H.P.B. on Meditation & Yoga
An Article by Geoffrey Farthing
Many books have been written on the subject of meditation and yoga but very few in the light of Theosophy and fewer still against the specific teachings of H.P.B. and her Masters.
The main sources of our information are the third volume of The Secret Doctrine (1897 Edition) (S.D.), Volume XII of the Collected Writings (de Zirkoff) (CW), certain passages elsewhere in the Collected Writings, the writings of Subba Rao and last but very importantly H.P.B.'s Meditation Diagram. Coupled with all these and specifically referred to by H.P.B. is The Voice of the Silence. What H.P.B. has to say sometimes goes directly counter to much written elsewhere about both meditation and some types of yoga and their practice. These notes are written for the more serious theosophical student who is attempting to find his own way into these practices without a competent teacher.
On page 490 of S.D.III (C.W.XII, 603) the question ‘Is the practice of concentration beneficent?’ follows a dissertation on spiritual ‘healing’. H.P.B. answers:
Genuine concentration and meditation, conscious and cautious, upon one's lower self in the light of the inner divine man and the Paramitas, is an excellent thing. But ‘to sit for Yoga’ with only a superficial and often distorted knowledge of the real practice, is almost invariably fatal; for ten to one the student will either develop mediumistic powers himself or lose time and get disgusted both with practice and theory. Before one rushes into such a dangerous experiment and seeks to go beyond a minute examination of ones lower self and its walk in life, or that which is called in our phraseology, ‘The Chela's Daily Life Ledger’, he would do well to learn at least the difference between the two aspects of ‘Magic’, the White or Divine, and the Black or Devilish, and assure himself that by ‘sitting for Yoga’, with no experience, as well as with no guide to show him the dangers, he does not daily and hourly cross the boundaries of the Divine to fall into the Satanic.
Elsewhere H.P.B. has been at pains to ensure that we know this difference. The divine has to do with our inner, Egoic, spiritual selves, which she sometimes refers to as the Upper Triad (Atma, Buddhi, Manas). The satanic is anything which benefits the lower self, with primarily a selfish motive. This means particularly the acquisition of so-called spiritual powers which, she says, are relatively easy of attainment. Then she goes on to say:
Nevertheless, the way to learn the difference is very easy. One has only to remember that no Esoteric truths entirely unveiled will ever be given in public print, in book or magazine. [S.D.II, 490]
This is an important statement that should guide us in our views in many other aspects of Occultism or Theosophy when we think maybe we are being given access to real secrets.
To the solo student other warnings are given which in themselves provide useful guidance. For example:
Having neither dogma nor ritual - these two being but fetters, a material body which suffocates the soul - we do not employ the ‘ceremonial magic’ of the Western Kabalists. We know its dangers too well to have anything to do with it. [C.W.XI, 266]
Schism has crept in, and has fastened, like a hideous cancer, on the fair body of early Buddhism - Nagarjuna's Mahayana (‘Great Vehicle’) School was opposed by the Hinayana (or ‘Little Vehicle’) System, and even the Yogacharya of Aryasanga became disfigured by the yearly pilgrimage from India to the shores of Mansarovara, of hosts of vagabonds with matted locks who play at being Yogins and Fakirs, preferring this to work. An affected detestation of the world, and the tedious and useless practice of the counting of inhalations and exhalations as a means to produce absolute tranquillity of mind or meditation, have brought this school within the region of Hatha-Yoga and have made it heir to the Brahmanical Tirthikas. [C.W.XIV, 434]
This passage warns us about the dangers of schisms arising within a spiritual organization such as the T.S. because it inevitably means a division by mere personal opinion about the teachings which originated in a non-personal source and were therefore not subject to opinion. And then the last sentence should be particularly noted. How many of us have spent even years of our lives in such a practice?
By way of encouragement we have the following:
Any virtuous man can reach by Naljor-ngonsum (‘meditation by self perception’) the intuitive comprehension of the four truths, without either belonging to a monastic order or having been initiated. [C.W.XIV, 438]
These passages from Vol XIV of the Collected Writings should be referred to by the more serious student: there is much information in them throwing light on many aspects of the subject of which he might otherwise be quite unaware. For the sake of brevity they have been omitted here.
In all the instructions she gives H.P.B. assumes that the student is at least familiar with the constitution of man, i.e. his seven principles and their groupings, particularly into the three higher and the four lower, as given in her writings. It should be particularly noted that these do not correspond to those of the second generation theosophists and her instructions could not be understood in the light of the latter. The three higher principles, Atma, Buddhi and Upper Manas, constitute the Upper Triad, the Egoic individuality: the physical body, the Linga Sarira, Prana, and the Kama principle (associated with lower manas) constitute the Lower Quaternary, the personality.
