It will be most helpful to your practice if you have a special place exclusively for meditation. Your mind will begin to associate that place with meditation and will more easily enter a quiet and peaceful state when you sit there. If you can set aside an entire room for practicing meditation, or even a large well-ventilated closet, that is good, but just an area in a room is adequate. The important thing is that the area be devoted exclusively to your meditation.
The room should be moderate in temperature and free from drafts, both cold and hot. It is also important that it be well ventilated so you do not get sleepy from lack of oxygen in the air.
Your meditation place should be as quiet as possible. Do not play music or other kinds of sounds during your meditation, as that definitely interferes with your entering the Silence and perceiving the subtle forms of Soham. As a rule earplugs are not recommended for the practice of meditation since you can become distracted by the sensation of pressure in the ears, or the chirping, cricket-like noises that go on all the time in the ears, or the sound of your heartbeat. But if you need them, use them. Your place of meditation should ideally be a place where you can most easily forget outer distractions, but if it is not, you can still manage to practice meditation successfully.
It should be softly or dimly lighted. (Full darkness might tend to make you go to sleep.) It is also good to turn off any electric lights, as their pulsation, even though not perceived by the eyes, affects the brain waves and subtly influences the mind, holding it to the level that corresponds to the rate of pulsation. If you like having a candle or wick lamp burning when you meditate, they should be a kind that does not flicker.
Some yogis like to burn incense when they meditate. This is a good practice if the smoke does not irritate their lungs or noses. Unfortunately, much incense, including that from India, contains artificial, toxic ingredients that are unhealthy. Two excellent kinds of incense are the Auroshika brand made at the Aurobindo Ashram in India and Nandita natural organic incense made in Mumbai. Both can be ordered from Amazon.com.
It is good to keep some sacred symbols or imagery in your meditation place–whatever reminds you that God is present.
For meditation we sit in a comfortable, upright position. This is for two reasons: so we will not fall asleep, and to facilitate the upward movement of the subtle life force, prana, of which the breath is a manifestation.
It is important that our meditation posture be comfortable and easy to maintain. Though sitting upright, be sure you are always relaxed. Yoga Sutra 2:46 says: “Posture [asana] should be steady and comfortable.” The Yoga Vashishtha (6:1:128) simply says: “He should sit on a soft seat in a comfortable posture conducive to equilibrium.” Shankara comments: “Let him practice a posture in which, when established, his mind and limbs will become steady, and which does not cause pain.” Here relaxation is the key for Yoga Sutra 2:47 says: “Posture is mastered by relaxation.”
There are several cross-legged postures recommended for meditation. They are the Lotus (Padmasana), Perfect (Siddhasana), Auspicious (Swastikasana), and Easy (Sukhasana). You will find them described in books on Hatha Yoga postures. I especially recommend Yoga Asanas by Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society, as it is written from the perspective of spiritual development and also gives many hints to help those who are taking up meditation later in life and whose bodies need special training or compensation.
If you can sit in a cross-legged position without your legs going to sleep and making you have to shift them frequently, that is very good. Some yogis prefer to sit on the floor using a pillow. This, too, is fine if your legs do not go to sleep and distract you. But meditation done in a chair is equally as good. Better to sit at ease in a chair and be inwardly aware than to sit cross-legged and be mostly aware of your poor, protesting legs.
If you use a chair, it should be comfortable, of moderate height, one that allows you to sit upright with ease while relaxed, with your feet flat on the floor. There is no objection to your back touching the back of the chair, either, as long as your spine will be straight. If you can easily sit upright without any support and prefer to do so, that is all right, too, but be sure you are always relaxed.
If you have any back difficulties, make compensation for them, and do not mind if you cannot sit fully upright. We work with what we have, the whole idea being to sit comfortably and at ease.
Put your hands on your thighs, your knees, or in your lap: joined, separated, one over the other, whatever you prefer. The palms can be turned up or down. Really it does not matter how you place or position your hands, just as long as they are comfortable and you can forget about them. There is no need to bother with hand mudras, as they are irrelevant to Soham Yoga practice.
Hold your head so the chin is parallel to the ground or, as Shankara directs, “the chin should be held a fist’s breadth away from the chest.” Make a fist, hold it against your neck, and let your chin rest on your curled-together thumb and forefinger. You need not be painfully exact about this. The idea is to hold your head at such an angle that it will not fall forward when you relax. Otherwise you will be afflicted with what meditators call “the bobs,” the upper body continually falling forward during meditation.
Meditation is not a military exercise, so we need not be hard on ourselves about not moving in meditation. It is only natural for our muscles to sometimes get stiff or for some discomfort to develop. Go right ahead and move a bit to get rid of the discomfort.
Some yogis prefer facing east or north to meditate, but it has been my experience that in Soham Yoga it simply does not matter what direction I face. Yet you might want to experiment on your own.
Whatever your seat for meditation–chair, pillow, pad, or mat–it will be good if it can be used only for meditation. This will pick up the beneficial vibrations of your meditation, and when you sit on it your mind will become calm and your meditation easier. For the same reason some people like using a special shawl or meditation clothing or a robe when meditating. If you cannot devote a chair to your meditation, find some kind of cloth or throw that you can put over the chair when you meditate and remove when you are done.
If we lie down for meditation we will likely go to sleep. Yet, for those with back problems or some other situation interfering with their sitting upright, or who have trouble sitting upright for a long time, it is possible to meditate in a reclining position at a forty-five-degree angle. This is a practice of some yogis in India when they want to meditate unbrokenly for a very long time. (I know of two yogis who meditated throughout the entire day this way.) There may still be a tendency to sleep, but we do what we can, when we can. Here is the procedure:
Using a foam wedge with a forty-five-degree angle, or enough pillows to lie at that angle, or in a bed that raises up to that angle, lie on your back with your arms at your side, or across your stomach if that is more comfortable. Then engage in the meditation process just as you would if sitting upright.
When you are ill or for some reason unable to sit upright you can meditate in this way.
Alternating positions in meditation
Those not yet accustomed to sitting still for a long time, or those who want to meditate an especially long time, can alternate their meditation positions. After sitting as long as is comfortable, they can do some reclining meditation and then sit for some more time, according to their inclination.
Relaxation is the key to successful meditation just as is ease and simplicity. We need to be relaxed in both body and mind to eliminate the distracting thoughts and impressions that arise mostly from tension.
It is only natural that you will find your mind moving up and down or in and out during the practice of meditation, sometimes being calm and sometimes being restless. Do not mind this at all; it is in the nature of things. At such times you must consciously become even more calm, relaxed, and aware. Lighten up in the most literal sense. As already said, when restlessness or distractions occur, take a deep breath through your nose, let it out, relax, and keep on meditating.
It is also natural when we begin turning our awareness inward that we will encounter thoughts, memories, various emotions, feelings, mental states, and other kinds of experiences such as lights, sensations of lightness and heaviness, of expansion, of peace and joy, visual images (waking dreams), and such like. None of these should be either accepted or rejected. Instead we should calmly continue our intonations of Soham. The inner sound of Soham and the states of consciousness it produces are the only things that matter, for they alone bring us to the Goal. We should never become caught up in the various phenomena, however amazing, entertaining, pleasant (or how inane, boring, and unpleasant) they may be, and be distracted from meditation. Experiences must not be held on to, nor should they be pushed away, either. Instead we should be quietly aware of them and keep on with meditation so in time we can pass far beyond such things. This is relaxation in attitude.
Also, feelings of boredom, stagnation, annoyance and inner discomfort may be the resistance of negative energies which will be cleared away by meditation as we persevere, and should not be taken seriously and allowed to influence us or even get us to end a meditation period to get away from them.
Never try to make one meditation period be like one before it. Each session of meditation is different, even though it will have elements or experiences in common with other sessions.
Do not be unhappy with yourself if in meditation it seems things a just not going right or you are just floating on the top rather than going deep. That is what you need at the moment. Keep on; everything is all right. Remember: Soham is not just intelligent, it is Divine Intelligence, and whatever is best for you to experience is what it will produce, either late or soon, but always at the perfect time. And most important: Never let your mind trick you into stopping your meditation with the idea that you will try later and things may be better. These times of feeling dull and inert are little “dark nights of the soul” which if we endure we ensure that we will never go through the long periods of internal darkness that non-yogis undergo.
It is important in meditation to be relaxed, natural, and spontaneous, to neither desire or try to make the meditation go in a certain direction or to try to keep it from going in a particular direction. To relax and be quietly observant is the key for the correct practice of meditation.
Yet, correct meditation practice is never passive or mentally inert. At all times you are consciously and intentionally intoning Soham. It should be easeful and relaxed, but still intentional, even when your intonations become more gentle and subtle, even whisperlike or virtually silent.
Closed mouth and eyes
Breathing through the mouth agitates the mind, so keeping your mouth closed and breathing only through the nose has a calming effect. So also does closing your eyes, for by closing your eyes you remove visual distractions and eliminate over seventy-five percent of the usual brain wave activity.
The Bhagavad Gita speaks of the yogi “holding the body, head and neck erect, motionless and steady, looking toward the origin of his nose and not looking around” (Bhagavad Gita 6:13). Disagreement has existed for centuries as to whether this means the yogi should look downward toward the tip of his nose or upward to between his eyebrows. Since nasikagram means literally “the origin of the nose,” it depends on where you consider the nose “begins”–at the point between the eyebrows or the tip of the nose. The consensus throughout India is almost unanimous that the tip of the nose is meant. Even Shankara taught that the eyes are to be turned down toward the tip of the nose. Not that the yogi makes himself cross-eyed, but that he gently turns his eyes downward at the angle of looking at his nosetip. To determine the correct angle, just touch the middle of your extended forefinger to the tip of your nose and look down at it. That is it!
However, during meditation it is natural that the eyes turn upward and downward. When it happens effortlessly and spontaneously, that is perfectly all right. This has to do with the condition and movement of subtle energies in the Sahasrara chakra. This is good when it occurs automatically and without any strain. You need only be centered in the awareness of your intonations of Soham. The eyes will take care of themselves.
