Saturday, January 23, 2016

Meditation: Mind Full, or, Mind Less?

"I don't Mind that Mind doesn't Matter."

Let's leave aside meditation techniques for a CHANGE! In real meditation, the mind is focused and still, or, so we often say. 

Paramhansa Yogananda is quoted as saying, "When motion ceases, God begins!" And in the Old Testament (Psalm 46:10), God counsels us saying, "Be still and know that I AM God."

Is meditation an experience of stillness, mindfulness, emptiness, no-thing-ness, cosmic consciousness, samadhi, superconsciousness, or what - exactly?

What I'd like to discuss is NOT the "ultimate" state of consciousness as suggested by the terms above. Great saints down through the ages, east and west, and even artists and intuitives have made valiant and inspired efforts to describe that which cannot be described. 

One such effort is Paramhansa Yogananda's famous poem, "Samadhi." I recite it from memory every day, as he suggested. I find it transmits ineffable blessings, like waves of peace and bliss, whenever I recite it with depth and devotion. 

Nonetheless, I refuse to speak of such things! Instead, let us consider the experience we (meditators) have when we sit in silent meditation (after the practice of our techniques). Let us, further, consider our experience when our thoughts are still, or at least when they aren't nonstop! (Deepak Chopra is credited with describing meditation as the "space between our thoughts." While I prefer NOT to think of MY meditations in that way, his statement is not far from the mark, though it hardly describes the goal of meditation!)

A helpful way to relate to your own experience is in terms of perception, feeling, and energy. You may recognize, here, "gyana yoga, bhakti yoga, and karma yoga." A person who approaches meditation primarily with the mind: peering, as it were, into the darkness begin closed eyes, attempting to be a "See-r," attempting to pierce the veil of delusion and see the "light" of truth and subtle reality, can do so in one of two ways. 

First, with the mind still, he can gaze, wait, and watch what happens. He has all the time in the world. It's as if he's saying, "Well, I'm here....waiting................" No expectations, no self-created imagery, mantras, visualizations.....just simple OBSERVATION.

Or, he can be goal oriented. If trained to look up at the point between the eyebrows where, he is taught, the spiritual eye is said to appear, he may do so with great intensity as if, by will power alone, to make the spiritual eye appear. (This can be done with ego or can be done with the purer motive to awaken and invite the spiritual eye to appear.) Mental chanting of a mantra would be another example of this forward "leaning" aspect of perception.

Both of these approaches take a strong and clear mind. In today's culture, with so many distractions and electronics, faulty memory, and rapid fire mental activity, this approach, even if common, for being taught or used by temperament, is relatively difficult. And, of the two versions described above, the first (being the observer) is by far the most difficult because of the constant barrage of thoughts and images the subconscious mind will throw at you. 

Ironically, the popular mindfulness technique of watching thoughts is easy; even easier is being carried away with those thoughts. But I'm not describing this technique which is the intentional but passive acceptance of the flow of thoughts. Yes, that's easy, and may indeed be helpful for a beginner who essentially has no choice because his mind is far from being his "own." I am speaking of a higher order of meditation where the intention is to transcend those thoughts with a clear and focused mind searching for what is beyond the subconscious mind.

Moving along, now: a bhakti yogi will visualize a devotional image: it can be personal such as the image (or eyes) of one's guru or a deity; or, it can be impersonal, as visualizing a light, imaging a sound, or mentally offering oneself to God (or guru) in some form or feeling that is self-created. (By self-created, I do not mean to suggest that all of this is false. Indeed, one's devotion may be deeply heartfelt and very real. The distinction is that this experience originates within oneself.)

Once again, there are two directions for the bhakti to go. She can offer herself in love to God; or, she can be receptive to God's love flowing into her. Sometimes, like an alternating current, she will go back and forth and do both.

Lastly, the karma yoga meditator will be attuned to the life force energy (called "prana") flowing in and/or around the body. The "body" can be physical or astral. (The distinction, though real, need not be emphasized in describing the actual experience).

