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The Practice of Meditation in Vedanta

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  1. 1. © 2002 Stephen A. Parker The Practice of Meditation in Ved¡nta By Stephen Parker Psy.D. L.P. Presented at the International Conference on Science and Meditation 10-12 November 2002 Abstract This paper proposes to describe Ved¡ntic practice of meditation with sufficient clarity to provide the reader with a practical starting point for experimentation with the method in practice. A practical orientation is essential to the deeper phases where mind is propelled by concentration learned in the preparatory practice of Yoga beyond word and beyond discursive thought of any sort into direct experience (s¡kß¡t-k¡ra). The paper goes on to speculate about how one might usefully investigate this process empirically.
  2. 2. Introduction Jonathan Bader’s fine scholarly work (1990) on meditation in the Ved¡nta of ˛a©kara carefully probes the meaning of various terms for meditation and discusses the relationship between the Yoga and Ved¡nta traditions of meditation. It is clear from this discussion that S´a©kara considered the Yoga system of practice to be preparatory to the undertaking of Ved¡nta-s¡dhan¡. This was not simply for the sake of philosophical clarity and precision, but was necessary to taking contemplation of the great sentences (mah¡-v¡kya) from their lexical and associative linguistic meaning into direct experience (s¡kß¡t- k¡ra). Because of the inherent dualism (dvandva) of all linguistic form, this process must take the practitioner into the domain of reconciling (sam-¡-dh¡na) the apparent oppositions and by dwelling in the experience of paradox, beyond the words, to a direct experience that is beyond (and is the ultimate source of) both poles of the paradox. The definition of meditation in Ved¡nta was also addressed by Bader and by this author (1999) in a paper for the Tenth International Congress of Ved¡nta. These philological explorations centered on the Sanskrit terms up¡sana, dhy¡na, sam¡dhi, nididhy¡sana, and parisaµkhy¡na, as well as the English terms “meditation” and “contemplation” into which this array of Sanskrit terms are usually translated. For purposes of clarity in the current paper, the results of this study are summarized here. With respect to the English terms, it makes much better etymological sense to translate Sanskrit terms for what people usually mean by “meditation” as “contemplation” and vice versa. The historical confusion between these two terms has resulted in a general confusion about the meaning of the practice of “meditation” among many Western practitioners in religions traditions outside 2
  3. 3. of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. A. K. Coomaraswamy (1938, p. 426) made this argument long ago and, unfortunately, it has never been taken to heart by translators into English. “Meditation” derives from an Indo-European root, *med, cognate with Sanskrit √m¡ , meaning to measure or mete out. The Latin word meditor, cognate with the Greek meleato, is the historical predecessor of the word “meditation” and originally denoted exercise and eventually specified mental or spiritual exercise. In Christian monastic practice, meditation often has come to denote a thought process that is generally bound to words and thereby became understood to be largely intellectual in nature. This cut off access to both sub-conscious and super-conscious depths/heights of discovery of meaning and experience which are supra-rational. The word ‘meditation’, then, is complemented by the other term, ‘contemplation.’ “Contemplation” is from the Latin templum the earliest meaning of which was a place marked off for the purpose of divination. By extension this came to denote a place sacred to the gods and thus became cognate with Greek temenos. Both of these terms derive from the Indo-European root *tem, “to cut.” Rather than indicating a space which is “cut off,” Bader argues that it is simply a sacred space marked out within a greater space. The ritual of divination of celestial omens that occurred within this space usually involved gazing towards a star, hence the connotation of gazing with an open mind and heart (Bader, 25-9). The word contemplatio was held by the Scholastics to be cognate with Greek theoria. He then quotes 3
