Role of Meditation in Vedanta

INQUIRER:

I am interested to find out about your thoughts, regarding the validity and effectiveness of different meditation practices.

I have personally been practicing transcendental meditation (TM) and the TM Sidhis program (which includes Patanjali Sutras, based on Maharishi Mahesh yogi’s formulation and teachings) for over 20 years.

With exception that I have suspended the TM-sidhis meditation program few times, finding it too powerful, unsettling and kind of felt that I was evoking too many changes too quickly!

I am hoping that you are familiar with these programs but in general the TM meditation is based on 20 minutes (twice a day),  repeating a mantra that was assigned to me by a qualified teacher using my age as criteria.

The TM-Siddhis program entails the additional (after 20 min of meditation) repeating of sutras every 15 seconds — at which point the body (usually in lotus or half lotus position) starts moving/swirling and feeling an urge to jump off the floor/matress.

Eventually the body starts jumping all over the place. The byproduct is bliss and a lot of laughter even though occasionally other noises including screaming seem to be uttered!

My personal mantra is ‘shreem’ and was also given so-called ‘advanced techniques’ in the form of ‘shri shreem nama’ as my new mantra phrase. These mantras and courses cost over US$6000, which at the time I totally trusted and justified!

Through my 20 years of meditating, I've come across many contradictions in regards to authenticity, effectiveness, deception and even a dangerous aspect of meditation, especially regarding TM and sidhis. Hence I'm confused and fearful.

As a result I stopped meditation all together for 2 years and on and off for a few more.

It became apparent though that my sense of balance and happiness was once more tossed in the winds of material life and my underlying sense of equanimity started to fade!

I now realize that meditation has become ingrained and necessary in my life as it seems to establish culture and helps  navigate life.

However, it seems that lately I have been haunted again by a fear of doing the ‘wrong’ meditation or doing too much (increased to 1h, twice day for last 6 months; felt it's needed to maintain balance and sanity at times) — or weather to start the sidhis again!

Further research into mantras also revealed the idea of gaining support of certain deities by invoking some mantras; further confusing my dilemma. Also the claiming of the importance of a personal mantra (unrelated to TM).

I am not able to unify such vast diversity of techniques, therefore seek guidance.

Should I continue with TM meditation, or embark upon a new meditation technique/program?

My routine currently is 10 of asanas, 5 of pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) and 45-60 of ‘shreem’ meditation 2x daily.

If I miss out for a few days it becomes obvious through the gradual increase of anxiety!

Any suggestions, advice and guidance regarding the efficiency, effectiveness, validity/authenticity and safety of a meditation program — and weather my current program is still appropriate or should it be modified.

Because there are many people who were/are negatively affected by the deceptions of the cult like atmosphere surrounding the TM movement and the fear arising from an attempt to depart from its teachings.

I need reassurance to eliminate the fear of meditation I seemed to have developed and which seems to render my practice less effective as it pokes its head up during meditation.

I should also probably mention that I have had a few, maybe four or five deep experiences during meditation over the years, where I was totally lost in vast darkness with no sense of identity but still aware. Also a few times during sleep, oddly enough, feeling as if though I was observing my sleep!

 

RESPONSE:

Vedanta is a means of knowledge that reveals the fundamental nature of reality.

It points out the fact that the individual person (each of us appears to be) is not our true identity, but rather a projection arising within the “field” of limitless-conscious-existence (sat-cit) — which is the fundamental non-dual reality and, thus, our true identity.

There can be only one fundamental reality, just as the fundamental reality of ocean and all the waves arising within it; both are the same water.

So too, the fundamental reality of the whole manifestation must be the fundamental reality of all subtle (like thoughts and every amazing or unpleasant feeling ever experienced in OR out of meditation) and gross (like periodic table of elements, physical body) appearances.

Another way put: Objects (subtle/gross matter) arising within (sat-cit).

The ramification of this fact is that though the apparent individual exists and is experienced — it is not real.

For this very reason, ultimately Vedanta is not concerned with reinforcing one’s “person-hood”, nor with helping one become a better person.

In order to assimilate the teachings of Vedanta, the apparent individual needs to have a mind that is quiet, introverted, and subtle enough to apprehend one’s true nature.

How so?

Through self-inquiry.

Thereafter mind needs to actualize the self-knowledge through passage of time.

Actualization completely and permanently frees one from the suffering that is the inevitable consequence of identifying one’s self (atma) as a person (jiva). Rather than understanding that “I” am not different from the fundamental reality (sat-cit), only temporarily associated with a body-mind-sense complex.

Meaning, while the body-mind vehicle is affected, “I” am not.

Meditation plays two specific roles within the context of Vedanta:

First, meditation is a means of purifying the mind. This doesn’t mean that it transforms the apparent person into a saint (jnani) necessarily — but rather neutralizes the binding desires that agitate the mind and extrovert its attention (focused on objects and experiences) and, thus, precludes effective self-inquiry.

Second, meditation is a platform from which one can discriminate between the objects arising in the mind (thoughts, feelings, and sensations) and the witnessing awareness in which they are arising. This process ultimately reveals that “I” (the seeker) am not different from the sought (fundamental reality).

If you forget either of these two purposes, one will meditate under the erroneous assumption that seeker and sought are different.

Unfortunately (most) meditation teachers fail to mention the two purposes above, or don't emphasize them enough. Hence student remains locked within the world of meditation for an unnecessarily long time.

