So’ham Yoga: Ashtanga Yoga
“From the practice of Yoga, spiritual illumination arises which develops into awareness of Reality” (Yoga Sutras 2:28).
The yoga of the Yoga Sutras is usually called the Eight-limbed (Ashtanga) Yoga. “Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are the eight limbs” (Yoga Sutras 2:29). The Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali and So’ham Yoga are really the same thing.
1) Yama (Restraint). Yama consists of the five Don’ts of Yoga: 1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness; 2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty–i.e., non-lying; 3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness; 4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence and control of all the senses; 5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness.
2) Niyama (Observance). Niyama comprises the five Do’s of Yoga: 1) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness; 2) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness; 3) Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline; 4) Swadhyaya: self-study, spiritual study; 5) Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God.
3) Asana. In the Yoga Sutras “asana” does not mean Hatha Yoga postures, but only meditation postures. Asana is both the sitting posture chosen for meditation and steadiness in that posture. It is this second aspect that is meant by Patanjali.
4) Pranayama. Pranayama is the refining of the breath, making it subtle and inward. This is accomplished through objective observation of the breath, and is not an artificial breathing exercise.
5) Pratyahara. Abstraction or withdrawal of the senses from their objects by turning the awareness inward is known as pratyahara. In So’ham Yoga we begin this by the simple expedient of gently closing our eyes and relaxing them. Immediately the awareness begins to withdraw inward. Breathing only through the nose also helps in this.
6) Dharana. “Dharana is the confining [fixing] of the mind within a point or area,” says Yoga Sutra 3:1. The word that can be translated either “point” or “area” is desha, as in Bangaladesh–the area where Bengalis live. We accomplish this by gently fixing our attention in the etheric level of inner speaking and inner hearing by our inner intonations of So’ham.
7) Dhyana. Dhyana is the process of meditation itself. In Yoga Sutra 3:2, Patanjali defines dhyana as “the uninterrupted flow of the mind–the content of the consciousness–in a single and unbroken stream.” This we accomplish by inwardly intoning So’ham in time with our breath and listening to those intonations. The sutra may also be translated: “Meditation is the unbroken flow of awareness of the object.” Vyasa says: “Meditation is continuity of the experience of the meditation-object.”
Shankara defines meditation as “a stream of identical vrittis [thoughts] as a unity, a continuity of vrittis not disturbed by intrusion of differing or opposing vrittis. This is dhyana”–a continuous stream of inner intonations of So’ham. And he contrasts the beginning stage of meditation, dharana, with meditation itself, saying: “Whereas in dharana there may be other impressions of peripheral thoughts even though the chitta has been settled on the object of meditation alone–for the chitta is functioning on the location [desha] as a pure mental process–it is not so with dhyana, for there it [the object of meditation] is only the stream of a single vritti untouched by any other vritti of a different kind.”
By the continual intonations of So’ham with the breath we produce a stream of identical waves in the chitta until that stream becomes a continuous unitary flow of rarefied sound, a single object or wave that is “untouched” by any other thought or impression.
8) Samadhi. The state in which the mind unites with and identifies with the object of meditation is known as samadhi. This is purely a state of the mind (chitta) and has nothing to do with physical phenomena such as the cessation of all outward sensations, breath, and heartbeat, though awareness of those phenomena certainly does cease in samadhi.
Fundamentally, samadhi is a state in which awareness, breath, and the inner intonations of So’ham become one. When the consciousness totally merges into So’ham that is the true samadhi. It is the perfect merging of the consciousness of the individual spirit with the Consciousness of the Infinite Spirit, for So’ham is both of these.
States of consciousness. Although asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi may be considered as processes of meditation, in a higher sense they are really stages of awareness passed through in meditation.
Asana is the initial stage of body awareness as we sit in the chosen posture and arrange ourselves comfortably. Pranayama is the slowing down and refinement of the breath leading to awareness of the pranas moving in the physical and subtle bodies that results from our physical and mental relaxation (asana) and observation of the breath. Pratyahara is the turning inward of the mind resulting naturally from our closed eyes, relaxation, bodily ease, and the calming of the breath. Dharana is the fixing of the awareness in the etheric levels of our being as we mentally intone and listen to the sound of So’ham. Dhyana is Dharana in an unbroken stream when the awareness is absorbed in intoning and listening to So’ham. Samadhi is the experience of the absolute unity of the breath, So’ham, and the meditator.
