Foundation of Contemplative Life
is a traditional part of Indian monastic life. Acharya Shankara
was the first to organize and systematize Hindu monasticism,
and he enjoined the abbots of the monasteries to keep the
spirit of tapas (austerity) and jnana (learning) burning in
the lives of monks, and also to undertake pravasa (tours)
to disseminate religious teachings. These things then naturally
became a part of the Ramakrishna Order of monks, but with
the added inspiration of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings they
took on fresh vigour and a new outlook. This new outlook demanded
that the monks live together in groups and forge a community.
Such a life itself is a great discipline; especially since
Hindu monks have always maintained a fiercely independent
mystical tradition in Hindu religious life has its roots in
the Upanishads. For example, the Katha Upanishad (2.1.1)
says: ‘God made people’s senses directed outward from their
very birth; so they always look outside and never within.
Rare is the wise person who, desiring immortality, directs
his senses inward and perceives the truth of his own innermost
the Indian mystics took up the study of the inner life and
succeeded in penetrating some of the great mysteries of life.
But this calls for living an inward life. It requires a shift
from the external world to the internal world and demands
a reorientation of one’s lifestyle, attitudes, and values.
The Mundaka Upanishad (3.2.4) makes it clear that one
cannot attain the Atman without sannyasa. Naturally then,
spiritual seekers chose secluded places to concentrate their
minds, and they practised detachment from everything material.
Contemplation, and Meditation
us take a fresh look at the terms ‘tradition’, ‘contemplation’,
and ‘meditation’. The word ‘tradition’ comes from the Latin
noun traditio (handing over), which is derived from
the verb tradere (hand over, deliver). Tradition then
is something that is handed down from one generation to another
and is generally accepted by the latter. If it were not accepted
it would cease to be a tradition. Something that is a heritage
can be preserved as a remembrance of the past, but a tradition
is something that continues into the present. It is a standard
or set of standards consisting of established beliefs, customs,
practices, and even patterns of thought and behaviour. But
this does not mean that these standards are passed down intact
in their form, meaning, or spirit. Again, sometimes apparent
breaks in a tradition are actually a kind of transformation
engendered by circumstances.
and contemplation are closely connected, and these words have
different meanings and interpretations in different religious
systems. When these words are used interchangeably, confusion
arises. According to the Western tradition, meditation involves
concentration - that is, the focusing of the conscious mind
on a single idea, system, doctrine, etc. At the same time,
it remains a cognitive and intellectual process. The English
word ‘meditate’ comes from the Latin meditari, which
connotes deep and continued reflection - that is, concentrated
and sustained thinking.
word ‘contemplation’ is derived from the Latin cum
(with) and templum (a consecrated place). Contemplation
is considered by some to be the end of an ascetic quest, but
it is also considered to be a spiritual stage in itself. Dom
Cuthbert Butler pointed out two distinct meanings in the Western
contemplative tradition - that is, the objective meaning and
the subjective meaning. (2) Indian mysticism, however, does
not admit any such distinction.
to the Hindu tradition - especially in the Yoga and Vedanta
systems - meditation is of a higher order than contemplation.
It is different from reflective reasoning, and its goal is
to attain direct perception of something. While contemplation
is thinking about the Divine, meditation is a spontaneous
flow of the mind towards the Divine. At the outset, meditation
may proceed through an effort of the mind; but with the help
of a symbol or image, and strengthened by faith, it should
end in absorption in the Divine. Again, contemplation means
thinking about the form of and stories about the Divine or
an Incarnation, while meditation means keeping the mind fixed
uninterruptedly on him or her.
and japa are also practices that help deepen one’s spiritual
life. Japa means repetition of the divine name. Prayer uses
words, images, and thoughts to communicate with God, but contemplation
and meditation use fewer of these or even dispense with them
entirely. Japa, prayer, contemplation, and meditation are
all important tools in spiritual life that help us develop
and use a mystical mind and heart.
contemplative is one who practises contemplation. And contemplative
life means a life characterized by contemplation. The contemplative
mind is sometimes compared to a bee hovering and buzzing around
a flower and the meditative mind to the bee which is already
seated on the flower and sipping the honey.
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