Most spiritual seekers, Western as well as Eastern, meditate. Therefore countless forms of meditation have developed: still and in motion, silent, with chanting, with prayer, concentrating on something or seeking the opposite of concentration. In Advaita Vedanta meditation plays an important role, too. There are two forms: Meditation on an object and meditation without an object.
Meditation on an object is considered to be a practice for the preparation of the seeker to the path of knowledge, i.e. the ‘Vedanta-path’. Most meditators in the West would not like to call their own meditation practice „meditation on an object“. However, even if one does not deliberately focus one’s thoughts on something, it is in the nature of thought to direct itself towards something, i.e. to establish a subject-object-relation. So even those who experience silence or emptiness of thought in their meditation are in a subject-object-relationship: they (subject) perceive the silence or the emptiness of thought (object).
Basically everything can serve as an object; it does not make a difference whether a candle flame or a white wall becomes the focus of one’s attention, a mantra or one’s breath, emptiness of thought or the divine, silence or the picture of an enlightened being. The spirit and purpose of this form of meditation is to calm the mind. And most who meditate find that it works quite well.
The reason why a relatively quiet mind helps in the search for knowledge of the highest truth is obvious: The mind as the main instrument on this path should not be deflected and constantly directed onto things that have nothing to do with this search or are even opposed to it.
We want to recognize who we are regardless of body and personality and work with the working hypothesis of Advaita Vedanta, which is: My true nature is non-dual, i.e. I am existence – consciousness – limitlessness. Something like that blows up our habitual ways of thinking which means that the mind must be exceptionally keen and alert in order to be able to leave its beaten tracks. Therefore, the meditation on an object is considered as an indispensable tool to promote alertness and clarity.
Just by meditating, however, we will not attain any realizations and nobody will suddenly jump up from his meditation cushion because, out of the blue, he is overcome by enlightenment. For that he must do more than sit there, be it silently, devoutly or intently. Likewise it won’t help to make the question „Who am I?“ or non-duality itself the object of one’s meditation; such a meditation also belongs to the category „meditation on an object“, serving as preparation of the seeker. To go beyond that preparation, the very product of the preparation – the quiet, cleared mind – must be trained further and put to targeted use.
If I want to find out whether I really am the one, all-pervasive, all-encompassing, limitless consciousness instead of that which I usually take myself to be – a body-mind-system, different from the world surrounding me – I need a keen mind. All the keys of Advaita Vedanta are meant to generate and promote discernment – at least if they are used by a teacher who himself has experienced their effectiveness. With such a mind, capable of discrimination, it is possible to recognize myself for what I truly am. Only after that essential recognition, which has to be thoroughgoing, I am ready for the second form of meditation. As long as one is still identified with the body or mind and has not recognized one’s true nature as Self, it simply is impossible to go into this kind of meditation. Before this recognition has happened every attempt to meditate on one’s own non-dual nature is nothing but self-hypnosis.
Only those who know who they are – not just as a logical conclusion, but as existential knowledge – can meditate without an object. One may ask here: If I have woken up to my true nature, the journey is finished, where is the need to go on meditating?
Yes, in a certain way the path has come to an end: after one’s true nature there is nothing more to be recognized. Even those who maintain that they know their true nature, however, may find that they get caught up in old mental and emotional patterns once in a while. This may be rare and happening only for a short time, still they remain in a split state: Knowing and not knowing at the same time. Meditation without object is the means to overcome this last split.
The seeker who is ready for this kind of meditation, knows who he is, he knows his true nature. He knows that everything appearing as an object is merely relatively real, including his own body-mind-system. He is no longer at home in subject-object-reality because what is recognized as absolutely real is nothing but the Self. And he knows that he is the Self and meditates on himself as limitlessness.
This last meditation is called nididhyasana, abidence in the Self day and night, and depicts the last stage on the path of knowledge. With it the identification with the limited I can completely and finally resolve in the Self.