Meditation Advice

Woman Meditating

It has sometimes been said that Theosophy has too little to say about the actual practice of meditation. Everyone knows that Theosophy fully endorses the practical application of meditation in daily life but some have remarked that the Theosophical teachings don’t seem to give any clear or definite instructions or guidelines as to how to actually do it.

The fact is that there is something far more important, beneficial, and enduring in its effects than sitting down to meditate for half an hour once a day, and that is meditative living…i.e., making the effort throughout each day to live life consciously, harmlessly, and at the highest point of consciousness possible every moment possible. This involves the constant and perpetual endeavour to purify, refine, elevate, and spiritualise one’s thoughts and thus one’s words and deeds also. That is the highest and best form of meditation anyone can do.

But for those who would also like some simple and practical advice for actual meditation exercises, Theosophy also has something to offer. It offers no so-called “advanced meditation techniques” since, if we are entirely honest with ourselves, we will readily accept and acknowledge that we are nowhere near ready or prepared for such things and probably won’t be for the remainder of this particular lifetime.

What it does have to offer is derived largely from the Raja Yoga system of the ancient Indian sage Patanjali, author of the famous “Yoga Aphorisms.” True yoga practice, as we have said elsewhere, is not something physical at all but is a mental and spiritual exercise leading to ever-increasing reunion in consciousness with our Higher Self, which is one and the same in essence and identity as the Supreme Self, the ONE Infinite Divine Life.

Something which must always be borne in mind is that it is absolutely futile for someone to try meditating if they do not already live in a way that is conducive to meditation. The loud, undisciplined, noise loving, disorganised, sensually oriented person may as well not even bother, until they have sorted themselves out and gained at least some degree of proper focus, self-discipline and self-mastery. Until then, meditation will only be a waste of time and a cause of frustration and disappointment for them.

There is an excellent book available, titled “Letters That Have Helped Me,” which is a compilation and collection of various letters containing helpful spiritual advice and wise guidance written by William Quan Judge to various Theosophists around the world over the last decade or so of his life.

Mr Judge was a co-founder of the Theosophical Movement with H.P. Blavatsky and proved to be her closest and most trusted colleague and associate. Many of the letters in that book were sent to an American lady named Julia Keightley, who often used the pen name of Jasper Niemand when writing Theosophical articles. In one of his letters to her, WQJ wrote the following:

“It is well to pursue some kind of practice, and pursue it either in a fixed place, or in a mental place which cannot be seen, or at night. The fact that what is called Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi may be performed should be known. (See Patanjali’s yoga system.)

“Dharana is selecting a thing, a spot, or an idea, to fix the mind on.

“Dhyana is contemplation of it.

“Samadhi is meditating on it.

“When attempted, they of course are all one act.

“Now, then, take what is called the well of the throat or pit of the throat.
1st. Select it. – Dharana.
2nd. Hold the mind on it. – Dhyana.
3rd. Meditate on it. – Samadhi.
This gives firmness of mind.

“Then select the spot in the head where the Shushumna nerve goes. Never mind the location; call it the top of the head. Then pursue the same course. This will give some insight into spiritual minds. At first it is difficult, but it will grow easy by practice. If done at all, the same hour of each day should be selected, as creating a habit, not only in the body, but also in the mind. Always keep the direction of Krishna in mind: namely, that it is done for the whole body corporate of humanity, and not for one’s self.”

In a letter to someone else he wrote, “By setting apart a particular time for meditation a habit is formed, and as the time comes round the mind will, after a while, become trained, so that meditation at the particular time will become natural. Hence, as far as possible, it will be well for you to keep to the same hour.”

H.P. Blavatsky refers to this type of meditative concentration or concentrated meditation as “the intense and perfect concentration of the mind upon some one interior object, accompanied by complete abstraction from everything pertaining to the external Universe, or the world of the senses.” (See explanatory notes on “The Voice of the Silence”)

How this is actually done is always up to each individual but some have found it beneficial to sit comfortably – but as straight and upright as is possible without becoming uncomfortable – in a chair, close the eyes, take several deep and calming breaths, and then to imagine that the body and the personal self no longer exist. All the focus, all the attention, all the silent concentration of the mind, is then directed to that one particular point that has been chosen, be it the heart centre, the throat centre, or the head centre.

