TECHNIQUES OF MEDITATION
Meditation may be conveniently classified into active and passive. In active meditation, the meditator aims for an immediate specific purpose, like attaining relaxation or achieving psychic powers. Passive meditation is a long-term process of mind development, generally aimed at spiritual fulfillment.
Irrespective of whether the meditation is active or passive, there are two main approaches to it, namely to achieve a one-pointed mind or to achieve no mind (which is actually all mind). There are hundreds of techniques to achieve this aim. We shall discuss some of the more important ones in this chapter.
Some of the techniques may seem simple, but they can be very powerful. Following the breath, for example, was the technique the Buddha used to achieve his enlightenment.
It is not necessary to know all the techniques. While each technique has its special features, all of them lead to the same aims. Different people find different techniques specially suitable to them. It is recommendable, therefore, to try some of them and then settle down on one or two techniques you find best.
Unless you have some sound understanding of and good experience in meditation, it is never advisable to experiment with these techniques on your own. Doing so will expose yourself to real risk of possible serious injury. But if you practise under the supervision of a qualified master, you are perfectly safe, as he can guide you to avoid mistakes, and even if you have practised wrongly and sustained injury, he can remedy it.
Qualities of a Good Master
How, then, can you judge whether a master is good and qualified? Here are some helpful points. First, he must have practised meditation himself, and has achieved a high level. Obviously, it is unwise to follow an instructor who has just read about meditation, or is himself of the elementary level. Second, he should have some theoretical knowledge, and be able to answer your inquiries sensibly.
No true master in any field will ne offended if you ask him relevant questions politely. If he feels angry or irritated, or gives excuses to avoid your questions, such as it is too complicated to explain, or it is a secret and he can't tell you, then you have a good reason to suspect whether he is qualified.
Thirdly, a qualified master must know the common pitfalls a student is likely to meet. He informs the student beforehand and helps him to avoid them. He must also know how to prescribe effective remedial exercises should the student unintentionally injure himself. Fourthly, a good master is generous and inspiring. He should not only teach his students without selfish reservation and actually give them whatever little push they need to speed up their progress, but also inspire them so that they can in future develop on their own to a standard even higher than the master's.
Lastly, and most importantly, the master must have, and show in his daily living, high moral values. A meditator who harbours evil thoughts will produce evil energy: learning from such a person is both unsafe and unwise. Meditation is a powerful art. Practised with good intentions, it will certainly bring you and others many wonderful benefits.
Classification of Techniques
There are literally hundreds of techniques in meditation. And when we give allowance for personal preference and variations, it is true to say that there are as many techniques as there are meditators. These numerous techniques can be classified into major groups, and then into sub-groups. Listed below are the more important groups frequently used by meditator throughout the ages, followed by some examples.
- Using the breath.
- Focusing on an external object.
- Focusing on various parts of the body.
- Focusing on a vision.
- Using sound.
- Counting numbers.
- Concentrating on a thought.
- Meditating on the void.
Using the Breath
Counting the Breath (Continuous Counting)
Assume a comfortable posture. The eyes can be gently closed, or half-closed. Breathe out gently and slowly. Then breathe in gently and slowly, and count one silently. Repeat breathing out and in, and counting silently at the end of each breath. It does not matter if you lose count; just resume from any number. Keep on counting until you have lost yourself in a deep state of meditation.
Counting the Breath (In Sets of Numbers)
Assume a comfortable posture. The eyes can be closed or half-closed. Breathe in and out gently, and count each breath to a set of 4 (or any number you like, but the number should be less than 10). In other words, count to 4, and then start from 1 again. It does not matter if you lose count; just resume from any number. Keep on counting your breaths in sets of 4 until you are in a deep state of meditation.
Following the Breath
Assume a comfortable posture. Clear your mind of all thoughts, then merge your mind with your breathing. (You can do so by gently thinking of your breathing and nothing else.) Breathe in into your abdomen, and as you do so, follow your breath with your mind. (If you cannot do abdominal breathing, use you usual way of breathing, and follow your breath.) Breathe out gently, and follow your out-going breath with your mind. Repeat until you are in a deep state of meditation.
Aware of the Breath
Assume a comfortable posture. Empty your mind of all thoughts. Then be aware of your breathing. You need not do any breathing exercise consciously, like what you would do in the previously mentioned techniques. Just be aware of your natural breathing. Be aware, for example, that your breath is coming in through your nose; now it is going into your lungs; and then going out through your mouth, some through your nose. Do not raise any questions in your mind. Do not comment or describe. Do not have any other thoughts. Just be plainly aware of your breath. If you do this correctly, you will soon in a deep state of meditation.
