This morning I would like to invite us to look deeply in light of the question, "What is meditation?"; not "How to do meditation?", that's a totally different question, but "What is meditation?". And in order for this inquiry to have any significance, I would suggest we first do something very simple, and yet not so easy: let us put aside for a while, just for a moment, let us put aside everything we've previously heard and learned and known about meditation; whether we've heard it twenty minutes ago, or whether we've heard it and learned it and known it for twenty years already, in order for this inquiry to have any meaning, let us suspend what we already know, and look anew in light of this question – what is meditation?
Meditation is a very general term. There are many different kinds of meditation, and they go by many different names, many different forms, many different traditions; but today, the one meditation I would like to present and to emphasize and try to clarify its meaning and significance is what can be called "present-moment meditation". It is not Zen, it is not Vipassana, it is not even "mindfulness meditation", because all of these names have history and knowledge attached to them, they have become a style of meditation; and so, for the following moments I'd like to invite us to look deeply at what is present-moment meditation, and also to look deeply at what it is not.
Present-moment meditation is meditation that deals with what is happening in the present moment – that's very simple and clear; it is meditation that is concerned with meeting life as it is, because there is life only in the present moment – life is not found elsewhere, away from now. Present-moment meditation can also be called "what-is meditation", because it is meditation that is interested in the fact of what-is, what is real and true, what is now – the way things actually are in this present moment; not necessarily as we wish them to be or as we remember them to be, not as they might be somehow, but as they are – this is what-is meditation, present-moment meditation.
Present-moment meditation is wonder-full meditation, as the present moment is truly a wonderful moment; and it is a choiceless wonder, a wonder with no causes and no conditions, but life and the way it is in the now. Present-moment meditation is an appreciation of the wonders of life in this present moment – the wonders of the body and the mind and the world; and even the human condition, with its pains, troubles and fears, even this is a wonder of life in meditation. There is a sense of wonder in meditation, a simple wonder at the way life is; it is a calm and clear wonder at everything we meet, the flowers as well as the thorns – all that is wonderful: present-moment meditation is the freedom to appreciate deeply the wonder of life.
Somewhere Meditation, Nowhere Meditation
In order to clarify further the nature of present-moment meditation, I would like to speak in very broad general terms about two kinds of meditation: one kind is present-moment meditation, and the other kind is all other meditations. I can make this statement, this generalization, because there is something similar, something common to all other meditations that are not present-moment meditation; and to understand what is this other kind of meditation, and to learn and truly comprehend what is present-moment meditation, I'd like to call them by the following names: "somewhere meditation", and "nowhere meditation".
But before we continue, let us be clear: when speaking of meditation, we don't speak merely of formal meditation, as we have sat silently just now; when speaking of meditation we speak about life, we speak about an attitude, an approach to meet life – so there's no separation between meditation and daily life, there's no separation between life and meditation. Furthermore, when speaking about two kinds of meditation, there is no judgment in that, there is no criticism – there isn't one kind of meditation better or worse than the other, and certainly there is no right and wrong in meditation. The only thing we are saying is that these two kinds of meditation are different – they don't speak the same language, they don't operate in the same field of action, they don't share the same motivation at their foundation – they behave differently, and therefore they bring about different quality of life; they are different, but it's not better or worse, it's just different, and I will try to clarify the place and the nature of each kind of meditation.
One kind of meditation can be named "somewhere meditation", because it is meditation that takes us somewhere, or at least it claims to take us somewhere; it is meditation that goes somewhere – "somewhere", meaning some place other than where we are. This meditation leads us to become as we'd like to be, as we think we should be; this meditation helps us become as we want and try to be, become better than who and how we are, become other than who and how we are in this present moment – and that is why it can be called "a way of becoming". This is a very general description, and all different kinds of meditation, by whatever name and form, by whatever tradition, all meditations that follow this attitude – the attitude that takes us somewhere else, other than now – all these meditations are named "somewhere meditation". This meditation creates a gap between who and how we are, and who and how we are going to become – it creates a gap, or it is based on that gap; and that gap is where time enters: it takes time to get from here to there, it takes time to get from now to later. Because of that, we can call this approach "the way of time", or "a way away" – a way away from now, a way away from who and how we are in this present moment.
