Revised and Enlarged in 1918.
Reprinted in 1919, 1926 and 1951
by the Theosophical Publishing House, London, England
Meditation for Beginners
by J.I. Wedgwood
Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful as yet, do as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful; he cuts away here, he smooths there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until he has shown a beautiful face upon the statue. So do you also; cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is shadowed, labour to make all glow with beauty, and do not cease chiselling your statue until there shall shine out on you the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the final goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.
Plotinus on the Beautiful (Translated by Stephen MacKenna)
James Ingall Wedgwood was born in London in 1883 and died in Farnham in 1951. He was a member of the well-known Wedgwood family that has for some generations distinguished itself in art, in science, in industry and in other branches of public service. When a young man he studied church music and organ construction and later received the degree of Docteur (Sciences) de l'Universite de Paris for a textbook on this subject which is still used. In 1904, deeply influenced by a lecture of Dr. Besant's, he joined the Theosophical Society, becoming General Secretary of the English Section in 1911. In 1916 he was consecrated as the first Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, a movement devoted to liberalizing Christian thought, which he did much to foster.
The reprint of his small but invaluable book in meditation had been planned before his death. Those who are responsible know that his many friends would not wish it to appear at this moment without some small recognition of the debt owed to him by students and aspirants throughout the world. Its publication is only one of the many tributes that will continue to be paid to him, in appreciation of what he has given not only to those who knew him, but to all mankind.
London, May. 1951.
Meditation for Beginners
It is significant of the spiritual tendency of the Theosophical Society that there is a steady interest in meditation, and many now desire help and guidance as to its practice. Within the Inner Section of the Theosophical Society (called the Esoteric School) very definite and helpful instruction is available for earnest and approved students; but there are many who, perhaps for domestic or other reasons, do not feel free to undertake the heavy responsibility implied in joining this - for to enter the Esoteric School implies that Theosophy is thenceforward to become a dominant factor in the life. Such members often wish to learn how to meditate, and it is with the hope of aiding this large class of earnest and spiritually-minded people that these present suggestions are put forward. Also, it may be pointed out, it is only possible to gain admission to the Esoteric School after three years' membership in the outer Society, and during this preliminary period much of the necessary spadework may be accomplished, with the result that the aspirant will be better fitted for the training of the Inner Section and of greater service to its corporate life.
The present hints are written more especially for Theosophists, although they may be found helpful by others who have not yet embraced the philosophy of life summed up under the name of Theosophy. This course has been followed quite advisedly, for the author believes that it is of little use to set to work upon the serious practice of meditation until the teachings regarding the control and use of thought and emotion set forth in Theosophical books have been mastered, and until the aspirant has emerged from the dilettante stage of occultism. Until then he will derive more benefit from quiet reflection upon devotional books or from the practice of the earlier methods laid down in the various exoteric religions. For more advanced students, following other methods of study, the author does not profess to write.
Meditation consists in the endeavour to bring into the waking consciousness, that is, into the mind in its normal state of activity, some realization of the super-consciousness, to create by the power of aspiration a channel through which the influence of the divine or spiritual principle - the real man - may irradiate the lower personality. It is the reaching out of the mind and feelings towards an ideal, and the opening of the doors of the imprisoned lower consciousness to the influence of that idea. 'Meditation,' says H.P. Blavatsky, 'is the inexpressible longing of the inner man for the Infinite.'
The ideal chosen may be abstract - it may be a virtue, such as sympathy or justice; it may be the thought of the Inner Light, of that Divine Essence which is the innermost reality of man's nature: it may even be recognized only as a vague and dim sensing of the highest that is in us. Or the ideal may be personified as a Master, a Divine Teacher - indeed it may be seen as embodied in anyone whom we feel in any way to be worthy of our respect and admiration. Consequently the subject and type of meditation will vary widely according to the temperament and 'ray' of the individual. But in all cases it is essentially the uplifting of the soul towards its divine source, the desire of the particularized self to become one with the Universal Self.
The first step in meditation consists in cultivating the thought, until it becomes habitual, that the physical body is an instrument of the spirit.
