A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning

Disclaimers and notes:

  1. The following post is for people who have read all the posts which are listed on the page For Seekers of Liberation.  Because in this post, I will be referring to many things discussed in those pages assuming that you have already read them.
  2.  This blog doesn’t encourage any mumbo-jumbo, pseudoscience or belief systems. So, this post is actually a no-nonsense approach to certain meditations. The symbols, names, and concepts used in this guide are only intended to serve as parts of a working model and not as a belief system. They serve as mnemonic devices, retrieval cues and as aids to meditation.
  3. This is based on pure psychology and a completely rational method to develop focus, objectivity, discipline, inner purification, a desire for liberation, inner stillness, understanding ‘destructive normality’, and a preparedness to walk on the path of spirituality.
  4. The historical details covered in this post are based on the historical method and authentic journals of history. They are not based on mere hearsay, tradition or because of repeated exposure to a belief system.
  5. The images used in this post act as ‘Visual Meditation aids’; This applies to all images. I will explain why in this post. Also, the text portion of this post is a ‘Textual meditation aid’ giving you a model to work with. So, repeated reading of this post in the future may help to clarify certain things and help with the whole process.
  6. The interpretations are given for certain concepts because they work, not because of any agenda to give you an ideology or belief system. Even if the given interpretations were never really given by anybody in the past, it is still not a problem because this interpretation helps religiously conditioned people to move away from the belief-based system of a religion to a practice-based, empirical and rational approach to the ultimate human well being.
  7. I may improve this post by expanding certain things or including certain things in the future. So, make sure you check for any updated content once in a while by a quick reread. It shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to read when you read it for the second time onwards.

I have created a three-level meditation for improving concentration and for calming down the mind. This meditation is something that you can choose to do to prepare the ground.

The meditation has three levels. They are not stages but levels. So, you will do the first level for a month or two and then move on to the next level in which you will do the same meditation in a different way. It is similar to the levels in a video game. For the first level, you will need some audio of classical instrumental music. I recommend using a musical composition which is created by playing a flute. You can choose any music track that makes you feel calm. But make sure that the music is pleasant to hear. Use this same music track throughout the practices described in the first level.

The first level of this meditation has been designed by taking advantage of a psychological phenomenon called classical conditioning. The second level is based on many ancient techniques with complex visualizations found in Vajrayana Buddhism, Kashmiri Shaivism etc. The third level is for meditations the involves a continuous focus on a single object like Shamatha in Buddhism and Dhyana in Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

Let us first understand what is classical conditioning. I will give you a simple example of classical conditioning. Think about a period in the past when you were really happy. Choose a period that is at least 5 years before and listen to a song that you listened to regularly during those days. As soon as you listen to it, it may immediately trigger those memories and even remind you of certain wonderful experiences. This applies to objects of every sense perception, including touch, smell. sight etc.

Every sense perception that occurs in the screen of the subjective conscious experience is a stimulus. Here is the description of classical conditioning as per Wikipedia:

“Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) refers to a learning procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus (e.g. food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. a bell). It also refers to the learning process that results from this pairing, through which the neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response (e.g. salivation) that is usually similar to the one elicited by the potent stimulus. These basic facts, which require many qualifications (see below), were first studied in detail by Ivan Pavlov through experiments with dogs. Together with operant conditioning, classical conditioning became the foundation of behaviorism, a school of psychology which was dominant in the mid-20th century and is still an important influence on the practice of psychological therapy and the study of animal behavior. Classical conditioning is a basic learning process, and its neural substrates are now beginning to be understood.”

I will explain how we can take advantage of classical conditioning as an aid to meditate in a better way and also to progress in meditations (for groundwork). The song or music track that you are going to use for it is simply an aid or device. The same way, we need another device which is an image that has various symbols. These visual representations, colors, and symbols found in the image are visual stimuli. The music is an auditory stimulus. By continuous practice, all these stimuli will get associated with the experiences in your meditations. Later, just a mere exposure to any of these stimuli can kick-start a meditative feeling very quickly, making you ready to meditate.

