Meditation is the key to self-realization. Most people think of meditation as sitting down with your eyes closed and chanting om, while moving the beads on their meditation mala. True meditation however is just a term that refers to a unique state of mind, and as long as this state can be achieved, you can do it while sitting with your eyes closed, opened, standing, running, having sex, gazing at a sunset, eating a meal, performing a martial arts and dancing.
Recently I picked up a 450-page tome written by Swami Satyananda Saraswati that gives a great insight into the variety of different meditation approaches. I was moved to share some of the insights from his book with you. The book is called Sure Ways to Self-Realization and was first published in 1980 and has been revised several times since then.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati was a disciple of the famous master Swami Sivananda. Swami Satyananda Saraswati founded the International Yoga Fellowship in 1963 and the Bihar School of Yoga in 1964. He published dozens of very valuable books on the various aspects of the science of Yoga, however this book is one of the few where he goes beyond traditional Yoga and introduces disciplines and methods practised in the world to achieve self-realization.
Table of Contents
- 1 Tools of Meditation
- 2 Mechanical Aids to Meditation
- 3 The Yogic Ways of Meditation
- 4 Meditation – a Worldwide Culture
- 5 Moving Meditation
- 6 Meditation Miscellany
- 7 The Goal Of Meditation – Samadhi
Tools of Meditation
In theory one could meditate without any external aids. In practice most aspirants need helper meditation tools. The following are the main tools of meditation:
- Psychic Symbol
- Ishta Devata
- Yantra or Mandala
The word mantra means ‘revealed sound’. The power of the mantra is in its sound vibration when it’s pronounced verbally or internally. Each mantra creates a unique vibration which in turn creates a resonance of the individual with a specific cosmic power or force. Mantras work regardless of religious beliefs and are only powerful when pronounced as intended and therefore cannot be translated. There are mantras that are designed to elevate aspirant’s spirituality and there are mantras that help aspirant to have a better health and wealth in this world. The best way to receive a mantra is by finding an authentic guru who can help choose the right mantra suitable for the given situation and the person. The guru performs the initiation process, teaching the aspirant how to pronounce the mantra, how many repetitions to perform, and explaining other nuances of its practice. Once such mantra is given the aspirant will practice that mantra by a repetitive verbal chanting of it and in time moving to internalized chanting of it in their mind.
Mala or rosary is a string of small beads. Their number typically is one of the following three: 27, 54 (2 x 27) or 108 (4 x 27). The practitioner slides her finger from bead to bead after each repetition of the mantra. Each mala has a special junction which helps the practitioner know when the end of mala has been reached without needing to look at it. Mala’s beads could be made practically from anything, but typically one finds malas made from rudraksha, wood or crystal. Mala’s main purpose is to indicate when the prescribed number of mantra repetitions has been completed. It also helps to keep awareness on the mantra chanting, since the mind tends to wonder off easily.
While practising meditation it’s essential to have something on which to anchor one’s consciousness. Without such anchor it’s just too easy for the mind to wonder off and thus sabotage the meditation practice. This anchor could be a psychical object, a visualization of an object or a symbol, mantra, breath, concept, koan, etc. When the practice of meditation is performed again and again with the same symbol, it starts gaining power which supports the practitioner through the undulations of the mind. It’s important to remember that the symbol is a crutch and it is very useful at the beginning, however in advanced stages one will have to let go of the crutch in order to be able to go higher in their meditation practice.
It’s very difficult for an untrained mind to concentrate on an abstract concept of divinity during the spiritual practice, therefore it’s recommended to choose one aspect of the divine, be it male or female, and over time establish a very intimate personal connection with that supreme deity. Examples of divine aspects are Siva, Krishna, Kali, Tara, Jesus, Mary, etc. Once that personal connection is established one would refer to their chosen divinity as Ishta Devata. This connection helps the aspirant to stay on the path, practice meditation and to pray to when needed. For this support system to work it’s essential to have no doubts and practice a complete surrender.
Yantra and Mandala
The word “yantra” means an instrument for holding consciousness or awareness. Typically a yantra is drawn as a geometrical diagram which can be made up of triangles, circles, squares, hexagons, pentagons, etc. Mandala is a yantra which has a circular form. A yantra represents a visible vibration of a mantra. As a painting evokes a certain emotion in its beholder, a yantra evokes a certain state of consciousness. To meditate with a yantra the practitioner sits with the yantra placed at eye level about one metre in front of him and gazes steadily at the image before his eyes. This practice is called trataka. In the advanced stages the practitioner can close their eyes and concentrate on the internal vision of that yantra.
