“Narayana is beyond the Avyakta; From the Avyakta the Mundane Egg is born …” An ancient verse quoted in Shri Shankaracharya’s Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita.
“In the beginning there was nothing here whatsoever. By death indeed all this was covered . ………” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.2.1).
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Genesis 1.1-3.
“We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” 1 Corinthians, 2.7-10.
The Upanishad says that in the beginning there was nothing here whatsoever, by Death indeed all this was covered, which is another way of saying that the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. The ancient verse calls this darkness the Avyakta, which means the Unmanifest. From the void or darkness or Unmanifest comes creation including man. In between the Creator and the created is a gulf of darkness which is the darkness of man’s ignorance concerning the origin of the world and of his own being. The origin is beyond the Avyakta, beyond the darkness.
On the far side is Narayana, another name for Ishvara, the Lord of Creation, all-seeing, all-knowing, exercising his power of creation called Maya from which springs forth the universe. On the near side, our side, the power of Maya is beyond our understanding; we are in the depths of Avidya or ignorance (a = no, vidya = knowledge, i.e., no-knowledge). Maya on the far side becomes Avidya on the near side. On the far side there is the perfection of knowledge, on the near side all the limitations of Avidya or ignorance.
“Limitations are a darkness and obstruct the vision of Truth.They make Reality appear what it is not; where there is bliss they paint a picture of distress, pain, sorrow and disappointment. Our mind is a limitation and so are the senses and their objects. In the language of Vedanta, the aggregate of limitations is called Maya or Avidya (nescience).. . The Ruler and Governor of Maya is Ishvara, the Lord of the universe. It is the duty of each and every man to realize the identity of his inner Self with the Self of Ishvara and to see the light of Truth under which limitations are seen as phenomenal and not real.”
So says Hari Prasad Shastri in his Outline of the Advaita of Shri Shankaracharya.
The gulf of darkness is phenomenal and not real. It disappears under the light of Truth, and then the true inner Self or Spirit of man is seen to be not different from the Supreme Spirit of God. Some Upanishads speak of this Self-realization as the bridge to immortality or the way to that farther fearless shore beyond the darkness. As Paul says: “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.”
The mystery is dispelled by study, by self-discipline, by discriminating the true from the false values of life, the reality from the appearance, and in the end by deep meditation in which the true inner Self or Spirit is discriminated from the physical and mental coverings, the Spirit which “searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God”.
We ought to meditate regularly at the same time each day, in the early morning if possible. We sit in the meditation posture, do a little rhythmic breathing to calm the body and mind, close the eyes and withdraw the mind from the external objects and also from the stray thoughts that rise up from within.
Details of the practice are given in Dr. Shastri’s Yoga handbook and his Meditation—its Theory and Practice. The practice is difficult at first because when the mind is not directed to the necessary activities and interests of daily life it tends to lead a life of its own with very little conscious control.
Take the meditation in the Yoga handbook:
“In the early morning,
I bow to Him who dwells beyond the darkness,
Who shines as the sun;
We, peering through this veil of darkness,
Imagine that we see the universe brought forth,
Even as, in darkness,
Men think a rope a snake.”
The ultimate aim is to dissolve the mind in the truth which the text represents. This means, in the initial stages at least, dissolving the sense world—and retaining the intellectual faculty critically alert. At first it is difficult to think of the text for even a minute because the mind wanders off autonomously on some other train of thought even though the student commences with the earnest intention of concentrating on the text. This other train of thought can be easily dismissed if it is silly and inconsequential, but as a rule the stray thoughts which arise, though they may appear trivial, originate from some deep and perhaps unconscious desire.
The sages of old knew as much, perhaps more, about the mass of desire in the unconscious mind as do the modern psychologists. They called it Vasana, which means Latent Desire. The Sage Vasishta described it as that hankering after things which gain such a mastery over the mind that one does not think of enquiring into their origin and consequences. Fundamentally, it is the strong desire for self-preservation and sex, so there is a strong bond between thinking and feeling, between thought and the vital energy or life-force, the Prana. If the thinking is controlled the life-force is controlled, and vice versa. If one is controlled both are controlled.
The approach to Yoga through physical practices for the control of Prana is sometimes called the vehement method while the approach through mind control is called the gentle method. The latter, which is the method of Adhyatma Yoga, is considered to be more suited to our way of life.
Swami Vidyaranya discusses the Vasanas, Pure and Impure, in his book Jivan-Mukti-Viveka. He classifies the impure desires under three main headings:
(1) desire for bodily perfection and pleasure,
(2) desire for intellectual achievement and power, and
(3) desire for public acclaim and adulation.
These Impure Vasanas constitute the Life of the Lower Self.
The Life of the Higher Self is ruled by Pure Vasanas, pure desires, comprising friendliness, compassion, good will to all, not stealing, telling the truth, and the other virtues including devotion to the Lord. Every effort should be made to subdue the impure and cultivate the pure desires. By doing so, the mind is brought under control, and also the vital energy, the Prana.
In Meditation—its Theory and Practice, we read that: “to meditate means, in the preliminary and lower stages, to apply thought force consciously; to produce harmony, both within and without; to obtain control over the mind and the emotions; and to open up the faculty of intuition”.
