Revised and Enlarged in 1918.
Reprinted in 1919, 1926 and 1951
by the Theosophical Publishing House, London, England
Meditation for Beginners (part II)
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
To the beginner attempting the foregoing meditations they will at first probably appear little more than intellectual exercises, more or less interesting according to the bent of his temperament and capable of arousing a certain degree of feeling. But as he perseveres in his efforts and enters more into the wonder and beauty of the great concepts he is considering, he will gradually acquire something of that personal spiritual experience which spans the gulf between the man of knowledge and the man of wisdom, and he will attain to some realisation of that inner peace and exaltation of the soul, of which St. Alphonsus de'Liguori speaks when he describes meditation as 'the blessed furnace in which souls are inflamed with Divine love'. For meditation harmonises the bodies in which we work, enabling the light of the spirit to shine down and illumine the dark recesses of our waking consciousness. It stills the turmoil of our personalities - the mind, the emotions, the restless activity of the brain - and by reasons of the synchronous vibration of the lower bodies enables the ego to influence the personality. And as the student thus grows richer in spiritual experience, he will find new phases of consciousness gradually opening up within him. Fixed in aspiration upon his ideal, he will presently become aware of the influence of that ideal raying down upon him, and as he makes one desperate effort to reach the object of his devotion, for one brief moment the floodgates of heaven itself will be opened and he will find himself made one with his idea and suffused with the glory of its realisation. These are the stages of contemplation and union. The former is the reaching upwards, when the more formal figures of the mind have been transcended, the latter is the attainment of that state of ecstasy of spirit, when the limbs of the personality have fallen away and all shadow of separateness has vanished in the perfect union of object and seeker. It were idle to attempt further description of such experiences, for are they not beyond the reach of formulated utterance? Words can but serve as signposts pointing out the way to that which is ineffably glorious, so that the pilgrim may know whither to direct his steps.
The meditations outlined above will serve as a good groundwork for the beginner, and, if conscientiously followed, are bound to lead to good results. What precisely will be the value of those results will depend, of course, on the individual. But the growth into the inner life of spiritual experience may be hastened by taking advantage of certain opportunities which are the privilege of the Theosophist. No earnest student can be long a Fellow of the Theosophical Society without realising that the keystone of our whole spiritual edifice is the conception of the Masters, and that their power is the very life-blood of the Society. We are told that the Society was founded by the Brothers of the Great White Lodge, to be in a special sense their instrument in the world; if this be true, the opportunities of the Theosophist must be transcendently wonderful. It rests with the beginner to prove this great fact for himself, as others have proved it before him.
It was stated once by Mrs. Besant that a Master said that when a person joins the Theosophical Society he is connected with the Elder Brothers who direct its work by a tiny thread of life. This thread is the line of magnetic rapport with the Master, and the student may by arduous effort, by devotion and unselfish service, strengthen and enlarge the thread until it becomes a line of living light. The Masters take as pupils those who offer the necessary special qualifications. The fact that there are few who attain this exceptional privilege need in no way deter the earnest student, for there are many below the stage of pupil in whom the Master takes an interest and whom he will aid from time to time either in a general way or with special attention. Indeed, it may be said that there is a constant pressure of the Masters' force behind the Society, so that members who will open themselves to it may become channels through which it will flow, enabling them to do in the Master's name works greater than their own.
