The phrases Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced are being used here solely because we are all familiar with this language. There is no intent here to categorize, classify, or label people by the use of these terms. Rather, it should allow you to easily see the universal process of meditation more clearly. You might also find it useful in observing your progress. The six subcategories below are very broad, applying to virtually any system of meditation, though it draws upon Yoga meditation of the Himalayan masters. This outline attempts to capture the entire process of Yoga meditation, from beginning to the height of direct experience. By understanding this general process, it is much easier to learn and do the practices themselves. (See also the related download PDF article entitled The Path.)
In the explanations below there are links to other articles on the website. These should give a general idea of the principles and practices that are most fitting for the various stages of meditation. One of the things that can make the process of meditation difficult to learn is not seeing a broad overview of the whole process from the very beginning. Hopefully this gives you that overview.
One can easily end up with one of two extremes with meditation. One extreme is that the most basic, preliminary practices are learned and incorrectly thought to be the whole process. This is quite common now, as foundation practices are often taught in books and seminars as being the whole of meditation. For example, one may learn how to be mindful of the body sensations, or emotions of love and compassion. While these are extremely useful, possibly essential, they are nonetheless preliminary practices used to stabilize and purify the mind so that one can explore the depths of consciousness in advanced meditation. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent because the majority of meditation trainers and students seem to be only interested in "managing" their "stress" rather than pursuing the subtler goals of direct experience through meditation. The student can go on for years and decades without advancing, having an inner nagging feeling, but not quite knowing what to do about it. The "stress manager" is happy, but the seeker of higher truths becomes quietly frustrated.
The other extreme is in studying the depth of meditation, but without seeing where one is today in the systematic process, while at the same time becoming confused over all of the information that can appear to be only theory or philosophy. It is easy to think that one is supposed to be able to do the whole process immediately, but that he or she is just not competent enough. When one studies books, reads websites, or goes to seminars, retreats and workshops that cover deep practices and philosophies, it is easy to get overwhelmed. This happens easily when the whole process is presented. It can happen even while reading this article. While the intent is to present the broad overview so that one can systematically practice, it is very easy to get lost in all the words. The attempts at simplicity can end up leading only to confusion.
In both of these extremes it is easy to have meditation unintentionally sabatoged, and the poor aspirant ends up with only the most surface level of practice, or abandons the practice of meditation entirely. Sadly, one can easily get drawn into the trap of acquiescing to the view that we are already enlightened, and that there is no journey. While this is ultimately seen to be true in the height of direct experience, there is an old saying that "There is no path, but only a fool does not follow it". If we are mindful of these two extremes of settling for the preliminaries or getting lost in the complexity, it is easier to stay focused on the practices at hand, today, while also striving to understand the whole of the process and systematically move forward. Once again, it is hoped that by having a brief, clear, yet thorough explanation of the systematic process, it is easier to understand the whole, while seeing where you are in the current moment, allowing you to gently move towards the direct experience that is longed for in the heart.
In the Beginning stages of practice, you think that you are meditating, while you are actually still learning methods. This is a pleasant time of learning, as benefits start to come from practicing. Beginning Meditation involves two major parts: 1) Foundation, Lifestyle, and Meditation in Action, and 2) Establishing the Practice of Meditation.
1. Foundation, Lifestyle, Meditation in Action
Successfully practicing meditation requires having a well balanced lifestyle and a basic degree of self awareness, as can be cultivated in daily life. In this foundation stage, you cultivate practices and attitudes such as non-harming, lovingness, compassion, and acceptance. Primitive urges for food, sleep, sex, and self-preservation are seen and wisely regulated. Balanced lifestyle and meditation in action brings stability of mind.
Yamas: The first rung or limbs of the eight in Yoga is the five Yamas. The Yamas have to do with training your actions, speech, and thoughts in relation to the external world, particularly with other people. They include non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, remembering the higher reality, and non-possessiveness. As these are gently, lovingly practiced over time, they gradually evolve into great vows for living.
Niyamas: The second of the eight rungs is the five Niyamas, which have to do with your relationship within yourself. They involve purifying your mind and body, cultivating an attitude of contentment, training your senses, inner exploration, and letting go into your spiritual source. While these are started in the Beginning stage of meditation, they are practiced throughout the stages of meditation.