I am going to include an image here, which I call as ‘Visual Meditation Aid (VMA)‘.  The image has many symbolic representations. Each symbol conveys a concept. Also, each individual symbol can be used as an object for closed focus meditations like Shamatha in Buddhism or Dhyana as explained by Patanjali. This image will also be a mnemonic device, helping you to remember certain things. Study the image carefully for a few minutes. I will first explain the different symbols found in the image.

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In the top right part of the above image, there is a symbol. Here is an image of that symbol alone, to help you to find it easily. The circles around the star are just for decorations. They don’t convey anything meaningful. But this star is very important. It actually is a combination of three different symbols; each of them has a deep meaning.

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The Star

Before we go into the meaning of those three symbols, let us first look into the etymology of the word ‘Lakshmi’. The word ‘Lakshmi’ comes from the Sanskrit root ‘laksh‘ (लक्ष्) which means to perceive or observed. The one which is perceived or observed is ‘Lakshmi’. It literally means a sign, token or a symbol. Words like lakshana (symptoms or signs) and lakshya (goals; the word most probably comes from the fact that a hunter has to observe his goal precisely to shoot a bird) are from the same root.

In various Hindu sects and belief systems, Lord Vishnu is shown as the consort of Goddess Lakshmi. Even though they are a part of belief systems about a personal God, some people have indeed used these names to mean some abstract concepts. The same way, the names Vishnu and Lakshmi have their literal meanings in a such a way so that one can easily use them to convey abstract concepts. Vishnu means ‘all-pervading’. This name was originally used in Rig Veda as an epithet for sun, talking about the three strides that sun takes in the sky throughout the day. The highest position of the sun was called as ‘paramapadam’. Later on, the worship of Vishnu as a personal God was born as a combination of many different religious groups such as Vaikhanasas, Pancharatras, and the sect of Krishna-Balarama.

But the same word ‘Vishnu’ was also used to mean the screen of the absolute reality, the triad of truth-consciousness-bliss.  Vishnu is the Purusha or the witness and Lakshmi is the Prakriti or the witnessed. In other words, Vishnu is the screen and Lakshmi is the moving pictures on the screen. After self-realization, a person also realizes how the witness and the witnessed are the same in the experience of reality. So, each appearance in the outside world is actually a symbol of the absolute. In other words, each aspect of ‘seen’, ‘Maya’ or ‘Lakshmi’ is a symbol of Vishnu, because they all represent the absolute. Also, the whole created world as Lakshmi is the representation or symbol of Vishnu and they both are inseparable.

The innermost symbol that you see in the star is called ‘Shrivatsa’ (श्रीवत्स ). The name ‘Shree’ or ‘Shri’ is another name for Lakshmi. It came from the Sanskrit verb root ‘sri’ which means to burn, flame or diffuse light. So, Sri /Shree/Sri represents light, glory, prosperity, auspicious etc. That is why the title ‘Sri’ became very important in India. Men’s names are suffixed with a ‘Sri’ and women’s names are suffixed with ‘Srimathi’ to show respect.  The fire ‘Sri’ is a symbol for Vishnu. That is why Sri is a form of Lakshmi or symbol.

Take ‘Sri’ as representing the inner light or satguru (the true guru) which is the Satchidananda itself. It is often symbolized as a thumb-shaped one in Upanishads. The absolute can only be symbolized and cannot be directly perceived as an object because it is the true subject. Any thought is an object; and as we said earlier, any object is a representation or symbol of the absolute. Ironically in the non-dual experience, both the absolute and the symbol (the world)  which represents it are the one and the same!

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Shrivatsa

The name ‘Shrivatsa’ means the beloved of Shri. It is a name for Vishnu. To symbolize that, Vishnu is shown to have a symbol in his chest. That symbol is also called as ‘Shrivatsa’. If you look carefully, this symbol shows an endless knot symbolizing infinity. So it symbolizes Vishnu. This is the symbol which you see in the innermost part of the star. In our meditations, this symbol is a symbol of non-dual experience of reality which feels timeless and boundless.

