ELEMENTS OF MEDITATION

 

 

 

SWAMI VIJAYANANDA (1914-2010): THE LAST DAYS

by Vigyananand (Jacques Vigne)

See next page

Tributes to Swami Vijayananda

 

 

1. ARTICLES

with Swami Vijayananda

See next page

 

 

2. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE YOGIS

by Swami Vijayananda

See next page

 

3. THE PROCESS OF DIKSHA

by Swami Nirgunananda,

See next page

 

4. THOUGHTS FROM THE HIMALAYAS,

Conversations with Swami Nirgunananda

See next page

 

5. DIALOGUES ON JAPA,

Questions and answers by Swami Nirgunananda

See next page

 

6. MOTHERHOOD HAS NO FRAMES,

by Swami Nirgunananda, July 2005

See next page

 

7. COMMENTARY ON SRI MA'S SAYING
"I am a Hindu, I am a Muslim I am a Christian"

by Swami Nirgunananda,

See next page

 

8. ELEMENTS OF MEDITATION

by Swami Nirgunananda

with an introduction by Dr Jaques Vigne

 

 

 

ELEMENTS OF MEDITATION

INTRODUCTION

Swami Nirgunananda has been a disciple of Shri Ma Anandamayi from 1978. Right from his arrival in Kankhal, Ma took him as a private secretary, asking him to observe silence. It went on indeed like this for three years, until Ma left her body in August 1982. Afterwards, he was the first pujari on Ma's samadhi and collaborated to the administration of the Sangha by assisting Swami Swarupananda, the General Secretary. In 1986, he decided to reside in Dhaulchina, a spot which had been noticed as an ideal place for sadhana by Bhaiji on his way to Mount Kailash with Ma in 1937, a few weeks before he passed away. From there one can see the range of the great Himalaya on 400km. Swami Vijayananda, Ma's French disciple who has spent now almost half a century in her ashrams, spent six or seven years there. For the past twelve years, Swami Nirgunanda has been living there almost continuously. Having stayed myself five months in this hermitage, I could see his dedication to sadhana and eremitic life.

During the satsangs which we had, the idea of this booklet on meditation arose. Devotees may read the description of Ma's spiritual states (bhava) or of other saints in books, but when it comes to their own actual meditation, they are often short of ideas on how to practice. General advice, although not wrong, is not sufficient. Bhaktas will say: "There is no such thing as a method; just love!" But is not love in itself a method? And why can't we do it? Vedantists will claim: "Self is always there, there is nothing to do!" But what about all these things to undo before being able to declare honestly: "There is nothing to do?" This is why we felt that this booklet could be useful, knowing well also that texts on meditation in English by experienced Himalayan hermits are not readily available.

In his studies of various spiritual teachings, Swamiji found that Kahmir Shaivism was particularly helpful for the knowledge of meditative practices. Here, it will also be a reference along with Ma's teachings and utterances. Jaidev Singh from Banaras published at Motilal Banarsidas a trilogy "Spanda Karikas", "Shiva Sutras" and "Vijnana Bhairava" which the reader may consult for further information. Ma's devotees will know about her literature published mainly by the Sangha. Let us mention, however, two recent books: "A Bird on the Wing: Life and Teachings of Sri Ma Anandamayi" by Bithika Mukerjee at Satguru Publications, 1998 (a division of Indian Book Centre 40/5 Shakti Nagar, Delhi 110007 Email ibcindia@ibcindia.com) This is a book of synthesis; she worked two years almost continuously to revise her former biography of Ma in two volumes published by the Sangha. In the West, Richard Lannoy published a beautiful book on Ma called 'Anandamayi' at Element Books, illustrated by his own photos taken in 1954 in Banaras mostly; they are accompanied by a substantial and informative text. Since November 1998, this text along with many other documents on Ma in English, French, German and soon Portuguese, Spanish and Russian has been put on the Internet in Ma's domain http://www.anandamayi.org

The present booklet will be quickly included there as well, along with another document, a series of Hindu spiritual stories entitled "The Transmission of the Spirit". Because some aspects of Swara Yoga are linked to physiology and psychology, I wrote a presentation of it in part V of this text.

I wish the reader to discover many pearls in Swamiji's writings and to feel Ma's grace flowing through his canal.

