Q. How does one meditate on Pure Being, as suggested by the scriptures?

Q. In Advaita Bodha Deepika, Chapter 3 verses 31-32 it states in the path of yoga* one should meditate on Pure Being, free from all qualities in order to attain liberation. Isn’t ‘free from all qualities’ another quality?

Tom: No. Only if you are only seeing it intellectually.

Q. I don’t know any other way to see it. If I am awake, I see only intellectually.

Tom: The words are misleading, as if you can meditate on ‘being free from qualities’. It just means to (mentally) keep quiet, allow the mind to relax and be still. You are what you are. Being simply IS.

*often when the word yoga alone is used, it is referring to Patanjali’s system of Raja Yoga, the path of meditation.

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Ramana Maharshi: How to meditate ‘nothing is as good as meditation’

Ramana smiling

The following is taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 371. My comments are interspersed in red italics, any bold text has been added by me for emphasis:

The first part of this talk is about the path of yoga:

There was a group of three middle-aged Andhras on a visit to Sri Bhagavan. One of them kneeled and asked: I am performing hatha yoga, namely basti, dhauti, neti, etc. I find a blood vessel hardened in the ankle. Is it a result of Yoga?

Ramana Maharshi: The blood-vessel would have hardened under any circumstances. It does not trouble you as much now as it would otherwise. Hatha yoga is a cleaning process. It also helps peace of mind, after leading you to pranayama.

First Bhagavan Ramana states that Hatha yoga has likely been beneficial to the questioner. Ramana has also hinted that it is a purification or ‘cleaning’ process which helps the mind to become peaceful, and is but one of several steps towards liberation. The questioner continues, asking about pranayama or the yogic practice of controlling the breath:

Questioner: May I do pranayama? Is it useful?

Ramana Maharshi: Pranayama is an aid for the control of mind. Only you should not stop with pranayama. You must proceed further to pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Full results are reaped finally.

Make no mistake, Ramana is stating that pranayama, or formal control of the breath, is a useful practice. He states it is helpful for controlling the mind, but one must not stop there but should proceed to pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (the presence of vivid awareness without thoughts or other mental impressions arising). Practitioners of yoga will recognise that this sequence represents the final four stages of yoga as prescribed by Patanjali the Yoga Sutras in which eight stages are outlined and prescribed. Ramana is essentially stating that he is in agreement here with Patanjali, emphasising this with the final part of his statement ‘full results are reaped finally’.

Now Ramana is asked about how to overcome negative mental tendencies:

Another of the group asked: How are lust, anger, acquisitiveness, confusion, pride and jealousy overcome?

Ramana Maharshi: By dhyana.

Questioner: What is dhyana?

Ramana Maharshi: Dhyana is holding on to a single thought and putting off all other thoughts.

Dhyana is a sanskrit word that is usually translated as ‘meditation’. Ramana, at least here in this passage, is clear: dhyana, or meditation, is the way. Traditionally the last three of Patanjali’s eight limbs or stages of yoga are grouped together: dharana (concentration) is when the mind is trained to become one-pointed and an object of choice is concentrated on. Dhyana (meditation) is when this concentration intensifies and remains unbroken. Lastly Samadhi is when this concentration intensifies and the object of concentration is dropped, so that all that remains is a vivid-free-spacious-awareness in which the notion of ‘I’ and ‘other’ or the subject-object duality is no longer present.

Now Ramana is asked about the technique of meditation:

Questioner: What is to be meditated upon?

Ramana Maharshi: Anything that you prefer.

Questioner: Siva, Vishnu, and Gayatri are said to be equally efficacious. Which should I meditate upon?

Ramana Maharshi: Any one you like best. They are all equal in their effect. But you should stick to one.

The key point here is that one should meditate. Specifically, this means one should, according to Sri Bhagavan Ramana, concentrate on an object of choice. What the object is matters not, just choose something that you like the most, and then stick to it (Siva, Vishnu and Gayatri are traditional objects of meditation). Ramana has already told us above that pranayama and pratyahara are useful aids to this meditation, but that we should then proceed to the real heart of yoga: meditation.

