What Is Meditation? By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

The Art Of Doing Nothing

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My Dear Friends,

You have heard many things about meditation and perhaps there are questions in your mind about it. Today, there is no shortage of information on any topic having to do with meditation and yoga. There are literally thousands of books on meditation and yoga and self-help techniques. If you go on the Internet and put in a few key words, you will come across many views on meditation.

Some people equate repeating a mantra with meditation. Others say that if you focus on the in-going and out-going breath, that is meditation. There are people who believe that you must be able to sit cross-legged in the lotus position with a straight spine in order to meditate effectively.

Having meditated since early childhood, I can assure you that this is not true. Inviting aches and pains by sitting in a lotus position will not lead to a peaceful mind. Meditation, after all, is about relaxation and peace. Having peace, or recognizing the peace within, is meditation. What takes us away from being peaceful cannot be meditation. Whatever brings us peace is meditation.

Avoidance Of Stillness

It is my experience that people like to keep busy. In today’s world, being busy is considered a very high virtue. We want to keep busy and be productive in some way. Otherwise, we feel we are wasting time and feel guilty. Certainly, being active is a good thing and allows us to make a living and maintain relationships in the world.

Even Sri Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita that one cannot avoid action. One is compelled to act according to one’s nature under the force of circumstances. That is the universal law of Karma.

But we have to understand the nature of action and our relationship to it. This is why Sri Krishna advises Arjuna to act according to his duty and dharma but without any expectation for any fruits of action. Our expectations undermine our peace when they do not come to fruition. Right conduct, according to one’s best understanding and judgement, brings peace. Therefore, it brings us to meditation.

Mental Experiments

Ancient Yogic and Advaitic sages gave methods and taught us to conduct mental experiments to find the nature of truth. These mental experiments can indirectly help us recognize the Pure Being within our center as our own Heart.

The techniques of meditation, such as mantra, chanting, yoga, pranayama, breath-awareness, etc., are simply mental and physical experiments. These practices start us on a journey with the potential for personal and spiritual growth.

However, real meditation is beyond visionary experiences and is the discovery of peace within. To reach there, we have to be quiet and learn the art of stillness. Once we know how to be still while doing nothing, we can carry this stillness into our actions as well. But first, we must discover the nature of this inner peace; and to do that we have to learn the art of doing nothing.

Are You Able To Do Nothing?

Are you able to do nothing? Absolutely nothing! The art of meditation is learned by seeing the value of doing nothing. If you can sit very still and quiet without mental disturbance, you have already come a long way towards the experience of meditation.

It is only a rare person that enjoys doing nothing. Doing nothing is not as easy as it may sound. Try it sometimes. Just sit on the sofa. Don’t go to sleep. Stay awake and think about nothing in particular.

You will soon find your mind racing here and there, thinking about your girl friend, your boy friend, your boss, your co-workers, your business, your friends, your family, tofu, pizza, chocolate… the sky is the limit!

The Mind Is A Monkey And A Donkey!

Yogic sages have compared the human mind to a monkey. Just like the monkey cannot be quiet and must be restlessly hopping here and there, so it is with the mind. It is the nature of the mind to be either brooding about the past (regrets, mistakes, guilt, lost opportunities, the roads not taken) or fantasizing about what the future will bring.

The burden of carrying the past and the future in this present moment is heavy. But the mind, like a donkey, gets used to carrying this load and plods along.

However, the mind that is always lost in memories (past) or hopes (the future) misses the most delicious feast of all that is taking place in the present.

The eternal reality, we can call it Self, Sat-Chit-Anand, God, the Supreme Being, the Supreme Goddess, Paramatman, Brahman, the Great Void, or the Kingdom of Heaven, always exists and is shining in the present right before our very eyes.

The Divine mystery is recognized when the mind is calm and awake and free from anger, hatred, and greed and thus not subjected to the pulls of the past and the future. This is why all major religions encourage human beings to be good and kind and compassionate. These virtues serve as the building blocks for the spiritual life because they remove the agitation of the mind.