The other kind of meditation, the other approach, can be named "nowhere meditation", because it takes us nowhere – it is meditation that goes nowhere; and literally, "nowhere" is "now-here", here and now – it is meditation that takes us nowhere else but here and now as we are. Being here and now as we are, that is, beyond any fancy and pretense, beyond our self-image, beyond our story-lines; not necessarily as we'd like to be, not necessarily as we think or believe we should be, but being just as we are – and that is why this meditation can be called "a way of being". Nowhere meditation deals with the facts, because any fact is – the fact is already here, so we don't need to go anywhere else to discover it; the only thing we need to do is penetrate deeply this present moment, and that is why nowhere meditation is also called "the Way In", the way into now. And so, if the previous approach was called "the way of time", we can call this approach "the way of now".
This present-moment meditation, the way of now, offers us an opportunity, direct access to a radical change in our quality of living; a radical change, but not later, not there – a radical change here and now, in the way we approach this present moment, in the attentive attitude in the now. The most basic and fundamental fact of life is the fact of what-is – now we are here, as we are; at any moment, in any place, any situation – now we are here, as we are – these are the facts, such is life … and present-moment meditation, what-is meditation, allows us to discover and to fully realize this fact. Thus, our actions – whatever we do, however we respond to any given situation in life – our response can be realistic, be actual, factual, based on the facts – this is live understanding; and when we truly understand life as it is, what more do we need in order to live in peace and joy, and to love life? This realistic approach presents us with a very real possibility of a radical change in the quality of our life – it can help us be loving and joyful and full of life, be truly alive, in this present moment.
Meditation that goes somewhere actually leaves us in the same place: it goes somewhere, that is, it does offer a change – we get from here to there, from now to later; but no matter how far we go, somewhere and somewhere, we are still fundamentally living in the same world, essentially it's still the same life, while nothing has truly changed – this is somewhere meditation. No matter how far we go, how noble this "somewhere" is, we always find ourselves back in the same familiar and known habitual patterns, with no way out; we are going and going, but we are going in circles, with no way out. The other approach is nowhere meditation, or the way of now; and because it goes nowhere it offers us an immediate way out of those same familiar patterns – this way out is the Way In. And "immediate" doesn't mean it's fast, going very quickly – "immediate" means it doesn't need any mediation, there are no means necessary; it is a very direct gateway for entering into this present moment, and awakening to life in the now.
The Way of Time
Nowhere meditation, the way of now, is very simple, truly simple, but still it's not easy; and that is where we get pulled away, that is why we look for a way away – because it's not easy, we resist and we react. Because it's not easy we are resisting the difficulty, we are blindly reacting to the difficulty – we look for a way to avoid or at least diminish our difficulties; that is, we are trying to find a way away from the difficulty, a way out of this present-moment difficulty – because here and now it's not easy we are looking for somewhere else, later and there, we are trying to find a way away from now. And all of this is perfectly normal, utterly natural – that's how we're all behaving, that's our common way of living; but this way, is there love? When we are suffering, we're looking for a way out – that's understood; but is the way of time an appropriate response?
There are many wonders in the present moment, there are many wonderful things in life – let us call them the flowers; and these flowers are what we want, what we appreciate, what we hold on to – we want them to continue and flourish. But in this present moment, there are also thorns – the thorns are what we do not want; the thorns are life's challenges, the thorns are the difficulties, the places where we get stuck, where it is not as pleasant and comfortable as we'd like it to be. No matter where we are, even in this beautiful landscape, there are many discomforts, there are always insects that sting and bite; no matter how beautiful it is, no matter how flowery we are, from within and from without, there are always thorns – there is no escape, such is life, these are the facts.
