Thursday, 14 April 2016
Sunday, 3 January 2016
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Experiences and Obstacles During Meditationby Swami Sivananda
WHAT HAPPENS DURING MEDITATION
In Nididhyasana or profound and continued meditation, thinking ceases. There is only one idea of "Aham Brahmasmi." When this idea also is given up, Nirvikalpa Samadhi or Sahaja Advaita-Nishtha ensues. Just as salt melts in water, the Sattvic mind melts in silence in Brahman-its Adhishthana (substratum).
EXPERIENCES IN MEDITATION
Various persons get various spiritual experiences. There cannot be a common experience for all. It depends upon the temperament, mode of Sadhana, place of concentration and various other factors. Some hear melodious sounds in the ears. Some see lights. Some get Ananda (spiritual bliss). Some get both Prakasa and Ananda. During meditation, you may experience that you are rising from your seat. Some experience that they fly in the air.
The Divine light comes not through open doors, but only through narrow slits. The aspirant sees the Divine Ray as a sunbeam passing through a chick into a dark room. It is like a 'flash of lightning.' This sudden illumination chokes all sounds of words. The aspirant is spell-bound in ecstasy and awe. He trembles with love and awe, just as Arjuna did when he had the Virat-Visvarupa-Darsana of Lord Krishna. So bright and glorious is the Light environing the Divine that the initiate is dazzled and bewildered.
During meditation, the colour of lights that you see varies according to the Tattva that flows through the nostrils. If there is Agni-Tattva, you will see red-coloured lights. If Akasa-Tattva flows, you will have blue-coloured lights. If Apas-Tattva (water) prevails, you will see white-coloured lights. If there is Prithvi-Tattva, you will have yellow lights. If there is Vayu-Tattva, you will see black colour. You can change the Tattva by various ways. But the best way is by thought. "As you think, so you also become." When the Agni-Tattva flows, think intently of Apas-Tattva. Apas-Tattva will begin to flow soon.
During meditation, you get rapture or ecstasy. It is of five kinds viz., the lesser thrill, momentary rapture, flooding rapture, transporting rapture and all-pervading rapture. The lesser thrill is only able to raise the hairs of the body (like the goose skin). The momentary rapture is like the productions of lightning, moment by moment. Like waves breaking on the seashore, the flooding rapture descends rapidly on the body and breaks. Transporting rapture is strong and lifts the body up to the extent of launching it into the air. When the all-pervading rapture arises, the whole body is completely surcharged, blown like a full-bladder.
CROSSING THE BODY-CONSCIOUSNESS
Aspirants are eager to get spiritual experiences soon. As soon as they get them, they are afraid. They are awfully alarmed when they go above the body-consciousness. They entertain a passing wonder whether they will come back again or not. Why should they be afraid at all? It does not matter much whether they return to body-consciousness or not. All our attempts are mainly directed towards getting over this body-consciousness. We are used to certain limitations. When these limitations suddenly drop away, we feel that there is no definite base left to stand upon. That is the reason why we are afraid when we go above the body-consciousness. That is a novel experience. Courage is needed. Bravery is an indispensable requisite. Sruti says, "Nayam-atma balahinena labhyah-This Atman can hardly be attained by weak (timid) persons." All sorts of forces have to be encountered on the way. A dacoit or an anarchist can easily realise God, because he is fearless. A push in the right direction is only necessary for him. How Jagai and Madhai, rogues of the first water, became very good saints! They pelted stones at Nityananda, the disciple of Lord Gouranga. Nityananda won them by pure divine love. Dacoit Ratnakara became Sage Valmiki.
VISIONS OF SPIRITS
Sometimes, bad spirits will trouble you. They may have ugly, fierce faces with long teeth. Drive them with your strong will. Give the word of command: "Get out." They will go away. They are vampires. They are elementals. They will not do any harm to the Sadhakas. Your courage will be tested here. If you are timid, you cannot march further. Draw power and courage from the Atman within, the inexhaustible Source (Avyaya). You will come across very good spirits also. They will help you a lot in your onward march.
There is a kind of vision one occasionally gets during meditation. You may behold a dazzling light with abrupt motion. You may behold a head of marvellous form, of the colour of a flame, red as fire and very awful to look at. It has three wings of marvellous length and breadth, white as a dazzling cloud. At times they would beat terribly and again would be still. The head never utters a word, but remains altogether still. Now and again, there is beating with its extended wings.
During meditation, some of the visions that you see are your own materialised thoughts, while some others are real, objective visions.
BREAK VEIL AFTER VEIL
If you get experiences of the glimpses of Self during intense meditation, if you see a blazing light during meditation and if you get spiritual visions of angels, archangels, Rishis, Munis, Devatas and any other extraordinary spiritual experiences, do not fall back in terror. Do not mistake them for phantoms. Do not give up the Sadhana. Plod on. Persevere diligently. Break veil after veil.
If there is any error in Sadhana (meditation), at once consult the senior Sannyasins or realised souls and remove the mistake. If your general health is sound, if you are cheerful, happy and strong, physically and mentally, if the mind is peaceful and unruffled, if you get Ananda in meditation and if your will is growing strong, pure and irresistible, think that you are improving in meditation and everything is going all right.
