Intellectual Meditation

In the intellectual form of meditation our purpose is to understand the chosen object as fully as possible. When this is done there is expansion without loss of strength or clarity. When a student is trying to grasp an idea, if he is wise he will first of all concentrate for a while on the data before him, will review his knowledge of them, will study all the things, with their parts, qualities and actions, which bear upon the idea.

Then he will put them together, and the new idea will be born in that body of thought or combination he has made. If, however, he finds that he cannot remember all his data at once, that he is constantly losing his facts and has to make an effort to collect them again, he may also note that it is next to impossible to “get the idea” or solve his problem, and that if he does so it occurs more by accident than as the result of his successful work.

In that case he is trying to go too far without sufficient groundwork, and he should go back to the study of his facts, which were themselves built or born from simpler facts a little while ago.

But if, on the other hand, he finds himself able to work his way steadily to his solution, he will probably also find that his data have become additionally clear as well. Expansion has not destroyed clarity in that case. It may be said that in all studies involving any grasp or depth of thought the aim of the student should be to make his conclusion as clear and real and familiar as his premises, so that he may later on use that conclusion as a simple and self-evident datum for his further or deeper investigation. All the time the student is engaged in making platforms for himself and then climbing on to them.

All thinking is really abstract thinking. It is one abstract idea that holds two or more concrete ones together. No one can really think of two quite separate things at once; if it appears to be so, they are parts of one bigger thought. You can think of one abstract or complex idea which contains two or more others. Thus, for example, to picture a pen and a hand separately would be difficult, but to picture a pen in the hand in the act of writing is very easy. That is because that has become one idea for us in the course of our experience. So the student should never try to grasp a variety of things at once; he will only distress himself and produce a kind of mental panic if he tries to do so. Let him always look for the abstract connecting ideas, which are really enveloping ideas.

Now we will take some more difficult practices which are bound to seem very unsatisfactory and almost impossible of accomplishment. They may nevertheless be expected to produce the faculty of inspiration — -a deeper working of the higher part of the mind, which flows into action unexpectedly. It has often been noticed with regard to great scientific discoveries and inventions as well as profound philosophic and religious thoughts that they are due more to inspiration than to logical thinking. They are seldom the immediate result of a deliberate chain of thought, and yet without that thought they would not have come. It is usually only when the lower mind has tried its best that the higher mind will help. Quite often an inventor or a scientist has puzzled over a problem for a long time and found no solution for it, until suddenly, perhaps some, time after he has set it aside as insoluble, the truth has flashed into his mind, illuminating the whole field of enquiry. That is inspiration; It’ is of the higher mind, while intuition proper touches the inner heart and tells of right and wrong, and conscience comes from the inner will.

Exercise 20.
Select a difficult for abstract subject, such as the idea of harmony or beauty. Fix your thought upon it. Begin by asking questions about it. What is the selected idea? Name it. Think of some concrete examples of it, such as harmony in music and the harmonic motion of pendulums. See to what senses these examples apply. Go over them in detail and observe their qualities for sensation. What is the class of the idea? What are its prominent features? In what does it resemble and in what does it differ from other similar or contesting ideas? What is its real nature and why does it exist ? What part does it play in the succession of events? From what does it rise and to what does it lead?

When you have to some extent answered all these questions, picture several concrete images together, trying to grasp their common element of harmony. Then try to hold this abstract thought of harmony, while you drop the concrete images.

Exercise 21.
Think of a number of colors: red, yellow, green, blue and violet. Notice that these are all distinct and quite different sensations. What do you see? You see red, yellow, green, blue and violet. But you do not see color, as such. Fix upon two colors, say red and green. Concentrate upon them. What have they in common? Certainly not much as regards their superficial appearance. There is, however, a relation between them, something which is common to them both. It is color. Try to understand what color is. Drop the images and thought of red and green, and try to keep hold of the conception of color without them. Next fix the thought upon heat and cold. We are sensible of different degrees of warmth or coldness, but we have no direct sensation of heat as such. Try, out of these two ideas, to conceive of heat as such. Cling to the conception that you thus obtain while you drop the ideas of different degrees of heat. Again, color and heat are two forms of sensation.

What is it that these have in common? The idea of sensation. Try to grasp this while you drop the ideas of color and heat. In this practice it is not enough to define the things logically in words by their generic and differentiating marks. They must be pondered upon and looked into with a kind of mental feeling, and then an effort must be made to grasp and hold the abstract idea without any sense of form or of naming.

Exercise 22.
Now take up for further practice a series of difficult questions, such as: What is Truth? What is Spirit? What is Justice? Avoid giving mere verbal definitions, but try to realize these things mentally. Follow reason in trying to elucidate them, and when you can reason no further, still do not let the thought wander away. Keep the thought there, at the highest point that you have been able to reach, and wait for the inspiration that will surely come.