Theosophy

Theosophical Meditation: A question from Dewald Bester for the Theosophical Society

nadayoga 3

Nada Yoga

With reactions-contemplations from David M. Grossman, Esther Pockrandt, Pablo Sender and Juliana Cesano

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Dewald 2

Dewald Bester, Cape Town – South Africa

I am late to this topic, but I will, at least to my satisfaction, solve this problem. That, or some more drastic action will have to be taken - one that so many before me have taken.

Here is a quote from the Inner Group Teachings, an answer to a question - we trust it is a faithful recollection,

H.P.B. said she had seen the chelas, mounting the seven steps of the spine, close the ears, nostrils, eyes, and lastly the mouth, holding the breath for a short time.(1995, 17).

What could she be referencing here? 'Chela's', closing the head orifices? One can read the passage in its context for oneself. My own speculations lead me to The Voice of the Silence.

How many members, I wonder, have not read the following two passages in The Voice of the Silence without comment or pause?

He who would hear the voice of Nada, 'the Soundless Sound,' and comprehend it, he has to learn the nature of Dharana (1971, 1).

and

Let not thy 'Heaven-born,' merged in the sea of Maya, break from the Universal Parent (SOUL), but let the fiery power retire into the inmost chamber, the chamber of the Heart and the abode of the World's Mother.

Then from thy heart that Power shall rise into the sixth, the middle region, the place between thine eyes, when it becomes the breath of the ONE-SOUL, the voice which filleth all, thy Master's voice” (1971, 9).

I must have read the second verse of the first chapter (on my way to the second and third chapters) of The Voice of the Silence a thousand times, always uncomprehendingly. Nada Yoga (Shabd), I have recently been informed, is a real thing. Something many religious and esoteric groups are well familiar with. But not me. How did this come to pass?  Of course, the answer is two-fold. Firstly, I did not follow the references properly. Secondly, I joined a Lodge and, I suspect, a Society which has missed the import of these two passages. Certainly, my quest for instruction in Nada Yoga from within the Theosophical Society has thus far been unsuccessful. It seems I cannot gain internal instruction in the practices mentioned in our own favourite text.

Let me, here, extract a sentence from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, from the section on Nada Yoga,

The yogi, sitting in muktasana, concentrated in shambhavi, should listen closely to the nada heard within the right ear.

Closing the ears, nose and mouth, a clear, distinct sound is heard in the purified sushumna (1998, 561).

It is clear, to me, that HPB's reference is to something much like as is described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is an unequivocal reference to Nada Yoga, and more. It is reference to an actual practice. Perhaps, many of the readers are better informed than me. I hope so. But, this connection was pointed out to me by a person outside of the Theosophical Society - a Sivananda yogi. Perhaps, like myself, some readers think Nada Yoga is some practice beyond our grasp. This is not the case. Everyone knows about Nada Yoga, and worse, everyone is doing Nada Yoga. Everyone, of course, that is, but the Theosophical Society. If you need proof of this, you might read The Sound Current Tradition by David Christopher Lane for an overview.

I will, for now, leave my second passage from The Voice of the Silence, referencing the head centre meditation, as this is topic in itself. But the story will be the same. The practice is in our most cherished book. Yet, there is no meditative tradition along these lines within the Theosophical Society. (I pray I err in this). Other groups are well-practised in these meditative practices. Not as words in a book to be glided over, but as life-long meditative techniques.

Now, I as so many others before me, enquire about instruction. In our own teachings. Thus far I do not find what I am looking for and have, therefore, assumed there is no formal meditative tradition along these lines in the Theosophical Society from whom I can obtain instruction. Perhaps, one might say, as I have in fact been told - if I  see something I like why do I not obtain instruction in it - that is go to those groups who teach it and obtain instruction? In brief, my response would be that if I must get initiated into a religious group outside of the Theosophical Society, I don't believe I need the Theosophical Society anymore.

At some point, this is a decision I may have to make. Life it too short to be denied something clearly stated. However, first another step can be taken, from within the Theosophical Society. That step is to awaken these dormant seeds lying scattered in our texts. As the great Asian Traditions begin to reveal their inner workings to us, we can see what belongs to us, and make use of these treasures. We in fact have all the elements, which include,

  • Detailed micocosmic/macrocosmic correspondences,
  • Kundalini yoga references,
  • Detailed creation myth and detailed after-life teachings. Reversing the processes or stages of creation and birth are, I believe, foundational to meditative practise.
  • The compelling motive to pursue such practices along our lines - we see these presented in both HPB and William Quan Judge's writing. (Though we need no longer worry with Judge about the lack of teachers in the West).
  • The virtue foundation that all meditation practice presupposes.
  • Our Inner Group and Esoteric Instructions - surely things to begin working with more deliberately. 