March on boldly. Do not look back. Cross the intense void and darkness. Pierce the layer of Moha. Melt the subtle Ahankara now. Svarupa will shine by itself. You will experience the Turiya (Arudha state).
OBSTACLES TO MEDITATION
Obstacles to meditation are really from within. Environments are from within; you create your own environments. Try to be happy in whatever situation you are placed. Do not complain. Bear sufferings. You can conquer Nature. Maya is Tuchha (nothing) or Alpa (small or non-entity) for a Brahma-Jnani.
The obstacles to meditation are only from within. Sleepiness, passions, confused state of the mind, Manorajya (building castles in the air) are the chief obstacles that stand in the way of fixing the mind on God or Brahman. The five hindrances to meditation, viz., sense-desire, ill-will, sloth-torpor, flurry-worry and perplexity should be removed. For, when these are not removed, meditation cannot arise. The mind that lusts after many things through sense-desire is not concentrated on one object; or being overcome by sense-desire, it does not enter upon the progress of meditation in order to put away the sensuous element. The mind that is harassed by ill-will concerning an object does not proceed at once. The mind that is overcome by sloth and torpor is unwieldy. Obsessed by worry and flurry, it does not repose, but flirts about. Struck by perplexity, it does not go on the path that leads to the attainment of meditation and Samadhi. Obstacles to meditation are thus really from within. They are not from without. Train the mind properly.
Laya (sleep), Vikshepa (tossing of mind from one object to another), Kashaya (memory of sensual pleasures) and hidden Vasanas and Rasasvada (the happiness derived from Savikalpa Samadhi) are four stumbling blocks in meditation.
TANDRI AND MANORAJYA
When the mind has been withdrawn from objects through Vairagya and Uparati, do not allow it to go into sleep or Manorajya (fancies and wild imagination). When you constantly contemplate on the meaning of the Mahavakya 'Aham Brahmasmi' or 'Tat Tvam Asi' through the process of Mahavakyanusandhana, all the Vishayas (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling) will stop. But, owing to the force of Samskaras, Manorajya (building castles in the air) will continue. Mind builds castles in the air. This is termed Manoratha in Sanskrit. This is a serious obstacle to meditation. It should be stopped by Vichara. Sometimes, during the course of meditation, the mind suddenly slips into its old grooves for sleeping. People think that they are meditating, while they are actually sleeping. A mixture of drowsiness (Tandri) and Manorajya (building castles in the air, reverie) is mistaken by aspirants for deep meditation and Samadhi. The mind appears to be established in concentration and free from Vikshepa (distraction). This is a mistake. Alasya and Stabdhata (stupefaction arising from fear or wonder, mental restlessness and mental depression) are other disturbing factors in meditation.
Closely watch the mind. Make it Ekagra (one-pointed) and allow it to rest on the Svarupa Brahman). Be thoughtful, careful and vigilant. Stand up for ten minutes and dash cold water on the face and head, if drowsiness comes in. Remove the two serious obstacles of Tandri and Manorajya by Vichara, Pranayama and light, Sattvic diet. Tandri and Alasya are removed by Pranayama, Sirshasana, Sarvangasana and Mayurasana and light, Sattvic diet. Find out the disturbing causes and remove them. Avoid the company of those whom your mind dislikes. Do not argue. Do not contradict. Do not try to convince persons who are unreasonable and undeveloped. Talk little. Observe Mouna. Live alone. In this way, you can avoid all sorts of excitements. Have constant Satsanga. Study elevating books such as the Yogavasishtha, the Upanishads, etc. Have Brahma-Bhavana. Repeat OM with meaning and feeling. All depressing thoughts will melt away.
If you are alert and if by protracted efforts and incessant, vigilant Svarupa-Chintana (meditation on Brahman), you get over the obstacles of sleep, Manorajya, etc., the steady Brahmakara Vritti and Brahma-Jnana will dawn in no time. Ajnana will vanish. You will be established in Sahaja Paramananda state. All Sanchita (accumulated) Karmas will be burnt up in the fire of wisdom.
DREAMS IN MEDITATION
Various sorts of fantastic dreams trouble some aspirants very much. Sometimes, there is a mixture of meditation and dreams. The presence of dreams denotes that you are not yet well-established in deep meditation, that you have not removed Vikshepa (tossing of the mind) and that you have not done constant, intense Sadhana. As the phenomenon of dreams is very peculiar and inexplicable, it is very difficult to control dreams unless you wipe out all the Samskaras in the Karana Sarira (causal body) and control all thoughts. As you grow in purity, Viveka and concentration, dreams will decrease.
Very often, depression comes in meditation in neophytes owing to previous Samskaras, influence of astral entities, evil spirits, bad company, cloudy days, bad stomach owing to indigestion and loaded bowels in constipation. It must be removed quickly by cheerful thoughts, a brisk walk, singing, laughing, prayer, Pranayama, etc.
