Monday, May 29, 2017
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"
Friday, July 25, 2014
Do I Need a Guru?
(Note: I write this inspired as I am this day, July 25, which commemorates the meeting of Mahavatar Babaji with Paramhansa Yogananda for the purpose of endorsing Yogananda's inspiration to go to America. Yogananda prayed all night for a sign that his going was the Divine will. The next morning the peerless Babaji came to him at 4 Garpar Road, Calcutta, to give his blessing to one who was destined to bring the work of kriya yoga to the West and to the world.)
Well, if that’s the question, I say, “Is the pope Catholic?” Mozart was once asked how it was he composed music at age 4 or 5? Mozart’s reply was simple: “I didn’t have to ask that question.”
If a person is seeking a partner in life and is attracted to someone, if he has to ask, “Am I in love?” I’d say, “Wait.” If you have to ask a question like that, it means the answer is no. Important things in life aren’t answered by listing out the “pros” and “cons” on a sheet of paper.
One who asks, “Do I need a guru,” doesn’t. And, not because he doesn’t, but because he isn’t ready. When he is ready, he won’t ask the question.
Now, many a person approaches the marriage altar unsure of herself. Self-doubt is certainly an obstacle. Things might work out just fine. Or, not! Yet, despite the doubt, the very fact of approaching altar speaks for itself. Others approach with great certitude only to later encounter stormy waters and crushing disappointment. Whether falsely confident or unnecessarily doubting, the mental static of each thwarts the power of intuition to know what is true.
When I read Autobiography of a Yogi the first time, I simply knew. It wasn’t that I said, “I have found my guru.” Rather, it was that “I knew.” I knew that I had to take the next step even though I didn’t know where it would lead. I had enough intuition and faith to take those steps. And, they weren’t timid steps, for these steps included leaving my birth family and moving to Ananda Village with little to no idea what I was getting into. I wasn’t thinking in terms such as “discipleship” to a person, but I was inspired by Yogananda’s teachings and by the opportunity to live those teachings with others in community. I was fired with calm enthusiasm and confidence.
Besides, Yogananda, as a person, died in 1952 when I was less than two years old. I had not yet met Swami Kriyananda but that didn’t seem to matter much either. I was blessed with a knowing. I never gave one thought to the details. In fact, it was 1977, one year after the fire at Ananda Village: there were no homes and fewer jobs in a remote corner of Nevada County in the Sierra foothills where Ananda Village was located. There wasn’t much there to see: besides a few tepees and huts, there was the Publications building, a very old farmhouse that was the tiny grocery store, a two-room Village office, an old barn and a schoolhouse on a hill.
My attraction may have included inspirational ideas but my response was, and had to be, very personal. One’s response to grace is always personal. For starters, it was personal because a person, Padma, was the one who introduced me to the "Autobiography;" for another, she introduced me to Swami Kriyananda and Ananda! For another, she was interested in me! It doesn’t get more personal than that. My life was about to change drastically and it was very personal!
Nonetheless, though I wasn’t averse or reactive to the word “discipleship,” discipleship wasn’t, for me, the operative word. It would have been too formal for my vocabulary at that time. But that is certainly what it was. And so, bit by bit, step by step, Paramhansa Yogananda came into my life and consciousness.
No response to grace by one person can define the spiritual path. But human life, in its conscious and intentional and intuitive forms, is a constant cycle back and forth between the impersonal and the personal.
For those who, like myself, begin at the point of ideas, the path becomes increasingly personal. For those who begin at the point of an inspired personal relationship, the path, in order to become whole and complete, becomes increasingly idealistic. But this cycle has to balance and is never static.
I have come full circle in my life on this issue, for, year after year I practiced kriya yoga; year after year I served at the first Ananda Community near Nevada City, CA; year after year I served with, listened to, was taught by and learned from Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda. You could say it kept getting more and more personal! It HAS to because WE ARE personally involved. Our very soul is struggling to emerge from the cocoon of ego. All the abstractions and metaphysical precepts in the universe can’t change the personal nature of spiritual growth.
I have come full circle on this in my life. Many students question why it is that to learn kriya yoga one must accept the disciple-guru relationship with Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of preceptors who sent him. With personal experience, I have come to know why.
