Monday, May 29, 2017
Seven Stages of Meditation
I find it helpful to “look under the hood” so that I feel more comfortable and confident about what I am doing. Having created the local version (Seattle, WA) of Meditation Teacher Training, I explain to prospective students that in that course we “look under the hood” of meditation to learn the “how’s” and the “why’s” of the different practices and the stages through which we practice them. In that way, they might better understand and appreciate their practice and go deeper, and, by extension, to help others as well.
I’d like to offer to you a description of seven stages of meditation. My caveat is to acknowledge that inasmuch as we are speaking of levels of consciousness, one could say these are infinity, or, at least, infinitely more complex than a mere seven. That having been said (well, ok, “written”), see if you find this helpful:
Seven stages of meditation:
1. SELF-AWARENESS / INTROSPECTION. The classic form of mindfulness is to simply sit quietly, usually eyes closed, and observe your thoughts. This might be in conjunction with observing or controlling your breath. In other meditation practices, the focus might supposed to be somewhere else but, in fact, the intrusion of monkey mind thoughts has the same effect (at least if the thoughts win the day). I call this phase of meditation: “Getting to know you!” In this first level of meditation, it may be pleasant; it might even offer some “aha” moments; it can also be upsetting if past traumas or chronic fears arise unexpectedly. But, for my purposes, its salient characteristic is that the ego-I is self-enclosed, running somewhat if not entirely on the engine of the sub-conscious mind throwing out a random stream of consciousness or directed by the conscious mind munching on its own agenda. This type of “meditation” has its place; more than that, it demands its space. For those who have no higher intention than this space, well, mostly, that’s all there is. It is possible, however, that superconscious images or inspirations (even visions) might appear, but the chances of that are rather slim. I’ve heard that such a practice can lead to life changes but, well, never mind. No comment.
2. CONSCIOUS QUIESCENCE. A practice or technique that guides the meditator to quiet the monkey mind is the beginning of more traditional and time-honored meditations. By whatever technique (mantra, devotion, visualization, breath work) this state is achieved, it is refreshing, to say the least. It remains however in the realm of the ego-mind. The subconscious and conscious narrative functions may have diminished or ceased, but the ego remains King of the I. This state of conscious quiescence can be the launch pad for the higher states potentially yet to come. It is not always thus, however, as in the example of Ramakrishna gazing up at flock of geese and going into Samadhi suggests! Seriously, however, one might be chanting or praying or practicing any number of techniques and be drawn upward into a higher state without having to stop at the launch pad.
3. ASTRAL PERCEPTIONS. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he states that concentration upon astral perceptions can be a helpful focal point for going into deeper states. These astral perceptions might easily appear to one’s inner sight or subtle senses as a direct consequence of the quiet mind described in #2 above. While I hesitate to insist upon the following point, it is a good place to bring it up. The psycho-physiological subtle centers known as the chakras mark (for me at least) the transition from beginning meditation techniques to advanced ones. There is a relationship between astral perceptions and the functions of the chakras. The most notable ones being color and sound, but there are subtle perceptions of taste and smell, to name just a few of the more common ones. Thus, (and again I don’t insist on this point), one could say that the stage of meditation wherein astral perceptions become common or consistent is the stage where advanced techniques are employed (or at least that the meditator is achieving a more subtle or refined level of meditative awareness). This does not mean the ego has abdicated the throne quite yet but it is coming closer. This stage has a further relationship with the sixth stage on the Eight-Fold Path (described in the Yoga Sutras) of dharana. It is where the ego is aware that “I” am experiencing or perceiving these astral phenomenons. Subtle perceptions can also be glimpses into qualities of the soul (aka "aspects of God") which can be wholly entered into as described below.
4. SUPERCONSCIOUSNESS. If the meditator is one who is seeking inner communion with God or some aspect of God (by whatever name or form), the next stage is well plotted for us in the seventh stage of the Eight-Fold Path: dhyana. This is where the formerly “I am feeling peaceful” becomes simply PEACE. It is where, to quote Paramhansa Yogananda’s famous poem Samadhi, “Knowing, Knower, Known as One!” In this stage, impossible to describe in words with reason and intellectual integrity, one does not LOSE Self-awareness; instead, one BECOMES the object of his focus, such as peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, (astral) sound or light, or bliss. One feels more alive than we could possible experience in ordinary states of waking or sleeping. This experience takes place not in the physical body; not even in the astral body, but in the causal body of ideation or thought, which is the Soul. But as yet, the Soul has not broken out of its identity or connection with the physical and astral bodies even if momentarily those bodies are as if asleep.
5. SABIKALPA SAMADHI. Here I cannot but stumble on the simple fact that I am over simplifying the entire subject so much that I almost feel guilty. There are countless steps within this step. But, anyway, let me move forward because now we come to when the Soul begins to merge step by step: first in achieving oneness with the astral cosmos on a vibratory level; then achieving oneness with the causal world of the Kutastha or Christ Consciousness level of ideation; then at last going beyond all phenomenal worlds into the Infinite Spirit whose nature is Bliss itself: ever-existing (immortal and omnipresent); ever-conscious (omniscient); and ever-new Bliss. This is experienced as a state of meditation during which the physical body (at least) is moribund, held in a state of suspended animation or trance-like (immobile). This experience is probably repeated endlessly and perhaps over more than one, even many, incarnations. One can “fall” from this state at any time by the influence of desire or past karmas. It might take incarnations before once again achieving this blessed experience.
6. NIRBIKALPA SAMADHI with KARMA. At last, like the caged bird whose multiple but brief forays outside the cage end when the bird flies away free for good, the state of cosmic consciousness becomes permanent. But there’s still a catch: the astral and causal bodies remain intact because the astral body contains the unresolved seeds of past karma. Being, however, “free,” and not a care in the three worlds, the now jivan mukta (“free soul”) may have no reason to worry or be in a hurry to release his baggage. He might even keep some of his connections with other souls so that he can continue to assist them in their upward path to freedom. Patanjali mentions that such a one might, by contrast, incarnate into multiple bodies to work out that big bad past karma! At this point time becomes irrelevant but there is no chance of falling, spiritually speaking.
7. NIRBIKALPA SAMADHI WITHOUT KARMA: When the jivan mukta achieves final liberation, he (she) (what matters gender at such a point!) becomes a param mukta or a siddha. Paramhansa Yogananda stated that if such a one does reincarnate he does so without any karmic compulsion and can therefore be declared an avatar! An avatar has limitless powers to uplift other souls. His role may be that of world teacher or savior or he may be all but completely undetected for reasons of the Divine Will.
Paramhansa Yogananda counseled us to memorized his poem, Samadhi. I have said it every day for many years. I believe that it gives to me the vibration of the final stage of freedom such that I draw a bit of it into my consciousness every day. I leave it with now and bid you adieu!
/s/ Swami Hrimananda
Vanished the veils of light and shade,
Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
Gone the dim sensory mirage.
Love, hate, health, disease, life, death,
Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
Waves of laughter, scyllas of sarcasm, melancholic whirlpools,
Melting in the vast sea of bliss.
The storm of maya stilled
By magic wand of intuition deep.
The universe, forgotten dream, subconsciously lurks,
Ready to invade my newly-wakened memory divine.
I live without the cosmic shadow,
But it is not, bereft of me;
As the sea exists without the waves,
But they breathe not without the sea.
Dreams, wakings, states of deep turia sleep,
Present, past, future, no more for me,
But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.
Planets, stars, stardust, earth,
Volcanic bursts of doomsday cataclysms,
Creation’s molding furnace,
Glaciers of silent x-rays, burning electron floods,
Thoughts of all men, past, present, to come,
Every blade of grass, myself, mankind,
Each particle of universal dust,
Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
I swallowed, transmuted all
Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being!
Smoldering joy, oft-puffed by meditation
Blinding my tearful eyes,
Burst into immortal flames of bliss,
Consumed my tears, my frame, my all.
Thou art I, I am Thou,
Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever-new peace!
Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
Not an unconscious state
Or mental chloroform without wilful return,
Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
Beyond limits of the mortal frame
To farthest boundary of eternity
Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
Watch the little ego floating in Me.
The sparrow, each grain of sand, fall not without My sight.
All space floats like an iceberg in My mental sea.
Colossal Container, I, of all things made.
By deeper, longer, thirsty, guru-given meditation
Comes this celestial samadhi.
Mobile murmurs of atoms are heard,
The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
Aum blows upon vapors, opening wondrously their veils,
Oceans stand revealed, shining electrons,
Till, at last sound of the cosmic drum,
Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
Of all-pervading bliss.
From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves.
Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
Myself, in everything, enters the Great Myself.
Gone forever, fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory.
Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above.
Eternity and I, one united ray.
A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.
Note: taken from the Crystal Clarity Publishers reprint of the original 1946 edition of "Autobiography of a Yogi"