As there are innumerable streams and rivers flowing into the sea, countless tracks and routes to the summit, so are there multiple spiritual Paths to enlightenment. It is said there are as many Paths to Self-realisation as there are souls on earth.
Faced with such an abundance of options, how are we to select the right Path, our Path?
In this most significant of commitments, we must surely follow our heart, and not our mind, for our heart is the highest guide within our present consciousness of which we are somewhat aware. Our soul already knows our Path – yet we do not yet have an open and reliable channel of communication with our soul; it is too fine and subtle, too wide and pure for our present bumbling awareness to perceive and receive.
So we must turn to our heart, which as the moon reflects a little portion of the sun’s light, offers according to its own receptivity, glimpses and hints of our soul’s light, power and bliss.
Our Path already exists within and before us. It is not to be created or chosen, but rather beseeched, revealed and embraced.
Relying on our mind to choose our spiritual Path is to ask a snail to judge a piano competition. In this task, our heart is our only remotely qualified or reliable instrument. Our mind is for the finite; our heart is of the infinite. Whereas our mind employs judgement and analysis, our heart simply loves.
Mind – step back! Listen to your heart, and let your heart listen for the love-rhythms, light-songs and joy-melodies of its Path. Your heart cannot help but be drawn to your Path – so follow, follow, ever follow your heart.
“When the disciple is ready, the Guru appears.”
– a traditional saying of India
These words have proven absolutely true in my own journey and in the lives of countless acquaintances. One who is genuinely seeking spiritual truth, light, peace and happiness will never remain adrift in the ocean of ignorance – either they will search for and find the right teacher, mentor or guide, or that teacher will by some fortuitous circumstance, come into their life, seemingly by accident.
Whether one consciously seeks and finds a spiritual Master, or the Guru comes to us, the result is the same. When a child is hungry, either he goes looking for food, or he cries and his mother comes to feed him. When we are spiritually hungry, we have the same options: use our own resources to go in search of Truth, or cry sincerely from the depths of our heart. Just as the mother cannot resist her child’s cry, so our own source – whether our soul, the universal Consciousness, or God – our spiritual Mother, will always come to our rescue, nurturing and nourishing us with the peace, light and bliss for which we yearn.
The spiritual Master may be in the physical here on earth or may be represented by a legacy of teachings, deeds and a spiritual Path. In any case, the essence of spirituality, the Truth and realisation that a spiritual Master offers to humanity lies far beyond the physical, beyond time and space. All true spiritual Masters speak from beyond time, their message for all times. The Truth they embody, represent and impart lies within us: it is already our own.
Our Guru, our Path and our highest self are of one source, converging as one Goal.
There is no orphan soul in this universe. Just as every drop of water in the world and its atmosphere comes from one source – the ocean – and has one ultimate destination – the ocean; so every soul has one Source and one Goal – imagined and invoked by various names such as God, Truth, Light, the Supreme, or infinite, immortal Consciousness. As there is a river to carry every drop to the sea, so is there a spiritual Path ready prepared for you, and for me.
Our soul already knows our destined Path and tries to persuade us toward it through silent signs and subtle hints: our task is to heed this beckoning, find and embrace our Path.
The search for our spiritual Path is our deepest yearning: the quest for truth, love, light and peace, for purpose and meaning, safety and belonging, wholeness and completion.
Finding our spiritual Path is not like enrolling in a course, joining a club, attending church, starting a family or getting a job. Our spiritual Path is the means to discover our true Self – the Self who remains the same whatever course we study, whichever family we happen to belong to, whatever job we do, or sports or hobbies we enjoy, whichever beliefs we are clinging to at the moment. Our spiritual Path does not stop when the full-time whistle blows, when we clock off work, receive our degree, finish our project or close our eyes. Our spiritual Path flows in, around, behind, below, above and beyond every life activity, every relationship, every belief, thought, intention and action, every happiness and sorrow, success and failure, beginning and ending, opening and closure.
“I long to live
Where my Transcendence-Goal
Is eagerly expecting
My eager arrival.”
– Sri Chinmoy
For most of us, the concept of ‘nothingness’ is anathema: something to be avoided at all cost. We devote our time, effort and aspiration towards filling our existence with activity, with possessions, sensations, distractions, pastimes and entertainments, with family and friends, with work, commitments and entanglements, with plans, desires and beliefs. We are always busy and occupied, because we choose to be so.
