SHEATHS OF A BODY

A soul is the innermost of a human body.  It is covered by three types of bodies. They are kāraṇa or casual body, sūkṣma or subtle body and sthūla or gross body. 

Spiritual realization

The gross body perishes with every incarnation of the soul.  The subtle body remains with the soul after its departure from the body for some time. It is believed that the subtle body remains for twelve days after the death of the gross body. But the casual body always remains with soul and transmigrates with the soul.   The soul is placed only in the casual body along with impressions of the subconscious mind.

It is also important to know the components of these bodies.  Casual body is full of bliss. Subtle body corresponds to mind, intellect and prāṇa. The gross body corresponds to food.  The true nature of the self or the soul is veiled by these bodies.  Detachment towards your body takes you towards your mind and intellect.  If you are able to transcend your mind and intellect, it takes you to the state of bliss.  A little more effort is all that is needed to realise the soul within.  This is known as self-realisation or Self-realisation. Part two of this book discusses about the necessary practice to realise the Self within. 

PART II

THE PRACTICE

True Self can be realized only through meditation.  Meditation can be explained as psychological process by which mind is trained to concentrate on an object.  The quality of concentration is more important than the object of concentration.  Meditation is a unique form of consciousness and is not merely degrees of state of relaxation. Meditation has more to do with awareness or consciousness, as it is often called, than with mind relaxation. It is not merely a spiritual process, but is the logical culmination of human birth.  You cannot commence meditation without acquiring adequate spiritual knowledge and expertise. This means that you cannot proceed to this part without familiarising with the previous part.  

An object for meditation is a basic necessity in the initial stages, though in the later stages when you develop higher form of consciousness, the object can be dispensed with.  When the knowledge becomes more profound, the level of consciousness increases. Attainment of knowledge gets reflected not only in your mental perception, but also in your actions.  Ultimately, the level of consciousness alone that matters as the highest form of consciousness is the Brahman Himself.  Meditation is a process by which mundane level of consciousness that exists in our day to day life is processed by energy waves generated through meditation.  A typical example can be drawn to fire made out of logs.  The quality of the flame depends upon the kind of log that is used to conflagrate the fire.  If logs are dry, it gives rise to soot-less flame.  If logs are wet, the fire produces soot.  In both the cases, only logs are used to produce flame and the resultant fire is also the same, but the quality of fire is different.  An ignorant man considers both as fire, but a man with knowledge will be able to discriminate between two types of fire, based on the quality of the flame.  In the same way, the result of meditation depends upon the quality of meditator.  Quality of the meditator depends upon one’s ability to pull all the actions of the mind to focus on an object. 

In this part, the process of meditation will be discussed comprehensively.    More than the practice, knowledge about meditation and understanding its intricacies and manoeuvring it, is of utmost importance.  Practice without knowledge leads you nowhere. Meditation has nothing to do with renunciation. Meditation is not a process of compromising your individual identity, but is a process of redefining your identity.  Meditation process unfolds in the domain of mind.  Mind is a powerful insidious tool of mankind that is the cause for either pleasure or pain or both.  Through the process of meditation, it is not possible to blackout or still the mind.  One cannot effectively survive without a fully functional mind.  If mind ceases to function one becomes insane. An effective meditation honestly makes repeated attempts to refine the mind from its mundane nature.  A fully refined mind becomes the Creator. This refinement does not happen immediately.  It is a gradual process that depends upon your ceaseless practice and allegiance. During the process of effective meditation, your spiritual ignorance is removed, illusion destroyed and Ultimate Reality is understood. Ultimate Reality is nothing but the conscious union of the meditator and the object of meditation, through the process of meditation. Meditation is the only way to realize the Reality, by gradual processing and seasoning of the mind. 

The mind no doubt is restless and difficult to curb.  But it can be brought under control by repeated practice. Yoga, the union of Self with self, is difficult to achieve for the one whose mind is not subdued by him.  However if one has the mind under his control and is still ceaselessly striving, it can be easily attained through practice.  There are two factors that are extremely important to make a beginning.  One is the knowledge about meditation and its process.  The second one is perseverance and faith. 

In our routine life, we come across three states of consciousness.  They are active, dream and deep sleep. Awake or active is the state, where we carry out all our activities with the help of our senses. In this stage our consciousness is fully active and alert.  Dream stage is where dreams unfold when the awareness or consciousness of the mind is not fully rested.  In the third stage of deep sleep, our mind is fully rested and our level of consciousness is zero and this level can be explained as the state of unconsciousness as during this stage, we are not aware of anything and the mind is rested and becomes inactive totally.  Mind is an exclusive property of mankind and it is subtle and yet the most powerful instrument in human life.   Cognitive state is the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning, which in simple term is known as knowledge.  Consciousness is the universal energy endowed with immense power capable of transcending the factor of time.  Without consciousness, life is not possible.  Therefore, consciousness is an essential component of existence.  Meditation is a process that mainly deals with manipulating the level of consciousness. The level of consciousness can be modified only with the help of knowledge.  In our normal life, we have only the mundane level of consciousness.  The mundane level of consciousness can be evolved to higher levels with the help of knowledge, during the process of mediation.   Meditation is a process that happens only in the arena of the mind. 

Meditation not only helps you to advance spiritually, but also plays a positive role in your working environment. It changes your attitude towards life and removes all negative elements in your life.  Primarily, negative thoughts are responsible for failures.  Meditation transforms a pessimistic person as an optimist.  Optimism gives rise to positive attitudes and positive affirmations.  If mind is bombarded with positive thoughts and positive affirmations, mind has no option but to turn itself as a positive influencing factor.  When your mundane mind or negative mind turns into a positive mind, everything that happens around you becomes positive.  You become a highly successful personality.  It is only the mind that becomes primarily responsible for experiencing the pleasure or pain that unfolds as per your karmic account. One cannot get away from the influence of his karma.  But, if the mind is well trained, tamed and brought under your control, it does not feel the difference between pleasure and pain.  A well trained mind does not get influenced by the sufferings or otherwise that the body undergoes.  If the mind is able to disassociate itself from frequent sensory influences, it signifies that the mind is being brought under control.  During the process of meditation, the mind is made thoughtless by focusing on a single object.  Focusing on an object becomes an absolute necessity in the initial stages of meditation as the mind needs something to concentrate, otherwise mind will digress. The first step is to make the object of meditation perfect.  Conceptualising an object is important because, as we progress in meditation, we establish a connection with that object. Conceptualising an object is possible only with the help of our mind.

Mind is very unsteady, turbulent, retentive and powerful.   As long as we are associated with desires, it is not possible to master the mind.  It is incorrect to say that in a secluded place, mind can be controlled.  As long as thoughts are associated with the mind, no effective control can be exercised over the mind, irrespective of the surroundings. The best way to control the mind is to get away from the desires. But desire is our habituation, and to get away from it is a tumultuous job.  Mind cannot remain without thoughts.  In the thoughtless state of mind, it remains connected to the highest level of consciousness, in the form of light.  But if the mind is trained to concentrate on an object, it forgets other afflictions it receives through sensory organs.  To process a thought, sensory organs provide the necessary stimulations to the mind.  Perception is not possible without an object, as otherwise, the mind would start wandering towards the stimulations received from the sensory organs.  An effective process of meditation withdraws the mind from sensory stimulations.  But at the same time, the mind cannot be made functionless.  It needs to be active for its effective functioning.  Instead of making the mind to focus on diverse objects, we can train the mind to focus and concentrate on a single object.  Concentrating and focusing the mind on a single object is known as meditation.

