In this post I’ll be discussing why meditation alone will not bring enlightenment but is an essential practice to absorb self knowledge, a self knowledge that can only be learnt.
Before I begin I must say my definition of enlightenment and the process of achieving it is following the path set out by the Hindu philosophical school of Advaita Vedanta. If you are reading this from a Buddhist or any any other spiritual background, this may not resonate with you.
The path of enlightenment in Advaita Vedanta is set out in 3 stages. Listening to a qualified teacher and trying to understand the concepts and ideas they teach, asking questions to clear up any doubts, then once being convinced intellectually, absorbing the knowledge so it sinks from the head into the heart where it becomes a lived experience.
So where does meditation fit into all this? It is the last stage of the process, the process where we take what we have learnt intellectually and practice absorbing it into our very being. If you decided you wanted to learn Algebra, would sitting in silence without prior training in Mathematics help you achieve that goal? Probably not. In the same way we need a clear idea what self knowledge or enlightenment is before we contemplate that fact.
In this way, meditation turns into a silent contemplation of knowledge we have learnt through the listening and reasoning of intellectual concepts and ideas.
Advaita Vedanta is a vast subject but the core principles for anyone unfamiliar with it are as follows:
1) All is God.
2) If you seek God you will only find yourself.
3) If you seek your true essence you will only find God.
Brahman as it is called in Advaita Vedanta is beyond time, space, name, form, beyond all that is known, all that is unknown, is birthless, deathless etc. Brahman or the source is beyond all objective reality, which paradoxically brings forth all of objective reality. It is the pure subject of experience yet no experience is separate from it.
The goal of Advaita is to realise the above statements to be true through self contemplation. To realise this world we experience is made up of a constant changing flow of thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions etc yet when we say “ I” or “ I am” we are referring to something prior to that objective experience, we are referring to ourselves which is prior and qualified by experience. “ I am…hungry, I am….sad, I am…tired” the same, unchanging “ I am” but attached to different, temporary, changing experiences.
This knowledge must be throughly learnt and understood but once we have understood it on the intellectual level we can then begin two forms of meditation. The first form is with eyes closed in silence. While doing this no thought, feeling or sound will be a distraction because it will be showing us directly what we are by using that distraction to show us what we are not.
We see the coming and going of every thought, feeling, sound etc so no matter what we experience in a meditation session, be it feeling restless or feeling blissful we see the coming and going of all states of mind and feelings so we begin to clearly see that we are beyond it all. By practicing this meditation frequently we drill home the knowledge that no experience in this world, body or mind is essential to us. It starts going from an intellectual understanding to a lived, felt experience.
The other form of meditation will be with eyes open. Realising all experience and objects have 3 things in common. They have a form, a name and they exist. Name and form is constantly changing yet existence doesn’t change. A tree becomes a table, a table becomes a broken table, a broken table becomes firewood, the fire wood becomes ashes etc…name and form change but existence doesn’t. We practice focusing on the existence aspect of all creation instead of the form and name of all creation where all the differences lie.
The ocean has many names and forms coming and going. It has waves, whirlpools, ripples, ocean spray, wave foam etc, all is different yet all is nothing but water at all times.
In the same way there are countless names and forms in this creation coming and going yet all is nothing other than Brahman or God. It’s not that everything is God it’s that only God is, eternally changing name and form yet never being anything other than itself.
This is a brief introduction to Advaita Vedanta but the take home message of this post is to understand enlightening knowledge must be learnt first intellectually and once we are convinced through logic, reasoning and direct experience on the level of the head it must be drilled down to the level of the heart though contemplative meditation practice so the enlightened knowledge won’t only be known but it will be a felt and lived experience. The end result is a feeling of peace and contentment regardless of circumstance. If that’s enlightenment great, if it’s not enlightenment it doesn’t matter as I’d personally take that over anything else this life could offer.
Hope this helps someone.