In asana the awareness is centered in the physical body, the annamaya kosha. In pranayama the awareness is centered in the pranic (biomagnetic) body, the pranamaya kosha. In pratyahara the awareness is centered in the sensory mental body, the manomaya kosha. In dharana the awareness is centered in the intellect-intelligence body, the jnanamaya kosha. In dhyana the awareness is centered in the will-etheric body, the anandamaya kosha. In samadhi the awareness transcends the bodies and unites with the atman-spirit.
Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and the annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, jnanamaya, and anandamaya bodies also correspond to the earth, water, fire, air, and ether elements respectively.
Sitting like Buddha
When Gotama Buddha sat beneath the bodhi tree he vowed that until he was enlightened he would not get up even if his flesh and bones were dissolved. This is why it is said that Buddha got enlightenment because he knew how to sit. His “sitting” was in the principle of awareness itself. So if you “sit” in the same way during meditation, you will be safe from all distractions and illusions as was Buddha.
All the forces of the cosmos came to distract Buddha from his inner quest. Even cosmic illusion itself in the form of Mara came to distract him. But he did not move, either in body or mind. Such steadfastness conquered the forces of ignorance completely. Buddha conquered them by simply ignoring them–which was the only sensible course, seeing that they were just illusions. You, too, can conquer distractions not by combatting them, not by killing them, not by “seeing through” them or any such thing–but by just having nothing to do with them. The true Self does not touch any of these things, so the path to the true spirit involves not touching them in your mind.
By sitting and ignoring the unreal, Buddha found the Real. Therefore many centuries later Jesus simply said: “In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). To relax and experience is the key for the correct practice of meditation.
Hatching the egg
Each person will experience meditation in a different way, even if there are points of similarity with that of others. Also, meditations can vary greatly. In some meditations a lot will be going on, and then in other meditations it will seem as though we are just sitting and coasting along with nothing happening.
When nothing seems to be going on at all, we may mistakenly think we are meditating incorrectly or it just does not work. Actually, meditation produces profound and far-reaching changes in our extremely complex makeup, whether we do or do not perceive those changes. Some meditations are times of quiet assimilation of prior changes and balancing out to get ready for more change. If we are meditating in the way outlined, we are doing everything correctly and everything is going on just as it should be–every breath is further refining our inner faculties of awareness.
Very early in the scale of evolution sentient beings are born from eggs, so it is not inappropriate to think of our development in those terms. All eggs hatch and develop through heat. This is absolutely necessary, just as it is for the germination of seeds (the eggs of plants). Yoga is called tapasya, the generation of heat, for that very reason. Our meditation, then, is like the hatching of an egg. Nothing may seem to be going on, but life is developing on the unseen levels.
The hatching of a chicken egg is a prime example. Inside the egg there is nothing but two kinds of goo–the white and the yolk. Both are liquids and have no other perceptible characteristics than color. The hen does nothing more than sit on the egg and keep it warm, yet as the days pass the goo inside the shell turns into internal organs, blood, bones, skin, feathers, brain, ears, and eyes–all that goes to make up a chicken–just by being incubated, by doing “nothing.” At last a living, conscious being breaks its way out of the shell. No wonder eggs have been used as symbols of resurrection from death into life.
Another apt symbol is the cocoon. The dull-colored, earth-crawling, caterpillar encases itself in a shroud of its own making and becomes totally dormant. Yet as weeks pass a wondrous transformation takes place internally until one day an utterly different creature emerges: a beautifully colored and graceful butterfly that flies into the sky and thenceforth rarely if ever touches the earth.
The same is true of the persevering meditator and the eventual revelation of his true nature. Through the “heat” of meditation, simple as it is, our full spiritual potential will develop and manifest in us. Meditation evolves the meditator, turning the “goo” of his present state into a life beyond present conceptions.
