Thursday, February 9, 2017

Meditation: Full? or Empty?

Ishavashya Upanishad: “That is full, this is full, from that fullness comes this fullness and if fullness is taken away from fullness, only fullness remains.”

I'd like to take a break from politics in America and from the doom and gloom that might be derived from contemplation thereupon.

Instead, I'd like to explore the experience of true meditation: by "true" here I mean what happens when we go beyond the "doing" of techniques and attempt to enter the "being" of silence. Again, as in past articles, I am not focusing on anything absolute or cosmic.

The entrance fee to higher states of consciousness (aka "superconsciousness") is generally the necessity to become inwardly silent. This includes the cessation of subconscious images and random thoughts, memories, and sense impressions. Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras in the most profound and important aphorism (the second one of 197 or so) describes the state of yoga as "the neutralization or cessation of the reactive mental processes of likes, dislikes, memories, creative mental images and the like."

In this space, I ask: "Is the experience of silence in meditation an experience of fullness? Or, emptiness?"

I have heard my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, comment that there are two directions of awareness in meditation: expanding or dissolving. These can be further contrasted in pairs such as:


  • Offering oneself into a greater Self (God, guru, Light, etc.), or being open or receptive to receive (the same: God, guru, Light, etc.)
  • A feeling of expanding consciousness or a feeling of dissolving the sense of ego awareness (I don't say "dissolving of consciousness" as this is would take us down into subconsciousness)
  • It can be described in various ways, including, for example: devotional self-offering (expansion) or devotional receptivity (receiving). In expansion of ego-consciousness there is a concomitant dissolving of the ego self. In the dissolution of ego-self there becomes space (emptiness) to be filled.
  • Astral signs or phenomenon can appear to your insight sight or subtle senses: any one or a combination of the five astral senses (prototypes of physical senses) can be experienced; or, darkness can "appear"; light can dim into a dark light and so on.
  • Vibrant sense of space and energy can envelope you, or, perceptions of space and energy can begin to dissolve.
  • To complicate matters, what begins to expand, or what begins to dissolve can resolve into its opposite. Dissolution of ego awareness can be replaced by an expanding light, energy, sound, and so on. 
  • One can approach this space of silence with the attitude and feeling of devotion; or, energetically; or, with mental intensity, will and concentration; or, with a mixture of all three elements.
So these apparent opposites are not really opposite. 

[As an aside: At the Ananda Meditation and Yoga center in Bothell WA (USA), we have initiated a new series of meditation classes: each can be taken independently, or, as a series. Addressing the needs of the human mind and heart, we take our basic techniques that are taught in our traditional “Learn to Meditate” classes, and re-orient them towards focusing the mind (“Mind Fullness meditation”); healing the heart of grief, hurts, depression and other harmful emotions (“Peace Fullness meditation); enhancing the health, healing and vitality of the body (“Health Fullness meditation), and using meditation as prayer and devotion and to achieve Self-realization (“Soul Fullness meditation). (This article is not to describe these classes. For more information on these, go to www.AnandaWA.org.)]

Buddhism is associated, generally, with extinction of ego consciousness and the description of meditation and its goal as being emptiness: sunyata. (This term actually has several meanings or emphases.) Whatever its doctrinal associations and differences, my interest and use of the term is simply that during meditation one can intend to and/or experience the cessation of thoughts, emotions, and bodily movements as an end in itself. 

There are those teachers or branch traditions that assert that emptiness is "all there is" and is the goal. How literally that is stated, I don't know. It's not very appealing unless your down on your luck. The point is: there exists a teaching in the field of meditation that NO-THING-NESS not only exists as a state of consciousness but is the bedrock of reality and the goal of meditation and life.

In most other meditation traditions and in the meditation teachings of Ananda (based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda), it is happiness, or, more technically, joy (bliss) that is the goal of life and of meditation. Again, I'll stop short of attempting to define any absolute. Just speaking here casually.

Emptying the mind of ego involvement is certainly one very important channel to the fullness of joy. Into the seemingly empty space of the no-thing-ness state rushes, pours, or slowly fills the peace, joy, and unconditional love which is our own true Self and the source and underlying reality of all creation.

In "Autobiography of a Yogi," Chapter 7, the levitating saint, Master Mahasaya, asks the young Mukunda (future Yogananda): "You often go into the silence but have you developed anubhava?" Yogananda commented that the saint was reminding him to love God more than meditation. The saint went on to say: "Don't mistake the technique for the goal."

Just as science now tells us that “empty space” is anything but empty, being latent with energy, so too quietness of mind and breath will often be slowly or instantly filled with a subtle by powerful and vibrant sense of latent potentiality. As we approach infinity, "nothing is always." (You can quote me on that one.)

Seasoned meditators find that sometimes their deeper meditations alternate between emptiness and fullness. Other such meditators may, by temperament, tend dominantly toward one or the other. In general, the more one goes by the mind, the more one inclines toward emptiness. The more one goes by heart or by energy, the more towards expansion or fullness. These are very general statements, however.

In practices such as kriya yoga (which is a subset of the science of Raja Yoga), the meditator is focusing on drawing life force (prana) inward through the chakras and up the central astral spine towards the brain. This focus is obviously a positive, fullness-oriented one but an intended result of this is quieting the mind. The immediate consequence can be described as either full or empty, though not absolutely.

I do aver, as Paramhansa Yogananda taught and as my teacher (and founder of the worldwide work of Ananda), Swami Kriyananda reassured us, that contrary to some teachings, “emptiness” as “nothingness” is NOT the final statement on reality. “No wonder,” Kriyananda would sometimes quip, tongue firmly in cheek, “that teachers in that line of thinking opted for a “rain check” by offering to come back and help others!” No one wants to submit to what amounts to suicide of the Self. The deeply embedded instinct for survival may be described as a delusion as it relates to the human body or ego, but it is not so in respect to existence and consciousness itself. Consciousness is the bedrock reality: it is eternal, unchanging and ever-new Bliss, Paramhansa Yogananda declared, representing a long line of Self-realized masters going back thousands of years! Satchidanandam: God is ever-existent (Sat-immortal), ever-conscious (Chitta-omniscient), ever-new joy (Ananda).

Joy to you,

Swam Hrimananda


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