How exactly should this be done, and why/how does this work?

Questioner: How to meditate?

Ramana Maharshi: Concentrate on that one whom you like best. If a single thought prevails, all other thoughts are put off and finally eradicated. So long as diversity prevails there are bad thoughts. When the object of love prevails only good thoughts hold the field. Therefore hold on to one thought only. Dhyana is the chief practice.

Ramana is emphasising one-pointedness of mind.

A little later Sri Bhagavan continued: Dhyana means fight. As soon as you begin meditation other thoughts will crowd together, gather force and try to sink the single thought to which you try to hold. The good thought must gradually gain strength by repeated practice. After it has grown strong the other thoughts will be put to flight.

This is the battle royal always taking place in meditation. One wants to rid oneself of misery. It requires peace of mind, which means absence of perturbation owing to all kinds of thoughts. Peace of mind is brought about by dhyana alone.

Questioner: What is the need then for pranayama?

Ramana Maharshi: Pranayama is meant for one who cannot directly control the thoughts. It serves as a brake to a car. But one should not stop with it, as I said before, but must proceed to pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. After the fruition of dhyana, the mind will come under control even in the absence of pranayama. The asanas (postures) help pranayama, which helps dhyana in its turn, and peace of mind results. Here is the purpose of hatha yoga.

Here above, Bhagavan Ramana has in brief outlined both the technique of yoga and its mechanism of action. If one wants to end suffering, one needs peace of mind (bolded text above). How to achieve peace of mind? Ramana states that the only way is through dhyana, or sustained concentration (also bolded text above).

The earlier of the eight steps of yoga, such as those dealing with yogic physical exercises and postures (asana) and breath control (pranayama) are important and helpful aids to attain the higher goal of meditation. Initially these earlier stages are required, but later on they are no longer required.

So, what happens as our dhyana strengthens?

Later Sri Bhagavan continued:
When dhyana is well established it cannot be given up. It will go on automatically even when you are engaged in work, play or enjoyment. It will persist in sleep too. Dhyana must become so deep-rooted that it will be natural to one.

Many people ask how can one combine spiritual practice with daily life. Bhagavan Ramana has indirectly answered this question above: through regular formal practice of dhyana, the beneficial effects spill over into both active daily life and also even during sleep. The Dhyana must become deeply rooted in our hearts and minds.

Now the questioner, having heard both the essential method of yoga, namely dhyana, and also heard about the aids to attaining dhyana, namely asana, pranayama and pratyahara – the questioner still seems to have some doubts which are posed in the next three questions:

Questioner: What rite or action is necessary for the development of dhyana?

Ramana Maharshi: Dhyana is itself the action, the rite and the effort. It is the most intense and potent of all. No other effort is necessary.

This question is about rituals – what rituals and efforts are required. Ramana says the ritual and effort required is that of dhyana. Just get on and start. Another doubt:

Questioner: Is not japa necessary?

Ramana Maharshi: Is dhyana not vak (speech)? Why is japa necessary for it? If dhyana is gained there is no need for anything else.

Japa refers to the verbal repetition of a sound or phrase, like mantra repetition. Again, Ramana directs the questioner to just stick to dhyana.

Questioner: Is not a vow of silence helpful?

Ramana Maharshi: A vow is only a vow. It may help dhyana to some extent. But what is the good of keeping the mouth closed and letting the mind run riot. If the mind be engaged in dhyana, where is the need for speech? Nothing is as good as dhyana. Should one take to action with a vow of silence, where is the good of the vow?

Seemingly infinite in his patience, Ramana continues to direct the questioner away from potential superficialities and towards the key message: ie. the need to get on  and practice dhyana. He emphatially states ‘nothing is as good as dhyana’. May a vow of silence be helpul? Certainly. Better still is to practice meditation, dhyana.