Now we need to understand the symbol outside of the Shrivatsa. We have already understood that the name ‘Lakhshmi’ means a sign or symbol. In India, there are 8 types of Lakshmi’s called Ashtalakshmis symbolizing the eight kinds of prosperities one can attain in the world. Among these 8, seven are the worldly things which keep us running in the hedonic treadmill. But one among them is the richness of self-realization itself.

Here is the list of eight Lakshmis:

  1. Dhanalakshmi – the symbol of wealth.
  2. Dhanyalakshmi – the symbol of agricultural goods.
  3. Gajalakshmi – the symbol of power and royalty.
  4. Santanalakshmi – the symbol of progeny.
  5. Dhairyalakshimi – the symbol of courage and valor.
  6. Vijayalakshmi – the symbol of victory.
  7. Vidyalakshmi – the symbol of education.
  8. Mahalakshmi or Adilakshmi; usually you won’t find a description for Mahalakshmi. The word ‘Maha’ means great and the word ‘Adi’ means beginning or from the original. But in the spiritual context, the greatest of all glories is self-realization as only that gives a person lasting fulfillment. So, Mahalakshmi is actually the symbol of spiritual enlightenment or self-realization.
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The Star of Lakshmi

The symbol, which is the star of Lakshmi should remind the meditators that all the other seven kinds of prosperities do not give absolute contentment,  only self- realization does.  The image has 8 corners or faces which form 8 little triangles. They symbolize the 8 kinds of prosperities.

Finally, we have the outer star. The outer star is actually a union of a triangle and an inverted triangle. The first triangle is a symbol of the witness or sat-chit-ananda, the three sides symbolizing sat, chit and ananda (truth – consciousness – bliss). The inverted triangle represents the ‘witnessed’. As per our analogy of the screen and the movie, the first triangle is the screen and the inverted triangle is the content of the screen. The union of the two triangles is the symbol of non-duality.  In the philosophy of Samkhya, Prakriti also consists of three states – rajas (activity), tamas (inertia) and sattva (balance).  In philosophy, they are called as three Gunas or qualities. These three Gunas are called: sattva (goodness, constructive, harmonious), rajas (passion, active, confused), and tamas (darkness, destructive, chaotic).

At any time of the day, the human mind is actually in one of the three states. These three subjective states can be said as being produced by reacting to the Prakriti or the witnessed.  Sometimes the mind is full of rajas. Rajas is the quality of passion, activity, neither good nor bad and sometimes either, self-centeredness, egoistic, individualizing, driven, moving, dynamic etc. Sometimes it is in tamas. Tamas is the quality of imbalance, disorder, chaos, anxiety, impure, destructive, delusion, negative, dull or inactive, apathy, inertia or lethargy, violent, vicious, ignorant. Sometimes in sattva when the mind is balanced with serenity. The same way, in the objective world we either see high activity, low activity and balance. The three sides of the inverted triangles represent the three Gunas.

This can be explained by a related concept in psychology called ‘Optimal arousal theory’. Let us first define arousal and I am going to include the definition from Wikipedia:

Arousal is the physiological and psychological state of being awoken or of sense organs stimulated to a point of perception. It involves activation of the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) in the brain, which mediates wakefulness, the autonomic nervous system, and the endocrine system, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure and a condition of sensory alertness, mobility, and readiness to respond.

Human beings are actually striving for an optimal level of arousal which is neither high nor low but right in the middle. When the arousal is too low, there is a need to raise it. This motivates people to do actions that increase the arousal like playing games etc.  When the arousal is too high, it can be said that rajas is dominating. The automatic inclination of a human being is to lower it. Optimal arousal theory states that many of our actions are motivated by the need to achieve or maintain the optimal arousal level. In the optimal arousal level, sattva is dominant. So psychologically the rajas, tamas, and sattva are actually different levels of arousals which cause different kinds of mental states.  If we assume conscious experience as the screen, then the content of the screen at any time is either in sattva, rajas or tamas.

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Shatkona

So, the first triangle with three sides symbolizes sat-chit-ananda of the witness; the inverted triangle represents rajas, tamas, and sattva of the witnessed. The union of these triangles as a star symbolizes non-duality.