 

Dr Jacques Vigne, MD, psychiatrist

Author of "The Indian Teaching Tradition" and "Indian Wisdom, Christianity and Modern Psychology" BRPC, Delhi and soon available online at http://www.anandamayi.org/devotees/jv

 

 

  1. THE CONTEXT OF PRACTICE
  2. Yoga is not only for the confort of body and mind, but is a complete way towards liberation. There are four stages in the evolution: ultimate Reality, manifestation, bondage and liberation. The first and last stages indeed are one. One should bear in mind that Yoga practices can not directly lift the empirical individual to the Ultimate. They represent a preparation for the descent of Grace, or the spontaneous advent of Knowledge (Jnana). Otherwise, it will make the Ultimate relational, conditional, which is in contradiction with the very concept of the Absolute.

    Yoga removes the obstacles for the manifestation of the changeless entity, which lies behind all the changes of creation. The Ultimate Reality is not an object of experience, but manifests Itself when the experiencer, experience and object of experience become one, i.e., "I" and "that" merge together. One may be puzzled to see that some people practice meditation for years without much apparent result. This is often due to the dissipation of energy coming from the negligence of the preliminary restrictions in life style (yama-niyama) and the lack of control of senses. Meditation actually generates energy, but like water poured into a bucket with a hole, the vessel will never fill if this energy is not utilized for the objective. Among many other factors, food habits play a major role in spiritual practices. The mental condition depends on the type of food taken. Meditation deals with the mind in a threefold way: they help to know the mind, which is so near to us, and yet unknown. They tend to shape it; although it is unwieldy and obstinate, it may yet be plied. Ma advised to prepare one's own food during periods of retreat, to develop self-reliance -an important factor of progress in Yoga. Of course, vegetarian food is a must. For instance, Swami Vijayananda, the French disciple who has been from 1951 with Ma, has a very regular diet advised by her. He says by experience that if you can find a dietetically correct menu and repeat it every day, mind becomes completely free from craving for food, and does not think anymore of it, which simplifies sadhana. Ma did not emphasize fasting, except a few days in the year according to the traditional rules; she used to quote the proverb "Man should eat to live, and not live to eat.'

     

  3. POSTURE
  4. In Hindi "asan" means not only "posture" but "easy" too. This is a modern reminder of Patanjali's aphorism: "Sthira sukhasanam" "Posture (should be) stable and easy" One should come back regularly to the relaxation of the body during the practice, only spine and neck should be dynamic, well perpendicular to the ground. Lotus pose (padmasana) and other cross-legged postures are easier if seated on a cushion. Knees touch the ground with little tensions and form a stable triangle. For a long time, meditation needs an "object", and body is one of the best; it enables to understand how works the basis of the mind. Because we identify ourselves with the body, "coming back to oneself" means at least at the beginning coming back to the body and being aware of that which is the gross form of the self. It may be a good habit to come back to the body at the beginning of every session.

    Should the pressure of the ankles on each other be too intense, one can put a towel in between. Again, one can put a folded cloth under one of the two hands, if he meditates with one hand on the other. It may compensate an imbalance responsible for pains in the neck. In any case, relaxation of the neck should be checked regularly. Vajrasana (spine erect and seated on the heels) may be kept a longer time if one put two flat cushions, one below and the other on the ankles. This posture is advised after meals. Hatha-Yogis add that at this time one should comb oneself and sneeze three times, the idea being probably that blood and energy is drawn towards intestine during digestion; if it is brought back to the head in a way or another, it will help one not to doze.

    To feel better the balance of right and left, one may start the session by oscillating from one side to another, and reducing the movement progressively, until the spine becomes exactly vertical, as the mast of a boat on a lake after the passage of waves. The mindfulness of posture in the beginning of a session consists in mentally describing the posture point after point and to relax the body at the same time. Ma used to advice prayer to the ishta devata (chosen deity) or a kind of self-suggestion before meditation like "I want to overcome all obstacles. Let my mind be concentrated on my object of meditation. May the Almighty shower his grace on me", etc�

     