This is no longer thought of as being something which is part of the body but as something existing by itself in Space. In his focussed imagination and concentrated mental activity, the meditator then “enters inside” that centre, viewing it as something akin to a lotus of light, and feeling that he has actually become it. He then holds his concentration on that, for as long as he deems appropriate or as long as he can properly focus on it. It is never particularly wise to spend more than about 30-45 minutes at the most each day in such practices but at the same time it is also not particularly wise to time oneself in meditation or to set an alarm to signal when the meditation should end, as this in itself often tends to serve as a source of distraction.

Regarding the above quoted advice from William Q. Judge, Julia Keightley wrote:

“As regards the practices of concentration suggested in this letter, they are only stages in a life-long contemplation; they are means to an end, means of a certain order among means of other orders, all necessary, the highest path being that of constant devotion and entire resignation to the Law. The above means have a physiological value because the spots suggested for contemplation are, like others, vital centers. Excitation of these centers, and of the magnetic residue of breath always found in them, strengthens and arouses the faculties of the inner man, the magnetic vehicle of the soul and the link between matter and spirit.”

What this means is that this type of meditation exercise “strengthens and arouses the faculties” of what Theosophy calls the astral body. These “vital centres” are also known as the “energy centres” and are referred to by some as the chakras, although it should be noted that the vast majority of the information and literature available today about the chakras is best off ignored, due to its being grossly misleading, inaccurate, and potentially even quite harmful to the practitioner. None of the vital centres lower than the heart level should ever be focussed or concentrated on, as they correspond to the lower nature of man and may awaken unwanted or detrimental forces and energies.

Julia Keightley continued by saying that “The secret of the circulation of the nervous fluid is hidden in these vital centers, and he who discovers it can use the body [i.e. the astral body] at will. Moreover, this practice trains the mind to remain in its own principle, without energizing, and without exercising its tangential force, which is so hard to overcome. Thought has a self-reproductive power, and when the mind is held steadily to one idea it becomes colored by it, and, as we may say, all the correlates of that thought arise within the mind. Hence the mystic obtains knowledge about any object of which he thinks constantly in fixed contemplation.”

However, what we have been discussing here does not always suit everyone. If it has the effect of causing the person to become overtired or to feel strange sensations or uncomfortable feelings in the body, etc., then the practice should be discontinued. Unlike the Indians, the average Westerner does not have the natural propensity for meditation built in to his physiology through heredity, and so practical meditation exercises are indeed unsuitable or inappropriate for quite a number of people here in the West. This is not to be viewed as something “bad” or as an indication of any type of “failure.” It merely means that that particular individual’s line of spiritual development lies in another direction for the present moment.

Whether one is a meditator or not, it is spiritual study which should always be first and foremost and this must never be allowed to be outweighed by meditation.

To another student of Theosophy, Mr Judge wrote:

“I advise you to discontinue concentration on the vital centres, which may prove dangerous unless under the guidance of a teacher. You have learnt, to a certain degree, the power of concentration, and the greatest help will now come to you from concentration upon the Higher Self, and aspiration toward the Higher Self. Also if you will take some subject or sentence from the Bhagavat Gita, and concentrate your mind upon that and meditate upon it, you will find much good result from it, and there is no danger in such concentration.”

So sometimes it may only be beneficial to practice such concentration exercises for a certain period of time – until we “have learnt, to a certain degree, the power of concentration” – rather than as a continual and ongoing thing. In each case it is always up to us but we must be wise and sensible and learn to recognise and realise what is truly best for ourselves.

