Updated: May 12
In a past blog, we've discussed the differences and similarities of the verbs "to meditate" and "to contemplate." At CloudMeditation, we use these words interchangeably. For the average spiritual practice, the nuanced differences are of little significance. However, in this issuance, the fine points are worth noting.
To meditate is to observe and consider one's mental activity. It's done at a meditative distance. We follow, we watch, but we do not cling to our thoughts. We come to understand that our thoughts, this seemingly endless stream of mental activity, is not us. It is not our essence. It is not our "original face," as Zen Buddhist koans describe it.
Soto Zen master and founder Dogen Zenji said that effective meditation allows body and mind to drop away, and essential "nothingness" is revealed. "Nothing" is a scary word in this context. Ahh, but we can relax if we can just trust. Awakened One after Awakened One, from the historical Buddha onward, assures us that "nothing" is a whole lotta something. Indescribable but experienceable, "nothingness" is the realm of enlightenment.
That being said, here we don't peddle enlightenment, mystical experience, ecstasy, rapture--you select the right word. The historical Buddha asserted, "desiring or craving is the cause of suffering." Craving "enlightenment" can afflict most acute suffering. Eliminate desiring or craving; one eliminates suffering. Just sit. Consider. Awakening will proceed. Enlightenment will happen.
"To contemplate" is to mindfully focus thought. Contemplating is a volitional act. Wait a 'sec! This is CloudMeditation, not CloudContemplation! First, we're told to distance ourselves from our thoughts because our thoughts are not us. Now . . . we're instructed to embrace our thoughts--lasso them, if you will--and focus them, aim them like a weapon, or a telescope, or a laser beam on some object. Yes, contemplation is those actions.
My father was a hard-working guy. From elementary school, he aspired to law enforcement. He attained his aspiration. My father was a military policeman for fourteen years and then a civilian police officer for some time after. Dad was a pretty straight arrow.
Some time in my youth, I aspired to a job, menial and inconsequential, I suspect. But, it was important to me. So, I asked my father for advice. As I recall it, his advice was, "consider the person in the job and decide if you want to BE them." The grammar fails, but the wisdom prevails.
You aspire to be a lawyer. Are there any lawyers you want to be? I was a company labor recruiter for some years. I was second in line to be the Personnel Manager. Personnel Manager was a pretty well-paid position. It was also pressure-filled. But, did I want to BE the person who was already in that job? The answer was yes. Happily, that Personnel Manager didn't leave that position while I worked there because I loved her. I learned a lot from her. That said, I would have been ready had she had occasion to vacate her post.
Professional, labor, civil servant, or service employee, my dad's query is worth considering. Do you want to BE THAT PERSON? Now we have come to the value of contemplating and its nuances that differ it from meditating.
The Vigyana Bhairava Tantra recommends: "See as if for the first time a beauteous person or an ordinary object" (Technique 55)
Beauteous; it is a fine old word. Today, we express it as beautiful—both work. Today I focus on a person rather than an object. Here's a formal inquiry: Whom do you aspire to be? There is a query worthy of contemplation.
Some Christians contemplate Jesus, his acts, his life, his death on the Cross. Buddhists focus on the historical Buddha, his actions, his life, his revelation of awakening.
Religious figures, historical figures, honored family members, friends, co-workers, the universe is filled with worthy ones to focus on. Pick one! Who do you want to BE? BE THEM!
"Look lovingly on some object. Do not go to another object. Here, in the middle of this object--the blessing." (Technique 37)
******************************  Reps, Paul, and Nyogen Senzaki. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen & Pre-Zen Writings. 2nd ed., Rutland VT, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1958. p.199
 Reps, Senzaki p. 201