From Meditation to Contemplation
From The Mental Body
By Arthur E. Powell
In Meditation we discover what the object is as compared with other things, and in relation to them. We go on with this process of reasoning and argument until we can reason and argue no more about the object: then we suppress the process, stopping all comparing and arguing, with the attention fixed actively upon the object, trying to penetrate the indefiniteness which for us appears to surround it. This is contemplation.
The beginner should bear in mind that meditation is a science of a lifetime, so that he should not expect to attain to the stage of pure contemplation in his earlier efforts.
Contemplation may be described also as keeping the consciousness on one thing and drawing it into oneself so that the thinker and it becomes one. When a well-trained mind can maintain its one-pointedness or concentration for some time, and can then drop the object, maintaining the fixed attention, but without the attention being directed to anything, then the stage of contemplation is reached. In this state the mental body shows no image; its own materials are held steady and firm, receiving no impressions, perfectly calm, like still water. This state cannot last for more than a very brief period, being like the "critical" state of a chemist, the point between two states of matter.
Expressed in another way, as the mental body is stilled, the consciousness escapes from it and passes into and out of the "laya centre," the neutral points of contact between the mental and the casual body.
This passage is accompanied by a momentary swoon, or loss of consciousness, the inevitable result of the disappearance of objects of consciousness, followed by consciousness in the higher body. The dropping out of objects of consciousness belonging to the lower worlds is thus followed by the appearance of objects of consciousness in the higher world. Then the ego can shape the mental body according to his own lofty thoughts, and permeate it with his own vibrations. He can mould it after the visions he has obtained of planes even higher than his own, and can thus convey to the lower consciousness ideas to which the mental body would otherwise be unable to respond.
These are the inspirations of genius, that flash down into the mind with dazzling light and illuminate a world. The very man himself who gives them to the world can scarcely tell, in his ordinary mental state, how they have reached him; but he knows that in some strange way
" . . . . the power within me pealing Lives on my lip and beckons with my hand."
Of this nature also are the ecstasy and visions of Saints, of all creeds and in all ages; in these cases, prolonged and absorbing and absorbing prayer, or contemplation, has produced the necessary brain-condition. The avenues of the senses have become closed by the intensity of the inner concentration, and the same state is reached, spasmodically and involuntarily, which the Raja Yogi seeks deliberately to attain.
The transition from meditation to contemplation has been described as passing from meditation "with seed" to meditation "without seed." Having steadied the mind, it is held poised on the highest point of the reasoning, the last link in the chain of argument, or on the central thought or figure of the whole process; that is meditation with seed. Then the student should let everything go, but still keeping the mind in the position gained, the highest point reached, vigorous and alert. That is meditation without seed. Remaining poised, waiting in the silence and the void, the man is in the "cloud." Then suddenly, there will be a change, a change unmistakable, stupendous, incredible. This is contemplation, leading to illumination. Thus, for example, practising contemplation on the ideal man, on a Master, having formed an image of the Master, the student contemplates it with ecstasy, filling himself with its glory and its beauty, and then straining upwards towards Him, he endeavours to raise his consciousness to the ideal, to merge himself in it, to become one with it.
The momentary swoon mentioned above is called in Sanskrit the Dharma-Megha, the cloud of righteousness; Western mystics speak of the it as the "Cloud on the Mount," the "Cloud on the Sanctuary," the "Cloud on the Mercy-Seat." The man feels as though surrounded by a dense mist, conscious that he is not alone, but unable to see. Presently the cloud thins, and then the consciousness of the higher plane dawns. But before it does so it seems to the man that his very life is draining away, that he is hanging in a void of great darkness, unspeakably lonely. But, "Be still, and know that I am God." In that silence and stillness the Voice of the Self shall be heard, the glory of the Self shall be seen. The cloud vanishes and the Self is made manifest.