In meditation we breathe through the nose, not the mouth. And since meditation is much easier when your nasal passages are open and clear, whenever they are stopped or stuffy, clear them by use of a NeilMed Neti Pot or NeilMed Sinus Rinse bottle, or similar devices. Some nasal inhalers also help clear the nasal passages. If for some reason your nose stays stopped or stuffy, then accept it and do your best. The benefit will still be great.
Be at peace and confident
Be very relaxed about your involvement with Soham and with all your spiritual disciplines. The moment anxiety enters, so does the ego and things are greatly hindered and even reversed. Just do as you do. Do not be careless or causal, but be careful and relaxed, confident in the blessing of God whose consciousness (bhava) is embodied in Soham. It is better to do effective intonations of Soham rather than just stacking up a lot of nervous, artificial intonations.
You are yourself a part of God; nothing can change that. Have no fear or anxiety. Trust in God who will always be looking after you. And stay in tune with him by the constant japa of Soham and the practice of regular meditation so he can silently guide you through your intuition. Live in God and be at peace and in joy.
Immortal and eternal
We are immortal. How do we know that? It is intuited by anyone with an unclouded awareness. For as long as the human race has existed on this earth, our immortality has been part of common knowledge based on intuition and also by various experiences people have had throughout history: near-death experience, actual dying and returning to life, and seeing or receiving communication from departed persons in both the waking and sleeping states. Some of those who have experienced the phenomenon of astral travel have entered the worlds of the departed, observed and spoken with them and returned to tell about it.
But we are more than immortal. We are eternal. That is, we will not just live forever from this point on, we have also existed forever, from eternity. Eternity is not time without end, but that state of being or existence which transcends this realm of time and space. In eternity neither beginning nor end is possible; it is the state of Divine Being, of God, of whom it was long ago said in the Rig Veda: “His shadow is immortality.”
How is it possible for us to be eternal? Because our very existence is rooted in the eternity of God. We have always existed within God because in some ineffable way we are part of God, one with him yet distinct from him. It is like the ocean and its waves: the waves are not the ocean, but the ocean is the waves. Eternally we have been the parts and God has been the Whole. We are never separate from him, but we are always distinct from him. We are all spirit, but we are finite and God is infinite. God lives in us and we live in God. We are divine; we are gods within God.
Meditation: the key
We must know this, not just believe it. How can we know this? We can know it through practice of the spiritual science of meditation. Like mathematics, this science is based on the fundamental nature of relative existence in which we presently find ourselves for the purpose of the evolution of our consciousness. To understand this we need to know a bit of cosmic history.
The seed of life
Within eternity, within the depths of Spirit, there arises an impulse–or rather the potential of an impulse–which then like a germinating seed expands into a field of subtle energy possessing the two fundamental qualities of movement and sound. Moving outward into increasingly objective forms of these two forces, the living universe takes shape, functions, and eventually comes into fruition when it has so perfectly evolved that it returns to its original state of unmanifested perfection. During this cycle of projection and withdrawal the spirits, the seeds of consciousness that have been cast into this field by the Sower-Creator, also evolve to the point of return into Eternal Being. For the cosmos is a great school of consciousness in which the spirits learn to truly be gods within God, manifesting their eternal potential.
The first stages of this drama occur solely under the aegis of the Divine Director. But in time a point is reached in which each of the actors on the cosmic stage begins to direct his own drama and elaborate it to such a degree that they can return to their Source with the capacity to experience and share in the Infinity that is native only to God. They do not become God, but they become godlike in the fullest extent. To attain this they take charge of their own evolution by the practice of Yoga.
The basis of yoga
Yoga is based on the fundamental nature of relative existence: the dynamic field of the single evolutionary force or impulse manifesting as movement and sound. All the phenomena of the universe are but variations, evolutes, of these two aspects of the one impulse which is the basis of the duality which makes both the universe and evolution within it possible, and the perfected unity which is its final purpose.
In the individual human being the root-impulse manifests as breath and the subtle sound vibration produced by inhalation and exhalation. This is the force that impels the individual spirit into the realm of evolution and then produces the evolution itself, and by conscious cultivation of which the awakened individual can continue his own evolution to its ultimate perfection: revealed godhood.
Long ago in the hidden mists of earth’s history this secret of Yoga was revealed to those developed enough to perceive it within the depths of their own being. Discovering the way to transcendence, they seized it and applied it. Consciously entering into the stream of divine evolution, they became in the truest sense Ascended Masters, no longer gods in potential but in actuality. They passed on their knowledge of Yoga to others who in turn passed it on to succeeding generations, even unto today. Since it works with the yogi’s fundamental makeup and nature, there is no need for any external empowerment such as “initiation.” The only thing needed is practice.
The essence of yoga
Yoga consists of a single process that takes place in two modes: within meditation and outside meditation. It also has two elements, just as does the universe of which we are a living, evolving part. The first is awareness of breath, and the second is the production of mental sound which links breath awareness to the subtle sound produced spontaneously by the breath. This subtle sound is Soham. The inhaling the exhaling breaths make the subtle sounds of So and Ham respectively. Though two, they are really one conscious, Soham Bhava, and change duality into unity on all levels of manifestation as the final step in our evolution. The simple yet profound practice of Soham Yoga, of Soham japa and meditation, will be found to correct, heal and restore all the levels of our existence, physical, mental and spiritual.
The swadhyaya (self-study) prescribed by Patanjali includes spiritual reading. I will never cease to bless the day I first read the Bhagavad Gita. The wise yogi reads the Gita daily and ponders its truths. The more he does so, the more he will understand as his mind is being continually purified and enlightened through daily meditation. Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya required all his disciples to read the Gita each day. The entire scripture is directed to the yogi, so all seven hundred verses speak to him. Without the principles found in the Gita I could never have persevered as a yogi. It is essential reading for those who want to succeed in yoga and avoid the pitfalls of external life. Nothing can substitute for daily Gita study, which should be made the yogi’s lifetime companion and guide.
The absolute beautiful and readable translation is The Song of God: Bhagavad Gita, by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood. It conveys the spirit of the Gita as no other translation does. It is, though, an interpretive translation. But the interpretations are according to the great commentators such as Adi Shankaracharya. The supplementary material, including an essay by Aldous Huxley, is extremely valuable in understanding the Gita’s subtle philosophy. However, in time you need to engage in a deeper study of the Gita, and for that you need translations that will give you the original Sanskrit text, a word-by-word translation, and some commentary. Among the best of these are the translations of Swami Sivananda, Swami Swarupananda, and Winthrop Sargeant. My own version has some value as well, I believe. All five of thes can be bought from amazon.com. When you are ready for the graduate course I recommend you get the two-volume translation and commentary of Paramhansa Yogananda entitled: God Talks With Arjuna. That is a treasure beyond price for those who want the most complete understanding of the Gita.
Since the Gita is a digest of the upanishads, I also recommend that you get The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal by Swami Prabhavananda. This is also available from Amazon. In time you might find it good to obtain and study Radhakrishnan’s Principal Upanishads.
Two other books that will help you tremendously are Meditation and Spiritual Life by Swami Yatiswarananda, and The Philosophy of Gorakhnath by Akshaya Kumar Banerjea. For help in understanding technical Sanskrit terms, I recommend A Brief Sanskrit Glossary. These, too, can be obtained from amazon.com.
“From the practice of Yoga, spiritual illumination arises which develops into awareness of Reality” (Yoga Sutras 2:28). The yoga of the Yoga Sutras written by the Nath Yogi Patanjali is usually called the Eight-limbed (Ashtanga) Yoga. “Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are the eight limbs” (Yoga Sutras 2:29).
- Yama (Restraint). Yama consists of the five Don’ts of Yoga: 1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness; 2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty–i.e., non-lying; 3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness; 4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence and control of all the senses; 5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness.
- Niyama (Observance). Niyama comprises the five Do’s of Yoga: 1) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness; 2) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness; 3) Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline; 4) Swadhyaya: self-study, spiritual study; 5) Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God.
- Asana. In the Yoga Sutras asana does not mean Hatha Yoga postures, but only meditation postures. Asana is both the sitting posture chosen for meditation and steadiness in that posture.
- Pranayama. Pranayama is the refining of the breath, making it subtle and inward. This is accomplished through objective observation of the breath, and is not an artificial breathing exercise.
- Pratyahara. Abstraction or withdrawal of the senses from their objects by turning the awareness inward is known as pratyahara. In Soham Yoga we begin this by the simple expedient of gently closing our eyes and relaxing them. Immediately the awareness begins to withdraw inward. Breathing only through the nose also helps in this.
- Dharana. “Dharana is the confining [fixing] of the mind within a point or area,” says Yoga Sutra 3:1. The word that can be translated either “point” or “area” is desha, as in Bangaladesh–the area where Bengalis live. We accomplish this by gently fixing our attention in the etheric level of inner speaking and inner hearing by our inner intonations of Soham.
- Dhyana. Dhyana is the process of meditation itself. In Yoga Sutra 3:2, Patanjali defines dhyana as “the uninterrupted flow of the mind–the content of the consciousness–in a single and unbroken stream.” This we accomplish by inwardly intoning Soham in time with our breath and listening to those intonations. The sutra may also be translated: “Meditation is the unbroken flow of awareness of the object.” Vyasa says: “Meditation is continuity of the experience of the meditation-object.”Shankara defines meditation as “a stream of identical vrittis [thoughts] as a unity, a continuity of vrittis not disturbed by intrusion of differing or opposing vrittis. This is dhyana”–a continuous stream of inner intonations of Soham. And he contrasts the beginning stage of meditation, dharana, with meditation itself, saying: “Whereas in dharana there may be other impressions of peripheral thoughts even though the chitta has been settled on the object of meditation alone–for the chitta is functioning on the location [desha] as a pure mental process–it is not so with dhyana, for there it [the object of meditation] is only the stream of a single vritti untouched by any other vritti of a different kind.”
By the continual intonations of Soham with the breath we produce a stream of identical waves in the chitta until that stream becomes a continuous unitary flow of rarefied sound, a single object or wave that is untouched or untainted by any other thought or impression.
- Samadhi. The state in which the mind unites with and identifies with the object of meditation is known as samadhi. This is purely a state of the mind (chitta) and has nothing to do with physical phenomena such as the cessation of all outward sensations, breath, and heartbeat, though awareness of those phenomena certainly does cease in samadhi.
