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history, philosophy & practical techniques of meditation

In this review, I discuss insights gained from this very readable and informative book on meditation by Adelaide Gardner: Meditation – a practical study. The book begins with two interesting quotes. The first from Sri Krishna Prem is:

…If the manas is to perform its proper task of controlling the senses, it must itself reflect the ideal pattern that is laid up in the heavens of the Buddhi. Only when that pattern is reflected in its mirror has it the standard of reference by which to judge . . . nor should we think that the possession of such a divine standard by which to judge attainment is far above us; one to which we may aspire in some dim future. Here and now the Pattern is within us.

The second quote from Annie Besant is:

The Supreme is not really hidden from us, because He cannot hide from Himself, and to think that He can be Hidden from us, who are Himself, is the subtlest of all mayas, is illusion. He is our innermost Self, and the very heart of our being.

These quotes make philosophically profound points worthy of deep reflection.

Manas[1], is a Sanskrit word meaning the mind or the mental faculty, which makes man (non-gendered) an intelligent and moral being, as distinguished from animals. Esoterically, manas refers to the Higher Ego or the reincarnating Principle in man. Theosophical teachings place great emphasis on the need to explore and understand the evolution of this thinking process and the development of self-awareness. What is this intelligence and what is this ideal pattern called Buddhi within theosophical teachings?

Buddhi[2] is defined as the Universal Soul or Mind and also the spiritual Soul in man (sixth principle), the vehicle of Atma, exoterically (seventh principle). It can be viewed as the mind of God that becomes more readily available to humanity as we evolve and purify our three lower vehicles (the physical, emotional and mental bodies) and thereby develop a stronger connection and awareness to our human soul or causal body (fifth principle). This divine wisdom or Buddhi emanating from the Absolute exists in every atom within the manifested universe. Buddhi is the intelligence of the Absolute and the universe is the manifestation of the Absolute or universal consciousness. This manifestation then is the universal pattern and it is within everything and is everywhere in all space and time.

Theosophy teaches that Buddhi’s ability to express itself is limited within the physical vehicle. Learning to understand what this pattern is as “laid up in the heavens”, is our evolutionary destiny. The beginning of its development can be seen in the growth of our moral compass through many lifetimes of experience in interacting within our world, how we view and treat the planet – a living being - and all other sentient life and in particular through our interactions and relationships with other people.

The study of meditation involves the development of specific practices that vastly speed up the ability to “reflect this ideal pattern of Buddhi” by learning to control the modifications of the mind. However, the desire to follow the spiritual path only emerges when we experience dissatisfaction within our lives and seeing, like Gautama the Buddha—the Enlightened One, the ongoing suffering that our consciousness reflects in the world. Learning to control the senses can only come about by recognizing the patterns of the mind and their reflections via the emotions that thoughts generate. This is the purpose of the initial stages of meditation, which then allows for transcendence of our consciousness and ultimately union with the divine consciousness.

In Meditation – a practical study, Gardner discusses the re-emergence of spiritual teachings from the Indo-Europeans and Vedanta teachings in particular. The Vedas are regarded by Theosophists to be a continuum of the Ancient Wisdom also known as the Perennial Wisdom. This wisdom is believed to be the original teachings given to humanity at the beginning of this cycle of evolution or Manvantara by more advanced spiritual teachers of humanity. The core truths of these teachings being passed on to later generations through various religions that were culturally appropriate for each ethnic race.

Gardner discusses the history and teachings of the Indo-European culture and mentions two of the foremost teachers of Vedanta – Patanjali, who codified the essential teachings within yoga, and Shankaracharya, who taught about the nature of the mind and methods of reaching illumination as well as the five-fold nature of man. Although these teachings had already been well classified, they were not so well lived and is why Gautama the Buddha reincarnated and developed ways to teach people the path to enlightenment without the complicated ceremonial and ascetic practices that he felt obscured rather than helping to reveal the spiritual path. Hence he developed The Noble Eightfold Path, which showed the way out of suffering by developing deep insight into the workings of the mind and how to then transcend the mind, allowing for awareness of a truer reality of existence which the thinking mind blocks.

The second part of Sri Krishna Prem and Besant’s quotes both give a similar message of hope that Buddhi is within all of us right now. Besant emphasises how it is the subtlest form of Maya itself, which we are so immersed in, which prevents us from seeing what is right in front of us. Because of this delusion of not seeing reality as it really is, people frequently find it difficult to believe that they are more than just their physical body. Even if we intellectually consider that we are souls and part of the Oversoul or the Supreme Consciousness, many people consciously or subconsciously doubt that they will ever be able to achieve the goal of realizing their true nature. It can be profoundly difficult to realize (in everyday realitythat the Pattern or Buddhi is actually us in each and every moment. This is why the practice of meditation is so vital in helping us to observe the behaviour of the mind and to become increasingly better at seeing the ways the mind operates in everyday life and how our emotions reflect our thoughts.

The practice of meditation helps to withdraw the mind from its persistent preoccupation with worldly affairs and to train it to focus on ways that lead to a greater understanding of spiritual realities. From the earliest known times training in meditation was always preceded by study into the workings of the mind – in other words, what we now term as psychology.

The purpose of meditation is not merely for self-development but rather learning to master and subdue the lower desires so that an individual can reflect and express the Higher Self and to assist in the Divine Plan of evolution by bringing spiritual wisdom into our daily life. This cannot be achieved, however, if one is greatly immersed and deeply attached to life – and no amount of meditative practices will have the desired result unless individuals are willing to make significant changes within themselves. This is where unhappiness can help because it gives a person the incentive to let go of the trappings of life and focus on spiritual growth. Real spiritual progress can be made only when we focus our desire on the path and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to it.

It is by a combination of sincere spiritual practices and their application in daily life that real progress can be made. It is pointless reading spiritual teachings and doing meditation practices if you do not try to assimilate your learning by changing the way you think and react to daily life situations. If, for example, you continue to be reactive instead of being more mindful and choosing how you wish to think and behave. You need to learn to choose wisely that which is better for the growth of the Higher Self.

It takes constant effort and honest inquiry into your thoughts, emotions, and reactions to detect the strong urges of the lower ego to dominate - whether this is, for example, to win arguments so that you can feel superior over others or even being overly critical of your self, which is just another way the lower ego can maintain control. Deep, honest reflection into your internal psychology is difficult but with constant effort, insights into one’s psychology will increase with time and patience.

Gardner discusses the three progressive stages of meditation from the initial stage of developing the ability to concentrate to the secondary stage, which is actually called the meditation stage (in Buddhist terminology this is described as meditation with seed), on to the final stage of contemplation (which is meditation without seed). She also discusses general helpful advice in preparing for the practice of meditation as well as obstacles and aids. She covers the pros and cons of group meditation and ways to help others through our thoughts as well as giving some simple concentration techniques. This small book is a real gem that contains much wisdom and is a very enjoyable read.

Due to Covid-19, the sale of books from the Theosophical National Headquarters in Surry Hills is suspended. However, you can order a copy from Blavatsky Lodge for $12. Please contact the lodge by email at contact@tssydney.org.au, or call 02 9267 to purchase a copy. 

[1] Blavatsky, H.P., 1952/1892. The Theosophical Glossary. Los Angeles: The Theosophical Company, p.202.

[2] Ibid, p. 67.

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