Those who have only just made the acquaintance of Theosophical thought find it difficult at first to reverse their point of view; to them the soul and spirit are unreal. The planes and bodies, of which Theosophical writers speak in their endeavour to convey clearly and with scientific precision some little glimpse of the mysteries of man's being, are memorized in terms of some textbook diagram, each name being conjured up with an effort of memory. The physical body is the one tangible reality and the superphysical the shadowy and vague, a mere intellectual conception. But gradually and almost imperceptibly this feeling is lost; a feeling of realisation of the superphysical begins to work down into the physical brain and to enliven what was previously merely an intellectual theory. The reason for this is not far to seek. To read Theosophical books is to place oneself in touch with powerfully stimulating forces in the world of mental archetypes; to read of higher bodies tends by directing the attention to those bodies to awaken self-consciousness in them. Interest in and study of the astral plane and the astral body gradually waken the student on that plane during physical sleep. The stimulation of the higher bodies into greater activity is also assisted by being within the aura of superphysically developed people. As a natural result this expansion of the inner nature begins to modify the waking consciousness, the knowledge of the Higher Man slowly filters down into the physical brain, and the student will find his outlook on life undergoing great change. An extension of consciousness becomes noticeable, new vistas of thought and feeling open up before him, his surroundings in life assume a fresh significance as he awakens to them, and the truths of Theosophy begin to change from intellectual theory into spiritual experience.
Such, briefly stated, is the rationale of the gradual expansion of consciousness, which comes within the early experience of most Theosophists who are really in earnest; and we may, in passing, hazard the idea that the three years that must elapse before a student is eligible for the Esoteric School are prescribed not only that his steadfastness in Theosophy may be tested but also that time may be allowed for this change in the superphysical bodies, through which he may come intuitively to feel himself as the Higher Man using a physical instrument.
Now this process and awakening may be materially quickened. 'Help Nature,' says The Voice of the Silence, 'and work on with her; and Nature will regard Thee as one of her creators and make obeisance.' A modern scientific writer has echoed the same truth in the words 'Nature is conquered by obedience'; we have but to understand the laws of nature, and then, rightly selected and applied, they become our obedient servants. That which takes place slowly and gradually in the ordinary course of time may be deliberately hastened by intelligent and well-directed effort. Hence the student's first exercise in meditation may fittingly have in view this aim of consciously realizing the Higher Man.
The following practice is one which the present writer employed with good results, until it became unnecessary to continue with it.
Let the student begin by thinking of the physical body; then consider how it is possible to control and direct it, and thus separate himself in thought from it - regarding it as a vehicle, and picture himself for a few moments as living in the astral body. Let him reflect, in turn, that he can control his emotions and desires; and, with a strong effort, repudiate the astral body and realise that he is not this body of surging and struggling passions, desires and emotions. Then let him picture himself as living in the mental body; and reflect again that he can control his thoughts, that he as the power of setting his mind to think on any subject he pleases, and again with an effort repudiate the mental body. The student should now let himself soar into the free atmosphere of the spirit where is eternal peace, and, resting there for a period, strive with great intensity to realize That is the real Self.
Let him now descend again, carrying with him the peace of the spirit through the different bodies. Let him picture the aura of the mental body raying out around him, and let the influence of peace suffuse it, as he affirms that he is the Self which used the mental body as an instrument in his service. Then descending into the astral body, again let the peace ray out through the aura, as he affirms that he is that which uses the emotions as his servants; and lastly, let him return to the physical body, recognizing it as an instrument, and as a centre of the divine peace, wherever it may pass in the world.
The exercise may at first seem strange and fruitless, for the physical body is still the great reality, and thought and feeling are still the great reality, and thought and feeling are still apt to be regarded as products of the physical brain. The beginner must remember that he is seeking to undo the thought-habit of years, and therefore must not be impatient for immediate results. Possibly much time may elapse before his intuition assures him with unerring certainty that there is a higher power within him, guiding his actions and shaping his course through life. Quite naturally, he may dread the possibility of self-hypnosis, the thought that he may by slow degrees be deluding himself into beliefs which are fanciful and have no foundation of reality. To the well-balanced mind the earlier stages are by far the most difficult, for there is a natural caution about venturing into the unknown, and a tendency to beat a mental retreat at each suspicion of danger. None the less, it is only reasonable to give due trial to a system expounded by the greatest minds of antiquity, prescribed in all the great religions and witnessed to by eminently sane and sincere people of the present day. And a little steady and persistent practice is bound to lead to certain results. How definite those results will be and with what degree of rapidity they will be apparent will naturally depend upon the temperament, the industry and the possibilities of the individual.