Scents, soft beds, novel-reading, dramas, theatres, cinemas, vulgar music, dancing, flowers, company of women, Rajasic diet-all these excite passions and cause disturbance of the mind. Too much salt, too much chillies, too much sweets cause intense thirst and disturb meditation. Too much talking, too much walking and too much mixing disturb the mind in meditation.
Impulses disturb meditation. All obscure subconscious impulses should be controlled by the intellect and will. Sex-impulse and ambition are two real disturbing factors in meditation. They carry on guerilla warfare. They attack the Sadhakas again and again. They appear to be thinned out for some time. They get revived often. They should be extirpated by great efforts, Vichara, Viveka (power of discrimination between Atman and Anatman, Self and non-Self) and Sivoham-Bhavana.
It is the sound that sets the mind in motion. It is the sound that makes the mind to think. Sound disturbs the mind a great deal in meditation. A sound with meaning disturbs more than a sound without meaning. A continuous sound as the silent murmur of a river is not so disturbing as an abrupt, sudden, sharp, broken sound. The mind does not feel a sound when it is used to it. You feel only when the clock stops.
Tushnimbhuta Avastha is a quiet state of the mind wherein there is neither attraction nor repulsion for objects for a short time. It occurs in the Jagrat state. It is a neutral state of the mind. It is an obstacle to meditation. It should be avoided. It is mistaken by ignorant Sadhakas for Samadhi.
Kashaya means colouring. Raga, Dvesha and Moha are the Kashaya or colouring of the mind. Kashaya is the subtle influence in the mind produced by enjoyment and left there to fructify in time to come and distract the mind from Samadhi. This is a serious obstacle to meditation. It does not allow the Sadhaka to enter into Samadhi-Nishtha. It induces the subtle memory of pleasures enjoyed. It is hidden Vasana. From the Samskara, Vasana originates. Samskara is the cause and Vasana is the effect. It is a kind of Mala (impurity of mind). Constant Vichara coupled with Brahma-Bhavana is the only potent remedy to eradicate this dire malady Kashaya.
During meditation, when your mind is more Sattvic, you will be inspired. The mind will be composing fine poems and solving some problems of life. Stamp out these Sattvic Vrittis also. This is all dissipation of mental energy. Soar higher and higher to Atman only.
Even the happiness of Savikalpa Samadhi is an obstacle, because it prevents you from entering into the Nirvikalpa state. It produces false Tushti (contentment) and you stop your further Sadhana.
The mind should be freed from all these obstacles. Then only will you enter into pure Advaita Nirvikalpa state. Vichara and Brahma-Bhavana are the only helps to attain this highest state.
MEDITATION AND WORK
He who meditates is not able to work. He who works is not able to meditate. This is not balance. This is not equanimity. The two principles, meditation and action, must be well-balanced. You must be able, if you are ready to follow the divine injunction, to take up whatever work you are given-even a stupendous work-and leave it the next day, with the same quietness with which you took it up and without feeling that the responsibility is yours. You must be able to work hard in the world with tremendous force and, when the work is over, you must be able to shut yourself up in a cave as an absolute recluse for a long time with great peace of mind. That is balance, that is real strength. Then only you have gone beyond the qualities (Gunatita). "He, O Pandava, who hateth not radiance (Sattva) nor outgoing energy (work), nor even sloth and slumber (Moha) when present, nor longeth after them when absent-he is said to have crossed over the qualities" (Gita, XIV-22).
When you advance in the spiritual practice, it will be very difficult for you to do meditation and office work at the same time, because the mind will undergo double strain. Those who practise meditation will find that they are more sensitive than the people who do not meditate and, because of that, the strain on the physical body is enormous. The mind works in different grooves and channels with different Samskaras during meditation. It finds it very difficult to adjust to different kinds of uncongenial activities. As soon as it comes down from the meditation, it gropes in darkness. It gets bewildered and puzzled. The Prana (energy) which moves inward in different grooves and channels and which is subtle during the meditation has to move in new, different channels during worldly activities. It becomes very gross during work. It has to work in different grooves and channels. When you again sit for meditation in the evening, you will have to struggle hard to wipe out the newly acquired Samskaras you have gathered during the course of the day and get calm and one-pointedness of mind. This struggle sometimes brings in headache.
It behoves, therefore, that advanced Grihastha Yogic students (householders) will have to stop all the worldly activities when they advance in meditation, if they desire to progress further. They themselves will be forced to give up all work, if they are really sincere. Work is a hindrance in meditation for advanced students. That is the reason why Lord Krishna says in the Gita, "For a sage who is seeking Yoga, action is called the means; for the same sage who is enthroned in Yoga (state of Yogarudha), serenity (Sama) is called the means." Then, work and meditation become incompatible like acid and alkali or fire and water or light and darkness.
REASONS FOR FAILURES IN MEDITATION
Some practise meditation for a period of 15 years and yet they have not made any real progress at all. Why? This is due to lack of earnestness, Vairagya, keen longing for liberation and intense, constant Sadhana. There is always a complaint amongst the aspirants, "I am meditating for the last 12 years. I have not made any improvement. I have no realisation." Why is it so? What is the reason? They have not plunged themselves in deep meditation into the innermost recesses of their hearts. They have not properly assimilated and saturated the mind with the thoughts of God. They have not done regular, systematic Sadhana. They have not disciplined the Indriyas perfectly. They have not collected all the outgoing rays of the mind. They have not made the self-determination, "I will realise this very second." They have not given the full 100% of the mind or 16 annas of the mind-their full mind-to God. They have not kept an increasing flow of Divine Consciousness like the flow of oil (Tailadharavat).
