Points For Successful Meditation
Prerequisites for yoga
Toward the end of his comments on the Yoga Sutras, Shankara makes a valuable remark: “There can be no lamplight unless the oil, wick and a flame are brought together.” The idea is that the successful practice of yoga is not a haphazard or capricious matter. All the elements must be brought together. When united and complete, success is the result.
Since the classical Indian texts on Yoga are the basis of this chapter, the word “yoga” is used throughout. But it should be realized that the word “meditation” is equally applicable, for in ancient India yoga and meditation were synonymous.
“Yoga is for the purpose of knowledge of truth,” says Shankara. Knowledge (jnana) does not come about from practice of yoga methods alone. Perfection in knowledge is in fact only for those who practice virtue (dharma) as well as yoga.
All things rest upon something else–that is, all things are supported by another. This is because a foundation is needed for anything to exist. Being Himself the Ultimate Support of all things, God alone is free from this necessity. Yoga, then, also requires support. As Trevor Leggett says in his introduction to Shankara’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras: “This is yoga presented for the man of the world, who must first clear, and then steady, his mind against the fury of illusory passions, and free his life from entanglements.” Patanjali very carefully and fully outlines the elements of the support needed by the aspirant, giving invaluable information on how to guarantee success in yoga.
The first Yoga Sutra says: “Now the exposition of yoga,” implying that there must be something leading up to yoga in the form of necessary developments of consciousness and personality. These prerequisites are known as Yama and Niyama. Shankara says quite forcefully that “following yama and niyama is the basic qualification to practice yoga.”
Yama and Niyama are often called the Ten Commandments of Yoga, but they have nothing to do with the ideas of sin and virtue or good and evil as dictated by some cosmic potentate. Rather they are determined by a thoroughly practical, pragmatic basis: that which strengthens and facilitates our yoga practice should be observed and that which weakens or hinders it should be avoided. It is not a matter of being good or bad, but of being wise or foolish. Each one of these Five Don’ts (Yama) and Five Do’s (Niyama) is a supporting, liberating foundation of Yoga.
Yama means self-restraint in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, and consists of five elements. Niyama means observances, of which there are also five. Here is the complete list of these ten Pillars as given in Yoga Sutras 2:30,32:
- Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
- Satya: truthfulness, honesty
- Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
- Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
- Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
- Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
- Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
- Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
- Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God
All of these deal with the innate powers of the human being–or rather with the abstinence and observance that will develop and release those powers to be used toward our spiritual perfection, to our Self-realization and liberation. Shankara says quite forcefully that “following yama and niyama is the basic qualification to practice yoga. The qualification is not simply that one wants to practice yoga. So yama and niyama are methods of yoga” in themselves and are not mere adjuncts or aids that can be optional.
But at the same time, the practice of yoga helps the aspiring yogi to follow the necessary ways of yama and niyama, so he should not be discouraged from taking up yoga right now. He should determinedly embark on yama, niyama, and yoga simultaneously. Success will be his.
Responsiveness to yoga practice
You cannot lessen the effect of Pranava yoga, but you can certainly lessen or even prevent your responsiveness to it and the effect it will have on you. That is why it is so important that you read another book of necessary practical advice called How to be a Yogi: Practical Advice to Serious Yogis. There the Yoga Life is explained without which the practice of Yoga will be of little significant effect. A few things that follow are from that book, but only a very few.
The bodies, physical, astral, and causal, are the vehicles through which the individual evolves during the span of life on earth, and must be taken into serious account by the yogi who will discover that they can exert a powerful, controlling effect on the mind. If wax and clay are cold they cannot be molded, nor will they take any impression. If molasses is cold it will hardly pour. It is all a matter of responsiveness. Only when warm are these substances malleable. In the same way, unless our inner and outer bodies are made responsive or reactive to the japa and meditation of Aom we will miss many of the beneficial effects. Hence we should do everything we can to increase our response levels, to ensure that our physical and psychic bodies are moving at the highest possible rate of vibration.
A fundamental key to this is diet. For just as the physical substance of the food becomes assimilated into our physical body, the subtler energies become united to our inner levels, including our mind. The observant meditator will discover that the diet of the physical body is also the diet of the mind, that whatever is eaten physically will have an effect mentally. Here are some statements about the nature and effect of food that are found in the basic texts of India, the upanishads.
“From food has arisen strength [virya], austerity [tapasya], mantra, action, and the world itself” (Prashna Upanishad 6.4). Ascetic discipline (tapasya) and prayer (mantra) are essential to religion, and here we see that the food we eat is their basis. And obviously the kind of food we eat will determine the quality of our discipline and prayer.
“By food, indeed, do all the breaths [pranas, life forces] become great” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.5.4).
