The importance of meditation
Of all the day's activities, this non-activity, this retreat into meditation, must become the principal one. It ought to be the centre, with all the others circling round it.
For the religionist, meditation is essential because a nonchalant faith alone is not enough. He who indulges in theological speculation about the soul without having trod the inner way to the actual experience of it for himself is like a man standing outside a restaurant with shuttered windows and purporting to describe the meals being served inside. The religious mode of life is intended to prepare man for and to lead him eventually to the mystical mode, which is a higher rung in his development.
For the moralist, meditation is essential because a code of morals or a creed of ethics is only a preliminary aid to the fulfilment of life's purpose--which is to know ourselves. Our morals will automatically adjust themselves, our credo of ethics will automatically right itself once we have come into spiritual self-enlightenment. The noblest and the highest within us will then be evoked spontaneously. A technique of mind-training is indispensable to true self-knowledge.
Meditation is also essential for the artist. However talented he may be, a man can produce only substitutes for works of genius if he lacks the capacity to achieve self-absorbed states. The cultivation of this habit is a powerful help to the development of inspired moods. This is an age of brilliance. The talent for wit, satire, and sophistication abounds. But the true artist needs to go deeper than that. Art which lacks a spiritual import possesses only a surface value. The sun of inspiration shines upon all alike, but few people are so constituted as to be able to behold it. This is partly because they cannot achieve the requisite psychological condition. The artist who is wrapped up in a semi-trance of creative endeavour hardly notices at the time where he is and hardly remembers his own past life--such is the intensity of his concentration. Thus mental quiet is not to be confused with mental laziness. It is not only a triumph over the one-sidedness of external activity but also a creative quiet. This truth achieves its fullest exemplification in the sphere of art.
For the overworked man of affairs or the tired man of action, meditation is essential because it affords a wonderful relief by creating a little secret place within himself where the sordid world will be less able to hurt him, the events of life less able to depress him. Moreover, he needs meditation not only because an unrestrained external activity is not enough but also because it brings up out of the subconscious stores unexpected ideas which may be what he was consciously seeking previously or provides him with swift intuitions which throw light on perplexing problems. How much did their early morning practice of prefacing the day's work with a half hour of devotional meditation and guidance-seeking help some famous historical figures!
For the idealist who is struggling in a hard and harsh world, short daily periods of meditation will in time become the blessed sanctuary wherein he can keep alive his repressed aspirations.
Finally meditation is essential for every man because without it he lives at too great a radius from his divine centre to understand the best thing which life can offer him. He must reclaim the divine estate of which he is the ignorant owner. O! it is worthwhile to make this sacred incursion and attain, for a time, a nobler and wiser state of himself. By this daily act of returning into himself, he reaffirms his divine dignity and practises true self-respect.
Spirituality is within. If one does not feel it, then one needs to search deeper, beneath the weaknesses, faults, passions, and desires of the ego. It is still there, but the search must be properly made. This is where help can be found, in the words of those who have already found it.
There can be consciousness without a brain. Hence, there can be consciousness after death. To verify this, it is necessary to isolate the principle of consciousness from its products. Such isolation can only be effected through some kind of mystical experience. This experience can be brought about by meditational practice. The materialists who refuse to try such practice or who, trying, fail, cannot be regarded as disposing of the question.
The consciousness beyond the usual everyday consciousness can be reached only after a disciplined training of the mind. This suppresses its activity in thinking and banishes its extroverted worldliness of character.
It comes to this, that what people try to find in many books is waiting for them within themselves, to be discovered by regularly practising the art of meditation.
This idea, or belief, that we must go somewhere, meet someone, read something, to accomplish life's best fulfilment is the first and last mistake. In the end, as in the beginning, we have nothing else to do except obey the ancient command to LOOK WITHIN.
The need of meditation is to establish equilibrium in the whole being, for ordinary active life is a "going out" while meditation is a polar opposite, a "coming back" to the source. Whereas ignorant men are compelled by Nature to "come back" in sleep, they do so without awareness. Meditation, being a conscious, deliberate undertaking, restores "awareness."
So long as he is looking for the Spirit outside himself--where it is not--so long will he fail to find it. This is the first justification of meditation.
He who would find his Soul has to press deep into his mind.
To separate the mind from the body is abnormal and ordinarily undesirable. But to free the mind from the tyranny of the body is absolutely essential and this can be assisted by the regular practice of meditation.
The uncertainty which reigns among people as to whether there is or is not an Intelligence which presides over the processes of Nature and the fortunes of mankind--that is, a God--as well as the conflicting views of educated persons, shows the lack of inner experience, the failure to practise meditation.
Arguments or doubts about the soul can be settled for us once and for all only by personal experience of it. This is immeasurably better than logical proof, which is always open to equal disproof. This mystical experience is the challenge of our times.
The truth needed for immediate and provisional use may be learned from books and teachers but the truth of the ultimate revelation can be learned only from and within oneself by meditation.
The purely intellectual approach to the Overself can never replace the psychological experience of it. This latter is and must be supreme.
It is a principle of philosophy that what you can know is limited by what you are. A deep man may know a deep truth but a shallow man, never. This indeed is one of its reasons for taking up the practice of meditation.
Reading and travel can contribute much to a cultured way of life, but meditation and reflection can deepen the man himself.
It is one of the values of yoga that it can provide a man with the actual experience of feeling that he is only a witness of the whirling of time, whereas metaphysics only talks of this state.
Meditation is essential for the abstract thinker because a brooding intelligence is not enough, because it alone operates with the experienceable facts of consciousness, whereas metaphysics operates either with erroneous speculations about those factors or with correct but shadowy images of them. In the latter case, it successfully brings these images into vividly felt actuality.
Reflection must needs be long and arduous before it is likely to reach certainty. These truths can be reached and realized only in solitary meditation. Meditation is the first letter in the aspirant's alphabet.
Lao Tzu: "The excellence of a mind is its profundity."
If something awakens in him, a serious urge to unfold more of his spiritual nature, then the practice of meditation becomes one of the best ways to get into action.
What wonderful experiences or realizations, awarenesses or confirmations await the man who successfully contemplates, and becomes absorbed in, himself! But it must be the inward, deeper part.
The consequences of putting the contents of his own mind under observation, of becoming fully aware of their nature, origin, and effect, are immeasurably important.
With the sole object of calming and clearing the mind and concentrating its power, it is a good practice to sit in meditation for a while each day before beginning to study philosophy. This helps the studies.
Prayer is a help, but some method that not only goes still deeper into the human heart but helps to silence the ego is also needed. This can be found through the practice of contemplation.
To the work of reshaping character and extending consciousness, the practice of meditation is indispensable.
The man who is prone to impatience, irritability, and anger needs meditation even more than other men. He needs its harmonizing effect on the whole personality, its pacifying touch on the darker impulses and passions.
If the work and result of meditation seem strange and unearthly, artificial and abnormal, this is only because the average person is not yet a fully human being but is only in the process of becoming one.
Those who are incapable of practising meditation are incapable of becoming philosophers.
How can you do God's will unless you know what is God's will? How can you know this unless you are able to communicate with God? And how can this happen unless you can go deep into yourself in meditation?
Meditation is important in this Quest. It must be learnt. It helps to create a condition wherein the holy presence can be felt, where before there was nothing, and where the holy guidance can be given.
A man may live on the surface of life or in the divine depths of being beneath his ego's sub-surface. It is for him to make the effort, dive again and again until there is contact.
Withdraw into the inner Stillness: what better thing can a man do? For it will point to the goal, give direction and support to finding it.
In most cases, students must be reminded of the importance of practising meditation daily and not just occasionally. Lack of time or energy are no longer acceptable excuses: time can be made for other things easily enough, so let it be made for meditation, too; and laziness or inertia can be overcome by simply applying determination and a little self-discipline. The student who deliberately sticks to his task, and persists through the initial irksomeness of this practice, will find that the eventual results justify all inconveniences. Meditation is essential in order to develop sensitivity and intuition, which play important roles on this Quest.
Both the necessity and justification of meditation lie in this, that man is so preoccupied with his own thoughts that he is never aware of the mind out of which they arise and in which they vanish. The process of stilling these thoughts, or advanced meditation, makes this awareness possible.
Whether we renounce the world or whether we accept it, the need of mental control still remains the same.
So long as thoughts remain unmastered, this present and personal experience shuts us out from reality.
In the recesses of his own being, a man can find peace, strength, wisdom--but only if he brings his thoughts into obedience.
The cerebrum keeps up mental action like a machine. Only when the mind slows by disengaging from this activity, coming to rest by some means, does consciousness show its own treasures.
Thought may ennoble a man or debase him. It is not to be dismissed as unimportant. If conquering it is so necessary, stilling it is even more important and more necessary.
The prejudiced mind repels true ideas, which can take no hold in it. Hence we give yoga to such people to discipline their minds.
The mind must be prepared before it can take in the truth. Its oscillations must be steadied before it can reflect the truth.
Psychological methods are not less necessary than religious exercises. The thought-life of man is ordinarily a confused, a wandering, and a restless one. Meditation, practised in solitude and quietude, must be regularly inserted into it, first, to help improve its character, and second, to open a pathway towards conscious knowledge of the higher self.
So long as the mind remains untrained and its thoughts move unrestricted, so long will man be a stranger to peace and self-possession.
We cannot come to a plain contemplation of life while we allow ourselves to be unduly disturbed by desires and unduly perturbed by disappointments. Hence the need of yoga.
We have never learnt to keep our minds still as we sometimes keep our bodies still. It is by far the harder task but also the most rewarding one. Our thoughts continually titillate them and our desires periodically agitate them. What the inner resources of mind are, and what they can offer us, consequently remain unglimpsed and unknown. They are, in their totality, the Soul, and they offer us the kingdom of heaven.
To pursue the realization of his dream--an abiding peace which would necessarily lead to the falling-away of haunting fears and negative emotions--he must gain control of thoughts.
It is just as valuable for ordinary non-monastic lay people to learn and practise meditation as it is for the monks themselves. And they can do this--at least in the earlier stages--without any reference to religious themes, prayers, or supports should they prefer it.
The mere physical act of sitting down to practise meditation is both a symbolic gesture of withdrawal from the world and an actual severance from it. Each time it is done the meditator temporarily renounces his outer personal life, renders himself oblivious of it and of the world in which it is lived. What other withdrawal is needed? Is this not enough? Therefore anyone may continue to remain a householder and need not take monastic vows, may be active in the world provided such daily periods of meditation successfully take him out of it.
Meditation can be learned by the orthodox as well as the unorthodox, by the atheist as well as the theist, by the rationalist as well as the mystic.
The failure on the part of most people in the West to give a little of their time to personal and private holy communion, bringing no priest or clergyman into the period but seeking in their own solitude to take advantage of the usually well-camouflaged fact that man is essentially alone, brings its inevitable consequences. Their lives may be good or bad, their careers may be successful or failing, but having no consciousness of Consciousness they remain only half-men. They have so little competent guidance from those who are professional spiritual guides that most do not even know the sin through omission they are committing, do not recognize the failure in duty.
In the Western world this ability is not a common one. Yet by its absence Western people are less than themselves, are short of true wholeness.
It is true that the Occidental peoples have had in the past little aptitude for exercises in contemplation. But that is no reason why they should not make a start at what will inescapably have to be started if they are to put an end to their aimlessness and restlessness.
The Westerner must learn to end this endless restlessness, this daily impatience to be doing something, must practise faithfully and regularly "waiting on the Lord," or meditation. Thus he will come less and less to rely on his own little resources, more and more on the Lord's--that is, on his Overself's--infinite wisdom, power, and grace.
It is a fact of mere observation that most Western men live throughout their wakeful existence from morning to night without finding a few minutes--or even caring to find them--for the liberating practice of meditation exercises. They are virtually imprisoned in the five senses and in the thoughts arising from each sense-activity. This fact is a lamentable one. For how can they hope to cultivate a higher life if this essential aid be neglected?
We spend so much of the day concentrating on our personal selves. Can we not spend a half hour concentrating on the higher self?
The numerous details with which civilized existence has complicated our lives make meditation seem an irksome exercise and the daily meditation period impossible to secure. Yet although we become so engrossed in those details, analysis would reveal how unnecessary many of them really are, or how trivial by comparison with the importance of emerging from spiritual death.
Only a small minority of the human race feels the need of giving itself the time for meditation. Consequently, only a small minority ever knows that mystical experience is really factual. The absence of intervals of tranquil meditation from their day-to-day lives is not to be excused but rather explained by the fact that there are many who shrink from these studies and practices under the impression that the former are dark and incomprehensible and the latter mysterious and unholy. So they come to leave philosophical mysticism to the few who are regarded as abnormal or eccentric. But the truth is that they are disinclined in the first case to make the mental efforts and in the second case to practise the emotional disciplines.
Those who continue the regular exercises in meditation are outnumbered by those who give them up. The pressure of modern existence is too much for them.
It is a great lack in modern life that it allows no time for a short period of meditation, whether in the morning or evening or both, to gain repose of being and elevation of mind.
The man who seeks outer peace and quiet to help his efforts to acquire inner peace and mental stillness will soon find the modern world opposing his intentions and obstructing his attempts.
Meditation is no longer limited to a few Christian monasteries and Oriental ashrams but has spread among laymen around the world.
Too often the Western world sneered at yoga and gave the name a derogatory, even condemnatory, colouring. But this ignorant attitude is rapidly vanishing and more respect is given to the subject, as in earlier times.
Field Marshal Montgomery a Meditator! by Alexander Clifford, the war correspondent, who travelled from El Alamein to Germany with Field Marshal Montgomery: "Montgomery's military thinking was as logical and unorthodox as everything else. Once again his simplicity was at the root of it. He believed deeply in long periods of pure thought--of working each problem out from scratch. Way back in the desert he started a routine which he never abandoned. It was built round the same three caravans and the same staff, and probably the essential items in the day's program were the periods devoted to uninterrupted meditation. He could not do without it. Once the King came to visit him at Eindhoven in the autumn of 1944 and, owing to bad weather, was forced to stay longer than he had intended. Monty's program was dislocated as a result, and his staff detected signs of serious psychological frustration because his meditation periods were being curtailed."
That the simple act of sitting down for a length of time as unmoving as the heron-bird watching its prey could provide the first condition for self-knowledge may seem strange.