Focusing on an External Object
With Eyes Open
Assume a comfortable posture with your eyes open. Select a simple object, like a stone, a statuette, a flower, a lighted candle, or a distant tree. Gaze at the selected object. Do not question, comment or hold any thoughts. Just simple gaze at the object. Gently let the image flow through your eyes into your mind. Ignore all other sights and noises. Brush away any thoughts that may drift into your mind. If your eyes become uncomfortable after some time, you may blink them if you like. Then continue gazing. If your eyes become tired, you may close them for a while, but still hold the image of the object in your mind's eye. Then open your eyes again and continue focusing on the object. Do not belittle this technique. If you progress advanced enough, you may develop psychic powers whereby you can look into the past, present or future. Many seers use this technique.
With Eyes Closed
Assume a comfortable posture, and place a selected object in front of you. Examine the object carefully, and form a clear image of that object. Then close your eyes and empty all thoughts. See in your mind's eye the image of the selected object. Hold your mind to this image. Do not allow any other images or thoughts to come into your mind. Should you find that your chosen image is fading or faint, you may open your eyes to look at the physical object again so as to sharpen your image. Initially, you can repeat this a few times; but as you progress, you should be able to hold the mental image of the selected object even without looking at it at all. Eventually the mental image becomes a psychic image, whereby you may see into its reality more that what the physical object outwardly shows. You may, for example, see its internal structure, or pick up its subtle vibrations and see its historical background.
Focusing on Various Parts of the Body
Focusing on One Part
Assume a sitting posture, preferable the double or single lotus position if you can do it. Place your open palms, one on top of the other, on your abdomen. (It is not important whether your left or right palm is on top.) Take a few deep breaths, preferably into the abdomen if you can do abdominal breathing, and empty your mind of all thoughts. Then focus your mind at the abdomen. When strayed thoughts drift into your mind, brush them out gently but immediately. Focusing on the abdomen itself will help to keep strayed thoughts away. After some time, you will probably (though not necessarily) feel warm at the abdomen. You may also feel a ball of energy bubbling or moving inside you. Gently allow this energy to shine through you, and permeate every cell of your body, bringing life and vitality. You will be in a very pleasant state of tranquility.
Focusing on Many Parts
Assume a comfortable standing or reclining position, preferably early in the morning with the rising sun smiling on you. Relax totally and be still. Visualize cosmic energy flowing into you, cleansing you off all physical ills and mental worries, and nourishing you with joy and vitality. Then focus on each part of your body successively, visualizing cosmic energy flowing to that part.
Start with both feet, moving up the legs to the thighs and buttocks. Take time to do this slowly, allowing some time at each part for cosmic energy to permeate every living cell. Move up the abdomen, and nourish all the internal organs. Move up to the chest, focusing gently on the lungs and heart in turn. Move up to the shoulders, and down the arms to both hands right up to the finger tips. Remember to do all these slowly and gently. Then up the arm again to the neck and face. Focus on the sense organs, the eyes, nose, ears and mouth, and let cosmic energy nourish them. Finally focus on the third eye, the psychic eye between the two normal eyes.
It must be stressed that this technique must be done only under the supervision of a qualified master. Uninitiated students using this technique on their own are very likely to develop serious injury.
Focusing on A Vision
Assume a comfortable sitting or reclining posture, and close your eyes gently. Clear away all thoughts. Take a few deep breaths and enter into a meditative state of mind. Visualize a scene or an event that you would like to happen. Focus on this scene or event. Be aware that this scene or event is happening in your mind as thoughts, and that thoughts are reality. Be convinced that this mental reality will materialize as physical reality.
Creative visualization has been used by Eastern masters since ancient times. It is now widely used by Western parapsychologists to actualize thoughts into real events. Shakti Gawain, who has written a lovely and very informative book on creative visualization, notes that "this technique cannot be used to 'control' the behavior of others or cause them to do something against their will. Its effect is to dissolve our internal barriers to natural harmony and self-realization, allowing everyone to manifest to their most positive aspect."
Visualizing the Divine or Light
Sit in the single or double lotus position. (If you find this difficult, you can sit upright on a chair.) Take some deep breaths and empty your mind of all thoughts. Focus your mind at the chakra or vital point at your heart area. Visualize a ball of shining white light, or your personal Deity, or a Buddha, or God in your heart. Hold fast to this divine vision, and feel tranquil and joyful in the divine presence. This technique is one of passive meditation, a contrast to that of active meditation in creative visualization. It is a very powerful technique for spiritual fulfillment in Taoist, Yoga and Buddhist meditations, and should be attempted only by those who have progressed past the elementary level of meditation.