“Man, verily consists of the essence of food” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1.1). So we are what we eat.
“From food, verily, are produced all creatures–whatsoever dwell on earth. By food alone, furthermore, do they live.…From food all creatures are born: by food, when born, they grow.…Verily, different from this, which consists of the essence of food, but within it, is another self, which consists of the vital breath [prana]. By this the former is filled. This too has the shape of a man. Like the human shape of the former is the human shape of the latter” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2.1). The spiritual, astral body is drawn exclusively from food, so diet is crucial in spiritual development.
“Food when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes faeces, what is medium becomes flesh and what is subtlest becomes mind. Water when drunk becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes urine, what is medium becomes blood and what is subtlest becomes prana.…The mind, my dear, consists of food, [and] the prana of water…” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.5.1, 2, 4).
“That, my dear, which is the subtlest part of curds rises, when they are churned and becomes butter. In the same manner, my dear, that which is the subtlest part of the food that is eaten rises and becomes mind. The subtlest part of the water that is drunk rises and becomes prana. Thus, my dear, the mind consists of food, [and] the prana consists of water” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.6.1-3,5; the same is confirmed in 6.7.1-6).
“Now is described the discipline for inner purification by which self-knowledge is attained: When the food is pure, the mind becomes pure. When the mind is pure the memory [smriti–memory of our eternal spirit-Self] becomes firm. When the memory is firm all ties are loosened” (Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2).
“On food rests everything—whatsoever breathes and whatsoever breathes not” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.5.1).
“In the body there are nerves [nadis] called hita, which are placed in the heart. Through these the essence of our food passes as it moves on. Therefore the subtle body receives finer food than the gross body” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.2.3).
Both meditation and diet refine the inner senses so we can produce and perceive the subtle changes that occur during meditation.
Meat is both heavy and toxic–especially from the chemicals spread throughout the tissues from the fear and anger of the animal when it was slaughtered. So our minds will also be heavy and toxic from eating meat as well as poisoned by the vibrations of anger and fear. And then there is the karma of killing sentient beings. Moreover, the instinctual and behavioral patterns of the animals will become our instinctual and behavioral impulses. Fruits, vegetables, and grains have no such obstructions. Consequently, our mental energies will be light and malleable, responsive to our spiritual disciplines. Few things are more self-defeating than the eating of meat. From the yogic standpoint, the adoption of a vegetarian diet is a great spiritual boon. By “vegetarian” I mean abstention from meat, fish, and eggs or anything that contains them to any degree, including animal fats.
Our general health also contributes to our proficiency in meditation, so a responsible yogi is very aware of what is beneficial and detrimental to health and orders his life accordingly, especially in eliminating completely all alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs whether legal or illegal. Caffeine, too, is wisely avoided, and so is sugar.
All of the above-mentioned substances–meat, fish, eggs, animal derivatives, alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs–deaden and coarsen the mind and body–and consequently the consciousness. Thus they prevent the necessary effects and experiences of subtle Breath Meditation, reducing it to an exercise in relaxation and calmness rather than the means of liberation–for which it is solely intended.
The sum of all this is that we must do more than meditate. We must live out our spiritual aspirations by so ordering our lives that we will most quickly advance toward the Goal. This is done by observing Yama and Niyama, often called the Ten Commandments of Yoga. They are: 1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness; 2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty; 3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness; 4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses; 5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness; 6) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness; 7) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness; 8) Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline; 9) Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study; 10) Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God, especially in the highest sense of uniting our consciousness with Infinite Consciousness through meditation.
Recently one of our monks showed me two containers. In each one was as very small, green plant less than an inch high, consisting of two leaves. “I planted these nine weeks ago,” he said. “Really? What is wrong with them?” I asked. “I used the wrong kind of potting soil, so they won’t grow,” he told me. It is exactly the same with the study of spiritual philosophy and the practice of meditation: if there is not the right environment, inner and outer, nothing at all will come of it. Not only do we need a special place in our home favorable to meditation, our entire environment should be examined to see that it, too, is not mentally and spiritually heavy, toxic, disruptive and agitating. The same is true of our employment and our associates–business, social, and familial.
The most important environment, of course, is the inner one of our own mind–that is, our thoughts. Our dominant thought should be our intonations of Aom. Next to that should be continual thoughts of spiritual matters drawn from our own study of spiritual writings, attendance at spiritual discourses, and conversation with spiritually-minded associates. Our minds should naturally move in the highest spiritual planes. This is neither impossible nor impractical, for everything proceeds from and is controlled by the Supreme Consciousness.