There is a deep antipathy in the nature of most Western people toward the effort required to concentrate and introvert attention. It fatigues them excessively. That is clearly due to the lack of familiarity and practice. But this antipathy has also a mysterious element in it, whose origin is hidden in the ego's desire to avoid any deep, long self-scrutiny that penetrates beneath its own surface. For that would certainly lead to its own exposure and its own destruction.
Some are frightened by this very proposal to look deep down into the mind, and they turn away in emotional refusal.
The fear of losing the known and familiar prevents them from entering the unknown and higher consciousness.
Young people are naturally outgoing and are consequently less inclined to take up meditation practice, but this is counterbalanced by their greater openness of mind and readiness to follow ideals. Older people are reluctant to include meditation in their daily program because, they complain, the rush and pressures of modern living fatigue them and make them less inclined to take on a self-imposed duty of such difficulty for beginners.
They are trying to find their way to a higher kind of truth but their efforts and understanding are still in the beginning stages. For instance, to them, the idea of meditation still includes thinking, although only in its loftier, more abstract themes.
They are willing to look everywhere else than into their own inner being.
Not a few have rejected the practice of meditation because it did not seem natural to them; it was too artificial--as if letting muddied water settle down to become clear was an unnatural process! No one who has not successfully brought the active whirling mind to a complete rest through this practice can know how comparable it is to such a process. Hence Japanese mystics call it "collecting the mind."
Critics and sceptics are on the outside looking in. Their opinions on meditation are of little value.
Those who condemn the hours spent in meditation as wasted ones, have been misled by mere appearances and have fallen into one of the greatest errors of their lives.
He needs to remember the difference between a method and a goal: the one is not the same as the other. Both meditation and asceticism are trainings but they are not the final goals set up for human beings.
But a man cannot be continuously sitting down in meditation. Nature herself provides him with other tasks, even if he were capable of the feat, which he is not. All his formal practice of such exercises is, after all, only an instrument to help him achieve a given end; it is not the end itself.
It is indispensable to attainment but it is not sufficient to ensure attainment.
We must not let the forms of meditation become a subtler bondage than the merely obvious ones. We must not let it (or anything else) become a cage. If this has happened then courage must be summoned to shatter the bars and step out into freedom.
Yoga is not finished when a yogin can concentrate perfectly and keep his mind utterly quiet. Certainly he who has reached this point has mastered raja yoga--the royal union--but he must go farther and use the wonderful instrument he has now developed for the mastery of the advanced phases of gnana yoga--the union with truth. In the earlier phases he can employ a sharpened intellect, but depth of intuition and an ego-freed will to know are needed for the later ones.
The inwardness through which a human being finds his way in meditation exercises to the redirection of attention to his soul, his deeper "I," is needed to restore his lost balance. But it is a process, a means to an end. For him the end must be not a special and limited experience, briefly felt, of his innermost being but a settled awareness of its presence throughout his everyday life, and a consequent sharing in that life.
In the life and work of the philosophical aspirant, meditation takes an important place. There are several different ways and traditions in such work, so that the aspirant may find what suits him. Although sometimes it is better for him to discipline himself and practise with a way to which he is not attracted--that is only sometimes. Generally, it is easier to learn the art of meditation if we take the way that appeals to us individually. Meditation is, however, and should be, only part of the program. The importance given to it can be exaggerated. The work on oneself, on one's character and tendencies, is also important. The study of the teachings is equally important. And so, out of all these approaches, there comes a ripening, a broad maturity which prepares the aspirant for recognition and full reception of the grace--should it come.
Meditation is, after all, a phase which is put on and off again as needed. The Quest is much bigger than meditation--although it includes it at times, but not necessarily all the time.
He should not make the mistake of taking what is admittedly important--meditation--for what is all-important.
It is most unwise to undervalue meditation and overvalue reasoning. By so doing one would fall into the complementary error of another who depreciates reasoning and considers meditation all that is necessary.
It is useful to get misguided people to practise meditation, for it calms passion and lulls the ego. Nevertheless it cannot cure them. They are the products of mis-education and so the radical or fundamental cure is right education--that is, right thinking.
The whole bodily and mental purificatory regime contributes both to the proper development of meditation and to the proper reception of intuitive knowledge. This is apart from and in addition to, its direct physical and personal benefits.
He must cultivate a sense of the value of meditation. It is not to be regarded as a hobby for odd moments. It is to be prized as the way to a peace and contentment worth as much as any material comfort or possession.
This is his sacred hour, his time for holy communion. It must be shielded from society's inroads.
A period and a place should be set apart for devotional exercises and mystical practices.
"The action of the mind which is best," declared Saint Gregory Palamas, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Thessalonica seven hundred years ago, "is that in which it is sometimes raised above itself and unites with God."
Man meditating successfully is man at his highest moment.
Père Lacordaire: "To withdraw into oneself and God is the greatest power which exists . . . I perceive with joy the solitude around me; it is my element, my life. A man works from within himself, not from outside."
It is useless and foolish to try to avoid meditation. One must learn its lessons.
We look for loftier experiences than those the common day affords us.
"Westward Ho!" was the cry in the old days when a ship left England for America. "Inward Ho!" can be the cry when a quester starts on his spiritual voyage.
Before his mind can understand truth, attain the Real, and enjoy happiness, it must reach a quiet state. No disturbances, no agitations, and no resistances must get in the way. To make such a state possible, it must first be reached spasmodically during special periods each day, that is, during meditation periods. As it becomes more and more accustomed to the silencing of its negative activities in this way, it will eventually become more and more settled in the state by habit during the rest of the day. Finally the habit becomes a trait of character, permanent and unbroken. Here is the further reason why the practice of meditation exercises is a necessity, indispensable to a complete quest.
The following of these exercises is indispensable to train the mind, to create a habit which will make entry into the meditative mood as easy in the end as it is hard in the beginning.
In the earlier history of Christianity, the place given to meditation was quite important and prominent.
The art of meditation found a favourable climate in which to thrive both in ancient Orient and medieval Europe. Life moved at a much slower pace. Science and industry had not pressed man to give all his attention to the outward activities. The oppressions, hardships, toil, serfdom, and slavery of common people gave them few ways of escape other than the inward one. There, in the solace of religious prayers or the practice of mystical introspection, they might find some of the happiness denied them by worldly society. Moreover, the tropical temperatures of many Oriental lands drove their inhabitants more easily into lassitude, resignation, defeatism, and pessimism while the wars, invasions, tyrannies, and poverties of medieval Europe drove a not inconsiderable number of its inhabitants to wear the friar's garb or enter the monastic house.
The practices of meditation were common in the first centuries of Christian Egypt but largely dropped out of the Church for a considerable period thereafter. Then came its revival--first in Roman, then in Eastern sections.
The practice of mental quiet was formerly confined to the monasteries and convents and kept from the knowledge of lay folk. When Miguel de Molinos tried to alter this state of affairs, he was sternly suppressed.
Modern conditions have so vastly changed from those of antique and medieval times that it is necessary to remind readers that until about the sixteenth century in Catholic countries, the teaching of meditation to the laity was prohibited. It was a subject to be studied by ecclesiastics only, and an art to be practised in monastic circles only. When the Renaissance brought a relaxing of this reserve, it was at first in favour of the higher social classes alone. Not till the eighteenth century was it available to all classes.
More medieval Christians practised the techniques of meditation than modern ones do. But a principal reason for that was the existence of more monasteries and convents to take care of the meditators. Those who did not care to be buffeted about in the storms of the world found plenty of harbours of refuge to which they could turn their boats.
The archives of Eastern and Western mysticism teem with instances of successful meditation practice and a scientific view must explain them from the inside, not merely criticize them from the outside alone.
The true way of meditation
We have tried to build up a form of yoga fit for those who must live and work in Western cities. The average European, the average American, cannot imitate the Indian or Tibetan ways of yogic unfoldment, even if he wants to; they are not always the correct or convenient ways for him.
A way suited to our times and our matter-sunk minds is urgently needed. Because the writer was dissatisfied with most paths already formulated, he has shaped out the one which is here offered. This way takes but a fragment of one's daily life, a mere half hour being enough.
Let no one believe that these techniques are the same as, or sympathetic to, those which are employed by spiritualist mediums to enter the trance state, or by spiritualist believers to secure automatic writing. The wary student cannot afford, and should not expose himself to, the peril of letting unknown psychic forces take possession of his body.
It is certainly possible for the earnest Westerner to live an active life and still practise meditation. However, there are some Indian yoga exercises which could never be practised in active life without leading to insanity or a nervous breakdown. The exercises given in my books are intended for Westerners leading active lives and are absolutely safe.
The expanding interest in yoga is in part due to its value as a technique of increasing our understanding of ourselves, achieving more happiness and peace of mind. It can be applied to normal living by normal persons, and its use is not limited only to hermits and monks.
The word meditation, and the meaning of the word, are beginning to become known in different Western circles. If this is contrasted to the ignorance of both which prevailed a half-century ago, the change is gratifying. But although no longer so unknown and mysterious, the distance still to be travelled until the word becomes as understood and familiar here as it is in India is quite long.
Meditation is not really a safe term to use nowadays. For instance for most people it means thinking about a theme, but for other groups it holds the very opposite meaning--non-thinking.
Yoga is a single word covering a multitude of practices. All are based on the principle of yoking the mind to one idea or one object; but since the ideas selected differ with the different schools of teaching, the results are often strikingly at variance. For concentrated thought gives increased power to our present qualities, intensifying the beliefs with which we started. Hence the competing schools of occultism with their clashing doctrines.
People who do not know what they are talking about, who lack the sense of responsibility for one's statements which is engendered by the scientific training of the West, have mixed up with yoga much that is totally irrelevant such as childish superstitions, religious fancies, and magical practices.
The term "yoga" itself may mean almost anything in India, for it has become a generic name for a number of techniques which are not only vastly different from each other but in some cases even definitely opposed. It need not even have any reference to a non-materialistic end. It is therefore necessary to be somewhat explicit when using such an ambiguous term.
The contemporary definition of the word yoga in India is "union with God." To a philosopher this is an unsatisfactory one. For originally the word, when split into its syllables ya and gam, meant "the way to go." Later it came to mean "the way to perfection." But in both cases the application of this term was not limited to God as a goal, although He was a common one. For there were materialistic, mental, religious, and philosophic yogas: indeed one could be an atheist and still pursue a particular yoga. The correct interpretation of the word indicates therefore that there is a carelessness and looseness in its use, on the one hand, and a radical misunderstanding of its right meaning, on the other.
Yoga is not a system for developing personal efficiency in order to succeed better in the worldly life, nor a therapy to get rid of diseases. Those who present it in this way have neither felt the spirit which belongs to it nor understood its most important offering.
If he requests advice on how to set about yoga, let it be clearly understood that yoga in the orthodox sense is neither suitable, practicable, nor beneficial to modern Western people. The techniques permitted merely embody yoga elements but are not limited to such elements. Indeed the term "yoga" has been dropped from these teachings to avoid further misunderstandings. Philosophy is the only teaching here offered, using the word in its ancient Greek sense of love of high wisdom.
The traditional, orthodox forms of yoga are not quite safe for Westerners living in the environment of Western cities and therefore they cannot be recommended in their old forms.
My attempts to clarify the attitude which I had adopted toward yoga, mysticism, and religion has only partially succeeded in its objects, and still there seems to be a considerable amount of confusion and misunderstanding as to what my views really are. Readers still demand a more explicit statement of my present position and this I propose now to give.
Let it be perfectly clear at the outset that I condemn neither religion nor yoga, but staunchly uphold them. So far as religion consists of a sense of reverence for a higher power and an attempt to live a good life in accordance with the ethical injunctions of the great religious founders, it is a definite necessity for the mass of humanity. So far as the practice of yoga consists in the effort to control thoughts and to subdue worldly attachments, it is an invaluable way for distressed hearts to find peace, an excellent means of obtaining that sharpened attention which is required for the adequate consideration of philosophical questions, and, in its advanced stages, a beatific path to rapt ecstasies.
Holding such views as to the importance and personal value of both religion and yoga for the great majority of mankind, it is natural that I should have nothing but respect and regard for those who faithfully follow and practise their yoga, their religion, or their mysticism. On the other hand, what can honest men give but contempt and indignation for those who become pious hypocrites in the name of religion, parasites on society in the name of yoga, or exploiters of superstition in the name of mysticism? Ought he not to make a strong protest against unbalanced abuse and incorrect practice of yoga which leads to the most unfortunate physical and mental results? Ought he not also to protest against the mistakes of mystics when they take advantage of the much-abused word "intuition" to propagate their own personal imaginations as scientific certainties?
It will be seen that I am for a calm and dispassionate appraisal of these important matters and that I wish to avoid either blind, unthinking adherence on the one side or foolish, hasty scepticism on the other. I could not have arrived at such an attitude of candid examination, I believe, if I had not had the opportunity of studying impartially various manifestations of yoga, religion, and mysticism, not only in India but throughout the world, for more than a quarter of a century. And I have had the advantage of knowing these matters from the inside as well as the outside.
It is asked why I consider yoga unsuited to Western people. This statement needs clarification and qualification for as it stands it would be untrue. By the term "yoga" is meant the precise forms of practice which are traditional to India and which originated thousands of years ago. They can be followed in their fullness only by renouncing the world entirely, entering the monastic order, retiring to forest mountain or cave retreats, abjuring all family social and national responsibilities, and accepting Hindu deities as objects of devotion. The average Westerner today is not in a position to do this, nor is he intellectually attracted to it. This is all I meant by criticizing the suitability of such methods. The basic principle of yoga, which is the cultivation of power to withdraw attention from the external world to the internal self, stands for all time and all peoples. I therefore believe it better to separate it from the accidents and traditions of history and geography, to free it from local accretions and universalize it. But if this is done it is perhaps wiser not to use the term "yoga" and thus to avoid confusion.
In the attempt to scrutinize, analyse, and define the perceptions, the sensations, and the successive changes of consciousness which meditation produced, I questioned many a practitioner, studied many a text, interviewed the few real experts I could find and, finally, looked at my own inner experience.
Yoga is both a method to be practised and a result to be attained. It is both going inside the mind and being the undistracted mind itself.
