Phi 110: Meditation/Dhyana/Samadhi

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I am not going to teach
you how to meditate. Learning to meditate
properly is a serious matter. You can make a faltering
start using books, DVDs, that sort of thing. But actually, you need a
teacher to work with you to start meditating properly. How important is meditation? It’s extremely important. OK. So this talk is
simply about, rather than being instruction
in, meditation, or dhyana, and samadhi. Dhyana comes from two
Sanskrit words that literally means movement of the mind. You are directing
the mind’s movement. The mind is always active. Even when you are asleep,
the mind is active. Meditation is a matter
of learning to direct the movement of the mind. Where you want it to go. Samadhi, we’ll talk about later,
is oneness with the divine. State of consciousness, which
is oneness with the divine. Remember the atman
is the Brahma. OK. When that become– you
fully become aware of that, you fully embody
that, that is samadhi. A friend of mine is fond of
quoting Maharishi Mahesh, who said, what is it
that knows samadhi? It is samadhi that
knows samadhi. Nothing else can know samadhi. OK. So the methods. Breathing, of course, is at
the core of most meditation because it is a way
of calming the body, and stilling the mind, and
focusing the attention. Simply breathing is
only a preliminary step. There are various
other things that help us to achieve
the meditative state. Mantras are an important
part of Hindu meditation. A mantra is not simply anything
repeated again, and again, and again. Again, this is a term that’s
been vulgarized in the west to simply mean, OK. This is my slogan, you know? Mantra is actually a divine
sound, or divine name, or part of the divine name that
is repeated because the idea is that certain sorts of vibrations
set up in the mind a harmony with the divine consciousness. This is an attempt
to, if you will, tune your mind by the
repetition of these divine names or sacred syllables. It’s not that anything at all
can serve as a mantra, which is another reason if you’re
going to do mantra yoga, you really ought to be
initiated in that by someone who knows what he or she is doing. Is familiar with how you
assign a mantra to a person and what that
mantra does for you. For a while, there was
a form of meditation it was very popular in
the United States called transcendental meditation. It’s still around, although
not as vigorous as it once was. And that was
entirely mantra yoga. You undergo an
initiation ceremony where your teacher assigns
you a mantra that’s supposed to be appropriate for you. You don’t tell that
to anyone else. Why? Because it’s a big secret? No. Because if you tell
someone else your mantra, that person may start
trying to use that mantra. And that’s not–
that mantra wasn’t necessarily appropriate
for the other person, OK? Well, will I always
have the same mantra? Well, no. You know, your teacher
keeps close tabs on you. And at some point, your
mantra will change. It will evolve. OK. You think about the repetitions. The repetition of
a sound and how that helps to focus the mind. Will now think about
that repetition the sound as not just being a
random sound focusing the mind, but actually bringing our
ordinary consciousness in harmony with
God consciousness. Yantra is just like a mantra but
it’s actually a visual shape. Some sort of mandala,
or some sort of icon, or some sort of diagram,
or whatever that does exactly the same purpose. Focuses the mind on some
aspect of the divine, but does it visually
rather than through sound. OK. Very often a mantra and a yantra
will be used in combination. We’ll talk about tantra later. And you know, tantra makes a
great deal of use of yantras. OK. And finally, absorption. These are esoteric practices. The difference, if I
haven’t mentioned it before or if you don’t
know, the difference between exoteric and esoteric. Exoteric means
it’s for everybody. Esoteric means it’s only for
those who have been initiated. Those who have
already have some kind of understanding
to use as a basis. There are all kinds
of esoteric practices, where essentially consciousness
becomes absorbed into itself. And again, that’s
the kind of thing that you don’t start off doing. You do it after you’ve
had sufficient instruction and you’re sufficiently
grounded in your practice. There are other things that
can help us in this, chanting. Chanting is very important. And again, the idea
of the sacred sounds, the sacred syllables, the sacred
scriptures, and so forth being repeated in a way
that is sort of– is creates a harmony that brings
the mind into a peaceful state. That’s behind the chanting. It’s not just a matter of, OK. We’re going to chant these
particular Vedic scriptures every morning so we
don’t forget them, although that’s part
of it traditionally. You chant the Vedic scriptures
because just the sound acts as, if you will, a
prolonged kind of mantra. And music, OK? Sacred music. You’ve heard sitar music before. You– or other kinds
of Indian music. You know there are microtones. There is generally a harmonic
drone in the background. And that’s basically to
create a psychic space. The American composer John
Cage, who actually was a zen Buddhist, did a famous piano
piece in which the piano player comes out, sits
down at the piano, and after a three minute–
I think it’s three minutes and I don’t know remember
how many seconds, he just gets up and leaves and
he’s not touched the piano. People of course
said this was fraud, or this was avant-garde
nonsense, or whatever. But as he explained
it, it was a matter of we never have a still
and silent mind when we listen to music. And what he wanted
to do with that piece was make people aware of the
psychic space in which they hear music. OK. So essentially, Indian music,
particularly sacred music, creates that sonic space
in which we then hear. The raga, raga means
literally passion or emotion. Indian music is very
consciously supposed to be the expression
of feelings. OK. We feel the devotional feelings. We feel the height of ecstasy or
the depths of profound despair and so forth. The whole human experience
comes through the music. OK. So of course, that makes you
much more aware of your mind. Allows you to absorb
deeply into your mind and to become silent,
poised, and detached. Detached in what sense? Detached in the sense that
you’re not all tangled up in this narrative that’s
always going yip, yip, yip yip, yip through your mind. There’s a scene in the
film, a Julia Roberts film based on the Elizabeth
Gilbert book, Eat, Pray, Love. And yes, I admit I did
see a Julia Roberts film in the theater. There’s a scene
where she’s in India. And she’s at an ashram. And she’s trying to