In many Shaivite sects,  the witness is called as ‘Shiva’ and the witnessed is called as Shakthi. It is said that the son of Shiva and Shakthi is Shanmukha which means ‘six faced’. This is also a mythical symbolization of union of Shiva and Shakthi. As you see, the star has six corners representing the six faces of Shanmukha. The name of the shape is known as ‘Shatkona’.

To sum up, the innermost Shrivatsa represents the boundless feeling of the non-dual experience of reality and also the inner guru. The star of Lakshmi shows that self-realization is the ultimate peek of a human being’s life and represents its glory. The outer star represents how everything is seen as one and how there is no duality.

Now let us go to the small list of symbols that you see in the top left of the image. First, you see the sentence ‘तत्वमसि’ (tatvamasi) which means ‘You are that’.. It means you are that absolute. So, the star is essentially you and it symbolizes your true nature as the absolute. This line is one of the few famous sentences (mahavakyas) mentioned in Upanishads and it comes in Chandogya Upanishad.

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The next symbol you see is a horse. The horse symbolizes the journey and that which takes you on the journey. Spiritual guidance, a desire for liberation (mumukshutva), and the practices are collectively symbolized by this horse since they take you home. It includes all the devices you use, all the practices you do and the basic driving force of your spiritual journey. If this horse stops, there will be no progress in the spiritual journey. You need to remember that these are just symbols used to show an analogy. In fact, the spiritual journey is an illusion. Because self-realization is the realization that there is no journey, no one to go and nowhere to go.

The next one is the lotus. Lotus plays a very important role as a symbol as well as an example in Indian spirituality.  There are three things that the lotus represents:

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  1. Lotus symbolizes the awakening or the flowering of consciousness.
  2.  Even though lotus is inside the water, the water droplets do not stick to the leaf. This symbolizes non-attachment. Even though you are in the world, you make sure that you do not cling to objects or aggregates of the conscious subjective experience.
  3. Lotus blooms in the mud or dirt. Similarly, self-realization occurs amidst the darkness in this world, after going through all the dirty influences and sufferings of the world.
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Yin Yang

The next symbol we see is the symbol of Yin Yang, the Taoist symbol which also represents the union of male and female and symbolizes the non-duality. It can be said as the Chinese version of Shatkona. This symbol of Taoism is to remind you that enlightenment is actually the natural way or the way of Tao. The following quote from the book ‘Red Pill Psychology: Psychology for men in a gynocentric world’ by Peter Pill Wright explains this concept of the natural way very well:

“In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way. The goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Lao Tzu, the attainment of this purely natural way of behaving, as when the planets revolve around the sun. The planets effortlessly do this revolving without any sort of control, force, or attempt to revolve themselves, thus engaging in effortless and spontaneous movement. So, this is a symbol of the natural way.”

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The bird, which we see as the next symbol, represents the freedom of liberation. The whole idea of spiritual enlightenment is to liberate oneself from bondage and misery.  A typical human being is bound by psychological time, a need to protect and enhance the self-concept of a personal story, a constant monkey mind and the sense of separation. He spends the rest of his life in a hedonic treadmill, chasing for contentment in the objective outcomes of life forever. Once he realizes the futility of it, he starts to walk on the spiritual path to get liberated from the bondage.

Next, there is fruit. Fruit is also a word that is always used to mean spiritual enlightenment. This word is used because liberation is considered as the fruit of spiritual sadhana and spiritual journey. Here, I would like to include one of the answers I gave in Quora for a question raised regarding the puranic stories about Lord Skanda:

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“Stories in mythology are not something that really happened. They are stories which were created for various reasons. We have about 18 important Puranas in Sanskrit and you will see many contradicting versions in Puranas.

These Puranas were edited and interpolated for many centuries. The origins of some of the Puranic stories that we have now may be found in Brahmana portions of Vedas. But stories regarding Muruga and Ganesha actually emerged much later.

What we call as Karthikeya is actually a merger of three different traditions: Murugan, a local deity from Tamil Nadu; Skanda, a local warrior deity from some parts of North East India and some elements of Vedic elements added to it. So Skanda is actually a composite of all these three.

