Intellectual Contemplation

There are certain definite ways in which we can practice contemplation. In all cases one should go through the three stages in order to reach the top of one’s thought: (I) the attention must be centered on the object; (2) thought must be active with reference to that object alone; (3) the mind must come to an end of its remembering, collating, comparing, reasoning and meditating, but still remain attentively poised upon the object.

It will be seen that throughout the three stages the mood of concentration continues so that the activity of mind is maintained within the chosen sphere of attention. The process of contemplation will really commence when thought ceases to expand or amplify the subject-matter of the object, and yet the mind remains poised. Then the conscious activity begins to run, as it were, at right angles to the usual thought-activity which endeavors to understand and think in reference to other things of its own nature or “plane”. When the attention is no longer divided into parts by the mental activities, the mind will be moving as a whole, and will seem quite still, just as a spinning top may appear to stand still when it is in most rapid motion.

Suppose, for example, you take an idea such as that of justice; you might first consider some form of justice, the manifestation of justice in an act, in such a manner that the whole of your mind is occupied with that; then you might turn to the thought of the psychological effects of justice on the doer and the receiver, and allow this to occupy the entire mind; and then pass from that to an endeavor to comprehend abstract justice, and thus continue the mental effort until you can carry your thought no further, but find it in, as it were, an open space, and unable to grasp anything clearly. When you then, by an effort of will, hold your thought at a level beyond that at which its normal activities go on, it is obvious that then you can no longer be thinking about the object, but only contemplating it.

If you are able to do so, it will be better to avoid starting this process with the thought of yourself and the object as two different things in relation to each other, for then you will not easily escape this idea of its relation to yourself, and thus will not be able to obtain the idea untinctured with feeling. But if you can reach such a point of self-detachment as to start your contemplation from the inside of the thing itself, and still keep up your mental enthusiasm and energy all along the line of thought, from the name to the form of the object, from that to its psychological aspect (to its feeling or thought, if it is a sentient object, or to the feeling and thought which it awakens in a sentiment mind, if it is a mere object or a quality) from that to its abstract nature (to its nature in simultaneous relation to all conceivable manifestations of itself) in which both word and form have disappeared — and you are able to hold the mind there, trying to pierce the indefiniteness that surrounds this state (and yet using no words or forms for that purpose), just as you might try to penetrate a mist with physical vision, then, holding yourself there, looking forward and never thinking of turning back, poised, as it were, like a bird on the wing, you will accomplish contemplation.

Let us take some definite examples in order to make the method more comprehensible. If I fix my attention on this sheet of paper, I may consider what sort, size, shape, color, texture, thickness, variety of paper it is, what relation it bears to other sheets of paper in the book, where and how it was made, and many other things in connection with it. Suppose, however, I wish to contemplate it, then I will start with my attention on the paper and after observing it, carefully proceed to think of its more subtle nature, of its composition, of the subtle elements that make it up, and what it would be like to a vision which had to do with such subtle realities. Going beyond that, I might try to conceive what is the nature of those invisible particles composing it, and make an effort to apply to them a kind of mental perception, not mere words and definitions. Such a course would end in the process of contemplation.

If, however, an object possessing consciousness is selected, more stages will be available. Suppose, for example, we take a dog. I concentrate my attention on the dog, not thinking of that dog in relation to myself as regards action or emotion or position or relatively of any kind. I pass from that to an effort to understand the inner nature of the object, the feelings and thoughts that may occupy it, and endeavour to realize its state of consciousness. It is difficult to go further with an animal.

If one ventures to fix one’s attention upon a superior being, one would pass from the physical appearance to meditate upon the state of feeling and emotion and thought, and so try to rise inwards to grasp the state of consciousness which he enjoys. In any of these cases, when I have carried my thought inwards until it can go no further and I cannot grasp clearly what is before it, though I know that there is something there, and hold to that position without going back or turning aside, I am in a state of contemplation with reference to the inner nature of that object. This is a process which must generally be practiced many times, whenever opportunity offers, before success will come.

If I look at a statue in a museum, I find that the artist and the curators have already done some concentration for me. They have put that object there, away from the madding crowd of similar things, and away from the multifarious business of the outside day. In the museum I am in the mood for looking. My mind becomes poised on the statue, and for me some part or curved line of it comes to stand out. I look closer or more attentively at this, with a kind of listening reaching look. I have caught some beauty; but heaven preserve me from saying that to myself, for if I do the inner gate is closed. Rather let the beauty catch me, and carry me, in unconsciousness of my old self, into . . . well, I just cannot say what; it has no thisness to answer to any sort of what.

Such contemplation sometimes occurs spontaneously in ordinary life, when the mind is “enraptured” or “entranced” by contemplation of a beautiful thing or a flood of understanding. Its character is always the same — we “forget ourselves” yet are most fully alive. When we return to the state of “I am this” — “this” being the idea-personality that we normally regard as self, and begin to say “I see” or “I know” with reference to contemplation-experience, the clouds gather again before the face of the true sun. Does it not hurt us when we are contemplating something beautiful in Nature or art, and somebody starts talking about it: “See, is it not beautiful, wonderful, grand?” Must we come back from consorting with beauty itself to grub among ideas ? Only the building of a new “I” with materials of contemplative experience will bring to us the possibility of living in the “beyond” of the mind.

It will be seen that in this contemplation there is nothing in the nature of sleep or mental inactivity, but an intense search; you make an effort to see in the indefiniteness something definite, and refuse for the time being to descend to the ordinary lower regions of conscious activity in which your sight is normally clear and precise.