Psychic Symbol | The Ishavasya Upanishad – Part 1

Large numbers of yogic-tantric scriptures proclaim the importance of a psychic symbol in meditative practice. Probably the briefest and profoundest explanation is given in the Ishavasya Upanishad. In slokas 9,10 and 11 it emphasizes the importance of balancing ida and pingala, and the importance of karma and dhyana yoga. These three verses and their implications are described in our previous discussion – ‘The Balance of Life’1. The next three slokas 12, 13 and 14 are concerned directly with the use of a psychic symbol. The first relevant sloka can be translated as follows: “Those who worship the unmanifest reality enter into blinding darkness; those who worship the manifest enter into even greater darkness”, (sloka 12) This verse has many meanings; we will confine our discussion to its implications regarding laya and the psychic symbol.

The sloka explains that there are two types of meditative practices. These are as follows:

  1. Sahara (form) where one’s awareness is fixed on a definite focal point or object. This is described by the term ‘worship of the manifest’ in the sloka. The object can be anything: the breath, a chakra, your deity, mantra, guru, anything. In fact, you can use any object that vou can see both in the outer world and the inner world. The object can be a psychic symbol. Included in this group are practices such as kriya yoga, nada yoga, ajapa japa, japa and so forth.
  2. Nirakara (formless) where one does not fix awareness at any definite focal point. In the sloka it is referred to as ‘worship of the unmanifest’. It includes practices where one reflects on such abstract concepts as infinity, eternity, etc. It also includes those practices where awareness is allowed to freely explore the mind and psyche. One may encounter vast numbers of psychic visions.

How is it that both of these types of practices lead to darkness (ignorance and delusion)? If this is the case, what is the point of doing any tvpe of meditative practice? The reason is that both sakara and nirakara meditational practices are means to an end. They are not the end in themselves. So those people who think that the meditative practices, whether on the manifest or unmanifest, are the experience, are deluded. Therefore, the upanishad explains that both methods can lead to ignorance They must be practised, but as a means to something else. This point will become clearer as you read further.

Meditative practice on one form (sakara) can easily degenerate into mere idol worship. This has happened throughout history in every part of the world. People have worshipped idols and deities without the slightest idea of the implications behind their worship. The same tendency can arise when one tries to fix one’s awareness on one object in meditative practice, though possibly at a less obvious level. That is, one may utilize a deity, mantra,

psychic symbol, etc. and start to build up intellectual concepts about it. The symbol will become an object of intellectual speculation and superstition instead of being the means to transcendence. It is this point that the upanishad is trying to explain when it says: “those who worship the manifest enter into even greater darkness.” The purpose of fixing one’s awareness (worshipping) on one object is to go beyond the limitations inherent in the object, to something much greater. The purpose of the object is to lead to that which is beyond intellectual concepts.

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