These are a series of questions asked by a student and answered by Dr. T.
Camren: As I am seeking a legitimate sadhana and as I seek to become a true yogi, I feel as if I have reached a plateau in my meditation practice. Could this be due to inconsistency in my practice, not lengthening the duration of my meditations or my lack of in-person guidance due to COVID?
Dr. T: Any of the things you mention can contribute to difficulties in meditation. You would not bring them up if there were no doubt in your mind about them. But, what we need to focus on is “What you mean by a ‘plateau’ in your meditation practice.” How do you know you have plateaued? Certainly, for example, genuine meditation practice is work—an effortful process. It is not an arrival. The practice may not bear your expected fruit for months or years. A seeker continues the practice knowing that each meditation, regardless of how difficult or joyful, erodes delusions, strengthens mind, and moves him/her closer to critical mass. That critical mass spells the eventual transformation of ordinary consciousness into enlightened consciousness. Also, the lack of social space we have been enduring is not good for a healthy, rounded sadhana. Find a group that meets in a safe way and share your questions, insights, and difficulties with other seekers. You can participate in one I have going for college seekers if you like.
Camren: I have a few different meditation techniques that I wonder if they would be helpful. These practices include adding a mantra, visualizations, or brahmacarya. Should I singularly focus on one way or should I expand to multiple methods?
Dr. T: Meditation is of two types: Open and Closed. Open meditation techniques include what is called discursive meditation, or thinking about and reflecting upon, and applying to oneself considerations that help remove vices and install virtues. Such Open meditation also includes Mindfulness Meditation practice. On the other hand, Closed Meditation practice uses breath work (Pranayama), mantra, focused one-pointed attention, concentration, etc. to restrict attention and eliminate distraction from the one-pointed attention on the chosen object. I recommend to my students to do both kinds, enlisting them for multiple psychospiritual benefits. Appropriate spiritual reading is absolutely necessary to enrich meditation practice, especially during Open meditation practice. Before considering brahmacarya, please study and learn more about it. As it is, it is not necessary for spiritual advancement; however, a true seeker will treat sexual activity like all other activities—with discipline by avoiding excess, obsession, and addiction.
Camren: Mantra ~
Would introducing a mantra help?
Is a mantra a necessary part of a meditation practice? I have tried a few and none of them seem right for me because they seem to distract me from my bodily awareness. Even with the mantra from my guru (om nama shivaya), I still feel distracted. Could it be that I am too far ahead of myself and would it benefit me to simply stick to the awareness of my breath and body? Could it be harmful to me to practice a kriya yoga mantra prior to being officially initiated?
Dr. T: A meaningful mantra is a great aid in meditation practice, even though pranayama can serve this role also. It is not so much the “right. Mantra” as it is one’s understanding of and relationship with that mantra. For now, use breath awareness as proxy for a mantra and pay great attention to its movement as if it represented or encapsulated everything good you seek. And, no it is not harmful to practice meditational techniques without being initiated.
Mantra is one of the “four horses” that pull the carriage of meditation. The others are *A disciplined meditation posture, *Skillful breath control (pranayama), and *Concentration (an attention focused on one thing (like movement of breath, or mantra). Feeling distracted in meditation is normal. Retrieving and refocusing attention repeatedly is the work of meditation, and such effort pays great dividends in expanding consciousness and tapping deep tranquility.
It is not harmful to use a Kriya Yoga mantra without initiation. There are additional benefits to be gained from initiation, however. Good energy (grace) is transmitted via initiation, since alignment with a seeker community through the teacher enhances skillful practice.
What are the benefits of visualization mediations? Can they deepen my practice? Today I practiced visualization meditation on Christ and divine mother. I focused on compassion and it brought me to a compassionate state. Is this right? Focusing on someone who embodies that which I wish to attain?
Dr. T: Absolutely correct!
Can brahmacarya be dangerous without guidance? Can brahmacaris marry? Should bramacharis be celibate? Should the questions of celibacy and marriage matter to be? Should I still try at love or would that be an obstacle on the spiritual path?
Dr. T: You live in a material world, and your consciousness—which you are trying to raise—uses a material body as a long-term vehicle to participate in this world. Brahmacharya is a concept within Indian religions that literally means to stay in contact with one’s own soul. In Yoga, Hinduism and Jainism it generally refers to a lifestyle of sexual continence, or complete abstinence from sexual activity. Abstinence from sexual activity may assist a seeker in focusing more fully on spiritual matters. However, seekers must first deal with the difficulties of relationship before attempting to give them up. And this is where seekers so often go astray and become deluded, even disturbed, when the “cart” of expanded consciousness is placed before the “horse” of tending to and resolving unfinished ego business which relationship and its vagaries presents for resolution. Yes, you should learn and engage love in this dimension, without which there is no access to enlightenment. Since “love” is defined in so many ways, your task will be to purify, expand, and express love in multiple ways.