Discourse Text Gallery
I am thankful to the members and devotees of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of the Philippines for inviting me again here.
I always look forward to visiting this place and having the holy company of the devotees: it is not only the devotees who need holy company, monks and nuns also need holy company!
Today's topic is "Meditation why and how". Albert Einstein, who does not need an introduction to you, read a book published by the Vedanta Society of Northern California: "The eternal companion" by Swami Prabhavenanda, which contains the biography and message of Swami Brahmananda, who is regarded as the spiritual son of Sri Ramakrishna, the prophet of modern India.
On one occasion Swami Nikilananda, the famous translator of "the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna" from Bengali to English, met Albert Einstein.
During their discussion Einstein mentioned that Swami Brahmananda said that meditation is very important.
At that Swami Nikilananda retorted that Swami Brahmananda also said that we should do work. Einstein then stated: "People will work regardless of whether they are asked or not to do that, they will work as that is their nature; Swami Brahmananda underlined that they should meditate because they would not do that unless they were motivated."
I believe that you asked me to talk about meditation because you had some expectations from me. I now would like to ask the group of devotees who selected this topic for me the reason of this choice. Was that just an intellectual curiosity? Surely that may have been part of the reason: in an academic circle such curiosity would be logical, although this is not an academic circle, this is a circle of devotees. So I believe you had some other reason, I believe that you choose this topic as it has a relation to your own life.
How can meditation be related to our life? How do you expect that it will help in your life, in your lifestyle, in your behavior and work patterns?
What are the problems that you would like to solve through meditation? If finally comes to that: if there are no problems this discussion is redundant.
The general expectation or requirement from people is that meditation should help to solve the problems of life, of practical life, and to get mental peace.
But there is also another requirement, a spiritual requirement: that meditation should help enlightenment, that it should help to know the Truth and to realize God or Supreme Reality.
These are in fact the main two purposes of meditation: mental peace and spiritual enlightenment. And both of them are not purchasable commodities: if they could be purchased nobody would come and listen to this meditation speech.
People look for mental peace in so many different ways: they try some amusement, some music, hobby, relationship, traveling abroad, name, fame, but they cannot get peace, despite of their money.
Meditation is a technique, a method, which can really help us in achieving peace. That is why people in great numbers, irrespective of country, now want to learn about it. Hundreds of meditation CDs, meditation books, teachers and groups have come up.
The mind is weak, unsteady, and negative; the main reason why people lack peace is that they cannot control their mind.
Peace is not related to the body, it is related to the mind. There is a strong relation between mind and peace: unless we can control the mind we cannot get peace.
People then want to know how to make the mind strong, positive, steady and pure: if they can achieve that, they can also get peace.
Now let us discuss how to get peace at the micro level, at the individual level.
There are various problems that cause peace-less-ness.
First of all problems related to ourselves: our body, our mind, present, future, ambition, etc.: these are self-oriented problems.
Then there are problems related to family and friends, or relationship oriented problems.
Do not think that these are only problems with the householders; I believe that the same problems exist within monastic organizations also: when there are many individuals living together naturally there are relationship problems.
And finally there are problems related to work: work oriented problems: current and cross-currents and critical working situations constantly occur.
Modern life is very fast and competitive: an elaborate arraignment of secular enjoyment, secular attitudes, and random use of various gadgets. All these things make the situation worse and bring about many mental diseases and problems, depression, broken families and so on, affecting our personal life, family life and community life.
Problems are there also in the international relationships: in the Chart of the United Nations it is said that the origin of war is in the mind of man; accordingly peace must also originate there.
So this is important: if we can take care of this problem at the micro level: a positive effect will be there in the macro level also.
If I am convinced that I am not body, mind, that I am not this small and unripe ego, that I am the Self, infinite and eternal, then fear and anxiety related to my body and mind disappear and my self-related problems are solved.
All our fears, fear of disease, old age, death, are all centered on this particular point that I am the body. In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita this concept is expressed in a beautiful way: it is the body that can be injured by a weapon, that can be burned by the fire, it is the body only that dies. Schopenhauer said he was not even afraid to live in a house full of poisonous snakes: if he was bitten by a snake his body would die, but not his Self, the Atman.
If we analyze what a relationship related problem is, we see that the real problem is the problem of ego.
A husband may have an opinion; his wife may have a different one, each of them thinks of their own "I". Even in a community of monks there may be differences of opinion about how God's work should best be done and individual monks see things in a different way. What is the problem? The problem is "ego". That is the greatest problem in a relationship.
