Showing posts with label Ramakrishna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ramakrishna. Show all posts

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!”[1] 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,
            Lift aright.
            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"

[1] I believe that was a song in the 1992 musical, King and I (Rodgers & Hammerstein) sung by Julie Andrews.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Return to India - Final Chapter - Calcutta

Gita and I only had two full days in Calcutta and we sought to make the best use of them we could. I am eager to complete this blog series and so will do my best to keep this brief.

Calcutta and the state of Bengal occupy a unique place in the awakening of modern India. I will not say more than that except to say that not only did there occur an extraordinary spiritual revolution but other revolutions from Bengal as well. More can be found from the history books than from me on this fascinating subject.

On our first day, Saturday, July 9, we first visited the home of Yogananda's boyhood companion, Tuli Bose. The home is now occupied by Hassi: the widow of Tulsi's son, Debi Mukherjee. Debi was a young boy or man when Paramhansa Yogananda returned to India in 1935-6 and has written of that visit in his own collection of stories. Hassi was in the womb of her mother at that time and was blessed by Yogananda. She spoke to him years later by phone after Yogananda had returned to his headquarters in Los Angeles.

Hassi is a devotee and very wise soul. She has greeted and hosted innumerable Ananda and other visitors to her home. Ananda members have assisted her in repairing and improving her simple home which no street map, no Google map will ever reveal but which is right around the corner from Yogananda's boyhood home at 4 Gurpar Road in an older section of Calcutta.

I can't vouch entirely for my notes or my memory or the language translation of our meeting but I will do my best to convey what I learned and experienced there. Yogananda, before leaving for America in 1920, and for some period of time (unknown but presumably before leaving Calcutta to start the school for boys that he founded in the state of Bihar), conducted weekly satsangs (spiritual gatherings) in this tiny home. I believe those satsangs were held on Thursday nights.

Among the spiritual stars who visited the home (and sometimes together, though which ones at the same time, I am not clear and their generations don't all exactly coincide) include: Sharda Devi, widow of Sri Ramakrishna, who conducted Durga puja there; Swami Vivekananda, most famous disciple of Ramakrishna (who visited America twice in the 1890's); Lahiri Mahasaya; Swami Sri Yukteswar, Paramhansa Yogananda, Ananda Moyi Ma, and Swami Atmananda (disciple of Yogananda), along with of course, Tuli Bose.

Just to be present there in the midst of such a place was indescribable. The home is as simple and unseen as a certain manger in Palestine. How many avatars can you fit in a 10' by 10' room? Can anyone imagine such an extraordinary "satsang" or a more blessed temple - yet one that will never impress the worldly man for its grand size and beauty?

Among a tiny sampling of the relics gathered there are an iron trident once possessed by Babaji, given to Lahiri, given to Sri Yukteswar, given to Yogananda, who left it there with Tulsi! The deerskin "asan" (meditation seat) of Sri Yukteswar; the tiger skin asan of Yogananda's; and a clay statute of goddess Kali that materialized in Yogananda's palm while meditating at the nearby Dakshineswar Temple (home to Ramakrishna in the prior century). Gita and I meditated there for a little and had the opportunity to visit with Hassi for some time. She's getting up in years and asked for prayers for an upcoming cataract surgery on July 30 and again later in the Fall 2011.

Around the corner we visited with Sarita Ghosh whose husband Sonat, is the living descendant of Yogananda's artist-brother, Sananda. When we arrived, two other pilgrims were visiting. (There's a steady stream of pilgrims coming to Gurpar Road). She toured us showing us the room in which Babaji appeared to Yogananda after a long night of intense prayer asking for tangible blessings upon his journey to America (in 1920). She showed us the room which had once been Yogananda's father's bedroom and where Yogananda as boy, after his mother's passing, had slept also. It was filled with wonderful photos including the original photo, touched up with color (as was the custom then) by Sananda of Rabindranath Tagore. This "painting" is now famous and hangs there in the room as does what might be (I'm not really sure) the original painting by Sananda of Babaji, among other things I failed to catalogue. (Tagore once visited there, perhaps to approve the painting.)

