Introducing Swami Chidananda’s 18 Facets of Meditation from Scriptures
(Compilation by N.R. Srinivasan for a discourse, Nashville, TN, August 2017)
I recently received Arani series Sparks 34 and 35 from Fowai Forum , focusing on Bhagwad Gita and Upanishads on the spiritual subject of Meditation on which I had given my discourse which was also published by the spiritual Magazine Mother from Rishikesh. What puzzled me most was the magic number 18 of Slokas from Bhagavad Gita and Mantras from Upanishads chosen to explain many facets of Meditation. I believe the magical Number Eighteen chosen by Guruji itself induces us for inward focus, concentration and meditation. You may kindly recall my interesting article titled: “Words identified with Numbers in Hindu Scriptures”. Perhaps Dhyaana (meditation should be identified with the sacred Number 18! This number is made from two digits 1 and 8 influenced by the invisible digit “0” or Soonya. Here “0” represents Nirguna Brahman (Supreme Spirit) who controls the Universe He created silently and without being noticed, 1 and 8 represent Saguna Brahman (Supreme spirit) who controls this world with his eight directional spirits. Some interesting facts about 18 are:
ASHTAADASA SIDDHIS (18 ATTAINMENTS): Eight are anima, garima etc. The other 10 Siddhis are : Absence of hunger, thirst and old age; The capacity to see distant things; Capacity to hear from unusual distance; Moving at any speed; Taking any form at will; Leaving one’s body at will; Participation in the sports of Gods; Attaining any desired object; Exercising unobstructed, authority anywhere.
PURAANAS: They are 18: Matsya, Maarkandeya, Bhavishya, Bhagavatha, Brahmma, Brahmmanda, Brahmma Vaivartha, Vaamana, Siva, Varaaha, Vishnu, Agni, Narada, Padma, Linga, Garuda, Koorma, Skaandha. Apart from the above there are 18 Upa-puranas also.
STEPS TO HEAVEN: One has to climb eighteen steps to reach Aiyappan in Sabarimalai--Pathinettu-padi, in Kerala in India. 18 steps are supposed to be the steps of ladder to heaven. They represent eighteen principles—Five sense organs, eight internal enemies like lust and greed, three gunas (Satva, Rajas and Tamas) and Vidyaa(Apara Vidya) and Avidya (apara vidya).
LINGA DEHA (18): Consciousness, ego, eleven senses (five motor organs + five sense organs + mind) and five subtle elements (according to Ayurveda)
VIDYAS: Vedas 4, Upavedas 4, Upaangas 4 and Vedaaangas 6 totaling 18 Vidyas.
BHAGAVAD GITA: It is Yogopanishad with eighteen chapters: 1. Arjuna-vishada Yoga; 2. Sankhya Yoga; 3. Karma Yoga; 4. Jnana-karma-sannyaasa Yoga; 5. Sannyaasa Yoga; 6. Dhyaana Yoga; 7. Jnanaa-vijnaana Yoga; 8. Aksharabrahma Yoga; 9. Rajavidyaa-Rajaguhya Yoga; 10. Vibhuti Yoga; 11.Viswarupa-darsana Yoga; 12. Bhakti Yoga; 13. Kshetraksahetra-vibhaga Yoga; 14. Gunatraya-vibhaga Yoga; 15. Purushottama Yoga; 16. Daivasura-sampad-vibhaga Yoga; 17. Sraddhatrya-vibhaga Yoga; 18. Mokshasanyaasa Yoga.
This pursuit of 18 Yogas as narrated by Bhagawan to Arjuna and then to his disciple Uddhava may be very difficult for an ignorant person like me to pursue! Here Ramanuja advised “Sarvayogaan Parityajya saamekam saranam vraja”—leaving all these intricate 18 paths of Yoga surrender to Sriman Narayana (Supreme Spirit) alone Meditating on Him. Probably that is what Swami Chidananda wants us to do -- meditating on the Supreme. May be this submission to the Supreme Will may still take a long time for Liberation unlike for Arjuna and Uddhava being Gunateetas.
