Meditation, unfortunately, seems to be a baffling subject to many people. But there’s really nothing baffling about it at all; in fact, meditation is the essence of simplicity. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to talk about it. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try. Let me quote some relevant lines on the subject from Chapter 18 of AWAKENING.
The mind in meditation is said to be the state of “no-mind”; that is, the customary thought-based processes that we associate with mental activity are temporarily suspended. When the talkative, thinking mind, and its close association with the ego-identity are allowed to become quiet, consciousness becomes very clear and absorbed in the reality of the present moment One who has mastered the art of meditation may experience, to some degree, what is generally described as the “unitive state.” This simply means that the consciousness of one in a true state of meditation is freed from the usual human split between self and other. The underlying unity of being is perceived, not intellectually of course, but directly, experientially, in the moment. The experience of the Unitive State can be more or less perfect. Perfect meditation is the perfect expression of the Unitive State.
It is a common mistake to imagine that the mind in meditation is in some sort of trance state. Ideally, the meditative state of mind—even if far less than perfect—would be our normal state of consciousness, our ordinary state of mind. Many speculate that the consciousness of nonhuman beings is essentially like a meditative state. And that would be true of human infants too; all of us started out in life as perfect little meditation masters. A great divide was crossed when our distant human ancestors developed language. The significance of language cannot be exaggerated! Language gives one the power to create a conceptual world that represents the real world, but so easily becomes a substitute for it. The development of the language-based thinking process, and especially its great production, the self-identity, has the effect of dislocating us far from our natural beginnings. In a sense, meditation disciplines are really nothing more than devices designed to loosen the grip of the separate-self and help restore us to the natural state.
The practice of meditation is the practice of various techniques designed (hopefully) to help one achieve the state of mind-in-meditation. The state of mind-in-meditation, though, is by no means necessarily limited to those times set aside for “practicing” meditation techniques. Ideally it becomes the background condition of one’s normal state of consciousness. Specific times for meditation practice are valuable in that the state of mind experienced at such times may expand to become more or less the continuous state of mind. A meditation master is a person who lives his or her ongoing daily life in a state of consciousness that can be accurately described as “mindfulness,” that is to say, well rooted in the reality of the present moment. That, of course, is not an altered state of consciousness, nor is it something transcendent, something lofty that only a rare person can aspire to. It is actually the natural way to live.
Once again, meditation techniques are helps that one employs during a session of meditation practice. Myriad techniques have become popular over the centuries, many of them borrowed from the tradition of yoga. Probably the most widely recognized technique employed in the practice of meditation is what is called “sitting meditation.” Typically, this involves the form of cross-legged sitting posture that has become virtually an icon in the art of Buddhism. The advantage of this posture, pure and simple, is that once mastered, it permits the meditator to remain comfortable though sitting very still for long periods of time. One does not have to sit, though, to practice meditation. Many postures are possible. (Some people even claim to be able to make a meditation practice of jogging or swimming.)
To sum up, the practice of meditation is the deliberate practice of certain disciplines, often including the sitting posture, whose aim is to encourage the meditative state of mind. That is what the word dhyana refers to, and it is why dhyana occupies the summit position in Buddha’s teaching. The word dhyana, like its English counterpart “meditation,” refers to both the state and the practice. The Buddhist tradition holds that in the mastery of dhyana one ascends through stages of growth,resulting ultimately in the experience of Awakening. To be in a state of perfect dhyana is to be an awakened person.