Realising all this, the earnest Theosophist in shaping his spiritual endeavour will in all probability desire to reach the Master, as the loftiest ideal within the range of his spiritual aspiration. How may he address himself to this task? First, by faithful service - both to his daily life and to the Society which is the physical instrument of the Masters. Taking that for granted - and more will be said about this anon - how shall he proceed? The next step will depend on his temperament. He may picture to himself an Ideal Man, synthesising in him the qualities and endowments of character which most strongly attract him, and endeavouring to perform all actions in his name and to reach him in his meditation. Others choose also a more concrete method and strive to reach the Great Ones through those who are their pupils and disciples in the outer world. Take those, for instance, who stand before us as the widely acknowledged leaders of the Theosophical movement. Those leaders represent to many of us the Masters who stand behind the Society, and are the channels to the Society of their mighty influence. It is true that some people dislike intensely the attitude of hero-worship and devotion to persons; such dislike springs too often, alas! from hopes in the past, disappointment and blasted, while in other cases it is undoubtedly more fundamental and a matter of temperament. The human instrument may, and generally does, show many imperfections; the seeker certainly should not emulate these, but neither need he be troubled about them, for it is not that which he reverences the idea within the actual? 'What, know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God' I Corinthians VI, 19) The characteristics that we admire in a man are the manifestations of the Divine Light shining through him, and that feeling of admiration is the response within ourselves to the ideal we see expressed in the other. Consequently, we can well afford to ignore what we consider the faults in others, and, whilst avoiding the foolish exaggeration of placing them on a pedestal be grateful for the glimpses of the divine light they reveal to us. The advantage of this method of reaching the Master is that it gives to the student some ideal constantly within reach, definite and tangible to him. There are many who echo the cry of Lamartine that he had need of a God near and personal to him, a God Whose arms could encompass suffering humanity and Whose feet could be kissed by repentant sinners. The same thought, though with a different application, is expressed in the well-known text' for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?' (I John IV, 20) Every regularly accepted chela of a Master, and still more every victor who has passed through the portals of initiations, is a channel of the Master's influence; through him the Master can be reached. The Master has taken certain definite responsibility for him, and he is an outpost of the Master's work in the world. Consequently any service done for him, is done also, in a sense, for the Master, even though it be merely in such small ways as in easing his labour or caring for his physical comfort, to say nothing of larger ways.
The bearing of all this will be perfectly plain to the student who has set his face seriously towards the goal with determination in his heart. In many ways he can place himself in close touch with, say, one of the great leaders of the Theosophical Movement. He can bring his mind into tune with that leader through the latter's lectures and writings. A photograph may help him in his meditation; and at regular intervals throughout the day he can fix the image in his mind and send thoughts of love, devotion, gratitude and strength. On two points he should exercise scrupulous caution - namely, that his mind is pure and lofty and not filled with worldly thoughts as he directs it towards his ideal - to this end a few moments may be given to a preliminary tuning-up or cleansing process; and secondly, that there should be no selfish expectation of help, of benefits or favours to be received in return. It is a point worth remembering in meditation, that if one seeks to draw down the ideal to oneself in personal possession, or is semi-consciously looking for personal gratification or the sense of power of other selfish results, the effort will not be crowned with due success: what is needed is an act of pure unselfish aspiration, the soaring upward, with no thought save that of giving, to the object of one's adoration. Only when free from the taint of personal selfishness does the student's thought play at a sufficiently high level to open him to the inflow of higher influence.
Much success may ensue along these lines of effort; for the law is sure, and since the nearness of the ideal renders intensity of enthusiasm more likely, proportionately great will be the result. If the motive be kept utterly pure, and the thought of the Master constantly in the mind, the student may one day perceive that the influence he contacts issues through, rather than from, the person who embodies his ideal, and so he may gradually raise himself into direct consciousness of the Master's presence. It may be that at a lecture or a ceremonial or devotional gathering, he will become conscious of a Presence greater than that of the physical instrument, for the Masters frequently are pleased to bestow in person their benediction upon such meetings of earnest members.
In such ways the student will find that whereas at first the Masters were to him merely an intellectual conception - a logical necessity in his scheme of philosophy - gradually, as his bodies grow more responsive to higher influences, they will become a living reality in his life, recognised and perceived by the heart as well as by the head.
Few words need be said upon this aspect of meditation, for it is comprised within what has already been stated. Meditation upon a virtue causes a man to grow gradually into the possession of that virtue; it is the deliberate setting of the bodies to vibrate in response to the thought of that virtue, and the establishing of a habit of response thereto, for with every repetition of the thought its recurrence is made easier. It is finely said in a Hindu Scripture" 'What a man thinks on that he becomes; therefore think on the Eternal'. Especially should the image-building faculty of the mind be utilised, side by side with strenuous efforts at the practice of the virtue desired. If a student lack courage, he should picture himself in circumstances requiring its display, and carry on a scene to a gallant conclusion. As in actual life occasions offer themselves for courageous conduct, the thought of courage will more and more readily fly to the mind, and effort at practice will remedy the original defect.
It is well to take the various virtues as subjects of meditation, and by the exercise of the mind and power of the imagination train oneself to be able to feel them at will.
In the struggle to eradicate his faults one suggestion may prove useful to the student. The habit of brooding over faults does not lead to healthiness of mind, but is apt, rather, to encourage morbidness and depression, which act as a wall, shutting out spiritual influences. As a practical expedient, it is better to ignore faults of disposition so far as may be done, and to concentrate one's whole aspiration and endeavour towards building the opposite virtues into the character.