Our submission to him will divert our attention from accumulating further Karmas and only focus on reducing the burden constantly and vigilantly. Remember even Krishna had to exhaust His karma as exhibited by his being killed by the arrow of a hidden hunter. Bhagavad Gita has different advices for different people. May be for Arjuna mere Saranagati was good enough as told in the concluding sloka of 18th chapter being so close to Him and guided by Him all the time! To Uddhava his parting advice was:
1) Do your duty, to the best of your ability, for Me without worrying about the outcome. Remember Me at all times
2) Perceive that God is within every living being. Mentally bow to all beings and treat all beings equally.
3) Perceive through the activities of mind, senses, breathing, and emotions that the power of God is within you at all times, and is constantly doing all the work using you as a mere instrument and a trustee.
“Meditation is the silence, energizing and fulfilling. Silence is the eloquent expression of the inexpressible. The key word here is energizing. That quiet place inside us is a source of tremendous strength. There are deeper levels of silence—outer silence, the inner silence and the inmost silence. This silence is not just the absence of sound. It is not even the absence of thought. It is the blossoming of our indomitable inner will. It is the dynamic quality which characterizes true meditation”-- Chinmayanada
Lord Shri Krishna guides all of us, through His divine instructions to Arjuna, in the skillful Art of Meditation. The following 18 seem to be most striking among the numerous precious points that He shares” says swami Chidananda of Fowai Forum.
Bhagavat Purana 10.70 records that Krishna sat up every morning for meditation merging with the transcendental Self. We read in Mahabharata (Santiparva 53-2-3) also that Krishna was in the habit of meditating on Brahman in the hours before sun-rise. Krishna in all probability was historical in character, and was a philosopher who harmonized the Sankhya Yoga with the Brhamavaada of the Upanishads.
Krishna teaches the doctrine of intellectual alertness and emotional stability which enables the individual to be at peace with himself and others. The Maintenance of a state of psychological equipoise (sthitaprajna) is earnestly recommended.
Bhagavad Gitan is perhaps the earliest belonging to the devotional school of Hindu religion, the Bhagavata. This monotheistic school was founded by Krishna Vasudeva, belonging to the Saatvata sect of Yadu Class; and he was reverently referred as Bhagawan, the most quoted name in the Gita. Krishna the founder of this cult by birth was a Sudra being Yadu was later raised to the rank of a Kshatriya.
“Sthitaprajanya is known as one with equipoise when he eschews all over-much desire and learns to be satisfied with himself. Difficulties do not disturb him and pleasures fail to tempt him; freed from longing dreads and hate he is a sage with a steady mind. His heart is settled in nothing; meeting good or evil he is neither happy nor sad. His senses are all withdrawn, like the limbs of a turtle; and his mind is steady. Objects of lust, unfed, disappear….Senses indeed are naughty and snatch the mind away. The wise one controls them all… for when they are controlled, mind can be steady.
Brooding over objects of enjoyment, one gets fixed in them; being fixed, he craves for them. Craving ((unfulfilled) leads to anger, and anger to confusion; confusion leads to unreasonableness, and that results in madness, which is the road to destruction. Bereft of love and hate, senses bridled by the self, the individual obtains calmness. In calmness do all cares and worries find their end; calmness helps the mind settle. One that is unadjusted thus lacks resolve, and absence of resolve is difficult to cultivate (one’s mind), and an uncultivated mind cannot attain peace, and without peace where is happiness? When mind yields to the whims of senses, it is led hopelessly astray, like a boat on water wafted by the gale”
1. It is most precious for being able to stay calm and free of negative emotions. Even if we are not, going by external marks, sannyāsis or yogis, we are on a high level of spiritual progress if we are broadminded and serene in various situations.
Anaasritah karmaphalam kaarya karma karoti yah | sa sannyaasee cha yogee cha na niragnir na cha kriyah ||(6.1)
He who does the prescribed work without caring for its fruit, is a Sanyasi as well as Yogi, and not the one who is without the sacred fire and without action.
[He is different from the usual and formal renouncing who abandons the fire for daily ritual and who withdraws himself from family and social activities.]
2. Being free from personal likes and dislikes, and thereby having the outlook where a lump of clay and a piece of gold are equal to us, is of great value if we wish to rise in consciousness through meditation.
Jnaana-vijnaana-tripta-atma kootastho vijitendriyah | yukta ityuchyate yogee sama-loshthaatma-kaanchanah || (6.8)
The yogi whose self is satisfied through knowledge and realization, who is steady and has the senses under control, and to whom a clod of mud, a stone and gold are of equal value, is said to be steadfast.