Mechanical Aids to Meditation
Most people inspiring for self-realization nowadays often suffer from a multitude of mental and physical ailments, therefore safe aids for meditation have become paramount. We are going to look into a few of such tools:
- psychedelic drugs
- sensory deprivation tanks
- biorhythm charting
Chemicals – an Aid or a Hindrance
The main question is whether the drug experience is just another form of sensory experience or a valid meditative one. The conclusion of the masters is that psychedelic drugs give us an insight into another reality but we still have to do the work to achieve enlightenment and no drugs in the world will get us there. Stories tell us that in the old times there was a science of achieving awakening using a combination of special yogic techniques combined with drugs, but alas this knowledge has been lost.
Biofeedback is a system of training where technology is used to understand the relationship between mind and body. The main purpose behind this science is to gain control of those parts of our being of which we were previously unconscious. Feedback is a method of controlling a system by modifying its functions according to the results of its past performance. In biofeedback a single body function is presented to the user via audio-visual presentation which varies as the function fluctuates – for example a tone pitch would change as one’s brainwave patterns fluctuate. Not only a user can now observe a previously unconscious function, they can even try to modify it and perceive its changes via the feedback mechanism. Since different meditation states directly correspond to specific brainwave frequencies, being able to observe and eventually control the frequency of one’s brainwaves and change the frequency at will is of a great help to anybody who wants to improve their meditation practice.
Sensory Deprivation Tanks
A sensory deprivation tank is designed to cut off all sensory stimulation from outside – no light, sound or kinesthetic feeling are experienced, allowing for a very deep relaxation and an opportunity to experience insights into new states of consciousness. The tank is filled partially with a very high concentration of Epsom salts diluted in water which allows one to float without needing to make any effort to stay on the surface of the water which has the same temperature as the body and therefore after a few minutes into the experience can’t be felt anymore.
Biorhythms’ principle is based on three basic rhythms, a 23 day cycle within the physical body, a 28 day emotional or sensitivity cycle and a 33 day intellectual cycle. This science helps us get in touch with our inner workings that most of us have no connection with. Biorhythms are used to find out the best times for eating, sleeping and performing different activities, which should improve one’s health and mood and therefore remove unnecessary obstacles on the path of the spiritual development.
The Yogic Ways of Meditation
Before going into various other non-yogic practices the book delves into the most commonly used yogic ways of meditation. A practitioner may practice one or more of these techniques.
Dhyana – the state of meditation that can’t be described in words – this is the goal of all meditation techniques.
Awareness development – internal and external, of time and space.
Antar Mouna – inner silence, withdrawal from the bustle of this world, involving 6 stages:
- Awareness of sense perceptions
- Awareness of spontaneous thought process
- Creation and disposal of thoughts at will
- Awareness and disposal of spontaneous thoughts
- Psychic symbol awareness
Japa – union with the highest existence through rotation of consciousness – performed by a continuous rotation of a mala (bead string) in synchronization with a mantra. Techniques of japa:
- Baikhari japa (also called nachika) is audible japa.
- Upanshu japa is whispering japa.
- Manasik is mental japa.
- Likhit japa involves writing the mantra on paper hundreds of times, combined with manasik japa.
Ajapa Japa – when the mantra automatically repeats itself without conscious effort. Japa mantra comes from the mouth, ajapa japa comes from the heart. Techniques of ajapa japa:
1. Preliminary ajapa japa – frontal passage rotation techniques:
- Awareness of frontal passage and Soham
- Rotation of Hamso
- Rotation of Soham-Hamso
- Spontaneous alternation of Soham-Hamso
- Repeat 1-4 while doing Ujjayi pranayama and khechari mudra
2. Intermediate ajapa japa – spinal passage rotation techniques:
- Awareness of spinal passage
- Rotation of Soham
- Rotation of Hamso
- Continuous rotation of Soham
- Spontaneous alternation of Soham-Hamso
3. Advanced ajapa japa is practiced like the intermediate ajapa japa, while the psychic passage extends all the way from mooladhara to sahasrara chakra and the breath is longer and slower. The breath should be felt passing through each of the chakras as it ascends and descends through sushumna nadi.
Chidakasha Dharana is an ajna chakra visualization practice, which intensifies concentration and makes the mind one-pointed. Its leads to dhyana and could awaken clairvoyance perception.
Yoga Nidra is a method of relaxation by creating one pointedness of mind, not only inducing deep relaxation but also for reawakening the degenerated brain nuclei and centres.
