Going from sthula to sukshma

silhouette of man meditating on rock cliff during golden hour

Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash

There are such varied types of religious practices, but not all may suit you. Based on the level of sattva, rajas, and tamas, your affinity towards a practice may vary. I like to think of each of us as

α * sattva + β * rajas + γ * tamas

Based on the values of α, β and γ, you may like going to temples, but may not like sitting for meditation. You may like reading the Upanishads, but you may not like chanting. Whatever be the practice, the goal is to increase the value of α and lower β and γ.

Unfortunately you cannot increase the value of α by swiping right on your screen. It is a journey with many intermediary states, starting with focus on the gross and going subtle. At all times, our indriyas are showing attractive sights and triggering thoughts on what’s next. The goal of practices in Sanatata Dharma is to take you from the sthula to the sukshma. Let’s take a look at two concrete examples from the field of meditation and japa.

In Raja Yoga, the goal is to awaken the coiled up energy dormant in your body and make it rise from the base of the spine to the crown of the head along the sushumna nadi, which can be imagined as running parallel to the spinal cord.

Yogic anatomy defines seven chakras — whirlpools of energy, whirling constantly and exhibitng myriard colors — at different parts of the sushumna nadi. The seven chakras are the muladhara, at the end of the spine, swadishtana, just above the reproductive organs, manipura at the navel, anahata at the center of the chest, visudha at the throat and sahasra at the crown of the head. There are different colors, symbols and sounds assigned to each of these chakras.

What’s interesting is the symbol assigned to each of these chakras and what it represents. The muladhara is represented by a square and means gross matter. The swadhistana, represented as a crescent, means liquid state. The next three are triangle (fire), a star, like the one on Israeli flag (vayu) and oval (akasha). The last two are of a different league. Thus as the Kudalini rises, it goes from gross to subtle.

Some people cannot meditate and find japa more conducive to their nature. While Kundalini goes from gross to the subtle, in a practice like japa too there are variations. Ideally you want to do a silent japa, because only one indriya is involved. Some people who start doing silent japa are usually seen snoring or lost in deep thoughts after a while. This usually means that the person has not developed enough concentration to do silent japa. Such people are asked to do the japa a bit louder so that multiple indriyas are now involved. For people who cannot focus on one single mantra like “Om Namah Sivaya“, they are asked to do chant something more involved like the sahasranama. For whom even that is hard, they are asked to do bhajans with musical instruments so that the jnana and karmendriyas are all involved and the chances of mind moving away to other thoughts are less.

Attention is beginning of the spiritual journey. As the practice becomes perfect, you go into higher planes where realization is possible. This one-pointedness comes through regular and incessant practice: as Patanjali has said, ‘Nairantarya abhyase. There are no shortcuts. As the influence of indriyas are diminished, deep mental states are achieved. Finally, from a state which language cannot describe, realization is achieved.

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