The above becomes important when we are trying to discover the nature of AUM and the sounding of it as an aid to Meditation to which H.P.B. ascribes importance. There is the following paragraph:
The word AUM or OM which corresponds to the Upper Triad, if pronounced by a very holy and pure man, will draw out, or awaken, not only the less exalted Potencies residing in the planetary spaces and elements, but even his Higher Self, or the ‘Father’ within him. Pronounced by the averagely good man, in the correct way, it will help to strengthen him morally, especially if between two ‘AUMS’, he meditates intently upon the AUM within him, concentrating all his attention upon the ineffable glory. [S.D.III, 450, (C.W.XII, 534)]
But then there is the following warning:
But woe to the man who pronounces it after the commission of some far-reaching sin: he will only thereby attract to his own impure photosphere invisible Presences and Forces which could not otherwise break through the Divine Envelope.
In another place H.P.B. explains the significance of ‘Aum’ in relation to the mystic sentence ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ which, quoting:
Rightly understood, instead of being composed of the almost meaningless words ‘Oh the Jewel in the Lotus’, contains a reference to this indissoluble union between man and the universe rendered in seven different ways and having the capability of seven different applications to as many planes of thought and action.
From whatever aspect we examine it, it means ‘I am that I am’: ‘I am in thee and thou art in me’. In this conjunction and close union a good and pure man becomes a God. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he will bring about, or innocently cause to happen, unavoidable results ... which will be of benefit and protection to men individually and by groups. [S.D.III, 437; C.W.XII, 517]
In the utterance of the word AUM man can turn his attention towards and make contact with his own inner Higher Self. The aspiring student should study this page.
Not long before she died H.P.B. dictated to a Mr Sturdy, one of the members of her Inner Group, the material for what has now become known as her Meditation Diagram. This has been reproduced in The Theosophist before but perhaps a repetition of its inclusion as part of this article is justified.
This Diagram if used intently and persistently can yield some very significant results, the chief of which is the reorientation of attention from the personal to the impersonal self, even to the liberation of consciousness from the limitations of personal mind thinking and from the identification of consciousness with the personality.
The Diagram of Meditation is really in two parts.
(1) To start, H.P.B.says, ‘First conceive of UNITY by Expansion in Space and infinite in Time (either with or without self-identification)’. Here again we have a technique which is 'consciousness-raising' in itself. It relates us to the cosmic 'whole' and lifts our attention out of the realms of limitation. If we imagine ourselves ‘.. in Space and infinite in Time’, we cease to be in relation with anything we normally know or can conceive of. Space here does not relate to physical 3-D extension but to subjective space, that space 'we' (as a unit of bare subjectivity) are in when we close our eyes. Normally we fill it with mind images and thought symbols, but in this instruction we are to think of Unity, in the abstract, by expansion in space. This removes our attention, from the familiar to the 'boundless'. It is a way of helping us realize the 'inner divine man' as the point of reference for all experience and mental activity. In this exercise that point of consciousness becomes our inner Self, our real single Self as opposed to the multitude of 'selves' which make up our personality.
We are then told to ‘meditate logically and consistently on this (Unity, etc.) in reference to states of consciousness’. Normally these are the four: waking, dreaming, deep sleep and the transcendental state of Turiya. This exercise must be done to be appreciated. There is much information on the states in Subba Rao's Esoteric Writings, pp 133 (fn), and 311 (an interesting explanation).
All that he says can be summarised as follows; the four states are:-
1) Jagrat Normal Waking State
2) Swapna Dreaming
3) Sushupti Dreamless Sleep
4) Turiya Transcendental Conscious Union with one's Ego
The Vedanta Philosophy teaches as much as Occult Philosophy that our Monad during its life on earth as a Triad (7th, 6th and 5th principles) has, besides the condition of pure intelligence, three conditions, namely waking, dreaming and sushupti - a state of dreamless sleep - from the standpoint of terrestrial conceptions; of real, actual, soul life - from the occult standpoint, while man is either dreamlessly profoundly asleep or in a trance state, the Triad (spirit, soul, mind) enters into perfect union with the para-atma, the supreme universal soul. The Turiya state is a kamaless one and cannot be obtained by the Yogi unless the Higher Triad is separated from the Lower Quaternary (see S.D.III, 540). The higher spiritual consciousness is described in C.W.XII, 711.
(2) The second part of the Diagram of Meditation consists of important aids prefaced by ‘Then the normal state of our consciousness must be moulded by:-‘. Then there are two headings: 'Acquisitions' and 'Deprivations' summarised briefly in what follows. Under 'Acquisitions' there are three main elements: i) ‘Perpetual presence in imagination in all space and time’; ii) Continued attempt at attitude of mind to all existing things, which is neither love, hate nor indifference’; iii) ‘The perception in all embodied beings of limitation only’. For meditation purposes these are extended and illustrated. Time spent in meditation on the 'Acquisitions' establishes a point of view (centre of awareness) which becomes distinct from whatever one is thinking about. The content of our thought becomes objective to us, as subject, the point of awareness. These Acquisitions, she says, are completed by the thought ‘I am all Space and Time.’
