The following article has been added to the website for the benefit of devotees who find it difficult to understand the process of meditation and vichara. It was written by someone who is and wishes to remain anonymous. Based entirely upon the scriptures and the writer's own experience.
It brings together many aspects that tend to trouble and confuse people and should be considered as an aid to understanding the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi and those of the other great sages.
Meditation & Vichara
What is it?
What is meditation?
Meditation as we normally understand it, is directed 'thought', one pointed or concentrated, always with a concrete purpose, as opposed to the random thoughts, daydreams and imagination that usually occupy the mind.
The scriptures and Sages tell us that Creation itself is a product of meditation, but in this case it is the Creator's meditation, sustained by an immense 'willpower' beyond our understanding and capabilities. They also tell us that the world appears according to our perception of it and this can easily be determined through our experience of it.
Whatever we think has force, the more we dwell on something the greater the accumulated force until it is is compelled to take form, mostly imperfect and attended with pain and sorrow, modified by karma and restricted by weak willpower. The accomplished yogi (Self-realised) however, can create or destroy anything by the force of his will alone.
Birth and rebirth are caused by 'mind' only, by attachment to the creations of the mind and by our perceptions of events. Karma affects the body and the ego/mind attached to it, but is powerless against the unattached mind.
When this is clearly understood we begin to see that we are the cause of our own misfortunes and suffering - notwithstanding the limitations placed upon us by destiny. Whatever we think about most (meditate upon), is what we inevitably reap. It is a blessing that the mind of the average person is so weak, because the average mind is so full of scum, that were it to have forceful creative power by default then there would be little hope for life.
All repetitive thought can therefore be classed as meditation in so far as it has some purpose and produces results in the material world, however imperfect they are. The body is a product of the mind just the same as every other object perceived by the senses, and we all know how health can be affected by the mind. We all also know how we are unaware of pain or the body itself when the mind is concentrated elsewhere or we are asleep.
You may or may not agree with anything stated so far, but to clarify things for yourself, just take a day out of your life to observe what goes on around you. What exactly is it that the body that 'you think you are' is capable of? In sleep it is like a lifeless corpse, just laying there and occasionally moving; when awake it can move via the legs. The hands and arms are limited to their length and dexterity; the fingers can grasp, touch, stroke, carry or release, etc. The body can bend and twist, extend and contract, but that is just about all that it can do. Every body has the same limited functions and without mind they are nothing more than machines - pretty useless machines at that. Everything else takes place in the mind.
For example - any number of people observing a man and a woman in what appears to be close but slightly animated discussion will each interpret what they see according to their minds. Those with lustful minds will see lust, those with angry minds will see conflict, those with friendly minds will see friendly discussion, etc.
We have all heard the story of the police cadets, who after observing a staged traffic accident at the same time, gave very different reports. We have all experienced how people relate events differently, even to the point of conflict.
Thus it is clear that the world appears according to our perception of it and we in our turn acquire karma by our interpretation of it and reaction to it. This is why the scriptures and the Sages tell us not to stand in judgement, because our judgement is not necessarily correct.
So by clear experiment and experience we can determine that our perception of the events in the world is nothing but thought. You might argue that what we see is governed by the thoughts of those we observe and that events take place outside of our control and you are of course right - and completely wrong at the same time.
That being the case, how to know what the truth is and how do we escape from this endless thought and the suffering attendant on it - we appear to have no control and any efforts in the direction of control seem wasted if it goes on anyway despite our efforts?
The answer lays in right perception as pointed out by the Sages who have transcended the mind and have 'attained' the highest state (attained is not the right word, but there is no other to accurately describe it. Perhaps the right description is that the 'aberration is removed').
Vichara - what it is and is not:
Vichara is the culmination of meditation practice. Vichara is searching within for 'your' source by first using the mind to find 'its' source.
Because the ego/mind complex is nothing but thought, a product of karma appearing in the Self, the mind cannot realise the Self. This is easily proven right now ... stop the mind and 'you' remain, this can be accomplished by anyone for a few seconds, so you immediately establish that 'you' are the reality and the mind is your tool. But this on its own does not lead to self-realisation. Self-realisation is remaining as the 'Reality' despite the mind.
