“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you know for yourselves that these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness, then accept it and live up to it.” – Buddha (Kalama Sutra)
Let’s take a quick look at the concept of meditation. Often times, it is thought to be about spending hours alone in a dark room, in silent contemplation, trying to shut away your thoughts. While this practice is helpful as a form of training, it is not really the goal of meditation.
“If you want to attain the Way by shutting the door and sitting quietly with a blank mind, that is like shutting the doors and shutters and hoping to see the sun. What “way” does that accomplish? It must be the way of dark rooms, I guess . Only when you mix with the ordinary people, integrating illumination, living in the cities and towns, are you activating great use of great potential. This is the real function of practicing and holding the Great Way.” – Liu Yiming, 1734-1821, Taoist master (Awakening the Tao)
Thankfully there is more to it then that! How silly would it be to spend hours in quiet contemplation, then re-enter the world, and return to your old habits. If you have a spiritual practice, and it has no real-world benefit, there is little point to it! This is why the real goal of meditation, is to always be sitting in meditation.
“Good friends, what does the term sitting meditation mean? When mind and thought are not aroused over any good or bad object or situations in the external world this is called sitting. When you see in the immutability of your own essential nature inwardly, this is called meditation.” – Huineng (6th Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)
And so, let us create a new pathway now, to introduce a new form of meditation. Based off the practices and imagery of several Eastern traditions, I call it Emperor Meditation.
Now imagine a large beautiful country, thousands of homes, large fields of green and trees, and at the center of it, a palace. This is a massive palace, it can be seen from far and wide across the country, it towers over the whole of the country. It hosts thousands of citizens. Soldiers, chefs and wait staff, cleaners, various noble families. It gets quite hectic inside!
This country is your body, with the palace being your mind which rules over it. The citizens are joy, desire, temptation, anxiety, fear, love, lust, and all the other emotions one can fathom.
It turns out that the emperor has vanished. No one knows where he could have gone. The country is in chaos. One by one, the occupants step up to rule the country, though only temporarily, as being the false rulers that they are, they cannot last long. Eventually the emperor returns, and the citizens step back in line. They take audience with the emperor when they want to propose something, but the emperor has absolute veto power while he sits on his throne.
When one is not aware, the swirling of thoughts and emotions inside of you will take control. The sensations in your body lead you to believe you are anxious of a situation, now anxiety sits in your throne. As anxiety rules, the sensations become worse, and the rule of anxiety grows more intense. Anxiety doesn’t know how to rule your country, therefore, the country is thrown into chaos during his reign. He’s quickly tossed out by the other citizens, but without the emperor to keep things in order, he’ll return in due time.
When one is aware, the thoughts and emotions can be observed. As the emperor sits on his throne, and observes the disturbances going on in his country, he can take control of the situation. He is able to observe the sensations, and notice them for a simple disturbance, he does not add new meaning to them, or throw himself into panic. As anxiety comes to take audience with the emperor, the emperor will hear him out, let him speak his peace, and then reject his proposal.
Alright, so now that you may have some idea of what I mean by emperor (or empress!) meditation, let’s take a quick look at two practical ways to incorporate it.
First, there is a benefit to taking 10 or 15 minutes a day, morning or night, or both, and practicing to know what it’s like to sit in your throne. To build knowledge in the sensations of your body, and be able to direct your thoughts in times of chaos. It’s only by the emperor being away that another citizen can take the throne. He cannot be usurped from his position, in this context, he is literally immortal and invincible. The only troubles arise when he is away, when awareness has vanished.
Second, the true meditation exists in the real world. The emperor must be there at all times to rule his country correctly. He cannot give up the throne even for a second, to those occupants of the palace who will do nothing other then plunge the country into chaos. Though, when he recognizes having given up control, he can return to his throne immediately, and return the country to peace and prosperity.
Meditation doesn’t need to be stuffy and serious, instead, take charge of your mind as an emperor would in his palace. There is no benefit to a meditation that is only performed while one is at home in a dark room! The words of the Buddha at the start of this post hint at the right way to rule your country, anything else is the gossip of your citizens, who you can’t trust to run your palace.
Tune in next week for a follow up article on “How To Be A Better Emperor”!