You will have to note very carefully whether you remain stationary in the spiritual path even after many years of spiritual practice or whether you are progressing. Sometimes, you may go downwards also, if you are not very vigilant and careful, if your Vairagya wanes and if you are slack in meditation. Reaction may set in.
Just as the man who foolishly run after two rabbits will not catch hold of any one of them, so also a meditator who runs after two conflicting thoughts will not get success in any one of the two thoughts. If he has divine thoughts for ten minutes and then worldly conflicting thoughts for the next ten minutes, he will not succeed in anything, in getting at the Divine Consciousness. You must run after one rabbit only with vigour, strength and one-pointedness. You are sure to catch it. You must have only divine thoughts at all times. Then you are sure to realise God soon.
You must not be too hasty in longing for the fruits at once, when you take to meditation. Haste makes waste. A young lady perambulated an Asvattha tree (Filicus religiosa) 108 times for getting an offspring and immediately touched her abdomen to see whether there was a child or not. It is simply foolishness. She will have to wait for some months. Even so, if those who read works dealing with Atma-Jnana and who do take delight therein will not be hasty in longing for the fruits at once, but will meditate regularly and gradually upon them, then the mind will, by degrees, be ripened and, in the end, the endless Atman will be reached; and they will get Atmasakshatkara (Self-realisation).
You will have to exert in the beginning to get an equilibrium of mind. Later on, you will have a habitual balanced state of mind. So is the case with meditation. After some years of practice, meditation becomes habitual.
CONDITIONS FOR SELF-REALISATION
Just as you saturate water with salt or sugar, you will have to saturate the mind with thoughts of God and Brahman, with divine glory, Divine Presence with sublime soul-awakening spiritual thoughts. Then only you will always be established in the Divine Consciousness. Before saturating the mind with thoughts of Brahman, you will have to assimilate the divine ideas first. Assimilation first and then saturation. Then comes realisation, at once, without a moment's delay. Remember the triplet always: "Assimilation-Saturation-Realisation."
Free yourself from the base thoughts of the mind, the various useless Sankalpas (imaginations). Just as you render the turbid water pure by the addition of clearing nut (strychnos potatorum), so also you will have to make the turbid mind, filled with Vasanas and false Sankalpas, pure by Brahma-Chintana (thinking and reflecting on the Absolute). If the mind constantly dwells on sensual objects, the conception of the reality of the universe will surely increase. If the mind ceaselessly thinks of Atman (Absolute), the world appears like a dream. Mark the word "ceaseless." This is important. Then only there will be true illumination. Then only there will be dawn of spiritual knowledge. The Jnana-Surya (the Sun of Knowledge) will rise in the firmament of Chidakasa (knowledge-space).
Mind exists on account of "I." "I" exists on account of mind. "I" is only an idea in the mind. "Mind" and "I" are identical. If "I" vanishes, mind will also vanish; and if mind vanishes, "I" will vanish. Destroy the mind through Tattva-Jnana. Destroy the "I" through "Aham Brahmasmi Bhavana," through constant and intense Nididhyasana. When mind vanishes or thoughts cease, Nama-Rupa will cease to exist and the Goal is reached.
Lights in Meditation
Various kinds of lights manifest during meditation owing to concentration. In the beginning, a bright white light, the size of a pin's point will appear in the forehead in the Trikuti, the space between the two eyebrows, which corresponds tentatively to the Ajna-Chakra of the astral body. You will notice, when the eyes are closed, different coloured lights, white, yellow, red, smoky, blue, green, mixed lights, flashes like lightning, like fire, burning char-coal, fire-flies, moon, sun, stars. These lights appear in the mental space, Chidakasa. These are all Tanmatric lights. Each Tanmatra has its own specific colour. Prithvi (earth) Tanmatra has a yellow-coloured light; Apas (water) Tanmatra has a white-coloured light; Agni (fire) Tanmatra has a red-coloured light; Vayu (wind) Tanmatra has a smoky light; Akasa (sky) Tanmatra has a blue light. Yellow and white lights are very commonly seen. Red and blue lights are rarely noticeable. Frequently there is a combination of white and yellow lights. In the beginning, small balls of white light float about before the mind's eye. When you first observe this, be assured that the mind is becoming more steady and that you are progressing in concentration. After some months, the size of the light will increase and you will see a full blaze of white light, bigger than the sun. In the beginning, these lights are not steady. They come and disappear immediately. They flash out from above the forehead and from the sides. They cause peculiar sensations of extreme joy and happiness and there is an intense desire for a vision of these lights. When you have steady and systematic practice of two or three hours in the morning, and two to three hours at night, these lights appear more frequently and remain steadily for a long time. The vision of the lights is a great encouragement in Sadhana. It impels you to stick steadily to meditation. It gives you strong faith also in superphysical matters. The appearance of the light denotes that you are transcending the physical consciousness. You are in a semi-conscious state when the light appears. You are between two planes. You must not shake the body when these lights manifest. You must be perfectly steady in the Asana. You must breathe very, very slowly.
