MEDITATION ON MEDITATION
Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam
In this piece, the Upanishadic insight of human consciousness and mind, their form, structure and function will be analytically presented together with the description of phases and states of mind to get an idea of how the mind works. Calming the mind is presented as a process of de-learning illusory knowledge, relearning the real nature of human-being and then practising how to completely unlearn or be unaware of all the new knowledge too but not the insight gained. It will be argued that meditation and calming the mind are synonymous with self realisation and are the exact opposite to the process of generation of thoughts. The importance of possessing an open mind, having faith together and being on good terms with others will be stressed.
The ability to calm the mind is of the utmost importance in modern life. Many meditative techniques currently in vogue are intended to help humans to cope with the stresses and strains associated with today’s lifestyles. In many cases traditional meditation techniques are presented as popular modern methods. Attempts to calm the mind will give the desired results if meditation is undertaken in full knowledge and understanding of the mind and the nature of the meditation process.
Upanishadic philosophy is Sat-Darsana, a revelation of truth. The process of arriving at and experiencing truth is technically termed self realisation. With self realisation comes a calm mind and an increased mental functionality. One must possess absolute faith to calm the mind: faith in the approach, faith in the text and the teacher and faith in oneself. Cultivating, engaging in and maintaining a stable and harmonious relationship with others helps the aspirant in attempts to calm the mind. Often the lack of harmony hinders the aspirant from finding mental peace. The mere observation or practice of a meditative technique in an academic or mechanical way may not help the individual in his/her aim.
Ego – self-consciousness, the collection of thoughts about ‘I’ as body and associated personality traits, social status, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ – creates vasanas (impressions/experiences/memories) within us. All cognition/perception/volition/urge-related experiences are created and retrieved by the antahkarana (inner mental tool) chittam (sense/idea/mood/insight/mind). Egoistic thoughts and actions (with the thought and sense of ‘I’, where ‘I’ is identified with the respective individual) in awakened/wakeful and dream conscious states creates memories (vasanas). These memories are later activated (with reference to the passage of physical time) and cause happiness or unhappiness accordingly in the present. The state of mind bereft of egoistic thoughts, memories or other cognitions/perceptions/experiences is the state of Self (Atman) – it is ego-free, blissful, peaceful and time-transcendent. This state is called jagrat sushupti or wakeful sleep. The three other conscious states – the awakened/wakeful (jagrat), the dream (svapna) and deep sleep (sushupti) – are transient super-impositions over the present wakeful sleep (jagrat sushupti); they occur simultaneously or alternately.
Memories and the record of our experiences are our psychological past and our fears, anxieties, imaginations, expectations etc., form our psychological future. The thought-flow concerning these past and future memories activated as remembrances and fear, anxiety, anticipation, apprehensions, imaginations etc., consist of our psychological past and future and gives us the awareness of time and the sense of the passage of time. Thus thought-flow (reflected chit-energy transformations) is psychological time and its flow. Living in the ‘past or future’ in the present leads to peacelessness. The aim of spirituality is to enable one to cultivate the habit of living in the physical present with peace.
Such a spiritual tradition suggests that the aim of human birth is to cease to be ‘human’ and be divine – Ego-free – to transcend human nature and live in eternal blissful ego-free state. The word ‘human’ in human being refers to the ecstasy, excitement, grief, fear, anxiety, thrill, sense of achievement or disappointment and many other psychological comforts or discomforts experienced by men and women during the course of life. A human being grows tired of these psychological pulls and pushes and craves relief from this chain of states of emotional disorders to find peace. Some study Vedanta to attain peace of mind and some to acquire knowledge and to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Arriving at the truth grants peace in both cases and calms the mind. Peace and calmness are divine qualities. So are pure consciousness, being, bliss, silence and timelessness. The mental process by which one can attain these qualities of divinity or the method by which a human being transforms himself/herself into a calm divine being is known as meditation on the Self – the real Nature of the individual. The divine being is also called Self, Brahman, Atman.
Eka vastu chintanam eva dhyanam (literally ‘meditation is concentrating simply thinking about just one thing’) is one definition of meditation. This means that meditation is contemplation on a divine quality, of which the end result is that the mind merges into that quality and becomes that quality – this is what we call self realisation.
Theology proposes Bhakti – the path of devotion – for this purpose. In this method the mind concentrates on a name or form of a chosen auality of divine being and meditates on that name or form. This name or form is in fact a manifestation of the Self and the mind thus has a single focus. At the appropriate moment, divine grace enables the mind merge into that name or form.
Another definition of meditation is: dhyanam artha bhavanam (literally ‘meditation is contemplating on the meaning’). This is the path of knowledge. This meditation process involves concentrating the mind on study and learning and hence understanding the divine nature. This path also leads to a calm and peaceful mind.
In short, meditation or calming the mind consists in concentrating the mind on a chosen thing or contemplating upon a chosen concept, expression or insight.
The Upanishads contain descriptions of the Self and many ways of meditating on the Self, known as Vidya (possesssing and contemplating on right knowledge) or Upasana. The knowledge other than that of the Self is termed Avidya (literally ‘non-knowledge’) by the Upanishadic sages. According to their definition, Avidya consists of all sciences, arts, skills and the learning of languages and other disciplines and art forms.
