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Meditation and Ecstatic Experiences
Samantha: Sundari, I so appreciate your letter.
I think I will do the beginner’s course. On page 254 of How to Attain Enlightenment, it says in the section for meditation, “…if you were blessed with a contemplative temperament or gained one… meditation is easy.”
I spent about 10 years meditating and thinking it was about flying away, wishing myself to fly away. When I joined my yoga group about three years ago, a shift occurred and meditation was no longer about wishing myself away or seeking a gap silence of some sort, it was about being completely here and about honest communication with self, leading myself from my highest self, filling my body with myself, using one-pointed focus and diligent effort and the journey of self-inquiry.
For about three years now, I meditate easily in harmonious synchronicity as described in this chapter and I know because I’ve “seen the answer for myself.” It made me cry when I read the part about sitting straight and graciously and “asking for help” as if you don’t know because that is what I do, I open my heart and ask God in. I align with the light and ask to connect to it, and ask to flow all the intelligence as one. When I stand from meditation, I feel broader, greater, intelligent space move with me like a friend.
Sundari: That’s beautiful, Samantha. Meditation is yoga and an important practice to prepare and purify the mind for self-inquiry. But it is an action, and therefore very different from Self-knowledge, which is action-free. There is also a tendency to see the Self as something other than you, a “special” state to attain.
Meditation is not a valid means of knowledge. Meditation is a tool to aid Self-inquiry, but it does not equal Self-inquiry. Unless one has realised that one is not the meditator but the one who knows the meditator, meditation can keep one stuck for years trying to have an experience of the Self, which many meditators do have, but the problem is the identification with the experiencer/meditator is still there. Unless the knowledge that meditation is designed to impart is fully assimilated, i.e. “I am whole and complete, non-dual awareness” and not the meditator, the experience ends because it was just that, an experience. All experiences happen in time and so they are subject to change and will end. Only Self-knowledge will permanently set one free of the meditator/experiencer because you – awareness/consciousness – are already free.
In this way, the experience of Self-realization does not necessarily lead to freedom, moksa. Therefore there are so many frustrated meditators around trying to get the experience back. Even if they succeed, they will most likely “lose” the Self-realization once again because the knowledge that they are that which makes all experience possible, i.e. awareness, escapes them. Meditation is no different from any other activity done to achieve a specific result, unless it is practiced with karma yoga.
The knowledge that the meditation points to is that you are the knower of the one who meditates, the one who thinks it is the doer/meditator. Meditation is just another object appearing in you, allowing the reflection of the Self to appear in a still mind. However, since no experience can take place without you, awareness, and because as awareness you are actionless, no special experience is required to experience the Self. You are always experiencing the Self, whether you are meditating or not. You just don’t know this. And no action the doer takes can produce Self-knowledge. This is because as the doer you are limited, and no action taken by a limited being can produce a limitless result, i.e. freedom/moksa.
The Self, awareness – YOU – is not an object of perception and cannot be known by the mind, because the mind is too gross and the Self too subtle. The object or the effect cannot know the subject, the cause. The Self is “beyond” the mind, and the only means of knowledge the mind must know anything are perception and inference, which are suitable for knowing objects but not suitable means of knowledge to know awareness. Only Vedanta offers a complete and valid means of knowledge for awareness.
Although we can have an experience of the reflection of the self in a pure, sattvic mind in meditation, this is not enough to set us free of the doer. For this we need to expose the mind to self-inquiry and allow Self-knowledge to remove our ignorance (avidya). Although self-inquiry is also an action, the result of self-inquiry is Self-knowledge, which can produce a limitless result, meaning freedom from identification with the doer or person.
Self-inquiry is just the application of knowledge; it states that awareness is our true nature and both knowledge and ignorance are objects appearing in you, awareness. Keeping this knowledge in mind and continually contemplating on it is self-inquiry. This is why Self-inquiry is different from meditation because the knowledge is maintained by an act of will, whereas in meditation the knowledge appears during a particular experience.
Self-inquiry is superior to meditation because the doer does not need to maintain a particular state and wait for the knowledge. He or she has the knowledge already and applies it continually. Meditators do not know the value of knowledge, whereas inquirers do. That is why the meditators are meditating. Knowledge may arise in meditation or it may not. If it does, we say meditation is a “leading error.” But even if meditation does lead to knowledge of the “unbroken I thought” (akandakara vritti), the knowledge does not always stick, as I point out above.
Samantha: On that note, I also relate to something in this book that is very profound that I do not typically talk about but would like to privately share with you because it touched me deeply when I read it, and that is the chapter on love, on God, and on seeing a mountain as you or love as light which illumines more awareness. With a little hesitation for how you might read this, I’ll share with you that I see life this way. I once had an encounter with Ganesh – it felt like putting on a comfortable jacket in meditation – or no jacket (or anything representing a line between something), and then as vivid as can be, Ganesh turned slowly with his/her hand extended open, soft gentle eyes in my eyes and when I placed my hand in his/hers, it was the stillest stillness I have ever known, with no boundaries. Without words, Ganesh said I am always here, you are always here. A tear rolled down my face, and I most always feel that way.
