Beginning Meditation - Theory and Practice
Meditation is a science of consciousness.
When we talk about “gnostic meditation,” we are pointing to the application of certain practices, disciplines, and factors, which are universal, regardless of what tradition we’re pulling from.
There are many different religions, and many of them still have a mystical component. Today, in some traditions it is nearly gone, and, in others, it is completely gone. However, every real tradition had a contemplative, mystical aspect in its origin.
When we say gnostic meditation we’re not pointing towards a sectarian or limited thing that only “we” have. When we say gnostic meditation, what we are pointing towards is meditation in which we receive information, and we are receiving that information from our consciousness.
Furthermore, we are using that along a path. We are not just meditating because we like it, because it sounds nice, or because it may bring us some peace (which it obviously will). We are meditating because there is a path, and we are meditating to progress on that path to acquire the wisdom, the information, the gnosis, that we need desperately, in order to advance.
We receive information from moment to moment, but normally there are many layers of conditioning, distortions, or obscurations. In everyday life we may feel bad; we feel anxious, angry, conceited, jealous. All of those are obscurations. We also have obscurations that don’t feel like an ego; they don’t feel like a bad thing but nevertheless, we have habitual ways of seeing the world, in reference to self and other, in a very abstract or subtle levels. We are constantly receiving everything with this “sense of self,” even if we can’t always put our finger on it. It is just happening.
Meditation, properly practiced, goes through all of those conditioning factors (obscurations), and we reach something that we call consciousness. If we know how to work with the basic factors of meditation, and we understand that there is a method to that, and there are different stages of meditation, then we understand what the purpose it. Instead of it being something vague, it becomes very clear as to what we should be doing.
From the very beginning it is important to have a concept of what meditation is supposed to be. Of course, we actually have to practice as well.
Samael Aun Weor sums all of this up with the following quote:
The stillness and silence of the mind has a single objective: to liberate the Essence from the mind so when fused with the Monad or Inner Self it (the Essence) can experience That which we call the Truth. - Samael Aun Weor, The Technique of Meditation
We have a picture here of Samael Aun Weor in meditation.
We have this thing called ‘mind’ which (in our normal use of the term) is actually quite superficial. The consciousness literally goes to the infinite. That is where we need to be directing ourselves.
We are going to present a very broad overview of what meditation is. This is going to be like taking a flight over a country and were you get to see everything from 40,000 feet. You have a certain perspective there. You may not know in intimate detail everything but at the same time you get a certain perspective. You see the big landscape and I think that’s important.
Secondly, we are going to look at specific elements of our practice that we need to make sure we’re doing in order to progress on a path.
Lastly, we are actually going to give some concrete techniques.
Three Higher Trainings
We’re going to borrow from the Buddhist lexicon and teachings that talk about the Three Higher Trainings. This is something that we’ve spoken about in many other lectures, but it is a very powerful way of understanding the process of where meditation fits in our spiritual path. They are:
- Ethics or Sila
- Concentration or Samadhi
- Wisdom or Pranja
As we have said many times before, we can’t expect to be living our life, however randomly we’re living it, without thought about our ethical conduct, what our choices are, etc., and expect to learn meditation. Ethics is not about checking off a list of things that make you good, and then not doing the things that make you bad, then somehow appeasing some grand being (God). In such systems, you hope that you’re on the good list versus the naughty list. That is a type of base, instinctual morality of yesterday.
What we need is a cognizant understanding of how our behaviors impact our state of mind. It is not that we should refrain from lying ‘just because.’ We should not lie to someone because we create something false within ourselves when we do so. Besides the fact that we set up a situation outside of ourselves too which leads to suffering. Any misdeed that we have injures ourselves first, before we injure another person, and therefore, this process is not about trying to get away with something or about being a ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’. It is about understanding how your behavior first influences your own self.
Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors sets up a pattern of energy, a reverberation within your own mind, within your own heart, that helps you go towards your goal. Unethical behaviors are those which produce obstacles on our path. We need to understand that everything that is produced has a cause, and when we begin to live in the right way, we produce the causes that will give us a situation in life that will allow us to have a spiritual practice.
Not everybody has the ability to have a spiritual practice today because they’re living in a very difficult environment. They may be living in extreme poverty, or in a war zone; they may be living in a place without any liberties to act or to search for real teachings. The threat of death is very real for them. If you are listening to this lecture, you most likely have some ability to have a spiritual practice. But it may also be limited. You may say, “Well I have all of responsibilities in my life; I have all of these things that i have to do, and I don’t have that much freedom.” Well, keep practicing all these factors. Become perfect in your ethics in the beginning - don't skip over the ethical basis. You must put yourself in the right situations in life by making the right choices. Ethics is within all our behaviors, and it is all about finding harmony in our lives.
It is through ethics that we harmonize, with all the other different spheres of life, all our different systems and relationships. Instead of there being conflict, we bring harmony.
Ethics includes our basic mindfulness, our self-observation, the transformation of impressions, sexual transmutation, etc. When we look at ethics, it is how we are setting up our lives. It is the stage, and if you continue to produce the causes even in this very lifetime, you will have the results of having more liberty to practice, having more freedom to be able to practice, and then it is up to you to use that greater liberty advantageously and not waste it.
We always start with ethics; you can’t expect to separate ethics from meditation. Now, if we have the ability to have a safe environment and a healthy body because we are living ethically, we in fact have a basic foundational type of stability in life. I’m not saying it is perfect psychological stability, but enough where we can sit and we can actually have a meditation practice. Once we have that, we have the basic level of ethics.
Ethics itself isn't complete until the very end of the path, because the only way to have perfect ethics is to have perfect wisdom, and know truly how to behave. Wisdom is not perfected until the end of the path. In the beginning, we must have at least enough balance that we are not going ‘out of our minds,’ that our mind is not so chaotic that we can’t even sit. In the beginning we may need to be really focusing on just that level. We can look at examples of individuals who are living poorly, who are making bad decisions and because they’re not learning, their life becomes more and more chaotic, and they lose the ability to have a state of mind to even just sit for meditation These things happen for reasons.
Mental Discipline, or Concentration
With the next, we have mental discipline, concentration (also called samadhi). Here, begin to have a practice of meditation. We can sit down and meditate. We begin with basic psychological stability and the end is perfect concentration.
Perfect concentration is known by a lot of different names, and you may have heard them from a lot of different doctrines or schools. This is known as “shamata” in Sanskrit, “shyine” in Tibetan. Sometimes it is called tranquility meditation, mental equipoise, or one pointed concentration, meditative quiescence, calm abiding, etc. These are all the same thing: calming the mind down. This is a type of tranquility. This is a type of relaxed attentiveness. There’s a capacity of very clear, calm attention.
It is not a vague, hazy thing. It is extremely clear. This type of practice of achieving one pointedness, shamata, is very blissful, a very enjoyable state, because our natural state of mind is exactly that. Normally, we are constantly having certain levels of affliction. We are always having bad moods or attitudes or responses. The practice of concentration calms the mind down and we are able to achieve certain levels of enjoyment.
That is ok: it is good to experience that joy, and we need to have that, but meditation is not just about calming down the mind. We need to do that to allow for the next step which is wisdom, prajna, profound wisdom.
For there to be true wisdom there needs to be some level of liberated awakened consciousness. Even if we have just a little bit, that little bit can give us that wisdom. Through the practices of shamata or concentration, we temporarily liberate our consciousness (either partly or fully), even though ultimately when we end our meditation, our consciousness is still trapped inside the ego. In meditation itself, we can extract our Essence. So, we can experience what Samael Aun Weor calls the Truth.
Our consciousness has a natural capacity not just for being blissful, but for perception and understanding. It is one thing to perceive, to see, and another to understand.
Understanding is this quality which you cannot find anywhere else except in consciousness. Nothing else understands. You can make a computer have a lot of power, and that computer can compare all sorts of different things and then have a result, but it doesn’t know the meaning of that result. Likewise, we have our intellect. It is just like our computer; it can analyze, reduce, deduce, extrapolate, do all sorts of things and come to a result, but that result does not have a meaning until a consciousness apprehends it. Then it has meaning.
Consciousness is that which understands and nothing else. Nothing else has that capacity of understanding when you get down to the root. You can go very deep into shamata (tranquility or concentration) and you can have very nice experiences, but if you do not take that experience of awakening consciousness and direct it towards your own understanding of your situation in life, ultimately, you've done nothing. Ultimately, you’ve just taken a little vacation, and then you end up with the same condition, the ego, at the end of it. Concentration alone does not produce insight. We need to apply the greater capacity of understanding while in meditative equipoise to understand our self and world.
We need this third aspect of applying a specially cultivated state of mind to gain insight.
Concentration and Insight (Shamata and Vipassana)
- The greater the concentration, the greater the probability of deep insight.
- Imagination and insight are closely related qualities of the consciousness. Visualization catalyzes insight, which can then inspirationally feed back into deeper concentration.
- Complete shamata is not needed to gain beginner’s wisdom and comprehension.
- Shamata without vipassana produces temporary liberation and blissful experiences which are often misunderstood. The pinnacle of concentrative absorption falsely appears to achieve the annihilation of ego and karma, but ego and karma have merely been put at relative rest. The bliss of concentration, without wisdom, is a source of false Masters, false Gurus, false Prophets…
- Complete shamata with vipassana is needed for complete liberation.
Two fundamental qualities of consciousness are related to concentration and insight. Concentration is the liberating of consciousness, having a very serene state of mind that is very serviceable; it is capable of work. Then it can very easily be placed towards something, and it is not a problem staying on that object of concentration.
Insight is a translation of the word vipassana. Vipassana is related to insight, imagination, and also related to clairvoyance. The core thing here is insight, the ability to comprehend. The greater your level of concentration, mental stability, the greater the probability that you’ll have some type of transformative insight.
Now, if you have just a little bit of free consciousness, you may still have some type of insight. You do not need to have perfect concentration in order to have insight, but the better the concentration you have, the better the probability that you are going to have profound insights.
Everybody wants to get to the comprehension aspect, getting straight to the insight, but if we have very poor concentration or shamata, we are working with a very shaky mind. It is very difficult to get that insight, yet, we still can; it is still possible, especially with the very powerful mantras that we have and the breathing techniques. You can still get there. That is why we use them, but at the same time the ability to get to higher levels of concentration is very important for us, because it will expedite our work.
When we close our eyes and imagine something, it may feel as if we’re fabricating it there. You may feel, “How does that help me understand something? It’s ‘me’ putting the visualization there...”.
First, we should understand that imagination relates to insight and the development of our spatial sense.
Our imagination is constantly ongoing, even if we don’t realize it is happening. We might as well make use of it consciously. We think of imagination only as visualization, or something for children. Actually, imagination is this capacity to put an appearance out. So, even right now, physically, everything that you are seeing, has to go through your imagination in order for you to make sense of it. We think the world is as we see it. But, really, what is happening is raw information is coming from this world and our imagination is transforming it into something visual. This is done mechanically of course. We just see it because that is the way we are conditioned and obscured to see it. Someone who is awakened can see other layers. They know how to go through other layers and it is through using this imaginative capacity.
When you visualize something, not only are you stopping your mind from mechanically visualizing other vague things or subtle things that may be going on inside your meditation, you are also placing a vessel that your insight can enter and present something to you. When that begins to happen, you have the visualization, and something new begins to appear in there. That can bring you to a higher level of concentration. It inspires you and it is a rope that you (as consciousness) follow.
For many, visualization is atrophied. It has to be developed. It can become just as vivid as a lucid dream. Then, suddenly the images begin to change in certain ways which can become further objects of concentration.
Number three, on this slide, is that complete shamata is not needed for a beginner to have some kind of comprehension or wisdom. Sometimes it is asked by students who want to comprehend their ego if they need a profound samadhi. To comprehend something about your ego, you don’t need a complete samadhi. If that were the case, we would be in a very difficult situation.
We can understand what we can perceive, what we can see about it. We can develop an intermediate level of concentration and then use that to comprehend the ego. Certainly, if we want to go deep, we need deep concentration, but we don’t need to worry about having this enormous, beautiful, blissful, transcendent experience (some projection we may have in our head), and think “one day I will be able to work on my ego.” Such thinking is an obstacle. You work on what you can see and comprehend today.
Number four is something I already mentioned. When you have just pure concentration practice, you can achieve incredibly blissful states of experience called different jnanas, absorptions. In the story of the Buddha it is described how, before Buddha came, there were a lot of experts in concentration. They were able to achieve these levels of concentration that were beyond the body and everything. They took away everything that was unneeded in their perceptive experience, and they would be left with this extremely reduced point of concentration that is outside of the body and everything. Those meditation masters believed that they had achieved liberation, because such an experience can be held for days at a time.
The body stops breathing at those levels of concentration and it is an extremely transcendent expereince. What occurs is all of those conditioning factors are being laid to rest, and what’s left is this sort of elemental type of abstract consciousness. It feels as if you have been liberated. At some point, eventually, the person goes back to the body. An expert can get very good at doing that, and they spend a lot of time in meditation. A false belief then develops, “when I die, when my physical body dies, I’m going to that state.” They believe they are already liberated. But what is actually happening, of course, is that they have just laid all of the conditioned layers of the mind to rest temporarily, so all of their karma and all of their ego is still there. So, yes, when they die they may have a big samadhi, however, then they will return with their ego into another body. Why? Because they just tried to bypass their ego, they just got good at laying it to rest for period of time, but they never comprehended and eliminated their ego.
Similarly, and in the same vein, we can have transcendent experiences, and people who lack insight or unable to understand that experience, believe themselves to be a master or a guru. This happens a lot. Someone perhaps has good ability to have a mystical experience, but they don’t have the insight to understand it, and this produces people who think they’re totally awake and liberated and ‘done.’ They teach from that perspective, of being a perfect Master, and they cause lots of problems because in day to day life they have a big ego still.
Finally, know that the combination of concentration with insight is the only possible way to create total and complete liberation of consciousness.
Different Types of Practice
In terms of meditation, we can place them into two general categories. Individuals that are doing shamata (tranquility \ concentration) primary practice or a vipassana (insight) primary practice. There is a third category, which is always related with advanced methods, related to the highest teachings.
Shamata primary examples:
- Concentrating upon external sensory object.
- Concentrating upon internal visualized / conceptualized object.
- Resting in the natural state without discernment of the nature of mental processes.
Vipassana primary examples:
- Discerning the nature of internal conceptualized / visualized object. (Retrospection of memories and dreams, qualities of visualized Deity, qualities of consciousness, etc.)
- Discernment of the nature of mental processes (thoughts and emotions) as they appear.
- Discernment of that which is beyond the mind.
When we are talking about a shamata practice, we are talking about creating that concentration, that stability. These are the types of practices where you sit and stare at an external object like a candle. It could be a sculpture or a painting, or anything on your altar table. It could be a stick or a stone too. The point is, you are using that as an external object of concentration. In this type of practice, you are attending to the object and every time you become distracted, return to the object. That is the essence of the entire practice, and the goal is to increase peace and stability of the mind.
You could also concentrate on an internal visualized object, opposed to an external one. You visualize an object, and whenever you wander, you just keep returning back to that object. In such a practice, you are not attempting to do anything more. You really simplify, simplify the practice, just to gain more continuity, concentration.
In terms of shamata, you have:
- External objects
- Internal objects
- A third type in which you rest in your natural state of mind, without investigating the mind.
The third type is the most powerful but also more difficult. In this case, you simply see and experience our mind consciously, without ever falling into distractions. If you can do this for an hour, that is good. However, most people are not able to do that.
Then you have vipassana primary practices. Some of these are very similar, but there is difference.
For example, in a shamata practice, you may have an object of concentration, and when you’re distracted, you are returning back to that object of concentration. In a vipassana practice, in a very similar sense, there is a visualization of an object, but you have a discernment about it. You are trying to understand the nature of the object of concentration.
When we do a retrospection of our memories, we are visualizing our memories, which in and of itself, we always have to return back to that practice of visualizing and recollecting our memories, so there’s concentration (shamata) there, but, also we are trying to look into that, to be very alert and to pay close attention to the nature of the memories, to the process of the behaviors of the memories. That is an insight practice.
That may seem very subtle, and not very different from each other, but there is a big difference in results. If you over simplify your practice, and just do a visualization without that discernment active, then you’re just doing shamata.
Now, if you attempt vipassana, and try to discern, you may get overwhelmed, and you may fall into dreams faster. You may lose your practice easier. There is a time for shamata, to establish or reestablish concentration. Vipassana is usually more difficult. Beginners often need to establish a basis of shamata before going into vipassana.
When we become good at doing these practices, we learn when we may need to return to a very simple shamata practice. Perhaps we had a very crazy day, because we are afflicted, something happened in our world today and our mind is not very stable. In such a case we simplify the practice. The worst thing is to have a practice we you just go off into “la la land” and you have a nice nap. That is not meditation.
If that is happening, reduce your practice to something fundamental that is going to work, and then from there, perhaps expand what you are going to do. It is most important that when you do your practice, you are not just sitting down and looking like you're doing your practice. Internally you should be doing the practice. You are following the practice, and you know the practice.
In terms of vipassana you can have:
- Pondering or visualization of an object with discernment of its qualities.
- Visualization of retrospection of memories and dreams.
- Visualization of a deity and comprehending the aspects of that visualized deity.
- The comprehension of the qualities of consciousness itself.
We are not saying this is an exhaustive list, but it covers the main points.
There is a type of practice where you have an open presence to whatever is appearing in your mind. The appearances of the mind are the things that you investigate. You are not just looking to get them out of the way as you would in shamata. You would discern the process that is happening.
Insight practice gives answers to the questions: What are the qualities of my mind? What are the qualities that are producing these things in my mind? Concentration practice alone only works to quiet the mind.
If you’re just meditating and trying to get quietude, that is great, but also go further to get insight to understand the process of how your mind is erupting into a thought. Not just that you had a thought, but the process and the qualities that are being brought up within yourself which become a thought.
Then there’s type of vipassana that goes well beyond the mind. We are talking a lot about observing our mind, observing our ego, but of course there are types of insights that go well beyond our mind.
We talk about the higher aspects of the Tree of Life, and those are also experiences that you can have, and depending on your practice, depending on what you are going to be focusing on. If you are just beginning meditation, if you have just started, you probably want to make sure you have a concentration primary practice. You want to make sure that you’re able to do that practice. Once you become somewhat familiar with that, you can then transition yourself into the insight type of practice.
Combining Concentration and Insight
- Beginners should focus on concentration primary practices. The meditator can switch to a insight primary practice once ‘relative’ concentration has been reached.
- With practice the meditator knows when to transition the focus of practice from concentration to insight, and back to concentration when needed.
- The meditator who reaches perfect concentration does not need to make any efforts to stay in concentration.
If you want to retrospect your day, and you find out it is very vague and incoherent, then you cannot really complete the practice. You are getting distracted every single second and it is just frustration that appears. Recognize that and go straight into a simple shamata practice. We are going to go through some simple basic concentration practices. If you feel you have acquired some type of concentration then you can transition into retrospecting your day. When you do this everyday, when you have daily practice you begin to understand what qualities you might need, just like someone who is good at cooking. A good cook tastes the soup that they’re making and they say “Oh, it needs more of this or more that”. You get that only by practicing and by doing it. What does your meditation practice need today?
Likewise, you might start with a concentration practice, then you go into an insight practice, and you find you have some success, but then you might find that your mind is going crazy again. Well you should recognize that, and you should shift into a concentration practice. There’s nothing wrong with that. The worst thing is if we don’t recognize that, and we just have a vague incoherent time and we are not really meditating and we are falling asleep. We are just randomly thinking about all this stuff.
That’s not really meditation. Such a thing may feel nice actually. Sometimes, if you get good at relaxation, you learn how to relax the body and vital body, as soon as learn how to do that, you can sit down, and it can feel really good. If the vital energy is flowing well, it has a nice feeling and that’s a nice temptation to just fall asleep. When I say you could have a nice nap, you really could have a nice nap because you’ve learned how to relax the body. If that is all you’re doing every time your meditate, you are just falling asleep into incoherence, you’re not really using your consciousness.
Lastly, I want to make a point that in the beginning, meditation is difficult. There’s no question about it. Keep at it. It will get easier.
Basis of Concentration
- Concentration is not an effort like lifting a heavy object.
- The unafflicted, natural state of mind is serene.
- Inherit qualities of consciousness are blissful continuity, clear perception, and nonconceptual understanding.
- The states of our mind and emotions can “trap” or obscure the inherit qualities of consciousness. This trapped state is “ego”.
- The skillful use of free consciousness can extract the consciousness which is trapped, increasing concentration.
- When all of the consciousness is free, and the mind is perfectly at rest, this is perfect concentration.
The one who begins to achieve some of the higher levels of shamata, the amount of effort needed in order to maintain that actually goes down. It becomes less and less. You can develop a baseline level of shamata where you can get to relatively quickly. That begins to grow as we develop our practice. You do put in hard work; there is a great difficulty, a lot of effort, but when we achieve those higher states, there is no effort needed to stay in concentration.
That’s what perfect concentration is: no more effort because the consciousness is active and its natural state is to remain present, to remain conscious.
Concentration is not like lifting up a heavy object. We have these vague ideas in popular culture about someone with mind powers, and their gripping their fists, and they're trying to lift some object or something like that in movies. They are sweating and concentrating so hard, and we might have a vague idea that concentration might have something to do with gritting our teeth, but it is not. It is quite the opposite. What we are looking for, is a completely serene, relaxed, but focused state of mind, because that is the natural state.
There are a lot of ways that we can understand what that natural state of consciousness is, but one way is to understand, is that our consciousness is always a continuity. Our consciousness does not go away. It may become obscured, trapped, or asleep but it never goes away and it is continuous; it is always there. We have clear perception that has non-conceptual understanding.
Here I’m telling you all about meditation concepts, but in the moment of meditation, it is not a conceptualized experience; it is free of concepts. It is direct understanding.
The reason why we can develop concentration is because we can use our little bit of free consciousness that we have, in the right way, to liberate, at least temporarily in a state of meditation, other parts of our consciousness. That is why concentration is possible. When we have done that, and collected all of the consciousness, and we have laid down all of the obscuring factors, all of the ego, what you are left with is that pure state of mind, state of consciousness. That is perfect concentration which is called shamata.
As we said before, now that we've had this grand overview regarding concentration and insight, we can get a little more concrete.
Steps to Concentration
- Supportive Lifestyle (Ethics)
- Supportive Posture
- Relaxation: Putting the Body and Its Energy to Rest
- Going Inside: Pratyahara or Withdrawal of Senses
- Concentration: Skillful application of mindfulness and vigilant introspection.
What we talked about was a supportive lifestyle (ethics). From there we need to have, when we sit down or lay down, a good posture. We need to know how to relax the body in that posture. Surprisingly, a lot of people do not know how to relax. Even though we go to bed, and we fall asleep every night, it doesn't mean that we really know how to relax. We never really took the time to learn that. We need learn how to relax the body. We need to learn then how to withdraw ourselves from the physical external senses.
We need to withdraw the senses, and go inside, and then finally when we have reached that, we start applying the methods of concentration, and the two basic factors that I’m going to emphasize in this lecture is mindfulness and vigilant introspection. We are going to talk about all of those steps now.
- Stability within restfulness.
- Spine straight with head balanced.
- Many Options:
- Sitting on cushion / zafu.
- Knees lower than hips, such as half or full lotus positions.
- Western style chair.
- Kneeling position, with or without a bench.
- Lying down supine (face up) / shavasana.
- Lying down with legs upwards on wall (viparita karani mudra).
- Sitting on cushion / zafu.
Posture is very important. When we sit to meditate, it needs to be a posture where our spine is straight, where it is stable, where we can sit down and not have to worry about it.
When we are sitting, the spine should be in such a way that the head is balanced so that it won’t have to use much muscle at all in order to keep the head up. We don’t need to be sitting exclusively in a lotus posture; we can sit in a western chair, on a cushion. We can sit in a kneeling position which is very comfortable for some people and very uncomfortable for others. We can also lay down on the floor if we want to. That’s actually a very powerful type of meditation practice, to lay down on your back, but it is too tempting for most people, because we just fall asleep.
What I’m trying to say is we can experiment with these postures, and if you are having a daily meditation practice, you have the ability to experiment with different postures. There is also a type of posture which is very helpful where you put your back on the floor and your legs are supported upwards against a wall and your back is to the wall. That is the viparita kurani mudra. It is called a mudra because you are moving energy. That is a type of posture that the blood flows into your head, and there is a flow of energy there that can be very powerful.
Relaxation: Putting the Body and Its Energy to Rest
- Drop attachments to perfect physical comfort. Respect, love, and treat the body as you would a stubborn mule that must do its work. Relative comfort is enough to begin.
- The nervous system and vital body are often agitated. This produces random itches, twitches, impulses to move, and many aches and pains.
- Skillful use of attention allows the student to neutralize or simply bypass the body and its energy and move directly to attending to the object.
- Unskillful use of attention will stir up more agitation and identification of the body and its energy.
The basic thing is here, is that we find a good posture. What we need to do is to drop the idea that we are going to instantaneously find this perfect physical comfort when we begin to meditate. We hear that we need to be perfectly relaxed so we think we need perfect comfort. Those two things are not exactly the same. We need good comfort; we shouldn't be in striking pain, but there is often a type of agitation of our vital body, of our energy, and that agitation causes us to have these little twitchings and aches. They are really nothing more than phantoms. They are not really substantive. They are just a phenomenon of our agitated vital body, and if we are identified with the world all day, we are going to agitate our energy system.
Sometimes, we sit and have a little twinge, and we want to move our foot, it kicks, and that is because there is this vibrating energy in our vital body. Or, we might have an itch on our face; we don’t have anything itchy, but the second we sit down, we have an itch. What’s that about? And then another itch appears. If you scratch every itch, you are following something that is not going to be helpful for meditation, because, it is just your mind and vital body playing.
Every time you put energy into this game where you have the itch, the twinge, you need to move, and move some more, etc., you just keep feeding energy into the system. It is a skillful type of thing where you become relatively comfortable and you just go inside, withdraw the senses, so when you are skillful at that you just let the body rest. You just stop paying attention to it, and that sounds very difficult at first, but again this is a skill. You can learn how to do this, and you don't need me to tell you that. If you practice meditation, you are going to experience this phenomenon of the body keep coming up with reasons not to meditate. It is visceral. It is in our body; we have this agitated energy and the more we live mindfully, the more we transform the impression, and live with serenity, the less we agitate the vital body. In that way and we are able to get to relaxation much quicker.
Going Inside: Pratyahara or Withdrawal of Senses
- Concentration can begin on an external object, such as a candle flame, object on an altar, flower, stone, stick, etc., the process of breathing, or, process of performing pranayama (Ham Sah)
- … but concentration without the five external senses is the goal in gnostic meditation.
- This leaves the sixth sense only, related to consciousness, which remains active, upon the internal object of concentration.
Once we have some type of relaxation, relative comfort, we can start to shut down the external senses and go inside. This is one of those things where, again, we need to know our abilities. If we are very new to meditation, and we try to go inside, and we close our eyes, it is very difficult to remain conscious in that experience. The recommendation is to begin with an external object of concentration, to keep your eyes open, or maybe have your eyes closed three quarter way or halfway, and you concentrate on that external object. You can also do a lot of pranayama during this stage of withdrawing from the senses.
Really when we talk about gnostic meditation, we want to completely withdraw from the external world. We want to get to the stage where we’re completely inside, and just forget about all the external senses. Certainly, there remains a little bit always connected with the external senses. That’s how you can still become jolted into awakening the physical body, unless you’re really profoundly into concentration.
That’s the goal here, to go completely inside. We have all these external senses; we have the five external senses, but we have a sixth sense which is our sense of consciousness itself (the sense of imagination i.e. thoughts, feelings, and images, etc.) which is the root of those five senses. We just want to shut down the external ones, and keep the internal one still present. It is not so difficult but it does take practice. You do this unconsciously every time you fall asleep.
If we’re transforming impressions; if we’re being self-observant during the day, we are doing this already, except the five senses are active. We must practice keeping that sixth sense active during the day. We have the five senses with the sixth sense active. When we meditate we just turn off the five senses and we keep the sixth sense present. This is how these two things (daily life and meditation) revolve and interact with each other. One feeds upon the other.
Concentration: Mindfulness and Vigilant Introspection
The foundational skills of deepening concentration are:
- Mindfulness (smrti): the remembrance of the practice of meditation. To not forget that one is, moment to moment, attending to something.
- Introspection / vigilance (samprajanya): noticing the qualities of the mental space which threaten the practice of meditation.
Mindfulness is primary, introspection is secondary. Mindfulness sets up meditation, introspection prevents the falling out of meditation.
One of the core things I wanted to stress in this lecture is two fundamental skills that go on within the practice of concentration. Whether that is concentrating on an external object, concentration on the breath, concentration on memories, or an open presence of seeing what is appearing in the mind. Whatever it is, you have these two core components, foundational skills.
One thing is to pay attention, to attend to something. To pay attention is like a single moment of attention, but when you continue to pay attention moment by moment, instant to instant, and you know that you're doing that, then you are being mindful. Then you are having mindfulness. That is the core aspect when you are talking about meditation. Within meditation, there is this mindfulness. It is the remembrance of the practice of meditation. To not forgot that one is, from moment to moment, attending to something, to not forget the practice that you are paying attention.
There’s a second aspect which is vigilance, or introspection. This is noticing the qualities of the mental space which threatens the practice of meditation. What does that mean? That may seem very vague in the beginning. It is very possible to be mindful of something, but at the same time, a distraction has appeared, because you haven't reached perfect concentration yet. Therefore, your whole consciousness is not on the object, something else is appearing on the side, on the periphery, and vigilance is to notice that has occurred.
If you're doing meditation and you're relatively concentrating, but then a certain vague, not even a thought yet, but a feeling of “when is this going to be over” (you can even have thoughts of the future or past even when you are concentrating because the consciousness is capable of doing that), vigilance is that quality control of your mindfulness. It is noticing before you completely lose your mindfulness, that you’re falling down a slope. It's happening. It is noticing, “I have become agitated” or “I am anticipating the meditation bell from going off”, “I’m waiting”. All of those are conceptual obscuration or emotional obscurations as well. All of those types of things, and if you don't have vigilance, that distraction comes, and takes over and you've completely lost your meditation. Mindfulness sets up your practice of meditation and vigilance keeps your practice form falling away. This is described by Shantideva in his profound work, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life (Bodhicaryavatara). He writes in the chapter called Introspection or Vigilance (depending on the translation),
“Those who wish to protect their practice should zealously guard the mind. The practice cannot be protected without guarding the unsteady mind. Untamed, mad elephants do not inflict as much harm in this world as does the unleashed elephant of the mind in the Avici hell and the like. But if the elephant of the mind is completely restrained by the rope of mindfulness, then all perils vanish and complete well-being is obtained.“
– Ch 5, v 1 - 3
“When mindfulness stands guard at the gate of the mind, introspection arrives, and once it has come, it does not depart again.”
– Ch 5, v 33
“In brief, this alone is the definition of introspection: the repeated examination of the state of one’s body and mind.”
– Chp 5, v 108
We have an image here of the rope of mindfulness and the hook of introspection.
In this chapter he says the repeated examination of one’s body and mind is introspection. This is vigilance throughout the day, through your daily life. When you go to meditation, you are not examining your body anymore, but you are examining your mind. It is still that vigilance, so these two factors are still present during the day, and then we carry them into our meditation.
A lot of times this factor is translated as vigilance, which is perfectly well, but within meditation, I really enjoy the translation of introspection. It really is your concentration on something, but you are introspecting upon the quality of your mental space. Sometimes that quality is agitation. If you are going into meditation, you should know if there is an agitated space you are in, or, perhaps there is a quality of dullness.
What does agitation look like? Agitation is a clarity of having too many thoughts. The clarity is there, which is a core aspect of your mind, but there are too many thoughts. Thoughts are just fluttering around. It is too much. It is rumination. You are thinking, thinking, thinking, you are agitated, too excited.
The opposite of that is dullness, lethargy, where you just want to sink into a vague void, a dullness. It is the opposite of being super agitated.
Sometimes, depending on our temperament, depending on our day, we may sit and meditate and find that our mind is really out of control and thinking too much.
Other times when we meditate, we get that relaxation but it goes straight into dullness and vagueness, and we are very tempted to sink into that void dullness. We take a nap usually; we lose our concentration.
When we become skilled at concentration, we understand these states of mind very quickly and in more subtle levels. They become subtler, and we can see a little bit of excitation, or a little bit of dullness, and we learn how to overcome them by using our introspective skill.
Tips to Deepen Concentration: Using An Object
- Attend to the object of concentration.
- Use Mindfulness: Do not forget you are meditating.
- Use Introspection / Vigilance: Notice the qualities of excitement or dullness, and notice if you are starting to lose the practice.
- Simply notice the qualities of the object as they already are.
- Do not project qualities, discover them.
- Do not ‘wait’ for anything. Instead, drop all expectations, increase relaxation, and effortlessly focus in an unwavering manner.
- If the mind is distracted, notice that it is distracted, and return to the object of concentration without adding additional energy of thought and emotion.
If we are doing a practice of concentration, what do we actually do? Well if we are using an object, of course, the first thing you do is attend to the object of concentration, by using our mindfulness. We are not going to forget that we are meditating. I know it seems ridiculous, but we need to remember. Next, we need to use our introspection to notice the qualities of excitation and dullness, and notice if you’re starting to lose the practice. You have those two factors (mindfulness and introspection) there.
Also, when you are noticing an object, you are noticing it as it is, as it appears. We don't want to think about what it might be like. No thoughts, no concepts, just see it as it is, nakedly. We may notice qualities, but don’t project qualities. Let the qualities emerge as you see them.
Number four is something very important: the idea of waiting for something. We can get caught in an idea that you set up your practice and then wait for something mystical to happen. We must be careful about this idea of waiting. We really should not be waiting for anything because waiting is time. Waiting is a concept, so, if we are concentrating, and we are visualizing, and then we are waiting for that great experience, this is wrong.
The factor of waiting is an obstacle. That waiting is a concept that you are putting into your mind of time, and that is going to destroy your practice. Again, that is a very subtle thing. You may not realize you are waiting. You may not be thinking, “I’m waiting. I’m waiting,” but from a subtle cognitive aspect there’s a sense of waiting, and as soon as your waiting, you are not really attending. You are not really sharpening your clarity. That is the antidote to that waiting factor. Instead of waiting, notice with greater clarity what is going on there.
You have to drop all expectation, increase relaxation, and effortlessly focus in an unwavering manner.
Fifth: When you notice you're distracted, return to the object of concentration but you want to try to do it without adding anything. What are the types of things we could add? Well we could add a judgement. “I’m not good at this practice,” or, “I can’t believe I got distracted again.” “Oh my god! I’m so terrible. this is so hard.” All of that, is adding something to it. We need to know how to adjust and return simply to the object of concentration without any emotion or thought to it, because those are all things that we are trying to reduce. Those are all fluctuations of the mind. That is exactly what we are trying to calm down so that the consciousness can emerge out of it.
Discernment of Mental Processes
- Restfully notice the state of the mind’s appearance, as it changes moment to moment.
- To discern to the state of the mind, one must be able to recognize (by use of the wakeful consciousness) the thoughts and emotions as fluctuations of mind. In other words, non-identification of the mind.
- Perception increases while mind movement becomes more and more subtle.
- Real discernment is not the practice of labeling thoughts as “thought” and emotions as “emotion”. Discernment is to apprehend something, to see it, without conceptualization or mental-emotional fluctuations.
Now, let us shift from focusing upon an object (whether an external object or visualized object), to the discernment of mental processes ‘as they are.’
Well firstly, discernment of mental processes means we are trying to gain insight of our mind. That is what the word discernment is trying to point towards. Notice the mind as it appears, as it changes from moment to moment, but in order to really discern what the mind is really doing we have to be able to discern what the mind is.
We need to be able to recognize consciousness from mental states. That may sound very vague, but it becomes clear. We must know the difference between free consciousness and states of the mind, agitation of the mind. We have to develop that and truly be able to discern our mental processes from moment to moment. We have to be that watchful observer. Watching the mind, seeing the mind, all of the time.
The second we don't recognize the mind for the mind, we become fused with it, and we go into it, and we become identified with it. We use this word identification. We are identified with the processes of the mind. ‘We’ (as consciousness) go into it and we are obscured by that process, we become enmeshed by thoughts. We don't see the mind for what it is: we incorrectly see the mind as our true self. We have a thought, and sense, “that’s me.”
We have a sense of self, a sense of “I”, inside that thought. The one who is very good at doing this practice is the one who can see the mind for the mind. It is very simple. Do you know what a chair looks like? If you see a chair, do you know it is a chair? We do, right? We know what it is. But if we say, “Do you know what consciousness is?”, it becomes more difficult, but through meditation we can know that. We can recognize that: what free consciousness is. If we know that, we can have insight, vipassana. Then we can recognize what the mind is.
If we recognize the state of the mind moment by moment then we can liberate each one of those thoughts, because the consciousness is trapped within each one of them. Something is making the thoughts appear. Something is making those emotions appear. They are not totally acting on their own accord, something is animating it, and that animation is ultimately coming from consciousness itself. It is wrapped up, obscured, confused consciousness that appears.
As the mind becomes less and less agitated, our perception become more and more profound.
There is a very popular technique, in which the person is told to observe their mind, and every time that a thought or emotion is found they are to label the thought as “thought” and label the emotion as “emotion,” and put it aside. So, if you notice a thought, just notice it as a thought and put it aside. If you notice an emotion, notice it as emotion, and go back to your practice. That type of practice may help you achieve shamata, some levels of concentration, but it is self-defeating in terms of vipassana (insight), because when you have a thought, and you label something, that’s another thought-concept.
When you label something, you are putting conceptual designation into your practice, so it is going to limit you. If you say “thoughts,” or you notice that it is a thought, in that sense you actually put a concept in there, you wrap it up in a label, and then you do not have to actually understand what it is. You just put it to the side.
I put this up here because this type of labeling practice is often under the heading of vipassana. In my view, it is wrong to call it vipassana and it has caused much confusion. The labeling technique is a very popular practice, but it really isn't vipassana; it’s really a basic level of shamata.
There is some type of very superficial vipassana there, because you are learning that there is a process of thoughts and emotions occurring, but that is really foundational and it will soon limit you. Therefore, the labeling technique is something we do not typically recommend, because you are continually agitating the mind, by putting those concepts into it.
Instead: when see a thought as it is, you are discerning it, you are apprehending the nature of that thought, instantaneously, from the consciousness, without putting any type of emotional or mental fluctuations into it. Perhaps that is too dififcult for some. We know many who enjoy the labeling technique – we are not here to rail against it, but know that it is limited. It is very misleading to consider the labeling technique as vipassana.
Tips to Deepen Concentration: Discernment of Mental Processes
- Attend to the process of the mind, as it appears, moment by moment.
- Use Mindfulness: Do not forget you are meditating.
- Use Introspection / Vigilance: Notice the qualities of excitement or dullness, and notice if you are starting to lose the practice.
- If mindfulness was lost, use momentary retrospection: Recall the process which has produced the loss of the practice.
- Example: In a spontaneous moment of introspection, one realizes they are actually thinking about the future. Therefore, mindfully retrospect within that meditation the process of emotions, desires, fears, thoughts, etc., that produced the falling out of meditation. Attend closely to that which caused the fascination, to discover it’s actual, factual, observable nature.
Let us speak a little bit more about the discernment of mental processes, to see the mind as it is. This is a practice where we are focusing inside, and simply viewing the mind as it is from moment to moment.
How are we going to apply the two factors that we spoke about before? Of course, we are going to use our mindfulness, we are not going to forget that we are doing the practice. If we forget that we are doing the practice, then we are not doing the practice. And number two, vigilance or introspection, it is the same thing: notice the qualities of excitement or dullness and notice if you’re starting to lose the practice, same things as before. These are factors that go across all of these meditation practices.
What is different in this type of practice, is if you lose yourself, there is a type of momentary retrospection that you can do within the meditation itself. If you lose your practice, then you spontaneously remember somehow, your vigilance kicks you back into gear, you recall that process. You have instantaneous access to follow the chains of thoughts, because it just happened. So, there is lot of vipassana that you can gain right there. There is a lot of insight.
The example that I’ve written here says, “In a spontaneous moment of introspection, one realizes they are actually thinking about the future. Therefore, mindfully retrospect within that meditation the process of emotions, desires, fears, thoughts, etc., that produced the falling out of meditation. Attend closely to that which caused the fascination, to discover it’s actual, factual, observable nature.”
We say it like that because we actually want to observe it as a fact - not to think about, “Oh, well I really like to think about that thing I guess. I really do think about the future. I can’t wait for that event to happen. Ok, now I understood what happened in my meditation.” No, that would not be the practice. The practice is to actually see it. Do not think about why you might have lost your practice. You just see it as facts. You discover exact things that occurred which brought you out of meditation. You must see it.