I have said to others who question this need, “Go ahead: try to advance spiritually on your own.” Anyone who makes an ardent, sincere and intelligent effort will discover the truth (“that will make you free”): we are not alone and we cannot transcend the ego with the ego’s best efforts alone. Something else — a greater power — is needed. It’s like the website “Kickstarter.” To get a successful venture off the ground, you need spiritual “financing.”
All the kriyas, all the donations, all the creative, tireless, self-less service one performs for spiritual growth are necessary but they constitute only 1/4th of what it takes. For one thing, the doing of such activities are sticky: they stick to the sense of personal, egoic doership.
On the 8-Fold Path of Patanjali, among the five items he lists as the “Do’s” is devotion. Devotion is what propels self-effort towards the soul by way of ego transcendence. Recognition of the “otherness” of the soul, of superconsciousness, of God, and heartfelt self-offering into the guidance and power of the “Other” is the necessary “spice” that makes the soup of spiritual growth nutritious and soul-satisfying.
As I have stated earlier, the spiritual path is personal. Devotion becomes personal when, in response to our heartfelt efforts and devotion, God’s grace and presence flows to us and comes to us through the guru. Timing is everything. Timing includes the question of when we meet the guru face-to-face in the body. It’s not that the true guru is limited by time or space but one’s readiness to encounter the guru in human form varies from person to person.
We, at Ananda, are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda but he left his body in 1952. Through the touch of his direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda, we have been inspired and instructed. A time will no doubt come in a future life or on a higher plane when our meeting will be complete in every way. So while the guru is already transcendent and doesn’t need a physical body, we need the guru to appear in human form for our own instruction and inspiration. Otherwise, without incarnation, how would I know anything about the guru: the teachings, the techniques, the life example and stories?
The fact of avatara (divine incarnation) is also the promise of our soul’s immortality. It also hints at how God created and sustains all creation: by an act of becoming. It is logically and philosophically necessary that a soul in human form has achieved Self-realization. This demonstrates the eternal promise, the covenant between God and man that we are His children, made in His image.
The guru is an incarnation of divinity. No single guru can circumscribe or otherwise limit the Infinite Power of God. Nonetheless, one who has “become one with the Father” (in a previous life), returns to human incarnation with the full power of divinity. As God has become the entire universe but the forms and beings of creation have not yet realized this truth, so God incarnates on earth in human form through the vehicle of a soul who has reunited with “the Father” and become Self-realized as a son of God.
Each true (or “sat”) guru remains unique, as each snowflake is unique. This is the law of creation and duality. Thus each guru in any given life will uniquely express God’s will and vibration appropriate both to the unique nature of that Self-realized soul and to the needs of those to whom that guru is sent. No one guru has the final “say.”
It has been well said that “idolatry is the bane of religion.” But so is dogmatism, sectarianism and just about every other vice that infests human consciousness. In the case of idolatry, it is the all too common error of mistaking the form (the human persona of the guru) for the divine spirit which animates the guru’s consciousness. Thus, some object to what they view as the “worship” of the guru for the fact that such devotion belongs solely to God and for the fact that human beings are imperfect.
No point “arguing” with that objection. A good disciple should try always see God as acting through the guru. Yogananda repeatedly reminded disciples that “God is the guru. I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He.” Still, if a sincere but somewhat less than clear-minded disciple lavishes his devotion somewhat too personally upon the guru, forgetting the correct philosophical attitude, it seems hair-splitting so long as the disciple harms no one in his devotions. The problem for such a disciple is that too personal an attitude will, in time, affirm the very ego that the disciple seeks to transcend by virtue of his devotion!
I have come, as I have said, full circle. I will do my kriyas; I will serve; I will do my best to attune my will to the divine will, but it is the mindful, affirmative, and real-time sense of the guru’s presence that is more important than anything that this “I” can do.
In meditation, I try to feel his presence; I try to visualize his eyes, his face, or feel that special state that, for me, says “He is here.” I go from my inner self-talk, monologue, to a dialog with him. I tell him my secrets; I ask his advice; I laugh and cry with him. The world around me may go up or down and all around, but so long as I have my guru at my side, I am whole. I am safe in the arms of his grace.