Yoga as work to be done is a process but as the unified consciousness it is a result.
Yoga is, in the earlier stages, a bodily position to be assumed and a mental practice to be done. But in the advanced stage it seeks to transcend the other two, to move up to relaxed forgetfulness of them and peaceful self-absorption in the Overself.
The process of yoga demands the positive introduction of a specific meditation-pattern and the deepest possible withdrawal of attention from sense-experienced external objects.
There are various forms of meditative practice and various aspects of meditation itself, but none of these are the heart of the matter.
The true state of meditation is reached when there is awareness of awareness, without the intrusion of any thoughts whatever. But this condition is not the ultimate. Beyond it lies the stage where all awareness vanishes without the total loss of consciousness that this normally brings.
There are different kinds of meditation. The elementary is concerned with holding certain thoughts firmly in the mind. The advanced is concerned with keeping all thoughts completely out of the mind. The highest is concerned with merging the mind blissfully in the Overself.
Much of the meditation performed by religious ascetics and monks is a form of self-hypnosis, of imaginings about their religious concepts, of thinkings and speculations about their religious beliefs. This is not the same as true meditation, which seeks to stop thinking and to penetrate to the still centre of Reality.
The novice must be warned that certain ways of practising concentration, such as visualizing diagrams or repeating declarations, as well as emptying the mind to seek guidance, must not be confused with the true way of meditation. This has no other object than to surrender the ego to the Overself and uses no other method than prayerful aspiration, loving devotion, and mental quiet.
Real meditation is not formal but spontaneous, not set by the intellect but prompted by the heart.
In matters of mantrams, prayers, and meditations, I have found by wide observation that the important thing is not a fixed formula learnt and repeated so much as the thoughts in the mind, the improvised prayer, the improvised meditation, the attitude and feeling at the time.
Too much systematization complicates the study of yoga and makes it more difficult. Intellectual over-analysis of yoga does the same. Both tend to miss the spirit of yoga.
What I call natural meditation, that which comes of itself by itself or which comes from the admiration of nature or of music, is not less valuable than any meditation of the yogi, and perhaps it is even better since there is no artificial effort to bring it about. The man feels his inner being gradually lapsing into this beautiful mood which seems to coalesce a feeling of hush, peace, knowledge, and benignity.
Meditation rises to its proper level when the meditator thinks only of the relation or the aspiration between himself and the Overself, and it rises to its supreme level when he drops even such ideas and thinks of nothing save the Overself.
This art of meditation is in the end a matter of reaching ever-greater depth within oneself, until one penetrates beneath the ego and enters pure being.
The philosophical system of meditation combines all those varied methods and diverse subjects which are needed for an all-round, well-balanced development. Therefore it combines several techniques, such as the constructive use of imagination in character building with the passive waiting for intuition in cultivating awareness. It brings together one form which calms the mind with another which stimulates it.
Open the door and let the Light in. It is as simple--and as hard--as that.
What is so extraordinary about the practice is that whereas to meditate is correctly regarded as concentrated pondering and sustained musing--in other words, producing more associated thoughts from the first original one--it leads, at its most successful end, to losing the capacity to ponder or muse. At the point where meditation becomes contemplation, thinking paralyses itself and brings about its own temporary death!
When impressions through the five senses of the outside world's existence, when ideas, fancies, images, and thoughts no longer arise in the mind, then its control by yoga, meditation, has been achieved. The methods used may vary, but in the end what is reached is the residue, consciousness-in-itself, subject without an object.
You may concentrate for fifty million years on an object, but that will only give the object again, never the Subject; hence, concentration leads only to the non-self, never to the self. No practice or action can yield it; only by removing ignorance, only by seeking That which knows the object, not the object itself, can the Overself be found.
A proper study of this subject must embrace a three-fold division: first, the nature of the mind, according to philosophy; second, the workings of the mind; third, the method of obtaining control of these workings, that is, yoga.
Meditation is not a one-sided but a two-sided affair. We begin to practise by being mentally active, but after getting well into it, we can continue only by being mentally passive.
The first step is to capture thoughts and hold them by the power of will. The second step is to carry the attention inward, away from the five senses of physical experience.
First, mind is held until its continual changes are stilled; second, it is then possible to switch its identification to the Overself.
If meditation is to be mastered, two fundamental conditions must be remembered. The first is, ever and again bring attention back from its straying. The second is, ever probe with it deeper and deeper, until the still Void is entered. At the end let yourself become one with the Void.
The art of meditation is accomplished in two progressive stages: first, mental concentration; second, mental relaxation. The first is positive, the second is passive.
The preliminary yogas also have as a chief aim the setting free of consciousness from its continual preoccupation with the body, the environment, and the personality.
The mind must fold inward upon itself, passing deeper and deeper into the fullness of concentration until it excludes all, or nearly all, physical consciousness.
It is a process of withdrawing his attention from his surroundings and directing it inside himself. It must be done carefully, properly, and for limited periods only, if he has to live and work in the world and retain his normal capacity for dealing with the world.
During meditation the basic aim is to free the mind from worldly concerns and personal desires, to present an empty, clean receptacle for the divine inpouring, if and when it is attracted by his preparedness for it.
The aim is to clear all thoughts out of the mind so that it can be experienced for what it is--pure, unmixed.
It is a matter of freeing consciousness from its varied states, for these bind and hold it down.
All these practices are necessary only to shake off a man's impressions and thoughts of the world, to cut off the person's affairs, to stop the mind's constant movement, and thus to bring him to the threshold of a deeper consciousness.
It is a kind of self-emptying to which he is called: will he obey?
To the extent that he can get away from his personal consciousness, to that extent he comes nearer to the Real. In that sense, meditation is simply a device to accomplish this state. But it can do so only temporarily. Its benefit is great but brief.
It is always helpful and sometimes necessary to let the eyes close for a while if concentration is to become more intense. But the mind, too, needs to turn just as decisively away from all other matters to gain its freedom for metaphysical thought, aspirational uplift, or even for the utter delicacy of mystical thoughtlessness.
The period consecrated to meditation will touch its highest arc if all thoughts of worldly affairs are shut out, all remembrance of personal activities put away.
From the moment he shuts the door of his room to resume his daily practice, he should become a different person, assume an unwonted identity. All that is not connected with his quest should be forgotten.
This practice requires him to cut himself off from all living creatures, from their present activity or possible interference, for several minutes each day. He is to be mentally as remote from all other human beings as he would be physically if he were on a desert island. At such a time he is to communicate with no one except his own inner self.
He must remember that the essential aim in meditation is ultimately to conquer all visions and thoughts and to penetrate to the living centre of strength which surrounds the Overself.
Meditation first collects our forces in a single channel and then directs them toward the Overself.
It is a work of leading the attention more and more inward until it reaches to the plane beneath thoughts, where peaceful being alone holds and satisfies it.
Most systems of yoga are simply devices for reducing the activity of the brain and thus allowing attention to turn inwards and become aware of what is sometimes called the unconscious and sometimes the spiritual self.
The mind must transcend the machinery it uses--the body, the intellect, and the emotions--until it becomes awake to itself.
What is all this work, this inner work of meditation, other than--as a Japanese master once asserted--keeping the physical body as still as possible when sitting and then, with establishment of this physical stillness, seeking mentally for the peaceful centre in the mind's own core?
Patanjali, the most ancient and still the most authoritative teacher of the art, has stated a definition of Yoga which may be freely rendered as: the complete stoppage of the ego's intellectual and emotional activities. When this is achieved, he adds, the consciousness hitherto enmeshed in them shows its true state--which is purely spiritual.
It is an aim of meditation to approach closer and closer to the Centre of one's being.
It is a process which detaches consciousness from things, reasonings, and events, from all its possible objects, in order to centre it in its own self.
Symeon, Byzantine mystic, theologian, and saint who flourished near Constantinople nine hundred years ago, thus explains the foundation principle of meditation: "Sitting alone, withdrawn mentally from the world around, search into your innermost heart."
It is a means of severing attention from its ever-changing objects, and then enabling the freed mental force to study its own source.
The divine essence is within us, not somewhere else. This shows us the correct direction in which to look for it. The attention, with the interest and desire which move it, must be withdrawn from outside things and beings.
It is a device for dismantling his extroverted attention to objects, a method of turning it the other way.
The aim is to disentangle Consciousness-in-itself from the thoughts. The method is to keep brushing off the thoughts.
It is an art in which he learns first to absent himself from his surroundings by concentrating on a thought and, later, to absorb himself in the Spiritual Mind by dismissing all thought.
As soon as one thought is suppressed, a new one arises to replace it. The intellect's capacity to keep up its own activity is tremendous. Hence the goal is not best reached by crushing each separate thought but by practising some other and more deeply penetrative method. That is, seek out the very source of thought itself.
He cannot really get closer to what he is already, his self, but he can push away the distractions which obscure it. And this is precisely what meditation does.
Its object is to attain an unruffled mind, to keep out everything which would mar its stillness.
The primary objective of meditation is so to deepen consciousness as to reach the egoless self.
What he is really doing is looking for the way back to himself.
The mystic learns to go inside himself, to discover what is hidden there, and to listen to what it has to tell him. The practice itself is called meditation.
If, in one sense, it is a searching for himself, in another sense it is a looking away from himself.
It is an attempt to become better acquainted, more intimate with our other self.
This is the paradox of the contemplative: that he shuts himself within himself in order to get away from himself!
There are different kinds of human consciousness--physical, dream, and transcendental. Meditation digs a shaft from the first to the third of them.
"Look within: thou art Buddha," the great Gautama revealed to his maturer disciples. "The kingdom of heaven is within you," the sublime Jesus told his hearers. And several others, less known and less influential, have turned men's minds in the same direction. But even this inner work on meditation is not enough unless it leads to a deepening that plumbs the living silence.
Meditation is practised so briefly that most of the time allotted is used up in wandering with his thoughts, so that neither concentration nor mental quiet is achieved. All this is still on the mind's surface. Meditation answers to its name only when experienced in depth.
What is he to seek in this art of meditation, as in the ideas of philosophy? Depth! This calls for profound consistent attention.
"Be still and know that I am God" is not only to be interpreted as enjoining the practice of meditation but as enjoining it to the farthest possible extent--the coma-like, rigid trance experienced by Saint Catherine of Siena and the young Ramana Maharshi.
Meditation is inner work to attain the soul's presence. It is sometimes quickly resultful, but more often goes on for a long time before that attainment is realized.
First he has to become thoroughly familiar with the conditions needed to produce the sought-for results. Then he has to become expert in producing them by repetition at each session.
Just as judo or ju-jitsu seek to neutralize any attempt at assault on the body, so yoga seeks to neutralize all activities of the mind except the most important one of all--awareness.
Judo trains a man in competing and fighting whereas yoga trains him in peacefulness.
According to the ancient Sanskrit texts, meditation simply means giving concentrated and sustained attention.
What the Quaker calls "waiting on the Holy Spirit," what Swedenborg called "opening the mind to the Lord's influx"--this is simply meditation.
When the Chinese philosophers used the phrase "sitting in forgetfulness," they meant what the Hindu yogis called "sitting in meditation." The forgetfulness refers to the world and its affairs, its scenes and events, as well as to the physical body.
In a way this profound annulment of ordinary activity is an image of death.
Why be afraid of this declaration: that the final goal is to merge in the Absolute? Is it because it promises the same as death--annihilation? Yet whenever deep sleep is entered this merger happens. The ego with its thoughts, desires, and agitations, is gone; the world, with its relativities, is no more. Time, space, form, memory are lost. Yet all reappears next morning. So it is not a real death. It is pure Being. Meditation tries to reproduce this condition, to achieve a return to deep sleep but with the added factor of awareness. In the final phase--Nirvikalpa Samadhi--it succeeds. Man dissolves but his divine Source remains as the residue, as what he always and basically was. This is why philosophy includes meditation.
The notion held by many Westerners that meditation is a vague abstract and useless kind of laziness, is curiously ignorant and quite erroneous. Religiously, it is as much an act of worship as any ritual can be. It introduces devotion and imparts a feeling of inward holiness.
Mere wandering of the thoughts is not meditation, is indeed outside even the first phase, which is concentration.
Levels of absorption
There are varying and deepening degrees of introversion, ranging from slight inattention to full absorption or trance, which is therefore only one degree or kind of introversion.
These different phases of meditation are really degrees of penetration into the various layers of the mind. Most people stop at varying points of approach to meditation's final objective and few show the patience or ability to attain its full course.
There are definite stages which mark his progress. First he forgets the larger world, then his immediate surroundings, then his body, and finally his ego.
This withdrawal of attention from the immediate environment which occurs when deeply immersed in thought, looking at the distant part of a landscape, or raptly listening to inspired music, is the "I" coming closer to its innermost nature. At the deepest level of this experience, the ego-thought vanishes and "I-myself" becomes merged in the impersonal Consciousness.
"The whole effort of yoga practice may be described as an effort to think less and less until one thinks of nothing at all. Instead of letting the mind keep wandering from one thought to another related thought, it aims at concentration on one point, concentration (dharana). In the higher stage it advances to pointless meditation (dhyana) and finally to the trance, samadhi. This, although similar to sleep and a condition of auto-suggestion, is different from these other states in that the mind retains complete consciousness of itself and remembers vividly everything that happens."*t--Lin Yutang
The inferior yoga exercises are preoccupied with the "I." The higher ones seek to forget it. This is one of the differences between them but it is an important one. For the spirit of the first is personal, that of the second impersonal. The thought of the "I" is indeed an obstacle in the way of enlightenment.
First, he empties his mind of all things, then he empties it of himself. The first part of this work he may accomplish by his own training, but the second part can only be completed by a higher power--grace. It begins by unknowing and ends by knowing.
Facility comes with time, provided all other conditions and requirements are fulfilled. Attention passes through two progressive stages. The first holds it intently on an image, an idea, or an object. The second keeps these out and holds it in a sublime empty stillness.
Reply to P.B. by Buddhist priest in Ceylon--Meditation according to Buddhism is of two kinds: (a) concentration and (b) insight. The mind is first purified and the hindrances of passions, sense desires, hatred, sloth and torpor, restlessness, broodiness, and doubt are temporarily inhibited. With this concentrated mind he looks deep into the nature of the world and ego. His concentrated mind is likened to a polished mirror in which everything is reflected without distortion. Whilst in his meditation he strives to comprehend things in their true perspective as they truly are, and the truths are revealed to him whilst he is so engaged. This is why it is said that the best truths are those that are intuited by oneself, that is, intuitive truth. The Buddha gained his enlightenment by this kind of meditation.