Sitting like Buddha
When Gotama Buddha sat beneath the bodhi tree he vowed that until he was enlightened he would not get up even if his flesh and bones were to be dissolved. This is why it is said that Buddha got enlightenment because he knew how to sit. His “sitting” was in the consciousness of the Self, not just the body. So if you “sit” in the same way during meditation, you will be safe from all distractions and illusions as was Buddha.
All the forces of the cosmos came to distract Buddha from his inner quest. Even cosmic illusion itself in the form of Mara came to distract him. But he did not move, either in body or mind. Such steadfastness conquered the forces of ignorance completely. Buddha conquered them by simply ignoring them–which was the only sensible course, seeing that they were just illusions. You, too, can conquer distractions not by combating them, not by killing them, not by “seeing through” them or any such thing–but by just having nothing to do with them. The true Self does not touch any of these things, so the path to the true spirit involves not touching them in your mind.
By sitting and ignoring the unreal, Buddha found the Real. Therefore many centuries later Jesus simply said: “In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). To relax and experience is the key for the correct practice of meditation.
Hatching the egg
Each person will experience meditation in a different way, even if there are points of similarity with that of others. Also, meditations can vary greatly for each of us. In some meditations a lot will be going on, and then in other meditations it will seem as though we are just sitting and coasting along with nothing “happening.” This is exactly as it should be. Some meditations will produce changes and others will be times of quiet assimilation and stabilization.
When nothing seems to be going on at all, we may mistakenly think we are meditating incorrectly or it just does not work. Actually, meditation produces profound and far-reaching changes in our extremely complex makeup, whether we do or do not perceive those changes. Some meditations are times of quiet assimilation of prior changes and balancing out to get ready for more change. If we are meditating in the way outlined, we are doing everything correctly and everything is going on just as it should be–every breath is further refining our inner faculties of awareness.
Very early in the scale of evolution sentient beings are born from eggs. This includes us human beings. So it is not inappropriate to think of our evolution in such terms. All eggs hatch and develop through heat–this is absolutely necessary, just as it is for the germination of seeds (the “eggs” of plants). Yoga is called tapasya, the generation of heat, for that very reason. Our meditation, then is like the hatching of an egg. Nothing may seem to be going on, but life is developing on the unseen levels.
The hatching of a chicken egg is a prime example. Inside the egg there is nothing but two kinds of “goo”–the white and the yolk. Both are liquids and have no other perceptible characteristics than color. The hen does nothing more than sit on the egg and keep it warm, yet as the days pass the goo inside the shell turns into internal organs, blood, bones, skin, feathers, brain, ears, and eyes–all that goes to make up a chicken–just by being incubated, by doing “nothing.”. At last, a living, conscious being breaks its way out of the shell. No wonder eggs have been used as symbols of resurrection from death into life.
Another apt symbol is the cocoon. The dull-colored, earth-crawling, caterpillar encases itself in a shroud of its own making and becomes totally dormant. Yet, as weeks pass a wondrous transformation takes place internally until one day an utterly different creature emerges: a beautifully colored and graceful butterfly that flies into the sky and thenceforth rarely if ever touches the earth.
The same is true of the persevering yogi and the eventual revelation of his true nature. Through the japa and meditation of Aom, simple as they are, the “heat” of the divine vibration causes our full spiritual potential to develop and manifest in us. Tapasya evolves the yogi, turning the goo of his present state into a life beyond present conceptions.
Training for living
Meditation is not an end in itself, but rather the means to an end–to the daily living out of the illumined consciousness produced by meditation. We go into meditation so we can come out of meditation more conscious and better equipped to live our life. The change will not be instant, but after a reasonable time we should see a definite effect in how we “see” and live. If the meditator does not find that his state of mind during daily activities has been affected by his meditation, then his meditation is without value. This is especially important for us in the West since meditation is continually being touted as a “natural high” or a producer of profound and cataclysmic experiences. Such experiences may sound good on paper or in a metaphysical bragfest, but in time they are seen to be empty of worth on any level–ephemeral dreams without substance. Success in meditation is manifested outside meditation–by the states of mind and depth of insight that become habitual. The proof of its viability is the meditator’s continual state of mind and his apprehension of both reality and Reality.
Many things lighten and purify the mind, but nothing clarifies the mind like the prolonged and profound practice of meditation. The state of mental clarity produced by meditation should continue outside meditation. Meditation should by its nature prepare us for living. At the same time, meditation should establish us in interior life, making us increasingly aware both inwardly and outwardly. This is because reality consists of two aspects: the unmoving consciousness of spirit and the moving, dynamic activity of evolutionary energy. Reality embraces both, and to be without the awareness of one or the other is to be incomplete.
