Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Love Another without Attachment

Last week at each (separate) session of the Raja Yoga Intensive that I teach, I was asked “What does it mean to love another person ‘without attachment’?”

A very good question, indeed. For the record, we’ve been studying the first two stages on the 8-Fold Path toward enlightenment (as described in the famous Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali). The first two stages outline something often described in short-hand form with the phrase, the “do’s and the don’t’s.”

The question cited above was not specific to any of the yamas or niyamas (the names of the first two stages: each has five aspects of what to avoid and what to do). But the combination of discussing the need for self-control and moderation in sexual matters with the goal of seeing all as the divine, and striving for transcendence through devotion and non-attachment: all of these aspects conjoined in a kind of “OMG!” (“O my God!”)

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the classic Autobiography of a Yogi and the guru whose teachings I am privileged to share, stated in his own life story that he was, as a young boy, disconsolate at the unexpected and premature death of his (very holy) mother. Later in life, it was known that he had to absent himself from the presence of those close to him who were dying (in order that they might be “allowed to go”).

Was he, therefore, “attached” even though his disciples, such as myself, consider him to be the avatar (God-realized master) of this “new” age? Was he just faking it so we could relate to him as a human being, like ourselves?

To plumb of the depths of understanding of the human and divine nature of an avatar has puzzled devotees down through the ages. Did not Jesus Christ cry out from the cross, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” And, knowing of his fate that night in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me?”

We will return to the avatars in a minute. Let us, however, return to the ground zero of our own, everyday lives.

I’ve frequently thought to myself that the only perfect marriage on earth is one between two people who don’t need to be married at all! (Ok, so that’s partly a joke!) But my point, I think, you see clearly: marriage plays upon and preys upon the strengths and weaknesses, and the attraction and repulsion inherent between, two different individuals.  An unhealthy relationship is a co-dependent one. I’m no therapist and I wouldn’t want to pretend to define co-dependency, but from where I sit (on the sidelines), an unhealthy relationship is one where the boundaries are more than fuzzy between two people and where two people are consistently projecting their issues, their insecurities, and their needs onto one another. Put another way, we are speaking of two people who are not yet quite mature and not yet centered in their own self (Self).

Returning then to the question of non-attachment vs. love I think of what my own spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has said from time to time: (I paraphrase) “Impersonal love is impersonal with respect to my own desires; it is not cold or insensitive to the needs and well-being of others.”

So what this means is that I “love” another person not for what I get from him/her but for what I find in that person to be admirable, inspiring, worth emulating and worthy of consideration and practical service (without thought or expectation of personal return, acknowledgement or another other “quid pro quo”).

Is this TOO perfect? To, to… it were? Well, sure it is. Most love and family relationships are contractual: you do this; I do that. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We are merchants, in other words. And, society calls this “love?” Well society calls unabashed and uninhibited lust love too. So there!

Helicopter parents are generally considered to be loving and doting parents. But are they not perhaps simply projecting their own desires and insecurities onto their hapless children?

Would a parent not be a better parent by trying to objectively “tune-into” the child’s own nature, tendencies, and life directions without regard to his/her own? A highly educated and articulate parent might end up with an autistic child. Is this not all too common these days? Is not the spiritual purpose of this, at least in some small measure, perhaps, to help the parent to open his/her heart and serve this needful child unselfishly devoid of the usual hope and expectation that the child will “be a chip off the old block?”

Does not the typical teacher prefer the child who is attentive and obedient? Are not the rebellious or restless ones a tad bit too creative and troublesome? The files of school history are crammed with the stories of geniuses who were only recognized as such later in life (perhaps after overcoming whatever setbacks their education imposed upon them).

Are not the weekly tabloids which feature the marriages of the rich and famous strewn with the beautiful bodies of those who had great sex but a lousy marriage? Drug addiction, alcoholism, infidelity: are these not the fruits of such glamorous unions?

Well, for all of that, who can stem the tide of attraction between, say, men and women? Why bother to fight City Hall? We each have the right to learn our lessons our way: that is, the hard way! None of that, and indeed, all of that suggests that true love exists on a higher plane, even if it need not deny the magnetism of the lower.