Fundamentally, samadhi is a state in which awareness, breath, and the inner intonations of Soham become one. When the consciousness totally merges into Soham that is the true samadhi. It is the perfect merging of the consciousness of the individual spirit with the Consciousness of the Infinite Spirit, for Soham is both of these.
States of consciousness
Although asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are processes of meditation, in a higher sense they are stages of awareness passed through in meditation.
Asana is the initial stage of body awareness as we sit in the chosen posture and arrange ourselves comfortably. Pranayama is the slowing down and refinement of the breath leading to awareness of the pranas moving in the physical and subtle bodies that results from our physical and mental relaxation (asana) and observation of the breath. Pratyahara is the turning inward of the mind resulting naturally from our closed eyes, relaxation, bodily ease, and the calming of the breath. Dharana is the fixing of the awareness in the etheric levels of our being as we mentally intone and listen to the sound of Soham. Dhyana is Dharana in an unbroken stream when the awareness is absorbed in intoning and listening to Soham. Samadhi is the experience of the absolute unity of the breath, Soham, and the meditator.
In asana the awareness is centered in the physical body, the annamaya kosha. In pranayama the awareness is centered in the pranic (biomagnetic) body, the pranamaya kosha. In pratyahara the awareness is centered in the sensory mental body, the manomaya kosha. In dharana the awareness is centered in the intellect-intelligence body, the jnanamaya kosha. In dhyana the awareness is centered in the will-etheric body, the anandamaya kosha. In samadhi the awareness transcends the bodies and unites with the Atman-spirit.
Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and the annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, jnanamaya, and anandamaya bodies also correspond to the earth, water, fire, air, and ether elements respectively.
Avoiding the gears
In meditation stay away from the gears of the mind! It is the nature of the mind to dance around producing thoughts, impressions, memories, etc. Therefore we do not at all care what potential distractions may arise during meditation. We ignore them. And if we ignore them they are no longer distractions. So stay with Soham–with God–and forget everything else. Then all will be yours.
Never come out of meditation to note or write down something. If the inspiration, insight, or idea is really from your higher Self or from God it will come back to you outside of meditation.
Also, do not engage the mind-gears with long prayers, affirmations, and suchlike during meditation. And do not let the mind entice you with “insight,” “inspiration,” or “knowledge” of any kind. According to Shankara the practice of yoga “has right vision alone for its goal, and glories of knowledge and power are not its purpose.”
Outside meditation the gears are also there ready to distract and grind you down, making you lose what you gained in meditation. The problem is that the gears become powerful and habitual in many people very early on in their lives and they are very hard to resist. In fact, they seem to have a life and will of their own (but they do not, it is just the will of our corrupted subconscious), and can pull us away from the lifeline of Soham japa without any effort. We just slip into them. So breaking this habit is one of the major labors the yogi must face at the very beginning of his practice if he really wants to make progress.
There are four major gears we must avoid assiduously. Back in B.Y. (Before Yoga) they were natural and understandable. But now they must be opposed until they go away. The process is simple: every time we get caught, we calmly turn our awareness back again on our inner Soham japa. And we just keep doing it over and over again. Eventually it will work and then we will be truly steady in our mind in the way that counts the most. “Whenever the unsteady mind, moving here and there, wanders off, he should subdue and hold it back and direct it to the Self’s control” (Bhagavad Gita 6:26).
Here are the biggest gears:
- Distraction: getting sidetracked in our attention by things going on around us, including people. Sounds, sights, physical sensations, tastes and smells–the mind is used to running after the whole range.
- Fantasy/daydreaming. This is especially addictive to people of active imaginations. Those who are seriously addicted prefer imagined experiences to actual ones because they are easy and enjoyable and conform to exactly what we want to happen in the theater of our mind.
- Memories. These come in endless variety, both of actual events in our lives and simple recall of emotions, sensations, reactions, things seen, read or heard, and ideas of all sorts.
- Inner monologue. We have all seen people walking along talking to themselves. That is overt, but all of us engage in conversations with ourselves without any outward sign. Actually, we can just babble on and on and on.
My paternal grandmother was a great talker. When I was a child there used to be national talking contests to see who could keep talking the longest time. Whenever the reports would come in the newspaper, my aunts would say: “Mom, you have to enter the contest next year. You will win easily.” When my grandmother would be taking care of me, she would start talking to me–but really to herself. So I would go in another room or go out and play and be gone quite a long while. But when I came back, grandmother would still be talking.
The mind is like that.
The policy we must adopt toward these four and all the smaller mind-gears is to calmly and firmly put our attention back on the japa. Again and again and again….
But here is the wonderful secret: after a while the mind gets to prefer the japa to the gears. Yet even then vigilance is needed because it is not hard to revert since the habits of lifetimes are stored up in our subconscious.
Experiences and thoughts in meditation: be indifferent
While meditating, many things–some of them quite dramatic, impressive, and even enjoyable, as well as inane, boring, and uncomfortable–occur as a side-effect. Have no desire to produce or reproduce or avoid any state or experience of any kind, to any degree. Our only interest should be our intonations of Soham in time with the breath. What arises… arises. During meditation much revealing and release take place in both the conscious and subconscious minds–and sometimes even the physical body–and should always be a passively observed process without getting involved in any way.
Thoughts from the subconscious may float or even flood up, but you need only keep on intoning Soham in time with the breath. The states of consciousness that meditation produces are the only things that matter, for they alone bring us to the Goal.
Much phenomena can take place during the process of correction and purification that is an integral part of meditation. When the chakras are being cleansed and perfected, they may become energized, awakened, or opened. In the same way subtle channels in the spine and body may open and subtle energies begin flowing in them. This is all good when it happens spontaneously, effortlessly. But whatever happens in meditation, our sole occupation should be with Soham and the breath.
It should also be understood that boredom, feelings of stagnation, discomfort and even annoyance with meditation are usually the resistance of negative energies, including negative karma.
Sitting like Buddha
When Gautama Buddha sat beneath the bodhi tree he vowed that until he was enlightened he would not get up even if his flesh and bones were to be dissolved. This is why it is said that Buddha got enlightenment because he knew how to sit. His sitting was in the principle of awareness itself. So if you sit in the same way during meditation, you will be safe from all distractions and illusions as was Buddha.
All the forces of the cosmos came to distract Buddha from his inner quest. Even cosmic illusion itself in the form of Mara came to distract him. But he did not move, either in body or mind. Such steadfastness conquered the forces of ignorance completely. Buddha conquered them by simply ignoring them–which was the only sensible course, seeing that they were just illusions. You, too, can conquer distractions not by combatting them, not by killing them, not by seeing through them or any such thing–but by just having nothing to do with them. The true Self does not touch any of these things, so the path to the true spirit involves not touching them in your mind.
By sitting and ignoring the unreal, Buddha found the Real. Therefore many centuries later Jesus simply said: “In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). To relax and experience is the key for the correct practice of meditation.
Hatching the egg
Each person will experience meditation in a different way, even if there are points of similarity with that of others. Also, meditations can vary greatly for each of us. In some meditations a lot will be going on, and then in other meditations it will seem as though we are just sitting and coasting along with nothing happening.
When nothing seems to be going on at all, we may mistakenly think we are meditating incorrectly or it just does not work. Actually, meditation produces profound and far-reaching changes in our extremely complex makeup, whether we do or do not perceive those changes. Some meditations are times of quiet assimilation of prior changes and balancing out to get ready for more change. If we are meditating in the way outlined, we are doing everything correctly and everything is going on just as it should be–every breath is further refining our inner faculties of awareness.
Very early in the scale of evolution sentient beings, including human beings, are born from eggs, so it is not inappropriate to think of our development in those terms. All eggs hatch and develop through heat. This is absolutely necessary, just as it is for the germination of seeds (the eggs of plants). Yoga is called tapasya, the generation of heat, for that very reason. Our meditation, then, is like the hatching of an egg. Nothing may seem to be going on, but life is developing on the unseen levels.
The hatching of a chicken egg is a prime example. Inside the egg there is nothing but two kinds of goo–the white and the yolk. Both are liquids and have no other perceptible characteristics than color and slimy texture. The hen does nothing more than sit on the egg and keep it warm, yet as the days pass the goo inside the shell turns into internal organs, blood, bones, skin, feathers, brain, ears, and eyes–all that go to make up a chicken–just by being incubated. At last a living, conscious being breaks its way out of the shell. No wonder eggs have been used as symbols of resurrection from death into life.
Another apt symbol is the cocoon. The dull-colored, earth-crawling, caterpillar encases itself in a shroud of its own making and becomes totally dormant. Yet as weeks pass a wondrous transformation takes place internally until one day an utterly different creature emerges: a beautifully colored and graceful butterfly that flies into the sky and thenceforth rarely if ever touches the earth.
The same is true of the persevering yogi and the eventual revelation of his true nature. Through the japa and meditation of Soham, simple as they are, our full spiritual potential will develop and manifest in us. Meditation evolves the meditator, turning the muddle of his present state into a life beyond present conceptions.
Theseus, an ancient epic hero, was condemned to die in a labyrinth. He survived because he had a thread which was anchored at the entrance of the maze. By following the thread he escaped. Sound is the thread, the following of which in meditation will lead us out of the deadly labyrinth of samsara. Specifically, Soham is the sound-thread that leads us out since it leads back to the Origin of all things: That which “in the beginning… first said, ‘I am Soham’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1).
As we enter into relative consciousness through the expansion of sound, just so can we enter back into transcendent consciousness through the contraction of mantric sound that occurs in meditation. Soham meditation is the process of tracing discovered by the sages. Tracing Soham back to Its source, experiencing the subtle states of consciousness inherent in Soham, the Soham yogi discovers it within himself as both Power and Consciousness. As he does so, he experiences within the depths of his awareness the subtle states of consciousness, or bhava, inherent in Soham. For this reason the word frequently translated “meditation” in texts relating to yoga is bhavanam–the experiencing of the inner states of consciousness called bhavas. Meditation leads us right into the heart of Soham as we trace the thread of Its sound back through Its many permutations to Its original bhava or impulse of consciousness that expanded outward to manifest as Its outermost form of the spoken Soham.
