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Experiences and Obstacles During Meditation

by Swami Sivananda

WHAT HAPPENS DURING MEDITATION

In meditation, new grooves are formed in the brain and the mind moves upwards in the new spiritual grooves. When the mind becomes steady in meditation, the eyeballs also become steady. A Yogi whose mind is calm will have a steady eye. There will be no winking at all. The eyes will be lustrous, red or pure white. When you enter into very deep, silent meditation, the breath will not come out of the nostrils. There may be occasional slow movement of the lungs and the abdomen. During normal exhalation the air comes out 16 digits. When the mind gets concentrated, it will become less and less. It will come to 15 then 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 and so on. From the nature of the breathing, you can infer the degree of concentration of an aspirant. Watch the breath very carefully.

Man tries to grasp the abstract through forms. After the mind has been purified, an abstract image is formed in the purified mind by Sravana (listening to spiritual discourses and holy scriptures) and Brahma-Chintana. This abstract image melts later on into deep Nididhyasana. What is left behind is Chinmatra or Kevala Asti (pure Existence alone).

In Nididhyasana or profound and continued meditation, thinking ceases. There is only one idea of "Aham Brahmasmi." When this idea also is given up, Nirvikalpa Samadhi or Sahaja Advaita-Nishtha ensues. Just as salt melts in water, the Sattvic mind melts in silence in Brahman-its Adhishthana (substratum).

EXPERIENCES IN MEDITATION

Various persons get various spiritual experiences. There cannot be a common experience for all. It depends upon the temperament, mode of Sadhana, place of concentration and various other factors. Some hear melodious sounds in the ears. Some see lights. Some get Ananda (spiritual bliss). Some get both Prakasa and Ananda. During meditation, you may experience that you are rising from your seat. Some experience that they fly in the air.

LIGHTS

The Divine light comes not through open doors, but only through narrow slits. The aspirant sees the Divine Ray as a sunbeam passing through a chick into a dark room. It is like a 'flash of lightning.' This sudden illumination chokes all sounds of words. The aspirant is spell-bound in ecstasy and awe. He trembles with love and awe, just as Arjuna did when he had the Virat-Visvarupa-Darsana of Lord Krishna. So bright and glorious is the Light environing the Divine that the initiate is dazzled and bewildered.

During meditation, the colour of lights that you see varies according to the Tattva that flows through the nostrils. If there is Agni-Tattva, you will see red-coloured lights. If Akasa-Tattva flows, you will have blue-coloured lights. If Apas-Tattva (water) prevails, you will see white-coloured lights. If there is Prithvi-Tattva, you will have yellow lights. If there is Vayu-Tattva, you will see black colour. You can change the Tattva by various ways. But the best way is by thought. "As you think, so you also become." When the Agni-Tattva flows, think intently of Apas-Tattva. Apas-Tattva will begin to flow soon.

RAPTURE

During meditation, you get rapture or ecstasy. It is of five kinds viz., the lesser thrill, momentary rapture, flooding rapture, transporting rapture and all-pervading rapture. The lesser thrill is only able to raise the hairs of the body (like the goose skin). The momentary rapture is like the productions of lightning, moment by moment. Like waves breaking on the seashore, the flooding rapture descends rapidly on the body and breaks. Transporting rapture is strong and lifts the body up to the extent of launching it into the air. When the all-pervading rapture arises, the whole body is completely surcharged, blown like a full-bladder.

CROSSING THE BODY-CONSCIOUSNESS

Aspirants are eager to get spiritual experiences soon. As soon as they get them, they are afraid. They are awfully alarmed when they go above the body-consciousness. They entertain a passing wonder whether they will come back again or not. Why should they be afraid at all? It does not matter much whether they return to body-consciousness or not. All our attempts are mainly directed towards getting over this body-consciousness. We are used to certain limitations. When these limitations suddenly drop away, we feel that there is no definite base left to stand upon. That is the reason why we are afraid when we go above the body-consciousness. That is a novel experience. Courage is needed. Bravery is an indispensable requisite. Sruti says, "Nayam-atma balahinena labhyah-This Atman can hardly be attained by weak (timid) persons." All sorts of forces have to be encountered on the way. A dacoit or an anarchist can easily realise God, because he is fearless. A push in the right direction is only necessary for him. How Jagai and Madhai, rogues of the first water, became very good saints! They pelted stones at Nityananda, the disciple of Lord Gouranga. Nityananda won them by pure divine love. Dacoit Ratnakara became Sage Valmiki.

