The Ascension of the Soul, Part 1
The Ascension of the Soul, Part 1
The Ascension of the Soul into Interior Regions of Light & Sound, Part One: Introduction to the Meditation Practice, And,The First Inner Region: Astral Plane: Sahas-Dal-Kanwal: Thousand Petalled Lotus
Unlike other yogic disciplines in India, such as kundalini, surat shabd yoga does not advocate breath control (pranayama) or a series of physical postures (asanas/mudras) as part of its practice. Rather, it is concerned with withdrawing consciousness from the nine apertures of the body (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, genitals, and alimentary canal) and transcending the corporeal frame and its limitations altogether. This is accomplished by attaching the mind’s attention to an inner light and sound which is believed to be radiating behind the proverbial “tenth door” (the “third eye” of the Hindus), anatomically located behind and slightly above the physical eyes (Shiv Dayal Singh, 1970). When consciousness becomes totally concentrated at this pivotal point “between the worlds,” the soul, according to the saints in this tradition, leaves the body and experiences in elevating degrees higher regions of bliss.
The distinctive characteristic of surat shabd yoga is its emphasis on listening to the inner sound current, known variously as shabd, nada, or audible life stream. It is through this union of the soul with the primordial music of the universe that the practice derives its name (surat — soul, shabd — sound current; yoga — union). To be able to achieve a consciously induced near-death state takes great effort. Hence, masters of this path emphasize a three-fold method designed to still the mind and vacate the body: simran, dhyan, and bhajan (Charan Singh, 1979).
Simran, the repetition of a holy name or names, draws one’s attention to the eye center, keeping thoughts from being scattered too far outside. Such sacred remembrance is similar in form to the use of a mantra or special prayer, except that the name(s) are repeated silently with the mind and not with the tongue. This stage, according to practitioners, is the first and perhaps most difficult leg of meditation.
Dhyan, contemplation within, is a technical procedure to hold one’s attention at the third eye focus. In the beginning this may be simply gazing into the darkness or re-imaging the guru’s face, etc., but it eventually develops into seeing light of various shapes. Out of this light appears the “radiant form” of one’s spiritual master, who guides the neophyte on the inner voyage and becomes the central point of dhyan.
Bhajan, listening to the celestial melody or sound, is the last and most important part of surat shabd yoga, because it is the vehicle by which the meditator can travel to exalted planes of awareness. Whereas simran draws and dhyan holds the mind’s attention, it is bhajan which takes awareness on its upward ascent back to the Supreme Abode, Sach Khand. Naturally, mastery of surat shabd yoga is not an overnight affair, but involves years of consistent application and struggle. The desired results, adepts in the tradition agree, being largely due to the earnestness and day to day practice of the seeker.
THE INNER ASCENT
In due time, if the process is complete, the individual spirit current or substance is slowly withdrawn from the body. First from the lower extremities which become feelingless, and then from the rest of the body. The process is identical with that which takes place at the time of death, only this is voluntary, while that of death is involuntary. Eventually, he is able to pierce the veil that intervenes — which in reality is “not thicker than the wing of a butterfly” — and then he opens what is called the “Tenth Door” and steps out into a new world. The body remains in the position in which he left it, quite senseless, but unharmed by the process. He is now in a world he never saw before… — (Julian P. Johnson, 1952)
Before the inner voyage of light and sound can begin, the meditator must become adept at withdrawing his/her attention from the world and concentrating one pointedly at the third eye center. Accordingly, when the neophyte has achieved even a modicum of success, having sensations of numbness just up to the solar plexus, flashes of light will begin to manifest. At first it appears that the light is coming and going, causing the phenomenon of bright sparks, but in actuality it is the mind which is ascending and descending (Charan Singh, 1958, 1967, 1973, 1979).
The feeling of physical insensibility is one of the important “acid tests” to determine if the mediation process is proceeding correctly. Starting in the feet, numbness rises slowly through the lower extremities, until the entire body feels like stone. When such a voluntary paralysis occurs, the meditator gravitates more to the inner universe than to the outer one. According to the masters (Julian P. Johnson, 1974), it is the function of simran to instigate this type of benumbing impression, which releases the mind from its constructing hold on the material corpus.
