"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell










PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | January 2007  








          The Contemplative Mood




     The Vedas conjure up in our minds visions of seers immersed in contemplation, of rishis engaged in fire-sacrifices, of priests filling the air with their melodious chants, and of teachers expounding the knowledge of Brahman to eager students. Men and women intermingling freely with devas and devis, with yakshas, gandharvas, and other celestial beings crowd our imagination when we attempt a glimpse into the Vedic realm.

     The Vedas are the repository of supersensory knowledge, so our vision of the Vedic world is not likely to be dominated by the commonplace. But this imagined world is also a distant entity, difficult to reify in contemporary circumstances. For we live in a world from which gods and angels seem to have been exorcised as much as ghosts, wherein the supersensory has become synonymous with the imaginary.


     The Power of Imagination


     Imagining the real and realizing the imagined are central to the contemplative process. Imagination powers all creativity. Even the mundane tasks of daily living, when carried out imaginatively, turn into creative acts. It is imagination that results in the insights that lead to scientific discovery, the production of artistic masterpieces, revolutions in religious and social life, and daring displays of sporting brilliance. It is imagination again, when
turned morbid, that results in unimaginable acts of cruelty and violence. Imagination clearly has both a life and a power of its own.

     Imagination involves the formation of mental images and associations that are not directly or immediately available to the senses. Normally our thought world is being constantly bombarded by such images and associations derived from the subconscious mind. In his commentary on the Yoga Sutra, Maharshi Vyasa cites seven unperceived (aparidrsta) functions of the mind, which essentially delineate the way the subconscious mind functions: Nirodhadharmasamskarah parinamotha jivanam, cesta saktisca cittasya dharma darsanavarjitah; Suppression (of thoughts or mental modifications), seeds of action and memory traces (loosely called samskara), (internal) transformation, life (movement of prana), activity (which makes the senses function), and (psychic) powers constitute the unseen or subconscious characteristics of the mind. Vasanas or memory traces are responsible for the images that keep flitting across our minds. Often these tend to coalesce into vivid associations - our fancies and fantasies. But they take a more concrete shape when they rouse up and get linked to karma-samskaras (more commonly termed karmsaya), the residues of previous actions (our habits) impelling us to act on our fantasies.

     The mind also has its conscious (paridrsta) component (and this alone is what we are aware of) which can choose to structure or guide the vrttis (mental modifications) sprouting from the unconscious, giving them direction and coherence. And this is what we call imaginative thinking.

     The unconscious is not, however, merely a seething cauldron of dark desires and passions as we often imagine it to be. Being the seat of prana (lifeforce) as well as cesta and sakti (the mental forces), it is the repository of all our powers - the dynamo that drives all psychophysical activity. And it is for us to choose how we channelize and utilize this power.


     If our imaginings are derived from the unconscious, it is our beliefs and imaginations that in turn structure the unconscious. This is because our beliefs determine the way we act, and it is repeated action that forms habits. The workings of the subconscious are usually represented in our mind as images (termed primary process) in contrast to the more elaborate rational and language-dependent secondary process of the conscious mind. The images we send down into our subconscious therefore determine the way the subconscious powers our actions.

     The subconscious is also not a closed personal chamber. The element of shakti (psychic power) structured into the subconscious enables it to tune itself to other psyches as well as to the natural intelligence inherent in the cosmos. More importantly, the subconscious has the ability to hold itself in abeyance - a capacity termed nirodha - which allows the light of the superconscious to shine freely through our being. Images (and sound symbols) again are what help us tap these powers. It is for this reason that successful contemplation is also successful imagination.

     The Vedic world was no less human than the world of today. But even the best historical efforts to reconstruct this distant world are likely to border on the imaginary. The vision captured in the Vedas, however, is there for each one of us to recreate in our imagination and realize in the depths of our being. This realization depends as much on the knowledge of our own selves as on the knowledge of the Vedas.


     Emotional Solitude


     The creative imagination that opens the doors to the superconscious is no ordinary imagination. It requires that the instinctual forces of the samskaras be attenuated and greater control be obtained over mental processes. The prime requirement for this attenuation of samskaras is isolation from emotional surges, for it is these surges of attachment, hatred, and selfishness (technically termed klesas) that give life to the samsakaras. This emotional solitude is therefore a prerequisite for the contemplative life. It is also termed brahmacharya - the ideal of the life of the student, with its mingling of solitude, austerity, and intense concentration of thought.

     A true contemplative, by the very virtue of brahmacharya, is also a student. And it is Goddess Saraswati who is the deity of the student. Sister Nivedita points out that Swami Vivekananda believed this worship of Saraswati - by which he meant perfect emotional solitude and self-restraint, was an essential preparation for any task demanding the highest powers, whether of heart, mind, or body. Such worship had been recognized in India for ages as part of the training of the athlete, and the significance of this fact was that a man must dedicate all the force at his disposal, if he were now and again to reach that height of superconscious insight, which appears to others as illumination, inspiration, or transcendental skill. Such illumination was as necessary to the highest work in art or science, as in religion.

     Is brahmacharya then some sort of self-deprivationor emotional drought, or an antisocial attitude? Our emotions, after all, are an integral part of our being, and form the very basis of social interaction. And if we are to believe Sigmund Freud, to love and to work is the ultimate the human being can hope for.

     In the company of Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita recalls, it was impossible to think with respect of a love that sought to use, to appropriate, to bend to its own pleasure or good, the thing loved. Instead of this, love, to be love at all, must be a welling benediction, a free gift, without a reason, and careless of return. This was what he meant, by his constant talk of loving without attachment. Love is always a manifestation of bliss, Swamiji said in England, the least shadow of pain falling upon it, is always a sign of physicality and selfishness.

     It is this physicality and selfishness that the contemplative wishes to transcend. It is brahmacharya, therefore, that sets the mood for effective contemplation.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015






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