  4. 4. Plato to argue that theoria involves a particular kind of mental gaze which results in intuitive understanding.1 (Parker, 1999, p. X) What is important about our understaning of these terms as they apply to meditation in Ved¡nta is that there are components of both “contemplation” and “meditation” as they are meant here. Bader (1990), after examining these notions in the writing of an array of Western theologians and mystics from Aquinas to St. John of the Cross, argues that the terms are best understood to be complementary: Although ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’ derive from roots which imply a sense of ‘measurement,’ the two terms have certainly developed their own distinctive connotations. Meditation implies a deliberate practice. Contemplation, on the other hand, is not an activity. It is a receiving, a beholding, or an intuitive perception, of the truth which was sought in meditation. Nevertheless, the interrelationship of the two should not be overlooked. Contemplation is the corollary of meditation. They are inseparable links in the contemplative process. Hence, ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’ are best understood as complementary terms. (Bader,30) Further on (p. 42) Bader cites Commaraswamy’s argument that the Christian mystical process of consideratio, contemplatio and excessis are essentially equalivalent to the components of the yogic continuum of concentration, (saµyama): dh¡ran¡, dhy¡na and sam¡dhi. 1 The particular passage cited from Plato describes the process of contemplation upon heavenly beauty. Bader states that, “By a gradual process of abstraction, the physical aspects of beauty are left aside so that the soul’s supramundane beauty may be considered. . . Ultimately there is direct perception of the highest order which reveals the very Form of beauty itself.” (Bader, 1990, p. 28). A better general description in Western terms of S´r• Vidy¡ could hardly be hoped for! In a discussion of his reading of Western literature, Swami Veda Bh¡rati once remarked that in his opinion it is Tripurasundar• herself under the name Beatrice who conducts Dante through Il Paradiso. 4
  5. 5. The complementarity that exists among the Sanskrit terms listed above is somewhat more complex. They also describe a process of gradual deepening and intensification of focus that eventually leads one to the Ultimate. This process is not one with discreet stages, but may rather be described as a continuum. For example, introductory explanations of P¡tañjala-yoga tend to discuss the internal limbs (antar-a©ga) of yoga as discreet states: dh¡ran¡, dhy¡na and sam¡dhi, when, in practice, these are really “phases” in a single process called, in the third chapter of the Yoga-s¶tras, saµyama. Here up¡sana denotes an initial type of “meditation” on an object, mental or physical (¡lambana). It is often translated as “worship” (Apte, 299) and there is usually a religious component to it. In some ways it may be said to be like the term dh¡ran¡ in Yoga, in that it denotes the initial focus of the mind on an object and the mind’s effort to hold its attention there, but here dh¡ran¡ must be understood to be the goal and completion of that process. In dh¡ran¡ one is trying to narrow the focus of awareness, in up¡sana the aspect of worship calls forth an enrichment of association and symbolic reference. In this respect the word embodies a technical departure point between the methodologies of T¡ntrika practice and the sort of jñ¡na-yoga implicit in Ved¡ntic meditation, between what are described in Western terminology as via positiva and via negativa, the path of expansion towards the ultimate and the path of separation of transcendant from immanent Being by a careful practice of subtraction. Though our current terminology requires us to distinguish between these two for purposes of a rational discussion, it must be noted here that these two paths are not dichotomous and are actually complementary. Each is paradoxically implicit in the other. (By paradox here is meant the reaching of an epistemological limit rather than a logical error. The tension inherent in 5
  6. 6. dwelling in that paradox becomes a springboard into a new and deeper level of knowing how one knows, the reaching of which is what is meant by the term sam-¡-dh¡na, resolution of apparent oppositions. For a further discussion of the issue, see Shaw,1988 and Keeney, 1983.) The paradoxical nature of this relationship will become clearer as we examine the similar derivations of the terms up¡sana and upanißad. Up¡sana shares a similar etymology to the word upanißad since both include a verb root for sitting with the prefix upa- meaning “close.” In the case of up¡sana, the root is √¡s which indicates sitting in the sense of establishing a seat and becoming settled and stable: sthira-sukham ¡sanam says Yoga-sutra II.46. Mockery of the passivity of the act of sitting (and a corollary assertion of stupidity) is the likely cognate source of the English pejorative “ass” for one’s posterior anatomy. The verb root for upanißad, on the other hand, is the slightly more active √sad, indicating settling down. The addition of the intensive prefix ni- intensifies the sense of nearness in the term, so that upanißad literally denotes “sitting very close,” capturing the sense of deep relationship that facilitates the mental and oral transmission of spiritual experience in the texts that bear this name. One sits very close not only in physical proximity, learning from every encounter (dar≈ana) with one’s preceptor, but also, and even more importantly, close in mental and spiritual connection so that the transmission of direct experience can occur as grace, pra-s¡da, “that which settles down and clarifies.” The more active sense of the verb √sad, in addition to the sense of sitting, also denotes a process of getting to the bottom of one’s psychological self in the process of settling one’s mind. This opens the gates of the mind to the sub- conscious and super-conscious domains and to the associative and symbolic deep structure of language. It allows for enrichment of the meaning of a given word 6
  7. 7. or phrase (via positiva) and also for a process of refining that meaning in the direction of total stillness of focus (via negativa: neti-neti). This aids not only in the understanding of the depths of meaning, but also aids in surfacing and dismissing errors of understanding, a-vidy¡, at all levels. When this concentration becomes settled and stable, the term dhy¡na is used. The traditional definition of dhy¡na captures the continuous flow of concentration, like an unbroken stream of oil (S´a©kar¡c¡rya, Bhagavad-g•t¡- bh¡ßya, 13.24). In this respect it is without effort and is the kind of receptive beholding implied in the English term ‘contemplation.’ It is probably also equivalent to the Latin term contemplatio in the triad of mystical experience described above. (For purposes of this discussion, we have ignored the very substantial scholarship of Jan Gonda on the concept of dhy¡na in favor of experiential definition.) The third component of the three-fold continuum of concentration is sam¡dhi. Derived grammatically from sam + ¡ + √dh¡, the word denotes “to place or put together, join, unite” (Apte, 197). The prefix sam, meaning together is augmented by ¡ which connotes proximity and centripetal gathering, “from all sides, all around” (Apte, 197). This gathering and intensification of focus involves resolution of distinctions and paradoxes, which occurs in levels of superconscious awareness described in detail in the Sam¡dhi-p¡da of the Yoga- s¶tras. The details of the various types of sam¡dhi are beyond the scope of this discussion. For these the reader may consult Ara∆ya (1983, 2000), Bangali Baba (1976) or Sw¡mi Veda Bh¡rati’s lucid discussion in his translation and commentary on the text (Arya, 1986). All three of these works have both a solid scholarly basis and the requisite direct experience. For our purposes, the central feature of sam¡dhi is that as the still and steady concentration of dhy¡na continues, eventually the distinction between 7
  8. 8. subject and object disappears and the meditator’s mind beholds the “thing in itself.” her mind having taken the shape of the object itself rather than the category of the object or any linguistic formulation which would be an abstraction from the “thing in itself.” Some authors have used the occurrence of this collapse of the distinction between observer and object to distinguish between the lower sam¡dhi (in Ved¡nta, savikalpa) and the ultimate sam¡dhi (nirvikalpa or, in the Yoga system, asaµprajñ¡ta). (e.g. Cenkner, 1983.) This is incorrect whether we refer to sam¡dhi in the context of Yoga or Ved¡nta. In his annotation to Vy¡sa’s commentary on YS III.3 (p.252) Ara∆ya clarifies: when meditation becomes so intense that nothing but the object meditated on is present therein, it is called sam¡dhi or concentration. As the mind is then full of the nature of the object meditated upon, the reflective knowledge is lost sight of. In other words, the nature of the process of meditating (e.g. I am meditating.) is lost in the nature of the object. Meditation losing consciousness of self, is Sam¡dhi. In plain language, when in the process of meditating, consciousess of self seems to disappear and only the object meditated upon appears to exist, when the self is forgotten and the difference between the self and the object is effaced, such concentration of the mind on the object is called Sam¡dhi. Similarly, Bangali Baba (1976, 67) translates Vy¡sa on the same s¶tra: “When the Meditation itself having the manifestation of designed form, becomes as if devoid of its cognitional character, due to the coming in of the real nature of the designed object, then it is called Spiritual Absorption.” For the moment we will sidestep the question of the relationship between categories of sam¡dhi in Yoga and Ved¡nta. These are discussed in detail from a scholarly perspective in 8
