Sunday, March 23, 2014

So, you want to meditate ?

A few years back, I was talking with some female employees of my company. The topic was pranayama and I was telling them the value of mudras in pranayama. For  a demonstration, I asked them to close their eyes to observe the flow of breath with each mudra. These women, who were not even matriculates,   would have hesitated if I asked them to do a pooja . But, asked to do this eye closing pose, I was surprised to see their eagerness. They were following all that I told with great attention.  They always mentioned that session later with much pride and called that session as "dhyanam" though it was a pranayama.

That was a lesson to me. Meditation or Dhyanam has become a sure catch phrase in today's India. Being Macaulay's programmed children, the whole of India sees value in anything that is endorsed by the white man and Meditation is on top of the list.

Does Meditation play a crucial role in a Hindu's everyday life ? The answer is a clear no. If, the majority is induced into meditate every day, will it bring qualitative changes in their lives and bring our society to the level it was a thousand years ago ?

As I analysed this question, I get a big NO as the answer. But today's Hindu media is abuzz with the idea of meditation as a must for the modern person. The corporate gurus are advocating meditation to all their followers. Given this scenario, is there real truth that meditation or dhyanam is the key for spiritual progress of an average man. Let us see my own case.

Meditation and Myself

I was twenty years old then and was a keen student of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna. When  Chinmayananda toured Coimbatore in 1984, I went to his Gita lectures. With  a seat in the last rows of the crowd  all the days I could only see the swamy from a great distance. He was taking the 6 th chapter, Atma Samyama Yogam of the Gita. It is also called the Dhyana Yogam. The language was flowery, the contents seemed so beautiful and I felt I had received some great messages in those evenings.

Within a month all the euphoria vanished as all my attempts to 'meditate' failed. I tried to do as per Chinmayananda's guidelines. Sit down, Close your eyes,  let the thoughts flow by, do not interfere with them. I tried to desperately succeed in this and I was even confused whether this was correct or wrong. Every time I sat down for meditation, I emerged a more confused person than I was before. The peace, the experience of yourself alone were simply words in the book which I could hardly even begin to experience.

Then started my experiments with other meditation 'techniques' like the Transcendental meditation , The simplified Kundalini Yoga of Vedaththiri, and the brahma kumari types.

I immediately rejected Vedathiri and Brahma kumaris for their absurd philosophies and also because their meditation sessions were just  eye closing ones.They had nothing for a person of burning spiritual ambition like me.  Vedaththiri's SKY gave me some headaches too.

At this juncture, my professional life started and these experiments were in the backburner.. But my was reading a lot and  kept  searching for a good meditation technique. Meantime, I became a great admirer of Ayn Rand, America's intellectual lady who wrote such books as " Atlas Shrugged", "Fountainhead" "We the living" etc. Slowly I was losing faith in rituals and meditation. I  almost became an atheist. But not quite. I still believed in that " Supreme Brahman" since I had read the grand lives of Vivekananda, Ramakrishna and Ramana.

Then I got married and had two children in a span of six years. At around this time, I restarted doing hatha yoga and tried to do some meditation at the end of each session. My family reported to me that I had become very irritable. On close observation , I noticed that I was irritable only on the days on which I meditated. On some days, I even flew into a rage. On one such day my blood pressure was 160/120 !!! So, one fine day, my wife banned my mediation sessions.

I had started Gita reading regularly at this time due to some  circumstances which I call divine. . Along with Gita sadhana, a change happened in me. I was experiencing Bhakti for the first time in decades. I had horripilating sessions, tearful prarthanas and many stunning experiences during the Gita Parayana. I was very peaceful till I came to the 6 th chapter. This time I attempted the dhyanam as mentioned and all my previous troubles like that  rage and reslessness came back in a fury.

 But I kept questioning many Gurus who claimed to have knowledge on this. Their 'remedies' only worsened my situation. All the modern gurus said that spiritual progress is impossible without meditation , and here I was , not able to close my eyes for a few minutes . I became frustrated and totally abandoned meditation.

Many of my friends also reported such things. My brother in law said, he was raving mad at anyone interpreting him in his meditation. Another person reported sleeplessness, another friend had headaches. Every time, the picture of Buddha in the famous dhyana pose  teased me.

After many years, I read two very important works which changed the way I looked at Dhyanam. They broke the halo around the word 'Dhyanam' and destroyed many miconceptions I had about it. The first book was "the Orange book of Meditation" by Osho. The next and more important book was "Meditation" by Swamy Bhajananda (of Ramakrishna Mission).

Osho's book " The Orange Book Of Meditation:

In this book Osho listed 101 techniques. Though the book tiltle is meditation  , Osho called them as methods of Catharsis (or Purging methods). For example, Osho would tell a student to hit a pillow, kick it, bite and do whatever you like to vent your feelings or emotions. (In privacy). Another method is breathing through the mouth in a most irregular way. Another one is to run in a chaotic manner not following any rhythm.