Sometimes people who are particularly psychically inclined begin to see certain colours or images or hear sounds or music when engaged in such forms of meditation. It should be understood that these are not important signs, as many people are mistakenly inclined to think, but are merely astral phenomena which more often than not are misleading and illusionary. The worst thing one can do is to start focussing on or seeking after such things. To one Theosophist who had begun to have such experiences and sensations, WQJ wrote, “In regard to the pictures which you see, observe them with indifference, relying always on the Higher Self, and looking to it for knowledge and light, pictures or no pictures.”

Theosophy considers spiritual philosophy, altruism, and ethics to be ultimately of far greater importance – both for the individual and the world at large – than practical exercises of meditation and concentration. A clear and accurate comprehension of the fundamental principles of Theosophy – such as the Law of Karma, reincarnation, and the sevenfold nature of the human being – is much more essential, for it is Spiritual Knowledge and not the practice of meditation which truly liberates man. As Jesus is reported to have said, “You shall know the Truth and knowing the Truth will make you free.”

There are many people who think they already know and understand about such things as Karma and reincarnation but who, upon coming to study the teachings of Theosophy on such matters, realise that they really knew and understood very little at all.

To yet another Theosophist, William Judge wrote these words, which can be effectively and beneficially applied by all who wish to do so:

“You cannot develop the third eye. It is too difficult, and until you have cleared up a good deal more on philosophy it would be useless, and a useless sacrifice is a crime of folly. But here is advice given by many Adepts: every day and as often as you can, and on going to sleep and as you wake, think, think, think, on the truth that you are not body, brain, or astral man, but that you are THAT, and “THAT” is the Supreme Soul. For by this practice you will gradually kill the false notion which lurks inside that the false is the true, and the true is the false. By persistence in this, by submitting your daily thoughts each night to the judgment of your Higher Self, you will at last gain light.”

~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~

SOME RELATED ARTICLES: B.P. Wadia on Theosophical MeditationThe Two Paths, Practical Theosophy, The Psychic is not the Spiritual, Should we explore the Astral Plane?, Who was William Quan Judge?, The Welcome Influence of William Q. Judge, Helpful Hints for Spiritual Progress, Mysteries of the Astral Body, The Devotional Books, Higher Kundalini and Lower Kundalini, The Third Eye and the Pineal Gland, The Theosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, and 12 Things Theosophy Teaches.

“Let us divide Meditation into two sorts. First is the meditation practiced at a set time, or an occasional one, whether by design or from physiological idiosyncrasy. Second is the meditation of an entire lifetime, that single thread of intention, intentness, and desire running through the years stretching between the cradle and the grave. For the first, in Patanjali’s Aphorisms will be found all needful rules and particularity. If these are studied and not forgotten, then practice must give results. How many of those who reiterate the call for instruction on this head have read that book, only to turn it down and never again consider it? Far too many.”

~ William Q. Judge, Meditation, Concentration, Will ~

Mr Judge’s own translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms, including commentary and explanations, is published by Theosophy Company and available at a very affordable price from the United Lodge of Theosophists. You can click here for details (in the UK) or here (in the USA and elsewhere).

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Comments

  1. bodhidharma says:

    Other than W.Q Judge’s translation of the Yoga Sutras, are there any others you think are good? I have read some of the essays written by Raghavan Iyer in his magazine “HERMES,” and found them insightful and inspiring. What do you think of his translation of the Yoga Sutras and his writings in general?

    • The only other translation that I have of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the one by Swami Vivekananda but I would recommend William Judge’s one above that, mainly for its clarity and straightforwardness and the sense of universality which accompanies it, unlike the inevitable sense of religious Hinduism which accompanies Vivekananda’s writings.

      Do you mean that Raghavan Iyer made a translation of the same scripture? I was unaware of this. I can’t really comment on his writings in general, since although the very little I’ve read by him seems good, I haven’t been inclined to read much by him.