Meditation enables us to see deeply into things outside meditation. Through meditation we cultivate the ability to be objective–separate from objects but keenly aware of them and thus able to intelligently and effectively function in relation to them. Meditation, then, is the most effective school for living open to us. And it manifests in the simplest of ways: a more compassionate outlook, a deeper self-understanding, an awareness of changelessness amidst change, a taste for spiritual conversation and reading, and experience of inmost peace. One man who had been practicing meditation for a while remarked to another meditator, “I can’t figure out what is happening to me. Last night for the first time in my married life I helped my wife do the dishes.”
In the practice of the japa and meditation of Aom we are putting ourselves into a totally–even sublimely–different sphere of consciousness and experience from that in which so much phenomena arise. Meditation is done for the development of consciousness–truly pure and simple–whereas it is our active life that is meant for both seeing and experiencing. It is all a matter of consciousness–of consciousness that pervades our entire life–not just a “wonderful feeling” in meditation. It is the fundamental state of consciousness and mind outside of meditation that matters.
Avoiding the gears
In meditation stay away from the gears of the mind! It is the nature of the mind to dance around producing thoughts, impressions, memories, etc. Therefore we do not at all care what potential distractions may arise during meditation. We ignore them. And if we ignore them they are no longer distractions. So stay with Aom–with God–and forget everything else. Then all will be yours.
Never come out of meditation to note or write down something. If the inspiration, insight, or idea is really from your higher Self or from God it will come back to you outside of meditation.
Also, do not engage the mind-gears with long prayers, affirmations, and suchlike during meditation. And do not let the mind entice you with “insight,” “inspiration,” or “knowledge” of any kind. According to Shankara the practice of yoga “has right vision alone for its goal, and glories of knowledge and power are not its purpose.”
Experiences and thoughts in meditation: be indifferent
While meditating, many things–some of them quite dramatic, impressive, and even enjoyable, as well as inane, boring, and uncomfortable–occur as a side-effect. Have no desire to produce or reproduce or avoid any state or experience of any kind, to any degree. Our only interest should be our intonations of Aom in time with the breath. What arises…arises. During meditation much revealing and release take place in both the conscious and subconscious minds–and sometimes even the physical body–and should always be a passively observed process without getting involved in any way.
Thoughts from the subconscious may float–or even flood–up, but you need only keep on intoning Aom in time with the breath. The states of consciousness that meditation produces are the only things that matter, for they alone bring us to the Goal.
Much phenomena can take place during the process of correction and purification that is an integral part of meditation. When the chakras are being cleansed and perfected, they may become energized, awakened, or opened. In the same way subtle channels in the spine and body may open and subtle energies begin flowing in them. This is all good when it happens spontaneously, effortlessly. But whatever happens in meditation, our sole occupation should be with Aom and the breath.
Uniting with Aom
All that exists is a manifestation of Aom, for Aom is the essence of all things. Aom is perpetually sounding from within the heart (core) of all things, including us. To unite our awareness with that ever-flowing Aom through japa and meditation is the true “centering.” Aom japa and meditation put us in touch with that inmost stream or current so we can follow it back to its Divine Source.
Every year in India thousands make pilgrimages to the source of the Ganges and other sacred rivers. Such pilgrimages are externalizations of the pilgrimage of the spirit that is accomplished by tracing the inner river of Aom back to its Source through meditation. “By following the trail of Aom you attain Brahman, of which the Word is the symbols” (Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 404).
Many more pilgrims journey to Rudra Prayag (presently known as Allahabad) to bathe in the Triveni, the confluence of three sacred rivers: Ganges, Jumna, and Saraswati. It is believed that to immerse yourself in the waters of the Triveni is to be greatly purified. But this is only an outer action reflecting the inner experience of bathing (immersing) ourselves in the inner intonings of Aom in time with the breath and our experiencing of their effects. By this continual “bathing” the entire being of the yogi becomes purified and refined.
Evocation and invocation
In japa and meditation we are not employing Aom as a prayer, an affirmation, or a remembrance, but as effective evocation–a calling forth–of our inherent, eternal Self-consciousness, and as an invocation–a calling into us–of the Consciousness that is the Supreme Self. Aom brings into our awareness the consciousness of both the individual Self (jivatman) and the Supreme Self (Paramatman) in perfect union. The japa and meditation of Aom makes us one with our true Self and one with God, merging our being and consciousness with His perfect Being and Consciousness. Because this is so, we do not need to keep in mind an intellectual meaning of Aom (there is not one, anyway) or cultivate an attitude or emotion during our practice. Rather, we relax, listen, and make ourselves open and receptive to Its dynamic working within us.
