HJ: This is a very interesting and thought provoking exploration of the effects of meditation on ones awareness (among other things) from the perspective of a master Indian swami. Swami Satyananda Saraswati is one of the foremost scholars and teachers on meditation, kundalini, yoga, consciousness, spirituality and the relationship between them all. He beautifully interweaves a traditional perspective grounded in the timeless wisdom of the ancient Indian sages, wise men, rishis and seers with his own insights from a lifetime of contemplation and practice. At the end of his exploration and explanation of conscious awareness in its relationship to meditation, he, of course, offers a simple but powerful meditation based on the spiritual sciences and theory outlined in the article below.
Where Space and Time Meet
By Swami Satyananda Saraswati | Yoga Mag
Given at Scandinavian School of Yoga and Meditation in Copenhagen in Sept.
Meditation is a special science of the self that was formulated, experimented with and perfected by the rishis and saints of India thousands of years ago. In fact, it was the tradition to hold public discourses on the science of meditation and the states of consciousness experienced at various stages of the practice. Some people were of the opinion that meditation led to a state of total unconsciousness. Others felt that meditation led to visions, psychic experiences and contact with the spiritual divinities. Still others felt that in meditation one was able to see God face to face. But there were certain people who came to the conclusion that in meditation the consciousness is expanded beyond the normal frontiers, and they called this process ‘expansion of consciousness’.
So innumerable definitions and theories were formed regarding the practices of meditation and the resulting states of consciousness. All these definitions were discussed in India for centuries and centuries, but the simplest explanation was given by one particular rishi, Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras :
“When the mind is dissociated from the sensory experiences and made constant and consistent on one subject, one point or one topic, the state of meditation develops.”
Right from that time, the message of all the great seers to the rest of the world has been that evolution of mankind is not possible without following the path of meditation.
Beyond the frontiers of the mind
When we talk about the evolution of man, we are talking about his evolution in the outside world as well as the inside world. The cognition and perception of the mind are limited by its associations with the senses. The mind gains knowledge through the five sensory portals, and if these portals refuse to give information to the mind, the mind becomes incapacitated. If you had no eyes, the mind could not see. If you had no auditory system, the mind could not hear. That is how the mind is incapacitated in the absence of association with the senses. This means that the senses are the boundaries, the frontiers of the mind. Just as a house has a compound wall, so does the mind. Senses are the boundaries, the frontiers or compound wall for the mind.
By leading the mind into meditation, you take it beyond these frontiers. When you are able to do this, you experience expansion of consciousness. During this state the mind learns to see, hear, feel and know without the medium of the senses, and it becomes a very sensitive instrument in the hands of man. Without expanded consciousness, man is only an animal.
In our century, meditation has caught the attention of millions of people all over the world. Numerous systems of meditation have been devised and practised by people in different countries and they have definitely brought many positive results. People are now convinced that meditation is a way to further spiritual evolution. But still many wonder if meditation is only a state of the brain and mind or is it something more?
Recently a lot of experiments have been conducted on the basis of chemical drugs, and many thinkers have come to the conclusion that the alteration of consciousness can be brought about by chemical means. Those who think that drugs can bring about a change in the state of the mind, believe that meditation influences the cerebral structure in a similar way. But strictly and frankly speaking, meditation is a process in which not only your brain and nervous system, but the whole personality from physical to spiritual, undergoes metamorphosis.
When you practise pranayama with retention of the breath (kumbhaka), there is some influence exerted on the silent areas of the brain. As a result, you may have psychic experiences, and when you sit for meditation, you may become completely unconscious of space and time. But usually meditation is a process of expansion in which time and space are brought together at the nucleus of the self.
The mind of an individual is a part of the cosmic universal mind. You must understand that your individual mind is part of the universal mind. The space in this room is an individual space, but it is also a part of a greater space. Because you have four walls around it, you call it your room space. Similarly, the individual mind is a concept and not a reality. Actually there is only universal mind. Individual mind should not be brought into consideration at all. ‘Your mind’ is a concept and in meditation you have to blow it up. What happens when you break the walls, where is the individual space? It becomes part of the total space. So the whole crux of the matter is the individualisation of the mind which is actually a process of self-hypnotism.
