Why practice meditation?
In the world today, people come to meditation for many different reasons. For many it is a tool to deal with the immediate challenges of daily life, to find peace amid the chaos. Simply a strategy to become less reactive, more tranquil, more harmonious with those around us. For a few, the goal of enlightenment is a very real motivation and a long term aim.
Whether the purpose is modest or ambitious, the fundamental motivation as with all human activity is to gain increasing happiness and therefore to remove suffering. The correct practice of deconditioning meditation brings incomparable peace and happiness that is permanent not transitory. As we achieve this for ourselves we are in a position to share it with others.
Many people think, ‘I am happy as I am’, I don’t need anything else. People claim that the highs and lows of life are part and parcel of being human and life would lose its richness if we did not experience the downs with the ups. Yet, all our choices in life are for the pursuit of either short term or long term happiness. Given the choice, all of us would prefer to experience joy, peace, love, rather than agitation, sadness and anger.
At the moment, for most of us, we are dependent on external factors for our happiness.
One of the aims of meditation is to make us own our happiness independently and self-sufficiently, not to depend on our families, our work, our relationship, our environment.
As we practice, this increasing independence brings a sense of freedom and security. We become masters of our destiny and not reliant on the uncertainties of life for our happiness.
We know that when you are feeling negative it is very difficult for those around you to feel happy. Happiness and unhappiness is infectious. A peaceful mind radiates only good will and creates harmony. When we are unhappy we tend to blame others and look for faults in the world around us. Our responsibility as a human is to gain our own peacefulness that we can then share with others. In this way, spirituality when properly understood, is the foundation of a world which lives in harmony.
The development of the volition to help others, develops automatically as one purifies the mind through meditation. The qualities of pure love, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity, give one the intention and skills to effectively share happiness with others. All the great teachers emphasize the importance of these qualities and the value of helping others through thought, word and action.
CONDITIONING AND DECONDITIONING YOGA IN BRIEF:
Pravritthi and Nivritthi Yoga
Meditation is broadly divided into 2 categories, conditioning meditation and de-conditioning meditation or in Sanskrit, Pravritthi yoga and Nivritthi yoga.
Pravritthi yoga is given by all religions in different forms. Nivritthi yoga however is not associated with religion, it is an entirely objective, scientific methodology. All yoga practices in both hatha and raja yoga are Nivritthi so entirely secular.
Pravritthi yoga: the paths of bhakti, karma and jnana:
Pravritthi conditioning practices are given by religions to help us lead a successful householder life and to create order in society. They are useful as they work to develop qualities which we need to live life successfully as well as preparing us to meditate successfully, these qualities include devotion, working without expectation and knowledge:
The quality of devotion is important not the object of devotion. Devotion can be to anything in life such as work, family etc. It does not have to be towards a deity.
The main purpose of devotion is to develop the quality of interest and concentration, also when directed towards God or a saint, it enables us to develop humility and to unburden the mind. Devotion should open the mind, if it is narrowing the mind then it is being wrongly practiced. It should never be blind.
2. Karma, selfless service/ working without expectation.
This is to develop the ability to work hard without expectation and to develop charity/ generosity. If we work without expectations we feel grateful and happy for everything.
Self-less service also helps us to overcome selfishness.
3. Jnana, knowledge.
The qualitive aspect of religion, reading scriptures and gaining an intellectual understanding of the principles.
Most meditation practices in the world today belong to Pravritthi dharma. This can be considered as the science of mastering or taming the mind. The mind is likened to a wild elephant or stray dog, always moving, rarely at rest, not within our control. Our first job as a meditator is to gain control over the mind so that it does not run wild but is able to achieve a level of concentration and focus, stability. For this there are many meditation objects available such as mantras, forms, contemplating on concepts such as pure love or compassion etc.
These meditations work at the conscious level of the mind. Our conscious mind is very pure but also very weak compared to the unconscious which easily overpowers it, so gaining control is a way of strengthening it. Pravritthi meditations develop Samadhi, which is tranquility, concentration. There are various levels of Samadhi as the mind gets deeply concentrated and one can experience increasing levels of absorbtion and bliss in meditation.
These experiences however are transitory like any pleasant experience and they only work at the level of the conscious mind. Samadhi is not the route to bring about lasting change to the habit patterns of the mind which are rooted in the unconscious.
Pravritthi yoga is to prepare the mind for the practice of Nivritthi yoga, the science of working with the unconscious mind.
The problem in the world today is that the bliss of Samadhi is mistaken for enlightenment and pravritthi meditations are practiced as leading to the ultimate goal. In fact if practiced without proper understanding or on a long term basis, they cause a deep attachment and can become an obstacle to enlightenment.