Rather as marriage is a union of people, and as Self-realization is the union of body, mind and soul, so too a spiritual marriage can unite as parts of body, mind and soul. We just have to know what we are looking for and what actually works (brings greater fulfillment).

But, no matter how successful our marriage is or our relationship with our children, no relationship can fulfill the nature of the soul’s longing for omnipresence and onenesss. So long as our love is based upon differences we will be forced to play the part of the yo-yo, which is to say, the fool. As we love, so we suffer.

Interestingly, however, there is no way out EXCEPT to love. Jesus forgave a woman her sins and said, “For her sins, which are many, she is forgiven for she has loved much.”

We cannot find God by rejecting our brothers and sisters. Rather we must strive to perfect our love until it “becomes the perfect love of God.”[1]

That perfection includes seeing in all, seeing in the “other,” the Divine presence. It means loving that unique expression of God without condition, without contractual expectation. A tall order, of course. Jesus said, hanging from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

We, who are far less than perfect as Jesus was, have plenty of reasons to “hang” without anyone crucifying us without cause! Yet, therefore, can we not forgive? Accept? Love without condition? Infidelity? Rebelliousness? Lack of charity? Rejection?

Do you see, now, perhaps, even a little more clearly, what we speak of? Yogananda grieved at the loss of his mother, for he was, at that point, a child. He didn’t pretend or need to pretend he was anything less. But in his overarching nature, to the degree he contacted it, he was free, in Bliss. The same holds true, at least potentially, for you and me.

Jesus suffered not for himself or his body but for those who lashed out at him and would suffer themselves on account of it.

We only need to try. Just like meditation. Just like the spiritual path at large. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to be impervious to pain, it means to strive to realize the Self which is beyond pain. It means to unite in one seamless experience both pain and transcendence, denying neither. The one is now, the other, eternally NOW. They co-exist only to the degree that they Co-Exist in our consciousness.

As Krishna says to Arjuna, his disciple, in the Bhagavad Gita, “Even a little bit of this practice, will save you from dire fires and colossal sufferings.”

Give your Self to God, to your Cosmic Beloved. See in all whom you love, the shining Face and perfection of your own true Self.

Blessings and joy to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

[1] This phrase is taken from the marriage ceremony written by Swami Kriyananda.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Yoga Sutras: a guide to meditation: Book 2 – Kriya Yoga

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras the first book, Samadhi Pada, focuses upon the state of Oneness born of meditative concentration. We turn now to Book Two, Sadhana Pada. It focuses on those actions and attitudes necessary to achieve samadhi.

In this blog series which attempts to explore practical aspects for meditation inspired by the Yoga Sutras, we find in the first stanza of book two the term “kriya yoga.” This term has been made famous through Paramhansa Yogananda’s life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi.” In it, he uses the term kriya yoga in reference to a specific meditation technique that characterizes his teachings and lineage. I have practiced kriya yoga for several decades and can attest to its transformative spiritual power.

However, the yoga sutras are not, per se, a book on how to meditate. Therefore a technique such as Kriya Yoga (as taught by Yogananda) is not going to be described and taught in such a “scripture.” In India we find the term “kriya” applying to a great many practices and techniques. Even in the kriya yoga lineage of Yogananda and the masters of Self-realization (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasay, and Swami Sri Yukteswar) we have navi kriya and talabia kriya, offshoot techniques supportive of the main technique of kriya.

The term “kriya” moreover is so generic that it could be translated to mean any “technique.” This is in contradistinction to the so-called paths of yoga such as Bhakti yoga (devotion), karma yoga (selfless service) and gyana yoga (study of self, of scripture, and concentration of the mind). Some might even say that the practice of any set of breath control techniques are the practice of “kriya yoga.” Hence the term, once removed from Yogananda’s lineage, can be a bit confusing.

Returning now to Stanza 1 of Book Two, we find that Patanjali describes the path of yoga (generally) as based upon purification, study, and giving the fruits of all action in devotion to God. This is strikingly similar to much of the message of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.

From our point of view in this series, what I find in this is the admonition to understand the value of a definite “sadhana.” By this is meant a method of meditation and consistency of meditation undertaken in a spirit of self-offering and purification of desires and attachments. Patanjali identifies that egoity, attachment, aversion and “clinging to life” are impediments to the release of our identity from objects of the senses and mental imagery that is necessary to achieve samadhi.

