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Buddhadharma : Spring 2016
26 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 6 ONE HOT SUMMER EvENING several years ago, I found myself listening to a teaching in a medita- tion hall in upstate New York, an activity that had become far too rare at that point in my life. A hush came over the crowd as the diminutive teacher entered the room and took his seat. “Do you want to know the secret to meditation?” he asked. vigorous nods answered his question. Who doesn’t like to be in on a secret? “Okay,” he said, “but first we need to prepare to meditate. Get comfortable on your cushion. Straighten your back. Lower your gaze. Relax your shoulders. Take a few slow, deep breaths...” He demonstrated. There was a shuffle around the room as people shifted, pushed cushions into place, straightened up, sighed deeply. After a minute or so, the fidgeting settled. “Okay, now—” The teacher paused for effect. “Listen closely. I am going to share a secret with you.” A palpable sense of anticipation settled over the room. “Are you sure you’re ready?” He was teasing us a little. Glancing up, I could see that he was smiling, enjoying our expectation. “All right. The secret to meditation is—” He paused again to heighten our anticipation. “Don’t meditate.” He drew out the word “don’t” slowly. After pausing again to let the instruction sink in, he added, “Instead, just be present, as you are, right here, right now. No grasping. Nothing more needs to be done.” I’m not sure what others in the room experi- enced, but for me there was a sudden shift. I felt myself falling into a space of being acutely, vividly, and simply aware. Dropping the Meditation Project The instruction to not meditate may sound a bit scandalous in the Buddhist context we inhabit, but it is in fact nothing new. The hermeneutic of non- meditation has roots as far back as the tenth cen- tury and the Indian master Tilopa, the founder of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He sings about non-meditation in his dohas (spiritual songs) and other instruction manuals. “Meditate alone in the forest and mountain retreats. Remain in the state of non-meditation,” he teaches in the Maha- mudra Instruction to Naropa. How can one meditate and not meditate at the same time? While it sounds like a paradox, it begins to make sense when you consider that non-medita- tion is a kind of meditation—but in this practice we leave behind complicated notions of what we are doing on the cushion. In non-meditation practice, there is no call to become extraordinary, no urge to change what is. Instead there is permission to accept your experience of the moment and drop the project of meditation. Mahamudra, or “the great seal”—along with Dzogchen, “the great perfection”—is one of the sim- plest forms of meditation in the Tibetan tradition. In its most essential form, it is the art of just being. It is