Notice that all the above are not 'normal' acts. You will look at them as a joke. It is not. Osho says that a modern man is not fit for meditation. He is full of dirt and needs a mental purgatory technique. He prompted the readers to choose any one of those techniques that suited him best.One day I tried the pillow technique for fifteen minutes and felt relaxation fully. I felt I was fit for meditation now. But my confidence level was still low to attempt it.

This was my half awakening only. The next revelation was awaiting me in the other book by Bhajanananda.

Bhajanananda's book - "Meditation"

This book was another divine twist in my life. Nowhere in this book you will find a single line of instruction for meditation. But then, you may ask, what is the speciality of this book ? Why then, was it named as "Meditation" ?

Yes, these are valid questions. Bhajanananda was a higher soul who has had some rare insights. Plus, he describes in a straightforward and innocent language. And, he drew his content from the Magnum Opus of Yoga of all time which is known as "Patanjali Yoga Sutras"

What changed my concept of Meditation was the revelation that it is a part of the mosaic called Yoga. In other words it is  a limb of Yoga. I knew this . Everyone knows this. Why then such a fuss ?  But pause here. Have you ever spent as much time to think about the other limbs of yoga as you have done with  Meditation ? Most probably not . Dhyanam is the seventh limb in an ascending order. I am giving a list of them followed by the sutra by Patanjali describing that particular limb.

1. Yama
अहिंसा सत्यास्तेय ब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यामा: ।
The five qualities of ahimsa, adherence to  truthful ways, non coveting of other's property, brahmacharya, and non interest in accumulating wealth make up the first limb called yama.

सौचसन्तोष तप: स्वादयायेस्वर प्राणिदानानी  नियमा:।
cleanliness, pleasantness regardless of one's status, life of sadhana, self study of works of  adhyatma path,  dedication of all oneself to Iswara constitute Niyama

3. Asanam
  स्थिरसुखमासनम् ।
 A proper posture which can afford painless sessions of sadhana is asanam. This is also a victory over our posture which allows us to do long sadhanas.

बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भ वृद्धिर्देशकाल संख्याभि: परिदृष्टो दीर्घसुष्म : ।

Retaining the prana inside or outsidewith regard to the place time and count are called the deergha and sookshma pranayamas.

5. Pratyahara
स्वविषय सम्प्रयोगे चित्तस्वरूपानुकार इवेन्द्रियाणाम प्रत्याहार : ।

The stage in which the senses are withdrawn from the sense objects and dwell in the chitta is called pratyahara.

6. Dharana:

दसबंदश्चित्तस्य धारणा : ।

Focussing the mind for quite a lenth of time is called dharana.

7. Dhyanam:

तत्र प्रत्यैकतानना  ध्यानम् ।

Ability to focus the chitta  further for much longer periods is called dhyaanam.

8. Samadhi:

तदेवार्थ मात्र निर्भासम स्वरूपसुनयमिव समाधि : ।

When the feeling of I vanishes during dhyaanam and only the meditated object remains, that state is samadhi.

Now you see, dhyanam is possible only after total sense control, physical ability to dwell for long periods in sadhana and subtle breath control followed by withdrawal of senses from pleasure objects.

My mistake was to have started the seventh step without the least idea of the basic steps. How can a man drenched to the neck in worldly affairs in an energetic manner ever succeed in yoga ? So my failure to meditate is a normal outcome. I thank myself for not having pushed too vigorously. I might have even gone insane.

It was Bhajanananda who so beautifully illustrated the faultlines in the modern understanding of dhyanam. His book was the first book I read which stated explicitly that pooja is a very very sure and safe  path for a beginner of yoga. I am in total agreement with this since for the last ten years I was drawing much spiritual strength from my daily pooja and sloka chanting. Many modern gurus do not even mention the value of pooja. Some other gurus mention them in a passing manner only.

I am doing intense pooja and prarthana to cleanse myself of the dirt of many lives . That is the elementary step.  Sense control has hardly been begun.. Then there will be a natural progress. If I then try to withdraw my senses from  objects that might be another great leap.

Then, and then only I can gain enough spiritual strength to do dharana and dhyanam.

I am writing this to warn the sadhaks of the dangers in spiritual path. My life experience may be a life changer for many an aspirant.

Spiritual path is a lonely one and you have only your ishta devata for support and your guru's diksha as the guiding post.  Do not fall for high sounding talks on Dhyanam. Shun all the modern day gurus. All that we need to do has already been given in black and white by our ancestors. We already have our traditional mutts who have preserved those knowledge.

I am humbled at the power of puja, which gave me so much. If only I had done enough sadhana in those years in the wilderness, I would have been a mature sadhaka now. But, I remain still a beginner due to the glittering talks and books that led me astray.

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