Why Meditation Techniques Do Not Always Work

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Meditation techniques are fully effective only in a mind that already has some understanding and maturity. So really, laying the foundation or the groundwork for meditation is more important than the practice of meditation. Just like a seed grows naturally on fertile ground, meditation happens spontaneously in a reflective and a quiet mind.

When the mind is ready and ripe, meditation works and self-inquiry is fruitful in a short time.

When the mind is restless, anxious, and troubled, meditation becomes a forced activity and is not always helpful. At such times, one should take a walk, practice deep breathing, or go for running or do push-ups and other exercises. Those are more useful than meditation when the mind is not ready to be calm.

Pranayama, involving deep rhythmic breathing, is an ancient yogic method that can serve to calm and sedate the mind in a natural way. According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other classic yogic texts, one first has to master proper breathing in order to progress to meditation. This is the commonly held belief in the school of Hatha Yoga. However, the path of Jnana Yoga does not emphasize breathing exercises or Hatha Yoga Mudras and Kriyas and considers these to be irrelevant to Self-Knowledge.

Advanced Pranayama practices involving breath retention or awakening of Kundalini Shakti can be found in many yogic texts and modern books. However, these should be learned very cautiously from an experienced practitioner of pranayama.

Laying The Foundation For Meditation

In order to advance in meditation and learn it in depth, we have to understand the nature of the mind and learn to be alert and watchful of its activities. It is this constant watching, that is the key method behind all the techniques of meditation. A form of this is what Buddhist calls, “Mindfulness”. Jains call it Upa Yoga (Yoga of Awareness), Hindus refer to it as the “Inquiry into the Self” or Self-Remembrance.

A spiritual seeker is watchful.

The essence of this watchfulness is that with the mind one watches the mind.

If meditation is going to take place, if this recognition of Pure Being with clarity is to be gained, an inner silence must ensue. One cannot see one’s image clearly in the water, when the water is full of waves. In a still pool, our image is reflected and can easily be recognized. Similarly, in a still mind, we can see the nature of our being.

This inner watchfulness, the observer being aware of the observer, this self-inquiry can occur in a ripe mind that is calm, content, and ready.

We Are Dancing For Others!

The difficulty is that our minds are noisy. This is the nature of the mind that goes outward only. It is overcome by sensory experiences and is unable to see its origin. The worldly chatter overshadows and muffles the subtle divine music that is playing.

Friends, sometimes I think, we are dancing to the drum of other people’s expectations, which we have internalized.

There is no end to this dance. This dance has a stronger hold on us than rock and roll or disco or rap music. It keeps us hopping all our life doing this and doing that or achieving this and achieving that. Ultimately, it is exhausting.

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The whole life slips away in the blink of an eye as we keep busy in “doing” this dance making sure that the movement of our steps have the approval of others. We forget to “Be” who we are.

To Be Still is the true meditation. Meditation is simply Pure Being.

The art of recognizing yourself as Pure Being is meditation. Pure Being is Self-Awareness or Awareness.

A Powerful Intervention: Conduct This Experiment

The state of meditation is simple. The methods and techniques and the philosophy behind it are very complicated. That is why thousands of books are written on such things. But the aim of meditation is simply peace. Peaceful Awareness. Meditation is easy to understand. It is being peaceful without expectations.

Conduct the following experiment with being peaceful without expectations. Tell yourself this: “For the next one minute, I am not going to worry about anything and be bothered.”

Try to be free of all inner and outer conflicts for one minute. Give yourself this one minute as a holiday gift!

This is a powerful intervention. Can you be free from inner conflict for one minute? See what hinders your attitude to be worry free for one minute. If you can be peaceful and free from anxiety for one minute then you can do it for two minutes and then more.

