09 Dec 9: Contemplative Meditation
The second type of meditation is contemplative meditation. Let me begin with a little story.
Once, there was a sadhu, a meditator. He used to meditate in the woods. An innocent cowherd from the village, who took his cattle there to graze, used to observe the sadhu. One day, he gathered the courage to go up to the sadhu and asked, “What do you do, sitting here all day?”
“I meditate,” the sadhu replied.
“Why do you meditate?”
“To realize God and to realize myself.”
“Can I also do that? What should I do?” the cowherd asked.
“Yes, you can. Go find a cave to sit in and think of nothing. Meditate on nothingness,” said the sadhu.
The cowherd promised he would try and left. He came back the next day. “I tried but it didn’t work,” he said. “My mind kept going in one direction or another.”
“Ah,” said the sadhu. “Meditate on a form, then. Pick an idol of God – Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna or any other – and think of that form alone.”
“I’ll try,” said the cowherd and left. He was back in a couple of days. “I tried, but it didn’t work. I got worried about my cattle, my farm, my fields, my family. I just can’t seem to keep my mind on one thought.”
“Hmm,” said the sadhu thoughtfully. “Tell me something. Who or what do you love the most?”
“I have a bull,” responded the cowherd excitedly. “I love my bull. His name is Moti. He’s got beautiful horns and a stout body and lustrous skin. He’s the king here!”
“There you are. Go meditate on your bull,” said the sadhu gently. “Come back tomorrow and tell me how it went.”
The cowherd left. A whole week went by, and he did not return. The sadhu grew worried. “What could have happened to the poor, innocent cowherd?” he wondered. He decided to look for him and went to his cave. Outside, he saw the cowherd’s slippers and called out. “Excuse me! Are you there?”
There was no response. The sadhu called out a few more times and finally heard a voice. “Yes, I’m here!”
“Oh, thank God!” said the sadhu, relieved. “I was worried about you. All your cattle are sitting out here. Are you meditating?”
“Yes, I am,” came the reply.
“Why don’t you come out here and talk to me? How is it going?”
“I can’t come out,” came his response. “My horns keep getting stuck at the entrance.”
The sadhu smiled. “That’s it,” he said softly. “You’ve realized it.”
The cowherd meditated on the bull so intensely that he, in his mind, had assumed the form of the bull. That’s what happens in contemplative meditation. You contemplate on one thought for a long period of time. This arises from learning to build and hold one’s concentration.
There are two kinds of contemplative meditation – positive or affirmative contemplation and negative or illuminative contemplation.
Self-inquiry in contemplation is ‘Who Am I?’ Am I the body? Am I the soul? Am I a man, a woman, a monk, a householder, a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a student, a teacher, a professor, a CEO, a director, a shareholder, a shopkeeper, a customer? Who am I?
All these things are labels that keep changing based on the roles you play. But what if you got to the source of who you really are? If you were to do illuminative contemplation first – which is, what or who you are not – given below is a method of self-inquiry from my book, ‘A Million Thoughts’. It is quoted from an Upanishad and affirms your existence beyond the body and what the world has told you about who you are. Here it is:
‘I am not the body. I am not the mind.
I am not the senses. I am not the consciousness.
They are my servitors. I am eternal and beyond these.
I am not a man or a woman. I am not young or old.
I am not beautiful or ugly. I am not a friend or an enemy.
I am not a father or a son (or a mother or a daughter).
I am not a husband or a wife.
These are mere classifications. I am eternal and beyond.
I am not pure or impure. I am not good or bad.
I am not hot or cold. I am not moral or immoral.
I am not realized or unrealized.
These are mere dualities. I am eternal and beyond.
I am not bound or free. I am not hated or loved.
I am not happy or unhappy. I am not foolish or intelligent.
I am neither successful nor a loser.
These are mere perspectives. I am eternal and beyond.
I am not weak or strong. I am not restless or lazy.
I am not tired or fresh. I am not healthy or unhealthy.
I am not my past.
These are temporary states. I am eternal and beyond.
I cannot die. I cannot be sick. I cannot be hurt. I cannot be grieved.
I know no sorrow. I know no pain. I know no grief. I know no hurt.
I know no sickness. I lack nothing.
I am beyond the good and bad, beyond praise and criticism, beyond everything that can be thought or written, everything that can be heard or said, for I am the indestructible, indivisible, infinite, eternal, supreme soul – the highest realization, the purest consciousness.
I am beyond birth and death. I have existed before the universe. I am an independent unit, but part of a complete phenomenon. I am complete.’
You can contemplate on the above slowly and gently. Another example is, when people say bad things to you and you feel bad, sit down to meditate and ask yourself, “Who in me is actually feeling bad? Is it my body? Is it my mind?”
Whatever you identify with, you will connect with. The times you see yourself as the body, you will feel very happy when somebody says you are beautiful. When you see yourself as the mind, and somebody says you are very intelligent, you will feel very good.
However, you are beyond all this; all these labels. This is the realization you gain from deep thinking in the Vedic sense. When you contemplate upon even a single line from the Vedas, that is the state you will eventually arrive at. “The power of contemplative meditation cannot be overstated. In any given circumstance, you will remind yourself that the true you is beyond the damage others’ words or actions can cause. You start to realize that you are greater than the total of your labels, titles and emotions. You truly are Sacchidananda.”
– A Million Thoughts
This article is part 9 of Learn to Meditate series, and is transcribed from the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVqrk-Sh28w&feature=emb_title
Read Part 8: Concentrative Meditation – Black Lotus , Part 10: Witness Meditation – Black Lotus