By Jeffrey Vock
About 18 years ago, I was helping Sri Dharma with his computer and I ambushed him with three questions:
1. How important was meditation in your spiritual development?
2. Why don’t we practice longer meditations in class?
3. Why don’t you take a more technical approach to teaching meditation?
1. Not very important; selfless service and watching his Guru was key to his development.
2. He would lose students if he included silent, sitting meditations that are longer than five or ten minutes and they might never come back.
3. His last answer was silent: he assumed a meditation posture; his back straight, his eyes closed, one palm resting in the other and after an instant; he shrugged his shoulders, twirled his thumbs and expressed indifference with his face!
So there is nothing to meditation? Is that what he was hinting at? Maybe for him! However, over time, I’ve interpreted his demonstration differently and it has become the prime directive of my own deepening meditation practice.
Sri Dharma’s teaching has evolved since I’ve known him: he now speaks more of meditation. He has refined his approach to easing his students into meditative practices by adding frequent Kirtans, Yoga Nidra, Psychic Development and Spiritual Discourse classes (which he did not offer, back in the day.)
His students have also changed: many now seem familiar with meditation and I see them sitting enthusiastically before class starts. Are they ready for more?
So, how to meditate Dharma Yoga Style? Is there an approach to this practice that differs from all the established and distinct types of meditation teachings and practices that already exist?
Sri Dharma often mentions meditation and the importance of cultivating solitude, silence, stillness (metaphorically and literally as in NOT MOVING) and disconnecting from stimuli. But he also frequently says that other aspects of Yoga practice “are even better than meditation.”Once I heard him say that meditation is for lazy people and I think he was looking at me when he said it. Touche. He also mentions a range of practices from diet to following ethical rules and asanas that are “preparation for meditation,” and essential to a balanced practice that includes all eight limbs of Yoga.
The health benefits of meditation are scientifically validated. But that knowledge is usually not enough to motivate or facilitate a deeper practice. I enjoy my practice because it gives me an avenue of exploration that agrees better with my aging body than perfecting my asanas (which everyone knows are quite sloppy.) Meditation takes the edge off my introverted nature. It inoculates me against the demand to be constantly networked and interactive. It helps me fight depression and find contentment and joy. As a bonus; it helps me experience some of Sri Dharma’s more cosmic and far-out claims.
So, in between the “preparation for” and “the better than,” what is this meditation? What type is it? How do you do it? for how long? Where are the instructions? Should you do it lying down? Walking? Sitting? What counts as meditation? And how do you gauge success? What does it take to develop an effective and enjoyable meditation practice? And how to do it in a way that’s true to Sri Dharma and his brand of active urban mysticism?
Sri Dharma talks about the need to “allow the muddy water to settle,” by being motionless to “see” and “witness” clearly. He has replaced his former “High Definition” analogy with a new one about a “cell phone.” Can you realize yourself as the signal and not the device? What are the practical steps that can lead you to having this experience?
“You have to be interested.”
Dharma Yoga Style meditation is motivated by simple curiosity. You have a body, senses, thoughts and consciousness. WHAT’S UP WITH THAT? What is the nature and the mechanics of your consciousness? What is your true nature?
“Use your intelligence.”
This inquiry leads to Knowledge or Wisdom that can reveal itself with sudden insight or after deep, reflective analysis, but you have to gain confidence in this pursuit because you are on your own.
FORGET ABOUT CONCENTRATION: When you meditate with curiosity for the purpose of gaining self-knowledge you can bypass the oppressive concentration exercise that defines meditation for so many and creates so much self-defeating frustration. To meditate successfully you need just enough attentiveness to proceed. Concentration as we conventionally define it doesn’t have much to do with it.
“Everything depends on your attitude.”
This exploration of your true nature is motivated by curiosity, but driven by ATTITUDE. Your mental attitude is one of the few things in life you can actually control if you want to. An attitude is complex– think of a teenager.
So when Sri Dharma answered my question silently, assuming a meditation posture; his back straight, his eyes closed, one palm resting in the other and after an instant; he shrugged his shoulders, twirled his thumbs and made an indifferent expression with his face! He was demonstrating an attitude:
You sit; comfortably.
You observe; but not too hard.
You are a witness; because you don’t know what is going to happen.
You are curious even if there seems to be nothing there.
You don’t expect anything and you don’t care about results.
You wait: patiently… it is a long haul.
You reconcile with your Karma, because you are limited “according to your condition.”
And above all:
Your attitude should “Remain Unconcerned.”
Any reaction is counter-productive.
You observe and allow rising obstacles or impurities to burn themselves out under your non-judgmental gaze.
If you can stay still and engage the process for 20 minutes or more, you are on the right track.
And the brilliant thing is: The attitude you develop to sit comfortably still, overcoming any obstacles, for a long period of time IS the benefit of the endeavor. The quality of your effort enables your meditation and is the successful outcome of your practice. This style of meditation is just a re-set or a calibration of attitude to enhance your daily life. This to me is Dharma Yoga Style Meditation!
To succeed you have to sensitize yourself to the subtlety of WHAT you observe AND the subtlety of HOW you observe. And this is only to get started; this creates the right conditions for Dharma style SIGNAL REALIZATION, which is the natural, un-coerced by-product of the meditation process and is accelerated by the Yoga Nidra technique.
But even if you are motivated by curiosity and driven by the right attitude you will still encounter obstacles, both physical and psychological, that challenge your ability to sit peacefully for longer periods of time. To overcome these, you need to choose your initial mind sharpening technique such as the breath, a mantra or third eye, and develop a strategy keeps engaged on your own path.
Or better yet: “Do you know any tricks?”
Jeffrey Vock is a free-lance photographer based in Jersey City where he lives with his wife and 2 older kids. He takes photos for DYC but he is a strictly amateur Yogi. In 1984 he spent 3 months in a Buddhist Monastery in Thailand studying Vipassana Meditation. In 1986 he picked up a New York City Yellow Pages looking for a Yoga studio. He dialed a number and Sri Dharma answered the phone. Jeff has been taking classes at Sri Dharma’s various centers for almost 30 years (with occasional lapses) and has never felt the need to find another teacher.