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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Where am I in meditation?




Dear Asha, Ajay, Ravi, Ariana, Roma and Sai,

A number of friends have asked me about my meditation practice - what it consists of and how I do it. Even my elder brother who is adept at meditation asked me to summarize my approach. You may get interested in practicing meditation when you get older. Therefore, I am writing down how I practice meditation.

I realize that I am a novice. I also know that the word meditation means different things to different people. And, what people actually do when they meditate also differs widely! What works for me may not work for you. I certainly have not reached the state of ecstatic experience documented by saints like Ramana or Ramakrishna. If I did, I would have retired to a cave in the Himalayas!

My approach is a practical one. It is a journey, without expectations, since I do not know what to expect. It has helped me immensely in my life to reflect calmly about major issues and has helped me during life’s crisis. It also helps me connect my individuality with the collective and the universal oneness. Hope it helps you too. But, remember. You have to start it now and practice diligently and practice every day for it to be helpful when you need. In the midst of a crisis you cannot go looking for a master to learn meditation.

In meditation and prayer, I believe that

                        Symbols do not matter; substance does.
                        Duration does not matter; intensity does.
                        Rituals do not matter; inner feeling (bhavana) does.

I practice two kinds of meditation. It has different stages. They are calming down (samattha), deep looking (vipashyana) and reaching a state of silence.

My morning meditation is to practice silence. I do this very early in the morning before anyone else gets up. I do meditation for about 15 to 20 minutes at the least. I try to be aware, to be a witness to the thoughts that arise. The goal is to silence the thoughts, to be in a state close to deep sleep, but still be aware. It is to be in a state we experience when we just stir at the end of a deep sleep. We are aware of ourselves but not much more. This is the state of “transient  I” of Bhagwan Ramana. Ramana also says that if you can maintain the state of the “transient I”, it will take you to the original “I”. I believe Ramana and so I keep trying.

There is nothing more to say. The main goal is to quiet the mind and stay in silence.

The other meditation is of the Buddhist kind. I do this during the day at any time, when I am walking or just sitting, doing nothing. This time is for reflection or deep looking (vipashyana). They are based on what I learnt from Rev. Thich Naht Hanh.

I start with calming myself.  I start with breathing in deep and slow, several times. I breath in and out even as I focus on my arms, legs, the chest, the abdomen, the back, the neck and the face  - and let go, RELAX and then I reflect on this body – as an impermanent, inter-being, which by nature is bound to decay, suffer diseases and die. I hold that thought. Acknowledge that reality. Accept. Let go.

At the same time, reflect on this body as sacred because without the body I cannot hope to touch the Original. Without the body I cannot experience all of these beautiful moments of BLISS. Be kind to your body. Do not indulge. Do not torture it either.

Now I reflect on my kith and kin; friends and neighbors. Reflect on their impermanence too. Let go.

Just as we cannot escape the fact that this body is bound to decay and die, we cannot escape the fact that every one of our actions will have consequences, now or later, on us and on others. Therefore, I vow to practice Dharma, to be prudent in action, to act with a pure heart and compassion, to do what needs to be done, to do the right things, to do things which will benefit and help others and to make sure it will not hurt anyone. I promise to act on what has to be done without expecting specific benefits. I will not act for profit, name or fame.
           
Even with good intentions and effort, results are not in our hands. The results may even be unfavorable. Therefore, I will learn to accept whatever comes. I will remember Gita, not be attached to the outcome.

Then, I reflect on myself as a normal person with strengths and weakness; plus and minus. I know that I am neither an angel nor a devil. I am lovable and capable (IALAC). I forgive myself for my weaknesses and mistakes. I promise to “water” my good plants. I send a message of love to myself. I do so, because if I cannot forgive myself and send a message of love to myself, how can I forgive others? How can I send a message of love to others?

I reflect on members of my family and friends in the same way and send them messages of forgiveness and love. I reflect on people around the world who are suffering for no fault of their own and send them message of hope and love. I reflect on people who have hurt me and send them message of love, understanding and forgiveness. If they have died, I can still send them message of forgiveness and understanding because they are still part of me. I ask for forgiveness from people whom I have hurt, knowingly or unknowingly. I am then supposed to reflect on people whom I hate. Fortunately, I have no one on this list.

At the next level I try to merge with the Universe, connecting the “pinda” the individual with the “brahmanda”, the cosmos. 

Breathing in – I visualize myself as a “wave”, independent, alone, arrogant, forgetting my source, forgetting that I am water and am already part of the ocean of cosmos. Breathing out – I visualize the “me”, the wave merging with the “water” the “ocean”, connecting back to the source. I only wish that my “wave” merges with the ocean; I only wish I can touch the water, now.

Actually, I try hard to stop these thoughts. If thoughts do not stop, I direct them this way. Sometimes, I do not have any thoughts. I enter silence sometimes.

I hope this helps.




Friday, January 1, 2016

The Seed and the Field: A possible explanation for the obsession with male progeny


All of my “blogs” until now were products of several years of thinking and several months of editing. This one is an exception. The insight seems to be important enough that I wish to share it soon, before I forget!

This blog is based on reflections after reading a passage in the First Canto (Parva) of the Mahabharatha. It is a discussion between King Pandu and his wife Kunti. Pandu is trying to convince Kunti to conceive a child through a different male of her choice, since his curse prevents him from having any sexual relationship with a woman. In this passage, Pandu repeatedly refers to the male part of union as “seed” (Sanskrit equivalent) and the female part as “the field”, apparently the field where the seed is sowed.

This makes me think that our ancestors in those times did not have a true understanding of how a “child” comes out of a male-female union. They were aware of the male part. They could see it. But, the woman’s part was not known. How would they have known about the ovum even if they knew about the ovary? They probably thought that everything needed for a child to be born was in the male fluid (the seed). The only thing the woman provided, they thought, was a “field” for the “seed” to grow.

If this was the perception, it is no wonder that they thought that male is the only essential partner for a progeny and he is “superior” since he is the only one who can make sure of a progeny. That progeny has to be a male for progeny to continue (since the female did not contribute to the child except a place to grow) and that male child was needed for the “moksha” or liberation of both the father and the mother.

This can explain several episodes in the epics in which the “seed” of a rishi becomes a child without any woman. For example, Parasara deposited his “seed” on water which reached an island and became the famous Vyasa. His other name is “Dwaipayana” because he grew up in an island (in Sanskrit, the word for island is dweepa). The other example is when Bharadwaja captured his “seed” in a pot from which Drona was born. 

This can also explain the way men acted as if women were just “baby factories”, took other women if the first one could not give a male child. This can also explain the obsession with the “male” child in the Indian culture – may be?.

My guess is that the metaphor of the “seed” and the “field” is based on the misconception (pun not intended) that the male "part" contained all that was needed to make a child and that the woman had no part in it except to provide a place to grow. 

It is only a conjecture and I have not come across any writing with a similar interpretation anywhere. I cannot prove it. But, this idea may explain some of the myths perpetuated regarding the importance of the male child in the Indian society and come to think of it, even in the western society.

After posting this essay, I came across a statement by Christopher Hitchens in his book with the title "God is not great" (Hachette Books, New York, 2009). He says that St.Augustine has written that "the fully formed nucleus of a human body was contained inside each individual sperm" (page 64). He does not give any reference.