Lifestyle and the Four Basic Urges: While we are from diverse cultural, social, and religious backgrounds, we all need to regulate our lifestyle to progress in meditation. Common sense tells us this. The four primitive urges for food, sleep, sex and self-preservation are also universal and need to be wisely regulated.
Four Stages of Life: The four traditional stages of life are that of student, householder, hermitage and renunciation. Each stage has its own form of spiritual pursuit and meditation. We can all plan our lives so that we experience joy in that stage, while progressing towards the higher goal of life.
Keys to Successful Living: In this article, Swami Rama suggest several keys, including deciding things on time, understanding our habit patterns, controlling our primitive urges, not wasting our time, developing proper attitudes, and learning to look within to find happiness.
Diet and Meditation: A few basic suggestions are presented, including the notion that food is for cells rather than "me," changing "I want" into "it wants," we eat food rather than ingredients, drinking water, addition rather than subtraction approach to eating, nutrition and cleansing, eating good foods first, and letting your inner wisdom called buddhi be the guide.
Two Harmonious Directions of Life: There are two forces at play; one is moving outward, while the other is moving inward. To have only one, without the other, can lead to being out of balance, to either being lost in the world or to living a life of escapism. To fully experience them both, and to have them in a harmonious balance is a very high way of living.
Truth and the other "T's": One naturally comes to seek Truth, Teacher, Tradition, Teachings, Training and Texts. Sometimes our priorities are made by conscious choice, but often one goal has precedence over the other by means of unconscious happenstance. If we seek Truth, cultivating that flame of desire to burn ever more brightly in the inner chamber of the heart, then all of the other "T's" will come along in time, as a natural process.
Inner Peace: In this article, Swami Rama explains that inner peace comes from bridging the two worlds of external and internal. Happiness does not come from other people. Love and expectation are not the same. Objects are for us to use, but are not "mine". The key is to maintain constant awareness of the Reality that is within.
2. Establishing the Practice of Meditation
Building upon the solid foundation of the stage #1 (Foundation, Lifestyle, and Meditation in Action), it is easier to learn the actual practices of meditation, while these first two stages are somewhat done together. Here, in this second stage, you establish a regular time and place for meditation each day, develop your sitting posture, and learn to work with and train the senses, body, breath, and mind. Individual techniques are learned and repeated over and over, coordinating them systematically.
Time and Place for Meditation: The time you choose should be comfortable for you, and should fit in with your daily schedule and the schedule of others. Although some times, such as early morning or late evening, may be theoretically better than other times, they may not be right for you personally if they do not match your schedule, your current predisposition for meditation, or the people with whom you live. The real key to regularity of meditation is to choose a time that works for you. It is also most useful to make a decision as to how many times you will meditate per day, whether one, two, three, or more. It is very useful to make a solid decision on this point. Then allow yourself the flexibility of altering the duration of your practice. Using the same place for meditation each day is an important part of developing a good habit. Then the mind does not have to question, or scan around the house or room, wondering where to go today. This one space will also become a point of reference for you in daily life.
Four Meditations on Attitudes: The Yoga Sutras outlines four meditations on attitudes that are used as foundations for stabilizing and clearing the clouded mind. These are meditations on: 1) friendliness, kindness, or lovingness, 2) compassion or supportiveness, 3) happiness or goodwill, and 4) acceptance or neutrality. Some practice these meditations as virtually complete systems of meditation. However, for the seeker of the higher direct experiences up to Self-Realization, these are preliminary practices. While extremely useful, they are used to prepare the mind for the deeper practices.
Practice and Non-Attachment: Practice (Abhyasa) and non-attachment (Vairagya,) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests. Abhyasa means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility. It means cultivating the habit of choosing actions, speech, and thoughts which lead one in the direction of that stable tranquility. It comes most easily by often asking oneself, "Is this useful or not useful? Is it better that I do this or not do it?" Vairagya or Non-Attachment is the essential companion, learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self.
Four Steps to Meditation:
Yoga meditation is a systematic process, in which you work with the
grosser, or more external aspects of your being, and then move inward,
doing the more subtle practices, which gently brings you to meditation.
