Foundations for the Practice of Meditation
Below is a collection of quotes from Theosophical authors in regards to several basic topics. These will help the aspirant in forming a foundation before engaging in the practice of meditation.
I- What is Meditation?
While the extreme interest in meditation, particularly in the West, is to be welcomed, there is danger that its wide popularity, and increasing familiarity with it, may reduce it to a purely mechanical, even a commercialized process, with “instant methods” of reaching states of yoga [union]. It is regretted that there are self-styled “yogis” who proliferate and thrive on such ignorance. Seetha Neelakantan
Meditation is often advocated as a relaxation technique or a method of reducing stress, and it can be very helpful in these ways. But it has much deeper aspects. Its greatest potential benefit lies in the fact that it offers the possibility of access to dimensions of consciousness which lie beyond the personal self.
Meditation may be said to have a twofold purpose. It is a way of relating to the deeper aspects of one’s own nature, but it is not only that. It is also a way of relating oneself to a much greater reality which we can think of under different guises: as the unity underlying nature, or the spiritual dimension, or God, or the Divine Milieu. Dora van Gelder Kunz
Meditation has many objects, of which the principal ones are as follows:
(1) It ensures at least once each day a man shall think of high and holy things, his thoughts being taken away from the petty round of daily life, from its frivolities and its troubles.
(2) It accustoms the man to think of such matters, so that after a time they form a background to his daily life, to which his mind returns with pleasure when it is released from the immediate demands of his business.
(3) It serves as a kind of astral and mental gymnastics, to preserve these higher bodies in health and to keep the stream of divine life flowing through them. For these purposes it should be remembered that the regularity of the exercises is of the first importance.
(4) It may be used to develop character, to build into it various qualities and virtues.
(5) It raises the consciousness to higher levels, so as to include the higher and subtler things; through it a man may rise to the presence of the Divine.
(6) It opens the (higher) nature and calls down blessings from higher planes.
It is the way, even though it be only the first halting step upon the way, which leads to higher development and wider knowledge, to the attainment of clairvoyance, and eventually to the higher life beyond this physical world altogether. Geoffrey Hodson
II- Why Meditate?
[Some people] assume they can reach great spiritual heights while flat on their backs in a warm and comfortable bed or even in a piping hot bath! Such persons mistake for meditation what is merely bodily enfeeblement and an idle drifting of thought upon some soothing and agreeable topic. Not thus is the kingdom of heaven taken by storm!
Real mediation means strenuous effort, not the sensation of happiness which arises from a state of semi-somnolence and bodily luxury. J.I. Wedgwood
Many a people rush in from a sentimental disgust of worldliness, arising probably out of some worldly disappointment -- and begin practising what they consider to be a true form of contemplation. The very fact that the motive which leads them to go in for this practice, is as is described in the quotation given by my correspondent -- this fact itself is a sufficient indication that the candidate does not know the "contemplation" of a Raja Yogi. Damodar K. Mavalankar
[W]e have then to ask ourselves, what is the motive? Is it truly impersonal or is it that we want to inflate our ego, to be more efficient as a personal adornment? Wallace Slater
The question, then, is not what technique of meditation is being used but who is using it, what motivating selfhood has activated this process. The Bhagavad Gita asserts that in all undertakings, in all action, there is only one Actor. And the Christian doctrine of grace holds that our salvation or liberation comes, not by any personal effort of our own, but through the grace that God, that one Life, into Whom, as it were, we are liberated. How then, can yoga, meditation or prayer succeed if it takes its rise from the motives of a personal selfhood which at all times thinks of itself as separate from the rest of life? Hugh Shearman
You cannot meditate if you are ambitious –- you may play with the idea of meditation. If your mind is authority-ridden, bound by tradition, accepting, following, you will never know what it is to meditate on this extraordinary beauty. J. Krishnamurti
Meditation means this opening out of the soul to the Divine and letting the Divine shine in without obstruction from the personal self. Therefore it means renunciation. It means throwing away everything that one has, and waiting empty for the light to come in. Annie Besant
So shall he remain master of himself, pure and clean and unselfish, using his new powers never for a personal end, but ever for the advancement and the succour of men his brothers, that they also, as they can, may learn to live the wider life, may learn to rise from amid the mists of ignorance and selfishness into the glorious sunlight of the peace of God. C.W. Leadbeater
III- Is Meditation All We Need to Lead a Spiritual Life?
