The path of the Yogin demands dogged persistence because final perfection depends on two qualitatively different factors: one’s own refractory psychological habits whose complete dissolution requires multiple rounds and a whimsical Divine power which intermittently showers its Grace but leaves you in the dark at other times. These are a couple of progress reports that Sri Aurobindo had jotted down in his diary The Record of Yoga during his early years in Pondicherry. They indicate the ceaseless struggle and the subsequent reversal of consciousness that he underwent in the quest for yogic perfection.
“How would the lives of Western women have been different if they had been raised to believe that God was a Mother, all loving and all powerful?” It is with this thought-provoking question that Lisa “Prajna” Hallstrom opens her book Mother of Bliss on the life of the Bengali woman saint, Anandmayi Ma(1896-1982). Hallstrom, through this book, sought to understand the phenomenon of female spiritual Gurus in India. (See her website)
In moments of despondency, we tend to wonder if the efforts that we make through meditation, incantations, devotion, selfless service and other austerities to become a better and more spiritual person are having any positive effect. They do have a substantive but invisible effect on our aura or subtle body but we lack the occult insight to discern such changes. It is only a genuine Guru who can perceive changes in the subtle body of the disciple. In the absence of a Guru, one can assess one’s spiritual progress by observing the psychological changes that have transpired in one’s responses to external situations. These are two talks by the Mother Mirra Alfassa on the topic of spiritual progress.
Most people in the initial stages of the spiritual path attain what may be called a “passive calm”. The glow on their face lasts only as long as they are surrounded by kind and gentle people like themselves. Faced with a protracted conflict, they either shrink from it in revulsion or unexpectedly lose their composure in exasperation. One must strive to attain an “active calm” which doesn’t dissipate even in the midst of conflict. The ability to handle vicissitudes in the hustle and bustle of daily life has to be developed. It is in the darkest hour, when circumstances are the opposite of one’s spiritual ideals, that one must be able to survive solely by the power of the inner lamp.
In the world, we generally find two kinds of people: there are those whose minds are so entangled in a complex web of moral laws that they are afraid of sin and live in awe of God; and there are those who derisively mock any notion of morality and flamboyantly engage in unrestrained hedonism. In the spiritual path, one has to anchor oneself in the narrow pathway between these two extremes – between morality and immorality. One has to adopt an inner discipline which is conducive to growth of one’s consciousness but which may or may not adhere to any moral laws. To convey this difference, the Mother Mirra Alfassa made contradictory observations on this topic.
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.
Cultural values tend to vary across countries, civilizations and time. This frequently creates confusion as to which actions are spiritual in nature. Those who are raised in traditional societies prefer to conform to some ancient norms while those who are raised in secular societies tend to propound a freewheeling lifestyle. Furthermore, in the frenetic pace of life, it is difficult to distinguish the activities which please the surface personality from the activities which bring deeper joy to the soul. Which movies to watch? Which music to listen to? Which books to read? Which friends are better? The discernment required to choose correctly is often lacking because that discernment itself may not develop until one has advanced in Yoga. Often, it takes an epiphany to awaken and correct oneself after having gone down some wrong path.
The first problem we often face in meditation is restlessness in the body. There is always some irritating sensation which distracts us from sitting still for long periods of time. This inability to concentrate can be usually attributed to past indulgences like coffee, cigarettes and alcohol that have contaminated the body. By sustained effort as well as forswearing of any further excesses, the physical body has to be molded so it can become a willing receptacle (Adhar) which can bear the power and light which pours in during Yoga. A strong nervous system is a sine qua non for any spiritual transformation.
The path of Yoga demands the difficult task of transmuting the sexual energy(Retas) into spiritual vigor(Ojas) as discussed in a previous post. Sex is a natural urge implanted in human beings for the procreation of the species but when indulged in excess, it leads to the degradation of the soul. The spiritual solution lies neither in forced suppression nor licentious expression but moderation through the application of progressive self-control. There is usually a period of struggle, which varies depending on past-life development, before the individual consciousness evolves to a stage where the sexual urge drops off naturally. How you pace yourself in this conversion is upto you. This post brings together some observations on the sublimation of sexual energy derived from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
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.
This post supplements a previous post Videha Dharana : fixing the mind outside the body, which discussed a method called Videha Dharana as per Sri Anirvan. The method is drawn from the Upanishads and can also be called PanchaTattva Dharana or contemplation on the five (pancha) elements (tattva) – namely earth, water, air, fire, ether. There is a similar technique in the Tantra texts called Bhuta-Shuddhi which is also outlined here.
