Yoga and Meditation
Questions by various friends, and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram
Q. How is yoga just the stopping of thoughts in the mind? Is that all there is to it?
A. No. It is much more sophisticated than that. It is also pretty technical, but there is no avoiding that.
"Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the chitta," is the beginning statement of the Yoga Sutras as well as being Patanjali's definition of yoga. Meditation establishes our consciousness in the true self and renders the chitta (mental energy, mind substance) free from outer-caused modifications or vrittis (waves). We should look at this further.
"To the purusha the chitta is the sole object in the form of its modifications. And chitta with its modifications [vrittis] inhibited [suppressed] would no longer be an object," according to Shankara. The spirit, whose nature is consciousness alone, experiences the modifications of the mind (chitta) and mistakenly identifies with them. Though it seems to see many things, the only thing it ever really does see is the chitta as it dances before it in the form of ever-changing waves (vrittis). It is this objective consciousness that is the root of bondage–actually is the state of bondage. For Vyasa comments on Sutra 4:22: "Though unmoving and unchanging, the purusha-experiencer has as it were entered into the changing object [of the chitta and its many forms or objects] and conformed itself to its function" by false identification with it. Shankara, considering the same sutra, says: "A wave in the mind, by merely arising, becomes an object for the purusha,…[although] its true nature is pure awareness." Therefore, over-simple as it may seem, it is the removal of such objective consciousness that is liberation. And meditation is the direct means to remove such a binding consciousness.
By the resulting direct experience of our spirit-self, "ignorance comes to an end, and when that ceases there are none of the taints. With no taints, there is no karma-fruition. In that state the gunas have finished with their involvement and no longer arise before the purusha as perceived objects. That is the liberation of the spirit when the spirit stands alone in its true nature as pure light. So it is." This is the conclusion of Vyasa.
Q. The following is a reply to an inquirer who described an experience in consciousness and asked what was its nature and if it was enlightenment:
A. Along the way many doors swing open, giving us unexpected insights. But we just keep moving on. On occasion we enter into profound states of consciousness, some of which begin to fade away since they are "messages" to seek and become established in them, and others are plateaus from which we do not regress. Whichever they are, in the words of Sri Ramakrishna: "Go forward." Infinity lies ahead.
Q. What is the purpose of "spiritual practice"?
A. Everything is Consciousness, but when it is unmoving we call it spirit, and when it moves (vibrates) we call it energy. Spiritual practices are methods which develop the individual's consciousness and its potential states. That is, spiritual practice awakens, develops, and attunes the inmost consciousness of the individual. The basic intention of spiritual practice is to transmute the consciousness from humanity to divinity, passing through the infinite variety of evolutionary states that lie between those two poles. Since the process is direct and pragmatic, it does not manifest as externalized "powers" or displays. I do not mean by this that the aspirant does not experience change–but the changes are mostly internal and usually apparent only to the practitioner.
Q. I have an established japa practice centered around a mantra of Ganesha and the Kali/Durga mantra. I am drawn to the Om practice as outlined on our website. Can these practises be done together?
A. The shastras tell us that Om is the Mula Mantra, the source of all mantras. Therefore Its use is not inconsistent with other mantras.
Q. I have recently started Om Yoga practice. Getting right to the point, I am puzzled by what seems to be the lack of practitioners of Om sadhana. Other than your web site, and references by early twentieth century masters (Swamis Sivananda, Rama Tirtha, etc.) there seems to be little support for the practice other than "lip service" to it being the highest mantra, etc. But then it is appended to a longer mantra, not used by itself–almost as if it is "mantra light." For example, I have seen many references which say something like, "If you are not comfortable with these mantras, you can always just use Om"–like it is a safe old afterthought.
One other thing: many references indicate that a mantra is useless unless empowered by a master. Is this universally true?
A. Considering the amount of material on Om sadhana to be found on our website in THE WORD THAT IS GOD, especially the section: "The Glories and Powers of Om," it is incredibly amazing that more people (at least in India) do not practice it. The majority of dasanami (Shankara) sadhus do practice Om sadhana, and in India most of those in the non-SRF/YSS lineage of Lahiri Mahasaya (Shyama Charan Lahiri) also do japa and meditation of Om in addition to their pranayama practice. Virtually all Arya Samaj members do Om sadhana. The Jains also meditate on Om. Still, the percentage is small. This is because of the terrible degeneration of Hinduism that has been going on since the death of Krishna and the advent of the Kali Yuga.
Here is the section entitled "Initiation?" from the third chapter of the complete Om Yoga book:
"It is commonly believed that an aspiring yogi must be empowered for yoga practice through some kind of initiation or transference of power. There are many exaggerated statements made about how it is impossible to make any progress, much less attain enlightenment, without initiation. But they have no relevance to the practice of Om Yoga, which requires no initiation because it is based squarely on the eternal nature and unity of the jivatman and the Paramatman–what to speak of the nature of Om Itself. The japa and meditation of Om are themselves expressions of the eternal nature of God and man. The eternal spirits need no external input to return to their Source.
"It is when the individual perpetually experiences the eternal point where Om is common to both itself and God that it can know its oneness with God, and separation from God is impossible for it. Yet it is still itself, still distinct, though its consciousness is totally absorbed in God and it sees only the One, and can say, 'God alone exists. There is no other but God.'
"All we need is God Himself in the form of Om."
As far as needing a "master" is concerned, here is the preceding section from the third chapter, entitled: "God is guru in the form of Om":
"Immediately after telling us that God is the Guru, Patanjali says: 'His spoken form is Om.' In a hymn of the poet-saint Kabir, an Indian mystic of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there are two important statements: 'That Word is the Guru; I have heard it, and become the disciple.…That Word reveals all.'
