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PSYCHIC SYMBOL 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 sciousness. 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 formsgross, medium, subtle. You have to find a symbol for yourself. Some use an inve rted triangle, a mandala, a flame; some have tiny little shining star, an Om sign, or a 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 mless) meditation. Most people who believe the reality to be formless have a serious ob jection 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 xperience 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 symbol. The importance of a psychic symbol is, and has been know in all mystical and rel igious 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 bol vanishes you are lost, which means that you have to come back again to mundane c onsciousness . 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 didnt know in which direction to fly. Finally the crow decided to f ly east. He didnt 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 couldnt 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 ces. Therefore, when it again felt strong enough to continue the search for land, it carefully 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 and 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 cended.
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 isions (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 stabilize the flame, make it constant. Some people, those who are predominantly intellectu al, visualize the symbol in bhrumadhya, the eye brow centre, while others who are mo re emotional prefer to experience it in the heart area. As you try to maintain awareness of your symbol, visions will float through your mind. As awareness of the symbol intensifies, the number of visions and fantasies that come 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 titioner 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 ness becomes progressively purified, the symbol will also become more clear. When you visualize a rose as clearly as you see it outside in the garden and if the qualitative pe rception 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 that between the thought of the rose and yourself there exist a barrier, and this bar rier 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 re meditating! Through utilization of the psychic symbol it is possible for advanced sadhaks to maintain 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 ones psyche, that it can be clearly seen and maintained at any
time. 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 of 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.