  9. 9. Bader (1990) and from an experientially informed perspectivein Arya (1986), Ara∆ya (1983, 2000). Our discussion now turns to nididhy¡sana and parisaµkhy¡na, terms utilized within the Ved¡nta system itself. Both terms involve reframing of terms from Yoga. Nididhy¡sana is a reduplicated intensive/frequentative form of √dhy¡i, the same root source of dhy¡na, further intensified by the prefix ni-. It denotes an ultimately intensive, beholding focus of consciousness. Parisaµkhy¡na is derived from the same verbal root, √khy¡, meaning to declare or know by appropriate designation (Apte, 50), as are the Yoga terms khy¡ti and prasaµkhy¡na. In the Yoga-s¶tra, khy¡ti occurs most importantly in the compound viveka-khy¡ti, denoting the quality of discriminative wisdom of buddhi by way of which prakƒti and purußa are finally discriminated from each other in the highest/deepest asa≥prajñ¡ta-sam¡dhi (Arya, 1986, 107-8, 135-6). Prasaµkhy¡na indicates the act of discrimination itself. Nididhy¡sana we know primarily as the culminating stage of the three- fold method of Ved¡ntic contemplation, ≈ravana, manana and nididhy¡sana (Bader, 65-80). S´ravana, literally “hearing,” involves hearing the truth, either from revealed scripture (≈ruti) or from one’s preceptor. A fully prepared student requires only this hearing to catalyze an immediate realization of the Absolute (aparokß¡nubhuti). Manana denotes cognition, initially thinking through levels of comparison of similarity and difference (anvaya and vyatireka). Initially this is a logical process, but full rationality cannot be said to have been achieved without the assistance of intuition. Bader observes that, “S´a©kara maintains that the process of reflection (manana) is not one of bare ratiocination (≈ußka-tarka). Reason must function as a subordinate of intuitive knowledge (anubhav¡©ga). Anubhava, in turn, is directly interrelated with scripture.” (p.66) Bader sidesteps a discussion of the nature of this relationship, but this author is quite certain that 9
  10. 10. it should encompass description of the power of mantra to communicate meanings beyond the linguistic, as, for instance, in the precise recitation of Veda by a veda-p¡†hin. Nididhy¡sana is translated in many different ways, as “contemplation” or “continued contemplation” (Mahadevan), “constant meditation” (Deutsch), “higher meditation” (Gambh•r¡nanda). Bader prefers S´a©kara’s use of the phrase, “¡tma-jñ¡na-smƒti-sa≥tati,” “the constant train of the remembrance of the Self,” from his Bƒhad¡ra∆yaka-upanißad-bh¡ßya (1.4.7). None of these adequately make clear the intensification of “contemplation” involved. In his discussion of the Ved¡ntic commentaries on the Yoga-s¶tra, Arya (p. 91) says straightforwardly, “This nididhy¡sana is the same as sam¡dhi.” He proceeds to follow the process through the various stages of sa≥prajñ¡ta-sam¡dhi. Parisaµkhy¡na, according to Bader (p. 75), was probably always regarded as synonymous with nididhy¡sana. He goes on to explain the importance of reconstructing the Yoga term prasaµkhy¡na: It seems likely that S´a©kara sought to refute prasaµkhy¡na primarily because it might entail injunctions or imply a sense of agency. . . Since some of the adherents of this meditation [prasaµkhy¡na], who were contemporaries of S´a©kara, upheld the view that ritual action was necessary, he probably decided to reject the term prasaµkhy¡na altogether. Instead S´a©kara proposes an almost synonymous term, parisaµkhy¡na. . . According to S´a©kara, the purpose of parisaµkhy¡na is to free one from the effects of karma. (Bader, pp. 77-8.) . . . It is a process of knowledge, not (ritual) action. . . The practice of parisaµkhy¡na begins with an awareness of onesself as the perceiver in an absolute sense. . . From this perspective one discriminates between the 10
  11. 11. Self, which is witness to all things, though unaffectd by them, and the objects of sensory perception.” (Bader, pp.79.) S´a©kara describes parisaµkhy¡na in detail in the third prose chapter of his Upade≈asahasri (Mayeda, 1992). This completes a review of terms for meditation and prepares the ground for a discussion of the method of meditation practice in Ved¡nta. Method of Practice In a commentary on the M¡∆∂ukya-upanißad written for a popular audience, Swami Rama, the founder of the Himalayan Institute Hospital, and a rare example of the grace of the Himalayan sages in sending a realized master to live among us, describes the initial stages of Ved¡ntic meditation: First, an aspirant attentively listens to the sayings of the Upanishads from a preceptor who is Brahman-conscious all the time. In the second step, he practices vich¡ra (contemplation), which means that he goes to the depths of the great sayings and determines to practice them with mind, action and speech. One-pointed devotion, full determination, and dedication lead him to the higher step called nididhy¡sana. (pp. 101-2) . . . At initiation into the Da≈an¡mi order of sa≥ny¡s•s the newly ordained monk is given one of the Mah¡v¡kyas or “great sentences” from the Upanißads. These include tat tvam asi, “That thou art!” (Ch¡ndogya-upanißad VI.8 ff), aham brahm¡smi, “I am Brahman!” (Bƒhad¡ra©yaka-upanißad I.4.10), prajñ¡nam brahma, “Consciousness is Brahman!” (⁄itareya-upanißad III.1.1), ayam ¡tma brahma, “This Self is Brahman!” (M¡∆∂ukya-upanißad 2), and several other sentences. This initial “hearing” is the first step of ≈ravana, 11