This procedure is spoken of in the Katha Upanishad: “The Self, though hidden in all beings, does not shine forth but can be seen by those subtle seers, through their sharp and subtle intelligence. The wise man should restrain speech into the mind; the latter he should restrain into the understanding Self. The understanding Self he should restrain into the great Self. That he should restrain into the tranquil Self” (Katha Upanishad 1.3.12,13). By “mind” is meant the manas, the sensory mind; by “understanding Self” is meant the buddhi, the intellect; by “the great Self” is meant the will; and by “tranquil Self” is meant the subtlest level, the Chidakasha, the witness-link between our pure consciousness and our perceptions.
In Viveka Chudamani (verse 369) Shankara expresses it this way: “Restrain speech in the manas, and restrain manas in the buddhi; this again restrain in the witness of the buddhi [the chidakasha], and merging that also in the Infinite Absolute Self, attain to Supreme Peace.” In the subtle sound of Soham the consciousness of the yogi is resolved into its pure, divine state.
This being so, it is crucial for us to continually remember throughout our meditation that the sound of Soham should be the object of our attention. Throughout meditation keep hold of the thread of Soham and you will be led to freedom. Soham is the seed of liberation.
Joining Soham to the breath
“He who breathes in with your breathing in is your Self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3:4:1). By joining Soham to our breath, each breath moves us onward toward the goal of Divine Unity. “This unmanifest is declared to be the imperishable, which is called the Supreme Goal, attaining which they return not. This is my supreme abode” (Bhagavad Gita 8:21).
The breath and Soham arise from the very root of our being, the spirit. Joining Soham to the breath extends its transforming vibrations throughout the entire range of our being. It also unites the different aspects of our being and begins effectively and rapidly evolving us, returning us to the Source–but now transformed.
We join intonations of Soham to the breath because on the subtle levels it is always producing the sound of Soham. The spirit-Self breathes Soham. So by consciously joining Soham to our breathing we link up with our spirit-consciousness and enter into it. Further, when the habit of intoning Soham with the breath is established, the simple act of breathing will cue the mind to maintain the intonations.
This is necessary because in all relative beings the prana-breath has become corrupted and confused, binding the spirit rather than freeing it. The prana-breath has gotten out of phase, out of tune or off key–out of alignment with Soham, the original keynote of the universe and the breath. By intoning Soham in time with his breath, the Soham yogi takes charge of his prana-breath, realigns and repolarizes it, restoring it to its original form and function. In this way he sets himself squarely in the upward-moving stream of evolution and accelerates his movement within it. We have been pulled so out of shape that our original nature and form are undetectable. Soham sadhana puts us back into shape and restores us to our true nature and form. Think of a picture puzzle in which all the pieces have become so mixed up that what is seen is nothing but a chaotic, jumbled mess. Soham sadhana puts all the pieces back into their intended order and our true face, our true Self, becomes known.
It is very necessary for us to begin our intonations of So when our inhalations begin, and ham when our exhalations begin. This is because one object of Soham Yoga is to perfectly synchronize the breath with Soham in case the two have gotten out of phase with one another. The breath therefore should become smooth, united, and continuous. This is referred to in the Bhagavad Gita (4:29) where it speaks of those who “offer inhalation into exhalation, and exhalation into inhalation.” The offering of the exhalation into the inhalation and vice versa refers to the smoothing of the breath until there is no significant or marked pause between inhaling and exhaling, but rather there is a smooth transition from one to the other–one seeming to arise from the other, both together being a single organic unity. (There are subtler aspects to this that prolonged practice may reveal.)
Again: we breathe through the nose, not the mouth.
Making the two into one
We are speaking of “the breath and Soham,” but in reality they are the same thing. The breath is not just a stop and go light, used merely to let us know when to intone So and Ham. The breath is a form, a manifestation, of Soham. In Soham Yoga we intone Soham in time with the breath so the two will remerge and become one, restoring their essential unity. Therefore it is important that the breath and Soham be perfectly integrated. That is why the intonation of So and Ham should begin with the breath movements–inhalation and exhalation. We need not exaggerate this and turn our meditation into a torment of anxiety, but reasonable care should be taken.
Soham is the essential sound-energy form that manifests in living beings as the breath itself. Soham is the sound-form of the subtle power of life which originates in the pure consciousness, the spirit, of each one of us and extends outward to manifest as the inhaling and exhaling breaths. Hence, through the intoning of Soham in and out of meditation we can become attuned to the essential Breath of Life and aware of its subtle movements within. Joined to our breath, the mantra Soham will lead us to the awareness of Breath and Life in their pure state. For Soham is both the breath and the Source of the breath. When joined to Soham, the breath becomes a flowing stream of consciousness.
The Cosmic Breath
As has been said, the original impulse toward manifestation and evolution is dual, both sound, and movement. On the cosmic level its most objective manifestation is the projection and withdrawal of the universe that is the cosmic exhalation and inhalation of Ishwara. He exhales and inhales the cosmos in a perpetual cycle of Cosmic Breath. The same thing is done by the individual spirit-Self, its most objective manifestation being the physical breath–the dual movements of inhalation and exhalation which arise from the root impulse of the Original Breath that is common to both the creation and each sentient being within creation. It is the movement of the involution and evolution of all within it, the baton by means of which the Cosmic Conductor brings about the unfolding symphony of cosmic and individual perfection: Soham. Soham japa and meditation is the process of becoming freed from the cycle of birth and death and its attendant defects (kleshas) born of ignorance (avidya) and limitation.
The two directions
We may think of our spiritual pilgrimage as a circle. Outside the circle is Eternity, our original home. The circle itself is relativity. From the midpoint at the top we enter, traverse the circle, and exit at the point we entered–but the difference in us by that time is virtually infinite, for we are then able to share in the infinite consciousness of God as fully awakened and developed sons of God. In the East it is said: “The father is born in the son,” so a son of God is one in whom God is born or revealed as his inmost consciousness.
The first half of the circle-path is that of involution. We become more and more identified with our physical vehicles so we can work with and through them until we perfect the state of consciousness each is meant to reflect, and then we pass on to the next, more complex form with a potentially wider scope of awareness. When we reach the midpoint we have already been human beings in a series of lives, but at that point the capacity for self-awareness and self-reflection has been developed in us to such a degree that they begin to dominate our awareness, impelling us to ask what, who and why we are. We are beginning to intuit our eternal nature and our eternal destiny. Such an intuition may only be a reaching out, a questioning and a questing, but it marks out that lifetime from all prior incarnations, even the human ones, for at that point we are beginning to awake.
This is a tremendous change, a crossover from the first half of the path into the second half which is that of evolution, of expansion of consciousness in order to attain perfection as a human being and then to pass onward to higher worlds–higher and higher rungs on the divine ladder in the form of higher forms of embodiment and consciousness–leaving behind material embodiment altogether and moving toward the revelation of Divinity.
Although we tend to think of attention as merely a state of mind, the opposite of inattention, it is really a great psychic force. Quantum physics has discovered that when a human being sets his attention on anything, that object is immediately affected to some degree–so much so that a scientist can unintentionally influence the result of an experiment, however controlled the external conditions may be. Thoughts are indeed things, but attention is the fundamental power of thought. Buddha gave great emphasis to the effect of sati–attention–in meditation.
I have said this before, but I would like to repeat it to make sure these principles are understood.
- As we calmly fix our awareness on the breath and the sound of Soham, they become increasingly refined. The breath becomes gentler and easeful, often slowing down until our breathing becomes as light as the breeze of a butterfly’s wings, and so does the internal sound of Soham become soft and whisperlike, even virtually silent. Since it is natural for them to become increasingly refined as you observe them, you need not attempt to deliberately make this happen. Your attention will automatically refine them. As we become more and more aware of the subtle forms or movements of the inner breath and sound, it automatically happens that the breath movements on all levels become slower. This is the highest form of pranayama.
- The more attention we give to breath and sound, the subtler they become until the breath reveals itself as the mind-stuff (chitta) itself and Soham as the bhava, the state of realization: I Am That. Both breath and sound, like an onion, have many layers. In the practice of Soham meditation we experience these layers, beginning with the most objective, physical layer and progressing to increasingly subtle layers, until, as with an onion at its core, there are no more layers, but only the pure being of the Self. The breath and sound become increasingly refined as we observe them, and as a result our awareness also becomes refined. Our attention focused on the breath and Soham causes their potential to manifest in the way sunlight causes the petals of a flower to open.
We ourselves are waves in the ocean of Consciousness and Sound. We are Soham. So in Soham Yoga practice, especially when we experience the permutations of the subtle sounds of Soham, we are actually experiencing ourselves. The more we meditate, the higher and higher and further and further we penetrate into the Infinite Consciousness of which we are an eternal part. That is our point of origin, and the subtle vibrations of Soham will take us back there.
The still, small voice
As we go deeper in meditation our perceptions of the inner sound of our mental intonations of Soham become increasingly subtle. At first they may be more like ordinary sung speech, but they will progress to become more and more soft and subtle, even more of a silent conceptualization than speaking.
“And Elijah arose, and went unto Horeb the mount of God. And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him,… Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (I Kings 19:8-12).
Wind, earthquake, and fire–but God was not in them. Then there was silence, yet in the silence there was a voice. “A still small voice” means that silent (still) subtle (small) impulse which is the very root of inner and outer speech and therefore Word itself. The New King James Version gives it as “a delicate whispering voice.” The Greek Septuagint has “the voice of a gentle breeze,” evidently keeping in mind that the Holy Spirit is the Breath of God and often manifests as wind. The Slavonic text renders it “the wafting of a gentle light.” This, too, is appropriate, for the Holy Spirit is also Light. Actually, it cannot be at all expressed in human terms, for it is far beyond the senses and ordinary experience. But however it might be described, it is the voice of God coming through the pure spirit that is our true essence.
“Still small voice” refers to the subtle sound of Soham experienced in deep meditation. It may even be translated “a silent sound,” for in deepest meditation the intonations of Soham become whisper-like and even silent while yet remaining in their integrity. That is, they do not stop, but remain in a form that is perfectly silent and still, more like a soundless mouthing of the syllables. The subtle intonations of Soham may even become more like a silent act of will or ideation (conceptualization) of the repetition of Soham.
