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Essays in Life and Eternity

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PART III: THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGIOUS CONSCIOUSNESS

Chapter 36: Experiences in Meditation

The preliminary effects of continuous meditation are felt in the form of a tingling sensation in the body, as if ants are creeping through the nerves, or a mild electric current is passing through the whole system. The strangeness of the experience may produce jerks and slight tremors in the body, due to the uniqueness of the mental attitude encountered by the movement of the Pranas, or vital forces, in the body. The vital energy is usually accustomed to concern itself mainly with the physical body of the person untutored in the art of negotiating with anything other than the personality of the individual. Now that the mind has adopted a new posture of exceeding the limits of its bodily encasement, it stretches itself into an area wider than that of the physical individuality, into the larger dimension of the object of meditation, to which situation the currents of the Prana also have to learn to adapt themselves in this process of a vital adjustment to the newly introduced condition. There is a mild earthquake-like feeling when the Pranas cross their earlier limits of physical individuality and endeavour to touch the borderland of the wider kingdom of the object of meditation. The process gradually transforms the individual into a super-individual, which is the reason why experts in Yoga, saints and sages, attract people towards themselves on account of their personality haying a wider inclusiveness of dimension than the limited habitat of people in general. When greatness attracts, it is the wider inclusiveness that really attracts, even as the higher pulls the lower by self-absorption.

The consciousness which earlier was locked up within the physical body begins to peep through the apertures of the localised individuality, and beholds itself in persons and things beyond the limits of the single body to which it was shackled. There is then a sense of power felt within, a feeling of control over outer conditions, and a satisfaction that one has obtained what is required to be obtained, done what is to be done, and known what is to be known. The sense organs begin to loosen their clutches over the body and, loosening themselves from their bodily locations, relate themselves to the divinities behind their operations, becoming thereby channels of the flow of superphysical forces that enter the personality of the meditating individual. The sun and the moon and the stars, the very sky, and all space and time, slowly open up the secret of their really not being situated in large physical distances and of their internal intimacy and organic connection with the very spot and the very personality of the meditating individual. It is here that subtle sensations, celestial sound or music, like the beating of kettledrums or the ringing of bells, are felt arising from spheres beyond the physical realm. Visions of flashes of lightning appear before the mind, odours of a heavenly nature begin to be smelt, the tongue begins to taste a sweetness not coming from any object, and a velvet-like touch cushions, as it were, the very personality. Distances melt down and far-off things are seen very near, the time-process breaks up and Eternity twinkles in every moment that constitutes time. The manifold objects of the world seem to get bundled up into a cohesion of an undivided body or mass of being, and the very heavens seem to gaze at the earthly dweller.

But the experience does not last long, if it so happens that some Sattvika Karma-force happens to be still present in the individual, sustaining it but barring it from going too far into the outer space of the higher realms of being. Often one finds it difficult to maintain this spiritual poise for a long time, due to the subtle repercussions produced by the after-effects of lesser considerations bestowed on bodily individuality, social relationism, and the like. Past thoughts, feelings and actions, before they ebb away and vanish into non-existence, conjure up a cinematographic rapidity of the motions of past experiences, and present a reality of their own. It is said that Dhruva of the Epic and Purana memory saw his mother weeping in front of him while he was engaged in the rapture of meditation in a distant forest. The Buddha's experiences are said to be of a similar nature. Yasodhara, with her little child, was in front of him while he was in rapt attention on the Cosmic Truth, wailing and beseeching him to return to the palace. Impressions can assume concrete forms and present a solidity as hard as anything on earth. Illusions can be as heavy as granite. The usual obstacles that the meditator is supposed to face are a variety of the presentations of erotic beauty, celestial dance, and ambrosial offerings, which are picturesquely described by the commentator on the relevant Sutra of Patanjali's text. The coming of Indra with his retinue is not the only temptation of which one has to be cautious, especially in advanced stages of meditations. Silly things will look valuable, meaningless objects appear highly worthwhile, and a jot of pleasure take the shape of an ocean of delight. These are the last kickbacks of the senses which have been restrained beyond their survival.

But this is not all. Pleasures are not the only temptations. Later comes the threat of self-destruction, as if everything is over, nothing is achieved, the body is breaking, and death is at the elbow. The Buddha had this experience when he crawled in his physical weakness on the very day during the night of which he had illumination. Maya, also known as Mara, call it Satan if you like, does not merely present gifts of temptation in the form of delight to the ego and the senses, but can also discharge threats of rampage and ruin if the presents are not accepted. Loves and hatreds, which were originally thought to be just psychological conditions, begin to announce that they are cosmically connected and can stir up objective powers of larger delicacies and stricter fears. The lives of the saints is here the only illustration before us, whether they are of the East or of the West. Cosmic experiences have no nationality, and they are beyond the limitations of religion or profession. What one has undergone is to be traversed through by everyone else also. The cross is on the back of all things that are born into the dust of the earth.

The tragedy later opens up into the blissful comedy of the vistas of glorious experiences further on, and, like the vanishing of the deplorable sights which Yudhishthira had to visualise in realms beyond the world, as we have it in the concluding Books of the Mahabharata, hells get converted into heavens, the very earth becomes a mass of gold, rivers stream forth with milk and honey, and divine grandeur and glory reign supreme beyond even the farthest stretch of one's imagination. The fruit of supreme renunciation is supreme fulfilment.