Monday, April 25, 2011

8-Fold Path - Step 5 - ETHER!

The 5th Stage of Patanjali's 8-Fold Path is called PRATYAHARA and is associated with the element of ETHER. Ether refers to what we more commonly refer to as "space." Space is the invisible element in which objects appear and appear as separate from each other. The time-space continuum posits a relationship between objects and the space they inhabit and the concept of time.

All objects appear on the invisible fabric of space. Space is created by vibration. This magic-mirror show has two sides: one that seems to show that all objects are separate, and another that reveals they are all connected and part of the same underlying reality.

Isolation and loneliness are potential steps towards personal disintegration and even suicide, if not the more common despondency and depression which is all but epidemic. One of the many benefits of meditation is a sense of connection with the people and world we inhabit. We could say that mental health presumes a feeling of connection with the space we inhabit. Our "space" includes all objects and all people of co-inhabit that space.

Space being invisible is ethereal, or non-material. And as experiments in quantum physics with sub-atomic particles reveals, matter, or particles, appear out "of the thin air" of supposedly "empty" space. In the popular book, "The Holographic Universe," the author quotes a scientist as saying that there is more latent energy in one cubic foot of empty space than has been calculated to exist in all the visible matter of the known (estimated) universe. (Even to me, the claim seems over the top, but even if it's only fractionally true, the essential point remains.)

From a meditative point of view, indeed, from the point of view of consciousness, it is out of the empty space of quietude that ideas, thoughts, images and feelings appear, even unsought or unexpectedly. The greatest creative triumphs are always a process of "something coming out of nothing." This "nothing" is far from nothing even if it validly can be said to be no-thing.

The point here is that this stage of spiritual awakening represents the realization of mind-space, or consciousness as a reality that precedes thought and precedes the reactive process of the lower chakras and their powers of perception and knowledge. Ether is the foundation for the grosser elements. It is also the invisible precondition for the appearance of the tangible creation and reactive, feeling consciousness.

While the 8-Fold Path necessarily describes the stages of ascendency, by definition, it describes the process of descent into creation as well. This stage emanates deep calmness, the eye at the center (or the beginning) of the storm of maya (waves of feeling, action, reaction and movement). Like the television screen whose blue image immediately precedes the images and words which subsequently can appear across its face, space and calmness are neutral and yet expansive and inclusive such that all things which follow depend and are connected to it.

Paramhansa Yogananda wrote "God's body is space. If you want to feel God, feel space within you and all around." He gave the visualization of one floating in deep space with millions of miles below, above, and all around you. While to some, this visualization would seem cold and lonely, the reality of the experience is that it invites us to have a sense of connection and oneness with all creation. The result is a calm, confident, and knowing level of consciousness.

In India's epic story the "Mahabharata" (of which the famous scripture, The Bhagavad Gita is but a chapter), the elder son (Yudisthira) sets an important stage for a part of the story when he gambles away his (and his younger brothers') kingdom. We humans gamble away our happiness when, thinking we can play in delusion simply because we can see that it is delusion and because we are, at present and as yet, unattached to it. But we gamble and we lose our perspective, our calmness, and our wisdom because the magnetic power of maya (delusion) exists in the macrocosm and is bigger than any individual perception. For the dice of life are loaded for those foolish enough to think they can play the "great game" without getting caught.

Many a devotee reaching certain insights of divine wisdom feels the exhilaration and sweeping vista of that wisdom and gets caught again because he pauses, entranced by the view below. He forgets to keep "climbing" upward along the spiral, spinal staircase, gazing steadily ahead to the goal and thus falls again as if mesmerized. By now you can sense how subtle this stage is and how fraught with spiritual danger it can be. Without the support of others of like mind and especially a true guru, the truthseeker easily falls prey to temptation.

This stage carries with it the meditative power to shut off the five sense telephones (represented by the chakras below it and itself.) Full realization of pratyahara and the power of the ether element is to cut off at will the sense stimuli and signals of the five senses by concentrating the mind into perfect stillness beyond the intrusion of restless thoughts.

Whereas the fire element relates to right posture and fixity of body for meditation, and the heart center for purification of desire into devotion, the ether element represents focus of the mind in one-pointed concentration. Hence, step by step, control of body, emotions, and thoughts! These are the prerequisites to the higher stages of the 8-Fold Path which follow as one ascends.
There is a vibratory connection, too, between the fifth chakra (ETHER ELEMENT) and the practice of watching the breath. Paramhansa Yogananda taught this technique with the mental repetition of the mantra HONG-SAU. Hong Sau is the seed mantra for the Sanskrit words "Aham Saha," which means "I am He." The mantra resonates with the astral sound of the pran and apan currents of prana as they move through the ida and pingala nadis (channels) and impel the physical body to breath in and out. The calming of the breath by concentration upon it lifts us toward the breathless state where thoughts cease and pure self-awareness begins. This is the ether soul consciousness upon which all thoughts, feelings, and actions subsequently play unceasingly in the storm of duality (maya).

Yogananda put it this way: "When motion ceases, God begins." This stage of ETHER then is the doorway to the higher stages of the soul consciousness.

Practice watching the breath in meditation. When the breath enters mentally chant HONG. When the breath goes out of its own, mentally chant SONG. The full technique is taught at Ananda meditation classes in person, online, or in books published by Crystal Clarity Publishers, Ananda's publishing division.

Feel space in the body and all around you. Feel the space between the words and sound you hear. Everything you experience is being projected from the invisible ether of space without which the appearance of separate existence could not be intuited.

Blessings, and until we meet again at the 6th Stage of Enlightenment!

Nayaswami Hriman