What we lack are the practical techniques and the living tradition of practitioners. I believe that this is something the Theosophical Society can and must develop. Once we turn our spiritual yearning to these things, we will obtain the response from the inner worlds and our true teachers. The first step belongs to us. I have begun, in a modest way to work my way through this, both practically and theoretically, and the purpose of this short piece is to link to other members who may be thinking along the same lines. Together, as a group of yearning seekers, we can unlock this piece of the Theosophical instalment which began in 1875.

The precise way forward is open to negotiation, but a way forward there must be.

References

Blavatsky, H.P. 1971. The Voice of the Silence. Theosophical University Press:      Pasadena.

Lane, David Christopher. 2022. The Sound Current Tradition. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Muktibodhananda, Swami. 1998. Hatha Yoga Pradipika: Light on Hatha Yoga.     Yoga Publications: Bihar.

Spierenburg, Henk, J. 1995. The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky. Point Loma Publications: San Diego.

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David

Reaction from David M. Grossman, Brooklyn, NY – USA  

I read Dewald’s epistle with great interest. He is really trying to make a point here and is undoubtedly a serious seeker. Don’t know if this is of any help, but this is my take:

 The Voice of the Silence shows us that Theosophy is not to be viewed as some kind of “Esoteric Technology,” but rather in its livingness a transformative path where the journey is from within – without.

We find in part 2 “The Two Paths:”

To live to benefit mankind is the first step. To practice the six glorious virtues1 is the second.

To don Nirmanakaya's humble robe is to forego eternal bliss for Self, to help on man's salvation. To reach Nirvana's bliss but to renounce it, is the supreme, the final step - the highest on Renunciation's Path.

Know, O Disciple, this is the SECRET PATH, selected by the Buddhas of Perfection, who sacrificed the SELF to weaker Selves.

This seems to be the ideal expressed in The Voice of the Silence. Whether it be the Bhagavad Gita or Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms the doorway to the meditative path is certainly to be found in the Theosophical writings and teachings. Practice and patience linked with calmness and compassion would seem to be ingredients to the meditative recipe.

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Esther

Reaction from Esther Pockrandt, Sunshine Coast, Queensland – Australia

The 3rd object of our SocietEACTION FROM 

Often in our Lodges we are asked to elaborate on our Third Object:

To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity 

What comes to light in discussions on the subject is that the latent powers in humanity are often interpreted by those enquiring, as those associated with kundalini, the serpent fire and how to raise that, and the development of siddhis, our psychic abilities. And those questioning often ask, why we don’t teach meditation techniques to that end, if it is in our 3rd object.

I have been asked to comment on what our friend from South Africa wrote.   

Yes, it’s indeed a tricky one, especially if other spiritual groups are not hesitant to run courses and workshops to that end, and we are often reminded of that by our questioners.  Why not, the Theosophical Society then also?

It is true that in the Adyar Theosophical ‘school‘, there is no official meditation technique taught especially not one which develops the Siddhis, or has as specific aim to activate the serpent fire. The Society promotes ‘freedom of thought’, and as not having any doctrine, nor any specific ‘teachings’, let alone THE ‘truth’.  There are only ‘fingers pointing’ in our extensive literature, from The Voice of the Silence and from The Esoteric Instructions, etc., but no actual, nor qualified ‘teacher’ put forward to teach us historically, nor in our present circles, even in the Esoteric School. The premise is, that it is our own individual task to find our truth by rigorous scientific method, and we are guided to meditation and contemplation for that end, to test in our core that which the metaphoric fingers are pointing to.  After all the moon we are pointing to, is not the moon.  Nor is the brush-like tail of an elephant, the entire elephant, as in that parable of the Blind men each one touching one part of an elephant and proclaiming they know what an elephant ‘is’. 

