MEDITATIONAL EXERCISES FOR GROUP WORK
Can be adapted for individual guidance.
Prepared by Geoffrey Farthing
|1||Meditation Guide Contents|
|2||Meditation Guide Introduction|
|3||Meditation Guide: Content of Sessions|
|4||Meditation Guide Course Leaders|
|H.P. Blavatsky Diagram of Meditation|
In addition to Geoffrey Farthing's material on meditation, attention is drawn to H.P. Blavatsky's Diagram of Meditation and a commentary published in The Theosophist May 2003
The practice of spiritual development necessarily involves action, dual action:-
"Seek the way by retreating within"
"Seek the way by advancing boldly without"
Light on the Path
Concentration and meditation are the ways of retreating within. This is what we are concerned with in this course. Advancing boldly without is the necessary action the aspirant must make in the world. It gives open expression to what flows into him by his inward retreat. This flow through man should be noted. He must give out in some way what comes in. He must see the ways and make his own opportunities of doing this. He should not, however, be too anxious about this. His outward doing should be natural, spontaneous.
The inward retreat, or better, inward journey, is a positive progress. It is largely a matter of achieving control over ourselves physically and mentally. This must be done, to start with, for at least the period of the specific exercise we are doing. Later it should become habitual.
Meditation is a subject about which books sufficient to fill libraries have been written. Nearly all these contain not only instruction in the elements of meditation itself, but details of the personal disciplines commonly recommended to the would-be practitioner. These disciplines are physical and moral. The physical disciplines are designed to purify our bodies. In the doing, however, we exercise control of ourselves and this develops will, all important in any spiritual enterprise. The moral disciplines have far-reaching results. They affect the whole of our circumstances in life. They demand honesty of the highest degree, with others and with ourselves. They demand a right attitude in all relationships; kindness, consideration, helpfulness, gentleness, courtesy and altruism. Quite apart from meditation itself these disciplines are an undertaking in themselves affecting as they do our whole personal natures.
Meditation, to start with, is mind training, but mind training with a difference. It is not specifically a training of the memory or a training in logical thought but both of these may be beneficial side effects. It is training requiring concentration, that is, the ability to hold the mind to a given subject for prolonged periods. It is training in bringing attention to a focus of intense awareness. It is a means of enhancing consciousness. It leads to an extension of subjective activity, and eventually to the further development of the powers available to man. This last is in line with his evolutionary growth. Meditational exercise, however, hastens that growth. In the more advanced stages of inner growth a man makes actually available to himself those powers which are always available potentially to him through his ultimate direct kinship with Nature and all her inner powers. These powers are evidenced in the creative processes of nature in her cyclic activities of form building, involving the functioning of invisible forces and energies on the inner, to us subjective, realms of being. As ordinary members of society we are not concerned with this long term result of meditation, but it is as well to know the reaches of our practice and how it can and will lead to a state of power and consciousness, far beyond what we regard as normal, if we persevere and succeed in developing the necessary faculties. This transcendental state is not reached by most of us but with application we can enjoy enough of the intermediate benefits to make the practice very worth while.
The would-be meditator is offered, in the world literature on the subject, a wide variety of method varying from detailed instruction in hygiene, diet, posture, prayers (mantras), ceremonies including domestic rites, to concentration, visualization and even 'projection' exercises - to no 'method' at all. It has been said that he who can meditate needs no method at all. He does it without any regard as to how; he enters 'the silence'.
In the beginning, however, certain exercises facilitate the processes of inward working. First the body must not claim our attention, nor dissipate our energies wastefully. It must be under reasonable control. The various relevant parts of the common techniques ensure this. They also effect a quietening of emotions and of our normally restless mind. The conscious control of breathing is the most effective way of inducing bodily and inner quiet. It is normally required for only a relatively short period, a few minutes usually, at the start of each session.
Posture plays some part but provided our backs are straight and vertical (usually not horizontal as would be the case lying down), it seems that for beginners and relative beginners, other details of posture are not important, providing we are not uncomfortable to the point of distraction.