Ganesha was also probably a local deity in ancient North Eastern India. If you look Ganesha’s figure closely, you will understand that it reflects a trend in ancient India: A connection between wandering ascetics and traders. Since both were wandering from place to place, there were many times when both of those groups accompanied each other. It is very likely that the image of Ganesha was formed as a representation of both these groups together. The elephant face is a symbolic representation of wisdom of the wandering ascetics; the big tummy represents the wealth of the traders.

Most of the mythological stories about Skanda and Ganesha were created after Tantrism emerged in India. The basics of Tantra lies in the concept of Mandala. A Tantric Mandala contains a central deity surrounded by multiple deities (usually 6,7,8 or 9) around it. This was meant for visualization. A meditator visualizes himself as the deity which is in the center and he also visualizes the surrounding deities as the extension of himself. This is also the idea behind temples. Each temple has a central deity and many deities surrounding it in the path of pradakshina. So, a temple is basically a large mandala. The six Karthika ladies associated with Skanda were also a representation of mandala. This is the reason that Tantric traditions have created agamas on how to build temples. Later on, this whole mandala was internalized as chakras in the body and a deity was associated with each Chakra. That is why we say that human body is the living temple. (Tantrism actually has a much longer history; I have missed out the history of many transgressive practices and even misuse of it, just to keep the answer shorter).

But there were also Bhakti traditions which emerged along with the growth of Tantric tradition. Their main emphasis was devotion. It is these people who wrote and compiled all these puranic stories at the beginning of the modern era. It reached its peak sometime around 8th century CE. And the myths were created for various reasons:

  • To communicate traditional folk stories
  • To convey certain spiritual concepts metaphorically.
  • To justify something (For example, many Jain temples were converted into Hindu temples and mythological stories were created to justify it).
  • To eulogize the deities and to establish superiority over deities of other traditions.
  • For entertainment; once they have the stories in place, people can conduct short dramas based on it. Just like we have movies and television in the modern days.

I was thinking about why Muruga and Ganesha were made into brothers. But this family of Shiva actually seem to metaphorically represent something; I am not sure if it is a coincidence or the myth was actually created intentionally to represent something significant. Anyway, I will go ahead and explain what it is.

Disclaimer: This is purely my interpretation based on a striking similarity that I noticed in the family of Shiva with a spiritual concept.

First of all, Shiva and Shakthi represent two things: Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is the pure witness; the consciousness without any attributes including actions or qualities. Prakriti is everything that is witnessed by Purusha. Prakrithi includes everything that is witnessed in your conscious experience: the external world and its internal representation consisting of thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes, intellect, ego, memories etc. Essentially Purusha and Prakriti are inseparable, just like fire and heat are inseparable. So this union of Purusha and Prakriti constitutes absolute reality or what we call as God.

Realizing this absolute truth in one’s experience is Jnana or self-realization. Usually, self-realization is compared to a fruit, since it represents the fruit of spiritual sadhana. You will see the word ‘Phala’ used in many Buddhist texts as a synonym for enlightenment. There is even sutta in Buddhist canon called samannaphala sutta, which means the fruit of asceticism.

There are always two kinds of people in the world. People who realize that the truth is very close because it is inside them and people who search for the truth outside. The story of Ganesha and Skanda competing for Jnanapalam (fruit of wisdom) has a striking similarity to this concept. Ganesha realizes that the truth is within, so he immediately gets the fruit by reaching the Shivasakthi which is very close to him. On the other hand, Skanda goes around the world and realizes that he did not get jnana in spite of going around the world. (this is illustrated by the story that Skanda could not get the fruit). So finally he realizes his folly and takes Sannyas. He sits in one place and goes within to find the truth.”

The significance of the fruit is in its sweetness. In this image, fruit is used as the symbol of the natural bliss of non-dual experience of the reality.