Four straightforward steps are recommended: 1) stretches or hatha Yoga
postures, 2) survey of body or relaxation, 3) breathing or pranayama,
Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most important
Soham Mantra and Breath Meditation: The Soham mantra has been called the universal mantra because of the fact that its vibration is already a part of the breath, and everybody breathes. Sooooo... is the sound of inhalation, and Hummmm... is the sound of exhalation. This practice is so simple that it seems it must be a shallow practice. While it is easy to do, it is profoundly useful. It starts with simple breath regulation and awareness, but expands and deepens when faithfully practiced over a long period of time. There is also an Online Soham Mantra practice, an Online Soham and Gazing practice, and a Soham Mantra CD.
Why Should I Meditate?:
Meditation gives you something that nothing else can:
Who Seeks Self-Realizaton?: One who cannot refrain from asking these kinds of questions is a candidate to seek Self-Realization: What is this I and my who claims to be and own things? Are these things, claims, and identities who I really am? What are all these things, these objects, this world? What is the stuff of which they are made? And from where do all these many things arise? Who am I, really? Who am I?
What Do I Want?: The most important question to ask yourself is, "What do I want?" It means asking this at the highest level of your desires. There may be many things you want in the external world, but here you want to have a key principle that you, yourself are seeking at the deepest level of the inner chamber of your heart. It needs to be your word, not just that of somebody else, something that was read in some book, or is popular in the culture.
The Simplest Meditation: To sit in stillness and silence for even a few minutes each day is a very useful thing to do. One view of Self-Realization is that it is very simple, and the other is very complex. We must each decide on our own view and approach.
In the Intermediate stages, you have a pretty good grasp of the process of meditation. The practices already learned are being improved upon, and new practices are being integrated with them.
3. Stabilizing and Refining your Practices
During this important phase, determination is developed to stay with the practices, gently learning and growing. It is a time for gaining proficiency in the methods already learned. New methods or alterations of existing methods are learned and integrated into the practices. You are beginning to get a feel for the nature of the whole process of meditation, and how to integrate other practices such as contemplation, prayer, and mantra.
Seven Skills for Meditation: In Yoga science, all of the techniques are used to develop certain skills by which one can meditate at a depth that will reveal the Center of Consciousness, the Self within. It is not so much a matter of the techniques themselves being important, but rather the techniques are tools to cultivate the underlying skill. Seven skills to cultivate are:
1) how to relax the body,
Five Commitments: Five personal commitments are strengthened during this phase of practice are that of: 1) faithful certainty in the path (shraddha), 2) directing energy towards the practices (virya), 3) repeated memory of the path and the process of stilling the mind (smriti), 4) training in deep concentration (samadhi), and 5) the pursuit of real knowledge (prajna), by which the higher samadhi (asamprajnata samadhi) is attained. Of particular importance are faith, energy and mindfulness.
Shraddha is a faith that you are moving in
the right direction. It is not a blind faith in some organization,
institution, or teacher. Rather, it is an inner feeling of certainty
that you are moving in the right direction. You may not know exactly how
your journey is unfolding, but have an inner intuition of walking
steadily towards the goal of life.
Virya is the positive energy of ego that
is the support for the faith of going in the right direction. This
energy of virya puts the power behind your sense of knowing what to do.
When you are strongly acting on what you know to be your correct path,
that is virya. When you feel weak or uncertain, and are taking little
action, that is from lack of virya. Virya is that conviction that says,
"I can do it! I will do it! I have to do it!"
Smriti is cultivating a constant
mindfulness of treading the path, and of remembering the steps along the
way. This memory is not a negative mental obsession, but rather, a
gentle, though persistent awareness of the goal of life, of your faith,
and of your decision to commit your energy to the process. Smriti is
also the practice of mindfulness of inner process, both witnessing at
meditation time and during daily life.
Breath and Pranayama Practices: Breath training is extremely useful, if not essential preparation for deep meditation and samadhi on the path to Self-Realization. Breath is a bridge between the body and the mind. Regulate breath, and the body and mind will follow. In the Beginning stage one emphasizes diaphragmatic breathing, practicing that daily, hopefully several times a day. Once one is proficient in diaphragmatic breathing and the systematic process of meditation is understood and practiced, it is then time to expand the breathing practices. Other balancing practices may be learned, such as a variety of forms of alternate breathing, along with vigorous breathing practices such as bhastrika, kapalabhati and agniprasana. Although new methods are learned, the foundation of proper diaphragmatic breathing is so very important that it is never left behind.
What is Yoga Meditation?: Here is a more detailed description of Yoga Meditation: "Yoga meditation is the art and science of systematically observing, accepting, understanding, and training each of the levels of our being, such that we may coordinate and integrate those aspects of ourselves, and dwell in the direct experience of the center of consciousness". These explanations are more understandable and enjoyable to read once there is a solid foundation in Beginning Meditation. The article has a total of 16 separate web pages that explain this description one word or phrase at a time. It may take a few minutes to go through it, but there are many useful insights there.
Eight Rungs or Limbs of Yoga: The art and science of Yoga is systematically described in eight (ashta) rungs, steps, or limbs (anga). Thus, this section of the Yoga Sutras is also called Ashtanga Yoga. The eight rungs are codes of restraint (Yamas), self-training (Niyamas), meditation posture (Asana), breath regulation (Pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and deep absorption (Samadhi). The purpose for learning and practicing the eight rungs is discernment or discrimination, including to see past the four forms of Ignorance or Avidya.
Four Forms of Ignorance: Failure to perceive and conceive clearly is called Ignorance or Avidya. The four forms of Avidya are explored and observed during both daily life and meditation. These are: 1) incorrectly taking the not-self to be the self, 2) that which is painful to be pleasureful, 3) that which is impure to be pure, and 4) that which is temporary to be long-lasting.
Meditation, Contemplation, Prayer, and Mantra: By practicing each of the practices of Meditation, Contemplation, Prayer, and Mantra, these four converge into a unified force of clarity, will, focus, and surrender. Some spiritual traditions or individual teachers may deal with only one or two of the four types of practices. Others, such as the path of Yoga meditation, take a more holistic approach and suggest that one integrate and balance all four of the practices. There is great benefit from doing not only one, but all of the practices of Meditation, Contemplation, Prayer, and Mantra. However, these are not "one size fits all" recommendations, but recognize the predisposition, culture, and religion of individual aspirants. These personal traits are the guidelines by which one chooses the objects of focus for Meditation, the nature of the Contemplations, the emphasis of Prayer, and the specific Mantras.
4. Training and Calming the Conscious Mind
Here, you can easily calm the conscious mind. The days of the "noisy" mind are behind you. You can easily regulate your breath, balance the energies, and find peace of mind. The process of meditation is clear, as you spend your time practicing rather than learning methods. Many people stop here, as if this calmness is the goal of meditation. Actually, it is the prerequisite for true meditation leading to subtler direct experience.
Balancing Left and Right energies: The union or balancing of Ida and Pingala, the left and right energies of the subtle body is like a marriage. It is the wedding of sun and moon, night and day. This wedding is called sandhya, and like with a marriage, is a time of great joy, only this is a meditative joy. In this wedding even the mind and the breath are joined in a happy union. This the real beginning of joy in meditation. All of the other practices up to this stage are to bring this state of peaceful mind, from where the real practice of meditation begins. From this point, meditation is a joy, not a discipline. This level of practice comes from the foundation work with breath, which itself rests on the Lifestyle and other practices of the Beginning and Intermediate stages.
One-Pointedness of Mind: It has now become extremely clear that the ability to focus attention is of critical importance both in life and for meditation. Whether attending to breath or a mantra, for example, there is an ever strengthening intentionality to stay focused and not be arbitrarily distracted. It has to do with cultivating the skill of one-pointedness or focus itself. Having developed this root skill sets the stage for being able to explore the unconscious without being dragged around by the vagaries of the mind field. In the beginning, one is introduced to the notion of concentration, but at that stage it is only a preliminary understanding. Through all of the foundation practices it is now, in this stage, seen as the essential ingredient for dealing with inner obstacles and moving through the mire of delusion towards the highest realization.
Fourth Pranayama: The fourth pranayama is that continuous prana which surpasses, is beyond, or behind those others that operate in the exterior and interior realms or fields. It refers to that pure prana that is beyond the three aspects we know as exhalation, inhalation, and transition between these. It is a process of transcending breath as we usually know it, so as to drop into the energy of pure prana that is underneath, or support to the gross breath. This comes after working with the three pranayamas, and these rest on the foundation of the Yamas, Niyamas, and Asana, which are the first three rungs of Yoga.