By enveloping ourselves with ‘things’ – material, emotional and mental phenomena – we create and inhabit a universe of ‘things’, in which we objectify ourselves as the central ‘thing’. Thus self-deluded, ‘thing-ified’, we drift away from happiness…
…for we are not things: we are the soul. Things are merely the superficial or outward appearance, not the underlying reality and as such, can never give us lasting satisfaction. We spend our life running away from nothingness which ironically, holds the answers to all our questions, the resolution of all problems, the cure of all ills.
‘Nothingness’ can only be attained by fearlessly stripping away the surface of ‘things’, listening for the silence behind the sounds, diving into the depths below the waves, embracing the stillness inside the chaos, becoming the infinite within the finite.
Only in nothingness – “no-thing-ness”, the absence in our consciousness of the superficial, ephemeral and unreal – do we find our soul, our true self. Nothingness holds the fullness of satisfaction, the bliss of perfection, the oneness of completion, our source and our goal. Hence Sri Chinmoy’s beautiful, powerful poetic term: “Nothingness-nectar”.
‘Nothingness-nectar’ does not come easily. It must be yearned for above all else – intensely, eagerly and wholeheartedly – as the richest treasure, the deepest love, the highest reward, the sole focus and goal of our aspiration and our meditation.
Imagine a beautiful, clear pool set in a forest glade. You sit on a bench fashioned from a large, fallen tree, shaded from the sun. A gentle breeze that soothes your brow, leads every leaf, branch and bough in gentle dream dance over a drone of barely murmured pleasantries.
You gaze at the pool.
According to legend, a very wealthy person, pursued by bandits through the forest at night, cast his gold and glittering jewels into a pond in this very forest, meaning to retrieve them some later day. Having escaped the bandits and returned safely home, the following morning our wealthy man passed away from an unknown cause.
Gazing at the pool, you wonder: could this be the pond wherein the fabled treasure lies?
As you peer into the water, something falls into the pool and disturbs the surface, setting into motion a series of wavelets, flowing first outwards and then criss-crossing in all directions in a subtle, captivating choreography that charms and enthralls you.
As the wavelets subside, your reverie fades and you recall your previous thought of the treasure… – is that a glistening from below? At this moment, a sudden startling of wind galvanises a brief conniption, shattering your fleeting glimmer into untraceable gloom.
Each time you are about to see clearly into the depths, something else disturbs the water.
According to legend, that wealthy person was our soul, and the pond into which the treasure was thrown, the depth of our own being. The water’s surface is our mind. So long as our mind is agitated, we can never see, feel or claim our own hidden treasure.
To whomsoever can make their mind absolutely still, in that hallowed moment the treasure appears in the limpid pool and gives itself up.
We know that effective meditation requires a clear mind. Yet to ‘clear the mind’ is far easier said, than done.
It is not enough simply to sit and hope the mind will empty of its own accord. There are always thoughts, distractions and desires queuing up to enter an unoccupied mind – just as dust will always gather on neglected surfaces and weeds will invade an untended garden. To clear the mind requires concentration. Concentration is not a static state: it is a dynamic momentum, a conscious and continuous act of will.
Thoughts travel at high speed: to elude them, we must simply be faster. Distractions are ever alert to snatch our attention: to overcome them we must be more vigilant than they. Desires are cunning to exploit our every weakness: to transcend them we must be stronger, wiser, more patient and determined.
Here are a few methods, to help maintain flow and momentum in our concentration, to outpace and outsmart our mind’s would-be captors:
a) Listen intently to the sound of your own heartbeat, excluding all else.
b) Imagine your mind is inside a giant powerful vacuum cleaner, sucking out its contents faster than they can appear.
c) You are a rocket soaring ever higher and beyond a vast, radiant blue sky, outpacing all.
d) Conjure the face of the most beautiful, pure, luminous, divine being, losing yourself in wondrous rapture.
d) Breathe in and become the fragrance of the most sublime rose within your heart.
e) You are a thundering mighty waterfall. Your force, power, might, volume and intensity overwhelm all else.
f) You are a ceaseless fountain of light, no speck of shadow in your sight.
g) Dive and immerse yourself in the inner ‘Aum’ that reverberates in the silent heart of all beings.
“If you meditate on a specific divine quality, such as Light, Beauty, Peace, or Bliss in an unshaped form, or if you meditate in an abstract way on Infinity, Eternity or Immortality, then constantly you will feel an express train going forward inside you. You are meditating on Peace, Light or Bliss while the express train is constantly moving. Although your whole mind is calm, vacant and quiet, without thoughts, you will see there a movement towards your goal. Your mind is calm and quiet in the vastness of Infinity, but there is movement: a train is going endlessly toward your goal. In meditation there is a goal. You are envisioning a goal and meditation takes you there.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Because we sit in stillness, there is a common misconception that meditation is a static activity. Not so! – just as silence houses all the dreams of the world, so stillness is the starting point of every step, every journey, every ultimate triumph.
