The practice of the eighth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita presents mainly meditations on the Lord felt as within the body. First the mind and the prana currents of vital energy are focussed at a centre in the heart. Then the focussed attention moves up with them to a point on the forehead roughly between the eyebrows. People who try this soon find that the concentration becomes confused. They are not sure when they have enough concentration to begin the move upward, and become indecisive.
The Gita explains that it is done, and can only be done, by what it calls the ‘strength of yoga’. Sankara explains that this strength is in fact the aftereffects of long practice, repeated till the samskara-impressions have been formed strongly in the causal part at the root of the mind.
The process is then accomplished spontaneously, so to speak, independent of the discursive mind. Repeated practice has laid down impressions which now hold the samadhi completely steady. It becomes a luminous movement, rising of itself, as it were. It is stronger than any interruption because the meditation is based on a natural current, latent in the ordinary man, but now showing itself. It is thus truth, and truth is stronger than the illusory concerns and memories of the world. But truth has to be brought out before it is experienced clearly.
The process can be seen in miniature in the drawing-up movement which occurs when any meditation, begun in a reasonable posture, begins to come to samadhi. There is usually the feeling of a current moving upward in the centre of the body. In some yoga systems it is called the ‘upstroke’; Patanjali notes that it follows on pranayama practice, done for a certain time. The length of time to the first up-stroke is noted (counting in breaths). Then the process is repeated.
But formal pranayama practice is not an indispensible condition. Deep meditation alone can lead to it.
The Gita refers to it as taking place even at the time of death, when worldy concerns might be expected to be at a peak.
Sankara points out that normally this manifestation of the up-stroke would be the result of repeated practice during life, though it might also be from the direct grace of the Lord alone.
How is it practised? Some direct instructions are given by Swami Mangalnath in The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, a book by Dr Shastri, who had known Swami Mangalnath well:
A few hints from my personal experience may perhaps be useful. The hollow in the centre of your body where the ribs join just below the breast bone is the best region on which to fix your mind in meditation. You may have heard the expression ‘the lotus of the heart’; it refers to this point. You can apply a little sandal-paste to the spot and then concentrate your mind on it. Two hours a day is not too long a time for this practice. When you can fix your mind there at will, then visualize a lotus of bluish colour, and when this meditation is matured, imagine an OM placed on the lotus, and meditate on it.
Often such a passage is read rather quickly. If interested, a reader will try to centre attention on the place in the breast, but it soon becomes vague, and then boring. He moves on to the lotus, and then the OM. He begins to get confused. Soon many other thoughts spring up in the mind. Why in the breast? he wonders. Why not in the forehead? And what exactly does a lotus look like? Soon the practice drops away. Occasionally he tries imagining the lotus flower in the breast but finds it is now mixed up with doubts and guesses, and finally random memories and ideas. He drops it, with the thought: ‘I tried it, and it didn’t suit me.’
How then is the practice done? It should be noted that Swami Mangalnath says: ‘When you can fix your mind there at will.’ There in the breast at will, only then visualize a lotus of bluish colour there. And when this meditation is matured, and only then imagine OM placed on the lotus, and meditate on it.’
The exercise, then, is done step by step. One cannot rise to the next step till the foot is firmly planted on the present one. The spot is touched, and a little dab of perfume may be applied, to help the centring. Attention is brought back and back to the spot. It keeps running away, but if there is persistence for about three weeks, it remains for longer and longer periods. The practiser becomes aware of a sort of interior light there. He may also experience invigoration. He does not try to create such effects by auto-suggestion; in any case, when they happen, they are different from anything he could anticipate.
He may get a hint that the practice is developing on right lines when occasionally in the middle of the day, he feels spontaneously, without having thought of it, a little breath of peace in the heart. This is an indication that the samskara-s are becoming stronger in the causal depths of the mind. Even at a time of great disturbance, perhaps temptations or fear, there will sometimes come this cooling breath from beyond. When such things begin to happen, it is time to go on to the next part of the practice: the visualization of the lotus.
Like all these visualizations, what is seen is not exactly what had been imagined as a lotus. But the description ‘lotus’ is enough to recognize the experience when it begins to manifest. In some schools there are descriptions of it as like a wheel, or like a shallow luminous bowl. As the samskara-s are laid down, which conform to and reinforce the samskara-s of location previously established, the state becomes vivid. It is an experience of something already there, not the actualization of the auto-suggestion. It is new, though recognizable from the meditation directions. Some of those who have had it say privately that the colour of the lotus is more beautiful than any colour they have ever seen. But limited beauty is not the aim of the practice, which must go on to transcendence.
The final step is to make out an OM, standing, so to say, on the lotus. The Sanskrit letter can be taken, or the printed Roman letters. These are forms representing the Word of Glory, the natural expression of the Lord. ‘I am OM in the holy scriptures’, ‘Of expressions, I am that one syllable’ (X.25). In this fundamental meditation, the form of the letters becomes sound and light.
The holy syllable OM
This is one of the most direct ways of realizing the Lord as the Self: it requires determination, and detachment from worldly ties. Those who have been faced with a great tragedy are sometimes disillusioned for a time: and they have a good chance with this practice. It needs resolute application, and resolute independence.
