Meditation Tips from the Bhagavad Gita

Krishna has previously explained to Arjuna the need for living in a quiet and retired environment, even though active in the world. No matter how spiritual we like to think ourselves, our immediate environment and the condition of our body is a major factor in how our mind behaves in meditation. The external often dictates the condition of the internal. Now he takes up the subject of what the yogi should be doing in his retreat-whether at home or “on retreat” elsewhere. He has already mentioned the major activity, saying: “He should meditate on the Atman unceasingly.” So he proceeds:

The yogi’s seat (asana)

“The place where he sits should be firm, neither too high nor too low, and situated in a clean spot. He should first cover it with sacred grass, then with a deer skin; then lay a cloth over these.” (Bhagavad Gita 6:11)

Krishna assumes that the yogi will be sitting on the ground-as was usual in India at that time and even today in many instances. We will look at that first and then consider other options.

The ground should be firm, neither soft nor shifting as sand or gravel or on a heap of things that could slide. Sand is pulverized stone and after sitting awhile literally becomes stone-hard. Not being soft indicates also that the ground should be dry.

The yogi should not perch himself in a tree, on the edge of a precipice, or in/on any place where he might fall off if he fell over-either in sleep or samadhi.

The place should be clean, without dirt or debris. It should also be pure, not in a place where evil things have taken place, nor in a ceremonially defiling place such as a cemetery, a grave, or a place where killing of any kind has taken place or there are the remains of sentient beings.

Dampness and cold are often properties of earth where the yogi might sit, so he is directed to first put down some kusha grass. Kusha grass is considered purifying, and rings woven of it are sometimes worn in worship to keep the hands ritually pure. It is also a remarkable insulator, both physically and metaphysically. In India I have used kusha mats with a blanket on top for sleeping on damp ground in bitterly cold weather, and was never bothered with either damp or cold-at least underneath me. Such mats also make very good meditation seats. However, only dried kusha grass is used in matting, and the edges are very sharp and liable to cut the one handling it carelessly.

To compensate for this, and to increase the insulating effect, a deer skin may be placed over the kusha grass. A deer skin is the only animal skin considered appropriate for the yogi’s meditation seat (asana) because the vibration of the deerskin is neutral and therefore conducive to peace and tranquility. However, the deer must have died a natural death. To use the skin of a deer killed for its skin is to violate the precept of ahimsa. One of my vivid memories of the Hardwar bazaar is seeing deer skins for sale that had bullet holes in them. When I once expressed disapproval of this to a shop owner, he was quite sympathetic and said: “I understand how you feel about the deer being shot by a gun. Quite a few yogis object to that. If you give me some time I will find you one that was killed with a bow and arrow. I will provide you with certification to that effect.” When I explained that I was objecting to the killing of the deer, no matter what form it took, I could see that he thought I was being quite eccentric. Nevertheless, leading yogis have told me themselves that the deer must have died naturally. This makes such a skin hard to come by, since decay will begin right away. But it is possible, for I have seen them.

To keep the deer skin from becoming worn (I knew one yogi that wore out a skin every four years because he traveled almost constantly), Krishna instructs that a cloth should be placed over that (my yogi friend did not do this). He does not specify what kind, but at the time of the Gita cotton or silk would have been the common types. (Because the silkworms are killed to get the silk thread, many yogis would not use silk, though it, too, has insulating properties.) Paramhansa Yogananda recommended wool cloth as it also insulates against subtle earth currents as does kusha grass and silk. Sheepskins should not be used, as the sheep is killed to get it, whereas normal wool cloth is made from the wool sheared from the sheep without harming them.

There are two points mentioned here that you may think are inaccurate: cemeteries are not proper places for meditation, and no animal skins but deer skins are proper for yogis to use. Most of us have heard that crematory grounds are good places for meditation, and tiger skins are good to sit on for meditation. This is tantric tradition, not yogic tradition, and Krishna is purely a yogi.

The yogi’s chair

In the West many yogis prefer to use a cushion on the floor or sit on a chair. Both are perfectly fine, for the posture that will soon be described by Krishna is possible in a chair. It is important that our meditation posture be comfortable and easy to maintain. If you can sit in a cross-legged position without your legs going to sleep and making you have to shift them frequently, that is very good. But meditation done in a chair is equally as good. Better to sit at ease in a chair and be inwardly aware than to sit cross-legged and be mostly aware of your poor, protesting legs.

