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Signposts of Progress in Meditation
Part 1: Introduction

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In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.







Swami Adiswarananda

Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center

New York

An aspirant following the path of meditation is utterly alone. The world around him is not a world of tangible beings and things, but one of thoughts and memories. Concentration is his only practice and a determined will his only support.

      There is always a great gulf between meditation in theory and meditation in practice. Theoretically speaking, Self-Realization, the goal of meditation, seems to be a very easy thing to attain. One is not required to go anywhere or do anything, other than to turn one's mind inward and concentrate on the Self. But in practice the circumstances are quite different: this turning the mind inward is the most difficult of all tasks. No theory or intellectual understanding of the goal is of any help to the aspirant in this respect.

      While the goal of meditation is the same for everyone, the journey toward the goal is not the same. Each has to proceed in his own way according to his own capacity and available mental equipment. Success on the path of meditation depends not on anything exotic, but on the aspirant's undaunted will and determined effort.

      The follower of the path of meditation has only two watchwords: patience and perseverance. A solitary adventurer, he moves along in silence, contending at every step of the way with his own mind, which is by nature turbulent, stubborn, and restless. Even when such a mind seems to be calm and cooperative, it cannot be trusted, for it assumes many disguises at different stages of progress in order to resist, tempt, and delude the aspirant. Cynicism can and often does appear in the guise of reason, weakness as self-surrender, attachment as love, self-gratification as unselfish service, and sloth and sluggishness as spells of doubt and irresolution, and even as physical weakness and sickness. An aspirant sometimes has to pass long stretches of time when, due to his mind's resistance and contrary tendencies, his meditation practice seems to be a huge self-deception. Sometimes he finds his practice dry, monotonous, and wearisome.

      Journeying toward the goal is like climbing a narrow, winding mountain path. As the aspirant climbs, he encounters the same obstacle in a finer and subtler form at each stage of his journey. The only thing he can trust about his mind is the fact that his mind cannot be trusted, and unless he is alert and careful, he is certain to be duped.

      It is difficult to measure progress in meditation by what one feels. Feeling good or bad about oneself does not always indicate the condition within. It may be that when an aspirant feels exalted and confident that he is making good progress, he may be really going downhill. On the other hand, it may be that when he feels totally lost, he is really making good progress. For this reason, many aspirants, notwithstanding their sincerity of purpose, frequently lose direction in this path or even drop out. Two questions naturally arise in this context: What is the guiding light for the aspirant in the wilderness of his thoughts and memories? Are there any milestones of progress in the path?

      Meditation, according to both Yoga and Vedanta, is concentration upon a single object. When concentration becomes spontaneous, it takes the form of meditation, and meditation eventually culminates in samadhi, total absorption. But such complete absorption is not attained all at once: it is preceded by several successive stages of partial absorption. According to the scriptures of Yoga, Vedanta, and Tantra, there are certain specific signs by which an aspirant's progress in meditation can be ascertained. These signs include the following:  

  1. mystical experiences
  2. quickness in performance
  3. degree of detachment
  4. stages of one-pointedness
  5. stages of concentration
  6. depths of absorption
  7. experience of kumbhaka, or suspension of breath
  8. depths of dispassion
  9. stages of realization
  10. experience of spiritual emotions
  11. psychic powers and attainments

      The objective manifestations are integration of personality and transformation of character. Both mystical experiences and the transformation of character serve as milestones in the path of meditation. 

To be continued

[Copyright Swami Adiswarananda]  

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