Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 4: Elementary Meditation > Chapter 3: Fundamentals
Stop wandering thoughts
The longest book on yoga can teach you nothing more about the practical aim of yoga than this: still your thoughts.
One of the causes of the failure to get any results from meditation is that the meditator has not practised long enough. In fact, the wastage of much time in unprofitable, distracted, rambling thinking seems to be the general experience. Yet this is the prelude to the actual work of meditation in itself. It is a necessary excavation before the building can be erected. The fact is unpleasant but must be accepted. If this experience of the first period is frustrating and disappointing, the experience of the second period is happy and rewarding. He should really count the first period as a preparation, and not as a defeat. If the preliminary period is so irksome that it seems like an artificial activity, and the subsequent period of meditation itself is so pleasant and effortless that it seems like a perfectly natural one, the moral is: more perseverance and more patience.
If the turning wheel of thoughts can be brought to a perfect standstill without paying the penalty of sleep, the results will be that the Thinker will come to know himself instead of his thoughts.
Meditation is admittedly one of the most difficult arts to learn. The mind of humanity in its present-day condition is so restless, so wandering, and especially so extroverted, that the effort to bring it under control seems to the beginner to meet with disheartening results. Proper patience, right technique, and the mental help of an expert are needed. In most cases it takes several years, but from experience and knowledge there may come the skill and ease of the proficient meditator.
It is useful only in the most elementary stage to let thoughts drift hazily or haphazardly during the allotted period. For at that stage, he needs more to make the idea of sitting perfectly still for some time quite acceptable in practice than he needs to begin withdrawal from the body's sense. He must first gain command of his body before he can gain command of his thoughts. But in the next stage, he must forcibly direct attention to a single subject and forcibly sustain it there. He must begin to practise mental mastery, for this will not only bring him the spiritual profits of meditation but also will ward off some of its psychic dangers.
A rabble of thoughts pursue him into the silence period, as if determined to keep his mind from ever becoming still.
Do not miss the object of your meditations and lose yourself in useless reveries.
The moral is, find the object that makes most appeal to your temperament, the object that experience proves to be most effective in inducing the condition of mental concentration.
The first quarter-hour is often so fatiguing to beginners that they look for, and easily find, an excuse to bring the practice to an abrupt end, thus failing in it. They may frankly accept the fatigue itself as sufficient reason for their desertion. Or they may make the excuse of attending to some other task waiting to be done. But the fact is that almost as soon as they start, they do not want to go on. They sit down to meditate and then they find they do not want to meditate! Why? The answer lies in the intellect's intractable restlessness, its inherent repugnance to being governed or being still.
Command your thoughts during this first period of meditation; direct them by the energized will towards a definite and specific subject. Do not let them drift vaguely. Assert your mastery by a positive effort.
In your meditations, stop thinking about the things that ought to have been left outside the door and start thinking about the Overself.
The mind will rush off like a wild bull from the discipline he seeks to impose on it. If this fails, it will use temptations or diversions or pessimism.
Think of the lama sitting in long and sustained meditation in the freezing cell of a Tibetan monastery and be ashamed of your own weakness.
If the meditation is not to lose itself in empty day-dreaming, it must be alert.
If meditation were to stop with ruminating intently over one's own best ideas or over some inspired man's recorded ideas, the result would certainly be helpful and the time spent worthwhile. It would be helpful and constructive, but it would not be more than that. Such communion with thoughts is not the real aim of meditation. That aim is to open a door to the Overself. To achieve this, it casts out all ideas and throws away all thoughts. Where thinking still keeps us within the little ego, the deliberate silence of thinking lifts us out of the ego altogether.
The essence of yoga is to put a stop to the ego's mental activities. Its ever-working, ever-restless character is right and necessary for human life but at the same time is a tyrant and slave-driver over human life.
One of the hindrances to success in meditation, to be overcome with great difficulty, is the tendency of the intellect--and especially of the modern Western intellect--to think of the activity to which it could be attending if it were not trying to meditate, or to look forward to what it will be doing as soon as the meditation ends, or to project itself into imaginations and predictions about the next few hours or the next day. The only way to deal with this when it happens is forcibly to drag the mind's attention away from its wanderings and hold it to the Now, as if nothing else exists or can ever exist.
Catch your thoughts in their first stage and you catch the cause of some of your troubles, sins, and even diseases.
The thoughts which intrude themselves on your meditation in such multitudes and with such persistence may be quelled if you set going a search as to where they come from.
If the wandering characteristic of all thoughts diverts attention and defeats the effort to meditate, try another way. Question the thoughts themselves, seek out their origin, trace them to their beginning and reduce their number more and more. Find out what particular interest or impulse emotion or desire in the ego causes them to arise and push this cause back nearer to the void. In this way, you tend to separate yourself from the thoughts themselves, refuse to identify with them, and get back nearer to your higher identity.
The first part of the exercise requires him to banish all thoughts, feelings, images, and energies which do not belong to the subject, prayer, ideal, or problem he chooses as a theme. Nothing else may be allowed to intrude into consciousness or, having intruded by the mind's old restlessness, it is to be blotted out immediately. Such expulsion is always to be accompanied by an exhaling of the breath. Each return of attention to the selected theme is to be accompanied by an inhaling of the breath.
When thoughts are restless and hard to control, there is always something in us which is aware of this restlessness. This knowledge belongs to the hidden "I" which stands as an unruffled witness of all our efforts. We must seek therefore to feel for and identify ourself with it. If we succeed, then the restlessness passes away of itself, and the bubbling thoughts dissolve into undifferentiated Thought.
He must first work at the cleansing of his mind. This is done by vigilantly keeping out degrading thoughts and by refusing entry to weakening ones.
He must wait patiently yet work intently after he closes his eyes until his thoughts, circling like a flock of birds around a ship, come gently to rest.
We habitually think at random. We begin our musings with one subject and usually end with an entirely different one. We even forget the very theme which started the movement of our mind. Such an undisciplined mind is an average one. If we were to watch ourselves for five minutes, we would be surprised to discover how many times thought had involuntarily jumped from one topic to another.
The first problem is how to keep his interest from drying up, the second how to keep his attention from wandering off.
When he has previously purified his character, he will naturally be able to sustain long periods of meditation without being distracted by wayward emotions.
The passage in consciousness from mere thoughts to sheer Thought is not an easy one. Lifelong ingrained habit has made our consciousness form-ridden, tied to solids, and expectant of constant change. To surrender this habit seems to it (albeit wrongly) quite unnatural, and consequently artificial resistances are set up.
To keep up the meditation for some length of time, to force himself to sit there while all his habitual bodily and mental instincts are urging him to abandon the practice, calls for arousing of inner strength to fight off inattention or fatigue. But this very strength, once aroused, will eventually enable him to keep it up for longer and longer periods.
