Saturday, 6 June 2009

Meditations on Meditation - the Purification of Karma

Source: Wikimedia

Meditations in the western sense do sometimes spill into the arena of brainwaves - how and what meditation does is measured by what it does to the brain. Typically, there are the four brainwaves - delta, theta, alpha and beta.

Delta - deep sleep
Theta - deep relaxation
Alpha - daydreaming
Beta - normal waking consciousness

Recently, we also have gamma - the superfast brainwave which penetrates every part of the brain. I have written about the details of the fancy brainwaves elsewhere but here I intend to focus on the basic brainwave sets.

In traditional western training, alpha is the first, and possibly the only goal. It is because at this level, daydreams and mental programming may be controlled and altered, and sparked interest into using it to affect reality (manifestation) in one way or another, from sealing business deals to better sex.

Interestingly enough, the yogis of old, and in fact most of the major traditions, did not emphasise these aspects as much. You will see this spirit in this article on Yoga Nidra. The four levels of consciousness listed correspond to the four brainwave sets. Now, if you were someone who was interested in brainwaves, you would know that we cycle through the brainwaves every 24 hours. The question becomes:

Why should we be interested in being able to consciously accessing these states?

An interesting enough question, and one whose answer, I suspect, has turned the whole western tradition subtly away from karmic purification. That is not necessarily a bad thing - I myself began my training all those years ago in western roots. The western approach is the question:

How can I use this brainwave to improve my life?

The answers to that question have brought about huge leaps in western understanding to the processes of the subconscious mind and how it affect life. However, it is now time to look a little more deeply. Let's examine the eastern version of this question:

How does this state impact life?

The difference is subtle, but the resulting insights profoundly different. The difference lies in the western presumption that "I" know what is best. Do not tell me to change my position - just tell me how to get what I want. Forget why I want it. And that is part of what eastern practitioners sometimes lack - the going for things and holding a position. However, they did also discover something rather interesting - when you go into a meditative state of be-ing (as opposed to the western do-ing), you get an altogether different experience.

What happens is that the meditation changes you. This is the answer of the deeper states of theta and delta. The "I" that we normally associate with ourselves disappears, or is severely muted. Sitting in this silence, the fears and worries of normal every day life also become muted. Not necessarily do they disappear, but they become more quiet. That, I suspect, if what the respected yogi in that article means by "purifying the samskaras". For as the mind becomes accustomed to living at a deeper level of truth, the mad probings of the more form-related states dissipate, leaving room for peace.

But western meditation also includes delta and theta!

Indeed, they do. But again, the difference in attitude is what makes the difference. As long as the mind goes in "wanting" something, trying to achieve something, the purification effect does not kick in, for the ego stubbornly holds onto that which the meditation is seeking to purify. Rather hopeless endeavour, on the whole. On the other hand, if you sit and abide in the deeper levels of awareness, then the sense of emptiness arises. Ultimately, you realise the falsity of all thoughts that plague the outer levels. And because that level is free, you can afford to be compassionate. When you meet the plaguing samsaric thoughts with kindness, yet sitting firmly in pure awareness, they disappear. This is what it means to be kind to yourself.

So, I propose that there are deeper applications of the states, which need to become available if people are to be truly free.

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