Teachings on Yoga from Ramacharitamanas - 4

Lighting the Lamp

Swami Satyadharma Saraswati

In the previous article the conditions required to transform the mind into a higher faculty of perception were discussed. When all of these criteria are met: the cow of sattwa, the green grass of yogic discipline, the calf of faith, the milk of dharma, the curd of sensory control, the churning pot of cheerfulness, the stick of reflection, the cords of truthful and agreeable speech, then the churning of the mind can be completed and the butter of vairagya, or non-attachment, extracted. Pratyahara is the stage of yogic meditation by which the mind is churned. This brings up all the latent samskaras, impressions and experiences. The outcome of this process is vairagya, or non-attachment, which represents the second stage of mental transformation.

Vairagya is actually a higher state of mind than the normal state. When the lower mind is transformed into higher mind, we develop the quality of vairagya, which is the pure butter or essence of the mind. The lower mind is the milk of dharma, even when it is inspired by the pure ideals and concepts of jnana and bhakti. Only when the lower mind is churned and transformed do we begin to manifest the quality of non-attachment to worldly things, relationships and events; to myself, my body, my roles and my life. Vairagya is the first pure evolute of buddhi, the higher faculty of awareness. When we have eliminated many of the mental impressions and toxins with the aid of non-attachment, then we are ready to enter the state of dharana, or one-pointed concentration.

In dharana the butter of vairagya will be clarified into the pure ghee of viveka. This is the third stage of transformation of consciousness. So, viveka develops from vairagya, just as dharana develops from pratyahara. This process has been described in Uttarkanda (117) in the following words: “After kindling the fire of yoga with the fuel of the karmas, both good and bad, the butter is placed upon it.” The fire of yoga, which is kindled at manipura chakra, represents the state of dharana. Manipura is the centre of agni, the fire element, which corresponds to the vital energy or prana shakti. When the vital energy is purified and awakened, it becomes the yogic fire which is fuelled by our karmas, both good and bad. The karmas reside in the karmashaya of the unconscious mind, which is the domain of swadhisthana chakra.

The yogic fire in this sense represents the awakened manipura chakra, but manipura cannot awaken until the karmas of swadhisthana have been revealed. The karmashaya is opened by the churning of the mind in the stage of pratyahara, releasing the multitude of samskaras and karmas. However, the aid of vairagya or non-attachment is required to manage this process. Vairagya is actually the key to evolution beyond the lower states of mind. Once non-attachment develops, we are able to release the accumulated karmas and come out of swadhisthana. Then these karmas can be used for fuel at manipura. The yogic fire requires fuel, like any other fire. The fuel is the karmas, which are also a form of energy that has been trapped in swadhisthana chakra.

This indicates that the lower centres, where we have many negative and instinctive propensities, must also be awakened and purified. But in order to awaken them, we must reflect and understand this level of our nature with the help of vairagya, or non-attachment; otherwise the karmas cannot be released and the fire will not burn. So, first we must activate swadhisthana and bring the karmas up with the help of vairagya; then we can use them to kindle the yogic fire at manipura.

After kindling the fire, the butter is placed upon it. When the butter comes to the boil, scum rises to the top which contains the impurities still inherent in the butter. This scum is the residue of worldly attachment, which must be burnt away so that the pure ghee of viveka, or higher discrimination, can be extracted. That pure ghee must then be cooled by buddhi, the higher intellect.

Viveka and vairagya are the two qualities of buddhi, the higher mind, with which it perceives jnana, or pure knowledge. Spiritual life requires two qualities, just as a bird needs two wings in order to fly. No bird flies on one wing; similarly, no spiritual flight takes place without the two qualities of viveka and vairagya. Viveka is cooled by buddhi, which means discrimination and non-attachment are the qualities that manifest when buddhi has awakened. Buddhi can perceive the knowledge and light of the soul directly because of its sattwic nature and close proximity with the atman. But when buddhi turns downward, it perceives only the different patterns of manas, the lower mind, in relation with duality. This process of clarifying the ghee refers to the awakening of buddhi, whereby jnana, or inner knowledge, is perceived directly.

“Now,” Kaka Bhusundi, the sage crow, continues, “having obtained the pure ghee of discriminating awareness, let buddhi fill the lamp of chitta, or individual consciousness.” Again, it is not enough to understand viveka. We must fill our consciousness with this quality, so that it pervades our every thought and action. After filling the lamp of consciousness with the ghee of viveka, Kaka Bhusundi proceeds, “Then place the lamp on the stand of samata, or equanimity of mind.” Equanimity means the mind is not affected by any thought, emotion or experience that may arise within or without. Regardless of what happens, positive or negative, we remain even-minded and non-reactive. The lamp must be placed on the stand of equanimity, so that it burns steadily without any fluctuation.

Next, the cotton strands of the superconscious state must be pulled out from the cotton ball, which represents the three states of consciousness: jagrit – waking or conscious, swapna – dreaming or subconscious and sushupti – deep sleep or unconscious, as well as the three gunas, or qualities of prakriti: sattwa, rajas and tamas, all in one. Within the cotton ball exist all the possible dimensions and modifications of consciousness and energy, but we have to draw out only the superconscious state. The wick is made by pulling out the strands of cotton from the ball and then rolling them together between the fingers until it becomes firm and sturdy.

Having thus prepared the wick, Kaka Bhusundi continues, “Let him light the wick of the superconscious state in this splendid lamp of chitta, the individual consciousness, aglow with discriminating awareness, which consumes all the moths of pride and vanity as soon as they approach.” When a lamp is lit, the insects fly into the light and are immediately annihilated. Similarly, when the superconscious state is alight with viveka, all the pride and vanity generated by the ego is consumed in this radiance. The constant awareness of Soham asmi, ‘I am that, I am’, represents the brilliant flame of the lamp. When the bliss of self-knowledge arises from the flame of the Soham mantra, the heart space is illumined and the darkness of ignorance, the root of worldly existence, is dispersed.

This also symbolizes that the kundalini shakti has ascended beyond the lower centres, beyond manipura, to anahata, the heart centre. This again equates to the next stage of meditation, which is dhyana. Buddhi fills the lamp of chitta, the individual field of consciousness, with the ghee of viveka, or discriminating wisdom, which can differentiate the manifest from the unmanifest and realize the total field. The lamp is placed on the stand of samata, or even-mindedness, which represents the state of unfluctuating awareness, and this is dhyana. Then the wick is produced and the flame of the lamp is lit with the Soham mantra, the realization that ‘I am That’, the understanding of my true nature, my true self.

Just as darkness is dispersed by the light of the sun as soon as it comes up over the horizon, in the same way, when the lamp of consciousness is lit with the realization of Soham, ‘I am That’, duality along with illusion and all the rest that form the family of avidya disappear. Having found the light of self-realization, buddhi then rests in the chamber of the heart, and this represents the awakening of anahata. We must remember that buddhi was established in the head before the lamp was lit. Buddhi functions through the rational mind in the unawakened state, but when the lamp of self-realization is lit, buddhi leaves the head and comes down to rest in the chamber of the heart.

This is the correlation of the teachings on yoga given in Ramacharitamanas with the different stages of chakra awakening and yogic meditation. “Now,” Kaka Bhusundi says, “the jiva or individual soul can only hope to attain its end in the event that buddhi unties the knot of spirit and matter while the heart is illumined by the lamp.” However, when Maya realizes that this knot is about to be untied, she quickly makes a move to snuff out the lamp. Maya is the supreme empress; we should never underestimate her power. Maya controls everything and everybody that exists. Maya will not let go of her subjects easily. She will create many obstructions and these will be discussed in the next article.