As the beginner grows more familiar with the meditation outlined above, he may begin to elaborate it, according to the bent of his temperament. He may find it helpful, for instance, to consider the simile pianoforte and a pianist. As the pianoforte produces sound and ordered music, so the brain and physical body give expression to thought, feeling and ordered activity. But it is the pianist who expresses himself through the medium of the instrument. In the same way the physical body (in its voluntary activities) does but vibrate in response to the Higher Man.
Detaching himself in thought from the physical body and examining it in the cool discrimination of the mind, he should endeavour to realise that it is only a vehicle, an instrument, a vesture of flesh. In order that the consciousness, which is the manifestation of the spirit, can contact the physical world it must inhabit a tabernacle of physical matter, kith and kin with that physical world, for only a physical vehicle of consciousness can make vibratory relationship with physical matter. By the multiplicity of experiences to be gained from the physical world and the gradual shaping of the physical instrument to respond to them, the spirit unfolds its innate powers from latency into potency.
He may then consider how it is possible to control and direct it, how it responds to the behests of the governing intelligence - the I. Thus separating himself in thought from it, he should next picture himself for a few moments as living in the astral body.
Let him reflect, in turn, that the astral body is not his real self. He can control his emotions and desires, he can regulate the play of feeling. His emotions are but one aspect of his consciousness working in and limited by the astral body, which, in its turn, is a tenement built up from the material of the astral plane, that the indwelling consciousness may cone into relation with it. He himself is not this body of struggling surging emotions, passions and desires. In his calmer moments he knows that he is above the surge of emotions. His fits of passion, of jealousy, of fear, of selfishness and hatred - all these are not himself but the play of emotions which have slipped beyond control, as a greyhound may slip his leash. In his heart of hearts he knows that as much of this is already under his control, so by dint of patient perseverance and earnest endeavour all may in course of time be brought within due bounds, and mastery of the emotions be gained.
Thus standing as it were outside of his emotions, looking down upon the whole sphere of their activity, let him next picture himself as living in the mental body.
It is not difficult for the beginner to separate himself from his physical and emotional bodies - he has been taught in the practice of ordinary morality to check and control action and violent emotion; but he has probably never been taught much of the power of thought, and accordingly he finds it difficult to realise at first the possibility of controlling his thought.
Yet he has the power to set his mind upon any subject he pleases, and by dint of perseverance he may learn to keep it fixed thereupon. And eventually he may gain such control of the mind as to be able to dismiss from it at will any unwelcome thought.
And so, passing through the various stages, he may raise himself into the contemplation of That which is beyond words, ineffably real and sacred, reaching the very shrine of his own being, the altar upon which the Divine Shekinah itself is made manifest, and bearing with him that radiance into the outer world of sense.
When the student by his meditation and by his oft-repeated thought during the day has grown to regard himself as the Inner Man, working outwards into the world through the instrumentality of a physical body, he may then pass on to more elaborate and scientific forms of meditation. He should begin to work with fuller understanding of its various details and stages, regarding it as at once a means of spiritual refreshment and growth and a science of wrestling with the wayward mind and feelings.
Meditation is often divided into three stages: Concentration, Meditation, Contemplation. It may be still further subdivided, but it is unnecessary to do so here; on the other hand the beginner should bear in mind that meditation is a science of a life-time, so that he must not expect to attain to the stage of pure contemplation in his earlier efforts.
Concentration consists of focussing the mind on one idea and holding it there. Patanjali, the author of the classic Hindu Yoga Aphorisms, defines Yoga as 'the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle.' This definition is applicable to concentration, though Patanjali probably goes further in his thought and includes the cessation of the image-making faculty of the mind and of all concrete expressions of thought, thus virtually passing beyond the stage of mere concentration into that of contemplation.
