John Main Meditation

Foreword by Yehudi Menuhin

May I, as a Jew by birth and background, comment on this guide to meditation? Perhaps I can best describe it as a guide for the reader to himself.

Father Laurence refers in his Introduction to the Catholic nun who went to a nomadic tribe in Africa which had ‘resolutely resisted all attempts by Church and State at integration or evangelization.’ The French missionary went only to serve and in doing so did not represent Church or State, but hoped that in serving their physical needs the tribe would come to feel a radiating selfless love emanating from her faith which they eventually might wish to share.

In the same spirit I would like to think of this book as a guide for those of all religions and even for those not claiming any particular religious label but apprehending and recognizing the ultimate Unknowable in the unity, the continuity, the inter-dependence within all creation.

The reader will understand why I believe it is possible to serve, equally committedly and selflessly, without necessarily evoking even to oneself names or nouns, by simply obeying and fulfilling that inspired awareness, be it intuitive, emotional, or intellectual, that unites us to everything that lives, breathes, pulsates.

Greenpeace, the Prisoners of Conscience Fund, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, the wave of selfless sympathy for the starving in Ethiopia or the victims in Mexico, or those in South Africa, and a thousand other good works from Alcoholics Anonymous to Friends of the Earth are not necessarily done in the name of Jesus, however ideal a living symbol of goodness and wisdom he assuredly is.

Until the French Revolution we within our European background (overwhelmingly Christian as it is), allowed nothing to happen, good or bad, except within Christian concepts. It is wrong, however, to blame the Church for behaviour typical of mankind the world over, for sins that would have been and are perpetrated in the name of almost every set of beliefs, true or false, prejudiced or superstitious, governing every section of mankind. I feel that to claim the realm of love, or peace, or meditation, or the possibility of redemption, forgiveness, or reward through any exclusive avenue or creed is no longer realistic.

Human beings, as they are constituted, seem to require a middle man, a broker, between them and that greater mystery, ‘the spirit within our hearts and the way that is the truth.’ No one fulfills that role better than Jesus, the Jew, the innocent man of truth who died in Jerusalem at the hands of his own people. (How many millions of innocents are being destroyed, as I write these words, for and by the sins of all mankind?) Certainly the crucified Jesus is, sadly, an apt symbol for the senseless cruelties of our world.
Light Within: The Inner Path of Meditation by Laurence Freeman OSB, published by Crossroad, New York, 1986

Jesus, the living instrument of forgiveness—Buddha, a mirror to the inscrutable wisdom of mystic union with the Infinite: yet both approach each other, meet and overlap in their vows of poverty, in their true wisdom, renunciation, and compassion. Father Laurence Freeman’s message is decidedly not only to Christians who are wedded to Christ, but to all those who are committed to truth and beauty, who love one another and who know the meaning of love spiritual and temporal. Sometimes these loves relate or fuse into one. Sometimes the loves are pagan or polygamous, sometimes monotheistic and monogamous, but they and we are always an expression of that dual belonging to what we sense as temporal, and to what we sense as eternal; in reality two concurrent journeys as might occur in a particular boat which we long to share with a loved one on an endless river.

Father Laurence is so right about simplicity, truth, and meditation. In my own experience I know how misleading and totally inept is the common phrase ‘to break a bad habit.’ This obsession with compulsion and with violence is a peculiarly ‘human’ characteristic. Very often terms such as ‘strength of will,’ ‘determination,’ ‘violence,’ ‘vengeance’ are grossly misleading. Although courage is hardly a quality I would in any way wish to disparage, the surmounting of difficulties may often be as much through perseverance and patience in the ways of simplicity, poverty, clarity, and quiet—through that zero point we used to call ‘neutral’ in non-automatic cars which we always had to pass in shifting between gears. We have come to believe that supreme effort and determination to achieve is the measure of our success and that nothing can happen without muscle power and force of will. The indomitable, the unflinching, the invincible: these are the hallmarks of our civilization. We believe in the exertion of the most and we have lost the understanding of the power in the subtlety of the least. It is only in going back repeatedly, every day, to a neutral point, to a meditative instant of balance, that we can explore that narrow space which exists between what may be called ‘zero to one.’ In returning to the silent and the empty we find the sources and the ways of strength. Strength is not the accumulation of tension and with it all the accompanying worry, anxiety, and frustration piling up every day; strength is what comes if you build from zero. The most important part of the greatest strength is what happens between zero and one. Measure that space, measure it in its smallest diameter, acquire subtlety in the feeling of that enormous difference between zero and one and for the myriad degrees between zero and one.

When you do that then you will find one thousand, one million subtle gradations and you will always return to zero. Meditation is the exercise, or, if you wish, the lack of exercise, the ‘minus’ exercise which repeatedly makes you acquainted with that secret emptiness, the apparent vacuum which is then irresistibly filled with the abundance of your life, of existence, of the whole life, of the whole of the Universe, the power of the sun, of love, the importance of the atom.

I am thankful that Father Laurence Freeman recognizes the no-role of not trying, not doing, not fighting and rather accepting the blessed, patient, healing hands of grace, hope, and joy within ourselves, as between ourselves; rejecting the poisons and toxins that come with those bad habits which put our whole being into imbalance, imposed through fear, ill health, frustration, impatience, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, greed, and all that is sometimes called ‘sin.’

To put the experience of meditation into old-fashioned words, it is truth ‘to share a secret with God,’ without understanding the secret, yet enjoying a living communion with the greater Unknowable. It is to us in all humility a setting oneself apart in this deepest core of our being; apart from, independent of, unassailable by all the ‘knowables’ in daily life or the presumed knowables—for each has its mystery. This experience of meditation related to prayer, poetry, and philosophy has been known to all the great religions.

Music, too, is a form of meditation. Instead of the mantra I may go through a score in my mind. It is unlike meditation because it is not an absence of thought or evocation, and yet it does remove one from the immediate world into the mind of a great composer. If that composer is a man of supreme vision then of course you share that experience with him. It is a learning process. It is a concentration and a release and an escape. It shares some of the qualities of meditation; and although it is not pure meditation it has given me moments of deep emotion, of ecstatic and almost mystical joy and moments profoundly moving, almost to tears. But again, to achieve this experience one is submitting humbly to the study and the emotion, the intellect of another mind, another heart, be it Beethoven’s or Bartok’s, or Bach’s; or for the poets, Shakespeare or Hölderlin; or for the scientists, Einstein or Darwin.

One’s own life and one’s own experience of happiness and tragedy serve to effect that deeper union with the composer’s own emotions and intellect, for without our own experience we wouldn’t quite understand what he is trying to say. Yet I found, because I played this music as a child, that even that experience at a tender age does not have to be spelt out in words and letters but simply comes. It exists probably already in the unborn child, that sense of infinity, of tragedy, of joy, of struggle, and of dreams. These are the very elements of life which are then later spelt out, acted out, lived through; but they surely exist intrinsically in every living cell and surely in the child about to be born.

If I have dwelt rather long on my own thoughts about meditation, it is because I feel that this book is not meant to exclude those who have an intuitive and possibly unlabelled need, sense, and hunger. Meditation need not be done only through Jesus or only in Buddha’s name, or in any other name. It can just be. Be. Without a name.



October 1985

Laurence Freeman OSB