This Wednesday evening was particularly deep and moving, as it went right to the heart of the exploration of Truth. Neil began the discussion by pointing to the fact that many things in life transcend mere intellectual understanding and demand the kind of contemplation that can only be discovered through the transcendental practice of meditation.
I liked how Peggy shared the quote from the Bible about the purpose of meditation and spiritual growth being about accessing the "peace that passeth understanding."
There was a lot of discussion around how the mind can be a very problematic instrument, guiding us to do things that go against our deepest values due to the intensity of the conditioning from the world around us.
That reminded me of the wonderful wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita (the Bible of Yoga) and how it is really a guidebook for those seeking the ability to master their own minds. In Chapter Six, "The Practice of Meditation," the Gita provides some particularly sage advice:
"Reshape yourself through the power of your will; never let yourself be degraded by self-will. The will is the only friend of the Self, and the will is the only enemy of the Self.
To those who have conquered themselves, the will is a friend. But it is the enemy of those who have not found the Self within them.
The supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. They live in peace, alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame.
They are completely fulfilled by spiritual wisdom and Self-realization. Having conquered their senses, they have climbed to the summit of human consciousness. To such people a clod of dirt, a stone and gold are the same. They are equally disposed to family, enemies and friends, to those who support them and those who are hostile, to the good and the evil alike. Because they are impartial, they rise to great heights.
Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation. With body and mind controlled they should constantly practice one-pointedness, free from expectations and attachment to material possessions."
When one has mastered the mind, then, he or she can view the whole world with an equal eye. The distinction between good and bad, positive and negative, sinner and saint begin to vanish as one becomes fixated on a higher reality that transends the limitations of the duality of our mundane existence. To 'rise above,' then, one actually need only change the way he or she views the world as it is. Developing perfect equanimity of mind toward joy and sorrow.
This kind of detachment demanded by the path of yoga can feel very cold and disheartening, but true yogis are actually some of the most sensitive people in the world. As yoga embraces the totality of existence: peaks and valleys alike. We can only know true joy when we experience the depth of sorrow. I love how this same chapter of the Gita describes what it really means to be established in Yoga:
"The infinite joy of touching Brahman is easily attained by those who are free from the burden of evil and established within themselves. They see the Self in every creature and all creation in the Self. With consciousness unified through meditation, they see everything with an equal eye.
I am ever present to those who have realized me in every creature. Seeing all life as my manifestation, they are never separated from me. They worship me in the hearts of all, and all their actions proceed from me. Wherever they may live, they abide in me.
When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union."
The capital-S self referred to here is the divine essence and potential contained within each person. "I" is Krishna, who is known as one of many forms of "Ishwara" in Sanskrit. Ishwara is essentially a personal form of divinity, personified as a means to enable us to understand and connect with a higher power that ultimately transcends understanding and description. In Christianity, Ishwara is Christ, in Buddhism, it is characterized by the Buddha. Muslims refer to Ishwara as Muhammed. The names are many, but the Truth is ultimately one; one that goes beyond the constraints of name and form.
Religion has become a scary territory for the pursuit of this capital-T Truth these days, due to the corruption and manipulation of many in power. The true essence of all the world religions, however, advocates the development of equanimity of mind, peace and compassion toward all beings. I love how the Buddha in particular always emphasized spiritual and religious seekers to "go and see for yourself." It seems to me like He has much more faith in the Truth than many of the missionaries of other religions who demand that others see Truth through their particular doctines and creeds.
I have personally found yoga and meditation to be the most profound means of discovering Truth. I loved how Pancho reminded us of the way one can cultivate wisdom through this direct experience: how information can be translated into knowledge with the help of the mind, but how experience is necessary for knowledge to morph into true wisdom.
An inspiring example of meditation at work to heal the most profound collective suffering is that described in an article called "One Percent for Peace: The Real War on Terror." The article tells the story of how 1% of the population in war-torn Lebanon gathered together to meditate. Researchers were able to measure the results of the gathering and determined that it actually had a significant impact on reducing war violence! The author describes how this was possible through the relationship between physics and meditation, how "There’s literally a coherence not only in consciousness, but also that coherence is reflected in brain wave patterns, for example. With a large group you can have a constructive interference. It’s a common phenomenon in physics with waves of any type. A laser is a good example. If you have light wave emitting diodes emitting the same frequency then they’ll all fall into synchrony with each other so you get a much more powerful wave."
