If we think of meditation (dhyāna) as, initially, reflection upon thought (i.e., the activity of thinking), then its purpose would be to still thought, completely. So now we need to inquire just what is the purpose of stilling thought?
In Buddhism, it is thought which arises from Mind, Mind being the fundamental essence or substance of the phenomenal world. Buddhist teachers will use terms like pure Mind, one Mind, unconditioned Mind, true Mind, unborn Mind, etc. All these terms point to the same thing, viz., ultimate reality or tathatā, the source of all conditioned existence which is, itself, unconditioned. It is said, that death is barred by one who has achieved success in meditation. I hasten to add that Mind is also luminous or irradiant.
In the process of stilling thought we are susceptible, almost unconsciously, to using thought to achieve our aim of stilling thought in which Mind is realized. But this would be somewhat like trying to stop ripples on a pond by attempting to pat them down!
In the deepening of our meditation, the stilling of thought becomes a possible bond or deception. We are still involved in thought albeit subtle thought. We have further to go. Our aim is still something for thought. This is why the form of seated meditation is inadequate. It is a strategy of thought. The sudden, absolute stilling of thought (no-thought) which reveals Mind always comes unexpectedly—it catches thought off guard, in other words.
I remember sitting in meditation in my abandoned copper mine or adit. I could become very still the more I practiced so that I was used to being more or less very still. But behind this was thought. It was still the boss. It was only when I went to my wits’ end that I was close to Mind where there was no-thought.
Without meeting Mind face-to-face, looking directly at it we are still in thought. It is by faith that we know thought is a configuration of Mind and seek Mind. Yet, we still lack firsthand evidence. We still have to push on. This is where Zen can become very frustrating. At this point, hopefully, the student is ripe for a meeting with Mind. Boom!