Neki (1975) describes the sahaja state as a mental health ideal in more detail, asserting that it combines the elements of illumination (the direct experience of reality, devoid of the filtering effect of the mind), equipoise (the absence of emotional turbulence) and its replacement with a sense of underlying joy and spontaneity. It creates a personality that is well adjusted but without pretence, affectation or hidden agenda and also freedom from the desires and motivations that give rise to frustration and destructive behaviours. It leads to harmonisation of the subtle inner rhythms of one’s being and the greater cosmos, a sort of suprasensory perception. All of this suggests a positive, robust and fully functional state of health combined with ongoing and continuous perception of the deeper significance of reality.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Christian mysticism

Importantly, the experience of “thoughtless awareness” and its connection to higher states of consciousness is not exclusive to the East (although it is more systematically described in that culture than any other). There are isolated descriptions throughout the religious history of the West. For example in the anonymous Christian mystical text The Cloud of Unknowing, the writer encourages the development of a profound, introspective understanding of God that is accessible in the non-thinking state, “strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting” (Walsh, 1981).
St John of the Cross described the state as “silent music” and “the sound of solitude” (Herrera, 2004) while the poet Wordsworth (1849) suggested it in his ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood which is a meditation on the possibilities and limitations of consciousness: “Our noisy years seem moments in the being of the eternal Silence”.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Gyaneshwara

A famous teenage saint from Maharasthra, Gyaneshawara (1275–1296) described the ascent of the kundalini energy in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called the Gyaneshawari, the awakening of this energy is associated with a unique state of consciousness which includes the experience of mental silence: “…the imagination subsides, activity becomes calm, and the functions of the body and mind become still…” (Noyce, 2006).

Zen

The ancient Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition also encompasses the idea of non-thought — elegantly and famously described in the Koan with the question: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” (Hoffman, 1975). The answer is, of course, that there is no sound and similarly, the state of meditation involves no mental activity. The aim of this kind of riddle is to challenge the mind into realizing the futility of rational thought, thus triggering a sudden leap of consciousness toward the trans-mind state, described in the Zen tradition as satori (Littleton, 1996).

Buddhism

In the Buddhist tradition, the Mahayana school’s The Awakening of Faith described several stages in the practice of Buddhist faith, the final one being “the stage of preventing vain thoughts.” In meditative posture the aspirant is instructed that “all kinds of ideas, as soon as thought of, must be put away, even the idea of banishing them must also be put away” (Richard, 1907).

Dr Ramesh Manocha

1.1.1 Gyaneshwara

A famous teenage saint from Maharasthra, Gyaneshawara (1275–1296) described the ascent of the kundalini energy in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called the Gyaneshawari, the awakening of this energy is associated with a unique state of consciousness which includes the experience of mental silence: “…the imagination subsides, activity becomes calm, and the functions of the body and mind become still…”224

1.1.2 Zen

The ancient Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition also encompasses the idea of non-thought — elegantly and famously described in the Koan with the question: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”225. The answer is, of course, that there is no sound and similarly, the state of meditation involves no mental activity. The aim of this kind of riddle is to challenge the mind into realizing the futility of rational thought, thus triggering a sudden leap of consciousness toward the trans-mind state, described in the Zen tradition as satori226.

1.1.3 Buddhism

In the Buddhist tradition, the Mahayana school’s The Awakening of Faith described several stages in the practice of Buddhist faith, the final one being “the stage of preventing vain thoughts.” In meditative posture the aspirant is instructed that “all kinds of ideas, as soon as thought of, must be put away, even the idea of banishing them must also be put away.”227

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Trans-mind states are extensively described in ancient India, and are regarded as a characteristic aspect of the spiritually developed condition.

Mahabharata

In one of India’s most ancient texts, the Mahabhrata,(13.294.16) meditation is described as follows:

He does not hear…smell…taste…see…or experience touch…his mind ceases to imagine…He desires nothing, and like a log he does not think… quoted in Feuerstein, 2006. (p97).

Upanishads

The Upanishads are some thousands of years younger than the Mahabharata. Mascaro, an eminent translator of Indian spiritual texts, summarizes the Upanishadic ideas on meditation and consciousness as follows:

In the infinite struggle of man to know this world and the universe around him, and also to know the mind that allows him to think, he comes before the simple fact that life is above thought: when he sees a fruit he can think about the fruit but in the end he must eat it if he wants to know its taste: the pleasure and nourishment he may get from eating the fruit is not an act of thought (Mascaro, 1965, pp1–47).

Mascaro’s authoritative translations of the Upanishads further illustrate these points. In the Kena Upanishad it is stated:

He (God) comes to the thought of those who know him beyond thought, not to those who imagine he can be attained by thought: he is unknown to the learned and known to the simple (p51).

Further, in the Kaushitaki Upanishad it is stated “It is not thought which we should know: we should know the thinker” (p105).

And in the Katha Upanishad:

When the five senses and the mind are still, and reason itself rests in silence, then begins the path supreme. This calm steadiness of the senses is called yoga. Then one should become watchful, because yoga comes and goes (p55).