TRIANGLE (LIGHT) IN THE FACE
One whose food is moderate, whose anger has been controlled, who has given up all love for society, who has subdued his passions, who has overcome all pairs (heat and cold, etc.), who has given up his egoism, who does not bless anyone nor take anything from others-such a man during meditation obtains it (the triangle) in the face.
LIGHT FROM SUSHUMNA
"Vishoka Va Jyotismati." (Chap. I, Sutra 36. Patanjali- Yoga-Sutras). "You can attain Samadhi by meditation on the Effulgent One Who is beyond all sorrow."
Sometimes, during meditation you will see a brilliant dazzling light. You will find it difficult to gaze on this light. You will be compelled to withdraw your mental vision from this light. This dazzling light is the light emanating from the Sushumna in the heart.
FORMS IN THE LIGHTS
You will see two kinds of forms (1) lustrous forms of Devatas, (2) physical forms. You will see your Ishta Devata or tutelary deity (guiding Devata) in handsome dress and with various, valuable ornaments, flowers, garlands, with four hands and weapons. Siddhas, Rishis, etc., appear to encourage you. You will find a huge collection of Devatas and celestial ladies with various musical instruments in their hands. You will see beautiful flower-gardens, fine palatial buildings, rivers, mountains, golden temples, sceneries so lovely and picturesque as cannot be adequately described.
Sometimes, during meditation, you will get very powerful, dazzling lights, bigger than the sun. They are white. In the beginning, they come and fade away quickly. Later on, they are steady, they become fixed for 10 or 15 minutes or half an hour according to the strength and degree of concentration. For those who concentrate on the Trikuti, the space between the two eyebrows, the light appears in the forehead in the Trikuti, while for others who concentrate on the top of the head, Sahasrara Chakra, the light manifests on the top of the head. The light is so powerful and dazzling sometimes, that you have to withdraw yourself from looking at it and break the meditation. Some people are afraid and do not know what to do and how to proceed further. They come to me for instructions. I tell them that this is a new sensation which they have not hitherto experienced. By constant practice, the mind engaged in concentration will be used to it, and the fear will vanish. I ask them to go on with the practice. Some people concentrate on the heart, some on Trikuti, and some on the top of the head. It is a question of personal taste. It is easy to control mind by concentrating on the Trikuti. If you are used to fix on the Trikuti, stick to it always. Do not make frequent changes. Steadiness is very necessary. The beings and objects with whom you are in touch during the early period of meditation belong to the astral world. They are similar to human beings minus a physical overcoat. They have desires, cravings, love, hatred, etc., just as human beings have. They have fine bodies. They can move about freely. They have powers of materialisation, dematerialisation, multiplying, clairvoyant vision of an inferior order. The lustrous forms are higher Devatas of mental or higher planes who come down to give you Darshan, and encourage you. Various Saktis manifest in lustrous forms. Adore them. Worship them. Do mental Puja as soon as they give you Darshan. Angels are beings of mental or higher planes. They also appear before your mind's eye.
Sometimes, you will feel an invisible help, possibly from your Ishta Devata when you are actually pushed from the physical body into the new plane. That invisible power assists in your separating from the body and going above body-consciousness. You will have to mark carefully all these operations.
Do not waste your time in looking at these visions. This is only a curiosity. These are all encouragements to convince you of the existence of superphysical, metaphysical realities and the solid existence of Brahman. Drive these pictures. Fix yourself on the goal-Lakshya. Advance. Proceed seriously and energetically.
As soon as you retire for sleep, these lights manifest themselves without any exertion on your part. Just when you are going to transcend the physical consciousness, just when you are drowsy, these lights appear without your effort. Also in the morning, before you get up, in the transitional stage, half-asleep, half-awake, you will get again these lights by themselves without attempt.
Monday, 30 November 2015
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
If we are meant to have a specific teacher or teachers on the physical level, then we will be guided to the right person at the right time. This may well involve not one fixed teacher, as spiritual initiations can come in many different forms through every day experiences as well as through activities that shift our consciousness whilst we receive energy, such as through healing sessions. Many times healers channel higher energy similar to what one might experience in a Shaktipat initiation or shamanic ceremony and those doing this sort of healing work should keep themselves clear and aligned so that the highest energy can come through.
Diana Cooper has spoken in her writings of the varied initiations that she and others have gone through. For instance, a type of higher initiation she calls 'the crucifix' meant that one lady had all parts of her life suddenly fall apart, including her husband leaving and receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness. It was a real death of her life and identity as she had known it. Similarly, Rudolf Steiner in his classic book 'How to Know Higher Worlds' talks of an initiation from the soul, in which an individual is suddenly alienated from all forms of support that have previously been available to them. The individual has to take action to get his or herself out of a difficult situation on their own.
