Reply To: Hello! I’m happy to be here

  • Don Salmon

    July 2, 2023 at 7:47 pm

    Hi folks:

    :(Whit, I’m really hoping you respond to my request for you to clarify what you think I’m missing when I said there’s decades of practice and research regarding very easy, reliable ways to switch modes of attention)

    I’m really thinking that a separate group on the meaning of “practice” would be enormously helpful. I think Iain is VERY confused about this, oddly enough, taking a rather LH approach (Andrei, when you’ve been here for awhile, you’ll see I very much question some of the very foundations of trying to associate attention with the brain, but more on that another time)

    So this might help folks see where I’m coming from. I was deeply impressed by Brother Lawrence’s “Practice of the Presence of God,” when I was 19. It was the first practice/non-practice” i had come across that deeply impressed me, and I think if you look deeply, it is VERY close (though more of a heart than head approach) to what Michael Singer recommended. Michael, I believe, is quite familiar with and has practiced traditional yogic disciplines. The one he recommended to you – the mindful awareness from waking till sleep (and into sleep and dreams, if possible) – is a universal “Jnana yoga” practice, adapted, I think for modern times.

    Then I came across Krishnamurti in 1972, which basically paralyzed me in terms of the idea of any kind of intentional practice. This ended in 1976, when I came across a short pamphlet which was a transcription of a series of conversations with one “David E S Young,” which basically involved Krishnamurt teaching what was quite obviously the clear steps of traditional vipassana (which is somewhat different from modern pop mindfulness).

    That was it. I was done with Krishnamurti! I studied for 10 years after that with a teacher who gave me a mantra, which was infinitely beyond anything my intellect could grasp. It had profound effects and my mind simply was silenced in regard to questioning of it.

    I’ve been fascinated ever since with the question of practice. I’ve been involved with the Sri Aurobindo community world wide, and often give talks, particularly on the simplicity of practice (the community can be very very intellectual about these things).

    I think there is a profound degree of confusion about practice in the modern world, and the best explanation of the problem goes back to the Protestant Reformation. Contemplative practices were quite popular in those days, but Luther, convinced of the depth of sin of human beings, said no practice can confer any spiritual benefit, that it all has to be by Grace (and donations to one’s local church, of course).

    Well, we’ve become a largely secular society, dominated by technology and the idea that as far as the physical world goes, everything can be accomplished in a mechanical fashion. As a clinical psychologist, I’ve seen this attitude take over in mental health circles.

    So of course when people sick of a mechanical world try to escape to a spiritual consciousness, they leave behind what they think are “mechanical” practices, and rather dogmatically insist – just like Luther – that no practice can “get you there.”.

    Between Zen and Chan Buddhism, there’s a 1500 year history of arguments about practice, but I would say Swami Sarvapriyananda in this little anecdote reolved the apparent conflict as clearly as I have ever seen it.

    One day, a young monk he knew went to him and said, “Do you know the Ashtavakra Gita?” (this is a very short book which hardly does anything but tell you again and again YOU are THAT – you are already, in Truth, one with that. It even has a sutra, “Your problem is that you meditate.”

    So Swamiji (Sarvapriyananda) says yes, why? The young monk replies, “I just found out my guru has this book. Why didn’t he tell me about it before? This book has the highest truth and there iare no other practices needed.”

    Swamiji replies, “Yes, I agree the book does reveal the highest Truth. But let me ask you something. Does your guru meditate? “


    “Does he say prayers?”


    “Does he engage in ritual celebrations, gardening as karma yoga, devotional practices, disciplined self inquiry?”

    “Yes, he does all that.”

    “Now, do you think you understand all this better than your teacher?”

    “oh no, certainly not.”

    “Well, then, when he sees you’re ready, I’m sure he’ll invite you to study the Ashtavakra. Meanwhile, as long as you’ve accepted him as your teacher, why not accept his guidance in terms of practices?”