The barrier of unawareness

Every meditative practice utilizes something that the mind can grasp, on which it can take hold. It can be the breath, it can be a mantra. In nada yoga both gross and subtle sound is the object of awareness. In kriya yoga the object of awareness is a combination of breath, psychic passages, chakras, sound and so forth. In ajapa japa it is breath and mantra. Always one's awareness is fixed on an object or process. This is done for a good reason, namely that the mind naturally and automatically moulds itself around objects of perception. In day to day life it does this continuously with various external objects and thoughts. It is the nature of the mind to form itself, pattern itself around something. Without an object of perception, one lapses into a state of unconsciousness. This also applies to meditative practices: the mind must be patterned into some form, whether it is breath, sound or whatever. If you do not do this then you will only fall asleep, gaining little from your practice.

Many people sit for meditation without fixing their attention on a specific object. They merely close their eyes and allow their mind to wander here and there like a wild monkey. They either brood about their problems or eventually fall asleep. Each of these states is far away from a meaningful meditative experience. One can practise like this for the next hundred years and gain absolutely nothing. There is a man who goes to the park every morning to practise meditation. He sits in perfect padmasana and begins to practise. Within five minutes his head slowly drops, his chin rests against his chest and he falls into a deep sleep. He stays in this 'state of meditation' for the next hour. Then at exactly six o'clock some sixth sense tells him that it is time to return home. He wakes up, yawns, unfolds his legs and finishes his practice. He is sincere, but because he does not fix his attention on an object during his practice, he falls asleep every day without fail and gains nothing.

Do not make this same mistake. Try to maintain continuous awareness of an object, breath or whatever in your meditative practice. Do not lose contact or you will fall asleep.

As one progresses along the path of yoga, this tendency to sleep seems to intensify. As your grosser problems are exhausted so you become more relaxed. The natural thing is to sleep. This is the barrier of unawareness, the hurdle that seems to be impassable. This barrier of laya is that which prevents people diving deep into their being. It can be crossed only when you are ready and the method is to adopt and start using a psychic symbol. This is emphasized in many yogic scriptures and we are also emphasizing it here.

The protective screen

Actually this tendency towards laya is a safety mechanism. It prevents people prematurely delving into their minds and too quickly confronting subconscious fears, apparitions, neuroses, etc. This confrontation must occur in the path of yoga, but it should be slow. The mind bas to be gradually purified and harmonized over a period of time. If there is sudden perception of a mighty flood of subconscious fears, then one will be overwhelmed by the negative contents of one's own mind. The laya is a protective screen. Only when much of the negativity has been exhausted from the mind can this protective screen of laya be crossed. Then the psychic symbol should be utilized.

The parable of the crow

It was the monsoon period. There was incessant rain and tumultuous winds. A crow was asleep at the top of a big tree beside a large river. During the night the wind was so strong that the tree was uprooted. It fell into the fast flowing river and was swept away. The crow, however, remained fast asleep. After some hours the tree was swept out to sea.

The wind subsided and the sun shone brightly. The crow awoke and deci ded to investigate its surroundings. All it could see was water. In all directions there was nothing but a vast expanse of shimmering water. It wanted to find dry land, but did not know in which direction to fly. Finally it decided to fly east. It did not encounter land so it then went west for an hour or so. Still it did not discover land, so it decided to fly south. It flew south, then north but still could not find any signs of land. Then it felt very tired, but suddenly realized that there was no place where it could rest. All it could see was water. The crow immediately thought of the tree. But where was it? Instead of looking for land, it now desperately began to search for the tree from which it had started. After some time and effort it eventually sighted the tree.

The crow was an intelligent bird: it learnt from previous mistakes and experiences.

Therefore, when it again felt strong enough to continue the search for land, it carefully remembered the location of the tree. It flew south and found no land, therefore it returned to the tree and rested. Then it flew in other directions, always with full knowledge of the position of the tree. Eventually, it sighted land. With a whoop of joy, it flew to the safety of the land and forgot the tree. The tree had served its purpose and was no longer necessaiy.

This story indicates the path that every sincere and serious sadhaka or yogic practitioner must tread. The crow represents the sadhaka practising meditational techniques. The ocean is the mind. The tree is the psychic symbol. The land is meditation. At first the crow tried to find land haphazardly without maintaining awareness of the position of the tree. It nearly got lost in the expanse of the ocean. In the same way, if a person tries to explore the mind without the help of a psychic symbol, then he will only become hopelessly lost - in a state of unconsciousness.

So be like the wise crow; choose a symbol that will help you to find your bearings if you lose your way. In order to reach the dry land of your being - that which is limitless, beyond time and space - use a psychic symbol as a guide.

The Ishavasya Upanishad Large numbers of yogic-tantric scriptures proclaim the importance of a psychic symbol in meditative practice. Probably the briefest and profoundest explanation is given in the Ishavasya Upanishad. In slokas 9,10 and 11 it emphasizes the importance of balancing ida and pingala, and the importance of karma and dhyana yoga. These three verses and their implications are described in our previous discussion - 'The Balance of Life'1. The next three slokas 12, 13 and 14 are concerned directly with the use of a psychic symbol. The first relevant sloka can be translated as follows: "Those who worship the unmanifest reality enter into blinding darkness; those who worship the manifest enter into even greater darkness", (sloka 12) This verse has many meanings; we will confine our discussion to its implications regarding laya and the psychic symbol.