As the mind slowly relaxes, the number of thoughts is reduced, the attentiveness to them increased.
Whenever the meditator notices that he has lost his way and is no longer thinking of his chosen subject, he has to start again and rethink the subject. This process of refinding his way several times may have to be repeated during each session of meditation.
It will be a help to meditate more successfully if, at the beginning, the breathing rhythm is equalized so that the inbreath and the outbreath are roughly of the same length and if one draws the air in a little more deeply than normally and lets it out a little more slowly than normally.
The so-called normal mind is in a state of constant agitation. From the standpoint of yoga, there is little difference whether this agitation be pleasurable or painful.
If a student is not purified enough, nor informed enough, it is better not to endeavour to reach the trance stage. He should devote his efforts to the control of thoughts and to the search for inner tranquillity along with this self-purification and improvement of knowledge.
The thought-flow may be stopped by forcible means such as breath control, but the result will then be only a transient and superficial one. If a deeper and more durable result is desired, it is essential to conjoin the breath control with other kinds of self-control--with a discipline of the senses and a cleansing of the thoughts.
The aim is to work, little by little, toward slowing down the action of thinking first and stilling it altogether later.
If the initial period of distracted, wandering, overactive, or restless thoughts irks him by its length, he should remember that this shows the state of his mind during most of the day.
It is a custom among the yogis, and one laid down in the traditional texts, to begin meditation by paying homage to God and to the master. The purpose of this is to attract help from these sources.
The mind is dragged hither and thither by its desires or interest, dragged to fleeting and ephemeral things.
The undisciplined mind will inevitably resist the effects needed for these exercises. This is a difficult period for the practiser. The remedy is to arouse himself, "summon up the will," and return again and again to the fight until the mind, like a horse, begins to accept its training and learns to obey.
In this interim waiting period nothing happens, only the thoughts bubble along as they usually do during an idle time, except that there is some strain, some constriction whenever he remembers that there is a purpose in his sitting here, a control needed to achieve it.
He is to begin by giving a disciplined attention to the workings of his own mind.
The body soon begins to protest against the unaccustomed stillness suddenly enforced on it: the mind soon starts to rebel against the tedium and boredom of the early stages, and the habitual unrest of both will have to be faced again and again.
It is difficult, often impossible, to stop thinking by one's own effort. But by grace's help it gets done. With thinking no longer in the way, consciousness ceases to be broken up: nothing is there to impede movement into stillness.
If the innate capacity is lacking, as it usually is, then the aspirant requires some skill gathered from repeated experience to shut out sounds which bring the mind back to physical situations.
It is not only thoughts that come up in the form of words that have to be brought under control, but also those that come up in the form of images. So long as consciousness is peopled by the activities of imagination, so long does its stillness and emptiness remain unreached. That certain yoga exercises use either of these forms to reach their goal does not falsify this statement. For even there the method practised has to be abandoned at a particular point, or stop there by itself.
The intellectual type tries to analyse what he does and sees in the attempt to understand it more fully. But the end result is that the transcendent part of the experience is lost; one set of thoughts succeeds only in producing another. He must be willing and ready to stop intellection at the start of the exercise. This is essential to success in meditation.
Whatever method blocks the wandering of thoughts or the practice of intellectualism, whether random or continuous, may be useful so long as it assists concentration and logical examination is avoided. It could be a mantram, but not a devotional, intelligible, or meaningful one. It could be a diagram, a dot on the wall, or a door-handle.
He must try to keep his mental equilibrium undisturbed by the hardships and unbroken by the pleasures which life may bring him. This cannot be done unless the mind is brought to rest on some point, idea, name, or symbol which gives it a happy poise, and unless it is kept there.
It is not enough to achieve control of the body, its urges and its drives and its passions, splendid though that certainly is. His advance must not stop there. For he has yet to deal with his thoughts, to recognize that they come from his ego, feed and nurture it, and control of them must also be achieved.
The first law of the disciple's life is to bring his own thoughts under law.
"To stop thinking is as if one wanted to stop the wind" is an old Chinese statement.
The control of thought and its consecration to exalted themes will bring him more peace and more power.
He must give himself a sufficient length of time, first to attain the concentrated state and second, to hold it.
He finds that, however willing and eager he may be, he can sustain the intensity of struggle against this restlessness of mind only for a certain time.
He must give his thoughts a decisive turn in the chosen direction every time they stray from it.
Imagination is likely to run away with his attention during this early period. At first it will be occupied with worldly matters already being thought about, but later it may involve psychical matters, producing visions or hallucinations of an unreliable kind.
Even when he is meditating, the aspirant may find that feelings, thoughts, memories, or desires and other images of his worldly experience come into the consciousness. He must not bind himself to them by giving attention to them, but should immediately dismiss them.
Experiences and happenings keep attention ever active and ever outward-turned, while memories, although internal, direct it back to the physical world. So a man's own thoughts get in the way and prevent him from a confrontation with pure Thought itself.
The ability to bring the mind to controlled one-pointedness is extremely difficult, and its achievement may require some years of effort and determination. He need not allow himself to become discouraged but should accept the challenge thus offered for what it is.
The mind flutters from subject to subject like a butterfly from flower to flower, and is unable to stay where we want it.
Blankness is not the goal
A mere emptiness of mind is not enough, is not the objective of these practices. Some idiots possess this naturally but they do not possess the wisdom of the Overself, the understanding of Who and What they are.
Philosophy does not teach people to make their minds a blank, does not say empty out all thoughts, be inert and passive. It teaches the reduction of all thinking activity to a single seed-thought, and that one is to be either interrogative like "What Am I?" or affirmative like "The godlike is with me." It is true that the opening-up of Overself-consciousness will, in the first delicate experience, mean the closing-down of the last thoughts, the uttermost stillness of mind. But that stage will pass. It will repeat itself again whenever one plunges into the deepest trance, the raptest meditative absorption. And it must then come of itself, induced by the higher self's grace, not by the lower self's force. Otherwise, mere mental blankness is a risky condition to be avoided by prudent seekers. It involves the risk of mediumship and of being possessed.
Vacuity of mind is not to be confused with perception of reality.
It is only a limp, semi-mesmeric state, after all, and yields a peace which imitates the true divine peace as the image in a mirror imitates the flesh-and-blood man. It is produced by self-effort, not by Grace, by auto-suggestion rather than by the Overself.
"No more serious mistake can be committed than considering the hibernation of reptiles and other animals as illustrating the samadhi stage of Yoga. It corresponds with the pratyahara, and not the samadhi stage. Pratyahara has been compared with the stage of insensibility produced by the administration of anesthetics, for example, chloroform."*t--Major B.D. Basu, Indian Medical Service
To seek mental blankness as a direct objective is to mistake an effect for a cause. It is true that some of the inferior yogis do so, trying by forcible means like suppression of the breath to put all thoughts out of the mind. But this is not advocated by philosophy.
