In the year 2001 I spent two and a half months in jail as a result of a major action in the field fighting for social and economic justice. This gave me a considerable time to meditate and set me on the course of mind control again especially as it became clear that it was difficult to achieve much in the field of social activism. However, various other worldly commitments prevented me from pursuing meditation in earnest once I came out of jail. About two years ago I came to the conclusion that it is necessary to spend some time doing meditation only to get the mind into the habit of being empty for small periods of time. I applied and joined a ten day course of the Vipassana meditation school set up by S.N. Goenka. I did so because Goenka follows the Theravadic Buddhist tradition. However, even though the course ensures that one does not speak and goes through concentrated meditation sessions, these advantages are somewhat marred by the fact that Goenka himself through audio and visual programming harangues the meditators continually with his Hinduised version of Buddhism. Therefore, I was not able to benefit as much as I could from this course.
This set me searching for some other opportunity. I had earlier joined such other meditative congregations as the Sri Ramchandra Mission but had found them to be wanting in some way or other. So I wrote to my friend Shreesh Jadhav who is a monk in the Ramkrishna Mission order asking him whether there is any centre of theirs where it is possible to do isolated meditation without any imposition from outside. He directed me to the Advaita Ashram in Mayavati in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. This retreat was set up by Swami Vivekananda in 1899 for the pursuit of the Advaita philosophy of Shankaracharya wherein it is posited that the spirit that underlies this universe is a non-dual one. Therefore there is no temple at the Advaita Ashrama in Mayavati and there are only various places where one can meditate either in the main building itself or in various natural nooks. I was lucky to get a chance to meditate on nothingness in total isolation at Mayavati due to the good offices of my friend Shreesh who arranged for a ten day stay for me there in this the sesquicentenary year of Swami Vivekananda's birth.
Apart from the gains of uninterrupted meditation in the beautiful natural settings of the Himalayas I learnt of something else that is the subject matter of this post. In the library I came across an article by the late ex president of the Ramkrishna Mission, Sri Ranganathananda, in which he mentioned the importance of the Jnyan Mudra for meditation. This is the positioning of the fingers of the hand during meditation in such a way that the thumb meets the forefinger as shown in the picture below. The thumb is a representative of the universal non-dual spirit whereas the forefinger is the mind of the individual and the mudra symbolises the coming together of the two. In the case of an atheistic meditator like I the thumb can be taken to represent the universe of which we as individuals are very insignificant parts.
Research has shown that over millions of years the human hand evolved through a process of natural selection because the hominids who could grip tools obviously fared better in the race to be alive than those who could not. So in a sense the coming together of the thumb and the forefinger is the beginning of knowledge that differentiated the humans from the primates and later led to the development of the brain and is thus a fitting symbol of the thirst for knowledge whether spiritual or atheistic.