Dhyana-Yogah/Topic of meditation (Chapter 6…continued)

As mentioned in my earlier post, there are two aspects to meditation: 1) Preparatory meditation (dealt with in the previous post titled `Meditation: prepare for take-off’ ) 2) `Owning-up’ meditation. In this post, I’ll discuss the latter.

Some of my students have the following problem and it is not uncommon. They tell me, “Swamiji, I understand I am limitless awareness, but I don’t feel I am limitless.’’ I joke with them by replying, “Do you want to reduce Vedanta to a feeling?’’ However, I understand their problem–in spite of knowing it, that knowledge has not yet become a part of their lives.

 Let me illustrate this problem with the story of a man who begs for a living in the marketplace. All his life he has begged and has not known any other life. One day, he bought a lottery ticket with the money he had collected and actually ended up winning the Rs 5 crore bumper lottery. He bought himself a nice house, a car, jewelry, good clothes, etc and declared that he was no more a beggar, he was a rich man now. He walked down to the marketplace to show off his riches to all those people who had doled out alms to him. It happened to be a religious occasion that day and a devotee was distributing laddus (sweets) in the marketplace. Our newly-rich man’s hand shot over the others and was the first to reach out to grab that laddu. Many were shocked to see this person clad in designer clothes and a fancy watch grabbing the laddu, and he himself felt terrible about it because it dawned on him that he was not a beggar any more.

[pullquote]Lifetimes of patterns were based on the ignorance of what I am whereas nidhidhyasanam is based on the knowledge of what I am.  Knowledge will always overcome ignorance exactly as light will overcome darkness[/pullquote]

Now, this is a classical habitual problem. This new-rich man knows he is rich but that knowledge is not available to him when it matters. Similarly, many Vedanta students know that they are this limitless awareness, they are the limitless self, but the knowledge is not available when things go wrong in their lives. Therefore, what does one do? Exactly what our beggar-turned-rich-man should—he should sit around his riches and contemplate the fact that he is a rich person. Similarly, in nidhidhyasanam , you remind yourself of the essence of the entire teaching. The fact that you are nothing but limitless awareness, limitless consciousness has to be brought back to your mind. Both stages of meditation have a process and background involved which we will see when we start the sixth chapter

This `Owning-up meditation’ that I am talking about is defined in the tradition as nirguna brahma vishaye manasa vyapara, meaning `a mental activity for which the subject matter is the unconditioned reality/Brahman, that means me as limitless/unconditioned awareness.’ This knowledge is gained in the teaching. Remember that no new knowledge is gained in meditation as far as Vedanta is concerned. If you are meditating on a chakra and gain some insight on it, that is perfectly valid because chakras are there are in your sukshma sharira, your subtle body i.e. mind, prana etc, and that can be objectified by the sakshi, the witnessing self.

Swamiji, what do mean when you say this knowledge is not available in day-to-day functioning?

Our new-rich man continues to behave as though he is poor. His old conditioned thinking is overcoming the knowledge that he has. There is always a gap between what you know and what you do. All of us know about hygiene but we will insist that `my street food vendor is fine’. We make compromises and because of these compromises we lack integrity and this knowledge is not integrated into one’s system.

 Yogis have spent lifetimes undoing patterns of thinking and behavior. How  can nidhidhyasanam  undo these ?

Because these patterns are not based on facts. Lifetimes of patterns were based on the ignorance of what I am whereas nidhidhyasanam is based on the knowledge of what I am.  Knowledge will always overcome ignorance exactly as light will overcome darkness. If the mouth of a cave has been blocked by a rock for thousands of years and sunlight has never entered it, a small earthquake could cause the rock to roll away and sunlight would stream in. Would it take long for the darkness to be dispelled? No. Similarly, there is a definite pattern in the mind borne of years of conditioning that I am the body, I am the mind, I am the roles that I play. Once they are negated, what I am is revealed, but in spite of knowing that the knowledge is not available to me. When things go wrong, I still behave like a beggar. I feel beggarly in life in spite of being full of the riches of this knowledge. Therefore, that pattern doesn’t take long to undo. Yogis meditated for years for certain other purposes, for certain powers, etc and not necessarily for owning up the truth.

Is this a sort of pratipaksha bhavana?

In a way, but a pratipaksha bhavana need not be based on fact whereas this is based on a fact. Pratipaksha bhavana is only an attitude whereas this is owning up what I am. One of my teachers, Swami Chinmayanandji,  who inspired me, would say, `What has gone in through the ears has to sink to the heart otherwise it will leak through the mouth’. That sinking into the heart is what we call  nidhidhyasanam. Therefore, nirguna brahma vishaye manasa vyapara, a mental activity for which the subject matter is limitless awareness. Remember that this type of meditation is not just a quiet mind. You first quieten your mind, make the mind contemplative, and in that quiet mind you introduce the essence of the teaching. Therefore, there is a thinking process. It’s necessary to do that to own up what you know. Quietening of the mind is a preparatory meditation; if a person claims to remain thought-less in the state of meditation, that would come under `preparatory meditation’. Nidhidhyasanam  is owning up what I already know, where the essence of the teaching is contemplated upon.


A-ha…The Buddha’s a-ha moment under the Bodhi tree was not a flash, but was a culmination of discussion, debate and contemplation. 

Since this knowledge is about the non-conceptual reality, many meditations focus on getting a thought-less mind and intuitive knowledge which many believe is moksha…That is another myth, that this  quietening of the mind is enough. The knowledge of the truth is always there in shravanam i.e. listening to the teaching that unfolds the truth of myself. I’ll give you an example. Buddha is often cited as an example of a person who became a person of knowledge intuitively. That’s a myth, people don’t understand how he got it. Those who have studied Buddhism well and have done Buddhist practices and those who have learnt Vedanta well would know that that’s not how Buddha got the knowledge.

 Let me illustrate the above with an example… I was at a party. What does a monk like me do at a party? I don’t want to talk Vedanta there because it’s not appropriate and so I crack some jokes, make people laugh. I have a friend who I think is a very good guy because he laughs at all my jokes regardless of whether they are funny or not. One day, when we were driving back from the party, he suddenly started to laugh. `What’s the matter,’ I asked him, `I have not said anything…’.  You know the joke you cracked back there at the party, he replied, I was distracted and didn’t get it but laughed only because the others did…`Now I’ve got it…’ he said, continuing to laugh. It was a delayed reaction. Similarly, when people say, `I got it in meditation,’ what they really mean is that the learning fell into place in the course of meditation when the mind was quietened and the distractions were kept away. The same thing happened to the Buddha. I am not saying that the Buddha was intellectually lacking, he did not have any one guru/teacher, but he used to live among the sadhus there, among the spiritual teachers and have discussions with all of them. Then he would go and contemplate, then come back, discuss and then again return to contemplate, and as a result of all this the essence of all that he had heard clicked and fell into place under the Bodhi tree…..More on meditation in the next post….


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