  5. SAHAJ (NATURAL) PRANAYAMA
  6. We should try to have a breathing which is harmonious, regular and effortless. To help the mindfulness of respiration, one can perceive two points called "dvadashant" (i.e., the end of the twelwe) at 12 finger-breadth from the top of the nose, one outside, the other inside. In fact, the inner dvadashant is often placed in the heart. In Kashmir Shaivism, breathing out is called prana, and breathing in apana. . Thus, the dvadashant is considered as the place of origin and dissolution of both prana and apana. In fact, the first respiration of the new-born baby is breathing in, the last one of a dying person is breathing out, so the total life span of an individual (jiva) is "bracketed" between inspiration and expiration. This is why this meditation on dvadashanta is also a meditation on life and death. Breathing in corresponds to jiva and Shiva, breathing out to Shakti, so the davadashantas are also considered as the places of union of Shiva and Shakti. In practice, it is very difficult to exactly locate these places of union. That is why Ma suggested a light kumbhaka (stopping breath with full or empty lungs) just for a clearer perception of the dissolution and origin of breathing. With practice, time of retention decreases and kumbhaka with effort disappears. But paradoxically, when you feel the point, spontaneous khumbaka will appear on its own, and it may last for a long time.

    There is a way of preparing oneself to Swara-Yoga -i.e., the observation of the diffences of laterality and their balancing again- by a pranayama called nadi shodhana (the purification of channels). Classically, the thumb and the ring finger close each nostril alternately, changing side in between inspiration and expiration. After some time, one can do the same practice with only consciousness, without the fingers, felling the right and left side of the body alternately. People who would like to make a sadhana with a lot of physical pranayama should get a proper guidance. What is written in the books corresponds to a general practice, but due to individual differences, some concrete difficulties may arise, which need to be solved by an experienced guide.

     

  7. MANTRA
  8. A traditional etymology of "mantra" is "manonat trayati", "contemplation liberates". One difficulty with mantra is that repetition may become automatic while the mind roams about elsewhere. To prevent this, Ma used to say: "Shvas shvas men jap karo" "Merge your mantra repetition with your breathing" First, if one does a regular number of mantras at each inspiration and expiration, it will result in rythmicity and regularity of breathing. Secondly, one can try to be mindful of the interval between the sequences of mantra. In fact, the best time to do it is at the end of inspiration and expiration; it will be a meditation similar to that of the dvadashantas, which we described above. Another way of intensifying the experience of mantra is "nyasa", i.e., placing it in every part of the body: "nyasa" means installing, depositing, investing; it is a way of "investing" God in the body, a process of incarnation, one could say. "Nyasa" means also surrendering. When this surrender to the divine is complete, "sannyas", the state of renunciation, is reached.

    Practically, if one already has a mantra with the name of an ishta, it is sufficent to put his name or bija mantra (seed-mantra, a syllable linked to a given deity) in every part of the body. Ma's devotees may place the name "Ma" itself. A first set of locations to do nyasa is the chakras. Chakras are most usually felt along the spine, a line which corresponds to the "governor channel" of acupuncture; chakra meditation helps indeed to "govern", to master the unruly mind. An effective method may be to associate this meditation with the guru sitting face to face. One traces a kind of circle starting from one's own muladhara to the crown, and from there crossing towards the guru's crown chakra and downward to his muladhara. For beginners, it may be better to include only the four superior chakras, i.e., starting from the anahata upwards. The nyasa can be done with the letters of alphabet as well. It is of two kind, inner or outer, according to its location in the chakras or in the head, limbs, and trunk.

    A famous sanskrit verse says: "mantramulam guruvakyam" "the root of mantra is guru's word". This means that, in a sense, every guru's word can be taken as a mantra. By doing the "nyasa" of these words of life one after the other, one will reach "sannyas", i.e., the renunciation of one's petty ego to be permeated by guru's presence only, which is not different from the Self.

     

  9. SVARA YOGA

(Presentation by Jacques Vigne)

 

"Svara" means "sound, voice". Here it refers to the sound that air makes when it goes through one nostril or the other: its pitch depends upon the opening of the nostril. Indeed, the object of Svara-yoga is to become clearly aware of the opening of nostrils first, and then of the lateral nadis (channels) for finally bringing the energy from the lateral nadis to the middle one, the sushumna. Hence, Svara-yoga is a preparation for Kundalini-yoga. Its scripture of reference is the "Shiva svaroday" (the dawn of Shiva's 'svara') published by the Bihar Scool of Yoga (Mongyr, Bihar). The opening of right nostril is associated to physical activity, to the sun, masculinity and the nadi pingala. The opening of the left nostril is related to mental activity, the moon, feminity and the nadi ida. When both nostrils are open, the energy has more chances to go in the middle channel, sushumna, which is associated with extreme states not only like samadhi, but also with orgasm and, it is said, with crime. Energy goes up spontaneously there like hot air and smoke in a chimney. Interestingly enough, in Chinese thought, the Tao which is beyond Yin and Yang is called "the Void in the middle". It is advised to undertake physical activities which require dynamism like walking, eating, when the right nostril is open. For mental activities, creativity, which requires more receptivity, an open left nostril is better. One should keep in mind that with an experienced practitioner, the opening of nadis becomes independent from the opening of the corresponding nostril. Svara-yoga is not so well known in the West, even in Yoga circles, this is why I felt the following explanations and technical details will not be useless.