No, you don’t need a guru……..unless you want to know God; unless you want to be free from the limitations of duality, of the ego, and of your karma. But you may have to wait. You won’t find your guru by chasing and seeking but by becoming a better seeker, a living disciple of truth, of life, of God’s will. “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears.”
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Once a person decides he or she wants to meditate, there's no question that the most common struggle for meditators, both new and seasoned, is the restless, "monkey" mind. If I could give you a prescription that would solve that I would be, ah, 'er, well............but, there are ways to tame the monkey.
But be forewarned that there's no pill, no bio-feedback device, no music or guided CD that's going to make restless thoughts go away effortlessly. There's no substitute for your own, finely-attuned, sensitive efforts linking mental focus, clear intention, and refined feeling.
But let's review some steps and basics that can help you. "Mind you," there's no lack of them, either:
Part 1 - The Basics
But be forewarned that there's no pill, no bio-feedback device, no music or guided CD that's going to make restless thoughts go away effortlessly. There's no substitute for your own, finely-attuned, sensitive efforts linking mental focus, clear intention, and refined feeling.
But let's review some steps and basics that can help you. "Mind you," there's no lack of them, either:
Part 1 - The Basics
- Do you meditate consistently, day in and day out? Without consistency of effort there can be no progress.
- Why do you meditate? Remind yourself frequently of "why." This will include a quick review of the benefits and intentions. Without the motivation to meditate we become burdened by ambivalence or mental resistance and it is difficult to go deep. Paramhansa Yogananda put it bluntly when he said "The soul loves to meditate, but the ego hates to meditate." Be clear; be firm; be inspired!
- What is meditation? It is not thinking things over and, ultimately, it's not simply sitting with eyes closed enjoying a steady, random stream of consciousness thoughts, however interesting or pleasurable such an act may be. If you don't know what meditation is, any meditative efforts can be called "good." I am not going to be so presumptuous as to define the undefinable but let us say (as I paraphrase my spiritual preceptor, Paramhansa Yogananda) that real meditation (only) begins when thoughts subside into stillness. Hang onto this concept because it's the baseline measure of meditation. Yes, there are times when in a given sitting we never achieve this, or, only do so for brief fleeting moments, but it is important to know "what meditation IS" and what it is NOT. [Quoting Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "Even a little practice of this (meditation), will free you from dire fears and colossal sufferings."]
- Re-directing points 2 and 3 above, your calm but focused intention with each sitting should be to achieve quietness of mind (when thoughts subside into clear but silent perception) with each sitting. Be clear and firm about this EACH TIME! Don't be tense about it, however: that is counter productive.
- The Secret. The secret is this: you have to want to achieve stillness. Note the word "want." This is similar to "desire." Desire is similar to emotion and emotion, when refined towards true meditation, becomes devotion: intensity of aspiration that is, as yet, calm and non-attached. The secret to a calm mind is calm feeling. "Reason" (or thoughts) follow "feeling," my guru, Yogananda, often said. Jesus said that before going to the temple to pray, reconcile yourself with your brother with whom you've had a disagreement. When our emotions are calm and refined towards devotional aspiration, it's much easier for the mind to let go. Awaken, then, the desire to meditate before beginning to meditate. You will need to figure out how to activate this "desireless desire" to meditate according to your practice and temperament, but it is essential.
- My mind, a kingdom is. According to evolutionary biology, our human body and brain has developed in response to the impulse, among other things, to survive. Our brain, as investigated by science, is incredibly efficient and designed to watch for and respond to both internal and external threats, pleasure and pain, and ego satisfactions. Meditation, by contrast, seeks transcendence of the body-bound, instinct-driven mind. This takes time and re-training. What we have been given is a very good thing but what we seek is not only better, it is our truer essence. The "pearl of great price" cannot be bought with the debased currency of "that was easy!"