Now the questioner turns to the path of knowledge, or jnana-marga (jnana means knowledge, marga means path). There is a mistaken view amongst some that jnana-marga does not require meditation, which is why I suspect the questioner has asked this question, even though the scriptures in jnana-marga clearly indicate the need for meditation:

Questioner: What is jnana-marga?

Ramana Maharshi: I have been saying it for so long. What is jnana? Jnana means realisation of the Truth. It is done by dhyana. Dhyana helps you to hold on to Truth to the exclusion of all thoughts.

For such a long time now Ramana, together with the vedic scriptures, has stated that dhyana is the means to jnana, or realisation of truth. If this is true, then what about all the Gods?

Questioner: Why are there so many Gods mentioned?

Ramana Maharshi: The body is only one. Still, how many functions are performed by it? The source of all the functions is only one. It is in the same way with the Gods also.

Just as a single body performs a variety of functions, so the One Being appears to expresses itself as many things and processes, including all the many gods.

Now, why does one suffer?

Questioner: Why does a man suffer misery?

Ramana Maharshi: Misery is due to multifarious thoughts. If the thoughts are unified and centred on a single item there is no misery, but happiness is the result. Then, even the thought, “I do something” is absent; nor will there be an eye on the fruit of action.

Continuing on the same theme of dhyana, ie. making the mind one-pointed and remaining there, Ramana states this is the way to end suffering. Suffering is caused by the multitude of thoughts, but a one-pointed mind leads to happiness and peace. When the mind is one-pointed to the exclusion of all other thoughts, the notion of personal doership, itself a thought/concept, is abandoned, as is the attachment to outcomes of actions (‘fruit of action’).

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om

 

How yoga leads to Enlightenment

yoga.jpg
An illustration dated from the early 20th century, drawn to accompany Yoga Yajnavalkya, an imporant foundational text on yoga from the 12th century CE.

In my previous two posts (here and here) I’ve described the aims of the of yoga as being twofold:

  1. Knowledge: to see/know/realise that the notion of being a separate doer-entity is an illusion
  2. Peace: to become peaceful (sattvic) and remove compulsive desires

Each of these two aims of yoga are there to solve a basic problem. First, as long as you take yourself to be a doer, you suffer. This is corrected with Knowledge as defined above. Note that this Knowledge is not knowledge of something new (additive or positive knowledge) but it is realising something is false (negative knowledge).

And second, as long as you are a slave to compulsive desires, right action (ethical and intelligent action in accordance with natural law or dharma) will not fully manifest, and the flow of the innate natural intelligence will be impeded and distorted by these addictive and compulsive tendencies (vasanas). This is corrected by becoming sattvic (peaceful).

There are many forms of yoga and some can be very technical and detailed. However in general, some yogas work upon the body, others on the breath/voice, and some focus more on the mind. However the main purpose of yoga is to affect the mind, as this is where the core problems described above lie.  Those yogas that work primarily upon the body, voice or breath do so in order to directly or indirectly effect the mind to which they are connected.

Each type of yoga strives to achieve the two points mentioned above in a slightly different way. Often there is a conceptual framework within which the yoga operates. When the aim of the yoga has been achieved (ie. by achieving the two points above), then the conceptual framework within which the yoga operated can be dismantled and left behind.

buddha.jpg
(1) Knowledge and (2) Peace, personified here by a visual and stylised  image of the Buddha

Improving your posture

Let’s give a simple example of how concepts, even when false, can aid us. If you want to improve your posture an expert may recommend you imagine a length of string attached to the crown of your head, pulling the top of your head upwards towards the sky/ceiling. When you imagine this, you naturally straighten your posture in line with the visualised imaginary piece of string.

After practicing this for sometime, your posture improved and now you no longer have to imagine a piece of string. At no point did you actually thinks there was a piece of string actually there, but you can see how this concept was useful to correct your posture.

Concepts in Yoga

Lets take a look at some of the main traditional forms of yoga to see how this works. In the sections below there are many aspects of the yoga I have not gone into, as the purpose of this text is to demonstrate how yoga can use concepts to achieve the two goals mentioned above, and then the concepts can be thrown away, to be picked up again only when this needs to be taught to someone else.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana means knowledge in Sanskrit, and Jnana Yoga is the Yoga of Knowledge.

