The Self


This is a passage from the book, by our teacher, The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teachings, on the practice of Yoga (it’s page 142):  “Meditation is the means by which the meditator tries to realise the presence of the Lord in his own being.  In the preparatory practices in meditation, one has to overcome laziness, imagination, egoity and sleep.  One must create such environments as are conducive to the practice of meditation.  If a man meditates for an hour a day and keeps company with the world for eight hours a day, whatever progress he makes is undone every day.  The Lord is hidden in the chamber of one’s heart.  Let the jiva by loving meditation daily induce Him to manifest Himself in the region of the mind. If you meditate daily in this way and every now and then devote a week entirely to it, you will in your meditation lose consciousness of both the world and yourself, 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.  All mental limitations will disappear.  This state is called samadhi.”

This is one of the many passages on meditation practice.  The meditation aims at a definite experience, it is not simply a chain of ideas.  In one of his lectures, our teacher gave an analogy.  These are only examples and they’re meant to be an aid to practice; they’re not exact in every detail.  He gave an example of using a telescope – the lenses have to be clean, then the telescope has to be steady, then it has to be focussed on what is desired to be seen, of which we have only an idea.  There is a distant church we want to see in the landscape.  We have an idea of what that church will look like, but we don’t actually know. But from the words in the description we shall be able to recognise it, when it comes dimly into the view of the telescope.  Then lastly we have to focus on it.

So these three things: cleaning the lenses – in meditation cleaning the mind; holding the telescope steady so that it doesn’t shake, and lastly focussing it on a particular point.  Our teacher, as you heard, was in China for some years.  He knew China; he knew Chinese, and he pointed out that the Yoga is universal and sometimes people make different presentations of it.  In India the people are logical and they require a rational presentation – if a thing hasn’t got a good theoretical background, it won’t be accepted in India.  This doesn’t follow.  When Christianity first went to Japan, the first question that the Japanese asked was, “Have the Chinese taken it up?” – not, “Has it got a good theoretical background.”  They wanted to know, ‘Does it work?’  So there are different criteria.

Now, in China these points – purification of the mind, steadying and then focussing – they were presented in literary style and sometimes the examples can be quite striking.  In India the word is purification, but the word that was used in one of the Chinese schools is (a character in which) there are three lines which are ‘water’ and the character which means ‘blue’: ‘blue water’ – this is the character for purity.  The image is of a mountain stream dashing forth, constantly moving, pure and shining blue.  Because it’s constantly moving, there’s no silt in it, no rubbish in it – and this is the process of purifying the mind.  The mind can be kept moving – not going round in eddies – able to move like rushing water, and all the silt and the mud drops away.

Now, the actual methods for achieving this – the first one is called tapas in India, and it’s been compared by our teacher to ironing the creases out of a cloth.  We have habits of thought and behaviour which have accumulated for a long time; and in the end we do them automatically and we tend to feel, “These habits are myself. This is how I am.”  And yet there’s something in us that recognises there’s an inner freedom, because we don’t like it when people say to us, “I knew you’d say that.  You always say that. You always do that.”  We think, “No.”  The true Self which is freedom, expresses itself then.  But in the ordinary way we tend to think, “That’s how I am”. Our teacher compared it to a cloth that’s been used and is constantly in these creases.  When it’s dropped it will always fall into those creases.  You can use it for certain things, but if you want to spread it out on the table, with a vase of flowers on it, it’s quite inappropriate.  One that’s been ironed can be used in any way – it can fall into those creases or into other creases, or it can lie perfectly flat.   He said that the process of tapas, or mental training by austerity and endurance, is comparable to ironing out the creases.  The creases are our habitual ways of acting and thinking.

He would give examples.  He said that sometimes we should remain up two or three hours in the night, or get up two or three hours earlier once a month in the morning and practise meditation and study and repetition of the Holy Name.  In this way we break the crease that says, “Oh no.  I always get up at this time.” We’re able to break the crease and iron it out.  These things seem unnatural – we think, “Oh, why should I do that?”

A man who’s recovering from a severe illness, has to get back his health and he’s told, “Now, walk every day.”  He says, “No. I’m feeling very weak.”  “Never mind, walk until you are tired, then stop.  The next day, a little bit more.”  This is the principle of tapas – it mustn’t be so extreme that the mind is disturbed, but we must do some tapas.  We must do some practice of austerity: changing fixed habits, being able to do without this, being able to undertake that – freedom, like the blue water dashing, not the muddy water going round in an eddy.  The sick man finally finds a joy in the movement which, in the beginning, was such a pain to him.  A very fat man who wants to take exercise – he’s told he must.  In the beginning the exercises are a terrible burden, they’re quite painful.  But if he continues with it, although it seems so unnatural, so tiring, so distressing – finally his body will become normal and then what was such an effort will become a joy.  These forms of tapas are not self-torture, but they are bringing back the body and the mind to their natural freedom, which will finally become a joy.  Therefore one of the important points in tapas or endurance is that the mind must be held steady.

We don’t do this here, but in some forms of austerity practised in the East, it involves going under the very cold waterfall, where the water comes out from the mountains, and the people have to stand under it for a few seconds.  It’s quite a severe ordeal and when people go in, they [hunch up their shoulders].  And the teacher says, “No. Drop the shoulders. You won’t be any warmer by doing that.”  In the same way, in some sports that used to be very rough, there were many injuries; and, in the East when there’s a dislocated finger, the man’s going to set it and [the man holds back his hand].  The teacher says, “No.  Put out your hand to him.  You want to have it set.  Put out your hand.”  Those who pass through this and were able to do it say, by themselves voluntarily putting out their hands, the pain is very much less.

As I say, we don’t do that here, but for forms of tapas the important thing is that they should be done with calmness and joy; not sitting up, or getting up very early in the morning, resentfully, but calmly and with joy – then the creases begin to die out from our mind, to be ironed out in our mind.  In the end it means that the fixed desires, the things we feel are fundamental in our nature are changed.  We think, “Oh, how can they be changed?  You can pretend to change them, but underneath, the basic instincts will always be crying for satisfaction.”  But the Yoga psychology and practice tells us this isn’t so.

If we take a basic instinct like fighting (perhaps boys are more subject to it) – it’s a basic instinct, but as we see in this country it has been changed into the tradition of sport.  In sport, when it can sometimes be very rough and lead to quite severe injuries, the people are generally very friendly.  The very tough opponents often become very good friends, although they injure each other.  It has been completely changed and it isn’t always that there’s an instinct longing actually to kill the man underneath, but it can become a method of friendship.  The fighting instinct has been transformed into something that is creative and instructive.

The Germans and the Japanese are not quite so good on the idea of sport – they don’t like losing.  They’re good fighters and they have turned it into engineering, they’re very good engineers and scientists.  They take it as a battle against the difficulties and sometimes you will see, when they’re engaged in it, there is something of the atmosphere of a fight.  Their fighting instinct has been transformed, has been changed – and it’s not that the basic instinct is always crying for satisfaction – no.  The new creative and constructive application has now produced a joy.

This is the first section, purification – the blue water; the mind flowing rapidly, energetically and clearly – there’s a clarity in the mind.  That same clear water, when it’s held still, will make a perfect mirror – not if it has a lot of mud and dirt and straws on it.  If it was quite clear when it was running, and then it’s held still, it will make a mirror.  The first part, then, of purification is the ability to change some of the creases in our mind and to undertake practices that will change them – changing our routines and being able to change them with joy, not resentfully.

The second element is to consign the results of our actions to the Lord – not so easy.  We do good action, and then we think, “What appreciation is there? None!”  This means the right to the results of those actions have been held here, not consigned to the Lord.  We think, “Oh well, what can that be?  How can you consign things to the Lord?  What would be the test?”  Shri Shankara, the great philosopher of the Yoga, he gives an example of a man who had two beautiful horses and when he was away they were stolen.  He searched everywhere, but he knew there was no chance of getting them.  He couldn’t get them out of his mind.  He kept thinking, “If only I’d made arrangements for the neighbours to come in; if I’d transferred them to the neighbour’s stable, they’d have been alright there; if only I hadn’t told everybody I was going away for the day…”  He couldn’t get it out of his mind.  Then finally the thought came to him, “Those horses came from the Lord, they have returned to the Lord.”  By meditating on this he was able to free his mind, from that constantly recurring thought.

It doesn’t mean not to act carefully.  Some people think, “Oh well, if we consign the results of our actions to the Lord, then what does it matter what we do?  It doesn’t matter what the results are.”  No.  We should try very hard and then, whether the results are favourable or unfavourable, the mind must not be disturbed.  To consign them to the Lord.  Muhammed was asked, “How about the camel at night?  Are we going to tie up its legs, or are we going to trust in the Lord?  The Lord will look after it, surely?” and he said, “Trust in God and tie the camel’s legs.”

Purification – the mind becoming like blue water, that can flow freely without fixed habits, and without filth and dirt and dust on it. Two elements in it: the practice of some forms of endurance and austerities (and the main austerity in the Gita is to try to consign the results of our actions to the Lord); and when environments change, to try to accept these without resentment or disappointment.

The second point is firmness.  The Chinese character for this one also contains two elements.  One is a stone, an overhanging cliff and a rock (on the right-hand side is a phonetic element) – the sense is rock or stone.  We must hold the mind steady in meditation.  We can say, “The little thoughts can be held steady, but not the great thoughts.”  One Chinese example is given – a man sits down in meditation and he thinks, “Right, now I’m going to do it”, and he holds his little thoughts steady.  Then from somewhere comes a little thought, saying, “You know, really, you ought to be going round to see your aunt, because you haven’t seen her for a long time, and there’s family loyalty, you know…”  This is something from the depths.  If we go across the lawn and we simply shave the weeds off with a razor, the lawn looks beautiful – no weeds at all.  But the roots haven’t been touched.  The roots of the mind – we can hold the surface steady, but if there’s a life and disturbance in the roots…

Well, what shall we do, what are those roots?  They are the habits and the ways of thinking, and the unconstructed desires, the merely repetitive desires, not the created desires, that have been putting down roots.

Today we can tackle an infection by antibiotics.  We can send something in to tackle the infection, so to say, at the root. In the old days, the infection had to be treated externally, and it was very painful and it took a long time.  How are we going to send down other roots, which will overcome the roots of the habits that have been laid down for so long – the basic convictions that have been established for so long?  One of the important means of doing it is to establish new habits of meditation, like the same posture. It’s an advantage to put one foot up (on the other thigh) and sit steadily.  Young people can achieve it in about two months at the most.  With older people it can take much longer, or perhaps they’ll not be able to do it.  With people who are injured it will take much longer, but it can be done.

To sit steadily and then to put the hands always in the same way.  Try to sit in the same place; to lower the eyes, half-shut or fully closed – so that it’s the same each time.  Now we’ll be putting down new roots and these are hostile and destroy the roots of the old weeds.  If I have been drinking heavily last night, I’ll have a hangover today.  In a certain sense this is fate – nothing can change that.  But from now on I can live more sensibly – then I begin to modify fate.  A man who’s injured – that’s happened to him; that can’t be changed.  But he can modify it now – he can look after the injury, he can take remedial exercises, and he can, to a large extent, compensate for it; and he can even find special advantages in it.

Steadiness – at a special time, every day, to adopt this posture; at the same time, preferably in the same place.  And then to try to steady the whole personality, not just the mind, but the body, the breathing to make it slower (we’re not doing the breathing practices today) but normally the breath is about 15 times a minute.  If we slow it to something like 6 times a minute, that will steady the body and the mind.  To set these habits.  Then in that steadiness and stillness, there’s a chance to see something.  In a certain sense it’s like climbing a tree.  When people are lost in the jungle, one of them climbs to the top of a high tree; and, from that, he can see perhaps the town that they’re making for, or the river.   At the time of meditation, in the steadiness and the stillness, there’s an opportunity to see.  This is the third point – the focussing.

There’s an army joke of a unit that gets lost in the jungle.  One of the soldiers whose nickname is Zero – he’s strong and athletic – the sergeant says to him, “Climb to the top of the tree, Zero, and tell us what you can see!’  So Zero climbs up the tree and the sergeant shouts, “What can you see, Zero?”  and he says, “There’s a bird’s nest here, but it’s empty; and there’s a lot of little caterpillars eating the leaves.”  He climbed, but there was no focussing.

The third point is the focus.  There has to be in ordinary life some austerity to break the fixed habits of the mind, so the mind becomes like clear blue water.  Then, at the time of meditation, there has to be a steadying, so that mind becomes steady as though that water has been enclosed in a pool between rocks and is quite still.  The last point is the focus, and the (Chinese) character for this is an arrow, piercing a target.  This comes in one of the upanishads too.  The arrow is set on the bow, and the aim is taken on the target, who is God.  There has to be a focus.  That focus first has to be on the Lord as the creator and controller of the universe.

We say, “Well, what evidence is there of a creator and controller of the universe?  The universe simply goes on.  There are no signs – we don’t see a finger pushing here or there.  We don’t see it.”  But at this point it’s necessary to have studied the Yoga doctrine – not tremendously widely; to master one book is quite enough.  But the intellect has to be convinced, and it can become convinced if the study is concentrated.  There is evidence of a purpose in the universe, as we can see by the fact that man has evolved.  You can say, “Well, his intelligence gave him an advantage for reproduction, to produce more of him.”  No – there are as many rats alive today as there are human beings.  It’s not simply a question of survival.  The question of complexity has not been explained; the complexity of organisation is not at all necessary for success in surviving.  There are many points that have to be met and thought right through to the very end.  Then when the intellect is convinced, the focus will become very easy.

The Lord in all.  First of all, the Lord is seen as the controller and creator.  We say, “Where is the evidence of this control?  Surely one ought to see the finger of the Lord working?”  One answer that’s given is, if you analyse a tape recording of a symphony, you can identify all the instruments, and you can follow it in the score; but however carefully you listen, you will never hear the conductor, because he is not playing any instrument.

People who are not musicians sometimes think the orchestra could go on without the conductor.  But, in fact, it can’t, and if it tries to it ends in confusion, one reason being that the players miscount the bars.  If they have a 36 bar rest, they miscount and come in at 35.  But when there’s the conductor, at bar 35 he looks at the player and gives the signal.  In that way he controls the orchestra.  The Lord to a certain extent is like that conductor.  He has an inner connection with the course of the world and its control.  The Gita says, “Meditate on the Lord as the beginning, and the middle, and the end of all beings.  What rises, remains and then dies away.”  Meditate on that – as God, bringing it up, holding it and dying away.  See this in God and meditate on it in God – and then when the focus becomes complete, it won’t be simply an idea.  He will see something.  The Gita, chapter 10, verse 20: “Meditate on the Lord as the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings.” and verse 32: “The Lord as the beginning and the middle and the end of the whole of creation.”  Shankara says, between these two, each individual thing and the whole universe, meditate on the Lord – these two extremes and everything in between.

There are other meditations.  When people argue or discuss, they can discuss in order to win, they can discuss in order to beat down the opponent by advantage of strength or wealth or prestige; they can discuss simply to irritate other people; or they can discuss to try to find the truth.  The Gita says in this last one, there’s a manifestation of God – the discussion which aims to find truth, this is a manifestation of God.

The focus then on the Lord in the different forms – one is chosen and kept up for at least three months.  If it’s done regularly, and occasionally a day is devoted to it entirely, then there is the chance that the focus will become complete – ‘still water, bright mirror’ is the Chinese phrase.  That clear water is held firmly in the rock pool, quite still, it’s a bright mirror.  Mystically this reflects God.

The last point – there is a flash in meditation, and the Chinese character is lightning.  There are the heavens, the clouds, and the little raindrops held in the cloud – and in the storm cloud there’s a dragon playing (of course, all these are stylised – you can just see the dragon’s tail).  There’s a flash of lightning in the meditation.  This is found in many other traditions.  Christ said, “The coming of the Son of Man will be like a flash of lightning lighting up the earth from end to end.”  What will be the nature of that flash?  Shankara on the Gita says, “The sense perceptions will change.  He will begin to see the Lord through a sense perception.”  This refers to meditation experiences which can’t be described, any more than a symphony can be described to someone who hasn’t heard it – although something can be said about it.

There was a pupil of the Buddha who had a defect in memory and in the Buddha’s time, the discipline was that they should learn by heart certain of the Buddhist texts, quite short, and finally hold them in their mind the whole day.  This pupil with a defect of the memory was very sincere.  So he used to get one of the other disciples to read him a short text of two lines every morning.  He would repeat it and repeat it, but then he would forget it.  The next day he would ask the same thing, the same text; he’d repeat it and repeat it, and then forget it.  He didn’t say, “Oh well.  I’ve just got a bad memory, it’s no use worrying about that.”  He was very sincere, and he knew that this was the method of the Buddha for realisation. He must do it.  He did this for a month and he failed.  He went to the Buddha and he said, “I’m going to leave the Order.  I can’t do this.  I have tried, and I shall go away.”  He didn’t say, but he intended to commit suicide.

The Buddha said to him, “No. Stay here.”  The man said, “I can’t take part, I can’t learn the doctrine.  I won’t be able to preach the doctrine, I won’t be able to study it.  I can’t do anything.”  So the Buddha said, “Well, you can work here.”  He showed him a stained cloth and said, “Make this your text,” and no more.  So the man took the cloth and with the cloth he worked in the temple complex, which already was established in the Buddha’s time – they were no longer just in huts.  And he said that one day he was cleaning the sandals of the monks with the cloth; and as he looked, he saw the dirt come off the wooden sandals and the nature of the wood shining out, and suddenly his sense perceptions changed.  He had a flash of realisation.

Another case was a woman and she had great difficulties with her desires in the world.  The Buddha said, “Meditate that everything is passing, passing, passing.”  She came to him later and said, “No. I try.  I say that and I realise in a way that they are passing, but they’re very real at the time.”  He said, “Meditate while you work, meditate.”  One day she was pouring water into the different bowls which were then taken for the nuns to drink.  She poured and then stopped, and then somebody took the bowl away.  She poured again and then stopped.  She poured again, and then her sense perception changed.  She had one of these flashes – she saw the water came and then stopped, the water came and stopped; and she realised her thoughts were coming and stopping, coming and stopping.  And suddenly her whole conviction and experience of life changed, and she was freed from those desires.

This was because in both the cases they were very sincere people who had meditated very hard on these particular things. So they had this flash of realisation which comes in extreme silence.  When the mind which has been made pure, then has been steadied, then has been focussed, in that stillness there’s this flash.  Christ refers to this – there are two riddling statements that he makes which, on the face of it, are quite contradictory.  “The coming of the Son of Man will be like a thief in the night” and “The coming of the Son of Man will be like a flash of lightning, lighting up the earth from end to end.”  These are flat contradictions on the face of it. Nobody knows the thief is coming, in darkness, completely concealed; and the other one – a flash of lightning, lighting up the earth from end to end – waking up everybody; and when we think of the crash of thunder that will follow, it’s a complete contradiction.  But it refers to something.  When the mind has been purified, when it has been steadied, when it has been focussed – in that stillness, something happens which is unpredictable, which comes like a thief in the night.  The owner of the house doesn’t know it will come, but when it comes, it will be like a flash of lightning, lighting up the earth from end to end.

What sort of inspiration will those be?  We can’t all be Beethoven or Rembrandt. One example is given that he will see something in the world, and he will see something in other people.  We can say, “Well, what sort of things would this be?”  One example is given: an Egyptian architect had noticed that small children of five or six generally try to make some attempt at creating beauty, little patterns of stones and twigs.  He had an idea.  He identified a small village in Egypt which was isolated, where the people were illiterate, and just scraped a living.  He went down there and he made friends with the headman and he got their agreement to cooperate.  He took down a weaving loom and wool of basic colours, quite a lot of it, and he showed them how to work the loom.  It takes quite some time, but he wanted the children of five and six and seven to begin.  He gave them no lessons whatever in artistic composition, no working from models or from drawings.  He just said, “Now weave as you like.”  After twenty years, two generations of children had come up.  He said there were none who didn’t have some impulse towards the weaving.  An exhibition was held in London of the best of these tapestries and the director of the Royal College of Art there said that the best of them would rival anything that could be produced anywhere in the world.  That Egyptian architect had a flash of inspiration.  Many people have seen children just playing with things, but realised there was an artistic genius that could be brought out, and it was brought out.

Another example was a great poet and calligrapher in Japan, who lived as a beggar.  He was a Buddhist monk, a great master as a poet, a painter and as a calligrapher.  His pieces are now museum pieces.  He used to beg at the farmhouses in the country and they would give him some food or a little bit of cast-off clothing, or perhaps help him to build a little hut if his had been blown over; and he used to pay them by sketching a picture or writing a poem.  The farm people mostly thought “Well he did this kindly, and it was all he’d got” (so discarded them).  A few had been kept and they’re now in museums.  He performed these actions, these inspirations and gradually the cultural level of the country, insensibly, although many people at once didn’t appreciate them, was raised.  This was his inspiration.  He didn’t set up an academy of art, but among the peasants the level of poetry, and painting and calligraphy began to increase.  So it is, that today in Japan, when the national poetry competition is held, 30,000 entries come in from all over the country.  And the prize winner is often a farmer’s wife, or a coal-miner.  The culture has reached right down (through the classes); not as in nearly every other country of the world where culture has been the monopoly of the top five or ten percent.  It was through such inspiration as that of Ryokan.

There is one more – the endurance, steadying, focussing on the Lord as the creator, as the controller, as the hidden Self of all the things and all the processes in the world, as taking the world to a purposeful goal, not that the world is simply chance.  So that the people in their meditation can get a flash of intuition of what it is that they can do, what their role is in taking this divine purpose forward.  One more, and Christ said this in the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas, “You see me in yourselves as in a clear mirror.”  Exactly the same thing was said in the Mahabharata, which probably slightly pre-dates Christ (we don’t know for sure) when it said, “When the heart is polished like a pure mirror, the supreme Self will be seen in it.”  This is the last point of meditation.

Then I’ll just read the little piece from the Shri Dada Sanghita.  He said: “If you meditate daily for eighteen months and every now and then devote a time entirely to it you will in your meditations lose consciousness of both the world and yourself and experience only the object of meditation, the Lord.  You will see an extraordinary light resembling the colour of a lotus in intensified form in your heart.  All mental limitations will disappear.  This state is called samadhi.”  Outside the meditation period that inspiration will then be continuous, not in flashes, but a continuous light.

Thank you for your attention.



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