To be able to concentrate, then, it is necessary to gain control of the mind and learn by gradual practice to narrow down the range of its activity, until it becomes one-pointed. Some idea or object is selected upon which to concentrate, and the initial step is to shut out all else from the mind, to exclude therefrom the stream of thoughts alien to the subject, as they dance before the mind like the flickering pictures of the cinematograph. It is true that much of the student's practice must be in the initial stages take this form of repeated exclusion of thought; and to set oneself to do this is excellent training. But there is another and far sounder way of attaining concentration; it consists in becoming so interested and absorbed in the ( subject selected that all other thoughts are ipso facto excluded from the mind. We are constantly doing this in our daily lives, unconsciously and by force of habit. The writing of a letter, the adding of accounts, the taking of weighty decisions, the thinking out of difficult problems - all these things so engross the mind as to induce a state of more or less wrapt concentration. The student must learn to accomplish this at will, and will best succeed by cultivating the power and habit of observing and paying attention to outer objects.
Let him take any object - a penholder, a piece of blotting paper, a leaf, a flower - and note the details of its appearance and structure which usually pass by unnoticed ; let him catalogue one by one its properties, and presently he will find the exercise of absorbing interest. If he is able to study the process of its manufacture or growth, the interest will again be heightened. No object in nature is in reality entirely dull and uninteresting; and when anything seems so to us, the failure to appreciate the wonder and beauty of its manifestation lies in our own inattentiveness.
As an aid to concentration, it is well to repeat aloud the ideas that pass through the mind. So; this penholder is black; it reflects the light from the window from some portions of its surface; it is about seven inches in length, cylindrical; its surface is engraved with a pattern; the pattern is branch-shaped and is formed of a series of closely-marked lines - and so forth ad libitum.
In this way the student learns to shut out the larger world and to enclose himself in the smaller world of his choice. When this has been done successfully he has achieved a certain degree of concentration - for it is evident that there are still many and various thoughts running through the mind, though all on the subject of the penholder. The speaking aloud helps to slow down this stream of thought and to hinder the mind from wandering. Gradually by practice he learns to narrow down still further the circle of thought until literally he can reach one-pointedness of mind.
The above practice is somewhat in the nature of drill instruction; it requires a degree of strenuous application, and, moreover, may appear somewhat cold to the student, since it arouses little emotion. Another exercise in concentration may therefore be taken concurrently, but before describing this we may say that the former exercise must needs be mastered at some stage of the student's career. Some degree of mastery therein is a preliminary to successful visualisation - that is, the power of mentally reproducing an object in accurate detail without it being visible to the eyes - and accurate visualisation is a necessary feature of much of the work which is done by students trained in occult methods such as the deliberate construction of thought-forms and the creation of symbols by the mind in ceremonial. Accordingly the student who is really in earnest will not neglect this branch of work on account of it being difficult and requiring application. He will also set to work at visualisation, observing and carefully scrutinizing an object, and then with the eyes closed endeavouring to build up a mental picture of it.
The second method, above referred to, is that of concentrating not upon a physical object but upon an idea. If some virtue be taken it has the advantage of arousing the enthusiasm and devotion of the student, and this is a very important consideration in the initial stages of his practice, when perseverance and steadfastness are often sorely tried. Moreover, the effort builds that virtue into the character. In this case the concentration is chiefly that of the feelings and less conspicuously a mental process. The student strives to reproduce in himself the virtue, let us say sympathy, at which he is aiming, and by dint of holding himself to a single emotion, by the power of the will eventually succeeds in feeling sympathy. It is easier to be one-pointed in feeling than in thought, for the latter is more subtle and active; but if intense concentration of feeling can be induced, the mind will to a certain extent follow suit.
Having thus considered concentration we can now pass on to the second main division of our subject - namely, meditation. Meditation is the art of considering a subject or turning it over in the mind in its various bearings and relationships. Properly speaking, the stage of meditation does not follow directly upon the complete one-pointedness of mind which we have discussed above, it rather succeeds that stage of comparative concentration which has banished from the mind all ideas alien to the one subject under consideration; but efficiency in concentration will be required as each branch of the meditation is taken up. We need not occupy space with further definitions of meditation, but may at once pass on to certain schemes of practice which will illustrate its nature and method more clearly than theoretical dissertation. We have touched above on the thought of sympathy and may well use it as a subject of meditation.
