The practice of subjective techniques that form part of a larger discipline and way of life that may ultimately lead to enlightenment or liberation. It is also used for other purposes such as the relief of stress, curing addictions, improvement of concentration and other appropriate objectives.
Meditation is a discipline involving the management of the mind, the cultivation of concentration and one-pointedness, and is initially intended to harmonize the various components of the self. Such internal harmony will bring about a condition where the individual may draw closer to the spiritual level of being.
Early Indian writings such as the Upaniads imply a profound knowledge of meditation practice, thus meditation was, in India, a recognized pursuit more than 3,000 years ago. In the Bible we read, “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide” (Gen. XXIV, 63). Much later, in the Yoga Aphorisms of Patañjali, an Indian sage, we find a text dealing with meditation and awareness. It has not been found possible to assign a firm date for Patañjali. Hiriyanna (Outlines of Indian Philosophy) suggests “fifth century CE”; the Columbia Encyclopedia article on “Yoga” gives 2nd BCE. Helena P. Blavatsky in her Theosophical Glossary, considers that Patañjali is a contemporary of the great grammarian Pānini and writes of him, “The date assigned to him by the Orientalists is 200 BC; and by the occultists nearer to 700 than 600 BC.” Blavatsky considered that he was a Trans-Himalayan Adept. Thus meditation has a long history and for it to persist over such a long period must lend the subject considerable significance.
In an article attributed to Blavatsky there is a statement that sheds light on the deeper purpose of meditation:
In his hours of silent meditation the student will find that there is one space of silence within him where he can find refuge from thoughts and desires, from the turmoil of the senses and the delusions of the mind. By sinking his consciousness deep into his heart he can reach this place — at first only when he is alone in silence and darkness. But when the need for the silence has grown great enough he will turn to seek it even in the midst of struggle with self, and he will find it. Only he must not let go of his outer self, or his body; he must learn to retire into this citadel when the battle grows fierce but to do so without losing sight of the battle; without allowing himself to fancy that by so doing he has won the victory. That victory is won only when all is silence without as within the inner citadel. Fighting thus, from within that silence, the student will find that he has solved the first great paradox. (CW VIII:127-8)
Referred to is the apparent contradiction arising where the aspirant expects to be instructed in lofty aims of the spirit, but is required to concentrate first on the mastery of the lower self.
Many kinds of spiritual meditation have been promoted of recent years. Hinduism has produced the most widely known and prolific systems. There are many yogas, such as Bhakti, Rāja, Jñāna, Tantra, etc. The Vipassanā meditation method has many centers around the world. There are many monks of Theravada, Mahāyāna and Tibetan persuasion teaching spiritual self-cultural techniques. Perhaps one of the most widely known systems of meditation in the West is Transcendental Meditation.
Most systems of meditation employ similar basic procedures. A place that is quiet and free from interruption is to be used. One sits cross-legged, a position known as the lotus posture; if that position is not possible for some physical reason, then one may sit in a chair with the spine straight and hands on knees (called the Egyptian posture). Breathing is to be slow and deep; the breath is observed and this act of attention serves to concentrate the mind. After a time attention is shifted from the breath to the mind itself; the occurrence of thought is noted non-judgmentally from a position of detachment. With practice it becomes possible to reduce the activity of the mind and focus it on some appropriate symbol or ideal. As one attempts to concentrate the mind on the chosen symbol or mantra it frequently wanders away; one gently and without judgment brings the mind back to the chosen subject. Some systems begin and end the meditation by sounding the mantra “aum” and perhaps offering blessings on all living things.
Looking more closely at the various approaches to meditation it is possible to discern two basic kinds. One is that of a focus on “concentration” where the meditator attempts to concentrate the mind on an object for an extended period. Another seeks “mindful awareness” in which the stillness that is gained through concentration is used genuinely to understand the illusory nature of all experience.
Many responsible meditation teachers have emphasized the need for a sensible approach to mind management; a trivial attitude may have undesirable consequences. The late Christmas Humphreys was most emphatic about this matter. He points out that, “The sole right motive for mind-development, [is] the enlightenment of the meditator, for the benefit of all mankind” (The Buddhist Way of Life, p. 100).
The various hazards attended upon a cavalier approach to meditation are avoided if the eight stages of R€ja Yoga are observed. The first two stages are concerned with ethical behavior:
- Yama: harmless living, truthfulness, not to steal, mastery of sexual drive, and non-acquisitiveness.
- Niyama: not to cling to material things, contentment, simplicity of lifestyle, meditational study of spiritual writings and the quest for direct knowledge of reality, and self-surrender.
- These are followed by posture, management of vital energy (prānā) and breath, detachment of the mind from sensory input, one-pointedness, meditation and finally the entering of a higher consciousness state.
- Consideration of the foregoing will make plain the reason why Rāja Yoga has not gained as much popularity in the West as has Hatha Yoga and widespread systems such as Transcendental Meditation, Vipassanā, etc. Rāja Yoga’s emphasis on a total change of lifestyle and high ethics as a prelude to meditation might be considered daunting.
Mention must be made of a few meditation systems that have gained much popularity during recent years.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) was given much publicity when some of the so-called “Beatles” popular music group studied under the founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It is essentially part of JÑANA YOGA and can trace its origins back to the Advaita school of Śankarācārya. Meditators are given a mantra which they use to gain stillness of mind and one-pointedness.
