It has sometimes been said that Theosophy has too little to say about the actual practice of meditation. Everyone knows that Theosophy fully endorses the practical application of meditation in daily life but some have remarked that the Theosophical teachings don’t seem to give any clear or definite instructions or guidelines as to how to actually do it.
The fact is that there is something far more important, beneficial, and enduring in its effects than sitting down to meditate for half an hour once a day, and that is meditative living…i.e., making the effort throughout each day to live life consciously, harmlessly, and at the highest point of consciousness possible every moment possible. This involves the constant and perpetual endeavour to purify, refine, elevate, and spiritualise one’s thoughts and thus one’s words and deeds also. That is the highest and best form of meditation anyone can do.
But for those who would also like some simple and practical advice for actual meditation exercises, Theosophy also has something to offer. It offers no so-called “advanced meditation techniques” since, if we are entirely honest with ourselves, we will readily accept and acknowledge that we are nowhere near ready or prepared for such things and probably won’t be for the remainder of this particular lifetime.
What it does have to offer is derived largely from the Raja Yoga system of the ancient Indian sage Patanjali, author of the famous “Yoga Aphorisms.” True yoga practice, as we have said elsewhere, is not something physical at all but is a mental and spiritual exercise leading to ever-increasing reunion in consciousness with our Higher Self, which is one and the same in essence and identity as the Supreme Self, the ONE Infinite Divine Life.
Something which must always be borne in mind is that it is absolutely futile for someone to try meditating if they do not already live in a way that is conducive to meditation. The loud, undisciplined, noise loving, disorganised, sensually oriented person may as well not even bother, until they have sorted themselves out and gained at least some degree of proper focus, self-discipline and self-mastery. Until then, meditation will only be a waste of time and a cause of frustration and disappointment for them.
There is an excellent book available, titled “Letters That Have Helped Me,” which is a compilation and collection of various letters containing helpful spiritual advice and wise guidance written by William Quan Judge to various Theosophists around the world over the last decade or so of his life.
Mr Judge was a co-founder of the Theosophical Movement with H.P. Blavatsky and proved to be her closest and most trusted colleague and associate. Many of the letters in that book were sent to an American lady named Julia Keightley, who often used the pen name of Jasper Niemand when writing Theosophical articles. In one of his letters to her, WQJ wrote the following:
“It is well to pursue some kind of practice, and pursue it either in a fixed place, or in a mental place which cannot be seen, or at night. The fact that what is called Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi may be performed should be known. (See Patanjali’s yoga system.)
“Dharana is selecting a thing, a spot, or an idea, to fix the mind on.
“Dhyana is contemplation of it.
“Samadhi is meditating on it.
“When attempted, they of course are all one act.
“Now, then, take what is called the well of the throat or pit of the throat.
1st. Select it. – Dharana.
2nd. Hold the mind on it. – Dhyana.
3rd. Meditate on it. – Samadhi.
This gives firmness of mind.
“Then select the spot in the head where the Shushumna nerve goes. Never mind the location; call it the top of the head. Then pursue the same course. This will give some insight into spiritual minds. At first it is difficult, but it will grow easy by practice. If done at all, the same hour of each day should be selected, as creating a habit, not only in the body, but also in the mind. Always keep the direction of Krishna in mind: namely, that it is done for the whole body corporate of humanity, and not for one’s self.”
In a letter to someone else he wrote, “By setting apart a particular time for meditation a habit is formed, and as the time comes round the mind will, after a while, become trained, so that meditation at the particular time will become natural. Hence, as far as possible, it will be well for you to keep to the same hour.”
H.P. Blavatsky refers to this type of meditative concentration or concentrated meditation as “the intense and perfect concentration of the mind upon some one interior object, accompanied by complete abstraction from everything pertaining to the external Universe, or the world of the senses.” (See explanatory notes on “The Voice of the Silence”)
How this is actually done is always up to each individual but some have found it beneficial to sit comfortably – but as straight and upright as is possible without becoming uncomfortable – in a chair, close the eyes, take several deep and calming breaths, and then to imagine that the body and the personal self no longer exist. All the focus, all the attention, all the silent concentration of the mind, is then directed to that one particular point that has been chosen, be it the heart centre, the throat centre, or the head centre.
This is no longer thought of as being something which is part of the body but as something existing by itself in Space. In his focussed imagination and concentrated mental activity, the meditator then “enters inside” that centre, viewing it as something akin to a lotus of light, and feeling that he has actuallybecome it. He then holds his concentration on that, for as long as he deems appropriate or as long as he can properly focus on it. It is never particularly wise to spend more than about 30-45 minutes at the most each day in such practices but at the same time it is also not particularly wise to time oneself in meditation or to set an alarm to signal when the meditation should end, as this in itself often tends to serve as a source of distraction.
