On having a self versus maintenance and ecstasy 2/19/2011 3:32:00 PM
My spiritual journey has been long. I've tried many paths and many practices. Two of the different traditions and practices I've been exposed to are the mindfulness meditation practices of Theravadan Buddhism, known as Vipassana, and Hindu practices of devotion, or bhakti, both of which seem to have many adherents in the West these days.
Buddhist mindfulness meditation practices are very popular now, perhaps because these teachings are presented as being outside of any religious structure. Anyone can meditate, they say, you don't have to believe anything, subscribe to anything, all you have to do is sit down and observe your mind and your physical sensations. This practice will lead to the gain of greater stability and happiness in your life. And it probably does. Now there is even the science that proves it. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/14/AR2011021405973.html
The other spiritual practice, which is very different from Vipassana sitting meditation and which seems to be gaining popularity in the West, is the practice of kirtan, call and response chanting that usually focuses on repeating the names and aspects of different Hindu deities. The goal of this practice seems to be the gain of an ecstatic experience. http://www.suite101.com/content/kirtan-devotional-singing-a72761
Although these two practices, mindfulness meditation, and singing kirtan, seem entirely different, there are many people who enjoy doing both, and even like to combine the practices. A little sitting meditation, then a little ecstatic chanting. What could be better?
I don't think any of it is a bad thing. Any spiritual practice which calms the mind in whatever way it is accomplished is helpful, and it will provide for greater happiness, peace and contentment in every day life.
But my question is what are we then left with as a goal? It seems to me that the goal of Buddhist practice of mindfulness meditation, as it is generally presented these days, is something that requires constant maintenance. One has to always practice mindfulness. Certainly it becomes easier the more one does it, but it is still a practice which requires maintenance, and one can slip out of it.
Having an ecstatic experience as a result of praising the Lord through kirtan is wonderful, but of course, like any experience, it doesn't last and it needs to be repeated.
The marvelous thing about the teachings of Vedanta is that once you know you have a self, and once you have recognized what that self is, you know without a shadow of a doubt that you have recognized the most stable thing about your being. In fact, it is your being.
Your self, atma, which is brahman, doesn't need to be maintained. One cannot slip out of it, because one is it. Rather than requiring to be maintained, the self is in fact maintaining everything. The self is not an ecstatic experience which comes and goes, and yet it is the source of all happiness.
Echoing the ancient sages of the past, all one can say is, 'What a wonder! What a wonder that there is a self! What a wonder that these teachings and teachers exist! What a wonder that they deliver the goods!'
And to myself I sometimes think, 'What a wonder that anyone would pursue anything else.'