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Meditation

Introduction

The Hindu scriptures posit moksa or liberation from transmigratory existence as the real or the final goal of life. Since a human being wants complete cessation of all kinds of suffering and a continuous enjoyment of bliss, these scriptures proclaim that spiritual life is the sole means of attaining it. Spiritual life, in the primary sense, is the life rooted in the spirit, the Atman or God residing in one's own heart, who is also all-pervading and transcendent. That means, only a muktapurusa, a saint who has realised God, can lead such a life. However, in a secondary sense, a way of life that helps us to realise God, can also be termed as spiritual life.

God

The God of Hinduism has three aspects. As Brahman the Absolute, he is 'Sat-Cit-Ananda' or 'Existence-Consciousness-Bliss'. In this aspect he is nirakara and nirguna, without any particular form or attributes.
In the second aspect, he is described as responsible for srsti (creation), sthiti (preservation ) and pralaya (dissolution) of this world. He is also the lawgiver, the Supreme Ruler, Who metes out punishment to the wicked and rewards the virtuous. In this aspect, the mythological works conceive of him as three deities, the Hindu Trinity. They are Brahma ( the creator ), Visnu ( the preserver) and Siva (the destroyer).

Further variations, emanations and associates of these three are also described, making the number of such divinities quite large!
The various incarnation God, in the human as also the non-human form, in response to the needs of the time, form the third aspect.

In all these three aspects, the original God, the absolute, is the same though the names and forms appear to be different. It is like the substance called water being one and the same, though it may appear in three different forms with three different names and uses, viz., steam, liquid and water and ice.

Istadevata

Spiritual life that leads one to God-experience and hence gives moksa can be called 'yoga'. Out of the several yogas known, Bhaktiyoga or the path of devotion to God, as described by the ancient sages Sandilya and Narada, as also that unmatched work on devotion, the Bhagavata, has been specially recommended by Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishan as ideally suited to this modern age.

According to this Bhaktiyoga, upasana or meditation on any one of these various aspects God such as Brahma, Visnu or Siva as also their several forms like the ten avataras including Rama Krsna and Buddha, or the associate deities like Ganapati and Subrahmanya or the innumerable goddesses ( female forms or Saktidevatas), will also lead to the same God-experience or realisation, ultimately resulting in moksa.

That form or aspect of God, witch one likes to meditate upon, is called "Ista" or "Istadevata" (chosen deity). This Istadevata may be the traditional family-deity or any other aspect, to which the sadhaka or the spiritual aspirant is naturally drawn.

In the cases where the aspirant is unable to decide his Istadavata, the issue can be left to guru or spiritual teacher.

For practicing meditation and japa (repetition of the divine name of the chosen deity) it is necessary that the aspirant takes mantradiksa (spiritual initiation )from a qualified guru.

That form or aspect of God, witch one likes to meditate upon, is called "Ista" or "Istadevata" (chosen deity). This Istadevata may be the traditional family-deity or any other aspect, to which the sadhaka or the spiritual aspirant is naturally drawn.
In the cases where the aspirant is unable to decide his Istadavata, the issue can be left to guru or spiritual teacher.

For practicing meditation and japa (repetition of the divine name of the chosen deity) it is necessary that the aspirant takes mantradiksa (spiritual initiation )from a qualified guru.

Mantradiksa or Initiation

Mantra or the divine name is that which protects the disciple when he repeats it and reflects on it. Diksa is the process of giving the mantra to the disciple by the guru by which the sins of he disciple are destroyed or attenuated.

Since mantradiksa or such spiritual initiation purifies the body as also the mind, making the disciple fit to practice meditation, every aspirant must undergo this sacrament.

In mantradiksa, the guru generally imparts the sacred mantra (divine name to the disciple and also instructs him in detail about the step-by-step process of meditation.

In the most general form, a mantra will have four parts; Pranava or Om, the bija (seed letter) pertaining to that deity, the name of the deity in the dative case and obeisance (namah)

Mantradiksa is generally given on a day considered auspicious as per the Hindu almanacs.

Some of the disciplines excepted be observed on the occasion of mantradiksa, especially by the would- be disciple, are : bath , wearing of washed and clean clothes suitable to the occasion, fasting and observing mauna or silence

The whole process of diksa may be preceded by ritualistic worship of the deity by the guru.

Meditation *

Now, a simple process of meditation (continuos thought-current towards the Istadevata) my be described for the sake of those who have not had the benefit of mantradiksa.

1. Choose your Istadevata. It can be your family deity or any other aspect of God which appeals to you most.

2. Choose two times in a day which are convenient to you for meditation . (For instance, it can be 5.00 AM or 6.00 AM and 6.30 PM or 7.30 PM etc.) Once you choose the timings, try to stick to them as far as possible.

3. Choose a place for your meditation in your house. It can be your puja-room or a corner in your living room. In the latter case, try to have a small shrine, wherein you can keep the picture of your Istadevata.

