Marc de Smedt: “Meditation is a world cultural heritage. »

- through Henry Oudin

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Publisher and writer, Marc de Smedt is a great connoisseur of meditation techniques throughout the world and throughout history. His latest work, The Roots of Meditation and Awakening Practices (Albin Michel, preface by Christophe André), is a fascinating dive into the different spiritual and religious traditions of human civilizations, whose author underlines in fine this common point: all, without exception, have developed forms of meditation. Why, how and to what end? Interview.

Why did you become interested in the “roots” of meditation traditions?

I wanted to show their universality. Mystics around the world have always been interested in the mysteries of our lives: where do we come from, what are we doing here, what is hidden behind our existence and in our minds? All these questions form the basis of the quest for the sacred. My idea was to show that there is a common approach in all spiritualities: this desire to find something deeper in oneself, which would be "outside" or "behind" our usual operation – this “step aside” dear to the Chinese. As early as the 70s, while frequenting the Orient where I traveled a lot, I realized that its philosophies were based on techniques: yoga, tai chi, qi gong, zazen, etc. So I also wanted to know what the Western practices were.

Between the lines, there is this idea that meditation would be more identified and visible in Eastern traditions than in Western monotheisms?

Absolutely. Yet there are similar – although very different – ​​things about this search for beyond Self. This takes very concrete forms, with the ecstatic dances of the dervishes or the Sufi songs of Muslim mysticism; with the liberation of the "knots of the body" evoked by a whole current of Judaism; through the example of the hermits of the desert of Egypt in the XNUMXth century who fought against the passions of the soul or those of the Rhineland mystic as well as that of the beguines, these lay women who withdrew into silence and solitude to find the tranquility in themselves in Christianity… My objective was to show that it is basically a universal quest. I therefore became interested in this important part of the world's cultural heritage. I carried out this work in an ecumenical approach: church spirits and dogmatisms have always horrified me. What interests me are spiritual treasures, and they are everywhere. Better, they enrich and nourish each other!

Are there common points that unite all these currents in their practice of meditation?

Le Silence. The common denominator is the quest for silence. Absolutely all the mystics of all the traditions speak of this silence to be found in oneself, which allows in some way – even if it is fleeting – to open a door towards another universe, inside us. Faced with the concerns that encumber us, our anxieties, our emotions, the mystical ways seek, in different ways, to teach us to find the silence that is within us.

To another extent, there is also fasting, which is a real form of meditation because of the break it operates with our usual functioning. The fact of depriving oneself of food allows an important purification of the body and the spirit: all the impulses of hunger are appeased to then lead us towards a kind of great inner calm. All traditions recommend forms of fasting: there is Lent or Ramadan, which we know well, but we also find these practices in Zen retreats or in the austerities of Hinduism.

Meditation, in all its forms, leads to purifying our gaze and seeing things differently. This is how in the XNUMXth century, Huineng, the sixth Chinese patriarch, defined meditation: as a creation of both “inner calm” and “penetrating vision”.

When are the first forms of meditation recognized in history?

The oldest representation of yogi dates back to 2500 BC, on seals engraved at Mohenjo-daro, a historic site in the Indus Valley in Pakistan – we would see meditators in lotus there. All the cave paintings, everywhere in the world, the upright stones like the monuments in a circle that we could find in the archeology of civilizations show this kind of quest. I believe that the spirit of meditation is prior to prayer: before singing, invoking, praying, one must be able to stop, which is the very foundation of the act of meditating. There is this magnificent phrase from Maître Eckhart in the XNUMXth century: the bottom of God and the bottom of the soul have the same bottom! And to reach it, you have to put yourself in a state of silence. Master Deshimaru said that meditation is a "vacuum cleaner", a "vacuum cleaning". And, indeed, from the moment we manage to concentrate thanks to breathing and stillness, this act allows us to awaken to a completely different, larger reality, within us and outside of us.

Buddhism is also born of meditation, in a way.

The story of Buddha is very beautiful: when he left his life as a prince, he tried many different techniques, then he simply sat on a cushion of grass, in a lotus position under the Bodhi tree, until he finds Awakening. Indeed, one can consider that Buddhism is born of a long meditation.

“Faced with the preoccupations that encumber us, our anxieties, our emotions, the mystical paths seek, in different ways, to teach us to rediscover the silence that is within us. »

What I like about Buddhism is this "Middle Way" aspect, this way of always continuing to seek the truth while accommodating opposites and advancing on the path, with an unfailing will... C t is a good embodiment of that famous Zen kôan which says: “The Way is under our feet”.

Would you say, like Christophe André in the preface to your book, that meditation should today become a kind of “social movement”?

It is already in the process of becoming one, just as yoga has imposed itself as a real social phenomenon. A lot has changed with scientific research on meditation, the rise of mindfulness, etc. The fact that all this is secularized seems important to me, in any case, I experienced it with happiness. That we can do meditation or yoga while jogging, not necessarily with a kimono, that it ceases to be something esoteric or exotic, that's great! Because it makes it more accessible, people can come as they want… But I also respect religious rituals, as well as those who want and need them.

But hasn't this openness to the wider world diluted certain important notions of meditation, such as effort or altruistic intention for example?

Yes and no. As the last sentence of the Great Wisdom Sutra, meditation is about going "beyond the beyond". If we enter it in a serious way - and not because it is a fashionable trend - we will inevitably go further and, by discovering its effects, we will try to deepen. This practice is an ecosophy, a way of dealing with wisdom in itself. Of course, there can be excesses, this can represent a certain market today, some come to seek a desire for "superhumanity" which is dangerous in itself... But I believe too much in the virtues of meditation for those who practice it correctly. . Huineng further said, “In calm there is wisdom. In wisdom there is stillness.

You particularly appreciate seated meditation and walking meditation, the “kinhin”: why?

I tried many techniques, but the day I entered Master Deshimaru's Zen dojo, something happened that immediately spoke to me. It's a matter of taste, it's unique to everyone. What I like is this wonderful work on breathing centered on deep exhalation. We must bring the breath down into our intestines, below the navel, into what the Japanese call the “hara”, which today is defined as the third brain. This creates quite an amazing cleaning job. We go to the bottom, until the end of the breath, we inhale naturally and we continue like this, centered on a conscious breath. And suddenly, there is a process that allows us to become spectators rather than actors. And it is the big ego, the best of me, the vast Me, which then looks at the little ego, all petty, thirsty, lying, preoccupied, futile, obsessed... It is very strong, because the little Me is put at a distance, it no longer occupies all the space. Master Deshimaru sums it up with a nice formula: “You have to heal the mind, but this healing goes through the body”.

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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