On Contemplation

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A reflection on the Katha Upanishad

A large part of the reason I commenced these reflections was to force myself to turn intellectual effort towards the act of contemplation. This was under the impression, largely uncritical, that to think deeply about problems would result in a better understanding of the world and my place within it. But this presupposed the idea that contemplation is good, and that the fruits of our meditations can be used to inform the actions of the flesh effectively. Taking this base assumption, I shall examine the role of contemplation – positive or negative – in our lives.

As a working definition, I shall posit that contemplation is the mental act of thinking deeply on an issue. This differs from research – the physical act of reading, researching or experimenting – or explaining – physically conducting lectures, lessons or writing reflections. Although research can feed contemplation, and explanation draws upon the fruit of these thoughts, both are discrete from the act of thinking deeply. So, if we take contemplation as the act of thinking deeply this leaves the question: contemplating well is thinking deeply about what?

It is obvious that we can think about external sense impressions as well as internal ideas. We can dwell long and hard upon the things that we see, the people in our lives and the actions that occur throughout the world we live. Thinking can also be focused inwards, on our previous actions and thoughts, reflecting on past achievements or chastising failures. If we examine the external world and think deeply upon the issues that face us, we can attempt to piece together the intricate web of action and counter-action that set the nations and peoples dancing like so many marionettes. If we turn inwards, we begin to question our role in the magnificent play that is life – and notice the inconstancies between our thoughts and deeds.

The problem with contemplation is when it descends into a form of malady. When this develops in a lazy mind, the subject will develop fanciful plans leading to success and delight, only to let them collapse like a deck of cards when the first easy pleasure crosses their path. The darker manifestation is when this appears in an intelligent but insecure individual. The human in question becomes crippled by the nagging doubt that they are being tricked, seeing layers upon layers of shadowy deceit quietly mocking them. Unable to find anything solid to base their worldview upon they collapse into the catatonia of radical scepticism.

With both these examples, the clear issue exists not with contemplation, but with its delinking from action. With this in mind the only way to use contemplation well is to put it to use in the production of a roadmap – and then follow its directions even as the artist’s hand sketches the details. Although your thoughts may only provide an incomplete map, you must take the first step towards your goal – as there are no assurances that you will survive to see the final fruits of your intellectual labours.

Original text

The Katha Upanisad


S.H. Raza, Kundalini, 2011

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