Zen meditation became very popular during the latter half of the twentieth century, particularly in the US. The term “Zen” is derived from the Pāli word jhāna and the Sanskrit dhyāna through the Chinese Ch’an school; a slightly different derivation from the Sanskrit jñāna, the Pāli jnāna and hence the Chinese ch’an has been suggested by some scholars. The patriarch Bodhidharma (6th century CE) is considered the founder. Zen, as brought to the West, has always insisted on a strict code of practice. The meditation hall must be bare of all ornament and meditators sit in lines facing the wall; there is a strict segregation of the sexes. The sessions (called zazen, Japanese for “Zen sitting”) initially place emphasis on concentration and an attempt is made to “dissolve” perceived differences between things. One “tool” used to manage the mind is the kōan; this is employed primarily by the Rinzai Sect. A kōan is a question that cannot be answered by a process of reasoning, so the meditator has to transcend logic and in doing so may enter into a higher state of consciousness. This school teaches that spiritual enlightenment is not found by the practice of doctrinal study, but only through the direct perception of one’s own mind by meditation.
Gottfried de Purucker wrote,
- What is meditation? I would say in view of the many and very different opinions that are held about what men call meditation in the Occident, that meditation is the choosing of a subject of thought and allowing the spirit to brood upon it in quiet and peace, holding it steadily before the inner eye, and studying it without any effort of the brain-mind (for that tires); brooding upon the idea in peace and quiet. It is a wonderful spiritual exercise.
- . . . And there is a faculty in the human being, a faculty that is alas in most men utterly unused, the power to penetrate into the very heart and essence of things and for the time being to be them. Thus you know. You return from this wonderful pilgrimage or journey of exploration a nobler and better man. You have enlarged your consciousness, you have learned something; and this is the real meaning of genuine meditation when this exercise is practised in less important things than the one just mentioned above. (Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 468-9)
One of the non-traditional approaches to meditation is the “Choiceless Awareness” of J. KRISHNAMURTI, who received his initial training in the Theosophical Society and began his work under the aegis of the Society. Krishnamurti’s view of the human condition is similar to that of Buddhism. The world around us and our minds are ever changing, nothing is permanent. We cling to the personal “I” which is equally illusory.
Krishnamurti did not advocate formal meditation because, in his opinion, one uses the mind to create further snares. He objected to techniques of any sort and maintained that one ought not to bow to authority in matters of self-culture. The procedure he proposed was that of “choiceless awareness,” the experiencing of what “is” without naming. When achieved this state is beyond all thought. Thought is of, or in, the past and true meditation is placed firmly in the present moment. His instruction to a group of young children was delightfully simple and seems to encapsulate his philosophy. He suggested that they sit still with eyes closed and watch the progression of their thoughts. This they should do when walking or in bed at night. He likened this to watching a lizard walking by on a wall; see every detail of the lizard, how it walks, but just watch. He named this attention “self-knowledge.”
Modern technology has been brought to bear on meditation and some interesting data has emerged. The electroencephalograph is an instrument that registers and records the electrical activity of the brain. These so-called “brain-waves” exhibit variations which are closely allied to such states as sleeping, waking, and intermediate states such as reverie. It has been demonstrated by numerous experiments on meditators that a condition of deep meditation results in a modification of the brain-waves to that prevailing in sleep although the subject is actually wide awake and reports enhanced awareness. Since mind condition and the emotions are closely associated, it follows that meditation may often have a beneficial effect on a patient suffering emotional problems. Here, however, it is necessary to introduce a note of warning: the use of meditation for therapeutic purposes ought to be by an appropriate professional or at least following his or her recommendation.
Blavatsky’s Diagram of Meditation. H. P. Blavatsky taught a system of meditation to her pupils that consists of specific acquisitions and deprivations:
- First conceive of UNITY by expansion in Space and infinite in Time. Then meditate logically and consistently on this in reference to States of Consciousness. Then the normal state of our consciousness must be molded by Three Acquisitions:
- 1. Perpetual presence in imagination in all Space and Time. From this originates a substratum of memory which does not cease in dreaming or waking. Its manifestation is courage. With memory of universality all dread vanishes during the dangers and trials of life.
- 2. A continued attempt at an attitude of mind to all existing things which is neither love, hate, nor indifference. Different in external activity to each because in each the capacity alters. Mentally the same to all. Equilibrium and constant calm. Greater ease in practicing the “virtues” which are really the outcome of wisdom. For benevolence, sympathy, justice, etc. arise from the intuitive identification of the individual with others, although unknown to the personality.
- 3. The perception in all embodied beings of limitation only. Criticism without praise or blame.
- Acquisition is completed by the conception “I am all Space and Time.” Beyond that . . . it cannot be said.
- Five Deprivations:
- 1. Separations and meetings, association with places; times and forms, futile longings, expectations, and memories and broken heartedness.
- 2. The distinction between friend and foe, resulting in anger or bias — replaced by judgment.
- 3. Possessions. Greed, selfishness, ambition.
- 4. Personality. Vanity, remorse.
- 5. Sensation. Gluttony, lust, etc.
- These deprivations are produced by the perpetual imagination — without self-delusion — of “I am without. . . .” The recognition of their being the source of bondage, ignorance and strife. (There is no risk of self-delusion if the personality is deliberately forgotten.)
- Deprivation is completed by the meditation “I am without attributes.” All passions and virtues interblend with each other.
Although such persons as Blavatsky (CW XII:615) and Ernest Wood (Raja Yoga: the Occult Training of the Hindus) wrote approvingly of R€ja Yoga, the Theosophical Society does not impose or urge any particular system of self-culture on its members; members are free to choose or not to choose any method.
See also YOGA; RĀJA YOGA; SAMĀDHI.
© Copyright by the Theosophical Publishing House, Manila