Internal Posture – Poise of Consciousness
The following is a guest post written by Arpan.
We all know the usual meditation instruction for shikantaza: just sit.
What does it mean? Does it just mean “physical sitting”? If so, then how is it different from me sitting and daydreaming? Or is it a metaphor for something deeper, as is the case with much that is associated with mysticism?
As is the nature of the human mind, this simple meditation instruction has been the subject of endless hair-splitting over the centuries. An ocean of literature has been written on it and its variants and a world of gradations and maps has been developed to either assess one’s level of progress or to assess one’s readiness to even start this practice. I would not scoff at the complexity of thought going into this entire work, since it is nothing but an attempt to capture some fragment of truth that can entirely be grasped only in real-time experience – but I wish to remove much that is chaff to our wheat.
The fundamental principle: An ideal teacher tells you what you need, but knows that regardless of what you are told, you will hear only what has a correspondence with your current level of consciousness.
There is an ancient Hindu anecdote wherein the King of the Gods and the King of the Titans went to the Creator Brahma, and asked for the knowledge of the Ultimate. Both are instructed to look at their reflection in a mirror. The Titan King looked at his reflection and concluded that this very body is the ultimate truth, and went on to preach the gospel of hedonism. However, the King of the Gods could sense the inadequacy in that instinctive conclusion and went back to Brahma with his doubts, whereupon Brahma told him: “You are ready for a higher reality. [Note: The instinctive conclusion is not being denied as false.] That within you which is not altered in wakefulness, dream or sleep, that which remains immortal and blissful at all times and in all places, is the Ultimate, is the Atman.”
Body and mind are not two fundamentally different realities. They are part of the same continuum ranging from gross to subtle. Whatever posture or activity your body takes up has a corresponding impact on the mind, and vice versa. For someone who is near completely identified with the cerebral process, just the mere act of sitting physically still would reveal to him the million micro-urges in the bodily nerves to “do something”, which correspond to the million-strong unnoticed moment-to-moment micro-activities in his mind (if nothing else, then just to scratch!). As he perseveres, the body would start experiencing solid stillness, which would imprint itself on the mind too, giving the practitioner a taste of a silent mind. Over time, as one gets used to this state of mental stillness, it tends to persist longer and longer off the mat. It is relatively easy to maintain this state in routine tasks that require little to no mental effort. With practice, it is possible do any and every activity within this state. This brings us back to the question, what is the defining characteristic of this practice? How can I cogitate with a silent mind? This latter question is to a moderately experienced practitioner what the question of difference between daydreaming and on-cushion shikantaza is to a beginner. This is where the concept of “Internal Posture” or “Poise of Consciousness” comes in.
When one starts practising shikantaza, one often starts with a riotous mind. What happens relatively soon is that the mind starts to split into two parts: the Doer and the Knower (to borrow from from Ajahn Brahm), or the Prakriti (Nature) and the Manomay Purush (the mental self). It is this Witness/Knower/Self part of the mind that one tends to carry over off the cushion for a while, before one loses consciousness of this state and immerses back into the Doer/Prakriti part again. (I am deliberately cutting out large swathes of metaphysical details as we can all debate them ad infinitum, and am including details only in as much as they facilitate actual practice.) Gradually, this Witness part can be strengthened to an imposing degree on a permanent basis. To quote Sri Aurobindo:
The substance of the mental being is still, so still that nothing disturbs it. If thoughts or activities come, they cross the mind as a flight of birds crosses the sky in a windless air. It passes, disturbs nothing, leaving no trace. Even if a thousand images or the most violent events pass across it, the calm stillness remains as if the very texture of the mind were a substance of eternal and indestructible peace. A mind that has achieved this calmness can begin to act, even intensely and powerfully, but it will keep its fundamental stillness – originating nothing from itself but receiving from Above and giving it a mental form without adding anything of its own, calmly, dispassionately, though with the joy of the Truth and the happy power and light of its passage.
Once this state develops, then the habitual activity in the outer part of the mind (the Doer) can be left to itself, with little to no impact upon one’s progress, though it would be relatively easy to impose quietude upon this part once the essential freedom of the Witness has been attained. It is the “meta-awareness”, or “awareness about your awareness”. This fundamental state of Witness that remains unaltered off and on the cushion is the first experience of Poise of Consciousness or the Internal Posture. I say first, because once you know (by real-time experience) how to sit in your mind, you can do many more things than merely sit (though this is the most fundamental as well as the ultimate poise to learn). Everything you do in yoga with body and breath is to fundamentally prepare your outer instruments (the ones that are currently more amenable to direct manipulation) such that they experience the posture that you must truly experience in your consciousness, so that you experience it in your consciousness eventually. If you situate yourself adequately internally, then breath and body will follow the correct course naturally.
One thing I have personally experienced is: as one sits still, and perseveres through the strong impulses to move the body, a point comes when suddenly large chunks of “awareness” seem to get released from their habitual preoccupation with futile little indulgences in body and mind and conglomerate together into a dense mass. This often gives a feeling of a whirling fan across the length of the torso, with the mass/pressure building up either in the centre of the forehead, or a strong and peaceful opening above the head, as in a prayer, and sometimes a deep pressure in the heart centre. All “Silent Illumination” schools (whose motto may be, “You are the Buddha/Brahman”) basically indicate the internal posture of Buddha/Brahman which you can assume right now, regardless of the obstacles in your physical and outer psychological nature or in the way you breathe. Once you assume that posture, the rest of the work will happen by itself. That makes for the simplicity and the difficulty of this process.
Magick is fundamentally the art of getting into the internal posture reflective of someone who already has the thing you intend to gain. This is also closely related to the true meaning of “Faith” – a will-cum-knowledge that persists against all outward appearances to the contrary. If you wish to be a leader, you must have the internal poise of a leader. Then the speech and action as would befit your natural leadership style would emerge naturally. Plenty of people imitate successful people in their outer habits and yet fail to experience any real success, simply because they fail to tap into the inner poise of these successful people whence such habits of action have emerged.
At deeper/higher levels, the distinction between stillness and activity starts disappearing. For example, in tantra, you can send an active force to effectuate something. Such a force can be countered by another force from someone opposing your intention. Alternatively, you can embrace the creation (or at least the situation) as part of yourself, and be poised in the adequate manner. This sets into motion a more impersonal and “directionless” silent will, which does not crush and sustain opposing and friendly factors respectively, but simply rearranges all factors such that even in opposing, one cannot help but create it. Since the action is “global” and directionless, there is, in a way, nothing one can counter/oppose.
True mastery of stillness forms the bedrock of strength and joy in activity as well as in passivity. Any lack thereof is a sign of pending progress. As the Isha Upanishad says:
Those who pursue Ignorance (the way of the Many), fall into darkness. And as if into a greater darkness fall those, who pursue Knowledge alone (the way of the One).
That is your koan for today. 🙂