To attempt the elimination of all thoughts as they arise, with the aim of keeping consciousness entirely empty of all content, is another method which some yogis and not a few Occidentals try to practise. It is not as easy as it seems and is not frequently successful. Philosophy does not use this rash method, does not recommend making the mind just a blank. There are two perils in it. The first is that it lays a man open to psychic invasion from outside himself, or, failing that, from inside himself. In the first case, he becomes a spiritualistic medium, passively surrenders himself to any unseen entity which may pass through the door thus left open, and risks being taken possession of by this entity. It may be earthbound, foolish, lying, or evil, at worst. In the second case, he unlooses the controls of the conscious self and lets into it forces that he has long outgrown but not fully eliminated--past selves that are dying and would be best left alone, subconscious impulses that lead into evil or insane hallucinations masquerading as occult perceptions or powers. Now it is correct to say that the mind must be completely mastered and that a vacuum will arise in the process, but this is still not the way to do it. The better way is to focus the mind so unwaveringly on some one thing, thought or image or phrase, so elevated that a point will be reached where the higher self itself suddenly obliterates the thoughts.
The silence of meditation is a dignified thing, but the silence of a stupid empty mind is not.
Merely being thought-free by itself may lead to psychic results. One has to sink back to a dynamic positive mental silence by starting meditation with a dynamic positive attitude.
Eliminating thoughts and eliminating the ego during meditation are two different things. You should experiment with the various methods given in the books if you want to know which would help you most.
Su Tung Po: "People who do not understand sometimes describe a state of animal unconsciousness as the state of samadhi. If so, then when cats and dogs sleep after being well fed, they too do not have a thought on their minds. It would obviously be incorrect to argue that they have entered samadhi."
Zen Patriarch Hui-neng: "It is a great mistake to suppress our mind from all thinking . . . to refrain from thinking of anything, this is an extreme erroneous view . . . your men are hereby warned not to take those exercises for contemplating on quietude or for keeping the mind in a blank state."
The drowsy torpor of a lazy mind is not the true void to be desired and sought.
The feeling of peace is good but deceptive. The ego--cause of all his tension--is still hidden within it, in repose but only temporarily inactive.
Practise concentrated attention
Meditation has as its first object an increasing withdrawal of the mind from the things of this world, and also from the thoughts of this world, until it is stilled, passive, self-centered. But before it can achieve any object at all, attention must be made as keenly concentrated as an eagle's stare.
The aim is to achieve a concentration as firm and as steady as the Mongolian horseman's when he gallops without spilling a drop of water from a completely filled glass held in his hand.
Each exercise in meditation must start with a focal point if it is to be effective. It must work upon a particular idea or theme, even though it need not end with it.
When it is said that the object of concentration practice should be a single one, this does not mean a single thought. That is reserved either for advanced stages or for spiritual declarations. It means a single topic. This will involve a whole train of ideas. But they ought to be logically connected, ought to grow out of each other, as it were.
The genius is the product of intense concentration. All those who lack this quality, will also lack genius.
Exercise: When wholly absorbed in watching a cinema picture or a stage drama or in reading a book with complete interest, you are unconsciously in the first stage of meditation. Drop the seed of this attention, that is, the story, suddenly, but try to retain the pure concentrated awareness. If successful, that will be its second stage.
These concentrations begin to become effective when they succeed in breaking up the hold of his habitual activities and immediate environment, when they free his attention from what would ordinarily be his present state.
He is able to reach this stage only after many months of faithful practice or, more likely, after some years of it. But one day he will surely reach it, and then he will recognize that the straining, the toil, and the faith were all well worthwhile.
The first thing which he has to do is to re-educate attention. It has to be turned in a new direction, directed towards a new object. It has to be brought inside himself, and brought with deep feeling and much love to the quest of the Soul that hides there.
The mind can be weaponed into a sharp sword which pierces through the illusion that surrounds us into the Reality behind. If then the sword falls from our grasp, what matter? It has served its useful purpose.
There is an invisible and inaudible force within us all. Who can read its riddle? He who can find the instrument wherewith to contact it. The scientist takes his dynamo and gathers electricity through its means. The truth-seeker concentrates his mind upon his interior and contacts the mysterious Force back of life. Concentrated thought is his instrument.
The effort needed to withdraw consciousness from its focal point in the physical body to its focal point in a thought, a mental picture, or in its own self, is inevitably tremendous. Indeed, when the change is fully completed, the man is often quite unaware of having any body at all.
Patanjali points out that inability to hold a state of meditation after it is reached will prevent the arisal of spiritual consciousness as much as inability to reach the state at all.
The mind must be emptied first of all content save this one paramount thought, this fixed focus of concentration.
Let it be granted that the practice of concentration is hard to perform and irksome to continue for weeks and months without great result. Nevertheless, it is not too hard. Anyone who really makes up his mind to master it, can do so.
When this concentration arrives at fixity and firmness which eliminates restless wandering, intrusion, and disturbance, the need of constantly repeating the exercise vanishes. It has fulfilled its immediate purpose. The aspirant should now transfer his attention to the next ("Constant Remembrance") exercise, and exert himself henceforth to bring his attainment into worldly life, into the midst of attending to earthly duties.
The practice of yoga is, negatively, the process of isolating one's consciousness from the five senses and, positively, of concentrating it in the true self.
With it maximum moral and mental consciousness is induced. There are two separate phases in this technique which must be distinguished from one another. The first involves the use of willpower and the practice of self-control. The second, which succeeds it, involves redirection of the forces in aspiration toward the Overself, and may be called the ego-stilling phase.
All exercises in concentration, all learning and mastery of it, require two things: first, an object or subject upon which attention may be brought steadily to rest; second, enough interest in that object to create some feeling about it. When this feeling becomes deep enough, the distractions caused by other thoughts die away. Concentration has then been achieved.
Just as we get strong by enduring tensions in the varied situations of life, so we get strong in concentration by patiently enduring defeats one after the other when distractions make us forget our purpose while sitting for meditation.
Quietening the mind involves, and cannot but involve, quietening the senses.
Concentration practice advances through stages. In the first stage that which is concentrated on is seen as from a distance, whereas in the second stage the idea tends to absorb the mind itself. In the first stage we still have to make hard efforts to hold the idea to attention whereas in the next stage the effort is slight and easy.
The body must stop its habitual movement. The attention must take hold of one thing--a metaphysical subject or physical object, a mental picture or devotional idea. Only after proficiency is reached in this preliminary stage should the intellect seek an unfamiliar stillness and an expectant passivity--which mark the closing section of the second stage.