Training for living
Meditation is not an end in itself, but rather the means to an end–to the daily living out of the illumined consciousness produced by meditation. We go into meditation so we can come out of meditation more conscious and better equipped to live our life. The change will not be instant, but after a reasonable time we should see a definite effect in how we “see” and live. If the meditator does not find that his state of mind during daily activities has been affected by his meditation, then his meditation is without value. This is especially important for us in the West since meditation is continually being touted as a “natural high” or a producer of profound and cataclysmic experiences. Such experiences may sound good on paper or in a metaphysical bragfest, but in time they are seen to be empty of worth on any level–ephemeral dreams without substance. Success in meditation is manifested outside meditation–by the states of mind and depth of insight that become habitual. The proof of its viability is the meditator’s continual state of mind and his apprehension of both reality and Reality.
Many things lighten and purify the mind, but nothing clarifies the mind like the prolonged and profound practice of meditation. The state of mental clarity produced by meditation should continue outside meditation. Meditation should by its nature prepare us for living. At the same time, meditation should establish us in interior life, making us increasingly aware both inwardly and outwardly. This is because reality consists of two aspects: the unmoving consciousness of spirit and the moving, dynamic activity of evolutionary energy. Reality embraces both, and to be without the awareness of one or the other is to be incomplete.
Meditation enables us to see deeply into things outside meditation. Through meditation we cultivate the ability to be objective–separate from objects but keenly aware of them and thus able to intelligently and effectively function in relation to them. Meditation, then, is the most effective school for living open to us. And it manifests in the simplest of ways: a more compassionate outlook, a deeper self-understanding, an awareness of changelessness amidst change, a taste for spiritual conversation and reading, and experience of inmost peace.
In the practice of the japa and meditation of So’ham we are putting ourselves into a totally–even sublimely–different sphere of consciousness and experience from that in which so much phenomena arise. Meditation is done for the development of consciousness–truly pure and simple–whereas it is our active life that is meant for both seeing and experiencing. It is all a matter of consciousness–of consciousness that pervades our entire life–not just a “wonderful feeling” in meditation. It is the fundamental state of consciousness and mind outside of meditation that matters.
Avoiding the gears
In meditation stay away from the gears of the mind! It is the nature of the mind to dance around producing thoughts, impressions, memories, etc. Therefore we do not at all care what potential distractions may arise during meditation: we ignore them. And if we ignore them they are no longer distractions. So stay with So’ham–with God and your Self–and forget everything else. Then all will be yours.
Never come out of meditation to note or write down something. If the inspiration, insight, or idea is really from your higher Self or from God it will come back to you outside of meditation.
Also, do not engage the mind-gears with long prayers, affirmations, and suchlike during meditation. And do not let the mind entice you with “insight,” “inspiration,” or “knowledge” of any kind. According to Shankara the practice of yoga “has right vision alone for its goal, and glories of knowledge and power are not its purpose.”
It is important that we be positive and not negative in our resolve to meditate well. Just not thinking about something undesirable is not enough. Rather than thinking: “I will not think about that,” we should resolve: “I will constantly remember So’ham.” Virtue consists of doing good. At the same time do not be all anxious about meditating “right” or “well,” but just relax and experience what happens as you inwardly intone So’ham and listen to the inner, mental sound of the mantra.
Restlessness or calmness–whatever happens is right as long as the simple process continues. Meditation can be a revelation, an uncovering, of what is within, and the perception of both good and bad, negative and positive, comfortable and uncomfortable, lightness and heaviness, fullness and emptiness, alertness and dullness, etc. is part of the correction/cleansing process. Meditation sometimes shows you what is going on, both within yourself and outside in the world. That, too, is beneficial, even if unpleasant at times.
Experiences and thoughts in meditation: be indifferent
While meditating, many things–some of them quite dramatic, impressive, and even enjoyable, as well as inane, boring, and uncomfortable–occur as a side-effect. Have no desire to produce or reproduce or avoid any state or experience of any kind, to any degree. Our only interest should be our intonations of So’ham in time with the breath. What arises…arises. During meditation much revealing and release take place in both the conscious and subconscious minds–and sometimes even the physical body–and should always be a passively observed process without getting involved in any way.
Thoughts from the subconscious may float–or even flood–up, but you need only keep on intoning So’ham in time with the breath. The states of consciousness that meditation produces are the only things that matter, for they alone bring us to the Goal.
Much phenomena can take place during the process of correction and purification that is an integral part of meditation. When the chakras are being cleansed and perfected, they may become energized, awakened, or opened. In the same way subtle channels in the spine and body may open and subtle energies begin flowing in them. This is all good when it happens spontaneously, effortlessly. But whatever happens in meditation, our sole occupation should be with So’ham and the breath.