Patanjali

One of the most well known yogic treatise is Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms. Patanjali was a physician who attempted to synthesise the many disparate texts on yogic discipline (such as the Hathayogapradipika, cited above) into single coherent practical guide for those aspiring to experience higher consciousness and self realisation, it is stated:

By being aware of the silent void moments pervading the emptiness between thoughts, one can glimpse and expand the skill of thought subjugation which leads to transformation (Messenger, C).

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Despite the scientific establishment’s equivocal conclusions about the efficacy of meditation, positive perceptions are evident among the Western lay population because of the increasing popularity of the philosophy, metaphysics and folklore associated with the ancient and traditional Indian ideas of meditation. So it is important to develop an understanding of meditation, in the words of Taylor (2005) in the context of its:

“…particular spiritual tradition, situated in a specific historical time period, or codified in a specific text according to the philosophy of some particular individual.”

While the biomedical Cartesian worldview that developed in the West from the mid-19th century weakened the connection between health and spirituality, this did not occur in India. There strong associations between health and spirituality were made and utilised to promote better physical wellbeing and quality of life. Typical of this health philosophy was the practice of yoga, which combined spiritual teachings with more mundane health factors such as lifestyle, diet, physical exercise and positive psychology in order to achieve its ultimate aim, the development of consciousness (this will be explained at greater length below). Similarly, the ancient and still widely used Ayurveda health epistemology was used to cure illness and enhance wellbeing by combining spiritual practices such as meditation, mantras and prayer with lifestyle measures such as exercise, diet and massage. Proponents of this epistemology also advocated the use of an extensive herbal pharmacopoeia, while its diagnostic system was based on psychological predisposition and personality type (Chopra Et al., 2002). In fact the followers of Ayurveda proposed a perspective of the human corpus in which the mind was not contained within the confines of the brain, as in Western perceptions. Instead, it was seen to be closely intertwined with the physical body, thus forming a body-mind whole in which physical health status was seen to be a direct reflection of consciousness and vice versa.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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The aphorisms of Patanjali on the Yoga Sutras are contained in four chapters and are nearly two hundred in number. The author of the aphorisms is said to be the same Patanjali who wrote the famous commentary on Panini’s aphorisms, under the name of the Mahabhasya or ‘The Great Commentary’. Another work on Medicine is also attributed to him. He was not only a great grammarian and a great philosopher, but a great physician. He prescribed for the body, mind and spirit. The age of Patanjali is now generally fixed at three centuries before Christ.

Patanjali is credited with formalising the spiritual science of India. His writings describe a multi faceted discipline involving physical exercise (Hatha yoga), breath control to arrest thought (Raja yoga), meditation (Dyana yoga) which is achieved after the mind is silenced, pure love of the divine (Bhakti yoga), ethical behaviour (Karma yoga) as well as intellectual study, various cleansing practices, etc., etc.

His system was designed to prepare the aspirant by purifying, balancing and strengthening the energy plexuses and channels that exist as a subtle mechanism in the body. It is this subtle body, said Patanjali, that is the mechanism by which self realisation occurs.

Patanjali’s yoga system is the basis of all yoga systems that are popularly known today. Interestingly, Patanjali did not intend the disciplines to be used separately to the exclusion of others. Rather, he emphasised the need for integrated use of the various techniques according to the needs of the individual, in order to achieve harmony in the body, mind and soul. Nor did he recommend the use of the paradoxical, and now fashionable, so- called ‘sexual yogas’, nor the gaining of ‘siddhis’ (occult powers such as levitation, astral travel, ESP etc). Indeed, Patanjali warned against them as both damaging to the subtle mechanism as well as hazardous to the seeker’s ascent as a whole.

Excerpt from A Seeker’s Journey by Greg Turek. If you would like a copy of the book, Greg would be happy to send you a PDF version. He can be contacted here.

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The observations of previous randomised controlled trials assessing meditation could lead to three possible conclusions:

1. Meditation is in fact no more effective than other approaches to rest and relaxation. Yet meditative traditions have existed for thousands of years and at least in India, are widely perceived to have specific and unique features. In other words history and culture do not agree with the idea that meditation is simply a method of mundane relaxation. While this “test of history” does not provide proof of efficacy, it does encourage the undertaking of a thorough examination of the phenomenon before it is discarded as mere folklore and superstition.

2. The measures which have so far been used to assess the effects of meditation are not sensitive to the specific effects of meditation. The wide variety of outcome measures used means that if the specific effects of meditation are not detectable, then the effects are either too small or too esoteric for mundane study. Yet classical descriptions of meditation suggest that despite the metaphysical basis of meditation, its effects do manifest themselves in mundane dimensions such as health and behaviour, implying that at least some of the many measures available to researchers should be able to detect a differential effect. Again, while this might be satisfactorily applied to the genre as a whole, there appear to be isolated exceptions which suggests that certain as yet undetermined categories may be able to generate specific effects. Yet our analysis of the aggregated data has not yet yielded a pattern with sufficient clarity to identify the features of that category.