Swami Rama Tirtha made OM his main method for realization. He said, ‘For one moment throw overboard all your attachments and anxieties, and chant OM. You will find yourself transformed into light.’ The final rise from the heart centre to the forehead centre is not the result of a conscious individual decision. If the basic yoga practice called the Line of Light, has been carried out long enough for it to become natural, then the OM in the heart rises with the mind and prana life-current. The yogin may be aware of it, or it may be as natural as digestion. It depends how much he has passed beyond personal restrictions. The blessing is the same. Though they often happen of themselves, the Gita describes these things so that those yogins who do become aware of something happening, do not become excited by it, or shrink back before the unknown. The Gita description is enough for them to recognize it, and accept it.
The Line of Light
One of the main traditions, which Dr Shastri followed, recommends focussing attention on the central line of the body, from the navel circle to the forehead. It is a development of the previous exercise. In this more general practice, there is no movement of the attention, nor focussing on the breath.
Press a fingertip on the top of the forehead, and slide the fingertip down the front of the body. Pass it with light pressure between the brows, over the nose, chin, throat, breast, and end up at the navel. Use the after-sensation to bring the mind to the central line. Feel it as a line of calm light. Sit for ten minutes, looking at it, and feeling it. This is called the Line of Light practice, or in some traditions, the inner Middle Way.
Some experts add that in life situations when the impulse to move the body becomes very strong, the abdominal muscles (felt as being just below and round the navel) may be lightly tensed and then relaxed. Suppose you have to wait for a time before doing something active and important or even dangerous. Quite often the aimless tensing of muscles of hands and feet during the waiting period leads to loss of tone, so that when finally there is the relief of going into action, the movements come out jerky and poorly co-ordinated. Bringing the attention again and again to the central line, along with occasional tensing and relaxing the muscles felt to be round the navel, can prevent the loss of coordination. By this practice symptoms of nervousness are reduced. But unless it has been done in favourable circumstances for a good time, it will not show its true effect in unfavourable ones.
A ten-yard plank, a foot wide, is laid on the floor. Anyone could walk along it without stepping off. Many could do it with their eyes shut. But if it is the foot-wide top of a high wall, few would like to try it.
The task is the same, but the knowledge that one absolutely must not step off, makes the difference.
If a strong rail is provided on which the hand can rest, the walk is again manageable. Once a rail is there, it is not found necessary to clutch at it. Because it is there, it is not needed.
The application to life is, that the Line of Light becomes the strong rail.
It is practised first in a meditation situation. When some facility is attained, it can be done when waiting, walking, or at other times when the senses do not have to be continuously alert to the environment. Finally it will begin to rise, and support itself, without conscious effort of attention. When something upsetting happens, the Line of Light manifests itself as a protective and calming influence, and the inner balance is recovered. It is as natural a process as recovering physical balance in a sudden gust of wind. In these ways, a practiser becomes more and more independent of the opposites.
Some people complain of the difficulty of fixing the attention continuously. They have no difficulty in doing so when they watch a favourite TV serial, or try to pick up scandal from a conversation at the next table. For serious training, the attention is to be treated like a puppy. A long cord is attached to his collar; when he dashes off, his name is called and he is gently hauled in. Fie is made to sit by pushing his haunches down. Then the pressure is released, the command given, ‘Away!’ and he dashes off. Soon his name is called again, and he is gently but firmly dragged in and made to sit. It is important not to get angry and so frighten him. But he must be pulled in, or the point of the training is lost. After daily sessions for a week or so, he will begin to come in with joy when his name is called, and voluntarily stay till released. He accepts it as part of the pattern of life.
In something of the same way, the attention can be brought back to the Line, and after some practice, will stay there. The daily practice is, in one tradition, eight minutes.
For a long time, meditation, like all other forms of training, will have good days and bad days: sometimes it will be only 20 per cent successful, but sometimes 80 per cent. A lot depends on how the daily life is lived. If selfishness is reduced to some extent externally, it will not return to disturb the meditation. Then on certain days the meditator will become aware, not of a more-or-less selfish individual looking at light, but of being light, and catch a wondering glimpse of what he really is, beyond the mind-cage.
An opening Practice
1.Sit in a meditation posture . Sit in relaxation. This does not mean complete relaxation: the body would collapse. It means to have no more tension than what is required to hold the posture. In time, the body maintains itself without conscious control. Good posture helps to open up to the vital cosmic force which runs through everything.
2.Bunch the fingers and press them for a few seconds on the abdomen just below the navel. Take them away, and then use the aftersensation to focus the mind there.
3.Now breathe in deeply, without strain. Feel that the breath is coming in at the navel, and rising in a column of light up the centre line of the body; it reaches the spot between the eyebrows at the end of the breath. Of course the physical breath does not in fact come in at the navel. But an easy way to become aware of the central vital current, is to associate it with the movement of breath. The action is something like drawing up milk through a straw; here it is drawing up light.
On the out-breath, visualization is dropped. Mind rests. Then with the next in-breath, make the visualization again.
4.Do this twenty-one times. Count on the fingers, or finger joints, or make twenty-one knots in a piece of string and use like a rosary. The breath should be deep and slow, but not strained. With facility, it lengthens naturally; the exercise can last six or seven minutes. But a record-breaking spirit is pointless.
The practice tranquilizes the body and mind, and opens them to divine cosmic currents. To know too much about the theory, however, is a disadvantage at the beginning. It generally disturbs practice.