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Friday, June 4, 2010

Meditation Part 4 A

Dear Asha, Ajay, Ravi and Ariana,

Before I start this final essay on meditation, let me share with you some other thoughts.

I have quoted many books in these essays for three reasons. First, it is to show that meditation and mysticism are not in the special province of one culture or one tradition. If human mind is capable of it, it will be experienced by anyone interested, from whichever part of the world he comes from, at any point in history. My quotes are in support of that position. The second reason is that I am used to write medical and scientific articles. In science, we have to provide evidence in support of our statements. This has become a habit. Finally, I wish to encourage you to go the original source and check it out for yourself.  You can check me out for accuracy. You may also find a different angle or explanation. You may say that you do not know Sanskrit or Tamizh. May be, this will be a stimulus for you to learn an ancient Indian language.

Now, back to the completion of this series.

How can we recognize a true mystic from the mentally ill?  One can recognize the true mystics by their actions and attitudes to life. As noted earlier, a mystic is full of equanimity, compassion and universal love. He lives a simple life. As pointed out by William James, he lives a life of asceticism (not self- torture) and poverty (minimal needs, not retreating to the caves). He involves himself in necessary worldly activities, but internally he has given up all attachments. He may behave odd sometimes like a freak, but “his action is not a mere restless striving after the discordant objects of a scattered attention, but an ordered movement based on the contemplation of reality”.

The behavior of the mentally ill is obvious most of the time. It is centered on their inner fears and anxieties and altered perceptions. The mentally ill live in response to fantasies and selfish needs. Therefore, their actions are unpredictable. They are oblivious to the consequences of their action on others. Mystic is not selfish. Indeed he is altruistic. Also, the mystic experience lasts for only a brief period. The mentally ill have hallucinations and delusions for prolonged periods.

What are the stages mystics go through before they experience this Unity with the Original Source (mystic union)?

 Vedic Hindu scriptures and Buddhist scriptures described these stages millennia ago. For example, Patanjali says that the dawn of wisdom comes in several stages (Yoga sutra 2:27) starting with detachment from objects of senses, to stage of ideation and finally total absorption in the Infinite.

Other books talk about Savikalpa Samadhi with four stages and Nirvikalpa Samadhi with two stages.
In the Savikalpa stage, the mind is still functioning and there is still duality. It starts with awareness of objects of thought, moves to abstract thoughts (eg: I am Brahman), then on to thoughts of external objects with the realization that objects with name and form are impermanent and finally to awareness of the Subject of the awareness itself, only a stream of self-consciousness.

In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the mind ceases to be active. There is no duality, no knower and the known. Yoga vasishta says (III:2; 18-19) that when thoughts subside, one’s own natural state remains. In the first stage, the mind is “like a flame in a windless plane, steady, indifferent to sounds and objects”. It is like “an empty pitcher placed in the sky, having nothing inside or outside”. In the final stage, the meditator is in a state of bliss, completely absorbed in the Brahman, completely indifferent to the manifest world (Nirbija Samadhi). He is like “a pitcher placed in the sea, full inside and outside”.

The four big statements (mahavakyas) from the Upanishads indicate the stages of ascent. They are  thath thvam asi (Thou art that) from Chandogya upanishad; ayam atma Brahma meaning this life is Brahman from Maandukya Upanishad; prajnam Brahma (jiva is Isvara; Individual life is Universal life) from Aitreya Upanishad;  and Aham brahmasmi (I am That Brahman) from Brahadaranyaka Upanishad. The ascent is from the dual mode (that thvam asi), to the witness mode (ayam atma brahma), to the undivided mode in pragnam brahma and finally to the undivided essence (aham Brahmasmi).

In Yoga Vasishta, a ladder of seven steps of knowledge is described. It starts with auspicious wish (virtuous), reflection on virtuous conduct and true meaning, non-attachment to objects of senses, entering the  realm of true being, non-union, non-ideation and fixity in one’s on true being. (Yoga Vasishta VII: 60-70)

According to Buddhist writings, there are nine levels of meditative concentrations. They may be divided into two realms. The first four are concentrations in the “form” realm (body, feeling, perception and mental modifications) and the next five belong to the “formless” realm. The fifth level is concentration on limitless space. At the sixth level, the focus is on limitless consciousness. The seventh level is concentration on nothingness (signlessness, interconnectedness, sunyattha).  At the eighth level, there is neither perception non non-perception. Ninth level is that of cessation of ignorance. At this stage, the mind is transformed and internal modifications get purified. In this system, Samadhi actually means concentration and “mindfulness” is the method.

Most Christian mystics describe three stages: purification or purgation, illumination and finally union or communion with God. St. Teresa of Avila lists her ascent as “ladders of perfection”. These are: giving up extroversion and start in search of truth internally; detachment from the fears and pains; seeing the reflection of the Eternal Light; giving up external roles and duties; gradual withering away of all other interests and becoming indifferent to social conventions etc; obtaining some unusual mental powers; and finally a state of bliss.

In addition to the mystic experiences on the way to the state of Divine Bliss, there is a stage at which practitioners may acquire special powers as described in Patanjali’s Yoga sastra in chapter 3. These powers include ability to read the mind of another, knowing about past lives, entering the body of another, becoming invisible, becoming light of weight etc. Patanjali warns against getting stuck at this stage. In his own words samaadhaavupasarga vyutthaane siddhayah (3:38)  meaning that these powers of the worldly state are obstacles to samaadhi.  Interestingly, after describing these powers, Patanjali goes on to say thadvairagyaadhapi dhoshabeejakshaye kaivalyam meaning “detach from these powers and go beyond for freedom”(3: 51).  Some decide not to follow that advice. As noted in an earlier patagraph, St.Teresa of Avila also refers to this stage.

In my view, some cult figures are at this stage. Alternately, they might have had the true mystic experience, but for some reason have decided to “use”  powers acquired during the process for other purposes.

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