The chair should be comfortable-not hard, yet not so “cushy” that you bob around when you sit upright. It should also be of a design that will prevent your falling over in deep relaxation. A padded armchair can be very good for this, or one which has a curved back that will keep you upright.

The chair should not be so high that your feet cannot be resting flat on the floor, or so low that your knees are markedly above the base of your spine and can cause backache.

The insulation provided by kusha grass and deer skin are unnecessary when meditating in a chair so you need not bother with them. It is good if the chair can be used only for meditation. (The same applies to a pad or mat used for cross-legged meditation on the floor.). This will pick up the beneficial vibrations of your meditation, and when you sit on it your mind will become calm and your meditation easier. If you cannot devote a chair to your meditation, find some kind of cloth or throw that you can put over a chair when you meditate and remove when you are done.

The inner seat

Shankara wrote a short essay in which he analyzed the symbolism of the eight “limbs” of Patanjali’s Yoga. He says that the yogi’s asana-seat-must be a steady mind which remains focused on its object of meditation. With this in mind, Krishna adds:

“As he sits there, he is to hold the senses and imagination in check, and keep the mind concentrated upon its object. If he practices meditation in this manner, his heart will become pure.” (Bhagavad Gita 6:12)

The senses, their functions, and the inner memory of their past sensations in various forms are to be held at bay by the meditator. As he does so, absorbed in his meditation on the Divine, his heart becomes increasingly pure.

The yogi’s posture

“His posture will be motionless, with the body, head and neck held erect, and the vision indrawn, as if gazing at the tip of the nose. He must not look about him.” (Bhagavad Gita 6:13)

His posture will be motionless. The Sanskrit text says the body should be held motionless (achalam) and steady (sthirah). As the yogi meditates his body should not move back and forth or side to side, but be completely still. This is ideal, but please do not think that Krishna is advocating some kind of self-torturing coercion of the body. He does not say we should sit as stiff as a petrified mummy. That is just self-torment. For the great yogic adepts also say that the posture must comfortable-easeful and relaxed. The Yoga Sutras say: “Posture should be steady and comfortable.” The Yoga Vashishtha simply says: “He should sit on a soft seat in a comfortable posture conducive to equilibrium.” Shankara comments: “Let him practice a posture in which, when established, his mind and limbs will become steady, and which does not cause pain.” Relaxation is the key, for the Yoga Sutras further say: “Posture is mastered by relaxation.”

With the body, head and neck held erect. The Kaivalya Upanishad says: “Keeping the head, the neck and the body in a straight line.” The purpose of this is to ensure that the upright body will be balanced and not move. The head should be held so the chin is parallel to the ground. As Shankara directs: “The chin should be held a fist’s breadth away from the chest.” This is done by making a fist, holding it against your neck, and letting your chin rest on your curled-together thumb and forefinger. You need not be painfully exact, about this. The idea is to hold your head at such an angle that it will not fall forward when you relax. Otherwise you will be afflicted with what meditators call “the bobs”-the upper body continually falling forward during meditation.

And the vision indrawn. As if gazing at the tip of the nose. The literal translation from the Sanskrit is: “Looking toward [samprekshya] the tip of his nose [nasikagram svam].” This means that your eyes should be closed, relaxed, and turned somewhat downward. “As though gazing at the tip of the nose” indicates that your eyes should not be crossed-but just turned downward at the angle that they would be if looking at the tip of the nose in a relaxed manner. To help you sense the right angle to turn your eyes down, touch the middle of your horizontal forefinger to the tip of your nose and look down at the finger without turning your eyes in. That way you can determine the angle without making yourself cross-eyed. The angle is important because turning the eyes all the way down may strain them and also tend to put us to sleep. So the eyes should be turned down, closed, relaxed, and then forgotten about. If they spontaneously move up or down in meditation, that is perfectly all right, but we should begin with them turned down.

He must not look about him. This is not so hard to manage-keep your eyes closed!

Common sense must always be used. For example, those with back difficulties should make compensation for them, and not mind if they cannot sit fully upright.

Krishna makes no mention of the hands, because it does not really matter. Just rest them in your lap or on your thighs and forget about them.