Evocation and invocation
In japa and meditation we are not employing So’ham as a prayer, an affirmation, or a remembrance, but as effective evocation–a calling forth–of our inherent, eternal Self-consciousness, and as an invocation–a calling into us–of the Consciousness that is the Supreme Self. Because this is so, we do not need to keep in mind an intellectual meaning of So’ham or cultivate an attitude or emotion during our practice. Rather, we relax, listen, and make ourselves open and receptive to Its dynamic working within us.
Simplicity and subtlety of practice
The simpler and more easeful the yoga practice, the more deeply effective it is. This is a universal principle in the realm of inner development and experience. How is this? In the inner world of meditation things are often just the opposite to the way they are in the outer world. Whereas in the outer world a strong aggressive force is most effective in producing a change, in the inner world it is subtle, almost minimal force or movement that is most effectual–even supremely powerful. Those familiar with homeopathic medicine will understand the concept that the more subtle an element is, the more potentially effective it is. In meditation and japa the lightest “touch” is usually the most efficient. This being so, the simple subtle intonations of So’ham are the strongest and most effective form of mantric invocation.
An incident that took place during one of the crusades illustrates this. At a meeting between the leaders of the European forces and Saladin, commander of the Arab armies, one of the Europeans tried to impress and intimidate Saladin by having one of his soldiers cleave a heavy wooden chair in half with a single downstroke of his broadsword. In response, Saladin ordered someone to toss a silk scarf as light and delicate as a spider’s web into the air. As it descended, he simply held his scimitar beneath it with the sharp edge upward. When the scarf touched the edge, it sheared in half and fell on either side of the blade without even a whisper as he held it completely still. This is the power of the subtle and simple practice of So’ham Yoga meditation.
It is important, then, to keep in mind that often when things seem “stuck” in meditation and not moving as they should, or when the mind does not calm down, it is often because we are not relaxed sufficiently and are not allowing our inner intonations of So’ham to become as subtle as they should be. For the subtler the intonations, the more effective and on target they are.
Even so, I do not mean to give you the impression that your inner intonations of So’ham should become feeble or weak in the sense of becoming tenuous–only barely within your mental grasp, and liable to slip away and leave you blank. Not at all. The inner sound of the intonations may become subtler and subtler, but they do not at all become weaker–only gentler and more profound.
Increasing experiences and effects
Through the regular and prolonged practice of So’ham Yoga there are higher experiences and effects that will open up for the meditator. As time goes on the efficiency of the practice and the resulting depth of inner experience will greatly increase, transforming the practice into something undreamed-of by the beginning meditator–for the change really takes place in the yogi’s consciousness. Practice, practice, practice is the key.
We have earlier noted Shankara’s statement that the practice of yoga “has right vision alone for its goal, and glories of [external] knowledge and power are not its purpose.” Spirit-consciousness alone is true and real.
The path of liberation is a very simple path–the japa and meditation of So’ham–and the result is simple: realization of one’s own Self (atma) and ultimately of the Supreme Self (Paramatma). First there is the establishment in the pure consciousness that is our essential being as individuals, and then establishment in the Infinite Consciousness that is the Essential Being of all beings: God.
The Katha Upanishad makes this very clear. First it speaks of what God (Brahman) really is, saying: “Brahman [is] the all-pervading spirit, the unconditioned, knowing whom one attains to freedom and achieves immortality. None beholds him with the eyes, for he is without visible form. Yet in the heart is he revealed, through self-control and meditation. Those who know him become immortal” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:8, 9). Brahman is pure spirit, beyond all phenomena, beyond all relative existence or relative experience (objective consciousness). Brahman is not perceived by the senses, inner or outer (“none beholds him with the eyes”), yet He is revealed in the core of the yogi’s being in meditation. “Those who know him become immortal” because they experience their identity with the immortal Brahman. Next the upanishad describes the nature of meditation in which Brahman is realized. “When all the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not–then, say the wise, is reached the highest state. This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga. He who attains it is freed from delusion” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:10, 11).
So here are the characteristics of meditation which the upanishad calls “the highest state”: 1) the senses are stilled, 2) the mind is at rest, 3) the intellect wavers not. Then the idea is really driven home by the upanishad: “This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga.” Shankara affirms that the seeker of spiritual freedom is seeking nothing from meditation “other than the special serenity of meditation practice.” This state is also called sthirattwa by the yogis. “He who attains it is freed from delusion.”
