Concentration on Mother’s photograph

artist: priti ghosh

Artist: Priti Ghosh@Aurobindo Ashram.  Click on image for artist homepage

Those who are astounded by this deification/idolatry can read The purpose of idolatry and its limitations.  The general technique of using an image to concentrate the mind is very valuable in the early stages of meditation.  Once the mind has stabilized, the external image gets gradually replaced by inner vision.

Although this page refers to the Mother Mirra Alfassa, the method of concentration can be applied to any “Ishta-Devata (cherished divinity)“.  Choose whichever Guru or God that you feel drawn or devoted to.

Not everyone is drawn to meditating on the image of a deity or Guru.  The Gita chapter 12, verses 1-3 discusses two types of people: those meditate on a deity and those who worship the impersonal Absolute.  The second category of people prefer to contemplate on the vast sky or the ocean.  See Widen the consciousness for more on that method.

Sri Aurobindo’s advice to a six year old girl named Esha

“Remain calm and remember the Mother, gather faith and strength within. You are a child of the Divine Mother, be tranquil ,calm and full of force. There is no special procedure. To take the name of the Mother, to remember her within, to pray to her, all this may be described as calling the Mother. As it comes from within you, you have to call her accordingly. You can do also this – shutting your eyes you can imagine that the Mother is in front of you or you can sketch a picture of her in your mind and offer her your pranam, that obeisance will reach her. When you have time, you can meditate on her with the thinking attitude that she is with you, she is sitting in front of you. Doing these things people at last get to see her.”

(See the comment below)

The six-year old girl, Esha Mukherjee, to whom the letter was written has changed a lot since then.  Her latest photograph is available here.

Buddhasmriti (recollection of the Buddha)

In Buddhism, images of the Buddha are used to achieve mental concentration.  The following passage is from the paper “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness.” by Antoine Lutz, John D. Dunne, Richard J. Davidson published in the Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness (eds.) P.D. Zelazo, Morris Moscovitch & Evan Thompson Cambridge (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

“The practice of Recollection of the Buddha is probably, along with Loving kindness meditation, one of the oldest Buddhist practices.  Recollection involves the recitation of the Buddha’s attributes, and in its earliest form it may have involved nothing more than that. At some point, however, the recitation of the Buddha’s physical attributes was linked with the visualization of the Buddha in the space in front of the practitioner practitioner.  This basic technique of recitation and visualization is representative of a wide range of similar Buddhist practices that evolved during the first millennium. Chief among these is the practice of visualizing deities and paradisiacal environments, a technique especially important in most forms of Buddhist tantra.”

Also see the following pages:

  1. http://www.buddhadordenma.org/meditation/visualizingforms.php
  2. http://www.fpmt-osel.org/meditate/buddha.htm
  3. http://www.thubtenchodron.org/PrayersAndPractices/meditation_on_the_buddha.html

Ramana Maharshi on this technique

Question: Some disciples of Shirdi Sai Baba worship a picture of him and say that it is their Guru. How could that be? They can worship it as God, but what benefit could they get by worshipping it as their Guru?

Answer: They secure concentration by that.

Question: That is all very well, I agree. It may be to some extent an exercise in concentration. But isn’t a Guru required for that concentration?

Answer: Certainly, but after all, Guru only means guri, concentration.

Question: How can a lifeless picture help in developing deep concentration? It requires a living Guru who could show it in practice. It is possible perhaps for Bhagavan to attain perfection without a living Guru, but is it possible for people like myself ?

Answer: That is true. Even so, by worshipping a lifeless portrait, the mind gets concentrated to a certain extent. That concentration will not remain constant unless one knows one’s own Self by enquiring. For that enquiry, a Guru’s help is necessary.

(David Godman. Be as you are, p 145)

Ramakrishna Paramahansa

There are several instances in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna where Ramakrishna Paramahansa exhorts people to keep pictures of holy men.  Here are a couple of passages:

Master: “One should keep pictures of holy men in one’s room. That constantly quickens divine ideas.”

(Gospel, Vol. 1, Chap. 22 – Advice to an Actor, 1944 Nikhilananda version)

Suddenly Sri Ramakrishna turned to M. and said: “You see, it is good to keep pictures of sannyasis and holy men in one’s room. When you get up in the morning you should see the faces of holy persons rather than the faces of other men

(Gospel, Vol. 1, Chap. 23 – Advice to Ishan, 1944 Nikhilananda version)

Sri Aurobindo on the photograph as a vehicle

The photograph is a vehicle only – but if you have the right consciousness, then you can bring something of the living being into it or become aware of the being for which it stands and can make it a means of contact.  It is like the prāņapratişthā (i.e. infusing life) of the image in the temple.

