Sunday, March 22, 2009

Meditating on Sound

My recommendation, go and sit in a life performance of a Bruckner Symphony or some big choire piece and just listen to the sound sensations...

Yongey Minyur Rinpoche: The Joy of Living

P. 151
Meditating on Sound

Meditating on sound is very similar to meditating on form, except that now you're engaging the faculty of hearing. Start by just allowing your mind to rest for a few moments in a relaxed state, and then gradually allow yourself to become aware of the things you hear close to your ear, such as your heartbeat or your breath, or sounds that occur naturally in your immediate surroundings. Some people find it helpful to play a recording of natural sounds or pleasant music. There's no need to try to identify these sounds, nor is it necessary to focus on a specific sound. In fact, it's easier to let yourself be aware of everything you hear. The point is to cultivate a simple, bare awareness of sound as it strikes your ear.
pp. 152
One of the great benefits of meditation on sound is that it gradually teaches you to detach from assigning meaning to the various sounds you hear. You learn to listen to what you hear without necessary responding emotionally to the content. As you grow accustomed to giving bare attention to sound simply as sound, you'll find yourself able to listen to criticism without becoming angry or defensive and able to listen to praise without becoming overly proud or excited. You can simply listen to what other people say with a much more relaxed and balanced attitude, without being carried away by an emotional response.

I once hear a wonderful story about a famous sitar player in India who learned to use the sounds of his instrument as a support for his meditation practice. If you're not familiar with Indian instruments, a sitar is a very long-necked instrument, usually constructed with seventeen strings, plucked like a guitar to produce a wonderful variety of tones. This particular sitar player was so gifted that he was always in demand and spent much of his time traveling around India, in much the way some modern rock bands are often away from home on tour.

After one particularly long tour, he returned home to discover that his wife had been having an affair with another man. He was extraodrinarily reasonable when he discovered the situation. Perhaps the concentration he'd learned over the years of constant practice and performance, combined with the sounds of this lovely instrument, had calmed and focused his mind. In any case, he didn't argue with his wife or lash out in anger. Instead he sat down and had a long conversation with her, during which he realized that his wife's affair and his own pride at being asked to perform across the country were symptoms of attachment - one of the three mental poisons that keep us addicted to the cycle of samsara. There was very little difference between his attachent to being famous and his wife's attachment to another man. The recognition hit him like a thunderbolt, and he realized that in order to become free of his own addiction, he had to let go of his attachment to being famous. The only way for him to do so was to seek out a meditation master and learn how to recognize his attachment as simply a manifestation of his mental habits.

At the end of the conversation, he gave up everything to his wife except his sitar, toward which he still felt a strong attachment that no amount of rational analysis could dissolve, and went in search of a teacher. Eventually he arrived at a charnel ground, the ancient equivalent of a cemetery, in which corpses are more or less deposited without being buried or cremated. Charnel grounds were scary places, covered with human bones, partial skeletons, and rotting corpses. But they were the most likely environments in which to find a great master, who had overcome his or her fear of death and impermanence - two of the fearful conditions that keep most people locked in the samsaric conditions of attachment to what is and aversion to what might occur.

In this particular charnel ground, the sitar player found a mahasiddha - a person who had passed through extraordinary trials to achieve profound understanding. The mahasiddha was living in a ragged hut that barely provided him protection against wind and weather. In the way that some of us feel a strong connection with people we meet during ordinary course of our lives, the sitar player felt a deep bond with this particular mahasiddha and asked him if he would accept him as a student. The mahasiddha agreed, and the sitar player used branches and mud to build his own hut nearby, where he could practice the basic instructions on shinay meditation that the mahasiddha had given him.

Like many people who begin meditation practice, the sitar player found it very difficult to follow the instructions of his teacher. Even spending a few minutes following his teacher0s instructions seemed like an eternity; every time he sat to meditate, he found himself drawn to his old habit of playing his sitar, and he gave up his practice and started to play. He began to feel horribly guilty, neglecting his meditation practice in favor of simply strumming his sitar. Finally he went to his teacher's hut and confessed that he just couldn't meditate.

"What's the problem?" the mahasiddha asked.

The sitar player replied, "I'm just too attached to my sitar. I'd rather play it than meditate."

The mahasiddha told him, "That's not a big problem. I can give you an exercise in sitar meditation."

The sitar player, who'd been expecting criticism - as most of us do from our teachers - was quite surprised.

The mahasiddha continued, "Go back to your hut, play your sitar, and just listen to the sound of your instrument with bare awareness. Forget about trying to play perfectly. Just listen to the sounds."

Relieved, the sitar player returned to his hut and started playing, just listening to the sounds without trying to be perfect, without focusing on either the results of his playing or the results of his practice. Because he'd learned to practice simply without concern for the results, after a few years he became a mahasiddha himself.
And just a good advise to practice on your instrument as well: "play your sitar, and just listen to the sound of your instrument with bare awareness. Forget about trying to play perfectly. Just listen to the sounds."

Meditate on sound and the music will follow...

Monday, March 16, 2009

You & Me

The Headless Way
Science’s Answer
What you are depends on the range of the observer. At several metres, more or less, you are human, but at closer ranges you are cells, molecules, atoms, particles… Viewed from further away your body becomes absorbed into the rest of society, life, the planet, the star, the galaxy… Science’s objective view of you – zooming towards and away from you - reveals a hierarchically organized system of layers that is alive at every level, intelligent and beautiful. Thus you have many layers, like an onion. You need every one of these layers to exist. Your human identity, vital and important as it is, is just one of these layers. You are also sub-human and supra-human. (See interactive panel on the left. See also: The Hierarchy of Heaven & Earth.)

What are you at the Centre of your many layers? The scientist cannot say because she can only observe you from a distance. However close she gets to you, she remains outside you. What or Who you really are, the Ground of your Being, remains a mystery.

Other People’s Answer
Other people are like the scientist because they cannot see what you are at Centre either, only what you are peripherally. Reflecting back to you what they make of you, their feedback is about you as a person.

Your Answer
You are not distant from yourself, not outside yourself. You – and you alone - are therefore perfectly placed to see what you are at Centre. All you have to do is look.
Well, while I think that indeed You alone are able to have the inside view, that doesn't mean You are perfectly placed without any blind spots or system immanent - because self-referential - limitations (Gödel anyone;).
Nevertheless, while You have this privileged position, why not have a closer look!

Via Unfettered Mind.

Saturday, March 07, 2009