 

  1. Science and Svara-yoga
  2. In 1981, it was clearly established by Wientz in California, if I remember well, that the opening of a given nostril corresponds to the stimulation of the hemisphere on the other side. She gave thus an easy way to know which hemisphere is more stimulated at a given time, without needing an EEG or any other instrument. For the last century, the medical science has been clearly acknowledging the "alternating rhinitis", which almost blocks one nostril while the other is free, with a change every two or three hours. W. Fliess, an ENT specialist and one of Sigmund Freud's closest friend, had already studied this phenomena at the turn of the century, and felt there was a relationship between the congestion of nostrils and mental activity. Two facts should be distinguished: this hemispheric stimulation connected with the opening of the nostril on the other side and changing several times a day, and the hemispheric dominance which makes one right or left handed, and which is set for the whole life. Its origin seems connected to the side of the fetus in the womb; if the left side of its head was resting to the side of the placenta, it will develop more quickly and lead to dominant left hemisphere, i.e., a right-handed subject. It is difficult to say how left-handedness (around 10-15% of the population) interfers for instance with the active, even aggressive tendency traditionally associated with the opening of the right nostril. It may be the contrary in this case, further studies will be needed to clarify this fact.

    It is not said in the Shiva svaroday that there is an inversion of the specificity of nostrils between men and women, neither it is said by neurophysiology. In fact, there is a case quoted by Rossi in "Psychobiologie de la guerison" (Epi, Paris, 1993): a woman was hospitalized in psychiatry with a diagnosis of double personality. This was in the 50's, at that time the question of hemispheric dominance was less known, but they noted that when her right nostril was open, she was in an aggressive and violent mood, abusing people and sexually provocative, while when the left one was open, she was feeling fearful, guilty, begging pardon for what she had said before. What was not confortable for her entourage and herself was that these two personalities were alternating every two hours or so�

    Another slew of studies showed that if meditators were asked in which moments they experienced deep states of consciousness while recorded by EEG, these periods corresponded on the graph to a synchronicity between right and left hemisphere. (JB Earle Cerebral laterality and meditation : a review of literature The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1981, 13-2, p.155-173) This is a rather direct and decisive confirmation of what Yoga says: when the left and right current of sensations (ida and pingala) enter the middle path (sushumna), then "interesting experiences" happen. From another side comes a confirmation of the advantages found in balancing the two sides of the body: it has been noticed in several studies that people considered as exceptionally beautiful or intelligent, or both, have a greater symmetry of the face. Usually, the left side is not a mirror image of the right one, but with them it tends to be so. In the onset of schizophrenia, a classical symptom is a dissociation of the two sides, to the extent that one side can be felt absent by the patient. There is a leading psychotherapist in the States, Ernest Lawrence Rossi, Milton's Erickson disciple, who got fascinated by the link between the opening of nostrils and the stimulation of a given hemisphere, as a way of modifying at will and by simple method the functioning of the brain. He proposed in his book written in the beginning of the 90s (see above) a series of research on the subject.

     

  3. Example of daily rhythm of nostril alternation
  4. A good way to start the practice of Svara-yoga is to observe its own ultradian (i.e., coming several time within a day) alternation of nostril opening. In the book of the Bihar School of Yoga, they quote a study, which they conducted among their own students. It roughly corresponds to what I found by observing myself: a rhythm of change after every two or three hours, this change being possibly provoked by physical activity, walking, eating or taking a bath. The side of nostril opening when going to bed changes after two or three days. Traditionally, there is a short period at dawn and at dusk when the lateral nadis are balanced and energy can flow through the middle channel. The change of nostril comes quite regularly at the time of waking and getting up, like a few minutes before or after, it comes around noon also, usually while taking lunch and some time at dusk, it depends much upon the moment one decides to move away from meditation.