It is at this junction when the meditator senses an intense feeling of upward movement, as if being literally pulled by a magnetic force. This sucking effect is the direct result of one’s attention moving inward away from the outer orifices. Though it but a preliminary stage, the student experiences first-hand what it is like to have an out-of-body sensation. With practice, the meditator finally does achieve total out-of-body consciousness, traveling at immense speeds through regions of darkness, not dissimilar in content to reports of clinically dead patients who have been resuscitated (Raymond Moody, 1975, Kenneth Ring, 1980, Darshan Singh, 1982).
After complete withdrawal from the physical body, the neophyte’s capacity for inner sight (nirat) and sound (surat) increases tremendously, enabling him/her to see and hear clearly what was only thought before to be a figment of religious imagination. Accompanying this ability is also the realization of a super-conscious state of awareness, remarkably more vivid and lucid than the ordinary waking state (Sawan Singh, 1974).
To understand how such a new degree of consciousness can be awakened, it is important to see how awareness moves through various degrees of clarity. In the waking state, for instance, attention is centered behind the eyes at the back of the head. But, after eighteen or so hours, we notice a movement downward and inward from this station towards the throat (Jagat Singh, 1972) culminating in sleep. Likewise, after about eight hours, we sense a rising upwards to the eyes, with the final termination being, of course, our normal, everyday consciousness. In both of these cases, our common language expresses in a graphically simple way the process of awareness: “We fall asleep; we wake up,” “My eyes are heavy;” “I feel so awake and high.” In yoga psychology the farther down one’s consciousness descends the deeper the sleep (or unconscious) state; the further up it ascends the higher the awareness (super-conscious). The pattern is quite clear; clarity increases steadily the more one ascends (not vice versa). Ken Wilber (1979, 1981) has beautifully described this spectrum of consciousness as having a definite hierarchical structure, with the higher orders subsuming and transcending their lower counterparts.
The following account, primarily based upon Shiv Dayal Singh’s Hidayatnama is filled with rich mythological characterizations, metaphors, and illustrations. For anyone steeped in science, the account will sound too fantastic to be true. However, we should keep in mind that although Shiv Dayal Singh’s description may be limited to the analogies of the 19th century, his fundamental insights are consistent with mystics from time immemorial. When reading Shiv Dayal Singh’s descriptions of the inner regions we should always keep in mind that trans-rational experiences cannot be adequately contained by the inherent boundaries of human language. Let us not confuse a map for the real territory or a menu for the meal.
The First Inner Region: Sahas-dal-kanwal: Thousand petalled Lotus
THE FIRST REGION:
“Thousand Petalled Lotus”
“When your eye turns inwards in the brain and you see the firmament within, and your spirit leaves the body and rises upwards, you will see the Akash in which is located Sahas-dal-kanwal, the thousand petals of which perform the various functions pertaining to the three worlds. Its effulgence will exhilarate your spirit. You will at that stage, witness Niranjan, the lord of three worlds. Several religions which attained this stage and took the deity thereof to be the Lord of All, were duped. Seeing the light and refulgence of this region they felt satiated. Their upward progress was stopped. They did not find the guide to higher regions. Hence they could not proceed further”. (Swami Ji/Shiv Dayal Singh, Hidayatnama)
[Astral Plane; Cluster of Lights]
Although the wondrous journey out of the body in surat shabd yoga meditation begins in darkness, eventually the meditator glimpses keen points of light, much like stars filling up a black midnight sky. The student is advised to focus his/her attention on the largest and brightest of these “stars” (Kirpal Singh), which with repeated concentration will burst revealing a radiance similar to that of a sun (Sawan Singh). When this light explodes, a brilliance comparable to a full moon will pull one’s attention even further within. Out of that light, according to the masters (Julian P. Johnson), known as Asht-dal-kanwal (“Eight petal lotus”), the resplendent form of one’s guru will appear. This marks the half-way point in the disciple’s ascent, since from here on one is guided to the upper regions by the radiant form of the master (Sawan Singh). Hence it is by comparison an easier progression for the soul than the withdrawal of the mind current from the body.