The Catholic Christian mystics distinguish three different stages of advancement in meditation; the Buddha distinguished ten, and the oldest Hindu authorities, five.
The first stage of meditation is the attempt to keep attention from wandering by tethering it to a fixed idea or a line of ideas. The next stage is its withdrawal from physical surroundings as much as possible. The third is lifting the object of thought to an abstract, non-physical plane, getting absorbed in it. The fourth stage is a turning point. Drop thoughts, rest in mental quiet.
The stages of deepening meditation may be progressively differentiated from each other thus: first, a general, feeble, and vague fixing of thoughts upon the aspiration or object; second, a general withdrawal of attention from external things on all sides; third, a definite but intermittent concentration of thoughts upon the aspiration or object; fourth, a continuous and unbroken concentration upon the same; fifth, the object dropped from focus but the concentrated mood still successfully maintained in pure self-contemplation.
The differences between the first and second stages are: (a) in the first there is no effort to understand the subject or object upon which attention rests whereas in the second there is; (b) concentration may be directed to any physical thing or mental idea whereas meditation must be directed to thinking about a spiritual theme either logically or imaginatively.
In the third stage this theme pervades the mind so completely that the thinking activity ceases, the thoughts and fancies vanish. The meditator and his theme are then united; it is no longer separate from him. Both merge into a single consciousness. To shut off all perceptions of the outer world, all physical sense-activities of seeing hearing and touching, is the goal and end of the first stage. It is achieved when concentration on one subject or object is fully achieved. To shut off all movements of the inner world, all mental activities of thinking, reasoning, and imagining, is the goal and end of the second stage. It is achieved when the subject or object pervades awareness so completely that the meditator forgets himself and thus forgets even to think about it: he is it. To shut off all thoughts and things, even all sense of a separate personal existence, and rest in contemplation of the One Infinite Life-Power out of which he has emerged, is the goal and end of the third stage.
The deeper he looks into his own nature--a procedure which cannot be done without practising meditation--the nearer he will come to the truth about it.
In the first stage of penetration, his external surroundings and the whole world with them, vanish. In the second and deeper stage, the feeling "I am rooted in God," alone remains. In the third stage the "I" thought also goes. In the final stage even the idea "God" disappears. There remains then no idea of any kind--only peace beyond telling, consciousness in its pure ever-still state.
If he stops at levels A or B, he is still unable to fulfil his purpose. It is just as if a composer of a piece of music were to stop halfway during its composition. Only by penetrating still farther into the depths of his being until he reaches level C will he be able to undergo that tremendous, profound, and radical change which may be called the first degree of illumination. So sudden and so startling a change could not have come unless he had had the perseverance to make so prolonged a plunge.
Few mystics pass the first degree. The rapture of it detains them.
Attention is projected on a thought which keeps away all other thoughts, is kept in rigid concentration on it. This is the first achievement and, for most practisers, the farthest they can go. But beyond that is another, the thought-less void. This needs complete privacy.
If he begins the practice with a physical object, he will have to end with an imagined one. But these are only phases of concentration. The quest goes on beyond them, to a stilled, picture-less mind.
The query as to whether the seat of the Overself is in the heart or in the pineal gland is a problem which has long excited controversy. The yogis are divided upon this issue. My own research leads to the following view: from the standpoint of yoga practice both answers are correct because at one stage of the quest, it is necessary to meditate upon the Overself as being in the heart. But at a different stage it is necessary to meditate upon it as being in the pineal gland in the head. This is because the different stages have different objectives, each of which is quite proper in its own place. However, from the philosophical standpoint which is arrived at after these two stages are passed through, the idea of the position of the Overself is then dropped, for the effort is then to be made to transcend the body-belief altogether. From this ultimate standpoint, space is regarded as being merely an idea for the mind whilst the mind itself is regarded as being outside both position and distance. Hence the philosophic meditation seeks to know the Overself by direct insight into its timeless, spaceless nature and not indirectly by bringing it into relation with a particular point in the physical body.
Getting the practice under way during the first stage requires cutting loose from memories of the day's earlier acts. The more incisive and determined this beginning is, the quicker he will be able to finish this stage and pass into the next one.
The first phase is to learn how to collect his forces together and pin them down to a particular theme, thought, or thing. It is essentially an exercise in attention and concentration. This is attempted daily. To succeed in it he must exert his power of will, must adopt a determined posture, or the mind will wander off repeatedly. With enough work on this phase he will be able to begin meditation proper, for which this was only a preparation.
All the work he is called on to do in the first stage is to secure the right conditions in the place around him, to calm the emotions, control the breathing, and concentrate the attention. Only when all this has been sufficiently achieved is he ready for the second stage--meditation proper--when the objective is to turn yearningly towards his higher self. Everything before this is merely preparatory work, to enable him to keep his mind steadily upon the principal objective which emerges later during the second stage.
A rhythm of daily practice in meditation is more or less indispensable. Some mental image or theme or physical object must be taken and the mind focused upon it to the exclusion of all other irrelevant matters. As facility develops, the image must be a definitely elevating one, something to nourish spiritual aspiration and strengthen moral ideals. In the end, meditation must become the attempt to unite with the higher Self, of which only faint and intuitive glimpses are given at first (but later on they become strong and clear). The attempt to meditate usually takes up most of the allotted time. The achievement of meditation is itself brief and rare.
The purpose of this first phase is to quieten, deepen, and stabilize the mind, to bring the agitations of thought and upheavings of emotion to an end. But this is only a preparation for the work to fulfil meditation's real purpose.
It is unlikely that any noticeable result will come during this first phase. Here will be a test of his patience. He needs "to wait on the Lord," in Biblical phrase.
This first stage is devoted to gaining prompt and effective control of attention.
Only after he has passed through the preliminaries of a contest with the mind's restlessness and wandering proclivities and emerged successfully will real meditation start.
Only when he becomes entirely engrossed in the one idea, unconscious of any other idea, can he be said to have achieved concentration, the first stage.
The second phase will not come into being unless he ceases to try only to think about it and starts to feel for its presence, drawing the energy down to the heart from the head, and loving the presence as soon as it is felt. He will express this love by letting his face assume a happy pleasant smile.
He begins to practise real meditation only when he begins to reach the silence of feelings and thoughts inside himself. Until then he is merely maneuvering around to attain this position.
When concentration reaches a full degree of intensity, and when its object is a highly spiritual one, it passes over into meditation by itself.
The only way to learn what meditation means is to practise and keep on practising. This involves daily withdrawal from the round of routine and activity, of about three-quarters of an hour if possible, and the practice of some exercise regularly. The form which such an exercise should take depends partly upon your own preference. It may be any of the set formal exercises in books published, or it may be a subject taken from a sentence in some inspired writing whose truth has struck the mind forcibly; it may be a quality of character whose need in us has made itself felt urgently, or it may be a purely devotional aspiration to commune with the higher self. Whatever it is, the personal appeal should be sufficient to arouse interest and hold attention. This being the case, we may keep on turning over the theme continually in our thoughts. When this has been adequately done, the first stage (concentration proper) is completed. Unfortunately most of this period is usually spent in getting rid of extraneous ideas and distracting memories, so that little time is left for getting down to the actual concentration itself! The cure is repeated practice. In the next stage, there is a willed effort to shut out the world of the five senses, its impressions and images, whilst still retaining the line of meditative thinking. Here we seek to deepen, maintain, and prolong the concentrative attitude, and to forget the outside environment at the same time. The multiplicity of sensations--seeing, hearing, etc.--usually keeps us from attending to the inner self, and in this stage you have to train yourself to correct this by deliberately abstracting attention from the senses. We will feel in the early part of this stage as though we were beating against an invisible door, on the other side of which there is the mysterious goal of your aspiration.
Meditation must begin with lulling the physical senses into quiescence. We cannot begin to put the mind at ease unless we have earlier put the body at ease; and we cannot make the intellect inactive unless we have earlier made the senses inactive. The first reward and sign of success, marking the close of the first stage, is a feeling of lightness in the body, of numbness in the legs and hands, of having no weight and being as light as air. This shows a successful detachment from the thought of the body. After this, the second stage opens, wherein a deep intense half-trancelike absorption in the mind itself is to be achieved, and wherein the body is utterly forgotten.
This inward light reflects itself physically as a sort of lightness both in the air and in the body itself.
A pleasant relaxed feeling comes over his body. With sufficient time, and after he enters into a deeper state, the arms may become as limp as rope and numbness may develop in the legs.
At a deeper level the feet and legs seem to pass out of the area of awareness; at a still deeper level it seems confined to the head and chest.
If, in the middle or later part of his practice, someone speaks to him but gets no reaction from him, he can be sure that this first stage has been mastered and that the second stage is well advanced.
The second stage is fully attained when his mind becomes so absorbed in the object or subject of its attention as to forget itself utterly as a result.
It borders on but does not actually enter the state of trance. It seems to have the utter fixity of that condition, the deep oblivion of outer surroundings, but actually there is a slight awareness outside of the body.
In this state he lets go of the world outside, cuts off its links with him, and folds in upon himself.
The second stage will often occupy a man for several years and although it lacks the altogether different quality of contemplation, it yields its own benefits and gains. These are valuable and necessary, even though they are the product of concentrated intellect or creative imagination. They prepare him for the next stage and remove the obstructions to its entry.
Meditation needs to become very intense and very deep before the last phases of the second stage can be left behind. It is in these phases that the great truths concerning the ego, the self, God, and the world can be most profitably held before the mind.
The second stage of meditation shows its largest fruits when the meditations are practised with patience and they become deep, long, and intense.
He has become proficient when he is able to sit motionless for a whole hour until he passes into a state of mental vacuity.
He may, if he holds on and succeeds in crossing the border of the intermediate stage, begin to feel a sense of impending discovery.
With consciousness of physical existence largely gone, with power of concentration greatly heightened, he enters a world where only his own vivid thoughts are real.
When thoughts are utterly quiescent and the body utterly immobile, the meditation has finished its second stage.
In these first two stages, the will must be used, for the attention must not only be driven along one line and kept there but must also penetrate deeper and deeper. It is only when the frontier of the third stage is reached that all this work ceases and that there is an abandonment of the use of the will, a total surrender of it, and effortless passive yielding to the Overself is alone needed.
At this point where concentration has been fully achieved all striving should cease. The mind is then able to repose in itself.
Noises and sights may be still present in the background of consciousness, but the pull and fascination of the inner being will be strong enough to hold him and they will not be able to move his attention away from it. This, of course, is an advanced state; but once mastered and familiar, it must yield to the next one. Here, as if passing from this waking world to a dream one, there is a slip-over into universal space, incredibly vast and totally empty. Consciousness is there but, as he discovers later, this too is only a phase through which it passes. Where, and when, will it all end? When Consciousness is led--by Grace--to itself, beyond its states, phases, and conditions, where man, at last, is fit to meet God.
Not all are ready to displace meditation and concentration by contemplation and there ought to be definite direction before starting on it. This may come either from within, intuitively, or from without, by advice from a spiritual guide.
In the second stage he is to banish some thoughts and keep the others. In the third stage he is to banish all thoughts and keep none. This is the most difficult.
It is true that deep meditation induces a kind of absent-mindedness as attention gets more and more withdrawn from the external world. It is as if a part of the person were not present, and indeed, this is what happens. There is a partial, if temporary, loss of ordinary self-consciousness of some part of the I and of the senses. At this stage of meditation he should let go of what he knows and let the Unknown speak to him.
The second and third stages may have five stations from start to finish, although this is not the experience of all aspirants. In the first, the body becomes numb and its weight vanishes. In the second, a fiery burning force uplifts the emotions and energizes the will. In the third, a sensation of being surrounded by light is felt. In the fourth, the man is alone in a dark void. In the fifth he seems to dissolve until there is nothing but the infinite formless being of God.
In meditation the mind is active with ideas and images. In contemplation it is passive and silent, resting in a blissful calm.
You may, by force of will, bring about the first and second stages, concentration and meditation, but you cannot bring about the third stage, contemplation. All you can do is to prepare the prerequisite conditions for its coming . . . then, when it does come, it will seize you and swallow you. As it comes in, the strength of that which resists it, of the personal ego, begins to go out.
In the passage from meditation to contemplation--from the second to the third stage--the capacity is strongly required to continue doggedly and patiently until the need of effort lapses of its own accord. The temptation to stop halfway, to be satisfied with what has already been accomplished, will show itself insistently and irresistibly during each sitting for meditation practice. After the failures to purify the feelings and concentrate the thoughts, this is the third major reason why so few ever reach the Quest's goal.
All thinking is a movement in consciousness and must stop at a certain stage; even thoughts of the highest metaphysical character should then also be rejected.
At this stage his direct efforts must cease, his urgent seeking must withdraw. Instead he must wait patiently and quietly, with heart emptied of all else save the faith that infinite being may reveal itself at any moment.
The second stage is man's effort; the third stage is the Overself's response to that effort.
When the intensely positive work of the first stage is over, then--and not before--he can let himself go as if ready to float idly on a stream.
When this point has been reached, it is not the ego's efforts that bring the aspirant into the sacred stillness, but the ego's inertia.
When meditation deepens into contemplation, the man penetrates the still centre of his being and there finds the best part of himself--the Overself.
The mind then enters into itself, not its negative petty self, but its best purest and deepest one.
The meditation may serve a useful or helpful or constructive purpose, but it will not serve its highest purpose unless it transforms itself into contemplation--that is to say, unless it transforms itself from an effort-making activity to an effortless experience by taking him out of himself. His own will cannot do it but divine Grace can.
The concentration on that "Other" is to be so complete that he can echo the words of Theresa Neumann: "I am so completely alone with the dear saviour that I could not possibly have any time to think about myself."
There is often a point in the second stage where any effort to prolong the meditation produces severe mental strain and consequent fatigue, whereas there is no point in the third stage where the desire to stop ever appears--such is the sense of renewal and refreshment it yields.
