Meditation – More than a Science or Art

For practical purposes, meditation may be regarded as both an art and a science. Like science, meditation is an expression of our desire for knowledge. In the case of science, our faculty of understanding is directed outwards, to the world. With meditation, our enquiry turns inwards, in order to discover a sure path to ultimate fulfilment. Like science, with meditation we have to learn the basic method—initially through consulting the experiments of the past and bringing them to life through our own practice. Science is also concerned with discovering new properties in the materials of the universe. It does this by creating special conditions, like electrolysis, or intense changes of temperature, and then noting the emergence of hitherto unknown properties.

In meditation, the materials we work with are our own thoughts and feelings. There is one condition in particular that we try to bring about in this subtle field of mental activity. That condition is peace, not as an end in itself but as a state of mind that reveals the possibility of an altogether higher and more fulfilling experience. Rather than peace, we might better describe this interior state as one of peaceful alertness or alert quietude. The mind may be of great interest to us due to its wonderful range of faculties. But more interesting is the condition of our mind when it is quiet and still. An ancient text expresses it:

One should note carefully how the mind is when it is under control, free from all ideas, and steeped in insight. (Gaudapada Karikas 3:34)

What this is saying is that when our mind is free from the disturbance of uncontrolled thoughts, and its focused attention is turned towards its own source, then the quality of our self-knowledge becomes altogether more profound. Through bringing about these specialised inner conditions, a different way of knowing dawns—a new capacity emerges.

So like science, meditation is based on the discovery and application of certain laws which throw light on the potentialities of the material we are working with. In our case, as meditators, that material is our mind. In the case of our mind, the way to awaken our highest potentiality is indicated in the verse just quoted.

What, then, is the key fact, the fundamental law that we need to appreciate? It is that when our everyday mind is brought to a state of peaceful alertness, or alert quietude, when the inner scene is no longer filled with objects and our reactions to worldly incidents, in other words, when our mind is quiet and clear and focused within itself, our highest potentialities begin to become operative.

In the case of meditation, these potentialities relate to what is called our true self. And it is knowledge of our true self, self-knowledge, that brings about the complete satisfaction of our urge to know. We can say that in meditation we research how the mind behaves in order to understand what our true self is—or rather, to clarify what it is not. And we find that our true self is much deeper than what we call our personality. Even our sense of individuality is superimposed on that in us which has no boundary. We are not separate from the Self of all.

There is a teaching in one of the ancient classics, the Chandogya Upanishad, that by knowing thoroughly the nature of a small piece of gold, we know about all the gold in the universe. Similarly, if we know the nature of our innermost self, we know the nature of the reality underlying the whole universe, that reality being referred to as the supreme Self or the self of all.

Meditation is also an art. This is because the highest knowledge turns out to be the highest beauty and attraction. Though this knowledge has no physical form, it is the hidden force which lends attraction to all forms. Our quest leads to the satisfaction of all our longings, as we know with certainty that both knowledge and beauty are rooted in the reality of our innermost self.

Another reason why meditation is likened to art is that it engages our mind in a way that is uniquely personal to us. Minds differ and each mind responds to meditation in its own unique way. We can all be artists of the inner world. That is, we can discover ways of beautifying our approach to meditation. We can all learn how to train our mind so that we make progress on the path that leads to the revelation of beauty absolute in our own being. There is a vast reservoir of luminous thoughts and ideas that we can consult and make our own. In this way, our inner life will benefit from the uncovering of the higher knowledge and the perfection of beauty. Indeed, both beauty and knowledge have their source in the immediacy of our own experience, being nothing other than our own real Self.

As an aid to this uncovering, meditation turns out to be much more than an art or science, because it prepares the way for identification with the infinite and transcendent—the eternal glory of the knower of truth. Science, however penetrating, knows nothing of this height or depth. Indeed, scientific theories are only valid if they are open to being ‘falsified’ in the light of new and contradictory evidence.

As for art, this form of human expression is dependent on our sense faculties, and can at best serve as a symbol of that higher realm beyond thought. It can never lead us beyond fear, or, in terms of the classical example, art or music or drama will never get rid of the snake (falsely) imagined in the rope.

In contrast, meditation is a key practice evolved in order to promote this freedom from fear. As it is written in the Zen poem by Hakuen, our meditative path will reveal to us that

This very spot is the Lotus Paradise,
this very body the Buddha.

This article is from the Spring 2024 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.