Although my first efforts at actual meditation came in the context of yoga, I found that yoga – as much as it helped me – was not my path.
There’s not a lot of talk about meditation in popular yoga today, but there is some, and it sounds quite nice and very appealing. But there are problems there, and you might like to look into it a little deeper before jumping in. To get into a yoga meditation practice and then discover what it’s all based on could be an unhappy experience.
Hope I didn’t sound too critical of yoga in those last few posts… I really love yoga, and I do think it’s a very helpful thing to do. Good for your health, – mental and physical – and good for your meditation practice. In fact there are people teaching yoga specifically to go along with other forms of meditation practice now. Which is interesting, as that was how it originated – we’ve come full circle.
I do feel that much of what is being done in yoga studios these days is pretty silly stuff. Find a good basic hatha yoga class and it will support your meditation practice. But beware.
One of my stated purposes for this blog is to help people avoid the pitfalls that might sabotage efforts at developing a good solid meditation practice. There are many, and once you fall into one, it can be difficult to get out. Hence the term ‘pitfall.’
I have some differences with Vedic philosophy, which is what yoga came from (mostly), so a meditation practiced based on yoga is not for me. Perhaps it is okay for you, but you should know what the philosophical implications of a yoga-based meditation practice are before falling into its pit.
Maybe you’re wondering why we need to discuss philosophy at all.
Many people don’t think philosophy is important or worth the effort – the “who needs it?” attitude. However, everyone actually has a philosophy. The assumptions that all of your decisions and actions are based on is in fact your philosophy of life. It’s just a matter of whether that philosophy is examined, understood, consistent, and rational – or just a hodge-podge of the various ideas you’ve been exposed to through your life, with the various inconsistencies all nicely compartmentalized.
As Socrates or some wise-guy said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Mostly because if your actions are based on inconsistent assumptions from one day to the next, you will live in a zig-zag line that makes finding happiness difficult.
In the same way, if the underlying philosophical assumptions your meditation practice is based on are not in synch with your own basic beliefs and assumptions, it won’t really work for you. So it’s important to know what Vedic (or Vedanta) philosophy says, at least in brief, before following it as a meditative practice.
Simply stated, (perhaps oversimplified, but I’m trying not to get myself in too deep here!) Vedic philosophy is based on the assumptions of atman and Brahman – the self and the overself. It presupposes that the self, or the individual soul, is a permanent entity that moves from existence to existence on various levels through the course of many many lifetimes. This is the samsaric round. The purpose of meditation, in this system, is to break out of this cycle and merge with Brahman, or God, oceanic existence. Obviously there’s a lot more to it than this, as it’s an extremely complex, ancient system of intertwined beliefs and practices.
The simple version is, yogic philosophy sees meditation as a way to end one’s karmic accumulation so that on dying one is not reincarnated into another life, but enters the state of nirvana, merging with the all-encompassing Brahman. Which means you need to believe in, first of all the permanent soul and the existence of an absolutist version of the karmic round, and some kind of deity.
Personally, I have great problems with most of these underlying assumptions. It’s another version of the theistic approach that I left behind long ago. As I said earlier, it’s not necessary to believe any of this in order to have a profound meditation practice. On of the reasons I embraced the Buddha’s teachings is that they don’t ask you to accept anything on faith – except maybe that this practice is worth investigating and finding out for yourself whether it works or not.
Buddha came from the Hindu world, and his teachings were in the context of this Vedantic philosophy. His major contribution, which came from his own meditation experience, was anyatta, or no-self, which explicitly says the self is simply a put-together thing, not some permanent entity. His enlightenment was realizing, by direct experience, that this impermanence is the nature of all reality, and that seeing it brings a great freedom and release from the burdens and boundaries of life.
If you find that Hindu philosophy is appealing to you, investigate it more deeply and find out if it works for you, if you can accept its beliefs and ideas. Then it may be that yoga meditation is your path.