[Jnaana is indirect knowledge of thing around, while Vijnaana is direct knowledge of one’s real nature. He looks with equanimity devoid of thoughts of accepting and rejecting namely desires and aversions.]
3. In the preparatory stages, and during the actual process, “mature mind-management” is the crux of meditation. Our mind can be our best friend or the worst enemy! (6.5)
Uddharet-atman-aatmaanam na atmaanaam-avasaadayet | aatmaiva hyaatmano bandhur-aatmaiva ripur-aatmanah || (6-5)
One should raise oneself through the Self, and never lower oneself; for the Self alone is one’s friend and the Self alone is one’s enemy.
[One should raise by not clinging to the sensual objects, and becoming inward oriented. Sinking oneself is by outward orientation.]
4. As we master the art, our mind stays steady like the flame in a windless spot. (6.19)
Yathaa deepo nivaatastho nengate sopamaa smritaa |yogino yatachittasya yunjato yogamaatmanah || (6-19)
“Even as a lamp placed in a spot free from breeze does not flicker” is a simile for a Yogi of controlled mind, practicing concentration on the Self.
[The lamp in the simile is the Self, and its light is wisdom; the breeze that may make the light flicker is represented by the mind and the senses which may unsettle the wisdom. When the mind and senses are controlled then, the wisdom can shine forth without disturbances and illumine the Self towards the fulfillment of his spiritual endeavor.]
5. As we anchor ourselves in Truth, we will have the (wisdom and) strength to take grave adversities also in our stride.
Yam labhdvaa chaaparam laabham manyate naadhikam tatah | yasminsthito na dhukhena gurunaapi vichaalyate || (6-22)
Attaining purified mind one thinks of no other acquisition as greater than that; and established in which one is not perturbed even by great pain.
[The happiness that one finds within himself is unexcelled, because it is altogether free from any stain of suffering unlike material pleasures. This happiness is not a quality of the body or the senses; it is the quality of the soul, and therefore it can be apprehended only by the intellectual turned inward].
6. We have, in our ignorance, embraced sorrow. This is an unfortunate state of affairs. Meditation (yoga) is coming out (viyoga) of this unholy hug!
Tam vidyaad dhukha-samyoga-viyogam yogasanjgitam | sa nischayena yoktavyo yogo anirvinnachetasaa || (6-23)
That, one should know, is designated as Yoga, untouched by all contact with pain. That Yoga should be practiced with conviction and without depression of spirits.
[Self-realization is the great gain. As an instrument of it, the discipline yoga is itself the great gain. Having practiced it, one feels perfectly peaceful and fulfilled. He is left with no desire to seek for other gains}
7. What do we meditate on? The truth on which we may meditate may be called ātmā (the Self), God, Truth, Shiva, Krishna or some other thing, divine and holy. We are advised to fix our mind in the ātmā, and not think of anything else.
Sanaih sanaih uparamedbudhyaaa dhriti-griheetayaa | Aatmasamstham manah kritvaa na kinchid-api chintayet || (6-25)
One should withdraw by degrees, establishing the mind in the Self by the intellect regulated by concentration, and should not think of anything else.
[The mind must be made to subside and subsist in the Supreme Spirit}
8. The seat on which we may sit, in a formal practice, should neither be too high nor too low. It should be warm, soft and comfortable. The place should be clean. (
Suchau dese pratishthaapya sthiramaasanmaatmanah | naatyucchritam naatineecham chailaajinakusottaram || 6-11||
One should settle in a clean place, and choose for himself a steady seat which is neither too high nor too low, and spread on it a cloth, deer skin or kusa grass.
[The clean place induces clarity and calmness. The seat should be level earth, not wooden. Meditation must be done in a sitting posture only]
9. Our mind has the tendencies to imagine things. We tend to fancy rosy situations and dwell especially on “what we may become”! Such thoughts (sankalpas) need to be given up. We must stay with ‘fact’ and not g carried away by fancies.
Sankalpa-prabhavaan-kaamaams-tyaktvaa sarvaan-aseshatah | manasaivendri-agraamam viniyamya samantatah || (6-24)
Having completely renounced all desires born of fancy, controlling well the senses from all sides by the mind alone (yoga should be practiced).