      His sense of his own self-importance, even to the extent of believing himself to be an Avatar and the Messenger from the Masters for the 1975-2000 centennial cycle (when there is nothing at all to suggest this except the adulation of some of his followers who knew him personally and were overwhelmed by his apparently great charisma) had the effect of ostracising or isolating both him and his supporters from the rest of the United Lodge of Theosophists and the Theosophical world at large. His very small amount of admirers seem to almost worship him, having built up a personality cult around him, and can’t accept that other Theosophists don’t view him in the same quasi-Messianic way in which he viewed himself.

      Quite a number of the older students in the ULT believe that Iyer was certainly a special soul who had a special mission but that he unfortunately allowed his personal pride and ambition to hinder the work and effect that he could have achieved.

  2. bodhidharma says:

    Raghavan Iyer’s translation of the Sutras is available for reading on Theosophy Trusts HERMES lead articles, or you can buy it in book form on Amazon.com. Thanks for your time and thoughts.

  3. aaronberendes says:

    Hi, I have a few questions regarding meditation. First, what do you think of Blavatsky’s Meditation Diagram? I have found it useful for raising and expanding consciousness. Some of the ideas seem equivalent to Patanjali’s meditation without a seed; for example, “first conceive of unity by expansion in space and infinite in time” etc. Second, the Upanishads put special emphasis on “the cave of the heart”, and “the Purusha in the heart”, is there a way of meditating in the heart? Third, how does one concentrate on the Higher Self? Is there a way to conceptualize it through an image or a form? Any and all thoughts are appreciated.

    • Thank you for your comment and questions.

      (1) There is some question as to the authenticity and reliability of H.P. Blavatsky’s “Meditation Diagram.” The doubt does not relate to its content and concepts – which seem clear, good, safe, and in line with her teachings – but rather as to whether or not she actually taught this, or at least in the form expressed in the Diagram. No-one had ever heard or known of it until around 1940, when E.T. Sturdy drew it up and sent it to Christmas Humphreys (a Theosophist who founded the London Buddhist Society) saying that when he’d been a member of HPB’s “Inner Group” in London at the end of her life she had answered his questions about meditation by presenting these things. One year is often sufficient to dim our recollections of things and in this case approximately 50 years had passed between HPB apparently sharing these things with Sturdy and him drawing up the Diagram! It’s probably for this reason that hardly any Theosophists or Theosophical groups promote or present it, as they can’t vouch for its accuracy and legitimacy in regard to being what HPB actually taught and recommended. You can find online though that the late Geoffrey Farthing, founder of the Blavatsky Trust, wrote about it in an illuminating way.

      (2) As the most important esoteric parts of the Upanishads are missing from the publicly available versions (see “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 269-272) we cannot claim to know with any real certainty what they mean by such phrases and terms. But an answer may possibly be found by referring back to the above article and what is said about Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi, particularly Dharana.

      (3) Atman – the Higher Self – should never be conceptualised “through an image or a form.” To meditate on the Higher Self means to attempt to elevate the mind into the formless or Arupa dimension. This may be achieved to some degree by inwardly dwelling upon such themes as Pure Absolute Consciousness, Pure Eternal Spirit, Absolute Abstract Space, and Infinite Unconditioned Allness. At the same time we have to endeavour to live, work, and act, FOR and AS “the Self of all creatures” every day, for this Higher Self we speak of is the ONE Universal Self of All and is literally one and the same in everyone, every being, and every thing.

      The Higher Ego – which is the Higher Manas – may be conceptualised as a pure and radiant Being of Light (“a beam of light immaculate within,” “The Voice of the Silence” p. 63) and it seems that this is what many people encounter in their Near Death Experiences. The Higher Ego is an individual entity but there is nothing individual or entity-like about the Higher Self.

      You can find an article titled “Atman – The Higher Self” at https://blavatskytheosophy.com/atman-the-higher-self and one about the Higher Ego titled “Ego Is Not a Bad Word” at https://blavatskytheosophy.com/ego-is-not-a-bad-word/.

  4. Bodhidharma says:

    Thank you for the reply, I found it helpful.

  5. A really excellent summary on the true nature and direction of meditation

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