharakshita

... their energies are scattered, they are distracted, they can't do very much, they can't achieve very much because their energies are divided against themselves, because they are divided against their own self.

So the first thing that we have to do is to bring all these energies together, to collect all these scattered energies, to get them flowing as it were in the same channel, and have that channel as it were cutting deeper and deeper and deeper all the time, and the energies flowing more and more smoothly, more and more steadily along that one channel, in the direction of their true, their ultimate goal. So this is what meditation is in the first place, meditation in the sense of the integration of the sum total of one's psychical, even of one's pscyho-physical, energies so that they flow smoothly and harmoniously, so that there's no conflict, no discord, so that one experiences peace, one experiences harmony, one experiences a great sense of integration, of everything coming together; not everything being ripped apart, as it were.

Then there is meditation in a still higher sense, meditation in the sense of the experience of what we can describe as superconscious states. These are the states which are collectively termed in the Indian tradition idhyanasi, and they are states of progressive superconscious simplification, in the sense that, according to tradition, confirmed by people's experience in the earlier, in the lower idhyanasi, there are quite a number of different mental or psychical factors, as they are called, but as the experience develops, as one passes from a lower to a higher idhyanai, the number of mental, the number of psychical, factors is gradually reduced.

In the first idhyanai, for instance, out of the four, one experiences not only integration, which one carries over from meditation in the previous sense, but one experiences bliss, one experiences joy, one experiences subtle mental activity of various kinds. But, as one ascends, the mental activity gradually fades away. One does not think of anything. One does not think about anything. All mental functioning in this sense has entirely ceased. The mind is stilled, but at the same time one is perfectly aware, perfectly conscious, in fact more aware and more conscious than ever, only there is no mental activity. The whole mind becomes like a vast pool, a vast lake, in which every ripple has died away. The water has not died away; the water is still there, but instead of being rippled, instead of being tossed into waves, it's perfectly calm, perfectly level, perfectly shining and perfectly serene. So this is what the experience is like in the second idhyanai when there is no mental activity.

And as one ascends, as one goes even higher, even the experience of joy, which is comparatively coarse, fades away, and what one has left is the integrated psychical contents, a feeling of intense bliss and intense peace; and still, of course, no mental activity. And going even further, even higher, eventually there is not even a feeling of bliss; even that is too coarse, even that is not refined enough for this level or at this level. At this fourth level, all that one experiences, all that one knows, is just a sort of vast ocean as it were of integration, if you like, of mental harmony, with an overwhlming experience of absolute peace, which far surpasses any experience of happiness or even bliss.

So in this way the idhyanasi develop; in this way, in the case of these superconscious states, one goes from lower to higher and ever higher states and experiences. And on the way all sorts of things happen. One may have other experiences, too. What I've described represents a sort of standard pattern, but there are all sorts of additional dimensions, all sorts of byways and bypaths of experience, according to different people's temperaments and backgrounds and so on. Some people have all sorts of visionary experiences. They see great archetypal images; they may see in the course of their meditation the floating forms of landscapes. They may see jewel-like objects, mandalas; they may even see Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, gods, goddesses and so on, all emerging as it were from the depths of their own minds. All of these are experiences which may come to one person or another in the course of their meditation practice at this level, as they are passing one by one through these idhyanasi. And also they may start developing various subtle supernormal faculties. They may start finding themselves becoming extraordinarily telepathic, aware of what is happening in other people's minds, or at least much, much more sensitive to other people's emotional reactions and so on. They may even occasionally find themselves hearing and seeing things at a distance or they may even have the odd flash of what seems to be a recollection of a previous life, a previous existence. But one is advised, when these sort of things happen, just to leave them aside; not to become fascinated, not to pursue them, but just to press on on that path, to try to go from the lower to the higher idhyanai, and in this way extend and deepen one's experience of this level of meditation. So this is meditation in the second sense, meditation in the sense of experience of superconscious states.

Thirdly, there is meditation in the sense of Insight into the true nature of existence. What does this mean? It means that as you ascend, as you go from lower to higher idhyanai states, as you go from lower to higher levels of consciousness, the experience not only becomes more integrated, it not only becomes more blissful, it not only becomes more peaceful - also, of course, as I mentioned, there's a cessation, quite early on, of mental processes - but also what happens is that one's experience becomes more and more objective. You become less and less under the influence of your own subjectivity, less and less under the influence of the pleasure principle, one might say. Everything becomes less and less distorted by subjective factors, and you begin as it were to get above all those things, just like an aeroplane emerging from the clouds into the clear sky, into the stratosphere, where there are no clouds and there's just the blue sky, and you begin as it were to look down on everything below, down on the earth, down on everything conditioned, and see it just as it is, because you're clear of it, away from it, free of it, and you can see it for the first time, perhaps, or at least begin to see it, much more objectively.

You begin to see things as they really are. You begin to see Reality. In other words, you develop the beginnings at least of what is called Insight or Wisdom, which leads directly to Enlightenment, directly to Nirvana.

These are the three main senses in which one uses this word meditation, so you can see that the word meditation covers a very great deal of ground. It operates on these three vastly different levels. In the first place, there's meditation as concentration: in other words, the integration of all the psychical contents. There's meditation as, we may say, meditation; let's keep that word for this stage - experience of these states of higher consciousness. And then meditation as contemplation, developing Insight, developing Wisdom, on the basis of one's experience of the superconscious states. So meditation in the sense of concentration, meditation in the sense of meditation, meditation in the sense of contemplation. This is the scheme, if you like, that, very broadly and roughly, we establish.

Most people in the course of their meditation practice are concerned for a very long time with meditation in the first and second senses, meditation as concentration and meditation as meditation. It will be usually a long time before they are ready to come to meditation in the sense of contemplation. Most people are concerned simply, to begin with, with the integration of all their scattered energies. They want to pull themselves together, they want to be one person, not a number of conflicting selves. They want to have all their energies flowing together harmoniously, they don't want to waste their energy in conflicts internal and external. They want to be whole, they want to be harmonious, and that's the only way in which they can really deploy their energies properly and be really happy.

After that, when that has been achieved, they are concerned with trying to raise, trying to lift, their consciousness somewhat above the usual, somewhat above the so-called normal level. In other words, what most people who take up the practice of meditation are concerned with, to the extent that they actually do practise and experience, is to transform a lower into a higher state of consciousness. This is what essentially we are concerned with when we take up meditation or when we try to meditate. Man is essentially consciousness. We are what our state of consciousness is. Our state of consciousness is us, our overall state of consciousness. It's what we are essentially. So in the course of our spiritual life in general, and in the course of our meditation practice in particular, we are concerned with changing our state of consciousness, which isn't an easy thing to do; changing it from a lower to a higher state.

This is not only not very easy for the vast majority of people, for those who are not spiritually gifted from the very beginning; this is very, very difficult indeed. There are all sorts of hindrances, there are all sorts of obstacles. We know there are plenty of obstacles outside, but there are even more obstacles, we may say, inside, obstacles in our own minds, obstacles in our own present state of conditioned consciousness. And the old Buddhist ...

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