Many spiritually minded people rest content with good fellow feelings, and high ideals. This might include enjoying spiritual music (chanting, bhajans, mantras) or spiritual ritual or dance, or service in humanitarian causes, or intensive study and debate of fine scriptural or metaphysical points. Good works produce good karma. Good karma can balance out “bad” karma but even if it does it brings us to zero. Unless we use the zero point to transcend the dualities of the opposites and the dual qualities of nature, we will be drawn back into the maelstrom.

Unless we perceive that our ego cannot by itself release us from the ceaseless flux of the opposites and thereby we offer ourselves into a greater Power and Presence, we will not find release. Our peace meditative experiences will only relieve us of tedium or stress but will not free us.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” it has been well said. I have met or learned of many good, fine, virtuous and noble people. I have met many devotees who could be real “schmucks.” But virtue alone will not free us from the wheel of suffering and rebirth. To paraphrase Jesus, “She has loved much and her sins, though many, are forgiven.”

There must come a point when we actively, intensively, and “scientifically,” seek freedom from delusion. To do that we naturally seek the grace and power of God. This comes not in some vague way, as if calling the White House will connect us to the President, but through the agency of those incarnate souls who come to earth to help others and who are, themselves, already free. They thus know “the way” and have the power.

Such souls are few, relatively to the plethora of spiritual leaders and teachers. We ascend step by step by our own sincerity and self-purification to attract to ourselves, progressively, more advanced souls who can empower our journey.

Therefore, meditate with the desire for freedom; meditate seeking divine grace, power, and presence; meditate with surrender to the Infinite Power which, by whatever name or form, no name or form, we are inspired to address.

We need a specific, proven technique of meditation; we need an understanding of the meaning and goal of life that inspires us and is true; we need a teacher who is above the obstructing qualities of nature.

As Jesus Christ said it so well: “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Never miss your daily appointment with the Divine within you and never fail to see that presence in all forms and circumstances, both agreeable and challenging.

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, February 20, 2012

Yoga Sutras: a guide to meditation: What is concentration?

Book 1 of the Yoga Sutras is titled “Samadhi Pada” or an exposition of the state of meditative concentration which constitutes true meditation. We saw in an earlier blog article (on Stanza 2) that Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, describes the state of yoga concentration (or meditation) as resulting from the cessation of the mind’s identification with, interest in, and feeling (like or dislike) response to its perceptions (whether in memory form, through current sense impressions, desires or imagination).

In this first book Patanjali is describing both the positive aspects of meditative concentration and the obstacles to that concentration. Meditation requires one to continually strive to disengage from thoughts and our emotional interest and response to these thoughts (here, thoughts include signals from the five senses and our response to them). Patanjali says success comes from “long and constant efforts with great love and desire for the goal.”

First we focus on detaching our response and interest in objects (called to our mind by desire, memory, etc.); then comes non-identification with the feeling states associated with objects (happiness, sadness, boredom, sleep).

We then go through various stages of meditation starting with interiorized contemplation which contains a mixture of intuition, reason, questioning and inner dialogue. This can reveal insights about objects, people, and of course ourselves and the very nature of cognition.

We proceed to the next level which is more purely intuitive and knowing. When we ascend beyond this stage we experience joy which is subtler because there’s no object under contemplation. Beyond joy, though without necessarily leaving it, is pure sense of Self, or I-ness.

These stages have yet higher octaves such as the experience of wonder and reverence; contemplation of God (or Higher Consciousness); pure Bliss; expansion of awareness beyond the body into space beyond the body.

The highest of such states, called Samadhi, merge the act of cognition with the object and the subject (Self). Called many things and described in countless ways down through the ages, this state goes beyond the intellect’s (and this writer’s) comprehension and ability to describe. I reference the reader to Paramhansa Yogananda’s poem, “Samadhi.” (It can be found in the original edition of his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi.”)

Returning now to the process of concentration, Patanjali includes devotion to God (Iswara) as  meditation and especially meditation upon the “word” that manifests God, OM. Repetition (mental chanting) of OM, and meditation upon OM (heard in meditation) are particularly important forms of meditation.

