Magic Meditation Cylinders

SF Children learn the difference between the changing and the unchanging

signs of separating againappears mixedappears separate

Water and oil do not mix,
but they seem to when shaken together.

Like this, the Atman appears one with Maya
when seen through the restless mind.

By meditation, the wise control the mind
and behold the ever-pure & blissful Atman,
distinct from everything else – matter, energy & thought.

Last August a little group of sparkling youngsters and their parents and friends gathered for teachings and fun at the SRV San Francisco ashram.  This group ranged in age from “just turned 6!” to 9 years — just the time when curiosity about the external world and “how things work” is gathering momentum.  At this time we can begin to add in “experiments” of a scientific flavor to our program of stories, art, meditation, and worship/ritual.

Rowan, Leila, and OlympiaWe began in the shrine room, as is our tradition, and held a five minute meditation.  Afterwards, the teacher passed around the meditation cylinder kept there.  The oil and water were perfectly separated, just as the Self and objects are.  Then we let the kids shake it up so the oil and water looked like one substance.  They watched as the oil and water separated again.  We likened the shaking of the cylinder to the mind that makes the mistake of thinking the Self and the worlds of objects are the same thing. In such a quandary, the mind is very restless and mixed up.  Letting the cylinder sit quietly, we likened this to the process of meditation.  Their handout had a picture of a classroom of young Thai girls sitting in meditation.  In meditation we allow the mind to be quiet and peaceful, naturally “objectless.”  The kids were delighted to find out they would make their own meditation cylinders.

Thus, the lesson that day was to learn the difference between Spirit and Objects, and especially to begin to discriminate between what changes and what doesn’t — to recognize the one who is the seer of everything.  But first we had to understand what is meant by “thing” or “object.”  Just as when the adults encounter Vedanta and discover the “not Self” via Sankhya’s  24 Cosmic Principles, the children also receive these teachings, though in simplified form. 

From the lesson handout:
What is Matter?
Matter is the stuff of nature. Everything we can touch, see, taste, and smell is made of much smaller parts such as:

  • The elements (ether/space, air, fire, water, and earth) as well as cells, molecules, atoms, neutrons, protons, quarks, and anything else the scientist finds that makes up physical objects

What is Energy?

Energy is all the different kinds of force causing motion and vibration all around us and also in our bodies, including:

  • Gross energy, called “kinetic” moves physical objects – from clouds, planets, comets and stars, to skyscrapers, baseballs and cars, to vegetables boiling in a pot.

  • Subtle energy, called life force or prana, causes animal and plant bodies to breathe, grow, pump blood, and digest food.

  • Thought energy, called mentation or psychic prana, animates the thinking process and causes our mental process – from our waking thoughts and memories, to our daydreams and night dreams.

What is Thought?
Thought is all the different things you see happening in your mind.

These include:

  • feelings, like happiness, sadness, embarrassment, anger, love

  • the act of thinking, like planning, problem-solving, concentrating, remembering, dreaming

  • instinct – these are thoughts we don’t even know we are thinking, but which cause us to do things “without thinking” – like jerking our hands away from fire, running away from spiders, tigers, or oncoming cars.

While discussing these, we also talked about the fact that objects change.  They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The Atman, however, never changes, but sees all these changes.  With regard to material objects, not only do they change, but they aren’t even what they appear to be!  From the lesson handout we read:

Objects look solid, but are they?  When we look at a tree or at our body, it looks like one thing, but really it is made of a lot of things.  Who would believe that the body is made of water? that it is mostly water – 55-60%!  When our body gets a cut or scrape and some blood comes out, it looks like red liquid.  But if we look through a microscope, we see it is made of lots of tiny cells. With a more powerful microscope we find that those cells are made of swirling bits of matter with lots of space in between!  The children found it interesting that what appears and feels solid really isn’t.

A Universe in a Drop of Saliva

The children were truly fascinated by this, and doubly enthused when they learned they would get to look through a microscope.  We left the shrine room and went up to Bhavatarini Ma’s healing office where she keeps a special microscope for doing live blood analysis.  The children all stood around while she hooked it up to the tv monitor so everyone could watch.  Then one of the girls put a drop of saliva on a slide.  Bhavatarini Ma covered it with a slip and placed it under the microscope.  Oooos and ahhhs were heard.  A drop of saliva suddenly looked like a universe of stars and planets.  We gazed at it through more and more powerful lenses.  We saw cells and  other odd things.  Then, an adult donated a drop of blood, and the kids got to see how that drop of red liquid suddenly opened up into a world of clear liquid with red blood cells moving about in strings, and white blood cells chewing on bad cells, bits of fungus, etc. Bhavatarini Ma said that the donor had better start drinking more water.  So there were lessons in diet and healthy habits that day as well.  The children probably could have kept examining things through the microscope even longer, but it was time to make their meditation cylinders.

Rowan, Leila, and OlympiaEach child was given a glass cyclinder half-filled with water, to which they added food coloring.  Blues and greens were the color of the day, to which were added the lovely yellow green of olive oil (the best oil we’ve found for this project).  Then we sealed them up and put the quote from the top of the page around the lid so they would remember the teaching.

In our next class we will continue with this lesson because there is so much more to learn about the nature of objects, the Atman, and how to skillfully handle our experiences with objects in a way that keeps us always united with the ever free, ever pure Self within.  The next class is scheduled for Sunday, September 27, 2-5:00pm.  RSVP is required.