A Traveller’s Guide
Even though we know that it is effort, and not results, that matters, we may sometimes feel disappointed at what we see as a lack of progress in our meditation. In this case, anyone who feels in need of a little reassurance about their inner journey could try reading the following light-hearted travel guide. Of course, it’s all in jest!
Friend, congratulations on your inner progress! What? You don’t think you’ve made much? Think again! You are sure to recognize the following descriptions of some waypoints along the journey. The ways in which we can overcome the ego by ascending through the inner realms are not as obvious as you might assume. And after all, we cannot miss the chance to take advantage of this opportunity. So travel with me, as I guide you along – and remember, each of the five stages is associated with certain experiences and a unique spiritual sound. Okay, let’s go!
The first stage is called Andhakar in Indian languages. This roughly translates into English as ‘darkness’. But it is no ordinary darkness. It is not just that one observes no light when the eyes are closed. It is that everything in life looks dark and dim, including the hope of ever reaching those wonderful mansions promised by the perfect Masters. This stage is characterized by tremendous restlessness, both of mind and body. The sound of this region is like that heard in a storm – there is a storm in every part of the mind, and this is extended to the body too, including the rustling sounds of the clothing and cushions that one constantly adjusts in order to get comfortable.
The second stage is called Ghor Andhakar, which roughly translates as ‘pitch darkness’. It is characterized by a concentration on the clock sitting next to you, and so the associated sound is the ticking of this clock. A poet has described how, while time flies by, it is the moment that stands still. Like this poet, one wonders during this second stage along the inner journey why the clock has not been chiming its regular half-hour signals and is so still. Frequent efforts are made to check if its battery has gone dead.
Then, the third stage. Just as the moment seems to have achieved absolute stillness, suddenly we enter (needless to add, with his grace) a different level of consciousness – a zone of timelessness. It is at this point that one is transported inwards and loses all awareness of the external world. This third stage promises to be a truly wonderful experience, where painful consciousness of the apparently unmoving clock is replaced by unimaginable peace and quiet. The body becomes absolutely still, and the mind is also at rest. All mystics tell us that this is what happens when the disciple reaches the eye centre, but it is also true that one does not have to go all the way up to the eye centre to experience this sense of peace and tranquility; the throat centre will do. This third stage is called Nidra in Sanskrit, which roughly translates as ‘sleep’. The associated sound is akin to that of heavy breathing.
The fourth stage is a real out-of-body experience. One is no longer conscious of the physical body, but travels out of it and goes through experiences of a non-physical nature which are vividly remembered even after one’s eventual return to the physical body. During these experiences, one sometimes meets dead relatives and friends. In fact, one even encounters those still living in this world, but in a different body – more subtle, less subject to the constraints of time and space. Once in a while, even the Master can be seen in this subtle form during this state. This stage is called Swapna in Sanskrit, which roughly translates as ‘dream’ in English. There is an associated sound called ‘talking in one’s sleep’.
The sound of the fifth stage is very powerful. Everyone hears the reverberations of this inner sound when the disciple is immersed in this state. Some even complain of having been disturbed by it, because the vibrations that emanate from the disciple are so powerful. This state has the difficult-to-pronounce name Kharratte in Indian languages; in English it roughly translates as ‘snoring’.
It must be said that one does not have to go through the first two stages in order to enter the third – one could slide directly into the third, and experience that bliss of a still body and mind, almost invariably followed by the out-of-body experiences associated with the fourth stage. As the saints have said while distinguishing the higher forms of yoga from the lower ones, if we are halfway up a mountain it is pointless to go all the way down in order to reach the top; we can straightaway proceed upwards, skipping the lower stages.
Many of us, indeed, do not bother with the first two, lower stages but just immerse ourselves immediately in the bliss of the third, fourth and fifth. We have been told we should try to devote one-tenth of the day, that is, two and a half hours, to our spiritual practice. But this experience is so sublime that you may want to devote one third of the day, that is, a full eight hours, to these spiritual exercises! I, for one always make sure not to let a single day pass without experiencing the bliss of these last three higher regions.
What good disciples we are!