    What I noticed on myself during retreats when I had a rather regular routine is that the nostril laterality used to change at dinner and remain the same for six hours about. So, if just after dinner, say at 8 p.m., the right nostril opens, it will remain so at bedtime and during night until 2 or 3 o'clock.

    Then, on waking at around that time, for instance to answer the call of nature, the opening will go to the left until the end of sleep. If most of the night was spent with the right nostril open, the proportion of left opening during the day will be more, by a kind of law of natural balance. In fact, from before noon, I could predict which side will be open at bedtime: if the left was open before lunch, the right will be open after, the left in the second half of the afternoon, and the right again after dinner, at bedtime and during the night until 2 or 3 o'clock. After two or three days of this pattern, the right starts opening before lunch, and the whole series of sides will be inverted until next night.

    The change of nostrils is often accompanied by a slight need to sneeze. By the way, one can notice that the need to sneeze usually comes first by an itching sensation in the open nostril; a way of stopping it by acupressure is to massage the outer side of the hand (from the joint of the little finger until above the fist). One can also stop breathing for some seconds, after the end of the expiration, or make the movement of swallowing one's saliva even if there is nothing to actually swallow.

     

  5. Changing sides at will
  6. Traditionally, the easiest way of opening the right nostril for instance is to lie on the left side. One can also press strongly the left armpit for some time, yogis may use a clutch for it. One may also put a cotton wool in the open nostril; it decreases the flow through it and facilitates the opening on the other side. It may be useful in the case of migraine. When one sits again for meditation after a brisk walk, both nostrils are often open. Hence, it may be sufficient to close with a finger the nostril which one chooses. After a few minutes, the opening of the other side will be confirmed, sometime for another cycle of two hours. In this way, the same side may remain open for four to five hours. In fact, this happens due to a relative immobility during the first half of the night, as we said above. One should understand the notion of 'statistical pressure' influencing these changes. It will be easier to provoke an alternation when it is about to come spontaneously, i.e., 90 to 120 mn after the preceding change; but if one tries only 10 to 15 mn after, it will be difficult. Again, if one has spent 6-7 hours the preceding night with the right nostril open, the spontaneous "pressure" will be towards an opening of the left during day time, so it will be easier to change from right to left than from left to right.

    Swami Nirgunananda mentions that there is a common practice among yogis: after meal, first lie down one minute on the right, then next minute on the left and after that relax on the back. It helps digestion. Swami Ved, the successor of Swami Rama at the head of the Himalayan Institute (Honesdale, Pensylvania), affirms that hatha-yogis can stay several hours with the two nostrils equally open; nevertheless, as we said above, an experienced meditator can dissociate opening of nostrils and opening of nadis, and keep the energy flowing through the sushumna whatever nostril is open.

     

    c) Posture during meditation and nostril opening

    Physiologists showed than muscle activity and sensitivity was different according to the side of the open nostril. For instance, if the right nostril is open, the right half of the body will have a skin which is more sensitive, while the left half will be slightly paresthesic, i.e. the skin will be less reactive to touch. I feel that the side of the open nostril will be more relaxed, the side of the closed one more tense and contracted. It will induce a bend of the upper spine towards the side corresponding to the closed nostril.

    On the other hand, the lotus pose is not completely symmetrical. The same can be said with other cross-legged posture (siddhasana, sukhasana�) Vajrasana (sitting on the heels) may be completely symmetrical if taken correctly. So, when one is sitting cross-legged, the upper spine slightly bends on one side. In practice, a good method to have a stable meditation, both physically and mentally, is to balance the two bents, i.e., if due to the closing of left nostril, there is a tendency to tilt leftwards, one should arrange the position of the legs, and even of the hands if they are on each other, to induce a rightward bent of the upper spine. To know how the position of legs and hands influence the bent of the spine, one just has to change their side and to see in which direction the upper back deviates when sagging forward. With some practice it becomes clear. Another way of explaining this is saying that there are two lines: the physical line of the axle of the spine, whose bent is determined by the position of legs and hands, and the subtle line which bends in the direction of the closed nostril. When the two lines meet in a perfect verticality, like the two hands of a watch at twelve o'clock, the meditation becomes very stable. This is a very practical method to 'set things right', both in the practical and in the figurative sense. Buddhists advice to lie on the right side for meditation, for the left nostril will have a tendency to open and mental activity will be calmer. This posture is sometimes called "Buddha's sleep", and in fact he is represented in this way in many images.