Logical conclusion to meditation is to realise the Self-illuminating and formless form of the Brahman and stay connected with It.  But the mind needs to be trained and tuned gradually to focus on a formless form.  All along, the mind was associated with forms and the transformation to the formless form cannot happen that easily.  It is therefore important that the training for meditation be commenced with a conceptualised object.  The initial stage of spirituality is associated with rituals.  Rituals are surely a necessity to lay a strong foundation for spirituality.  Rituals culminate in mantra recitation, popularly known as ‘mantra japa’ or mantra recitation.  During rituals both the body and the mind are active.  But in the mantra repetition, body is rested and only the mind is active by repeating the mantra.   In the initial stages of mantra japa, one uses rosary beads, when concentration is more on the beads than on the mantra.  At one stage, the mind tells us that the beads are not necessary and we dispense with the rosary beads and start reciting the mantra without counting, concentrating more on the mantra. The effectiveness of the mantra begins only at this point and till now it was only a training period for the mind to get itself familiarized with the mantra. After sometime, mind questions the necessity of the mantra itself as the mind finds it difficult to concentrate on the mantra as it now becomes engrossed in conceptualising the form associated with the mantra.  For every mantra, there is a dhyāna verse, the verse that describes the personal attributes of the deity for whose conceptualisation, the mantra is repeated.  This dhyāna verse is very important in visualising the deity.  For example, the dhyāna verse says that the deity has four arms, Her complexion is crimson, She is sitting on a lotus flower, etc.  The purpose of the dhyāna verse is to help the practitioner to visualize the deity in the manner described in dhyāna verse. Life is infused to this form with the power of mantra. This deity becomes the object of meditation.  It is only the ability of the mind that visualises the concerned deity, as the mind does not have previous experience of the deity, as no such form really exists in flesh and blood.  Now we have to train our mind to concentrate and focus on this conceptualised object.  While pursuing the path of spirituality with sincerity and dedication, substantial progress is automatically achieved. If one does not feel the progress, it is a clear indication that he is not following the right path.  The progress is to happen from the corporeal plane to the mental plane, where mind takes over from the body. 

While in the process of acquiring knowledge on meditation, let us simultaneously begin some practice.  The important factors for meditation are observation of breath and posture.  There is a definite distinction between kundalini meditation and ordinary mediation. If one practices regular meditation, kundalini will ascend automatically, chakra after chakra. In the initial stages of mediation, observation of breath is important.  Generally when we breathe in, our abdomen goes in and when we breathe out our abdomen expands.  Though there is no connection between abdomen and breath, due to the movement of diaphragm, abdominal area expands and contracts. Diaphragm is a flat muscle that separates the thoracic and abdominal cavities. It is situated just below the lungs and supports them.  When we breathe in, the lungs expand pushing the diaphragm down.  When the diaphragm moves down to accommodate the expanded lungs, the abdominal area is expanded to accommodate the diaphragm.  During exhalation, the lungs are contracted to expel the entire air inside.  When the stomach is pulled in during exhalation, the diaphragm moves up making the lungs to constrict, enabling them to expel the entire air.  The air that we breathe in should reach the end points of the lungs called alveoli, the primary gas exchange units of the lungs.  Oxygen is sent to the blood through the surrounding network of capillaries of alveoli, and carbon dioxide is absorbed from the body by the reverse route.  Based upon this medical definition, deep inhalation and exhalation is advised. 

Let us now observe our normal breathing. If a palm is kept on the abdominal area, we can observe our way of breathing.  Our palm should move out while inhaling and should move in while exhaling, synchronising with the movement of the abdominal area.   If we are not breathing as above, we have to practice the right way of breathing, which is also known as yogic breathing or abdominal breathing. We can take any comfortable posture, sitting, standing or even lying down in supine position. At this point, we have to fix our consciousness only on the breathing and not on the posture.  Inhale deeply to fill the lungs.  While inhaling, push the diaphragm down, which automatically makes the abdominal area to bloat.  Please do not hold the breath.  Now exhale by pushing up the diaphragm.  Alternatively, the stomach can be pulled in, which makes the diaphragm to move up.  When this is practiced regularly our normal breathing itself changes to yogic breathing.  It is not necessary that deep breathing should be practiced always.  Deep breathing should be practiced only in empty stomach, preferably in the morning or late in the evening.  When someone is tired and feels exhausted, deep breathing helps. During deep breathing, brain gets adequate oxygen supply.

(to be continued)