Upstairs we meditated in Yogananda's "attic room" - the scene of many meditations and experiences, including the window from which he dropped his bundle of items on his failed attempt to escape to the Himalayas (as recounted in his autobiography). Sigh, what can one say about such a visit except that I shall treasure it always.

The following day we visited Serampore, where Swami Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda's guru) lived and had his ashram. Ishan, son of Durlov Ghosh (living descendant of Yogananda's eldest brother, Ananta), hosted us. We went first to Rai Ghat where Sri Yukteswar (and Yogananda) would bathe daily in the mornings and where Sri Yukteswar encountered Babaji under the still living banyan tree when Babaji came to bless Yukteswar upon completion of the book Babaji commissioned Yutkeswar to write ("The Holy Science").

It was a very hot and sticky day and the ghat was filled with teenagers but Gita and I sat briefly in meditation, hoping to draw the blessings that should surely remain in the ether with gathering of three avatars (egads!), including the incomparable Babaji.

Wending our way through the narrow lanes of Serampore we then visited Sri Yukteswar's ashram. It is inhabited by two or three families: descendants of Sri Yukteswar (he had a daughter, though no one seems to know anything about her and her offspring). Recently, we were told, it was decided not to allow visitors into the home and into Sri Yukteswar's rooms for visits and meditation. Gita, and many others I know, have done so in past years but it was not to be so for me.

Instead we were allowed into an adjacent YSS shrine and offered meditation seats. Notwithstanding my disappointment, I had a very deep meditation in the shrine. It's built in what had been an extension of the original courtyard and from its steps one could see the courtyard balcony where the door to Sri Yukteswar's room was.

I hope someday YSS, at least, can obtain the ownership and can repair and restore the aging and now decrepit building for a shrine for generations to come. While they tend to be as much gatekeepers as preservers, someone, at least needs to do this. I don't know the relationship between the families and YSS. It's probably somewhat tentative and uneasy, I'm guessing.

We then had lunch with the Ghosh family in the home nearby that Ananda members helped the family acquire when their grandmother, Mira, was in desperate need some years ago. The family is very grateful and very sweet.

On our way back to our hotel we visited Dakshineswar Temple. The grand and beautiful temple (though now aging but relatively new, only 150 or so years old, built by a devotee-disciple of Sri Ramakrishna) was home to the lila (life) of Ramakrishna. Yogananda too had many deep experiences at the temple as he relates in "Autobiography of a Yogi." We got in line to pay our respects and view the famous Kali statue (the lines allow for a brief two-second glance) and then meditated in the adjacent portico where Yogananda had an experience in cosmic consciousness.

Then we meditated in the bedroom (now a museum and shrine) of Ramakrishna after touring the temple grounds. The visit was far more uplifting than I would have thought, given the Sunday-afternoon crowds of families and sightseers. The Temple is along the river (Ganges, though it's called the Hoogley or something like that), and adjacent to one of the bridges that cross the river from which we came from Serampore (which is on the opposite side of the river from downtown Calcutta and upstream).

That's as much as I feel to share on this part. The description I’ve given belies the blessings I feel, however, and leave it to my readers to allow me that inner beatitude as a sacred trust in my heart. As some of my readers are my close friends and fellow disciples, it remains a question "How has this changed your life?" "What personal insights might you have had."

That's as much as I feel to share on this part. The description I’ve given belies the blessings I feel, however, and leave it to my readers to allow me that inner beatitude as a sacred trust in my heart. As some of my readers are my close friends and fellow disciples, it remains a question "How has this changed your life?" "What personal insights might you have had."

I don't feel this blog is the place for such personal reflections except to say “Yes!”

Blessings, and thus ends our journey and pilgrimage,