Yoga Nidra: Yoga Nidra means Yogic Sleep. It is a state of conscious Deep Sleep. Yoga Nidra can be attempted right from the very beginning of meditation practices. However, it is not uncommon for one who does not have a reasonably stable lifestyle to find the Yoga Nidra practice difficult to do. It can even trigger physical restlessness and anger as ones attention is brought inward with the practice. It is because of this that the Yoga Nidra practice is put in the Intermediate section. Surely one should go ahead with the practice, but be patient with it, as the benefits come over time. There is also a Yoga Nidra CD.
Yoga Sutras: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali succinctly outlines the art and science of Yoga meditation for Self-Realization. While the Yoga Sutras can be studied from the Beginning stages, it will make much more sense after having moved into a stable practice at the later Intermediate stage. The quiet, calm mind can more easily assimilate the explanations and suggestions. This is an example of one of the areas where meditation can seem very confusing when studied at depth from the beginning. If we remain aware of this possibility, there is no need to wait for exploring these kinds of texts. However, again, it really is more accessible after having practiced for some time at the Beginning and Intermediate levels.
In the Advanced stages, you have a solid foundation in understanding the process of meditation, as well as practicing meditation. You now explore and transcend the subtler aspects of your inner world.
5. Exploring and Purifying the Unconscious Mind
Now you are ready to explore the normally unexamined inner world. The deep unconscious that might have previously been avoided is now invited to come forward for introspection. Principles such as the four functions of mind (manas, chitta, ahamkara, and buddhi) are seen quite clearly. The inner process speeds up as more and more of the deep impressions driving karma are seen, examined, and weakened in the depths of meditation.
Exploring the Four Functions of Mind: The Four Functions of Mind are now explored in ever more subtle and insightful ways. In the earlier stages of contemplation and meditation, these were explored, but on a more surface level, like one might explore personality traits. Now, the aspirant sees the beautiful dance among the objects or memories in Chitta, the coloring aspect of ego or Ahamkara, the beautiful way in which the mind or Manas processes all of this, and most importantly, how Buddhi, the inner wisdom is the intelligence above all of this. It starts to seem intuitively clear that there is a pure consciousness, Atman or Purusha, that is above, behind, or beyond all of this as Witness. That Witness has not yet been experienced directly, but is known to exist, and to be That which is being sought.
Seven Levels of Consciousness: The seven levels of consciousness outlined in the Om mantra are seen to be inner realities, not mere philosophical speculation. Although the highest of these has not yet been experienced at this stage, the other levels are seen, and the higher levels intuited. The interplay of the three states of Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep. It becomes clear how these are one and the same with the Conscious, Unconscious and Subconscious Mind. It also becomes clear are these are all operating at the three levels of the Gross, Subtle and Causal planes. These cease to be mere words on a page or on a computer screen. They are experienced realities of the inner world.
Guru chakra: Beyond the first six chakras, between there and the crown chakra, many other chakras, levels, or layers of reality are experienced. For the aspirant who is willing to do so, the guru chakra is used to purify the mind and to bring down spiritual truths. The yogi invites all of the thoughts and samskaras to arise in the mind field of ajna chakra and offers them into the higher knowledge, the triangular shaped fire of guru or jnana chakra (Ajna and guru chakras are also called drikuti and trikuti respectively). From that process the pathway is cleared, and higher wisdom and teachings come down to the ajna. Eventually, awareness itself travels upward, receding through and beyond, to That which is the final abode, the Absolute, the union of Shiva and Shakti. (Note that the use of guru chakra and the process of witness described below are somewhat different, though companion practices.)
Witnessing the Stream of the Unconscious: During this phase there is an increase in the amount of objects and memories streaming through our awareness. If we are unaware of this process, it can seem like meditation is going backwards. There may be times when images, impressions or sensations are coming extremely quickly. In fact, the entire process of purifying the unconscious quickens now, as the stream becomes clearer and clearer in a very accepting way. The nature of an "object" shifts as well, as we come to witness the very instruments of our makeup as "objects" to attend to.
Inviting Thoughts to Come: Thought patterns are now, in this stage, literally invited to come forward to that they can be observed and allowed to pass on. Like a ticket taker at a theater, we invite them to come; one after the other, next, next, and next.
