A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions. By “thoughts” I mean specifically chatter in the skull: perpetual and compulsive repetition of words, of reckoning and calculating. I’m not saying that thinking is bad—like everything else, it’s useful in moderation: a good servant but a bad master. And all so-called civilized peoples have increasingly become crazy and self-destructive because, through excessive thinking, they have lost touch with reality. That’s to say: we confuse signs, words, numbers, symbols, and ideas with the real world. Most of us would have rather money than tangible wealth. And a great occasion is somehow spoiled for us unless photographed, and to read about it the next day in the newspaper is oddly more fun for us than the original event.
This is a disaster. For as a result of confusing the real world of nature with mere signs—such as bank balances and contracts—we are destroying nature. We are so tied up in our minds that we’ve lost our senses and don’t realize that the air stinks, water tastes of chlorine, the the human landscape looks like a trash heap, and much of our food tastes like plastic.
Time to wake up. What is reality? Obviously, no one can say, because it isn’t words. It isn’t material—that’s just an idea. It isn’t spiritual—that’s also an idea; a symbol. Reality is this: [GONG]. You see? We all know what reality is, but we can’t describe it. Just as we all know how to beat our hearts and shape our bones, but cannot say how it is done.
To get in touch with reality there is an art of meditation—of what is called yoga (or dhyāna) in India, chán in China, and Zen in Japan. It is the art of temporarily silencing the mind, of stopping the chatter in the skull. Of course, you can’t force your mind to be silent. That would be like trying to smooth ripples in water with a flat iron. Water becomes clear and calm only when left alone.
So: will you try an experiment with me? Simply close your eyes and allow your ears to hear all sounds around you. Don’t try to name or identify these sounds. Just hear them as you would listen to music, as when you hear a flute or a guitar, without asking what it means.
And as and when I talk, just hear the sound of my voice. Don’t bother about what it means—your brain will take care of that by itself. Just let your eardrums respond as they will to all vibrations now in the air. Don’t let yourself, or your ears, be offended by improper or unscheduled sounds. If, for example, the record is scratchy, okay. You wouldn’t object if you were listening to it sitting by a fire of crackling logs. [RING] Let ’em ring. It’s just a noise. And keep your tongue relaxed, floating easily in the lower jaw. Also, stop frowning: allow the space between your eyes to feel easy and open. And just let the vibrations in the air play with your ears.
You must understand that in meditation we are concerned only with what is: with reality, nothing else. The past is a memory, the future an expectation. Neither past nor future actually exist. There is simply eternal now. So don’t seek or expect a result from what you’re doing. That wouldn’t be true meditation. There’s no hurry. Just now, you’re not going anywhere. Simply be here. Live in the world of sound. Let it play. That’s all.
In the world of pure sound, can you actually hear anyone who is listening? Can you hear any difference between all these sounds on the one hand, and yourself on the other? Naturally, we use techniques and gimmicks to help the thinking mind to become silent, and one of them is the gong. It is a sound at once pleasing and compelling.It absorbs attention, but watch what happens when it fades out. [GONG] The one sound becomes the many. The single tone is transformed easily and gently into all other noises. And that’s how the universe comes into being out of the one energy underlying all events.
So if you don’t have a gong, you can use your own voice: by chanting what Hindus and Buddhists call a mantra—that is, a syllable or phrase sung for its sound rather than its meaning. Chief of these is the syllable om—or aum—called the pranava, or the “sound of God,” because it involves the whole range of the voice from the back of the throat to the lips. Take the tone from the gong and hum it with me. Aaauuuuummmmmm.
Now, you can hear all sounds as om. They’re all—at some point in the total range of sound, from the back of the throat to the lips—making a spectrum of sound as all colors are originally one white light. But don’t ask what the sound is or what it means. Just hear it and dig it. Hum with me again. [GONG] Aaauuuuummmmmm. [GONG] Aaauuuuummmmmm. [GONG] Aaauuuuummmmmm. [GONG] Aaauuuuummmmmm.
Let me explain again what we are doing. We are going behind words, names, numbers, beliefs, and ideas: to get back to the naked experience of reality itself. And that this level of awareness we find no difference between the listener the sound, the knower and the known, the subject and the object, or between the past, the present, and future. All that’s just talk! What is really happening is: [GONG] Aaauuuuummmmmm. And you may wonder how I can keep the sound going for so long a time. It depends on regulation of the breath, which is basic to the art of meditation. And I’m going to show you how to do this and why.
To begin with, just as you’ve been letting vibrations in the air play with your ears, let your lungs breathe as they will. Don’t, as yet, attempt any breathing exercise. Don’t force anything. Simply allow breathing. Now, is this breathing a voluntary or involuntary action—or both, or neither? Just feel it without taking sides; without words. And again, hear my voice as if it were wind in the trees of the sound of waves. [deep breathing] Most of us are short of breath. We never really empty our lungs. But to make a long complete out-breath you mustn’t force it. Imagine there’s a large ball of lead inside your neck, and allow it to fall slowly through your body to the floor, pushing and easing the breath out as it drops. Ease the breath out just as you settle and sink down comfortably into a bed. And when the ball reaches the floor, let it drop away as if to the center of the Earth. [deep breathing]
Then let the breath come back in as a reflex, without pulling it. And then imagine another ball of lead in the neck. And again, let it fall out. Long and easy. [deep breathing] And once again. [deep breathing]
Now, do you see what’s happening? You are generating a great deal of energy without trying or forcing. Two things seem to be happening at once. First, the outflow of breath is simply falling, happening all by itself. Second, it’s under perfect control. So from this practice you learn to experience, to realize, that what happens to you and what you do are one and the same process. There is no real separation between one thing called “you” and another quite different thing called “the universe.” When you stop talking and naming, they’re quite obviously one.
So again: let your breath fall easily out. [deep breathing] All the way. Let it come back on its own, and then out again. [deep breathing] And now let’s put the sound “ah” on the next outflow. [GONG] Aaauuuuummmmmm. And again, so that you have nothing in mind but [GONG] Aaauuuuummmmmm.
Then there is a very effective mantra used by an important sect of Islamic mystics known as Sufis. Like all these different mantra, they will be kept up for quite long periods—say, fifteen to twenty minutes or more. So what I’m giving you are only samples. You can easily do this one with me. It goes like this. Allah! Allah! Allah! …