The point about technique is to learn it until it becomes second nature and then forget it. One of the most important things is not to be self-conscious about it. All our attention is needed for the job in hand, and the most important thing is the nature of the job in hand. We have said that this is to obtain control of mind to enable us eventually to transcend it, in consciousness. To understand the process we must have regard to the theosophical teaching on the dual nature of the mind. There is the so-called 'personal' mind, the lower aspects, and the so-called 'individual' mind, the higher aspects. The former is our everyday mind but the latter is our spiritual or divine mind, the seat of our Ego. Between the two there is said to be the Antahkarana, which in the undeveloped man is a barrier but in the spiritually developed man is a bridge between the two aspects, lower and higher, of our really one Mind principle. This bridge must be built before the higher aspects of Mind become available to us, in consciousness. We then enter an order of consciousness altogether different from our normal personal one.
The creation of this bridge is achieved by a) living as far as we can the 'ethical' life and b) by disassociating ourselves in consciousness from our lower mind's accustomed modes of operation. To do this we have somehow, by practice, to discover 'our self' as 'that' which knows, which senses or can be aware of what is going on in the mind. 'That' is not possible of meaningful description. It is that which remains as 'pure consciousness', the final subject, when all objects of awareness are transcended. It is the ultimate watcher regardless of anything it might watch (even our thoughts or feelings about it!). We know quite definitely when we have achieved this. As beginners we are identified with and use only our lower minds. From that point of view the 'watcher' can only be an idea, however lofty or single it may be conceived to be. We cannot KNOW the watcher, we can only be it when we are free of our lower mind.
The lower aspects of Mind relate, as we have said, to the 'personal' man. The control and use of the mind is an aspect, probably the principal one, of the overall control of the personality. As a would-be meditator the gaining of this control is our prime task.
There are three aspects to this phase: 1) Control, 2) Conditioning and deconditioning, and 3) the use of Imagination. The order here is relevant.
Some aptitude in this is obviously essential. But there is a great paradox in this phase. It is that the mind has to be brought under control until it will do what we want it to do for as long as we want. If we do not want it to think or do anything of its own 'volition', it will not. This is the state of the quiet mind. Paradoxically, however, it is not to be rendered inoperative, i.e. reduced to a static, dead state. This we can do by a kind of 'locking' process which stops internal (mental) activity and produces inner quiet, but this is a negative, unfruitful state in which we can stay indefinitely under the impression that we are meditating. We are, in fact, doing nothing except perhaps having a quiet rest. The Masters have referred to this as 'mere quietism', and it is conducive to sleep.
2) Conditioning and Deconditioning
These two processes go together. Here is another paradox. The process of conditioning is one of life- experience by way of what we have been taught, rules of conduct, and so on, creating our habitual thought patterns and automatic emotional reactions, our prejudices and preconceptions. All these 'cabin and confine' our Free Spirit. They are the elements of character which form the numerous "I's" of our very complex personalities.
The deconditioning process is by way of the injecting into the mind of 'right knowledge', as the Buddha calls it, for the mind to work on. This latter material is essentially of two kinds, both covering an exceedingly wide range; the first is informative giving correct ideas about the nature of Nature and its processes and laws, and so about ourselves; the second is by way of aphorisms, expressions of Wisdom, and of a devotional character. The first kind gives us an essential understanding and confidence, allowing us slowly to relinquish those substitutes for understanding and knowledge, i.e. our opinions, views and beliefs, which so many cherish to their cost. The second kind works almost subconsciously by invoking response from the higher levels of our being (Higher Mind) of which normally, and directly, we are unaware. The response, however, grows as Antahkarana is developed. This inculcates true, not blind, faith. We are beginning to know we have a 'higher Self'. We are beginning to make the essential inner contact for Self-realization, the end result of all meditation and spiritual aspiration, and to become integrated whole Beings.
3) The Use of Imagination
This is the most difficult of our mind exercises or functions to explain in the context of meditation. First we must use what image-making faculty we may have. It is in this area, however, that we may run into the dangers of the illusory world of self-created images, its denizens and their environment. The safety practice here is positivity. We decide what we shall imagine, in what areas we shall work, and keep the mind to it until it does what we will. This is one reason for ordinary visualization exercises, e.g. imagining oneself in pleasant gardens, etc., not being recommended.