VISIONS OF SPIRITS

Sometimes, bad spirits will trouble you. They may have ugly, fierce faces with long teeth. Drive them with your strong will. Give the word of command: "Get out." They will go away. They are vampires. They are elementals. They will not do any harm to the Sadhakas. Your courage will be tested here. If you are timid, you cannot march further. Draw power and courage from the Atman within, the inexhaustible Source (Avyaya). You will come across very good spirits also. They will help you a lot in your onward march.

There is a kind of vision one occasionally gets during meditation. You may behold a dazzling light with abrupt motion. You may behold a head of marvellous form, of the colour of a flame, red as fire and very awful to look at. It has three wings of marvellous length and breadth, white as a dazzling cloud. At times they would beat terribly and again would be still. The head never utters a word, but remains altogether still. Now and again, there is beating with its extended wings.

During meditation, some of the visions that you see are your own materialised thoughts, while some others are real, objective visions.

BREAK VEIL AFTER VEIL

If you get experiences of the glimpses of Self during intense meditation, if you see a blazing light during meditation and if you get spiritual visions of angels, archangels, Rishis, Munis, Devatas and any other extraordinary spiritual experiences, do not fall back in terror. Do not mistake them for phantoms. Do not give up the Sadhana. Plod on. Persevere diligently. Break veil after veil.

If there is any error in Sadhana (meditation), at once consult the senior Sannyasins or realised souls and remove the mistake. If your general health is sound, if you are cheerful, happy and strong, physically and mentally, if the mind is peaceful and unruffled, if you get Ananda in meditation and if your will is growing strong, pure and irresistible, think that you are improving in meditation and everything is going all right.

March on boldly. Do not look back. Cross the intense void and darkness. Pierce the layer of Moha. Melt the subtle Ahankara now. Svarupa will shine by itself. You will experience the Turiya (Arudha state).

OBSTACLES TO MEDITATION

Obstacles to meditation are really from within. Environments are from within; you create your own environments. Try to be happy in whatever situation you are placed. Do not complain. Bear sufferings. You can conquer Nature. Maya is Tuchha (nothing) or Alpa (small or non-entity) for a Brahma-Jnani.

The obstacles to meditation are only from within. Sleepiness, passions, confused state of the mind, Manorajya (building castles in the air) are the chief obstacles that stand in the way of fixing the mind on God or Brahman. The five hindrances to meditation, viz., sense-desire, ill-will, sloth-torpor, flurry-worry and perplexity should be removed. For, when these are not removed, meditation cannot arise. The mind that lusts after many things through sense-desire is not concentrated on one object; or being overcome by sense-desire, it does not enter upon the progress of meditation in order to put away the sensuous element. The mind that is harassed by ill-will concerning an object does not proceed at once. The mind that is overcome by sloth and torpor is unwieldy. Obsessed by worry and flurry, it does not repose, but flirts about. Struck by perplexity, it does not go on the path that leads to the attainment of meditation and Samadhi. Obstacles to meditation are thus really from within. They are not from without. Train the mind properly.

Laya (sleep), Vikshepa (tossing of mind from one object to another), Kashaya (memory of sensual pleasures) and hidden Vasanas and Rasasvada (the happiness derived from Savikalpa Samadhi) are four stumbling blocks in meditation.