Here too, the karma yoga meditator can apply his will power to engage, feel, and enter into this divine flow, or, can "sit back" and be receptive to its graces. This meditator is apt to be attuned to and seek to be receptive to the various energies and respective qualities (sounds, colors, and other astral phenomenon) of the energy centers called the chakras, and the currents of astral energy (prana). Indeed, Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras acknowledges the meditative and concentrative value of such inner astral phenomenon as focal points of meditation.

In the practice of kriya yoga as taught by Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and brought to the West by Paramhansa Yogananda, one is trained to utilize all aspects of perception, feeling, and energy and from both points of view of will power and receptivity. One simple example is the practice of mentally chanting "Aum" in order to gradually begin hearing the inner Aum sound! The first part is done proactively and the second is done with inner absorption. This cycle is a pattern of the flow of energy and consciousness in the body. Yogananda described attuning this flow with the counsel: "tense with will; relax and feel."

Kriya yoga is a part of raja yoga (also called ashtanga yoga). Raja yoga, in turn, includes various pranayams (breath control techniques), some of which are quite well known in meditation and hatha yoga circles. It would be fair to characterize the path of raja yoga as predominantly a karma yoga approach to meditation. Raja yoga is quite suited to the character of our energetic and ever-busy culture that places a high value on energy (of all sorts) and practical productivity.

Paramhansa Yogananda even introduced a new addition to raja yoga techniques: a system of movements and tension exercises with breath control (pranayam) which he called Energization Exercises.

If you read his famous "Autobiography of a Yogi," or study his lessons or other writings, it is more than obvious that devotion and concentration are a part of it. Still, it is my view that it can be very helpful to students learning raja yoga, including kriya yoga, to focus on the energetics of these techniques and of the stillness that follows their practice. 

I say this because the other two aspects are not dominant characteristics in our society at this time nor, very likely, for centuries to come, given the line of development of consciousness that we observe in the 20th and early 21st century.

An age of personal liberties and knowledge, and of democracy, is hardly inclined to traditional expressions of "hierarchical" devotion. I won't go as far as to suggest we only teach kriya as only a science the way Transcendental Meditation became popular, but I do wish to note that Yogananda's first book was called "The Science of Religion." 

Note, further, however, that it was also called "religion." The motivation that it takes to meditate deeply suggests, hints, and indeed requires, a sensitivity of feeling and refinement of consciousness whose receptivity contains the seeds of a devotional nature.

As to mental concentration and power, we live in an overstimulated age subject to an ever-increasing pace of outward activities and change. This age is not conducive to developing strong mental focus. Indeed, the biggest plague of our times is loss of memory and loss of focus as illustrated by preoccupation with cell phones and similar devices. This trend is far, very far, from slowing, what to mention reversing.

Maybe one's mind is scattered when trying to meditate. Maybe one is not feeling particularly inspired. Instead of being discouraged by one's lack of concentration or devotion, try focusing on the energy of, first, the physical body (using, say, yoga postures or Yogananda's Energization Exercises); and, then, as you begin your meditation practices, focus on the subtle life force in the body. This karma yoga approach is a fairly neutral and relatively easy feature of the experience of meditation. The core techniques taught by Yogananda ("Hong Sau," "Aum," and "Kriya") all fit neatly within this framework. 

Yogananda, in Chapter 26 of "Autobiography of a Yogi," that the word kriya has the same root as the word karma. The meaning here is, simply, action. Thus we see a strong hint of the relationship of karma yoga to kriya. Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Yogananda and founder of Ananda, often pointed out in his lectures on the Bhagavad Gita that the "action" described in that great scripture includes the action of meditation. 

In that scripture, Krishna says to Arjuna (us), that one cannot achieve the actionless state (of oneness) by refusing to act. Thus he hints that the practice of meditation requires specific (i.e. scientific) techniques. Elsewhere he describes the penultimate technique as "offering the inhaling breath into the exhaling breath." (Clearly a reference to kriya yoga and similar advanced techniques.)

I have found in my own meditations that focusing on the energetics of the meditation (from the body to the chakras to the subtle spine) affords a tangible focal point such that it leads to the stillness of breath and mind that is the initial goal and necessary first stage of meditation. To quote the 1972 Alka Seltzer commercial that made this line famous: "try it, you'll like it."

Blessings to all and happy meditating,

Swami Hrimananda