Hundreds of books and articles have been published about meditation. The Internet is full of debates, descriptions and discussions. Yet, meditation remains mostly misunderstood. There has been so much misconception about meditation that even the very experienced people develop a completely wrong understanding about it. Meditation is not something that one can do. It happens automatically and effortlessly when proper conditions are created for it. Just like a seed sown in the ground sprouts automatically under proper conditions (such as moisture, sunlight and fertilizer), meditation happens automatically when mind is emptied of thoughts. When someone says that he (or she) meditated for half an hour, it means that the person used a particular meditation technique for half an hour. Meditation may or may not have happened. What then is meditation? To understand what meditation is, we must first understand what meditation is not.
What Meditation Is Not
- Meditation is not concentration. Concentration is one of the techniques used to attain meditation.
- Meditation is not doing something. It is doing nothing. It is a state of non-doing.
- Meditation makes one physically and mentally relaxed, but meditation is not relaxation. Complete relaxation (both physical and mental) is an unavoidable byproduct of the meditation process.
- Meditation is not a state of the mind. It is a state of our existence.
What Mediation Is
Meditation is a state of our true existence. It is what we truly are. It is transcending the thought process in order to experience our Self. Our mind is a non-stop chatterbox that continues to create all sorts of good/bad, relevant /irrelevant thoughts incessantly. If you want progress, mind is your best friend. If you want peace, mind is your worst enemy.
Why should we meditate? The health benefits of meditation are globally recognized and scientifically proven. But the meditation has still a higher purpose. It reconnects us to our source. In meditation, we realize that we are not just our body and mind. There exists in us an eternal awareness independent of all kinds of thoughts. Knowing this awareness is what meditation is all about. This awareness is buried under 50 thousand thoughts the average person thinks every day. When thoughts are eliminated, meditation happens without any effort and we directly experience our true nature, which is unalloyed pure peace and bliss. Out of this bliss comes the joy and creativity, which makes life’s every moment purposeful, productive and at the same time enjoyable. This cannot be understood intellectually. Why? Because our true nature is not an object; it has no objective qualities. It is pure Consciousness, which is the source of the mind and everything else in the universe and can be only experienced in deep mediation.
There are numerous techniques contained in books and taught by different teachers for meditation. Some of them have fancy names as well. All these techniques can be generally divided into two categories:
Direct Meditation: These meditation techniques involve use of concentration. Here the meditator concentrates (i.e. focusses full attention) on an object or a word (a short mantra). Unbroken concentration on an object or a word (i.e. repetition of the mantra) allows only one thought (that of the object or the word) to remain in the mind to the exclusion of all other thoughts. The objects may be internal to the body (such as the heart, chakra, or breathing) or external (such as a flower, light of a candle, a picture of a deity). After a long and regular and sincere practice of the technique, the single thought disappears by itself and the mediation automatically takes place. Remember, meditation happens only after all thoughts are eliminated and the mind remains empty.
Indirect Meditation: These techniques involve Self-inquiry. The meditator asks, “Who am I?” or “Am I aware?” You don’t answer the question. You ask the question and then pause, i.e. remain completely silent. If a thought arises and disturbs your silence, ask the question again and remain in the pause. When the duration of the pause (i.e. the gap of silence) increases with regular and sustained practice, meditation happens by itself.
There is an ancient Sanskrit text called Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, a scripture of Kashmir Shaivism. No discussion on meditation is complete without mentioning this book. This approximately 5000 year old ancient Sanskrit text is considered by many as the last word on meditation. Paul Reps (1895–1990), an American artist, poet, and author visited India in early 1930’s and he met Swami Lakshmanjoo in Kashmir. At the request of Paul Reps, Swamiji translated Vigyan Bhairav Tantra into English first time, which was published by Paul Reps as the last chapter in his famous book, Zen Flesh Zen Bones. This is how Vigyan Bhairav Tantra became known in the West.
What is Vigyan Bhairav Tantra?
Vigyan means “Science”, Bhairav means “Shiva” and Tantra means “a mystical path.” Thus, Vigyan Bhairav Tantra is the science of Self-realization. It contains 112 techniques of meditation, in the form of a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati (referred to as Devi in the book). This dialogue begins with Devi asking the following questions:
O Shiva, what is your reality?
What is this wonder-filled universe?
What constitutes seed?
Who centers the universal wheel?
What is this life beyond form pervading forms?
How may we enter it fully, above space and time, names and descriptions?
Let my doubts be cleared!
It is not that Devi doesn’t know answers to these questions; she asks them so they can be documented to enlighten the future generations.
“Radiant one, this experience may dawn between two breaths. After breath comes in (down) and just before turning up (out) the beneficence. As breath turns from down to up, and again as breath curves from up to down through both these turns, realize.”
As is seen, Shiva is giving the first meditation technique here. He is not giving any intellectual discourse to Devi. Unlike Krishna, who gave Bhagvad Gita to Arjuna, Shiva doesn’t teach any philosophy. Why? Because answers to Devi’s questions don’t lie in the intellectual domain of the human mind. Thus Shiva simply gives techniques, one after another, 112 of them total. If you perform the technique, your mind will turn inside and you will find answers to these questions inside your own Self. We are the truth here and now. There is no place to go to seek the truth. We have to focus inside. This is why no philosophy is given by Shiva, only techniques are given.