A well-known writer and preacher has forcefully expressed this truth. 'Remember you cannot see both sides of the coin at once. When you are discouraged by the striving of the animal nature, and utterly disgusted with yourself, and hating yourself as wholly unregenerate, the noblest exercise for your mental faculty is to force yourself to turn over the coin of yourself, and think intensely into the other side. Say, "I am The Lord's, my true ego is his Divine Spirit" (Light on the Problems of Life, by Archdeacon Wilberforce)
Success in the spiritual life is gained less by fierce wrestling with the lower nature than by growing into the knowledge and appreciation of higher things. For once we have sufficiently experienced the bliss and joyousness of the higher life, by contrast the lower desires pale and lose their attractiveness. It was said once by a great Teacher that the best form of repentance for a transgression was to look ahead with hopeful courage, coupled with a firm resolve not to commit the transgression again.
Although the more important part of meditation has to do with the direction of the will, thought and feeling, it is obvious that we cannot dispense with the physical body, so that some hints as to physical plane procedure will not be out of place; indeed this must necessarily be among the things that will engage the mind of the student who is entering upon the practice, as distinct from the theory, of meditation.
Just as certain thoughts and emotions will express themselves in characteristic movements and gestures of the body, so, by a reversal of the process, positions of the body may tend to induce states of mind and feeling, and to assist the student in dwelling on them. It is a matter of harmonizing the physical with the higher bodies and with the play on it of the external forces of Nature.
In beginning meditation the student may adopt either of two postures recommended by experts in these matters; he may sit upright in a comfortable armchair, the back of which does not slope unduly; the hands may be clasped and rest on the legs or be laid lightly on the knees; and the feet be placed together or crossed with the right over the left.
The position should be easy and relaxed, the head not sunk upon the chest but lightly balanced, the eyes and mouth closed, and - as suggested by a well-known Indian writer on yoga - the spinal column, along which there is much magnetic flow, erect. Or else he may sit in a similar position on a couch, stool on floor, cross-legged, in eastern fashion. The locking of the extremities of the body is also recommended by authorities as preventing the outflow of magnetism, which is a natural phenomenon, from the fingertips, feet, et cetera. The cross-legged position is in some slight ways the more effectual, since magnetism thereby liberated is said to rise around the body in a protective shell. But it is an exceedingly inconvenient posture for most western people, though in the East - whence most of our modern yoga teaching originates - it is the natural manner of being seated, and it has been wittily remarked by one writer that ' the initial difficulties are many, but they are considerably enhanced by those who think it necessary to assume fantastic eastern postures to annoy the body, which should be quiescent, if it is to be successfully ignored'. (Meditations,by Alice. C. Ames)
One position which should not be adopted, except in very rare cases, is that of lying down, for its natural tendency is towards sleep. Further, the brain cannot respond sympathetically to the higher vibrations of the superphysical bodies if the circulation of the blood be sluggish, hence the value of a cold tub or brisk walk before the morning practice.
The postures of the body above recommended not only admit of, but may even be said to induce, full abdominal breathing, such as is practised by well-trained singers. There is an intimate connection between profound meditation and breathing. George Fox, the Quaker, and some other Quietists claim to have received the gift of 'internal respiration'. It is found in actual practice, that as the body becomes harmonized in meditation the breathing grows deeper, regular and rhythmic, until by degrees it becomes so slow and quiet as to be almost imperceptible. This effect having been noticed, the process was reversed in hatha yoga, and by deliberate regulation of the breathing it was sought to harmonize the functions of the body, and finally the workings of the mind. But the student should be warned against indiscriminate practice of breathing exercises spread broadcast in westernized yoga literature. To begin with, it is always more dangerous in psychic culture to work 'from below up'; to play pranks with the physical body instead of taking to heart the profound teaching of The Voice of the Silence: 'The Mind is the great Slayer of the Real. - Let the Disciple slay the Slayer'. The student will be better advised to learn control of thought along the lines of raja yoga, leaving his efforts at meditation to work their natural effect on the development of his physical body and the shaping of the psychic organs. Furthermore, that which can be practised with impunity in an eastern body cannot always with equal suitability be tried on a western body; and some of these breathing exercises are exceedingly dangerous and fraught with disastrous consequences. It may be said in passing that there is no objection to simple deep breathing, provided undue strain is not placed upon the heart and lungs and no attempt is made to concentrate the thought on the various centres of the body.