     

  7. Sleep and nostril laterality
  8. There may be some synchronicity between the cycles of sleep (every 90 mn) and nostril alternation during the night. On the other hand, it has been noted for a long time that nightmares occur more easily when the subject is lying on the left side. One attempt of explanation was to speak of a 'pressure on the heart', but this is rather vague and unconvincing. If one remembers however that this position tends to open the right nostril and to stimulates the left hemisphere, associated with aggressive behavior, one will better understand this fact. For people who do a retreat and who have already a good mastery of their mind, it is advisable to sleep on the right side. In this way, they will have more time, more "balance" the next day with the left nostril open during their meditation, which means their basic mind will be more peaceful. People who are active during the day will remain a longer time with the right nostril open, and so by compensation at night they will have more time with the left one open. I noticed that to fall asleep promptly, it is better to "confirm" the opening of the nostril, i.e., if the left nostril is open, to sleep on the right side. If not, the brain will have a tendency to change the laterality and will interpret this as a wake-up signal. In fact, when we walk, when we act during the day, the laterality of micro-stimulations changes almost constantly and with every movement; during sleep on the contrary, almost nothing changes for hours. The corollary of this is that if one does not want to fall asleep while meditating lying on one side, one should "contradict" the nostril opening, i.e., lie on the right side if the right nostril is open; anyhow, if one really wants not to fall asleep when very tired, the best way is not lying down at all�After lunch or at dusk, there is a spontaneous tendency to drowsiness. During these periods, I notice that right nostril opening, with its stimulating effect, is beneficial for meditation, because it creates a balance. On the other hand, in the morning, when physical energy is high and prone to outer activity, right nostril opening creates too much rajas (excitement). In fact, people who are experienced enough can bring the flow of energy in the middle channel whatever the nostril laterality is.

     

  9. Practical hints
  10. -The lateral nadis, i.e., current of sensations should be clearly felt first. They give a control on the basis of the mind, control which will be much needed when the central channel will somehow awaken. This habit to feel the lateral nadis regularly does not comes in a day, it requires a long practice. If one wants to dry a moor, one digs canal through it and the stagnant water will flow through them and find a way out. This may be a simile to understand how the meditation on the lateral nadis purifies the basis of the mind. In case of mental agitation, feeling more the left nadi is a help, because it opens the left nostril which is calming. It is advisable to awaken the chakras and the lateral nadis first in the upper part of the back. The lower and axial part of the body, i.e., the genital area, is enough stimulated spontaneously. The lateral nadis should be as strong as the two wooden supports of the ektar, this one-stringed instrument with a handle as an inverted V; then only, the axial string will have the right tension and will be able to be played with in the right tune. Chakras are close to the spine, being the projection towards the back of the throat, the middle of the breast, the navel, etc�Still, the ajna is located in front, between the eyebrows. So sensations should not usually go forward towards the belly or the breast, except in case of particular practice. In this case, one is more likely to be able to "govern" the mind, as we saw above that the spine was the place of the governor channel in acupuncture.

    -Feeling clearly what are the differences of sensation between the right and left nostril, as well as between the right and left halves of the body is an important preliminary work. It takes some time. It may also be noticed that if one tries to "see" the two sides, one is clearer and the other darker. If one tries to hear the sound attentively in each ear, one is of a higher pitch, the other of a lower one. For me, perhaps because I am right-handed, the higher pitch is regularly heard in the left ear; this sound spreads spontaneously to the left side of the body. Swami Nirgunananda also feels that the higher sound is in the left ear, like the sound of crickets. If by concentration one succeeds in hearing it in the right ear, it will finally lead to a global sound in the center of the head, on the path of sushumna. Then, one can starts segregating the different types of sound (bell, conch, etc�) In fact, if one is able to make this sound completely continuous, consciousness dissolves in space itself and there is no question of laterality anymore. Just as Buddhist meditation does, Svara-yoga develops pure mindfulness.