To clarify this, imagine the ocean full of countless small waves on the surface; each wave is an ego/mind complex taking on the aberration of individuality. When a wave subsides it remains as the ocean despite the other aberrations that continue to parade themselves. It continues to rise again and again whilst it remains subject to the influences of wind and tides (karma). But the source of Creation remains undisturbed as the ocean upon which they appear.
We are in fact surrounded by the key to the solution of life and death but are blind to it, because we observe the aberrations and not the ocean. It is this very bad habit that is the bondage at the root of rebirth.
So, if the world is only thought, meditation is thought and vichara appears to be thought, how is it possible to resolve the problem?
Vichara is thought in the beginning, otherwise it cannot start, but practised properly it becomes awareness-current (still associated with the mind, but devoid of diverse thoughts or concepts). This is in fact the source of the mind turned upon itself. Vichara is wanting to know 'who am I?' or 'where am I?'. The method is really quite easy but most people get it wrong because they are relying on the manifest mind which most certainly does not want to be negated.
So what is the right method? The answer is actually very easy ... Have you ever looked up at the moon at night intently, or any distant object, trying to see as much detail as you can? Did you keep saying to yourself 'how much detail', 'what is that', etc. or did you just look intently, wanting to 'know'? That is the method of vichara, a silent, intense wanting to know, but in this case it is 'you' that is the object and the subject.
There are no secrets, no initiations, no special 'this or that' to it. It really is very simple and perhaps that is its major fault, because simplicity does not interest the mind which wants complexity to 'think' about and rituals to become attached to. But as was stated earlier, the mind does not and cannot realise the Self, because it is the obstacle to it.
When the object and subject become one, with intense but strain-free enquiry it is proper vichara, proper self-enquiry. As this progresses the world and life take on a different aspect altogether; dispassion arises and attachment falls away. The world still appears just the same, but you are changed.
From the very beginning you become aware of a greater power behind everything and your attraction towards this becomes stronger and stronger, slowly or quickly destroying your attraction to the phenomena, until finally you remain as 'That'!
But what is it that you remain as in the finality. It is the very same 'You' who is searching. There are not two Self's, not two 'I's', only one in the beginning, middle and end. Self-realisation is only getting rid of the delusion that you are not Self-realised, and for that to happen the mind/ego-illusion has to die completely.
This is not some thought process, not some altered state of mind, not some experience ... it is the beclouded mind which has experiences ... but the permanent cessation of all of these. The residuum is the Self, Brahman. It is here and now, everywhere in everything at all times. Non-Brahman does not exist - remembering this is very helpful in the process.
I know that this is very hard to understand, it can only BE. It took many years to even begin to understand it. The mind can never grasp it nor explain it, nor ever know it, the mind is the cloud covering the sun; upon its removal the sun shines in all its glory. Practice alone provides all of the answers, the Sages and books can only point you in the right direction. Without practice it is mere theoretical and totally useless knowledge.
The 'I'-thought is the obstacle and whilst ever there is something to say 'I' then Self-realisation is not accomplished. Bhagavan described Self-realisation as 'I-I'. This description can be quite confusing until experienced.
'I-I' is undisturbed awareness, undisturbed even by the the idea of 'I' because there is nothing to say 'I'. Awareness just IS, it cannot be described because there is no mind to know it.
This in a nutshell is the way to successful vichara. The various experiences that might arise as a result of the enquiry have been dealt with elsewhere on this site.
Devotion - is it necessary?
It is clearly stated in two excellent books, the Srimad Bhagavatam and Tripura Rahasya, and in some of the very few surviving records of talks with Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, that devotion is absolutely necessary and should run parallel with vichara. In Tripura Rahasya, recommended by Bhagavan, it clearly states that emancipation is impossible without it - despite millions of efforts to accomplish it.
Of course devotion can be interpreted in many ways. Those who are attached to ritual and the worship of stone and fire will consider that to be the highest form of devotion. But this form of worship is flawed from the outset and cannot lead to emancipation, because it relies upon thought, maintains duality and only brings trifling results - as is clearly stated in the scriptures and by the sages.
True devotion or bhakti is an unending stream of love and surrender to the formless pure consciousness that is the source of all. True bhakti and vichara are in fact one and the same, because both aim at the same goal.
There are no doubt many who will be offended by the attack on ritual and will retort that ritual helps to concentrate the mind on God, but let's be honest here, how many participating in ritual even think of the formless pure consciousness? In the majority the statement is fully justified. The scriptures and the Sages also state that one should consider one's guru to be the Formless Absolute and not the temporary corpse that appears before the mind.
I can personally testify to the necessity of devotion, because years of intense effort at concentration and vichara led nowhere until I realised my error and turned to the Supreme for help.
My error? I had fallen into the subtle trap that so many fall into. That of the mind trying to become Self-realised and complaining that it was impossible - which it is for the mind! Far worse is the mind thinking that 'it' is Self-realised - this is a very deadly trap which kills genuine effort and produces arrogance and doubt. This is why devotion is absolutely necessary.
Vichara can only take you so far, the final obstacle can only be removed through God's grace and that requires devotion and surrender.
Below are extracts from Tripura Rahasya outlining the method of Self-realisation.
They appear upon first reading to ignore devotion, but that is not true. Read
the entire book and you will see how important it is. However, even from the
extracts below, it should be clear that the mind has to die to its source completely
and 'that' is devotion in perfection!
From Tripura Rahasya
Chapter 9 ...
62-66. “My dear! I have, as advised by you, retired to a solitary place where I am engaged in investigating the Self. Even so, I have diverse visions and experiences. Thinking that the constant Self-awareness is dimmed by the uncalled-for interference of mental activities, I forcibly repressed my thoughts and remained calm. Darkness superseded, light appeared, sleep supervened and finally a unique bliss overpowered me for a little while, Is this the Self, or something different? Please analyse these experiences of mine and tell me, my dear, so that I may clearly understand them.
67-69. “After listening to him carefully Hemalekha, the knower of this world and beyond, spoke sweetly thus: ‘Listen to me, my dear, closely. What you have now done to repress thoughts with the mind turned inward (vichara) is a good beginning and praised by the worthy as the best way. Without it, no one has ever been successful anywhere. However, it does not produce Self-realisation, for the Self remains realised at all times.
70. “If a product, it cannot be the Self. For, how can the Self be got anew? So then, the Self is never gained. Gain is of something which is not already possessed. Is there any moment when the Self is not the Self? Neither is control of mind used to gain it. I shall give you some examples:
72. “Just as things unseen in darkness are found on its removal by means of a lamp, and are therefore said to be recovered from oblivion.
73-74. “Just as a confused man forgets his purse, but remembers and locates it on keeping his mind unruffled and steady, yet still says that he has gained the lost purse, though the steadying of his mind did not produce it.
75. “So also the control of your mind is not the cause of your Self-realisation; though the Self is always there, it is not recognised by you even with a controlled mind because you are not conversant with it.
76. “Just as a yokel unacquainted with the system cannot understand the dazzling lights of the royal audience-chamber at night and so ignores its magnificence at first sight, so it is that you miss the Self.
77. “Attend dear! Blank darkness was visible after you controlled your thoughts. In the short interval before its appearance and after the control of mind, there remains a state free from the effort to control and the perception of darkness.
78. “Always remember that state as the one of perfect and transcendental happiness. All are deceived in that state because their minds are accustomed to be turned outward.
79. “Though people may be learned, skilful and keen, still they search and search, only to be thwarted and they do not abide in that holy state.
80. “They grieve day and night, without knowing this state. Mere theoretical knowledge of sculpture can never make a man a sculptor.
81. “Though he be a pandit well grounded in the theory and the discussion of the philosophy of the Self, he cannot realise the Self because it is not realisable but already realised. Realisation is not attained by going far, but only by staying still; not by thought, but by cessation of thought.
