By Neil Dickie
Yoga or union of the mind with divine intelligence, begins when the mind gains Transcendental Consciousness. The process of diving within is the way to become established in yoga. —Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
This article is for the many people who suspect they could take their yoga practice to a higher level by practicing meditation, but who delay starting, thinking meditation to be either too difficult or too advanced for them.
One reason many assume meditation to be difficult is a common misunderstanding of the eight-limbed or Ashtanga system of yoga laid out in the revered Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In the text of the Yoga Sutras, the eight limbs of yoga are laid out in the following order: the five yamas or personal virtues, such as ahimsa or non-violence, and satya, truthfulness. Then the five niyamas or rules of life, including shaucha, purification, and swadhyaya, study. Then pranayama, the breathing practices; then asanas, the poses of yoga; then three stages of mental practice. And finally, comes the eighth limb, samadhi, the union of the busy thinking mind with its deepest most silent level, the unified field of consciousness. Think of an individual wave settling down and experiencing the unbounded ocean.
However, despite the fact that Ashtanga translates as eight LIMBS, and not eight STEPS or stages, many have thought Patanjali meant that his eight-fold approach should be practiced only in step-by-step, sequential order, starting with the personal virtues and observances, and that only advanced practitioners should attempt samadhi.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi created a stir in the world yoga community some 40 years ago when he travelled the world teaching Transcendental Meditation, a simple, easily-learned technique to bring the direct experience of samadhi. Maharishi was teaching anyone interested, irrespective of their knowledge of the other limbs of yoga. As the popularity of TM spread, so did concern in the yoga community. In Germany, an upset delegation of yogis came to him and demanded an explanation. They knew that Maharishi had been for many years the closest disciple of the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a highly respected spiritual leader and the elected custodian of the Vedic tradition in Northern India. But in spite of this traditional background, Maharishi was now teaching meditation to the masses. What could be the reason, they asked?
Maharishi welcomed the delegation and began by establishing common ground with them—his respect for the authority of Patanjali. He then, however, explained his view that Patanjali had, due to the long lapse of time, become badly misinterpreted. The order of Patanjali’s famous eightfold yoga had, he said, become the reverse of what Patanjali intended. “The practice of Yoga was understood to start with yama, niyama (the secular virtues), and so on,” Maharishi said, “whereas in reality it should begin with samadhi. Samadhi cannot be gained by the practice of yama, niyama, and so on. Proficiency in the virtues can only be gained by repeated experience of samadhi.”
For example, Maharishi said, one can only truly progress in ahimsa or non-violence as one grows in the realization that there is a common unity of all things. This unified reality of life is directly experienced in samadhi. Similarly, he said, asteya or non-covetousness can only be realized when one feels fully contented, and the only way to be truly happy inside is to realize the field of bliss-consciousness—again only possible through repeated experience of samadhi.
But there’s a second, perhaps even more common reason for the widespread belief that meditation is difficult—as it is generally taught, it is. Patanjali defines yoga as “the complete settling of the mind” (Yoga Sutras, 1:2). Our experience of teaching meditation during the past 20 years is that most other types of meditation today involve concentration, effort, and control. As such, they effectively prevent the mind from completely settling down. Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation, in contrast, involves no concentration, effort or trying of any kind, and allows the mind to quickly and easily dive within to its silent core.
But can an easy, effortless meditation be “real” meditation, leading to enlightenment? Yes. Some have misunderstood that the simplicity of Maharishi’s TM means that it is watered down, or “westernized.” But TM is actually the revival of meditation in its pure and original form. It is simple and easy not because it is watered down, but because it is natural, in full accord with the nature of mind and body. That is also why it is so efficient. Nature has tremendous efficiency. Activity in nature always follows the path of least action. In the same way, the TM practitioner effortlessly dives within the mind, gains samadhi, and enjoys, even outside of meditation, steadily increasing access to that field of pure intelligence and infinite joy.
Neil Dickie is a certified Transcendental Meditation instructor who treasures his daily yoga asana practice (email@example.com). For more information, or to find out the dates of upcoming free introductory talks, call 613-565-2030. Email: Ottawa@maharishi.ca