Patanjali recommends meditation upon one object as the way to calm the breath and emotional disturbances which hinder meditation. Breath control techniques can speedily bring the mind under control.

Any form of meditation that accelerates or reveals the subtle astral senses can greatly help as well. Meditating on the inner light (seen in the forehead), meditation upon the heart center, meditation upon peace or pure happiness, or indeed “anything that appeals to one as good” — these are all forms of meditative concentration which will yield the progressive stages which lead to samadhi.

In essence and in conclusion, Patanjali is recommending that the meditator find a positive focus for meditation rather than only work on “fighting off” all distractions. Instruction in the methods is given by one’s teacher and especially one who is or represents a true teacher, or guru: one who, has himself, achieved the highest state of samadhi.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, February 17, 2012

Retreat to the Heart of Silence

On the Value of Silence

We leave today on retreat for a weekend at Camp Brotherhood, north of Seattle. We call it, “Retreat to the Heart of Silence,” and it’s an annual retreat that we have done for many years.

Just as our body and mind needs its nightly rest and without which life would be untenable, so, too, our soul needs spiritual rest lest life only be an unending and ceaseless motion from one extreme to another, only to be relieved by sleep or boredom.

Ideas, inspiration, and refreshment descend, as it were, from above: from the heart of silence. Silence is more than empty: it is dynamic, it is rich, it is creative, it is full of life and vitality! The most difficult part to entering this realm of refreshment is putting to rest our mind’s deeply embedded habit of taking over, of trying to run the show, of pushing itself into the picture, molding reality to suit its own agenda, and of taking stock and pronouncing judgment upon everything and everybody. All of these activities would no doubt delight a Darwinian but survivalists fail to answer the question, “Survival for what?” For its sake alone? Lying in a bed paralyzed for life: is that what we live for? For grasping desperately at whatever passing pleasures we can wrench so tentatively from life?

Jesus said (paraphrasing), “I came to bring Life, that ye may have it more abundantly!” It’s not just mere existence we seek; nor merely the pleasure and satisfaction of creating new life and seeing our ourselves immortalized (or so we imagine) in our offspring (as if our genes were whooping it in some celebration: We won!)

As night follows day and day follows night, we cannot live in this ceaseless flux without following its rhythms nor without rebelling and withdrawing from the enslavement of those rhythms by seeking stillness.

If we have the courage and the strength we can confront our own Self in the silence of meditation. Who is the Seer who is sitting, observing? Am I looking or is someone else looking at me? Are we One and the Same? To return to the Silence from which we, and all creation has emerged is to go “home” and to confront, engage and meet our Maker. This is true existentialism: to trace our consciousness back to its source in Self-awareness. The experience is thrilling and revitalizing to our core.

Yet meditation (going beyond the techniques which are like a rocket being fueled on the launch pad) requires lifting off the solid earth of our mundane preoccupations and very few people have the courage and the inspiration to attempt it. For most it’s uninteresting and for many it’s scary: like the child who laughs (nervously, but relieved) when you pop out from behind the couch crying “Peek-a-boo,” the small self cannot be certain what will happen when all bodily motions, rollicking emotions, objects in the field of the senses, ceaseless (but petty) thoughts, images, and memories are at last completely still. Will I, too, disappear?

This is the adventure in Self-awakening. The Self of I is the Self of All and there is no loss when we rest in this Self. Instead there is complete immersion, expansion, and fulfillment: an objectless and unconditional dynamic energy and joy that knows no bounds. Whether the experience lasts a second or hours makes no difference at least insofar as the experience itself has no dimension (of time or space). To enter it is all that counts. “You have to present to win” is how I like to put it.

So, wish us luck as we dive deep and retreat into the Heart of Silence!

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Yoga Sutras: A Guide to Meditation: Stanza 3

“And then the seer stands in his own nature (when all modifications and mental activities have ceased – see stanza 2).”

Paramhansa Yogananda is oft quoted saying “When motion ceases, God begins.” This stanza of the Yoga Sutras reminds us that our native state is that of perfection. We are complete in our Self. This must be the meditator’s goal and constant affirmation.

