Have you noticed the state changes that happen in the mind? You might have had this experience: when you’re focused on some task, it may be writing an email, or watching an interesting movie, and then someone calls your name or the phone rings. You hear the sound, but it’s not until a few seconds that the event comes in to the conscious mind and we pay attention to it. This is the same thing that happens when we’re interrupted while dreaming in sleep. If the alarm goes off, or someone calls you, it takes some time to come out of the dream, but even before the mind understands what’s going on, one hears the sounds, or sees the sight. This must be the case when one is in deep sleep as well. In this case we’re not even aware of the event calling our attention initially, but eventually we come out of the deep sleep, but before the mind is fully active, there is a gap where we perceive the event without any mind interpretation.
So these are the common states of mind, awake, dreaming or sleeping. Then there is the fourth, that’s aware of the three states of mind. This fourth, lets call it awareness; this awareness precedes the other states. We can more easily notice this awareness in the “gaps” of transition between any two of the three states, like when moving from deep sleep to waking, or when moving from dreaming to waking, or when moving from wakefulness to sleep. This “fourth” has also been talked about by many spiritual teachers, like Sri Ramakrisha Pramahamsa or George Gurdjieff. Ramakrishna had called it the “thuriya” which is the Sanskrit word for the “fourth”. Notice that I don’t want to call this the fourth state of mind, because that won’t be very accurate; this state is also present even before the mind is active, in fact, its more clearly seen when the mind activity slows down or ceases for a period for whatever reason. So apparently this is bigger than the mind. Perhaps the mind appears in this awareness or mind is observed by this awareness.
Why is this important?
This “pre-mind awareness” is not an uncommon experience. This is what happens when an athlete is in the “zone”, when a good soccer player is up in the air and taking that perfect shot, or when a good basket ball player is in the “zone” and makes that perfect throw. In TV, these moments are sometimes replayed in slow motion, but in the real experience also when this happens, it can appear to be in slow motion, perhaps this effect happens because the senses are fully alert, and at the same time, the mind is not very active. The moment is so beautiful and super charged with heightened awareness that the mind is not required in that state. This same state is experienced by artists when that moment of perfection happens in their art, that’s Zen of music or any creative activity. These Zen moments are experienced by anyone, when the mind stops or slows down enough; like when suddenly you’re presented with a vast beautiful scenery, like a beautiful beach, or a great waterfall, or an evening sky. Anyone who has experienced this considers these moments to be beautiful and divinely blissful. All of us like to be in that state. Generally we give credit for the beauty of the moment to the external event, seeing of that great natural beauty, or the great creative impulse. For completeness I’ve to say that this kind of perception can happen in traumatic events too, like during an accident or a fight and so on.
Zen masters and spiritual teachers had found long ago that the primary cause of the fourth state is not external, but the reason is rather simple, its the cessation of mind activity while awareness is fully present. This is the primary reason for this state, that’s the common factor behind all those “hallelujah” moments. This is what the Zen people call the “no mind” or what the Hindus call “samadhi”. They have discovered that to be in “no mind”, one doesn’t need to be an athlete or an artist. This can be experienced by anyone, any day, without the need for any special moments, and without the help of any artificial stimuli. Anyone who had such experiences will like to experience more of this, but we’d want this to happen in a natural, healthy and sustainable way.
How to be in the Zen?
Perhaps what causes the Zen moment is quite simple, it’s the cessation or slowing of mind activity while in full awareness. So what’s the difficulty to be in “the Zone” everyday, to make it the part of everyday life? Why isn’t “the fourth” our everyday experience?
To understand this we have to be aware of the mind processes. Here is a catch, if to be in Zen, is to be in “no mind”, why do we even need understanding, isn’t understanding happening in the mind. Yes, and this is significant. According to Zen and other ancient wisdom, the natural life is the state of Zen. Perhaps this is what a little baby experience after they had his drink of milk and had his burp. The problem is the “thought coverings” that obscure the Zen experience. The thought processes grow stronger as one grows older and as one gains more knowledge. So if mind is the culprit, is the solution to get rid of the mind? No. The mind is a powerful tool and apparently a necessary tool. Perhaps it developed as it was essential for the survival of mankind; humans were otherwise not endowed with greater speed or climbing skills, or the fighting powers. We are different from animals because of the mind. Is that really a good thing? The animals in their natural settings seem to be generally more satisfied and beautiful than humans are in their everyday environment . Although this may be so, it’s also true that every baby needs the mind to be developed to survive and thrive. However there is good news. There are ways to be in Zen for any of us.
There are hundreds of methods to come into the Zen state. Most of these methods fall into either of these two categories – one is devotion and the other is meditation.
Devotion works best for those whom it’s more natural to trust, to love and to surrender. A few who are able to surrender completely find their way to that fourth state, in that total acceptance and letting go, the mind quiets down naturally. They are able to see the oneness, they see the divine in all and experience the natural state of grace. However this method is probably not an easy one for many in the modern world where the mind is very dominant.
The other way which is increasingly more relevant today is the way of meditation and self enquiry. The Sanskrit word for meditation is Dhyan, this is word that became Chan in Chinese and Zen in Japanese. However there is a significant difference in the general usage of the word meditation as its generally used in English and the meaning of Zen. That may be the reason, some translated this Dhyan as “Transcendental Meditation”, that’s the meditation beyond a specific focus or objective. Generally the meaning of meditation in English is to meditate upon something, whereas the meaning of TM or Zen is to be in the space of “no mind”.
The Zen practices need not exclude devotional practices, they can be complimentary. Ultimately the state one reaches either through meditation or through devotion have the same compassionate and contended qualities. It is said that a true Zen practice will lead to compassion as an outcome, and a true devotion will have wisdom and realization of truth as an outcome.
If you can love that’s all you need. Like the Beatles sang “Love is all you need”. Dissolve yourself in love and devotion and you’ve reached.
Five methods for meditation
For the rest of us, there are many practices available. In fact almost anything can be used as a gateway to Zen. Even apparently “negative” tendencies can be used as a motivation of practices. this is demonstrated by the Tantra practices.
In the following articles you can explore five methods which have relevance today and which are simple and effective. For anyone seeking a meditation method, one of the following links should help. Meditation has the power to bring huge positive changes to one’s life. If you need help with any of the methods, feel free to use the comments feature or contact form given below.
If you’re not convinced yet, please read these articles on the benefits of meditation :