Helpful Tips About the Practice of Meditation

The 3 gunas of Nature, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas are active in all things, even in the approach we take to the practice of meditation. Understanding these modes and the specific types of energy they each represent can aid us in tuning the meditation practice for ultimate positive results. Tamas acts through darkness, sloth, torpor and indolence. When Tamas is in the ascendent, there is an inclination to avoid meditation through tiredness or inertia or a sense of it being useless. When Rajas rules, there tends to be an effort to control and dominate the process, an active pressure to succeed, which results in ruffling the ‘mind stuff’ (citta), thus defeating one of the primary goals of meditation. Sattwa provides a calm, focused and effortless poise that is an optimal basis for achieving receptivity and responsiveness to the light and peace of meditation.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is quite natural to want to meditate while reading yogic literature — that is not the laziness. The laziness of the mind consists in not meditating, when the consciousness wants to do so.”

“It is not a fact that when there is obscurity or inertia, one cannot concentrate or meditate. If one has in the inner being the steady will to do it, it can be done.”

“Effort means straining endeavour. There can be an action with a will in it in which there is no strain or effort. Straining and concentration are not the same thing. Straining implies an over-eagerness and violence of effort, while concentration is in its nature quiet and steady. If there is restlessness or over-eagerness, then that is not concentration.”

“It is certainly much better to remain silent and collected for a time after the meditation. It is a mistake to take the meditation lightly — by doing that one fails to receive or spills what is received or most of it.”

“The best help for concentration is to receive the Mother’s calm and peace into your mind. It is there above you — only the mind and its centres have to open to it.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Practical Advice About Meditation, pp. 154-156

Distinguishing the Location of the Conscious Awareness from the Object of Meditation

It is a somewhat frequent occurrence that the instruction to meditate on the space behind the heart, or between the eyebrows is taken to be the meditation itself. There is a difference between where one “seats” one’s consciousness during meditation and the object of the meditation. Sri Aurobindo makes this difference clear. As one gains insight into the internal space within one’s being, it becomes clear that the location of the awareness is something different than the subject upon which one is concentrating or focusing. We find, in fact, that at different times we naturally feel the center of our awareness variously either in the head or the heart, depending on the situation, mood and immediate focus of the meditation. A devotional aspiration will naturally seat itself in the heart centre. A will for knowledge will naturally occur in the head. In each case, the object of meditation is the Divine.

Depending on where the consciousness seats itself during any particular form of meditation, there may be a vastly different opening or type of receptivity that is experienced by the seeker. Thus, a concentration in the head may lead to a descent of a wideness, or a vast calm or peace into the being, while a concentration in the heart centre may bring about a feeling of devotion, love or the bliss of oneness with the object of one’s seeking.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “There is no harm in concentrating sometimes in the heart and sometimes above the head. But concentration in either place does not mean keeping the attention fixed on a particular spot; you have to take your station of consciousness in either place and concentrate there not on the place, but on the Divine. This can be done with eyes shut or with eyes open, according as it best suits you. … You can concentrate on the sun, but to concentrate on the Divine is better than to concentrate on the sun. … At the top of the head or above it is the right place for yogic concentration in reading or thinking.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Practical Advice About Meditation, pp. 154-156

Practical Tips Regarding Meditation

The first point that should be considered is why one wants to meditate and what the expected result should be. This is important because it helps set the internal expectation and helps thereby in understanding the different aspects, both internal and external, that can influence the result. Meditation, or “success” in meditation, is not a goal in itself. Meditation is a means to an end, the end being the shifting of the conscious awareness and focus away from the outer, surface ego-personality to the divine consciousness, universalising, and widening the consciousness in the process. In the integral yoga, of course, with the eventual focus on transformation of the nature and the action in the world, this process must extend beyond the session of seated quiet and take hold of the nature at all times and in all circumstances.

Tuning the being to the process of meditation does take time and some amount of regular effort. Starting from a quiet place and having a comfortable seat is beneficial in the beginning. Traditional texts describe the conditions for effective meditation in a place that is neither too hot nor too cold, too dry or too damp, too windy, quiet, calm environment, safe from distractions and potential dangers, on a seat that is conducive to comfortable sitting without squirming or having to move constantly, etc. This long list of conditions is not intended to limit meditation, but to assist the process, particularly in the beginning, such that the seeker can actually establish the experience of meditation within the being and thereby be able to tune to the energetic status and maintain it. At some point, the meditation can actually take over the being and remain active in all life circumstances, maintaining the connection to the Divine Presence, the universal creation and then the actual seated meditation under controlled conditions is no longer absolutely necessary for the practitioner.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “What do you call meditation? Shutting the eyes and concentrating? It is only one method for calling down the true consciousness. To join with the true consciousness or feel its descent is the only thing important and if it comes without the orthodox method, as it always did with me, so much the better. Meditation is only a means or device, the true movement is when even walking, working or speaking one is still in sadhana.”

