Vinay Gupta on Meditation
What enlightenment is
Welcoming the cat
We’re not going to actively catch the cat. It is not going to be caught. It is eventually going to come and sit on your lap because you show up in the same place at the same time every day and wait for it. That is a comfortable lap, I will come and sit on it.
Emptying the sink
The sink is now empty of dishes - how wonderful. It is still a sink. Yes, you are still an ape - you’re just an ape with an empty sink. Is an empty sink better than a full sink? They are both sinks. Yes, but I think you’ll find the empty one is better. But it’s still a sink.
Everything was magical when we were kids. Cardboard box is space-ship because we say so. This is how powerful our magic is.
What meditation is for
Overcoming the fear of death
You should be able to take an angry person with an AK47 - they should be able to wave it in your face with all probability that they will pull the trigger and your consciousness should not fluctuate at all. Absolute rational calmness in the face of your own immediate demise. They look you straight in the eye and you just comfortably settle. And they go you’re really not afraid of dying at all - there’s no instinct to flinch - none - OK. That is a very disturbing thing to see.
Wow that’s really dangerous. What’s the worst that could happen? I could get killed. That’s going to happen anyway. Oh you mean we can do pretty much anything? Yes.
JG: He claims everyone’s biggest fear is that of dying. I’m not sure I agree. I’m afraid of dying painfully. Getting shot in the head - okay. Losing my job, becoming homeless, getting addicted to drugs, and dying in the cold - not okay. That’s something he doesn’t discuss.
If you think of your life as being a sea of incomplete open transactions and within that sea of incomplete open transactions you have a desire to complete things, to finish them and to put them down, meditation provides you with an alternative to completing, finishing and putting down. The alternative it provides you is - I just don’t care any more. It’s not worth finishing.
The kind of vibe that you’re looking for is a contentedly retired person with a really rather excessive pension sitting down in an armchair in their shed and staunchly ignoring doing the lawn. A sort of middle-class king in their middle-class castle who just doesn’t care. Right now I’m going to have a cuppa. Sod it. I’m not going to fix the lawnmower. Its bolt is broken and I just don’t care. Nothing to be done.
Living with an open hypothesis, freedom from the need to be certain, the need to know.
JG: I think this is a good mindset - in moderation. In excess this can lead to apathy, and hence hold you back from “success”, which could result in a) an objectively better/richer (for you and your family) and b) less positive impact on the world. Another thing he doesn’t discuss.
Allowing thoughts and emotions
Meditation is good for coming to peace with emotions which you should have felt and choose not to, things you distracted yourself from because you stayed busy, things that you just always blocked out from thinking about, the places where you have to feel things that you already feel and acknowledge the feelings you already have.
Unknotting the mind
Your mind drags you through all of these layers of consciousness and all of these permutations, as it works out the fundamental kinks in your awareness and, one at a time knots come undone and when the final knots begin to go, your universe expands until you are literally at one with everything.
What meditation is not for
If the emotional injury causes you to feel isolated and alone the best place to work that out is not when you are isolated and alone because you’re meditating. The primary emotional trauma is best dealt with by therapy and getting a hug.
Meditation vs enacting change
Monks are very well positioned to get enlightened and terribly positioned to do anything about the state of the world because the detachment of the initial practice. If you want the ability to do heavy-weight social engagement later, you have to start on a non-renounced footing. You either have to have kids, or you have to have family who have kids that you’re still attached to, or you have to have the possibility of having kids, or you have to be greatly attached to somebody else’s welfare who is not you, in a direct personal sense.
JG: This is related to what I was saying earlier about apathy, but I don’t feel he expanded on this point sufficiently.
Types of meditation
Need all three.
1. Mantra meditation (focussed attention meditation)
You think of a word like clouds. Pick something non-controversial e.g. flowers, nature. Visualise clouds, say the word clouds. Focus the attention on the concept of clouds. For this, if the mind is pulled off in another direction by another image or another thought, that constitutes something where you’re going to make an effort to pull your mind back onto this object of clouds.
If you just do mantra meditation, you don’t get to know yourself any better because the mind is always filled with the mantra. This is no good.
JG: Of everything I’ve tried, currently the best for me is sitting in seiza and counting 1-10 on loop (either just counting, or counting my breathes).
2. Open meditation
Just sit and have open awareness. There is no mental effort. You’re just relaxing into the stream.
Tune in to the noises in the room and listen.
Listen to the internal messaging from one part of yourself to another part of yourself as if the internal messaging is a mantra. You don’t want to sit with the intention of the mind quieting itself, you want to have the intention of listening. The internal chatter is not to be suppressed, it is to be focussed on and it is to be listened to as if it was a radio in the room that you’re meditating in. It eventually burns itself out, runs out of things to say - that’s great. The durability of the silence comes from the mind being fully emptied.
Lots of weird random memories is perfect because that is the mind doing exactly what the mind does.
JG: For me, lying on my bed, eyes closed, minimal movement, audio recorder running.
3. Emotion meditation
You sit back and relax and all you get is anxiety thoughts.
You feel it and you feel it and you feel it and as you really deeply feel the emotion, eventually the emotion will lessen.
Sometimes these things will come around and come around for literally years and then you’ll have some enormous breakthrough and realise - I’ve been holding myself back my entire life because when I was thirteen, one of my teachers was mean to me when I did something that was just genius. I’ve been afraid of that happening again ever since so I’ve refused to compete.
Getting good at feeling bad is a really important part of getting through the harder practices. Being able to sit with genuinely unpleasant emotional material until it loses its power is a huge part of the long-term meditation experience.
Small fears: Psychological fix - you have an emotion, you feel the emotion, the emotion goes away.
Big primal fears: you can’t get away from the fear or process the fear or get around the fear. You must change what fear is to you.
How to meditate
Butt scoot for solid position, shoulders rolled backwards, open the chest, traditional yogic breathing.
If you get physical discomfort, move. This is very different from Zen where you just sit when you’re uncomfortable.
Hatha yoga is very good for getting a body that’s good to sit in - that’s why it was invented.
Typically you would do two rounds. Something like:
- do some mantras, do some formless sitting, do some emotional feeling
- do some mantras, do some formless sitting, do some emotional feeling
- do some mantras, done.
Minimum 10 minutes. Something that goes ding every 10 minutes is a good idea.
The first is a meditation jacket. Something that you wear when you’re going to meditate and you don’t wear the rest of the time. My suggestion is anything you can buy from an industrial supply catalogue, that isn’t white. Lab coats, warehouse coats, anything along those lines. The texture should be regular, so shouldn’t have a pattern, shouldn’t be covered in lots of little squares like you get with a rip-stop. You probably like it more if it’s cotton rather than poly-cotton, but it’s just a thing that you wear. Not white, because frankly when you see spiritual people gathered together and they’re all dressed in white, usually they’re completely nailed to some kind of ideology. Large numbers of people dressed in white - they tend to have very uniform beliefs. We don’t really want to do that.
The second is having a block of sacred time.
http://files.howtolivewiki.com/.meditation_2015/transcripts/Vinay Gupta on Meditation.pdf