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Influences In My Meditation


I don't think of myself as having meditation teachers - maybe this is a legacy of my thirty years with Maharaji as my teacher. Instead I have meditation consultants, people whose company I enjoy, and who help me fit one or two more pieces of the jigsaw together. Many people have influenced me in this way, and in how I think of meditation, and how I actually practise it; included in these are (in the order in which I met them): Larry Rosenberg, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Tan Geoff), Jason Siff, Ajahn Natthiko, Douglas Harding and Gene Gendlin. A number of others have of course influenced me, but less so.



Larry Rosenberg

Larry was the first meditation teacher I met after leaving Maharaji in 2001 who made sense to me. I had read his book Breath by Breath, enjoyed it and learned a lot from it, and since Larry was at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near where I worked, the obvious thing was to go and see him.

Working with Larry since then, I learnt from him to be gentle and kind with myself, yet with a discipline that comes from within rather than imposed from without. I was inspired by his constancy, and matter-of-fact way of dealing with important and subtle Buddhist concepts. I will always be grateful to him for providing the CIMC, which was like an oasis of sanity to me when I needed it.

    

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Thanissaro Bhikkhu

To anyone who has surfed the Web looking for Buddhist articles, Thanissaro Bhikkhu is a well-known name. His translations of Theravada Buddhist texts, and his commentaries on them, are numerous. So when he visited the CIMC for a talk in January 2003, I went to see him. I was very impressed, and in summer 2003 went out to southern California to stay in the Metta Forest monastery, of which he is abbot. Since then I have worked with him both in the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, in Massachusetts, and in spring 2004 I went out to the Metta Forest monastery again for a further two weeks.

He is both a fine Pali scholar, and seems to me to have grasped the heart of the meditation the Buddha taught, which is a rare combination. He gave substance and validation to my meditation process. I learned a lot sitting with him, and much of my discussion of Pali terms in my articles is due to his influence.

His book Wings to Awakening is the best I have found on the Buddha's essential message according to the Pali Canon. For links, see my article Buddhist Scriptures.

    

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Jason Siff

Jason is a meditation teacher that I first came across cruising the web and found the Skillful Meditation Project site. Since then, I have had many phone calls with Jason, stayed with him and his wife Jacquelin in California, and attended two of his retreats. He was a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka for several years, before disrobing and returning to married life.

Jason brings a whole freshness to the idea of meditation: his instructions on how to meditate are minimal or even zero, and instead he encourages the meditator to reflect and report on their sitting, and to evolve from their own insights and understandings. He facilitates, rather than instructs or teaches, which if done well is paradoxically the best form of teaching.

I resisted the idea of reporting on my sittings for a while - after all, how could you put something so "deep" into words? But once I took the plunge, putting into words what I went through in a sitting I found to be both cathartic and to introduce a level of sharpness and self-honesty as to what was really going on.

    

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Ajahn Natthiko

I have been to Amaravati monastery, just north of London, for an occasional weekend retreat. Usually on these retreats I hope that the retreat teacher does not talk too much, and lets me just meditate in silence; I find guided meditations annoying. Tan Revato (a monk at the monastery) was one retreat facilitator who I found inspiring by his silence; at another retreat there, Ajahn Natthiko (photo on right) was the facilitator, who did talk a lot, but once I allowed myself to listen to what he was actually saying, it was very helpful - I learnt a lot from him in just that one weekend.

Since then, I have visited Amaravati and spent time with Ajahn Natthiko again. He is completely at home in the body-based type of meditation that I practise. He has obviously investigated and is familiar with many types of meditation; yet he speaks with that profound simplicity that I only hear from people who are familiar with the complicated but have come out the other side, as it were. He says things that I already know, but which are at the same time new to me, which I have always experienced to be the hallmark of true wisdom.

    

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Douglas Harding

I have heard of Douglas Harding and his Headless Way for many years - in 1968 the Incredible String Band sang their famous 'Douglas Harding Song'. But I did not take too much notice until I bought his book On Having No Head - Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious for a plane journey in June 2004. I read that book throughout the flight, and it was the most exciting flight of my life!

If I pay attention to my present experience only, and nothing else, then I have not got a head! I am not looking out of two small eyes, but out of one large eye - a clear window on the world. I say a window, but on present evidence it is not even that - it is a clear nothingness; I am aware space, containing the world.

I cannot begin to do justice to what Douglas says (he has written many books) in two or three sentences. But on that flight, I got it. The world as I saw it was one (or One, I am not sure whether to use the upper case 'O' or not!), and my awareness of it was from nothing - literally no-thing, I was a void, but an aware and conscious void.

What Douglas says, and points out, is so revolutionary and startling, that it will take me quite some time to process it. I went to a 'gathering' over a long weekend with Douglas in Salisbury, England (Douglas was 96 then, but was sharing his viewpoint with vigor and clarity). I also went to stay with him and his wife, Catherine, at their home near Ipswich. He died in January 2007.