(Sri Aurobindo.  Letters on Yoga, Sadhana through Love and Devotion, p 777)

Mother (Mira Alfassa)

Mother (Mirra Alfassa).               Мать Мирра Альфасса

Different photographs bring different experiences

Question: Sweet Mother, Why does meditation in front of different photos of you give different experiences?

Mother Mirra Alfassa: It is because each photo represents a different aspect, sometimes even a different personality of my being; and by concentrating on the photo, one enters into relation with that special aspect or different personality which the photo has captured and whose image it conveys.

The photo is a real and concrete presence, but fragmentary and limited.

[Works of the Mother, vol 16, series 8, 4 November 1959]

 Photographs can become animated!

The following anecdote occurs in Ramana Maharshi’s works:

…Then the experience of a young disciple was mentioned. The young man, educated and in good circumstances, in good health and sober mind, was once facing Ramana Maharshi’s picture in his home and meditating on the figure. The figure suddenly appeared animated with life, which threw the young man into a spasm of fear. He called out for his mother. His mother came and asked him what the matter was. He was surrounded by his relatives who were perplexed by his appearance. He was aware of their presence, but was still overpowered by a mysterious force which he tried to resist. He became unconscious for a short time. Fear seized him as he regained consciousness. The people became anxious and tried to bring him round with medicines

When later he came to Tiruvannamalai he had some foreboding of similar experience. The proximity of Ramana Maharshi prevented any untoward happening. But whenever he wandered away from the hall he found the force almost irresistible and himself in the grip of fear.

Ramana Maharshi said: “Is it so? No one told me this before.”

A devotee asked, if it was not saktipata (descent of divine power)?

Ramana Maharshi: Yes it is. A madman clings to samskaras(past impressions), whereas a Jnani does not. That is the only difference between the two. Jnana is madness of a kind.

 (Talks with Ramana Maharshi:Talk 275, 5th November, 1936)

Some might wonder as to why the young man became afraid on seeing the animated photograph of Ramana Maharshi.  This fear arises because there are parts of the personality that are impure, and tend to recoil from the initial contact with the Divine Power. That is why complete transformation of human nature takes a long time.

43 thoughts on “Concentration on Mother’s photograph

  1. Anjan Kumar Sen

    Dear Sir,
    Wrt your suggestion on first accepting Sri Aurobindo and Mother as one’s guru before commencing meditation on the Mother’s photograph, I would like to state that it is not upto us to accept her as our guru but rather it is upto Her to accept us into the folds of Her loving arms. We come to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother only when we recieve ‘ the call from the other shore’ , ie the call from them.
    This acceptance by The Mother is the first step of the unbounded grace. So if someone meditates on The Mother’s photograph then it means She has willed it to be so. Of course the steps like aspiration , rejection and surrender imply the sadhka’s effort, but it is She who does the yoga for us.
    Thanking you
    Yours Sincerely
    Anjan kumar sen

    Reply
    1. VaidehiRam

      Namaste!
      absolutely feel the same , It is not that we are their disciples/devotees but its the Divine call /force that draws us to Their vicinity (Mentally or physically) Our role is to be aspired sincerely for That and sure that gets answered!

      Reply
    2. Ashish

      I have read from His writings; “He who chooses Infinite, has been chosen by the Infinite.” Why worry than if you really pray to The Mother? Forget about being chosen. Have we ever questioned if Ganesh or Krishna or any other God has ever “accepted” us? What is important we must aspire and pray ad infinitude…

      Reply
  2. Sandeep Post author

    Anjan

    My prefatory statement was intended for people who may belong to other paths. I didn’t want to compel anyone to use this technique. The other techniques on this blog are more general-purpose and can be used regardless of what path you are on.

    regards,
    -Sandeep

    Reply
  3. chinmoy

    Dear Sandeep,
    thankyou very much for the information.I believe its a great way for me to practice meditation.i would highly appreciate if u could include the experiences/effects that come along with the regular practice of this meditation(from beginner to advanced).It will b a great reference for me and others practicing this meditation.i like to meditate on a particular photo of The Mother.can i meditate on the same photo everyday or do i have to meditate on different photos of her?glad to come across this website.🙂

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Re photographs of the Mother, you should find plenty on the internet.
      As for experiences and effects which occur, Sri Aurobindo outlines a lot of them in his three volumes called Letters on Yoga but I can add some posts on this aspect later as well. Thanks for the suggestion.