In our usual view, our conventional outlook on life, in the habitual way we look at things, we separate: these are flowers, and them we want; these are thorns, and them we don't want – we want the flowers and don't want the thorns, and what we normally do not understand is that the flowers and the thorns are inseparable – life is whole. But when we truly understand we see that the flowers always have thorns, the thorns are flowers as well – everything is a flower, all things are flowers; it's just that a thorn is a different kind of flower, it's a flower that is less pleasant, but it is a flower nonetheless. There are always difficulties and challenges, it's a fact of life, but when we truly understand we see challenges as opportunities, and in the heart of our most difficult moments we can still appreciate the wonder of life, and thus discover the wonderful flower of love.
When we do not understand the inseparable nature of the flowers and the thorns, we suffer; and therefore we try to find a way out of the thorny aspect of life, we try to push the thorns away, to shape them as we'd like them to be, as we think they should be – we resist and we react, and that is why we suffer. When we are trying to push away the thorns, this is when we enter the way of time, because we have created a gap – here we are, with the thorns, and we want to get to the place where there are no thorns, neither on the outside nor on the inside; we want to trim away all the unpleasantness within us and around us – this is the way of time. The way of time is the way of becoming, and this is how it comes into being: we try to find a way out of now, a way to get to later and there; we want to attain, to reach where we are not, to become what we are not.
But when we follow the way of time, when we try to find a way out of the thorns, what happens is that we push away also the flowers; when we do not want to see the thorns, when we want to find a way away from the thorns of life, what we are actually doing is we are pulling away also from the flowers, because the thorns and the flowers are inseparable: by trying to avoid the unpleasantness of life, we also avoid the wonders of life. This is the inner contradiction, the inner friction within us, when we follow the way of time, when we are trying to be somewhere other than here and now: trying to avoid the thorns, we miss the flowers too, we miss life! … and therefore we are thirsty and lost; avoiding the unpleasantness of life, we are also avoiding the wonders of life – that is, we are avoiding life! Therefore, the way of time is a way away, away from life: we live, but we are not really living, because we are trying to get away from the only reality there is – the reality of the present moment.
We live this way because we discriminate, because we fragment life and choose one part over the other, because we want one aspect of life to stay the same while we want to push the other away; and when we are living this way we suffer – the way of time is a way of suffering, with no way out. We are thirsty, and we are lost – we are thirsty for life, we are thirsty for love because we're afraid, we are thirsty for light because we are lost in darkness, in the shadows of thought and feeling; we are lost in the world of the mind and the story of Self, and these are our own making: these shadows, in which we are lost, are created by the way we relate to life. Here and now we suffer, that's a fact, and that's why we're seeking and searching for a way out, a way that avoids the present moment with its difficulties and challenges; we want and try to avoid life as it is in the now – that's the way of time, which is a way of becoming, a way of suffering.
The way of time has its limitations, as we've clearly described; but the way of time also has merits and its own rewards – the way of time is very practical, very useful in most aspects of daily life … and that is why we are tempted to use this attitude of becoming, this approach of somewhere meditation, even where it doesn't belong. In so many aspects of life the way of time does belong, it does work – for example, when we need to get from some place to somewhere else, when we need to build a bridge or fix a leaky roof – when we have a practical concern, the way of time is very useful, it's the appropriate response. We are here, and we want to get there; we don't have a bridge and we want to build one, we don't have a particular skill and we'd like to cultivate skillfulness in a that area – all of these things, whether material or so-called spiritual, all of these things require time; and the way of time is our normal way of living, our daily life's field of action.
Because the way of time is so useful for so many different practical concerns, we get confused and try to apply this same attitude also to matters relating to our way of being; we try to apply the same attitude to matters of our quality of living, to our well-being. We try to apply this same attitude, the way of time, to what is essential, what is immeasurable – such as truth, love, true living joy; and that is where we miss the path, that is where we are losing our way. The way of time is very useful for practical concerns, and yet, when we are trying to use this same attitude to attain immeasurable love, or immeasurable joy, it is just not the right tool to use – like trying to drain the ocean with a fork, it's simply not the right approach.
