What you believe, what you truly believe, is the truth of this life is important.
For what you believe is the truth of this life will shape every aspect of your practice of silent meditation.
Last week I discussed how one relates their belief in God or universal spirit to their practice of meditation. Please see last week’s post for those comments. This week I want to offer some comments to help atheists as they begin their practice of meditation.
For atheists who wish to practice meditation the process is similar but the words or tones are different. An atheist is one who believes there is no such thing as a soul or God or universal spirit of life. The best examples I know of atheists who practice meditation are the Theravada Buddhists. Other terms for this tradition are Vipassana or Insight Meditation. Other good examples of atheists who are serious about meditation are Zen Buddhists. While I personally do not believe Zen Buddhists are really atheists, I believe I am correct in assuming many Zen Buddhists would certainly not use the word God in the same way that Christians, Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do.
Atheists may naturally choose the breath as the focus of their meditation. What could be simpler? As they breathe in they focus on the sensations of the in-breath. When they breathe out they focus on the out-breath. Or they may simply scan the sensations of the body, or the emotions and thoughts of the mind, as they arise, have impact, and pass away.
Still some Buddhists who are atheists have the same problem focusing on the breath as do believers. Being non-verbal, the breath is too general and too subtle for many atheists to be able to keep their mind focused on it for any length of time. Atheists find they are constantly getting distracted in the same way believers are. To solve this dilemma some Theravada Buddhists also choose the recitation of a word as an alternative to the breath. They recite “Buddho” on the in breath and “Buddho” on the out breath.
Choosing a word or phrase gives the word-and-thought center of the mind something to do. Having a word or phrase is a way to center the mind on one thing as compared to a constant stream of ad hoc distractions.
Many Tibetan Buddhists use another phrase “Om Mani Padme Hum”. This is a phrase repeated in silence or out loud. For some it is a list of values one needs to follow closely. For others the phrase invokes the blessings of Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara both of whom are figures which are viewed as embodiments of perfect compassion.
For modern atheists who do not wish to repeat the word “Buddho”, or some phrase or mantra which seems very close to invoking a form of Goddess worship, there are other choices.
“Love” is one choice that works as well for atheists as it does for believers. “Freedom” is another. Some with a philosophical bent may find the words “existence” or “being” to be relevant. For phrases one might choose something like “I open my mind and heart to truth and illumination” or, “Quieting the mind, quieting the heart”. What is important is to find a word or phrase that is closely related to your core values.
What is also important is this.
Whether you are one who believes in God, or the universal spirit of life, or whether you believe there is no God is not as critical to attaining high states of consciousness and liberation as it once was believed to be by many spiritual cultures.
What is important is that you develop a high degree of fidelity to those beliefs you do ascribe to, assuming your beliefs are centered one way or another in love, compassion, and high degrees of personal integrity. Regardless of whether you feel called to choose a God centered or an Atheist set of beliefs you will need to make very strong commitments to cultivating the highest quality skills you can with core practices and values of love, forgiveness, charity, courage, humility, and the search for insight and wisdom.
These core values are essential to the attainment of the deeper experiences of peace and freedom that are available in the practice of meditation. It is simple. You will not attain liberation with shoddy efforts with these values. But these core values are general enough they can be adapted to one’s beliefs whether one follows one particular religion or no religion at all.
What do you really believe is the truth of this life? What core values do you have that you know you need to cultivate with greater sincerity and self-honesty about the work you still have to do.
Atheists and believers have the same challenge. When you get stuck you can be sure the way forward is always to be found with greater sincerity and self-honesty about the efforts you are making with love, compassion, and those beliefs you say you have faith in.
What do you believe is the truth of this life?
Where are you kidding yourself about the quality of effort you are making to reform and renew the moral values at the center of your life?
Will Raymond email@example.com 774-232-0884
Author of the Simple Path of Holiness and Host of MeditationPractice.com