Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Vol.68 No.4 Autumn 2017

A session led by the Warden at Shanti Sadan

When we practise meditation, the initial aim is to bring our mind to a state of relaxation. In relaxation our body and mind function at their best. When we are tense or anxious, this puts a strain on our body and interferes with the free flow of our thoughts. In relaxation our mind functions more clearly and confidently.

Is relaxation enough to bring out the best in us? Is it an end in itself? To truly fulfil ourselves, we need progress and development—a process that is ongoing, bringing expansion and deepening understanding. From this standpoint, relaxation is not so much an end as a beginning, for it helps to establish us on our path of self-discovery. When we are serene, inwardly attentive and receptive, our mind reveals in itself a new capacity—a field of rich inner experience which is not normally explored in our usual life development. This experience relates to the most inward principle of our being. We bring to light within ourselves something of unsurpassed quality and value.

This revelation does not occur automatically. All who meditate are aware that there are impediments to concentration that spring from our habits of thought and action. The prescribed theme of our practice is easily replaced by thoughts generated by our restless or distracted state of mind, which in turn is conditioned by the desires that play in our heart. As well as this active interference, there is also the passive influence of sleepiness, for a relaxed mind can easily become a sleepy mind. Our relaxation needs to be of a special kind in order to support and enhance a wholly wakeful alertness.

The relaxation that accompanies meditation is like a specialised skill, comparable to gaining proficiency in an art, though in this case, our materials for creation are our thoughts and feelings, and their transformation is brought about by the conscious use of our concentration, memory and will.

What is this transformation? To have some idea of the great qualities awaiting unfoldment within us is an incentive to practice. Let us suppose that our interest is deep and enduring—what then? Our wish or need for such knowledge brings us into touch with what might be called the spiritual wisdom of mankind. These are the traditions that are concerned with the deepest self-knowledge: the ‘know thyself’ of ancient Greece, the knowledge of Truth spoken of by Christ, and the knowledge of Self or Atman expounded in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.

What is the practical use of interesting ourselves in such sources of information? These sources tell us about our Self in the deepest and most liberating sense. They remind us that such knowledge dawns in a mind that is quiet and peaceful, inwardly alert, and animated by a spirit of goodwill to all; and they clarify that when we say ‘self’ in the context of meditation, what is meant is our true ‘I’ as pure being, uncoloured or limited by the qualities or tendencies we associate with our personality. This fundamental Self or ‘I’ is not a part of the mind and is free from all limitations.

Why do we need to realise our identification with the Self at such a profound level? This realisation alone confers on us durable peace, happiness and the knowledge that we have grasped the meaning of reality as a whole. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we read: ‘When the Self is realised all is known.’

Let us now look, briefly, at another meaning of self-knowledge. This is the knowledge of our character—what sort of person we are, or think we are. What is character development? One thing seems plain from our daily experience. It is that the character of any human being, after a brief spell of childhood innocence, tends to come under various shaping influences. These shaping influences may bring out the noblest tendencies in us, or foster their opposite. As St Augustine said, no one can be sure of his or her conduct on the morrow. We may find ourselves capable of unsuspected heroism and selflessness. Or we may surprise ourselves by some act of unanticipated meanness. In this sense our mind is a field of potentialities. To awaken and consolidate what is best in us, our inner life requires the wisest cultivation and care.

Some may say: ‘But isn’t our character set? I am as I am. This is the way I have developed, through experiences in life, adjusting to situations and meeting expectations.’ The idea of further positive inner change may seem alien to us, because we may not even have thought of the possibility of higher powers awaiting discovery within us. Thus we cling to a self-image that underestimates what we truly are and are capable of. Meditation loosens such fixed ideas and opens us to new possibilities based on ultimate Truth.

If we feel the need for a deeper fulfilment, and pursue it, we shall realise that fulfilment. A sage has said: ‘Your mind is what you have made it. You can unmake it and remake it.’ The truth is: even now in our maturity, our character and its capacities are being formed and awakened. Our further advance depends on the kind of ideas that we feed into our mind and which form the focus of our reflection. The principles underlying meditation are liberating, unifying and enlightening. They include the conviction of the underlying unity of life, the doctrine of the one Self in all, the understanding that our true nature—our I, is not the mind but the inmost principle of awareness that reveals and observes the mind from a deeper centre of complete freedom. And finally there is the principle that our innermost Self is the source of peace, joy, knowledge and freedom.

Since our meditation is based on these factors, the practice is itself a builder and transformer of character. For meditative ideas, based on truth, unity, peace, light and the acknowledgement of a deeper reality, are planted consciously. Experience shows that thoughts based on ultimate Truth planted consciously are infinitely more powerful than ideas and ways of living that have settled on us due to conformity and convention.

In meditation we are taking up responsibility for our own life and character—for our own mind, through imbibing and planting deep in our mind values based on the unity of life, harmlessness and the power of peace and love. This is why relaxation is a beginning and not an end. The end is to be ‘established in wisdom’.

In this light, now let us come to our practices.

1. Inner Preparation
We first pay reverence to the great wisdom on which our meditation is based, in gratitude that we have this opportunity to go more deeply into this realm of peace, bliss and higher understanding. Let us sit for a minute or two in this attitude of reverence and receptivity.

2. Breathing Practice
Breathe slowly and consciously, resting your attention on the heart region. With each breath, say inwardly: ‘I, I’.

The breathing practice is to be done in relaxation. As in all these practices, you alone are the guide and teacher of your mind, and the practices are aids to our wellbeing. Through this breathing practice we allow all the tensions that may be affecting us to fall away. We let the relaxation permeate our body and bring ease to our nerves. Then once we have established a breathing rhythm, we rest our attention on the heart region and affirm: ‘I, I’. Our mind may at first try to join ideas to the ‘I’ based on our thoughts and memories, but the aim is to recover our sense of the perfect simplicity at the core of our being, a simplicity which is free from all limits and is infinite. Devote five minutes to this exercise.

3. Dismissing Thoughts
Give free scope to your mind to think, but whatever thoughts the mind brings before you, say calmly: ‘Not wanted now. You are passing clouds. I am the sun.’

We return to the key practice suggested in the Spring issue of this journal. It provides us with the means to realise that our true Self is different from the passing thoughts. Instead of being carried away by the thoughts—identified with them—we say: ‘No—not wanted now. You are passing clouds. I am the sun.’ We have the authority to do this. We alone can take on this role as the leader and guide of our own mental life. Our true Self seems to be entangled in the mind, but through reflection we can learn to understand its difference from the mind and from all that appears before our mind’s eye.

We awaken this insight, not by intensifying thought, but through quietening the thinking process, and observing and dismissing the thoughts, with a form of words that signifies the true position. Spend six minutes working with your mind in this way.

4. Meditation on a Text


The wording of the text re-states what has been presented to us so far, directly, without metaphor. Each sentence is said interiorly. Each sentence has a power that can transform our understanding, and 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 matters. Devote six minutes to this practice.

5. Closing Offering
We close our meditation period by extending thoughts of peace and goodwill to all.

The greatest skill we can acquire in life is to harness the energy of our thoughts and feelings, and channel it into the quest for the liberating Self-knowledge. When Self is known all is known, and we have been so constructed as human beings, that the great mystery of life’s purpose and goal may be solved just where we stand—or sit—by turning, in quietude, to the deeper side of our own being. At this level, the boundaries that seem to separate self from self, fall away, and the underlying unity is revealed. In the light of our oneness with all, let us end our session by sending out thoughts of peace and harmony to all, without exception.