Prana Vidya is a method of meditation by which the higher self can be realized – it is a system to acquire knowledge of prana. Techniques:
- Awareness of prana and apana
- Awakening the prana
- Expansion and relaxation
- Expansion and contraction
- Internal distribution of prana
Trataka is a method of a steady gaze usually on an object. It’s part of Raja yoga. It also helps improve the eyesight, concentration and memory. By means of trataka we can cleanse the doors of our perception and awaken some of our psychic qualities. It can be done externally (gazing at an object in front of our eyes) and internally (visualizing an object with eyes closed).
Nada Meditation is a method of meditation with a primordial sound. The goal is to progress through the following four types of sounds:
- Baikhari – sounds produced by objects striking
- Madhyama – whispered sound
- Pashyanti – mental sound;
- Para nada : transcendental sound
Jnana Yoga Meditation is the path to self-realization for seekers who have a predominantly intellectual nature and who use the rationalistic method of distinguishing the truth from untruth and the real from the unreal by using the power of discrimination and analysis. “Who am I?” is a one of the most widely practised meditations on this path.
Kriya Yoga is a combination of mudras, bandhas, pranayamas, asanas, and awareness, practised to harmonize one’s natural energies. It often involves awakening of the kundalini energy. It’s designed to turn tamas guna (lazy/slow energy) into sattva guna (pure/balanced energy). It clears all psychosomatic and mental illnesses. It contains 76 techniques, but only 7 major techniques need to be practised by most.
Sexual Tantric Meditation is a subsection of Tantra. Tantra is a system of self-development which accepts life fully, exalting experience without reservation, making use of all activities equally, seeking to spiritualize or transform life’s activities into acts of awareness and devotion to the primal power or Shakti, the higher force, which in tantra is conceived of as a feminine power. According to tantra, one can never go beyond the sexual plane of existence by denying it, but only by accepting it fully, utilizing and spiritualizing one’s natural sexual activities in the path to greater awareness. To attempt an enforced renunciation of a perfectly normal and natural human function, while the mind is full of sexual fantasies, is only a form of self-repression, and very far from true brahmacharya (celibacy). To practise sexual meditation one requires a very strong and stable mind.
Meditation – a Worldwide Culture
Most cultures, both old and modern, included some form of meditation for those who chose to practice it. Here are the most common meditation traditions followed these days:
- Buddhism: Southern Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism
- Native American
- Alchemy (the Western Tantric Tradition)
- Autogenic Therapy
- Transcendental Meditation
While majority of meditation practices is performed while in a restful state, there is a whole group of meditation practices performed while on the move. Here are some of the most common moving meditation practices:
- Yoga – asanas, pranayama, kriya yoga, karma yoga (selfless service)
- Travel – outer journey, discovery, developing mind, visiting sacred and powerful places
- Tibetan Buddhism – performing thousands of prostrations, long distance running, chod
- Zen – fencing and archery, walking meditation, jyogyo-zanmai
- Karate, Tai Chi and various Sport disciplines
- Dance – classical, modern and tribal dancing, sufi dance of ecstasy
Nature Meditations – connecting with nature by tuning into its natural sounds and sights.
Meditating with Colour and Light – concentration on light and colour helps to relax the body and mind. Different colors induce different states of mind and body:
- Red: life and sensuality.
- Orange: energy and wisdom.
- Yellow: cheerfulness and intellect.
- Green: harmony and compassion.
- Blue: devotion and religious aspiration.
- Indigo: inspiration and artistic creativity.
- Violet: spiritual qualities and ideals, mysticism and intuition.
Meditation for Children – if you have children, do them a favor and plant the spiritual seed by training them in simple meditation techniques early on.
Meditation for Dying – learn how help others (and yourself when the time will come) to die consciously by studying the methodology taught in the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol in Tibetan). Contemplating death and rebirth can be also a very powerful transformative practice.
The Goal Of Meditation – Samadhi
A time must come when we can see what ‘I am’. That is self-realization. Some call it God-realization, some call it samadhi, others call it moksha, nirvana, enlightenment or communion. It is the final goal that all of us must aim towards. It alone brings total fulfilment, after that there is nothing more to gain and nothing to lose; there is only one continuous state of being.
Samadhi is a state of higher awareness where the mental bodies do not function and in which the aspirant arrives at the pointless point of consciousness beyond which there is no consciousness exist.
If you feel inspired to read more in-depth on the ideas presented in this brief essay the 450-page “Sure Ways to Self-Realization” will surely provide an engaging reading for an aspiring seeker.