by David Jodrey <jodrey@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu>
Todd has been referring to meditation practices in his songs since "Zen Archer", if not before. This custom continues in his two most recent new-material albums, No World Order ("find a way to...meditate all day") and The Individualist ("lost in meditation"). Sometimes the meditation-relevant material has been relatively veiled, as in "Fix Your Gaze" and "Hammer in My Heart". In these less-explicit references Todd is using an approach similar to that attributed to Jesus. As the Biblical account goes, when Jesus's disciples asked him why he taught the public in parables, Jesus replied, approximately - so that those who are GONNA get, get it - and so that those who are NOT gonna get it DON'T get it (compare this to "in time I'm gonna get it" from The Individualist).

However, with the notable exception of Healing, Parts 1-3, which involves clear directions and ideological content, Todd has not provided much guidance to the potential meditator. It's as if he regards himself as a performer, composer, commentator, etc. - but not a preacher or a teacher. In fact, at times he seems to explicitly disavow the role of spiritual leader - "don't you follow me now - you've got to walk your own road if you walk it at all" (Fair Warning.) At these times it's as if he wants an audience, but not disciples. And yet, on the other hand, there continues to be spiritual relevance to his stuff, and he still advertises an "Alcazar Mystery School" on one web site (the dreamy 1950s-style drawings of the "campus", as well as the non-implementation of the "registration" option, lead me to suspect that this is a joke - although as it has been pointed out, much truth is spoken in jest.)

The paragraphs above have had the intent of establishing that material about meditation is, at least to some people, Todd-relevant. I've recently encountered a book, Minding Mind, A Course in Basic Meditation, published by Shambhala Press in 1995. This is a collection of meditation manuals from various Buddhist teachers from China, Japan, and Korea, translated and with commentary by Thomas Cleary, who has done many translations from East Asian languages. Cleary has recently branched out into doing translations from the Arabic as well - e.g. selections from the Koran, and a book of advice said to be from Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato etc. which was circulated among Arabic-speaking ordinary people during the Middle Ages but for which the Greek originals, if any, have been lost.)

In the introduction to Minding Mind Cleary states his belief that "conscious cultivation of consciousness has been practiced by human beings for thousands of years". Referring to Buddhism as a "mental science" that is "extremely rich and complex", he sets forth "five general categories" from Buddhism relating to differences in the "orientations and methods" of meditation.

  1. "The meditation of the ordinary mortal". People engage in this type of meditation with the purpose and intention of enhancing their ordinary perceptions and abilities. They do this because they want to improve their well-being and confidence, and be more effective and efficient in the "ordinary activities of life." This first type of meditation is focused on dealing with the world in conventional terms.

  2. The second type is quite different - it focuses, not on dealing with the world as we ordinarily see it, but rather on "transcending the world". The aim of this type of meditation is a "profound peace of mind characterized by extinction of psychological afflictions" - that is, a "quiescent nirvana." Cleary asserts that "exceptional psychic capacities are also commonly associated with people who attain quiescent nirvana in this way." I believe the ambiguity in Cleary's phrasing here is intentional - one reading of this phrase is that "people (Buddhists) commonly THINK that exceptional psychic capacities ...." The other reading, which Cleary is not disavowing, but not explicitly asserting either, is that "exceptional psychic capacities REALLY ARE commonly associated..." Cleary goes on to state that since people who have attained quiescent nirvana habitually remain in this state, "they do not ordinarily exercise these capacities in a concerted manner." This statement implies that they HAVE such capacities, but Cleary (a) could be continuing to describe the common viewpoint, not his own opinion (b) hasn't stated what these "psychic capacities" are - since psychic doesn't necessarily mean "twilight zone" stuff, but can mean simply "of, relating to, affecting, or influenced by the human mind or psyche; mental: psychic trauma; psychic energy". Chances are, though, that he DOES mean more than just better concentration, memory, ability to tell whether or not someone is lying, etc. - although improvement in all these is worthwhile in and of themselves.

    I'm reminded of an exchange between two characters in a science fiction novel by Cordwainer Smith, The Quest of the Three Worlds. One person says, "I have powers. Don't make me use them." The other replies, "I have powers too. Nobody can make me use them."

  3. The third type of meditation is the cultivation of altered states of consciousness. Cleary states that those whose main aim is nirvana, type 2 above, may also use these altered states of consciousness "for the purpose of breaking attachments to conceptual and perceptual conventions". Nevertheless, Buddhist teaching regards this as dangerous, because there is the possibility of addiction to "intoxicating trances." Altered states should be used for "specific pragmatic purposes" rather than self-indulgence. If used to excess, Buddhist teaching warns of the risk of becoming obsessed with, "or as it is said, 'being reborn under the sway of', unusual states."

  4. The goal of the fourth kind of meditation is the "development of extraordinary capacities in the service of other people and the world at large." The methods and techniques used by those who have this aim may be "any or all of those characteristic" of the approaches to meditation mentioned above, "but with a different orientation, in a different manner, and in a broader context." Cleary states that the "range and scope of meditational states and experiences" of people using this fourth approach "exceed those of the lower types of meditation by many orders of magnitude."

  5. According to this ancient classification, the highest type of meditation is called "pure clear meditation arriving at being-at-is", in Cleary's terminology. This is said to be the nearest that an individual consciousness can come to true objectivity, and produces the most penetrating insight. "The realization of pure clear meditation also enables its master to employ all the other types of meditation method deliberately and freely, without becoming fixated or obsessed."
The book from which these remarks are taken is a collection of instruction manuals, ranging from 7th century China to early 17th century Japan, which deal primarily with ways of pursuing the goal of the fifth type of meditation.

Cleary concludes his introduction by stating that "altered mental and physical states could be mistaken by the unwary for authentic spiritual experiences" - a warning traditionally given by authentic Buddhism, as well as more recently by the Roman Catholic Church.

In addition to familiarization with the philosophy, phenomenology and possible pathology of meditation, "preparatory study is also useful for recognition and evaluation of teachers," an issue which Cleary asserts is of serious concern to Westerners. Quoting a classical Zen saying, "First awaken on your own, then see someone else," Cleary warns, "If you go to a real teacher unprepared, you will be wasting the teacher's time and unconsciously demonstrating your own greed and laziness as well. If you go to a false teacher unprepared, you will be wasting your own time and putting yourself and your dependents in danger besides."

Fair warning, I'd say.