Non-dual Meditation and Belief in God
What is the aim of our meditation? It is to expand our consciousness and to discover a fulfilment and security that nothing can disturb. On this path, much depends on our own ideas about ourselves and the great whole of which we are a part. When we think about these things and reflect on what the wisdom traditions tell us, we find ourselves considering what is sometimes called the supreme Being, or God. Whatever name, or names, we use, the deep-seated ideas we have about ultimate Reality affect our explorations in meditation. So I would like to begin by reflecting on the non-dual teachings about this supreme power or principle, which religions call God, and how these teachings can guide and support us on the way of inner discovery.
In non-duality, expressions, words or names equivalent to ‘God’ indicate ultimate reality, the highest truth. Such expressions refer to the totality of everything that exists, known from no particular point of view in time and space, but as the transcendental, absolute Reality. Or we can say that God is the existence in everything that exists.
This means that we have to be careful not to fall into confusion when we talk about this highest Truth. We cannot ask ‘what came before time?’ or ‘where is space located?’ Why not? Because such questions assume that the framework of time and space already exists. Similarly, there are many questions we cannot ask about God in the normal way. Can we say that God is the cause or creator of the world? We can only talk of causes when we divide things up and say that one thing led to another. If we think of the whole as being the totality of absolutely everything, obviously there are no real divisions, and so we cannot speak of causes or their creator.
Having said that, if we think of individual parts of the universe, including our body and mind, we can say that they have their support and origin in the absolute whole. So if we call the absolute whole ‘God’, then yes, clearly, in this relative sense, That is the source and sustainer of all the individuals. This means that what we may refer to as ‘God’ deserves the highest reverence and gratitude.
Yet we need to remember that no idea we have about this can be the complete and final truth. If we become rigid in our thinking, we may find ourselves dedicated, not to truth, but to a limited projection of our own mind.
One might say, ‘Well then, would it not be best to leave aside all such talk and avoid any discussion about ultimate reality, whatever we may call that?’ But this is not really an option. As thoughtful human beings we cannot say that the ultimate truth about everything is of no interest or importance. In order to think about what matters most and how to make the best of our lives, to hear and study teachings on wisdom, we need words, names and symbols. For true seekers these questions are of particular interest. Why is this so? It is because an important step to deeper knowledge is the willingness to question everything we think we know about ourselves and the world around us.
We may be surprised to find that however open-minded we consider ourselves to be, we do in fact harbour deeply held convictions about the nature of things, convictions that go beyond the evidence and the scope of reason. If we learn to become aware of these limitations in our thinking, then we open ourselves to the light of the non-dual teachings, and the heart of all the wisdom traditions.
We may ask, is it possible to love God, if that is a name for what is so far beyond our understanding? The answer is not only that we can, but that in truth, we have to, because it is one-pointed devotion that leads to the goal in all endeavours, and without love, our dedication will not be complete. This should not discourage us, because if something is necessary, it is possible.
We might ask further, can this supreme Being help us, if its nature is so different from our own? Again the answer is not only that God can help, but that in Truth only God can really help us, being the highest truth, and the ultimate source of all power and sustenance.
On these questions, the non-dual teachings begin by inviting us to ask ourselves, what is our own current understanding of the highest truth? What do we think of as really real? The next step is to ask further, does this leave anything uncertain, anything unfulfilled? The non-dual view is that a true understanding of the nature of the supreme Reality, God, whatever name we use, will resolve these questions about certainty and fulfilment: it is that which leaves nothing else to be known or done. This Reality can be verified in our own experience, for it is ever present. Without that presence nothing else could exist!
Where and how are we to seek? Clearly this supreme being is not a fact or object like all the others we have come to know so far in life. It is unlike anything we have known, and is to be sought in a completely different way. Rather than exercising our mental faculties, the enquiry into ultimate truth means discerning in our inner experience what remains when all mental activity is brought to a profound tranquillity.
Thus we begin with an idea which is essentially simple and logical, but so great in its implications that in practice we need authoritative guidance in order to mature this new understanding. This guidance is rooted in the teaching that if God is the reality in all things, then this is the reality in us. This reality is what we are in truth. To use the Sanskrit words, Atman—Self—is identical in essence with Brahman, God, the Supreme Being.
Our progress depends on regularly reminding ourselves of this higher standpoint. The goal of all our endeavours is to find our way back, so to say, to our ultimate home. The most profound teachings of religion and schools of wisdom indicate the identity of the soul and the Absolute. Partly because it can be easily misunderstood, some traditions express this teaching only partially and indirectly. The non-dual teachings present it as directly as possible for those who are willing to make the necessary efforts and adjustments to receive it without distortions.
As we saw, to absorb this higher teaching on God and Self, we first have to be willing to loosen our attachment to any limited conceptions of the Supreme Being. This does not mean rejecting what is most valuable, even sacred, to us: just recognising the limits of our own understanding, and that the reality is infinitely greater than anything that our finite mind can conceive.
Here we may ask again, if and how, in the light of the non-dual teachings, we can love God? If God is truth absolute, and also beauty absolute, let us look beyond appearances and realise that the true object of our love in anyone or anything is that deeper reality that is one with our true Self.
There is a difference between love for objects and ideals, and loving another conscious being. In the non-dual teachings God is Being Absolute, and is also Consciousness Absolute. The ultimate source of the consciousness in all sentient beings, is the absolute consciousness of God. So love of God is not love of an inert object or abstraction. Through the non-dual practices we enquire, with alertness and precision, into what is truly our self, as opposed to the objects we experience. Similarly, we enquire into what is real in the world, as opposed to the appearances. When God is understood as the Reality in all, and the ultimate source of all consciousness, then the highest devotion and the highest metaphysical enquiry, fuse into one quest for Self-knowledge and realisation.
It should not surprise us that the object of our highest love lies beyond what we can know in the ordinary way. Beauty always includes an element of mystery, and if we ever feel that we know everything there is to know about an object or person, the charm and fascination fades.
And again, can the God of non-duality help us? The non-dual insights show that only God as the supreme Truth can really help, and there is guidance on how we can make ourselves ready to be helped at the deepest level. True help comes when we do what needs to be done as well as we can, with the feeling that everything comes from the supreme Reality and rests in That. When this becomes our way of thinking and acting, then, whatever happens outwardly, inwardly all is well.
We know from experience that nothing in the world is entirely satisfying and secure. And yet fulfilment is possible when we awaken to the truth that the reality we seek is ever present as our own immediate experience. By this is not meant the experience of the mind and its thoughts and feelings, but of the pure being that always underlies the thinking process and is the inner light that reveals it.
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Having reflected on these things and clarified our thoughts, let us now turn to meditation practice and focus our energies and attention, in tranquillity, to discover what is not only the highest in us, but also the closest to us.
So how should we begin our meditation practice? Shall we just gather up our strength and press ahead? No. The advice is to begin our session with an inner preparation.
Before the meditation, pause; remember, that although it is invisible to our physical eyes, the supreme Being, or Presence, is here, now. We can connect our mind with that and draw strength through trust. So we prepare for meditation in this way: We remember that the supreme Presence, though unseen, is here. Through trust we rest in That for a short while.
Next we are going to do a breathing practice. Breathe consciously, and a little more slowly and deeply than usual. If possible, breathe through the nose, and try to make the in-breath and the out-breath about the same length. So let us begin by taking a few slow, deep breaths. Be fully aware of the sound and movement of the in-breath and of the out-breath, each breath bringing relief and relaxation.
We continue with this rhythmic breathing, and now add the words: ‘I am’ on the in-breath. Say these words ‘I am’ inwardly, silently, with the breath. ‘I am’ is the fundamental fact of our being. It is ever present, indestructible, pure, simple and without a limit. Our personality is a structure built on I am. Our personality hides the infinitude of our I am. In this breathing practice we reconnect with our I am. We move from the surface to the depth of what we are. If other thoughts come up, as soon as you notice, let them go, and bring the attention back to the breath and the words ‘I am’: rhythmic breathing, and I am. Devote about five minutes to this breathing practice.
Our next practice is a visualisation. Imagine a line of light, extending from the top of the forehead to the region of the navel, then focus your attention on this line of light. This visualisation practice is an exercise in imaginative concentration. It is also an indicator that there is something at the core of our being—at the centre—which transcends what is material and transient. Our innermost nature is illumined by a light that transcends the mind. When our attention is drawn towards the centre of our being, seeing there the image of this line of light, we can find inner calm, safety and a source of pure energy. Using your imagination and will, focus your attention on that. If the mind wanders, whenever you notice, come back to the line of light. (Five minutes)
Now we are going to meditate on a text which points to the non-dual truth of our own nature. The text is this:
I AM THE INNER SUN, SELF-LUMINOUS.
I AM THE CONSCIOUSNESS
THAT MAKES ALL EXPERIENCE POSSIBLE.
epeat the text a few times to yourself until it is established in your mind. When you have the text in focus, stay with it, and allow the deeper meaning to reveal itself. There is within us an inner light which illumines all experience. This is our true ‘I’. This light requires nothing else to reveal it, it is self-luminous. It is the light within all conscious beings; without it there would be no experience of any kind. This light transcends individuality and is universal—one in all. So let us meditate on this text together now for five minutes. Again, if the focus is lost, as soon as you notice, bring it back to the text and its meaning. (Five minutes)
We close our practices in a spirit of peace and harmony. We do this by spending a few moments offering thoughts of unconditional goodwill to all. This does not mean we agree with everything. It means that we recognise a reality deeper than the psychological levels where all the difficulties and differences occur. Recognising this, our sincere wish is that all should find the security and well-being that resides in our deeper nature. And so, for a few moments, we offer thoughts of unconditional goodwill to all.