It doesn't matter very much in the end whether or not one succeeds in achieving contemplation. This is only part of the Quest. Moreover, if a meeting takes place with a Master who will assist one in meditation, the necessary impetus will be implanted to energize and guide him when he practises alone.
The body sits, squats, or lies like a motionless statue; the senses are lulled and lethargic, but the mind is quite conscious of where the meditator is and what is happening around him. Only in the next and deeper stage does this consciousness pass away, does the physical self, involved in place and time as it is, lose both: only then is the body robbed of its capacity to move and act.
It is a strange state wherein he literally becomes as nothing--without thoughts or will, bereft of the flesh yet not merged in any higher consciousness.
At the deepest point of this condition, he loses the power to make any physical movement: he sits or lies quite deprived of the bodily will.
If the exercises are successful, the breathing becomes considerably slower and gentler. If the mind enters into deep meditation and the thoughts are largely stopped and with them there vanishes the sense of time, this will be the final phase.
The third stage is successfully reached when he forgets the world outside, when he neither sees nor touches it, neither hears nor smells it with his body, when memory and personality dissolve in a vacuum as the attention is wholly and utterly absorbed in the thought of, and identity with, the Overself.
When the meditation deepens sufficiently, he may feel that higher forces seize hold of him, of his will and mind, body and self, even of his breathing. But to predict with certainty when this may happen is usually beyond his capacity. A long-established experience and a high degree of concentration would be the first prerequisites for this, and there are others too.
The wandering of thoughts stopped and the consciousness held steady, the next phase is to turn it--if he has not already started with that idea--towards the diviner part of himself in aspiration, in devotion, and in love. As he continues this inward focusing, the willed effort becomes easier and easier until it seems no longer needed: at this point it is replaced by something deep within coming up to the surface and taking him OVER. He should remain perfectly still, passive, embraced.
When body, mind, feeling, and Overself are all in harmony, the highest goal of meditation has been attained.
In the complete meditation, the surrender of self is also complete. The Overself alone is then present.
It is a slipping of the mind into gentle passivity, which leads in the end to a kind of mediumship, not for wandering spooks but for the medium's own Overself.
Contemplation is a deeper stage: no thinking is involved in it.
Meditation fulfils itself when it succeeds in climaxing its third stage and banishes all thoughts from the field of awareness. Then the mind is utterly calm and utterly clear.
Thinking must stop, but if it stops at the level of the little ego only a psychical experience or a mediumistic possession may result. If, however, it stops at a deeper level after right preparation and sufficient purification, the mind's emptiness may be filled by a realization of identity with the Overself.
For now he is acutely conscious of the very principle whereby he knows the outside world, instead of merely knowing the world alone as in ordinary awareness.
In the depth of meditation, his sense-impressions are revoked. He finds himself sitting, not in time but in eternity, not in matter but in pure Spirit.
"All discursive operations cease in mystic ecstasy," wrote an ancient. The mind's winding in and out of a subject, its thoughts running to and fro, its interests running among varied topics, come to an end.
He finds himself in an unchanged world of being where what was hitherto as nothing, changes place with a consciousness of the intensest reality.
We think of the yogi as being totally absorbed in his inner remoteness: no sound heard, no environment seen, nothing smelt or felt. This emptiness of mind is certainly, on the negative side, the final stage of meditation. The rich and rewarding positive side is another matter not being considered just now. What most of us do not know is that this is a condition which only those who have withdrawn from the world and devote most of their time to these practices are likely to attain. Westerners who fail to do so but who succeed in entering the great Stillness of Divine Presence, need not lament their failure. It does not matter if they can go no farther, provided their contact with the world is still maintained and they have not fully withdrawn from it. The hearing of a sound, the sight of an object, can be disregarded as trivial and unimportant, so long as they are able to enjoy this immaculate centre of their being.
When Socrates thought and talked, he walked about; but when the transcendental experience struck him, holding him enraptured and thought-free, he remained rigidly still, standing where it caught him. No probing questions then engaged him, no arguments with his friends then interested him.
The mind slips into the deeper consciousness, at first almost unwittingly but soon recognizing its precious value and exulting in its transcendental quality.
The essential difference is this: in the fulfilment of the second phase, consciousness of the outer surroundings of the world vanishes; but in the fulfilment of the third phase, consciousness of the ego, the person, also vanishes. Then there is left behind only Pure Consciousness in itself.
Look for the moment when grace intervenes. Do not, in ignorance, fail to intercept it, letting it pass by unheeded and therefore lost. There is a feeling of mystery in this moment which, if lingered with, turns to sacredness. This is the signal; seek to be alone, let go of everything else, cease other activities, begin not meditation but contemplation, the thought-free state.
In this deep state of meditation which assumes for the outer observer the signs of trance, or half-trance, there will be some transitional moments when consciousness itself disappears, when the deepened bliss of the experience is broken by utter insensibility, when its growing light is met by darkness and when the meditator's own awareness of any kind of being at all lapses. If his moral and intellectual preparations have been sufficiently and properly made, he need have no fear of this temporary state, which will be quite brief in any event. The Indians call it "Yoga sleep," and indeed, it is as pleasant and as harmless as ordinary sleep.
Before the higher functions of the human entity's psychological machinery can displace the lower ones, it seems that Nature requires in most cases this interruption in existence, this discontinuity of awareness to take place for a few moments.
Fruits, effects of meditation
Meditation is properly done when one feels happy and joyous at the end.
Once he has gained control of his thinking, he finds that it is just as easy to respond to high ideals as it formerly was to low ones. Once he has learned to manage his mind, the good life becomes the natural life.
Right meditation makes easier the cultivation of virtue. A virtuous character makes easier the practice of meditation.
It is a blessed purpose of this daily meditation to regain inner contact with the higher mind. With a successful result, there is a temporary disappearance of disagreeable or irritated moods, emotional hurts, or mental anxieties.
The inward stillness which is attained during meditation affects the character in this way: it shows the man a joy and beauty beyond that which animal appetite can show him. It gives him a satisfaction beyond that which animal passion can give him. This he discovers and feels during meditation periods; but its after-effects also begin to linger more and more during the long intervals between such periods and to permeate them.
He who is willing to submit his mind to the severe discipline of yoga will receive proof of these statements adequate to the effort he puts forth.
The seeds sown while emerging from contemplation will one day appear in conduct.
You will sink into the profound silent depths of your own soul, yet you will never be able to say at any moment that you have touched the bottom. How could you? It is infinite.
If in meditation he goes down sufficiently far through the levels of consciousness, he will come to a depth where the phenomenal world disappears from consciousness, where time, thoughts, and place cease to exist, where the personal self dissolves and seems no more. If there is no disturbance caused by violent intrusion from the physical world, this phase of complete inner thought-free stillness may continue for a long period; but in the end Nature reclaims the meditator and brings him back to this world. It is only an experience, with the transiency of all experiences. But it will make its contribution to the final State, which is permanent establishment in the innermost being, whether in the depth of silent meditation or in the midst of worldly turmoil and activity.
Men who have taken to the practice of meditation have begun a course which, if continued to its full development, could bring the best result--the feeling, the idea, and finally the presence of the Overself alone.
Consciousness is expanded and deepened, a new and detached view is taken of the ego and its affairs, and a participation in a higher self, radiant and divine, actually occurs. Such experience may last only a few moments, or a whole hour, or even longer, but whatever the effect it is made possible by this Power let in during the meditation period.
The yogis believe that a couple of hours of really deep meditation gives as much rest as a whole night's sleep.
The fruits of successful meditation will show themselves in his character, too. For the deeper he can probe into his mental being, the deeper he will pass beneath his passional and emotional natures. And out of this passage there will come a control of those natures, a detachment from the senses, a purifying of the imagination, which affect moral attitude and arouse moral strength.
When the practice is able to reach the third stage and complete it, successfully as well as effortlessly, the constant daily repetition will bring about a gradual mingling of transcendental with ordinary consciousness.
It is from these hours of silent contemplation that a man draws his true strength and real wisdom. They charge the battery of his highest will and purpose with renewed energies. They fill his mind with a goodness which gives him a feeling of peace and gives others a feeling of uplift.
It is this period of communion which enables him to keep steady and persistent the dedication of his purposes to the Overself and the consecration of his person by it.
So long as he must force himself to come to the practice or, having come to it already, to continue it, so long must he regard himself as a beginner whose faulty tendencies need to be firmly disciplined. Only when he comes freely and gladly, and only when he continues willingly and easily, so that a day without doing his exercises seems like a day with something lost or missing, can he regard himself as a proficient who has at last mastered meditation.
You learn to meditate in the solitude of your own room; later you learn to carry that solitude with you into the thronged street, the crowded train, the busy mart. For it becomes your personal atmosphere, your "aura."
His meditation will not necessarily follow a set course each time he sits down to practise it. At times it will take a turn quite independent of his will, desire, forethought, or planning. One day it will force him to dwell upon certain mistakes of the past, to acknowledge them feelingly, until the future seems hopeless. And then, imperceptibly, it will open a door to prayer; he will resolve to profit by his mistakes and follow wiser paths in the future, and the peace or joy which follows the descent of grace will attend the closing minutes of his prayerful exercise.
At one meditation session the deepest level reached yields a rare feeling of stillness. Yet at another session a universal pulsation is experienced.
By this simple--but not at all easy--act of withdrawing into himself, his hushed deeper self, he puts himself on the way to discover man's supreme treasure, hidden in another world of being.
Meditation, if successful, accomplishes two main purposes: it draws the mind inward, releasing it from the physical imprisonment, and it elevates the mind to a heavenly state of union with the Overself.
If with time, practice, and truth they reach the deeper side of meditation, it will be well for them and the world. For then they can sit hushed and motionless yet a benefic presence radiating the Good.
There is no doubt that many of those who attempt meditation at first find nothing for their labours, and even though at times they seem to be on the verge of finding something, it does not get realized. When after a sufficiently long period the seeming lack of success turns the effort into a bore, two things are indicated. A point has been reached where a greater patience is needed and the man must learn to go on waiting. Short periods without practice are then permissible if the strain is too much. The other indication is that the Short Path must be brought in or may even replace the work of meditation for the time being. But all this is subject to the qualification that the meditation is correctly conducted--so the method must be checked, the process must be understood and its purpose clarified.
The practice of meditation finds its climax in an experience wherein the meditator experiences his true self and enjoys its pure love.
It invades his mind as silently and as gradually as the onset of dawn.
One measure of his success with these exercises is the increasing degree with which he feels an inner life, a subtler thought-emotional being within his own personal being.
The first onset of this grace in meditation is felt in the same way the onset of sleep is felt; it is hardly perceptible. At one moment it is not there at all, but at the next it has begun to manifest.
One rises from a successful meditation not only with the feeling that one has done something meritorious, but also with the feeling of spiritual fulfilment, of final benediction.
To keep up this practice faithfully and successfully is to find within oneself a spring of living water from which one can drink directly and with which one can be filled, refreshed, and satisfied.
When the meditation period is given much more importance than Western people usually give it, when the practice becomes accepted as the day's vital centre--in short, when it becomes indispensable--the rewards, in higher education and personal purification, in more self-control and freedom from anxieties, will be rich.
Outwardly one's life may suffer every kind of limitation, from bodily paralysis to miserable surroundings, but inwardly it is free in meditation to reach out to a sphere of light, beauty, truth, love, and power.
If he practises the meditation exercises correctly, the more he exposes himself to the forces they awaken inside him, the more will he be able to resist the influences of a worldly or earthly character that he meets outside.
There is an abatement of outward-turned desires and an increment of inward-turned aspirations. There is a quiescence of the lower nature and a joy in the higher one.
To watch, observe, study, and reflect how the mind works, to go deep enough to divorce it from the limitations imposed by the body--this finally leads to understanding how the mechanism has become a trap and there is then a vast liberation of the mind.
The discipline of these exercises constantly repeated may bring him to the first success. He may find himself standing back from the ego, his attention aware of the I as well as its surroundings, both being separate from their hidden observer.
He knows that it is only his own feebleness of concentration that stops him from entering his deeper self, that when he does succeed at rare moments in making the passage he enters a world of truth, reality, and selflessness. He knows that meditation, for a properly prepared mind, leads to no illusion and no sleep but to his own Overself.
If one returns daily to the Centre of his being, keeps the access to it open by meditation, he withdraws more and more from the body's domination and the intellect's one-sidedness. That is to say, he becomes more and more himself, less and less limited by his instruments.
His efforts to dislodge those animal desires and fleshly passions which seem too strong for his moral life can be assisted by meditation practice if he has advanced it to a certain level. It is then that he can regard the disturbers while keeping the mind perfectly still until they seem separate from himself. This idea gained must be considered and reconsidered day after day until it is fully realized and fixed in his emotional nature as well as his mental one. Thus the will takes hold of it too. This advanced stage requires persistent inner work, for to overcome and master self is a great reward.
What he finds in that deeper state, where the ego is all but lost, is a joy beyond all earthly pleasures, a bliss free from all earthly excitements. Yet, despite this fact that it is so calm, so equable, it is not less satisfying than they are; in fact, it is much more so.
If he can develop the facility to sustain his meditation and keep off distracting thoughts, he can gain a cooler vision in worldly matters and a clearer one in spiritual matters.
If he holds firmly to his purpose, the day must come when the meditation period will be regarded as one of daily blessing, one to be enjoyed and no longer merely worked through. Indeed, the more he deepens his inner life, the more he will want to be alone for these practices. He will take care to keep away from unnecessary meetings with others. For him the hours of useless idle talk are at an end. The delight and fruit of meditation replace them. Time is now a part of his most precious possessions and is no longer to be thrown away thoughtlessly.
A feeling of drawing nearer to the essence of his own consciousness may grow slowly. A few riper souls may be astonished by a swifter result.
If the concentrated attention can penetrate to a certain level of the mind in meditation, it will penetrate to a source of power and knowledge that is ordinarily hidden, unknown, neglected, or untapped. From this source one can draw guidance, engender strength, and obtain instruction.
The test of a meditation's success is whether it can keep his mind off personal affairs. The exceptions to this rule would include the practice of intercessory prayer for others or mystical blessing on them.
Long practice of precise exercises in internal quietude removes us from continuous immersion in the world. This in turn enables us to detach ourselves from its lures more effectually. Such detachment leads to a calmness which more and more permeates our entire being. In this way, whatever is lost by the physical inaction of these exercises is well compensated by the spiritual gain.
The effect may not reveal itself all at once but may work its way into his conscious self by slow degrees or almost imperceptibly.
The time will come if he perseveres when he will bring himself out of the meditation with as great a feeling of reluctance as he had of irksomeness when he entered it. Its present ease will match its past difficulty. It will then not be a duty but an enjoyment.
When inner contact with the Presence is established, when it has taken firm hold over him, he no longer moves, speaks, or acts out of his own will.
Some of us have found our way to the glorious stillness which is so deep within the self, have heard its silent message, received its mysterious grace, and been comforted, helped, pacified.
Meditation proves its worth, shows its best value, and merges into contemplation, when it is deepest. For then thoughts cease to flutter, the ego is lulled, the world vanishes, and the burden of the flesh with it.
To reflect upon That which we are will one day bring It into consciousness. To contemplate It by seeking the stillness in which It abides, will one day make It a palpable presence.
The mind that is properly used, and perfectly stilled when not used, becomes a mirror reflecting Truth.
Meditation may succeed in touching the Overself but yet remain mingled with thoughts. However satisfying this state may be to the meditator, obviously he must not stop there but must go farther.
The ecstasy which the beginner so eagerly welcomes is regarded as a disturbance by the proficient meditator.
Anyone who is willing to fulfil the prerequisite disciplinary conditions and who will do these exercises for sufficient time, will sooner or later get results in growth of character and intuition.
The regularly repeated practice of meditation should have this effect: it removes the haste, the hurry, the pressure, and the restlessness with which modern Western life is afflicted. It supplants them by calm, by patience, and by relaxation.
The feeling of a sacred presence during meditation is important in every way. It provides a channel whereby Grace can be given, ideas communicated, and character uplifted.
Those who have entered the calm of life through mere passing of the years into old age could have found it much earlier if they had practised meditation.
The man who sits in this heavenly silence each day through the years cannot remain the same man all the time. The animal nature in him will become more and more subdued, the angelic more and more vivified.
Men complain that such high moods come to them but rarely and leave them too quickly. They do not know that the source of those moods neither comes nor leaves them, for it is ever present, it is their own higher self. Who then makes the move into and out of the mood? If they find the answer, they will find that it is all a matter of thought control. They can develop the capacity to bring thoughts into a stable relationship of obedience and through that to bring consciousness into steadiness and equanimity.
The frequent practice of meditation slows down emotional responses and thus makes the practiser more relaxed, calmer.
A meditation like this puts sunshine into every day.
A time may come when what happens to him during the meditation hour will seem more important than what happens during the entire day which follows it.
These minutes spent in utter unmoved stillness can become a source of great moral and spiritual strength.
Just as a novel creates a diversion for the reader and changes his world for a time, so a successful period of meditation transfers consciousness to another zone.
Men have practised these exercises in meditation since the most ancient days. Their goals were different, but what was generally sought was an exalted state of mind and a liberation from the body's own limitations.
When this self-turning from bustle and fret and speed toward mental quiet begins to become a daily habit, it begins to yield its first yet least reward--the soothing of our nerves.
If he really goes deep enough--and few ever do--he will penetrate to a level where the ordinary emotions are left behind and common attitudes are utterly alien.
With meditations he achieves a mental condition which is equilibrated and harmonized, no longer divided into a lower self against which he struggles and a higher one for which he seeks.
If a man will dive into his inmost self he will--nay, he must--eventually arrive at a place deeper than thinking.
To preach, teach, guide, and inspire, to minister the fruits of meditation, may not be seen during the act itself but at odd hours during the day or night.
If some have arrived at definite results through meditation, enjoying its benefits and fruits, others complain they have arrived at nothing. Their minds are still as unruly as ever and mystical experiences are still as elusive.
Even if it offered nothing more than a respite from private cares and a refuge from public woes, the meditation-chamber would well justify its existence.
It becomes a communion between the human and the divine in us, an adventure in seeking and finding oneness with the Overself.
The more he multiplies these efforts, the quicker his sought-for results are likely to appear.
Each man may enjoy a communion with his divine essence if he sets about it in the right way and with the right feeling.
Going within oneself in this deep sense is like coming home.
Even if through meditation you can establish only the weakest of contacts with this Presence, it is a start.
Time used in such meditation and prayer is well used. His mind will widen, his judgement improve.
From these sessions we may return to the rough world inspired, renewed, and enriched.
One rises from one's seat calm and carrying a sense of assured sovereignty in one's breast.
First there is surprise at the change in his character, then admiration of its achievement. Such is the result of success with one of these practices.
The skill which comes of long continued practice is his reward.
One thing which he is likely to derive from the regular practice of meditation, when some proficiency is attained, is a sense of inner growth, a definite awareness that progress is being made.
It is one purpose of such meditation to create, for a short period and under favourable circumstances, those new and higher qualities, as well as that power of mastery over his being, which the aspirant will one day be able to express continuously and under the most difficult circumstances.
He will come in time to start the period with ardour and to spend it joyfully; its minutes will be regarded as precious ones, its high peaks of achieved stillness as Elysian interludes.
The most important of the several purposes of this period is not achieved until he is able to withdraw from being the person bearing his name and from playing the role in which he habitually appears on life's stage.
The hours of long meditation will fix in time a serene expression upon his face.
He will know that he has mastered the practice when it becomes completely satisfying to him, and a way of achieving the highest pleasure.
If meditation is properly done and worthily directed it has a purifying effect upon the ego.
What he brings out of his meditation is important or not according to the depth he has penetrated.
As one's consciousness grows in depth, it grows also in power.
From these practices he receives a feeling of courage which in turn enables him to confront the hard situations of life without flinching.
The quality of a meditative session is not to be measured by its timed length but by its effective contact with Reality.
If we can gradually put ourself in this state of absorbed, fascinated reverie, this condition of being almost lost to the external world only because we have become intensely alive to an internal one, we awaken powerful, creative possibilities.
The practice was at first undertaken because of the benefit he hoped to get from it. But, with some proficiency, it is now continued also because of the pleasure it gives him.
How relaxing it is to feel all tension dissolve within him!
Meditation, when successful, flings a magic spell over the man--one that is benign and blessed.
The power of meditation to build virtues and dissolve faults exists in its ability to impregnate the mind with causative patterns.
The lack of enjoyable result following the practice does not mean that it has been in vain. The belief that he is sitting in the presence of the Overself, if clung to despite the meditation's dryness, will one day bring him a Glimpse at least. But he must come to it faithfully each day.
When this peace falls on the man's mind, it is like the hush falling on a room full of people making a loud noise.
The awakening of this power comes mainly by meditation: it helps him to be good and to do good, to intuit spiritual truths and penetrate spiritual symbols. But it does not turn him into a superman.
Once he is able to push the door open, he finds himself in a place where the light is heavenly, the peace indescribable, the feeling of divine support immeasurable.
The outgoing tendencies of the mind are gradually reduced by the practice of meditation and in the end stopped, so that they are reversed and turned inwards.
It bestows a perception which is not for dreamers alone, but which can be put to constant use, thus proving itself to those who demand that kind of evidence.
When he can sit still and composed, shutting the door of his thought and his room on the endless agitation of worldly business or worldly pleasure, these hours will grant him the true significance of his own life.
In some ways the full practice of meditation is parallel with falling asleep. The same physical, nervous, and psychological phenomena reproduce themselves in both cases.
When the self-absorption attains a sufficient depth, the meditator hardly knows whether he is in the world of dream or the world of wakefulness. He is lost in a new world where both the familiar ones become merged into each other and where their values become blurred.
He should try to let the mood thus created be carried over into his ordinary life. This will be exceedingly hard at first for he will find every thing and everyone seems to drag him out of it. The secret of success is to "remember to remember," for success depends on keeping his aim in view.
The experience of seeing a bright light in meditation is a high class of mystic occurrence and does not come to all. It is indeed a manifestation of God to the internal senses. It is not intended, however, to become a regular feature of the inner life because it is only a favourable sign or token of progress yet to come. Therefore he to whom this sign comes should not crave it as it happens only a few times in any one life, and in many cases does not happen at all even to advanced mystics. The important thing about it is the consciousness which comes with it, the sense of a sacred presence. The light itself, being an appearance, however wonderful, belongs to the realm of phenomena and like all other clairvoyant visions is not to be sought for its own sake.
The great Light-experience is uncommon. If it happens once in a lifetime that is enough, for it will never be forgotten. But the Stillness experience can happen every day, if you seek it by retreating inward.
The very sounds of the music which brings him to this exalted state will fall away and paradoxically get lost as he passes into a sound-free state, rapt in mental stillness and inward silence.
If in the process he feels himself becoming partially a disembodied being, a creature half-flesh and half-phantom, he need not be dismayed or frightened.
There is a point in meditational experience when, in the momentary state between sleeping and waking, the person feels as though he were a shadow of himself, a pulsation of waves, as if he were the only person in the universe.
Example: The sensation of light may be overwhelming. He will feel as if a large electric bulb has been lighted inside his brain.
His sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of other persons will become so developed and so accurate that the mere entrance of another man into the same room will spontaneously register within his consciousness that man's momentary attitude towards or thought about him.
It is when the second stage of meditation is fully developed that occult powers may arise. The mind is able so to identify itself with anyone as to reproduce his characteristics within itself quite faithfully. It may even overcome distance and do so even when the other person is not physically present but fifty miles away. Indeed, he who acquires this power of clairvoyance may have to protect himself against mixing up the other man's thoughts with his own, or against mistaking them as his own.
One experience which the meditator may get and which many meditators have had is to get a lightness in the body, a feeling as if he is floating in air, in space, or in infinity. It is blissful and to be welcomed, although there have been a few cases where beginners are frightened by it, frightened that it may be the beginning of annihilation, the annihilation of consciousness, and so they stop and withdraw.
The sensation of nearly (but not fully) getting out of his body may prove a pleasant or a frightening one, according to his preparedness for it.
He need not get either perturbed or puzzled if, after a certain period of the session has elapsed and a certain depth of concentration reached, there is a momentary disappearance of consciousness. This will be a prologue to, as well as a sign of, entrance into the third state, contemplation. The immediate after-effect of the lapse is somewhat like that which follows deep dreamless sleep. There is a delicious awakening into a mind very quiet, emotions gently stilled, and nerves greatly soothed.
The feeling of being half-bodiless is of course an illusory one. It arises from becoming aware of, and sufficiently attentive to, the stillness behind mental activity.
If in the period of meditation there comes a feeling of expansion in space, of the enlargement of consciousness along with a concentrated tranquillity, the practitioner need not get frightened, but should let the happening take its own natural course.
Possible experiences during meditation: (1) drowsy; (2) a feeling of frustration causes abandonment of session; (3) feel presence of a higher power; (4) finished with a sense of ease and lightness; (5) deeper meaning of certain past experiences become clearer; (6) a dynamic energy was felt in spine; (7) feeling benevolent to all; (8) mixed thoughts kept on distracting attention; (9) varied mental pictures of events, persons, or scenes--mostly past--floated through and vanished; (10) sounds from outside bothered and distracted; (11) ended happy in heart and positive in attitude; (12) no special result but generally relaxed; (13) for periods of about a half-minute or so each he gets into complete mental quiet, unbroken by outer sounds even if they were there or by the procession of thoughts; (14) a feeling of failure or anxiety; (15) a sense of general welfare; (16) an arousal of hope and cheerfulness concerning the future; (17) a wish to be helpful to others; (18) general contentment; (19) harmony with Nature.
His development becomes mature when the hour for meditation no longer remains outside the day but perfumes its every minute.
If the meditative act is used aright by the intellect, will, and imagination, it can become a means to an inspiration and an ecstasy beyond itself. It can be used as a stimulus to creative achievement in any field, including the spiritual and the artistic fields. It should be practised just before beginning to work. The technique is to hold on to the inspired attitude or the joyous feeling after meditation is completed and not to let it fade away. Then approach the work to be done and carry the attitude into it. It will be done with more power, more effectiveness, and especially more creativeness. Anyone who loves his task in this deeper way does it more easily and successfully than he who does not.
Among the visions which are possible, there is one of great beauty but which comes more often to Far Eastern disciples than to Euramerican ones. It depicts the sun rising out of the sea and throwing a straight trail of light across the dark waters.
Almost any symbolic vision is possible, but certain ones have repeated themselves so often down through the centuries as to become classic. They may appear to the same man only rarely, but each time they will act as bearers of fresh hope, power, or beauty and as incentives to acquire needed humility, purity, or discipline.
The aspirant should vigilantly detect and immediately appreciate those rare mystical moments which come of their own accord. They should be ardently cherished and used as they come by putting all other activity aside for a few minutes and concentrating fully on them. Otherwise they display an ephemeral nature and disappear on fleet wings. They can later be used as themes for meditational exercises by striving to recapture them through imaginative remembrance and concentration.
There is a twilight, vague, and nebulous frontier between the two states, most often experienced just after waking. It is here that the psychic and occult are most easily felt and, on a higher level, the intuitive and spiritual most easily known.
If seen at all, the Light as a lightning-flash is ordinarily seen at the beginning and near the end of the Quest. In the first case, it appears as a slender ray and inclines the man toward spiritual things or wakes him up to their existence. In the second case, it appears as a mass of living brilliance pulsating inside, through, and around him, or throughout the universe, and brings him close to union with God.
When a pronounced uplifting feeling comes, identify yourself with it, not with thoughts about it.
It is important that the practiser should be able to recognize and detect the advent of a higher power: it may present itself in several different ways and forms. One of them is to make itself felt as a mysterious gripping of the head and neck which are quite involuntarily swivelled round to one side and held rigidly there. Or they may slowly, at intervals, be moved in a semi-circle. He should accept the happening, go along with it until it ends by itself.
His encounters with other persons may affect him emotionally or interfere with him mentally, so sensitive does he become. This is why it is better to limit his contacts and if possible avoid those who leave undesirable effects until such time as his development brings them under control. He learns by experience how to guard the mental purity and inner peace.
Many different kinds of inner experience are possible as meditation progresses, some exceedingly interesting but all merely temporary. Among them are: divorce from the body, seeing bright light, losing inclination to talk with others, losing the sense of personal identity, the feeling that everything has come to a standstill and the suspension of time passing, and a vast spatial emptiness.
It is correct to say that many aspirants have undergone strange, weird, inexplicable, unrepeated, or occult experiences in their attempts to practise meditation. But it is necessary to point out that these phenomena belong to the first or middle stages of the practice, not to the real work in contemplation.
These are all experiences for a beginner: when they pass away he may know that the beginning phase has passed. He should be satisfied with the verifications which they have produced and know that appearances are turning into realities.
Meditation is also a valuable pause from a totally different point of view, that of health and vitality. It allows body, nerves, energy, and functional organs to recoup.
Unfamiliarity with these phenomena may cause fright and withdrawal at first, but the confidence that comes with experience usually replaces these negative feelings.
Several reported after meditations that they did not feel their body (except head) and did not feel any life in their trunk hands or legs. But one man reported a feeling of sinking downwards, not inwards from the head.
What is the absent-mindedness which he experiences both in and out of meditation? If this is accompanied by a blissful feeling, it is nothing to get anxious about and would indeed be a sign of the spiritual force working underground. Even so it would completely disappear in time as he will have to get and keep full consciousness. However, if the blissful feeling is absent, then it is a mental difficulty which he must strive to overcome by using his willpower.
Their wishful expectations have a formative effect on whatever revelation or vision may happen to them.
As he enters the higher self there is a great intensification of consciousness.
The mechanical operation of the lungs and heart may be markedly slowed down as the working of the intellect is itself slowed down or, in some cases, it may come very close to suspension.
The feeling of dreamy contentedness prevails long after a good meditation.
At times he may feel as if apart from his physical body, a strangely detached spectator of it.
It is not correct to assume that because the condition of muscular rigidity and bodily coma has so often followed the condition of emotional spiritual ecstasy, it must necessarily and always do so. It is enough in proficient and experienced cases for the ordinary state to be partially obscured.
As attention sinks inward, its outward-turned strength gets reduced until physical objects appear blurred.
If the penetration goes deep enough, attention may or may not any longer notice the outside surroundings, the external world.
There is a disadvantage in these practices, too. If they penetrate deep enough, he becomes sensitive to the unseen emanations from other people--to their thought, feeling, character.
A feeling of delicate sweetness may rise in his heart. If so, it is to be surrendered to completely.
It is possible that thoughts involuntarily cease, as in swoon, or are deliberately stopped, as in held breathing, yet none of this exquisite peace is felt.
Under influence of drugs, the sense of time may slow down or accelerate, the sense of space may become unbounded or squeeze down to a minute point. Yet exactly the same may happen in certain kinds of meditation.
Buddha said that consciousness of pain in the body, along with all other sense reports, vanishes in the trance-stage even before Nirvana is entered.
One need not fear "letting go" of the body-thought in meditation. If a momentary swoon should ensue, it will be immediately followed by return to full consciousness. In addition, one will feel physically refreshed and spiritually stimulated.
It is possible to experience the mind-being as something separate from the body before one has gained control over the body and ego. But the experience will be fleeting until then.
If he is unprepared for these occurrences and uncertain of their nature, the encounter may give rise to fears which cause an abrupt abandonment of these meditations.
Trance is often a confusing word to use to describe the deepest condition of meditation. It could lead to misunderstanding. Safer words would be "dynamic reverie" or "constructive introversion." The idea of reverie promotes some kind of background awareness continuing through, either from one's surroundings or from oneself, and is therefore truer.
It is not necessary that every seeker of the Spiritual Truth should pass through the trance state. A few do, most others do not, on their way to the goal yet both groups arrive at the same goal. It is indeed not advisable for the average wisdom-seeker deliberately to try to get into trance when his environment is not specially suitable for it, and doing so may even be dangerous.
By the trance state I mean one where meditation becomes so deep that the senses of bodily sight and hearing are suspended.
An outwardly similar condition can be induced by artificial methods--such as suspension of breath, fixation of the gaze, or even hypnotizing of the mind--but it is only a counterfeit, only useful on its own physical and mental level, never on the mystical level which it is unable to touch. It has as much spiritual value as the hibernation of animals has. For the true condition does not really come through such effort of the ego, it comes by Grace. This is why the hatha yogi is warned not to get stuck in hatha yoga but to climb higher.
He may fall into a daze which, the longer it lasts the longer it will take for him to emerge from. But Nature will have her way and bring him out of the condition.
Dangers, and how to avoid them
Right meditation is one of the most fruitful activities anyone can engage in, but wrong meditation is one of the most foolish.
It is true that it may now be desirable to spread the knowledge of contemplative practices as an urgent necessity for the masses, but it would be quite undesirable to do so without proper safeguards against the abuses and repeated warnings against the dangers involved. And it is equally true that only a few have achieved the state which is the goal of these practices, so difficult are they to follow.
It is because I have affirmed and do still strongly affirm the necessary validity of meditation, that I have also the right to criticize the aberrations, excrescences, mistakes, exaggerations, and deceptions which grow like weeds in the same field.
Meditation is still of the highest importance but it has certain difficulties and dangers which must be avoided.
The practice of meditation is beneficial, not harmful; but there are persons who are not yet ready for it and who should postpone it until they are. These include: those whose moral values are low; those who suffer from psychoses, mental disturbances, or emotional hysteria; who take drugs, who possess inordinate ambitions, seek occult powers, or practise sorcery and black magic. Such persons need preparatory or purificatory disciplines or treatments, psychological or physical.
All aspirants should be warned that self-development in meditation without some co-equal effort and development in morality, intellectuality, and practicality may easily lead to a state of unbalance which would unfit them for the ordinary obligations and duties of life.
Meditation is a very delicate technique and incorrectly done may do harm as well as good. Moreover there are times when it is even necessary to abandon it, in order to strengthen weaker parts of the personality which might otherwise affect the meditator adversely as he becomes more sensitive through the practice.
It is necessary to understand that meditation performed incorrectly may attract unseen mischievous spirits or else it may unbalance the mind.
The practice of meditation is accompanied by certain risks if it is also accompanied by ignorance and indiscipline. The first risk has been dealt with in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself; it is mystical hallucination, self-deception, or pseudo-intuition. The second risk is mediumship. Whereas spiritualists believe it confers benefits, philosophers know it causes injury. Whereas the former regard it as a process for getting new faculties, powers, and gifts, the latter regard it as a process for losing reason, will, and character.
Life is too tragically short at all times and too dismayingly swift-passing at the present time for us to find any pleasure in echoing to the last letter Patanjali's rules prohibiting the practice of meditation before character has been purified, desires dismissed, attachments broken, and asceticism followed. Hence we have not done so in past writings. If meditation is to be wooed only after a monkish virtue has been pursued and found, then the hope and possibility of a mystical inner life for twentieth-century man seem alien and remote. But this did not mean that we could not perceive the value or importance of those rules. On the contrary, by advocating constant reflection upon the lessons of earthly experience, by inserting such a theme into the formal meditation practices themselves, we took some of their essence without taking their appearance. This proved to be not enough, however. We found that the lack of equal or larger emphasis upon moral culture as upon meditation led many readers to neglect or even ignore the first whilst plunging recklessly into the second.
Because so many mystics have confused their own personal characteristics--resultant of inborn tendencies, education, and environment--with the particular effects of meditation, many errors of interpretation have been born as a consequence. These personal additions are superfluities and have little to do with the intrinsic process of meditation. When rightly conducted under the guidance of a competent teacher, the practice liberates the seeker from the tyranny, the warpings and distortions of these characteristics; but when wrongly practised, as often happens when it is done alone, it merely strengthens their domination, and leads him into greater error still. Hence meditation is a double-edged sword.
After you have been practising for some weeks or months, if heavy headaches or much dullness should appear, they may be taken as signals to stop or diminish your exercises temporarily until you feel better.
The ordinary man, with unpurified feelings and unprepared mentality, can not be safely entrusted with the practical exercises involving breath changes and dynamized imagination. Indeed, he is not entitled to them. Their practice may easily harm him and hurt others.
Some aspirants who fall asleep during meditation welcome this as a good sign. They talk vaguely of yoga-sleep. I would not wish to deprive them of such a pleasurable state, but it is perhaps pardonable to point out that sleep is not samadhi. The state of utter blankness in such a sleep, however blissful, is poles apart from the state of supreme alertness and positive consciousness of Self in samadhi.
Where there is maladjustment between the seeker's moral fitness and his meditational progress, serious dangers exist for him and sometimes for others.
Every man has a deep and endless well of truth within himself. Let him cast his pitcher of thought down into it and try to draw up some of its fresh waters. But alas, there is also a pit of mud within him. Most men cast their buckets into this and think that the mud they fetch up is the pure water of truth. The mud is made of his own selfish desires and ignorant prejudices and slavish slothfulnesses.
Where a practice like meditation may lead to increased power, especially occult power, it can be safeguarded only when moral growth accompanies it.
Some meditation exercises are not without danger, but this is because most exercises share such danger. Hence, they are usually prescribed along with the religious devotions, intellectual training, and moral disciplines intended to eliminate their danger. Where these safeguards have been absent, unfortunate results may be perceived both in the Orient and the Occident, both in the past annals of mysticism and the present ones. The philosophic discipline and the purificatory preparation are also intended to guard against the danger of inflation of the ego. The cultivation of humility, the moral re-education, the rigorous self-examination, and the honest self-criticism form part of these preparations.
The danger of sitting passively in meditation whilst in the presence of someone else who is not, and even in a number of cases of someone who is, is the danger of receiving and absorbing from that person his emotional and mental emanations of a negative character. This is one important reason why solitary practice is usually enjoined.
If desires arise during his meditation and take him away from its holy subject, it is better to close the session and try again at another time.
It is not advisable to attach so much importance to meditation as to use it indiscriminately. It is necessary at certain times greatly to reduce efforts at meditation for a while, or even discontinue them altogether. Otherwise the sensitivity being brought about may become a hindrance and not a help.
It is not really safe or wise for anyone to attempt the exercises without some degree of moral development and even of intellectual development. I have explained in my book, The Wisdom of the Overself, why the intellectual checks upon meditation are necessary. Unfortunately I have not explained why moral qualifications are also necessary, so this I propose to do whenever opportunity of further publication arises. At one time I was inclined to accept the teaching that the practice of meditation alone would of itself purify the character. Wide observation since then has led me to doubt the wisdom of this teaching. It is better that strenuous effort at self-improvement and self-discipline should go side by side with efforts in meditation.
Every good quality of character becomes a safeguard to his travels in this mysterious realm of meditation.
The earlier stages of meditation are often associated with psychic phenomena. This has led to the false belief that all the stages of meditation are so associated and to the gross error of taking the absence of these phenomena as indicative of failure to progress. The truth is that they are not inevitable and not essential. When they do appear the seeker is so easily led astray that they often do more harm than good.
If he is merely seeking paranormal powers, the meditator runs a grave risk. Nor, when the desire for paranormal powers is mixed up with spiritual aspirations, is this risk eliminated: it is only reduced. The risk results from those beings who dwell on the inner plane, who are either malevolent or mischievous, and who are ready to take advantage of the mediumistic condition into which such a hapless and unprotected meditator may fall.
If he carries on these exercises in the right way--with sane objectives, and for not too long a time on each occasion--then there will be no weakening of his worldly capacities and no harm to his personal interests. If he does not, he will become less able to cope with practical life and will find it increasingly necessary to withdraw from social existence.
There is no human activity which has not some kind of danger attached to it if it is pursued to excess or pursued wrongly or pursued ignorantly. It is silly to refuse ever to practise meditation because of its own particular dangers. These do not exist for the man who approaches it reasonably, perceptively, and with good character.
The aim of meditation is to bring him within his innermost self. If he permits any psychical experience to detain him on the way, he enters within that experience and not within himself. It is a cunning device of the ego to make use of such experiences to trick him into thinking of them as being more important than they really are, more spiritual than they really are. If he does not see through these pretensions, he may waste years uselessly in psychism--sometimes even a whole lifetime.
Books tell him what experiences he is likely to have and what he ought to have if he is able to progress smoothly. When, despite effort and toil, he fails to bring about the desired effects, he either despairingly abandons the practice or else artificially imagines that they are happening. In the latter case he is the victim of suggestion, and makes only illusory progress.
Where trouble develops as the result of having made some contact with the psychic plane instead of the spiritual, he should take the following course of action without delay: (a) Stop all meditation, breathing, and gazing exercises, until quite cured. After the expiration of this period, he should judge carefully whether or not to resume meditation practice and then only provided further that he feel an inner call to do so. He should conscientiously follow the instructions given on prayer and purification of character. (b) Until the trouble disappears, try to sleep at night with the light on, dim enough however so as not to disturb sleep. It will probably be necessary to wear a mask as eye-shade over the eyes to keep out the light. (c) Endeavour to purify character as much as possible. Especially keep vigilant control over thoughts and feelings, trying to cleanse them and be careful what is allowed to enter your mind. (d) Kneel in prayer at least twice daily, asking for God's help and Grace in this endeavour, confessing weakness and helplessness.
By this power of sympathy which is so largely developed in him, he is able to rise to levels higher than his own as well as to plunge to levels beneath it. In the first case, he opens himself to help from sages or saints. In the second, he gives help to the vicious and criminal.
If by meditation you mean mere absorption within oneself, withdrawal from the world of the senses and contact with some inner world, this need not necessarily be a holy state, but could be an unholy one and a communion taking place therein could be demonic rather than divine. There are various ways of achieving this deep absorption which to an outward observer may seem to be a kind of trance and these ways include drugs, witchcraft, and black magic, just as they also include religion, spiritual devotion, and aspiration. This difference must be clearly understood. This distinction is both ethical and mystical. Too many half-crazy, mixed-up persons who refuse to acknowledge it have fallen into a spurious mysticism that leads to their downfall and destruction.
Any good thing overdone may easily become a bad thing. Any valid mystical practice overdone by the wrong person at the wrong time and under the wrong circumstances may lead to madness. In all cases of doubt, disquiet, or uneasiness, it is better to draw back than to push on to extremes.
