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Meditation and Contemplation
Aleksandra: Could you please advise me on some guided meditation records that would be in accordance with Vedanta teachings? Thank you.
Arlindo: Dear friend, guided or experiential meditation does have a place in Vedanta. In fact Krishna presents this topic in the Bhagavad Gita, but only in the sixth chapter. What does that imply? That among others, meditation is only “one” of the sadhanas intended to “prepare” the mind for self-inquiry (contemplation of the scriptures on self-knowledge).
It also means that it needs to be preceded by the understanding of the teachings presented in the five initial chapters of the Gita covering the topics of jnana yoga, karma-dharma yoga and a proper lifestyle conducive to spiritual maturity and the development of a calm and contemplative mind. Not to forget that all subsequent Gita’s chapters (the seventh through the eighteenth) are not mere fillers but integral parts of the complete teachings required for the proper assimilation of self-knowledge.
I do not intend to discourage anyone with regards to “upasana,” or meditation, and moreover, I do not know you, Aleksandra – I only wish to emphasize that there are no shortcuts in spiritual growth. Meditation can definitely help the meditator to balance and integrate the body-mind complex, and further, develop one’s mental qualities such as focus, discipline, equanimity towards objects, self-confidence and so on.
But in order to serve as an efficacious tool, meditation needs to be practised within the context of the entire program, the entire teachings of Vedanta, and not isolated as a “direct path” to “enlightenment” like some people (especially in the West) present it. Deprived of its Vedic context, meditation is almost impossible to achieve, and in most cases, it is eventually given up – and that is only due to lack of preparedness.
More on Meditation
To add to what I have mentioned yesterday, there are certain mental qualities which need to be developed before one can meditate. Let’s take the example of meditation as often used in the West for “therapeutic” purposes (for relaxation or peace of mind). Everyone has a value for relaxation and peace of mind, but it is almost impossible to sit in meditation unless the meditator has, to some degree, peace of mind and tranquility.
A dull and depressed mind almost invariably dozes off and falls sleep trying to meditate. An extroverted, very busy and active mind will not be able to stay focused on whatever object of meditation is the case. Therefore a qualified, balanced, focused and “equanimous” mind is not optional but compulsory.
How then to prepare the mind for meditation? And what is the object of meditation?
In our tradition, meditation is not “just” mental relaxation. It’s not fixing the mind on one single thought either. It is not regulating and manipulation the “prana” (pranayama). It is not destroying all thoughts. It’s not stopping the mind, it is not nirvikalpa samadhi, etc.In the Vedanta tradition, meditation is a continuous flow of a certain pattern of similar thoughts related to the object of meditation. In other words, it is a subtle, uninterrupted “mental activity” around the object of my meditation.
The next question then would be: What are the objects of meditation proposed by Vedanta? They are of two types:
1) The first, the denser, and therefore the easier object of meditation in our tradition is “saguna Isvara” (Isvara with attributes and properties) – or in other words, Isvara 2, the Lord of the universe manifest. Isvara 2 is a more tangible expression of the Self, or awareness, hence it is much easier to be meditated on. Meditation on Isvara 2 is called “dhyana.” It is a dualistic form of meditation where Isvara is presented as an object, and the meditator the subject.
2) The second form of dhyana presented by our scriptures is “nirguna Isvara” meditation. It is technically called “nididhyasana”; it is a form of meditation where the object of meditation is no longer “seen” as an object, but the very subject. For most people, this is a very vague, abstract and subtle form of meditation, and therefore it is not recommended as an entry-level practice. It requires knowledge of Isvara 1, Isvara 2 as well as great mental purification.
One may begin with a guided “therapeutic” sort of meditation to relax the body-mind construct a bit until one develops some of the necessary tranquility to sit and meditate on Isvara the Lord. But how are we to meditate on something unless we have some knowledge about the object of meditation? If I tell you to meditate for one hour on “gagabugay,” what are you going to do? You will search with Google and will find nowhere anything about it.
Hence we cannot progress or “grow out” of our “relaxation practices” to meditate on saguna Isvara dhyana, unless we have done our “sravana” and “manana” on the teachings of Vedanta as presented by Krishna in the Gita, and that with the help of a valid teacher. The knowledge of Isvara 2 needs to be clearly understood to bring forth in the mediator the attitude of devotion and love for Isvara 2. As we all know, we have no problem with meditating on something once we know and love it very dearly.
As far as nididhyasana goes, this is a different sort of love affair or devotion. It is the Self obsessively in love with itself. It is the highest level of devotion, the devotee in love with nirguna Isvara, his/her own fundamental nature. In the Gita, Krishna says, “Of all devotees, the ones that see myself as their own fundamental nature are the dearest to me.” And why? Because the devotee has finally understood and appreciated what Isvara really is: one’s own Self.
Nididhyasana eventually leads to moksa, which is but liberation from the infatuation for all pairs of opposites produced by Maya. It gradually keeps the mind introverted towards its own full, whole and complete nature as pure awareness, or nirguna Isvara.