In this yoga the concept of Brahman is introduced and is initially equated as being being-consciousness-bliss (sat-chit-ananda). Brahman is initially defined as being our basic sense of presence-awareness and the teachings show this to be (apparently) Unchanging, Ever-Present/Permanent, Eternal, Infinite and Indestructible. This is stark contrast to the subtle and gross objects that appear within it which are ever-changing, temporary, transient, limited and subject to creation and destruction.

The Jnana yogi is taught to identify him/herself as that Unchanging Absolute Brahman and not to identify as the ephemeral objects. Through this process of de-identification with the body-mind and identification with that which does not change, insight into experience occurs.

We start to realise that the body-mind entity that we formerly took ourself to be actually is not us at all. We thought that we we responsible for our thoughts and action, whereas from the point of view of Brahman or Absolute Consciousness, it is seen that there is no doer and the body-mind-entity functions by itself. At this point the doer-entity is seen to be non-existant, and Knowledge as defined above in objective (1) arises.

At this point the essential job of jnana yoga has been completed, and the concepts of Brahman as being an unchanging essence can then be dropped and life goes on, living itself. There is no attachment to concepts such as the relative and absolute or concepts of the infinite, all of which are ultimately unverifiable in our experience.

Incidentally, once the doer has seen to be non-existent, sattva tends to arise over time as the processes that fuel compulsive desires are slowly wiped away, and so objective (2) is also indirectly achieved.

We can see that in Jnana yoga the concept of an Absolute Brahman has been useful to us to serve a purpose. However ultimately we cannot know for sure from our experience alone that there is such as thing as the Absolute Unchanging Brahman. Because Knowledge, ie. seeing through the doer, has occurred, Freedom is innately realised, and concepts are not clung to, and no beliefs are required.

Karma Yoga

Karma means action in Sanskrit, and Karma Yoga is the Yoga of Action.

There are a few ways karma yoga can be performed according to the traditional scriptures, but one of them is to set up the concept of a personal God, an all-powerful entity that is responsible for everything and every action in the universe. The Karma yogi is taught to realise that it is this God that ultimately has control and not the limited body-mind that it thinks itself to be.

The karma yogi therefore practices gladly accepting everything that comes his or her way as a gift from God, working to the best of their ability, but not being attached to the results of their actions.

As the Karma yogi starts to learn to be happy regardless of what is happening, this has the direct result of eroding away compulsive desires, converting them into non-compulsive desires, and so eventually objective (2) is achieved.

Thereafter, over time, the sense of identification with the body-mind entity loosens and is seen through. It can become apparent to the Karma yogi that actions happen by themselves: thoughts happen by themselves, but there is no thinker, just a spontaneous thought occurring, one by one, in quick succession. Similarly actions happen by themselves: limbs move, lips speak in the same way that dogs bark, leaves rustle and clouds float by – all happens spontaneously, and there is no doer. Here Knowledge arises.

Now the yoga has completed its aims: Freedom has been realised and we are seen to be free from suffering – we are seen to have always been free from suffering and the world. Now we no longer have to worry about concept of an infinite all-powerful personal God that is ultimately unknowable and unverifiable.

Again, the concept of the infinite God, as with the concept of the Unchanging Indestructible Brahman for Jnana yoga, can be seen to have been a useful tool, aiding the seeker to attain Liberation, but now no longer needs to be believed in.


So here are just two examples of how concepts are utilised in yoga to achieve a greater end than perhaps could have been achieved without them.

Remember, don’t cling to concepts, beliefs and ideas. Use them by all means, but when you no longer need them, let them go. Ultimately, stay with what you know, stay with what’s true, question your beliefs, be unafraid to admit if you’re wrong, and don’t pretend to know something you don’t. Keeping to these guidelines will safeguard you from dogma, and the suffering that results from it.

Also see:
How spiritual teachings work
The essence of yoga
The paradox of yoga
Can you know something is infinite?