To come back to, ‘Why indeed don’t we teach mediation techniques’ to honour our third object, from my understanding, the focus in the Theosophical Society, of our whole body of literature, is on service, on cultivating self-less brother-sisterhood as our primary and overruling object in all we do.  The emphasis in our literature is on developing those qualities of Buddhi, of self-knowledge, understanding our minds, Chitta vritti nirodha, to still the fluctuations of our minds, without which these latent powers just cannot grow. And if they do grow, they are prone to be open to distortions of ‘what is’ from our own emotional and perceptual charge.

Understanding and taming our Kama, desire driven bodies, thoughts and emotions, is emphasised, for that veil to ‘naturally’ lift. Yet still, only, even when, we are strengthened with strong foundations, having overcome the fluctuations of our minds, those distortions, from potential influences from the astral plane, as we are opening up, the caution remains, even becomes stronger.  The individual pursuit of psychic abilities, per se, without this strong foundation-building is therefore not encouraged, is in fact discouraged. 

The reasons, as I am learning to understand, are for self-protection against psychic harm when these powers are raised, but above all, prematurely. In my understanding, who would want to be burdened with clairaudient or clairvoyant abilities when we can’t even handle our own emotions and reactions, to our own life events of conflict and loss. Can we handle without emotion, that which we see, in our own world and on media!  We already have visual, information and other sensory overload in our cyberspace connected lives.

Could it not be also, that this pursuit of developing these psychic abilities can become a hindrance/distraction from honest ‘self-knowledge’ and only risk the development of pride and ego? From what I understand, these intuitive faculties develop automatically and naturally, as we become ‘clear’ channels through our meditation, i.e. the observance of what our minds/thoughts/emotions cling to. Yet even when they develop naturally, that is not the purpose of our living, nor of our practice. The initial purpose of meditation, as I understand it, is to sit and ‘observe’ silence, and to notice how ‘noisy’ and ‘busy’ our minds actually are. This first step in our meditation practice cannot be by-passed, as it leads to self-understanding, svahyaya, of what our patterns are, of ‘where’ and in ‘what’ mindset we ‘dwell’ in our core, and above all, how we deal with challenges in our daily interactions. 

In that metaphor of the tree of self-knowledge in the Eight Limbs of Yoga as per the Yoga Sutras, which starts from the roots up, the Yamas and Niyamas, or whether in the depiction of the upside-down tree, the Aśvattha tree, or in the 5 skandas and the 6 Buddhist pāramitās, the essential teachings are the same. 

It is for us, first of all, to recognise all our unhelpful or unskilful tendencies and then to lift them to higher and non-ego centred ground, before we can gain true insight into that which is immortal in us, in ALL, that ONENESS, everyone talks about and dreams of attaining.  That stillness can only be attained by continuous practice, by perseverance.  Yet this is what is hardest for many people to stay with, in our impatient, noisy, achievement, outcome driven societies and consequent life styles.  How hard it is to listen even in our daily conversations!

Helena P. Blavatsky’s meditation diagram also points to this unavoidable progression. It is a great guide.

All the fingers point to the task, that it is for us to build our spiritual muscle, and conquer that which hinders it, our personalities, to ‘be’ self-less in all we do, in service, with unwavering love, which alone conquers all.  Is love not that power, that energy which creates a permanent residue, unbound by time and space and physicality. Isn’t anything else transient in nature? Is that the true ‘power latent in the human’ that we are called upon to nurture and grow?

These are valid questions also in regards to our question about what our third object implies.

I hope my reflections are helpful. Perhaps addressing the question may help a greater understanding of that, which is called ‘Theosophy’ and the motto around the emblem, ‘there is no religion higher than truth’, that truth which can only be found within, in ‘that cloud of unknowing’, as a Christian mystic called it long time ago.

However, I am sure, other more seasoned and wise theosophists have more wisdom than my reflections to share on the subject.

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Pablo

Reaction from Pablo Sender, Krotona, Cal – USA 

Meditation and Nada Yoga in the Theosophical Tradition

The topic of meditation in the Theosophical tradition has an interesting and rich history. I have just published an article, in both in The Theosophist, March 2024, and Theosophy Forward, exploring the distinct nature of the Theosophical approach to meditation. Click HERE to read the article.

The Theosophical Society has a long tradition promoting the practice of meditation. In fact, our organization was at the forefront of introducing meditation to the Western world. Articles on meditation began to be published in Theosophical journals in the early 1880s, decades before Hindu and Buddhist teachers started coming to Europe and the US.