Entering the Silence
The expression “entering the silence” is usually misunderstood as sitting with a blank mind. One mystery of Aom is its ability to produce silence through sound–sound that is essentially silence. We go deeper and deeper into the sound, the increasingly subtle sound of Aom, until we reach the heart of the sound which is silence. Through our invocation of Aom the state of silence is produced in our mind by enabling us to center it in the principle of the silent witnessing consciousness. Through Aom the yogi leads his awareness into the silence of the spirit which is beyond the clamor of the mind and the distractions and movements of the body. For true silence is not mere absence of sound, but a profound condition of awareness that prevails at all times–even during the “noise” of our daily life. Silence is also a state of stillness of spirit in which all movement ceases and we know ourselves as pure consciousness alone.
There are no “higher techniques” of Pranava Yoga, but through its regular and prolonged practice there are higher experiences and effects that will open up for the persevering meditator. As time goes on the efficiency of the practice and the resulting depth of inner experience will greatly increase, transforming the practice into something undreamed-of by the beginning meditator–for the change really takes place in the yogi’s consciousness. Practice, practice, practice is the key.
We have earlier noted Shankara’s statement that the practice of yoga “has right vision alone for its goal, and glories of [external] knowledge and power are not its purpose.” Spirit-consciousness alone is true and real.
The upanishadic seers indicate that the path of liberation is a very simple path–the japa and meditation of Aom–and that the result is simple: realization of one’s own Self (atma) and ultimately of the Supreme Self (Paramatma). First there is the establishment in the pure consciousness that is our essential being as individuals, and then establishment in the Infinite Consciousness that is the Essential Being of all beings: God.
The Katha Upanishad makes this very clear. First it speaks of what God (Brahman) really is, saying: “Brahman [is] the all-pervading spirit, the unconditioned, knowing whom one attains to freedom and achieves immortality. None beholds him with the eyes, for he is without visible form. Yet in the heart is he revealed, through self-control and meditation. Those who know him become immortal” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:8, 9). Brahman is pure spirit, beyond all phenomena, beyond all relative existence or relative experience (objective consciousness). Brahman is not perceived by the senses, inner or outer (“none beholds him with the eyes”), yet He is revealed in the core of the yogi’s being in meditation. “Those who know him become immortal” because they experience their identity with the immortal Brahman. Next the upanishad describes the nature of meditation in which Brahman is realized. “When all the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not–then, say the wise, is reached the highest state. This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga. He who attains it is freed from delusions” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:10, 11).
So here are the characteristics of meditation which the upanishad calls “the highest state”: 1) the senses are stilled, 2) the mind is at rest, 3) the intellect wavers not. Then the idea is really driven home by the upanishad: “This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga.” Shankara affirms that the seeker of spiritual freedom is seeking nothing from meditation “other than the special serenity of meditation practice.” This state is also called sthirattwa by the yogis. “He who attains it is freed from delusion.” When Yogiraj Lahiri Mahasaya was asked: “On which deity do you meditate?” He simply replied: “I meditate on sthirattwa”–the serenity produced by meditation in which he ever dwelt, and of which he was the embodiment.
Two views on the nature of meditation–and a third
In India there is a long-standing disagreement on the nature and purpose of meditation. One school of thought considers that definite–and conscious–evolutionary change is necessary for liberation; consequently meditation must be an actively transforming process. The other view is that the only thing needed for liberation is re-entry into our true, eternal nature. That nothing need be “done” at all except to perceive the truth of ourselves. Obviously their meditation procedures are going to be completely different.
There is, however, a third perspective on the matter which combines both views. It is true that we are ever-free, ever-perfect, but we have forgotten that fact and have wandered in aimless suffering for countless incarnations. No one is so foolish as to suggest to a person suffering from amnesia that he need not regain his memory since he has not ceased to be who he really is.
The “memory block” from which we suffer is the condition of the various levels on which we presently function, especially the buddhi, the intelligence. It is also a matter of the dislocation of our consciousness from its natural center. Obviously, then, something really does have to be “done” to change this condition. A dirty window need not be changed in nature, but it needs to be cleansed of that which is not its nature for us to see through it. It is the same with a dusty or smudgy mirror.
There is an example from nature that can help us understand this. Research has shown that the energy field around a salamander egg, and all through the stages of a young salamander’s growth, is in the shape of an adult salamander. This indicates that the etheric pattern of a full-grown salamander is inherent even in the egg and throughout the salamander’s development. It is as though the egg has only to hatch and grow around this energy matrix, to fill out or grow into the ever-present pattern. Even when there is only the egg visible to the human eye, the adult salamander is there in a very real, potential form. It is the same with us. We are always the atman, potential divinity, but that potential must be realized. And meditation is the means of our realization.
