The Upanishads feature koans for contemplation called Vidyas(literally means knowledge). They are meant to trigger the mind into perceiving yet another facet of the Divine Reality thereby guiding the aspirant into deeper grades of meditation. In a previous post Vidyas in the Upanishads, five such Vidyas were covered: Bhuma, Prana, Shandilya, Madhu and Vaishvanara. The book Supreme Knowledge by Swami Brahmananda  lists an astounding 101 Vidyas drawn from the Upanishads. This post discusses a few Vidyas drawn from this book.
Prefatory Note: These Vidyas must be practiced using intuition and visual insight rather than internal argument within the mind. The purpose is to guide the mind to stillness by jolting the humdrum thought process. In this context, it may be noted that Ramana Maharshi experienced a spiritual awakening after going through a similar imagination process. In his words,
‘Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.’ And at once I dramatised the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortis has set in, and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, and that neither the word ‘I’ nor any word could be uttered. ‘Well then,’ I said to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burn and reduced to ashes. But with the death of the body, am I dead? Is the body I? It is silent and inert, but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of I within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit.'
Dahara Vidya (Chandogya Upanishad 8.1.1-8.1.5): Dahara means small. Concentration is to be done on the heart center as this is also a door to the Divine. Variants of this technique have been outlined in Tantra, by Ramana Maharshi  and by Sri Aurobindo as well (See here).
Pankta Vidya (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.17): Pankta means Five. One must become aware of the five factors – mind, speech, vital force (prana), eyes and ears as the source of all desires. What pattern of thoughts does one hold? What are your unconscious speech habits? How does one breathe at various times? What objects are the eyes attracted to? What sounds does one like? It is the integrated functioning of these five primary elements which is responsible for the perpetuation of the false-self, the transient ego. One must imagine the flow of cosmic forces which one unconsciously channels through these local centers during our waking life. In the words of Sri Aurobindo
We see that there is one indivisible Matter of which our body is a knot, one indivisible Life of which our life is an eddy, one indivisible Mind of which our mind is a receiving and recording, forming or translating and transmitting station, one indivisible Spirit of which our soul and individual being are a portion or a manifestation. It is the ego-sense which clinches the division and in which the ignorance we superficially are finds its power to maintain the strong though always permeable walls it has created to be its own prison. Ego is the most formidable of the knots which keep us tied to the Ignorance.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine – I: The Boundaries of the Ignorance
Neti-Neti Vidya (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.6, 3.9.26, 4.2.4, 4.4.22, 4.5.15): Neti means “not this”. This is the method of Negation. One reaches the Divine by eliminating everything that is transitory, that obstructs the vision by giving the illusion of being permanent. First the external objects are discerned as transient, then the consciousness turns inwards and detaches itself progressively from its own habitual movements to reach a state of immobility.
Another method is to stand back detached from the movements of the mind, life, physical being, to regard their activities as only a habitual formation of general Nature in the individual imposed on us by past workings, not as any part of our real being; in proportion as one succeeds in this, becomes detached, sees mind and its activities as not oneself, life and its activities as not oneself, the body and its activities as not oneself, one becomes aware of an inner Being within us – inner mental, inner vital, inner physical – silent, calm, unbound, unattached which reflects the true Self above and can be its direct representative; from this inner silent Being proceeds a rejection of all that is to be rejected, an acceptance only of what can be kept and transformed, an inmost Will to perfection or a call to the Divine Power to do at each step what is necessary for the change of the Nature.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Seeking the Divine
Gradually, one’s contemplation must reach a state where one sees the Divine which can be described with only negative attributes. The Divine will be seen as formless, soundless, without beginning or end, tasteless, odourless, beyond the senses, unthinkable and so on and so forth.
Akshara Vidya (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.6 and 3.8): Akshara means immutable. The meditation is practised by merging the effect in its immediate cause. Step by step, the gross has to be pervaded by the subtle. What lies behind Matter? There is Force or Energy. What holds Energy together? It is the principle of the Mind which exercises Will to direct and hold Energy in fixed patterns. What is the cause of the dividing action of the Mind? It is the division of consciousness. What holds consciousness together? It is the Divine in the form of the Supermind. What lies behind the Supermind? It is the Supreme in the form of triune Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.
In the same way, one can see that the food that one eats becomes energy in the form of Prana, that Prana is the force which buttresses subtle thoughts in the mind, and behind those thoughts in the mind stands the Self in Man.
Kshemadi Vidya (Taittiriya Upanishad 3.10.2-4) : Kshema means caution. These are meditations to increase awareness of the human body. One should contemplate on the Divine in the following roles:
- Carefulness in speech: Already covered in Self-control over speech.
- Acquisition and preservation of breath: It is the Divine which exists in the inhalation and exhalation of the five Pranas.
- Action in the hands: One must feel that it is the Divine who is working through your hands. See Aspects of Karma Yoga.
- Movement in the feet: Same as previous point. It is the Divine which moves you.
- Sat-darshama Bhashya and Talks with Maharshi http://www.archive.org/details/satdarshamabhash015290mbp (Accessed 23 Mar 2010)
- Swami Brahmananda. The Supreme Knowledge: Revealed Through Vidyas in the Upanishads (amazon)
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramana_Maharshi (Accessed 23 Mar 2010)