Research Writer Sir Godfrey Gregg OHPM, ROMC, D. Div
Through inland far we be, Our souls have sight of that immortal sea which brought us hither. WORDSWORTH
‘We do not have to hear the sun rise,’ wrote Paul Brunton, author of many books on meditation and the mysteries of the East. ‘So, too, the greatest moment in a man’s life comes quietly. In that stillness alone is born the knowledge of the Overself’. This gives the reason for the title of this book. The path of meditation can well be compared with the long stillness before daybreak. There is frequently nothing to mark it but a quietly increasing light. The gradual dawning of a new world in our consciousness comes silently. It is a secret, inner thing which we can never fully share with others a silent path.
It must of necessity be so, even if we pursue it in the company of others, for it entails certain adjustments that we have to make in ourselves, it leads to recognition that we only come by through our own endeavour, and it brings, eventually, knowledge realization that we only reach by personal experience. As the spider spins out of its own substance the thread it will proceed along, so we, through meditation, build our pathway out of our own consciousness. It must, therefore, be an inner, silent, secret path which we carve out for ourselves.
Yet there are many different kinds of silence, and meditation can be practiced in the midst of sound. In fact it very often has to be today! We are compelled to slip it into whatever semi-quiet times we can find while life goes pulsing on around us. We are learning to accept that cloisters and hermits’ caves are not to be found in modern society. The difficulty of finding any quiet today is one of the conditions of the advance of civilisation; our growing powers place more demands on us. But this is evolution, and if we have to thread our way through countless impacts before we can make our approach to inner places, this is the battleground of our present stage. Further, it underlies the fact that meditation is not simply an escape into day-dreams when the fancy moves us, but a specific use of our faculties to make an inner penetration. A quiet use, yes, but nevertheless a defined, deliberate and controlled use which demands both intention and effort.
Meditation is often mistakenly thought to be a negative procedure, but it requires many of the positive qualities that Christian was called upon to demonstrate in his more dramatic Pilgrim’s Progress. These qualities are called for on a higher turn of the spiral, on inner, silent, unseen reaches, where they bring no glory or outward prestige. There are none to see our victories whom we know of and our long efforts, struggles and achievements seem known only to ourselves.
Yet our endeavour does not go unrewarded. The ramparts of the inner world are surrendered to us when we have proved ourselves. This is a matter of the law of vibration, of like being able to synchronise with like. We shall go into this later, but right from the start, it is wise to realise that meditation is not a passive form of devotion; it is a positive use of our highest capacities to bridge between the outer and the inner worlds.
What makes us start with this undertaking? Perhaps the origin of the determination to meditate lies way back in the sense we all have hidden in varying degrees of an inner world or ‘somewhere else’, apart from everyday existence. It was with a great many of us persistently as children. We knew another world. We clothed it as our fancy led, were heroes there, achieved the impossible, possessed all attributes, rode as kings.
It was escape, of course, on the wings of imagination. But it was also more than that. It was a refraction of the sense of the reality of the other dimensions. The magic world through the hole in the fence replaced dominions we were missing. Here we broke through all boundaries. It was ‘holy’. And no matter how we clothed this secret world, it was where we withdrew to when we needed more than the world around us gave or when that world, we considered, treated us badly. We told no one of it in case they spoilt it. We sensed it was lodged on ephemeral grounds. But in fact, it was built on something sounder than we had any idea of then on a memory that still lingered and was not yet veiled entirely by louder and more tangible things.
Wordsworth still remembered it when he wrote ‘Heaven lies about us our infancy.’ And
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises in us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.
Slowly we put on more and more of the world. As Wordsworth went on to say in Intimations of Immortality: ‘Shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy.’ The sense of the inner world inevitably slips away to a large extent, yet do we ever quite forget the special joy we dwelt there with as children, and have never quite recaptured since?
This recollection of an inner or secret or super world appears continually in the writings of all ages, quite apart from religious teaching and the doctrines of the East, where it is no strange thing and more or less generally accepted. ‘All the poems of the poet who has entered into his poethood are poems of homecoming,’ Martin Heidegger wrote. But according to Plato:
All souls do not easily recall the things of the other world. Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them.
Plotinus put forward the same thought as Wordsworth is these words:
The soul . . . falling from on high, suffers captivity, is loaded with fetters, and employs the energies of sense.. . . Thus the soul, proceeding from the regions on high, becomes merged in the dark receptacle of body. Goethe wrote in Faust of the soul in him which . . . seeks to rise in mighty throes to those ancestral meadows whence it came.
