Distinguishing between stilling the mind and dynamizing meditation

During meditation, one may lapse into brief periods of mental silence and wake up refreshed with no memory of what happened during that  interval.  Various sages have pointed out that this condition verges more towards unconsciousness instead of greater consciousness, and does not imply that the goal has been reached or is nearer.   One has to go further by making the meditation more conscious, active and dynamic.   For that to occur, the Higher Self must always remain awake during meditation even though the mental consciousness has become immobile.  These are some passages collected from various sources on this topic.

Paramahansa Yogananda

( In this short passage from his autobiography, Yogananda relates how this distinction was made clear to him by another sage)

The saint (Bhaduri Mahasaya) and I entered the meditative state. After an hour, his gentle voice roused me.  “You go often into the silence, but have you developed anubhava (experience)?” He was reminding me to love God more than meditation. “Do not mistake the technique for the Goal.”

(Paramahansa Yogananda. Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter 7)

Ramana Maharshi

( In this response to a questioner, Ramana Maharshi expatiates on the difference between stilling the mind and permanent destruction of thoughts)

Question: When I am engaged in enquiry as to the source from which the ‘I’ springs, I arrive at a stage of stillness of mind beyond which I find myself unable to proceed further. I have no thought of any kind and there is an emptiness. a blankness. A mild light pervades and I feel that it is myself bodiless. I have neither cognition nor vision of body and form. The experience lasts nearly half an hour and is pleasing. Would I be correct in concluding that all that was necessary to secure eternal happiness (i.e. freedom or salvation or whatever one calls it) was to continue the practice till this experience could be maintained for hours, days and months together?

Ramana Maharshi: This does not mean salvation; such a condition is termed manolaya or temporary stillness of thought. Manolaya means concentration, temporarily arresting the movement of thoughts; as soon as this concentration ceases, thoughts, old and new, rush in as usual and even though this temporary lulling of mind should last a thousand years it will never lead to total destruction of thought, which is what is called salvation or liberation from birth and death. The practicer must therefore be ever on the alert and enquire within as to who has this experience, who realises its pleasantness. Failing this enquiry he will go into a long trance or deep sleep (Yoga nidra). Due to the absence of a proper guide at this stage of spiritual practice many have been delude and fallen a prey to a false sense of salvation and only a few have, either by the merit of good acts in their previous births, or by extreme grace, been enables to reach the goal safely.

Sadhakas (seekers) rarely understand the difference between this temporary stilling of the mind (manolaya) and permanent destruction of thoughts (manonasa). In manolaya there is temporary subsidence of thought-waves, and, though this temporary period may even last for a thousand years, thoughts, which are thus temporarily stilled, rise up as soon as the manolaya ceases. One must therefore, watch one’s spiritual progress carefully. One must not allow oneself to be overtaken by such spells of stillness of thought: the moment one experiences this, one must revive consciousness and enquire within as to who it is who experiences this stillness. While not allowing any thoughts to intrude, he must not, at the same time, be overtaken by this deep sleep (Yoga nidra) or Self-hypnotism. Though this is a sign of progress towards the goal, yet it is also the point where the divergence between the road to salvation and Yoga nidra takes place. The easy way, the direct way, the shortest cut to salvation is the Enquiry method. By such enquiry, you will drive the thought force deeper till it reaches its source and merges therein. It is then that you will have the response from within and find that you rest there, destroying all thoughts, once and for all.

This temporary stilling of thought comes automatically in the usual course of one’s practice and it is a clear sign of one’s progress but the danger of it lies in mistaking it for the final goal of spiritual practice and being thus deceived. It is exactly here that a spiritual guide is necessary and he saves a lot of the spiritual aspirant’s time and energy which would otherwise be fruitlessly wasted.

http://www.arunachala-ramana.org/publications/crumbs_from_his_table.htm

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on self-dynamising mediation