Before it is possible to pass from meditation to contemplation, wishing and hoping must be entirely given up, at least during the period of practice: in other words, Kama must be perfectly under control. The mind can never be single while wishes occupy it; every wish is a seed from which may spring anger, untruthfulness, impurity, resentment, greed, carelessness, discontent, sloth, ignorance, ect. While one wish or hope remains, these violations of the law are possible. So long as there are wishes, non-satisfactions, they will call one aside; the stream of thought is ever seeking to flow aside into the little gullies and channels left open by unsatisfied desires and indecisive thought. Every unsatisfied desire, every un-thought-out problem, will present a hungry mouth ever calling aside the attention; when the train of though meets a difficulty it will swing aside to attend to these calls. Tracing out in interrupted chains of thought, it will be found that they have their source in unsatisfied desires and unsettled problems.
The process of contemplation commences when the conscious activity begins to run, as it were, at right angles to the usual activity, which endeavours to understand a thing in reference to other things of its own nature and plane; such movement cuts across the planes of its existence and penetrates into its subtler inner nature. When the attention is no longer divided into parts by the activities of comparing, the mind will move as a whole, and will seem quite still, just as a spinning top may appear to stand still when it is in most rapid motion.
In contemplation one no longer thinks about the object; it is better even not to start with any idea of the self and the object as two different things in relation to one another, because to do so will tend to colour the idea with feeling. The endeavour should be made to reach such a point of self-detachment that the contemplation can start from inside the object itself, the mental enthusiasm and energy being at the same time kept up all along the line of thought. The consciousness is to be held, poised like a bird on the wing, looking forward and never thinking of turning back.
In contemplation the thought is carried inwards until it can go no further; it is held in that position without going back or turning aside, knowing that there is something there, although it is unable to grasp clearly what it is. In this contemplation there is, of course, nothing in the nature of sleep or mental inactivity, but an intense search, a prolonged effort to see in the indefiniteness something definite, without descending to the ordinary lower regions of conscious activity in which the vision is normally clear and precise.
A devotee would practise contemplation in a similar manner, but in his case the activity would be mainly feeling rather than thought.
In contemplation on his own inner nature, the student repudiates his identity with the outer bodies and with the mind. In this process he is not divesting himself of attributes, but of limitations. The mind is swifter and freer than the body, and beyond the mind is the spirit, which is freer and swifter still. Love is more possible is the quietude of the heart than in any outer expression, but in the spirit beyond the mind it is divinely certain. Reason and judgment ever correct the halting evidence of the senses; the vision of the spirit discerns the truth without organs and without mind.
The key to success at every step of these practises may be stated thus: obstruct the lower activities, while maintaining the full flow of conscious energy. First, the lower mind must be, made vigorous and alert; then its activity must be obstructed while the impetus gained is used to exercise and develop the higher faculties within.
As the ancient science of Yoga teaches, when the processes of the thinking mind are repressed by the active will, the man finds himself in a new state of consciousness which transcends and selects among desires, and just as desires prompt to particular actions and efforts. Such a superior state of consciousness cannot be described in terms of the lower mind, but its attainment means that the man is conscious that he is something above mind and though even though mental activity may be going on, just as all cultured people recognise that they are not the physical body, even while that body may be acting.
There is thus another state of existence, or rather another living conception of life, beyond the mind with its laboured processes of discernment, of comparisons and casual relations between things. That higher state is to be realised only when the activities of consciousness are carried, in all their earthly fervour and vigour, beyond the groping cave-life in which they normally dwell. The higher consciousness will come to all men sooner or later; and when it comes all life will suddenly appear changed.
As the student by his meditation grows richer in spiritual experience, he will thus find
New phases of consciousness gradually opening up within him. Fixed in aspiration upon his ideal, he will presently aware of the influence of that ideal raying down upon him, and as he makes a desperate effort to reach the object of his devotion, for a brief moment the flood-gates
of heaven itself will be opened and he will find himself made one with his ideal and suffused with the glory of its realisation. Having transcended and more formal figures of the mind, an intense effort is made to reach upwards. Then will came the attainment of that state of ecstasy of spirit, when the limits of the personality have fallen away and all shadow of separateness has vanished in the perfect union of object and the seeker.
As is said in The Voice of the Silence:" Thou canst not travel the Path before thou hast become that Path itself . . . . Behold ! thou has become the light, thou hast become the sound, thou art thy Master and thy God. Thou art thyself the object of thy search: the voice unbroken, that resounds throughout eternities, exempt from change, from sin exempt, the seven sounds I one."
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