Thomas Vaughan drew a more attractive picture of our sojourn on earth than most of the poets and philosophers: ‘I look on this life as the progress of an essence royal; the soul but quits her court to see the country.’ But however we may regard the contraposition of the inner and outer spheres of life, most will agree with Emerson:
The Genius which according to the old belief stands as the door by which we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales, mixes the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at noonday. Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes. Hence our efforts, like someone stirring in his sleep before he wakes, to penetrate the mists that hang between the two domains and to investigate all kinds of methods holding any promise of showing a way through.
The beautiful, the fanciful, the strange, the unknown, all awake some echo in our half-starved souls, and hungrily we respond, hoping we may find something to satisfy our unframed yearning, or even some clue to the source of this indefinable nostalgia. The storytellers and poets and there are many who have written in answer to this ‘pull’ to the unknown world are among the most famous and most widely read.
Eagerly men have feasted from the earliest times on the sagas, legends, fold tales and allegories that fed the imprisoned sense of infinity, and reiterated the promise of the Isles of the Hesperides and the lands of Lyonnesse. Almost everyone has at some time found a special story that has fanned the spark deep in his heart into a glow that lasted, secretly, for most of his life-time. From Malory to de la Mare, and east and west wherever words have been written, we have, to paraphrase Thomas Hardly’s lines in The Oxen, gone with them gladly in the gloom, ‘hoping it might be so’.
But all this has only served to keep the embers glowing. Few have discovered the fire of the spirit or turned with true intent to find the ‘secret place’. Now, in our practical age is arising a new concern to do this, to follow these leads that tug at the heart and track down their origin. Many of the young people are experimenting with drugs in their search for these deeper areas, and many among these, now finding this leads nowhere that is mentally satisfying, are turning to explore various fields of meditation.
Flights of fancy and mystical dreams have little appeal for the modern mind. Pretence will not be tolerated, reason must prevail, and the goal and the way to it must be defined in clear if possible scientific terms. In this framework the new concepts of meditation as a mental and logical method of inner penetration are taking on an important role.
A few years ago, meditation usually meant to most a ‘religious’ reflection. It suggested beside books and quiet gardens and the thoughtful writings of the mystics who had ‘walked with God’. But in the East, meditation had long been practised as a mode of achieving consciousness on various levels of awareness, and the coming to the West of this teaching has brought about a new realization of the potential of this from of approach to that which is inner, higher or spiritual.
The science of meditation is primarily built on the concept of graded levels of life or consciousness or vibration. Seven major planes of life are spoken of in the Ageless Wisdom, each having seven degrees of density or vibration, and the function of meditation is to lead the conscious mind from stage to stage upon the inner stairway, from one level to another, gaining continually higher or subtler regions of awareness. This briefly, is the essence of the true practice of meditation. It brings about a higher or greater consciousness and enables us to realize the more subjective realms.
True meditation is not simply an ecstatic experience, an emotional state of bliss or feeling of transcendency. Neither is it just an entry into a void. Some forms of meditation do, it is true, lead in these directions, but they will not assist us to take up our highest potential, and the processes that we should follow are those which are positive and utilize the higher powers of the mind.
This is why meditation is becoming almost a vogue today. It is being acknowledged as a means of progressing in consciousness, and many are feeling it can take them the next step forward. This stage is described by the Tibetan writer Djwhal Khul, and the turning point he depicts will be recognized by many:
As long as the polarization is purely physical or purely emotional, no need for meditation is ever felt. Even when the mental body is active, no urge arises until the man has run through many changes and many lives, has tasted the cup of pleasure and the pain through many incarnations, has sounded the depths of the life lived entirely from the lower self and found it unsatisfying. Then he begins to turn his thought to other things, to aspire to that which is unknown, to realize and sense within himself the pairs of opposites, and to contact within his consciousness possibilities and ideals undreamt of hitherto. He has come to a point where success, popularity and diverse gifts are his, and yet from their use he derives no content; always the urge within persists until the pain is so severe that the desire to reach out and up, to ascertain something and someone beyond, overcomes all obstacles. The man begins to turn within and to seek the source fro whence he came. Then he begins to meditate, to ponder, to intensify his vibration until in process of time he garners the fruits of meditation.