3. The methods that have been labelled as “meditation” in the trials do not consistently reflect the true nature of meditation. This is the most interesting and important issue and therefore merits considerable discussion. The functional and conceptual definition determines the nature of the intervention, which in turn influences the choice of the control method that ought to be used and therefore the validity and generality of the findings. Yet defining meditation has proven to be a difficult challenge for modern researchers. While early empirical reports seemed to show that measurable distinctions between meditation and rest or simple relaxation existed, rigorous trials did not support these perceptions. As a result, much of the research work on meditation has been based on the assumption that meditation techniques are much the same despite minor external and superficial differences. Indeed Western researchers have proposed that most meditative processes are physiologically similar to simple rest and relaxation and the high quality physiological trial data seems to support this. These perceptions have thus given rise to an assumption of “psycho-physiological uniformity”.

This last idea is the key to the problem because in fact both Western meditation enthusiasts and Western scientists, despite their opposing views, have failed to apprehend a key factor that underlies the ancient tradition of meditation: The idea that meditation necessarily involves the experience of mental silence.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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The conceptualisation of meditation as involving mental silence is virtually absent in Western scientific discussion. Why has this important notion been ignored? How did contemporary, popular notions of meditation become almost diametrically opposed to the ancient Indian ideas which form their source? Some explanations are examined below.

When René Descartes made the philosophical statement “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) in his Principles of Philosophy he laid down a foundation element of Western philosophy. The “cogito ergo sum argument” essentially states that “I am thinking therefore I exist”. The metaphysical implications of Descartes’ phrase, which equate thinking activity with self identity contrast sharply with the Eastern metaphysical idea that existential reality can be perceived only when one is not thinking, which might be stated in Latin as “sum cogito ergo” — I am, therefore I think!

The influence of Descartes’ “cogito” on Western thought is widely acknowledged and cannot be overstated. It offers some explanation as to why the idea of mental silence has failed to find currency in the Western scientific literature on meditation. For example, Wright (2001), in an attempt to dispel myths and misconceptions about meditation (as he, a Western scientist, sees it) completely contradicts the Indian tradition when he states:

When we close our eyes to meditate our mind does not go completely blank, void of thoughts at one with the universe, because just as hearts are meant to beat and lungs to breath, brains are meant to think and will never be completely devoid of thought, perhaps until they are dead.

Wright’s comments in many ways are a reflection of Descartes’ cogito argument. It suggests that Western scholars having been brought up in the milieu of a Western philosophy built on the notion of “I think therefore I am”, might have difficulty acknowledging the possibility that a state of consciousness which is devoid of thought might be possible.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Meditation is widely perceived in the West as an effective method of reducing stress, and enhancing wellbeing. In Australia, a survey conducted by Kaldor (2002) of a randomly selected but representative sample drawn from the state of Western Australia (n=1,033) found that 11% of respondents had practiced meditation at least once. The Australian Community Survey (ACS), conducted by the National Church Life Survey (2004) found that 1.5 million Australians had tried meditation within 12 months of the time of the survey and that while 29% of those surveyed found prayer to be a source of peace and wellbeing, 24% had used meditation to achieve the same effect! Only 21% reported church attendance as a source of peace or wellbeing. In fact the ACS reports that although only about 20% of Australians attend church monthly or more often “around 33% of Australians pray or meditate at least weekly”.

This situation in Australia reflects trends in other Western countries. In 2002 a National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), undertaken by the Centers [sic] for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States administered to 31,000 representative adults, demonstrated that 8% of respondents had practiced meditation at some time. That biomedically trained physicians in Australia were also advising patients about the therapeutic effects of meditation, was demonstrated when Pirrotta conducted a survey of Australian GPs in 2000.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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Within the yoga tradition, meditation is defined as an experiential state of awareness specifically involving control over all aspects of mental activity. Feuerstein (2006) explains that “the initial purpose of meditation is to intercept the flux of ordinary mental activity.” He translates Patanjali’s explanation from the Yoga Sutras (aphorism 1.2) as follows: “Yoga is the control of the fluctuations of the mind” (p98).

In this paradigm the highly developed meditator is not only less stressed and more relaxed but also experiences beneficial effects on health and psyche, having activated a previously latent potential for positive psychology and optimized wellbeing.

The mental complexities with which one gradually becomes encumbered as one progresses through life can be loosely termed as “mind” and they increase in strength as one becomes more involved in the mundane. Yogic systems in fact identify the mind as not only the source of “illusion” that prevents perception of reality, but also as the ultimate source of disease. According to the yogic tradition the true aim of life is to resolve these complexities and therefore progress toward a more profound understanding of one’s self. Feuerstein translates the passage of the Yoga Bhishya (1.1) in which the five fundamental behaviour patterns of the mind are described as follows:

  1. mudha – dullness;
  2. kshipta – restlessness;
  3. vikshipta – being intermittently distracted;
  4. ekagra – being focused
  5. niruddha – a state of control.

The order in which these states are cited is important; indicating a hierarchy in which the controlled mind is the most preferable. The Guru is traditionally seen as someone who, having mastered his own mind and soul, sets out to help others do the same.

Dr Ramesh Manocha

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