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Articles by Swami Veda Bharati

Meditation, The Unifying Stream in Religions

Na nirodho na chotpattir na baddho na cha saadhakah

Na mumukShur na vai mukta ity eShaa paramaarthataa. 


Neither cessation/termination,

No one in bondage, nor aspirant practitioner (saadhaka),

No one seeking liberation, nor liberated ---

This is Transcendence and supreme purpose

.--Gaudapada’s Karikas on MaaNDookya Upanishad  

Vaitathya-prakaraNa(2).32

 

 

a-nirodham an-utpaadam an-ucchedam ashaashvatam

an-ekaartham a-naanaartham anaagamam a-nir-gamam

yah prateetya-samutpaadam pra-panchopashamam shivam.

Deshayaamaasa sambuddhas tam vande vadataam varam


Without cessation

Without birth/beginning

Without termination

Nor yet perennial

Not one-purposeful

Not multi-purposeful

Not arriving/entering

Not departing/exiting

Dependent origination that

Pacifies all confusing networks of the universe

Benevolent, peaceful (shiva) –

He who, fully awakened/enlightened (sambuddha) 

taught this, unto that highest of teacher

I bow in homage.

---Nagarjuna’s Moola-madhyama-kaarikaa

(pratyaya-pareekShaa naama prathamam prakaraNam)1.1


Here we see between the most important teacher of the Upanishad, Gaudapaada, and no less a personage of Buddhist philsophy than Nagarjuna, an identical statement about the transcendent nature of truth and reality.

 

This identity of teaching between two outwardly divergent religions can occur only when they unite in the single mystical path of meditation. 

 

Convergences and divergences among religions are often discussed taking into account (1) doctrines and (2) liturgical or ritualized forms of religious practices. The exact relationship of meditation practices with doctrine as well as with these manifest religious practices is yet to be studied in depth. Also, practices of various methods of meditation are seldom compared.

 

Where do outward appearing religious practices end and the inward pursuits of meditation methods begin is difficult to define as the boundaries between the two may often overlap.

 

However, it is well known that meditation may be practiced within the context of a specific religion or without adherence to any specified religion.

 

Here we shall confine ourselves to show that a true unifying stream among many religions is in the contemplative pursuits. The details of methods of meditation in religions may vary but some of the essential approaches remain fundamentally identical. Some of these essences of the grammar of  contemplative and meditative practices may be partially listed here:

1. Breathing practices

2. Remembering a divine name or sacred formula or prayer word(s)

3. Sacred reading, lectio divina, in a contemplative context

4. Body posture and hand positions (mudra) in meditative prayer

5. Concentrations (of mind and senses, such as fixing a gaze)

6. Contemplation 

7. Visualization

8. Identification with the Deity or with a divine Incarnation

9. Meditation while in motion (ambulatory meditation)

10. Silent rosay, mala or mashbaha

11. Silence; mind entering serene silence

12. Solitude

13. Meditations on universal or divine love and compassion

14. Withdrawal of senses and purity of thought

15. Physical purity

16. Quietude, ataraxia, hesychia, serenity

17. Finding ‘God Within’, or realization of the undefinable and unnamable  transcendental Reality (parmaartha-tattva)

 

The various methods in these practices are not all independent or exclusive of each other. They are often inclusive, many of these approaches to be practiced together with others, for example, lectio divina combined with solitude, followed by the practice of rosary, mala or mashbaha and then entering a state of breath awareness using the same mental formula that was used on the beads. 

 

We shall show some of the varieties of and steps in these practices. Here we give an example of breathing practices. Although there are many hundreds of breathing exercises in the tradition of yoga meditation, for our purpose we mention only 

 

breath awareness


nir-garbha, without a sacred mental formula, as in vipassana, in Southern Buddhism, and

sa-garbha, with the mental remembrance of a sacred formula, prayer word etc.


The convergence of the paths is seen in sa-garbha breath awareness. These observances are common to

 
yoga meditation practices of

o Jaina prekShaa-dhyaanao Yogis of the Hindu-Vedic background

o Northern Buddhists such as Tibetan meditators

Hesychasm in the Christian meditative tradition

Sufi schools practicing dhikr, remembrance of the name of God or a sacred formula with hosh dar dam, as in the Naqshbandi silsileh

Catholic Christian tradition of the Jesuit Order.


Of these the last one is the least recognized. It shows the convergence of one form of Christian meditative tradition with similar methods used in all the other systems of breath meditations. Noteworthy are paragraphs 256-258 of Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order.


In paragraph 256 he teaches withdrawal of senses from their worldly objects (pratyahara in yoga). In 257 he instructs about fixing the gaze on a certain spot (traaTaka in yoga). Then with these prerequisite preparations, he teaches a method of mentally remembering a prayer, such as the Lord’s prayer, one word with each breath. 


This method of prayer taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola is identical to ONE of the  uncounted number of methods of meditative prayer taught by Hindu-Vedic yogis as well as Tibetan yogis and in certain silsilehs and tariqat of the Sufi tradition.


While the actual prayers may vary from religion to religion, the method remains identical. This is one example of meditation serving as a unifying stream among different spiritual traditions.


[This paper with further detail was orally presented at Dhramaram Christian College (Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram) in Bangalore in the inaugural session of  the Conference on Mysticism starting on 5th January 2011. There was a short participatory demonstration, an experience, of a prayer with breath awareness at the end of the session.]

 

ANNEX :
Reproduced verbatim from

 

--- The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, translated from the autograph by Father Elder Mullan, S.J. I.H.S.New York,  P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1914, pp.31   

 

“The Third Method of Prayer is that with each breath in or out, one has to pray mentally, saying one word of the Our Father, or of another prayer which is being recited: so that only one word be said between one breath and another, and while the time from one breath to another lasts, let attention be given chiefly to the meaning of such word, or to the person to whom he recites it, or to his own baseness, or to the difference from such great height to his own so great lowness. And in the same form and rule he will proceed on the other words of the Our Father; and the other prayers, that is to say, the Hail Mary, the Soul of Christ, the Creed, and the Hail, Holy Queen, he will make as he is accustomed.

 

First Rule. The First Rule is, on the other day, or at another hour, that he wants to pray, let him say the Hail Mary in rhythm, and the other prayers as he is accustomed; and so on, going through the others.

 

Second Rule. The second is that whoever wants to dwell more on the prayer by rhythm, can say all the above-mentioned prayers or part of them, keeping the same order of the breath by rhythm, as has been explained.”

 



Madhyamaka-shaastram of Naagaarjuna, vol.1, ed. Raghunath Pandeya, Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi 1988.

 

GauDapaada-kaarikaa in Eeshaadi-dashopaniShadah with Shaankara-bhaaShya. Shankaraachaarya-granthaavali vol.1, Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi, 1992.

 

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, translated from the autograph by Father Elder Mullan, S.J. I.H.S.New York,  P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1914.