In the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, the protagonist Siddhartha after having displayed amazing spiritual abilities earlier in his life, then had to go through many earthly challenges and experiences before he could truly embody genuine compassion and humanity, which finally enabled him to find the deep inner peace of enlightenment. This provides us with a metaphor for the spiritual journey as represented by the symbolism of the the Merkaba or 'Star of David' - a merging of earthly and spiritual experiences. It seems that for many of us, this manifests in the form of; first we go up, towards the light, and then we come down, bringing the light down into daily life. The sorts of tests and forms of higher learning manifesting in our lives that facilitate this great spiritual journey are as good a reason as any why we should never judge another if they are going through difficult times.
In the beautiful hope-filled books 'The Ringing Cedars' series by Vladimir Megre, about the spiritual Siberian recluse, Anastasia, we see that despite her advanced abilities and otherworldly life, Anastasia constantly tries to explain the mechanisms behind everything she does and to show that these abilities are intrinsic to everyone. She tells us we just need to purify our thoughts, which I equate to aligning with our higher selves or souls, so that we can remember the knowledge of our forebears who were our wise ancient selves. Vladimir Megre states that unlike many spiritual teachers he has known, Anastasia does not veil herself in an air of mystery. She wants to prove the true capabilities of what she calls 'Man' (a human standing in their divine power), which are inherent to us all.
In the famous spiritual Classic 'Autobiography of a Yogi', Paramhansa Yogananda recounts that the first kriya yoga master to teach to the public, Lahiri Mahasaya, pleaded with his guru Babaji that the secret knowledge of kriya yoga be made available to all who came to see him and not just a select few 'evolved' souls. Babaji saw the purity of Lahiri Mahasaya's intentions and granted this request and we are told that many were greatly helped through receiving these teachings.
The great Hindu teacher Vivekananda has stated that the purest souls have no desire for self promotion or teaching and being in the limelight. They have lost the bonds of attachment and their Sattvic (pure) nature shrinks from the very thought of pushing themselves forward, as their whole self is dissolved within the Absolute. They are so at-one with God and so satiated by communion with the Divine that they have lost the sense of their own identity and no 'worldly' task or reward has any meaning or appeal to them. So, along that note, any of us wanting to promote ourselves still have some ego to deal with - and this is good! Because without the ego we would not have motivation to take action and do the spiritual work of dharma. Souls working for the highest good are needed in all areas of life and to not follow our inner prompting and true heart-based desires in this way is likely to lead to a lack of inner fulfilment. The ego part of ourselves is only a problem when we do not have an awareness of our inner motivations. Then there is the risk that our unconscious mind may become our master.
It is necessary to be down-to-earth and stay humble and to be able to acknowledge and even laugh at our own weaknesses and faults - we all have shadows! Otherwise we are presenting a false 'airbrushed' image much like those of models in the media. This can be very disheartening to anyone wanting help and not seeing the full picture as they wonder what they have done wrong and why their lives are not perfect like the images they are seeing. Our acceptance and acknowledgement of all parts of ourselves helps others to also accept and love those parts of themselves they find less desirable, and therefore find their way back to wholeness.
True spiritual teachers do not resent being questioned. They know how a good question is valuable to prompt new trains of thought and provide new insights; such has been the tradition of debating and questioning in Eastern cultures for centuries, aimed at penetrating deep truth. One practice in the ancient Russian Vedic culture presented in the books about Anastasia, was that the elders would ask questions of the children to test whether their own thinking was pure enough compared to young minds considered to be closer to divine thought. In 'Autobiography of a Yogi' we are told that Yogananda's guru Swami Sri Yukteswar would sometimes get criticised by members of the community. His response was always to listen to any criticism with respect and humility and then thoroughly examine himself to see whether there were any grains of truth in what was being said, and whether he therefore needed to amend anything in his behaviour.
Monday, 28 September 2015
Sacred Practices: Part 3 - Kriya Yoga Breathing Techniques to balance the body's energies and help still the mind for a deeper experience of meditation
Kriya Yoga is the famous mystical system of yoga described by Paramhansa Yogananda in his classic and beloved book 'Autobiography of a Yogi' and, similarly to with kundalini yoga, it is claimed that kriya yoga advances the practitioner faster on their path of spiritual evolution than is the case with other systems of yoga. If you wish to learn the exact system set out by Yogananda to his Western students in the mid C20th, then you will need to register for the lengthy course offered by the Self Realization Fellowship and kept a closely guarded secret by that organisation (although there are resources which have been made available online by past students, which can be found with a little research).
There are many other schools which also claim to teach kriya yoga. The techniques all differ and many are not the same as those that Paramhansa Yogananda taught when he came to the West. However, the steps and initiations that Yogananda taught had been adapted anyway for a Western audience who at the time (in the 1920s) had no concept of yoga and whose anatomies and physical condition lacked the flexibility and training of Easterners. So the initiations and techniques that Yogananda himself taught were different from what Lahiri Mahasaya, his guru's guru and the first teacher to instruct kriya yoga to the public in Northern India, had recorded originally in his diaries and personal journals. This means that basically, the whole idea of what is true kriya yoga is up for debate and no doubt will be argued differently by various individuals depending on their affiliations and personal experience. This gets me to the main point, that being that there is most likely no perfect system that suits everyone and that each person must go by their own experience as to what resonates with their soul and spiritual path. Furthermore some of the techniques cross over with other traditions of yoga, such as kundalini yoga, Tibetan traditions and Hatha yoga. It can be assumed that many of these techniques have been known about by the yogis of yore from all different traditions, no doubt obtained from universal knowledge. With this in mind, claiming ownership of a yoga technique might seem preposterous!
