Meditation is a Living Experience

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Meditation is a living experience. Another word for living experience is 'darshan'. Most of us are familiar with this word darshan. Darshan is 'inner vision' and it is definitely different from a psychic experience. When a person has this darshan, he feels the same depth of awareness as he feels during the waking state of experience, and therefore meditation is a living experience.

The raja yoga of Sage Patanjali has maintained this idea, that when the mind and its properties are controlled by the incessant practice of yoga, there is the manifestation of a higher state of awareness; and this higher state of awareness is meditation. Since we are involved in the practices of yoga in some way or other, it will be necessary for us to know as to how we should proceed with meditation. Closing the eyes and withdrawing the mind from the sensory experiences does not mean that we have achieved meditation.

From all the experiences we have gathered, and what we have learnt from the scriptures, is that the state of meditation is a dynamic state of awareness which does not merely influence the subjective, psychic experience, it also influences the whole nature and responses of the personality. Transformation is a very important process that follows meditation. It is also said that there are prerequisites for meditation.

Need for a form

Whether you practise meditation on a religious basis or whether you practise purely on the basis of raja yoga, the important point that everyone should remember is that meditation must have an object as the sheet anchor for the consciousness to travel. There has always been a controversy about saguna and nirguna meditation, meditation on form and on the formless. Most people who believe that the reality is formless have a serious objection in accepting an object for meditation. They say that if the supreme consciousness is formless, how can a form help you to achieve that experience? From all our experiences we have come to one conclusion: no matter what the nature of reality is, it matters nothing if the reality is absolutely formless. However, in order to maintain steady spiritual progress and to be able to have a grip over all the transforming states of consciousness, meditation on a form, saguna, should be practised essentially.

This is not a religious affirmation or emphasis I am making because I do not belong to that sect either. By a philosophical sect I belong to nirguna panth, Advaita Vedanta. Still I have always felt throughout my career of being a guide to spiritual aspirants, that a very important item in dhyana yoga is a concrete awareness, a concrete object or symbol. We should not confuse ourselves between the spiritual practice and the ultimate reality.

We choose a concrete object not because we believe that the experience in samadhi is a material experience, but we choose an object in order to guide the mind through the recesses of consciousness. When the consciousness passes from the external to the internal terrain of consciousness, there is absolute darkness; there are no supports whatsoever.

There are no guidelines and practically no proof whether we are progressing or regressing. There is also no indication to show whether our consciousness is spiritually transforming itself, or whether it is entering a state of inertia, tamas. As long as the object is kept intact during the various stages of transformation, as long as you are able to visualize the object in the subconscious or the unconscious plane, you are on the right path. The moment the symbol vanishes, you are lost, which means that you have to come back again to mundane consciousness.

Freedom of choice

Patanjali has listed five practices in his Yoga Sutras, but he has given you freedom of choice also. First of all, you can practise meditation on light which takes you beyond sorrow and evolves in you a blissful condition. This light can be visualized in trikuti, the space between the eyebrows. This light may also be visualized in anahata chakra, the heart centre. It can be experienced within and without; it is the symbol, it is the thought. When you transcend name and form, time and space, and for a moment everything appears as if dead, it is that light that shines in the realm of consciousness which leads through the transforming states of your personality and consciousness. If it is not possible to visualize the light spontaneously by closing the eyes, the best thing is to place a light, a deepak, and practise trataka, steady gazing on the flame without blinking the eyes, then you close the eyes and try to visualize the same light within. This is one technique.

You can also take, as an object for your meditation, any of the saints who have transcended the realm of maya, who have risen above karma and the three gunas – sattwa, rajas and tamas – and who have attained a high quality of dispassion. Those saints and gurus can also become the object of your dhyana. People may have an objection to it. Nonetheless, I have made it clear that it is not our intention to emphasize that the ultimate reality is bound by form; I am emphasizing that it is important that the mind has something to grasp. When you meditate on one of the saints, you develop in yourself the effulgent personality consciousness, which can also help you to attain the state of dhyana and samadhi.

From pranayama to dhyana

Pranayama, which is the fourth step in raja yoga, can also lead one to the state of dhyana directly. Pranayama appears to be a very gross practice, but it is not. When systematically practised, it does fulfil its promises as pranayama. When practised with the necessary preparations, it will fulfil itself as pratyahara. It will also create one-pointedness of mind and will help to withdraw the mind totally and make you steady in dhyana yoga.

The fourth and most important pranayama is known as chaturtha pranayama, when the ingoing breath and the outgoing breath must be separately visualized in their natural speed and rhythm. After visualizing the natural rhythm of the breath, you should make it a little deeper than natural. If the practitioner of dhyana yoga is able to combine consciousness with prana during these most natural movements of breath all the 24 hours, samadhi takes place by itself.

The great yogi Gorakhnath said that you must practise awareness of your breath in such way that your consciousness becomes aware ofSo Ham, So Ham. This music of the breath continues all through the day and night and when that happens, the inner awareness will express itself spontaneously. It will just explode. It is the most important of all the pranayama practices. It has been adopted by the Buddhist system of meditation and many other systems of meditation, and in Iran it is practised by the Sufis.

It is said that the breath is the indicator, the torchbearer, and the play of consciousness is moving up and down. Awareness and breath must be integrated, and when these move rhythmically and you watch it quietly, this brings you to dhyana yoga.

The forgotten mind

Dhyana is not just a 'spot' experience; it is a range of experience. It has localized stages which are planes of experience. Therefore concentration, awareness of the movement of breath, is a very powerful system when you make your breath a little deeper than natural. When you prolong your breath, then your consciousness is able to open the sushumna.

No matter when you started your sadhana, when sushumna nadi wakes up, distractions fall flat and a wavering mind becomes almost a remote experience. We have been failing in our sadhana because we have always been wrestling with the mind. Somehow we are under the wrong impression that we shall triumph over the mind. It can never happen like this. The only way to get away from the mind is to transcend it, not to fight it. You can spend your whole life trying to fight with the mind, and when you are preparing to enter the grave you can only say, "Well, I'm coming again to fight with you."

Intelligent people have found another method called transcendence. How to transcend the mind? We cannot transcend the mind by the mind. The mind can be transcended by a spiritual practice and yogis have correctly said that we do what we like in our sadhana; we don't care how the mind plays.

What we are concerned with is how to awaken sushumna. Once the awakening takes place it is an explosive experience. Suddenly we find everything expanding, disappearing and reappearing. What was considered to be one of the most difficult missions of life – to control the mind – has just happened by itself. Within a moment the mind has been forgotten.

9 March 1978, Lecture at Tata House, Mumbai, India