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Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Whether you practice meditation on a religious basis or purely on the basis of r
aja yoga,
the most important thing is that you have something on which to anchor your con
Every meditation practice utilizes something that the mind can grasp. It can be
the breath;
it can be a mantra, a koan or a personal symbol. There are three types of symbol
s or forms-
gross, medium, subtle. You have to find a symbol for yourself. Some use an inve
triangle, a mandala, a flame; some have tiny little shining star, an Om sign, or
shivalingam; others concentrate on the heart, a lotus or a yin-yang sign, some o
n the
cross, on Christ, Shiva, their own guru and so on.
There has always been a controversy about saguna (using a form) and nirguna (for
meditation. Most people who believe the reality to be formless have a serious ob
to accepting an object for meditation. They say that if the supreme consciousnes
s is
formless, how can a form help you to achieve that experience? But from all our e
we have come to a conclusion. Regardless of whether the absolute reality is form
less or
not, in order to maintain steady spiritual progress and to be able to have a gri
p over
all the transforming states of consciousness, meditation on a form (saguna) shou
ld be
practiced. Concrete awareness is a very important factor of dhyana yoga.
Many people sit for meditation without an object on which to fix their attention
. They
merely close their eyes and allow their mind to wander aimlessly. They either br
ood on
their problems or fall asleep. As one progresses along the path of mediation, th
e tendency
to sleep seems to intensify. Loss of awareness and sleep are the biggest obstac
les for the
meditator to overcome and one means of eradicating this tendency is too utilize
a psychic
The importance of a psychic symbol is, and has been know in all mystical and rel
systems throughout the world. This is why there are so many deities, images, sym
bols, etc;
they are all intended as a point on which the mind can be fixed to induce medit
ation. This
is why idol worship is so widespread in the world. Although few realize it, ido
ls act as
a focal point for concentration of the mind, for remembrance.
A psychic symbol guides the mind through the recesses of consciousness. When the
consciousness passes from the external to the internal terrain, there is absolut
e darkness,
there are no supports whatsoever. As long as you are able to visualize the objec
t in the
subconscious or unconscious plane, you are on the right path. The moment the sym
vanishes you are lost, which means that you have to come back again to mundane c
. Let us illustrate the importance of the psychic symbol with a story.
It was monsoon period and there was incessant rain and tumultuous winds. A crow
was asleep
at the top of a big tree beside a large river. During the night the wind was so
strong that
the tree was uprooted. It fell into the fast flowing river and was swept away.
The crow,
however, remained fast asleep and had no idea that the tree was being swept out
to sea.
The wind subsided and the sun shone brightly. The crow awoke and was startled to
find that
he was surrounded by water. In all directions all he could see was water. He wa
nted to
find land but didn t know in which direction to fly. Finally the crow decided to f
ly east.
He didn t find any land in this direction so he decided to fly west for an hour or
so. Not
finding any land to the west, he decided to fly south. He flew south, then nort
h, but still
he couldn t find any signs of land. He felt very tired and then he realized that
there was
no place where he could rest. All he could see was water. The crow immediately
thought of
the tree. But where was it? Instead of looking for land the crow now desperatel
y sought
the tree from which he had started his search. After some time and effort he fou
nd the
tree and rested.
The crow was an intelligent bird, it learned from previous mistakes and experien
Therefore, when it again felt strong enough to continue the search for land, it
remembered the location of the tree. It flew north and found no land so would re
turn to the
tree and rest. Then it would explore the other directions, always returning to t
he tree to
rest. Eventually it sighted land and was able to fly directly to it and forget a
bout the
tree. The tree had served a purpose and was no longer necessary.
The crow represents the practitioner of meditation. The ocean is the mind. The t
ree is
the psychic symbol and the land is meditation. At first the crow tried to find l
haphazardly without maintaining awareness of the position of the tree. It nearly
got lost
in the great expanse of the ocean. In the same way, if a person tries to explor
e the mind
without the help of a psychic symbol, then he will surely get hopelessly lost.
For the inward journey a guide is necessary and the guide is your psychic symbol
. You must
have one that is fixed and permanent. It is your inner guru and just like your o
uter guru,
it should not be changed. Your inner guru is the shinning light of your symbol a
t a time
when you are totally dead to the outer life, when time and space have been trans
At that time the light is needed and this is why sages have always emphasized th
e need for
a symbol.
When you are practicing meditation and utilizing a mantra, the mantra will bring
you to
a state where your awareness is internalized and possibly lost in thoughts and v
(visions are the thoughts in symbolic form). When this happens you must immediat
ely awaken
your symbol and try to visualize it. Supposing your symbol is the flame of fire
, you must
try to see it inside when your eyes are closed. It should be seen just as if yo
u were
looking at an external flame. At first it will be difficult, but you must try to
the flame, make it constant. Some people, those who are predominantly intellectu
visualize the symbol in bhrumadhya, the eye brow centre, while others who are mo
emotional prefer to experience it in the heart area.
As you try to maintain awareness of your symbol, visions will float through your
As awareness of the symbol intensifies, the number of visions and fantasies that
before your mind will increase. These symbolic manifestations of pranic energy i
n the
mind are known as vikalpas. They are the greatest barriers to spiritual awarenes
s and are
not easy to eradicate. Sometimes these visions can last for hours, with the prac
forgetting all about himself, his mantra and the psychic symbol.
When you close your eyes and visualize a lotus, a rose or some other symbol, wha
t you
actually see is your own consciousness. As this consciousness, this mental aware
becomes progressively purified, the symbol will also become more clear. When you
a rose as clearly as you see it outside in the garden and if the qualitative pe
does not differ, you will have reached a very high degree of concentration. If y
ou are
unable to see the rose clearly inside, your mind is not crystal clear. It means
between the thought of the rose and yourself there exist a barrier, and this bar
has to be removed.
When the awareness of your psychic symbol remains constant and unfluctuating, th
ere is a
moment when there is just the symbol. You see it very clearly and as distinctly
as possible.
At that point meditation begins. You are no longer practicing meditation, you a
Through utilization of the psychic symbol it is possible for advanced sadhaks to
a state of sleepless sleep. Even while sleeping they are aware of everything an
d can
witness all their dreams. To do this it is necessary for the symbol to have beco
me such
a natural part of one s psyche, that it can be clearly seen and maintained at any
The onset of sleep is like descending into a deep well with a rope. One slips an
d falls
into the well, losing awareness and becoming lost in deep sleep. The psychic sym
bol is the
means of descending into the well of sleep, but without falling into the depths
unconsciousness. Likewise, the psychic symbol provides a rope for descending int
o the
deeper layers of the mind and consciousness in the practice of meditation.
The structure of dhyana yoga is built on the twin pillars of mantra and psychic
symbol, and they have to become very solid pillars. They do not fluctuate or cha
nge, they remain steady.