If you wish to delve deeper into the full set of original teachings of Kriya Yoga as instructed by Lahiri Mahasaya then there is a great book you can get called 'Kriya Secrets Revealed' by J. C. Stevens. It contains all the initiations taught by Lahiri Mahasaya as well as appendices detailing the systems of other kriya yoga schools. The techniques are very physical and you cannot get ahead of yourself as you have to be able to master certain techniques physically before you can move on to the next level. Lahiri Mahasaya claimed that the first kriya initiation in itself is enough to liberate the seeker when practised regularly with devotion to the Divine.What I present below is a useful introduction to some of the kriya yoga techniques.
These are exercises that I practise often and I find them sufficient in themselves to take me very deeply into altered states of meditation. It is a series of 'kriya yoga' breathing techniques taught to me by a lady, Aliyananda, who had studied with a guru in the Himalayas. I've adapted the fourth breath to match the original kriya yoga pranayam technique as taught by Lahiri Mahasaya and Paramhansa Yogananda as I find this breath very balancing and pacifying to the mind. This basic series of breaths takes around 20 minutes. It does not require any rigorous activity or advanced physical ability. It is therefore feasible for most people and the profound effect these simple breaths can have, calming the mind and body, makes them perfect for preceding an extended period of sitting meditation. Ideally I recommend to practise some physical yoga or other form of body/energy work or exercise before meditating or earlier in the day - our minds have a greater chance of settling when the body has been tended to and is relaxed.
Kriya Yoga Breathing Techniques to Prepare the Mind for Meditation :
With all the breathing techniques below, sit in a comfortable position that allows your spine to remain relatively straight. Close the eyes when you can and focus your inner awareness on the third eye point. We use our fingers for counting 12 breaths each time, by moving the thumb along each three sections of our four fingers. You might want to have your eyes open to practise this bit first! Pranayam means control of prana, or the life force energy, which may be achieved through breathing techniques. It has come to be known as the breathing techniques themselves but this is not what the word originally meant. So when we use pranayama we are looking to control the currents of energy within our body, balancing out the prana, incoming life-giving and cleansing energy with the current of apana, the eliminative outgoing energy. We are also balancing out the two hemispheres of the brain and the two sides of the body - very important as this has an immediate calming effect on our minds! I've written about this before, but to recap, with regular breathing the incoming life force energy gets wasted and lost by the demands for energy needed at certain places in our body, due to daily bodily functions such as digestion and elimination and the action of the heart pumping blood. These actions cause blockages, or 'knots' ('granthis') in our energy, which along with unresolved emotional/psychological factors that get stored in our chakras, have the adverse effect of the life-giving prana flowing outwards and not getting utilised for its main purpose to fill our bodies with light and connect us to spirit.
With pranayama practice, as well as the bandhas (yogic locks) and other yogic exercises, we can start to reverse this trend and get the energy flowing through these knots and up our bodies to our crown chakras and beyond, connecting us with our soul energy and opening us to an experience of the Divine; our true Self, home and true identity - a place where we can be recharged, get fresh insight and inspiration and have our daily concerns melt away in the experience of the Amrit or the deathless state, blissful nectar of the Divine. Once we start working on our energy body in this way, we have to be aware too, that we will have to face and grow through old suppressed emotions and issues as we are literally shining the light of prana on all parts of ourselves, including the less desirable aspects of self which we might have previously kept hidden in the shadows. This can feel like a step backwards at times, but it is in fact positive growth in the direction of becoming fully integrated spirit beings. The important thing is to develop self compassion and awareness during the process and seek out therapists and supportive people when needed.
Basic Pranayam Breath
In your comfortable seated position, inhale deeply and slowly, filling the lower abdomen as much as you can with air. Hold the in-breath and mentally say a mantra, such as 'Wahe Guru' (the mantra of ecstasy which is calling in the experience of the pure self in the here and now) or just a simple 'Om'. Then exhale slowly pulling the stomach and lower abdomen right in like a bellow. Repeat this breath a total of 12 times. Try and make the inhale and exhale of equal duration so that it becomes rhythmic and flowing. This breath helps cleanse the lower chakras. It is good in all the different breathing techniques mentioned here (except obviously for Sitali Pranayam where it is physically an impossibility!) if you can hold the tongue up and back as far possible against the roof of the mouth, in what is known as partial kechari mudra. This tongue position activates many reflex points on the roof of the mouth which help still the activity of certain parts of the brain. Many advanced yogis have learnt to stretch their tongues so that they can practise full kechari mudra, where the tongue is inserted up the nasal canal bringing on heightened states of bliss, but we are not expecting you to do that here!