Sri Aurobindo:…the practice of this Yoga demands a constant inward remembrance of the one central liberating knowledge, and a constant active externalising of it in works comes in too to intensify the remembrance. In all is the one Self, the one Divine is all; all are in the Divine, all are the Divine and there is nothing else in the universe, – this thought or this faith is the whole background until it becomes the whole substance of the consciousness of the worker. A memory, a self-dynamising meditation of this kind, must and does in its end turn into a profound and uninterrupted vision and a vivid and all-embracing consciousness of that which we so powerfully remember or on which we so constantly meditate. For it compels a constant reference at each moment to the Origin of all being and will and action and there is at once an embracing and exceeding of all particular forms and appearances in That which is their cause and upholder.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: The Sacrifice, the Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice

Question: Sweet Mother, what does Sri Aurobindo mean by “a self-dynamising meditation”?

Mother Mirra Alfassa: It is a meditation that has the power of transforming your being. It is a meditation which makes you progress, as opposed to static meditation which is immobile and relatively inert, and which changes nothing in your consciousness or in your way of being. A dynamic meditation is a meditation of transformation

Generally, people don’t have a dynamic meditation. When they enter into meditation or at least what they call meditation ― they enter into a kind of immobility where nothing stirs, and they come out of it exactly as they went in, without any change either in their being or in their consciousness. And the more motionless it is, the happier they are. They could meditate in this way for eternities, it would never change anything either in the universe or in themselves. That is why Sri Aurobindo speaks of a dynamic meditation which is exactly the very opposite. It is a transforming meditation.

I think it is the aspiration that should be different, the attitude should be different.   I think the most important thing is to know why one meditates; this is what gives the quality of the meditation and makes it of one order or another.

You may meditate to open yourself to the divine Force, you may meditate to reject the ordinary consciousness, you may meditate to enter the depths of your being, you may meditate to learn how to give yourself integrally; you may meditate for all kinds of things. You may meditate to enter into peace and calm and silence ― this is what people generally do, but without much success. But you may also meditate to receive the Force of transformation, to discover the points to be transformed, to trace out the line of progress. And then you may also meditate for very practical reasons: when you have a difficulty to clear up, a solution to find, when you want help in some action or other. You may meditate for that too.

I think everyone has his own mode of meditation. But if one wants the meditation to be dynamic, one must have an aspiration for progress and the meditation must be done to help and fulfil this aspiration for progress. Then it becomes dynamic.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1956): 14 March 1956

Sri Aurobindo in conversation with a disciple Pavitra.

( In this passage, Sri Aurobindo outlines how one must go beyond mere stillness of mind to the second stage where one can experience a fuller awakening of the witness-Self )

Pavitra: In meditation the entire mind is quiet. The faculty of forming images disappears and also that of reasoning, of putting out ideas. And I remain immobile, incapable of any inner movement. There is no change in the consciousness, only in the instruments of this conscious­ness. What should I do in meditation? Should this new state be brought into the ordinary life?

Sri Aurobindo: In the first analysis, the mind is divided into two parts : one, whose movements are aroused by Nature ; the other which shares the nature of the Purusha and remains immobile. It is now necessary to extend the power of this immobile part to remain the witness of the changes of the other. Thought will seem to occur in front of it, and it will become aware that it is universal Nature which raises the play of thoughts. One must go towards this universalisation. Thoughts will come from outside and you will see them taking shape in you. You will also experience that you have power over them: you will be able to make a choice, refuse a movement, etc. This is the beginning of mastery. The part of the immobile mind will also have to be seen as the reflection of a vaster, more universal Purusha above you. From both sides you must free yourself from the self. You must relax the pressure you have put on the mind to succeed in mastering thought and being free from it. Insist on the wit­ness attitude. When a thought comes, examine it, see from where it comes, follow it.

The two parts which you are thus separating will have to be later united once again.

Pavitra: Are there not two methods? One consists in looking at the thoughts as they cross the field of the mind. The other in losing consciousness of them by concentrating upon the inner movement?

Sri Aurobindo: I think you can now enter the second movement. And you must keep in mind that the more you can overcome the idea of working by yourself, the quicker you will go. Allow things to be done for you.