Two views on the nature of meditation–and a third
In India there is a long-standing disagreement on the nature and purpose of meditation. One school of thought considers that definite–and conscious–evolutionary change is necessary for liberation; consequently meditation must be an actively transforming process. The other view is that the only thing needed for liberation is re-entry into our true, eternal nature. That nothing need be “done” at all except to perceive the truth of ourselves. Obviously their meditation procedures are going to be completely different.
There is, however, a third perspective on the matter which combines both views. It is true that we are ever-free, ever-perfect, but we have forgotten that fact and have wandered in aimless suffering for countless incarnations. No one is so foolish as to suggest to a person suffering from amnesia that he need not regain his memory since he has not ceased to be who he really is.
The “memory block” from which we suffer is the condition of the various levels on which we presently function, especially the buddhi, the intelligence. It is also a matter of the dislocation of our consciousness from its natural center. Obviously, then, something really does have to be “done” to change this condition. A dirty window need not be changed in nature, but it needs to be cleansed of that which is not its nature for us to see through it. It is the same with a dusty or smudgy mirror.
There is an example from nature that can help us understand this. Research has shown that the energy field around a salamander egg, and all through the stages of a young salamander’s growth, is in the shape of an adult salamander. This indicates that the etheric pattern of a full-grown salamander is inherent even in the egg and throughout the salamander’s development. It is as though the egg has only to hatch and grow around this energy matrix, to fill out or grow into the ever-present pattern. Even when there is only the egg visible to the human eye, the adult salamander is there in a very real, potential form. It is the same with us. We are always the atman, potential divinity, but that potential must be realized. And meditation is the means of our realization.
Shankara puts forth the question, “How can there be a means to obtain liberation? Liberation is not a thing which can be obtained, for it is simply cessation of bondage.” He then answers himself: “For ignorance [bondage] to cease, something has to be done, with effort, as in the breaking of a fetter. Though liberation is not a ‘thing,’ inasmuch as it is cessation of ignorance in the presence of right knowledge, it is figuratively spoken of as something to be obtained.” And he concludes: “The purpose of Yoga is the knowledge of Reality.”
Vyasa defines liberation in this way: “Liberation is absence of bondage.” Shankara carries it a bit further, saying: “Nor is liberation something that has to be brought about apart from the absence of bondage, and this is why it is always accepted that liberation is eternal.”
True signs of progress in meditation
In Journey to Self-Realization, a collection of talks by Paramhansa Yogananda, at the end of the talk entitled “The True Signs of Progress in Meditation,” he gives the following list of seven indications of progress in meditation practice:
An increasing peacefulness during meditation
A conscious inner experience of calmness in meditation metamorphosing into increasing bliss.
A deepening of one’s understanding, and finding answers to one’s questions through the calm intuitive state of inner perception.
An increasing mental and physical efficiency in one’s daily life.
Love for meditation and the desire to hold on to the peace and joy of the meditative state in preference to attraction to anything in the world.
An expanding consciousness of loving all with the unconditional love that one feels toward his own dearest loved ones
Actual contact with God, and worshipping Him as ever new Bliss felt in meditation and in His omnipresent manifestations within and beyond all creation.
Most visions seen in meditation occur because the meditator has fallen asleep and is dreaming. There are genuine visions, actual psychic experiences, that can occur in meditation, but Ramana Maharshi gives the true facts about all visions when he says: “Visions do occur. To know how you look you must look into a mirror, but do not take that reflection to be yourself. What is perceived by our senses and the mind is never the [ultimate] truth. All visions are mere mental creations, and if you believe in them, your progress ceases. Enquire to whom the visions occur. Find out who is their witness. Stay in pure awareness, free from all thoughts. Do not move out of that state” (The Power of the Presence, vol. 3, p. 249).
Falling asleep in meditation
It is normal for meditators to sometimes fall asleep while meditating, since meditation is relaxing and moves the consciousness inward. Both the body and the mind are used to entering into the state of sleep at such times. After a while, though, you will naturally (and hopefully, usually!) move into the conscious sleep state, so do not worry.
