“In the still mind, in the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself” (Bhagavad Gita, Chap. 6 Dhyana Yoga: Verse 20)
The Centre offers regular 3-part introductory courses in ‘Dhyana Yoga (The Path of Meditation)’. Suitable for absolute beginners, these courses take place from 10.30am – 1pm over three Sunday mornings a fortnight apart and teach the theory, mechanics and practice of meditation as a spiritual discipline.
Meditation techniques are dependent on what you wish to gain from your practice: it is counter-productive to teach deep, transformative yogic methods to someone who simply wants basic mindfulness or relaxation; these are the opposite ends of a broad spectrum and although they may both be called ‘meditation’ in common parlance, there is an enormous gulf between the secular and spiritual elements. Perhaps the aim of the Dhyana Yoga course can best be expressed by another quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within. Train it to rest in the Self” (Chapter 6, Verse 26: trans. Easwaran) which clearly identifies both the spiritual objective and the practical method of achieving it. Put simply, this course is very much about meditation as a yogic, spiritual discipline and would not be suitable for someone whose interest is purely secular.
The Dhyana Yoga course is firmly sourced in the Yoga-Vedanta tradition of India and offers a synthesis of Raja, Bhakti and Jnana Yogas. That said, the course emphasises practical spirituality over religion and philosophy and it presents meditation in terms of a mental technology, expressed in a multi-faith and non-sectarian manner palatable to the kaleidoscope of cultures that one finds in an international city like London. Whilst each week focuses on a particular sub-set of yogic practice, there is also a clear progression of mental control which is the central theme of the whole course.
Week 1: Raja Yoga (The science of training the mind)
The teaching initially focuses on Patanjali and his famous Yoga Sutras. This ‘eightfold system’ provides an excellent foundation on which to build one’s yogic practice, with special emphasis on breathing and chakral techniques to develop calmness, concentration and mental purity.
Week 2: Bhakti Yoga (Devotion and Self-surrender)
Part 2 brings in the devotional element, specifically Bhakti-Dhyana techniques of mantra and devotional visualisation, to increase mental focus and emphasise the necessity of “Head & Heart” working together.
Week 3: Jnana Yoga (Awareness and Self-knowledge)
Part 3 morphs towards Jnana Yoga and Self-enquiry, the emphasis now being on in-turning the mind towards the purely subjective. The core practice becomes Self-attention (Atma Dhyana) rather than chakral/objective concentration.
This course owes its principal inspiration to two giants of 20th century Indian spirituality: Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Shivabalayogi. The former’s ‘direct path’ teaching of Self-enquiry/Atma Vichara underpins the higher levels of this course but Maharshi himself regularly warned that Self-enquiry was not for “immature minds”: he recommended meditation and devotional techniques as effective means to develop the necessary “inner strength of one-pointedness” before Self-enquiry can successfully be practised. The earlier stages of this course provide the necessary mental strengthening through Raja and Bhakti Yoga.
But it is Sri Shivabalayogi (by whom I was initiated in the 1980’s) who provides the master key to the whole system through his wonderful ‘Jangama Dhyana’ technique taught in Part 3 of the course, which enables the meditator to withdraw his/her mind from its objective chakral focus to a purely subjective in-turned state. The mind becomes quiescent and recedes into Self-abidance. Jangama is the link between Raja and Jnana Yogas and in effect provides a yogic approach to Self-enquiry.
Although the fundamental purpose of stilling and in-turning the mind remains the same whatever the techniques practised, the course is taught in a flexible way in order to help participants find what works best for them. Some are more inspired by the Bhakti approach and follow the path of devotion and Self-surrender; some are more inclined towards Raja Yoga and prefer to stick with the chakras and kundalini; while others gravitate towards Atma Dhyana/Self-enquiry and use the Jangama technique as the best means to develop that. However, it is important to understand that these techniques do not exist in separate compartments, they are simply aspects of one integrated system – which is Yoga in the highest sense of the word.
This course has never been written down, despite regular requests for me to do so over the decades that the course has been running. It cannot be experienced from a book or a YouTube video. The techniques are passed from teacher to pupil verbally and need to be practised and experienced at the time. As Swami Vivekananda pointed out, spirituality is transmitted not taught and the class interaction is a crucial part of that process. Students cannot be expected to grasp it all in one sitting, nor do they need to; they can attend as often as they wish but once they have found what works for them, it is simply a matter of practising that and everything else then slots into place in the right way and at the right time.
All courses are free of charge but booking is essential and can be made here. The course dovetails with a beginners’ practice group at 7pm on Fridays; and for those who have completed the course there are intermediate groups on Tuesdays and Saturdays, details of which can also be found on the Calendar page.
Alan Perry (Centre Director)