Only an empty vessel can be filled. Nor is it only an emptying, but a purifying, a polishing, a refining and, finally, a merging with the divine Being of God.
In meditation the soul is returning voluntarily and consciously to its Source, its Real Nature—identity with God; and it should be as eager as a fiery steed heading for home.
How to empty this vessel of the mind, so that it can be filled to overflowing with the divine Grace? Firstly by faithful and regular practice of meditation every day at the appointed time, so far as is humanly possible, coming with prayer and a deep feeling of self-surrender; and secondly, by constantly living in the spirit of the meditation.
There can be a light of remembrance in the background of our mind at all times, even while going about our daily duties. This link-up with the Spirit should never be lost, for it gives a rhythm and spiritual vitality to the whole life. Shri Shankaracharya says:—
“Feeling, while going about, that he is a wave of the ocean of the Self: while sitting, that he is a bead strung on the thread of universal consciousness: while perceiving objects of sense, that he is realising himself by perceiving the Self: and, while sleeping, that he is drowned in the ocean of bliss;—he who, inwardly constant, spends his whole life thus is, among all men, the real seeker of liberation.”
This seems perfectly to express the idea, as does also this short poem by Lao Tzu:—
Void the mind,
Open the being to God,
Abide in stillness.
Life arises, and passes,
Birth, growth and return,
A rhythmic arc from Source to Source. In the life rhythm is quietude,
A tranquil submission;
In the soul’s submission is peace. Absorption in Eternity,
And so, the Great Light.
As to the technique of meditation itself—especially of this self-emptying—we have been given many rules. The two processes, the chopping down of the thoughts as they arise in the mind, and the parade of the thoughts before the Witness Consciousness, saying, “You are unreal”, are both tiring practices and, moreover, they require a very strong will. We are apt to become disheartened. However, for such people, the imagination can be a reliable ally.
It is a fact that the faults and the day-dreaming faculty of the mind can be sublimated, instead of suppressed, by the substitution of an imaginative spiritual picture. It is said that imagination is the root-cause of desire; desires are bom of the imagination, therefore it is important to gather in the imagination and use it to a higher end. Later, the imagination along with the mind will die to its separative existence (which is after all illusory according to Vedanta), and the mind will become the perfected instrument of the pure Consciousness. It will be fused with it.
There is nothing new in this idea of the value of imagination. St. Ignatius Loyola, for instance, instructed his pupils in imaginative meditation, in which they visualised themselves as participating, as actors, in some scene from the life of Christ.
Now here are two examples of what is meant by creating an imaginative picture of the mind which can be used before beginning to meditate. It is not a static picture for it is done by intense feeling and visualisation rather than by thinking:
First Picture: The mind is a temple. You are seated in the inner shrine of Buddhi (intuition), as the Gita says: “Looking up to Me as the Supreme”. All sounds from the outer world (that is, the lower mind) have faded away. The soul is absorbed in the beauty, peace and spiritual atmosphere of its surroundings and an intense love for God fills the heart. In this unruffled stillness, place your meditation. It will then unfold its meaning almost without effort. The unruly mind is completely forgotten.
Second Picture: You say to yourself, “I, the Witness, am the shepherd of my thoughts”. See yourself on a hillside, gathering in your flock with love, and herding them into a fold in the valley. Now you are free to roam at will on the heights, even to the Peak of Buddhi, where your heart longs to be. The bleating of your sheep becomes fainter and fainter as you climb and at last you are seated serenely on the summit. The peace and expansion of consciousness is unbelievable. How easy, you think, to meditate here, far above the world. In this state of upliftment you recall the words of your meditation and proceed with it.
The Jiva can weave many a symbolic picture round the mind in this way, which vary according to the state of development. Remember, that this type of preparation does not suit everyone, some minds are too abstract; though it is quite legitimate for those who despair over the restlessness of their minds, to experiment in this way. Dr. Shastri used to say, “Paint pictures within”—meaning rather than to indulge in outward self-expression.
After some time, we should be able to enter directly into the state of attunement with Buddhi, a harmony most vital to a satisfactory meditation. When this happens, our practices become effortless and blissful.
Thus through positivity, we reach a higher and more subtle negativity than the mere cessation of thoughts. The soul has arrived at the Door of Contemplation and it must stand patiently knocking, the whole being listening, as if poised in expectancy until it is opened.
Thus have we heard from the Sages and Mystics of all time. Let us end with the exquisite words of Ruysbroeck:—
“Now our powers become simplified in love, silent and bowed down in the presence of God. There the soul must abide, simple, pure, spotless, empty of self, raised to an imageless nakedness, and it is in this state of complete emptiness that God shows His Divine Brightness, the Incomprehensive Light”.