The path to spiritual realization is not difficult as many of us think. It is a simple process that can happen through a perfected mind. It is not obligatory to do yogic postures and breathing exercises, though they certainly help in keeping the body fit and healthy. At the same time spending a longer time with these yogic exercises take away the precious time meant for meditation. Meditation does not mean sitting for long hours with closed eyes. Meditation is a process wherein one attempts to establish a connection with the Self within through his mind. The only factor that sets pace for the highest level of meditation is one’s consciousness. Consciousness can be broadly classified under three divisions – Cosmic Consciousness, Self Consciousness and basic consciousness. The first one is the highest form of consciousness about which a normal human being is not aware, as this prevails beyond the level of his comprehension. Great yogis will be able to reach this highest cosmic plane with ease. The second one is the inherent consciousness in all of us, and our lives revolve around this consciousness. The consciousness of man is called Self consciousness because he is aware of himself, as an entity and this is the factor for raising the question “Who am I”. None of the animals can make this enquiry about its self. The difference between man and animal is the ability to ask this question. As this question can be answered only through the mind, man is able to at least ask this question. Due to the lack of adequate mind development, animals cannot ask this question. The difference between man and animal is the capacity to think. Man can think and an animal cannot think. Thinking is an essential process to answer the question “who am I”, which is present only in humans and not in animals.
Basic consciousness is inherently present by in all the beings, both man and animal. In addition to this basic consciousness, man has got the consciousness about his self, which animals do not have. But he is not able to understand his true and essential nature due to the influence of māyā. When a man attempts to realize his true nature, it is the path of spirituality. The one who is able to realize his true essence beyond his gross, subtle and causal bodies is called an emancipated or liberated person. This happens due to the refined form of the mind known as intellect. This can even be called cosmic intellect as this is totally different from worldly intellect. One can be a scientist, economist, etc because he is intelligent enough to study, learn and master different subjects. Though this intelligence is highly useful in living a comfortable material life, name and fame, this intelligence does not give liberation from transmigration. Birth and death is always painful (which we are never aware of), irrespective of the material prosperity one has. Material prosperity can never keep the mind calm and on the contrary, too much of material prosperity can cause intense mental agitation. *At this point, we know that mind and consciousness along with intellect can make our spiritual journey perfect. The path pursued (philosophy) is not important; let it be dualism or non-dualism of Vedanta, Buddhism or Trika or whatever it is. There is no point in seeking more and more spiritual knowledge, without pondering over it. Many spiritual scholars are not realized persons, whereas a common man in a remote village is a realized person. It is not the knowledge that is important, but the practice is. A scholar need not be a Guru but the man who lives in an unknown village is certainly a Guru. Only a Guru can take forward a person in the right spiritual path. Such a Guru is aware that knowledge about God cannot be sold, as knowledge about Him is not a commodity. One is blessed with the knowledge about Him due to His Grace and His Grace cannot at any cost be commercialized under any circumstances. A true Guru never does this and only through this quality, a true Guru can be identified by common persons. Irrespective of the depth of spiritual knowledge one has, one certainly needs a Guru to guide him properly. When one significantly progresses in his spiritual journey, he will have innumerable doubts, particularly about ātman, the individual soul. In addition to the three basic factors discussed above*, we now know the necessity of a Guru to advance in one’s spiritual journey. The ultimate goal is always the same, God or Brahman, but the paths pursued to attain the Goal are different, giving rise to various philosophies or doctrines.
Another common misconceived notion is about the mantras. Mantras are meant to control and focus the mind. Mantras cannot and will not confer any superhuman powers. There are various types of mantras such as monosyllabic or polysyllabic or Vedic couplets or a verse or a hymn. Even the Sacred Scriptures like Lalitā Sahasranāma, Viṣṇu Sahasranāma, Saundaryalaharī , etc are considered as mantras. Mantra recitation is good, provided it is used to control the mind. A mantra with too many syllables will not serve the purpose for which it is intended for. Similarly mantras containing ‘nāśaya’ should never be recited, as this could kindle the dormant negativity of a person causing irreparable damage to personal well being. Therefore, mantras should be carefully chosen for daily recitation. Such mantras should never be long. One should not practice too many mantras. One has to advance only with a single mantra. Mantras for daily recitation should contain the name of a form of God, such as Śiva, Viṣṇu, Nārāyaṇa, Durgā, etc. However, this does not mean that Brahman is with names and forms. There are two purposes served with short mantras with the name of a God. One, the aspirant is able to conceive a form with which he makes an attempt to establish a connection. In the initial stages of spirituality, one cannot directly meditate on the formless form of Brahman. This reality has been emphasized in the previous parts of this series. It is not right to say that mantras should be recited only at certain prescribed timings. Keeping fixed timings for recitation of mantras is alright in the initial stages of initiation, but when the aspirant advances, he should learn to synchronize the mantra with his or her breath. Unless this is done, the mantra will never be effective. Following mantras are the examples of short mantras.
Om namaśivāya, Om hrīṁ namaśivāya, Om namo nārāyaṇāya
ॐ नमशिवाय, ॐ ह्रीं नमशिवाय, ॐ नमो नारायणाय
There are many mantras like this. Having chosen the right mantra, one has to find out whether a particular mantra is cursed. There could be multiple curses as in the case of Gāyatrī mantra. These curses are to be removed through the curse removal mantras (śāpa vimocana mantras). One can know whether the curse on the mantra that he or she recites is removed or not, through the experience of bliss. Bliss, even in small doze, can be experienced only if the mantra becomes pure and devoid of curse. This is the point where one should try to align his or her mantra with breathing. While reciting the mantra perpetually, the aspirant should stay connected with the concerned form of God. This is called mantra japa. This can happen only if a particular form of God is properly conceived in his mind. The aspirant must continue to look after his prescribed daily chores, but his mind is always filled with the thought of God belonging to the mantra that is recited.
Though, mantra does not form part of philosophical study, it plays a very significant role in controlling the mind, which is the foundational apparatus in Self-realization. It is a known fact that Brahman is devoid of shape and form and beyond time and space (eternal). While this is the fact, what is the necessity to contemplate God with a form? There are answers to this inquiry in the Scriptures. Abhinavagupta says in his Paramārthasāra (verse 78), “The spiritual wizard transforms the entire series of worlds, the order of tattva-s (principles) and his various senses into his inward vision. This is called japa.” Series or worlds can be interpreted as different states of normal human consciousness such as active, dream and deep sleep. Such a yogi has not transformed into this state instantaneously. He has moved up the ladder of spirituality after moving beyond external worship, not content with offering external oblations, etc and rejoices in the company of the Self within (extract of a few verses of Paramārthasāra). Such a yogi does not accrue further karmas after realizing the Self. However, he has to experience the accumulated karmas. Mostly the present birth could be his last birth as such a great advancement in spirituality cannot happen if he has tons of accumulated karmas. First he becomes a sthitaprajñā and then a jīvanmukta and when he dies, his individual soul becomes one with Him. He is liberated.
Though, the contents discussed above do not belong to philosophical study, their mention here becomes necessary as the object of this series is only to realize the Brahman and not a systematic study of philosophies.
(to be continued)