learn to meditate. And she’s just going through
all kinds of agony trying to get her mind to shut up. She looks up at the
clock and it’s only been less than five minutes. And she’s in despair. And she says, how can it be
so hard to think of nothing? Well, try it. That’s a sense of detachment. You are not the slave of
this chaos running through– randomly through your mind. You realize that you are
actually in the driver’s seat. OK. Dhyana is movement of the mind. The practice of meditation
puts you in a place of peace. It awakens energy, which
is a very important part of spiritual life. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna
says, I am always active. Fearlessness. What makes us afraid
is that we identify the ego with our real self. And so we’re constantly trying
to get things for the ego or avoid harm to the ego
when we realize that we are, in fact, the Brahma. The atman is the Brahma. We have fearlessness. If we have fearlessness, we
can do what needs to be done. An uninterrupted
God consciousness, which is what samadhi is. Now, what does that mean? Well, usually we’re looking
at this small self, the ego. And totally involved
with it, and totally attached with that,
and that’s all we see. And we mistake it
as being real rather than something that is part
maya, part of this illusion. If we can dissolve that
small self, the ego, that leaves only this
great self, the atman. Socrates sometimes
described what he did as clearing
away the debris that’s in front of your
eyes so that you can see for yourself clearly. There’s a sense in
which that’s exactly what happens in meditation. You’re clearing away
the psychic debris so that you can see
who you really are. Now, I should, while
we’re on this topic, mention the sacred syllable, om. Again, this is something that’s
entered into popular culture in the West. And very often, people don’t
have any clue what it is. A Unitarian minister– actually,
she wasn’t really a Unitarian. She was a Universal
Church minister. That’s what it was. Which I think is
different because you just send away for $200 and you
get your certificate for– She said, oh. I know what om is. It’s the universal name of God. I said, uh, no. OK. What is om? Sanskrit is– the
Sanskrit language is a beautiful blending of sounds. It is utterly phonetic. Every letter and every
variation on the letter corresponds to some part of
the body that makes that sound. It is very physical, OK? When you have complex
sounds, complex vowels and so forth that is a
combination of sounds, it’s represented as
not independent letters so much as just simply, oh,
here is a variation on this. We’re putting these
sounds together. We’re moving to a different part
of the mouth, or the palate, or the throat, or whatever
to make that sound. The syllable om is a
combination of sounds that start in the belly,
go up through the chest, and finally through the head. And that does correspond with
the notion of the chakras or the energy setters. You’re unifying them. I mean, it’s not in sequence. They are together,
sort of radiating. Om is the primal syllable. It’s considered to– when
viewed as a sacred syllable, it is considered to contain
all the other sacred syllables. In fact, this is the sound that
issues from the mind of God and brings everything
into creation. The various gods and
goddesses are sometimes called omkara, which
essentially means they are to begotten of om. OK? So when people think
that they are meditating, they’re sitting around
just simply going om. You know? And they have no
idea what it means. And they have basically no
idea of how to approach it. It’s not like a
magic word, like you say abracadabra and the
rabbit appears out of the hat. Just saying the syllable
without understanding, without absorption,
without mental poise, it’s going to do– not going to
do for you what meditation was traditionally supposed to do. Now, I should mention,
simply because this is a fact, that as
with most religions, particularly archaic religions,
and non-Western religions, in indigenous religions, the
use of psychotropic substances is very much a part of
the practice of some, but not by any means
the majority of Hindus. The earliest Vedas, the Rig Veda
and so forth, speak of soma. Soma is something that is
consumed by the priests so that they can have visions,
that they can do the fire sacrifice, they could talk
to the gods and so forth. As far as scientists have
been able to ascertain, soma was actually a
hallucinogenic mushroom, OK? Well, what’s the point of taking
a hallucinogenic mushroom? You know, if you’re not doing
it just to entertain yourself, you’re doing it
because it vividly demonstrates to you that your
ordinary consciousness is just one kind of consciousness. This ordinary way of seeing
the world isn’t all there is. There’s more. OK? Your consciousness has
infinite possibilities that we don’t ordinarily see. The sadhus, the people
who live in the forest, living very austere lives,
eating practically nothing, doing very torturous physical
exercises, hanging from hooks and so forth. Those people basically are
trying to completely dominate the body with the mind so
that the mind becomes so much stronger than the body
that no physical pain or physical desire can
overwhelm their concentration. They very frequently
smoke ganja. I think the only place where
ganja has not historically been frequently
smoking is Antarctica. The fact is it’s
essentially the same way. It’s a kick start. It is not itself samadhi. It is not necessary for samadhi. It is not a substitute
for samadhi. For some people who are already
doing the rest of the stuff, it’s a kick start. It’s just one more
thing that helps. And in fact, people who use
hallucinogenic substances, whether it’s in
the Hindu tradition or shamanic traditions
around the world, generally feel that
there is the presence of a god in that
substance, which they are opening themselves to, OK? As I say, that’s quite a bit
different from simply smoking marijuana or taking a
hallucinogenic drug just to amuse yourself. That’s not what it’s for. That’s not what for. It’s to open doors for you. As Aldous Huxley put
it in his famous essay, the doors of perception. OK. Now, let me throw the disclaimer
on this that I’ve used before. Don’t try this at home. You know, don’t think
that if you sit home and get stoned you’re
going to see God. You might fool yourself into
thinking that, in which case that’s a huge setback. Because now, for
all this, you’ve substituted in an illusion. You see why it’s so
important to have a guru. And for your guru to actually
have integrity and wisdom. Someone’s got to guide you
through this very tricky spiritual landscape
if you’re going to continue to make progress.


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