The universal mind is symbolised by a cosmic egg. The shell of this egg is composed of proto-matter. At one end of this egg is Space, at the other end, Time. Space is plus energy and Time is minus energy. Space is the positive pole and Time is the negative pole. The centre of the universal mind is bindu, a point. That is the nucleus of the universal mind and it contains a form which we call matter. When you sit for meditation and start concentrating on one point, Time and Space both proceed towards the centre. When they unite at the bindu point, a great explosion of energy forces takes place.
This is what happens in the universal mind when you are practising meditation. Where is this universal mind? Universal mind is in you, in me and in everyone, because when the explosion takes place, the universal mind breaks into thousands of parts and millions of fragments. These fragments of universal mind are absolute in nature. When you divide the absolute into millions, it remains an absolute. The absoluteness of the absolute can never be altered. There is a beautiful mantra in the Upanishads about it. They say that absolute is absolute and this manifestation is also absolute. From that unmanifest absolute, this manifest absolute has been derived. If absolute is divided into thousands and millions of fragments, what remains is absolute. The equation goes like this:
Infinity plus infinity is infinity
Infinity minus infinity is infinity
Infinity multiplied or divided by infinity is infinity.
Taking ‘one’ as the symbol of absolute, there can be nothing greater or lesser than ‘one’. The shortest equation is thus one plus one equals one; one minus one is equal to one; one multiplied by one or divided by one is only one. That is the concept of the universal mind. The universal mind is divided into millions and trillions of fragments and each fragment is absolutely universal in nature and structure. Therefore, every particle in this universe is part of the universal mind. When you practise meditation you are dealing with the universal mind, and when you are trying to concentrate on a point, you are bringing time and space into one polarity.
Fission and fusion
The whole universal mind is encircled by an energy aura. When time and space unite with each other, a great phenomena takes place as the point or nucleus of the universal mind undergoes an explosion. If ever you have studied physics and nuclear energy, you may be able to understand this better. Break the matter and the nucleus of the matter is energy. Break the mind and the nucleus of the mind is spiritual energy. During the whole process of meditation, the universal mind is undergoing the same process, the same transformation as matter during the process of fission and fusion.
Matter and mind should be properly understood by those who meditate. For most people, matter is inert and mind is active. But matter is a state of mind and mind is a state of matter. You must clearly understand that matter and mind are two different states of one reality. The central core of the mind and the central core of the matter in each case is shakti, energy. That is why, in the process of dhyana, emphasis is placed on one-pointed concentration, on consistent and un-fluctuating awareness of one bindu, one symbol. The symbol on which you meditate is only a support. When you achieve meditation the symbol is destroyed.
When you want to disintegrate the matter and derive nuclear energy from it, you take a particular form of matter. When you want to explode the mind, then you should give it a form. So some people meditate on a point or a star, and others have their own symbol. At a particular stage of meditation the symbol explodes and then the state of samadhi comes. So those of you who are interested in meditation have to give it more thought and make sure you understand the whole process fully.
How to practise
Every day one should devote at least ten minutes to meditation practice. Do not practise more in impatient enthusiasm. Sit down at an appointed time, in the same place, for ten minutes every day. Choose a simple system for yourself and follow it. Some people concentrate on sound, others concentrate on form. But in my opinion the best type of concentration is on form.
By form I mean a point, star, candle flame, crescent moon, flower, or any symbol. Utilising a form is the most powerful way to polarise the mind, but if you prefer you can concentrate on a sound (nada). There are also other systems. You can concentrate on the forehead, nose tip, heart centre, manipura chakra, mooladhara chakra, on the space inside the brain, or on sushumna nadi. There are thousands of practices, but according to yoga and tantra, the best system is concentration on a point. The point is the bindu; it is object, time and space in one. But of course if you already have your own system, you don’t have to change it because every technique can lead to that point.
Self-hypnosis and psychic experiences
Often a state of self-hypnosis is misunderstood as meditation. Some people meditate to improve the quality of their sleep, to get rid of their alcoholic habits, or to harmonise their family or marital life. But frankly speaking, this is not the fruit of meditation. This is the fruit of self-hypnosis. It is said in the yogic scriptures as well as in the Gita, that generally, when people try to concentrate they enter into a state of self-hypnosis. There are millions of unfortunate people on our planet who definitely need the help of self-hypnosis, but there comes a point in man’s evolution when he has to break out of his self-created boundaries.
