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

17 thoughts on “What Is Meditation? By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

  1. Pingback: Realizing {Me} || Mediation and Self-Improvement for the Beginners Mind… » Blog Archive » What is Meditation? Part 1

  2. Dear Harsh,

    I just discovered your blog and read your article about meditation – May many people read it who “force” themselves to meditate even when they don’t like to be still – or enjoy the states of not doing anything… thank you, I appreciate all your words

    Greetings to you from Assisi
    Ingrid

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  3. Thank you Ingrid-ji. I am glad you found the article to resonate with you. Your kind words about the blog are much appreciated. Many wonderful people write on the site and share their insights.

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  4. Since last one year, I am longing for attainment of meditation.But everything in vein.I think ten tips will be very useful for me to make progress on meditation path.Above all, I knew that Ahinsa and satvic food are the most essential basic factors for meditation.Thank you very much for providing touching and inspiring articles for the seeker just like me.Love and peace.

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  5. Dear Dr. Luthar – Namaskar!

    Your article on meditation was deeply satisfying. As a long-time meditator, I resonate with the idea that even highly-evolved and purified beings will suffer to a degree while here on this relative plane. Awareness enables us to suffer less, however.

    My greatest peace comes from being. This being surfaces and spills over throughout my day and life. Less mind enables more being, it seems.

    Thanks so much for your lovely blog and your contribution to humanity’s happiness and evolution. I look forward to reading more, and for perhaps more with respect to your ruminations on ‘what love is.’

    Many Blessings – Ken LaDeroute

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  6. Dear Dr. Luthar,
    This is the most satisfying meaning of meditation I have come across.
    Thankyou very much for the insight.

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  7. Excellent info about spiritual journey through meditation and self enquiry. Dear Sir Harsh it has become an habit from me to read articles from your website.. thank you so much, you are doing a wonderful job helping beginners like me ..

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  8. HI !

    I just find so intriguing, truly bizarre the fact that I have on my own, years ago, found out about the art of “doing nothing”…and even used to teach my sons the same… People might have thought something was wrong with me, but I did it so because both boys were great achievers at school…and I supervised them anyway (by the way, I was NOT too strict as a mother!)… They were great as students, did well in both music and sports…and so, I thought they should also be taught about doing… NOTHING !
    And this is why when I found your article I just had to read it… and tell everyone I know about it !
    I had no idea I was indeed on the right path…but it just felt great, it felt right to take that precious time out. I have since learnt TM, and continue to explore further into all to do within myself…Transcending in TM is something I cannot find words to describe…
    So, thank you for sharing your knowledge…

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  9. How wonderful that you intuitively understood meditation and also taught your sons the art of doing nothing. Thanks for sharing your experience and taking the time to write.

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  10. Dr. Luthar,

    You make a comment on “expectation”, I have spent many years meditating on the concept of expectation, and have come to the conclusion that expectation is the root of all suffering. I debate this often with my friends, what is at the foundation of suffering, is it desire? Or is it expectation? I believe the latter, for expectation is rooted in the belief that you deserve something better than what you have, that leads to the desire to have something else. If you do not expect anything, you will not desire it.

    The problem with expectation when focused on others, such as a spouse, is that it causes obligation in the other. Expectation and obligation are two sides of the same coin, yin and yang. This creditor/debtor dynamic is an extremely unhealthy dynamic in the relationship of two people since it sets a condition that is different than the reality that we are all equals. This deviation of normalcy creates tension, and is not resolved until the expectation is removed.

    And it is this dynamic of expectation and disappointment that is the root of all suffering. Remove all expectation from your thinking, you will remove all suffering. When you are pained about something, simply ask yourself the question: what were you expecting? When you answer that question, you will discover the root cause of your suffering and see that you set yourself up for your own suffering.

    Upset over the death of a loved one? What were you expecting? For them to live forever? Did you set yourself up for sorrow with the expectation to see them tomorrow? Enjoy everyone around you, right now. Live every moment as if it will be the last time you see someone and when that day happens, because it will, you will be joyous at your good fortune to have spent time with them at all.