But then, again, what is this "ego" centered on? It is centered on "I". But if we can transcend that, if we can see that I am not this "ego", that I am the super-ego, the Self, Atman, and that the same Self, Atman, is in the others also, the problem is solved.
So by seeing God in others and giving importance in what they say and do, we can transcend our ego and eliminate relationship oriented problems.
Then how to solve the work-related problems? If we can cultivate a "witness" attitude we can solve such problems.
What is a "witness" attitude? It consists of detaching from what is happening: feeling that we are not part in what is happening, but we just watch it, as a third party.
This means that with one part of our mind we do the work, and with another part of our mind we just watch.
If we can cultivate this "witness" attitude this will help us remain calm and quiet in the midst of any working problems and situations.
This "witness" attitude is already there in us unconsciously and registers and remembers what we have done; we should however develop that more consciously.
How can we cultivate these three right attitudes, attitude to myself, to others and to work, that allow us to overcome self-oriented, relationship-oriented, and work-oriented problems?
What is the best method to do that?
There are three steps according to Vedanta.
First you hear, then you deeply cogitate and become convinced, and finally you focus, you concentrate, on those three right attitudes.
Meditation is the best way to do that.
It will teach you, it will help you; it will train you in cultivating those attitudes and on focusing.
What do we generally mean by meditation? Just close your eyes, sit straight, focus on something? This is a very superficial understanding of meditation. This will simply not work: you will doze or sleep or think of something else.
What we mean here is focusing on God, on our real nature, something higher, abstract and elevating. In simple words, meditation means focusing on a sublime and spiritual subject.
Let us make one thing clear from the beginning: meditation is not a pill, which one can easily swallow with some water.
As the mind is always inclined to some external thought, focusing on God is not as easy as focusing on a book, or some music, or other secular matters.
The difficulty here is that, on the contrary, we have to withdraw the mind from outside and direct it to inside: the mind will resist and refuse.
Because of such difficulty it cannot be done instantly, it takes time and preparation; practice is needed.
Five minutes of concentrated meditation are enough for one's mental peace, but initially it is impossible to have that.
Time and practice are necessary, in the same way as they are necessary to learn music or dancing, yoga and so on.
If one wants output, one has to give some input, if one wants a profit one has to make an investment: we cannot expect results without input and investment.
We expect mental peace without striving for that: this is irrational. People say that they want mental peace, but I believe that it is not really the case: they want tension and stress. Think of yourselves in a situation with no work, no television, no mobile phone and no newspapers: would that condition make you happy? We have to resolve this contradiction: if we really want peace we have to work for it.
Ninety nine per cent of those who hear about meditation and try it end up in failure. The fact is that most people approach meditation casually, superficially and they are not really convinced that they want peace. Meditation requires time and a proper schedule should be set up for it.
Then one should sit in such a way as to be comfortable and able to keep the posture for significant time without moving the body. Also, the spine, neck, head and chest should be straight, but not stiff. That will enable the energy to flow up without obstruction from the bottom of one's spine. If one feels uncomfortable sitting on the floor in the lotus position, one can sit on a chair, but without leaning on the back.
Initially the mind, restless and reluctant to concentrate, will make your body move. Try to bear with it and sit for a slowly increasing amount of time, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes until you reach at least twenty to thirty minutes during regular working days. Try to sit for a longer time during week-ends, when you have no work.
You should also perform a breathing practice or Pranayama as to achieve a rhythmic breathing. Simple breathing exercises and meditation do not require the advice of a qualified teacher or Guru, but deep Pranayama should never be performed without the guidance of a Guru: it might be very risky otherwise and affect your health for a long time. But simple, rhythmic Pranayama, without withholding the breath is very good. Just inhale for five to six seconds thinking of compassion, love, purity and then exhale for five to six seconds thinking to expel all the impurities.
But you can also avoid such thinking and simply repeat "Om" or Lord's name, whatever you prefer. Practicing this kind of simple Pranayama for four of five minutes certainly helps the mind to become calm and quiet. After that, you should pray shortly for the welfare of all. That is very important also for your life. One of the root causes of peace-less-ness is our selfishness.
Our whole life is focused on ourselves, our family and our work; our heart has become narrow and this causes attachment, bondage, frustration and disappointment.