      You can also see
      https://auromere.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/stages-in-the-spiritual-journey/
      https://auromere.wordpress.com/transformation/symbols-seen-during-spiritual-experiences/
      https://auromere.wordpress.com/transformation/difference-between-vision-experience-and-realization/
      https://auromere.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/videha-dharana-fixing-the-mind-outside-the-body/
      and more generally
      https://auromere.wordpress.com/techniques/

      Reply
  4. kalpana

    The reference you were looking for on your ‘to do list’:
    ”Remain calm and remember the Mother, gather faith and strength within. You are a child of the Divine Mother, be tranquil ,calm and full of force. There is no special procedure. To take the name of the Mother, to remember her within, to pray to her, all this may be described as calling the Mother. As it comes from within you, you have to call her accordingly. You can do also this-shutting your eyes you can imagine that the Mother is in front of you or you can sketch a picture of her in your mind and offer her your pranam, that obeissance will reach her. When you have time, you can meditate on her with the thinking attitude that she is with you, she is sitting in front of you. Doing these things people at last get to see her. Accept my blessings, I send the Mother’s blessings also at the same time. ”Sri Aurobindo 28.5.1935

    From The Mother and Sri Aurobindo to Esha

    (Letters to a Child)

    (These letters were written by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo to Dilip Kumar Roy’s niece, Esha. She was about six or seven years old when she came to the Ashram with her parents-most probably in 1930.As it will be seen Mother and Sri Aurobindo took special interest in her and considered her an extraordinarly girl.)

    http://website.com.sg/sassingapore/resources/letters.htm

    Reply
  5. Debiprasad Mukherjee.

    Sri Aurobindo & Mothers words are so powerful which helps me protect me when nowhere else to go. I am still in dark. Pray for me. Pranam.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      In the initial stages of practice, people often go through a period of insecurity because their commitment flags or their mind does not quiet down as expected. In such periods, the photo should be used to strengthen one’s aspiration and resolve to overcome all difficulties and surrender one’s entire being to the Divine. All truly realized saints do not die like ordinary humans but exist eternally in the Cosmos. One can gain strength by contacting their Presence through the photograph.

      More importantly, one must create an atmosphere in one’s room or house which is conducive to meditation, preferably through the use of incense, music or Mantras. The photograph should be regarded as an aid in this atmosphere.

      Reply
  6. KalpanaS

    Please can I have some information/reference with regards to Mother always being shown on the right side of Sri Aurobindo, preferably from Their own words on this matter. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      The only info I have is from Bernard’s site (http://intyoga.online.fr/feedback.htm), where a reader said “I enjoyed seeing your prayer montage and the mother smiling at me… I wondered however if you knew that Mother (somewhere had mentioned) that she should be placed on the right side of Sri Aurobindo, so as to leave her right hand free as its the hand of the Shakti. C’est tout. Thanks anyway. (R.)”

      You could ask someone in the Ashram if they have a more specific reference

      Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        I am not sure but I believe the seating arrangement may be related to the Ida-Pingala nadis in the body.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        Alok says one of Champaklal’s books has the rationale for the seating arrangment. I can’t find it though.

    2. Sandeep Post author

      An explanation from Sri Aurobindo.

      Disciple: Is there any significance in Mother’s standing on the right side and your standing on the left side in my experiences?

      Sri Aurobindo: Yes, she is the executive power and must have the right arm free for action. The symbolism which puts her on the left side belongs to the ignorance. In the ignorance she is in the left side, not free in her action—all is a wrong action or half result. . . .

      (Govindbhai Patel, My Pilgrimage To The Spirit, dated February 20, 1932)

      Reply
  7. KalpanaS

    Most Hindu goddesses are depicted to the left-hand of the god. Possibly to do with Tantra/Shakti associations, as well as the relationship between the god and goddess.
    Yes would be interested if Alok could locate any references.

    Reply
  8. amsha

    I think the difference is due to descending or ascending Shakti. Where Shakti descends It is symbolised on the right side, where Shakti ascends It is on the left.
    Well, it’s just my guess.

    Reply
  9. Sandeep Post author

    I don’t know if bears any relevance to this question but Arthur Avalon says

    “Shaktis (i.e. feminine counterparts) are of two kinds:
    1) Bhogya-Shakti: to be enjoyed;
    2) Pujya-Shakti: to be worshipped.
    The first sit on the left and the second on the right.”

