Thursday, June 23, 2011

Non-Attachment: From Meditation to Samadhi

Non-attachment to the perceptions of the world - non-attachment to our ideas of its people, places, things and situations - is an essential component of spiritual practice, irrespective of religious tradition. "In the end what matters most," reads a banner in my living room, "is how well did you live, how well did you love, how well did you learn to let go." Poignant words, for one day we all have to let go of everything, and all that will attest to our being here this time around, is how well we lived our lives and how well we loved the beings we encountered.

In his enlightening book, "How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali" (written with Christopher Isherwood), Swami Prabhavananda notes that "(i)f we try to concentrate (in meditation) while remaining attached to the things of this world, we shall fail altogether or our newly acquired powers of concentration will bring us into great danger, because we shall inevitably use them for selfish, unspiritual ends." (He points to the violent excesses of the twentieth-century as evidence of what happens when man concentrates on science "without unlearning his attachment to nationalistic power.")

But how, then, are we to learn such detachment from the ego and its desires for the objects and ambitions that the world presents? "We must begin," says Prabhavananda, "by cultivating attachment to the highest object we can conceive of, to God himself."

First, he suggests, concentrate upon a spiritual ideal - Christ, Krishna, the Buddha, or his own teacher, Ramakrishna - and as attachment to that ideal is generated, lesser attachments to the people, places and things of the world slip away. This, Prabhavananda says, effects non-attachment at the level "of gross phenomena."

Next, Prabhavananda suggests, as meditation and contemplation on our ideal progresses, we lose attachment to the ideal as we gain understanding to the spirit within him or her. At that stage, he observes, we move "from the level of gross phenomena to the subtle or spiritual level." At this point, "(w)e shall no longer admire a Christ or a Ramakrishna as human beings within time, but we shall worship them as eternal, spiritual beings. We shall know them in their divine aspect."

From there, says Prabhavananda, there is a third stage, or "third level of consciousness" that transcends even attachment to these subtle forms. "For behind Christ," he points out, "behind Ramakrishna, behind any conception of a personal God, there is Brahman, the Ground, the central Reality of which these figures are only partial, individual projections."

"When we become united with Brahman," Prabhavananda notes, "we are united with That which was manifested in Christ and hidden within our unregenerate selves, but which is eternally present in all of us. And this union is the state of nirvikalpa samadhi."

In describing just what nirvikalpa samadhi is, Prabhavananda leans on the following description by the great seventh-century Vedantist teacher, Shankara:
"There is a continuous consciousness of the unity of Atman and Brahman. There is no longer any identification of the Atman with its coverings. All sense of duality is obliterated. There is pure, unified consciousness. The man who is well established in this consciousness is said to be illumined."

"A man is said to be free even in this life when he is established in illumination. His bliss is unending. He almost forgets this world of appearances.

"Even though his mind is dissolved in Brahman, he is fully awake, free from the ignorance of waking life. He is fully conscious, but free from any craving. Such a man is said to be free even in this life."

"For him, the sorrows of this world are over. Though he possesses a finite body, he remains unitied with the Infinite. His heart knows no anxiety. Such a man is said to be free even in this life."
Thus, beyond the attachments of the ego to the things of the world, there lies available to us a higher consciousness in which may be found the "peace that surpasseth all understanding."  (Phillipians 4:7)

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