A session led by the Warden at Shanti Sadan
If we deepen and develop the practice of meditation, it will lead us to an awareness of something of supreme value in our own being. This may be called the higher consciousness, or the eternal wisdom, or the light and being of the true Self. This power underlies all our experience. Unlike our mind or intellect, it has no limitations or defects, and it never changes. We overlook its presence while our mind is active, full of thoughts and outward-facing. But if we do a cognitive u-turn, so to say, calm our thoughts and feelings and turn within, we will come to discover the unique worth of this innermost ground of our own being.
The poet, James Stephens, speaking of quiet reflection in solitude, writes:
I would think until I found
Something I can never find,
Something lying on the ground,
In the bottom of my mind.
But the fact is we will never find the innermost ground of being through thinking. It is rather discovered through learning to rest our mind with as few thoughts as possible. Another way of doing this is to saturate our mind with one great thought that turns our focus towards this deeper presence at the core of our being here and now. Our meditation practices do both these things: they help us to turn aside the irrelevant thoughts and fill our mind with one great idea that awakens our higher consciousness. This is the ultimate technique of spiritual self-discovery.
In a broader sense, what is necessary is to clear a path, so to say, through the mind itself—a path that leads inward from the surface to the source of being. The higher life awaiting discovery within us is our real Self, our I. It is pure, perfect, peaceful awareness—the immovable basis of experience. But its existence is not suspected until we make a kind of clearing in the world within our mind and withdraw more deeply into our own being. This is made possible through meditation supported by other aids to self-realization taught to us by the knowers of truth.
In the Mundaka Upanishad the relationship between our true eternal Self and the mind is illustrated by the image of two birds that live in the same tree—the tree of our body. The bird representing our inmost Self is ever at peace, calm, knowing, free, desiring nothing, fearing no one, because it is established in non-duality. The bird representing the mind is agitated, restless, desiring many things, and experiencing the sweet and bitter results of its adventures and entanglements. Absorbed in this multiplicity it pays no attention to the higher bird and feels it is alone and vulnerable.
This is the situation with our mind before we come into touch with the eternal wisdom and teaching about our deeper Self. One could say that our pure and perfect Self is everything the mind is not. Our mind is always in motion. Our innermost Self is ever still. Our mind is full of thoughts and seems to be engaged in an unending conversation with itself. Our Self is ever silent and transcends the realm of words and mental images. Our mind does not seem to be naturally joyful. If left alone with itself, it easily feels deprived and hence miserable. Anxiety and unease lurk in the mind’s depths, and these vexations surface all too easily. In contrast to this, our true Self ever abides in bliss and freedom. It transcends limitations, ups and downs, life and death. This is our true I, one great reality embracing all.
Returning to the analogy of the two birds, it is as if the restless bird is unaware of this freedom close at hand. It feels alone, isolated, and identified with its troubles. Then it learns a new way of responding to the situation through being told: ‘Your true nature is not these conditions and limitations, this stress and this fear. Your real nature transcends all this. It is free, serene, invulnerable, the everlasting light, the infinite Self.’ Through this teaching, anxiety is replaced by inner peace, confusion by true understanding. Now our sense of identity is restored to the great Self and not the wavering mind.
The illustration of the two birds indicates how our sense of limited individuality is transformed through Self-knowledge. The value of meditation is that it tranquillizes our mind, and reminds us of the existence and immediacy of our higher Self. This affirmation of true identification frees us from delusive thought currents. Our mind lightens, an inner clearing is brought about. Our reality as the infinite Self is recognised first intellectually, then intuitively and finally through identifying with that great eternal self.
In Yoga all theory is an aid to practice, so let us now turn to our practices.
We sit for a minute or two in calmness and reverence for the deeper Reality, which, though unseen by these physical eyes, pervades and underlies everything.
Breathe slowly and consciously, resting your attention on the ‘heart centre’. With each breath, say inwardly: ‘I, I’. Do this in relaxation, freeing your mind from other thoughts.
Our breathing and our thinking are intimately linked. When we are calm, our breath becomes long and calm. It works both ways. When we consciously regulate our breath, our inner tension is eased.
This calming practice gives us a focus of attention, namely, the breath. Our practice also contains a philosophical insight, for our breathing is accompanied by the affirmation: ‘I, I’, and this reminds us of our higher Self.
Imagine a blue sky. Whenever a thought arises, say to yourself: ‘This is a cloud. I am the sky.’ Lift your attention again to the boundless sky, and feel at one with it.
Here we are reminded that the key fact about our nature is the difference between our pure I and the mind with its thoughts. Our I is unconfined, limitless like the sky. Thoughts continue to form. Be aware of them. But all thought passes, as surely as clouds pass. In this practice, we just rest in pure infinite being—the I—the sky—and let the thoughts move on. We are the detached observer; we let the thoughts pass on dissolving, disappearing.
Meditation on a Text
APPEARANCES ARE PASSING.
THE REALITY IS INFINITE BLISS AND LIGHT.
I AM THAT INFINITE REALITY.
The wording of the text re-states what has been presented to us so far, but now directly, without metaphor. Each sentence is said interiorly. Each sentence has a power that can transform our understanding. And each of these sentences in our meditation text has an influence that calms and purifies the mind that receives it.
Do not rush the meditation or strain to concentrate. Calmness, depth, and sensitivity to the power and influence of the words are what really matter.
Closing your Meditation Session
In order to truly advance on this path of self-knowledge, let us set aside, every day, a little time for turning within. This will turn out to be the greatest skill we can develop in life, because it reveals the innate perfection of our true I and our ultimate independence and freedom from all limitations. Let us close our session by sending out thoughts of peace and goodwill to all without exception.