4. Spread the asana or meditaion-seat in the place of meditation and sit upon it with folded legs. Keep the backbone, neck and head erect. *1

5. Think of the vast infinite sky without sun, moon, stars and also clouds, fulfilled with dim light, for a couple of minutes. This will help you to relax the body and the mind *2

6. Now, withdraw the consciousness into the region of your heart. Imagine that there is a beautiful 12 petalled red lotus there. Also imagine that your Istadevata is sitting on the same, fully living and conscious.

7. Mentally offer your prayer to the Istadevata. Pray for good health, peace of mind, and devotion, viveka or discrimination and detachment *3

( If and when there are serious problems in your life, there is nothing wrong in praying to your God for peace and mental relief, so that you can meditate upon God more freely.)

8. Try to meditate on the Istadevata for sometime, say 5 to 10 minutes. Eventhough the mind may run away fro the Istadevata during this meditation, try to bring it back again and again and fix it on the Deity.

9. Then, do japa or repetition of he divine name of the Istadevata. Suppose the Istadevata is Rama, you can simply repeat " Rama....". The minimum number of repetitions of the divine name should be 108. If you want to do more, it should be multiples of 108.

10. You can now offer mental worship to the Istadevata. Pancopachara or puja with five items is the simplest and the best. The items are: gandha (sandal paste), puspa(flowers, tulsai and bilva leaves), dhupa (incense sticks), dipa (karpura arati), and naivedya (fruits and sweets with drinking water ). Because this is mental worship, these items are all offered mentally.

11. Now, offer all the fruits and results of your meditation at the feet of the Istadevata. This can be done symbolically by offering mentally a handful of flowers at he feet of the Istadevata. Do not immediately get up from the seat after the meditation. Continue to sit there for some time and do some chanting of Gita or stotras (hymns)

Significance of Mantrajapa

A mantra becomes effective only when its japa is done. That is, should be repeated a rescribed number of times as per the directions of the guru.

Japa is of three types. It is 'vacika' or 'ucca' when done audibly. It is 'upamsu' if done in whispering tones. If it is done mentally, it is 'manasa'. The last is considered as the most efficacious.

During japa, th ecounting of the number can be done either by hand or by a japamala (rosary). The number recomend can vary. for instance, it can be 10 or 12, 28 or 32 or 108 the last number being the most widely recognised.

A human being is supposed to breathe 21600 times in a day of 24 hours. Leaving aside hald this time for sleep, looling after the needs of he body and contingenies, the breathing durin gthe waking and active state is 10,800. Actually the number 108 symbolically represents this 10800. In other words, a votary is expected t utter the mantra with every breath and the number 108 is a reminder of that ideal.

Japamala

A japamala - also known as aksamala - is a rosary used for counting the mantra during japa. Though th ecounting can be done on the fingers also, it is more convenient to use the japamala. The method of using it must be learnt personally from an experienced person.

The beads of a japamala can be prepared out of then substances, ourt of which rudraksa(Elaeocarpus seeds), dried tulasi(hloy basil) twigs, seeds of the lotus plant, sandalwood and quartz are mmore common. They are strung either on silk thread, or with wire of copper or silver.

Though the number of beads may vary from 32 t 108, last number is hte rule. There will be one bead extra, which may be bigger than the others and fixed above them. This is called 'meru' and should not be crossed over during counting.

Traditional Method of Japa

In the traditional method of the mantrajapa of any deity, the following are the steps normally taught : rsyadinyasa, karanyasa, anganyasa, reciting the dhyanasloka, japa of he mantra and phalasamarpana.

Rsyadinyasa involves the chanting (with folded hands) the name of he rsi or th sage to whom the mantra was originall revealed, the chandas or hte metre in which the mantra is composed, the name of the devata or athe deity to be meditated upon and the viniyoga or mode and purpose of using it.

The various parts of he body have their presiding deities. The purpose of karanyasa and anganyasa is to invoke the deities and instal them in their appropriate places. By this, the whole body is cremonially purified making it fit for the practice of meditation.

The dhyanasloka dscribes the form of the deity to be meditated upon. This facilitates the aspirant ot imagine the living presenceof he deity in his heart.

Japa is the repetition of the mantra, preferably keeping count of it either on the fingers or by using the japmala.

Phalasamarpana is hte total dedication of all the fruits an dresults of the meditation and japa to the Istadevata.

Conclusion

Meditation and japa help the spiritual aspirant to gain greater control over he mind, concentration and inner peace.

Generally they go together. Howerver, if meditation deepens, japa may automatically stop.

Sri Sarada Devi says that even if there is not much of concentration, mere japa, especially if done in large numbers, can help one to get greater concentration and peace.

Hence all the spiritual aspirants are advised to take mantradiksa from a qualified guru and then practise spiritual disciplines as per his instructions.

This information is only like an appetizer that may increase one's spiritual hunger !