The yogi’s inner work

“So, with his heart serene and fearless, firm in the vow of renunciation, holding the mind from its restless roaming, now let him struggle to reach my oneness, ever-absorbed, his eyes on me always, his prize, his purpose.” (Bhagavad Gita 6:14)

Just as there are several points for the yogi’s outer practice, so it is with his inner practice, and we should consider them. Here is Sargeant’s literal translation of this verse: “With quieted mind, banishing fear, established in the brahmacharin vow, controlling the mind, with thoughts fixed on Me, he should sit, concentrated, devoted to me.”

With quieted mind. Many people become impatient with themselves or their practice if right away their mind does not calm down, but that is why yoga is a practice and not a matter of instantaneous effect. After some sessions of practice the effect should begin and the mind start to quieten after the first minutes of meditation. After all, each day we have spent hours and hours stirring up our mind and forcing it into reactions of all kinds. Moreover, it is a living entity, not a machine that can be switched off with the flick of a finger. Right meditation practice will certainly still the mind after a bit. But we must be helping it by arranging our life in such a way that distractions will be minimal. Diet is also crucial here. A rajasic or tamasic diet (to be discussed in the seventeenth chapter) hinders the efficiency of yoga meditation. And most of all, our thoughts and emotions condition the mind substance, making it either easier or more difficult to still.

Banishing fear. This is not often discussed in writings or talks on yoga, but it should be given attention. It is no surprise that when we sit for meditation we will find that our mind is restless and trivial. We also realize that long-buried impulses from the past-including past lives-may surface, such as anger, lust, greed, and so forth. But in so many lives, as well as this one, we have been in situations that produced a great range of fear in us, from simple apprehension to absolute terror. When such things surface we are not aware of the cause, only the fear itself, and this actually compounds the fear. The fear of death also can arise, because in meditation, as in sleep, there is an approximation of the withdrawal of the life force that occurs in death. I have known a few people who were bothered by the fear of death in the beginning of their meditation practice. How did they overcome it? By the practice of meditation itself-nothing special is needed. So when unreasoning fear rushes over us, we need only keep on as usual and it will be banished. At times we may feel anxiety at the onset of peculiar sensations in the body as well as the mind, and fear that we may be harmed by whatever is producing them. There is also fear in the form of doubt to be contended with: fear that our meditation may be of no effect, or fear that we will not attain as much as we should, and even fear that we will not live long enough to make any significant progress. All these are just vagaries of the ego-mind and should be ignored.

Established in the brahmacharin vow. Certainly, part of “the brahmacharin vow” is celibacy, for even non-monastics must live a disciplined and non-sensual life. The idea that God “created” or ordained marriage so men and women could have all the sex they wanted in an approved setting is outrageous. All who aspire to true humanity-much less divinity-must be chaste in body and mind. Those who do not wish to so live should do as they please, but leave yoga alone. This is why Patanjali says that the first step in yoga is moral observance (yama-niyama) which includes brahmacharya-celibacy.

The Dharma Shastras which describe the correct life of non-monastics are quite explicit about the need for husband and wife to lead lives of continence. See how the yogi parents of Paramhansa Yogananda lived it as presented in Autobiography of a Yogi. In the very first chapter we find: “Mother made a remarkable admission to my eldest sister Roma: ‘Your father and myself live together as man and wife only once a year, for the purpose of having children.'” The fact that Yogananda, a devoted son and a pure-hearted yogi, would reveal this to the world in the pages of a book show how necessary he felt it was for both Eastern and Western readers to be shown the standard of chastity that yogis should observe in their life, not using their non-monastic status as excuse for lesser behavior. He underlined this later in the forty-fourth chapter, giving these words written to Mahatma Gandhi by his wife Kasturbai: “I thank you for the most perfect marriage in the world, based on brahmacharya and not on sex.” Please note that these are examples of married yogis, not monks imposing their ideas on others. Also remember that the guru of Yogananda’s parents was himself a married yogi, so there is no monastic influence in their case.

Having said all this, I must point out that the brahmacharin vow (vrata) involves the discipline, purification, control, and non-indulgence of all the senses. Furthermore, it is a vow-a voluntary resolution. Those who do not wish to make such a resolution need not do so. But they should not lie to themselves and others by claiming to be yogis.

Controlling the mind
. When the mind is quieted, rendered fearless, and strengthened by the power (virya) accumulated through continence and discipline of the senses (for the word “virtue” is derived from the Latin word for power), then-and only then-it can be controlled.

With thoughts fixed on Me. The mind must not be made empty and static, for that would be stagnation and conscious coma. Rather, thoughts that impel the consciousness toward God must be generated in a constant, though calm, stream. Patanjali says that the repetition of Om and Its meditation “is the way.” But the Mundaka Upanishad is even more explicit, saying: “With mind absorbed and heart melted in love, draw the arrow and hit the mark-the imperishable Brahman. Om is the bow, the arrow is the individual being, and Brahman is the target. With a tranquil heart, take aim. Lose thyself in him, even as the arrow is lost in the target….Meditate on him as Om. Easily mayest thou cross the sea of darkness.”

He should sit
. Both body and mind need to be steady. Shankara says that asana means steadiness of mind as well as of body. It has been said that Buddha became enlightened because he knew how to “sit” through firm resolution, holding body and mind under his control.

Concentrated. The mind must be gathered up and made unitary. This is the meaning of the word “yukta” in this verse. The mind must be joined or “yoked” first to itself and then to God in the state of yoga, of union.

Devoted to me. Such union is not abstract, nor is it only awareness of our finite spirit-self. Rather, it is a filling of the consciousness with God as the eternal Object-Subject. Self-awareness is necessary, but only as the precursor of God-awareness. In that awareness we find our true self, which is why Jesus spoke of “losing” our life to “find” it in the greater, primal Life that is God.

The yogi’s Goal

“If a yogi has perfect control over his mind, and struggles continually in this way to unite himself with Brahman, he will come at last to the crowning peace of Nirvana, the peace that is in me.” Sargeant: “Thus, continually disciplining himself, the yogi whose mind is subdued goes to nirvana, to supreme peace, to union with Me.”

Ever keeping this in mind and following what Krishna has just told us, the yogi will come to the Goal unerringly and-comparatively speaking-easily.

The Primal Instinct of Business Management Part I

Mastering Skills in Personal Relationships

Have you ever been impressed by a manager who was thrust into a difficult situation or conversation and been amazed by how well they handled it? This article aims to teach you some of the skills of a “conversation master”.

Let’s discuss Primal Instincts and what happens when we get into a critical conversation with others.

A critical conversation happens when 3 things are present:

1) Stakes are High,

2) Emotions run strong, and

3) There are differences in opinions.

A critical conversation can occur spontaneously and catch us off guard. When we are in a stressful & important conversation, our body pumps adrenaline.
We didn’t ask our body to do this, but it’s hard wired into our system. Blood is sent coursing to arms and legs to fight or flee, and our higher reasoning centers are starved of blood and oxygen. It’s our primal response.

We are then forced to think on our feet with the brain equivalent of a monkey and we’re stuck with the consequences of our words and actions. In our doped up, dumbed down state, when we need our intelligence most, we’re at our worst. Add to that our learned responses from watching our parents or co-workers deal with conflict, a few Jerry Springer shows and we can be in trouble.

OK, so we understand what is happening to us during this critical conversation. This is important, because we want to listen to our own bodies so we can stay in dialogue, but just as importantly, we know what’s happening with the other person in the conversation.

We have 3 choices when faced with an important conversation.

1. Ignore the problem, go silent and hope it goes away.

2. Deal with the problem poorly

3. Deal with the problem well.

HOW DO WE HANDLE THIS PRIMAL RESPONSE?

We apply the most basic of primal reactions: WE CREATE SAFETY!

Safety short circuits the primal response. Our number 1 goal is to make people feel safe in the conversation. This means they feel safe in expressing their true feelings or thoughts, even if they are angry. We’ve all had phone calls where we the other person shouts at first. Many times, they are reasonable after their initial outburst. Up until recently, most people believed that this is because they get a chance to blow off steam, but, a conversation master understands that safety has been created by not attacking the caller, & has made them feel they have been heard, allowing their adrenaline to come down.
Other times, you will have to work hard to draw the thoughts out of the other person. Drawing out their feelings to create safety allows people to contribute to the conversation, and keeps their adrenal glands in check.
If we don’t provide safety, then an individual WILL provide their own safety by clamming up and going to silence, or they’ll resort to verbal violence as another defense for personal safety. Learning to look for safety and create safety will greatly improve your personal and professional life.

We create safety by following a few simple principles:

1. Check YOUR motives at the door.

You should already know what you want out of the relationship or conversation. So start with heart. Stick with what’s important. In a heated conversation, you might subconsciously want to be sarcastic, humiliate them or put them in their place, especially if they you’ve been verbally attacked. If you start to feel this way, take a breath and remember what’s most important by asking these 4 questions:

1. What do I want for myself

2. What do I want for others,

3. What do I want for the relationship, and most importantly,

4. How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Regularly asking these 4 questions outside of important conversations teaches you about your goals, what’s important to you, how to stay focused and clear.