    

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Gene Gendlin

Gene (Eugene) Gendlin is a philosopher who deserves to be better known. His philosophy of the implicit provides a framework for thinking about, and from, bodily meaning and human living. He has derived Focusing and Thinking at the Edge from this philosophy.

I describe myself as going to the heart of Gene's philosophy, but then stepping out from there in my own direction, into what I may call meditation, rather than Gene's own areas of therapy such as Focusing.

I have had several sessions with Gene privately, where I find his exacting and relentless touchstone of bodily feel as the sole (or at least, main) arbiter of conceptual thinking challenging and refreshing at the same time. And although I say 'bodily feel', he is at the same time one of the most rigorous, rational and intellectual thinkers I have known - a potent mix.

Although he himself does not meditate and doesn't work in that field, I find that in interaction with him I am able to make precise my own feelings about meditation - why I do it, and what it is about it that excites me. I find him a true catalyst for my own understanding.

    

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Other Influences

-- My very first meditation teacher was the Chao Khun, abbot of the meditation retreat center of the Buddhapadipa temple in London, which I attended for almost a year in 1969/70.

-- I spent two hours once talking to Leigh Brasington who was the first meditation teacher I had met who emphasised jhana, and I am grateful to him for that.

-- I never actually met Krishnamurti, although for the last few years of his life he and I lived only 10 miles apart. I have been very inspired by his writings since then, particularly his emphasis on no gurus, and his famous 'truth is a pathless land' has been a great influence, giving me the inspiration to stand on my own two feet.

-- I have been greatly helped by a series of phone conversations with Josiah Hincks, who has given me enough understanding of Focusing to see how I can use it in my meditation to great effect. The articles in my Focusing section were the outcome of these talks.

-- Will Johnson runs the Institute for Embodiment Training, Embodiment Training being 'a path of awakening that views the body as the doorway, not the obstacle, to personal growth and spiritual transformation'. I have had long phone conversations and email threads with him, and met him for a weekend at the New York Open Center, and I have found his ideas stimulating, particularly his books on body-based meditation (although he does not use that term) : Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient : The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness and Posture of Meditation.

-- Barefoot Doctor (real name Stephen Russell) has written several books on Taoism, and he writes in a very distinctive manner. I preferred his earlier books, such as Barefoot Doctor's Guide to the Tao : A Spiritual Handbook for the Urban Warrior and others in the 'Urban Warrior' series. Having explored Taoism mostly through rather dry and heavy-going books, I find his attitude towards Taoism very refreshing.

-- I have mentioned Rachel Swindle on this site elsewhere in connection with my learning Pilates with her, but she has also taught me much in the area of body-based meditation. Our lessons often start out as Pilates lessons, but end up with interesting Taoist-style perspectives on the breath and body.

-- Ramesh Bhardwaj is a traditional yoga teacher (from the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute in Lonavla, India) who has taught me much. I was wary of anything Hindu, of course, after my thirty years with Maharaji (see paragraph below). But Ramesh has a unique style, and a deep understanding of traditional yoga. I had been doing some Hindu cleansing techniques (Jala Neti - nasal irrigation) for a while, but Ramesh fine-tuned my appreciation and practice of them, and taught me the importance of some of the yoga breaths. He also showed me how profound is the Savasana pose (corpse pose, where you lie flat on your back, like a 'corpse'). Of all the yoga positions, it looks the easiest (just lying on your back!), but he showed me how subtle it can be (it is often said to be the most difficult yoga asana). He also thinks it is the 'true' or best posture for meditation, and I use it as a meditation position sometimes.

-- Daoud Khashaba is another philosopher who deserves to be better known. Although I have not met him, I feel I know him well, probably because I have both had email threads with him, and have read everything he has written. He philosophizes from a strong Socratic and Platonic standpoint, but with a clarity and originality that I find missing from most interpretations. After understanding his distinctions, I am able to think from them with vigor and lucidity, and I now use Socrates and Plato very practically in my life, which is at least unusual if nothing else.

-- Julian Jaynes is considered a psychologist, but to me he is also an outstanding philosopher. His main work is 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind', which sounds a mouthful but belies a marvellously original book, riveting, full of erudite insights, and revolutionary in the best meaning of that word. The book in fact has at least four theses, all original, and has led me to think quite differently about my mind, its development, how I think with it, and its place in history. He died in 1997; I had not even heard of him until after his death.

-- For completeness, of course, I have to say that a big influence on my meditation was Maharaji, who I have referred to at length elsewhere on this site. I spent thirty years practising his meditation (called the Knowledge), and whatever its merits, you cannot sit down almost every single day for thirty years doing a structured meditation without learning something. However, the meditation I do now, and which this 'Meditation' section of my site talks about, is very different from Maharaji's meditation.


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