    (Arthur Avalon. Mahanirvana Tantra Chap VI, page 105)

    many thanks to http://books.google.com !

    Reply
  10. mike

    Funnily enough, l downloaded some photos of Sri Aurobindo and Mother from the internet a while ago. l noticed one that l didn’t remember even seeing let alone choosing. lt just happens to be exactly like the one above [intro to this post with the big lamp shade] only the mother is younger in mine – anyone know what aspect of the mother this would represent???. lt seemed to be picked for me. Anyway, l was immediately drawn to it, and l put in in my main room. l’ve had a few experiences with this picture even without meditating.
    Most of my experiences with their pics have happened in the bedroom, though. l have two pictures of SA and Mother [just the heads] above my bed. l’ve had a few very significant experiences in the half-awake state [before and after sleep] where mother speaks to me – which l didn’t have before putting up the pictures…. So, it works. ln the two pictures l have mother on the right from their perspective not mine.

    Reply
  11. Sandeep Post author

    Swami Chidananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda, on Guru-bhakti (devotion to the Guru):

    “The guru thus becomes the linking factor, a channel for putting the wandering, lost jivatma, the individual Soul, back into contact with its source, God, the Universal Soul. And just as the guru is a channel for the jivatma to re-link itself with the paramatma, even so, if we can create a channel between ourselves and our guru, then that channel will become the effecting means of receiving from the guru guru-kripa, all that the guru is the knowledge of the guru, the sanctity of the guru, the purity of the guru, the spirituality of the guru.

    And that channel is called guru-bhakti. That is why the significant verse in the Svetasvatara Upanishad: “yasya deve para bhaktih yatha deve tatha gurau, tasyaite kathita hyarthah prakasante mahatmanah.” If you have supreme devotion to God and the same kind of devotion to your guru, then to you, the essence, the subtle truths of the scriptures become revealed.” Thus it is that through guru-bhakti the sadhaka, the seeker, the disciple, creates an effective link, a connection, a channel which enables the guru to share with the disciple what the guru has been endowed with from God.”

    from http://www.divyajivan.org/articles/articles/chida/guru_bhakti.htm

    Reply
  12. Sandeep Post author

    Disciple: X is very pleased to have the photographs of You and Sri Aurobindo. He told me that he felt a distinct change in the atmosphere of his room after he had opened them. Mother, when I kept in my room that photograph of Sri Aurobindo, which I received from Your hands, I too felt that it was vibrating with life. Isn’t this because of Your touch?

    Mother Mirra Alfassa: Sri Aurobindo and I always put a force into the photographs we sign. In the present case Sri Aurobindo had also looked at the frame and admired it.

    (Collected works of the Mother, vol 15, p 242)

    Reply
  13. Sandeep Post author

    Question: Mother, you said that if we think mentally of something we are immediately in the presence of that thing, but if, for example, we think mentally of something higher, of the Divine, for example…Are we immediately in His Presence?

    Mother: Yes, but only that part of the thought, not your body. That’s just what I said. In the mental domain it is like that; if one concentrates on the Divine and thinks of the Divine, the part… I don’t say the whole thought, because thought is multiple and divided, but the part which is sincerely concentrated on the Divine is with Him. It does some good but not very much when this part is mixed with all the others which think of hundreds of different things at the same time, or when it goes down into the body, is all tied up precisely to that frightful slowness of material things, and when we have to take so many steps only to go from here to the door.

    In the vital with a leap one can be there; mentally there is no need even of a leap.

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 7, p 217)

    Reply
  14. satyabrata panda

    myself is satyabrata panda. i know sri maa aurobindo from 2003. in 9 years i believe in them. it’s upto them if they select me as their disciple.

    Reply
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    1. Sandeep Post author

      Do what you can. I dont want to give any false assurances. All your problems may not be solved but it is better to turn to the Divine and be patient.

      Reply
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    1. Sandeep Post author

      Instead of focusing on the person who is scolding you, observe the parts of your body which are getting angry. Observe your chest, throat, face and stomach. These are usually the parts which vibrate when anger starts building. In this observation itself, there lies the power to control anger. That is the secret of the method of “Sakshi Bhava” taught by the yogis.

      As I had written the following in another blog post, you might go through four stages as you gain control over your anger:

      “I am Anger”. This is the first phase of anger. There is an uprush of wrath and the whole consciousness turns into a wave of anger. You know what anger is because you have become Anger. Sri Aurobindo called this Knowledge by Identity.

