Meditation—Success, Special Powers and Non-Duality
A recent online presentation by the Warden of Shanti Sadan
Does non-duality offer potential benefits such as prosperity, success and special powers?
According to these teachings, our true substance, our innermost Self, is not separate from the ultimate source of all—the supreme intelligence that underlies and pervades the entire world appearance. The path to inner illumination is a gradual awakening to this reality and a growing recognition that this is what we really are. And enlightenment is the dissolution of all the apparent separations from that supreme Being.
It might seem to follow that progress on the path to Self-realisation would be evidenced by signs of a great force at work in our lives and of a growing ability to draw upon the power of that supreme Being according to our will. Does this mean that if we are pursuing the non-dual teachings, we might expect to see effects of this power in our situation, manifesting perhaps as material prosperity, influence and well-being on all levels? Should we expect a rise of uncommon capacities for benevolence and creativity, such as supra-mental sources of knowledge or the power to heal trauma and remove suffering?
On the other hand, if no such developments are occurring in our life, does this mean that we are not making progress with the non-dual practices? If such extra-ordinary qualities are not becoming apparent within our scope, could it be that we are doing something wrong or have failed to grasp something essential?
Let us put our mind at rest about this. If we are doing the suggested practices and sincerely enquiring in the direction of non-duality, and yet do not seem to be gaining special capacities or qualities, this does not mean that we are doing something wrong or making no progress. To feel that we are just a ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ person does not mean that we do not or cannot grow towards inner illumination. In fact, to be a normal person with an ordinary life, and no wish to appear otherwise, is an ideal situation in which to make the subtle, but vital, inner changes which constitute real progress on the inner quest.
What are those vital changes? At the core of all our life experience there is the awareness of ‘I am’. This conscious principle is always with us, as the central point that our inner world revolves around. It is familiar to us, although imperfectly understood, and it is often called the ego.
This word ‘ego’ has become associated with exaggerated self-centeredness and self-importance. In fact, the ego is not intrinsically bad. If we did not have this fundamental core of ‘I am’ and ‘I care’, then the essence of our humanity would be missing. What matters is what this ‘I-am’ feeling is associated with, what we identify with our central ‘I-am’ or ego-sense.
At one stage in our development we do have the feeling: ‘I am— my wants and my ideas, and everything else either helps me or gets in the way, or just doesn’t matter!’ This feeling, too, has its place. For during this phase of our development, we learn important lessons about life, and come to realize that narrow self-interest is not an asset but a limitation that holds us back from true expansion.
In the light of these lessons, our identity-feeling gradually widens, becoming less focused on what is exclusive, and more on what we all share. This progression towards universality eventually leads us to take up the conscious enquiry into the nature of our true being, and this search culminates in the realization that the ‘I-am’ in me is, in essence, that which reveals all experience. I am the living light in all conscious beings.
When used in this sense, the word ‘I’ indicates what is beyond all distinctions. It is what underlies and transcends everything finite, where there is no separation, no limitation, no suffering, and no possibility of suffering. This is the ultimate truth of our being, what is most correctly called our Self, now and always. The aim of our practices and inner enquiry is to discover this supreme Fact in our own direct experience.
What then is the place of our body and mind with all their obvious limitations? The body and mind are precious because they sustain the life through which we make this sublime discovery. The unique value of the human mind is that it can achieve a kind of transparency through which we realise with certainty that the mind is not the ultimate Self. The mind is precious because it is potentially the doorway to the realization of the Absolute Being in which it appears to abide.
In the light of this supreme potentiality, we do not need to look for special powers in the belief that they might lead to fulfilment and happiness. The reality, the ultimate power, is our true being, and is infinite.
The path to Self-knowledge, then, is a return to true normality.
Our meditations and other practices help us to uncover the unspoilt quality of our inner nature, beneath the apparent disturbances that seem to obscure it.
Among these disturbances is mental tension. We may have become so accustomed to living with this internal pressure that it feels normal and almost inevitable. Some tension is appropriate sometimes, but even in our modern life, those moments are passing, not continuous. What perpetuates tension is an underlying insecurity. The non-dual teachings point to the root of that insecurity and tension, and how they can be resolved through meditation based on a deeper self-understanding, revealing a natural state of balanced relaxation.
The practices also help us to break the habit of being lost in an endless series of mental associations and distractions. This habitual condition has been called ‘the stream of consciousness’ but it would be better called the stream of unconsciousness! Many of us find that the first thing that happens when we try meditation is that we become aware of how uncontrolled our thoughts are and how difficult it is to concentrate on something we have consciously chosen. Realizing this, it might seem that meditation is making us feel worse rather than better.
But to become aware of this state of affairs in our mind, even partially, is to unlock a powerful secret. If we calmly persevere with meditation practice, the awareness underlying thoughts can begin to shine through, revealing more about our deeper nature than any textbook ever could, and illuminating the way forward to yet deeper discoveries. And so by providing an antidote to our tension and distraction, the practices can prevent us from dissipating mental energy uselessly, opening up reserves of resilience and vitality. Isn’t that a rather special power?
We can overcome many obstacles to well-being on all levels if we are able to feel happiness in the happiness of others, even those who might seem to be better placed than us individually. Through meditation we realize that our true I-am is the light of pure consciousness, deeper than personality, and at this fundamental level, we are one with all. When we recognise this, dark clouds are dispelled and our inner environment becomes naturally sunny. This influence over our inner environment is a useful power, is it not?
Progress on the path then, is more of an unburdening and letting go than any kind of acquisition.
There is one form of letting go which is especially significant. In some of the classical writings of the non-dual wisdom tradition, it is said that one sure manifestation of real progress is a growing perception that the world as we experience it through our mind and senses, is not entirely real.
This teaching is subtle and has to be rightly understood. It is never helpful to be careless in our dealings with the world. Let us always fulfil our responsibilities and care for those around us, as well as we can.
What this teaching about the apparently illusory nature of the world really means, is that we become increasingly certain that we cannot find lasting fulfilment and security in the world revealed to us through our senses. This is because nothing that is limited can really be connected with the limitless reality of our own being. Only the immortal can satisfy the immortal in us. Only the infinite can satisfy the infinite in us.
This growing conviction shows that we are being freed of deep-seated attachments to external things—things that will pass sooner or later. We are gaining a new independence, deep in our own heart, at the well-spring of our thoughts and feelings.
A developing awareness that the phenomenal world known through the mind lacks something essential may also be a challenging stage in our journey. It might lead to feelings of despondency and depression, unless it is balanced by positive intimations that our ultimate goal is attainable.
What is that ultimate goal? There is an innate yearning in every human heart to be totally free of all constraints and limitations. Our mind is constantly trying to find solutions to our difficulties, and so it may imagine the acquisition of special powers as the key to liberation and fulfilment. But the real key to liberation is the higher Self-knowledge of what we already are, ever free, ever fulfilled.
It is not powers generated in our body and mind that will bring relief. The truly liberating breakthrough is to know that our real Self does not need special powers to rise above the limitations of mundane life, because our true nature does not need anything at all, and never could be in any need, being ever absolute and perfect.
The highest Self-realization is not something that our will-power can ever bring about. It is revealed when the inner conditions are right. What we can do is bring about those conditions, and every step we take is at the same time an unburdening and inner expansion, right now.
It might seem counterintuitive to say that a vital step forward is to fully understand that nothing within the range of our imagination will bring us complete happiness and ultimate fulfilment. In fact, it is a great relief to realise that we do not have to struggle to find fulfilment where it does not exist.
What we are recognising is that the world we experience through our mind is not a complete or accurate picture of reality. The more clearly we realise this, the more certain we become that there is a deeper reality behind that picture. That reality seems to be hidden, but it is closer than close. It is our own ever-present Self.
This is the principle that underlies meditation, so let us turn to our practices now.
We prepare our mind for meditation by remembering that there is a deeper reality at the core of our being that is one with the reality underlying the whole universe. This oneness—this non-duality— is the supreme wisdom that is open to all of us.
So let us first sit for a minute or two in calmness and reverence for this supreme and eternal wisdom that reveals our essential oneness with the all.
This will further help us prepare our mind to approach the inner treasury of bliss and peace. The practice is:
Breathe consciously and a little more deeply than usual.
Once this breathing rhythm is established, on the in-breathe say to yourself inwardly ‘I’. And on the out-breath, again, say, inwardly, ‘I’.
Conscious breathing as we know calms the mind. Here we deepen the effect by adding the word ‘I’. Not ‘I have’ or ‘I do’ or ‘I think’, just I, I. In this way we turn from the usual meaning of the word I to the fundamental Self or I which is the ultimate source of our consciousness and vitality, and is perfect peace and fulfilment. Devote four to five minutes to this practice.
Next we are going to practice a way of freeing ourselves from the domination of unwanted and uncontrolled thoughts.
Be aware of your thoughts, that is, allow them to appear in your mind, but let them pass on without feeling identified with them. They will pass on if we do not give them the support of our attention. We can do this by saying to the thoughts as they arise: ‘You are illusory. Not wanted now. Pass on.’
The practice is based on the principle that our true Self—our I —transcends the mind. The Self is not the mind: it is the pure consciousness to which all the thoughts appear but which never itself appears as a thought.
This apparently simple practice affirms that we are more than our thoughts. It puts things in their right perspective and allows us to step back, as it were, from the mental traffic. This in turn gives us the ability to manage our inner state. Spend five minutes in this exercise.
Meditation on a Text
OM WHEN THE MIND IS STILLED, THAT WHICH IS HIGHER THAN THE MIND IS REVEALED.
IT IS MY SELF—PURE BEING,
INFINITE CONSCIOUSNESS, PERFECT PEACE. OM
The text points to our deeper nature and the way to realize it. That deeper nature is pure being, infinite consciousness, perfect peace. This truth of our being is apparently concealed by the stream of thoughts which usually engages our attention and sense of identity. And this reality is revealed when the mind is stilled and focused inwardly.
In meditation we fix our attention on the text, or a part of it. As we keep the attention focused on the meaning of the text, our understanding deepens into a growing sense of the reality that the words are pointing to— the reality of our being.
If the mind wanders, patiently and firmly bring it back to the text and once again absorb your attention in it. (Five to seven minutes.)
Just as we began with a preparation for meditation, so we end with a preparation for our return to our life of action. One way we can do this is to sit for a minute or two, harbouring thoughts of peace and goodwill, feeling our oneness with the whole. (One minute)