Along with the seeing of light, consisting of different colors and hues due partly to a particular person’s karma (Faqir Chand, 1978), the meditator also hears a variety of different sounds. At first, as the concentration becomes finer it will assume a more distinct tone, not dissimilar to the tinkling of bells. Indeed, it is the bell sound which is to be held onto, as its melody will help lead the soul into the first region, known technically in Radhasoami as Sahas-dal-kanwal, but also termed in other traditions as the astral plane, turiya pad, etc…
Entrance into the pure astral plane, though heralded as a magnificent achievement, is, according to Sant Mat, but the beginning of the inner voyage. It is alleged by many saints in the tradition (Kabir, Tulsi Sahib, Sawan Singh, etc.) that several great religious leaders mistakenly believed that the light and sound of this region were of the Absolute Lord. Instead of realizing that the manifestations were partial glimpses of a higher reality, they worshipped them as the totality of God. This kind of error is perhaps the chief reason why the Sant Mat and Radhasoami movements stress so much the necessity of a living guide. Above all else, the masters emphasize, test thoroughly whatever appears inside meditation. [The main test advised by the mystics is to repeat slowly the holy name or names which were given at the time of initiation; also verify the authenticity of one’s experiences with the outer guru for his/her validation.]
Each major region of consciousness has its own center and guiding lord. In Sahas-dal-kanwal the ruler is known as the lord of light and is the creator of all the universe in its jurisdiction (Julian P. Johnson). However, the extent of each ruler’s power is limited and circumscribed by the next higher deity, who, likewise receives its creative energy from above, etc. This governing hierarchy, like the kundalini chakra system, is based on the concept that all spiritual evolution (and even material transformation) was preceded by an involution. Therefore, the meditator must pass through several regions of light and sound before attaining true enlightenment.
In order to overcome the many barriers and obstacles on the way, the guru instructs the student not to attach him or her self to any particular vision, as they are merely signposts along the way. In fact, all of the intermediary lords, or centers of power, are not to be venerated but transcended. It is for this reason that the Beas branch of the Radhasoamis and Sawan-Kirpal Mission in agreement with previous saints, give out five holy names as their meditation mantra. Each name represents the presiding lord and his relative spiritual energy; to the meditator they serve as passwords, so to say, to insure safe passage into the next level of consciousness.
Obviously, the concern here is that a student may get stuck or retained in one of the lower realms, believing that he/she has reached the ultimate, when, in fact, what they have attained is illusory and impermanent. Surat shabd yoga literature is replete with stories of would-be masters who have been duped on the inner journey (for instance, see the book Anurag Sagar which goes on in detail about sages being misled in their meditations).
(Above is from, Enchanted Land, by David Lane, MSAC Philosophy Group)
Huzur Maharaj (Rai Saligram):
“This discourse is intended for the benefit of those who, seeing the instability and transitory state of the things in this world, as well as its short-lived pleasures and greatness, have a craving for everlasting and unalloyed happiness and undisturbed peace in a realm which is not subject to change, decay or dissolution”.
Huzur Maharaj (Rai Saligram):
“The method of taking back the Spirit entity to its Original Source is to ride the Sound Current”.
“The method for taking back the spirit entity to its Supreme Source is first to concentrate at the eye-focus — the seat of the soul, the spirit entity and mind which are defused in our body and in a manner tied to external objects by desires and passions, and next to commence its journey homewards by attending to the Internal Sound, or in other words, by riding the Life or Sound Current which has originally emanated from the Supreme Source”.
“The Current which has been instrumental in having brought it down here must naturally be the Path for its return to the Original Source, and whoever finds this Current is on the Path of Emancipation. This Current which is the Spirit and Life Current is called in the Radhasoami Faith, “Sound” or “Word” or Holy Name”. (Prem Patra Radhasoami, Agra)
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