Almost every spiritual tradition worldwide has a form of meditation practice. These vary in methodology; from those that focus on specific words or an image, to those that play a musical instrument, or repeat a symbolic phrase or mantra. There are some practices that focus on keeping a specific image in the mind’s eye, or on a painting on the wall. Some very beautiful schools keep the mind on the breath, or on a specific part of the body, or sit in positions conducive to the meditative state. There are even traditions that use walking or make repeated movement their focus of inner calm.
What all these schools have in common is that they are practising a form of concentration that is designed to lead to a meditative state. Meditation, however, is not concentration alone, but rather a state of being that can be achieved by the practice of concentration.
The ancient Indian masters used to call meditation Samyama, which translates as the ultimate self-control. They divided this art into five stages of achievement, which can be classified by the elements.
The first state of meditation is concentration and relates to the element of earth. The Indian yogis call this state Dharana; in the West, we talk of contemplation. Whilst in this state we learn to make our focus rest on one point by holding it there with a firm, unmovable intent. Our mind becomes as solid as a rock and as stable as a mountain. We are imperturbable and hold our subject in focus through sustained concentration, whereby the attention continues to hold or repeat the same object.
To master this ability we need to overcome all major disturbances or traumas in our personality and develop a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
The second level of attainment relates to water, known as Dhyana to the yogis and is a state of flowing focus towards the subject matter. In this state our mind is still focused on the object of meditation, but as our skill improves we develop the ability to make our thoughts naturally drawn towards the subject. Our mind is like a river moving constantly towards the object or area of meditation naturally. By staying self-aware and not forgetting ourselves, we maintain the stream in the direction we require and the subject of meditation becomes like a magnet, pulling our thoughts towards it. Our active role becomes to simply protect the flow from disturbances. This is the most commonly achieved state of Samyama, so much so that it has come to characterise meditation. Indeed the term Dhyana is actually often translated as meditation and is where terms such as 'zen' and 'chan' come from.
To master this art one must eliminate any conflicts or negativity in our being and direct our whole life towards good outcomes.
The fourth state of mastery is known in yoga as Samadhi or union. In this state our mind, like air, becomes so close to the object of meditation that it takes on its form. In this state of deep absorption, only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if the mind were devoid even of its own form. Just as air is invisible yet still present, so the self totally disappears during this stage. In this state, we fully experience the object of meditation so much so that, just as the light from the object travels through the air to the eye, there is often a state of confusion between the object of meditation and the meditator themselves. This state is often accompanied by a feeling of bliss with amazing insights.
To master this state, the practitioner needs to master their own inner desires and to
resolve any issues they have with the path of life, fate and death. They need to be able to detach and let go of all worldly things at will and bring all aspects of their personality under control.
In the Hermetic tradition this is known as 'Becoming Aeon', the yogis call this Nirbija Samadhi. In this state, our consciousness is like a radiating heat; comparable to the rays of the sun shining forth. Now we can become whatever we choose, just like the heat becomes at one with any object it touches. To truly grasp this it's important to understand that heat is not separate to the object but is, in fact, part of the object it is within. In this state we no longer have any confusion between the self and subject – only the subject exists. We are no longer just meditating, we are becoming the task or becoming the subject of meditation, unhindered by any obstruction.
To master this stage of development, the practitioner must let go of all confusions and his perceived limitations. He must defeat vice and ignorance to embrace the true nature of himself.
There is a fifth state known in yoga as 'the cloud of bliss', the description of which is far too complicated to cover here. It’s a subtle state that few living masters have experienced. As you can see, the better your skill becomes the purer your focus and the closer you become to being at one with the subject of your meditation.
These increasingly advanced stages of practice can only be accessed when the mind is in total harmony and fully under one’s control. To do this the meditator has to eliminate internal obstructions, whether they are caused by out of control emotions, inner pain, conflict, lack of energy, disharmony, distraction, self delusion, etc. This happens naturally during the meditation process and with each session of practice. As the practitioner solves their own problems, they gain increased awareness and control of their own consciousness.
This beautiful practice has been tested by thousands of years of tradition, the health benefits of which are increasingly being proven by modern science. To discover more about the process of self-improvement through meditation please watch the adjoining video.