When we intone in a most subtle, virtually whispered, or silent, way we still think of Soham as being intoned, and mentally intend to intone, even if we do not inwardly hear or sense the difference. And our intonations, however subtle, should never be weak or tenuous.
It is important to let your intonations of Soham change–or not change–as they will. They may naturally and spontaneously move back and forth from more objective to more subtle and back to more objective. As a rule the gentle or whispered or silent form of intonation is more effective than ordinary mental intonation as you will experience for yourself.
Yoga Nidra–conscious sleep
The purpose of meditation is the development of deep inner awareness. The Yoga Vashishtha (5:78), a classical treatise on yoga, speaks of the state “when the consciousness reaches the deep sleep state” known in Sanskrit as sushupti. The sage Sandilya in his treatise on yoga, the Sandilya Upanishad, also speaks of “when sushupti is rightly cognized [experienced] while conscious.” Ramana Maharshi also spoke frequently of this yogic state known as yoga nidra–yoga sleep. Although it is described as dreamless sleep, it is much, much more, for there is a deepening of consciousness in this state that does not occur in ordinary dreamless sleep.
In the Chidakasha Gita, section 120, Paramhansa Nityananda, himself a great Nath Yogi, had this to say about yoga nidra: “Harmonizing both prana and apana [inhalation and exhalation], enjoy the subtle sleep. Harmonizing the prana and apana, enjoy the eternal bliss. Enjoy the conscious sleep of bliss.… Enjoy that sleep which must be the aim and end of man.… Perform the natural japa of the inward and the outward breath.” Yoga Nidra is the state of conscious sushupti–dreamless sleep. This occurs during the practice of Soham Yoga when the awareness is gathered into the Chidakasha and when the inhaling and exhaling breaths are harmonized by intoning Soham in time with them. The sleep of yoga Nityananda is teaching us about is the true awakening.
Regarding this Sri Gajanana Maharaj said: “Not to see anything in dhyana [meditation] shows a state of concentration. When seeing is turned into non-seeing, then there is the real state of samadhi. The state of complete samadhi is like the state of death but it is a state of life after having conquered death. The state of sleep is also a kind of death and he really knows the secret of dhyana yoga whose sleep is nothing but samadhi.”
In deep meditation we enter into the silent witness state, experiencing the state of dreamless sleep while fully conscious and aware. When approaching this state the beginner may actually fall asleep. This is not to be worried about, for such is quite natural, and after a while will not occur. From birth we have been habituated to falling asleep when the mind reached a certain inner point. Now through meditation we will take another turn–into the state of deep inner awareness. Ramana Maharshi said that even if a yogi falls asleep while approaching–or in–yoga nidra, the process of meditation still continues. Yoga Nidra is the state of conscious sushupti, dreamless sleep, and yet much more, for then the awareness is gathered into the Chidakasha, the principle of pure consciousness. And there is a deepening of consciousness that does not occur in any other state.
So when you have this asleep-while-awake state occur, know that you are on the right track–when it is imageless and thoughtless except for your intonations of Soham (for those should never stop). Not that visions cannot occur during meditation, but it is easy to mistake dreams for visions. Therefore it is wise to value only the conscious sushupti experience in meditation, within which Soham continues to be the focus of our awareness. This is the true samadhi.
The workings of Soham
But there is another, seemingly contradictory, side to this. Yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah (Yoga Sutras 1:2). Patanjali here defines yoga as the stopping (nirodhah) of the modifications (vritti) of the mind (chitta). Superficially considered, this seems to mean merely being blank, without thoughts. But if this were so, dreamless sleep would be yoga, and the more we slept the more enlightened we would become. Still, most yogis tend to think that in meditation no thoughts or impressions should arise–that if they do, the meditation is imperfect and reduced in value. But Soham is a transforming-transmuting force, and that implies change, and change is a process. So sometimes you will simply sit in the happy and peaceful silence of pure yoga nidra, intent on the sound of your subtle intonations of Soham, and at other times things will definitely be going on. Both are equally beneficial, for Soham knows what it is doing, and both may occur in the same meditation.
Meditation, then, is not just sinking down into silence and stasis, though that does happen in some meditation periods, but can be an extremely active state. As you meditate, on the subtle levels you may see, hear, feel, and be aware of a great many things–thoughts, visual impressions, memories, inner sensations, and suchlike. All of this is evoked by your practice, and nothing will be a distraction if you simply observe it in a calm and objective manner, keeping your awareness on the breath and intoning Soham in time with it.
Your interest should be in your intonations of Soham, yet you should be aware of what is going on. The key is to remain a calm observer and able to distinguish between the worthless antics of the lower mind and that which is being produced directly by Soham for your betterment. Spending hours in and out of meditation, invoking Soham constantly, produces the most profound changes in the meditator’s psychic energy system on the physical, astral, and causal levels. The union of the prana (breath) and the subtle vibrations of Soham produce dramatic repolarization of the consciousness and life force. Sensitive yogis will experience this along with a myriad other transformations.
“With mind made steadfast by yoga, which turns not to anything else, to the Divine Supreme Spirit he goes, meditating on him” (Bhagavad Gita 8:8).
The four elements of Soham Yoga meditation
There are four components of Soham Yoga meditation: 1) sitting with closed eyes; 2) being aware of the breath as it moves in and out; 3) mentally intoning Soham in time with the breathing; 4) listening to the inner, mental intonations of Soham and becoming absorbed in the subtle sound. They are the essential ingredients of Soham Yoga meditation, and we should confine our attention to them. If in meditation we feel unsure as to whether things are going right, we need only check to see if these four things are being done and our attention is centered in them. If so, all is well. If not, it is a simple matter to return to them and make everything right. Success in Soham Yoga consists of going deeper and deeper into the subtle sound of the Soham mantra as we intone it within. It is the thread leading us into the center of Reality.
Matsyendranath summed up Soham Yoga practice and its effect produced in his disciple Gorakhnath in this manner: “The mind is the root and the breath is the branch; the sound [of Soham] is the guru and attention [to the sound] is the disciple. With the essence called deliverance [nirvana tattwa–the principle of liberation] Gorakhnath wanders about, himself in himself” (Gorakh Bodha 10).
There are certain invariables of Soham Yoga meditation.
- We always meditate with closed mouth and eyes.
- We always mentally intone Soham in time with the breath.
- Our mental intonations of Soham, like the breath to which we are linking them, should be virtually continuous, not with long breaks between them. That is: SooooooHuuummmSooooooHuuummmSooooooHuuummmSooooooHuuummm. (Basically continuous is good enough.)
- Soham never ceases. Never. We must not let passivity or heaviness of mind interrupt our intonations by pulling us into negative silence. That would be a descent rather than an ascent.
- The focus, the center of attention, of our meditation is the sound of our mental intonations of Soham in time with our breath. In an easeful and relaxed manner we become absorbed in that inner sound.
- Our mental intonations of Soham are gentle, quiet and subtle.
It is traditional for some brief prayer to be made before and after meditation. Usually before meditation a simple prayer is made asking divine blessing and guidance. Then at the end another brief prayer is made giving thanks, offering the meditation to God, and asking divine blessing for the rest of the day. There is no set form, just words from the heart. This is not essential for Soham Yoga practice, but those who are so inclined may find it beneficial.
Japa and meditation of Soham
Japa and meditation of Soham support each other. Continual japa of Soham during your daily routine will increase the effectiveness of your practice of meditation, and daily meditation practice will deepen the effect of your japa outside meditation.
When doing japa while we are engaged in other activities there is a profound effect, but we are not able to experience the effects of Soham nearly as much as we can while sitting in meditation. The meditation experience is absolutely essential for spiritual progress, just as japa is essential to ensure that meditation will be effective to the maximum degree.
Soham should be intoned constantly, throughout all activities, without break or interruption. Naturally this is difficult, even impossible to do, in the beginning, nevertheless it is possible in time. Immediately upon awakening in the morning, begin the mental intonation of Soham and keep on until falling asleep.
When you lie down to sleep or rest, lie flat on your back with your arms at your side and your legs out straight but relaxed, in the so-called Corpse Pose (Savasana). The feet need not be held straight up. Relax completely, with closed eyes. Do the normal process of meditation until you fall asleep. If you find that lying on your back is not conducive to sleep, then lie in any position in which you can be comfortable and relaxed. The same applies to position of the arms and hands. If you awaken during the sleep period, resume doing the same until you fall sleep again. This practice is also helpful when you are ill, as it can aid the healing process.
Their divine work
It cannot be overemphasized that the breath and Soham transfer our awareness into the subject: consciousness itself. Other objects may draw our attention outward, into the experience of them, and perpetuate the loss of Self-awareness which is our root problem. This should not be forgotten.
The bigger picture
Thoughts do not cease the moment they pass from the conscious mind. They spread out around us into our aura, the subtle field of biomagnetic and mental energies around our physical body, and then on into the surrounding creation, ultimately extending to the farthest reaches of the cosmos and then returning back into our aura and mind. This is a process of mental-spiritual karma. By always doing repetition and meditation of Soham, we set up a continuous current of spiritual vibration that in time becomes a perpetual inflow of higher consciousness as it returns to us after having extended throughout creation and benefited all things and all beings therein. In this way we create the highest form of spiritual karma, uplifting and divinizing both ourselves and all that exists. Therefore, throughout the day and night, whatever you are doing or whenever at rest, continually intone Soham mentally in time with the breath and center your awareness in the sound. Since there is no time when you do not breathe, this is really not difficult.
Responsiveness to yoga practice
The bodies, physical, astral, and causal, are the vehicles through which the individual evolves during the span of life on earth, and must be taken into serious account by the yogi who will discover that they can exert a powerful, controlling effect on the mind. If wax and clay are cold they cannot be molded, nor will they take any impression; if molasses is cold it will hardly pour. It is all a matter of responsiveness. Only when warm are these substances malleable. In the same way, unless our inner and outer bodies are made responsive or reactive to the effects of meditation, we will miss many of its beneficial effects. Hence we should do everything we can to increase our response levels, to ensure that our physical and psychic levels are moving at the highest possible rate of vibration.