Our universe – inner and outer – lives, breathes and blossoms through rhythm and flow. Like our physical heart, our spiritual heart too has its own pulse, breath and cadence.
We meditate to make progress toward our goals; progress is born of focussed movement and nurtured growth. The enemy of progress is inertia; the foe of meditation is inner complacency.
Imagine your concentration is an arrow, aiming and whizzing directly towards its target; when focus or intensity is lost, your arrow falls lamely to the ground. Imagine that powering your meditation is a mighty river, flowing resolutely, indomitably towards the vast ocean; you are a rocket, surging gloriously beyond earth’s gravity of thoughts and illusion into the ever-expanding sky of freedom-light.
In meditation’s deep stillness, we are the universal dynamo, heartbeat of creation, the ever-blissful cosmic dance.
“You cannot be afraid of anything when you are in your highest meditation. Your mind is all peace, all silence, all oneness. If thoughts or ideas want to come in, you control them with your inner peace, for they will not be able to affect you. Like fish in the sea, they jump and swim but leave no mark on the water. Like birds flying in the sky, they leave no trace behind them. So when you meditate, feel that you are the sea, and all the animals in the sea do not affect you. Feel that you are the sky, and all the birds flying past do not affect you. Feel that your mind is the sky and your heart is the infinite ocean. This is meditation.”
– Sri Chinmoy
While concentrating and meditating, we endeavour to clear our mind of all thoughts. Yet some thoughts continue to arise, for that is their nature – so how to deal with them?
Sri Chinmoy’s suggestion that we identify with the sky, while thoughts are passing birds, is extremely effective. Remain immersed in the sky’s infinitude, and let the birds fly by: the moment we focus on any bird, that bird-thought becomes a disturbance to our meditation.
A variant of this approach is to imagine that I am the lead bird of a V-formation. All I see ahead is the vast, clear sky. When a thought appears, that is another bird overtaking me and obscuring my clear vision of the infinite. My task now is to increase my speed, and resume my rightful place in the lead.
Never be upset or disturbed by the appearance of any thought: rather take each thought as a summons to redouble our intensity and determination, a reminder urging us onward to our goal.
For most journeys, the further we go, the shorter the distance remaining to the destination: the more we eat of our meal, the less there is to be eaten; the more chapters we read of a novel, the fewer pages remain unread; the more years we study, the closer looms our Ph.D.
With meditation and the spiritual life, the further we go, the further we discover there is yet to go…
Imagine growing up in a little village in a valley surrounded by hills. One day you set out to climb to the highest point in your world – a nearby ridge. Upon reaching the crest of the ridge, your view opens up and voilà, there is another, higher range of hills beyond the next valley – hills you never knew existed. And so on it goes: only when you reach each new summit does the next level reveal itself.
In the spiritual realm, everything is constantly transcending. As we soar in silence within, beyond our limited and limiting mental conceptions, not only do our capacities, our world-view and self-understanding continually transcend, so too our goals and aspirations. Whatever goals we set out to reach at the commencement of our journey, are continually replaced by ever higher, vaster and fuller goals, goals we previously could never have imagined.
We would be disheartened to know that an outer goal we have been striving for is actually a false ending; that the novel we are reading has infinite pages, our Ph.D. is an eternity away, or this marathon has no finish line.
Yet in our spiritual journey, the further we go and the more we discover there is yet to go, the better, richer, sweeter and brighter everything perpetually becomes, as we grow ever younger in intensifying thrill of oneness-wonder.
In pure meditation, there is only one moment to experience: the Eternal Now. There may be many approaches, many avenues to this moment, it may have many names and attributes, yet once we are there, it can only ever be One.
When sunlight shines through a prism, we see it refracted and represented as many colours. Yet when we trace all these various colours to their source, we find just one ray of pure light. So are there a multitude of spiritual Paths, meditation techniques, theories and teachings – when we trace each to its source, when we get beyond the theory and even the practise to the actual experience, we find ourselves alone, peerless, one and complete with the inmost pure thrill of existence, universal and transcendental.
Of course if there is only one moment, the Eternal Now, we must already be in this moment. And so we are – yet we are looking the other way. We are focussed outward, from the one to the many, from creator to creation, from silence to sound, from the heart to the heartbeat. Instead of looking at the sun, the source, we are enthralled with its myriad varied reflections in each droplet of dew on each blade of grass in each field and fairway.