    Maharshi was happy even at the prospect of his own death because he had rid himself of any expectation of different outcomes. Living in the moment. Happy with everything just the way it was. Happy with everyone around him just the way they were. Compassionate toward others that are troubled, not expecting them to change, not hoping they will change, but instead being a beacon of truth that they can emulate to rid themselves of expectation so they can be happy and be that beacon for others.

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  11. Dr. Luthar,

    I am preparing for a 10 day Vipasanna meditation retreat, and am a little nervous about the prospects of spending 10 days with me. Apparently 50 years of living as me in a world of distractions has not adequately prepared me for a short 10 days of being with just me absent the distractions.

    I returned to your article above to see if it could give me some insight before my retreat and I found the gem that I need. Ahimsa. It reminded me that when I am in my most mindful state, a state which seems to ebb and flow with my ability to rid my mind of life’s distractions, I am existing in that state of what you call ahimsa. I love Jainism. It might be closest to my personal belief system of all the religions.

    I reached what i will now be able to call ahimsa through the understanding of my insignificance. Mankind is taught of our superiority to all species, and that belief stands in the way of self-realization. I believe that all life is fed by the same spirit-energy that exists beyond the physical world. We are not just one in spirit with humans, we are one in spirit with all living creatures. Only when I realized this could I break through to a new level of understanding and spiritual awareness.

    So as I go off to my retreat, I will think of ahimsa. Re-reading your article has made me a little less nervous in anticipation of my coming adventure. If I can find and maintain ahimsa, I will be ok.

    Thank you.

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  12. Dear Wsparry,

    Thank you for your very profound insights in your two comments. These are much appreciated. Let us know how the 10 day Vipasana meditation retreat goes for you.

    It is through good merit that one comes across the teachings of Ahimsa and understands it at the deepest levels.

    It is also through good merit one gets the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of existence and the preciousness of life.

    To be able to be quiet in body and mind is a gift one gives oneself and others. It is only through the fullness of Ahimsa that we can surrender to God’s will.

    It is in the deepest silence we find that the presence of God has always been with us in the Heart. All good wishes on your spiritual path.

    May all beings be free from sorrow.

    Love to all

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  13. Dear Dr Luthar,
    Thank you for this excellent piece …especially the tips. In this context I would like to reproduce extracts of what Paul Brunton had to say on this. These words strengthened my efforts.

    “What you have to give is time and practice, and even more than anything else, is patience. Without patience, you cannot hope to learn meditation. There is no fixed time in which it can be learnt, because each of us is an individual, and with some, the pace is quicker and with others it is slower. It is also a matter of the circumstances in which you happen to be placed at the time. They will either hinder or help your learning meditation. But patience is needed.

    There are, finally, two other points.

    The first is, bring to this quest a feeling of worship because, after all, you are seeking a communion with a Higher Power, with something above, beyond and transcendence of yourselves. You cannot approach it as you would approach your professor. There is something sacred and holy around the very concept and you must try to awaken this attitude – that it is like entering a church which you really respect.

    And the last point is that the world outside you and around you, the world of other people, is not much interested in the line you have taken and may even be hostile to it. Therefore, you should not try to make your pursuit of the Truth a conspicuous affair.

    Thank you
    Regards
    Ravi

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  14. Hi Harsha

    It was lovely to read this article – and as it should, it’s come at the right time – but, I wish to know a little more – if possible.

    Someone once said:
    “To acquire the vision of the Divine one need not journey to any special region or place.
    It is enough if the eye is turned inwards. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Inner Reality, the Atma
    is described as “splenderous like a billion suns”. But, man has not become aware of the
    light and power within; he still flounders in the darkness of ignorance.”
    and then:
    “When you clarify and sanctify your Vision and look at through the Atmic Eye,
    the eye that penetrates behind the physical (with all its attributes and appurtenances),
    then, you will see them as Waves on the Ocean of the Absolute, as the thousand heads,
    the thousand eyes, thousand feet of the Supreme Sovereign person or ‘Purusha’,
    sung in the Rig-Veda. Strive to win that Vision and to saturate yourself with that Bliss.”

    As I read this, I interpret it as one eye and thus, the Third Eye. How important is it to open up the Third Eye (or Ajna Chakra)? And once opened how does one turn it inward?

    Love to hear back from you,
    Love and peace,
    Bill.

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