The writer goes on to further describe how "The results showed a broad societal impact that only has one reference point that makes sense--the meditation intervention. The implication is that when you have coherence in collective consciousness, it creates an environment that allows people to approach the issues differently. It provides an enabling environment. People are able to come together to perceive the possibilities for cooperative work and partnership with their enemies. In terms of quantitative measures the increase in the cooperation parameter across the seven assemblies was 66%. But that hides the richness of what was actually happening on the ground. War deaths are war deaths but cooperation is a little bit more qualitative. Nevertheless, translating the effect into a quantitative number of 66% increase in cooperation, indicates a huge change, resulting in real breakthroughs for peace. During one of the assemblies of meditators, the Lebanese government finally agreed on a security plan for all of Lebanon and was able to obtain the support of Syria and Israel. During another assembly, Syria agreed to a gradual withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon. During another, substantial progress was made in finally implementing a security plan for Beirut."
Meditation, along with yoga are also important aspects of healing suffering at the individual level of addictions. I have been doing research about the healing of addiction recently for the program I am developing in India. In the West, the 12-step programs have been a popular way to deal with addictions, with Alcoholics Anonymous being the most famous of the many, many 'anonymous' groups. The Chopra Center has released a very interesting book called "Freedom from Addiction," which outlines many natural methods of healing addictions of all kinds: to food, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, computers, work, you name it. One section of the book actually analyzes each of the 12 steps and rewrites them with a spiritual framework. Instead of having people self-identify as "Hello, I am so and so and I'm an alcoholic," the language of this program puts people in touch with themselves through connecting us with our deeper essence - with the higher Self. The holistic view of addiction is that it is just a mere forgetting of our true nature as the very bliss and feeling of euphoria sought through one's drug of choice. Everything we are looking for outside ourselves, the approval we seek from others, the desire for connection is actually only to be accessed from within.
I find this view to be very freeing. As the Bible wisely states, we must know the truth and "the truth will set us free." In yoga, as Prakashbhai nicely elaborated on, there are five sheaths, or koshas, that prevent us from what is called the anandamaya kosha (or 'bliss body'). First, there is the annamaya kosha (food body - physical realm). Then there is the pranamaya kosha (energetic body), followed by the manamaya (mental) kosha, the vijnanamaya (discrimating) kosha, which lead to the bliss body accessed through Samadhi: the highest state of Yoga. Discrimination is an important step in the process. In Yoga, discrimination is called viveka in Sanskrit, meaning to discern between the real and unreal. What is real is that which does not change. The only unchanging thing we can find is not a thing at all - it is the soul. To find the soul, however, we have to push beyond even discrimination, beyond sorrow and beyond even joy, to access something more. To realize our deepest essence.
Master yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar talks about the five kleshas (or afflictions) in his book "Light on Yoga." These afflictions that prevent us from accessing Samadhi include avidya (ignorance), asmita (pride), raga (desires/cravings), dvesha (aversions) and abhinivesha (fear of death). Iyengar states that the primary obstacle in the quest for Samadhi (which is the state sought by addictions of all kinds) is known in Sanskrit as avidya (or ignorance). We get lost in life because we lose our connection to our source, to this greater power we can access within that is also known as Truth.
I love the way the "One Percent for Peace" author puts it at the end of the article when he gives us a call to arms in this quest for Truth, in the struggle for self-mastery:
"The real jihad is not fought with weapons. The real jihad is to create inner peace, to create the inner unity, and slay the inner demons that hold us in separation. That’s the war on terror. Then we really slay terror literally instead of getting caught in this trap of going after terrorists, and thinking, it’s these bad people that are the problem. It’s a complete fantasy and a tragic waste of resources to get caught in that way of thinking. We need to be able to speak plainly about it and not to blame anyone because people at every level of responsibility are using the best techniques that they understand. It's our responsibility to share what we know. It’s a big jump. You’re not going to suddenly change United States policy on the basis of this study until there's a broad enough understanding in the collective consciousness of the country. Politicians are rational people. They’re not going to do something which immediately gets them voted out of office because people don’t understand what they’re doing and they feel frightened. So there’s no blame here. But nevertheless there’s a massive waste of resources compared to what could be done to this real war on terror."
Smita commented on how she liked that the passage is from a book called "A Diamond in the Pocket," as this 'real war on terror' can be fought at any time within oneself. It is truly an inner battle - and one worth fighting, for the treasures that can be discovered from it. After completing my first Vipassana meditation course in India, I really felt as though I had dug and dug and dug through my subconscious mind and could finally gain a glimpse of my soul. It appeared as this beautiful, precious jewel that I was overwhelmingly grateful to have discovered within my own self. Far richer than any treasure found on earth, it was truly an extraordinary experience.
Book five of Savitri by Sri Aurobindo contains a wonderful quotation about Truth as a hidden power, there with us at all times. I will leave it to him to conclude: "There is a power within that knows beyond our knowings. We are greater than our thoughts. And, sometimes, Earth unveils that vision here. To live, to love are signs of infinite things."
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