- I am of three minds. Our mind has three basic expressions: subconscious, conscious and super-conscious! Restless thoughts originate from the chatter and influence of the subconscious. Being "sub" conscious, this part of the mind is more like a restless child, hence the monkey analogy (and an apt one, pun intended). Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but generally restless and wanting attention and often mischievous. We should no more smack a child when he keeps whining at us for more candy than we should attempt to "sit on" the monkey mind. We have to coax it, train it patiently, and reward it for good behavior. The conscious mind is what "wants" to meditate (being inspired by the silent inspiration from the higher, or superconscious mind). Meditation is quieting the monkey mind, then turning the conscious mind to "look up" and offer itself to receive the inspiration, grace, power, and transforming influence of the superconscious, intuitive mind.
Part 2 - Suggestions
- Take note. In your at-home and private meditation, have a small notebook and pen nearby. Promise your subconscious mind that should an important thought or reminder appear during meditation you will be happy to write it down provided the subconscious then subsides into silence. This is an agreement that each side must honor.
- Counting. I can't know from here what techniques you use, but there are a ba-zillion breath control techniques (pranayams) and mantras. Most meditation routines do something or another with breath or heart rate. So, without wanting you to change the technique as you've been taught, I would propose that you consider this suggestion (i.e., counting) as a warm-up to your technique and not a substitute for it......
- Counting con't. Let's say you are doing simple, diaphragmatic breathing as a warm up. Mentally count your inhalation, retention (if any), exhalation, post-exhalation retention (if any). Counting can help your mind focus. There are variations from the equal count system (equal length of inhalation, hold, and exhalation) so let your counting follow the pattern of your choice or as you've been instructed. Important: your goal is to be counting without intrusion of thought(s). If you discover thoughts taking place, stop, and begin again. Start by setting a goal of between 5 and 10 breaths (counting all the while) without an intruding thought. If at breath number 3, a thought intrudes, stop and begin again. Continue until you achieve your goal. (Set the goal lower if need be to get some momentum and success in this. Set a higher goal if you can.)
- From here....Do not allow yourself to enter into your usual meditation routine until your mind cooperates and settles down according to the goal you've set in your counting.
- Other. Yes, it is true that the general recommendations include doing some yoga or stretches first, a prayer, chanting, and so on. I certainly don't exclude these items but it may be that for you, you do all of these things and still have the monkey on your mind. So, let's not exclude these more standard suggestions. It may be that you are jumping too quickly into meditation without making the requisite transitional steps like stretching, prayer and chanting to relax and energize the body, awaken inspiration and set your intention. (see part 1 above re intention). If you are ill or upset, the most you can accomplish in meditation may be only to chant, do affirmations, or read inspirational thoughts and be quiet but momentarily. (But this is a temporary condition, whereas we are speaking of longer term monkey mind syndrome.)
- Positive focus. I don't want to interfere with your meditation technique but there are two points of internal focus that are most helpful (on several levels). The first is the heart (chakra) and the second is the "third eye" (point between the eyebrows). In my tradition (of raja/kriya yoga), the latter is the most important but one's focus in the prefrontal lobes must be energetically supported by the calm and refined feelings of the heart lifted upward to that point. They must be, in all events, balanced or at least both activated.
- Heart centered meditation. If you tend to be feeling oriented by temperament, rest in the heart center (not the physical heart, but opposite near or above the sternum, in the center of the body) for a good portion of your sitting time, especially in the beginning, and touching in, as it were, throughout your sitting time. As you do so, feel the heart relax and an invisible, inner smile appear, relaxing your face.
- Oneness meditation. Focusing (gazing inwardly) at the point between the eyebrows must be done correctly in order to achieve optimum effect. I can say that to the degree my attention is wholly engaged there, random thoughts evaporate or are, at least, kept at bay. (In the latter situation it's like being in one room and hearing the sounds of voices from another room nearby.) With complete, one-pointed, heart-supported focus, thoughts don't have a chance. This fool proof method, however, is among the most difficult even if ultimately the best. For starters, too much will power tends to "hurt." You can even get a headache or feel sore in the forehead. For another, you have to know exactly where to focus your gaze. This blog is too clumsy to get into this aspect. (You can make a special point of warming up with a few minutes of inner gazing at the spiritual eye, adjusting to the relative darkness behind closed eyes, calming your mind so that you can hold in a steady gaze whatever visual sensations you observe at that point.) Write to me if you want to know where to focus. But gazing through the point between the eyebrows should be the kind of intensive interest that you equate with fascination, aroused curiosity, and positive interest. In short, it should seem natural, interesting and engaging, not forced. Connect it with the heart's energy and power by offering your calm feeling upward into the (as yet unseen) inner light at the point between the eyebrows.
