Monday, June 19, 2023

Higher Stages of Meditation (con't)

This post follows the previous post entitled: "Is Meditation Only Mindfulness: 7 Stages of Meditation."

In the prior post I identified the first two stages which I called: Mindfulness, and Focused Concentration. Mindfulness I described as relatively passive and dealing with observing the influence of the subconscious mind. Focused Concentration describes the vast bulk of meditation techniques which involve using will power, feeling and concentration in a positive direction focusing on some goal or object of meditation. 

 INNER SILENCE (Stage Three) Many people ask whether the goal of meditation techniques is to still all thoughts and mental narration. Well, 'yes' and 'no!' I call it the "goal-less goal" because the way the mind works (Yogananda called it "natural turbulence") we cannot and should not attempt to force the mind into submission like a stubborn donkey. But we CAN coax and train the mind. "Be still and know that I AM God" says the Psalmist. Yogananda called meditation "the space between thoughts." He also noted that the "soul loves to meditate but the ego hates to meditate."

Achieving inner silence is, then, a goal but must be approached very sensitively. Any tension surrounding the "effort-less effort" will sabotage achieving the goal. It can happen spontaneously in or out of meditation but it helps to be alert to it for it comes "like a thief in  the night. The experience is a refreshing dip into the silent mind and still heart. We can gently coax the silence to come by our secret longing and lo it will fill the space between thoughts and activities. At a stoplight, between phone calls, emails or projects, stop, stand or sit up straight, look up, smile, open your mouth as if to speak and be prepared to be cleansed in a weightless waterfall of peace. Befriend the silence as your best friend. Silence is always behind, beneath, above, and all around you. 

Interestingly, the deeper you go into your technique(s) in Stage 2, the more likely or more easily you can slip into silence when you shift the effort of "doing" to enter "being."

It is worth saying that the higher stages beyond silence can descend upon you in the midst of your techniques, thereby skipping the stage of inner silence. My description of 7 stages is linear only for the purposes of describing aspects of meditation but in real life,  well, "anything can happen!" But like a skillful craftsman with his tools or a gifted artist with her voice or instrument, it is the discipline of regular practice that forms the foundation for the genius and inspiration to reveal itself. 

Silence is not merely NO-THING. Silence is not empty; it is full of potentiality; it is powerful, sometimes overwhelming. Its potential is what yields the fruit of the next stage, Inner Experience. "Out of the silence came the song of creation!"

INNER EXPERIENCE  Like the stage of Focused Concentration, Inner Experience (Stage 4) constitutes the bulk of what is commonly described as experiences that take place in deep meditation: light, sound, vibration, love, peace, calmness, joy, visions, ideas and inspiration, satori and an endless variety of subtle phenomenon. Unfortunately, the ego eagerly claims credit for such things and yogis warn us from seeking these experiences for their own sake. "The path to enlightenment is not a circus" Yogananda would say. These things are milestones showing us that we are in touch at last with more subtler levels of reality. They are not proof of our sanctity or psychic powers and generally should not be discussed or disclosed openly but held quietly in gratitude. 

Such experiences are manifestations of our astral or energy body and of the astral world in which the astral body lives and moves. We don't actually achieve this ability: it's there all the time. It is our identification and preoccupation with the physical world, the senses, our thoughts and emotions that obscures what is already there. 

When such things happen we tend to doubt what we are experiencing. At some point we accept it as real rather than hallucinatory and we begin to enter into the experience by tasting its fruits of peace or joy or love. As we are able by deep relaxation and self-forgetfulness (including dispensing with the narration describing it) to receive or approach the experience with acceptance, love and/or self-offering, we begin to see these things as conscious (indeed, super-conscious), living, loving manifestations of our divine nature, God, guru or etc. 

Nonetheless, at this stage the "I" the experiencer is still very present. "I am feeling peaceful; seeing the inner light; hearing the sounds of the chakras." It is still not enough These divine manifestations of superconsciousness are there to invite us deeper into the next stage. In the Eightfold-Path this stage is called dharana.

ABSORPTION Here (Stage Five) mere words fail us for words require a subject, verb and object. Here the awareness of our separateness fades into a point of singularity of the experience itself. We are not in a trance; we are not less conscious; we are SUPER-conscious; more alive and aware--far more--than in ordinary states of waking consciousness. This is the stage known as dhyana. Usually translated simply as "meditation," this suggests that "real" meditation doesn't begin until we enter this state which Yogananda called Superconsciousness. As he also wrote, "When motion ceases, God begins." When we return to ordinary awareness, we never think "I don't know where I went." Absorption is deeply rejuvenating.

SAMADHI Stages Six and Seven are the two basic stages (in fact there are many more sub-stages) of cosmic consciousness, called "samadhi." Stage Six is the initial experience by which we leave our body and enter the Infinite Bliss of God beyond all creation. (Technically, we have three bodies: a physical body; an energy (astral) body; and a thought (causal) body.) In this initial stage, called Sabikalpa samadhi, we return to ordinary ego consciousness with the memory of an awesome experience that we tend to claim as part of our ego. From this tendency we can easily lose the ability to go back to that state. But in time and with supreme effort and grace we can achieve the permanent state of Nirbikalpa samadhi which frees the ego forever from the hypnosis of its separate identity. I'm not going to dwell in these two final stages for two reasons: 1) I've not experienced them; 2) you haven't either! We both are better off for now focusing on Stages 1 through 5. I could describe what I have been taught in entering first an astral tunnel of light taking us to the causal tunnel of light which takes us to the white star, the doorway into Infinity. But, well, it wouldn't help us at this moment.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda