Meditation is a matter of practice, not doctrine; this accounts for much of its appeal. So are our philosophical views or religious beliefs important when we come to meditation? Some may say that they are not, and even that meditation should be based on, and approached with, as few religious or philosophical ideas as possible, and ideally none at all.
The difficulty with this view is that we all have a philosophy of life, a more or less conscious and examined sense of what is real and what is important. It might be said that we should believe only what our senses clearly reveal and our reason can prove and that there is nothing beyond this. Still, that is itself a philosophical view and a belief in relation to religious questions. (And one which turns out to be less than straightforward under scrutiny.)
The practical side of the traditional teachings on Self-knowledge recognises this, and that our background ideas do affect how we will progress and persevere in meditation. And so it is recommended that alongside our meditations we reflect on the philosophy of non-duality that underlies the practices.
This non-dual philosophy (advaita vedanta) is wide and deep, as wide and deep as it needs to be to meet all the questions that might arise in the minds of all sorts of enquirers at every stage. So for each of us only certain aspects will be relevant. We are not advised to study this philosophy as an abstruse intellectual subject, but to consider it as a direct, practicable guide to what is most important to us personally.
It will help our meditation if we have understood, or are at least familiar with and open to, a few key ideas. The most important of these could be summarised in four points.
Subscribe to read more of this article and all of Self-Knowledge online