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