Attenuating the colorings: In the earlier stages of meditation there was a quieting of the conscious mind (Most people stop at this earlier stage of meditation, incorrectly thinking that the goal of meditation has been attained). Now, in this stage a finer, subtler process is happening. The coloring or klesha, such as attraction and aversion attenuates at a deeper level. This is a very subtle process of attenuating samskaras, the driving force behind karma. The finer attenuating comes from the witness process. (See also Yoga Sutra 2.4)
Kundalini Rises Upward Through the Chakras: As the Kundalini moves upwards, it encounters and fills each of the lower chakras, one after the other. The Ida and Pingala nadis, coursing through the chakras, are felt more deeply, and seen as well. Each of the chakras is experienced in its subtler and subtler ways, including the subtler aspects of the five elements and the ten indriyas, which are associated with the first five chakras.
Three Knots or Granthis are Broken: Along the Sushumna channel (the subtle channel along the spine) there are three knots (granthis) of energy that will be broken or untied along the upward journey of Kundalini, allowing the flow to go into and through the various chakras above that point. Brahma granthi blocks the flow from the first chakra, the root chakra, muladhara, upward to the others; related to bondage to desires. Vishnu granthi blocks the flow from the third chakra at the navel, manipura, upward to the fourth chakra, anahata, the heart; related to bondage of actions. Rudra granthi blocks the flow beyond the sixth chakra between the eyebrows, ajna chakra, upwards towards sahasrara; related to bondage of thoughts (compared to pure knowing).
After accepting the unconscious material, you leave behind memories, pictures, and words. You examine and explore the inner instruments themselves, such as the subtle energies and elements, which are the very building blocks of ourselves as individuals. Gradually, you move past even these, traveling into and through even the subtlest channel of light and sound, to the absolute reality of who you really are as pure being or consciousness.
Few people are interested in entering into this final stage of meditation, that of Going Through and Beyond the Mind. Most are interested in going only as far as stages #4 or #5.
Those interested only in "stress management" meditation will stop at stage #4, which is Training and Calming the Conscious Mind. They have no interest in delving into the normally unconscious mind or subtle realms. As long as their external world life has some of the rough edges knocked off, they are happy.
Others want very much to go into the subtle realms, but will not go beyond that. They like to stay in stage #5, that of Exploring and Purifying the Unconscious Mind. However, the motive may not be to "purify" the unconscious. Rather, the incentive may be solely to explore the subtle realm. Many wish to increasingly have access to that level so that they might either have worldly gains, or so that the subtle, psychic, cosmic, or occult planes can be had for their own inherent gains.
For the few who are longing to experience the Self, Atman, Brahman, Purusha or Absolute Reality, setting aside the "form" of both the gross and subtle planes, and the Unconscious objects is desirable.
Supreme Non-Attachment: The Yoga Sutras explain that Non-Attachment applies to progressively deeper levels of our being, culminating in Supreme Non-Attachment or Paravairagya. While we might begin practicing Non-Attachment with our more surface level attachments, such as the objects and people of daily life, the practice deepens to include all of the objects or experiences we might have only heard about, including the many powers or experiences of the psychic or subtle realm. We gradually see that even these are nothing but distractions on the journey to Self-realization, and we learn to set them aside as well.
Beyond the chakras: While the chakras are studied and explored in the earlier stages, there comes a point where the student comes to know the science beyond the chakras. This learning is given in complete stillness and silence, subtler than all of the sounds and forms related to the chakras. This knowledge is not available in any book or school, and can happen wherever the aspirant is physically located, whether close or far from any geographical location in the world or physical teacher. Some schools of meditation say that the student should study the chakras in depth. Others say that this is a waste of one's life, and that it is better to know the chakras only well enough that you recognize them when their features flash in awareness, devoting your energies to the teachings and realities beyond, seeking the greater knowledge called mahavidya.
Tripura: The Secret of the Three Cities: Tri means three, and pura means city. Tripura is the consciousness that operates in the three cities of Waking, Dreaming, and Deep Sleep, as well as the Conscious, Unconscious, and Subconscious aspects of mind. Sometimes conceptualized as the divine feminine (Shakti), compared to the divine masculine (Shiva), she permeates the three cities of the Gross world, the Subtle plane, and the Causal reality. Tripura also permeates the many other trinities such as the being ness inherent in past, present and future. This is a Tantric rendering of the three levels of consciousness mapped out by the OM Mantra symbol, and its levels of Vaishvanara, Taijasa, and Prajna (described above). Dedication, devotion, love, and surrender into this creative source or divine Mother is one of the finest aspects of Tantra as a direct route to Realization. Some conceptualize Tripura as an anthropomorphic deity, while the subtler practices are directed towards Tripura as formless, that fourth state beyond the other three cities. The Bindu of Sri Yantra is the symbol of this highest transcendent Reality. The quality of the three cities is an aspect of OM Mantra, Gayatri Mantra, and Mahamrityunjaya Mantra.
Bindu: Pinnacle of Practices: Bindu means Point or Dot, is sometimes likened to a Pearl, and is often related to the principle of a Seed. This is not just a poetic choice of words or philosophy. There literally is a stage of Meditation in which all experiences collapse, so to speak, into a point from which all experiences arose in the first place. The Bindu is near the end of the subtlest aspect of mind itself, after which one travels beyond or transcends the mind and its contents. It is near the end of time, space, and causation, and is the doorway to the Absolute. To understand this principle is extremely useful, if not essential to Advanced Meditation.
Meditation on the Bindu: Meditation on Bindu is not merely a visualization exercise whereby you imagine some mental object (though that may be useful). To find the Bindu takes a great deal of effort and patience, after having purified the mind. While it takes great effort, it also takes great surrender. In the inner field of the subtler aspects of mind, a circle, space, pit, hole or tunnel will eventually be experienced (it doesn't matter what you call it). Eventually, the Bindu is encountered beyond that. It is approximately like the stories we hear from time to time of some person having a near-death-experience, and seeing light at the end of a tunnel. The tunnel entrance is at the chakra, the tunnel is called Brahma Nadi, and the point of light is Bindu (Recall that Bindu means point or dot, and has been likened to a mustard seed). Note that in the stories about seeing light at the end of a tunnel, the witness has not yet gone up the tunnel, merged into the point, or transcended it. It can be a bit frustrating to read about encountering the Bindu, but not be able to do it at this very moment. Until it comes, it is common to sit there in the dark, not only not finding the Bindu, but not even finding a circle or tunnel. Patience and practice are the keys, as exasperating at it may be.
Piercing the Bindu: At some point the Bindu is encountered and transcended. It is like entering the circle or tunnel, traveling up the tunnel (Brahma Nadi), encountering and engaging the point or Bindu, and then piercing the Bindu, so as to experience that beyond, which is That out of which the Bindu and individuality originally emerged (In the Himalayan tradition, this occurs through the process of grace called shaktipata). The precise process defies description, but it can be described in approximate terms. The word that seems to best capture the nature of piercing the Bindu is that it is like an explosion, as the mind and the sense of individuality and time seem to be transcended. The word explosion is not used in a destructive sense, but only an experiential sense. Another way of describing the piercing of Bindu is that it is like crashing through walls in very rapid succession. This process may happen in stages over time, like piercing a series of Bindus, or may be experienced at once, in rapid succession. Finally, there is a merging of individuality, light and sound into its unified, undifferentiated source, which was never really divided in the first place, but only appeared to be so. It is an experience not of going into and out of Meditation, but one of going into and bursting through to the other side. It leaves insights that are only somewhat captured by phrases like "All of this, is that Absolute Reality (karvam khalvidam brahman)," "I am that Absolute Reality (aham brahmasmi)" "I am that I am; I am That (sohamasmi; soham)".
Kundalini Rises to the Crown Chakra: After the upward journey of Kundalini, coursing through the Sushumna channel and the chakras along the way, it is finally brought to the Crown Chakra, Sahasrara. This union is the Realization of the Absolute, and is the meaning of Yoga. Once the Kundalini Shakti attains the state of union with the pure consciousness at the sahasrara, there is no longer any unconscious during that time. There is no longer a latent aspect, as full illumination has come, eliminating this polarization of active and latent. Awareness of the body and the external world is withdrawn into the highest samadhi.
The Student Rejoices: In the text, Vivekachudamini (The Crest Jewel of Discrimination), Adi Shankaracharya relates a symbolic story of the interaction between a teacher and a student. Shankara writes of the final joy of realization of the Absolute, where the student cries out: