All these words in my head forming such marvelous conceptual structures, thought turrets soaring into an abstract sky. How wonderful to feel them melting down, icy stuck ideas turning into smooth flowing mystery.
For me, that’s what mantra meditation is all about: dissolving the mental temple where we worship our notions about God, not the real deal itself. I believe in being churchless. But it doesn’t do any good to stay away from physical religious institutions if we’ve got rigid beliefs firmly instituted in our own minds.
As I’ve been writing about recently in my (now) three-part post series on mantra meditation, I consider that whatever words we might choose to repeat as a mantra shouldn’t simply reinforce our current confused state of consciousness.
I mean, if we knew what life was all about, we wouldn’t feel any need to meditate. If we knew the nature of God or ultimate reality, we wouldn’t feel any need to meditate. If we knew who we ourselves really were, we wouldn’t feel any need to meditate.
So it doesn’t make any sense to bring our uncertainty, doubt, and ignorance into meditation. We’re trying to get away from delusion, not grow closer to it. That’s why I don’t favor making a spiritual hypothesis a focus of mantra meditation.
For example, the classic Christian mantra, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Or the Buddhist “Namu amida butsu” (I take refuge in Amida Buddha). People who recite these sorts of mantras are assuming that they know what lies on the other side of the reality that is known now.
Jesus. Buddha. Guru. God. Krishna. Allah. Angels. Santa Claus. There are countless hypotheses about what is spiritually real. And that’s what they all are: hypotheses. Possibilities. Conjectures. Hopes. Objects of faith. Dreams. Imaginings.
Yet most mantras present some supposedly divine concept before the mind’s eye. Then the meditator gazes upon it with his or her psyche, focusing not on the open sky of mystery but on an idea painted upon a mental skylight.
Based upon my extensive experience with mantra meditation, this sort of conceptual mantra isn’t likely to lead the meditator into untrod spiritual territory. When you build a castle in the mental sky it’s very difficult to tear yourself away from it and fly higher.
This is why a meaningless mantra is to be preferred over a mantra with meaning. Meanings are what we have now: theologies, philosophies, metaphysical systems. If these were keys that could unlock the door that stands between us and Mystery, we’d be through it by now and know what lies on the other side.
I want to break down that door. Dissolve it. Make it go Poof! and disappear. Yet every meaningful effort that I make in this regard just adds to the thickness of the meaning that constitutes the barrier I’m trying to do away with.
There’s got to be another way. A wayless way. One that melts away meanings and leaves us with pure formless mystery.
There’s not much that you can say about this way. Nothing, really. That’s what I hear from people a lot wiser than me who have done a lot more exploring in that direction than I have. Plotinus. Rumi. Eckhart. Buddha. Lao Tzu. Ramana. To name a few.
They all taught that our biggest problem—really, our only problem—is our iciness. We’re ego-encrusted icebergs floating on the Ocean of Reality. We’re afraid of dissolving into that deep dark mystery so we cling to frosty ideas.
Those ideas keep us floating on the surface. Which isn’t a wise place to be. Water can’t drown. Fire can’t be burnt. Similarly, if I weren’t so sure of what I consider to be right, I wouldn’t be wrong.
A meaningless mantra points directly at Mystery. Obviously it isn’t the spiritual ocean itself, but it starts to dissolve the concepts, ideas, speculations, and what-not that we’re clinging to. Those mental life rafts are an illusion of security. In the end, death punctures everything that isn’t truly real.
Since we’re going to be thrown into mystery at some point, why not now? That’s the invitation of meaningless mantra meditation. In Zen, a koan can become a mantra. Or a mantra a koan. They aren’t two things. Just one.
One is what we’re after, not two. No iceberg and ocean. Just ocean. No castle and sky. Just sky. No meaning and mantra. Just mantra. Meditation is melting.
I’ve reached the end of what I can say. I’ll let D.T. Suzuki speak now (from his essay in “Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis.”
Joshu Jushin was one of the great Zen masters of the T’ang dynasty. He was once asked by a monk, “Has a dog the Buddha-nature?” Answered the master, “Mu!” (wu) literally means “no.” But when it is used as a koan the meaning does not matter, it is simply “Mu!”
The disciple is told to concentrate his mind on the meaningless sound “Mu!” regardless of whether it means “yes” or “no” or, in fact, anything else. Just “Mu!” “Mu!” “Mu!”
This monotonous repetition of the sound “Mu!” will go on until the mind is thoroughly saturated with it and no room is left for any other thought. The one who thus utters the sound, audibly or inaudibly, is now completely identified with the sound. It is no more an individual person who repeats the “Mu!”; it is the “Mu!” itself repeating itself.
When he moves it is not he as a person conscious of himself but the “Mu!” The “Mu!” stands or sits or walks, eats or drinks, speaks or remains silent. The individual vanishes from the field of consciousness, which is now thoroughly occupied with the “Mu!”
Indeed, the whole universe is nothing but the “Mu!” “Heaven above, earth below, I alone am the most honored one!” [an utterance the Buddha is said to have made after being born] The “Mu!” is this “I.”
We now can say that the “Mu!” and the “I” and the Cosmic Unconscious—the three are one and the one is three.