In general terms, meditation includes a variety of methods and techniques that reflect different spiritual beliefs and philosophies. These varying methods are like pathways up a mountain – it is not a question of one being superior to another, but of which pathway is best suited to you. Your own way will emerge out of your practise - you do not need to search for it. It is the practise of meditation itself which gives us the inner understanding of our own pathway forward, of what is best for us.
In this introduction to meditation we are covering a variety of methods and techniques to give you an overview of the differing approaches. They may vary in their content but usually converge at their endpoint to share a common goal – all the paths go to the top of the mountain.
All the traditions, too, share a belief in our limitless human potential; in a spiritual quest at the heart of human life; a concern for world harmony and the oneness of the human family; and a belief that material pursuits and worldly ambitions are not in themselves enough to fulfil us or make us lastingly happy.
The diversity among the world's religions and spiritual paths is reflected in the varying methods of meditation, and is generally a healthy phenomenon, providing a wide spectrum of possibilities for us to explore – as many paths as people! In Sri Chinmoy's own words: "Spirituality is not merely tolerance. It is not even acceptance. It is the feeling of a universal oneness... Spirituality is not hospitality to the other's faith in God. It is the absolute recognition of the other's faith in God as one's own... True religion has a universal quality. It does not find fault with other religions. Forgiveness, compassion, tolerance, brotherhood and the feeling of oneness are the signs of a true religion."
Once you find your own way, you no longer need concern yourself with the multiplicity of other paths – respect them as you would your own, but follow the steps along your own chosen way without looking around you.
Meditation paths can be divided into two broad groups – those that believe in a creator (God, Allah, Brahma etc.) such as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism; and those that do not, as in Buddhism, Jainism and the various branches of secular meditation that focus on liberation, enlightenment or personal happiness but not God-realisation.
But when you start meditation you do not need to concern yourself with philosophies or wonder which group you belong to – as already mentioned you will acquire this self-understanding only through the deepening practise of meditation itself. Happily, too, we are not static and fossilised, but evolving, changing, blossoming and what we believe today can easily become replaced tomorrow by a new insight and understanding. Just as the outer world is very vast, (look out into the endless beauty of a midnight sky!) so too the inner world is also vast and wonderful and many new discoveries await us.
Thus meditation throws open the doorway to a wider world – so many truths and realities lie just over the horizon of today's comprehension, and tomorrow we will discover these first hand. Meditation simply requires an open mind and open heart – let the truths of life emerge out of your own experience and personal discoveries.
The Branches of Yoga
Yoga means union – union with God, union with one's own higher self, union with Truth. In common useage, the word generally refers to hatha yoga, the series of asanas or physical postures that perfect the body and help us to enter into a higher consciousness. This branch also includes pranayama, the science of breath control to help control and purify mind and body. But there are three other principle branches.
Karma yoga is desireless action undertaken to serve God in humanity, and not for self gain. Mother Teresa, for example, illustrates this ideal in her tireless service to the poor of India – she was serving God and Christ in suffering humanity. A karma yogin is not concerned by success or failure – he or she cultivates detachment and desirelessness and serves without expectation of personal gain or recognition.
Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge and seeks the truth of life through the understanding of the mind. A jnana yogin knows there is a higher world of Truth beyond the sense world and seeks it through rational explanation. He declares 'neti, neti' – 'not this, not this', rejecting falsehood and illusion as he seeks to comprehend the eternal and highest truths of life beyond it's changing forms and appearances.
The reasoning mind does not interest the follower of bhakti yoga, the fourth principal yoga. This is the path of love and devotion to God, the path of the heart, the path of feeling.
For those who do believe in the existence of God or in some kind of higher reality or divine intelligence, bhakti yoga is the fastest way.