TANDRI AND MANORAJYA

When the mind has been withdrawn from objects through Vairagya and Uparati, do not allow it to go into sleep or Manorajya (fancies and wild imagination). When you constantly contemplate on the meaning of the Mahavakya 'Aham Brahmasmi' or 'Tat Tvam Asi' through the process of Mahavakyanusandhana, all the Vishayas (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling) will stop. But, owing to the force of Samskaras, Manorajya (building castles in the air) will continue. Mind builds castles in the air. This is termed Manoratha in Sanskrit. This is a serious obstacle to meditation. It should be stopped by Vichara. Sometimes, during the course of meditation, the mind suddenly slips into its old grooves for sleeping. People think that they are meditating, while they are actually sleeping. A mixture of drowsiness (Tandri) and Manorajya (building castles in the air, reverie) is mistaken by aspirants for deep meditation and Samadhi. The mind appears to be established in concentration and free from Vikshepa (distraction). This is a mistake. Alasya and Stabdhata (stupefaction arising from fear or wonder, mental restlessness and mental depression) are other disturbing factors in meditation.

Closely watch the mind. Make it Ekagra (one-pointed) and allow it to rest on the Svarupa Brahman). Be thoughtful, careful and vigilant. Stand up for ten minutes and dash cold water on the face and head, if drowsiness comes in. Remove the two serious obstacles of Tandri and Manorajya by Vichara, Pranayama and light, Sattvic diet. Tandri and Alasya are removed by Pranayama, Sirshasana, Sarvangasana and Mayurasana and light, Sattvic diet. Find out the disturbing causes and remove them. Avoid the company of those whom your mind dislikes. Do not argue. Do not contradict. Do not try to convince persons who are unreasonable and undeveloped. Talk little. Observe Mouna. Live alone. In this way, you can avoid all sorts of excitements. Have constant Satsanga. Study elevating books such as the Yogavasishtha, the Upanishads, etc. Have Brahma-Bhavana. Repeat OM with meaning and feeling. All depressing thoughts will melt away.

If you are alert and if by protracted efforts and incessant, vigilant Svarupa-Chintana (meditation on Brahman), you get over the obstacles of sleep, Manorajya, etc., the steady Brahmakara Vritti and Brahma-Jnana will dawn in no time. Ajnana will vanish. You will be established in Sahaja Paramananda state. All Sanchita (accumulated) Karmas will be burnt up in the fire of wisdom.

DREAMS IN MEDITATION

Various sorts of fantastic dreams trouble some aspirants very much. Sometimes, there is a mixture of meditation and dreams. The presence of dreams denotes that you are not yet well-established in deep meditation, that you have not removed Vikshepa (tossing of the mind) and that you have not done constant, intense Sadhana. As the phenomenon of dreams is very peculiar and inexplicable, it is very difficult to control dreams unless you wipe out all the Samskaras in the Karana Sarira (causal body) and control all thoughts. As you grow in purity, Viveka and concentration, dreams will decrease.

DEPRESSION

Very often, depression comes in meditation in neophytes owing to previous Samskaras, influence of astral entities, evil spirits, bad company, cloudy days, bad stomach owing to indigestion and loaded bowels in constipation. It must be removed quickly by cheerful thoughts, a brisk walk, singing, laughing, prayer, Pranayama, etc.

VIKSHEPA

Scents, soft beds, novel-reading, dramas, theatres, cinemas, vulgar music, dancing, flowers, company of women, Rajasic diet-all these excite passions and cause disturbance of the mind. Too much salt, too much chillies, too much sweets cause intense thirst and disturb meditation. Too much talking, too much walking and too much mixing disturb the mind in meditation.

Impulses disturb meditation. All obscure subconscious impulses should be controlled by the intellect and will. Sex-impulse and ambition are two real disturbing factors in meditation. They carry on guerilla warfare. They attack the Sadhakas again and again. They appear to be thinned out for some time. They get revived often. They should be extirpated by great efforts, Vichara, Viveka (power of discrimination between Atman and Anatman, Self and non-Self) and Sivoham-Bhavana.

It is the sound that sets the mind in motion. It is the sound that makes the mind to think. Sound disturbs the mind a great deal in meditation. A sound with meaning disturbs more than a sound without meaning. A continuous sound as the silent murmur of a river is not so disturbing as an abrupt, sudden, sharp, broken sound. The mind does not feel a sound when it is used to it. You feel only when the clock stops.

TUSHNIMBHUTA AVASTHA

Tushnimbhuta Avastha is a quiet state of the mind wherein there is neither attraction nor repulsion for objects for a short time. It occurs in the Jagrat state. It is a neutral state of the mind. It is an obstacle to meditation. It should be avoided. It is mistaken by ignorant Sadhakas for Samadhi.

