There are three stages: concentration, meditation and contemplation. These are like three rungs of a ladder, the ladder of aspiration.
We start with concentration. When we concentrate, we focus all our attention on a particular object and become totally one with that object. When our concentration is very deep, there can be no thought, not an iota of thought inside us or around us. We and the object of our concentration are one.
Concentration is the mind’s dynamic will that operates in us for our immediate acceptance of light and rejection of darkness. It also awakens within us the planes of consciousness that are fast asleep. What concentration can do in our life of aspiration is unimaginable. It can easily separate Heaven from hell, so that we can live in the constant delight of Heaven and not in the perpetual worries, anxieties and tortures of hell while we are here on earth. If we can concentrate well, we will be able to make fast progress. If we can focus all our attention on a particular object, if we can enter into it with our mind, we will be able to discover and reveal the hidden, ultimate Truth inside it. Now we are victims to unlit, obscure, destructive and malignant thoughts, but a day will come when, on the strength of our concentration, we will feel that disturbing thoughts are afraid of us. In concentration we work for an immediate result; but meditation does not care for success in this sense. Meditation only wants to enter into the Vast and swim in the vast sea of Peace, Light and Bliss. When we meditate, we have to feel that we are entering into something vast and infinite: the vast ocean or the infinite blue sky. We are trying to plunge into something boundless and measureless. All around us is the infinite blue sky where Peace is reigning supreme. First we have to feel this, and then we have to become fully one with the Vastness itself. When we are concentrating, we can use our mental willpower to some extent. But in meditation we use our psychic willpower, the soul’s willpower. In meditation we have to go far beyond the domain of the mind, because the mental faculty is very limited. When we are in our highest, deepest meditation, we have to stop the functioning of the mind.
Concentration is like an arrow that hits the target. When we concentrate, we aim at something with a dynamic attitude. But meditation is calm, divine, soulful and elevating. When we meditate, we make the mind calm, quiet and still — without thoughts. At that time, we have to be fully aware of the arrival of thoughts and allow no idle thoughts to enter into the mind. The mind is vacant and tranquil, with neither good nor bad thoughts; nothing at all. Our whole existence becomes an empty vessel. When this vessel is absolutely empty, with our whole inner being we invoke infinite Peace, Light and Bliss so it will enter into the vessel and fill it. This is meditation.
Then comes contemplation, which is the last stage before we realise God. With contemplation we enter into samadhi and the transcendental Consciousness. Contemplation is something extremely difficult for beginners in the spiritual life, but eventually the beginner becomes advanced and he, too, learns how to contemplate, for without contemplation one can never realise the Highest. In contemplation we are at once in our deepest concentration and our highest meditation. We lose our so-called outer existence, the existence that binds. At that time there is no mind; it is as though the physical mind did not exist. In contemplation we become totally one with God’s universal Will, the transcendental Will, which plays the part of both the doer and the action. The doer and the action become totally one when we are in contemplation. The knower, the knowing and the known become one.
During contemplation we become merged into the inner stream; it is all one stream of consciousness. From the soles of our feet to the crown of our head, consciousness is flowing. We feel the flow of consciousness all over our body, and feel that we are nothing but the consciousness itself. We become part and parcel of the infinite Consciousness, the eternal Consciousness, the immortal Consciousness. We become totally one with Infinity, Eternity and Immortality in the highest state of contemplation.
There are two types of consciousness. One is earth-bound consciousness, the other is boundless Consciousness, infinite Consciousness. When we are limited, we become one with the earth-bound consciousness. Here we see ‘me’ and ‘mine’. But the unlimited Consciousness that is flowing inside our being is one with Infinity, Eternity and Immortality. When we are contemplating, we feel that we are dealing with Infinity, not around us but inside us.
You may say, “My body is only five feet, eight inches tall, so how can I house Infinity inside me? How can I house Eternity and Immortality? It is all absurd.” But no, you have to feel that you are not the body; you are the soul. Our Indian scriptures say that the soul has neither birth nor death, neither beginning nor end. It is something which is constantly moving — moving, flowing, manifesting the infinite Truth. In contemplation we become totally identified with our soul and go to the highest and spread our wings. From the finite we enter into the infinite; we enter into the world of Peace, Light and Bliss, where there is direct oneness with Infinity, Eternity and Immortality.
Infinity. The word will seem to come from your imagination. What is Infinity? Try to feel it is something that is going to make you free from ignorance. Now we are wallowing in the pleasures of ignorance, but Infinity is something that is freeing us from the meshes of ignorance.
Eternity. What is it? We have two lives — an ordinary human life, where we stay on earth for fifty, sixty or seventy years, and eternal Life. The eternal Life existed before our birth; it exists during this short span of our life; it passes through the dark tunnel of death. Then again it enters into its own Source. When you think of Eternity, feel that it is something which precedes everything and, at the same time, will succeed everything.
Immortality. Nothing remains permanent on earth. Today somebody is a great beauty; tomorrow her beauty pales into insignificance. Today somebody is very prominent in the world; tomorrow his prominence is forgotten. No matter how great or how sublime we are, the jaws of death devour us sooner or later. What can we do? We have to feel the Immortality of Consciousness. The finite consciousness, when it becomes one with the infinite, becomes immortal. When the finite consciousness becomes immortal, then God’s divine Play can take place here on earth and God can be really fulfilled.
When you are contemplating, you will feel that you are dealing with three sublime, significant truths: Infinity, Eternity and Immortality. In contemplation your body, vital, mind and heart do not act separately. They become totally one. They are completely united and, like obedient children, they listen to the dictates of the soul. Once they listen to the soul, you become the soul itself, and this is the truest contemplation.
(Sri chinmoy “Meditation: God’s Duty and man’s beauty”)