“The sitting motionless posture is the natural posture for concentrated meditation — walking and standing are active conditions. It is only when one has gained the enduring rest and passivity of the consciousness that it is easy to concentrate and receive when walking or doing anything. A fundamental passive condition of the consciousness gathered into itself is the proper poise for concentration and a seated gathered immobility in the body is the best position for that. It can be done also lying down, but that position is too passive, tending to be inert rather than gathered. This is the reason why yogis always sit in an asana. One can accustom oneself to meditate walking, standing, lying but sitting is the first natural posture.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Practical Advice About Meditation, pp. 154-156

Samadhi, the Yogic Trance, and the Waking Realisation

The yogic trance, samadhi, is considered a goal for the spiritual seeker, providing access to the realisation of spiritual Oneness. In the integral yoga, however, dropping of the outer life and activity and entering into a trance state is not the end goal. The consciousness that is experienced in the trance state is to be brought down and made fully active in the mind, life and body of the seeker in daily life. The initial links to this higher state of consciousness occur in trance because there is no direct connection or link that has been made fully operative and the human psyche simply does not know how to respond to or process the impact of that consciousness. The withdrawal into trance provides a gateway for such a relation, but eventually, the trance must, and will, give way to the active intervention of this higher state of awareness in a transformed, or at least transforming, mind-life-body complex.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The experience you had is of course the going inside of the consciousness which is usually called trance or samadhi. The most important part of it however is the silence of the mind and vital which is fully extended to the body also. To get the capacity of this silence and peace is a most important step in the sadhana. It comes at first in meditation and may throw the consciousness inward in trance, but it has to come afterwards in the waking state and establish itself as a permanent basis for all the life and action. It is the condition for the realisation of the Self and the spiritual transformation of the nature.”

“…it is in the waking state that this realisation must come and endure in order to be a reality of the life. If experienced in trance it would be a superconscient state true for some part of the inner being, but not real to the whole consciousness. Experiences in trance have their utility for opening the being and preparing it, but it is only when the realisation is constant in the waking state that it is truly possessed. Therefore in this yoga most value is given to the waking realisation and experience. … To work in the calm ever-widening consciousness is at once a sadhana and a siddhi.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Samadhi, pp. 153-154

Samadhi and the Integral Yoga

Traditional paths of yoga, and in particular the yoga practice organised and codified by Patanjali, hold Samadhi as an ultimate state of consciousness that puts the seeker into a state of superconscious reality that effectively links him to the Divine reality and purpose of existence. Swami Vivekananda in his lectures on Raja Yoga describes the methods of attaining to Samadhi and the results therefrom. He indicates that Samadhi, the yogic trance, differs from entering into the sleep state by the results that eventuate. The sage who enters into Samadhi gains new realisations and understanding and becomes enlightened, while the individual who enters into the non-awareness of the outer world of the state of sleep wakes up unchanged. He also describes different stages of Samadhi, such as “with seed” or “without seed” in terms of the finality of the status, that is, with or without the normal human mental activity reasserting itself. Samadhi, while seen as a major goal and stage of realisation in these traditional paths, must obviously be seen from a different viewpoint by the practitioner of the integral yoga, who wants to bring down the divine consciousness to transform the life in the world. Ideally the seeker will experience a modified state of consciousness akin to Samadhi, but without the necessity of the complete withdrawal of all activity so that this new status can act in the life.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “In samadhi it is the inner mental, vital, physical which are separated from the outer, no longer covered by it — therefore they can fully have inner experiences. The outer mind is either quiescent or in some way reflects or shares the experience. As for the central consciousness being separated from all mentality that would mean a complete trance without any recorded experiences.”