      “I am angry”. Now the initial wrath is subsiding. The region around the heart still burns and the mind is unable to articulate any reason for getting angry. This can be called Knowledge by intimate direct contact because as yet there is very little separation from the wave of anger.

      “I am angry and it is for the following reason ”. In this phase, the heart is a little agitated and the region around the throat is also stressed but the mind has firmer control of the overall movement of consciousness. As a result, one is able to clearly articulate the reason for being angry. This is Knowledge by separative direct contact, in which the anger is still part of one’s consciousness but one has not completely succumbed to it.

      “I see Anger arising in me but it has no anchor within me”. This is the phase of detachment. One senses a pulse of anger arising but one has the strength not to get caught up in it. One is aware of the wave as it rises and ripples through the regions of the heart, throat and mind without growing into a storm in the consciousness. This is Knowledge by indirect contact.

      See more @
      https://auromere.wordpress.com/2010/05/08/four-epistemic-methods-of-consciousness/

      Reply
  18. Neha Ratwani

    Hello everyone, I am begginer in internal yoga n started practising meditation n concentration just ten months ago. Initially I had wonderful experiences in meditation n in sleep in the form of dreams but around two months ago I am facing problems while meditating n not able to concentrate. Nor I am getting dreams of any kind. At present I always feel low n sad.
    Can anyone help me with this. Why all this is happening with me.
    Neha Ratwani

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      After the initial opening, there are phases where nothing happens because the Divine is testing your faith and surrender. Do you have the fortitude to continue on the spiritual path even when nothing exciting is happening ? Another reason is because the consciousness also needs to be prepared for the next phase of transformation.

      If you look at athletes, they have to train their body more and more in order to improve their performance beyond their natural ability. Something similar also happens even in meditation. You have to relinquish your bad eating habits, introspect on your thought patterns, surrender more and more to the Divine in every moment of your life in order to progress further.

      There are a couple of blog posts which elucidate on this question

      In this post
      https://auromere.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/a-case-of-yogic-illness/
      the Mother answers the question “In the inner life, why are there periods when one can no longer make a conscious effort, and if one enforces it, parts of the nature revolt or else everything in the being seems to become petrified; effort becomes the mechanical repetition of past movements. What should be done at such times?”

      In another post
      https://auromere.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/why-spiritual-experiences-do-not-repeat/
      the Mother points out that “One can never have the same experience twice because one is never the same person twice. Between the first experience and the second, even if one hour has passed, you are no longer the same man and you can never reproduce identically the same thing.”

      Reply
  19. 01

    Sounds like magick to me. I don’t mean it in a derogatory way. I don’t. I started out with magick before trying any serious spirituality and some techniques and even states of consciousness sound so familiar. In magick you also can concentrate on sygil/symbol or image of deity/archetype/demon. Focusing on image you gain archetype’s skills and powers without work. I never was much for idolatry, I used to cast spells by myself, as myself, without identification with or prayer to deity. Idolatry isn’t necessary in magick, but it is quite popular and you see people assuming deities name, dressing as deity for a ritual, etc. I used to concentrate on a symbol, but it wasn’t specific deity’s symbol, it was self-made and based on spell’s content, ie what I wanted in waking state. The more I learn about altered states in yoga, to my surprise I probably achieved dhyana during sygil magick. It was quite blissful, at least for these few seconds it took to ‘run’ a spell. That’s how it worked. You’d formulate what you want into a symbol, concentrate, get into altered state for few seconds (enough to make spell work, I never tried if I’m able to make it longer because I didn’t cared about meditation, I just wanted results in real world and few secs was enough to achieve them), believe it will happen/is so certain it already happened (faith as small as a mustard seed? Lol), and then forget about it, let it go and not obsess about it. Just trying to understand it. Because if I achieved some states already, but I don’t know it because they’re named differently, then maybe I could use them again in my yoga practice, this time propetly, not in tamas.

    Interesting note about being afraid of the divine! I never was so scared in magick that I was when I tried taoist meditation and saw shakti or when I performed wake induced lucid dream impropetly and achieved conscius deep sleep/nidra. I didn’t wanted to meditate for years after that!

    Reply
  20. Napta Chowdhury

    Integral Yoga…well that’s the diet we were brought up on…never understood it when I was in Pondy…now I do…after 40+ years. Sri Aurobindo’s was all encompassing….probably the world’s greatest philosopher and spiritual leader along The Mother

    Reply

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