The phenomena of time and space exist only here in the relative realms. They are the magician’s illusion, which work only as long as the magician has our rapt attention. As we dive deeper into our meditation, its all-encompassing light, peace and bliss distract us from the illusion; the bonds of thought and desire are loosened, and the magician himself fades into oblivion. Time and space dissolve in the Eternal Infinite.
Once we are one with the Eternal Now, the real game can start in earnest…
When we get a strong feeling that we should make a particular choice or pursue a particular direction, how can we know where the message is coming from? How can we know whether it is a genuine message from our heart or soul, or is just our mind or vital yet again trying to deceive and lead us astray?
The mind and vital are extremely tricky and will do anything in their power to persuade us to take their side. They will even impersonate the heart, presenting their case in the guise of a high and selfless motive.
We know that our body, vital and mind are all limited in their perspective, bound as they are by desire, pride, insecurity and ignorance. Following their urgings, we have surrendered our inner freedom in exchange for bewilderment, frustration and unhappiness.
We long to receive and heed the messages from our heart and soul. How are we able to discriminate? How can we know if a message or feeling is an effusion of the heart or an illusion cast by our mind or vital?
The vital’s promptings cause immediate excitement that goes up and then dies down – like a burst of fireworks. The mind’s messages are characterised by self-righteousness, with an undertow of nagging self-doubt. Both appeal to our ego, to our sense of separativity parading as superiority or inferiority. They reduce us, whereas our heart and soul expand, illumine and elevate us. Messages from our heart and soul open the floodgates to peace, joy, satisfaction and certainty.
As a counterfeit coin is exposed when held up to the light, so in our deep meditation, a message from our mind or vital will fade and disappear, while a message from our heart or soul will shine ever more brightly and beautifully.
It is said that meditation will answer all our life’s questions and reveal to us our life’s mission.
All of us have made bad choices in life: choices that led to unnecessary suffering, choices that diminished us, denied our potential and delayed our spiritual progress.
We are constantly faced with important questions, and it would be wonderful to have a way to find the best answers in accordance with our soul’s wishes, guiding us to the best possible outcome, expediting our growth in deepening peace, revealing light, expanding love and blossoming joy.
If meditation is all about silence though, how are we supposed to ask the questions, and how to receive their answers?
Counter-intuitively, when seeking an answer from our meditation, the first thing we must strive for, is to dismiss the question from our mind. Offer the question itself, along with all of the mind’s contents, into the silence of the heart.
Then dive fully into the peace, light and bliss of your silence-heart. Envelop yourself in your ever-expanding, illumining meditation-sky, soaring free of ego, far above and beyond the confinements of finite thoughts, desires and concepts. Surrender eagerly and wholeheartedly to the flight, light and delight of your soul as your all-embracing, all-encompassing, all-fulfilling glory-reality.
Once surrendered, forget about the question, and don’t look for any answer. Wait patiently and confidently, as the baker waits for the loaf to rise or the farmer waits for the crop to germinate. Time is your servant.
The very appearance of a significant question is a sure indication that its answer awaits us. Our soul knows when we are ready, and plants the question to prepare our mind and open our heart to receive the message-answer our soul has already prepared.
“Each time divine qualities come to the fore, we are bound to feel that we are remembering a forgotten story. This story was written by the seeker in us. This story was not written by somebody else. It is our own creation, but we have forgotten it, and it is meditation that brings it back. When we remember this story we are overjoyed that we have created such a beautiful story and that this is our life story.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Meditation is self-discovery. In meditation we enter into our own higher and highest realms of consciousness. Just as science is forever discovering “new” truths about the universe – truths which are not new at all, for they are eternal – so our meditation gradually uncovers and reveals our own hidden, greater reality. There is nothing and there can never be anything that we experience in meditation that is not already there within us, waiting to be loved, claimed and manifested.
In essence, meditation is remembering: remembering what we are and who we have always been. As we expand into our spiritual dimensions of heart and soul, we rise like a balloon aloft, no longer tethered by illusion to the finite, into the infinite, ever-transcending sky of our true self, re-discovering as we rise all that we had lost through attachment and immersion in our limited, desire-deluded ego-self.
In our highest meditation, we are at once witness and participant, spectator and player. We perceive our life’s mission and purpose, as envisioned and conceived by our soul – glorious, surprising and thrillingly fulfilling; and receive the preview and assurance of our soul’s full manifestation, the playing out of our age-long quest, the ultimate satisfaction of all our inmost longings: known, unknown and unknowable.
Meditate to remember all, but first –
remember to meditate!