Shankara puts forth the question, “How can there be a means to obtain liberation? Liberation is not a thing which can be obtained, for it is simply cessation of bondage.” He then answers himself: “For ignorance [bondage] to cease, something has to be done, with effort, as in the breaking of a fetter. Though liberation is not a ‘thing,’ inasmuch as it is cessation of ignorance in the presence of right knowledge, it is figuratively spoken of as something to be obtained.” And he concludes: “The purpose of Yoga is the knowledge of Reality.” Vyasa defines liberation in this way: “Liberation is absence of bondage.” Shankara carries it a bit further, saying: “Nor is liberation something that has to be brought about apart from the absence of bondage, and this is why it is always accepted that liberation is eternal.”
Pranava Yoga establishes our consciousness in the true Self and renders the chitta (mental energy, mind substance) free from outer-caused modifications or vrittis (waves). “Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the chitta,” is the beginning statement of the Yoga Sutras as well as being Patanjali’s definition of yoga. Aom meditation is the direct way to accomplish the suppression of modifications in the chitta, and is the yoga expounded by Patanjali.
All that exists is a manifestation of Aom which is the essence of all things and is perpetually sounding from within the heart (core) of all things, including us. To unite our awareness into that ever-flowing Aom through japa and meditation is the true “centering.” Aom japa and meditation put us in touch with that inmost stream or current so we can follow it back to its Divine Source.
True signs of progress in meditation
In Journey to Self-Realization, a collection of talks by Paramhansa Yogananda, at the end of the talk entitled “The True Signs of Progress in Meditation,” he gives the following list of seven indications of progress in meditation practice:
- An increasing peacefulness during meditation
- A conscious inner experience of calmness in meditation metamorphosing into increasing bliss.
- A deepening of one’s understanding, and finding answers to one’s questions through the calm intuitive state of inner perception.
- An increasing mental and physical efficiency in one’s daily life.
- Love for meditation and the desire to hold on to the peace and joy of the meditative state in preference to attraction to anything in the world.
- An expanding consciousness of loving all with the unconditional love that one feels toward his own dearest loved ones
- Actual contact with God, and worshipping Him as ever new Bliss felt in meditation and in His omnipresent manifestations within and beyond all creation.
Most “visions” seen in meditation occur because the meditator has fallen asleep and is dreaming. Yet there are genuine visions, actual psychic experiences, that occur in meditation. I say “genuine,” but Ramana Maharshi gives the true facts about all visions when he says: “Visions do occur. To know how you look you must look into a mirror, but do not take that reflection to be yourself. What is perceived by our senses and the mind is never the truth. [He means this in the ultimate sense. Even hallucinations are “real” mental phenomena.] All visions are mere mental creations, and if you believe in them, your progress ceases. Enquire to whom the visions occur. Find out who is their witness. Stay in pure awareness, free from all thoughts. Do not move out of that state” (The Power of the Presence, vol. 3, p. 249).
Falling asleep in meditation
It is normal for meditators to sometimes fall asleep while meditating, since meditation is relaxing and moves the consciousness inward. Both the body and the mind are used to entering into the state of sleep at such times. After a while, though, you will naturally (and hopefully, usually!) move into the conscious sleep state, so do not worry.
At the same time, be aware that falling asleep in meditation can be a signal from your body that you are not getting enough sleep. People are different, and some do need more than eight hour’s sleep. You should consider extending your sleep time or taking some kind of nap break during the day. Falling asleep in meditation can also be a symptom of a nutritional lack, an indication of low vitality.
Please do not do such things as shock your body with cold water, drink coffee, and run around a bit–hoping to force yourself to stay awake in meditation. This is not the way. Listen to your body and take care of it. Yogis are not storm-troopers. We are engaged in peace, not war.
We have talked about mental distractions, but what about physical ones? Simple: scratch when you itch, yawn when tired, shift or stretch when you have a muscle cramp, and if you feel uncomfortable, shift your position. We are meditating, not torturing or coercing the body. Such distractions are normal and not to be concerned about. If we give them undue attention by being annoyed or disgusted with them, or trying to force our attention away from them, we will only be concentrating on them, and will compound their distracting power. In time most of these little annoyances stop occurring. Until then, just be calm and scratch and rub and move a little, while keeping your awareness where it belongs.
What about noises? Accept them. Do not wish they would stop, and do not try to “not hear” them. Just accept the noise as part of your present situation. Neither like nor dislike it.
Care only for your meditation, confident that a few itchings, cramping, noises, thoughts, or memories will not ruin your meditation. “Greater is he [the spirit] that is in you, than he [the body] that is in the worlds” (I John 4:4). It is your attention to them, either in rejection or acceptance, that will spoil your meditation. You must guard against that, and relaxation and indifference to them is the way.
“The self resides within the lotus of the heart. Knowing this, devoted to the self, the sage enters daily that holy sanctuary” (Chandogya Upanishad 8:3:3).