(Pavitra, Conversations with Sri Aurobindo, March 10, 1926)

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31 thoughts on “Distinguishing between stilling the mind and dynamizing meditation

  1. Pingback: Distinguishing between stilling the mind and dynamizing meditation … - Meditation made easy for everyone - Easy Meditation

  2. kalpana

    Sandeep thanks for the selected writing, from which one could understand that without the ‘bhakti’ evident in the first passage from Paramahamsa Yoganananda, without the ‘jnana’ encouraged by Bhagavan Ramana and without the ‘Purna-bhava’ of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, meditation can turn into a mirage.

    >>”…For it compels a constant reference at each moment to the Origin of all being and will and action and there is at once an embracing and exceeding of all particular forms and appearances in That which is their cause and upholder.”

    Reply
  3. SS Lahiri

    Dear Sandeep,

    The talk with Pavitra is really good. It is not in the Letters on Yoga. Surely there is a separate book like talks with Nirodbaran, Purani.
    Could you kindly send me the reference of the book.

    Regards
    Lahiri

    Reply
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  6. ipi

    Source: M.P. Pandit in Deathless Rose

    Prefatory
    ( A dynamic meditation needs a dynamic theme.The selections given here from Sri Aurobindo’s sonnets ….Each theme condenses a movement that overwhelms and centers the mind in the appropriate mood. Each has mantric power of inducing the experience that it embodies. The commentary is a written meditation offered as an aid in the process.)

    Human Shore

    I have left the human shore.

    Once you are seized with the nostalgia of return to your “own home” in God, you leave behind everything that you have cherished and loved. All attachments, all relationships, all favoured ideas and constructions of mind are left behind. Not, indeed, physically, but psychologically. The inner detachment is more important and more effective than physical abandonment which is not only not called for, but is positively an act of cowardice. One must be in the world and yet not of the world.The inner freedom alone is real.

    Each time an old pull asserts itself, remind yourself, ‘I have left the human shore’. Do not look back, do not carry in yourself any part of the old baggage. You will need all the space to receive the riches of the
    Unseen sailing to you in the ‘argosies of the God’s

    No more is your involvement in human interests, allegiance to human standards. You have moved away from them. Look not behind, behold the glowing horizon ahead.

    ( The Infinite Adventure )
    http://www.amazon.com/Deathless-Rose-M-P-Pandit/dp/0940985446

    Reply
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    1. Sandeep Post author

      Can you provide any ways to do “self-dynamising meditation”?

      As ipi mentioned in an earlier comment, one can choose passages from the works of a Guru which have mantric power. Once that mantric power is activated, the Tamas which causes us to fall asleep or become passive in meditation disappears.

      A dynamic meditation needs a dynamic theme.The selections given here from Sri Aurobindo’s sonnets ….Each theme condenses a movement that overwhelms and centers the mind in the appropriate mood. Each has mantric power of inducing the experience that it embodies.

      Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      The part of your mind which is usually active when you are thinking is centered around the forehead (frontal cortex).

      During passive meditation, this mind falls inactive and your consciousness sinks into the heart or somewhere else and you wake up after a while as if you had fallen asleep. You feel revitalized but your meditation was more like a stupor. You were not conscious of the fact that you were meditating.

      During active meditation, you can become aware of the Manomaya Purusha which supports your brain’s activity. It is as if you are looking at your head from behind it. Just imagining this can be a powerful aid to entering meditation. This is the second part being referred to above. If you are successful in activating this part of your mind, you can even observe thoughts are they come from outside before they enter your brain.

      Check out this booklet where Sri Aurobindo has discussions with Pavitra on this aspect
      http://www.motherandsriaurobindo.in/_StaticContent/SriAurobindoAshram/-09%20E-Library/-03%20Disciples/Pavitra%20(Philip%20Barbier%20de%20St.%20Hilaire)/-01%20English/_pdfs/Conversations%20With%20Sri%20Aurobindo.pdf

      Also available here
      http://www.auro-ebooks.com/conversations-with-sri-aurobindo/

      Reply
      1. arya

        thanks so much. Just one doubt. Is this manomaya purusha causing thoughts to occur? Since it’s called purusha, I am assuming it can’t be active. My understanding is that purusha is always inactive.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        Thoughts occur because the Prakriti (which derives its power from Purusha) is not controlled by the Purusha.