“Chit is the pure consciousness, as it Sat-Chit-Ananda. Chitta is the stuff of mixed mental-vital-physical consciousness out of which arise the movements of thought, emotion, sensation, impulse, etc. It is these that in the Patanjali system have to be stilled altogether so that the consciousness may be immobile and go into Samadhi. Our yoga has a different function. The movements of the ordinary consciousness have to be quieted and into the quietude there has to be brought down a higher consciousness and its powers which will transform the nature.”

“Samadhi is not a thing to be shunned — only it has to be made more and more conscious. It is not necessary to be in samadhi to be in contact with the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Samadhi, pp. 153-154

Concentration in the Heart Centre to Achieve the Realisation of the Divine Presence in the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo describes two main areas of concentration within the being, the heart centre and the head. For most people, the concentration in the heart centre turns out to be the safest and easiest to achieve realisation. Yoga, to be effective, must move beyond either a purely mental exercise or emotional activity. Concentration can be an aid in this process.

As one develops the witness consciousness, the concentration can actually continue while one is engaged in activities in the outer life. The inner witness maintains the aspiration, while the outer nature carries out its functions under the observation of the witness. The surface mind, the surface heart, the surface vital being, the surface physical entity will continue to act and focus on the needs of that action, while the inner witness maintains the link to the Divine Presence and keeps the inward concentration alive.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “You have asked what is the discipline to be followed in order to convert the mental seeking into a living spiritual experience. The first necessity is the practice of concentration of your consciousness within yourself. The ordinary human mind has an activity on the surface which veils the real Self. But there is another, a hidden consciousness within behind the surface one in which we can become aware of the real Self and of a larger deeper truth of nature, can realise the Self and liberate and transform the nature. To quiet the surface mind and begin to live within is the object of this concentration. Of this true consciousness other than the superficial there are two main centres, one in the heart (not the physical heart, but the cardiac centre in the middle of the chest), one in the head. The concentration in the heart opens within and by following this inward opening and going deep one becomes aware of the soul or psychic being, the divine element in the individual. This being unveiled begins to come forward, to govern the nature, to turn it and all its movements towards the Truth, towards the Divine, and to call down into it all that is above. It brings the consciousness of the Presence, the dedication of the being to the Highest and invites the descent into our nature of a greater Force and Consciousness which is waiting above us. To concentrate in the heart centre with the offering of oneself to the Divine and the aspiration for this inward opening and for the Presence in the heart is the first way and, if it can be done, the natural beginning; for its result once obtained makes the spiritual path far more easy and safe than if one begins the other way.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Meditation and Concentration in the Integral Yoga, pp. 149-153

The Process of Concentration in Yoga, Part 2

Concentration of various sorts is a part of yogic development generally. In most cases, particular paths recommend very specific forms of concentration, whether it be visualisation, recitation of mantras, or specific devotional exercises. The integral yoga also utilizes concentration, but does not prescribe a very specific fixed regimen for everyone, recognising that each individual has his own starting point, specific issues to address and resolve and different phases in the yogic sadhana. Thus there may be times when concentration may be centred between the eyebrows, and other times when it may be centred behind the heart in the psychic centre. Sri Aurobindo has also included a form of concentration that emphasizes creation of a mood or standpoint of consciousness rather than on a more specific form or mantra. Thus, there can be a generalized will or aspiration not just a specific deity, color, form or fixed object.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “…in this yoga, you do the same, not necessarily at that particular spot between the eyebrows, but anywhere in the head or at the centre of the chest where the physiologists have fixed the cardiac centre. Instead of concentrating on an object, you concentrate in the head in a will, a call for the descent of the peace above or, as some do, an opening of the unseen lid and an ascent of the consciousness above. In the heart centre one concentrates in an aspiration, for an opening, for the presence of the living image of the Divine there or whatever else is the object. There may be Japa of a name but, if so, there must also be a concentration on it and the name must repeat itself there in the heart centre.”

“It may be asked what becomes of the rest of the consciousness when there is this local concentration? Well, it either falls silent as in any concentration or, if it does not, then thoughts or other things may move about, as if outside, but the concentrated part does not attend to them or notice. That is when the concentration is reasonably successful.”