Reflect that like all other virtues this is an attribute of the Divine Consciousness; try to understand its nature and function in the world; consider it as a binding power uniting one particularized self to another. Compare it with love: sympathy implies understanding of another and the power to place oneself in his position; love need not imply this understanding; on the other hand for its complete expression sympathy requires the strong inner motive power which love alone can supply. Picture the divine sympathy as poured forth into the world through the ideal man - the Christ or the Master - and then as directed towards one's self individually.
The student should then with a strong active aspiration merge himself into the stream of this ineffable influence radiating from the Master, and to seek to reach the object of his devotion. - Here the stage of contemplation may be attained). He should then think of this virtue as applied in his daily life, to his friends and loved ones - even to those with whom there is need for better understanding; let him picture them one by one before him and wrap them round with the influence which is pouring through him.
Another and more elaborate meditation may be given for the benefit of those who are unable to dwell for any length of time on a single thought.
The student should raise his consciousness and contemplate the immensities of the universe; the picture of the starlit heavens, the soft radiance of the sunset, or the thought of the cosmos enshrined within the infinitesimally minute atom, will aid him in this, and he may, if he so desire, use the method of rising through the bodies described earlier in this book. Let him then direct his thoughts in loftiest aspiration to the Logos of our system and picture the whole system as contained within the bounds of His consciousness: 'In Him we live and move and have our being'. He may then follow out the line of thought developed in the pamphlet by Mrs. Besant entitled On Moods - namely, that though we might naturally think of the loftier members of the Hierarchy as being most distant from us and almost beyond the reach of our halting aspiration owing to their remoteness from petty human interests, the reverse is actually true, and we are literally in closest touch with the all-embracing consciousness of the Logos. The student may find it helpful to think of the increasing size of the aura as spiritual development is achieved; of that of the ordinary man, of that of pupils and initiates, of the aura of the Master and the close relation of consciousness between the Master and the close relation of consciousness between the Master and his pupils and others whom he is helping, of the aura of the Lord Buddha which according to tradition extended three miles about His person, and so rising in thought he may conceive of a being whose aura of field of consciousness encompasses the whole of our planet and of One who thus embraces the whole of our planet and of One who thus embraces the whole of the system to which we belong. Literally is it true that every action, every feeling and every thought to which we give expression are part of Him; nay, our very memory is part of His memory, for is not all remembrance but the power to touch the akashic records of nature, which is but the expression of Himself?
The student may then pass on to think of some of those qualities which we may associate with the manifestation of God in His world - let us take justice and beauty and love; that the justice of the Supreme is shown forth in the invariable laws of nature, the law of the conservation of energy, the dictum of Newton that action and re-action are equal and opposite, the law of karmic retribution which gives unto each man the just reward of his deeds. Let him think of what belief in karma really implies - the hand that strikes a grievous blow is one's own dead past come back to life again; and from such reflections let him win content with that which is or which may befall him. Let him think also of the innumerable relations under this law made between man and man, the weaving of God's plan in the universe, and see in those complex relationships the immutable law of perfect justice.
Passing next to the aspect of beauty he may study the exquisite plan of the Great Architect and Grand Geometrician of the Universe, and looking with closer attention at all created nature may perceive the universality of that aspect of the Supreme which expresses itself in beauty or harmony. Turning from beauty of nature to that created by man he may soar aloft on the wings of the imagination and contemplate the masterpieces of that human art which borders on the realm of divinity, because in very truth the materials in the hand of the artist are the divine powers of nature. Thus, in music, the mighty structures of sound reflect in many hues those archetypal forces of nature which stream forth through the blazing hosts of the Gandharvas, revealing to man the power of the hidden Word and raising him aloft once more to the kingdom of his divine heritage.
And in the compassionate love of the Supreme all human relationships of
tenderness and love have their source. To the eye of the spirit the beauty
of woman gives no cause for carnal desire, but is rather a reason that
she should be respected as a child of God and a manifestation of His supreme
beauty. There is but one love throughout the universe, given by the Divine
Father into the custody of His creatures; it is the one primal force which
in its elementary creative aspect produces multiplicity of form and in its
higher aspect draws souls together towards unity in the One Life.
To Part II of Meditation for Beginners