If we desire to meditate we must apply thought-force consciously, withdraw the mind from the sense world and the stream of thoughts rising up from subconscious and unconscious levels, and concentrate the mind on the text. The ability to withdraw the mind from unwanted thoughts, and to choose what we shall think, is will power and a great advantage in life, quite apart from its value to the Yogi.
We really do wish to meditate, but while we are sitting in the meditation posture with eyes closed and all set for the conscious application of thought-force, the mind wanders away under the compelling influence of some Vasana, longing for sex, bodily perfection, pleasure, intellectual achievement, praise, will power, and the great advantages in life which might come from cultivating them. We are hankering after something which, for the time being, has gained such a mastery over the mind that we do not think of asking how it arose and, for the time being, we do not even know that we have already decided to think of something else, namely, our meditation text. When we discover that the mind is wandering, we practise Praytahara, withdrawal, and bring it back to the text.
Now we try to practise Dharana, concentration, on the text. One advantage of this particular text is that it contains many thoughts, in fact a whole philosophy, so there is no need at this stage for pin-point concentration on one single thought. “As long as the mind dwells on something akin to the idea of the meditation, the meditation is complete (unbroken)” says the sage Shri Yyasa, quoted in Meditation—its Theory and Practice. So we let the mind dwell on the ideas in the text, taking one word or phase or sentence at a time and pondering over it. There is a reference to the old and well known story that in darkness men think a rope a snake. The story is that in a dim light a man sees a snake and is frightened.
When he gets more light he sees that it is a harmless and indeed useful rope. His fear goes and he is at peace. The snake is an illusion superimposed upon the reality, the rope. The world is like the snake, even more poisonous and fearsome perhaps, and the rope, the origin of the snake, is analogous to Brahman or God, the origin of the world.
Peering through this veil of darkness, Avidya or ignorance, from which arises egoity, desire and aversion, we bring forth our own picture of the universe. Brahman or God, as the Lord of
Creation, is the real origin of the universe projected by his inscrutable power called Maya. The origin is Ignorance—or Power. If we could pierce the veil of Ignorance we should see the Power; we should see Him who shines as the sun.
Paul says: “.. .my speech and my preaching was not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God”—1 Corinthians 2.4-5.
Study, self-discipline and practice help to confirm the faith in some permanent reality, some essential truth beyond this world as we know it. Then, all other desires become relatively insignificant when compared with the desire to know the Truth. The desire grows into love of Truth.
Quoting again from Meditation—its Theory and Practice: “It has already been pointed out that to meditate means, in the preliminary and lower stages, to apply thought force consciously, in order to obtain control over the mind and emotions; to produce harmony within, and to open up the faculty of intuition. In this connection it should be noted that emotional force is stronger than thought force, and stronger than either is the power of the will. In meditation, we begin with thought; then we pass into the realm of the emotions, and finally into the region of the will.”
And from the sage Shri Vyasa: “In the beginning, meditation simply means the concentration of the mind on a pure spiritual idea; but when it is concentrated enough, then the idea passes into the emotions.”
The desires and emotions in the deep layers of the mind give rise to the distracting thoughts which break the continuity of our meditation, but when love of Truth enters the deep layers and becomes firmly established as the dominant emotion, then all desires, emotions and thoughts are in harmony supporting the power of the will to pursue the Truth. The distracting thoughts are stilled, and the mind is ready for Dhyana, or Contemplation, when all thought flows without interruption towards the central idea of the meditation:
In the early morning,
I bow to Him who dwells beyond the darkness,
Who shines as the sun.
Here, this tiny man who is meditating, this tiny ego on this side of the gulf of darkness, bows to that great shining one who dwells on the farther fearless shore. How tiny is this little man, yet how great to be able even to bow to that great one. It is said that in deep contemplation the mind enters into the cosmic mind of the Lord, called the Mahat, the Great.
There is a vision of the Truth, and the aim is to go beyond the vision to the reality. The central idea in the meditation is still only an idea, it is not the reality. Using the word sceptic with a slightly different slant, we may say that the yogi is the greatest sceptic of all. He is sceptical about the idea of reality. He wants the reality. The idea still contains traces of illusion.
This means, at this stage, the exercise of very fine discrimination between the appearance of the vision and the reality which supports the appearance. Will power is exercised to reject the very subtle desire of the ego to maintain its separative identity by enjoying the appearance of the vision, and thus keeping the reality at a distance.
By force of will the vision of the ultimate reality is maintained and the gap between the appearance and the reality is narrowed until, as the Upanishads say, it is like the razor’s edge, or as Omar Khayam says: “A hair perhaps divides the false and true … Could you but find it, to the treasure house and, peradventure, to the Master too”.
Finally, the hair line, the razor’s edge, is crossed. I bow to that great one who dwells beyond. “I bow” means “I surrender”. In the early morning I, this tiny ego, I surrender, and I, on that farther fearless shore, I remain, shining as the sun, I remain, the origin and the true Self of all.
In this deep meditation called Samadhi, all ideas are dropped, the mind is still, and the ego is merged in a direct experience of the reality beyond the mind, an experience of infinite consciousness and bliss. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of men, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” And so:
In the early morning,
I bow to Him who dwells beyond the darkness,
Who shines as the sun.