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Next, you see the sun and the fire on the right side. I have included both the sun and the fire for their cultural significance. Vishnu was originally an epithet for sun as explained in the first part of this post. The same way, Rudra was an epithet for fire (Agni in Vedas). The fire was called as Rudra because of the fire’s roaring sound. The word ‘Rudra’ comes from the Sanskrit root (rud) which means to roar or cry.  This Rudra became the personified leader of Vratyas (Vedic ascetics who lived in forests). Just like Vratyas, the Vaikhanasas were also forest ascetics but they worshiped Vishnu. This Rudra later became Shiva, which means auspicious. Shiva worship also probably started as a composite of many independent sects just like Vishnu worship evolved.

So, there was sun and fire behind the sects of Vaishnavism and Shaivism. Both Vishnu and Shiva later became the words to mean the absolute. So, this idea is very ancient. Both these symbols are mainly used here for their cultural significance and the antiquity of the concepts. This adds some richness and juice to the image. But sun and fire can be also used as objects of meditation. In Buddhism, such objects of meditation are called as kasinas. A sun or a fire can be a good ‘kasina’. Both of them symbolize the inner light which shines on all objects of consciousness.

In the right side corner, you may notice an image of Buddha’s face. Buddha has been included here for his significance in the spiritual history of India.  I would like to include a part of an answer that I wrote in Quora, which would explain the significance of Buddha:

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“Let me first start with the second question, by giving a historical context towards enlightenment.

Before that, we need to strip off the labels such as Buddhists and Hindus. These labels were created much later to categorize the non-existent or illusory divisions in mankind, which really do not exist. They only promote prejudice and hatred among people.

Let us look at a short history of enlightenment from the historical point of view using only the historical method.

In India, there have been many people in the ancient past who questioned everything, were contemplative of life and looked for some empirical methods to end suffering in life. We see references to people called Kesins in Rig Veda who were wanderers and probably contemplative. Vedic seers such as Dirghatamas were raising questions about the nature of life and existence. But we don’t see an evolution of a precise method to get out of human suffering in the very ancient texts.

I am not going to talk about Indus Valley civilization since we don’t really know much about the spiritual life of these people. The seals which were excavated there are interpreted in different ways by historians and there is no strong consensus among historians when it comes to what the pictures in those seals mean. For example, there have been convincing arguments from some historians regarding the posture seen in Pashupati seal, who say that it was not a yogic posture. According to them, it is just a coincidence that the posture resembles a yogic posture because the sitting postures are quite absent in the textual reference and archaeological evidence for nearly 1 millennia after that. So, let me talk about something which we know of for sure.

During 800–600 BCE was the period of second urbanization. During this period, a lot of people moved to cities in the eastern part of India, particularly the kingdom of Magadha. The life in the city brought many practical difficulties to these people. It was not as peaceful as the rural life that people were enjoying before.

It was during these times, we see the mention of many wanderers called Sramanas or Parivrajas who were searching for a way to end human suffering. These people practiced severe asceticism and some were naked. Parshvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara was probably one of them who actually stumbled upon the end of human suffering and he might have advocated whatever way he followed to the monks who were part of his community.

The word ‘Jainism’ itself was coined later, probably after a couple of centuries. There were only two types of religions at this time: a folk religion based on either Vedic hymns or guardian deities and a way of life which embraced renunciation and liberation. There were many spiritual communities among these monks called sanghas or ganas. A lineage of each sangha might have been called by a name. For example, the monks in the lineage of Parshvanatha were called as niganthas. Mahavira himself was called as Nigantha Nattaputta.

These people interacted with kings too. Because of the influence of these people, the kings in the kingdoms of Videha, Anga, Magadha, and Kosala adopted a wisdom king model contrary to the warrior king model in the regions of Kuru and Panchala. There were many interactions between kings and monks. One of the interactions is the one between Janaka and Yajnavalkya as documented in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. Another one we see in Samanaphala sutta of Pali Canon, that describes the interaction between Buddha and Ajatashatru.

But historically speaking, we don’t see evidence for a well-established spiritual path until the time of Buddha. Before that, people in each Sangha were trying out things according to intuition which includes severe asceticism, the practice of extreme non-violence and gradually stopping all the actions of the body. But Buddha discovered one thing very clearly just a few days before enlightenment. He realized that severe asceticism was not helpful and it appeared to be a barrier. Attaining liberation using such practices were very rare and almost impossible.

After enlightenment, Buddha came up with a middle way which endorses renunciation but not extreme asceticism like torturing oneself or fasting to death. He was one of the ancient scientists of the world who approached the path of enlightenment in an empirical way. This is not to say that Buddha was the first person who attained liberation. But he was the one who came up an empirical approach towards enlightenment and advocated a clear-cut path for it, called the eight-fold path.

There has been a further evolution in the spiritual path which happened with the help of many people who also approached it in an empirical way. Because of all their efforts, now we know that even the traditional way of renunciation is not needed. Bhagavad Gita, a text which was edited and interpolated for several centuries, bears evidence to the evolution of the idea that the liberation is possible even for a person who is not a monk!

I know that people who are identified with their traditions will disagree and see the history of enlightenment according to how they were taught all along. But what I have written here is what I can come up with after going through many journals of historical research and doing a deep research on them. But let us remember that history is just a hypothetical reconstruction of the past that we cannot directly verify. A discovery of another inscription or another archaeological evidence may change what we know so far. I have left out many things to make it short though.”

Buddha’s role in spiritual history was very important. He thought like a scientist and advocated an empirical method to end human suffering. In this image, he is a reminder to the seekers that liberation is a possibility.

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Then there is also an image of an elephant in the right side corner below Buddha. Elephants have always been used in spiritual symbolism. An elephant is a symbol of wisdom. After self-realization, you look at the world as it is. Your perception of reality becomes pure and without any duality. You can look at anything with objectivity, meaning that there is no sense of a personal self that can cloud your way of looking at things and make it biased.

You also understand how the events in the life smoothly lead a person to the spiritual path and finally self-realization. You know how an authentic experience of reality feels like. You can understand people better, accept them the way they are, relate to them easily and put yourself in their shoes effortlessly. You know the secret to the absolute fulfillment that completely destroys the psychological sense of lack. This wisdom and power are symbolized by the elephant.

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In the bottom left, you see the pictures of five influential people who had realized their true nature. They are Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Osho, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and J.Krishnamurti. Their pictures are added here to give you inspiration and to remind you about them.

There are two lines included at the bottom, one from Tamil and the other from Sanskrit. Both of them are intended to promote awareness regarding seeing human beings without any prejudice of creed, race, language, religion, nation, sex, nature of the job or economic status. The verses are intended to promote the idea that the whole earth is one family.

The Tamil sentence ‘யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்’ (Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Kelir) means ‘every village is (my) village; every human being is my relative’. The Sanskrit verse ‘वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्’ (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) is from Maha Upanishad. It means ‘the earth or the world is one family’.

In the image, I have also included the Sanskrit poem that I wrote (my first poem in Anustubh meter), just to add some richness.

आत्मज्ञानं यदालब्धं प्रणश्यति तमस्तदा । 
तस्माद्दुःखस्य निर्याणं वर्ततेच सुखंसदा ॥

(ātmajñānaṃ yadālabdhaṃ praṇaśyati tamastadā । 
tasmādduḥkhasya niryāṇaṃ vartateca sukhaṃsadā ॥)

Translation:

When Self-realization occurs, the darkness disappears;
Then, suffering goes away and there is bliss always!

Let us now see how the three levels of meditation should be done. It is recommended to download the pdf file of the image, take a color print copy of the image and put it vertically in a frame so that you can look at it in a sitting posture.

Level 1:

This level has to be practiced with eyes open. Sit on a chair or in a cross-legged position, place your palms on your thighs and be still as much as possible while doing the meditation.This level purely deals with getting more exposure to the image, its symbols, and its meanings. Play the favorite instrumental and classical music track that you find soothing and calming.  You must use the same track for every session. While the music is playing, go through the symbols in the image and contemplate on the meaning. Your thought process during a session of the level one meditation should be mainly directed towards the content of the image. So, you concentrate to the extent of preventing unrelated thoughts to arise. After a few days, start focusing on the various shapes and colors; try to memorize the visual perception of various symbols and the whole image.

