There are many forms of meditation, but this article is about the meditation on a symbol, as described by Swami Mangalnath from his own experience in the book The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching by Hari Prasad Shastri.
“The hollow in the centre of your body where the ribs join just below the breast bone is the best region on which to fix your mind in meditation. You may have heard the expression `the lotus of the heart’; it refers to this point. You can apply a little sandal-paste to the spot and then concentrate your mind on it. Two hours a day is not too long a time for this practice. When you can fix your mind there at will, then visualize a lotus of bluish colour, and when this meditation is matured, imagine Om placed on the lotus, and meditate on it.”
This form of meditation is referred to again and again in the book. Shri Dada says of it, “If you meditate daily in this way for eighteen months, and every now and then devote a week or two entirely to it, you will, in your meditation, lose consciousness of both the world and your self and experience only the object of meditation. You will see an extraordinary light resembling the colour of a lotus in intensified form in your heart, and all mental limitations will disappear. This state is called samadhi.”
Both the mahatmas emphasize that the practice must be accompanied by a developing conviction of the futility of desires for the passing objects of the world, which are all ultimately sources of suffering, and by attempts to imitate the virtues exemplified in the great incarnations of the Lord and in saints.
Instructions are given on meditation. Shri Dada told his disciples to meditate according to the rules of posture. Most people are too nervous to think steadily for long; they cannot keep still, and seek relief by talking, reading, or watching something. So a meditation posture should be mastered, and adopted at the same time and place each day. It is an advantage to learn how to sit cross-legged on a cushion on the ground with one foot set on the opposite thigh.
Normally young people can acquire it in a couple of months if they practise an hour a day. If it is uncomfortable (as it generally is) it can be done not while meditating but when reading; every so often the other foot is put up. Gradually extending the time between alternating the feet, the posture is mastered. Older people can sit on a chair, in a balanced position with spine and neck and head upright; this can be held for a long time, even up to the two hours which Swami Mangalnath recommends for the practice.
Now attention is placed on the location which he describes. The little dab of the fragrant sandal paste, or another scent, helps to bring back the attention when it wanders off. Some people press the finger-tips there, or even pinch, and use the after-sensation to bring the mind back. One of the main purposes of mastering a fixed posture is to make it easier to forget the body-consciousness altogether. The mind sometimes proposes objections to this programme, on the grounds that to concentrate on the posture, and then on the fixed point of the body, is to strengthen the body-consciousness.
But such arguments are purely verbal. Body-consciousness like other sense consciousness registers mainly change. After a month’s holiday by the sea, children find it uncomfortable to wear shoes or a tie; the change makes them sharply aware of them. But after a few days, they cease to notice any constriction. In the same way, the ordinary body-consciousness is supported by constant change. When a firm posture has been learnt and become familiar, consciousness of it drops away.
Concentration on the heart-lotus is at first practised with enthusiasm, but many people become bored after two or three weeks. It must be persisted with, until there begins to be a perception of the inner light at this spot. Once this has happened, even only momentarily, expectation sustains the attention easily. When the heart lotus has been ascertained,
the shape of the lotus itself, of blue colour, has to be discerned. At first this is only an imagination, but it corresponds to an inner perception which will become objective.
When the blue lotus remains fairly steady, its colour will intensify, as Shri Dada says. On this blue lotus is imagined the form of Om. . As concentration deepens, it becomes radiant. There is an invigoration of the whole person, and inspiration begins to come to the yogi. “Every man must be able to go into voluntary mental and nervous relaxation, and concentrate his mind on a symbol of God, whether it be a word, a concept or an image. It is this prolonged silence of the soul which brings before man the patterns of what he is to create, the archetypes of his contribution to the inner and outer world” .
The heart-lotus and the Om are definite experiences, but they are also symbols. A symbol is not to be confused with a mere sign or emblem which has no necessary connection with what it means. The word God is a conventional sign, but the word Om is a symbol-the sound itself has an expressive relation with God. The actual form of Om 3, is also symbolic, and meditation on it brings something new into direct experience. The old traffic sign S for school is merely conventional, and would have been different in another country, but the new one showing children running across the road is a symbolit is a representation of what it means. A true symbol contains many layers of meaning, and if meditated on reveals things which cannot be expressed in mere conventional signs such as words.
What is called the lotus of the heart is a symbol. It corresponds to something which will be directly experienced in meditation, not exactly a lotus but similar to one. In northern countries many people have no clear idea of what a lotus looks like, and in some traditions it is called a bowl, or a wheel or circle.
Om is the greatest name of God, found in all the spiritual traditions including the Christian. God is worshipped through this symbol. Some people say they do not believe in any God to worship, but in fact everyone worships. How many powerful intellects worshipped Stalin! Milovan Djilas, Vice-President of Yugoslavia and a leading figure in Communist theory and practice, said, “There is no riddle in the world Stalin cannot solve,” and “he knows all and sees everything”.
This militant atheist was attributing divine omniscience to Stalin, and he later remarked (when he had been disillusioned) that Stalin probably saw himself as Hegel’s Absolute Spirit ruling by fiat in the name of History. “Stalin was a mystical materialist. The key to the success of his diabolic rule was his fine combination of materialism and mysticism.” In the Reith Lectures not long ago, a brilliant young neurologist concluded with a fulsome tribute to Chairman Mao; he can have known nothing of China at the time, but was projecting his need to worship on to something distant which he could not examine. Yoga is a most serious attempt to discover what is worthy of worship, and finally to confront it as it really is.
“In the lotus of your heart meditate on His form. By this process you will awaken the slumbering God in you’ . The meditation must finally reach a point where the world is forgotten. “As long as you have consciousness of time and space, you will not be able to perceive the light of Atman (the true self)” . “The feeling `I am not the body’ is the primary condition of yoga, and the complete relinquishment of body-consciousness marks the attainment of samadhi”.
The samadhi experience of the light of Atman, once had, must persist through all the activities of life. There can be a tendency to think that the fundamental knowledge of reality is some idea of the non-dual Self, one and indestructible, as a background to ordinary life. But as Shankara says in his Gita commentary, that is only a mental process, what is called a vritti of the intellect. The ultimate knowledge is awareness beyond intellect. Shri Dada says ,
“Bliss is contained in the light of Atman, pure, unassociated with the intellect, desires, or volition, shining forth independent of any physical or intellectual medium either for its origin or continuance. Atman is bliss. I can only describe it as a mass of cool light, vibrating peace, infinite, and not the object of any conscious striving.”