Meditation should be done daily, and if possible it should be done twice daily–morning and evening, or before and after work, whichever is more convenient.
When your period of meditation is over, do your utmost to maintain the flow of the japa of Aom in time with your breathing in all your activities. For those who diligently and continually apply themselves, attainment is inevitable.
When you find yourself with some time–even a few minutes–during the day, sit and meditate. Every little bit certainly does help.
Length of meditation
How long at a time should you meditate? The more you meditate the more benefit you will receive, but you should not push or strain yourself. Start with a modest time–fifteen or twenty minutes–and gradually work up to an hour or an hour and a half, perhaps once a week meditating longer if that is practical. But do not force or burn yourself out. It is a common trick of the mind to have you meditate for a very long time and then skip some days or weeks and then overdo it again. It is better to do the minimum time every day without fail. Remember the tortoise and the hare.
Also, if you go about it the right way and live in the manner which makes you supremely responsive, one hour’s meditation can equal hours of “ordinary” meditation.
Keep it inside
Do not dissipate the calmness and centering gained through meditation by talking about it to others. Experiences in meditation are not only subtle, they are fragile, as delicate as spun glass, and speaking about them can shatter their beneficial effects. Bragging, eulogizing, and swapping notes about meditation experiences is a very harmful activity. Avoid it.
Do not satisfy any curiosity about your personal yogic experiences or benefits except in the most general terms. Naturally you can tell people that meditation helps you, but do so in only a general way unless you really feel intuitively that you should be more specific. When people seem truly interested in spiritual life and serious about it, give them a copy of this book, or of Introduction to Pranava Yoga, and discuss the general and practical aspects freely.
Although in this book you will find the word “concentration,” it is not used in the sense of forcing or tensing the mind. Rather, we are wanting to become aware–that is attentive–to the fullest degree. And this is accomplished in Pranava Yoga by relaxation in body, mind, and attitude. Our attention on Aom is always gentle, though determined. It is not a spike we are driving into our mind. We are floating in Aom, not crashing into it.
In meditation not just the body, but the mind must be relaxed. This relaxation is what most readily facilitates meditation. Think of the mind as a sponge, absolutely full of water. If you hold it in your hand, fully relaxed, all will be well. But if you grip it or squeeze it tightly, water will spray out in all directions. This is exactly how it is with the mind. If you “hold” it in a state of calm relaxation, very few distractions in the form of memories and thoughts will arise. But if you try to force the mind and tense it, then a multitude of distractions will arise.
Learning to continually do japa of Aom
By keeping up the inner repetition of Aom all the time, whatever you may be doing, you will be perpetually cultivating supreme awareness itself. A good way to get yourself habituated to the constant japa of Aom is to do japa while you are reading–simply looking at or scanning the page rather than verbalizing in your mind. (This is the secret of “speed reading.”) Once you learn to do that, since reading demands so much attention, you will pretty well be able to keep the japa going in other activities. Eventually you will able to do japa of Aom even when speaking with others.
Impulses to negativity or foolishness, whether mental or physical, exist in our minds in the form of samskaras or vasanas. (Samskaras are impressions in the mind produced by previous actions or experiences, and vasanas are bundles or aggregates of similar samskaras.) Worries and anxieties about these samskaras and vasanas in the form of “sins,” “temptations,” and “wrong thinking” torment a lot of seekers. Even more futile is obsession with “getting rid of the ego.” For the Aom yogi who regularly practices meditation and arranges his inner and outer life so as to avoid their counteracting or conflicting with his practice there is no need for such self-torture. Speaking of these negative and troublesome things, Shankara confidently says: “they are dissolved along with the receptacle, the chitta…. Because they have no effect, they are not given attention, for when a thing is falling of itself there is no point in searching for something to make it fall.” I. K. Taimni says: “As the object of meditation continues to fill the mind completely there can be no question of emptying the mind.”
Too upset to meditate?
I knew a man who frequently refused medication, saying, “I’m too sick right now to take medicine. I’ll take it when I feel better.” This amazed me, but we tend to do the same thing regarding meditation. It is the only way to real peace, but when our lives are being swept with the storms of grief, disaster, fears, anger, and suchlike, we say the same thing. “I am too upset to meditate. I’ll do it later.” But meditation has the ability to soothe and eliminate all disturbed thoughts and inner states. So whenever any distracted or negative conditions arise in our minds and lives, meditation is the key to peace and clear thinking.
Focus on prakriti
Pranava Yoga affects our energy-bodies, not our inner consciousness–it reveals our consciousness rather than changes it. The purpose of Pranava Yoga is liberation, and to this end it affects the prakriti (energy complex) which is the adjunct of our purusha. Because of this, it is only natural and right that thoughts, impressions, sensations and feelings of many kinds should arise as you meditate, since your meditation is evoking them as part of the transformation process. All you need do is stay relaxed and keep on intoning Aom in time with the breath.