Although falling asleep is listed as one of the obstacles to yoga by Patanjali, whether it really is so depends both on the kind of sleep and the circumstances in which it develops. If very deep and very refreshing, it has some positive value--either in conferring temporary peace of mind or in healing some bodily ill. And if it occurs while practising conjointly with and in the presence of a master, it is definitely conducive to spiritual progress. But any other kind is certainly a waste of meditational time. To prevent its happening, or to arouse the sleeper from it if it has already happened, the Japanese Zen monks sitting in the meditation hall are supervised by a prefect who either slaps the drowsing man on the shoulder with the broad end of an oar-like pole or else rings a bell every twenty minutes. A different method is used in Siam and Ceylon by monks who meditate in solitude. A few pieces of wood are fastened to a candle about one inch apart. As the candle burns down, the pieces fall at intervals, thus awakening the monk if he is asleep.
Meditation, rightly used and sufficiently developed, will silence his personal opinions so that he may hear the Overself's Voice. But wrongly used or superficially developed, it will only confirm those opinions and, if they are erroneous, lead him further astray.
The improvement of character is both a necessary prelude to, and essential accompaniment of, any course in these practices of meditation. Without it, self-reproach for transgressions or weaknesses will penetrate the peace of the silent hour and disturb it.
A Buddhist ancient text gives the following blocks to meditational work: (a) a settled residence whose maintenance becomes a cause of anxiety, (b) family connections whose troubles require attention, (c) fame drawing admirers who demand attention or drawing gifts which create obligations having the same result, (d) acceptance of disciples or pupils and giving them instruction, (e) getting involved in various public or private works, (f) frequent journeys, (g) friends or relatives requiring services, (h) illness, (i) study without application in practice, (j) yielding to the fascination of occult powers. All these things take up time which has to be taken from that needed for meditation--this is the objection to them, however worthy they may be in themselves. However it must be remembered that the text itself--Vishudi-Magga--was compiled by, and for, monks.
Because the art of meditation is unfamiliar to most Western people, mistakes in its practice are easily made. To detect them, it is well to describe one's experiences to a more proficient student if a qualified teacher is not available, and have them checked in the light of his knowledge.
If the practice is regularly made in a room, it is prudent to lock the door. During the early attempts to attain the first stage this may not be necessary; but during the later periods, when proficiency has been reached, it is necessary for self-protection. If a condition of deep self-absorption is present, and if another person were to burst into the room unexpectedly and abruptly, the nervous shock given would be severe.
Some measure of moral culture is indispensable both as a preliminary course and parallel endeavour to meditation. The Path is beset with moral risks and mental dangers for those who have not previously prepared their characters and personalities to engage in its practices, for those who are still largely gripped by selfish instincts and undisciplined passions, for those who are emotionally unstable and intellectually unbalanced. Hence preliminary and accompanying courses of ascetic self-denial, self-control, and self-improvement are usually prescribed. Sensual lusts and low desires have not only to be curbed, but also ignoble thoughts and unworthy attitudes, if meditation exercises are to be done with safety and finished with success.
The very way he habitually uses his mind may be so wrong that if it inserts itself into his approach to meditation, the result is self-defeating. His practice of the exercise may be faithful and persistent but yet so wrongly carried out that no other result is possible.
Some of the exercises will be of no benefit if practised too soon by unready minds, and may even do some harm.
One danger of mystic experience is the possible swelling of the ego. It could make ignored unimportant persons become a centre of attention and give them a feeling of public importance.
Men who are drunk, insane, angry, or insensitive cannot practise meditation.
Psychotic states and psycho-pathological conditions usually make it undesirable for a person to continue with or take up ordinary meditation practices. He has lost his way and needs treatment from outside himself rather than from within his ego.
To mark off a short part of the day or night for such thought, feeling, and aspirational exercise, or better still, two parts, is a way of life which, however uncommon, is highly important. It will prove itself in time and in various results. The self is brought under better control; the character is morally uplifted; an awareness of a link with the Universal Mind will disclose itself. But again, what is here referred to is a philosophic practice, and must conform with the ideals, principles, and knowledge of philosophy. It must be properly done by qualified persons if the effects are to be beneficial and not harmful. Otherwise a preparatory study and purificatory course should first be undertaken. Right meditation can bring about changes for the good, the harmonious and constructive in a man, but wrong or premature or ill-intentioned or totally ignorant meditation can develop the opposite.
A difficulty arises from the constant practice of meditation in that sensitivity is much increased: sensitivity to the feelings and thoughts of others. And when this sensitivity seems to submerge him in their influences and auras, he is in danger of losing his own individuality or of getting confused and muddled by this mental absorption. Action must be taken to keep the sensitivity without letting it make him the victim of other peoples' emotional emanation and mental projection.
There is a practice by which a man can put himself into a passive condition by quietening his thoughts. But if this passivity is not directed by aspiration towards the higher consciousness, towards the holier sources, it may be turned into mere mediumship directed not to spirits but to other living persons. In this way he may become sensitive to other peoples' emotional-mental condition but will not have the higher consciousness.
In a particular case it is sometimes advisable to discontinue practising meditation for a while in order to apply more attention to spiritual needs and requirements. The student should realize that it is of the utmost importance to steadily increase his power of self-control over emotions, moods, and troublesome thoughts and to develop a more balanced emotional state. Meditation, by itself, cannot bring about this state. What is needed here is dogged and persistent application of the higher will.
If, while in a highly sensitive state, the individual finds he is arriving at a psychic rather than a truly spiritual level, he or she should substitute simple spontaneous prayer or worship for meditation, at least for a while. It will also be necessary to practise strengthening the will and getting rid of occult fears. The student must increase his faith in his higher Self and call upon it for strength and courage.
It is better not to dwell on any visual phenomena other than at the moment of occurrence, or else progress will be impeded. What is more important than seeing is the state of feeling produced; this must be pure awareness from which all psychical elements are excluded. Not until this state has been thoroughly established and integrated with active life and intellectual understanding and the moral nature, is it safe to examine or experiment with psychic phenomena.
The wise aspirant will throw out all those foolish imaginations and egoistic fancies which beset the way of meditation. They are false leads and hindrances to seeing truth.
The hazards which beset the practice of meditation ought not frighten us away from it altogether. We should of course beware the foolish cults and lunatic fringes and paranoiac leaders. We should also avoid falling into a lazy daydreaming which self-fabricates its own world. But a healthy mental attitude will readily protect us.
Aspirants who are more intent on getting "experiences" out of their meditation than on getting rid of the ego, risk falling into the quest's sidetracks. For the experiences are mostly wanted because of the pleasure they give the ego's emotions and the flattering they give its mentality.
Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, and those disciples who practise his system of psychoanalysis, have shown some interest in certain Chinese and Indian yoga systems. I, myself, once discussed the subject with him in his own home. But, despite his sympathetic interest, he advises Westerners in various publications to avoid any practical attempts to master yoga.
Such attempts, he says, would be false and sometimes dangerous. The proper approach should be by way of strictly scientific and non-religious observation. Moreover, he condemns the personal asceticism and social withdrawals which are usually associated with yoga.
Now, such a view comes quite close at points to the Philosophic one, but it does not coincide with it completely. For the question must be asked how, by following the Western path of turning his eyes outward and his mind towards analysis, can man arrive at the same goal as by following the Eastern path of turning them inward and his mind toward self-quiescence? It is impossible for the result to be the same. Hence, Philosophy says, bring the two paths together; learn how to unite and keep a balance between them. This is modern man's need and duty.
Why does Jung reject yoga, despite the high praise he gives to Eastern wisdom in both his lectures and writings? He decries meditation, which is the heart of yoga, as being unsuitable to Western man, just as Martinus, the Danish mystic, denounces it as dangerous to Western man. Now, both these authorities have a solid basis for their criticism, but not for their conclusions. As regards the unsuitability of meditation, since it is simply the deepening of the intuitive faculty in man, we can reject it only by saying that intuition is unsuitable to man. As regards its dangers, it must be asked why we do not disdain to use automobiles even though their use has proved dangerous to quite a number of people? It is true that there are perils in the practice of meditation, but they exist only for those who are unqualified to enter it and who should therefore leave it alone, or for those who through ignorance or faulty character abuse it. In the category of the unqualified, we may place those who are seeking occult powers, strange phenomena, mysterious visions, sensational and dramatic experiences, or the satisfaction of mere curiosity. Whatever pathological results have emerged from their meditation have done so because the people who practised it had no business to be doing so. Among the unqualified we may further place those who are dominated by undesirable complexes, by negative feelings, by hidden fears; those who are wildly unbalanced and neurotically unstable. For the qualities they bring into meditation become even magnified by the stimulation in which it results. The gravest possible danger of meditation, and the one to which my friend Martinus usually alludes, is that if the meditator passes out of his body temporarily, there is a danger of the body becoming possessed by another entity. Let it be stated at once that such a danger could arise only during the trance state, and that few persons ever penetrate deeply enough to gain that condition. But, if a person is intelligent, sensible, fairly balanced, and of good character, he need have no fear whatsoever of meditation. And if his motive of coming to the practice is simply to find his True Self, his Best Self, and if he will reject everything else as likely to lead him aside from this path, and if he devotes part of his meditative time to constructive work in self-improvement as an essential accompaniment and preface to the work in mind-stilling, he is quite unlikely to come to any grief.
Since the means used by all religion, mysticism, and philosophy is the denial of self while the end they propose is the realization of the Overself, and since meditation in its most complete stage is such a denial and such a realization, it would be folly to abandon meditation because of its possible dangers and delusions or because Martinus says it is an out-dated primitive technique for backward peoples of the pre-Christian era or because Jung says it is not suited to Western man. For consider that meditation's stillness is corpse-like, that its utter freedom from all emotional agitations virtually begins the ego's death, and that the mental silence which ends thinking completes that death. Is not all this a dying unto self which allows the Overself to replace it in consciousness?
Mrs. Aniela Jaffé told me that late in his life Jung himself practised yoga, but those patients who had neuroses had to be cured first before being allowed to do so.
There are perils waiting for those who are mentally ill and who try meditation on their own without supervision. It would be better for them to practise simple relaxation, calming their emotions, quietening their thoughts.
The mystic, sitting in the silence of his meditation room, may receive great wisdom and feel a beneficent presence or, astray and imprudent, may fall into psychical deception and be possessed by evil presences. If he is to avoid these dangers, he must adopt certain safeguards and find competent guidance. Without them, he had better be content with reading and study and belief.
Why reveal knowledge of meditation if it is dangerous to some people? Reply: the facts should be known even if the practice is prohibited. We should learn about the existence of poisons even if their drinking is prohibited. But in the form of simple relaxation there is urgent need for meditation today and no danger is in that.
The practice of meditation in any form, including the use of mantrams or mandalas, does not in any way exempt him from the prerequisite or accompanying conditions of cleansing and disciplining his character.
He may become so sensitive that a feeling of unease comes with the presence of other men.
If a time comes when the stream of meditation dries up, when its practice brings no apparent response and is undertaken with no felt fervour, the aspirant should take these signs as warnings to make a change of approach for some time. He should desist from internal habitual exercises and engage in external, new, and informal activities, or simply take a long rest.
Meditation practised by an emotionally unstable and intellectually egotistic personality, may not only be without value for progress but may even increase the instability and the egotism.
If men who lack sincerity, purity, and humility take up such a practice as meditation, it will harm them and increase their capacity to harm others. Moral character not only cannot be neglected in this sphere but is quite foundational.
Too much meditation could create hypersensitivity and nervousness in certain persons.
People with acidulated tempers or gross selfishness, with serious neuroses or wild hysterias, are required to improve themselves until they are sufficiently changed, before attempting to penetrate the deeper arcana of meditation. For the result would be morally or intellectually harmful to them. Yet it is unfortunately the case that so many among those attracted to mysticism are psychoneurotics. It is worse still when they are half-educated persons. They are often incapable of absorbing its moral disciplines, or are unwilling to do so. The well-educated, who might be expected to be more balanced, are also more sceptical of it.
This wandering tendency of thoughts can be blocked by undesirable, artificial, unhealthy, or even dangerous means and the seeker should be warned against using them. Drugs are merely one of these forms.
To become a mystic is simply to penetrate from within more deeply than is customary into the psychological element of religion. But after all, this is only a single element, although a most important one, in what is really made up of several elements. And this is the defect, or even danger, of mysticism--that it is insufficient because incomplete, that it discards such useful religious characteristics as moral re-education of thought and conduct, personal compassion, social helpfulness, and worshipful humility.
The unbalanced seeker will do better to limit the time he gives to meditation and use it to try to adjust himself to the world instead of running away from it.
He should clearly discriminate what good is to be had from, and what evil is to be avoided in, these various practices.
It is possible to practise badly and thus bring about negative results. Such meditation can degenerate into mediumship, so that new, strange facets of personality appear. Or, a loss of efficiency may become manifest, a kind of apathy, indifference, which will turn the man into a dreamer.
Among the Tibetans the prescribed period of meditation will not be used for this purpose if the man is overcome by anger. He is advised to lie down and wait until his temper cools.
What is the use of teaching advanced lessons to those who have not yet learnt the primary ones?
If his meditation deviates from a correct moral procedure he will have only himself to blame for his fall into black magic and its dire punishment.
The mind can explore itself. But to do this properly it must first prepare, train, and purify itself.
Emotionally, and especially mentally, disturbed persons should not attempt most meditational exercises, but should get psychologically helped and healed first.
Whenever the development of one or more of the four sides of the psyche falls behind the others, nature soon calls attention to it in order to restore the necessary balance. Almost everybody is deficient in this sense but the degree varies. It is not advisable to practise meditation until there is sufficient balance.
Jung objected to yoga being done by ordinary Westerners only so far as it was likely to affect their psychic control. He did not object if they had been properly prepared by a trained analyst who could remove their psychoses and neuroses. This was what I understood him to say at our personal discussion in 1937. In his Collected Works, Volume 11, "Yoga and the West," he makes a short statement on this subject: "I do not apply yoga methods in principle, because in the West, nothing ought to be forced on the unconscious. . . . On the contrary, everything must be done to help the unconscious to reach the conscious mind and free it from its rigidity."
Some of the obstacles to successful practice of meditation have been told by Swatmarama Swami, one of the medieval authorities on yoga in India. He wrote: "Yoga does not succeed when accompanied by excessive eating, by overwork, by overtalking, by carrying out painful vows, by promiscuous society and by fickleness. It becomes successful by energy, initiative, perseverance, reflection and solitude."