The sloka explains that there are two types of meditative practices. These are as follows:

1. Sahara (form) where one's awareness is fixed on a definite focal point or object. This is described by the term 'worship ofthe manifest' in the sloka. The object can be anything: the breath, a chakra, your deity, mantra, guru, anything. In fact, you can use any object that vou can see both in the outer world and the inner world. The object can be a psychic symbol. Included in this group are practices such as kriya yoga, nada yoga, ajapa japa,japa and so forth.

2. Nirakara (formless) where one does not fix awareness at any definite focal point. In the sloka it is referred to as 'worship of the unmanifest'. It includes practices where one reflects on such abstract concepts as infinity, eternity, etc. It also includes those practices where awareness is allowed to freely explore the mind and psyche. One may encounter vast numbers of psychic visions.

How is it that both of these types of practices lead to darkness (ignorance and delusion)? If this is the case, what is the point of doing any tvpe of meditative practice? The reason is that both sakara and nirakara meditational practices are means to an end. They are not the end in themselves. So those people who think that the meditative practices, whether on the manifest or unmanifest, are the experience, are deluded. Therefore, the upanishad explains that both methods can lead to ignorance They must be practised, but as a means to something else. This point will become clearer as you read further.

Meditative practice on one form (sakara) can easily degenerate into mere idol worship. This has happened throughout history in every part of the world. People have worshipped idols and deities without the slightest idea of the implications behind their worship. The same tendency can arise when one tries to fix one's awareness on one object in meditative practice, though possibly at a less obvious level. That is, one may utilize a deity, mantra, psychic symbol, etc. and start to build up intellectual concepts about it. The symbol will become an object of intellectual speculation and superstition instead of being the means to transcendence. It is this point that the upani-shad is trying to explain when it says: "those who worship the manifest enter into even greater darkness." The purpose offixing one's awareness (worshipping) on one object is to go beyond the limitations inherent in the object, to something much greater. The purpose ofthe object is to lead to that which is beyond intellectual concepts.

Sloka 12 says: "Those who worship the unmanifest reality enter into blinding darkness." This refers to nirakara meditative practice. Many people recommend reflection on abstract concepts as being the best type of meditative practice. They say that one should reflect on reality as being beyond the mundane world of sense experience, but if one's level of perception and understanding is gross, then this type of meditative practice is a complete waste of time. Meditative practices on such themes as 'infinity', 'Brahman', etc. tend to degenerate into intellectual speculations not based on deep experience. This leads away from the path towards meditation. Thus the upanishad says if one does nirakara practices prematurely, then one will miss the straight and narrow path. This type of meditative practice has its place, but when a person's perception is very subtle.

This type of practice has to be in accordance with the nature and level of the individual understanding. This will be further explained shortly.

Nirakara meditation practices done prematurely lead to laya (unconsciousness and sleep). One is unable to penetrate the deeper layers of one's being. Thus the rishis who wrote the upanishad warn us to be careful, for this laya leads directly into the deep pit of delusion. First of all there must be intense sakara meditative practice in order to purify the mind, make it one-pointed, and develop the level of perception and understanding.

It should be noted here that practices such as antar mouna have their place in exhausting gross mental impressions in the earlier stages of yogic practice. It should be practised before both sakara (with symbol) and nirakara (abstract) meditative techniques.

Both sakara and nirakara practices lead to different experiences. This is explained in the subsequent sloka: "Meditation on the manifest (sakara) brings a specific experience; meditation on the unmanifest (nirakara) leads to a different experience. This is what the wise have told us." (sloka 13)

The upanishad indicates that sakara meditative practice leads to a specific level of understanding and experience, while nirakara meditative practice leads to a different level of understanding. Both of them have their place in expanding consciousness as the next sloka explains: "He who knows that both the manifest (formed) and the unmanifest (formless) are really one overcomes death through the manifest (sakara) and obtains immortality through the unmanifest (nirakara)". (sloka 14)

This sloka indicates the purpose of all mystical and religious systems: perfect oneness -integration of the infinite with the individual. It indicates that one should eventually see the formless in all forms, and all forms in the formless. One should see consciousness in matter and matter in consciousness. But this understanding can only come after intense sadhana and the gradual awakening of wisdom through experience. It comes after the practice of sakara and nirakara meditative practices. It is the state that is described in the Bhagavad Gita: "When one sees eternity in things that pass away, unseparated yet separated, then one has pure knowledge." (v. 18:20)

Sloka 14 above indicates the order and means to be used on the path to wisdom:

1. One should adopt and utilize a psychic symbol or any other focal point for awareness (the manifest). Continuous practise of this type of meditation will eventually enable you to 'overcome death'. That is, it will lead you across the river of death - the barrier of unconsciousness. This will lead to perception of the deeper reality of one's being.

2. Then, having obtained this insight, there should be reflection and identification with the formless, the unmanifest (nirakara). Actually, this reflection will arise spontaneously - there will be no choice. Only at this time, not before, should there be reflection on those abstractions which are beyond intellectual understanding.

Eventually there will arise the unification of both the manifest and the unmanifest. The sloka says: "... both the manifest and the unmanifest are really one." That is, one will realize that, in the highest sense, the formed (manifest) and the formless (unmanifest) are actually one and the same. This state of consciousness is called 'immortality' in sloka 14.

You, the reader of this book, are almost certain to be at the stage of sakara. Do not, therefore, do nirakara practices; you will only be led into laya. Firmly fix your awareness on a chosen focal point prescribed by the meditative practice that you are doing. After some time when you gain reasonable mental purity and one-pointedness, you can adopt and use a more subtle psychic symbol. This will take you deeper into your being. Leave abstract meditations for the future. Follow the wise words of the ancient rishis.

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