Sitali Pranayam or Snake Breath
Either with a curled and protruding tongue or with puckered lips, suck the air in and out forcefully in short breaths of even duration. Imagine the air coming in and out your throat chakra and clearing it each time you breathe. Keep the eyes closed and focussed on the brow chakra. Repeat this breath 12 times. This breath is good for cleansing the heart, throat and thymus.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Also known as Anuloma Viloma or Nadi Shodhana)
Still in your comfortable sitting position, use either the little and ring fingers (keep the middle and index fingers curled into your palm if using this hand position) or simply use the index finger to close off the left nostril and inhale slowly and peacefully through the right nostril. Then close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale in the same way through the left nostril, keep the thumb closing the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril, Finally close the left nostril with the finger(s) you used before and exhale out through the left nostril. This cycle is considered as one breath. Repeat this cycle for a total of 12 times, using your finger counting system to keep track. You can look at your fingers if you need to! Try and keep each inhale and exhale of similar duration and flowing rhythmically. Imagine this breathing pattern clearing your head and balancing both sides of your body (each nostril relates to a side of the body and hemisphere of the brain). This breath helps clear the head chakras.
Basic Kriya Yoga Breath
Using an 'ujayi' sound produced through very slightly restricting the throat, a bit like heavy breathing when someone is sleeping (Yogananda used to say a 'Shaaaaw' sound – but experiment with what feels natural for you) inhale slowly and deeply whilst imagining a cool energy ascending through a central energetic column (the shushumna) in the spine, passing and clearing the way through each chakra until it reaches the third eye (brow chakra) in head. Pausing briefly, holding the in-breath and mentally chant Om at the third eye (if you want you can visualise putting an 'Om' symbol in the third eye). Then exhale deeply with a similar throaty sound (Yogananda used to say like a 'Sheee' sound) and imagine a warm energy descending back down the back of the sushumna and spinal column. Repeat this breath for a total of 12 times. The sound in the breathing helps to more effectively clear the chakras and raise the energy.
Final Breath: Mul Bandh Breath
This is one breath only. Simply fill your lower abdomen as much as you can with air as you inhale. Then hold and pull in the lower abdomen and pull up all the muscles of the lower pelvic floor and sex organs. Literally putting as much pressure as you can on the air you've inhaled. Hold this for as long as is comfortable. Imagine energy coming up the inside of the shushumna again right up to the brow chakra with your eyes closed, chin lowered slightly (in Jalandhar Bandh) and attention focused on the brow area. Then when you wish to hold it no longer gently exhale and allow yourself to go into silent meditation. It can be a good idea at this point to use a mantra mentally (not out loud) that you feel drawn to, to still the mind and focus your attention on higher thoughts. Examples of a mantra might be: 'Wahe Guru', 'Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo', 'Om Namah Shivaya', 'So Ham', 'Om Mani Padme Hum' or even something that is personal and meaningful to you such as the word 'Love' or 'Peace'. One of my teachers used to use the Lord's Prayer - because it was quite long, it occupied her mind and quietened her thoughts. It is recommended to repeat the mantra 12 times or more, but some times this might not be necessary if you have already got to a deep peaceful state.
It's a good idea to finish your meditation practice by giving thanks and sending out prayers for peace and healing for yourself, loved ones and the world. And close with some energy visualisation to protect your being, such as casting a sphere of white light around yourself. (I will write further on energy protection practices in another post very soon.)
Additionally, before sleep or after the above set of breathing exercises, Yoni Mudra can be a good brief exercise to practise with the aim of merging individual consciousness with Source consciousness via the 'Star of Brahman' - the star or point of light which emerges in the third eye. To practise this, no more than three times in one go, you prepare to close off all the sensory organs in the head by doing the following: Place the thumbs of each hand over the tragus of each ear, the index finger of each hand over the outer corner of each eye socket (with eye lid closed), the middle fingers over the sides of the nostrils and the ring and little fingers over the corners of the mouth (ring finger above and little finger below) on each side. Taking one deep inhale as before with the kriya pranayama, imagining the cool energy coming up the spine, inhale to about 95% full and then press down with all the fingers except the middle fingers to close off the sense organs (eyes should be closed). Then take in a little more air via the nostrils and press down with the middle fingers to close the nostrils as well. As you hold the breath focus the inner attention at the third eye point between the brows and briefly scrunch up the temples as if furrowing the brows or frowning to send extra energy to this area. Imagine the energy of the held breath (and the sound/symbol of OM 'pinging' at the third eye point). When it is no longer comfortable to hold the breath, gently release it and imagine the warm energy descending the back of the spine as in the Kriya pranayama. With practice you should start to see lights emerging in this brow point (known as the Ajna kutastha). Ultimately a star or point of light will emerge in a blue circle, surrounded by a halo of golden light. When this happens you want to imagine the light of your consciousness piercing the star (the Star of Brahman), allowing you access to Divine states, other worlds and dimensions. The longer you can hold your breath comfortably, the more possible this becomes. Therefore practising long deep breathing and pranayama in general helps this exercise. It is advised to do this exercise once before sleep, even if just on its own, in order to have more profoundly spiritual sleep experiences.