  12. 12. mentioned above, the first step in the three-fold process of meditation and contemplation. A fully prepared student might instantaneously realize just upon this first hearing. For one who does not hear it All in that moment, there are also intuitive meanings conveyed by inspired recitation and by grace. For the rest of us, there is then a second stage of manana, “mentation,” “meditation” in the sense of an intentional and active process of thought. This involves initially a focus on words and their meanings. Here a careful understanding of grammar and linguistics assists the aspirant in refining her intellectual understanding. The process of anvaya and vyatireka, assessing similarity and difference, is derived from the philosophy of grammar and from formal logic, but is used somewhat differently when applied by Ved¡ntins: The terms anvaya and vyatireka are used by the Naiy¡yikas and the Grammarians, but in a different way from the way they are used by S´a©kara and Sure≈vara. The Naiy¡yikas use the anvayavyatireka for establishing an invariable concomitance (vy¡pti) between hetu [“cause”] and s¡dhya [“result”]. The Grammarians use it “to demonstrate that certain meanings are justifiably attributed to certain linguistic items.” S´a©kara’s usage, which is concerned with the problem of word meanings, is closer to that of the Grammarians than to that of the Naiy¡yikas, but it is not identical to it. His anvayavyatireka is . . . used . . . only for the purpose of discriminating the meaning of words in the sentence “tat tvam asi,” especially “tvam.” (Upade≈a-s¡hasr• I.18.178,180.) When we examine it more closely we find that [it] . . . is a means of realizing the true ⁄tman, excluding the non-⁄tman and, in essence, a kind of meditation on the same line with the parisaµkhy¡na meditation (Upade≈a-s¡hasr• II.3.), which S´a©kara urges. (Mayeda, 56.) 12
  13. 13. This initial grammatical level of analysis of the Mah¡v¡kya is the most superficial layer of thought in the process of vic¡ra, mentioned by Swami R¡ma above. The Pañcada≈• of Vidy¡ra∆ya says, “Direct realization of Brahman is never possible only from the instructions of a competent teacher, without the practice of enquiry (vic¡ra).” (IX,30 in Swahananda, p.386). Vic¡ra, from vi- + √car, “to go,” meaning “progressive movement” or “movement of the mind from gross objects to subtler objects of concentration.” (Arya, 1986, p. 229.) This vic¡ra has different meanings in the Yoga and Ved¡nta systems. From the perspective of Yoga, Arya (1986) clarifies: The philosophical analysis of the relationship of prakƒti with ¡tman and Brahman finally leads to the realization that “I am none of these prakƒti evolutes with which I have identified the self.” But such an analytical process is part of the practice of intense vic¡ra contemplations on the path of jñ¡na-yoga as taught in the Ved¡nta lineage. For the purose of yoga practice according to Patañjali and Vy¡sa, it will fall within (a) the anum¡na-pram¡∆a, inference as valid proof, a vƒtti to be brought under control, or (b) sv¡dhy¡ya, the study of scriptural sentences leading to liberation, the fourth of the niyamas . . .Both of these . . .are left behind when one begin to enter sam¡dhi. Therefore vic¡ra here [in the Yoga- s¶tras] does not denote an analytical thought process. It is a technical term . . . for a particular concentration on certain evolutes in order to master their nature and then to negate their influence on the ego. (p. 230) In Yoga, the sa-vic¡ra-sam¡dhi denotes specifically the practice of sa≥yama on the six a-vi≈eßas, the subtle elements (tanm¡tra), and aha≥k¡ra. In Ved¡nta, the vic¡ra contemplation proceeds through the logical and grammatical analysis described above, into a deepening mindfulness (smƒti) which begins, at the deepest levels of manana, to take the aspirant beyond the words. 13
  14. 14. Part of this process of deepening one’s mentation involves entering into an inner dialogue with one’s mind. Sw¡mi R¡ma goes on that, Such dialogues strengthen the faculty of decisiveness and sharpen the buddhi (higher intellect), which can penetrate into the subtleties of the inner levels. Mental dialogue is very healthy for resolving mental conflicts that arise in the mind of the aspirant as it remains habitually travelling to the grooves of his past habits (p. 102). In a method that much resembles the cognitive-behavior therapy of modern psychotherpeutic practice, the aspirant begins to observe these habits rather than simply perform them. This opens more choice about whether to respond according to the emotional momentum of the habit, or to do something different. As the practice of sitting meditation, dhy¡na, and of vic¡ra in this sense of mindfulness, smƒti, and self-study, sv¡dhy¡ya, become the means of 14