        See also
        https://auromere.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/all-thoughts-come-from-outside/

        The Purusha is tied to the Prakriti by Ahankara (ego-sense).

        This is what Sri Aurobindo says in the “Synthesis of Yoga”

        To a certain extent this is true; and we must note farther that when the mental Purusha takes up the attitude of mere witness and observer, a tendency to silence, solitude, physical calm and bodily inaction grows upon the being. So long as this is not associated with inertia, incapacity or unwillingness to act, in a word, with the growth of the tamasic quality, all this is to the good. The power to do nothing, which is quite different from indolence, incapacity or aversion to action and attachment to inaction, is a great power and a great mastery; the power to rest absolutely from action is as necessary for the Jnanayogin as the power to cease absolutely from thought, as the power to remain indefinitely in sheer solitude and silence and as the power of immovable calm. Whoever is not willing to embrace these states is not yet fit for the path that leads towards the highest knowledge; whoever is unable to draw towards them, is as yet unfit for its acquisition.

        http://www.surasa.net/aurobindo/synthesis/part-2.html#ch20

  9. arya

    thanks, I read. Thoughts … is it literally coming from outside the body, or just a metaphor? When I try to observe, I usually get caught up in thinking so assume they are inside.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Our mind is a like a lagoon inside the ocean.

      Some thoughts have been trapped inside our mind matter and they keep circulating. These thoughts become “our” dominant ideas or personality.

      You feel thoughts are inside because you haven’t yet transferred your consciousness to the Purusha. Its like you are so caught up in the act of cycling that you have forgotten that you are the cyclist and can stop cycling if you want to.

      Reply
      1. Arya

        Ah, I get it. Thoughts are always there, floating, we give them a personal touch with our desires, circumstances, etc. Have you spotted a thought coming in like that? what was the experience like?

      2. Sandeep Post author

        One has to become acutely sensitive to grasp the entry. Its like ink dropping on a blotting paper. If you don’t catch the first drop, it spreads quickly and you become entangled in the thought process.

        Have you ever had a breakthrough in a dream ? It feels like something landing on your head and then you wake up and say “That will solve the problem!”.

        When the Pranic energy extends around the physical body, one can even feel diseases entering the circumconscient before they take hold of the body.

        You may want to read Satprem’s “Adventures of Consciousness”.
        http://www.aurobindo.ru/workings/satprem/adventure_of_consciousness_e.htm
        http://www.auro-ebooks.com/sri-aurobindo-or-the-adventure-of-consciousness/

  10. S

    “During meditation, one may lapse into brief periods of mental silence and wake up refreshed with no memory of what happened during that interval.”
    Ramana Maharishi : “Manolaya means concentration, temporarily arresting the movement of thoughts; as soon as this concentration ceases, thoughts, old and new, rush in as usual ”

    I think this is what happens with me.

    Sri Aurobindo : “Insist on the wit­ness attitude. When a thought comes, examine it, see from where it comes, follow it.”

    I have read in your blog that all thoughts come from outside …. but how exactly does one go about experiencing that himself / herself?
    I have done a few meditations during the Advanced course of the AOL at the Bangalore ashram – I did lose awareness of my body and even thoughts were kind of gone for a while. On one or two occasions also felt like my body from waist upwards had become elongated or taller or stretched or something. But nothing of this kind – ‘witness attitude’.
    You had suggested the method of ‘observing the back of the head – seeing all the thoughts go in there’ – doesn’t seem to be working for me or maybe I am not doing it correctly.
    Would a Guru or a guide be able to give such an experience to a person if He/She wanted to?

    “And you must keep in mind that the more you can overcome the idea of working by yourself, the quicker you will go. Allow things to be done for you.”