We are taught that meditation has three stages: relaxation, concentration, and expansion. Real meditation begins when all meditation techniques cease and we are still.

The Old Testament says, “Be still, and know that I AM God.”

When, in meditation, we are still, we can feel the transcendent, timeless, eternal, ever-new, ever-satisfying, immortal Presence which underlies our consciousness and, by extension, all creation.

“Stand,” therefore, in your “own nature.” Live more in the spine, centered in your Self, free from desires, attractions, repulsions, likes, and dislikes! As Krishna exhorts Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “O Arjuna, be thou a yogi!”

I encourage meditation students to create a new self-image: that of the meditating yogi! Yes, it’s true that all mental modifications (internal images) must cease before we enter the kingdom of heaven within us, but in our present state, we have a plethora of self-definitions:

I am a man; a woman; young; middle age; old; I am healthy; sickly; artistic, scientific, business-like, successful, a failure, a parent, a child, a co-worker, a manager, and on and on. There’s nothing wrong with the simple fact that we play many roles in life. But to what extent do we identify with these roles as our self?

So begin your self-transformation with a new and overriding self-definition: that of a meditator (yogi). If you think of the image of a person sitting in meditation (on the floor), you have the shape of a triangle, or, if you prefer, a mountain. Use this image to re-create your Self.

At work, at home, driving, relating to your family and friends, hold the self-image of yourself as one who meditates each day. What is this? A yogi is one who sits in the stillness, withdrawing his awareness from the senses and from the body, and lifts his consciousness (and energy) upward in self-offering to the Self of All, at the feet of the Infinite Lord….retracing his steps from the creation to the Creator in whom all things exist and from all things have come and return!

“Stand,” therefore, in your “own nature!” Stand tall like a mountain: majestic, serene, forever calm and wise, beneficent, giving, sagacious and gracious! Walk through life like a sage!

Nayaswami Hriman

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Yoga Sutras: a Guide to Meditation - Stanza 2

Perhaps one of the two most famous aphorisms of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the second one: Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. This stanza is not easy to translate as succinctly as it is written in Sanskrit. Sanskrit contains meanings, overtones, and levels of reality that make the language rich with wisdom and ripe for interpretation. Even reciting the stanza can, to one who is receptive and sensitive, convey ineffable wisdom and heart-opening joy.

The most common translation we use around Ananda is “Yoga is the neutralization of vortices of feeling.” Unfortunately this tells us little, unless we investigate and ponder more deeply. I have spent my life of spiritual introspection pondering the layers of meaning of this one stanza. In this series of articles, however, I will view this rich stanza from the more practical level of the practice of meditation as more commonly experienced.

Put, therefore, more simply, Patanjali is essentially remarking upon what is needed to achieve the state of unitive consciousness that might be termed “Superconsciousness,” oneness, samadhi, or enlightenment. I do not wish to define or distinguish these terms and so, for the more limited purpose of this blog series, let me interpret this stanza loosely and thusly:

The state of “yoga” (an experience of peaceful, meditative awareness) arises as one relaxes the body, calms the feelings, and clears the mind of restless thoughts. On a deeper level and involving more directly our consciousness, we might also say that a state of meditation is achieved when we dissolve the ceaseless ebb and flow of tension, emotions, and thoughts which are result of our psychic reaction to memories or other mental images or thoughts which appear to us during meditation.

Tension in the body is a kind of kinetic e-motion; disturbed feelings arising from anger, fear, anxiety, or desire thwart our efforts to achieve inner peace during meditation; lastly, the flow of random thoughts arising from the subconscious mind during meditation obscure the clarity of our intuitive, inner awareness. Thoughts can have their source (or be affected by) in physical tension (or vica versa) or in our disturbed feelings.

Patanjali is, one might say, simply stating the necessary precondition to higher consciousness: we must dissolve the energy-laden commitments to identifying with our body, to investing in our emotional reactions (likes and dislikes, past, present, or potential), and to the habit of ceaseless thoughts. Later in the sutras he explores specific obstacles to higher consciousness and specific forms of concentration designed to transcend these obstacles.