The ordinary human mind interfaces with the phenomenal world through abstractions; with the aid of the senses, it builds a representation of the world in the human memory which it manipulates with the reasoning process, rejecting and accepting ideas based on the ego’s subjective inclinations. The nature of the thought process changes as the mind becomes electrified with progress in Yoga. The practice of mental silence heightens the vibratory pitch of the brain and the awakening of the Kundalini kindles subtle centers in the brain. The mind expands into the cosmic planes of the Mind and acquires new powers of consciousness. In such a mind, the memory of the past is purged, the reasoning process is replaced by spontaneous intuition, and the abstractions within are substituted by a more intimate knowledge acquired by direct contact of subject consciousness with object consciousness.
The universe is larger than the physical world as explained in the section on Cosmology. There are many occult worlds peopled by conscious beings which exert an influence on earth and man. There is some element of truth in the fairy tales of yore which talk of elfins, genii, fairies and Titans. The majority of men are ignorant puppets in the hands of these forces and it only when the Yogin has progressed to a stage where his/her subliminal consciousness has opened to a greater cosmic consciousness that he/she begins to directly perceive the influence of these occult forces. One may find oneself succumbing to sudden depressions, violent outbursts and other dreadful thought formations which are the handiwork of these beings of various occult worlds. This post covers the characteristics of some of these nefarious activities against which one must guard.
Oftentimes in life, one hits a fork in the road where one is faced with a life-changing decision and has to make a choice without knowing all the facts. In such situations, one must understand that there is not just one future but alternative futures. Those who want to grow spiritually should know that the inner motive with which one makes the choice is more important than the choice itself. One must examine one’s thoughts and ask, “what is the underlying motive on which my choice is based?” Is the choice driven by money, comfort, desire for social status, religious law, despair, anger, cruelty or the inability to admit mistakes ? Can one live with the decision in the future…? One must look for signs of uneasiness in the heart. Looking back later in life, it is quite possible that one realizes that the choice one made then was pre-destined!
Yoga is more than meditation and breathing exercises. It also requires cultivating an awareness of one’s own psychology – the traits that one has inherited from one’s parents, culture and environment. One must patiently trace the source of every impulse which arises before it is acted upon. (i.e. “Am I doing this for glory, out of fear, out of habit, etc”). This introspection constitutes the practice of Jnana Yoga (Yoga of knowledge and discrimination), which must be undertaken in order to cleanse the soul of its lower egoistic formations.
When the Yoga enters into deeper states of trance, the heat of the Kundalini begins to course through the body, the subtle body is activated and the brain experiences a reverberating natural silence. The Yogin experiences a sense of purity, rejuvenation and alertness within. At this point, one may hear subtle sounds in the ear, smell burning incense or floral fragrances (which have non-worldly origin) and gain sight into the occult worlds. The sounds which the Yogin hears tend to vary depending on the inner plane of consciousness to which one is currently attuned. This post is a collection of these subtle sounds as noted in various ancient scriptures. As we see, there is lot of similarity in these descriptions.
One of the techniques Sri Aurobindo and the Mother recommended for meditation was contemplating on Akasha or Space. This has been discussed in the section on Widening of consciousness. The source of this technique lies in the Yoga Upanishads. Out of the 108 Upanishads, there are 21 which are known as the Yoga Upanishads. These contain various methods of Dharana (i.e. one-pointed concentration). This post contains a brief overview of these techniques as given in the book Dharana Darshan by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga.
The path of Yoga begins with an imperfect understanding of the working of the Divine Power which pervades the Universe, as well as the planes and parts of one’s own consciousness. This understanding grows with spiritual experiences and expansion of consciousness. Under such circumstances, what is crucial is the attitude of liminality or ambiguity towards Truths uttered by past prophets and passed down through extant scriptures.
We are all idol-worshippers. We worship actors, sportsmen, thinkers and – when we are feeling proud – even ourselves! Our subconscious desire is to mold ourselves in the image of our idols. The Hindu practice of idolatry directs this urge to spiritual goals by clothing the Divine in various forms. The modern rational mind forgets the original psychological motive behind image worship and dismisses it all as an abomination. On the other hand, there are those who narrowly fix themselves in adoration of their chosen image forgetting that this is only a preparatory step in the spiritual path. This post explores the various pros and cons of idolatry(aka image worship).
A child studying in the Ashram school, perhaps bored with his studies, once asked the Mother(Mirra Alfassa) how studying mathematics, history or sciences could help him in Yoga. She replied, “They can help in several ways:
- To be able to receive and bear the light of Truth, the mind must be strengthened, broadened and made supple. These studies are an excellent way to achieve this.
- Sciences, if you study them deeply enough, will teach you the unreality of appearances and will thus lead you to the spiritual reality.
- The study of all aspects and movements of physical Nature will bring you into contact with the universal Mother, and you will thus be nearer to me. “
The Mother, Mother’s Agenda: December 17, 1966
This post elaborates on these three aspects.