83-85. “Effort towards Realisation is like the attempt to stamp with one’s foot on the shadow cast by one’s head. Effort will always make it recede.
“Just as an infant tries to take hold of his own reflection being unaware of the mirror, so also common people are taken in by their mental reflections on the mirror of the pure, luminous Self and are not aware of the mirror, because they have no acquaintance with the Self.
“Although people understand space, they are not aware of it because they are taken up by the objects in space.
86-88. “They understand the universe in space but have no regard for space itself. Similarly, it is with them in regard to the Self.
“My Lord, consider well. The world consists of knowledge and the objects known. Of these the objects are non-self and perceived by senses; knowledge is self-evident; there is no world in the absence of knowledge. Knowledge is the direct proof of the existence of objects which are therefore dependent on knowledge. Knowledge is dependent on the knower for its existence. The knower does not require any tests for knowing his own existence. The knower therefore is the only reality behind knowledge and objects. That which is self-evident without the necessity to be proved, is alone real; not so other things.
89-91. “He who denies knowledge has no ground to stand on and so no discussion is possible.
“The subject of knowledge settled, the question arises regarding the existence of objects in the absence of their knowledge. Objects and their knowledge are only reflections in the eternal, self-luminous, supreme Consciousness which is the same as the knower and which alone is real. The doubt that the reflection should be of all objects simultaneously without reference to time and place (contrary to our experience), need not arise because time and space are themselves knowable concepts and are equally reflections. The specific nature of the reflections is the obverse of the objects found in space.
92. “Therefore, Prince, realise with a still mind your own true nature which is the one pure, undivided Consciousness underlying the restless mind which is composed of the whole universe in all its diversity.
93. “If one is fixed in that fundamental basis of the universe (i.e., the Self), one becomes the All-doer. I shall tell you how to inhere thus. I assure you - you will be That.
94. “Realise with a still mind the state between sleep and wakefulness, the interval between the recognition of one object after another or gap between two perceptions.
Note:- The commentator compares the rays of light proceeding from the Sun before they impinge on materials. They are themselves invisible, but capable of illumining objects. This explains the third statement above. He also says that consciousness is like water flowing through a channel and later assuming the shape of the beds watered.
95. “This is the real Self, inhering in which one is no longer deluded. Unaware of this Truth, people have become inheritors of sorrow.
Note:- The commentator adds that a sage realising the world as the reflection of the mind treats it as such and is thus free from misery.
96-97. “Shape, taste, smell, touch, sound, sorrow, pleasure, the act of gaining, or the object gained - none of these finds place in that Transcendence which is the support of all there is, and which is the being in all but not exclusively so. That is the Supreme Lord, the Creator, the Supporter and the Destroyer of the universe and the Eternal Being.
98. “Now let not your mind be outgoing; turn it inward; control it just a little and watch for the Self, always remembering that the investigator is himself the essence of being and the Self of Self.
Note:- The commentary on this sloka says: This sloka contains what is not to be done (namely, the mind should not be permitted to be outgoing), what is to be done (the mind is to be turned inwards) and what is to be engaged in (watchfulness). Just a short control is enough; no long control is necessary for the purpose. The question arises: how to look? The investigator, investigation, and the object investigated are all one. The mind should be brought to the condition of a new-born baby. Then he feels as if he were separate from all gross materials and only the feeling ‘I am’ persists.
When the mind is controlled a little, a state will be evident at the end of the effort in which the Self can be realised as pure being, underlying all phenomena but undivided by them, similar to the baby-sense.
99. “Be also free from the thought ‘I see’; remain still like a blind man seeing. What transcends sight and no sight 'That' you are. Be quick.”
Note:- Here the commentary says: The Self transcends also the feeling ‘I see’. Adherence to that sensation divorces one from the Self. Therefore, let that feeling also vanish, for that state is absolutely unstained by will, sensation or thought. Otherwise, there will be no perfection in spite of innumerable efforts.
Again the word ‘sight’ includes the waking and dream states and ‘no sight’ signifies deep sleep. That which is threading through these three states and even surpasses the sense ‘I am’ is what you are. This is the fourth state Turiya (which is the string on which all the diverse objects of the universe are strung and the whole is a garland to Sri Ramana! Tr.)