Sundari: The importance of this experience was to show you that Ganesh is not Ganesh, but you, the Self. All symbols are symbols of the Self. The joy and love you felt was not something being given to you, it was being shown to BE you. Make sure you read chapter two of James’ book, on the difference between experience and knowledge. It is vital you understand this, if you are to benefit from Vedanta.
All experiences are objects known to you, they are slow-release time capsules meant to deliver knowledge. If you identify with and objectify the experience, the knowledge is lost. Experiences simply keep you stuck thinking that the experience is what is important, when what is actually important is the knowledge they are meant to impart, i.e. that you are not the experiencer but the one who knows the experiencer.
While epiphanies like the one you describe can be important, they can also prevent progress in your self-inquiry. Have you read James’ autobiography? He had more mystical experiences than almost anyone you will ever meet, but it is this very fact that made him give up on them because he realized that they do not set you free. Only Self-knowledge can do that.
Samantha: One of the things I learned from self-direction is to reinforce the right behavior, that practising the wrong thing is something to pay attention not to do, so the book Spiritual Materialism was a good one for me, and also How to Attain Enlightenment, because they help you to check in with yourself.
Sundari: Following your nature, your svadharma, is very important. But, as everything in the mithya world is always changing, therefore dharma is always changing. Dharma is a very difficult topic and impossible for one person to tell another what their personal dharma is or what is right for them in any situation. What is right for you will not be right for me. Generally, when you feel happy and at peace with what you are doing, you are following your svadharma. When there is a nagging, unhappy or guilty voice in your head, you are most likely contravening dharma, either by what you are doing or not doing. Ultimately, the highest dharma is to commit to self-inquiry into your true nature using the scripture as your means of knowledge, which you apply to everything in your life. What is the use of Self-knowledge if it does not translate into the life of the person? Vedanta is a valid means of knowledge which dispels ignorance in every situation, if it is properly taught, assimilated and applied. It is never fails; and if it does, it is not the fault of the scripture but our failure to grasp its true meaning for us.
The universal laws, or dharmas, are built into the nature of the Field of Existence and cannot be avoided or contravened without consequence. Although dharma is one, because reality is non-dual, it can be understood in three ways.
1. Samanya dharma, or universal values, are twofold: (1) The moral laws governing the Field of Existence that apply to everyone personally, like non-injury, honesty, fairness, etc. (2) The macrocosmic laws of physics, like gravity, electricity and thermodynamics, etc. These laws behave the way they behave whether you are aware of them or not and cannot be changed, only understood. Universal laws work the same way for everybody and cannot be contravened without consequence.
2. Visesa dharma is how the individual interprets universal laws and applies them to their lives in the apparent reality with regards to everything: lifestyle, diet, money, work, family, sex, marriage, how one relates to people and the environment one lives in, technology, etc. Visesa dharma will vary for everyone, depending on their life circumstances and svadharma.
3. Svadharma with a small “s” is an individual’s conditioning. This is the nature and the predisposition with which each person is born. To be happy, the individual needs to act in accordance with his or her inborn nature or he or she will not be following dharma. For instance, if it is an individual’s nature to be a businessperson, it will not serve them to be in the healing professions or vice versa. Svadharma is different for everyone.
All dharmas are based on common sense and logic. Our personal svadharma includes our conditioning, or vasana load, which will be governing how we see and act on all levels. The binding vasanas must be seen and dissolved for peace of mind to be experienced. We all have a given nature that we need to be in harmony with, and unless one understands what it is, we can make decisions that cause great agitation, suffering and discomfort to the mind and body.
It is possible that on the personal level, to be true to our svadharma, we must sometimes take actions that cause agitation and distress to ourselves or “others.” For instance, because I am afraid to hurt my parents and feel duty-bound to them, I could decide to do what they want for me knowing it does not support who I am. Or conversely I decide that my need to be true to myself trumps making my parents happy. Another example is people who decide to leave unhappy marriages even though they pay a high price emotionally to do so. There is no fixed rule when it comes to “right and wrong” actions. There is just the law of karma, cause and effect, appropriate action and that we are never in control of the outcome of any action. If we do decide to go against our nature for good reason, then we do so with a clear mind and heart, without complaint and with the karma yoga attitude.
Sometimes doing the right thing for us involves tough decisions. But if we do not live in accordance with the rules of life and the nature Isvara gives us, we will not be happy or have peace of mind. Our lives must conform to the truth, not the other way around. When it does, following the truth will always work out for the best even though it may turn our life upside down. In the long run, it is far more damaging to all concerned to make choices that contradict dharma because we are afraid to face the consequences of making the choices that are right for us.
If, on the other hand, we our duty-bound and cannot change our circumstance, then we must accept that this is prarabdha karma playing out and we attend to it as best we can, as always, with the karma yoga attitude. You know the beautiful prayer: “Lord give me the courage to change what needs to be changed, the strength to accept what cannot be changed and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”
Samantha: There is so much more, but so that you know, I will start the beginner’s course and I appreciate your work very much.
Sundari: The only way to succeed in self-inquiry is to begin at the beginning, commit to the teachings and dedicate yourself to self-inquiry as your most important goal. Make sure you understand all the qualifications required for self-inquiry, examine all your values and track yourself on them. You are welcome to write when you get stuck.
~ Much love, Sundari