    Allow things to be done for you – as in … let the Guru sort of propel you into it or simply let it happen on its own without forcing it?

    “The practicer must therefore be ever on the alert and enquire within as to who has this experience, who realises its pleasantness. Failing this enquiry he will go into a long trance or deep sleep (Yoga nidra). Due to the absence of a proper guide at this stage of spiritual practice many have been delude and fallen a prey to a false sense of salvation and only a few have, either by the merit of good acts in their previous births, or by extreme grace, been enables to reach the goal safely.”

    That’s what I am afraid of …. going down the incorrect path. I do not have a Guru or a Spiritual guide. Is it better that I not attempt it on my own? I have read in several books etc.. that by yourself, you can only reach a certain point on the spiritual path which is supposedly not much for most people in Kaliyuga …. only the grace of a Guru is what actually helps you make real progress and finally takes you to the ultimate goal.

    Just wondering … how should I lead my current life ….

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      I have read in your blog that all thoughts come from outside …. but how exactly does one go about experiencing that himself / herself?

      Try to meditate with eyes open. That might help. One has to become acutely sensitive to experience this concept. In order to be more sensitive, you also have to eat in moderation(not starve) and talk less for a period of time after which your consciousness becomes limpid and you are able to catch something entering before it overwhelms you.

      Instead of thoughts, try attempting to catch a mood before it overwhelms you. There are certain places (inside house or outside), certain times of the day, certain people, certain foods that tend trigger a certain mood (frustration, depression, anger) inside you. Observe these repetitive movements. Next time you are in the same situation, stay passive and wait for the mood to catch hold of you. I have described how four stages of Anger that can be identified over here https://auromere.wordpress.com/2010/05/08/four-epistemic-methods-of-consciousness

      Once you are able to stay free of these (vital) fluctuations, it may be easier to observe thoughts entering you.

      Just wondering … how should I lead my current life ….

      For now, you can keep reading this blog 🙂

      There is no need to be so afraid so as to give up all effort. Unless you are in some advanced stage where you are having contact with weird beings, you are not really in any danger. Sincere effort can attract help from Gurus who are not living but ever-present in the Universe.

      Reply
  11. S

    However, I can relate an experience that I have had a few times (not very recently though) – while sitting in concentration, all gibberish thoughts (sort of unreal, no logic, no reason) were crossing my mind … its like a race of thoughts was on and I was flabbergasted at the sheer gibberishness (if such a word exists), speed and the number of thoughts that were whizzing by … at times like the term ‘beating around the bush’. I could control it or rather stop it only by forcibly waking up and opening my eyes.
    Similar to …. I was walking on the road by myself, doing my own thing and suddenly a complete stranger comes up to me and starts saying totally nonsensical, meaningless things like there’s no tomorrow … and I am like … ‘hey … what was that?’

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      These gibberish thoughts are more likely coming from the subconscious within you, rather than from outside you.

      Thoughts rise from the subconscious into the mind and get their play there, when the Purusha is weak. You can also see this phenomenon during illnesses or when the body is tired.

      Reply
      1. arya

        I can relate to this, actually – during illness or in half-asleep state it is much worse. It is like a million thoughts are attacking u from all sides. Did Aurobindo mention anything specific to deal with subconscious stuff?

      2. Sandeep Post author

        The subconscious is the repository of all Sanskaras (all kinds of obscure habits and thoughts). As the Light from meditation penetrates the consciousness, it first clears the mind, then vital, then physical and finally the subconscious. The subconcious is the most difficult area to bring under the ambit of the Atman. Even advanced Yogis can get disrupted by periodic revolts coming from the subconscious.

        There is no easy cure for this problem. Sri Aurobindo recommended “putting a conscious will before going to sleep”.