Some say that, in order to attain Raja Yoga, one should investigate Mahavakhya; others that the mind must be concentrated on a point and the Yogi must contemplate Parabrahman; some says one's own Guru is the true subject of contemplation, and it is enough to lead a good life; some say the repetition of Pranava is in itself Raja Yoga, and others say you must cultivate will-power; which of these is the true one? All these are necessary and much more—read 'Light on the Path'. T. Subba Row
A general misunderstanding of this term seems to prevail. The popular idea appears to be to confine oneself for half an hour—or at the utmost two hours—in a private room, and passively gaze at one's nose, a spot on the wall, or, perhaps, a crystal. This is supposed to be the true form of contemplation enjoined by Raj Yoga. It fails to realize that true occultism requires "physical, mental, moral and spiritual" development to run on parallel lines. Damodar K. Mavalankar
While this study is only theoretical and does not take him very far on the road to Self-realization it is none the less of great value to the student. Many people who set out on this quest have a very vague and confused intellectual background and lack that clear and broad grasp of the subject which is so necessary for steady progress. Being insufficiently equipped with the necessary knowledge concerning the various problems which are involved they are apt to over-simplify these problems and to expect impossible results. Sooner or later they become disheartened and frustrated or fall a prey to those unscrupulous people who pose as great Yogis and promise all kinds of fantastic things to entice people into their fold. I.K. Taimni
It is an illusion to think that enlightenment or liberation can come merely by attempting to "meditate" before breakfast each day, if during the rest of the day we ride along as the unconscious and unobservantly captive passengers of a compulsively motivated personal self, anxiously trying to create its future out of its past. Hugh Shearman
What we can do in meditation depends upon what we are doing all day long. If we have built up prejudices in ordinary life we cannot escape from them during the time of meditation; but if we patiently endeavour to root out our prejudices and to learn that the ways of others are just as good as our own, we are at least on our way towards establishing a gentle and tolerant attitude which will assuredly extend itself to the special time of our meditation. It is easy for us to see the disadvantages of any new ideas or suggestions; these leap to the eyes. But look for the good also, which does not always so readily emerge. C. W. Leadbeater
All aspirants who are treading the path of Yoga must therefore try to understand clearly the role which desire plays in our life and the manner in which it keeps the mind in a constant state of agitation. Many Sadhakas not realizing sufficiently the disturbing influence of desire try to practise meditation without giving sufficient attention to the problem of controlling desires with the result that they do not succeed to any considerable extent in freeing the mind from disturbances at the time of meditation. Trying to render the mind calm without eliminating desire is like trying to stop the movement of a boat on a surface of water which is being violently agitated by a strong wind. However much we may try to hold it down in one position by external force it will continue to move as a result of the impulses imparted to it by the waves. But if the wind dies down and the waves subside completely the boat will come to rest—in time—even without the application of an external force. So is the case with the mind. If the driving force of desire is eliminated completely the mind comes to rest (Niruddha state) naturally and automatically. I. K. Taimni
IV- Effects of Meditation
They sometimes think that because they do not feel happy and uplifted after a meditation it is therefore a failure and entirely useless, or they find themselves dull and heavy and incapable of meditation. . . . Now you will observe that all these objects are attained just the same whether we feel happy or not. A mistake that many people make is to suppose that a meditation which is unsatisfactory to them is therefore ineffectual . . . So in the work of our meditation sometimes we feel happy and uplifted, and sometimes not; but in both cases alike it has been acting for our higher bodies as do the exercises of physical culture or training for our physical body. It is pleasanter when you have what you call a “good” meditation; but the only difference between what seems a good one and a bad one lies in its effect upon the feelings, and not in the real work which it does towards our evolution. C. W. Leadbeater
Although the man in his daily meditation may see but little progress, and it may seem to him that his efforts are altogether unsatisfactory and without result, a clairvoyant watching him will see exactly how the astral and mental bodies are slowly coming out of chaos into order, slowly expanding and gradually learning to respond to higher and higher vibrations. He can see, though the experimenter cannot, how each effort is gradually thinning the veil that divides him from that other world of direct knowledge. C. W. Leadbeater
People are apt to think that meditation to be successful must be accompanied by some astral phenomenon—seeing forms, colors, hearing sounds, bells, etc. Even some purely physical sensations—a shiver along the spine, a tingling in the finger tips. . . .
Surely, such trivial and often foolish manifestations do not constitute a successful meditation. They are rather an obstacle because they draw the attention away from the inner realities. It is better to see nothing, hear nothing on the psychic planes, so that the consciousness, wholly turned inwards, may reach communion with the Divine and gradually unify the personal self with the [Higher] Ego consciousness. Marie Poutz
He must follow a definite method of developing the inner life and of gaining control over its vehicles. Meditation, prolonged and rightly shaped, liberates the soul from the physical body, and enables it to pass into the regions to which by its own nature it belongs. Meditation develops the inner senses, opening and clarifying the eyes that see the worlds invisible, while purity of thought, feeling and action renders available the vehicles used by consciousness in those worlds and deprives them of the deflecting constituents which otherwise confuse and distort the objects seen. Annie Besant
"The ultimate object of yoga", Dr. Taimni once wrote, "is to reverse the process of centralization of consciousness". Yet many people imagine that they can use what they call yoga to confirm and enhance the centralization of consciousness for the purpose of strengthening and endowing the "me" with powers and immunities. Such an attempt by the "dewdrop" to appropriate the "Shining Sea" for its own small purposes leads to conflict and failure. Hugh Shearman
What the ordinary person calls his mind is exclusively the lowest part of it. In his mind there are four subdivisions, consisting of matter of the seventh, sixth, fifth and fourth sub-planes of the mental plane respectively, but practically he is using matter of the lowest or seventh sub-plane only. That is very near to the astral plane; therefore all his thoughts are coloured by reflections from the astral world, and so they are much mixed with emotion, feelings and desires. Very few people can deal with the sixth sub-plane as yet. Our great scientific men certainly use it a good deal, but unfortunately they often mingle with it the matter of the lowest sub-plane and then they become jealous of other people's discoveries and inventions. If they can rise to the fifth sub-plane they are already getting much more free from the possibility of astral entanglement. If they can raise themselves to the fourth sub-plane, which is the highest part of the mental body, they are then in the very middle of the mental plane, and next to them is the causal body. They are then far away from the possibility of having their thoughts affected by astral vibrations.
We can understand how these things work. A vibration is most easily received by that which is in tune with it. If a man feels very angry he is liable to stir up the emotion of anger in the astral bodies of other people around him. That will also disturb their lower thought; but it will not affect their higher thought, if they have any—most people have not as yet. One of the things we as students are trying to do in our thought and meditation is to awaken the higher parts of the mental body and bring them into working order. Those who meditate regularly on the Masters and on the things connected with them, must be using the higher part of the mental body to some extent, and the more it is used, the more will our thought be unaffected by desires, passions and emotions. But since most people do not get so far as that, the great mass of thought in the world is very much coloured by desire, and most thought-forms that we see are loaded with astral as well as with mental matter. C. W. Leadbeater