- Two-ness leads to One-ness. Thus it is that the two-ness of the two energy centers (heart and spiritual eye) can gradually lead to complete, steady, absorption in which all subconscious, random thoughts vanish. Another and more complex variation on the technique of gazing through the point between the eyebrows (and another way in which 2 becomes 1) is to use the power of visualization at that point. You might practice a little bit visualizing the eyes of your guru gazing back at you at that point; or your image of God, whether personal or abstract. By abstract I mean you might visualize a golden light bathing your mind with enlightenment. Or, you might visualize a sacred mountain, the ocean, a rainbow or other aspect of nature that suggests to you certain qualities of higher consciousness: such as peace, wisdom, vitality, love, calmness and so on. Practice this technique to steady the mind. Again, use this as a concentration tool separate and apart from any techniques you've been given and are otherwise committed to. This way it is a warm-up for your real practice(s).
- Counting on steroids. To return to counting, a more complex technique, perhaps for more experienced meditators who are familiar with various chakra meditation techniques is to chant syllables or mantric words with the breath. This is complex enough that there's little chance for the subconscious mind to get a word in edgewise! I'll give one example but there are countless ways to apply this. My example is to take the eight words (in Sanskrit) which comprise the stages of Patanjali's famous 8-Fold Path. For my example I'll use the fourth stage which is called "pranayama." Thus each cycle will take eight breaths. As you inhale you mentally and slowly chant the word (in my example, then): "pra--na--yam--a." Pause and hold the breath if you wish, or not, but with the exhalation you slowly and mentally repeat the syllables of that stage. Gradually let the inhalation and exhalations equalize. Continue through the eight stages of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Repeat at least four cycles, perhaps eight, (as you feel) until your mind quiets down. (I use an even more complex version of this not fit for blogs.) Keep in mind that this is not merely mechanical. The Sanskrit words of the 8-Fold Path from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are incredibly ancient and more or less constitute the equivalent of mantras. In any case, there is power and vibration and deep meaning in each one. You draw into your consciousness their vibration if you practice this not just as a mental exercise but as a meditation. You can choose other "lists" such as the Sanskrit names of the chakras, a line of gurus or masters, chakra qualities and on and on. Try to keep it simple enough that you can get it down fairly quickly, though.
Conclusion. You can see from these suggestions that we are giving the conscious mind something more interesting and meditational to focus on. The suggestions above may be warm-ups for those of you who have been given a sacred or otherwise effective technique but are struggling with the monkey. Ultimately however, true meditation transcends any meditation technique as an experience of superconsciousness which might be described as intuitive perception and realization of higher states of consciousness in which "knower, knowing, and known" merge into one. And even a little bit of this experience will bring you back to the cushion day after day drinking in the nectar of soul-bliss.
Bliss-filled meditations to you,
Friday, March 21, 2014
In the past two blogs I've described the importance of transcending thoughts in order to have a deeper experience of meditation. Now, there's much more to it than that, but this isn't supposed to be a book: I have to remind myself that this is just a blog!
Inspired by Patanjali's famous 8-Fold Path (it wasn't entirely original with him either), may I offer these suggestions and steps to achieve a deeper, more satisfying and consistent meditation experience:
- Yama (control). Start with the clear intention to achieve peace in meditation and to gently, but firmly, put aside, just temporarily, the seemingly important thoughts and preoccupations that assail you. Be somewhat firm with your mind in this respect. Start with an affirmation such as "I am strong in myself. I am complete in my Self. All that I seek await discovery within my inner being (through meditation!). In this affirmation, feel the blessing of inner peace rising within you as you stand firm in your resolution. Take a few moments to enjoy it.