The 6 Human Needs – Knowing These Can Turn Your Prospect Into Rabid Customer!

No matter who you are or what you do, there’s a common force that’s driving that shapes your emotions and behavior. It determines how you live, the quality of life and ultimately your destiny.

This universal force is the human need. Irrespective of where you are in the world, what culture you are from, what color, status, background, we are universally driven by our human needs. We can break it down to 6 areas of human needs. They are unconscious needs that automatically drive us.

Of these 6 needs, you can view them into two broad categories. One group is the primal need and the other spiritual need.

There are 4 human needs in the Primal needs group. These are the needs you would seek to fulfill as a base and drives every one of us.

First need is the need of Certainty. Everyone wants stability about their basic necessities like food, shelter and other material resources. When people cannot control their physical circumstances, they seek certainty through a state of mind such as religious faith or positive affirmations.

Second need is the need for Variety. People have a need to change their state to exercise their body and emotions. They seek variety through different ways like change of environment, physical activity, mood change, change of people they interact with, entertainment and others. The need for variety sometimes runs into conflict with the need for certainty.

The 3rd need is the need for Significance. Everyone needs to feel special and important in some way. People seek significance through recognition from others or from themselves. Some people meet this need in a paradoxical way. Some people when they feel insignificant or helpless will go out to get others to recognize how significant their problems are and how helpless they are. This ironically raises their significance, just by getting people to acknowledge the enormity of their problem and their helplessness.

The 4th need is the need for Love and Connection. We all need to feel connected with someone or something be it a person, an ideal, a sense of identity. Connection may take the form of love or just engagement. One can still be connected by means of an aggressive interaction.

That was the 4 Primal needs. The next 2 are classified more in Spiritual needs.

The 5th need is the need for growth. Everything in the universe is either growing or dying. Many are not satisfied spiritually unless our capacities are expanding.

The 6th need is the need for Contribution. Just as we survive through the contribution of others (our parents for example), we seek to be spiritually fulfilled through contribution.

The fulfillment of the spiritual needs gives rise to more sustainable joy versus momentary pleasure associated with just fulfilling the primal needs.

There are many ways that people find to meet these needs whether they are positive, negative or neutral ways. We unconsciously act to fulfill our needs and some actions may fulfill a subset of these needs or all of them. When we have a behavior that fulfills at least 3 of these needs, these actions are considered strongly addictive or sometimes known as habits as they fulfill more than half of your needs. Again, these actions can sometimes be positive, negative or neutral to ourselves.

So how do we use this knowledge in marketing?

In evaluating what you are providing, look at if you are fulfilling any of these human needs and especially if you are able to meet at least 2 to 3 of the 6 at a high level. That’s when you have a compelling story or offer that fulfills a person’s strongest desire.

Look at how they market a high end car like a BMW. You are sold on just how great the engineering of the car and how its handling gives you unsurpassed confidence (CERTAINTY) in any condition on the road. Its safety features protect you (CERTAINTY) like none other. Its various controls, gadgets and funky designs allows you to change your experience (VARIETY) whilst you are driving. The name of a BMW says something about you being an owner and driver who is discerning (SIGNIFICANCE) and accords you with some stature. You will be part of a BMW Club (CONNECTION) where you get to meet other owners and go on driving trips or specially, exclusive invited events (SIGNIFICANCE).

Another message that is put forward “By buying a BMW, you are actually doing yourself and your family a great favor by providing them the best technology and safety for their transport” (Contribution and Certainty). If you want to upgrade your skills as a driver, you can be provided a special free pass to BMW Driving School (Growth). They have showroom with high class touches like a private cafe and lounge (Significance) where staff greet you by name and cater to you one on one.

I am just taking this an example of how I see the marketing of a marquee car hits on the different human needs and I took some liberties in some of the offers to illustrate the point. I live in Singapore where these cars are selling like hotcakes and yet we are one of the most expensive markets for cars in the world due to the taxes. So knowing the keys to market to the human needs can set you apart in providing value to a customer even in the most competitive market niche and create a rabid, loyal following, just like drivers of BMW.

Note: I do not represent the view of the manufacturer or have anything to do with BMW.

Copyright 2006 Alvin Toh