And when we say "immeasurable", we do not mean to say it is very big, very great – we don't compare it with some other thing, something else, and conclude it is more; when we say "immeasurable", we mean it cannot be measured by the discriminating mind, the calculating and cunning mind, the mind of acquiring and accumulating – it cannot be grasped by thought, it cannot be conceptualized according to known patterns of comparison. Truth, love, joy – all of these are immeasurable, and are beyond our normal way of thinking and speaking, beyond the limitations of the mind, beyond time – they are not reachable through the way of time; the way of time cannot bring about love, love is not of time. But normally we are confused, we are not so clear about this, and that is why we try to use the approach of somewhere meditation even in matters of the heart, even in matters essential to our quality of life.
Siddhartha's Question and Answer
The way of time can offer us relief, can offer us a refuge, a shelter, can offer us a promise of comfort and safety, a way away from life in the now; but it cannot offer us love or joy or true gratitude, true appreciation of the wonders of life. To understand the difference between the way of now and the way of time, their different nature and quality, let us recall Siddhartha's story – Siddhartha being the name of the Buddha before he was Buddha; let us look deeply and consider Siddhartha's journey, Siddhartha's quest, Siddhartha's question. Siddhartha's question was concerned with the essential suffering of the human condition – he wasn't preoccupied with his individual discomforts, his personal misfortunes, whatever they may have been (although he may have shared that too); Siddhartha's was a very fundamental question, about the nature and the cause of human suffering, and about the way out of this suffering.
When we have a question and we want to find the answer, to discover its true answer, the best way to go about it is to hold the question close and dear to our heart. Simply to be with the question; not to manipulate the question but to be with it, gently and friendly, to breathe with it, to do whatever we do – to sit down, to get up, to go out, to come in, to eat, to drink, to defecate, to urinate – to do all that, while we hold the question in our heart; not to try to solve it, not to seek an answer, not to search for a way out of the question – not to try to replace the openness of the question with anything else … but simply, to be with the question. And when we do all that, hold the question gently, friendly, then the answer will come – we don't need to go searching for it, seeking and grasping for it; the answer will present itself when we are present and ready for it, when we hold the question attentively, because the question and the answer are not separate – and so, when we take care of the question the answer will come, the answer will follow by itself, in its own time, of its own accord.
There are two different kinds of questions: one is a practical question, relating to practical issues, and the other is an essential question, relating to the challenge of life, the question of life's quality; there is practical questioning, which is a problem-solving approach, and there is essential questioning, which is challenge and response. The practical question looks for and finds a practical answer, the practical problem looks for and finds a practical solution – this is clear; and since the problem is here the solution has to be there, since the question is here and now the answer has to be away, that is, later and there. Therefore, there is a gap between the problem and the solution, and as we have described it before, this is the way of time; and for all practical matters in daily life, this is the way we approach, this is the attitude we use, this is how we proceed. But Siddhartha's question was very fundamental, an essential question, and the true answer to the essential question is not found away from the question, but right at its heart, in the now – right there, the answer already is. For practical matters, the question is here, and the answer is there; but for the essential concern, regarding the human condition, the answer is right where the question is – that's the radical change of nowhere meditation, a radical change of heart in this present moment.
Furthermore, for practical matters, the practical answer is based on the question, the practical solution fits the problem – the answer is a continuation of the question, the answer that we find, we find it in terms of the question; that is, the answer and the question are in the same realm – they share the same language, they are on the same level, they operate in the same field of action. But when we look at essential concerns, matters of our quality of living, the answer does not come about in terms of the question – on the contrary: the true answer to the essential question is a negation of the question, a challenge to the normal conception of the question; the true answer is a radical transformation in the way we view the question, in the way we present and understand the question.
And so, when we come back to Siddhartha's question, the essential question of the human condition, the true answer is a radical change of heart: the question was about ill-being and the way out of ill-being, the end of ill-being, but the true answer doesn't satisfy or fulfill the question. Siddhartha's answer is a radical change in the way we see and understand ill-being, a radical change in the way we see and understand what is well-being – well-being is not the end of ill-being but freedom from ill-being; that is, the answer is the freedom to be with ill-being and to love what-is, to love life as it is – the true answer is not a way out, but it's the Way In. And when we understand Siddhartha's insight, Siddhartha's discovery, Siddhartha's awakening; when we deeply understand what made Siddhartha a Buddha, maybe then we'd be able to understand what can be our own insight, our own discovery – what insight can be our own awakening; maybe then we'd understand what insight would enable us, each one of us ordinary human beings, to be a Buddha – be a Buddha, but not forever and not far away, but be a Buddha in this present moment, now and in each moment anew.