This level can be compared to the Pratyahara, the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali.  In this level, you try to withdraw the mind from the focus of the other things in the world and the attention is turned towards the image.

There are no strict rules to follow here. You  need to make sure that you engage your attention as much as possible in the symbols, shapes, colors, meanings etc which are conveyed through the image as well as the music track that you are listening to. Make sure that you don’t fight with your thoughts; don’t feel bad or guilty if your attention wanders. It happens a lot and it is normal. Just bring your attention back to the content of the image.

Most importantly, you need to remember that you are also working on creating some associations and classically condition yourself. The sound of the music, the colors, the symbols etc get associated with meditation. Use your creativity in manipulating your attention. In the following months, if you just listen to the music track or look at this image, it may trigger the memories associated with the previous practices, trigger a calm feeling and act as a retrieval cue for many things. You can continue at the level one for minimum two months and do it every day for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Remember, this whole post is to give you an idea mainly highlighting the psychological factors that make the meditation work. So, once you get a clear idea of how this three-level meditation works, you can customize them according to your own preference and what works for you.

Level 2:

This level will include complex visualizations. For the first one month, practice it with the music track that you use. After that, don’t use the music track. You have to sit cross-legged on the floor in a comfortable posture and keep your spine erect.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Keep your hands on your thighs while keeping the fingers as shown in this slideshow. This is called Chin Mudra. The reason why we keep this mudra is to keep us focused and reduce any body movements. Since one part of your attention is focused on keeping the shape of the mudra correctly, it acts as a support for your concentration.

You also need to choose a mantra to chant. The idea here is to focus the body, mind, and voice to be focused on something. When all these three (body, mind, and voice) are actively focused on something, there are fewer chances for your mind to wander. This makes the meditation more effective. The chanting of ‘om’ is a very popular practice; so you can choose ‘om’ as the mantra if you want an easy one.  We are using the mudra and the posture for the focus in the body, the visualization for the focus of the mind and mantra for the focus of the voice. You can find a lot of ‘om’ chanting audios in Youtube and other sources. Just pick up the style that you want to go with. There are no strict rules here.

For visualization, we are going to use this image, which is a mandala. I will explain how it works.

mandala
Mandala

Just refer the above mandala. Once you close your eyes and sit in the right posture, visualize a Shrivatsa symbol in your heart. Visualize it as a solid three-dimensional symbol with the bright light just floating inside an empty space of your heart area.  Visualize 8 women standing around you in a circle, representing the eight types of prosperities that we discussed. Refer to the above image and check the positions of triangles in ‘the star of Lakshmi’ for the positions of this eight women. See them as extensions of yourself rather than seeing them as different people. Your conscious experience extends in 8  directions and is seen as 8 different women.

Further away from and outside the circle of this 8 women, visualize these six things: Sun, elephant, bird, fire, lotus, horse. These six are around you and seen by you as extensions of you. Follow the same positions that you see in the image. Further, visualize that you are extending even beyond these six things to all directions in infinite distance covering the whole universe. The key here is to visualize the mandala exactly as it is shown and the details as it is described. You can do this meditation for 30 minutes every day.

This practice is equivalent to Dharana, the sixth limb of Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali. If you need a more realistic image for meditation, then use this:

யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்

Here is a high-resolution image with all the symbols:

yan-full-high.png

 

Here are a couple of other ones without those six items:

யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர் (1).png

யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர் (3)

யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்.png

 

Level 3:

Here, the meditation doesn’t involve visualization. It is all about focusing on a single object. Pick a simple object from the image. It can be fire, the golden yellow color that you see there, the sun or empty space. This is like the regular Shamatha meditation in Buddhism and similar to Dhyana, the seventh limb of Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali. By practice, you will be able to do better at this meditation.

Practicing the meditations prescribed here will help you to improve concentration and your ability to do witnessing meditation.

Download ‘Visual Meditation Aid’ Image – pdf

For more clarity on certain concepts discussed here. read this post: The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra, and Agamas

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2 thoughts on “A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning”

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