What Is Meditation? By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar
The Art Of Doing Nothing
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.