Everything happens inside the mind and nothing happens outside. Behind the body is the mind, and behind the mind is the universal mind. Behind the universal mind is the universal spirit. It is difficult for people to realise that there could be anything beyond this body. If you ask them, ‘Where is your mind, your emotions, your hunger?’ They say, ‘Here’. But these things are not in the body. In fact, they are so distinct, so separate from the body, that they are completely isolated from it. The body is not even a vehicle for them.
As you progress along the path of meditation, you become more aware of the mind and identify less with the body. The mind is a very great force and in order to understand it fully, you need a correct and systematic way. Otherwise, when you close your eyes for meditation you may go into unconsciousness, deep, lucid sleep. In meditation there should be total awareness within and without, and this total awareness has to be experienced by the practitioner.
Of course, during your meditation practice there may be moments when you have psychic experiences. These experiences are indestructible patterns of a part of the universal mind. But they should never be taken for the fruit of meditation. One should not care for these psychic experiences even though they come during meditation practice. They are what I call obstacles. When the explosion takes place and everything becomes energy/matter, then the energy is in the form of a nebula and these high experiences are the nebulous manifestation of the universal mind. If you have a symbol or a point to focus your concentration on, you can ignore all experiences that may occur during the period of meditation.
In the earlier stages of meditation when you are trying to cancel your thinking, thoughts will come and go. You can use your willpower to put these thoughts aside, but if you are not so strong, then you will lose your point of concentration. If you are strong, you can hold onto the point of concentration and completely ignore the thoughts that come and go. However, even when you are doing this, a thought can enter the periphery of your awareness, without you even knowing it, and disturb the whole area of concentration. A strong person has this type of problem, and weak persons have other problems, particularly in trying to fix their mind on one point.
The great wall
By purifying the mind through karma yoga, it is possible to avoid the sudden rush of thoughts. But when you enter deep into the area of meditation you have other difficulties. When the ordinary consciousness has been switched off completely, psychic experiences can occur and they may cause you to lose your point of concentration. These psychic experiences are so attractive, powerful and mind capturing, that you cannot ignore them, and most people’s spiritual journey ends at this point.
When I was young I had a lot of difficulties with psychic experiences. I started practising meditation from the age of six. After the age of eighteen or nineteen, I was progressing very well, but every time I transcended, I had to face these psychic experiences in which I was always confronted with a very big wall. I tried all methods to eradicate it. I became a vegetarian, I stopped drinking and smoking, and I stopped going to see movies. Everything that a puritan would do, I did, but that did not change the structure of my psychic experiences. I used to miss the point of my concentration as you would miss a small needle in a big haystack. Once someone told me if I were to fast I would be all right. I fasted, but the experiences became all the more horrible. Then someone suggested that I keep a vigil- no sleeping at night, no sleeping in the day, just sitting. I tried it but it made the situation even worse!
I used to see the point, and the point exploded and the psychic experiences used to come- angels, gods, goddesses, rishis, colours, men, women, gardens, mountains, hundreds and thousands of things I could see. Finally, I decided that it was not in my power to transcend the mind through the mind. Then, for the first time in my life I began to say prayers. I prayed to God, ‘If you are there, please help me if you can.’ My friends used to laugh at me, but they could see that I was sincere. Sometimes they even saw me weeping and crying. It was not a drama for me; it was completely real.
Then I went to so many saints, including Anandamayi Ma, Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi. I also encountered many tantric gurus. They were all very nice people but they could not tear off the great wall I am telling you about. I say to you again, that it is here that most people end their spiritual journey. Up to this point, you can traverse by your own efforts, but after this you need something else.
When I met Swami Sivananda and he asked me what I wanted, I replied, ‘I am in a great forest. It’s too dark, too deep and too beautiful. How am I to get out of it?’ He only said, ‘Stay with me.’ I stayed with my guru for a period of twelve years. I did not meditate, I just worked with him very hard, like a servant, like a donkey. But somehow during all those years, I eventually managed to get past that obstructing wall.