    - After establishing the differences between lateralities, one can practice nadi-shodana, the pranyama for the "purification of the nadis"; at first it may be practised physically by alternating the closure of nostrils by the thumb and the ring finger, but soon one can learn to do it in a more subtler way, just alternating the sides of the body which one feels along with the breath, changing sides at the end of every inspiration.

    - In the next phase, one devises all kind of means to feel the exact symmetry of the two halves of the body, especially of the back, like an image in a mirror or a folded sheet. A good system may be for instance to feel the right side on the left and conversely, or to "hear" the sound of the right ear on the left side of the body, or to "see" the right side in the same light with the left one.

    - When both sides will be really symmetrical, even for a second, the current of sensations will flow in the middle, and the rigid image of the body on which ego is built will loose its hold and will dissolve at least for a moment.

    - All these practices are best done during long retreats, with already a good control over one's emotions, because these ones will be intensified. A real contact with a spiritual master who has the experience of this kind of work will be the best help.

     

  11. Importance of Svara-yoga

At the end of the Shiva svarodaya, there is a nice passage where it is said that one should thank the one who tells even a few words on this subject. Why such an emphasis on this practice? In fact, we are hemiplegic without knowing it, we have a constant imbalance of laterality and we do not do anything to get a new equilibrium. This imbalance has some physiological basis as well, since at every second the heart is felt beating on the left side, but nothing is perceived on the right one. It is possible that Ramana Maharshi had this idea of again balancing the sides when he was advising to meditate on the Self at the place of the "subtle heart", i.e., on the right side of the chest.

We saw that some studies tend to show that especially beautiful or intelligent people have a more symmetrical face. Conversely, this is a common experience that people with an unbalanced, asymmetrical or distorted face are less attractive. If one watches his own left and right sides closely, he will notice that their imbalance is increased in case of disturbing emotions, when the feeling of duality is particularly acute. On the other hand, if one looks into his memories to find some unmistakable "moment of grace" and one can feel them again here and now, one will see that at those times, the sides were perfectly balanced, i.e., the non-duality was experienced even in the body. Classical style is based on symmetry and balance in the field of plastic arts, literature, etc� In this sense, Svara-yoga is classicism applied to meditation. Mysticism, alchemy as well as Jungian psychology emphasizes the notion of inner marriage and of "conjunctio oppositionis", the meeting of the pairs of opposites. With the union of the right and left current of sensations as a practical method, Svara-yoga gives a firm platform to reach these stages. If one looks deeply inside, he will notice than attachment to the body is based on fear of unbalance, especially between lateralities. Because of that, one sticks to a rigid inner image of this body, which entertains a fundamental tension. The highest mystical stage, complete surrender, detachment to the point of samadhi, will come only with perfect balance. Swami Nirgunananda says that Svara-yoga is not only a help for meditation, but is in itself a meditation, because it develops pure mindfulness.

 

VI ) NADA-YOGA

 

Nada is the eternal sound, which can be perceived directly inside. Nada, unlike common sounds, is not generated by the striking of two objects (ahata). Hence it is called 'anahata'. Nada was there at the beginning of the world under the form of Pranava (Om). The total creation comes from the union of Shiva (nada) and Shakti (bindu, the point, the first spark of activity, through which Shiva started the world. It also corresponds to the focal point in concentration, like the centre of Shri Chakra. In practice, beginners who want to have a taste of nada may practice bhramari-mudra, after making themselves fit with the preliminaries of yoga. The two thumbs close the ears, the indexes the eyes, the medium fingers the nostrils, the ring fingers push the upper lip and the small fingers the lower one. It can be performed with full or empty lungs. This is to give an idea of what nada is like in a gross way. If one is in a noisy surrounding, earplugs may help. Afterwards, two other mudra can help to catch the spontaneous nada: first, the jnana mudra with the tips of the thumb and index upwards, and second, putting the tip of the tongue upwards, but without touching the palate. In the void there, nada can be heard.

Classically, ten types of sound are described, but it depends upon the person and his capacity to segregate them, just as a perfume expert can differentiate between the many components of a single fragrance, thanks to his practice and intuition. For instance in my case (Swamiji), I hear first a high continuous sound like crickets, afterward the pulsating sound of bells, then the continuous flutes and conchshells, and then the pranav. In Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad, they give a simile about Brahma-vidya which can be applied to nada as well. When a father hears from far away a chorus of Vedic chanting, he cannot at first distinguish his son's voice in it; but the nearer he comes, the more chances he has to recognize it. In fact, every quality of sound may be heard as the pranava if it is perfectly continuous; there is no reason however to suggest to oneself that one hears a particular sound just because one saw it mentioned in the texts.