If any light flash or form is seen, he should instantly concentrate his whole mind upon it and sustain this concentration as long as he is able to. The active thoughts can be brought to their end by this means.
It is possible for a perfectly concentrated yogi to imagine away the whole world out of his existence!
If the reverie attains the depth of seeing and feeling hardly anything outside him, being only faintly aware of things before him or around him, that is quite enough for philosophical purposes. A full trance is neither necessary nor desirable.
He concentrates daily on the image which he desires to create and sustain in his mind.
This work of pushing attention inwards, back to its very source, and the sense of "I-ness" back with it, is to be accompanied by thinking only until the latter can be stopped or itself stops. This work is then continued by a stilled and steady search. When the need of search comes to an end, the searcher vanishes, the "I" becomes pure "Being," has found its source. In these daily or nightly sessions, it is his work to turn away from the diffused attention which is his normal condition to the concentrated attention which is indispensable for progress, and to sustain it.
It is not advisable to listen to music whilst working at a typewriter, doing creative writing, or reading to learn. The only exception is reading light, unimportant, or entertaining material--although even then it is still not advisable. This is because it leads to a divided mind; it creates tension, and what one is doing must necessarily suffer to some extent while trying to attend to the music.
Reading a noble book helps because it concentrates the thoughts along a single track. It is thus an exercise in concentration.
If his lower emotions and earthly passions are to be brought under proper control, will and reason, intuition and aspiration must be brought into the struggle against them. If his acts are to be his own, and not the result of environmental suggestion, if his thoughts are to arise from within his own mind, and not from other people's minds, he must learn the art of fixing them on whatever he chooses and concentrating them whenever he wishes.
Give questers this order of Daily Exercise: (1) Prayer in posture; (2) Breathing in posture; (3) Affirmations in mantra--semi-meditation; (4) Full meditation.
Because he needs to generate enough power to concentrate his mind on this high topic, a certain economy of energies is required and an avoidance of distractions.
The same power of directing attention and concentrating thought which binds him to the worldly existence can be used to free himself from it.
The cultivated and concentrated faculty of attention becomes the tool wherewith he carries on his inner work upon himself.
The preliminaries of meditation must not be mistaken for the actual meditation itself. They are merely occupied with the effort to brush off distractions and attain concentrated thought whereas it is effortless, continuous mental quiet. They carry the meditator through the initial period of search; it is the higher state of consciousness which they induce.
Such intense concentration can abolish time and annihilate space in it; thus reveries demonstrate their relativity and their mentalness.
A useful exercise to help acquire concentration is to shut the eyes, direct attention toward some part of the body, and hold it there.
We make use of conscious efforts only in order to attain subconscious effort; we fix one thought in meditation only in order to arrive at a state beyond all thought.
The mind's great creative potency reveals itself in proportion as the mind's concentrativeness develops.
Nuri the Dervish was an adept in meditation. When asked from which master he had learnt such skill, he said that a cat watching a mouse had been his guru.
There are two different gazing practices used by the yogis. The first requires them to fix their eyes steadily on the end or tip of the nose; the second requires them to fix it on the root. The first leaves the eyelids closer together than the second. There is a third practice of a related kind in which the gaze is directed to the centre of the stomach, or navel.
Meditation Exercise on Pulse-Beat: Take hold of the left wrist between thumb and forefinger of right hand. Locate the artery where the circulation of the blood can be felt. Concentrate attention on this pulse-beat undividedly.
The state of concentration acquired during a worldly pursuit differs from that acquired during mystical meditation in that the first is usually directed toward outward things and the experience of sense-pleasures, whereas the second is directed toward inward being and rejects sense-pleasures. Thus the two states are at opposite poles--one belonging to the ego-seeking man, and the other to the Overself-seeking man.
Whereas ordinary concentration keeps the attention still turned toward outward things and situations, that concentration which attains its third stage is transformed into contemplation. Here the attention is entirely inward-turned and toward the heavenly being, the holy of holies that is the Overself.
There are two ways in which concentration is practised. The first is unconscious and is used by many persons to get their work done whether they be engineers or artists. They have to hold their mind to the job, the matter, or the duty in hand. The scientist may practise it, too, in analysing or in logically developing a theory or in linking up different ideas. The meditator uses concentration in a different way if he is at the first stage, which is the conscious and deliberate practice of concentration. It is then used without analysis, without discursive thought. It is simply held to a single object or idea. The attention is not allowed to wander away into developments of that idea or object. In short, the connections to other things are not made.
Concentration, from the standpoint of mystical development, may be regarded as achieved when attention is kept on one idea all the time, without being divided up over several different ideas. It is not achieved if kept on one subject all the time through considering several related ideas--that is, ordinary concentrated thinking.
He must train himself to possess the power to concentrate: first, on a single line of thoughts to the exclusion of all others and second, on a single thought.
With the gradual settling down of thought and body, the mental stiffness which resisted concentration diminishes. He will be distinctly and vividly aware of this turning point because of the ease, and even delight, with which his mind will now feel its own exalted power.
The spiritual life of man at this juncture is a battle against the outward-running tendency of the mind. To perceive this in oneself is to perceive how weak one really is, how feeble a victim of worldly activities, how lacking in the ability to concentrate perfectly even for five minutes, and how unable to hold the attention for the same length of time in the impersonal embrace of a philosophic theme.
The Samurai of old Japan embodied a yoga technique in the fencing instruction. The novice had to develop the power of mental concentration, and then use it by picturing himself during meditation wielding the sword to perfection. Thus the body was broken gradually to the will of the mind, and began to respond with rapid lightning strokes and placings of the sword. The famous Katsu, who rose from destitute boy to national leadership of Japan's nineteenth-century awakening, went night after night to an abandoned temple--where he mingled regular meditation with fencing practice in his ambition to become one of Tokyo's master swordsmen.
This power to sustain concentrated attention upon a single line or objective for a long time--a power so greatly admired by Napoleon--comes in the end to those who persevere in these practices.
The fixed statue-like posture of the hunter watching a prey close at hand, refraining from movement lest he disturb it, eyes and mind completely intent on the animal, gave the yogi seers another object lesson in the art of concentration.
He makes the novice's mistake of assuming that what is good for him, necessary for him, is equally good and necessary for others. But what is essential for mystical experience is one thing and one thing only--the faculty of fixing one's attention within and sustaining it.
Through it you effect a change in your entire mental make-up. The mind becomes increasingly one-pointed. It is able to form quick decisions. Those decisions are usually correct because all the facts of the case are seen at once, as in a flash. It will give you an air of definite purpose, simply because in your external life you are merely working according to the purposes planned in quietude. Your every act becomes more real and vital. You gather self-confidence because you concentrate your mind on the one thing you are doing.