"Beautiful as the thought of God being the guru may be, is it true? If so, how is God the guru?
"From the depths of God's Being, Om is eternally present, is eternally flowing or rising, and the same is true of each individual spirit. The heart-core of God and the core of the individual spirit are the same in non-dual unity. Om is flowing from the single point where the spirit and the Spirit are absolutely one. God is eternally stimulating or 'teaching' the spirit to emanate Om as the agent of its evolution and perfection. In this way God is the guru of each one of us. One finite spirit may reveal to another finite spirit the way to realize its oneness with God, and thereby momentarily become a spiritual teacher for that spirit; but God alone will be the Sat (true and eternal) Guru.
"Om is the ultimate guru, the infallible teacher and guide from within. Yet, according to Vyasa there is another teacher: our yoga practice itself. He says: 'It is yoga that is the teacher. How so? It has been said:
"Yoga is to be known by yoga; Yoga goes forward from yoga alone. He who is not careless [neglectful] in his yoga For a long time, rejoices in the yoga."'
"Shankara, commenting on these words of Vyasa, discusses the reaction that the awakening person has upon learning about the possibility of liberation from his present state of bondage: 'Meditation on his own being, which is the cause that should lead to liberation, begins of itself, caused by karma of a previous life or else by steadfastness in renunciation in this present one. And it goes on of itself, without instruction from a teacher.'
"The experience gained from yoga practice itself teaches us the reality and value of yoga. But even more, it opens our intuition and enables us to comprehend the inner workings of the subtle levels of our being and its mastery. Yoga truly becomes our teacher, revealing to us that which is far beyond the wisdom of books and verbal instructions. Moreover, it is practice of yoga that enables us to understand the basis and rationale of its methods and their application. The why and wherefore of yoga become known to us by direct insight."
The bottom line, however, is your own experience through practice. This is the only way the validity of any methodology can be known. Just see how both here and in India people are laboring away at all kinds of exotic "yogas" that have no real basis in the pure Sanatana Dharma tradition. They get nowhere, but because they have accepted a great deal of exaggerated praise about the practice and the guru, they waste decades in "faith" instead of using good sense about their own perceptions–or lack thereof. People often lament their lack of progress, but mistakenly blame themselves instead of facing the truth that their practice is worthless–and so is their guru.
Q. I hope you will help me with a long-standing question: Can a person realise Brahman just by spiritual activities such as meditation, without ritualistic worship and prayers or devotion to personal gods?
A. If ritualistic worship and devotion to various deity forms assist the sadhaka, they should be used. But they are not necessary. However the Gita indicates that we should cultivate devotion to the Infinite Being, Brahman, who was speaking through Sri Krishna.
The Bhagavad Gita gives complete instruction on how to realize Brahman. Please take the Gita as your supreme teacher and read a chapter from it each day. You will succeed in spiritual life if you follow its teachings. And you will surely have the living blessing of Sri Vyasa, the author, as well as Sri Krishna.
Q. Mentally chanting Om in time with my breath–once on the inbreath and once on the outbreath–causes a bit of anxiety. It is nothing serious, but it is just not relaxing, and seems to speed up my breathing rate somewhat. Things seem to flow better (and I feel more serene) when I intone one long Ooommm for a full breath cycle. I understand what you are saying in Om Yoga though. So, would you recommend that I just stick with the inbreath/outbreath method until things "stabilize" or is there room for flexibility in the technique?
A. A few things can produce some tension in the practice of Om Yoga.
1) Sometimes we are too anxious about making sure the O and the M get equal time, so we unintentionally start trying to regulate the breath. Here the solution is to realize that our inner intelligence can take care of it in time, and just relax and be satisfied with approximate equality of time taken.
2) As we move into our inner bodies there is an inner resistance to the process of unsnarling the inner tangles we have gotten into, and also resistance to the repolarization of the breath. In time this fades away, but we need to "hold the course" and not let our present condition continue.
3) But usually the problem is that we are keeping the mental intonations of Om on too "loud" or objective a level. If we will consciously "lighten up" and make our intonations soft or whisperlike, and consciously relax even more, everything will adjust itself automatically and we will experience great ease and benefit.
The importance of mentally intoning Om once while inhaling and once while exhaling is explained in the following paragraphs from the Om Yoga book:
"Om should be intoned once throughout each inhalation and once throughout each exhalation because there are two poles or subtle currents within the causal realm that make the sound of Om as they move outward and manifest as inhalation and exhalation. In a sense there are two Oms–positive and negative, Shiva and Shakti–which together produce the projection of the cosmos and the individual's manifestation therein. So the two Om's affect the two sides of the yogi's being. Ultimately they are one, and by his joining of Om to his breath, each breath moves him onward toward the goal of Divine Unity."
"As already indicated there are two Oms–or two sides of the single Om–one of positive polarity and one of negative polarity. Om intoned while inhaling is of negative polarity, and Om intoned while exhaling is of positive polarity. By intoning Om once while inhaling and once while exhaling we produce a complete Om–of both polarities."
It is very important, then, to intone in the recommended pattern. Be assured that we have ourselves spent years in experimental practice on this very matter, and although a single Om intoned throughout a single breath has beneficial effect, it is much more effective to intone as advised in the book. The single intonation practice enables a person to float at peace in a bubble of awareness; but the double intonation moves us both upward into higher consciousness and forward into increased internal development.