Here there is a shift away from self-effort and mere mastery of technique towards a greater dependence on our personal idea or feeling of God. As a child depends entirely on its parents for everything, in bhakti yoga the practitioner of meditation depends on God, invokes God, trusts God in every part of the spiritual journey. Here the word 'God' does not imply a necessity to embrace any religious dogmas or beliefs – rather, to be effective our idea of God has to be something personal, a feeling, image or intuition of some connection we have to a higher, loving being.
One of the most powerful elements in our nature is the power of love. In its everyday form it is limited to those close and dear to us, but human love is also evolving and capable of great expansion. And where human love often has a personal need – desire and attraction, assuaging our loneliness, a need for companionship or a deeper association with somebody – it can also develop through spiritual progress into something unlimited and serve as a powerful force in our meditation. In bhakti yoga the force of love in the human heart is directed out to God, and calls upon or invokes the guidance or grace of a loving Being who will take care of our journey, expedite our progress, show us our way forward.
In bhakti yoga, too, as we deepen this feeling of our inner connection with a higher being we begin to see divinity all around us. The Creator is in all of his creation and the limited human love grows into an unlimited spiritual love, freed from personal need to expand out into all of life.
Exercise: The Mantra 'Supreme'
This exercise uses the mantra Supreme, one of Sri Chinmoy's most cherished chant words. It reminds us that we have within ourselves a supreme self, the human soul, and even more importantly it invokes the compassion and guidance of God. The mantra Supreme is an intimate name for a loving being and we are free to develop a sense of this relationship with the supreme being in whatever way we are comfortable. Feel like a child in this meditation and do not concern yourself too much with technique – it is our sincerity, soulfulness, love that make this exercise most powerful.
Seated at your shrine, begin your meditation at the starting point of breath, focusing your mind's awareness for a few minutes in its calm ebb and flow. Feel like a child – you are six or seven years old – and feel inside your heart the quality of sincerity. Like a magnet, sincerity draws to us everything we need to know about our practise. For a few minutes keep your mind, body, breath very still and feel a sense of each breath drawing you down a little deeper into the spiritual heart, the calm oasis of spirit at the core of our being. With each breath feel a deepening sense of stillness. Always cultivate a sense of curiosity or aspiration to see how still you can become.
As you enter into this inner silence, begin to feel the mantra Supreme resonating inside you – like a child, your soul is calling out to God, a loving parent, to guide you forward on your journey. If the mind is still busy you can chant Supreme quite quickly – the mantra is displacing everything else from the mind. As you become more still, the mantra can slow down – the first syllable 'Su' can coincide with the in-flowing breath, the second syllable 'preme' can be chanted on the out-flowing breath. If you are chanting aloud, then your mantra will be chanted on the out-flowing breath only.
Practise this as long as you wish. Technique at first can preoccupy you, but then the feeling and power of the mantra will take over and gradually the mantra will awaken inside you an actual experience of your soul's oneness with God.
- Simple, spiritual background music can be helpful in all these forms of meditation. I often use Sri Chinmoy's Flute Music for Meditation during my practise. This is so saturated in the lovely consciousness of meditation that the music itself is a teaching. If you can identify with the profound peacefulness of the music, you will spontaneously meditate! Remember this key point: that creating the right environment in which to practise – incense, music, a special place and time – is half the battle. These things nourish the blossoming of spirit.
- When chanting the mantra Supreme try folding your hands together over the spiritual heart centre. This is known as a mudra or hand posture – this particular one is for the spiritual heart. The thumb tips are placed just over the upper centre of the chest. This technique cultivates a feeling of aspiration – a conscious striving – and brings a powerful sincerity or intensity to your chanting. Try it! With practise you will see that it helps enormously in bringing to your meditation a very special inner quality. For thousands of years, and from so many different paths, seekers like ourselves have used this technique to enhance their meditation.
- With the mantra Supreme try always to feel the quality of soulfulness or sincerity – feel it is your very soul that is connecting with God. The more you can feel this, the more powerful your meditation will become. The mantra will open the doorway to an intimate sense of oneness with your personal feeling of God.
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