At the same time, be aware that falling asleep in meditation can be a signal from your body that you are not getting enough sleep. People are different, and some do need more than eight hour’s sleep. You should consider extending your sleep time or taking some kind of nap break during the day. Falling asleep in meditation can also be a symptom of a nutritional lack, an indication of low vitality.
Please do not do such things as shock your body with cold water, drink coffee, and run around a bit, hoping to force yourself to stay awake in meditation. This is not the way. Listen to your body and take care of it. Yogis are not storm-troopers. We are engaged in peace, not war.
We have talked about mental distractions, but what about physical ones? Simple: scratch when you itch, yawn when tired, shift or stretch when you have a muscle cramp, and if you feel uncomfortable, shift your position. We are meditating, not torturing or coercing the body. Such distractions are normal and not to be concerned about. If we give them undue attention by being annoyed or disgusted with them, or trying to force our attention away from them, we will only be concentrating on them, and will compound their distracting power. In time most of these little annoyances stop occurring. Until then, just be calm and scratch and rub and move a little, while keeping your awareness where it belongs.
What about noises? Accept them. Do not wish they would stop, and do not try to “not hear” them. Just accept the noise as part of your present situation. Neither like nor dislike it.
Care only for your meditation, confident that a few itchings, cramping, noises, thoughts, or memories will not ruin your meditation. “Greater is he [the spirit] that is in you, than he [the body] that is in the world” (I John 4:4). It is your attention to them, either in rejection or acceptance, that will spoil your meditation. You must guard against that, and relaxation and indifference to them is the way.
“The self resides within the lotus of the heart. Knowing this, devoted to the self, the sage enters daily that holy sanctuary” (Chandogya Upanishad 8:3:3).
Meditation should be done daily, and if possible it should be done twice daily–morning and evening, or before and after work, whichever is more convenient.
When your period of meditation is over, do your utmost to maintain the flow of the japa of So’ham in time with your breathing in all your activities. For those who diligently and continually apply themselves, attainment is inevitable.
When you find yourself with some time–even a few minutes–during the day, sit and meditate. Every little bit certainly does help.
Length of meditation
How long at a time should you meditate? The more you meditate the more benefit you will receive, but you should not push or strain yourself. Start with a modest time–fifteen or twenty minutes–and gradually work up to an hour or an hour and a half, perhaps once a week meditating longer if that is practical. But do not force or burn yourself out. It is a common trick of the mind to have you meditate for a very long time and then skip some days or weeks and then overdo it again. It is better to do the minimum time every day without fail. Remember the tortoise and the hare.
Also, if you go about it the right way and live in the manner which makes you supremely responsive, one hour’s meditation can equal several hours of “ordinary” meditation.
Keep it inside
Do not dissipate the calmness and centering gained through meditation by talking about it to others. Experiences in meditation are not only subtle, they are fragile, as delicate as spun glass, and speaking about them can shatter their beneficial effects. Bragging, eulogizing, and swapping notes about meditation experiences is a very harmful activity. Avoid it.
Do not satisfy any curiosity about your personal yogic experiences or benefits except in the most general terms. Naturally you can tell people that meditation helps you, but do so in only a general way unless you really feel intuitively that you should be more specific. When people seem truly interested in spiritual life and serious about it, give them a copy of this book, or of Introduction to So’ham Yoga, and discuss the general and practical aspects freely.
In the context of yoga practice, the word “concentration,” is not used in the sense of forcing or tensing the mind, but of focusing it. We are wanting to become aware–that is attentive–to the fullest degree. And this is accomplished in So’ham Yoga by relaxation in body, mind, and attitude. Our attention on So’ham is always gentle, though determined. It is not a spike we are driving into our mind. We are floating in So’ham, not crashing into it.
In meditation not just the body, but the mind must be relaxed. This relaxation is what most readily facilitates meditation. Think of the mind as a sponge, absolutely full of water. If you hold it in your hand, fully relaxed, all will be well. But if you grip it or squeeze it tightly, water will spray out in all directions. This is exactly how it is with the mind. If you “hold” it in a state of calm relaxation, very few distractions in the form of memories and thoughts will arise. But if you try to force the mind and tense it, then a multitude of distractions will arise.