Nivritthi yoga has three main steps. These steps are given by both Patanjali and Buddha:
1. Stop performing unwholesome actions.
2. Mastering the mind. Samatha/ Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi
3. Developing discriminatory wisdom. Pragnya/ vijja.
1. Stop performing unwholesome actions.
Buddha and Patanjali both gave an 8 step path to achieve total deconditioning of the mind. Patanjali called it Ashtanga Yoga, Buddha called it Ashtanga Magga. These 8 steps lead to the development of a discriminatory wisdom that allows us to realize nirvana, enlightenment.
Both these great teachers emphasized the importance of the first step. Buddha called it Sila and Patanjali called it Yama. It is based on the universal principal that right action brings happiness and wrong action brings unhappiness. To stop doing actions which hurt yourself or other and to do more actions which help yourself and others. For example every time we abuse someone, the anger in our unconscious increases and therefore our unhappiness increases.
At this stage we cannot prevent anger altogether (that develops as we practice nivrithhi meditation) but we can make a resolution to as much as possible stop doing actions which support and increase anger or any other negative qualities of the mind. To purify the mind it is essential to first stop adding new impurities. In order to calm down the mind so we can work with it we should not do any actions which increase mental agitation. This is why the 5 precepts are given:
Ahimsa ( non violence)
Asteya ( non stealing)
Satya ( non lying)
Brahmacharya ( non sexual misconduct)
Apaarigraha ( non intoxication/ addiction)
2. Mastering the mind. Samatha/ Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi
This stage corresponds to the pravritthi meditation practices. It involves developing a level of Samadhi but only to the extent that one is in a position to work with the unconscious mind. Before we start that job, we have to at least be able to concentrate and make the mind tranquil and subtle.
However, only one meditation will allow us to develop ‘wholesome samadhi’, this is meditating on the natural ( uncontrolled) breath. It is essential that we do not to get attached to any Samadhi experience but rather to develop strong detachment to any experience in meditation and working with the natural breath allows us to do this.
Why is the natural breath as the only suitable meditation object to gain wholesome Samadhi? Why was it given as a deocnditioning technique by Patanjali, Buddha and Shankaracharya?
Because the natural breath is connected to the conscious mind, the body and the unconscious mind.
It also has the following qualities:
It is the reality of the unconscious mind. It trains the mind to work with reality, the mind is usually avoiding reality and that is why we become unhappy. The process of observing the natural breath sharpens our awareness of subtler reality.
It is a changing reality, each breath is new and different. Therefore it not only develops Samadhi ( concentration) but also develops awareness.
Our breath is always in the present. You cannot watch a past breath or a future breath.
Our mind is always running into the past or the future. To keep the breath in the present gives the mind enormous rest and relief, de-stresses it and therefore makes it more efficient.
There is no conditioning, i.e. no liking or disliking for the breath. It is neutral and therefore 100% objective.
5. IT DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU
It is always with you and yet it does not belong to you. We do not have a feeling of ownership over our own breath. We do not try to hold on to any one breath.
3. Developing discriminatory wisdom.
The final step to enlightenment is to develop what patanjali calls ‘pragnya’ and Buddha called ‘vijja’. It is also referred to as ‘vidya’ in the Vedas. It means wisdom, an experiential understanding of reality as witnessed in meditation. It is this ‘vidya’ that removes ‘avidya’, also called the ‘ego’ or ‘ignorance’, the collection of negative roots in the unconscious mind.
The application of this pragnya in meditation ultimately leads to enlightenment. It is the process of the conscious mind objectively observing the unconscious mind and the culmination of Buddha and Patanjali’s 8 steps.
Deconditioning meditation works at the level of the unconscious mind to change negative mental habit patterns or in other words remove the negative qualities that cause unhappiness such as anger, fear , jealousy, greed etc. Buddha called these ‘kleshas’, Patanjali used the term ‘sankhara’. These deep rooted habit patterns can only be changed by working in meditation directly with the unconscious mind. The removal of these roots, ( also referred to collectively as the ego) leads to enlightenment. Buddha categorizes these into 14 main roots. There are 4 stages of Enlightenment as progressively the 14 main kleshas are removed from the mind.
"This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Nibbana."- Buddha
Kumar believes that it is essential for everyone interested in practicing raja yoga to understand the purpose and context of each type of meditation technique, of which there are hundreds. He teaches the science of meditation in a rational and systematic way with a clear understanding of which category each meditation technique belongs, at which level of the mind it is working, and the effect that it will have. He emphasizes the difference between ‘samadhi,’ concentration and ‘pragnya,’ insight. It is clear that samadhi is not the ultimate goal but rather a tool with which to develop pragnya. It is pragnya, insight that leads one to ultimate happiness, enlightenment. Although Samadhi is essential to strengthen the conscious mind, pragnya works to purify the unconscious mind. This is the goal of raja yoga, deconditioning the mind.