Advaita seeking is in three gradual stages: ShravaNa( Hearing), Manan (Contemplation) and NididhyAsanA (Meditation). In Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣhad sage Yagnavalkya says to his wife Maitreya: Self should be realized by ShravaNa, Manan and NididhyAsanaA; upon realization of the Self, all this is known.
ShravaNa means listening to vedantic teaching by a guru. It would also include reading vedantic literature and in the age of technological advancement, accessing the teaching offered by other sources. Contemplation means analyzing the teaching and grasping intellectually. All doubts should stand cleared at this stage. Next stage is meditation which enables internalization of the teaching and making it a living practice. No doubt, there is a wide gap between intellectual understanding and living practice, like two shores of a river. Having understood the enormity of task, the sages of yesteryear, out of compassion for the mankind, laid down the technique of vedantic meditation so as to swim across the river. Drg Drsya Vivek describes vedantic meditation. It is progressive and in conformity with vedantic teaching.
There are two broad categories of meditation, namely, internal and external. Each category is further divided in three stages, namely, savikalpa meditation with thought, savikalpa meditation with word and nirvikalpa meditation. It is noteworthy that the three stages follow in the same order. Thus it is six- fold method. Vikalpa means division. In savikalpa meditation, subject-object division and duality exist. In nirvikalpa meditation there is no such division and is non-dual.
Internal Savikalpa Meditation with thought
The meditator with eyes closed observes the thoughts arising in mind and picks up any thought. The thought has name and form and the meditator having learnt the vedantic teaching knows that the thought with name and form is illumined by (reflected) consciousness. However consciousness is mixed with name and form . Now the effort is to distinguish the consciousness from the name and form. The process can be explained by an example. We see an object, say a chair, in a lighted room. The chair is illumined by light and therefore we see it. If asked what we see, we answer chair and forget the light. Light is pervading the room, yet we fail to mention it. The effort in the meditation is to separate the light from the chair. The light represents the consciousness and chair represents the thought. After getting over the mix-up, witnessing aspect of consciousness is focused for it is known that the same consciousness is illumining whatever thought arises. The next step is to focus on or ‘see’ that ‘I am’ the witnessing consciousness in as much as I am witnessing the thought. There should be no attempt to objectify the consciousness as it is bound to fail, consciousness being the ultimate subject. The flow chart is: distinguish the consciousness from the thought, then go to ‘witnessing consciousness’ and then to ‘I am the witnessing consciousness’. As thought is used as an aid, it is called savikalpa meditation with thought. It is must be reminded that the process of focus is also a thought in the mind. This is so because the meditation is still in the realm of duality.
Internal Savikalpa Meditation with word
Having discriminated the consciousness from the thought, i.e., name and form, the next step is to focus on the various other features of consciousness according to vedantic teachings. For this any vedantic word or metaphor related to an aspect of consciousness is taken up and focused. In Drg Drsya Vivek word mentioned is ‘asanga’(unattached) which means it has no relationship with any object, whether living or non-living. In one session of nididhyAsanA, one aspect should be dwelt upon. In different sessions, different aspects can be taken up. For example, consciousness is changeless as against the fleeting thoughts; it is indivisible, without any parts and homogeneous; it is pervasive; it is substratum of all the thoughts, it is not subject to cause and effect, it is like a screen on which film is played, it is like an ocean on which thoughts are like waves, so on and so forth. Since vedantic word is an aid, it is called savikalpa meditation with word.
Internal Nirvikalpa Meditation
Up till now, savikalpa meditation is described. It is savikalpa because there is an effort made to do it and ego is at work. There is subject-object division. Nirvikalpa meditation is effortless. How is meditation done without putting an effort? The answer is that continuous and sustained practice of savikalpa meditation will result in nirvikalpa meditation. How does it happen? Effort is a feature of conscious mind. However it also leaves its imprint on sub conscious mind. Sustained savikalpa mediation creates strong imprint on sub conscious mind which appears in the conscious mind by its own inertia for it is ego free. The mind has unique capacity to store things in the subconscious. These are subtle tendencies called sukshma vritties. It is akin to the case where pedaling is stopped, yet the bike continues to move for some distance. At this stage, the meditation is effortless. It is nirvikalpa. There is no subject- object division.
External Savikalpa Meditation with object
Here the eyes are open and an external object is picked up. It is desirable to pick up a neutral object, e.g., table. It is then analysed in the light of vedantic teaching. It has five aspects, namely, existence, consciousness, bliss, name and form. The table is a gross object; consciousness and bliss are not manifested; only existence, i.e., is-ness is manifested in the name and form. Because of mix-up with name and form, is-ness is lost sight of. In the meditation practice, the effort is to separate the existence from the name and form and focus on existence. Here is a word of caution. There is no attempt to objectify existence as it is not an object. Instead, there is an intuitive appreciation of is-ness.
External Savikalpa Meditation with word
Once existence is separated from name and form, effort is to appreciate various aspects of existence A vedantic word is used as an aid, e.g., ananta (infinite). Object is limited by a boundary; existence has no boundary though for its manifestation an object is needed. In different sessions of meditation, different words and features can be used, e.g., changeless as against changing objects; substratum of all objects including physical void; even non-existent ‘son of a barren woman’ has existence as substratum, so on and so forth. Next step is to focus on vedantic teaching ‘I am pure existence’. I am pure consciousness and consciousness inside is no different from existence outside.
Nirvikalpa meditation is effortless. It is not practiced stand alone. It is a consequence of sustained savikalpa meditation spread over many sessions. It results in a state of mind absorbed in various features of pure existence of which subtle tendencies (vritties) are formed in subconscious mind. The vritties manifest without any conscious effort. It is nirvikalpa meditation. There is no subject- object division. The mind is so absorbed in vedantic thoughts that it results in meditator’s normal (sahaj) state.
The six-fold meditation can be categorized in another way as given below.
Dual: Internal with thought; Internal with word; External with object, and External with word
Non-dual: Internal and External