To Be With Yourself

So dear friends, find some time to simply “Be” with yourself. To just “Be” is an amazing experience of the present moment. See what thoughts come to your mind. When you sit quietly, many visual images and thought patterns start emerging from the subconscious. This is referred to as “Surfacing” and it happens when your relax and your mind is at ease and free of tension.

If you remain awake and pay attention, you can gain insight into your own mind. These insights will teach you to not attach yourself to things that do not bring you peace. You will come to see that your nature is that of Pure Being which is associated with the many thoughts in your mind and yet is independent of these.

Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian Sage of Arunachala, gave forth this method of reflective Self-Inquiry, that focuses on the question, “Who Am I?”

This investigation, when done with understanding and sincerity, brings us to the state of Being that is free from thoughts. This inquiry is really at the heart of the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.

Always Be Gentle With Yourself

If you are not able to sit quietly right away and be completely still for even one minute, do not worry about it at all. The reason it is difficult for us to sit quietly and do nothing is because often there are wounds inside which we would rather not become aware of or deal with.

The process of living life can be very very painful and stressful. Over the years, we put temporary bandages on our hurtful experiences, which for a short time dull the pain.

My teacher Chitrabhanu-Ji taught me that when we try to relax and meditate, our anxieties and fears and past suffering sometimes bubble up from the unconscious. So we have to be alert and to accept and let these things go so we can renew ourselves and be fresh.

The ancient Yogic Sages of thousands of years ago left us with great works on the nature of human suffering and how to alleviate it. Sometimes when I read the Bhagavad Gita or Patanjali’s yoga sutras, Tao Te Ching, Buddha’s path or Mahavir’s philosophy of reverence for life and Ahimsa, I marvel at the depth of the insights contained in these.

The great Yogis of the past 5000 years have been really great psychologists who knew the nature of the human condition. They deeply understood what happens when spiritual seekers try to get insights into their mind and provided a path and guidance on how to walk it with the help of teachers and fellow students.

The Notion Of The Sangha

In India, some people meditate in Ashrams or in communities. The notion of a Sangha (community of spiritual seekers) is important. In such a community, meditation is easier, because people are able to encourage each other and share each other’s pain and burdens. When our mental or physical suffering is intense, we are not able to meditate. People turn to alcohol or drugs to numb themselves so that they do not feel their own suffering. This, however, cannot lead to any permanent solution and satisfaction. Indeed, it can weaken the body and the mind and makes matters worse.

Being part of a vibrant spiritual community, or to just be in the company of good people who care about one another, can exercise a protective influence on you.

As a general rule, in order to advance in meditation, you should keep the company of good people who allow you to be who you are.

I studied with Chitrabhanu-Ji who is one of the key figures in 20th and 21st century Jainism. Chitrabhanu-Ji, before he became a Jain monk, was part of Mahatma Gandhi’s movement to free India from the British through the peaceful means of Ahimsa (Nonviolence).

Ahimsa is the cardinal principle in Jainism. Chitrabhanu-Ji taught me that a mind becomes fully fit for meditation and Self-Realization through the practice of reverence for all life and amity towards all beings.

A genuine spiritual community has to be completely dedicated to the principle of Ahimsa in thought and action and be committed to alleviating suffering among all living beings. A teacher or a guru who does not understand or practice the principle of Ahimsa and is abusive to his or her students should be avoided. Such people are on power trips only and have their own problems to deal with.

 

Having A Personal Philosophy

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It is good to become aware of and think about fundamental life issues at any age, but particularly so if you are young. It allows one to develop a personal philosophy that helps to structure and interpret different experiences and put things into their proper perspective.

It is important to sit quietly and spend time with yourself in order to have an understanding of your own nature. Whatever philosophy one adopts, the following general rules are helpful in remaining calm and healthy.