“One has not to fatigue oneself at first by long concentration if one is not accustomed, for then in a jaded mind it loses its power and value. One can relax and meditate instead of concentrating. It is only as the concentration becomes normal that one can go on for a longer and longer time.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Meditation and Concentration in the Integral Yoga, pp. 149-153

The Process of Concentration in Yoga, Part 1

It is likely that most people have experienced a state of concentration at some point in their lives, whether it is focusing on a specific project they are involved with, preparing for an examination, or playing some game of sport that involves focus on a consistent basis. Many people report times when they are “in the zone” and without active thought, they nevertheless are concentrated on the effort at hand and experience an unusual state of focused awareness. Various spiritual paths describe detailed forms of visualisation that represent a practice involving and developing concentration. In particular, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition sets forth specific colors, shapes and order for various deities or realised beings to be visualised in order to achieve a state of focus in the mind. Concentration has its role in the practice of Yoga as well.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Then as to concentration. Ordinarily the consciousness is spread out everywhere, dispersed, running in this or that direction, after this subject and that object in multitude. When anything has to be done of a sustained nature the first thing one does is draw back all this dispersed consciousness and concentrate. It is then, if one looks closely, bound to be concentrated in one place and on one occupation, subject or object — as when you are composing a poem or a botanist is studying a flower. The place is usually somewhere in the brain if it is the thought, in the heart if it is the feeling in which one is concentrated. The yogic concentration is simply an extension and intensification of the same thing. It may be on an object as when one does Tratak on a shining point — then one has to concentrate so that one sees only that point and has no other thought than that. It may be on an idea or a word or a name, the idea of the Divine, the word OM, the name Krishna, or a combination of idea and word or idea and name. But further in yoga one also concentrates in a particular place. There is the famous rule of concentrating between the eyebrows — the centre of the inner mind, of occult vision, of the will is there. What you do is to think firmly from there on whatever you make the object of your concentration or else try to see the image of it from there. If you succeed in this then after a time you feel that your whole consciousness is centred there in that place — of course for the time being. After doing it for some time and often it becomes easy and normal.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Meditation and Concentration in the Integral Yoga, pp. 149-153

Concentration and Identification Are Required Steps in the Yoga of Knowledge

The purification of the instruments of knowing are the basis for the development of concentration. Ordinarily, the objects of the senses impinge upon our awareness and we are drawn out towards them in a number of directions. The promptings of desire further distract us, so that our minds are constantly in flux and dispersed. When we begin the practice of meditation, we find that there are thoughts and impressions jumping about and pulling our attention in all directions. There are moments when we fixate our attention on some specific idea or project and we call that concentration; however, this concentration on some outer form or idea is not the intense concentration required to achieve the divine standpoint of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “…we have to fix the will and the thought on the eternal and real behind all, and this demands an immense effort, a one-pointed concentration. Secondly, it is necessary in order to break down the veil which is erected by our ordinary mentality between ourselves and the truth; for outer knowledge can be picked up by the way, by ordinary attention and reception, but the inner, hidden and higher truth can only be seized by an absolute concentration of the mind on its object, an absolute concentration of the will to attain it and, once attained, to hold it habitually and securely unite oneself with it. For identification is the condition of complete knowledge and possession; it is the intense result of a habitual purified reflecting of the reality and an entire concentration on it; and it is necessary in order to break down entirely that division and separation of ourselves from the divine being and the eternal reality which is the normal condition of our unregenerated ignorant mentality.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 25, The Higher and the Lower Knowledge, pg. 494

The Silence of the Mind and the Divine Transformation of the Lower Nature

The object of the silencing of the mind is to detach it from the impulses and promptings of the lower nature and adjust the standpoint to the “divine standpoint”.  The mind, no longer occupied entirely with sense impressions, impulses, desires and plans from the human standpoint, can take on a new role of interpreting and directing the higher knowledge and will down to transform the action of the body, life and mind itself.  Sri Aurobindo observes that once this status is achieved, “strenuous concentration will be found no longer necessary.”

“A free concentration of will using thought merely for suggestion and the giving of light to the lower members will take its place.  This Will will then insist on the physical being, the vital existence, the heart and the mind remoulding themselves in the forms of the Divine which reveal themselves out of the silent Brahman.”

It is this pressure from above, working through the silent mind, that effects the transformation sought in the integral Yoga, the conversion of all actions and energies of life into a manifestation of the Divine purpose.  “By swifter or slower degrees according to the previous preparation and purification of the members, they will be obliged with more or less struggle to obey the law of the will and its thought-suggestion, so that eventually the knowledge of the Divine takes possession of our consciousness on all its planes and the image of the Divine is formed in our human existence even as it was done by the old Vedic Sadhakas.  For the integral Yoga this is the most direct and powerful discipline.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 310