The variations come in the form of how one meditates, whether it is the sole instrument for spiritual advancement or step 12 of 12, use or non-use of an internal mantra, generic or personalized mantra, addition of a group meditation session every now and then.
Are there more variations? Possibly.
The above is a reasonable representation of the traditions I’ve encountered in my search over the past few decades. A search that could be described as oscillating between the dilettante’ic and the serious.
A few traditions that are conspicuously different from the aforementioned patterns are Jiddu Krishnamurti (JK), Swamy Parthasarathy of The Vedanta Academy (SP), and Michael Singer (MS).
JK is the most widely known among the trio. MS, I reckon, is well-known and heard in the US.
My wife and I had the good fortune of having listened to SP’s lectures on the Bhagawat Gita in the Bay Area – 3 years in a row at that! His book Vedanta Treatise is a fine fine read. I cannot recommend it enough.
One of SP’s peeves against the long list of meditation prescribing gurus is that not everyone is ready (read “prepared”) for it. Perhaps not different from the Gita’s teachings where Krishna outlines four different types of yogas. Different strokes for different folks.
Furthermore, for the ones suited for meditation and putting in (let’s say) a daily hourly session, SP asks “How do you stay peaceful for the rest of your waking hours?”
How does one observe one’s thoughts in the din and roar of the marketplace?
JK’s prescription is simple. And frustrating.
Just observe your thoughts, he keeps saying. That’s the ONLY thing you can/must do. No guru required.
JK’s probably most vociferous in making the case for “no guru required” but that’s fodder for another post.
My wife once asked SP, “What should we parents do for our children?”
His answer: “Just be good role models. Kids watch what you DO more than what you SAY.”
When pressed on what kind of daily practice kids might benefit from, he suggested the following (also described in Vedanta Treatise):
As part of the bedtime routine, have the child do a slow action replay of the events of the day. We followed this for some time with our older son and it went something like this “I got up in the morning. Went to the bathroom. Brushed my teeth. Changed my clothes..<blur of activity updates at school>.. had my dinner. Brushed my teeth.”
Lot of chuckling in the preamble. Unpredictable duration of rambling in the middle when my wife and I had to resist the urge to ask questions.
This was a delayed watch-your-thoughts exercise. Without ‘judging’ the thoughts. Imperfect and incomplete recollection for sure. But it was something.
I was introduced to MS through his book The Untethered Soul, a thoughtful gift from an old school friend I recently met after 30+ years.
The prevailing theme in MS’s book is closest to JK but he presents the observation process in the form of blocking (“holding on” to thoughts/memories) vs releasing (letting the thoughts”pass through”). Repetitive at times but not frustrating at all. While expounding on his theme, he invokes Ramana Maharishi the most (among the Indian masters).
Back to JK.
This time through the lens of KR, a faithfully focused practitioner of JK’s teachings. Over the years we’ve had numerous conversations on the JK Method – with him predominantly sharing, me listening and questioning.
The JK Method is really all about patterns, KR says.
Patterns come naturally to him. You see, he is a software geek, an avid (former) blindfold chess player and a wonderful human being.
What is memory but a unique thought pattern stored away in our memory banks.
By way of a simplistic classification, all our memories are either “pleasure evoking” or “pain evoking”.
We hold on and feel the need to keep “replaying” our pleasant memories and, by the same token, suppress the unpleasant memories although, at times, we replay the painful ones in a masochistic way.
What about the fresh deluge of thoughts? Every waking moment. Day after day after day?
Barring those rare moments of “performing action while completely immersed”, every new thought bears a pattern/signature not very different from the multitude born in the past.
Observing these thoughts at the birth allows us to see the seemingly automatic sequence of “Oh! that was good. Hey, that reminded me of <blah blah>…. Hmm.. that’s not a nice thing he said, makes me look bad… hey, that’s totally unfair, I don’t like this person at all.. she’s insufferable and I’m getting… ANGRY!”
I can’t claim to be anything but a tyro in these matters of the thoughts and beyond. The only ‘progress’ (if I may say so) is that each time I see a recurring pattern (of my ego getting bruised or the antipodal massaged ego) I get amused. Amused at the sheer predictability of it.
I’m told that if I observe these patterns often enough, then I’ll be a changed person.
Changed in a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle way.
MS would say I’d be blocking a lot less thoughts and releasing a heck of a lot more.
What then? The great quietude?
Somebody once remarked “there is nothing new under the sun”.
One Google search later, a Biblical reference found:
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
So it is with thoughts.
Been there. Seen that.
Closing note: this post happens to be #300. Yea! I hit a triple century! It took me only 8 years and a few months but still.