  15. 15. establishing the witnessing awareness of ⁄tman, s¡kß•, from the waking state2 , the practices of yoga-nidr¡ establish s¡kß• from states of relaxation and sleep. This involves, initially, the use of relaxation techniques (≈ava-y¡tra, ≈•thali- kara∆a) (V. Bh¡rat•, 2001, pp. 774-777.), which are deepened by increasing the complexity of points of concentration and then by learning to rest the mind without an object of concentration in the An¡hata-cakra. (For a practical description of the lementary practice of this skill, see Rama, p. 64-5.) As the aspirant continues to discriminate and observe, his witnessing awareness progressing to greater acuity and subtlety, sooner or later he reaches an epistemological limit and finds himself in a paradoxical situation. Far from being simply a logical error, paradox signals reaching the end of what we know altogether (Keeney, 1983). We are confronted by a set of facts, all of which are both true and inconsistent with each other. Here the assistance of a preceptor becomes essential. As we dwell in the tension of the paradox, suddenly the teacher gives us a word, or a kick, or a slap or puts us in a situation that raises us to a higher order of epistemology and a deeper order of Knowing. These expreiences, of course, comprise many of the great teaching stories of the tradition. They range from relatively minor deepenings of the depth of our knowledge all the way to the granting of the highest knowledge by shakti-p¡ta. By way of this progressive deepening of awareness of pure consciousness, the entire mind of the aspirant is transformed and the superimposition (adhy¡sa) of the illusory upon the Real is gradually undone. At each moment of such realization, the illusory “horns” of every paradox are pared away as the aspirant realizes that the real is “neither this nor that”, neti-neti in the well known Ved¡nta formula or, as the 14th Century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart might say, a negation of the negation. (Deussen, 1906, 1966, p. 149.) 2 For a beautiful exposition of vic¡ra, see Yoga-v¡si߆ha II.14, translated in Venkatashananda, 1993, pp. 32-3. 15
  16. 16. At this point, there occurs even the dismissal of the mind. This phase of s¡dhana is described in great narrative and philosophical detail in the Yoga-v¡si߆ha (Atreya, 1936; Venkateshananda, 1983 & 1993; Pansikar, 1984; Shastri, 1969). Eventually, the mental acuity of the aspirant begins to dwell in what is essentially a state of sam¡dhi or sam¡dhi-like concentration (Swami R¡ma maintains that sam¡dhi and Self-realization are distinct, 1986, p. 115) that brings the aspirant very close to the direct experience of Brahman. Then, in the midst of intense vic¡ra, our aspirant reaches a moment when they must realize or die altogether. If the aspirant has done their homework well there then dawns s¡kß¡t-k¡ra, direct experience, the highest valid proof in the Ved¡nta system. Far from a moment of rarified intellectual pursuit, the stories of those reaching this height and depth are full of passion. We have only to read the stories of Rama Tirtha (Shastri, undated), Ramakrishna (Saradananda, 1978) and our own Swami Rama (Rama, 1978) to see this clearly. Implications for Empirical Study In 1976 the renowned comparative religion and tantric studies scholar, Ageh¡nanda Bh¡rati, made the following startling prediction: I think that religious, revivialist, mystical and kindred religious movements will survive the century and will grow, to the degree that they are viable substitutes for psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. . . Yoga is therapy. (Bh¡rati, 1976, p.225). At the time it was a very odd prediction, but it may be some measure of Bh¡rati’s accomplishment and foresight that it has come true to so large an extent in psychotherapy and behavioral medicine. Researchers are catching up with clinicians’ use for decades of relaxation techniques, meditation and other 16
  17. 17. techniques derived from traditions of spiritual practice where science and spirituality are not considered distinct. The implications of the Ved¡ntic method of meditation for empirical studies of meditation generally are difficult because this s¡dhana strives to take one beyond the measurable (m¡y¡). Like the search for quarks, then, our research is often confined to identifying measurable epiphenomena, neurological or otherwise that are predeicted by theory. This paper will not make the common complaint concerning the reduction of consciousness to phenomena of neurobiology. Indeed it might well be argued that S´ha©kar¡c¡rya is the ultimate reductionist, having reduced all of neurobiology to an epiphenomenon of consciousness! Two major methodological problems present themselves to this student. The first addresses those studies that attempt to study large numbers of subjects. Like