An aspect of spiritual work is to return to the Absolute, or to realize the Self. This is an enormous undertaking. The Vivekachudamani states the following:
Let people quote the scriptures and sacrifice to the gods, let them perform rituals and worship the deities, but there is no liberation without the realization of one’s identity with the Atman, no, not even in the lifetime of a hundred Brahmas put together
Work leads to the purification of the mind, not to perception of the Reality. The realization of Truth is brought about by discrimination and not in the least by ten million acts.
Many wise men have stated that one can be very erudite in the scriptures, but it should not be thought that has anything at all to do with realization of the Self. The work of realization is of a very different order to the general work done in these exoteric schools. The work to return to the Absolute, or realize the Self can be seen as having two aspects but they do very much go hand in hand. The first is the purification of the mind. The second aspect is the return itself.
For the return, some spiritual discipline or meditation is regarded by many as crucial. Meditation takes the attention of the meditator back to its source. Whilst this is true, even amongst many who meditate little is understood of the practice, they barely touch the tip of the iceberg. There are a number of types of meditation and each is valid in its own situation. Meditation is not the exclusive province of followers of the Advaita Vedanta Tradition. The Hermetic tradition used mantra. The Jews and Christians both have a long history of meditation as do the Buddhists. The followers of Gurdjieff have their morning and evening exercise. In the Advaita Vedanta Tradition there is not only mantra meditation but also other types of meditation. These are given to the disciple discretely by the Guru, appropriate to his needs at the time.
There is an idea that if one simply meditates then everything is taken care of. Whilst at one level that is correct, the flaw is that most people do not know how to meditate or understand the process. The SES and the Study Society both use a mantra meditation. The first step in a mantra meditation is the aspect of the mantra itself. A true mantra returns to its source and takes the attention of the meditator with it, if the meditator knows how to follow this. But different mantra have different effects. Some mantra are very powerful, others not so powerful, and the power of the initiator in giving the mantra also has a fundamental bearing on the efficacy of the mantra.
The mantra used by the SES and the Study Society was actually given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. A lot has been written about it, some suggesting the Maharishi himself came to devise the particular mantra. One account is that he realized Westerners could not cope with potent mantras and so he devised simply mantras commensurate with their abilities. Another view is that the mantra came from a number of holy men who wanted to find an easy method for the west. It is not the purpose here to investigate the mantra used, other than to suggest that people should look into the history of their mantra, both with respect to the source and meaning of the mantra, and also the actual source through which they received it.
What is of fundamental importance is to appreciate that the power of a mantra in the disciple, lies in the proper initiation and level of being of the initiator. The extent to which the initiator has realised the mantra, is the extent to which it can be passed on in the initiation ceremony. Nowadays all these mantra can be found on the internet. In choosing a mantra from the internet it will have no effect, because it is not received from some-one who has realized that mantra. In 1979, His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati said with respect to initiation:
There are two aspects, the one who is initiating , offering the Mantra and the other who is receiving the Mantra; it’s like a teacher and a student, a teacher has already studied and because he has studied and put everything into practice then he is empowered to teach. Only because he has done it has he the facility and power to teach, if he hadn’t done it he would not be able to impart education. The same applies to the meditation because somebody has meditated, has acquired the improvement in his own being, he is empowered to give the meditation and one who initiates is a sort of matrix for those who are being initiated. Whatever is the quality of the person who initiates it will be reflected; it’s the power of the initiator which passes into the person being initiated and secondly, the power within the person receiving the initiation is also responsible…. This is the situation; it is a relationship established by the initiator with the person being initiated; it is his or her consciousness which establishes the contact with the person being initiated.
In India, the tradition is that the disciple must ask for initiation. It is up to the discretion of the Guru whether or not the initiation will be given. Often it is not given. A disciple may have to wait many years before the Guru is of the view that the disciple is ready. It is never a presumption that initiation will automatically be given. Some western organizations almost force initiation on their students which is in total contradiction to the real Tradition. This will always cause trouble. Even a cursory appreciation of the statement from HH Shantanand above will show why. Initiation is only given when the disciple is considered ready by the Guru and following a request from the disciple.
The initiator has a spiritual responsibility to the person initiated. An initiator should therefore be very careful who he initiates. This is not a responsibility lightly undertaken. Likewise, the person seeking initiation should take great care who he approaches to initiate him. The potential of his meditation will be determined to a great degree by the extent to which the initiator has realized the mantra. These are very serious matters.
The first step in meditation is jappa. Jappa is the repetition of the mantra. Many people cannot achieve this. This is partly because they simply do not understand how to approach the practice. It is said that there comes a point in meditation where the mantra disappears. Some people who have heard this think that when their mantra disappears they have reached that point. In fact all that has happened is that they have stopped practicing jappa. The point at which a mantra “disappears” is of a very high order, much beyond the practice of jappa. Until a meditator has perfected jappa and the subsequent stages, they are not at the level at which the mantra “disappears” in the true sense in which it is said. It is rare for some-one to perfect the jappa aspect of meditation and move on to the next stage. As already stated, the degree to which some one can meditate depends in great part on the degree of real understanding of the initiator.
It is worth digressing at this point to comment on the difference between the Indian and Western approaches. The real Indian teachers or Gurus only pass on to the disciple what the disciple is ready to receive and that comes out of the work the disciple has done. The next step is never revealed until the disciple is ready. Real teachers are very rare indeed, and their knowledge is remarkable.
With meditation there are certain other disciplines which need to be done concurrently as the meditation deepens. One needs a teacher to guide in these areas. If meditation is practiced properly it has an interesting effect. It takes the attention of the meditator inwards. In doing so it highlights areas of identification and attachment. It has been said that one of the main purposes of meditation is the purification of the mind. This is what it is meant. However the meditator has to be prepared to look at what is revealed through the practice and then undertake steps to do something about it. There is a notion around that people don’t have to do anything, the meditation will take care of it all. Well the proof is in the effect. If people change then something is happening, but if there is no change then the meditation is probably superficial. If people are truly meditating and working on what was seen, changes will be observed in them.
What mostly happens is that people try to meditate, but then do not want to work on what is revealed. So there is pressure from both sides, the mantra wanting to go inwards, but a refusal to work on the other resulting in tensions building up as the two aspects go into opposition. Fortunately there is no great damage done because the opposing forces are not that great. Usually this causes them to fall asleep!
This work is not easy. Very few people truly want to be free. To be free requires total surrender of everything one is identified with. Most people want good company, to do some work, to enjoy the discussion of spiritual work, but to actually live it in practice and go against the grain of habitual ideas is a different matter. If one says one believes in Advaita Vedanta and then does not put it unreservedly into practice, what is one on about? If one says one is not identified with position and power, but thinks one should be in a position other than that which one is in, or is not prepared to walk away from a position, who is being fooled? To be totally free is to drop identification with everything, even that which is most dear to one’s heart. That is something very few people are prepared to do. That is all right, provided one does not pretend one is doing it.
One of the real problems both with meditation and organizations in general, is that the majority of people guiding others do not have the real understanding to give real direction and assistance to those they are supposed to be caring for. As already stated they are only able to assist people to the level of their own understanding. People often mistake the hill in front of them for the mountain peak which is the real goal. It is good not to be disheartened by the magnitude of the journey, but also important not to be deluded about the extent of the journey either. The steps in spiritual development are vast. In practice it is important to separate out the intellectual understanding from real understanding. The two should never be confused.
In case it is thought there is an inference here that people should not meditate that is not intended. Any exercise which centers the attention and brings the mind to rest is very useful and helpful. It certainly can provide benefit and is to be encouraged. When the student is ready for the next step, it will be presented.