In higher states of meditation one doesn’t retire from external experiences. There is a simultaneous awareness of both outside and inside that you call a homogeneous experience. The external light is a manifestation of consciousness and therefore we cannot create a compartment between the so called outside consciousness and inside consciousness. Consciousness is one, but we only know the external one and not the internal one. Consciousness in this sense is like an iceberg. You can only see a little bit on the top; you are not able to see what is beneath the surface of the ocean. In the highest state of meditation one can perceive the whole consciousness.
In highest meditation there is awareness of the total consciousness. In the initial states of meditation you are only aware of the inner consciousness and you forget about the external one. In the preliminary stages of meditation the outside experiences are blocked out. You hear no sounds, you see no forms, you know nothing outside. But as you go deep into the highest state of meditation, the consciousness begins to expand. It is something like standing at the threshold and being able to see inside the room and outside at the same time.
Very few people can understand this, because for most people, the state of meditation is awareness of the inner consciousness. As you make progress in meditation, life becomes one and not two. Then you have no difficulty in maintaining a relationship and contact with both the inner and the outer lives. You are not like a fish who can live in water only, but like a turtle who can live in water as well as out of it. You are able to experience the inner spirit and the outer objective world at the same time. Only when this happens does samadhi occur, not before.
Meditation is a way for the evolution of the whole of mankind. If one person in a family is meditating he is able to create a resonance in the minds of the others at the same time. If you tune five violins and strike one, gradually the resonance will affect all the other violins and their strings will also vibrate. This is how man will come nearer to his own existence and his own reality. The external life is not unreal and the internal life is not utopia. But external life in itself is not complete; internal life is the accomplishment of external life. Man’s commitment and fulfilment are only one, and that is meditation.
Get ready for meditation.
Sit in any comfortable posture which you can maintain without difficulty throughout the practice. Close your eyes, and let your whole body become relaxed and steady. Keep your spine erect and place your hands on the knees.
Feel deep peace pervade the whole body and mind. Become aware of the natural breath; feel the air as it flows in and out of the nostrils.
Contract the glottis slightly and begin to practise ujjayi pranayama. The breath should be natural and spontaneous rather than deep. Practise very soft ujjayi breathing so that only you can hear it.
Become aware of the psychic passage between the navel and the throat. Feel the breath moving up and down the psychic passage. On inhalation the breath ascends from the navel to the throat. On exhalation it descends from the throat to the navel.
Continue to move the breath up and down the psychic passage between the throat and the navel. Count the number of respirations and at the same time be aware of the path through which your consciousness is ascending and descending. Be aware that you are breathing up and down, and side by side, maintain complete awareness of the counting. Start counting from 1 right up to 100.
Focus your attention on the navel and notice the movement of your abdomen. With inspiration the navel expands; with expiration it contracts.
Maintain awareness of the expansion and contraction of your abdomen, and the ascending and descending breath, along with the counting.
Now take your awareness to mooladhara chakra at the base of the spine.
Continue to practise ujjayi pranayama.
As you inhale, send the breath up the spinal cord from mooladhara to ajna chakra. As you exhale, send the breath down through the spinal cord to mooladhara.
Continue to breathe up and down the spinal cord. Feel the ujjayi breath becoming longer and finer. Fix your attention on mooladhara chakra. Ascend the inspired breath through the spinal cord to ajna, and descend the expired breath through the spinal cord to mooladhara.
Continue to practise in this way.
Feel the breath and awareness move up and down the spinal cord in a steady, continuous, rhythmic flow.
Now leave the psychic passage and the breath, and focus your awareness at the eyebrow centre.
Visualise the form of your choice and develop complete awareness of that form.
Try to see the form very clearly.
Hold it for some time.
See that the mind does not waver.
Watch the form consciously and try to merge yourself within it.
Do not lose your awareness of the form.
If thoughts come, be aware of them, but go on concentrating on the form.
As soon as the mind becomes disturbed, the form will fade, but as long as the mind is quiet and concentrated the form will remain clear.
Now it is time to end the practice.
Again bring your awareness to the natural breath.
Become aware of the physical body and slowly open your eyes.
Hari Om Tat Sat