Ten Tips From Yogic Texts And Sages

1. Eat nutritious foods that suit your constitution in moderate quantities (My New Year’s Resolution!)

2. Walk every day if possible (My Second New Year’s Resolution!).

3. Avoid people who are manipulative, loud, obnoxious, and destructive if at all possible.

4. Keep company of people who are pleasant, easy going, cheerful, and supportive.

5. Remain silent when you have the urge to be sarcastic or make fun of someone.

6. Help people who are in need within your capacity.

7. Take the time to be alone everyday and be with yourself.

8. Never give into peer pressure to drink or do drugs or go to wild parties (Tame and sober get together with good friends and Satsang with fun singing and chanting is OK!).

9. Develop confidence in your own ability to do what you need to do.

10. Engage in introspection at the end of the day. Mentally wishing everyone well, always go to bed with a clean slate.

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Even A Little Effort Helps!

Friends, even a little right effort is never wasted. Every journey must start with the first step. The journey that takes you inside your own Self is the most wondrous journey you can ever take as it reveals the mystery of existence itself. Start from this very moment and enjoy the wonders of your own nature and the sparkling reality that has been smiling and shining on you for the whole of eternity.

Chin Mudra - Jnana Mudra

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Self, Shakti, Heart, and Enlightenment in Advaita: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Often on the spiritual path, the topics of best postures, best techniques of meditation, best behaviors conducive to spiritual growth, best gurus, etc., come up. All of these questions are appropriate to their time and circumstances.  Such questions were frequently put to Bhagavan Ramana.

Underlying all such questions is the fundamental theme or inquiry as to what constitutes superior spiritual practice that will lead to improvement in one’s mental and physical conditions and finally to Self-Realization or Enlightenment. From this perspective, Self-Realization is viewed as an attainment. It is something that is achieved by an individual by making the right effort. This approach in its methodology is not too different than that of a talented world class athlete, who after having trained rigorously, wins a gold medal at the Olympics.

This point of view emphasizes the need to focus the mind in order for it to expand and evolve to higher levels. Spiritual practices based on this foundation, involve meditating in a particular posture, concentrating on chakras, raising the kundalini shakti, practicing mantras, deep breathing, and doing pranayama exercises.

The Yoga paths explicitly incorporate the idea of controlling and developing the mind to gain entry into Samadhi and Super-conscious states. Most religions have this philosophy at their core; that without hard work one does not succeed either in life or in knowing God.

The General Spiritual Path Model

Buddha is supposed to have said to his disciples as he was dying, “Work out your salvation with diligence.” He meant that you have to personally work it out and attain Nirvana by right conduct, right practice, right meditation, etc.

The same principle is present in Jainism and most of the schools of thought in Hinduism. In Jainism, one attains to Moksha through one’s own individual efforts. In Hinduism, one achieves Moksha by God’s Grace. However, in most schools of Hinduism, one only benefits fully from God’s Grace, when one has made the right effort on the spiritual path by following one’s Dharma and by meditating on the nature of the Self.

Although it is a complex topic, the general spiritual model that we have before us is this: There is a spiritual path, there is the goal of Enlightenment or Self-Realization, and you have to expend much effort, and walk on the path for a long time in order to reach the destination. While you are walking, you may even have to go through the “dark night of the soul” a few times, because there are so many temptations along the way and things can sometimes appear hopeless and quite depressing.

So not only is there the possibility of tripping and falling due to worldly obstacles, but one also may give up on the whole idea of Liberation, Salvation, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Moksha, and/or getting to Heaven. Indeed many on the spiritual path do end up concluding that there is no meaning in life or the spiritual aspiration at all and kick themselves for missing out on the pleasures of their youth by having rejected the philosophy of “Eat, Drink, and be Merry” prematurely.

However, experienced sages know that what practices or behaviors will be helpful to the seeker on the spiritual path seems to depend on one’s conditioning, physiology, culture, background, etc. Although there is a general framework on how to pursue one’s aspiration for Enlightenment or Self-Realization, the truth is that one has to make the path as one walks on it because each individual is unique. Therefore, the view of “Eat, Drink, and be Merry”, within reason and in moderation, may be fully compatible with the spiritual life. It is the overall context that has to be understood.