Using Holy Syllables
Some sounds are regarded holy and have sonic vibrations that resonate throughout the universe, as well as rejuvenate the astral body or the soul. The Indians and, to a lesser degree, the Tibetans regard the sound OM as divine. Western mystics, succeeding from the tradition of the ancient Egyptian schools of wisdom, believe that the sound RA has psychic and spiritual qualities. These holy sounds are widely used in some meditations.
Assume a suitable posture. Relax and clear the mind of all thoughts. Repeat the holy syllable, such as OM... or RAAAA..., softly to yourself, using a rich, resonant voice. Let the sonic vibrations permeate into your every cell, and nourish your astral body or your soul. You may repeat the holy syllable silently, but you must hear its resonance in your mind. As the holy sounds vibrating sonorously in your body or soul, merge into the cosmic reverberations of the universe, feel that you are actually in unity with the Ultimate Reality.
Chanting of Sutras, Mantras, Dhikrs, etc
Sutras, mantras, dhikrs are holy verses that have deep mystical or religious significance. Some meditators, who do not profess any faith strongly, may chant non-sensible verse, and still attain high levels of consciousness, but it is doubtful if they achieve the depth of spirituality reached by their religious counterparts.
The following are an example each of a Buddhist sutra, Yogic mantra and Islamic dhikr respectively.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma-Sambuddhassa
(Honour to Him, the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the fully Enlightened One)
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna ....
(Glory to Lord Krishna, Glory to Lord Krishna ...
La ilaha illa Llahu
(There is no god but God)
The technique is as follow. Take a bath and put on some clean clothes. Say a prayer, or pray to your God in your own religious way. Then assume a sitting, standing or praying posture. Chant your own religious verse aloud, punctuating each word with sincerity and deep faith. Repeat chanting continuously until you arrive at a highly meditative or spiritual state of mind. Better results are probably obtained if the chanting is done in unison in congregations.
Autosuggestion With Numbers
Sit or recline in a comfortable position. Clear your mind of all thoughts. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Tell yourself clearly and firmly that you are going to count from one to ten, and that at the count of ten, you are going to be in a deep state of meditation. Count slowly and gently from one to ten. Your eyes should be closed while counting. Focus on each number as you count. You may, if you like, visualize the number in front of you in your mind, as you count it.
This is a safe, easy and effective technique. It is, therefore, very suitable for beginners who practise on their own. It is unlikely that they would develop harmful effects with this technique, even if they might not have practised correctly. This technique is generally used in active meditation, where the meditator, after having reached a meditative state of mind, can use meditation for a specific purpose, like inducing relaxation or solving problems.
Counting Sets of Numbers
Assume a sitting or standing posture. Clear the mind of all thoughts. Count slowly and silently from one to five. Return to number one after counting five. But if any thoughts infiltrate into your mind at any count, return to number one and restart counting. In other words, keep your mind empty of all thoughts in sets of five counts. Do not keep count on the number of sets where you mind is empty. Just simply count from one to five, and return to one when you reach five, or when any thoughts interfere. As you make progress, you can increase the count to six, eight, ten, etc.
This is an easy and effective technique for passive meditation. Beginners may try it, but they have to be careful and must proceed slowly. Some harm can result if this technique is done wrongly, but the harm is not serious, and would disappear after some time if the practice is discontinued.
Concentrating on Thought
Choose a suitable wholesome thought, such as health, courage or loving-kindness. Assume a comfortable sitting or reclining posture. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Focus your mind on the chosen thought, to the total exclusion of all other thoughts. Should other thoughts drift into your mind, brush them out gently but immediately and decisively. Concentrate on your chosen thought. Let the thought penetrate into every tissue and cell of your body. Feel that you have discarded your physical self, and are now a personification of health, courage, loving-kindness or any chosen thought.
Thoughts are powerful entities, and given sufficient concentration of will and energy, thoughts can become physical realities. We are all responsible for our thoughts, which should always be positive and benevolent. There are stories of mystics who, by concentration of thought, turned themselves into the form of tigers. But because their intentions were evil, they could not return to their human form!
Meditating on the Void
Sit in the single or double lotus posture. Relax and take a few deep breaths. Clear the mind of all thoughts, and focus on the void. Just keep the mind empty. Whenever thoughts drift in, brush them out gently, but immediately and decisively. This is not easy at first, but you will certainly be able to gradually increase the length of time on meditating on the void if you persist.
This technique seems simple, but is actually very difficult. The progress may appear slow, but it is a very powerful type of meditation, and is certainly not advisable for beginners to try it on their own.