His purpose must be utterly unified, absolutely single-minded.
The attainment of reverie passes through two stages also. In the first, the mind is like a little child trying to walk but often falling, for the abstracted mood is intermittent only and soon lost. In the second stage, the mind is like an adult walking steadily and continually, for the abstracted mood remains unbroken and undisturbed.
When the meditator tries to keep out all other thoughts except the chosen one, he puts himself up to a tension, a strain--because in most cases he simply can not do this and the failure which is finally admitted after repeated efforts then has a depressing and discouraging effect upon his Quest. Therefore, other and easier methods have been devised for beginners as a preliminary to the more difficult practices of concentration. Such methods include the steady gazing at a physical point, object, or place; use of a mantram, which is the constant repetition of a word or phrase or formula; Short Path affirmation which is the dwelling mentally and constructively on a metaphysical truth or ethical quality of character; and, finally, the practice of certain breathing exercises.
He imagines a point upon the wall and concentrates all his being upon it until he is aware of nothing else but the point. All other thoughts have to be emptied out of his mind, all experience of the physical senses other than this sight of the point has to vanish.
It is a useful practice, when the thoughts during meditation refuse to be concentrated, to turn them, too, over to the Higher Power--no matter to what event or person, situation or place they stray.
When the capacity for concentration is intensified and prolonged, the man is then ready for the further phase which is meditation as such.
A simple technique for meditation which has been used in Asia since the most ancient times avoids the use of any human being or any sacred mantram as the object of meditation. This technique in its most primitive form is to take a piece of charcoal and to draw a circle or a square on the wall of a room and then in the centre of the pattern to put a dot. The student is then told to concentrate his gaze upon the dot and to think of nothing else. The pattern is usually large enough for him to see it quite plainly when sitting a yard or two or even three from the wall. Nowadays, the same technique is used by making the diagram on plain white thick drawing paper and pinning the paper to the wall.
The practice of using a physical object upon which to gaze in order to concentrate attention during meditation makes it much easier for those who are attracted to it. A metaphysician of Konigsberg, Immanuel Kant, used the same practice when working out his metaphysical theories. Sitting in his study, he would look through the window and fix his sight on a particular fir tree which was growing outside. One day it was cut down and removed and for some time thereafter Kant found difficulty in holding his line of thought without the accustomed fir tree to gaze upon. Indeed, Kant was such a creature of habit that every evening punctually at five o'clock he would take his walk. People in the city of Konigsberg used to time their watches by his appearance in the street, because he was invariably punctual in starting his walk.
For those who have set up a high spiritual ideal and moral character for themselves and who have acquired sufficient knowledge through study or lectures about the principles and fundamentals of yoga, there is an excellent exercise which will help them through the elementary phases of development; but to others who are highly neurotic, mentally disturbed, approaching or under psychosis, it is not only not recommended, but would be dangerous. This exercise is to concentrate all the attention upon one object in the surroundings and to keep it there. All associated ideas, analysis, and thoughts about the object should be thrown out. It is not a matter of reflecting about the object, but of holding it in the view and in the mind to the exclusion of everything else.
One can begin with very short periods of practice and go on slowly to longer ones, but when some amount of success has been established by the rigorous use of willpower the object should be chosen from some things elevating to the mind such as beautiful music or beautiful landscape. For the elementary phase, about fifteen minutes should be the maximum, but for this uplifting phase one may go on longer.
The practice of one-pointed concentration of attention for any purpose of an ordinary or worldly character or professional or technical nature can be carried to such a far point that it will influence the mind generally, so that when in the course of time the person evolves to higher aims and worthier goals he has ready to use and to bring into his efforts to attain those goals this concentrated power of the mind which is so valuable and so necessary for his inner growth.
To squint lightly at the root of the nose is another form of concentration. It is a help towards withdrawing from the physical senses and entering either the psychic or the spiritual planes. The psychic pictures may be seen as symbolic or literal, and clairvoyance may develop. If these manifestations are rejected, and attention is drawn deeper into the void of space, freedom and joy may be felt. But if they are accepted, the creative faculty of the artist is unfolded.
Meditation exercise (Lama Drati): Imagine a white dot in centre of forehead and keep attention held unmovingly on it for one hour. Or you can place it in heart. Better still, imagine the figure of Buddha projected in front of you, radiating white light. Or place the Buddha miniature-sized on your head. All these are called exercises to attain one-pointed mind. Only after this attainment can you properly do the more advanced exercises.
What concentration means to the artist is what it means to the mystic. Only its object is different. The late Sir Henry Wood, conductor of the London Queen's Hall Concerts, told how, during the First World War, he never heard, whilst conducting, the sirens warning the metropolis of impending air raids. This is what rapt absorption means.
The art of fixing the mind in free choice, of holding thoughts as, and when, one wills, has yet to be valued and practised as it ought to be among us. Overlooked and disregarded as it has been, it is like buried treasure awaiting the digger and the discoverer.
It is important to give the mind a definite idea to hold and mull over or a definite line to follow and concentrate on. It must be positive in this early stage before it can safely become passive in a later stage.
The mind can be influenced by the five senses only when it attends to them.
At a certain depth of penetration into his inward being, pain of the body and misery of the emotions are unable to exist. They disappear from the meditator's consciousness.
During the first period, which may extend to half an hour, when nothing seems to happen and the line of thought or awareness is wobbly and uncertain, discouragement irksomeness and impatience quite often overcome the practiser. They may induce him to abandon the session for that day. Such a surrender to defeatism is unwise. Even in the case of those who have practised for some years the tedious initial waiting period may still have to be endured. For it is the period during which thoughts settle slowly down just as a glass of muddy water slowly clears as the mud settles to the bottom. The proper attitude to hold while this process continues is patience. This is quite indispensable.
How can a man unify his consciousness with the Overself without first putting his mind under some sort of a training to strengthen it, so that he will not let go but will be able to hold on when a Glimpse comes?
Where attention is being fixedly held on a single topic by the power of a strong interest in it, there will be little regard given to the passage of time.
Thoughts will drift past in ever changing variety, but he will learn to give them no attention even though he is aware of them.
The act of continuous concentration--if carried on for some time--draws an extra and unusual quantity of blood to the brain. This causes pleasurable sensations which may increase to an ecstatic degree.
The nasal gaze meditation exercise is both easy and quieting. It is mentioned in the Gita. The half-closed eyes look down on the tip of one's nose. They must not wink during the gaze or be closed. When tired, close them and rest. Avoid strain, staring, and popping the eyes wide open. The action should be one of relaxation, restful. All attention of an alert and concentrated mind should be fixed on the gazing. This exercise gives control over the optic nerve and contributes towards steadiness of mind.
With sufficient, well-directed practice, he should fix the ideal of being able to attain a capacity of withdrawing attention from the world and concentrating it within himself without losing a single minute.
His progress into the deeper state is retarded if, while trying to hold his attention on the chosen theme, he lets some of it remain self-consciously alert at the same time to what he is doing and what his surroundings are like.
Any method which settles the mind upon a fixed subject, or concentrates attention upon a single object, may be used. But the result must be elevating and in accord with his ultimate purpose.
With all attention gathered in, listen to the beating of the heart.
When the mind is too active and thoughts succeed each other too quickly, as in the case of very nervous or very intellectual persons, physical methods are indicated for practice. These may be breathing exercises, repetition of a sound or listening to music of a repetitive nature, gazing at a landscape, figure, work of art, or symbolic pattern.
Meditation succeeds to the extent that attention is controlled and turned inward. When this control becomes so intensive that neither sounds nor lights can break it, its concentration is complete.
How beautiful is that detachment from unpleasant surroundings which the capacity to intensely concentrate bestows. And this is only one of its rewards. Efficiency in studying a new subject is another.
The secret of concentration is . . . practise concentration! Only by arduous effort and persistent, diligent endeavours to master his attention will he finally succeed in doing so. No effort in this direction is wasted and it may be done at any time of the day.
One can turn a mystical experience of as much as twenty years ago, or longer, into focus for attention in meditation, and thereby assist the memory to recall every detail of it.
The practice of isolating consciousness and remaining centered in it, can be followed whether we are in solitary meditation or active in the world. In meditation it becomes the object of thoughts; in activity it becomes their background. The eyes cannot look at themselves, neither can consciousness: it is itself the subject and cannot be its own object. If the thoughts let themselves slip back into it--their source--the stillness of being is experienced. Staying in it is the practice.
The mental detachment needed for this study permits him to shake off personal worries and pettier distractions. When he can fully concentrate in his thinking, sustained and unwandering absorption is possible.
It is not essential for the meditator to be so sunk in his practice as to become entirely heedless of his surroundings.
His attention should, in theory, be wholly concentrated on this single line of thought. But in practice it will be so only at broken intervals.
Yoga demands that the mind occupy itself with one thought or one coherent line of thought, that attention be held fast to it, whether it be the thought of something abstract like God or the thought of something concrete like the cross.
Through such concentrative thinking, we may reach peace. It is hard, certainly, and the handcuffed intellect will struggle in your grasp like a reluctant prisoner newly arrested. You must continue with your effort to develop conscious concentrated thought no matter how fumbling your first forays may be.
The aim is to sit there totally absorbed in his thought or, at a more advanced level, rigidly concentrated in his lack of it.
The word "centre" is a purely mystical term: it is unphilosophical. Where is the possibility of a central point in the mind which is so unlimited? But for practising mystics seeking to retire within, the centre is an excellent goal to aim at.
Could one of these yogis practise his meditation while assailed by the deafening noise of a steel-girder rivetting machine operating outside his cave? Is it practicable to follow the advice of the Maharishee, which I heard him give a would-be meditator complaining about being bitten by mosquitoes, to ignore them? Let it be noted that no person who is trying to practise this art could be distracted if he did not attend to the sense affected, whether it be hearing aroused by a machine or feeling aroused by a mosquito.
Shutting the eyes is only the first step toward shutting all the senses. That in its turn is only a step towards the still harder task of shutting out all thoughts and all ordinary everyday feelings.
The five senses serve us well in the ordinary hours of actual life but tyrannize over us when we try to transcend it and enter the spiritual life.
Within a few minutes of starting the exercise they feel exhausted. The effort to concentrate the mind is hard enough but to concentrate and introvert it at the same time is too much for them.
The ancient yoga texts enjoin concentration of a steadfast gaze upon a small object until the eyes begin to shed tears. The result of such practices is a cataleptic state in which the mind becomes fixed and unmoving while the body becomes stiff as wood.
It is not enough to carry the concentrated awareness away from outward things: it must then be kept there. This also is hard, because all tendencies rebel at first.
His attention must be absolute and perfect if it is to be effectual and creative in producing this result.
Concentration requires a capacity for continuous attention.
Attention must not waver, thought must not wander. This is the ideal, of course, and is not approached, let alone reached, until after long practice.
To keep the attention away from any other than the chosen subject is the work of this first stage. The better this is sustained, the deeper is the penetration into the subject.
Whatever distracts attention openly and violently, like the passions; or subtly and insidiously, like curiosity; or preoccupies it with cares and anxieties, like business, is likely to interfere with the mind during practice sessions either in concentration or exaltation.
Again and again he will have to collect his thoughts and bring his attention to the central point.
Some of the old Buddhist monks, the histories say, reached samadhi simply by steadfast gazing upon the floor.
All that lies on the margin of attention may remain there.
There is no doubt that, in its early phases, the art of meditation makes demands for more concentration than most persons possess, that they soon tire unless their enthusiasm continues.
Fixing the gaze upon a spot marked on a wall or an object near or far, is only a preliminary to fixing the mind on a thought.
When consciousness is deliberately turned away from the world and directed inward to itself, and when this condition is steadily maintained by a purified person, the result is a real one.
The stage of concentration is evaluated as having been established when it can be sustained long enough to let attention become sufficiently abstracted from surroundings, sufficiently absorbed in the mental object, and for the practice itself to be easy, unhindered, attractive.
To achieve this kind of concentration where attention is withdrawn from the outer world and held tightly in itself, a determined attitude is needed of not stopping until this sharply pointed state is reached. All other thoughts are rejected in the very moment that they arise. If at the start there is aspiration and devotion toward the Overself, and in the course of the effort too, then eventually the stress falls away and the Stillness replaces it.
He who is unwilling to endure concentration sustained to the point of fatigue will not be able to penetrate to the deep level where truth abides. But when he does succeed, the fatigue vanishes, an intense exhilaration replaces it.
When he is going to practise any exercise--whether mystical or physical--his mind should be thoroughly concentrated on it and not on anything else. All thought and energy should go into it, if it is to be successfully done.
When concentration attains its effective state, the ever-tossing mental waves subside and the emotional perturbations become still. This is the psychological moment when the mystic naturally feels exaltation, peace, and super-earthliness. But it is also the psychological moment when, if he is wise, he should turn away from revelling in personal satisfaction at this achievement and, penetrating yet deeper, strive to understand the inner character of the source whence these feelings arise, strive to understand pure Mind.
To bring his scattered thoughts to heel, to give undivided attention to the intuitive feeling which would lead to the secret spiritual self--this is the first task.
If it is to profit him, the student must not allow his meditation to become nebulous and vague.
The will, driving the attention to a fine pinpoint of concentration, sinks through layer after layer of the mind till it reaches the noblest, the wisest, and the happiest of them all.
It would be a serious error to believe that he is to continue with any particular exercise or chosen theme, with any special declaration or analysis or question, no matter what happens in the course of a session. On the contrary; if at any moment he feels the onset of deeper feelings, or stronger aspirations, or notable peace, he ought to stop the exercise or abandon the method and give himself up entirely to the interior visitant. He ought to have no hesitation and no fear in considering himself free to do so.
When this gentle inward pull is felt, concentrate all attention, all feeling, and all desire upon it. Give yourself up to it, for you are receiving a visitation from the Lord, and the more you do so, the closer He will come.
This is the stage of adoration, when the Overself's beauty and tranquillity begin to take possession of his heart. He should then cease from any further thinking discursively about it or communing verbally with it. It is a time for complete inner silence. Let him engage himself solely in beholding, loving, and eventually uniting with the gracious source of these feelings.
There is a distinct feeling of something like a valve opening in the region of the heart.
When that delicate feeling comes over him, he should hold on to it with all his concentrativeness and all his collectedness.
There is a crucial time in the meditation session when the meditator goes into reverse as it were--instead of intensifying his attention on the idea or object, imagery, or sound, he lets go in surrender and rests. But it is not a rest in egocentricity. All has been handed over to the higher Self to whom he now feels close. Only at this point is he concentrated, calm, ready, and receptive to the Divinity.
The moment he feels the beginnings of any movement towards the indrawing of thought and feeling away from externals, he should at once respond to it and let attention fall deeper and deeper into himself, even if for only five minutes. This is important because of the currents of Grace which are being telepathically transmitted to him in fulfilment of the existing relationship.
If he is willing to submit to the Overself's gentle drawing, he must first be able to recognize it for what it is.
The sensation of being drawn gently inside will be felt.
He is to push attention from outside himself to inside. He is then to push away extraneous thoughts while he concentrates on the feeling-search for his innermost self.
Better than any other practice is this deep in-searching.
Consciousness must focus itself inward upon ascertaining its own source to the exclusion of everything else.
The more he internalizes his attention, and the less he responds to the sense-impressions, the nearer he draws to the spiritual presence in his heart.
The divine atom is that part of the body with which the Overself is most directly associated, and that is why it is placed in the heart, but of course, the Overself is associated with the whole body. There is a scientific explanation why the heart is the spiritual centre of the body and why the brain is the mental centre, and this is given in The Wisdom of the Overself.
His determined, one-pointed attention keeps going down deeper and deeper into his own being.
Varieties of practice
There are various practical methods of achieving the combined aim of remembering the divine and concentrating on the divine. Mantram-repetition is one of them. They are mostly elementary and well-suited to aspirants who are at an early stage of development. But these aspirants cannot stay there always. The time comes when they must seek and struggle for a higher stage. Full enlightenment can come only to the fully developed.
Although there are some general features common to most techniques, there is also in each case something which is personally needed to suit the particular temperament, character, and status.
Each method is merely a point of departure, not a place or arrival. It is a focussing of thoughts upon a special object or subject with a view to travelling later beyond all thoughts into the stage of contemplation.
Most of these techniques are preliminary, intended to bring the mind into one-pointed concentration. They do not lead to the real enlightenment.
There is no objection to elementary methods of learning to concentrate, that is, to mantram, affirmation, and breath control--provided it is recognized that they are elementary and therefore have their limitations. But when, as is so often the case, this is not known, not understood, or not thought to be correct, then illusions and deceptions are fostered. One of the illusions is that enlightenment, Truth, reality, has been attained. One of the deceptions is that this technique is all that needs to be done.
We have tried to formulate methods and to adapt exercises which will enable the modern man to come into this transcendental consciousness without deserting the world and without becoming a votary of asceticism.
It is a valuable exercise for those who are repelled by all exercises, to reach back in memory and imagination, in surrender and love, to some grand rare moment of mystical insight. They will not be repelled by this one, for it is so simple that it can hardly be classified among the exercises. And yet it is, with a value immensely disproportionate to its simplicity.
The student should not feel bound to follow rigidly a devotional-meditational program laid down, as it needs must be, on general lines to suit a variety of people. He should feel free to express his individuality by improvising additions or alterations in it should a strong prompting to do so come to him.
All these rules and suggestions are for beginners. In the end he will have to learn to be able to practise in any place and at any time.
Let him experiment with many different exercises and so learn which ones suit him best and help him most.
All these methods are simply mechanical devices for throwing the conscious mind out of gear.
None of the elementary methods of yoga such as breath control and mantram lead to a permanent control of the mind, but they prepare the way and make it easier to take up those practices which do lead to such a result.
So far as meditation is affected by their hidden operation, the tendencies draw one person by one way and others by another. There is no single road. Those who fail to advance in, or are unattracted by, discursive meditation, may use mantrams, symbols, and forms instead.
Whether the seeker uses a Tibetan mandala (spiritually symbolic picture) to concentrate on, or an Indian mantram (continuous mental or muttered repetition of a verbal formula), the end result will be an indrawn state of consciousness, abstracted from the outside world, or else a deeper and more sustained remembrance of God. Like the other yoga methods, they are devices to achieve one-pointedness of mind.
When selecting an exercise for practice it is well to begin with one that comes easiest to him.
A new exercise, theme, or practice in meditation will naturally need more time than an old familiar one.
The method of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi can not lead to enlightenment by truth, but it can lead to a very pleasurable temporary quieting of the mind.
Explanations of the yogic chakras: He should treat them for just what they are, points in the physical body upon which to concentrate the mind. As he progresses inwardly, he moves up to the next higher chakra; but this kind of concentration yoga is not ordinarily recommended. It belongs to a special yoga which seeks the awakening of the spirit fire and that is a risky undertaking.
In Tibetan Buddhist initiations of certain schools, the master uses his sceptre to touch those centres which are specially sensitive to receive the mystic power he is transmitting among them. After touching the head and breast, the importance of the nerve centre at the nape of the neck is recognized by receiving the third touch.
After some practice, he will less and less consciously think of the technique and more and more instinctively follow it.
The most balanced procedure is to alter the themes and exercises from time to time to meet the different requirements of his all-round development as well as the different intuitive urges and passing moods which may manifest themselves.
The advocacy of meditation in a nonspiritual medico-psychological form would probably meet the situation of a number of individuals. However, there ought to be, side by side and along with it, another effort to advocate meditation in a religious and aspirational form for the sake of other individuals who are ready to emerge from narrow orthodoxy, but still wish to keep their religious faith. In both cases, it is necessary to point out that all kinds of meditation must be safeguarded by some effort at self-purification and at strengthening intellectual balance. Otherwise it may do harm as well as good.