The Self-Knowledge of a Sage

For the one abiding spontaneously and inherently in the Self-Truth of Reality, questions of methods, techniques, and practices, and the path become moot. When clarity of Self arises, any technique may be practiced and any path may be walked or one may give up all techniques and paths. For such a person, the Self-Attention itself absorbs attention regardless of where it is focused outwardly. The essential element in this understanding is the Recognition by Awareness of its Innate Wakefulness. Awareness is always self-aware by its very nature.

When awareness remains pure and spontaneously self-focused (perpetually in communion with itself), the subtle duality between awareness/attention (as Pure I AM) and its Source is seen to be illusory.

Then even the witness disappears, there being nothing to witness. The “I AM” disappears having nothing to point to. Spontaneously with the I AM Awareness/Shakti merging in its Source, the Self is Recognized. The Self Recognizes It Self by It Self and Through It Self as its own Source. It Sees and Recognizes that It has Always Been the Source. That It Is the Eternal Source, the causeless cause.

This is the Supreme Beauty of the Heart. It absorbs the Shakti, and along with it the Mind, thus swallowing time and space.

How can one speak of this Silence? The Silence that transcends all understanding and knowledge can only be indicated indirectly.

Great sages like Sri Ramana Maharshi never tire of pointing out that, —That Which is Real and Absolute Always Exists and is not absent even now—. How can Reality, whether one calls it God, Consciousness, Absolute, Nirvana, Moksha, Kingdom of Heaven, or by some other name be present at one time and absent at another? Perfection, by its nature, cannot be more perfect sometimes but not others. The approach and method of Advaita is based on this implicit axiom.

The Method of Advaita

The ever-present and eternal existence of our fundamental reality, whatever label we give it (Self-Nature, Buddha-Nature, Original Face, God, Goddess, God Consciousness, Pure Consciousness, Supreme Consciousness) must be here and now in this very moment. Otherwise, it is not Perfect!

This is the fundamental insight and conviction of the path of Advaita and the Advaitic sages. Therefore, we have to grasp the present by simply being present to it. This is the method of Advaita.

How is this done? In this way:

This present ordinary awareness, that you experience, you should notice it and then hold on to it. It is subtle and yet so ordinary. That is why we miss it. No matter how ordinary a baby looks to others, to the mother it is special. She adores her baby and to her it is the most lovely and wonderful child in the world. That is the attitude one must have towards one’s ordinary present awareness.

Like a mother holds on firmly to her child in all conditions, one should keep this ordinary self-awareness in the center of one’s consciousness knowing it to be special. The Supreme Reality It Self is hidden in it. It cannot be anywhere outside of it. If the Supreme Reality is somewhere outside of our ordinary consciousness, it is not perfect. Therefore, we can confidently look for perfection in our ordinariness, our ordinary consciousness.

Finding God in the Heart

There is a Christian saying that “Man is made in the image of God”. There is deep meaning in that. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am in the Heart of all.” We find such expressions in many of the religions of the world and in major works of different spiritual traditions.

On the path of Advaita, through our present ordinary awareness, we become, or more accurately, recognize our True and Ever-Present Image in the Heart. Advaita goes one step further and states that indeed the illusion of separation between the Individual soul and God lasts only as long as God is not recognized as the Center of our Being, sitting in the Heart as the Heart.

This is the Heart, that the ancients called Sat-Chit-Ananda. Existence, Consciousness, Bliss. The Supreme Self. It is beyond thoughts and concepts. Time and Space do not touch it.

As Sri Ramana has said, — that which is real is ever present—. We have to see what is present right now in this very moment. If we become quiet, we are able to feel our ordinary awareness, the sense of “I Am” as being present in this moment. That is the seed. If we water it and give it food, it grows and the Reality reveals it Self from within.

Editor’s Note:  The Feature Picture depicts photo art of brother Eden Kailash on his fb page.