The process of meditation also depends upon the condition of the physical body, as body and mind are interdependent. Meditation is a process by which the conscious mind is rested for a certain period of time. Mind normally takes rest only during deep sleep. In the initial stage of sleep, mind continues to be active at the subconscious level. Dreams arise from sub-conscious mind. When sub-conscious mind is active, conscious mind takes rest. When conscious mind is active, sub-conscious mind does not act. Conscious mind is the normal objective mind. Sub-conscious mind is the place where the impressions of our thoughts and actions are stored. These impressions become important as they affect the karmic account embedded in the soul. These impressions have to be pure. Even if the conscious mind is controlled, it is difficult to control the sub-conscious mind which is stronger and deeper than the conscious mind. It is only the sub-conscious mind that manifests as dreams. When our conscious mind is controlled, we are almost there with the Divine. Mind can be mastered or controlled only by practice. First, the sensory inputs to the mind should be disconnected and second, the mind should be allowed to explore the source of creation, the Brahman. The essential requirement for mastering the mind is knowledge. Vedānta refers to six types of knowledge. They are perception, inference, description, comparison, assumption and intuition. These types of knowledge are like many rivers flowing into the same ocean. The source and quality of knowledge differs like the waters of different rivers. But, ultimately they all provide knowledge that is required to know the Brahman. Each one of these types can quieten the mind in their own way. In spirituality, the level of one’s consciousness is important because, only the purest level of consciousness can destroy one’s ego and endorses the thought process to pursue spirituality. Most of us fail in spirituality mainly because of our limited understanding of spirituality. Meditation alone is not going to help us in achieving spiritual progress. Mediation is one of the tools. Meditation makes an attempt to unplug the link between mind and the body, so that the mind could function independent of the body. When the connection between the mind and the body is snapped, sensory inputs to the mind are stopped. The first transformation to spirituality happens here. When mind and body are de-linked, the pleasure and pain are not felt. Pleasure and pain cause afflictions only on the physical body and realized through the mind. Sage Ramana was operated upon without anaesthesia and he never felt the pain of surgery.
Mind is the most powerful instrument and can be compared to an atom. Both are very subtle in nature and highly potent. Consciously resting such a mind is undoubtedly an incomprehensible task. We are trying to achieve this with the help of meditation, the only tool that is available to us to control the mind. If mind is to be controlled, first thoughts are to be controlled. Thoughts arise out of desires and actions of the past, present and future, and are related to objects. Thoughts are subtler than mind and cannot be totally eliminated from the mind, but the mind can be made thoughtless or stilled for a few moments. In those stilled moments, God is realized. In the beginning stage, mind cannot be made thoughtless with ease. Instead, we have to develop a powerful thought process, different from our mundane thoughts.
How to activate this thought process? We have to visualise a form of Divinity as discussed earlier. In the initial stages of meditation, an image of the deity is a necessity. The favourite image of the deity is to be repeatedly visualised and fixed in the sub-conscious mind. There is no rule for visualisation. It is not necessary that one should visualize a deity as per dhyāna verses. Visualising the deity in a human form is the ideal way to begin. Probably a painting or a sculpture or an idol is the right object. Focus the attention on this object repeatedly. Look (stare is the right word) at the object for some time without winking, if possible. Winking or no winking, staring at the object is more important. Observe the object very closely. Close the eyes now and try to recollect the object. Recollect all the minute details of the object. Once this is practiced, the object will get fixed into the conscious mind by persistent practice. From the conscious mind the impressions of the object get stored in the subconscious mind. After sometime, the object is not necessary, as the object gets transferred from the physical plane to the mental plane. There will be a stage when one can recollect the object whenever needed, using the conscious mind from the hidden depths of subconscious mind. Even during sleep, one is able to retrieve this object in the form of a dream, as the impression of the object is already stored in the subconscious mind.