KASHAYA

Kashaya means colouring. Raga, Dvesha and Moha are the Kashaya or colouring of the mind. Kashaya is the subtle influence in the mind produced by enjoyment and left there to fructify in time to come and distract the mind from Samadhi. This is a serious obstacle to meditation. It does not allow the Sadhaka to enter into Samadhi-Nishtha. It induces the subtle memory of pleasures enjoyed. It is hidden Vasana. From the Samskara, Vasana originates. Samskara is the cause and Vasana is the effect. It is a kind of Mala (impurity of mind). Constant Vichara coupled with Brahma-Bhavana is the only potent remedy to eradicate this dire malady Kashaya.

SATTVIC VRITTIS

During meditation, when your mind is more Sattvic, you will be inspired. The mind will be composing fine poems and solving some problems of life. Stamp out these Sattvic Vrittis also. This is all dissipation of mental energy. Soar higher and higher to Atman only.

SAVIKALPA SAMADHI

Even the happiness of Savikalpa Samadhi is an obstacle, because it prevents you from entering into the Nirvikalpa state. It produces false Tushti (contentment) and you stop your further Sadhana.

The mind should be freed from all these obstacles. Then only will you enter into pure Advaita Nirvikalpa state. Vichara and Brahma-Bhavana are the only helps to attain this highest state.

MEDITATION AND WORK

He who meditates is not able to work. He who works is not able to meditate. This is not balance. This is not equanimity. The two principles, meditation and action, must be well-balanced. You must be able, if you are ready to follow the divine injunction, to take up whatever work you are given-even a stupendous work-and leave it the next day, with the same quietness with which you took it up and without feeling that the responsibility is yours. You must be able to work hard in the world with tremendous force and, when the work is over, you must be able to shut yourself up in a cave as an absolute recluse for a long time with great peace of mind. That is balance, that is real strength. Then only you have gone beyond the qualities (Gunatita). "He, O Pandava, who hateth not radiance (Sattva) nor outgoing energy (work), nor even sloth and slumber (Moha) when present, nor longeth after them when absent-he is said to have crossed over the qualities" (Gita, XIV-22).

When you advance in the spiritual practice, it will be very difficult for you to do meditation and office work at the same time, because the mind will undergo double strain. Those who practise meditation will find that they are more sensitive than the people who do not meditate and, because of that, the strain on the physical body is enormous. The mind works in different grooves and channels with different Samskaras during meditation. It finds it very difficult to adjust to different kinds of uncongenial activities. As soon as it comes down from the meditation, it gropes in darkness. It gets bewildered and puzzled. The Prana (energy) which moves inward in different grooves and channels and which is subtle during the meditation has to move in new, different channels during worldly activities. It becomes very gross during work. It has to work in different grooves and channels. When you again sit for meditation in the evening, you will have to struggle hard to wipe out the newly acquired Samskaras you have gathered during the course of the day and get calm and one-pointedness of mind. This struggle sometimes brings in headache.

It behoves, therefore, that advanced Grihastha Yogic students (householders) will have to stop all the worldly activities when they advance in meditation, if they desire to progress further. They themselves will be forced to give up all work, if they are really sincere. Work is a hindrance in meditation for advanced students. That is the reason why Lord Krishna says in the Gita, "For a sage who is seeking Yoga, action is called the means; for the same sage who is enthroned in Yoga (state of Yogarudha), serenity (Sama) is called the means." Then, work and meditation become incompatible like acid and alkali or fire and water or light and darkness.

REASONS FOR FAILURES IN MEDITATION

Some practise meditation for a period of 15 years and yet they have not made any real progress at all. Why? This is due to lack of earnestness, Vairagya, keen longing for liberation and intense, constant Sadhana. There is always a complaint amongst the aspirants, "I am meditating for the last 12 years. I have not made any improvement. I have no realisation." Why is it so? What is the reason? They have not plunged themselves in deep meditation into the innermost recesses of their hearts. They have not properly assimilated and saturated the mind with the thoughts of God. They have not done regular, systematic Sadhana. They have not disciplined the Indriyas perfectly. They have not collected all the outgoing rays of the mind. They have not made the self-determination, "I will realise this very second." They have not given the full 100% of the mind or 16 annas of the mind-their full mind-to God. They have not kept an increasing flow of Divine Consciousness like the flow of oil (Tailadharavat).