Shiva says, “After breath comes in (e.g. the inhaling breath flowing down in the body) and just before turning out (e.g. the exhaling breath going up in the body to go out) the beneficence.”
One has to be aware between these two points. When your breath comes in, keenly observe it. For a single moment, or a fraction of a moment, there is no breathing before it turns up and turns outward. One breath comes in; then there is a certain point and breathing stops momentarily and then the breath goes out. When the breath goes out, then again for a single moment, or a part of a moment, breathing stops. Then the next breath comes in. Before the breath is turning in or turning out, there is a moment when you are not breathing. In that moment the experience is possible, because when you are not breathing you are not in the world, you remain as awareness. The gap between the two is of a very short duration, but keen, sincere observation and attention will eventually make you feel the gap. If you can feel the gap, Shiva says, the beneficence.
How to use the above technique (Summarized)
- One cycle of normal breathing consists of an inhaling breath and an exhaling breath. Between the end of the inhaling breath and the beginning of the exhaling breath (inside the body) there is a short gap (normally imperceptible) where breathing stops momentarily.
- Between the end of the exhaling breath and the beginning of the next inhaling breath (outside the body) there is also a short gap (normally imperceptible).
- Thus one normal breathing cycle consists of one inhaling breath, one exhaling breath and two short gaps. In these short gaps the breathing stops momentarily.
- To use this technique, you have to watch both inhaling and exhaling breath and be aware of the two gaps (although you cannot experience them as they are short).
- Watching the breath means you stay with it and flow with it, but don’t change it. You must remain alert, very alert.
- With regular practice, the gaps will increase and meditation will happen in these gaps.
This first technique given by Shiva to Devi was used by Buddha. He used this technique only and attained enlightenment. In Buddhist terminology this technique is known as Anapanasati Yoga.
Meditation Postures (Asanas)
The purpose of an asana is to hold the spine vertical, ensure overall stability of the body, and prevent the body from bending during meditation. The asana must be comfortable and not cause any discomfort that would harm the meditator. Thus, the best asana is one that is comfortable and holds the body in the correct position for meditation. The following are the four popular asanas and any of these may be used depending upon the individual preference and suitability:
Padmasana (lotus posture)
Sit on the floor on a cushion. Place the right foot on the left thigh, left foot on right thigh, soles of the feet upwards, with the feet held on the thighs. Lay the palms on your lap, the right one over the left, and with the palms facing up. This asana holds the knees firm on the floor, presses the waist forward, and locks the spine in the vertical position. This asana is regarded the best for longer and deeper meditations, but may cause discomfort to those whose legs are not supple.
Svastikasana (Posture of Peace and Success)
Sit on the floor on a cushion. Put the right toe inside the left knee-pit. Holding the left toe with the left (posture hand, and with the help of the right hand under the right leg, draw the left toes into the right knee-pit. Lay palms on your lap, the right one over the left, and with the palms facing up. This asana maintains the spine vertical and is regarded the second best for maintaining the meditation posture.
Sit on the floor on a cushion in a simple cross-legged position with the upper and outer parts of your feet resting on the floor. In this asana, primarily the buttocks in contact with the ground or a horizontal object such as a chair seat support the body weight. The torso is upright. Lay the palms on your lap, the right one over the left, with the palms facing up. This asana is recommended for those who cannot practice the other two asanas discussed above.
Sitting on a chair
Sit on a straight armless chair with the feet resting flat on the floor. Hold the spine erect, abdomen in, chest out, shoulders back and chin parallel to the floor. Turn the palms upward and rest them on the legs at the juncture of the thighs and the abdominal region, in order to prevent the body from bending forward. The meditation chair should be of comfortable height, neither too high nor too low, and neither too soft nor too hard. Keep the spine vertical, with waist, back, and neck in a straight line. Keep the head upright.
One may use any of the above asanas for meditation depending upon whether one is accustomed to sitting on the floor (although sitting on the floor is generally recommended). It should be recognized that perfection in meditation cannot be attained by asana alone. The mind must be slowly brought under control for success in meditation.
- This write-up includes the basic information you need to begin meditation. You don’t need to know any more than what is stated here to perform successful meditation.
- Don’t waste time reading books, internet and newspaper articles, since mediation is not about knowing. It is about doing, which leads to direct experience. Furthermore, most descriptions of meditation are confusing and contradictory. More you try to read about meditation, more confused you will be and more thoughts will come to you. Meditation is eliminating the thoughts and not creating more of them.
- If you already have a meditation technique, stay with it unless you have a compelling reason to change it. Any reasonable technique will work, if you meditate regularly. Regularity is the key to successful meditation.
- The most important thing to remember in meditation is to keep your spine vertical. Don’t bend your head. If the spine is not vertical, you will either become restless or fall sleep, guaranteed.