The student may find it helpful to burn a little good incense, for this purifies the atmosphere from the occult standpoint: he may also gain assistance from beautiful colours and pictures in his surroundings, flowers and other means of uplifting the mind and feelings.
He will also find it useful to observe certain dietetic restrictions, even going to the length of complete abstinence from alcohol and flesh-food. The taking of alcohol pari passu with the practice of strenuous meditation is apt to set up inflammatory symptoms in the brain - but the whole question is fully dealt with in Theosophical literature. (See Annie Besant's Man and His Bodies, C.W. Leadbeater's Some Glimpses of Occultism, Chapter X.)
Another point not to be neglected is the question of hour. It is well - though not a sine qua non - that the times selected should be regularly adhered to. Much of the initial difficulty of meditation springs from the automatic consciousness of the various bodies - called sometimes the elementals of the bodies - resisting with a sort of instinct, which if blind is nevertheless often extremely forceful, the attempt to impose upon them new habits. Three periods of the day are stated to be most suitable magnetically - namely, when the sun is rising, at its meridian and when setting. These were the times selected by ancient devotees, though naturally they must be modified to suit the conditions of modern life. In addition to these times, it is well if the habit can be cultivated of turning the mind for the moment at the stroke of every hour during waking life to the realization of oneself as the Spiritual Man. This practice leads to what in Christian mystical theology is called self-recollectedness. It is the object of the student to train the mind to revert automatically to spiritual thoughts.
It is not well to meditate immediately after a meal or late at night; in the one case the process of thought withdraws the blood from aiding the digestive functions, in the other the bodies are tired and the etheric double more readily displaceable, and , moreover, the negative influence of the moon is operative, so that undesirable results are more liable to occur.
The system of meditation here laid before the student has as its object spiritual, mental and ethical development, and the control of the mind and feelings. It does not aim at developing psychic faculties 'from below upwards'. But its natural result may be to open up a form of intuitive psychism in persons of sufficiently sensitive organisation, which will show itself in increasing sensitiveness to the influence of people and places, in the recalling of fragmentary memories of astral plane experiences from sleep, in greater susceptibility to direct guidance from the ego, in the power to recognize the influence of the Masters and spiritually developed people, and so forth.
There is one special contingency which the student following the methods of positive self-development here outlined should carefully avoid, and that is the development of passive mediumship and spirit control through negative methods of meditation - for, whatever may be the merits of spiritualism, the two systems are quite incompatible. For instance, in some books of westernized yoga the student is instructed to begin meditation by rolling his eyes upwards and keeping them so fixed. The effect of this is to impose a strain on the visual mechanism and so to deaden the brain somewhat, with the result that a negative state of auto-hypnosis is induced, and semi-trance may supervene, accompanied by certain psychic manifestations. A similar result is obtained by the use of a crystal.
It is also apt to puzzle the student when writers tell him to open himself to spiritual influences and at the same time be positive. The difficulty arises through a confusion of stages. Positive effort is needed as a preliminary, and the passive condition follows later. The positive intensity of effort uplifts the consciousness to play through the higher levels of its different vehicles, or - to look at the matter differently - harmonises the vehicles, bringing them into synchronous relation with each other, so that the higher influence can play down; and only then is it safe to relax the upward straining in the realization of the peace thus attained. Perhaps, after all, the phrase 'opening oneself to spiritual influences' in such a condition means nothing more than maintaining an attitude of intense stillness at a high spiritual level. The present writer once heard a similar point well illustrated by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson. He instanced the picture of a seagull poised against the gale; truly to the onlooker the bird seemed passive and immobile, nevertheless one knew there was a powerful effort continuously maintained in wing and pinion.
Now it is obvious that this intense stillness marks a stage separated by years of persistent effort from the attitude of people who assume they can reach great spiritual heights while flat on their backs in a warm and comfortable bed or even in a piping hot bath! Such persons mistake for meditation what is merely bodily enfeeblement and an idle drifting of thought upon some soothing and agreeable topic. Not thus is the kingdom of heaven taken by storm!
Real mediation means strenuous effort, not the sensation of happiness which arises from a state of semi-somnolence and bodily luxury. The man who is beginning real concentration of thought should not at first exceed five or ten minutes at a stretch, otherwise he is apt to overtax the brain. Very gradually the interval may be lengthened to fifteen, twenty and thirty minutes.
Since meditation involves effort the student will do well to remember that the natural effect of concentrating the mind is to produce tension of the muscles in the body. The familiar habit of knitting of brows is evidence of this bodily automatism. This tension of the muscles not only induces great bodily fatigue, but acts as an obstacle to the inflow of spiritual forces. Therefore the student should periodically in his meditation, and repeatedly during his daily life, turn his attention on the body and deliberately - 'let go' in relaxation. People of strong and intense natures often find difficulty in expressing themselves either in speech or letter owing to a habit of imposing too great and sudden a pressure on the brain. They should learn to let the brain take the load gradually, as an electrician would say. A moment of complete relaxation would rid them of the difficulty. In much the same way if a lecturer suffers from brain-fag and sudden forgetfulness of his sequence of ideas or inability to get a word, by far the wiser course is the bold one of letting go absolutely in momentary relaxation, rather than straining to remember, for the latter effort merely increases the tension round the brain.
The student should also remember that concentration is not a matter of physical effort. The moment the mind turns to a thought it is concentrated upon it. It is difficult to express in words what, after all, must be experienced to be understood; but concentration is less a matter of forcibly holding the mind on a certain thought than of letting the mind continue to rest on that thought in perfect stillness and quietude. Further the student may realise, and apply for what it is worth in his own inner experience, the idea that the mental body and not the brain is the seat of thought, and that though in the initial stages effort must seem to centre on the task of quietening the brain, nevertheless concentration really concerns the mental body more than the physical brain.
The Theosophical student should always remember that right motive is of primary importance in all work that he undertakes, and that only by dint of unselfish motive and the sincere desire to benefit humanity can the Masters be reached. It need not be that any intense love for humanity in the mass possess the aspirant in the earlier stages; we may safely assume it is sufficient if he seek to act unselfishly towards those in his immediate environment, for as he perseveres he must inevitably become increasingly sensitive to the cry of suffering humanity in its collective aspect.
Yet it is well that the Theosophist who is awakening to some realization of the spiritual life should understand that meditation and service are complementary to each other and that the best results will accrue when they are combined. We are not in the Theosophical Society just for what we can get out of it; we are members because the teachings of the Eternal Wisdom have sunk deep into our hearts and are moulding our lives anew. It is the mark of the spiritual man to give freely to others rather than to demand for himself; therein only is true happiness to be found. Hence our attitude towards the Society should be in the nature of a continual interrogation: What can I do to help?
The newcomer into the Society is given his opportunities and according to his capacity is judged by the use he makes of them. Small services well rendered often bulk larger than ambitious undertakings fitfully carried out. The student who is likely to progress is the one who is found faithful in small things, who is willing to clean windows and light fires in the Lodge room, to undertake various small duties at meetings, to be unfailingly regular in attendance at Lodge, or other meetings in which he has promised to take part, to train himself to lecture and write. No more need be said about this; a hint to the earnest student is sufficient, and the parable of the talents is extremely applicable to Theosophical work.
Along such paths of service will the way to the Masters be disclosed; for service willingly given must be the watchword of the aspirant and he will learn to forget himself and his own progress in the joy of ministering to the needs of others. Let him seek to perform every act of service in the Name of the Master; and so let him work onward in perseverance and steadfastness to the day when he shall know the Master face to face, and from the depths of his being offer himself in glad surrender to his Lord.
But let him not think that the relation between Master and pupil is in any way one of coercion or one in which the pupil's individuality is submerged in the flood of power from the Master. On the contrary, the Master's influence is not a hypnotic force from without but an inexpressibly wonderful illumination from within, irresistible because so deeply felt as in perfect accord with the pupil's highest aspiration and as the self-revelation of his own spiritual nature. The Master is himself in fullest measure a channel of the Divine Life and that which flows from him awakens into activity the seed of divinity within the pupil. Indeed the student who finds inspiration in scientific study may discover a suggestive analogy in the electric phenomenon of induction. It is because of the identity of nature in the two that the influence of the Master stimulates in the highest degree all the noblest and finest qualities in the pupil. The love of the Master for a disciple may be likened to the sunshine which opens the lotus bud to the fresh morning air, and very truly may it be said that one smile from the Master will call forth such an outburst of affection from the pupil as would only be gained by months of scholastic meditation on the virtue of love.
May these few hints on meditation win some to the knowledge of the Great Teachers and to the service of humanity in their name.