A fundamental key to success in yoga is diet. For just as the physical substance of the food becomes assimilated into our physical body, the subtler energies become united to our inner levels, including our mind. The observant meditator will discover that the diet of the physical body is also the diet of the mind, that whatever is eaten physically will have an effect mentally. Here are some statements about the nature and effect of food that are found in the upanishads.
“From food [has arisen] vital vigor, austerity and works” (Prashna Upanishad 6.4). Ascetic discipline (tapasya), mantra and right action are essential to the yogi, and here we see that the food we eat is their basis. Obviously the kind of food we eat will determine the quality of all those things.
“By food, indeed, do all the vital breaths [pranas, life forces] become great” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.5.4).
“A person consists of the essence of food” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1.1). So we are what we eat.
“From food, verily, are produced whatsoever creatures dwell on the earth. Moreover, by food alone they live.… From food are beings born. When born they grow up by food.… Verily, different from and within that which consists of the essence of food is the self that consists of life. By that this is filled. This, verily, has the form of a person. According to that one’s personal form is this one with the form of a person.” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2.1). The spiritual, astral body is drawn exclusively from food, so diet is crucial in spiritual development.
“Food when eaten becomes threefold, its coarsest portion becomes the faeces; its middle (portion) flesh, and its subtlest (portion) mind. Water when drunk becomes threefold, its coarsest portion becomes the urine; its middle (portion) the blood, its subtlest (portion) the breath.… Thus, my dear, mind consists of food, and breath consists of water….” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.5.1, 2, 4).
“That which is the subtlest part of curds rises, when they are churned and becomes butter. In the same manner that which is the subtlest part of the food that is eaten rises and becomes mind. Thus the mind consists of food” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.6.1, 2,5; the same is confirmed in 6.6.1-5).
“When food is pure, the mind is pure, When the mind is pure, memory becomes firm. When memory [smriti–memory of our eternal spirit-Self] remains firm, there is release from all knots of the heart. To such a one who has his stains wiped away, Bhagavan Sanatkumara shows the further shore of darkness” (Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2).
“In food everything rests, whatsoever breathes and what does not” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.5.1).
Both meditation and diet refine the inner senses so we can produce and perceive the subtle changes that occur during meditation.
Meat is both heavy and toxic, especially from the chemicals spread throughout the tissues from the fear and anger of the animal when it was slaughtered. So our minds will also be heavy and toxic from eating meat as well as poisoned by the vibrations of anger and fear. And then there is the karma of killing sentient beings. Moreover, the instinctual and behavioral patterns of the animals will become our instinctual and behavioral impulses.
Fruits, vegetables, and grains have no such obstructions. Consequently, our mental energies will be light and malleable, responsive to our spiritual disciplines. Few things are more self-defeating than the eating of meat. From the yogic standpoint, the adoption of a vegetarian diet is a great spiritual boon. By vegetarian I mean abstention from meat, fish, and eggs or anything that contains them to any degree, including animal fats.
Our general health also contributes to our proficiency in meditation, so a responsible yogi is very aware of what is beneficial and detrimental to health and orders his life accordingly, especially in eliminating completely all alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs whether legal or illegal. Caffeine, too, is wisely avoided, and so is sugar.
All of the above-mentioned substances–meat, fish, eggs, animal derivatives, alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs–deaden and coarsen the mind and body and consequently the consciousness. Thus they hinder or prevent the necessary effects and experiences of subtle Soham meditation.
The sum of all this is that we must do more than meditate. We must live out our spiritual aspirations by so ordering our lives that we will most quickly advance toward the Goal. This is done by observing Yama and Niyama.
The sum of all this is that we must do more than meditate. We must live out our spiritual aspirations by so ordering our lives that we will most quickly advance toward the Goal. This is done by observing the Ten Commandments of Yoga (Yama-Niyama.) They are:
- Non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness.
- Truthfulness, honesty.
- Non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness.
- Sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses.
- Non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness.
- Purity, cleanliness.
- Contentment, peacefulness.
- Austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline.
- Introspective self-study, spiritual study.
- Offering of one’s life to God, especially in the highest sense of uniting our consciousness with Infinite Consciousness through meditation.
Training for living
Meditation is not an end in itself, but rather the means to an end–to the daily living out of the illumined consciousness produced by meditation. We go into meditation so we can come out of meditation more conscious and better equipped to live our life. The change will not be instant, but after a reasonable time we should see a definite effect in how we perceive, think and live. If the meditator does not find that his state of mind during daily activities has been affected by his meditation, then his meditation is without value. This is especially important for us in the West since meditation is continually being touted as a natural high or a producer of profound and cataclysmic experiences. Such experiences may sound good on paper or in a metaphysical bragfest, but in time they are seen to be empty of worth on any level–ephemeral dreams without substance. Success in meditation is manifested outside meditation–by the states of mind and depth of insight that become habitual. The proof of its viability is the meditator’s continual state of mind and his apprehension of both reality and Reality.
Many things lighten and purify the mind, but nothing clarifies the mind like the prolonged and profound practice of meditation. The state of mental clarity produced by meditation should continue outside meditation. Meditation should by its nature prepare us for living. At the same time, meditation should establish us in interior life, making us increasingly aware both inwardly and outwardly. This is because reality consists of two aspects: the unmoving consciousness of spirit and the moving, dynamic activity of evolutionary energy. Reality embraces both, and to be without the awareness of one or the other is to be incomplete.
Meditation enables us to see deeply into things outside meditation. Through meditation we cultivate the ability to be objective–separate from objects but keenly aware of them and thus able to intelligently and effectively function in relation to them. Meditation, then, is the most effective school for living open to us. And it manifests in the simplest of ways: a more compassionate outlook, a deeper self-understanding, an awareness of changelessness amidst change, a taste for spiritual conversation and reading, and experience of inmost peace. One man who had been practicing meditation for a while remarked to another meditator, “I can’t figure out what is happening to me. Last night for the first time in my married life I helped my wife do the dishes.”
In the practice of the japa and meditation of Soham we are putting ourselves into a totally–even sublimely–different sphere of consciousness and experience from that in which so much phenomena arise. Meditation is done for the development of consciousness–truly pure and simple–whereas it is our active life that is meant for both seeing and experiencing. It is all a matter of consciousness–of consciousness that pervades our entire life–not just a wonderful feeling in meditation. It is the fundamental state of consciousness and mind outside of meditation that matters.
It is important that we be positive and not negative in our resolve to meditate well. Just not thinking about something undesirable is not enough. Rather than thinking: “I will not think about that,” we should resolve: “I will constantly remember Soham.” Virtue consists of doing good, not just not doing evil. At the same time do not be all anxious about meditating “right” or “well,” but just relax and experience what happens as you inwardly intone Soham in time with the breath and listen to the inner, mental sound of the mantra.
Restlessness or calmness–whatever happens is right as long as the simple process continues. Meditation can be a revelation, an uncovering, of what is within, and the perception of both good and bad, negative and positive, comfortable and uncomfortable, lightness and heaviness, fullness and emptiness, alertness and dullness, etc. is part of the correction/cleansing process. Meditation sometimes shows you what is going on, both within yourself and outside in the world. That, too, is beneficial, even if unpleasant at times.
Evocation and invocation
In japa and meditation we are not employing Soham as a prayer, an affirmation, or a remembrance, but as effective evocation–a calling forth–of our inherent, eternal Self-consciousness, and as an invocation–a calling into us–of the Consciousness that is the Supreme Self. Because this is so, we do not need to keep in mind an intellectual meaning of Soham or cultivate an attitude or emotion during our practice. Rather, we relax, listen, and make ourselves open and receptive to its dynamic working within us.
Two views on the nature of meditation–and a third
In India there is a long-standing disagreement on the nature and purpose of meditation. One school of thought considers that definite, conscious evolutionary change is necessary for liberation; consequently meditation must be an actively transforming process. The other view is that the only thing needed for liberation is re-entry into our true, eternal nature–that nothing need be done at all in the usual sense of doing except to perceive the truth of ourselves. Obviously their meditation procedures are going to be completely different.
There is, however, a third perspective on the matter which combines both views. It is true that we are ever-free, ever-perfect, but we have forgotten that fact and have wandered in aimless suffering for countless incarnations. No one is so foolish as to suggest to a person suffering from amnesia that he need not regain his memory since he has not ceased to be who he really is.
The memory block from which we suffer is the condition of the various levels on which we presently function, especially the buddhi, the intelligence. It is also a matter of the dislocation of our consciousness from its natural center. Obviously, then, something really does have to be done to change this condition. A dirty window need not be changed in nature, but it needs to be cleansed of that which is not its nature for us to see through it. It is the same with a dusty or smudgy mirror.
There is an example from nature that can help us understand this. Research has shown that the energy field around a salamander egg, and all through the stages of a young salamander’s growth, is in the shape of an adult salamander. This indicates that the etheric pattern of a full-grown salamander is inherent even in the egg and throughout the salamander’s development. It is as though the egg has only to hatch and grow around this energy matrix, to fill out or grow into the ever-present pattern. Even when there is only the egg visible to the human eye, the adult salamander is there in a very real, potential form. It is the same with us. We are always the Atman, potential divinity, but that potential must be realized. And meditation is the means of our realization.
Shankara puts forth the question, “How can there be a means to obtain liberation? Liberation is not a thing which can be obtained, for it is simply cessation of bondage.” He then answers himself: “For ignorance [bondage] to cease, something has to be done, with effort, as in the breaking of a fetter. Though liberation is not a ‘thing,’ inasmuch as it is cessation of ignorance in the presence of right knowledge, it is figuratively spoken of as something to be obtained.” And he concludes: “The purpose of Yoga is the knowledge of Reality.”
Vyasa defines liberation in this way: “Liberation is absence of bondage.” Shankara carries it a bit further, saying: “Nor is liberation something that has to be brought about apart from the absence of bondage, and this is why it is always accepted that liberation is eternal.”
Liberation, enlightenment, is a state that is not produced but evoked or revealed. Liberation is perception of our eternal nature. It is like something revealed by the light: it is not made existent by the light, it has been there all along in the darkness; but now the light has made it known. Soham Yoga, then is a turning, an opening, to Reality, but not attainment of Reality as something not always possessed. It is like a plant turning toward the sun; it is orientation of consciousness. It is being conscious(ness). Soham Yoga establishes our consciousness in the true Self.
