Talk on Meditation by Toni Packer

The emergence and blossoming of understanding, love and intelligence has nothing to do with any tradition, no matter how ancient or impressive—it has nothing to do with time. It happens completely on its own when a human being questions, wonders, listens and looks. The mystery, the essence of all life is not separate from the silent openness of simple listening.

Adapted from a talk given by Toni Packer on August 30, 1998. You can also listen to or download the talk here.

What a beautiful, quiet morning it is! The faint hum of insects, a cool breeze touching the skin. The breathing, do we feel it? The body pulsating with heart beats, people sitting quietly together? Is it essentially one whole listening, or are we locked into our private worlds of thinking, remembering, anticipating?

Is there, for moments at a time, an open listening that does not create divisions among us? Can this humming, breathing, pulsating presence take the place of fantasizing, worrying, and wanting?

We are not asking in order to get rid of wanting or fearing, these cannot be gotten rid of by any conventional means. Our usual attempts to bring about change are analysis, judgment, condemnation, will power, control, etc. But there is another, utterly simple way of being here.

Right now can there be simple listening, awaring, being present to what appears as sound and feeling and thinking in the midst of open silence? A vast listening space of no preferences and no judgments, no one here to do the listening. It’s happening on its own.

Our habitual listening and looking has been thoroughly conditioned by past experiences and innate tendencies which unconsciously select, color, distort what we hear and see. We do not consciously intend to view things and people in the light of our past experiences, our desires and fears. But it happens, automatically, involuntarily.

Having experienced all kinds of pains and pleasures in past relationships, different people today may still evoke the remembrances, sensations and emotions felt ages ago. A network of memories, interconnected throughout the organism, shades our present perceptions and gives rise to inappropriate reactions. These automatic, inappropriate reactions, are not our or anyone else’s “fault.” They just take place in human beings like you and me according to causes and conditions.

So why are we coming here to this retreat center, a place of spacious beauty and care, of lightness, and quiet? Why do we come back time and time again? Why do we sit down alone and together, in motionless stillness?

Different answers are given by different traditions, and the practices used to still the mind vary. But here there is no special practice assigned or suggested to people. You may wish to continue with a previously learned practice, or to try something new: simply attending without a known method or purpose. Attending to what is taking place from moment to moment isn’t a technique, it is what is and that is all!

There are two aspects of quiet sitting, or meditative inquiry, if you will, which are not mutually exclusive. Description and language divide what is indivisible. So maybe we can keep in mind that what is being described separately right now is one complete whole.

One aspect of meditation is becoming intelligently aware of what we call our conditioning, our habitually unconscious or semi-conscious reactions toward each other and the situations around us. We may think we are aware (in the sense that all human beings are “conscious”), but we are not really in touch with true, undivided awareness. True awareness has no element of judging, analyzing, rejecting, or clinging. No “me”-center from which to observe, rather awareness shedding light, bringing the “me” into fresh view.

Meditation is coming into intimate touch with our habitual reactions of fear, desire, anger, tenderness, or whatever, discovering them freshly, abstaining from automatically judging them good or bad, right or wrong. Beginning to realize that every incident, every encounter with another person, is instantly interpreted according to ingrained prejudices. There is constant comparing ourselves and others to ideal standards of good and bad and right and wrong, that have been internalized long ago.

At a moment of insight there arises a new sense of wondering: “Why do we live bogged down in automatic reactions? Is it the only way of relating in this world?” Will we be seduced into ex-plaining or philosophizing about it, or can we simply stay with what is going on in the light of the question? Genuine interest has a way of kindling energy to illuminate the ways of automatic reactions — for instance immediately getting hurt because of a critical remark, and instantly defending or paying back, and then mulling the whole affair over and over. This is the alienation, the conflict and suffering we all experience.

Sooner or later we may discern the palpable difference between just being here as we are, openly attentive, and the state of entanglement in a web of fantasy about being somewhere else. Can we directly experience this difference without a need to elevate or disparage either state? Every state of being speaks for itself.

The other aspect of quiet meditation is the wonder of coming upon that which is not conditioned, that which is beyond fantasy and remembrance. Sitting quietly, without desire and fear, beyond the sense of time, is vast, boundless being, not belonging to me or you. It is free and unattached, shedding light on conditioned being, beholding it and yet not meddling with it. The seeing is the doing. Seeing is change. It is not what is seen that matters, but that there is seeing, revealing what is as it is, in the light of wisdom and compassion too marvelous to comprehend.