For example, you should be able to say, “I can see the chain of events, and the fascination was based on the fact that I’m anticipating some future event to occur. I’m thinking about some past thing that I regret….” In this example, there is some acknowledgement, some insight, into a regretful action. We are using these example thoughts to illustrate something. In actual meditation you are just experiencing it.
In that exact moment you have an opportunity to attend to the very thing that brought you to fascination. If you're worried about some future event, and that brought you out of meditation right here and now, and in this meditation and you discovered that, what a perfect opportunity you have. Now, use that as the object that you're going to go into. That memory or that anticipation, that fear, that regret, because it presented itself to you here and now. It is fresh; it is vibrant. Instead of pushing it aside in the name of mindfulness or concentration, you must go straightaway directly into it.
Foundational Concentration Practices
As I said we are going to have three parts of this lecture: the first part is the broad overview and the second part is foundation factors that are universal. You have shamata, vipassana, mindfulness, and introspection. Now what are some actual practices? What do we actually do? There are so many, but we’ll find out that it becomes less confusing if we understand how the pieces fit together. We start with foundational, concentration practices.
Concentration upon an object: the breath (anapanasati)
One of the most popular types meditations that is taught is concentration on the breath. Obviously, breathing is something that gives us life. We always have the breath. It is always with us, and more than that, it is a process. It is literally the process of our life, because oxygen is going into our lungs and then that oxygen is brought to every single one of the cells of our body. Every single one of our cells needs energy; it needs oxygen. It also needs food, but it needs oxygen. Then all these little chemical processes happen and then carbon dioxide is created from that. That is the waste, and all of that waste goes back from the bloodstream and into the lungs and you breathe out waste. There is literally a process of life and death as your breathing. There is a lot of content in that idea.
Watching the breath is a beautiful, wonderful, practice because it checks in with your body. It changes as you notice the breath, putting no thoughts into it. You are just noticing it as it is. It is a good foundational practice.
There are many different ways that it is taught. Sometimes it is taught to pay attention to certain sensation of the nostrils, the lungs, etc. Again, it’s very good but it also needs to be understood that it is foundational, because from our perspective, we do not want to get locked inside the body. If you are paying attention to the body, you are going to stay there, and that is not a terrible thing, but just know what the practice is going to give you.
If we are having a hard time with stabilizing our meditation, or reaching some stages of shamata, then maybe we just need to focus on the breath. Maybe we have a meditation practice, where we are practicing everyday, and we take the first five to ten minutes where we just watch the breath, because we know it is what we need.
For some, it would be good to count their exhalations. This is a very simple, but effective practice, to calm to the mind down. There are various ways to do it. Beginners can start with counting mentally 10 breaths without losing attention. If you lose attention, start again at 1. Eventually, you should be able to count to 100 without any loss of concentration. First, make a goal of 10, then 25, then 50, then 100. As you count, each breath should become more relaxed, more easy. It should not cause tension, and you must get over the idea of 'success' or 'failure.' Those ideas will poison your counting exercise. When you reach your goal, just rest in your attention - or proceed with one of the below exercises.
The real thing here is we become our own instructor. We get the basic keys and tools by listening and reading but then we practice. We learn how the things fit together and we learn what we need because we are always reflecting on our own practice.
Concentration upon an object: mantra
Read about how to pronounce mantras, and audio examples of many mantras here: How to Pronounce Mantras.
Another type of concentration is to have a mantra. You can do mantras externally, which is good in order to saturate your nervous system. It is a good way to work with the vital body in that sense but, again, if we’re only practicing a mantra out loud, we’re going to keep the concentration outside. The more we can, bring it inside, so it is just in our consciousness. You can be saying a mantra, being totally silent outwardly, forgetting about the body completely. Mantras are a very beautiful way to do that. In some respects, it is a foundational type of practice; in other respects, you can have very profound experiences using some of these mantras if you combine them with pranayama. The energy starts flowing so well that you can have these experiences.
There are a lot of types of mantras. We have an example here of the seven major vowels, which is I, E, O, U, A, M, S but are pronounced “ee”, “eh”, “oh”, “oo”, “ah”, “mm” “ss”. We can do that as our meditation practice, by saying them out loud or mentally. We extend the vowels and one of the nice things about saying mantras internally is that you can extend these vowels. You can say “EEEEHHHH” for ten minutes, because you do not need to worry about breathing in or out. In that way you really can have this continuity of mindfulness, that you’re just doing that one thing.
A mantra that I personally love is, “Om Mani Padme Hum.” We have a whole lecture on that, so I won’t get into it. It’s a very beautiful, wonderful, mantra. (See: Mantra of Christ: Om Mani Padme Hum)
Another beautiful, wonderful, profound, mantra that I use is from the Heart Sutra which is, “Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha”. This means, “Go, go, go beyond, go totally beyond, be rooted in the ground of enlightenment.” It is really about penetrating through, and getting to the other shore, to the other side. That can mean a lot of different things. That can mean getting the consciousness outside of the ego or it can mean the consciousness getting outside of relativity and into the Absolute. It can mean a lot of different things. That’s a powerful mantra and, again, you can begin by saying that outside but I think it’s more powerful when you go inside with it. We have more about that mantra also on our website.
Another concentration practice is to notice the pulse in our body. Of course, this is keeping us in the body; that’s fine. It is a foundational concentration practice. We actually notice the pulse in different parts of our physical body. Right now, unless we are relaxed, we probably don’t feel the pulse going through our whole body, but if you’re relaxing you can use your concentration to notice. First you can get a sense of the heart beating. If you pay attention to your heart, you can feel it beating and then you move, for example, to your right ear. You have to sit there and relax and relax and relax, until you actually feel the pulse in your right ear. Then you move forward to your right hand or palm. You can do it in different ways; you try to find the pulse in all of your fingers, then you move to your right foot, left foot, etc. When you come back around to the top you can find the whole wave of your body. You can literally feel the heart beat travel down to your toes. You can actually feel it hit your toes, because it literally takes some time. The blood doesn't instantaneously reach there. When you feel the pulse in your heart, it’s not the same time that you feel it in your toe. You feel the wave, and it is a beautiful experience because if you really tap into that, if you shift from the physical sensation to the pranic flow of that, now you have gone from the physical body to the vital body. If you can then use that as an imagination exercise, you can then go directly into the consciousness, or, like I said, you can just use it as a foundation concentration practice.
It is necessary to try to totally relax all the muscles of the body and then concentrate the attention on the tip of the nose, until we fully feel the heart pulsing within that organ of smell. Then, we will continue with the right ear until we feel the heart pulsing within it. Then we will continue likewise with the right hand, right foot, left foot, left hand, left ear, and nose once again, fully feeling the heart pulsing separately in each of these organs where we have focused our attention.
Control over the physical body begins with control over the pulse. The pulse of the tranquil heart is felt all at once, entirely, in its totality, within the organism, but Gnostics can feel it at will in any part of the body, whether it is on the tip of the nose, an ear, an arm, a foot, etc.
It has been demonstrated in practice that by acquiring the possibility of regulating, hastening or slowing down the pulse, the heartbeat can be hastened or slowed down.
Control over the palpitations of the heart can never come from the heart muscles, but rather it depends totally on the control of the pulse. This is, beyond all doubt, the second heartbeat or the great heart.
The control of the pulse or control of the second heart is achieved totally through the absolute relaxation of all the muscles.
Through attention we can accelerate or slow down the pulsations of the second heart and the beats of the first heart.
Samadhi, Ecstasy, Satori, always occurs with very slow pulsations, and in Maha-Samadhi, pulsations end.
During Samadhi, the Essence, the Buddhata, escapes the personality; it then becomes fused with the Being and the experience of what is real in the Illuminating Void comes.
Samael Aun Weor, Esoteric Treatise of Hermetic Astrology
What are insight practices? We talked about the retrospection of memories. This is one of our foundational practices to discover what’s going on in our lives, to discover who we really are.
With these practices we can start to combine some of the things that we know. When you sit down to meditation, perhaps you want to do a retrospection of memories, but perhaps first do a concentration practice. Maybe you need to do develop some degree shamata. You develop shamata through one of these other methods, and, how much do you need? Well that depends on your experiment. If you're doing this everyday, then you learn what you need. That is precisely it: you gain insight into how your mind works, then, you also gain insight into all of your egos and everything else
One of those levels of insight is learning how meditation works. Not just conceptually. You start conceptually with a lecture like this, but then you learn in experience.