Learning to continually do japa of So’ham
By keeping up the inner repetition of So’ham all the time, whatever you may be doing, you will be perpetually cultivating supreme awareness itself. A good way to get yourself habituated to the constant japa of So’ham is to do japa while you are reading–simply looking at or scanning the page rather than verbalizing in your mind. (This is the secret of “speed reading.”) Once you learn to do that, since reading demands so much attention, you will pretty well be able to keep the japa going in other activities.
Impulses to negativity or foolishness, whether mental or physical, exist in our minds in the form of samskaras or vasanas. (Samskaras are impressions in the mind produced by previous actions or experiences, and vasanas are bundles or aggregates of similar samskaras.) Worries and anxieties about these samskaras and vasanas in the form of “sins,” “temptations,” and “wrong thinking” torment a lot of seekers. Even more futile is obsession with “getting rid of the ego.” For the So’ham yogi who regularly practices meditation and arranges his inner and outer life so as to avoid their counteracting or conflicting with his practice there is no need for such self-torture. Speaking of these negative and troublesome things, Shankara confidently says: “they are dissolved along with the receptacle, the chitta…. Because they have no effect, they are not given attention, for when a thing is falling of itself there is no point in searching for something to make it fall.” I. K. Taimni says: “As the object of meditation continues to fill the mind completely there can be no question of emptying the mind.”
Too upset to meditate?
I knew a man who frequently refused medication, saying, “I’m too sick right now to take medicine. I’ll take it when I feel better.” This amazed me, but we tend to do the same thing regarding meditation. It is the only way to real peace, but when our lives are being swept with the storms of grief, disaster, fears, anger, and suchlike, we say the same thing. “I am too upset to meditate. I’ll do it later.” But meditation has the ability to soothe and eliminate all disturbed thoughts and inner states. So whenever any distracted or negative conditions arise in our minds and lives, meditation is the key to peace and clear thinking.
A great secret
“Receive that Word from which the Universe springeth!…How many are there who know the meaning of that Word?” asked Kabir. So’ham is a great secret–the secret of enlightenment.
Once a man was taught a mantra by a yogi. “You must keep this mantra absolutely secret, for it is known to only a very few,” the yogi told him. But the next day in the morning as the man walked through the town he noticed that a great many people were repeating that mantra aloud–especially as they did their morning ablutions. Indignantly he went to the yogi, told what he had observed, and demanded to know why he had claimed the mantra was a secret known only to a few. The yogi said nothing in explanation, but brought a shining green object from his pocket and handed it to the man with the instruction that he should show it to the people he met in the town and ask them how much they would buy it for–but he was not to actually sell it to them. “When you do this, I will explain about the mantra,” he promised.
The first person he met was a woman who sold vegetables; she offered some eggplants for it, wanting it for her baby to play with. He showed it to some merchants in small shops who offered him small amounts of money for it as a curiosity. A wealthy merchant said that it was an excellent imitation emerald and offered him a goodly sum, for he wanted it to make jewelry for his wife. A banker examined it, declared it to be a genuine emerald, and offered him a great deal of money for it. Amazed by this, the man took it to a jeweler who told him that it was the largest and most perfect emerald he had ever seen. “No one in this land, not even the king, has enough money to purchase this emerald,” he concluded.
Frightened at having such a valuable in his keeping, the man hurried back to the yogi and returned the emerald. Smiling, the yogi put it back in his pocket. “Now will you tell me why you claimed the mantra was secret, when everybody in town seems to know it?” demanded the man. “I have already done so by your experience with the emerald,” the yogi replied. “How many of the people knew what it really was?” “Only the banker and the jeweler,” the man admitted. “And the others–did not their offers for it correspond to their opinion of it and their own financial worth?” “Yes.” “There you have it. The mantra I taught you is in the memory and on the lips of many in a superficial way. They repeat it a few times and then drop it. Only those who meditate upon it can know it in truth–as they at the same time increase in spiritual status. My friend, that mantra is very little known, but I hope you will strive to realize its value by your own Self-realization through its use.”
The man understood. And so will those who come to know the secret of So’ham through their own practice. For it is So’ham that draws us out from the Primal Depths, So’ham that evolves us to the uttermost possibilities, and So’ham that liberates and returns us to the Source to share eternally in the fullness of the Life Divine.
Read the next chapter in So’ham Yoga: It Is All Up To You
Chapters in So’ham Yoga: the Yoga of the Self
Preface to Soham Yoga: Yoga and Freedom
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary.
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