One of the functions of spiritual training, of which meditation is an aspect, is the 'cultivation' of the personality, the ordinary person. Most of us have paid, and do pay, little attention to this. We behave spontaneously according to our 'natures' and have to take the consequences. We dissipate our energies, we 'react' to hints, insults, etc. Our thought-emotion processes are mixed up, we do rash things, and so on, and there is no 'single' health in us. Imagination is the strong tool we can use in meditation to review these weaknesses and then to envisage wiser more virtuous behaviour in the various relationships and circumstances in which we are likely to find ourselves. Conscious behaviour has two aspects: a) negative, the control one (thou shalt not), and b) positive, the active one (thou shalt).
There is a further function of imagination to be cultivated. It is a paradoxical one in the light of what we have said about positive control, and that is the faculty of allowing it to work on its own, spontaneously but within bounds which we set. This is the area of interior perceptivity and of spontaneous creativity, whence come our 'original' thoughts or promptings to right action. The process is one of allowing our stilled lower mind to be impressed by the higher. For many of us this is all we can know of our higher mind or self in the ordinary way, and that only after years of effort. Used in this way the imagination is a kind of fluid link between the opening up of the way between the two aspects of Mind (Antahkarana).
Meditation is the way into spirituality (mysticism) and occultism proper. The exercises used in this course are based on the foregoing considerations. The journey within is a journey into the depths of our inner or subjective being - with our own awareness or consciousness as the concentrated centre of activity. It is, in the ultimate, an exploration of BEING (Universal Being) in terms of our own Being, (Inner or Higher Self). The hallmark of true spirituality is impersonality.
Students should however, be quite clear that the Self does not speak in words, or even visions, although these may be experienced and some may be spiritually significant. It speaks in silence. Its influence is in changes in our nature, and in our actions. These become 'right'; they have the assent of our whole being. The dictates of conscience now influence our understanding and sympathy. It simplifies our lives, or at any rate our attitude to them. As we progress we mature in a way much to be desired. This is spiritual development proper. On the way we may have experience of, and develop, powers (particularly psychic vision) which may seem strange and wonderful. We are warned strongly that these are not spiritual in themselves, and they are not specifically to be cultivated. Such experiences should be noted as mere incidents on the way of progress.
There are three main elements to meditational practice:
1) Relaxation, of body and mind
2) Concentration, control of the mind
3) Elevation of Consciousness (Right knowledge & Inspiration)
The following exercises fall into these categories.
Students should be encouraged to practise their concentration and meditation exercises between sessions and to read the standard books on the subject. Those who want to start taking their training seriously are recommended to read books like Wallace Slater's 'Raja Yoga, A Simplified and Practical Course', and Ernest Wood's 'Concentration'. For inspiration and the elevation of consciousness, books like H.P.B.'s Birthday Book 'Gems from the East', The Bhagavad Gita, The Voice of the Silence, Light on the Path, Viveka Chudamani, etc. are recommended for regular reading. This is important, even essential, for the elevation of consciousness. It is in the inspiration we get from such books that our efforts at spiritual development come 'alive'; through them we make a responsive contact with the Cosmic Powers, the Great Beings, the authors of our Being.
'Knowledge is superior to blind action, meditation to mere knowledge, renunciation of the fruit of action to meditation, and where there is renunciation peace will follow.'
Bhagavad Gita, ch. 12, v 12
'Verily, those who surrender their actions to Me, who muse on Me, worship Me and meditate on Me alone with no thought save of Me,
'O Arjuna! I rescue them quickly from the ocean of life and death, for their minds are fixed on Me.'
Bhagavad Gita, ch. 12, v 6
'Without concentration, O Mighty Man! renunciation is difficult. But the sage who is always meditating on the Divine, before long shall attain the Absolute.'
Bhagavad Gita, ch. 5, v 6
'Meditating on the Divine, having faith in the Divine, concentrating on the Divine, and losing themselves in the Divine, their sins dissolved in wisdom, they go whence there is no return.'
Bhagavad Gita, ch. 5, v 17
'Right discrimination is not in him who cannot concentrate. Without concentration there cannot be meditation; he who cannot meditate must not expect peace; and without peace, how can anyone expect happiness?'
Bhagavad Gita, ch. 2, v 66