- Niyama (non-control). Relax! Welcome the idea and feeling of going within, of being centered in your Self, in your inner (subtle) spine. Experience contentment and the clean feeling that arises from being inwardly at rest -- as if being cleansed by a weightless waterfall of wisdom. Take a few moments to enjoy this image and the insight it offers to you as to "Who am I."
- Asana. (sitting). Ignite the "fire of pure desire" for transcending the roller coaster of likes and dislikes and for being seated in the asana (position) of meditation--as if for hours, days, weeks and more, burning up the seeds of ignorance and material desire. Let your efforts blaze with the power of God-uniting energy.
- Pranayama (life force control). Here begin your yoga practices of regular (diaphragmatic) breathing and any combination of breath techniques that you have learned and feel comfortable with. Don't be content with huffing and puffing, however. Control of breath is just the beginning and most outward form by which we can bring the reactive process of ego-driven likes and dislikes under control and, with God-inspired devotion, re-directing their energy, and the feeling-desires that drive them, upwards toward the seat of enlightenment at the spiritual eye. Purify your heart and offer it to God.
- Pratyahara (concentration of the mind). As the winds of breath and heart subside owing to your efforts with pranayam, the mind will begin to clear of restless thoughts like fog vanishing beneath the rising summer sun. Shift from breath control (prana-yama) to watching the breath (ni-yama). Yogananda taught this universal technique with the seed mantra, Hong (chanted silently with the incoming breath) Sau (with the outgoing breath). Challenge yourself to re-direct your mind back to the breath whenever thoughts take your focus hostage. This is where you train the monkey mind directly: gentle but resolute. Don't allow frustration or impatience to creep in when the lower mind gets the upper hand! Never give up. As the flow of breath subsides, so will the thought-invaders (and vice versa).
- Dharana (inner awareness). When you feel that you have become satisfactorily calm, cease the watching of the breath and rest in the silence. Peer upward with happy, active, interested intensity, gazing as if with curiosity through the point between the eyebrows---at a point one or two feet past the eyebrows (and perhaps slightly raised)--eyes are still closed, however. From that resting point, now settle in and become sensitively aware: feeling peaceful? Calm? Feeling subtle energy within or around you? Feel in the heart, too.......perhaps a bubble of joy, loving acceptance.....
- Dhyana (meditation). Relax so deeply and naturally into your meditation that the sense of "I am feeling peaceful (or XXXX) subsides and what remains is only the "nectar" of the feeling itself--nothing else.
- Samadhi. (oneness). Now, let even the feeling of peace (or XXXX) vanish too. What is left is "I, I, everywhere" and the joy of Pure Consciousness. When you feel time is up, take a moment to bless friends, family, co-workers and anyone in need whose name or image appears.
I can't guarantee every meditation will be like this, but this 8-Fold Path to transcendence will serve you well if you dive deep, energetically, creatively, with intelligence and devotion into the Sea of Peace. As a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, I practice Kriya Yoga as my central pranayam while "watching" includes listening to the inner sounds of the chakras or AUM. I call upon Yogananda to guide me. I will visualize or try to feel his presence; his guidance; his power--lifting me up into the lap of Divine Mother (as he addressed God).
I read an interview with a rapper named Russell Simmons who has practiced meditation and yoga for twenty years. It changed his life and he is helping to change the lives of others for the better. Meditation can change your life, too, no matter what you've been through or have done. "Tat twan asi." "Thou art That (peace and serenity and bliss) which is God, for you are made in the image of Spirit.
Blessings and joy in meditation and in service and in love for God and truth!
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
As one who has meditated for most of my adult life and who has taught meditation for some twenty-five years, you might not expect me to bring up the subject of meditation’s pitfalls or shortcomings. Perhaps it’s a truth in advertising campaign.
A very good friend of mine and I were discussing the spiritual path and brought up a common issue for those on the meditation path: the dark side. But let me digress and build a foundation, because there are many forms and approaches to meditation.
I practice and represent the kriya yoga meditation taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. I was ordained to teach and initiate others into the kriya yoga technique and path by Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, who was ordained personally by Paramhansa Yogananda.