Since the Theosophical approach avoids advocating any specific meditation system for universal adoption, some members may mistakenly believe that there is limited literature on the subject. This may be true if one restricts the study of this topic to the first generation of Theosophists. Meditation was largely unfamiliar in the Western world during their time, as was the spiritual lifestyle necessary for its safe practice. Consequently, H. P. Blavatsky (HPB) provided meditation instructions privately to a dedicated group of Theosophists, notably her Inner Group students. Although these teachings have been published in the past, they remain relatively obscure even today.[1]

In the following generation of Theosophists, individuals such as Annie Besant, C. W. Leadbeater, and others explored this subject more extensively, teaching about it both in private and in their public talks and writings. Today, a wealth of teachings about meditation can be found in Theosophical literature. Those interested in knowing more about this may want to visit the website www.DzyanTheosophy.org, where I have compiled seven different techniques taught by a number of Theosophical leaders.

Regarding the teachings on Nada Yoga found within The Voice of the Silence (VOS), it is true that they have not received widespread attention. However, they haven't been completely overlooked. Personally, I've conducted classes on this subject in both Spanish and English, and I'm currently working on a book that explores this aspect of HPB's valuable book.[2] It's worth noting, however, that HPB herself didn't place a strong emphasis on the meditative technique of Nada Yoga. While she does touch upon topics related to the experience of sound in meditation in her Inner Group teachings, this method is not prominent in her instructions. In fact, even the VOS appears to approach this technique differently from the conventional understanding of Nada Yoga. While in the Hindu tradition the sounds perceived are typically used as the primary object of concentration, both the VOS and HPB’s Inner Group teachings depict the sounds as rather side-effects of the elevation of consciousness, the primary focus of concentration being our higher nature.

FOOTNOTES

1) It may be helpful to note here that Fohat Productions (www,fohatproductions.com) is finishing a third and expanded edition of the book The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky.

2) Incidentally, I will be giving a lecture on this topic under the title “Yoga in The Voice of the Silence.” The lecture will be streamed. For detailed information click HERE  

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julianacesano2021

reaction from Juliana Cesano, Wheaton, Ill – USA

Dewald Bester’s frustration is not foreign to me personally. It is, in fact, close to my heart. I grew up in a theosophical family and attended Lodge meetings from a very early age. I remember studying many fundamental texts in those meetings, and the focus was only to study them. The goal of the study seemed to be the intellectual understanding of these subjects but not their practical application. There even seemed to be an intentional wall placed between the study of the subjects and the fact that most of them were eminently practical and at the reach of our day-to-day experience.

I clearly remember studying The Science of Yoga by Dr. I.K. Taimni, a translation and commentary on Raja Yoga, and the general understanding was that all of these teachings were far away from our current state and capacity. Nobody said at the end of the meeting: “Let’s try to apply the first Yama this week and write down the impediments we find” or “let’s sit here in complete silence for the next 20 minutes and cultivate Dharana.” In the same way that many don’t know that Nada Yoga is a system (I found this out only a few years ago), others have kept Raja Yoga as an impossible goal, and Bhakti or Karma Yoga unexplored—erroneously labelled as paths for the “mentally lazy.”

Theosophical teachings, in general, are full of warnings (for very good reasons) but tend to lack in systematic guidance on practice. This can discourage many who are more naturally inclined to contemplation—using the term as understood by the mystics of different traditions. If someone would want to argue that HPB laid out a path of Jñana Yoga for the students of theosophy, I would add that even within that system, a very specific practice is fundamental, for which clarity of every step is needed.

That being said, as the teachings clearly state, no system or practice per se leads to the realization of Oneness. Real progress is marked by the abandonment of all desires except the one to serve humanity, and not by perfect Pratyahara. The Chelas did advanced practices, but under the guidance of a real teacher and after having attained complete mental and physical purity. There are currently hundreds of people in ashrams and temples doing practices, who are as far as any other from real progress, and many people doing misleading practices that may cause no good.

This is a complex subject; the diversity of religious beliefs, soul temperaments, stages of growth, and so on, among each member of the TS makes it impossible for a “one-size-fits-all” practice. This is said to be one of the reasons why the Esoteric School of Theosophy was founded, “for all those who wish to live truly Theosophical lives, and not merely study theosophy.” This School is open to members who want to follow a daily discipline and continue to grow in their aspiration to serve humanity.

 

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