In the middle leg of Acquisitions, H.P.B. refers to the six virtues set out in verses 207 to 213 of The Voice of the Silence. For would-be meditators there is no better material for contemplation than that little book. In the Preface to it H.P.B. explains that the treatises she selected for translation from the original, ‘will best suit the few real mystics in the Theosophical Society, and (which) are sure to answer their needs’. Much of what she says about the practice of meditation she prefaces with the necessity for high morality and purity, the theme of much of the book.
Under the heading of 'Deprivations' we are instructed to steadily deny reality to: i) Separations and meetings, explained as association with places, times and forms; ii) The distinction, friend and foe; iii) Possessions; iv) Personality; v) Sensation. Each of these is illustrated and explained for meditation purposes, in a very illuminating and meaningful way.
A note summarizes the importance of our reviewing the 'Deprivations' in the light of 'the inner divine man'. Our unit of consciousness (now free in space and time and the conditioning of the personality) is the nearest most of us will be able to get to 'the inner divine man' to begin with. The note says, we should cultivate the perpetual imagination - without self delusion - of ‘I am without’; the recognition of their being the source of bondage, ignorance and strife. ‘Deprivation’ is completed by the meditation ‘I am without attributes’.
An immediate difficulty arises when we think about these 'Deprivations' and identify ourselves with them. This note helps correct that attitude and see that we ourselves as freed units of consciousness, i.e. our inner divine selves, do not have these attributes. We are 'deprived' of them. We, our proper Selves, are never so conditioned, hence the injunction to meditate with the words ‘I am without attributes’. To start with and to realize the truth of this can be somewhat frightening. However, if we succeed, we have entered into a state of real freedom which can never again be lost completely. Yet somehow or other our real identity has not been lost although we then could not say what precisely we were. In other words we now, as 'inner divine Beings', have broken the habitual identity in consciousness with our personalities. A note on the Diagram says, ‘There is no risk of self-delusion if the personality is deliberately forgotten’.
Having achieved this initial stage of liberation we have to train our lower selves in the practice of the virtues, and H.P.B. says that now there will be 'greater ease' in practising them. Quoting The Voice of the Silence, the virtues (Paramitas) are i) Charity and love immortal; ii) Harmony in word and act; iii) Patience sweet; iv) Indifference to pleasure and pain; v) Dauntless energy; vi) Dhyana, whose golden gate once opened leads the Narjol (a saint or adept) towards the realm of Sat eternal and its ceaseless contemplation; vii) Prajna, the key to which makes of man a god, creating him a Bodhisattva. This is the end result of all meditation and spiritual development.
It may be a long time before most of us can achieve, to a significant degree, the sixth and seventh virtues but the first five have some immediate reality for us and the persistent practice of them certainly changes us and our lives greatly to their benefit: then all those with whom we associate, and our environment, benefit accordingly.
There are many references in the classical H.P.B. literature to Hatha Yoga and mostly they are warnings against its practice. For example,
Pranayama ... without the previous acquisition of or at least full understanding of the two higher senses, of which there are seven ... pertains to the lower yoga [Hatha Yoga]. The Hatha so-called was and still is discountenanced by the Arhats. It is injurious to the health and alone can never develop into Raja Yoga.
[S.D.I, 95 (orig. ed.), 121 (3rd ed.), 157 (4th ed.)]
Again the two highest tattvas were ignored by exoteric yoga philosophy and Hatha Yoga, but these two are the chief factors in Raja Yoga. No spiritual or intellectual phenomena of a high nature can take place without them, they being the Adi tattva (first Logos, corresponding to Atma) and Anupadaka tattva (second Logos, corresponding to Buddhi). The other tattvas mentioned are Akasa (as Ether), Vayu (Air), Tejas (Fire), Apas (Water) and Prithivi (Earth). Note that akasa is Ether and corresponds to mind, Tejas is luminosity in the atmosphere. Another warning, ‘the Hatha Yogi uses powers only on the material plane’, and then there is a dissertation on the use of will power which specifically states that it does not involve the suppression of breath (see S.D.III, 503, C.W.XII, 616).
There is further instruction by H.P.B. to her Inner Group (see end of S.D.III, which is also in ‘The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky’ reconstructed by H.J. Spierenburg), most of it of an advanced and technical nature not touched on here.
The above article first appeared in 'The Theosophist' Magazine, December 1992