Praying for all is one of the best ways to transcend all this. Your heart will widen and this kind of vibration will finally return to you. You should not do this; however, with the expectation that you will be benefited, that you will get some return out of it, otherwise this will be again selfish.
You should also pray to the Prophets of other religions, not only of your own religion: Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, pray to all of them.
This is also a very importance spiritual practice which will help you in striving for mental peace.
At this point you can start the meditation process itself, which has two parts.
The first part consists of awareness of the mind. If we want to control our mind and focus it, we need first to become aware of its present condition.
How can you do it?
By watching it. Again become a witness and an observer of how the mind is working. In most cases the mind is very active, thinking of many different things.
This exercise will help you to identify yourselves with your real nature, the Self, and dissociate from your lower, unripe ego. This will also help you to decrease the activity of the mind. As Swami Vivekananda said, by watching the mind you will have two hundred thoughts in ten minutes on the first day, but the number of thoughts will decrease after a few days to hundred, fifty, twenty and finally there will be no thoughts, only a blank mind. Try that.
Then you should close your eyes to prevent your mind to become distracted by whatever your eyes see, and concentrate on your forehead telling your mind to stay there.
After this mind witnessing stage, the real meditation comes by focusing either on some spiritual form, or spiritual symbol, or on pure consciousness.
Visualization is very important in spiritual life, so try to visualize a symbol or image, which must have some spiritual association.
A symbol can be for instance a lotus or light: not mean a material lotus or light, it should be a spiritual lotus or light.
We can also choose to concentrate on some spiritual image: Jesus or Krishna or Buddha, for example. But such image should not be made of flesh and bones; you should try to visualize it as made of spirit or pure consciousness. And visualize that image as smiling in a kind, compassionate way.
Visualize that in your heart there is a lotus and your chosen Deity is sitting on that, its body of light, its face smiling and compassionate. Try to focus on that.
What is the effect of this exercise?
The mind is like white linen, if you dye it with a blue color it will look blue, if you dye it with a red color it will look red.
Accordingly if you dye it with a secular color it will be secular, but if you dye it with a spiritual color it will be spiritual.
The image of Jesus, Buddha or Sri Ramakrishna is the embodiment of divinity, purity and love; the more and more we concentrate on one of them the more and more our mind focuses on purity, divinity. That is the effect, the benefit: that is what meditation on form is about.
What is then meditation on consciousness, without any form?
Through the process of elimination we discover that our real nature is Atman, eternal and infinite. The substratum of my personality is Atman, pure consciousness, existence, knowledge and bliss absolute.
In comparison to another limited existence, joy or knowledge, it is infinite.
Our existence is conditioned by time and space. Atman, or soul or Self, at the micro-level and Brahman, or God or Supreme Reality, at the macro-level, are of the same nature, only the level is different.
So you should think: I am Atman, I am not body, I am not the mind, I am not the senses, I am not the ego.
This is the process of elimination: not this, not this … Through this process you finally arrive to the concept that you are Atman: then focus on that.
This is at the micro level. In the same way, at the macro level, we should think that the substratum of the world, the trees, the houses and all is Atman, God, the Supreme Reality, which is infinite and eternal, which is existence, knowledge and bliss absolute.
What is the benefit of that? The more we focus on that, the more we imbibe that, and feel that we are infinite, eternal and joy absolute.
For us both meditation techniques, on form or on pure consciousness, are necessary.
Right at the beginning we cannot concentrate well on pure consciousness, which is abstract.
So it is advised to first focus and meditate on some form, and once you become used to that then you should focus on consciousness.
Practitioners are advised to meditate on form first, but try and meditate also on consciousness at least for a short time.
This will help us to become free from attachment, to identify ourselves with our real nature. This is the benefit of meditation.
There are challenges; time and patience are necessary. Faith is also necessary that by meditating you will finally get peace.
Try to meditate sincerely for thirty days, for twenty to thirty minutes. Surely the first result will be mental peace.
That is important not only for spiritual purposes, but also for your work and for your health.
And if your mind is peaceful, you will be in a better position to make the right decisions.
You will feel connected to God in your relationship with others as well as in your work.
This is practicing the presence of God in every day's life, this is spiritualizing life.
For a devotee there is no distinction between secular and spiritual life, there is only spiritual life.
Work will then become worship. In this way meditation will help us not only to get peace, but also to elevate us to a higher life, to work better, to have better relationships, relationships of love and harmony.