Insight Practice: Retrospection of Memories
- Use a foundational concentration practice to achieve a relative state of concentration.
- Visualize your day (or a part of the day), in reverse order, or normal (forward) order of event.
- Or: visualize any particular memory forwards or reverse.
- Observe the arrival of thoughts and emotions in connection with the visualization.
- Use “Discernment of Mental Processes” to develop insight.
There are different ways to do the visualization of memories. We have done lectures on this. You can review your memories in reverse. You can visualize particular memories, and there are different ways to combine this. You can retrospect your whole day, and that can be your practice. Maybe we didn’t have a very exciting day, or one in which we were not particularly agitated. Maybe we were able to retrospect through it. That’s ok, but, maybe we hit upon something there, that we acted in a way in which we were identified with an impression. We can go into that, and sit with that, visualize it, and then when you are sitting, visualizing your memory as it is, you’re also doing that same practice of discerning your mental process of what else is appearing.
Insight Practice: Visualization of a Deity
- Achieve some relative level of mental equipoise.
- Visualize an inspirational image of a Deity / God / Inner Being.
- Combine with prayer and deep spiritual longing.
Another practice is to visualize a deity. Why do we do that? This is because such a visualization is capturing that quality of imagination which helps us acquire to insight.
All of these practices have the same factors. Again, step one: we want to achieve some level of mental equipoise, shamata, so what do we do? We should know the different ways that we can practice for achieving concentration. I can watch my breath; I can do a mantra. We should know that, because we have done them. We have practiced them. This is simply the case if we are practicing daily.
Then, we pick a particular deity, God, our Inner Being, the Divine Mother, etc., or some image that we feel is very beautiful, close to our heart, and has an inspiration quality. It may be a type of being or deity that has qualities that we want to understand, or, qualities that we know we need. Perhaps we feel that we are too cold, and we need to be more compassionate and loving, then visualize on some deity that embodies compassion like our Divine Mother.
We have that visualization, and, working with that visualization little by little we develop the capacity to have clear visualization. That visualization is something that comes through practice. That visualization may seem very difficult at first. For others it will be easy.
We should be combining meditation with our drowsy state. This is why it is good to meditate in the morning when you first get up. You were probably just dreaming, and the imaginative qualities of your consciousness are very active, and you can slip right into it. If you have ever had those experiences, when you slipped into a dream, and you subsequently pull yourself out of it because you become mindful, you can see how vivid, how clear, how all-encompassing that imagination can really be. When we try to imagine something, it can be very vague, but, when you begin to have these experiences you start to know that quality can emerge when you ‘slip into’ that imagination.
We take visualization and concentration, and then we have a type of inspirational quality of devotion added to it. We can say a prayer and develop that quality of devotion to have a spiritual longing, to get down to the core why are we here. Why are you here doing this practice and what is the point? What is the very kernel, the essence, for you to be involved in these studies? What are you yearning for? What are you deeply looking for? Give that to your Inner Being, to that deity that you are visualizing, because if you do not have that inflamed inspirational aspect, then you have nothing to offer.
This is not a game; this is not something you are playing with. This is really the deepest spiritual longing that you have. This practice is amazing, and beautiful, because once you tap into that, along with all these factors coming in together, it is like a firehose of information can come into you, and you have insights.
Melting into the Light of Awareness
- Imagine a seven branched menorah or candelabra.
- In an increasingly relaxed manner, count each breath, up to 7.
- Upon reaching 7, imagine one candle being light.
- Repeat 7 breaths for each candle without losing your concentration or imagination of any prior candle.
- Let the visualization become more profound and forget the body, emotions, and mind.
- Melt into the light and fire of awareness, like the candles visualized.
Finally, the last practice I’m going to give is called the Candle Practice, or, Melting into the Light of Awareness.
This practice combines all of those factors again. In this practice we use imagination. We imagine a menorah, with seven branches, with a candle on each of those seven branches. They are not lit yet.
Then we combine that visualization with counting our breath. Obviously, our breathing is becoming more and more relaxed, but as we breathe out we count up a number, one, two, three, etc. As we’re counting, say up to the number seven, then you visualize one of those candles being lit. As you hold one of those candles being lit, you count again to seven (seven breaths) and you light another candle. You do that for all seven candles.
We are combining the imagination, the concentration, and a breathing technique. In the beginning this practice may be difficult, but after a little bit of work you will be able to do this practice of the forty nine breaths pretty well, and that is good to see. It is good to be able to see that you have made progress and that’s excellent.
From there, you can take that practice which is very foundational, and see those candles, and let them burn brighter and brighter in your imagination. In the same way those candles begin to melt, you can melt your own personality, your own body, and all the sense of ego that you have. You melt along with the candles. You see the flames, the living fire, and you only see the burning life within you, the effulgence of light. The only thing that is becoming brighter and brighter is this profound sense of consciousness. You are melting away all of those obscurations; the obscurations are being reduced, but the candle and the fire is burning brighter and brighter until in the end you see nothing but fire and light.
From there, release all projection, and let the image flow. If done correctly, the consciousness becomes very clear, expansive, spacious. From there, you may rest in your awareness, you may do other insight practices such as investigating the nature of your ego, or the retrospection of memories.
That burning fire is the burning bush of Moses. This type of practice can be foundational; you could just use that seven-by-seven breaths for stability, and then move onto another practice, or, you could take that as your whole practice and develop that visualization.
Beginner’s Goals of Developing Concentration
- You must do the practice.
- Overcome procrastination, self-defeatism, and busyness in useless/harmful activities.
- You must not forget the instructions of the practice, and actually follow the instructions of the practice.
- When doing the practice, you must not forget that you are doing the practice.
- Start with 2 – 3 short sessions (5 to 15 minutes each).
- If you are unable to accomplish these, you must clarify the teachings (study), and reflect on what you really want in life.
What I have here is what I believe to be a beginner’s goals of mediation. In the beginning mediation is really hard, but at the same time if you want to be developing on this path, you really need to meditating. It is necessary. In the beginning you have some insights, but things become stagnant if you do not develop a practice of meditation.
These are the goals that someone who is just starting meditation should achieve. Number one: you have to do the practice. This is obvious right? But why do we end up not doing a practice? Sometimes we procrastinate; we put it off until tomorrow. Sometimes, we believe that we are not worthy, a type of self-defeatism. We really like the idea of it perhaps, but we feel that we are fundamentally flawed in such a way that we could never progress, that we could not really do it. We have a self-defeatist attitude and we just don’t do it because of this.
Thirdly, we’re too busy. We have too many other responsibilities and many things going on. This third one is difficult because our life may be very busy. This is one of those things that we have to reflect on and look at what is going on in our life, and begin to take away those useless things that we busy our life with. Busyness is usually seen as something very serious, to do with our responsibilities - often, it is really to do with our ego, wanting to make money, afraid of what others will think of us, etc., etc.
So, number one: you do the practice. Number two: you don't forget the instructions of the practice and you actually follow the instructions of the practice. How many times has one gone into meditation but they don't follow the actual instructions of the practice? People go to mediation retreats, they listen but then they have internal dialogue that says, “I’m not really going to do that. I’m going to do whatever I want”. Why would you be there if you aren’t going to listen to the practice?
And then number three: when you do the practice you must actually remember that you’re doing the practice. For someone who is just starting meditation, we recommend that you begin with short sessions. It’s rare for someone to have any success with an hour meditation in the beginning. You may be able to sit through it with a type of grit, willpower. If you are starting meditation, take some short sessions (five, ten, fifteen minutes) and do two or three of those sessions as your practice. You want to be able to do the practice, even if it is only five minutes, but you remember that you are doing it in those five minutes. You must remember that you are doing it in those five minutes, and you’re not losing yourself in those five minutes. That is a good session. If you are trying to do a thirty-minute practice and you are not following anything, it is vague, you’re just taking a nap, that is not good. That is not going to help on the path, so, we begin with where we are, and we judge it. Perhaps you need to reduce your practice length to be more realistic.
If you are unable to do that, even short practices, then what do you do? Number one: you are not meditating, so you can’t meditate on this problem, but you can think about it; study the teachings to gain more clarity, but, more importantly, reflect on what you really want in life. Do that. Keep reflecting, because, it is very incongruent to say we want to be in these practices, we like the idea, but we are not actually doing anything about it.