Focus on prakriti
Soham Yoga affects our energy-bodies, not our inner consciousness; it reveals our consciousness rather than changes it. The purpose of Soham Yoga is liberation, and to this end it affects the prakriti (energy complex) which is the adjunct of our purusha (spirit). Because of this, it is only natural and right that thoughts, impressions, sensations and feelings of many kinds should arise as you meditate, since your meditation is evoking them as part of the transformation process. All you need do is stay relaxed and keep on intoning Soham in time with the breath.
The Soham yogi is already in the Self, is the Self, so in Soham Yoga he is looking at/into his personal prakriti in the same way God observes the evolving creation. Soham Yoga purifies and evolves the bodies, including the buddhi, and realigns our consciousness with its true state, accomplishing the aims of both schools of meditational thought previously mentioned.
Since we are talking about material things (prakriti), this might be a good place to mention that it is best to meditate without shoes, because shoes (whatever material they are made from) carry the vibration of the dirt they contact each day.
Prana takes on many forms, including biomagnetism, the force which maintains our body and its functions. The body itself is magnetic, and any disturbance in polarity or magnetic flow is detrimental to health. Leather inhibits the natural flow of the life force (prana). Leather shoes block the upward flow of prana from the earth into our bodies, and leather belts interfere with the flow of prana within the body. On the more metaphysical side of things, the use of leather (or any slaughtered-animal-derived substance) in any manner is a violation of the principle of ahimsa, as Yogananda points out in chapter four of Autobiography of a Yogi. It is also an infraction of the principle of shaucha.
It has long been my experience that sleeping with the head toward the north (the feet pointing south) can cause a magnetic conflict or disturbance in the body, adversely affecting sleep and even causing nervousness and restlessness. This is also the experience of many yogis I have known.
Most “visions” seen in meditation occur because the meditator has fallen asleep and is dreaming. There are genuine visions, actual psychic experiences, that can occur in meditation, but Ramana Maharshi gives the true facts about all visions when he says: “Visions do occur. To know how you look you must look into a mirror, but do not take that reflection to be yourself. What is perceived by our senses and the mind is never the [ultimate] truth. All visions are mere mental creations, and if you believe in them, your progress ceases. Enquire to whom the visions occur. Find out who is their witness. Stay in pure awareness, free from all thoughts. Do not move out of that state” (The Power of the Presence, vol. 3, p. 249).
How do I know it’s working?
It is only reasonable to wonder if a practice is really doing what it is supposed to. Through various forms of emotional and spiritual blackmail many cult-type yoga teachers and groups keep their members afraid to either question or come to the conclusion that what they have been taught is worthless–including the teacher and the organization. Some years ago I received a letter from a man who had been practicing “the highest yogic technique” in one of those groups for over thirty years and had gotten nowhere. Yet he was afraid to even consider that the method was at fault, not him.
Once in Benares I had a very long interview with Sri Anandamayi Ma in which she spoke with me at length about certain meditation practices that actually deceive aspiring yogis into thinking that they are making progress, and then after years of practice they find themselves (in Ma’s exact words:) empty.
In Journey to Self-Realization, a collection of talks by Paramhansa Yogananda, at the end of the talk entitled “The True Signs of Progress in Meditation,” he gives the following list of seven indications of progress in meditation practice:
- An increasing peacefulness during meditation.
- A conscious inner experience of calmness in meditation metamorphosing into increasing bliss.
- A deepening of one’s understanding, and finding answers to one’s questions through the calm intuitive state of inner perception.
- An increasing mental and physical efficiency in one’s daily life.
- Love for meditation and the desire to hold on to the peace and joy of the meditative state in preference to attraction to anything in the world.
- An expanding consciousness of loving all with the unconditional love that one feels toward his own dearest loved ones.
- Actual contact with God, and worshipping him as ever-new Bliss felt in meditation and in his omnipresent manifestations within and beyond all creation.
Certainly the yogi should be experiencing the effects of a yogic practice. They can take many forms, but Yoganandaji’s list pretty well covers it all. Since people’s energy bodies differ in character and quality, everyone will not experience the same things nor after the same time of practice. Yet peace and a feeling of ease and well-being, including a feeling of quiet joy, should start occurring after steady practice. Some people experience this in the very first meditation and others only after some time. However, if after several months nothing is happening the yogi must carefully check to make sure his practice is correct. If it is, then the method may be at fault and he should not hesitate to try something else.
Meditating is very much like drilling for oil or water. The effects, like the drill, pass through various layers of the inner mind–the subtle bodies. Some layers are gone through quickly, and other take quite a while. The yogi can experience very positive effects and then after a while nothing seems to be happening in his meditation. This is because he has become acclimated to the practice and is then going through a period of assimilation and inner adjustment. But after some time (it differs for each person) he will again experience very real effects of progress. This can happen many times until the yogi is really adept.
I knew a man who would take up a practice, feel very real effects from it, and then after some time it would seem to go flat. Unfortunately he would decide that he had received all the benefit it had to offer and would abandon it. He never got anywhere as a yogi, because reasonable perseverance is essential.
It is true, though, that if months go by and your meditation is empty and tedious, then something is wrong and you should acknowledge it and question it.
I have been speaking of experiences, and they are important, but the heart of the matter is the actual effect of those experiences, as Yogananda’s list makes clear. I knew a woman who had supposedly ecstatic experiences in every meditation, yet outside meditation she was a hateful and spiteful person, cruel to others in her words and deeds. The last time I saw her she was disintegrating mentally and eventually became insane. (For years she had been practicing one of the methods Anandamayi Ma warned me against.)
If a practice does not make you a better person on all levels, stable and positive, wiser and deeper in consciousness, then it should be abandoned as worthless and possibly deadly poison.
Therefore you should carefully examine the source and the effects of any practice. Beware, beware, beware: at this point in time many yoga teachers and practices are harming and even destroying the lives and minds of sincere aspirants. Trust your ultimate conclusions regarding all such. If they are based on calm and careful analysis, free from any emotional clouding or fear, then trust them and act accordingly.
Falling asleep in meditation
It is normal for meditators to sometimes fall asleep while meditating, since meditation is relaxing and moves the consciousness inward. Both the body and the mind are used to entering into the state of sleep at such times. After a while, though, you will naturally (and hopefully, usually) move into the conscious sleep state, so do not worry.
At the same time, be aware that falling asleep in meditation can be a signal from your body that you are not getting enough sleep at night. People are different, and some do need more sleep than others. You should consider extending your sleep time or taking some kind of nap break during the day. Falling asleep in meditation can also be a symptom of a nutritional lack, an indication of low vitality.
Please do not do such things as shock your body with cold water, drink coffee, or run around a bit, hoping to force yourself to stay awake in meditation. This is not the way. Listen to your body and take care of it. Yogis are not storm-troopers. We are engaged in peace, not war.
We have talked about mental distractions, but what about physical ones? Simple: scratch when you itch, yawn when tired, shift or stretch when you have a muscle cramp, and if you feel uncomfortable, shift your position. We are meditating, not torturing or coercing the body. Such distractions are normal and not to be concerned about. If we give them undue attention by being annoyed or disgusted with them, or trying to force our attention away from them, we will only be concentrating on them, and will compound their distracting power. In time most of these little annoyances stop occurring. Until then, just be calm and scratch and rub and move a little, while keeping your awareness where it belongs.
What about noises? Accept them. Do not wish they would stop, and do not try to not hear them. Just accept the noise as part of your present situation. Neither like nor dislike it.
Care only for your meditation, confident that a few itchings, cramping, noises, thoughts, or memories will not ruin your meditation. “Greater is he [the spirit] that is in you, than he [the body] that is in the world” (I John 4:4). It is your attention to them, either in rejection or acceptance, that will spoil your meditation. You must guard against that, and relaxation and indifference to them is the way.
“Verily; that Self is (abides) in the heart. He who knows this goes day by day into the heavenly world [through meditation]” (Chandogya Upanishad 8:3:3).
Meditation should be done daily, and if possible it should be done twice daily–morning and evening, or before and after work, whichever is more convenient.
When your period of meditation is over, do your utmost to maintain the flow of the japa of Soham in time with your breathing in all your activities. For those who diligently and continually apply themselves, attainment is inevitable.
When you find yourself with some time–even a few minutes–during the day, sit and meditate. Every little bit certainly does help.
Length of meditation
How long at a time should you meditate? The more you meditate the more benefit you will receive, but you should not push or strain yourself. Start with a modest time, fifteen or twenty minutes, and gradually work up to an hour or an hour and a half, perhaps once a week meditating even longer if that is practical. There is a special value and benefit in meditating three hours. But do not force or burn yourself out. It is a common trick of the negative mind to have you meditate for a very long time and then skip some days or weeks and then overdo it again. It is better to do the minimum time every day without fail. Remember the tortoise and the hare.
Also, if you go about it the right way and live in the manner which makes you supremely responsive, one hour’s meditation can equal several hours of meditation done by an undisciplined and unpurified yogi.
Keep it inside
Do not dissipate the calmness and centering gained through meditation by talking about it to others. Experiences in meditation are not only subtle, they are fragile, as delicate as spun glass, and speaking about them can shatter their beneficial effects. Bragging, eulogizing, and swapping notes about meditation experiences is a very harmful activity. Avoid it. Otherwise you or others may be tempted to force things or imitate one another.
Do not satisfy any curiosity about your personal yogic experiences or benefits except in the most general terms. Naturally you can tell people that meditation helps you, but do so in only a general way unless you really feel intuitively that you should be more specific. When people seem truly interested in spiritual life and serious about it, give them a copy of this book and if they read it discuss the general and practical aspects freely.
Although in this book you will find the word concentration, it is not used in the sense of forcing or tensing the mind. Rather, we are wanting to become aware–that is attentive–to the fullest degree. And this is accomplished in Soham Yoga by relaxation in body, mind, and attitude. Our attention on Soham is always gentle, though determined. It is not a spike we are driving into our mind. We are floating in Soham, not crashing into it.