The Isaavaasya Upanishad advises us to make use of both Vidya and Avidya while meditating on the Self to attain calmness within and warns that using only one of them leads to darkness – the Upanishadic term for ignorance (sloka 9). The eleventh sloka of this Upanishad teaches us the proper way of meditating on the Self,
Vidyaam cha avidyaam cha yastadvedoobhyam saha
Avidyayaa mrtyum teertvaa vidyayaa amritam asnute
This means that one must contemplate on and be aware of the Self by using both Avidya and Vidya. Through Avidya one crosses mortality and by Vidya one attains immortality. Immortality is the release from the cycle of birth and death i.e., from the rise and the setting of an egoistic mind (mithyaaham – literally ‘a false “I”’). An egoistic mind and self-consciousness are responsible for all disturbances the individual experiences. Thus knowledge about both Vidya and Avidya is necessary for one to meditate on the Self and live as the Self in and with calmness.
The antahkaranas manas, buddhi, ahamkaaram and chittam enable us to engage and disengage with the perceived and experienced external world and acquire knowledge and activate the inbuilt tendencies- i.e., the arishadvargas. All this knowing or mental activity called Tamas (ignorance) hinders the seer (sat/atman) and makes one view only the seen (jagat-retrieved inner mental world). Thus this engagement of the antahkaranas with the perceived or experienced external world is Ajnaana in Upanishadic terms.
The term Ajnana here is used not to belittle any of the acquired knowledge in any way but only to point out that truth, self, pure consciousness or prajnaanam outlives rather than transcends all these perceptions, intellectual operations, self-consciousness, experiences and their recollections by being, manifesting as and in, causing, maintaining and observing the origin, the becoming and cessation of all these mental functions carried out by the antahkaranas. It is this that is the ultimate Jnaana (knowledge).
The mind as the activities of the antahkaranas is like a boat in the river of consciousness and the self-consciousness of the person is the individual travelling in the boat. The boat helps the person to proceed in the course of the life and at the end the river, the boat and the individual together merge in the sea of pure consciousness. Thus meditation is a journey on the boat of the mind by the meditator to reach the Self, the divinity, and become one with it. After this merging with the divinity, no trace of the meditator or the meditative tool (the mind) remains. Only object-free meditation continues – this is simply the blissful state of the Self continuously experienced which maintains the mind’s calm.
An individual by his samskaara – inbuilt hereditary mental tendencies – has a natural proclivity towards a particular antahkarana as a meditating tool and thus meditates. Different meditative techniques are available to suit the temperament and mental make up and preparedness of the individual.
The Self or Brahman or Atman or Prajnaanam is always present. This is the revelation and the essence of Upanishadic Teachings. It is interesting to note that being (sat), pure consciousness (chit) and bliss (aananda) are the characteristics of the Self as described in the Upanishads. Being is a present continuous form of the verb ‘to be’ and becoming the present continuous form of ‘to become’; the becoming is the physical and psychological manifestation of the being. The natural state of a human being is being, the present continuous form of ‘to be’ and not becoming – which is limited by memory of the past and speculation as to the future. But the normal state of a human being is a combination of a series of being and becoming or peace and disturbance, past and future – or fluctuation between all these – and seldom is being, the natural present continuous state, the blissful state. One becomes something when one cognises an object or uses an antahkarana or the mind. When the mind ceases to cognize, one returns to the natural state of being. Becoming is a super-position and causes disturbance to this being and makes one live in an unreal state.
The mind, in the form of antahkaranas, transforms human beings into a human becomings as it were. Luckily this transformation is transitory and reversible. These transformations of the mind worry ordinary people. But the realised souls are always aware of the transitory nature of these transformations and the simultaneous presence of the two present continuous forms – the being and the becoming, which are consciousness and awareness – and are always beings. They only view the becomings in the form of vasanas and jagat occurring within and without and are not concerned or touched by these ‘unreal’ happenings.
The Upanishads talk about Mithyaham – the virtual Self or maya (illusion). The virtual Self is the reflected Sat and is made up of the same stuff as Sat. This virtual Self is the first becoming in the individual and is responsible for and contained in all mental functions, which are its own transformations. The virtual self always transforms itself as antahkaranas resulting in the perceptions and experiences (vasanas) which are viewed by and are aware of the Self in the different conscious states. The various transformations of the virtual Self as various antahkaranas to perform various mental functions what you can call reversible becomings (vivartanam). These becomings constitute mental activity and the sense of the passage of time in the individual; they make the individual aware of the body, psychology, gender, social status etc, as well as the form and structure of ego and self-consciousness.
If these becomings – the thoughts, feelings, intellectual functions, perceptions, experiences, understandings, urges, instincts and tendencies – all cease to happen or the virtual Self undergoes no transformations then it is unoccupied awareness, bliss, peace, silence, eternity and hence timelessness. Thought-ego- and feeling-free consciousness results in an experience of calm and peace within and is observed by the Self as the Prajnanam or seer. The Self as seer is always present and is eternal and timeless; it is a present continuous being. A reading of this transcript is itself a de-learning, relearning and unlearning process i.e., a way to calm the mind.
Note: The method of meditation as a means of calming the mind cannot be generally prescribed. Just as a psychologist treats each case individually so too the method of calming mind is specific to each individual and depends greatly on one’s mental makeup.
1. Meditation/calming the mind veils our ignorance and unveils our knowledge and real self.
2. Meditation/calming the mind veils our false identity and unveils our real or true identity.
3. Meditation/calming the mind veils our unreal or apparent or misunderstood nature and unveils our true and real nature.
Sri Ramana Maharshi:
4. Find out wherefrom this ‘I’ springs forth and merge at its source; that is tapas-meditation.
5. Find out wherefrom the sound of the mantra in japa rises up and merge there; that is tapas-meditation.
Ramabrahmam, V., 2007, Upanishadic ways of calming the mind, Presentation at the national seminar on “The Indian Approach to Calming the Mind” on 25th and 26th August, 2007 at Veda Vijnana Gurukulam, Bangalore.