I put these goals up because I know there are a lot of students who are very attracted to these teachings but they don't have a meditation practice. It is critically important that we just begin. By doing a five minute meditation practice, it is a superior thing to doing no meditation. We just have to start and once we start we just keep doing it. We don't let any type of thoughts come in that we don't need to. We need to build it up like a habit, and once it becomes more habitual, we stop questioning whether were going to do it; it just becomes part of our routine. That is a beautiful, wonderful thing. We don't have to try to remember and to do it because it is just a part of our routine, like taking a shower. We don’t question whether we are going to take a shower. We just wash ourselves because we know we have to, especially if we smell, but psychologically we are so unaware of where we are, psychologically, that we do not realize that we need to take a psychological shower just for hygiene. So those are the beginning goals for meditation.
What are the end goals for meditation? To illustrate that point I’m going to read a few quotes that came from questions and answers with the Master Samael Aun Weor:
Question: Definitively, Master, one who does not meditate cannot dissolve the ego?
Samael Aun Weor: No, he cannot, because he cannot comprehend it. How could someone dissolve the ego if there is no comprehension of it? First of all, it is necessary to acquire cognizance of the ego on which one meditates so that one can soon dissolve it.
Question: Since this is a fact, do you think the Gnostic student should meditate daily?
Samael Aun Weor: Gnostics should practice Meditation at least four or six hours daily, practicing in the morning, in the afternoon, and almost all night, until dawn. This should become our habit during our entire life. Thus, if they proceed that way, they will live a profound life and will Self-realize themselves. Otherwise, they will live a superficial, hollow life, a chronicle life, something—we would say—like a shallow puddle. We know very well that any puddle at the edge of a road is soon dried under the rays of the sun, and thereafter only rottenness is left. Nevertheless, the lakes are very different; they are profound, full of fish and life. We must, therefore, learn how to live profoundly, and this is obtained by means of meditation.
Question: Master Samael, we asked an instructor once how long Meditation should last and he answered, “Ten minutes.” What is your opinion regarding this answer?
Samael Aun Weor: Any meditation must last hours: three, four, six hours. Once in the “illuminating void,” there is no time. The aspirant’s lack of profundity is what harms the younger brothers.
See: Profound Meditation
So, we may read that and be quite overwhelmed by that prospect; instead we should be inspired. A person who is achieving that level is transforming themselves. We should be inspired to reach for that. If a thought comes up in our head that, “this is not possible for me,” well that’s your self-defeatism.
As we progress in these stages, meditation is no longer a thing that’s difficult or hard; it becomes enjoyable, and something that we wish we could do more. When that becomes a priority, we orientate our life in such a way that we can meditate more often. We don’t need to worry about meditating for four hours a day right now if we’re not meditating at all. First meditate for ten minutes and then worry about seeing if, one day, you can meditate for an hour, and then when you have that practice, your life is going to be in a different state. Your mind is going to be in a different state; I can almost guarantee it. Your life will change. Opportunities will open up; insight will be more developed, and you will understand things more. You will be more inspired to meditate two hours a day and it moves in that fashion. We should take that very seriously and that should be our aspiring goal, and when we think, “Why can’t I understand things? Why does this seem so difficult? I’m confused”, well, we have to just keep practicing keep moving forward. Clarity comes with that practice and with being profound.
Questions and Answers
Question: Is there anything that we can do in our daily lives? Most of us are at work from nine to five or we are full time students in school. What can we do during the day? Can we do the vowels during the workday?
Answer: The question is: What can we do during the day to strengthen our practice?
Number one: we absolutely need to integrate our meditation time with our daily life. They need to be an integral whole. What can we do during the day? If we are doing the practices of transformation of impressions, self-observation, and Self-remembering, well, then we are good. That is actually all we need. The problem is we forget to do them. We may need something more concrete. You can say mantras all day long in your head with reverence, not just mechanically, but actually saying it with that reverence. A practice such as saying the seven vowels throughout the day, absolutely, we can do that.
My recommendation is to find the times when you are not totally interacting or engaging with other people (that will come as well). But in the beginning, in times when you're walking to work, or you're on the subway, or you’re driving, getting from “place a” to “place b”. That’s the “low hanging fruit” of saying a mantra. Remember yourself. If you need to use a mantra, use a mantra, anything to remain present. There is the idea of, “Let me set my phone and it will say wake up every fifteen minutes and I will look at it.” I have not seen that technique work very well. It may work for some people. What happens is that, because it is a mechanical thing, we tend to respond to it very mechanically. We look at it and once we start to get busy and say “Oh, I can’t do that right now, may be later, I have to do something else”, and you get rid of that little alarm on your phone. That tends to happen, and we fall into our mechanical behavior, but it maybe it is helpful for some people to have a pop up on your computer that tells you to wake up. It certainly can’t hurt.
Fundamentally, we want that spontaneous vigilance to start remembering ourselves.
Audience: You mentioned that we can do a retrospection in the same meditation that we lost our attention. Why does it happen that we just remember our self out of nowhere? If we are lost in a dream, how is it that we can suddenly be conscious? Where does it come from?
Speaker: Excellent question. All activity can be split into two things, either mechanical actions and consequences, or conscious activity. Consciousness is the root of all spontaneous action. It can do, not based upon prior mechanical factors or processes, but something unique and spontaneous. Without the consciousness, we are just mechanical robots that cannot change anything. The mystery of the consciousness is profound, and we only gain insight into it through meditation. The consciousness is beyond the world of causality. It therefore does not exist in the nominal sense – it is beyond, far beyond, any form of existence that we can understand it as. Our Real Being is Non-Being. Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha!
Audience: Why is the labelling practice not good?
Speaker: As far as the labelling practice, the best thing we can do is to understand what it does and does not do for us. It can develop concentration, absolutely. But, if you're putting a thought into your practice, that aspect of labeling is using a part of the mind which could just be pure consciousness. It keeps you in the labeling frame of mind. If you are having a thought, a label then has to be put in your mind. True consciousness is non-conceptual. It doesn’t need that label; it just can see it. So, if you’re putting a label into your practice it may be a way of dispelling it quickly, but you may be limiting the level of concentration and insight that you can get to.
Audience: Well, I may say, ‘father’, if an image of my father comes into my mind. It helps me realize that my father is on my mind more than I would have otherwise. It really helps me calm my mind.
Speaker: The labeling is very good for concentration, but it’s not a very good vipassana practice. Better said, it is not a very profound vipassana practice.
The main thing I wanted to make note of, is the labeling technique taught as a vipassana practice. Often, it is taught as ‘the’ vipassana practice, as if it is the only thing you need to do. It really is not though - the way it is being taught (by some) is misleading to the point of it being criminal.
Now, when I reflected on the labeling technique, I see there is a very limited amount of vipassana there. So, you can say it is a superficial vipassana.
With the labeling technique, you learn that the mind pops up with emotions and thoughts. You gain that insight, but you never gain insight into the thought itself, because you just put it into a box with a label and put it aside. If you are doing that technique just to calm the mind down, that’s good. It is then a shamata technique, but, if that is the only practice you did for thirty years, you are not going to gain a lot of insight. You won’t gain a lot of insight into your mind.
It’s about knowing what we’re doing and how. We must be applying the factors. People get settled into a certain practice they like. They find a technique and that’s what they want to do, and it brings them to a certain level of concentration and insight. Some may stagnate at some middle level of concentration or maybe they can it sit there for a couple hours even, but they’re not developing profound wisdom and they’re not developing profound concentration. We need to know what kind of practices do what for us.
Audience: How is the candle practice any different? How is visualizing the melting of the candle eliminating the ego? How is that vipassana?
The candle practice is a particular one which uses all of these factors in a pretty nice way, and you could have some experiences related to it. That practice is my own, so take it with a grain of salt if you would like. It is definitely not the only practice we should do, and again when we say the candle is melting away, we are not saying that the ego is being eliminated. We are saying that it is being put to rest, and the flame is the only thing left, right now. You can have an experience outside of the nominal mind, on different levels of the Tree of Life, but it doesn't mean you have eliminated your ego.
That particular practice (the way I taught it here) is not really an ego elimination practice, and that is ok. We can have practices that are directly for eliminating the ego, but it’s also good to have practices which facilitate an experience beyond the mind, to have an experience in the illuminating void. It is not a bad thing. That helps us get perspective on how trapped and how obscured, how insignificant this little personality is. Really both of those things are indispensable. If we have transcendental experiences and we’re not working on our ego at all that really causes problems. We need both.
Additional Resources for Learning Meditation