What I mean by contemplation is a kind of enquiry that draws meaning out of things, seeing things the way they really are, rather than adding meaning, whether in terms of our personal feelings or ideals. We can all at times value art, philosophy or poetry but what potential do these things really have to lastingly change our lives? I would suggest that when used for truly deep contemplation they can transform us completely. Perhaps some would agree that such contemplation is transformative but even within contemplative circles how well is this process of transformation understood?
The Buddha gives us a model for understanding both the nature and method of contemplation and explains the process of transformation, what it is and how it works. Then, of course the Buddha has a particular goal in mind. Yet we do not have to be seeking the same goal to enquire in the same way. All we do is meditate to make the mind peaceful and take another look at life with a calmer, emptier mind in order to really take it in rather than imposing all our ideas on the world. As we do this then we can see what we are doing and the result for ourselves. The mind can become happier and calmer still. We can then also compare what we see with what the Buddha describes having seen or not, as we wish.
Then how we understand and express the results of our contemplation can become very important. Mastering all this can then help not only ourselves but also others. Contemplation can lead us all in a happy direction or it is possible for it to become another source of ideals or feelings that do not make us feel happy or free. It is then the further art of aesthetics, becoming aware of how we are looking, opening up to and appreciating things in different ways that can be developed to guide us. This art is more implicit than explicit in the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha simply paints a beautiful picture of the spiritual life. A sense of beauty that is based on truth and frees us rather than binds us. The presence of the Buddha and his disciples undoubtedly added to this. In the present day we may need to paint another kind of picture to inspire the mind.
Perception is the primary force in the mind. To gain control over this and take it in a good direction is what can take us to peace and liberation. The Western spiritual tradition is very rich in its creative art and intellectual expression. These skills seem to be a strength in the Western mind. I believe that the Buddha’s teaching can help us harness these skills into a genuine spiritual vehicle. Otherwise, as history shows us, these powerful skills can also be destructive.