[The desires are two-fold; born out of sense-contacts like heat and cold; and born out of resolves construing wrong objects as the right ones, the evil acts as the good acts. The latter are prompted by mental process pertaining to will. The former are beyond one’s control, while the latter can be checked.]
10. Should we control thoughts? We should, certainly. When backed by adequate study, this control takes a mature form where we ‘withdraw the mind’ (uparamet) from wasteful engagements.
[Uparamet means the mind must be made to subside and subsist.]
Sanaih sanair-uparamedbudhyaa dhritgriheetayaa |Aaatmasmstham manah kritvaa na kinchidapi chintayet || (6-25)
One should withdraw by degrees, establishing the mind in the Self by the intellect regulated concentration, and should not think of anything else. [The mind wanders because of Rajoguna}
11. What is the idea of withdrawing the mind? We must question the I-thought and stay as the Pure I (the Self).
Yato yato nischarati manas-chanchalam-asthiram | tatastatoniyamyaitad-aatmanyeva vasam nayet || (6-26)
Where-so-ever the restless and unsteady mind wanders, from very object it should be restrained and brought under the control of the Self alone.
12. How do our relationships change when we advance in meditation? We will see God in all and all in God. (6.29)
Sarvabhootastham-aatmaanam sarvabhootaani chaatmani | sukhena brahmasamsparsam-atyantam sukham-asnute || (6-29)
The yogi entirely free from taint, constantly controlling the mind thus, attains easily the infinite bliss of union with Brahman.
[Detachment from outside processes will establish the contact or link within; and this is called samsparasa different from sparsa which is contact with the outside world. This contact turned inside reaches its fulfilment when the contact is established with the Supreme Spirit, the inmost reality. This is brahmasamsparsam-atyanantam].
13. How does our relationship with God change? It gets so intimate that there is never a sense of being away from God.
Yo maam pasyati sarvatra sarvam cha mayi pasyati | tasyaaham na pransyaami sa cha may na pransyati || (6-30)
He who sees me everywhere and sees all things in Me, does not lose sight of me, nor do I of him.
[Here Pasyati is significant; it is different from knowing. It is a matter of direct experience. The Supreme Spirit is the inner controller of all beings and is the foundation of all beings].
14. Won’t various social and other setbacks come in the way? No. No matter what our status, health or situation is, we can live in God-consciousness.
Sarvabhoota-sthitam yo maam bhajaty-ekastvam-aasthitah | sarvathaa vartamano-api sa yogee mayi vartate || (6-31) ||
He who worships Me residing in all beings in a spirit of unity, becomes Yogi and, whatever his mode of life, lives in Me.
[This is the integral vision of reality. Bhajati implies partaking of the nature of the Supreme spirit which is absolutely unitary. In all separate units of existence, the Supreme Spirit rests undivided, as one, pervading all in existence. The differences are only ephemeral and secondary, transient and apparent.
15. Will we isolate ourselves from people as we rise in meditation? No. On the contrary, we will see others’ joy and sorrow as our own.
Aatmaupamyena sarvatra samam pasyati yo-arjuna | sukham vaa yadi vaa duhkham sa yogee paramo matah ||
He who by comparison with himself looks upon the pleasure and pain in all creatures as similar—that Yogi, O Arjuna, is considered the best.
[The analogy with the self also suggests that Yogi would desire the happiness of all beings as he would desire his own].
16. Can ‘meditation’ be regarded as a way to Self-knowledge? Yes, many masters in the past reached enlightenment through ‘meditation’. )
Dhyaanen-aatmani pasyanti kechidaatmanam-aatmanaa | anye saankhyena yogena karmayogena chaapare || (13-24)
Some see the Self in the Self by the Self and through meditation, others by (the path of) knowledge, some others by Yoga and (still) others by the path of action.
[Dhyana--Meditation the vision of the Self synonymous with the path of devotion; sustained concentration and absorption which is accomplished by scriptural study and reason. Sankhya—The path of wisdom characterized by discrimination between the self and the constituent Nature; the indirect knowledge obtained by scriptural study; the path of eight-fold Yoga. Karmayoga—Path of action the performance of all actions, dedicating the fruit thereof to the lords, as the means of purifying ones interior.
