Monday is AUM-day; in search of meditation.
We have been exploring the writings of Gurudev, through his book 'Meditation & Life'. All the instructive chapters have been rendered and now there follows twelve 'chapters' which are designed for contemplation both before and after each meditation session. Please note that the actual writings of Gurudev are quite lengthy, so only the gist and key points are going to be given here. You are again encouraged to seek out a copy of the book to keep to hand as it is an inspiration and with each reading something more will drop into place.
Ch. 32; Study, Japa and Meditation.
Now we must consider how best to apply meditation in our daily life; too easily worldly infringements and agitations arise to distract us or our internal environment means we succumb to fantasies and emotions of our own making. How to do this thing?
Saadhana - the diligent practice/performance - of the principles from the beginning to the end. ...Are you now asking 'what principles'?! Go back and read again!!! The Rsis left a worthy formula of practice. Saadhana must have an intelligent approach, logical, yet practical, so that the average person can begin the climb to moksha. Such a practice will not be without its challenges and hurdles - all top athletes will tell you 'no pain no gain'. You must become a spiritual athlete. A degree of heroism is required in order to gain results. If you are reading this now without having begun at the first text here at AV-blog, then you may have missed the point that everything begins with study. The Sadhana Panchakam is a text specific to what a seeker may expect as s/he takes up the path of Vedanta. With that short poem of five shlokas, Adi Shankara laid out the forty steps of saadhana. Study is the first and must remain throughout.
Study must be undertaken in a full-hearted and participative way; participation meaning applying the things read into life. A musician, on reading the sheet music, may well know what is going on with the music, but the only way to prove the truth of that is to apply (play) it; then the only way to know how successful was the playing is to play it before an audience, whose feedback and reactions will be valuable for fine-tuning the performance. In daily reading the scriptures, we must inculcate the teachings and permit them to enter our thoughts, words and deeds, so that our 'audience' - the world around us - can give us feedback as to how we are doing. This is first-step saadhana. In studying, however, we must also consider attending groups and sessions where we can hear those with more expertise and more advanced learning, in order to benefit from their experience. The reading and listening attentively is called as shravanam. The inculcation and application, the working over the arguments and sorting out our conclusions till we are satisfied that what we have read or heard is honest and pertinent is the stage of saadhana called as mananam.
Application of such principles as ahimsa (no harm), bhakti (Divine Love), seva (selfless service) is considered as a necessary part of Dharma (correct and dutiful living) and may be referred to as Karma Yoga - the path of action. There are some folk for whom this is their preferred path and they use this alone as their spiritual means. We all may use it as our 'scourer', the method of purifying ourselves of negative influence and ingrained vaasanas. Therefore each action we undertake can be offered up in saadhana. Once we become more active in actual study and daily reading of shaastra and puranas and suchlike, then we are truly participating in spiritual life. Once we begin attending classes and discourses, we can be said to be undertaking %pasn/upaasana (sitting near). Upaasana can also be used in the context of sitting quietly and bringing the image of our ishta devetaa (personal god-image) into our mind thus bringing Him close to ourselves. To deepen this further, dedicated periods of each day may become necessary.
This is where japa comes in. The action of turning the beads narrows our focus whilst the chanting of mantra brings Brahman closer to us. For novices this must be practiced in short bursts. The mind needs to be tamed in the same way an athlete's muscles must be strengthened or a musician learns a new piece. A little at a time till each part is perfected, then adding a bit more and a bit more, lengthening the time and deepening the focus.
In Yoga Vishista, a text wherein the great sage Vashista advises Shri Rama on matters of spiritual practice, the following is said, "After listening, study, then japa, then practice meditation. After emerging from meditation, engage in listening, study and japa. After japa, meditate. At the end of meditation, pursue japa. One who is thus well trained in japa and meditation is a steady seeker upon whom the Auspiciousness is sure to shower Its grace."
All spiritual practices are training by which the disturbances of the thoughts in our mind are brought to a minimum. In the hush of this relatively quiet space, the practice of meditation takes on an efficiency not previously felt. There comes a sense of expansion and the essence of pure joy spreads in. This state leaves behind for a short time a subjective sense of holiness and contentment; it is the first experience that assures the student of further rewards ahead. With the diligent practice, even this 'base camp of bliss' can seem like an ecstasy; the eager student will never turn away from it now. A warning however - there are those who get lost in this first plateau, where sometimes there can be 'experiences'… the intelligent and attentive sadhaka will understand that these are still further distractions and tests. Continued application and practice is required, as Vashishta's words indicate. Life takes on a new turn now as meditation becomes a driving need in each day and life becomes arranged around it. What is more, the life which must be lived around it takes on improvements, relationships change, all nonsense drops away. As the mind retires from the world of objects, drawing further into the meditative realms, the meditator finds what Gurudev terms 'mystic regions of strange beauty leading to extreme peace.' The ultimate goal is samaadhi, the transcendental existence, which only the most dedicated are likely to achieve - however, there are many joys to be had from meditation along the way!
It is not for no reason that meditation has been embraced all over the global community, whether or not philosophy is provided with it. It may be commented, though, that having the understanding of the proper philosophy of meditation is much more likely to bring success - simply telling people to 'empty their mind', without any logical basis and proper support for the how and why of it, will rarely bring true benefits.
Our mental power is so readily invested in the external. Learn to bring it inwards and watch it explode! Remember to hasten sincerely, but slowly.