"All love is expansion, all selfishness is contraction. Love is therefore the only law of life. He who loves lives, he who is selfish is dying. Therefore love for love's sake, because it is law of life, just as you breathe to live." - Swami Vivekananda







PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | January 2007  








     The Foundation of Contemplative Life


     Contemplation is a traditional part of Indian monastic life. Acharya Shankara was the first to organize and systematize Hindu monasticism, and he enjoined the abbots of the monasteries to keep the spirit of tapas (austerity) and jnana (learning) burning in the lives of monks, and also to undertake pravasa (tours) to disseminate religious teachings. These things then naturally became a part of the Ramakrishna Order of monks, but with the added inspiration of Sri Ramakrishnas teachings they took on fresh vigour and a new outlook. This new outlook demanded that the monks live together in groups and forge a community. Such a life itself is a great discipline; especially since Hindu monks have always maintained a fiercely independent spirit.


     The mystical tradition in Hindu religious life has its roots in the Upanishads. For example, the Katha Upanishad (2.1.1) says: God made peoples senses directed outward from their very birth; so they always look outside and never within. Rare is the wise person who, desiring immortality, directs his senses inward and perceives the truth of his own innermost Self.


     Accordingly, the Indian mystics took up the study of the inner life and succeeded in penetrating some of the great mysteries of life. But this calls for living an inward life. It requires a shift from the external world to the internal world and demands a reorientation of ones lifestyle, attitudes, and values. The Mundaka Upanishad (3.2.4) makes it clear that one cannot attain the Atman without sannyasa. Naturally then, spiritual seekers chose secluded places to concentrate their minds, and they practised detachment from everything material.



     Tradition, Contemplation, and Meditation



     Let us take a fresh look at the terms tradition, contemplation, and meditation. The word tradition comes from the Latin noun traditio (handing over), which is derived from the verb tradere (hand over, deliver). Tradition then is something that is handed down from one generation to another and is generally accepted by the latter. If it were not accepted it would cease to be a tradition. Something that is a heritage can be preserved as a remembrance of the past, but a tradition is something that continues into the present. It is a standard or set of standards consisting of established beliefs, customs, practices, and even patterns of thought and behaviour. But this does not mean that these standards are passed down intact in their form, meaning, or spirit. Again, sometimes apparent breaks in a tradition are actually a kind of transformation engendered by circumstances.


     Meditation and contemplation are closely connected, and these words have different meanings and interpretations in different religious systems. When these words are used interchangeably, confusion arises. According to the Western tradition, meditation involves concentration - that is, the focusing of the conscious mind on a single idea, system, doctrine, etc. At the same time, it remains a cognitive and intellectual process. The English word meditate comes from the Latin meditari, which connotes deep and continued reflection - that is, concentrated and sustained thinking.


     The word contemplation is derived from the Latin cum (with) and templum (a consecrated place). Contemplation is considered by some to be the end of an ascetic quest, but it is also considered to be a spiritual stage in itself. Dom Cuthbert Butler pointed out two distinct meanings in the Western contemplative tradition - that is, the objective meaning and the subjective meaning. (2) Indian mysticism, however, does not admit any such distinction.


     According to the Hindu tradition - especially in the Yoga and Vedanta systems - meditation is of a higher order than contemplation. It is different from reflective reasoning, and its goal is to attain direct perception of something. While contemplation is thinking about the Divine, meditation is a spontaneous flow of the mind towards the Divine. At the outset, meditation may proceed through an effort of the mind; but with the help of a symbol or image, and strengthened by faith, it should end in absorption in the Divine. Again, contemplation means thinking about the form of and stories about the Divine or an Incarnation, while meditation means keeping the mind fixed uninterruptedly on him or her.

     Prayer and japa are also practices that help deepen ones spiritual life. Japa means repetition of the divine name. Prayer uses words, images, and thoughts to communicate with God, but contemplation and meditation use fewer of these or even dispense with them entirely. Japa, prayer, contemplation, and meditation are all important tools in spiritual life that help us develop and use a mystical mind and heart.


     A contemplative is one who practises contemplation. And contemplative life means a life characterized by contemplation. The contemplative mind is sometimes compared to a bee hovering and buzzing around a flower and the meditative mind to the bee which is already seated on the flower and sipping the honey.




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

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