Dhyana-Yogah/ Topic Of Meditation (chapter 6)
The sixth chapter of Gita is traditionally dedicated to meditation. Before I go into the verses let us see what meditation is. I must have seen at least a thousand different varieties of meditation. In fact, at one level any focused mental activity is meditation. Reiki, Yoga, Martial arts, Tai chi, and religious worship all have meditations, and there is also something called pre-meditated murder!…Therefore, what is meditation? No blog or book can cover all the different dimensions of meditations. For the sake of Vedanta, we will divide meditation in the pursuit of moksha in two main aspects:
1. Preparatory meditation
2. Owning-up meditation.
Any mental activity, which makes you, calm, centered, and focused, and focus on the ‘I’, the witness of everything, the sakshi, can be considered as meditation. The aim of meditation is to get a contemplative mind. What is a contemplative mind? A mind which is thinking but is not disturbed, a mind that thinks but is not worried. The foundations of meditations are laid in karma yoga as our worries and anxieties are taken care of by the attitudes of karma yoga i.e. Ishwara-arpanam and prasada buddhi. One may still have psychological issues like depression, excessive grief, paranoia etc which have to be dealt with psychologically.
Swamiji, most people think that if they meditate all their psychological problems will vanish…
A myth perpetuated by new age gurus is that meditation is the answer to everything; it is not. I know of cases in which meditation has made psychological issues worse. When the conscious mind is busy, psychological issues are buried, but while meditating these issues come up. [pullquote]Having a contemplative mind is more important than the meditation itself. It’s important to extend this contemplative mind in day-to-day activities.[/pullquote]Instead of dealing with them, either with the help of a guru or a counselor, you are pushing them away and trying to meditate. That is an ideal way for the mind to mess things up, this could lead to denial or suppression. Whatever is suppressed can hijack the person when one least expects it to. These issues become like terrorists of the mind and can ambush our feeling and thinking unexpectedly. Meditation can help you bring up a psychological issue. Once it comes up in meditation, you have to deal with it consciously using the principles of mind management and not by quietening the mind in meditation. It’s a dangerous trend.
There are some ways of dealing with psychological issues with the help of meditation. For example, if I have a strong dislike for someone, I could have rationalized it and come to some level of acceptance but I could have a strong habitual pattern of disliking the person. An important step here is to have analyzed it enough so there is no real reason for the strong feeling of dislike. I can take care of this habitual pattern with meditation.
Pratipaksha Bhavana: What do I do in this meditation? Yoga and Buddhists traditions practice more of this meditation. I sit down, think of this person whom I dislike, and bring friendly, loving thoughts about the person in my mind. My feeling of dislike is not based on facts, and if it is based on facts, those facts need to be dealt with. After dealing with those facts, I negate one thinking pattern by consciously bringing in another thinking pattern. This is how certain patterns of thinking, after handling underlying issues, are changed with pratipaksha bhavana. If I have grief inside and I am sending happy thoughts it will not work because that will only be a denial of the grief I have. I have to process that grief. But if the mind is habitually going into a grieving pattern after having grieved enough, I can break that with pratipaksha bhavana. This is one preparatory meditation, another one would be upasana.
Upasana: Upasana is defined as ‘saguna brahma vishaye manasa vyapara’, a mental activity for which the subject matter is god. Here, instead of physical worship, I offer mental worship, I have a mental dialogue with God, or I contemplate on certain aspects or qualities of God I would like to bring in to me. This also makes my relationship with god more real. I personalize that god in meditation so that I will have some sense of devotion which is an emotional response to my understanding of Ishwara. This emotional response helps me be a better karma yogi and, in the process, also prepare myself to understand Vedanta. Alternatively, if my mind is habitually disturbed, then I do some japa dhyana where you convert a japa to a contemplative practice. We will look at some of these in a later post.
Centering: The other part I consider very important in preparatory meditations is being centered on myself. In this meditation I use a japa or my breath with what I have already understood myself as i.e. a sakshi or a witness of everything, and remain centered as a witness, not as an involved actor. I remain seated as a witness of everything: an awareful being. In many Buddhists texts, ‘witnessing‘ itself is described as meditation. The advantage is that even if I don’t have a complete understanding of what I am, I can be centered on myself. Centering involves dropping my roles and seeing myself as an aware-full being, and this is an advantage in understanding my own unfoldment because, in the process of my learning, I have already come to a state of ‘simple being’ and am not caught up in the roles that I play.
These are the various dimensions of preparatory meditations. It is very important to have done enough preparatory meditations before you begin listening to Vedanta. Most meditations, in some way or the other, contribute to gaining a contemplative mind. Having a contemplative mind is more important than the meditation itself. It’s important to extend this contemplative mind in day-to-day activities. There is no point in doing meditation for half hour every morning and then living the rest of the day unawareful. The basis of a meditative life is in being awareful. We shall see this when we go into the chapter itself.
Can painting, music or any other form of art or work also be considered as meditation?
Yes. I have a student who is a wonderful singer. She asks me: “Swamiji, I have to do three hours of riyaaz everyday I have to look after kids and home I don’t have separate time for meditation. How do I meditate?” I said: “When you are singing, witness your singing and there you have three hours of meditation straight away”. That will also be preparatory meditation. In fact, any activity can be used to develop a contemplative mind by doing it deliberately and aware-fully.
Swamiji, can visits to the temple, prayer also be considered meditation?
No. They will not become meditation, they will be called worship because there is a physical activity involved. It’s called meditation if it’s only a mental activity. Here we have some physical activity that will be called pooja or worship. If I am going to a temple and, say, I am inspired by an idol of Rama, by his courage and bravery, and I offer flowers and bow down before him, all that is still a part of my worship. However, after that worship, if I sit down in the same temple contemplating on Rama and his qualities, then that would become meditation.
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