In meditation both the body and the mind must be relaxed. This relaxation is what most readily facilitates meditation. Think of the mind as a sponge, absolutely full of water. If you hold it in your hand, fully relaxed, all will be well. But if you grip it or squeeze it tightly, water will spray out in all directions. This is exactly how it is with the mind. If you hold it in a state of calm relaxation, very few distractions in the form of memories and thoughts will arise. But if you try to force the mind and tense it, then a multitude of distractions will arise.
Learning to continually do japa of Soham
By keeping up the inner repetition of Soham all the time, whatever you may be doing, you will be perpetually cultivating supreme awareness itself. A good way to get yourself habituated to the constant japa of Soham is to do japa while you are reading–simply looking at or scanning the page rather than verbalizing in your mind. (This is the secret of speed reading.) Once you learn to do that, since reading demands so much attention, you will pretty well be able to keep the japa going in other activities. Another way to establish the continual Soham-breath process is to use a japa mala and move to the next bead at each inhalation.
Impulses to negativity or foolishness, whether mental or physical, exist in our minds in the form of samskaras or vasanas. (Samskaras are impressions in the mind produced by previous actions or experiences, and vasanas are bundles or aggregates of similar samskaras.) Worries and anxieties about these samskaras and vasanas in the form of “sins,” “temptations,” and “wrong thinking” torment a lot of seekers uselessly. Even more futile is obsession with “getting rid of the ego.” For the Soham yogi who regularly practices meditation and arranges his inner and outer life so as to avoid their counteracting or conflicting with his practice there is no need for such self-torture. Speaking of these negative and troublesome things, Shankara confidently says: “They are dissolved along with the receptacle, the chitta…. Because they have no effect, they are not given attention, for when a thing is falling of itself there is no point in searching for something to make it fall.” I. K. Taimni says: “As the object of meditation continues to fill the mind completely there can be no question of emptying the mind.”
Too upset to meditate?
I knew a man who frequently refused medication, saying, “I’m too sick right now to take medicine. I’ll take it when I feel better.” This amazed me, but we tend to do the same thing regarding meditation. It is the only way to real peace, but when our lives are being swept with the storms of grief, disaster, fears, anger, and suchlike, we say the same thing: “I am too upset to meditate. I’ll do it later.” But meditation has the ability to soothe and eliminate all disturbed thoughts and inner states. So whenever any distracted or negative conditions arise in our minds and lives, meditation is the key to peace and clear thinking.
One of our monks once showed me two containers. In each one was a very small, green plant less than an inch high, consisting of two leaves. “I planted these nine weeks ago,” he said. “Really? What is wrong with them?” I asked. “I used the wrong kind of potting soil, so they won’t grow,” he told me. It is exactly the same with the study of spiritual philosophy and the practice of meditation: if there is not the right environment, inner and outer, nothing at all will come of it. Not only do we need a special place in our home favorable to meditation, our entire environment should be examined to see that it, too, is not mentally and spiritually heavy, toxic, disruptive and agitating. The same is true of our employment and our associates, business, social, and familial.
The most important environment, of course, is the inner one of our own mind: our thoughts. Our dominant thought should be our intonations of Soham. Next to that should be continual thoughts of spiritual matters drawn from our own study of spiritual writings, attendance at spiritual discourses, and conversation with spiritually-minded associates. Our minds should naturally move in the highest spiritual planes. This is neither impossible nor impractical, for everything proceeds from and is controlled by the Supreme Consciousness.
Entering the silence
The expression “entering the silence” is usually misunderstood as sitting with a blank mind. One mystery of Soham is its ability to produce silence through sound, sound that is essentially silence. We go deeper and deeper into the sound, the increasingly subtle sound of Soham, until we reach the heart of the sound which is silence. Through our invocation of Soham the state of silence is produced in our mind by enabling us to center it in the principle of the silent witnessing consciousness. Through Soham the yogi leads his awareness into the silence of the spirit which is beyond the clamor of the mind and the distractions and movements of the body. For true silence is not mere absence of sound, but a profound condition of awareness that prevails at all times, even during the noise of our daily life. Silence is also a state of stillness of spirit in which all movement ceases and we know ourselves as pure consciousness alone.
A great secret
“Receive that Word from which the Universe springeth!… How many are there who know the meaning of that Word?” asked Kabir. Soham is a great secret–the secret of enlightenment.
Once a man was taught a mantra by a yogi. “You must keep this mantra absolutely secret, for it is known to only a very few,” the yogi told him. But the next day in the morning as the man walked through the town he noticed that a great many people were repeating that mantra aloud, especially as they did their morning ablutions. Indignantly he went to the yogi, told what he had observed, and demanded to know why he had claimed the mantra was a secret known only to a few. The yogi said nothing in explanation, but brought a shining green object from his pocket and handed it to the man with the instruction that he should show it to the people he met in the town and ask them how much they would buy it for–but he was not to actually sell it to them. “When you do this, I will explain about the mantra,” he promised.
The first person he met was a woman who sold vegetables; she offered some eggplants for it, wanting it for her baby to play with. He showed it to some merchants in small shops who offered him small amounts of money for it as a curiosity. A wealthy merchant said that it was an excellent imitation emerald and offered him a goodly sum, for he wanted it to make jewelry for his wife. A banker examined it, declared it to be a genuine emerald, and offered him a great deal of money for it. Amazed by this, the man took it to a jeweler who told him that it was the largest and most perfect emerald he had ever seen. “No one in this land, not even the king, has enough money to purchase this emerald,” he concluded.
Frightened at having such a valuable in his keeping, the man hurried back to the yogi and returned the emerald. Smiling, the yogi put it back in his pocket. “Now will you tell me why you claimed the mantra was secret, when everybody in town seems to know it?” demanded the man. “I have already done so by your experience with the emerald,” the yogi replied. “How many of the people knew what it really was?” “Only the banker and the jeweler,” the man admitted. “And the others–did not their offers for it correspond to their opinion of it and their own financial worth?” “Yes.” “There you have it. The mantra I taught you is in the memory and on the lips of many in a superficial way. They repeat it a few times and then drop it. Only those who meditate upon it can know it in truth–as they at the same time increase in spiritual status. My friend, that mantra is very little known, but I hope you will strive to realize its value by your own Self-realization through its use.”
The man understood. And so will those who come to know the secret of Soham through their own practice. For it is Soham that draws us out from the Primal Depths, Soham that evolves us to the uttermost possibilities, and Soham that liberates and returns us to the Source to share eternally in the fullness of the Life Divine.
Sri Ramakrishna often referred to and told the following parable.
“Once upon a time a wood-cutter went into a forest to chop wood. There suddenly he met a brahmachari. The holy man said to him, ‘My good man, go forward.’ On returning home the wood-cutter asked himself, ‘Why did the brahmachari tell me to go forward?’ Some time passed. One day he remembered the brahmachari’s words. He said to himself, ‘Today I shall go deeper into the forest.’ Going deep into the forest, he discovered innumerable sandal-wood trees. He was very happy and returned with cart-loads of sandal-wood. He sold them in the market and became very rich.
“A few days later he again remembered the words of the holy man to go forward. He went deeper into the forest and discovered a silver-mine near a river. This was even beyond his dreams. He dug out silver from the mine and sold it in the market. He got so much money that he didn’t even know how much he had.
“A few more days passed. One day he thought: ‘The brahmachari didn’t ask me to stop at the silver-mine; he told me to go forward.’ This time he went to the other side of the river and found a gold-mine. Then he exclaimed: ‘Ah, just see! This is why he asked me to go forward.’
“Again, a few days afterwards, he went still deeper into the forest and found heaps of diamonds and other precious gems. He took these also and became as rich as the god of wealth himself.
“Therefore I say that, whatever you may do, you will find better and better things if only you go forward. You may feel a little ecstasy as the result of japa, but don’t conclude from this that you have achieved everything in spiritual life.… If you go still farther you will realize God. You will see him. In time you will converse with him.”
It is important to keep on in regular yoga practice. It is easy to understand that people may mistake delusions for enlightenment, but we must realize that it is also possible to mistake very real stages in spiritual progress as being the final stage, the ultimate enlightenment, when in reality there is much more territory to be traversed before arriving at the supreme goal of perfect union with God.
In the Yoga Sutras (1:30) Patanjali list the various obstacles to enlightenment. One is bhranti-darshana: delusion or erroneous view. Regarding this, I. K. Taimni has written: “This means taking a thing for what it is not. It is due generally to lack of intelligence and discrimination. A Sadhaka may, for example, begin to see lights and hear sounds of various kinds during his early practices. These things are very spurious and do not mean much and yet there are many Sadhakas who get excited about these trivial experiences and begin to think they have made great progress. Some think that they have reached high states of consciousness or are even foolish enough to think that they have seen God. This incapacity to assess our supernormal experiences at their proper worth is basically due to immaturity of soul and those who cannot distinguish between the essential and non-essential things in spiritual unfoldment find their progress blocked at a very early stage. They tend to get entangled in these spurious experiences of a psychic nature and are soon side-tracked. It is easy to see that the unhealthy excitement which accompanies such undesirable conditions of the mind will cause great distraction and prevent it from diving inwards.”
Therefore the yogi must keep on all the days of his life. After death it will be seen by what world (loka) he rises to what stage he has really reached. Sri Ramakrishna also said: “Even if one has attained Knowledge, one must still constantly practice God-Consciousness.… What is the use of polishing the outside of a metal pot one day only? If you don’t polish it regularly it will get tarnished again.… A brass pot must be polished every day; otherwise it gets stained.”
And so it is with the mind and heart of the yogi. Buddha is our perfect example. To the very last day of his life he meditated regularly, often withdrawing into solitude for prolonged periods of intense meditation. Further, every day he followed the same routine that all the monks of the Sangha followed. He never slacked off or abandoned any practice. Never did he neglect spiritual practice and discipline under the pretense that he no longer needed it. He diligently followed the counsel of Krishna: “For the maintenance of the world, as an example you should act. Whatever the best of men does–this and that–thus other men do. Whatever the standard that he sets, that is what the world shall follow. I have no duty whatsoever in the three worlds, nor anything that must be attained, nevertheless I engage in action” (Bhagavad Gita 3:20-22).