We, as meditators, can use this stanza to remind ourselves to use the techniques of meditation and apply them to body, feelings, and mind in a scientific and effective way to clear the motions and movements of body, emotions, and thoughts that we might “sit” or commune inwardly with inner peace.

For the body it is good to use yoga postures, or stretching exercises (e.g., Yogananda’s Energization Exercises), to release tension and fatigue. For the nervous system, brain, heart, and lungs, breath control exercises can decarbonizes the bloodstream and oxygenate the brain and all the cells; equalizing inhalation with exhalation can bring the body into stasis or relative stability so as to release the energy drag upon our mind and concentration. For the mind, concentration using mantra, or breath, or devotional aspiration can achieve a laser-like focus in the upper psychic centers (forehead) to cauterize or hold at bay the ceaseless stream of random thoughts.

While this blog series is not intended to teach meditation a simple and illustrative suggestion might begin with tensing the whole body (while seated) as you inhale, and relaxing the whole body as you exhale. Do this several times. Then do three to five rounds of simple, deep, diaphragmatic breathing with equal measures of inhalation, retention of breath, and exhalation. (While holding the breath visualize “holding” the breath in the heart; as you exhale let all nervousness or negativity melt away.) Then sit and observe the flow of breath as if it were gradually clearing your mind of all restless thoughts until the mind was clear and open to the clear blue sky above and in all directions. After this, simply sit in the inner silence, communing with the feeling of peace and serenity.

In addition, we must remind ourselves that the purpose of meditation is to go beyond meditation techniques and practices and enter the state of inner silence, mindfulness, inner peace, or inner communion: just BE! We are so addicted to DOING and PRACTICING that when at last the time comes in our meditation routine to simply BE we sometimes find that we are not ready; we may be unwilling to let go of the ego-controller. But without first intending to achieve inner silence and then having at least a taste of it in each meditation, we will not experience the promise implied by the second stanza of the Yoga Sutras. “Yoga-peace comes from calming and dissolving the ego-active tendencies of the body, heart and mind.”

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, February 6, 2012

Yoga Sutras: Guide to Meditation

This new series of blog articles is not intended to be a commentary or interpretation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Inspired by the aphorisms, however, I seek to use their guidance and inspiration to distill thoughts about the practice of meditation. Sometimes my remarks will bear directly upon the sutra(s) and other times only loosely or having served as an inspiration for sharing.

I often am asked which translation to use and I confess that as yet I have found no singular translation satisfactory. Unfortunately, neither my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, nor my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), has published translations and commentaries on the Yoga Sutras. Where I am aware of their paraphrase, I will of course use it. I survey other translations in order to distill what seems most in tune with the lineage I am dedicated to. However, their teachings, published, unpublished or recorded, bear directly and indirectly upon the Yoga Sutras. Perhaps as importantly, the Yoga Sutras are, themselves, of universal application and stature, bereft of sectarian filters. Thus I am confident that what I will share will be derived or inspired by them and my efforts to live and share them.

We begin with the first aphorism, "And now we come to the practice of Yoga." May I offer then that we commit to the practice of meditation on a daily practice, coming to the practice of "yoga" (seeking Oneness with the Self) as a distinct and conscious effort, apart from the rest of our day's activities? Not only are we encouraged to establish the daily habit of meditation but, having done so, to enter into the practice with calm and conscious intention. Never let meditation become routine and rote. You might even intone this aphorism as you turn away from other activities (or upon arising) so that you are clear and intentional.

Too many students brush aside the value of this "setting aside" with comments like "I meditate all the time." Or, "I strive to remain in mindfulness throughout the day." Well, "like duh!" Of course, we all should do that. But such practices are not a substitute for putting aside our activities in order to "Now I sit to meditate upon the inner Light of the Infinite Spirit, the eyes of my guru, the all-pervading sound of Aum (and so on)."

And even if, as a meditator, you are loyal to your daily practice, how easy is it to focus on your techniques and practices and upon your progress in achieving meditative states of inner stillness rather than upon the goal of meditation? True meditation begins when our practices (pranayamas etc.) end in superconsciousness. As Yogananda put it, "When motion ceases, God begins."