One can reminiscent the object perfectly, only if all other thoughts are subdued. When the mind is absorbed in the object, all other thoughts are automatically subdued. This is the process of meditation. In this process there are three constituents. One is the person who meditates known as the meditator, second is the object on which the meditator meditates, the form of a deity or even a symbol and the third is the process of meditation by which the meditator tries to visualise the object of meditation. They are known as the seer, seen and seeing or knower, known and the process of knowing. By persistent practice, the meditator is able to visualise the exact replica of the object in his mind, thereby driving out all other thoughts. When the mind is totally occupied by the form of the deity, the knower, the known and the process of knowing become one. This is the stage where you are totally engrossed in the form of the deity, forgetting your body and the act of meditation. This is the perfect meditative practice. In the initial stages of meditation, if one tries to meditate on the formless form of the Brahman, he may not be able to achieve substantial progress. Spiritual progress should be gradual and steady and requires strong meditative skills.
The favourite image that was discussed in the previous section is known as iṣṭa (ishta) devata or desired deity or favourite deity. For progressing in spirituality, one should develop faith, dedication and sincerity. Meditation is a process through which commune with desired deity is established. Only after establishing a firm commune with the desired deity, further spiritual progress takes place. Here commune does not mean communication, but a state of intensified and intimate receptivity of the mind. Intimate receptivity is possible only if the mind is devoid of other thought processes. In order to focus our attention on a single object, desired deity is conceptualised, contemplated and visualized. A sincere meditator with persistent practice meets his desired deity face to face during the peak of his meditative session. There can be no theological and metaphysical reasoning for such head on meeting with the form of desired deity, but the fact is that it happens. He has conceptualised his own deity. It would be more appropriate to say that he has created his own deity. In a way, he has become a creator. This becomes possible only through the highest level of consciousness.
The mind by nature is not able to distinguish between the illusion and reality or perception and impression. Willpower is a tool that can be effectively used to manipulate the mind and makes it to differentiate between illusion and reality. But the question is how to manipulate the mind with willpower. Mind is highly susceptible to influence. Whichever influences it more, mind becomes predisposed to that influence and begins to perceive only from that angle. If it has more sensory influence, the mind becomes susceptible to sensory perceptions. When the mind is not influenced by senses, it conceives extra sensory perceptions also known as clairvoyance. Extra sensory perception, popularly known as ESP, becomes possible due to the influence of knowledge. The knowledge that is required for clairvoyance can be attained through reasoning and self-experiencing. Amongst the two, self-experiencing is the most important factor. Reasoning is a prerequisites for self-experiencing. It is like knowing an animal from books through narrations and descriptions, rather than personally experiencing the animal. The direct experience of the animal gives total picture of the animal and is different from our perception and reasoning. Understanding the Brahman from scriptures and lectures is totally different from personally experiencing the Brahman. Such direct experience is possible only through meditation. In order to have perfect, complete and direct experience, meditation on an object, such as the desired deity is advised in the initial stages of meditation.
Your favourite deity, assuming the part of your guru will guide you, when to transform from meditating on a form to meditating on the effulgent formless Brahman. The deity will disappear on its own, paving way for your realisation. Realising the formless Brahman is called Self-realization. The commune with the Brahman and you is gradually being established.
The direct experience happens when knowledge and reasoning matures with the passage of time. The passage of time is not fixed as the quality of the time spent is important rather than the quantity of the time. There are two aspects to realization, both associated with mind. First, other thoughts are to be eradicated from the mind. Second, mind has to focus on the object of meditation. Without getting rid of other thoughts, focusing becomes impossible. By nature, mind is fond of wandering. It dwells on many things at a time, be it past, present or future. Mind spends more time either in the past or in the future than on the present. Meditation on the form is prescribed merely to make the mind to forget about past and future and make it to exist in the present. Knowledge with conviction is the basic requirement of spirituality. Faith forms the basis of intuitional reasoning and abstract thought forms the basis of intellectual reasoning. Former becomes the subject matter of philosophy and the latter becomes the subject matter of science. Though spirituality can be explained scientifically, science cannot address all the intricacies of spirituality. For example, air is subtle and invisible; still we know that air exists. This is because of knowledge and reasoning that lead to belief and final experience. It is the case with spirituality also. Experiencing the presence of Brahman can be achieved by way of bliss, the exploding joy.