Regarding the above quoted advice from William Q. Judge, Julia Keightley wrote:
“As regards the practices of concentration suggested in this letter, they are only stages in a life-long contemplation; they are means to an end, means of a certain order among means of other orders, all necessary, the highest path being that of constant devotion and entire resignation to the Law. The above means have a physiological value because the spots suggested for contemplation are, like others, vital centers. Excitation of these centers, and of the magnetic residue of breath always found in them, strengthens and arouses the faculties of the inner man, the magnetic vehicle of the soul and the link between matter and spirit.”
What this means is that this type of meditation exercise “strengthens and arouses the faculties” of what Theosophy calls the astral body. These “vital centres” are also known as the “energy centres” and are referred to by some as the chakras, although it should be noted that the vast majority of the information and literature available today about the chakras is best off ignored, due to its being grossly misleading, inaccurate, and potentially even quite harmful to the practitioner. None of the vital centres lower than the heart level should ever be focussed or concentrated on, as they correspond to the lower nature of man and may awaken unwanted or detrimental forces and energies.
Julia Keightley continued by saying that “The secret of the circulation of the nervous fluid is hidden in these vital centers, and he who discovers it can use the body [i.e. the astral body] at will. Moreover, this practice trains the mind to remain in its own principle, without energizing, and without exercising its tangential force, which is so hard to overcome. Thought has a self-reproductive power, and when the mind is held steadily to one idea it becomes colored by it, and, as we may say, all the correlates of that thought arise within the mind. Hence the mystic obtains knowledge about any object of which he thinks constantly in fixed contemplation.”
However, what we have been discussing here does not always suit everyone. If it has the effect of causing the person to become overtired or to feel strange sensations or uncomfortable feelings in the body, etc., then the practice should be discontinued. Unlike the Indians, the average Westerner does not have the natural propensity for meditation built in to his physiology through heredity, and so practical meditation exercises are indeed unsuitable or inappropriate for quite a number of people here in the West. This is not to be viewed as something “bad” or as an indication of any type of “failure.” It merely means that that particular individual’s line of spiritual development lies in another direction for the present moment.
Whether one is a meditator or not, it is spiritual study which should always be first and foremost and this must never be allowed to be outweighed by meditation.
To another student of Theosophy, Mr Judge wrote:
“I advise you to discontinue concentration on the vital centres, which may prove dangerous unless under the guidance of a teacher. You have learnt, to a certain degree, the power of concentration, and the greatest help will now come to you from concentration upon the Higher Self, and aspiration toward the Higher Self. Also if you will take some subject or sentence from theBhagavat Gita, and concentrate your mind upon that and meditate upon it, you will find much good result from it, and there is no danger in such concentration.”
So sometimes it may only be beneficial to practice such concentration exercises for a certain period of time – until we “have learnt, to a certain degree, the power of concentration” – rather than as a continual and ongoing thing. In each case it is always up to us but we must be wise and sensible and learn to recognise and realise what is truly best for ourselves.
Sometimes people who are particularly psychically inclined begin to see certain colours or images or hear sounds or music when engaged in such forms of meditation. It should be understood that these are not important signs, as many people are mistakenly inclined to think, but are merely astral phenomena which more often than not are misleading and illusionary. The worst thing one can do is to start focussing on or seeking after such things. To one Theosophist who had begun to have such experiences and sensations, WQJ wrote, “In regard to the pictures which you see, observe them with indifference, relying always on the Higher Self, and looking to it for knowledge and light, pictures or no pictures.”
Theosophy considers spiritual philosophy, altruism, and ethics to be ultimately of far greater importance – both for the individual and the world at large – than practical exercises of meditation and concentration. A clear and accurate comprehension of the fundamental principles of Theosophy – such as the Law of Karma, reincarnation, and the sevenfold nature of the human being – is much more essential, for it is Spiritual Knowledge and not the practice of meditation which truly liberates man. As Jesus is reported to have said, “You shall know the Truth and knowing the Truth will make you free.”
There are many people who think they already know and understand about such things as Karma and reincarnation but who, upon coming to study the teachings of Theosophy on such matters, realise that they really knew and understood very little at all.
To yet another Theosophist, William Judge wrote these words, which can be effectively and beneficially applied by all who wish to do so:
“You cannot develop the third eye. It is too difficult, and until you have cleared up a good deal more on philosophy it would be useless, and a useless sacrifice is a crime of folly. But here is advice given by many Adepts: every day and as often as you can, and on going to sleep and as you wake, think, think, think, on the truth that you are not body, brain, or astral man, but that you are THAT, and “THAT” is the Supreme Soul. For by this practice you will gradually kill the false notion which lurks inside that the false is the true, and the true is the false. By persistence in this, by submitting your daily thoughts each night to the judgment of your Higher Self, you will at last gain light.”