I also put this in another way, based on a story from Yogananda's life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." As a young boy or teenager he visited a saint who remarked to Yogananda that Yogananda often entered the quiescent state of inner stillness but, asked the saint, had he achieved "anubhava" -- love for God? We, as meditators, mustn't forget the goal of meditation even as we are non-attached to the time, place, or form of the goal. Union with God, or true yoga, is our goal. There is no point in defining either "union" or "God" for they can define themselves by our own experience. To say, simply, that we seek an upliftment of consciousness into transcendence and into the thrill and bliss of that state is sufficient for general purposes.

Next blog: Stanza 2: Yoga is achieved through the dissolution of the ceaseless reactions of attraction and repulsion; of the restless motions of body, senses, and mental images and our reactions to them.


Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What is Meditation?

This Saturday, February 4, I begin this year's 8-session Meditation Teacher training program. Not surprisingly, one of our first topics is "What is meditation?" Although most of us know a duck when we see one, I am sure that a specialist in ducks could have our heads spinning with the many varieties and distinctive characteristics among ducks.

Meditation may, therefore, seem pretty obvious, but it gets less so as we peer behind the veil of its outer form and attempt to describe the view from within. There exists a seemingly endless array of meditation techniques, moreover, that only compound the question of "What is meditation?"

One could approach meditation from the outside-in and say it is the act of closing one's eyes, being very still, and focusing within one's own mind. But that gets us close to (ha, ha) "no-where." Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the well-known classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," described meditation as "concentration upon God or one of His aspects." As much as I like the definition, you have to "have been there" to find the nuggets of gold in that mine. I can only imagine the howls of objection to his definition, inasmuch as millions of meditators do not think in terms of "God" and would reject such a definition out of hand. And, in all fairness, how do you concentrate on something unless you can "see" it (feel it, etc.)?

From the outside it looks like a the meditator has escaped reality and is in a purely subjective state of mind. Yet meditation is sometimes described as "not an escape FROM reality, but an escape TO reality!" If meditation consists of silently chanting a mantra or other affirmation, visualizing a light, a diety, or one's guru then one might be tempted to say that meditation is a form of interiorized concentration whose effects (presumably) produce satisfactory results (defined as peace of mind, devotion, lowered heart rate, blood pressure, etc.). Okay, fair enough. But is this enough? "Is that all there is?"

What about altered states? Enlightement? Samadhi? Cosmic consciousness?

From the viewpoint of raja yoga (as so succinctly stated by the sage Patanjali in the famous Yoga Sutras), meditation is clearing the mind of mental images such that awareness is Self-aware. Our sense organs produce mental images which in turn cause reactions (like, dislike, etc.) and our life experiences produce memories, thoughts, and other mental images. The mind doesn't particularly treat any of them differently: a memory can be just as intense as the experience, at least emotionally speaking. Thoughts can evoke even greater internal response as anything going on around us or any objects within our reach, hearing, or view.

Meditation, from this perspective, then is to shut out both the external stimuli of the senses and the internal stimuli of passing thoughts and images (and associated feelings or emotions) in order to view the Viewer; to view the viewing. In this "view," knowing, knower, and known (object, act, and subject) become One and the Same ("Same-adhi"). ("Adi" in Sanskrit can refer to "first" or "original.")

This is not an easy state of Being to achieve, given the talent and predilection of the mind to produce images ceaselessly even (and perhaps especially) when there are not external sense stimuli. Thus most meditators complain of the intrusion of restless thoughts during their meditation. Hence, also, the plethora of breathing techniques, chants, visualizations, and mantric formulae employed like a phalanx of corporate consultants to bring the mind to heel. They each have their place and their effect, far beyond the scope of a simple blog article such as this to pursue.

The pearl of great price remains however this state of Being and, to make things worse, such a state is not even the goal, but is, rather, but the doorway to super-consciousness: to higher states of consciousness too profound, too sacred to utter (although future blog article might try :) ).

Not wanting to attempt to teach a meditation technique in this limited space, let me say, simply, that we can experience moments of this kind of "satori" or mindfulness many times in a given day if we would be open and awake to their appearance: between words, actions, breaths, at a stoplight---indeed at any pause between thoughts or actions there exists a space of Being that can refresh us with, well, being, or "well-Being!"

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman