Dr K. Arunachalam
Magazine Article: Theosophy in Australia, September 2004
How often have we asked the question, ‘Why meditate?’ It is a question which should arise in the minds of all those who have a desire to take up this practice. For a beginner, the following are a few reasons why meditation might be taken up:
It is generally beneficial.
Meditation provides release from stress and escape from those things which cause pain and confusion in daily living.
It promotes tranquillity.
It involves sitting quietly in a secluded area, letting the mind muse over ideas.
Meditation is a must in the daily ritual of living.
It is an act of concentration without diversion.
It is a system of breath control.
It is the method of experiencing the void of the beyond (Samadhi).
According to the Oxford Dictionary, meditation is defined as:
The action, or an act, of meditating; (a) continuous thought or musing upon one subject or a series of subjects; (b) serious and sustained reflection or mental contemplation.
In religious use, that kind of devotional exercise which consists in the continuous application of the mind to the contemplation of some religious truth, mystery or object of reverence in order that the soul may increase in the love of God and holiness in life.
Therefore meditation, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a process in thought involving mental or cerebral activity. The word ‘meditation´ has a variety of associations. However, to discover what meditation is, we need to explore what meditation is not. Meditation is not an intellectual exercise. Nor is it an isolated cerebral activity, nor a form of escape. It is not intended as a method to be followed by those who wish to have an out of the world experience. Nor is meditation a state of mind created by thoughtlessness.
The Eight Steps of Yoga
In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, verse 29, chapter 2, Patanjali describes the eight (ashtanga) steps of yoga as important for the aspirant who feels the need to meditate. ‘The word Yoga as used here signifies the method by which we can unite our finite self with the Infinite Being. The path of Yoga is the inner path.’ (Sri Krishna Prem) The path of Yoga is a totality.
The Eight Steps or Stages of Yoga are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
1. Yama (Restraints)
This is the most important of the stages and should govern the conduct of one´s life, leading to clean living. It involves:
Non injury of any being by thought, word or deed
No covetousness in thought, word or deed.
Perfect chastity in thought, word or deed.
Perfect truthfulness in thought, word or deed.
Absence of greed for possessions and non acceptance of gifts.
These are the five components of mighty universal vows which are unconditioned by time, place or class.
2. Niyama (Observances)
These consist of external and internal purification. External purification includes physical cleanliness, a clean diet, regular exercise and wearing proper clothing.
3. Asana (Postures of Hatha Yoga)
Asana cultivates physical health, helping the organic systems to function rhythmically at a physiological level, which in time effects changes in the senses and mind.
4. Pranayama (Regulation of the Breath)
This focusses consciousness on the breath, with controlled flow of the inward and outward breaths. It is not deep breathing. It is an outer expression of inner harmony. When the breathing is regulated, relaxed and free the whole physical system is relaxed and functions rhythmically. By controlling the breath one can gradually gain control over the whole physical system.
5. Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Consciousness from External Objects)
Uncertain knowledge giving rise to violence is caused by fear, greed, anger or delusion in mild, moderate or intense degree. It results in endless pain and ignorance. Through introspection, proper thinking and action comes the end of pain and ignorance. It releases one from the snares of the external world and purifies the mind.
6. Dharana (Concentration of the Mind)
Dharana is the art of reducing the interruptions of the mind and ultimately eliminating them completely. In this process, the knower and the known become one. The focus may be internal or external.
7. Dhyana (Abstract Contemplation)
‘Contemplation is not mere philosophic thought. It is a higher stage of spiritual Consciousness. It secures the direct conviction of Reality. While a teacher can help, personal effort alone can take us to the goal of realisation.’ (S. Radhakrishnan)
Dhyana is the steady maintenance of profound contemplative observation on a fixed point or region. It sharpens intelligence. The mind observes its own behaviour
8. Samadhi (True Meditation/Union)
When the object of contemplation shines forth without the intervention of one´s own consciousness, Samadhi follows. In Samadhi the awareness of place vanishes and one ceases to experience space and time. ‘When a musician loses himself and is completely engrossed in his music, or an inventor makes his discovery when devoid of his ego, or a painter transcends himself with colour, shade and brush; they glimpse Samadhi. So it is with the Yogi; when his object of contemplation becomes himself, devoid of himself, he experiences Samadhi.’ (B.K.S. Iyengar) However, there is a difference between the untrained artist and the trained Yogi; the artist reaches this state by effort and cannot sustain it, whereas the Yogi, remaining devoid of ego, experiences it as natural and effortless.
The first two of the above steps, restraints and observances, indicate the practice of self-control, without which spiritual contemplation is not possible. A Sanskrit proverb says, ‘To feed a cobra with milk without first removing its poison fangs is only to increase its venom.’ Therefore, discipline is essential.
Dharana and dhyana are practices which help us to be one-pointed in thought. Through dharana one learns to hold the attention without any distraction, such as when one is totally mindful of the inward and outward breaths. Through dhyana one learns to hold total attention when observing with interest or intentness the process of thought. One then slides into silence, in which stage one is in Samadhi or in true Meditation.
Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi represent the final three stages which lead to the experience of tranquillity. What, then, is tranquillity? Tranquillity is not some form of bliss that we step into, leaving the whole world behind. It is something better; it is a state in which the mind remains stable and calm. Thoughts and feelings arise but they do not throw us out of balance.
What are the Requirements of Meditation?
Clean living, both in a civic and a physical sense, is essential for meditation, and is cultivated through yama and niyama. Also, the mind needs to be in a certain state. Here is an extract from You are the World by Krishnamurti:
What is meditation? It is only the meditative mind that can find out, not the curious mind, not the mind that is everlastingly searching. It is a peculiar thing that when the mind is searching it will find what it is searching for. But what it searches for and finds is already known because what it finds must be recognisable, mustn´t it? Recognition is part of this search, and experience and recognition come from the past. So in the experience which comes through search in which recognition is involved, there is nothing new, it has already been known … One says one must have new experiences, new visions, say of Christ, or Buddha or of Krishna, the vision is the projection of your own conditioning.
Freedom from the ‘self’ is not only obligatory, but is essential in order to attain the state of Samadhi. This could be achieved by looking within. Looking within leads to the discovery of one´s habit energies. Habit energies are those tendencies which we are born with or those we acquire during life on earth. When we start looking within, many attitudes may be observed which we know to be hindrances, do not want to live with or do not want to know. As we go into this search we discover things that may be surprising. One reaches that point when it is even possible to appreciate the existence of those tendencies. Elimination of particular tendencies as they arise could be dealt with by constant watchfulness and control. This sets one free.
Meditation as a Total Commitment
From the above, one appreciates that meditation is not a state independent of disciplines. Rather, it is a totality. Those who think that concentration, contemplation and visualisation represent meditation, must think again. Meditation begins with a ‘cleanlife’.This can be achieved in various ways, for example, through the practice of Yama and Niyama of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddhists, or the observances of the Ten Commandments in Christianity. Krishnamurti said:
Meditation is hard work. It demands the highest form of discipline—not conformity, not imitation, not obedience—but a discipline which comes through constant awareness, not only of things about you, outwardly , but also inwardly. So meditation is not an activity of isolation but is action in everyday life which demands cooperation, sensitivity and intelligence. Without laying the foundation of a righteous life, meditation becomes an escape and therefore has no value whatsoever. A righteous life is not the following of social morality, but freedom from envy, greed and the search for power—which all breed enmity. The freedom from these does not come through the activity of will, but by being aware of them through self-knowing. Without knowing the activity of the self, meditation becomes a sensuous excitement and therefore of very little consequence.
An Analogy—Jonathan Livingstone Seagull
The story of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull illustrates the kind of difficulties involved. As many will recollect, Jonathan was born to a normal family of seagulls, whose normal life consisted of flying out to sea fetching fish and flying back to the cliffs to consume them. The other duties were to lay the eggs, hatch them, and look after the chicks till they were mature enough to fend for themselves. Jonathan, however, thought differently. Against the advice of the elders he took to the practice of flying as high as he could. At the outset he was able to fly reasonably high. But he found it a challenge to be able to land safely every time he reached a new height. He would come swooping down, misjudge his speed of descent, miss his timing and land on solid ground causing not only injury to himself, but risking death. In one instance he nearly died and it took quite a while to recover. But in spite of these setbacks he continued attempting to flying high. In time, he mastered the art of flying to the highest height any bird could reach, landing safely on the ground on his return. Here is an instance of discipline and perseverence. These are similar to the prerequisites needed for any individual who wishes to reach the heights of Samadhi. He should train to return to meditative living—not remain in that state of bliss of silence where space and time do not exist, but return to the awareness of sorrows and joys of life, in a meditative way
Quite a few young seagulls approached Jonathan for training to fly high. The elders were not pleased and advised the young not to entertain any desire to follow Jonathan. But on the insistence of the younger seagulls, Jonathan submitted to their desire and trained the group in the art of flying high and landing safely. Once Jonathan had instilled the confidence in his pupils he took them to the highest height and told them that he had accomplished his mission. He wished that they, in their turn, would pass on the technique to those who followed them. He then flew out to the beyond.
A Universal Art
This was the message of the Buddha, the Christ, the Rishis and the Sufis. They all reached incredible heights of consciousness and returned to lead and teach the aspirants. They had given us the method and the goal. It is for us to practice the art and hand it down to those who come after us. Meditation demands commitment—commitment for life. It is a commitment to the way one conducts one´s daily life, therefore it is not separate from daily life. One does not retire to a corner in the room, sit for a few minutes, come out feeling good and thereafter lead a life free of greed and desire!
There is no sense in standing on the bank of a river and visualising the bliss one would be in on arrival at the other bank. One has to plunge into the river, at times even swimming against the current to reach the other side. In fact, one does not see or know what it is like at the end of the journey; it is a journey guided by instinct. Take, for instance, the migrating birds that travel thousands of miles from the Antarctic to their breeding grounds. Instinct guides them in the direction they travel, which has baffled ornithologists. The birds do not sit around to evaluate and plan their flight but plunge straight into it. Some drop off unable to continue, but most reach their final destination.
Rupert Sheldrake, in his theory of Morphogenetic Fields, explains that all organisms contain an inherent memory of their origins through a process called Morphic Resonance, and that we are part of a larger family of fields called Morphic Fields. He demonstrated this by using an example: Four circular units are enclosed in a bigger circle. One of the smaller circles leaves the bigger circle, but it maintains the connection through an extension from the bigger circle through an unbroken thread.
In a similar way, the human is connected to the superhuman essence through an unbroken thread. It is in deep meditation that one establishes the connection …
What Meditation is Not
It is interesting to observe, as Krishnamurti states ‘that Meditation is not concentration, which is an exclusion, a cutting off, a resistance and so a conflict. A meditative mind can concentrate, which is not an exclusion, resistance, but a concentrated mind cannot meditate’.
Similarly meditation is not contemplation. Contemplation is movement of thought. Thought cannot seek that which is beyond, for thought is conditioned, hence limited and its freedom curtailed.
Take, for instance, a sculptor who works with granite. In his mind, he has a picture of a figure which he wishes to set free from out of the block of granite. This is similar to the aspirant who needs to free his pure mind. Both have a commitment: the sculptor to chip off all the bits of granite that obstruct the appearance of a figure contained in the block of granite and so, too, the aspirant, to chip off all thoughts that enter his mind which obstruct the freeing of the pure mind.
States of Consciousness and Samadhi
One way of looking at Samadhi, true meditation or union, is to understand the three states of consciousness as explained in the significance of the word ‘Om’ (or Aum). They are the waking, dream and deep sleep states. The ‘I’ is associated with the waking and the dream states, whereas in the deep sleep state we are free of the limitations of thoughts of the ‘I’. The latter can be realised by elimination of all perceptions. When the mind is turned away from all perceptions, concentration is not necessary for realisation of the deep sleep state. What is needed is purity of the mind. The only impurity of the mind is thought. Therefore, the mind has to be thought-free to keep it pure. In the book, Tripura Rahasya of Ramanashram, the analogy of the mirror covered with tar demonstrates that, although the mirror is covered with tar, its quality does not change for it remains a mirror. If and when the tar is removed, the mirror obtains its original state of purity. The reflection can only be apprehended by the purity of the reflecting surface and not by the surface that has been covered by tar. So it is with the mind. The realisation of the Self can only be effected by an alert mind and not by a stupefied mind. An alert and still mind with total absence of thought is in ‘Samadhi’ or ‘Meditation’.
The whole system is a package and meditation is only one part of it; one cannot take one part of the package and call it the whole.
Those who are familiar with Light on the Path will recollect that line which says, ‘Live not in the present nor the future but in the eternal.’ It means that one has to transcend the present and move into the eternal. That can only be done by freeing the mind of all thoughts and entering into the state of the pure mind. That can be achieved by the discipline of the totality of Yoga, which ends with true meditation.
As Sri Ramana Maharishi said, after the camphor burns away no residue is left. The mind is the camphor; when it has resolved itself without leaving the slightest trace behind, it is the realisation of the Self.
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Krishnamurti, J., You are the World, talks to the American Universities, 1972.
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Maharshi, Ramana, ‘To Feed the Cobra’ in Talks with Ramana Maharshi, T.N. Venkatraman, Madras, 1955.
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Radhakrishnan, S., ‘Tripura Rahasya of Ramanashram’, Principal Upanishads, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1953.
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Dr Arunachalam was born in Sri Lanka. He is a long-time member of Brisbane Lodge and leader of meditation classes.