In terms of Vedanta, meditation and the cultivation of personal power that may result from specific techniques is not the end in itself, but rather serves the dual purpose of both preparing the mind for the teachings of Vedanta and helping one make the discrimination between witnessing awareness (self) and objects (not-self).

The meditation techniques you describe sound like they only boost the idea of being a person doing meditation for particular results that will enhance the person’s experience.

There is nothing wrong with this, but no matter how pure or powerful the person becomes — that state of being will not constitute self-knowledge and will not produce freedom from dependence on objects for one’s sense of wellbeing, security, peace, and happiness.

Here's a potentially relevant page listing guru's and their track record. For Transcendental Meditation creator, look under Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi – TM.

If you want to know more about effective meditation techniques that serve Vedantic self-inquiry and the ultimate goal of liberation (which is the ultimate goal for anyone seeking through their efforts), suggested is Swami Tadatmananda’s book called: Meditation, A Journey of Exploration.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for recommending Swami Tadatmananda’s book. I’ve been following him on youtube for quite some time now and find his videos really helpful. I’ll surely check out his book. But for now, could you please give some basic information on the meditation practices in Advaita Vedanta?

    Advaitins are known for practicing sravana (learning/hearing), manana (reflecting on the teachings), and nididhyasana.

    I’m not sure what the last one is. Some non-dual scholars translate it as contemplation, while others say its meditation. Then there are a few scholars of advaita, who claims that even though nididhyasana is translated into English as ‘meditation’, it is not really meditation but should be understood as “immediate intuition” or “immediate knowledge”. I’m not sure what they mean by that.

    I don’t wish to practise any type of meditation at the moment because i’m still in the learning phase. Right now, I’m interested in knowing about the meditative practices of Advaitins and what they really mean by nididhyasana.

    Could you please shed some light on what Nididhyasana actually is and how it is usually practiced in the school of Advaita Vedanta?

    Thank you.

    1. Pleased to answer Greg. Remember when we learned to drive a car. What was the process?

      Shravanam: Very first step was familiarizing with the transportation-road system. It was all theory at this point. We even had to pass a paper/computerized system of Q&A.

      Mananam: Once we got into the car with the instructor, doubts! Where, why, when? Instructor resolved our doubts. Reassured us the right course of action to figure out a complex world of moving objects. Instructor continued Shravanam even in the car.

      We passed the test. And got on the road alone, with fragile confidence at first.

      What happened then?

      We simply drove and drove and drove and drove and drove. We mananam’ed and mananam’ed and mananam’ed.

      What was the product of this REPETITION that’s still going on today? Our confidence improved.

      Therefore what is Nididhyasanam? Repeating what you know. Each time it makes you a better driver. Or in our case, more established in the knowledge of Self.

      Also notice: There’s no definitive edge between the 3 stages. They perfectly spill into each other.

      SUMMARY: Nididhyasanam = repetition of what already learned. In fact, a MASTER OF ANY FIELD is nothing but a product of many past repetitions.

      Repetitions only end upon physical death. Same with Nididhyasanam. Inquiry and involvement in Vedanta until last breath.

      Open to hearing your thoughts.

  2. So, in Nididhyasana, one only needs to repeat in his mind what he has learned, that i am the infinite, limitless and not the body/mind? Is this enough for enlightenment? Will repetition make us break free from the cycle of samsara or future rebirths?

    Are then there no actual deep meditation practices in advaita vedanta, like sitting in lotus posture, with eyes closed, emptying the mind, practicing certain breathing techniques etc. that followers of patanjali yoga usually practice? 😕

  3. As one who has also practiced a lot of meditation ( including TM)
    I make the following observations that may be helpful ( or not)!
    1.
    If you look to the Acharya to provide you with answers that you like, or that you agree with, or that seem to build upon your previous experience, then no real transformative learning is likely to take place.
    I know that initially this was a subconscious desire of mine, a Vasana that provided a veiling screen to my understanding of the teaching.

    2.
    In meditation as it is traditionally taught in most systems what we are seeking is a mythical’ super conscious’ state.
    There is only one consciousness.
    We pursue samhadi as the experiential holy grail.
    Moksha can never be an experience.

    This teaching takes time to assimilate.
    Humility, persistence and a willingness to listen in ‘ good faith’ are a great place to start.
    The effort is worth it!😊

    1. Thank you Robert for sharing your views. Don’t get me wrong my friend, i’m not willing to hear only those things that i like to hear. To be honest, i’m not at all biased towards a certain school or their practices. The reason i brought up Patanjali’s meditation techniques is because i wanted to know whether followers of Advaita also practice the same thing or not.

      When we the common folks, hear the term ‘meditation’ the idea that comes to our mind is sitting with an empty mind, doing some breathing practices, concentrating on a higher object etc.
      These are the only things i’m somewhat familiar with (from what i’ve read online about it) of how meditation should be like. Its not that I actually like these techniques of Patanjali or anything. :=)

      You said in samadhi we look forward to an ‘experience’ and in moksha there can never be an experience.

      But don’t the Advaitins speak of nirvikalpa samadhi, a stage where the sense of subject-object dissolves and all that remains is the bliss or experience of oneness?
      I’m not sure, who experiences this bliss, when the subject himself dissolves into Brahman, but from what i’ve read online, some advaitins do speak about nirvikalpa samadhi where the mystical experience of oneness takes place.

      Perhaps Acharya Andre can educate me more on these topics.

      :=)

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