Millions have read and have found inspiration from Yogananda’s now famous life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, and from his teachings which are very positive and emphasize “ananda,” the joy of the soul which is discoverable with special efficacy through the art and science of meditation and the advanced technique of kriya yoga. (Worry not, however, there is no claim to exclusivity here.)
Yogananda taught that in this new age (which in India is termed “Dwapara Yuga” – the second age), the impulse of spiritually minded souls would be to bring “Spirit to work” rather than to withdraw from the material world in search of God. Few people today are spiritually inspired by extreme forms of penance, austerity, or suffering. Rather, we find that love for God and love for all beings and all creation is what inspires and motivates us to embrace high ideals.
In the Ananda Sunday Service, the Festival of Light, we read aloud that “whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy.” It goes on to say that “pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.” Yogananda emphasized therefore the positive aspects of the spiritual life.
Kriya yoga is a part of raja yoga which is, in turn, an outgrowth of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from which comes the 8-Fold Path of spiritual awakening. In the raja yoga techniques of meditation, concentration is emphasized together with devotion. Both are practiced in the context of raising our energy and consciousness from the lower centers in the body to the brain wherein resides the seat of enlightenment. What this implies is a strong and positive focal point and direction for one’s meditation.
Raja yoga meditation (which by definition includes kriya yoga) is directional. While all meditation must be mindful, for what else is meditation if not an expansion of self-awareness, it is not passive or contemplative. This may seem contradictory or paradoxical but it is a both-and experience. The more important point, however, is that it is not primarily focused on the dark side, so to speak. It is not an effort to plumb the depths of our delusions and blindnesses in an effort to root them out like weeds. By holding our consciousness and energy up to the light of the superconscious level of our soul we banish blindness and darkness, in effect, we turn on the “light” and the “darkness” vanishes.
Or, does it?
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have much to say about the obstacles and delusions of the mind, the subconscious, of delusion, and of past life karma. He has much to say about the need to be truthful, non-attached, kind etc. etc. There is nothing in the 8-Fold Path that suggests suppression or denial of negativity or darkness.
So while the emphasis in raja yoga may indeed be a positive one and once that works with moving “energy” upward, there is no lack of tools or awareness of that which holds us down.
My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has pointed out that in raising energy to the brain (to the higher wisdom centers), we risk inflating the ego’s self-involvement. Indeed, meditation can even enhance enjoyment of sense pleasures. The ego (sense of separateness) is the first aspect of our soul’s fall from grace (from the beginning of time) and its last great struggle.
This is just one of many reasons why humility and devotion to God and guru is so essential and part and parcel of the path of meditation and the spiritual path in general. Patanjali enumerates at great length the powers that come to one who rises in wisdom towards enlightenment. Many, perhaps all, who seek God with increasing success must encounter the temptations that come with spiritual power. Jesus was tempted that he might have dominion over all creation if he would but worship Satan (creation itself) for its own sake, separate from God.
It is no coincidence that Yogananda linked meditation with fellowship. (So, of course, did Jesus Christ in quoting the Old Testament he summarized his teachings in two parts: love God and love others as oneself.) At Ananda this includes one of our central aspects: intentional community. But not everyone is going to live in an intentional community. But for all of us, association with others like-mind (which includes the company of those of greater wisdom) is necessary and essential. Only a highly advanced soul can spiritually afford to go on alone.
Swami Kriyananda tells the story of a businessman in Vancouver, Canada who decried his day job of making money while yearning for his meditation time at home. “What a waste,” Kriyananda thought. Outward activity should help our meditation and meditation should help our daily life. Meditation should be an attitude, a complete way of life. What we do during the day should feed, inspire, and inform our inner peace and meditation practice, just as meditation should enliven with even-mindedness, creativity, and calmness, our activities.
I have made it a campaign from time to time over the years to help remind meditators not to mistake meditation for the goal of meditation: union with God. It is so very easy to enjoy meditation for its own sake. It is so very easy to reap the benefits and rewards of meditation for that good alone: health, creativity, energy, vitality, intuition, peace, and joy (to name but a few). We might indeed gain dominion over all matter but lose our soul to the “devil” of material delusion or to the affirmation of ego separateness.