Meditation is a process wherein effort is made to transform the agitative state of mind into the state of spiritual concentration. The vision of the deity is secondary; but what is important is the purification of our thoughts that happens automatically depending upon the level of one’s consciousness. Meditation is not like mantra, where a guru initiates his disciple. Guru can tell the disciple how to meditate, but the effect of meditation purely depends upon individual dedication, perseverance and practice. Without persistent practice, it is impossible to make spiritual progress.
The comfort and firmness of the sitting posture is important, as one has to sit comfortably for a long duration. It is not important that one should sit with crossed legs or any other specific posture. Once a posture is taken for meditation, there should be no movement in the body during the entire period of meditation. Spine should be erect with head slightly tilted backwards, so that kundalini can comfortably traverse through the spine. In a good meditative stage, kundalini begins it’s ascend automatically without any efforts. The movement of kundalini largely depends upon purity of thoughts. One should fix his consciousness in between the eye brows, known as clairvoyant eye or the third eye. In other words, one should visualise the object of meditation between the eye brows. Once concentration is fixed, other things are of no relevance. The breathing tends to become slow. In the beginning stages of meditation, it is advisable to meditate in a place where there is no noise around. Noise will distract one’s concentration. Any sudden sound could lead to a panic attack. It is also essential that one should not be touched during his peak meditation.
To practice meditation, one needs to understand the intricacies of meditation such as knowledge and skill, the fundamental requirements of spirituality. Many of the meditators fail to achieve significant progress or achieve illusionary progress due to lack of foundational knowledge. There is no point in practicing meditation without achieving explicit progress. Once the required knowledge is acquired, the practice becomes easier. Further progress depends purely on one’s perseverance and commitment. Meditation is a process through which enlightenment can be attained through direct, clear and deep perception rather than religious beliefs. Therefore, religion has nothing to do with meditation and spirituality.
Attention is the focal point in meditation. Attention is different from consciousness. Attention is the power of mental concentration. Awareness and attentiveness are the two important constituents of foundational knowledge of meditation. The first stage of awareness leads to the second stage of attentiveness. Substantial spiritual progress can be achieved only through evolution of consciousness in combination with attentiveness. The intent to be spiritual is more important than efforts. Thought process to get enlightenment is more important than spiritual actions. Both awareness and attentiveness are the evolutions of mind. The level of consciousness varies from person to person. The level of consciousness depends upon mind’s natural inclination and capacity to interpret the inputs that it has collected. Based upon this understanding only, it has been said that one should not indulge too much in sensory activities. Mind has the tendency to act only on the inputs provided to it through senses. But due to its unconditioned nature, mind cannot differentiate between perception and reality. Perception is the consequence of senses and reality is the consequence of knowledge. But the mind in its unconditioned state which is also known as innate state, wrongly understands perception as reality. Unconditioned state refers to that state of mind that is devoid of spiritual knowledge. Spiritual knowledge is nothing but non-duality, the philosophy of advaita. This spiritual knowledge, in the initial stages can be obtained through Holy Scriptures. Without the basic knowledge of the Brahman, He cannot be meditated upon. Knowing the formless Brahman is the logical conclusion of the meditative process. To reach this ultimate state, one has to evolve from the foundational stage. The spiritual evolution is a gradual purification process of the mind. Mind can be purified by dissociating it from too much of sensory afflictions. It is not possible for anyone to live without senses. One should not get addicted to sensory influences and materialistic pleasures. The word addiction is important in classifying what is the level being classified as too much. Without using senses, man cannot make a living. But temptations and ego are to be conquered. They wrongly identify self as Self, due to the effect of māyā or illusion. Temptations and ego can be conquered only by knowledge. Spiritual purity can be attained by unstinted devotion. Thus knowledge and devotion form the foundational state of meditation. During meditative progression, one could frequently come across illusionary states where auto suggestions are often misconceived as divine commune. Contact with the Cosmos in the form of subtle sound can be established only by persistent practice. In the state of autosuggestions, the mind is not totally purified and awareness and attentiveness are not totally achieved.
(to be continued)