research on methods of psychotherapy, quantitative measures would yield results that will almost never be very robust. The question of how to assure that subjects are using a method that remains constant across subjects (given that the methods involved are not easily or specifically verified physiologically) is one aspect of this problem. Another is that subjects practice a given method to various levels of accompishment (Nagel, 1999). This is also nearly impossible to measure but there may be physiological signs that allow one to judge specific levels of competence, e.g. the ability to produce particular brain wave patterns for a specific period of time. Finally, since the experiments of Wolfgang Pauli it has been clear that the construction of an experiment also determines the nature of the result (Keeney, 1983), so the hypothesis here would be that the results with a broad array of subjects would tend to reify (or refute) the meditation method utilized. 17
  18. 18. The second approach is to perform intensive studies of masters of meditation. How one assesses mastery is an obvious difficulty and probably has to be left to qualitative methods culturally appropriate to the specific tradition. These definitions may not be empirical in the usual sense. Assuming that some way can be found to assess mastery, the hypothesis for this method, at least from the perspective of Ved¡nta, would be that masters would essentially resemble each other across traditions, regardless of method. They would tend to point toward the commonalities across across methods and traditions. This is particularly difficult for the Ved¡nta method as it presupposes the accomplishments of preparation and skill acquisition through the yoga system of practice. Presumably, then, all the phenomenal signs of accomplishment in yoga would be present even though the practitioner may not have reached the ultimate goal of nirvikalpa-sam¡dhi. When one obtains that mastery, it stands to reason that the results would resemble the experiments conducted with Swami Rama by the Menninger Foundation in the 1970’s in producing results which are inconsistent with what we know of neurological fucntioning (or even physics), like remaining in stage IV, delta wave sleep and recounting verbatim conversations that transpired in the room at that time or carefully controlled demonstrations of psychokinesis or carcinogenisis (Green & Green, 1977). The demonstration of mastery of sleep in particular fits both a physiological criterion of evidence and a traditional description of mastery from the M¡∆∂ukya- upanißad. Any suitable research methodology must meet both empirical and culturally specific criteria. One very interesting empirical result is the emerging distinction between “closed-focus” and “open-focus” methods of meditation. (Burke, 2002; see also Murphy and Donovan, 1997.) Closed focus methods are typified by concentration on an object and open-focus methods typically try to cultivate an 18
  19. 19. intensified general awareness in observing mental activity as in vipassana practice. There are several ways in which this empirical distinction parallels distinctions in the linguistic discussion above. For example, the closed-focus resembles the activity connoted by the term “meditation” and the open-focus resembles “contemplation” in its most precise sense. The closed-focus methods typify the preparatory work of Yoga and the open-focus typifies Ved¡nta- s¡dhan¡. Continuous closed-focus is a reasonable definition of dhy¡na; the transition to the higher practices of sam¡dhi through manana, vic¡ra and nididhy¡sana would seem to describe development of the ultimate open-focus. It appears that it is not impossible for the languages of empiricists and s¡dhakas to provide grounds for collaboration rather than conflict. Promising theories of transpersonal psychology are beginning to emerge (Wilber, 1996, 1998, 1999) that have some potential for bridging the gap between the empirical and the subjective domains of experience. One might think of this as a subset of the gap between science and practice in the larger field of psychology. Since clinical applications often develop in the domain of experience and the “oral tradition” of clinical supervision, it is reasonable to argue that such development can parallel the sort of training that occurs in the oral tradition of “sitting very close” in meditation. With the advent of increasingly powerful forms of qualitative research to complement quantitative methods, there is hope for a richer knowledge base about the experience of the transpersonal and transcultural in meditation. To the extent that qualitative and quantitative approaches collaborate, and to the extent that the empiricists and the s¡dhakas validate each other’s work, we will know that we are headed in the direction of truth. References 19
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