The final frontier is to offer ourselves completely to God, risking what, to the ego, seems to be annihilation but to the soul is completion, oneness, and fulfillment, indeed, the gaining of Infinity and the loss of absolutely nothing! It takes great courage, however, and the grace of God and guru to step out of the cage and fly towards the Light.
In the positive upward thrust of meditation practice it is sometimes a fact that the meditator loses touch with self-awareness, rather than gaining self-awareness. For most meditators this is because they fall into the habit of becoming semi-subconscious. This is when thoughts take over or one enters a stream of consciousness state. Real meditation begins when our thoughts are still. Patanjali’s most famous sutra, Yogas chitta vrittis nirodha, could be interpreted as “One enters the state of superconsciousness only when thoughts, mental-images, and feelings related thereto cease.” There are also states of blankness, including at least one termed jada samadhi, that do nothing spiritually but which demonstrate the power to enter a suspended state of consciousness where time, motion, and decay stand still.
Long-term meditators who fall prey to subconscious states are sometimes seen meditating with a a slumped posture, a head that droops down or sometimes to the side, by bobbing downward or to the side, rocking back and forth (a pseudo-kundalini movement), or a sudden shift (marked by a brief, sharp breath) in breath pattern to a long slow exhalation indicating entry into semi-subconsciousness. They might experience burning eyes, and their upward gaze begins to lower from their superconscious position (which consists of gazing intently but serenely into the point-between-the-eyebrows). As thoughts subside in true meditation, the breath becomes almost invisible, even ceasing for periods of time. In meditation one feels more dynamically conscious even if time, surroundings, or body-consciousness slips away. One never comes out of true meditation wondering, “Where was I?” In meditation the “I” is always present: at first, separate and self-aware of the process of meditation; later, expanded into higher states without sense of separation but with complete and total consciousness.
When there exists a firewall between what we experience in meditation and what we experience during activity, we find that we go “nowhere fast” (spiritually speaking). Sadly, I suspect this is the reality for most meditators who are not yet integrated.
Ananda Community residents are blessed with unceasing opportunities to do spiritual work together, to live and meditate together, to worship together, and to study together. This is an integrated way of life that will be the pattern of dedicated spiritual living in this age. Not necessarily by monks and nuns, but including couples and couples with children, this complete way of life offers great promise to millions in the hundreds of years to come.
When I first came to Ananda Village in 1977, I did not understand this. Raised as a Catholic, I understood monasticism but didn’t yet appreciate this new form of ashram, this new form of religious dedication, and indeed a new way of life and religious “order.” Yogananda put it this way: “Church, work, and family” all in one!
Getting back to our subject, then, meditators (whether Ananda Community residents or everyone else) are challenged by the need to include contemplation, introspection, mindfulness, and spiritual counseling in their toolbox for the path of meditation. In addition, regular selfless spiritual service and association with others is needful wherever you are.
A book (indeed books have been) could be written, on making the day more meditatively mindful. I dare not launch in this direction for there are so many tips and techniques. But my real point is that there may well be some psychological obstacles, pitfalls, delusions, or addictions so strong that one should seek counsel and contemplation, as well, as activating will power to deal creatively and energetically with them.
If you have an anger problem and are a meditator, you need to find creative ways to connect the dots between them. Hold your anger as calmly as possible in your meditation and offer it to God and guru. Work actively when it flashes to bring it under your control. It astonishes me how many long-term meditators are as yet unaware of their attitudes and behavior. Swami Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda’s guru) was famous for saying, “Learn to behave.” We must walk our talk but we can’t do this unless we are aware that there’s a yawning gap. “Mind the gap,” I like to say: we all have a gap between our self-image and our actions. That can be good if it is an incentive to close the gap but once the gap widens too much, we disconnect.
It’s ok and indeed helpful to hold up to the superconscious mind and to your guru’s grace, your problems, your delusions, your shortcoming for healing and light. Don’t make a big focus of it but don’t suppress, deny or ignore them either. Do this, typically, at the end of your meditation when you are hopefully the calmest and most uplifted.
“Connect the dots” between all the chakras; raise the “kundalini” of separateness into the Light of God. Be at peace not just in meditation but in speech, emotions, thoughts, and action.
Blessings to you,