The Aom yogi is already in the Self, is the Self, so in Pranava Yoga he is looking at/into his personal prakriti in the same way God observes the evolving creation. Pranava Yoga purifies and evolves the bodies, including the buddhi, and realigns our consciousness with its true state, accomplishing the aims of both schools of meditational thought mentioned. “Aom is Brahman. Aom is all this. He who utters Aom with the intention ‘I shall attain Brahman’ does verily attain Brahmans” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1).
Since we are talking about material things (prakriti), this might be a good place to mention that it is best to meditate without shoes, because shoes (whatever material they are made from) carry the vibration of the dirt they contact each day.
A matter of magnetism
Prana takes on many forms, including biomagnetism, the force which maintains our body and its functions. The body itself is magnetic, and any disturbance in polarity or magnetic flow is detrimental to health. Leather inhibits the natural flow of the life force (prana). Leather shoes block the upward flow of prana from the earth into our bodies, and leather belts interfere with the flow of prana within the body. On the more metaphysical side of things, the use of leather–or any slaughtered-animal-derived substance–in any manner is a violation of the principle of ahimsa, as Yogananda points out in chapter four of Autobiography of a Yogi. It is also an infraction of the principle of shaucha. (See “The Foundations of Yoga” in How to be a Yogi.)
It has long been my experience that sleeping with the head toward the north (the feet pointing south) can cause a magnetic conflict or disturbance in the body, adversely affecting sleep–and even causing nervousness and restlessness. This is also the experience of many yogis I have known.
A great secret
“Receive that Word from which the Universe springeth!…How many are there who know the meaning of that Word?” asked Kabir.
Aom is a great secret–the secret of enlightenment. But how is it a secret, when it has been written and talked about so much, and is repeated at the beginning and end of sacred recitations, and eulogized as the highest and holiest of mantras? A story from India will tell us how.
Once a man was taught a mantra by a yogi. “You must keep this mantra absolutely secret, for it is known to only a very few,” the yogi told him. But the next day in the morning as the man walked through the town he noticed that a great many people were repeating that mantra aloud–especially as they did their morning ablutions. Indignantly he went to the yogi, told what he had observed, and demanded to know why he had claimed the mantra was a secret known only to a few. The yogi said nothing in explanation, but brought a shining green object from his pocket and handed it to the man with the instruction that he should show it to the people he met in the town and ask them how much they would buy it for–but he was not to actually sell it to them. “When you do this, I will explain about the mantra,” he promised.
The first person he met was a woman who sold vegetables; she offered some eggplants for it, wanting it for her baby to play with. He showed it to some merchants in small shops who offered him small amounts of money for it as a curiosity. A wealthy merchant said that it was an excellent imitation emerald and offered him a goodly sum, for he wanted it to make jewelry for his wife. A banker examined it, declared it to be a genuine emerald, and offered him a great deal of money for it. Amazed by this, the man took it to a jeweler who told him that it was the largest and most perfect emerald he had ever seen. “No one in this land, not even the king, has enough money to purchase this emerald,” he concluded.
Frightened at having such a valuable in his keeping, the man hurried back to the yogi and returned the emerald. Smiling, the yogi put it back in his pocket. “Now will you tell me why you claimed the mantra was secret, when everybody in town seems to know it?” demanded the man. “I have already done so by your experience with the emerald,” the yogi replied. “How many of the people knew what it really was?” “Only the banker and the jeweler,” the man admitted. “And the others–did not their offers for it correspond to their opinion of it and their own financial worth?” “Yes.” “There you have it. The mantra I taught you is in the memory and on the lips of many in a superficial way. They repeat it a few times and then drop it. Only those who meditate upon it can know it in truth–as they at the same time increase in spiritual status. My friend, that mantra is very little known, but I hope you will strive to realize its value by your own Self-realization through its use.”
The man understood. And so will those who come to know the secret of Aom through their own practice. For it is Aom that draws us out from the Primal Depths, Aom that evolves us to the uttermost possibilities, and Aom that liberates and returns us to the Source to share eternally in the fullness of the Life Divine.
Read the next chapter in Pranava Yoga: AOM in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras
Pranava Yoga links:
Preface to Pranava Yoga: Yoga and Freedom
- The Word That Is God
- Pranava Yoga Meditation
- The Yogi’s Subtle Anatomy
- Breath and Sound in Meditation
- Points For Successful Meditation
- AOM in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutras
- The Glories and Powers of AOM
- Afterword: It Is All Up To You
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary
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