100. Hemachuda did accordingly, and having gained that state referred to by his wife, he remained peaceful a long time, unaware of anything beside the Self.
Chapter 10 ...
1-5. “Hemalekha noticed that her husband had attained supreme Peace and so did not disturb him. He awoke in an hour and a half, opened his eyes and saw his wife nearby. Eager to fall into that state once more, he closed his eyes; and immediately Hemalekha took hold of his hands and asked him sweetly: ‘My Lord, tell me what you have ascertained to be your gain on closing your eyes, or your loss on opening them, my dearest. I love to hear you. Do say what happens on the eyes being closed or left open.’
6. “On being pressed for an answer, he looked as if he were drunk and replied reluctantly and languidly, as follows:
7-14. “My dear, I have found pure untainted happiness. I cannot find the least satisfaction in the activities of the world as sorrow increases when they finish. Enough of them! They are tasteless to me like a sucked orange, only indulged in by wasters, or like cattle incessantly chewing the cud. What a pity that such people should be to this day unaware of the bliss of their own Self! Just as a man goes a-begging in ignorance of the treasure hidden under his floor, so did I run after sensual pleasures unaware of the boundless ocean of bliss within me. Worldly pursuits are laden with misery, and pleasures are transient. Still I was so infatuated that I mistook them for enduring pleasures, was often grief-stricken, yet did not cease to pursue them over and over again. The pity of it: Men are fools, unable to discriminate pleasure from pain. They seek pleasures but gain sorrow. Enough of these activities which increase the relish for such pleasure.
“My dear, I beg you with hands clasped. Let me fall again into the peace of my blissful self. I pity you that though knowing this state, you are not in it but are ever engaged in vain.”
15-27. “The wise girl gently smiled at all this, and said to him: ‘My lord, you do not yet know the highest state of sanctity (which is not besmirched by duality), reaching which the wise transcend duality and are never perplexed. That state is as far from you as the sky is from the earth. Your small measure of wisdom is as good as no wisdom, because it is not unconditional, but remains conditioned by closing or opening your eyes. Perfection cannot depend on activity or the reverse, on effort or no effort. How can that state be a perfect one if mental or physical activity can influence it or if the displacement of the eyelid by the width of a barley grain makes all the difference to it? Again, how can it be perfect if located only in the interior? What shall I say of your muddled wisdom! How ridiculous to think that your eyelid, one inch long, can shut up the expanse in which millions of worlds revolve in one corner alone!’
“Listen Prince! I will tell you further. As long as these knots are not cut asunder so long will bliss not be found (The knowledge acquired is thus not effective). These knots are millions in number and are created by the bond of delusion which is no other than ignorance of Self. These knots give rise to mistaken ideas, the chief of which is the identification of the body with the Self, which in its turn gives rise to the perennial stream of happiness and misery in the shape of the cycle of births and deaths. The second knot is the differentiation of the world from the Self whose being-consciousness is the mirror on which the phenomena are simply reflected. Similarly with the other knots including the differentiation of beings among themselves and from the universal Self. They have originated from time immemorial and recur with unbroken ignorance. The man is not finally redeemed until he has extricated himself from these numberless knots of ignorance.
28-38. “The state which is the result of your closing the eyes, cannot be enough, for it is pure intelligence and eternal truth transcending anything else yet serving as the magnificent mirror to reflect the phenomena arising in itself. Prove, if you can, that everything is not contained in it. Whatever you admit as known to you, is in the knowledge conveyed by that consciousness. Even what may be surmised to be in another place and at a different time, is also within your consciousness. Moreover, what is not apparent and unknown to that intelligence is a figment of imagination like the son of a barren woman. There cannot be anything that is not held by consciousness, just as there cannot be reflection without a reflecting surface.