The three methods listed above follow the order of decreasing merit. Meditation is for the most superior; the path of Wisdom for those middling merit; and the Path of Action is for those of inferior merit. One starts with the path of Action, progresses to the Path of Wisdom and finally reaches the stage of Meditation. The first path is resorted to by the sages who are illumined within, the second by the gods (devas) who have intuition to guide their knowledge and the third by the kings who are spiritually inclined. Anye mentioned in the verse refers to human beings.
17. Do Upanishads talk of meditation? Yes, Kaivalya Upanishad for example advises us to resort to faith, devotion and meditation in order to gain the highest wisdom. (Kai. Up. 2)
Tasmai sa hovaacha pitaamahascha |sraddhaa-bhakti-dhyaanayogadavaihi || (Kai.Up. 2)
To him the Grandsire (Brahman) said: Know this by means of faith, devotion and meditation.
[If Faith (Sraddha) is the function of the intellect, and Devotion (Bhakti) is the function of the heart, then Meditation (Dhyaana) is an integrated act of both the head and the heart. Unlike other sciences of the world, spiritual knowledge cannot come through the head or heart, but it can be experienced only through the faculty of intuition, which is to be cultivated by the student himself]
18. How do Upanishads define meditation? There are several levels (and kinds) of meditation as per Upanishads. For example, Chāndogya 7.6.1 places meditation above ‘capacity to judge rightly’ (chitta). Here meditation means a continuous, uninterrupted flow of thoughts related to a chosen form or symbol.
Dhyaanam vaava chitaad bhooyah| dhyaayateevaprithivee, dhyaayateeva antariksham. Dhyaarteeva dhyaurghyyanteevaapo dhyaayanteeva parvataa dhyaayanteeva devamnunushyaah | tasmaadya iha manushyaanaam mahataam praapnuvanti, dhyaanaapaadaamsaa ivaiava te bhavanti | atah ye-alpaah, kalahinah pisunaa upavaadinaste | atha ye prahavo dhyaanaapaadaamsaa ivaiva te bhavanti | dhyaanamupaasveti || 7.6.1||
Sa yo dhyaanam brahmotsyupaaste yaavad dhyaanasya gatam taraasya yathaakaamachaaro bhavati yo dhyaanam brahmotyupaasate || 7.6.2 ||
Concentrated meditation is greater than intelligence. The Earth is as if meditating; the sky or intermediary region is as if meditating. The celestial region is as if meditating. The waters and the mountains are as if meditating; divines and men are as if meditating. So those among men who gain greatness as if they have gained it through an aspect of meditation unlike those who are inferiors, quarrelsome, slandering and abusive. Those who have gained greatness on account of wealth and others are also those who have gained it on account of a portion of the results of contemplation. So meditate upon concentrated meditation as Brahman.
He who meditates upon contemplation as Brahman will have free movement at will in the entire region of Brahman. They are in Saalokya, Saameepya or Sayujyya with Brahman (living in the same region or nearness to Brahman I or integrated with Brahman) as MNU says.
[Sixth Canto of 7th Chapter of Chhandogya Upanishad deals with Meditation as Brahmopaasana—worship of Brahman. Dhyaana is a continuous remembrance of the object of thought without any alien thought intervening in the middle. A Yogi becomes steadfast on account of meditation. Great persons appear similar to those who are engrossed in meditation on account of the fact that they are keeping silent. One should meditate being seated comfortably. Concentration of the mind becomes possible only then.]
Maanasam vai praajapatym pavitram maanasena manasaa sadhu pasyati manasaa rishyah prajaa asrijanta maanase sarvam pratisgthitam tasmaat maanasm parmam mvadnti || MNU ||
Inward worship or mental concentration is indeed the means of attaining to the state of Prajaapati and so that is sacred. Those who possess a mind endowed with the power of inward concentration, seers like Viswamitra created subjects by mere wish. All depends on the power of the mind. Therefore they say that the power of inward concentration is the supreme means of Liberation.
1. Swami Chidananda, Arni Series 33 & 34, Fowai Forum, Mumbai, India
2. Swami Vireswarananda, Bhagavad Gita, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
3. Anantha Rangachrya, Principal Upanishads, Bengaluru, India