The Insight of Now
The way Siddhartha's story is normally presented, is that Siddhartha was looking for a way out of suffering, and that he has found what he was looking for, a way out of suffering; but according to the insight of the way of now, this is not so accurate, it is not so. Siddhartha was looking for a way out of suffering, that is correct; but the answer he has found – his discovery, his insight – was freedom from suffering, and there's a very big difference, a radical, essential and fundamental difference between finding a way out of suffering and finding a way to be free with suffering – these two are completely different. Looking for a way out of suffering, or even finding a way out, this is the way of time – from here, where there is suffering, to there, somewhere else, away from suffering, or at least so we hope – this is a way away … it is there where hopefully we'll get to a place that is the end of suffering, a place with no suffering. But the way of now is the Way In to this present moment – it's a way to be free with suffering; and that entails a radical shift in the way we perceive and understand suffering, and that is why nowhere meditation was presented: going nowhere is being with what-is, this is being meditation.
Normally, we think suffering is a particular condition of body and mind, a particular state of things; for example – old age, sickness, death, separation; not having what we want, or having what we don't want; not being who and how we want, or being who and how we don't want. These are all facts of life that we'd rather not experience, and therefore we think of these different situations, different conditions, as suffering; and that's why we are trying to find another situation with better conditions, a better state away from the previous suffering, a situation with improved conditions – this is better-state meditation, and that's our usual approach. We think that the cause of our suffering is a particular situation we are in, we think the present conditions are not sufficient for our essential well-being, and that only different improved conditions will put an end to our suffering; but the insight that can transform our quality of living is this: the cause of suffering is not the situation, not the condition – the true cause of suffering is the way we respond to the situation, our approach, the way we react to the situation; our quality of living is simply the quality of our attitude to life in the present moment.
The cause of suffering is not what-is, no matter how unpleasant it may be, and how much we don't want it – what-is is a fact, and a fact is never a problem, a fact is just an opportunity for attentive action, a challenge calling for appropriate response; the cause of suffering is not the fact of what-is but the reaction – that is, the very wanting that life would become other than what it is in this present moment. Wanting and trying to become something other than what we are, wanting and trying to get somewhere where we are not – this is resistance to life, which is suffering; and this suffering is expressed as fear, craving and anger, violence and desire – these are all blind reactions to what is now: wanting and trying, this is the root of suffering.
Not understanding the facts of life, we perceive shadows as real, and therefore we're blindly reacting – this is suffering. For example, there's a story describing someone walking on the road, and when he suddenly sees a rope lying there, he mistakes it for a snake, and reacts in fear; and in itself, the fact of the rope is not a problem, but the reaction of fear is suffering. Another story describes four blind men who approached an elephant, but not being able to see it as it is, each person touched a different part of the elephant's body, and declared it to be the whole: one touched its leg, and said an elephant is like a pillar; another touched its ear, and said an elephant is like a great leaf; a third touched its tail, and said an elephant is like a rope; and the fourth touched its trunk, and said an elephant is like a tree branch … and no matter how they have argued, all were wrong and no one was right. This way, when we're partially and wrongly perceiving reality, when we're misunderstanding the facts, whatever we do is not in accordance with the way life is, and therefore there's confusion and friction – we resist, react, and suffer.
In this light, freedom from suffering is the freedom to understand the fact of what-is, and to live accordingly in the present moment – this is the insight of now; to understand life as it is, and to base our actions upon the facts – this is attentive action, which is freedom and love. The moment – the instant! – when we are free from reactivity, free to face and meet what is there – what is here! Now! – we are already free from suffering, free to love; and it doesn't even matter what "it" is as long as we are open to it, whatever is now, in attentive presence – resisting nothing, avoiding nothing – free to be now, free to love.