        This is a passage from the “Letters on Yoga
        http://incarnateword.in/cwsa/31/the-subconscient-and-the-integral-yoga#

        These thoughts that attack in sleep or in the state between sleep and waking do not belong to any part of your conscious being, but come either from the subconscient or from the surrounding atmosphere through the subconscient. If they are thoughts you had in the past and have thrown out from you, then what rises must be impressions left by them in the subconscient—for all things thought, felt or experienced leave such impressions which can rise from there in sleep. Or the thoughts can have gone out from you into the environmental consciousness, that is, an atmosphere of consciousness which we carry around us and through which we are connected with universal Nature and from there they may be trying to return upon you. As it is difficult for them to succeed in the waking state, they take advantage of the absence of conscious control in sleep and appear there. If it is something new and not yours, then it can be neither of these, but an attack of some outside Force.
        It is to be hoped that as you have rejected them, they will not come again, but if they do, then you must put a conscious will before going to sleep that they should not come. A suggestion of that kind on the subconscient is often successful, if not at once, after a time; for the subconscient learns to obey the will put upon it in the waking state.

        You can also try this Contemplation exercise before sleeping recommended by the Mother.

        As for the problems during illness, one could try to detach the mind from the body and remain still or one could concentrate on the Heart Chakra and pray for Light to overcome the weakness.

  12. S

    ” You can also see this phenomenon during illnesses or when the body is tired”

    Yes, that is true. I guess I am at the very rudimentary stages of spiritual development. Yesterday I received a forwarded message through one of my WA groups. It is about Buddha and meditation. A nice one, thought I will share it here …

    Today is Buddha Purnima, the day Buddha was born. He got Enlightened, he attained Nirvana and he died also on the same day.

    Today, it seems the moon is 20% more than other full moon days. It is a very big moon. So you should watch the moon rise.
    There is a little Buddha in everybody, and that Buddha is in the form of Siddhartha.

    Do you know who Siddhartha is? Before Buddha became Buddha he was Siddhartha. He was wandering, lost. He had tried everything but he couldn’t find; but he had that spirit of enquiry.

    He said, ‘The world is all sorrow and I want to get rid of sorrow.’ Siddhartha understood everything is sorrow, but he did not know the way.

    So everybody has a little Buddha inside of them, only he has to wake up.
    Buddha tried this and that and that and this. He ran from pillar to post, he did technique after technique after technique, but nothing worked. Because while doing all this, his mind was outward, and when he got sick and tired of everything and dropped everything, that moment he got enlightened. This is the story as it goes.

    So, when he got tired of trying hard and trying hard and trying hard, then he said, ‘Okay, let me just relax. I give up.’ So he gave up and sat, and the mind turned inward and then he became Buddha.

    So turn the mind inward.
    Unfortunately Buddha never got a Guru. He couldn’t get a Guru at that time. But Adi Shankaracharaya had a Guru. So he met the Guru and the path became much easier, smoother. He could just sit and go into Samadhi. But for Buddha to go into Samadhi and meditation was not possible. It was hard for him. So he fasted. Somebody told him to fast and he fasted, because he was a King from the royal family and he did not know about surrender, or about devotion, or about letting go. Doing, doing and doing, that is what he heard, and what he knew as he was trained. So the big ego, and that big doing, made him run around for several years.

    Finally he gave up and then he got enlightened; that is how the story goes.
    So that little mind inside of you doesn’t want to let go and to just give up, it goes on the trip of I want to do, and I want to do, and I want to do. I will achieve this and I will achieve that.

    When you see, what is there to achieve? Then everything drops, you surrender, you let go and meditation happens. You know, it is like getting onto an Ayurvedic massage table. You just get onto the table and that is it, you don’t do anything. Everything is done for you; so even meditation will be done for you. You just sit and meditation will happen.

    🔮 *GURUDEV SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR* 🔮

    Reply
  13. Pete

    Yes, I have been noticing a subtle change lately. Usually my inner stillness brings a dreamy image and I begin to nod. But lately I have been more conscious of the dreamy images without nodding off. it is close but I believe I am remaining awake, noting the dreamy image and then refocusing on the stillness or perhaps a mantra. After 40 years it is about time something at least seems like progress.

    Reply
  14. Pete

    But then maybe it is also because I have been journaling my dreams upon waking in the morning ( and images after meditation).

    Reply

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