Even the large range of possible meditations upon spiritual principles, mental ideas, imagined pictures and physical objects does not exhaust the list. He may use his own body, too. The gaze may be concentrated between the eyebrows, down the nose, or upon the navel. The process of breathing may be closely watched.
The instructions and directions which are of first importance must be separated from those which are merely second in importance, or confusion will result.
Discussion of the methods of meditation, and critical scrutiny of its nature and results can only be of value, if not of interest, to the handful of initiates who have practised one of the methods and experienced some of the results. All others will be dependent on what they have heard or read about meditation. To them such discussion and such scrutiny will be either incomprehensible or unprofitable or bewildering.
A continuous ringing of large heavy old church bells, if intently concentrated upon, may produce in a person appreciative of the music in them, a suitable starting point for introverting attention.
The methods used to induce this absorbed trance-like state have been as many as they are varied, from the loud bull-like roars of the Pasupata yogis to the aesthetic whirlings of the Mevlevi dervishes.
The witch-doctor who, or whose assistant, beats out a rhythm on his drum accomplishes a concentration of mind--a lulling of the senses and a recession from the world for his hearers, to a farther extent than they would have been able to accomplish for themselves alone.
There are exercises which lead to this higher consciousness. By the power of will they concentrate attention; by pursuing an elevated topic they bring the latter to meditation; by patiently and perseverantly dropping the will which served so well, they attain the stillness of contemplation.
Some of these techniques make the mind numb and thus arrest thinking: they are not only very elementary but also inferior. But for numbers of people they are the easiest ways and the most resultful. They have to be used by such persons as stepping-stones, not as permanent homes.
There are various ways used by various seekers of putting the conscious mind out of ordinary action. The way of those dervishes who twirl around on their feet and, at the same time, spin around in a larger circle, is one of them. They eventually get vertigo and fall to the ground. They swoon, and thereafter may get a glimpse.
The true inner use of the koan is correct and laudable. The mistake is to make its practice a cause of anxiety and stress. No. It should develop smoothly, thinking harmoniously and even logically, and thus reach the inevitable recognition that intellect can go no further. So the intellect stops working, resigns itself, and lo, acts no more (Wu Wei--inaction). The man then waits patiently and peacefully and acceptantly. The result is no longer in his hands. It must be now entrusted to higher power.
Where meditation uses thoughts or images--logical sequential thoughts, or symbolical or realistic images--it is still the work of the man himself and therefore within the ego.
As to whether meditation should begin with mental concentration or mental stillness, each practice is advisable at different times or during different phases of one's development. In the course of a year, the student may devote his work during some months to beginning with the first and during other months with the second. It is not possible to generalize about which one is better during any particular period; this depends entirely on individual circumstances. The best way to find out is to make an impersonal self-examination, and then follow one's own intuition.
The creator of the Order of Whirling Dervishes used the gyratory movements and dance concentrations, with reed-pipe musical accompaniments, to bring them into the mystical experience. This is possible because body and mind react upon each other. To a lesser extent but in a different way, the same principle is used in hatha yoga. Both methods are intended to reach and awaken people who would find the solely mental, physically immobile meditation too difficult.
They complain about the noise outside their meditation room but the noise of their ego inside it is louder. Their techniques are useful and preparatory but unless accompanied or followed by discrimination, knowledge, understanding, they fail to root out the ego, only lulling it and tying them to the espoused system, dogma, or credo.
The different yogas are transitory phases which the seeker must develop and then outgrow.
Those who feel the need of outward ritual and sacramental service should satisfy it, but those who find simple meditation with nothing added more attractive may progress in their own way.
If some of the disciplines are no longer practical under the conditions of present-day living, others are still useful.
The well-known helps to concentration such as rosaries, mandalas, geometrical diagrams, candle flames in the darkness, and, most popular of all, a mantram may be used by beginners but they are not necessary to fairly advanced students.
Technique should suit temperament.
There is available for us all a technical method in which may be found the means to achieve the refulgent moods of mystical inspiration.
It is neither right or wrong to try to suppress thoughts in meditation exercises: what matters is to fit what is attempted to the particular object of the particular exercise. So there are times to let thoughts move and times to rein them in.
The practice of tratak [continuous gazing] is intended to make the yogi blind to external scenes by attending to a single object; the practice of shabda yoga is intended to render him deaf to external sounds by attending to a single sound; and with sights and sounds cut off, he is well nigh cut off from the whole external world. Thus these systems of yoga are no other than techniques for inducing a concentrated inward-turned state.
Dalai Lama on Tibetan tantra: "You push up Force through spine then lean backward mentally to meet it."
To the alternatives of thinking with the head and thinking with the heart, the Japanese Zen master offers a third choice: "Think with the abdomen," he advises the practiser of koan meditation exercises. The Tibetan Tantrik masters offer even a fourth choice: "Think with the generative organ and sublimate its feelings." The Advaita Vedantins go still farther. "Think quite abstractly, not of the body at all," they counsel. Should all this not show that no method is of exclusive importance?
The Eastern Church used, among other Hesychastic methods of making meditation more successful, the pressing of the chin against the chest.
Once a professor at leading Indian universities, and then on attainment of independence a minister in the Indian government, the late Radhakumud Mukerjee was a co-disciple of the same guru who sent Yogananda, founder of S.R.F., to America! Once when we meditated together, Mukerjee swayed as he sat, moving head and shoulders from left to right in a circular fashion. At first this rotation was quite slow, but it picked up a little speed as it went on.
Voodoo musicians and African witchdoctors use the rhythmic beating of drums to induce either the trance state or emotional crescendos.
The desert fathers, the Egyptian eremites, have their Indian equivalents. Meditation without philosophy, without instruction, without knowledge, produces widely and strangely different results in different people.
Some of these old yogas were curious, some alluring, and others horrible. Thus one required him to let his body enter regularly into sexual intercourse but to think all the time about the act's animal ugliness and evil consequences. He was to do this until the sight of a naked female body aroused revulsion, its white gleaming limbs seemed more hideous than attractive, and its invitation to coitus filled him with disgust. Another method required him to sit on a fresh corpse in the pitch darkness of a cemetery at midnight and think solely of the quality of fearlessness. These apparently were Indian versions of the attempt to take the kingdom of heaven by violence. In Bengal and Tibet they are still practised by some fanatics. Yet more aspirants are likely to fail with them than succeed. In the one yoga, such failures would result in greater sensuality than before and in the other in greater fear than before. Nevertheless their effectiveness may be granted. But, we ask, is it not better for civilized modern seekers to use more refined and less drastic methods?
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.