In the preceding section on Svara-yoga, we gave some clues about the way of balancing lateralities when listening to nada. Spontaneous stoppage of breath (khumbaka) comes often when attention is fully absorbed to listen to the sound. One should be conscious of that and avoid forced kumbhakas which would generate useless tensions in the body. Another name of Nada-yoga is Laya-yoga, the yoga of dissolution. When one is aware of the continuity of nada, he will remain in the ever-present. The basic sound is always the same, but due to the screen of our mind we hear it differently at different times. He nada helps silencing past memories, because mind is still, in the continuous present: the empirical, individual self merges (laya) into the universal consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of every yoga.

 

VII) SUGGESTIVE MEDITATION

 

This type of meditation is based on mental imagery. It corresponds to meditation with a form, which is a preparation for formless meditation. It is largely used by Tibetan Buddhism for instance, while Zen prefers to go directly towards a formless practice. I went trough an original diary of Bholonath, which is now destroyed. In it, he describes the meditation on the five elements, probably according to Ma's instructions. Earth is visualized in the muladhara chakra, water in svadhisthana, fire in manipura, air in anahata and ether in vishuddha. The way of meditating is as followed: one sees water flooding the earth, then fire dries water, wind sweeps fire and finally dissolves into ether. This practice helps to transcend the usual body consciousness and to merge into the formless.

There may be simple methods with imagery which can help: perceiving two rings coming up from the toes to the ajna, draining, collecting the vital energy and pushing it between the eyes. From there, one sends vibrations towards the ishta-devata in front, and then one goes back into the body to spread a fresh light coming from the deity. Two other practices are taking the help of scientific facts. First, "atomic meditation" is based on the notion that if you could compress all the subatomic particles together, the whole earth would fit in a handbag. In this case, the body of the meditator will no more exist, what will only remain will be consciousness itself. In the second method, "genetic meditation", you feel that you go backward to the moment of your conception, visualizing your change of stages in life, mentality, etc� If one further tries to trace back the process before that moment, individual existence will be divided between paternal and maternal genetic materials and diluted more and more as you go up in the genealogical tree, and ultimately dissolved in the universal Self. I found that this was an excellent method to overcome the main difficulty of meditation, i.e, loosing one's own individuality and awakening to universal consciousness.

If one wants to meditate on chakras, a simple way is to see that the lotus of every chakra is first looking downward, and that when it is pierced (bheda) by the serpent of Kundalini, it turns upward. Another way is with the mantra. It may be placed on every upward-looking lotus, and carried up and down between muladhara and sahasrara. Or as we said in the mantra section, you can imagine your guru in front of you and you reunite his chakras with yours by including them in the same circle. The thread of this continuum is your consciousness itself. There is also a way to combine the meditation on the Shri Chakra and on the chakra of the body. The outer square is visualized in an additional chakra a little below the muladhara, and the lotuses and series of triangles in each ascending chakra. Finally, the bindu (centre) is placed in the ajna. At each level, the meditator visualizes himself in front of the chakra, worshipping the deity which resides in it. But when ajna is reached, the worshipper merges in the object of worship, and the sadhaka becomes one with the Devi which is in this case in the form of bindu (point).

The five lower chakras correspond to the five physical elements (cf above), i.e., the material universe. Ajna and sahasrara represent the spiritual world. Texts like the "Shatchakra-nirupanam" "The ascertainment of the six chakras") distinguishes within the ajna between the mind centre below and the paramatma centre juste above. Still above the line of hair is the "unmani" chakra, after which one enters the region of "no-mind" Just above the sahasrara is the maha-bindu, the abode of Shiva and the place of his union with Shakti.

 

In conclusion, we could emphasize the importance to know why we meditate. Sometimes, sadhakas complain that they have no result in their practices, and they feel frustrated. One reason is that they do not have the requisites and the preliminary preparations, both physical and mental. A second reason is that they practice mechanically, without being aware of their main goal. Remembrance of this goal should be the thread running through all one's practices of meditation. Ma used to say: "God's grace is here and now, as a rain falling continuously; what you need is just putting your bowl upward."

 

Dhaulchina (Kumaon Himalaya), January 1999