You will have to note very carefully whether you remain stationary in the spiritual path even after many years of spiritual practice or whether you are progressing. Sometimes, you may go downwards also, if you are not very vigilant and careful, if your Vairagya wanes and if you are slack in meditation. Reaction may set in.

Just as the man who foolishly run after two rabbits will not catch hold of any one of them, so also a meditator who runs after two conflicting thoughts will not get success in any one of the two thoughts. If he has divine thoughts for ten minutes and then worldly conflicting thoughts for the next ten minutes, he will not succeed in anything, in getting at the Divine Consciousness. You must run after one rabbit only with vigour, strength and one-pointedness. You are sure to catch it. You must have only divine thoughts at all times. Then you are sure to realise God soon.

You must not be too hasty in longing for the fruits at once, when you take to meditation. Haste makes waste. A young lady perambulated an Asvattha tree (Filicus religiosa) 108 times for getting an offspring and immediately touched her abdomen to see whether there was a child or not. It is simply foolishness. She will have to wait for some months. Even so, if those who read works dealing with Atma-Jnana and who do take delight therein will not be hasty in longing for the fruits at once, but will meditate regularly and gradually upon them, then the mind will, by degrees, be ripened and, in the end, the endless Atman will be reached; and they will get Atmasakshatkara (Self-realisation).

You will have to exert in the beginning to get an equilibrium of mind. Later on, you will have a habitual balanced state of mind. So is the case with meditation. After some years of practice, meditation becomes habitual.

CONDITIONS FOR SELF-REALISATION

Just as you saturate water with salt or sugar, you will have to saturate the mind with thoughts of God and Brahman, with divine glory, Divine Presence with sublime soul-awakening spiritual thoughts. Then only you will always be established in the Divine Consciousness. Before saturating the mind with thoughts of Brahman, you will have to assimilate the divine ideas first. Assimilation first and then saturation. Then comes realisation, at once, without a moment's delay. Remember the triplet always: "Assimilation-Saturation-Realisation."

Free yourself from the base thoughts of the mind, the various useless Sankalpas (imaginations). Just as you render the turbid water pure by the addition of clearing nut (strychnos potatorum), so also you will have to make the turbid mind, filled with Vasanas and false Sankalpas, pure by Brahma-Chintana (thinking and reflecting on the Absolute). If the mind constantly dwells on sensual objects, the conception of the reality of the universe will surely increase. If the mind ceaselessly thinks of Atman (Absolute), the world appears like a dream. Mark the word "ceaseless." This is important. Then only there will be true illumination. Then only there will be dawn of spiritual knowledge. The Jnana-Surya (the Sun of Knowledge) will rise in the firmament of Chidakasa (knowledge-space).

You will find very often these terms in the Gita: "Ananyachetah" "Matchittah" "Nityayuktah" "Manmanah" "Ekagramanah" "Sarvabhavah." These terms connote that you will have to give your full mind, entire 100% mind to God. Then only you will have Self-realisation. Even if one ray of mind runs outside, it is impossible to attain God-consciousness.

It is the actions of the mind that are truly termed Karmas. True liberation results from the disenthralment of the mind. Those who have freed themselves from the fluctuation of their minds come into possession of the supreme Nishtha (meditation). Should the mind be purged of all its impurities, then it will become very calm and all the worldly delusion, with its births and deaths, will be soon destroyed.

Mind exists on account of "I." "I" exists on account of mind. "I" is only an idea in the mind. "Mind" and "I" are identical. If "I" vanishes, mind will also vanish; and if mind vanishes, "I" will vanish. Destroy the mind through Tattva-Jnana. Destroy the "I" through "Aham Brahmasmi Bhavana," through constant and intense Nididhyasana. When mind vanishes or thoughts cease, Nama-Rupa will cease to exist and the Goal is reached.


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