This is the insight of the way of now, as it is expressed in nowhere meditation: freedom from suffering is found in the very attitude with which we meet and befriend what-is, and open up to this present moment. This freedom is the freedom to be with suffering as it is, the freedom to love, even while there is suffering, from without and within; and these freedom and love are not far away, not in some imagined or wished-for better state, an alternative ideal reality, but here and now as we are – nothing more is needed. When we truly understand that the cause of suffering is not the condition but the attitude, the approach, then no matter where we are, there is always a way to be free from suffering; no matter how far we are lost, there is always a way which is right now, in the very way we approach this present moment. The verbal expression of this insight may be very simple and clear when spoken out in words, but if we truly understand the insight of now in meditation, the ground falls from beneath our feet – it is really a radical change of heart in our world- and self-view.
Now is the Way
This is the insight: everything we truly want is already now – now is the way; now is the path, the first and last step. Everything we truly want – no matter if we call it truth, or God, or love, or joy, or peace, or compassion – whatever name suits us, everything we truly want is already here and now; it's now or never, it's now forever, each moment anew. But it is now, not in a particular condition, as some-thing, a particular sublime state of mind, an alleged awakened state; it is now – in the way we approach any situation where we are, in the way we respond to the challenge of life, in the way we meet life in this present moment, with the flowers as well as the thorns; it is now – in the attentive attitude to all things, this is where the realistic possibility of true living joy and love is found.
When we are not so busy running and running, when we are not so occupied with schemes of material or spiritual attainments, trying to get somewhere else away from now-here; when we are not so possessed by becoming something other than who and how we are, only then are we available for life as it is, available for other people around us as well as for ourselves. Only now there is life, only now can we awaken to be truly alive, only now there is love, only now are we capable of truly loving – loving who and how we are and with whom we are in this present moment. True love is loving life, loving now; loving – not for any reason, not for any benefit or gain, not in order to get somewhere else but choicelessly, simply because it's a fact, because now we are here as we are.
The first and last step we need to do, each moment anew, the first and last step is to be here and now, to be present in open awareness, and thus to be truly alive, to be free to love life as it is in the now – and what more do we ask for? From any place where we are, from any situation, no matter how far we are lost, there is a gateway to everything we truly want – it is now; whether asking for truth, love, or by whatever other name it's called – that gateway is now, in the heart of the present moment. And there – here! Now! – is where true life is, where true peace and joy are realized; where we are free to love life, in ourselves and in others, from without and from within; where we are free to see beauty, in others as well as in ourselves, see beauty within us and around us; where we are free for compassionate action, responding and offering to all the gift of now, the gift of life in the present moment, being free to love.
Now is the way: now, there is no problem; now, there is only attentive action, challenge and response. Now is the heart of meditation, it is the simplest and most direct approach to meditation – now is the first and last step on the way of meditation. The first step is being now, fully arriving at the present moment; and the next step is the last step, it is meeting life as it is in the now, and penetrating deeply this present moment. Now is the first step and the last step, but not once-and-for-all – rather, each moment anew … and in each present moment, now is a gateway; each moment anew, now is the way to be truly alive – now we are free to love.
And so, in this very particular present moment – whether we are tired or not, whether our knees are hurting or not, whatever condition is present – are we free to be now? Are we free to be attentive to life as it is in this present moment? As we are sitting in nowhere meditation, as we are being meditation, are we wholeheartedly being now – are we free to live the way of now? It's a very simple question, and there is no right or wrong answer; it's a question for us to reflect upon in any situation where we are – are we busy, trying and wanting to get somewhere else, away from now? (And that can be very useful sometimes, but it will not fundamentally change our quality of life, it will not liberate us from suffering ...) So, this is the question – are we available for life in this present moment? Are we available for love?
This is the heart of nowhere meditation, the essence of the way of now, this is the question of life in meditation: are we free to be now? Are we free to love now? Are we free to love who and how we are, not "practice" love and be loving tomorrow, not become love later and there, but love now, love life as we are, with the flowers as well as the thorns, be love now, with anything that we are – anyway we are, are we available for life in the now? This is the question, each moment anew – are we free to be love?