Why is Meditation and Practical Philosophy Essential Practice for the Modern World

Just stand ‘still’ outside a train or tube station in the rush hour of any modern Western city. Ask the question how many people are fully connected to the world around them? Quite often the passage of people resembles a funeral march, heads down, shoulder’s hunched, shuffling forward, ear’s plugged with the virtual, world of the sound bite. Eyes blank, in a bubble, insulated from the world around them. Is this life? Is this living?

This is a dramatisation and not a criticism of anyone in particular. Deep down we all know that something is very wrong with the modern world. Politicians of all kind seem to give simpler and simpler solutions and sound bites that echo the dogmatic and failed solutions of a hundred years ago - nationalism on the right and top down centralised planning on the left. This seems all there is on offer as we all become more divided as a people, and our environment is laid to barren waste. Increasing there is voiced fear that we are marching to a repeat of the horrendous destruction of the World Wars and the genocide of the last century. A funeral march indeed!

There have been much well intentioned article and book writing, putting forward many elegant intellectual solutions. Often these solutions start at the level of values undermining the depth and potential of human beings, to connect beyond the intellect, beyond mind itself. If the tried solutions are not working, who is truly thinking out of the box? One crucial question seems to be sidelined. What is the root and branch cause of this disconnect? This must be the bedrock of any future political and social change. The answer to this question must take you on a journey to look at what is it to be human and how are we are all connected to existence itself. Politics seems to have become more and more insulated from the life that people are living, and therefore impotent to provide lasting solutions. Why should anyone take interest to politicians giving commandments from their own self interested, disconnected bubble?

Is it not common sense to understand that lasting change can only come about if it is rooted and grounded in a life that is lived, to the gut feeling as well as the intellect, to a deep creative connection to Being itself and to the flow of life around us? Change will then arise from the well spring of creativity within people, in direct relevance to their lives.

Fortunately there is a wealth of helpful material from the ancient as well as the modern world, that could point to a way forward. It is clear that in the Eastern Sanskrit tradition that the philosophy arose from a direct seeing of existence, as well as a lively dynamic between practitioners providing questions and answers. The philosophy was grounded in the study of life itself. Investigation often started with the senses, to the relationship between body, mind and heart to the world around. Meditation is best understood as a tool to enable people to connect with existence, not as it has sometimes portrayed, as a way of running away from it. There are three pillars to this study. Meditation has to be linked to practical philosophy, and to the presence of a guide that can help them through the inevitable confusions that arise. These three pillars give the practice a direction and a context. Often meditation in the West has not kept faith with these principles. Meditation has become presented in bite size, disconnected from the philosophy and in some cases from the teaching altogether, as in the case of downloaded Apps. Often the teaching of meditation has followed the modern trend by further disconnecting students from existence.

It is not only the Eastern world that can provide help. Nietzsche, one of the most creative thinkers in the West, took a fresh look, demolishing some of the basic belief’s and dogmas held dear in the western world. This was not a negative pursuit, in his wonderful mystical poems written in his Epic ‘Thus Spoke Zarathrustra’ there is a foundation of a new approach to connecting to existence itself, to life as it is lived! The book is written in metaphor. Poetic devices are used to challenge the practitioners long held beliefs and dogmas. This removes the security blanket that we all put around us, to enable us to see directly. In this way the work is wonderfully life affirming enabling creative connection to existence itself. The study is open, allowing the practitioner to forge his or her own practice. The parallels with the Eastern, Advaita, Zen and Tao traditions are startling. They all use similar metaphors and methods to enable the practitioner to directly connect to existence. In many ways ‘Thus Spoke Zarathrustra’ can be seen as as building on the pure meditative insights arising from the Eastern Sanskrit and Mandarine traditions and applying these to the modern world.

This brings me to a central theme in all the great teaching of connection. They are not dogmatic. They are written in a way as to allow open investigation of life itself. For example, The Buddha’s Enabling Truths are best understood as ‘exhortations to act’ rather than dogmatic truths. How can this be otherwise? The teaching points to the way that all human beings are linked to each other, in the wider web of life. How, then, can one approach to this understanding be better than another? The test has to be, is the approach working? Is the study rooted in the creative life of the practicing person?

In this short paper I have tried to shed some light on one aspect of our modern life that is causing much harm and division, that is the trend towards ever more disconnection from life itself, often abetted by modern technologies. Luckily there is much work from the ancient and modern world that points to another way of living. These are grounded methods, exhorting direct seeing and relevant change. These works are often written in metaphor. They are written as poetic devices to allow the practitioner an imaginative, open and creative approach to the study. Yes we are in a mess but there is always the creative seed to be sown in every destructive act. Whether that seed can flower depends on understanding the root, branch and cause of division. This study requires commitment but in and increasing divided world, what could be more important?

Bob Mann, 16/12/2019

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