“Therefore I tell you that your conviction: ‘I shall lose it by opening my eyes,’ or ‘I know it,’ is the knot awaiting to be cut, and there will be no attainment though, remember, it cannot be the perfect state if it can be attained. What you consider the happy state as accomplished by the movements of your eyelids, cannot indeed be perfect because it is certainly intermittent and not unconditional. Is any place found where the effulgence is not, my lord, of the fire blazing at the dissolution of the universe? All will resolve into that fire and no residue will be left. Similarly also the fire of realisation will burn away all your sense of duty so that there will be nothing left for you to do. Be strong, root out your thoughts and cut off the deep-rooted knots from your heart, namely, ‘I will see’, ‘I am not this’, ‘This is non-Self’, and such like.
“Find wherever you turn the one undivided, eternal blissful Self; also watch the whole universe reflected as it arises and subsides in the Self. See the Self both within and without you; yet do not confound the seeing Self within as the Seer of the universal Self without, for both are the same. Inhere in the peace of your true internal Self, devoid of all phenomena.”
39-42. At the end of her speech, Hemachuda’s confusion was cleared up, so that he gradually became well established in the perfect Self bereft of any distinction of within and without. Being always equable, he led a very happy life with Hemalekha and others, reigned over his kingdom and made it prosperous, engaged his enemies in war and conquered them, studied the scriptures and taught them to others, filled his treasury, performed the sacrifices pertaining to royalty and lived twenty-thousand years, emancipated while yet alive (Jivanmukta).
Chapter 15 ...
75-84. “ ‘Child, there are many who being ignorant of this sublime truth, live in a state of delusion. Dry polemics will not help one to Reality for it is well guarded on all sides. Of all the people now assembled here, no one has experienced Reality, except the king and myself. It is not a subject for discussion. The most brilliant logic can only approach it but never attain it. Although unaffected by logic coupled with a keen intellect, it can however be realised by service to one’s Guru and the grace of God.
“O thou who art thyself the son of a Sage, listen to me carefully, for this is hard to understand even when hearing it explained. Hearing it a thousand times over will be useless unless one verifies the teachings by means of investigation into the Self with a concentrated mind. Just as a prince labours under a misapprehension that the string of pearls still clinging to his neck has been stolen away by another and is not persuaded to the contrary by mere words but only believes when he finds it around his neck by his own effort, so also, O youth, however clever a man may be, he will never know his own self by the mere teaching of others unless he realises it for himself. Otherwise he can never realise the Self if his mind is turned outward.
85. “A lamp illumines all around but does not illumine itself or another light. It shines of itself without other sources of light. Things shine in sunlight without the necessity for any other kind of illumination. Because lights do not require to be illumined, do we say that they are not known or that they do not exist?
“Therefore, as it is thus with lights and things made aware by the conscious self, what doubt can you have regarding abstract consciousness, namely the Self?
“Lights and things being insentient, cannot be self-aware. Still, their existence or manifestation is under no doubt. That means they are self-luminous. Can you not similarly investigate with an inward mind in order to find out if the all-comprehending Self is conscious or not conscious?
“That Consciousness is absolute and transcends the three states (wakefulness, dream and slumber) and comprises all the universe making it manifest. Nothing can be apprehended without its light.
“Will anything be apparent to you, if there be no consciousness? Even to say that nothing is apparent to you (as in sleep) requires the light of consciousness. Is not your awareness of your unawareness (in sleep) due to consciousness?
“If you infer its eternal light, then closely investigate whether the light is of itself or not. Everybody falls in this investigation however learned and proficient he may be, because his mind is not bent inward but restlessly moves outward. As long as thoughts crop up, so long has the turning inward of the mind not been accomplished. As long as the mind is not inward, so long the Self cannot be realised. Turning inward means absence of desire. How can the mind be fixed within if desires are not given up?
“Therefore become dispassionate and inhere as the Self. Such inherence is spontaneous (no effort is needed to inhere as the Self). It is realised after thoughts are eliminated and investigation ceases. Recapitulate your state after you break off from it, and then you will know all and the significance of its being knowable and unknowable at the same time.
Thus realising the unknowable, one abides in immortality for ever and ever.
Extracts from the Srimad Bhagavatam
Back to the links page