Laya - is born from the Sanskrit root 'Li'
'Li' - means - cling, stick to, adhere; recline on, settle on, lie; disappear, dissolve.
Laya can mean then, depending on context:
- Sticking, adherance
- Fusion, solution
- Disappearance, dissolution, destruction
- Absorption, deep concentration, exclusive devotion (to any object)
- Rest, repose
- A place of rest, abode
- Making the mind inactive, indifferent
- Mental inactivity
- A swoon
- the quick downward movement of an arrow.
- Time in music / pause in music
- Union of song, dance and instrumental music.
It is obvious that as with all Sanskrit words the term 'Laya' acquires different meanings in various contexts. Some of these meanings are not relevant in all contexts. Others may indicate more positive connotations. Hence the word has to be understood in the proper context. The explanation of laya in Upadesa Saram in Verses 11 and 13 "The mind becomes quiescent by regulation of breath, like a bird caught in a net. This is a means of mind control". "Control of the mind is of two kinds, its lulling and its destruction. A lulled mind will rise again but not the one which is destroyed".
1)From the following we can arrive at a clear understanding of the state that is termed 'laya':
i) 'Laya' is a state of mental quietude. The dictionary definitions of `disappearance', 'dissolution', `rest', `repose', `mental inactivity' - apply. However, the meanings `destruction' and `exclusive devotion' are not applicable to this state.
ii) The experience is pleasant and can be sought about by `deep concentration' and/or breath regulation.
iii) The experience is similar to what happens in sleep, `swoon' (one of the definitions) and in any state of excessive emotion. However, these `mergers' `dissolutions' of the mind take place unconsciously, without one's knowledge or volition. 'Laya' on the other hand is a state that occurs in the course of spiritual practice. It happens, therefore, with one's volition. It can be repeated by the practitioner and it can also equally be dropped if it is considerd unnecessary or obstructive to further progress.
iv) The question follows that if it is not an involuntary stillness like that in excessive emotion or swoon, why is it considered to be different from the natural silence. Or, how is one to recognize it as such? The important factor here, which it shares with the other states of quiescence is that it is a `forcible arrest of thoughts'. Laya is a stillness brought about by the application of an external force. This `force' may be the sudden upsurge of emotion of which one is unaware or the planned breath regulation of which one is aware. In either case there is an external agency causing the thought vaccum. When the application of this force is withdrawn, the mind returns to its original state.
The factors distinguishing 'laya' from merger in the Self are :
(a) There is no change after laya. This is the most important sign to signify whether an experience is 'laya', lulling or destruction. Even after thousands of years of such 'laya samadhi' one would wake up with the last thought that happened prior to laya.
(b) The presence of identity, of ego, of individuality is undisturbed by laya. The individual is happy with the experience. Whose experience? `His' or `hers'. And the individual wishes to repeat it. `I experienced this and can experience it again at will'. In the natural `destruction' of the mind, the way and the seeker both disappear totally, in the silence, the fullness that is the Self. No tendency survives. Identity itself is lost.
v) The experience of 'laya' is temporary. The arrest of thoughts is temporary as they return the moment the pressure is released. The stillness comes and goes. Again it must be stressed that `comes and goes' does not mean even for a few minutes or hours. It could be for years too. Then how is one to recognize that the experience is 'laya'? By the presence of the experience of course, by the continuation of duality. `I am experiencing this pleasant stillness'. There is `I' the subject and the object `the experience'. This is also the means to distinguish it from natural intermittent dips into the Self termed `abhyasa'. Because these mergers are also not continuous one should not dismiss them as 'laya'. Nor can one argue that 'laya' too is a natural merger into the source that is intermittent. In the latter, though for a brief while, the sense of identity would be totally dissolved, like a bucket of water in a well. Secondly, when such merger occurs, the peace, the bliss and the upsurge of love would continue even after one comes out of the experience. The thought force itself would be very minimal even when one is back to functioning with identity.
2) Having understood the nature of 'laya' one must strive to leave it behind, to cross over it. One must not allow oneself to be overtaken by such spells of stillness of thought : the moment one experiences this, one must revive consciousness and enquire within as to who it is who experiences this stillness... By such enquiry, you will drive the thought force deeper till it reaches its source and merges therein. It is crystal clear that self-enquiry must be used to pursue the mind beyond laya and into the source.
3) 'Laya' is not a negative state. It is a clear sign of one's progress but the danger of it lies in mistaking it for the final goal of spiritual practice and being thus deceived. While everyone may not experience laya as a specific milestone in spiritual practice one may experience similar states in the course of one's lives. Hence, laya, wherever, however it occurs could well be utilized as a stepping stone to merger in the source. Whether unconsciously in the act of something as simple as Tying Your Shoe or in a moment of deep joy or sorrow, to a conscious fusion of the mind in the wonder of nature, music, dance, creativity, or through breath-regulation or concentration on an object, 'laya' may occur. Even the experience of light, of pleasant sounds, of vastness and so on during one's spiritual practice would only be 'laya'. Compare 'laya' here with one's accomplishment as it unfolds in the third variety or type of Zen called Shojo.
4) The criterion, one must not fail to remember, is the presence of the experiencer `I am experiencing this'. The subtler the experience the more one is in danger of mistaking it for the real. The important thing is to recognise this and use 'laya' as an asset. `Ah! The mind is now still, calm, unperturbed, free of thoughts. For whom is this experience? For me, I. My experience. Most wonderful. When you ask Who am I? what is this I ?' Whether or not one actually uses these words, one must pay keen attention to the experiencer of the stillness, the peace, the pleasantness, the vastness. It is a moment, it is a time when the mind has left all else behind. It can easily be made to take the dive. Yes it is time to plunge deeper, into the source, leaving laya behind.
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
AWAKENED TEACHERS FORUM
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
ON THE RAZOR'S
THE DOCTOR'S PRESCRIPTION: Leaving Laya Behind
Pg. 144 - 149
by Dr. Sarada Natarajan, Ph.D
Dr. Sarada Natarajan
Dr. Sarada Natarajan, Ph.D. in English literature, has been editor of 'The Ramana Way' published monthly by the The Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning in Bangalore, and author of several books listed among Publications of the Centre, including The Ramana Way in Search of Self, Ramana Thatha, and (most recently) The Surging Joy.
She is also director of the dance division of the Centre, Ramana Nritya Kala Ranga, and has scripted and directed nine ballets and several dramas on the life of Ramana.
She had a special dance training under Kun Neenakshi of the Veena Visalakshi Art Centre, Bangalore. She has also choreographed many compositions of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, and those on Him.
She has been core singer of the Ramananjali group which has rendered over 320 live programs and recorded over 75 cassettes of Ramana music.
She also gives regular talks on the Teachings of Sri Ramana, and contributes articles to various journals, reviews books for 'The Mountain Path' and 'Prabuddha Bharatha'. She conducts regular classes on Sri Ramana's Teachings for college and school students, and has been in charge of quiz programs conducted by RMCL.
Two of her dance ballets have been telecast by Poordarshan Kendra, Bangalore: 'Ramana Prabha' and 'Nitya Ramana.' She also has been instrumental in producing video films on Bhagavan Ramana: 'Bhagavan Ramana and Mother', and 'Ramana Prabha'.