To constantly progress in meditation we must always strive for a silent, empty mind. Only in a thoughtless mind can we experience the true peace, beauty, vastness, clarity, light and joy of our inner being; otherwise though we may have glimpses of our deeper reality, we are selling ourselves short and will never realise our potential.
To silence the mind is challenging because we are accustomed to living and operating from a milieu of thoughts, ideas, comparisons, prejudices, rationalisations and judgements. To extricate oneself from this labyrinth is like separating the pattern from a fabric – seemingly impossible. At a glance, we see the pattern – our outer appearance or personality – rather than the fabric, our inner reality. To identify as the fabric, we must see through our minds’ outer patterns.
Unless we consciously and intensely challenge thoughts in meditation, they will always persist like a background hum we don’t even notice after a while. We are so habituated to this hum, we even imagine it to be necessary and indispensible. Complacency is a great danger in our meditation practise: to accept the inevitability of background thoughts as part of the furniture, is to allow our meditation practise to slide into decline.
Every thought is a blot obscuring the sun, a smudge on the mirror, a germ breathed in, a weed in the garden. True, one blot, one smudge, one germ, one weed does not ruin everything, yet thoughts always bring their friends and soon proliferate uncontrollably: quickly and inevitably the sun is completely blotted out, we cannot see the mirror at all, we are sick in bed from the flu, our garden is overgrown. Our meditation is finished.
Our constant imperative is to not allow even one thought to disturb the sanctity of our meditation.
“Please secure your own oxygen mask before helping children and others around you.”
– airline seat-back safety card
In meditation I sit alone, avoiding others and eschewing all involvement and even thoughts of the outside world, my focus directed exclusively within myself with the avowed goal of my own self-improvement, personal benefit and greater happiness. Meditation would appear the epitome of an anti-social, selfish behaviour.
Yet there is no other activity ultimately more selfless or yielding of more profound and lasting benefit for others.
A doctor sick in bed cannot be of much help to anyone. She needs first to cure herself so that she can be of service to her patients.
The world is the sum of our collective consciousness. We are the world, each of us players on the world team. As each football player who practises his skills and works on his own physical fitness, helps raise the standard of his team so that it will perform better, so each of us who meditates to lift and expand our own consciousness, directly helps improve the consciousness and condition of humanity and the world.
The qualities most needed, both individually and collectively in the world are the security and poise of peace; the oneness and compassion of love; the clarity and wisdom of light; the joy and fulfilment of bliss.
We each become wholesale distributors of peace, love, light and bliss. Through meditation we locate and secure these precious commodities from their source, the limitless spiritual treasure house deep within, store them in the warehouse of our heart, and spontaneously distribute them through the retail outlets of our lives: our interactions with family, friends and acquaintances, our work, social activities and creative endeavours.
In meditation, selfish becomes selfless; my good and the common good are one.
This parable has been retold in many versions, including by Swami Vivekananda at the first Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
A little frog had lived his whole life at the bottom of a well. He knew no other environment and yet was content with his life. He had abundant food from the various insects that flew into the well and small water creatures that bred there, so in time he grew quite plump and fancied himself an authority on the world.
One day a frog from the valley happened to fall into the well. “Where are you from?” asked the well frog. “I’m from the valley”.
The well frog jumped from one side of his well-world to the other in two bounds. For him, there was no number larger than 2. “Is your valley as large as one jump wide, or somewhere between one and two jumps?”
“The valley is larger than can possibly be described. You can never jump across it if you continued leaping your entire life.”
Disbelieving, the well frog persisted: “What does your valley look and sound like? How does it smell? What do you eat there?”
The valley frog realised he could never adequately describe the profusion of colours and scents of valley flowers, its rich air, thrill of its birdsong, glorious sunrises and sunsets, majestic mountains or its gourmet variety of delectable insects. “You’ll have to come to the valley to discover these things for yourself.”
“Enough! You’re making this up! You cannot describe your valley because it doesn’t exist. You’re trying to trick me into leaving so you can steal everything here! Get out now!”
To the closed mind, our inner, spiritual realms can never be described. They can only be experienced and realised, so –
Our spiritual heart is a vast, beautiful, wonderful, delightful, sun-flooded garden we can never tire of exploring and enjoying. In the heart-garden all are welcome and all find perfect happiness.
In comparison, our mind is a small, narrow, cramped, cluttered, closed, dim dungeon.
Do you have a few minutes now to step outside the mind-room and into your heart-garden?…
Sitting straight and serene, close your eyes and follow your breath inward. Untie the ropes tethering you to the outer world, its fixed forms and phenomena, fancies and fears floating afar into thin air… focus all your being into a single simple, still, safe silence.
You are a beautiful child eager to play …
Your heart-garden is an endless series of gardens, each uniquely beautiful, remarkable, adorable and endlessly charming, of all delicate shapes, captivating curves, astonishing colours and ravishing fragrances.
Each plant in each garden is a marvellous world; each flower a galaxy of wonders; each petal a universe of perfection, a cosmic poem whose each word, syllable and inflection is a miracle complete. The smallest stick is a joyful toy to play with for endless enchanting hours.
Exploring each garden is its own exhilarating game; the more you play the better it becomes, the more you are energised, inspired and eager to continue. You laugh, chortle, whistle, sing and skip twinkle-toed all at once, a dancing fountain your tears of joy.
In your heart-garden you never grow tired; everywhere you look, everything you hear, touch, smell, taste and feel is new, surprising, thrilling, amazing. Everything and everyone knows you, loves you and treasures you. In your heart-garden you are both Darling and Emperor.
Your heart-garden is forever beautiful, perfect and ready just for you. The cost of admission is one pure thought, one kind gesture, one sweet smile…
“Weapons cannot cleave the soul,
Fire cannot burn the soul,
Water cannot drench the soul,
Wind cannot dry the soul.”
– Sri Krishna, from The Bhagavad Gita
“Above the toil of life, my soul
Is a Bird of Fire winging the Infinite.”
– Sri Chinmoy, “Revelation”
On a sunny day, if we build a mud hut and close in all the windows and the doors, then inside that hut it will be dark. Remove the walls and all is light. Fear is the darkness resulting from our mind-built walls of division and ego. As aspiration and meditation gradually dissolve these walls, the darkness of fear simply disappears.
When we cease to breathe and our heart stops beating, our physical body returns to the elements from whence it came, vital energy departs and the mind winds down to a final stillness. If we were only our finite members of body, vital and mind, that would be our extinction and perhaps something to be feared.
Yet in meditation we have practised silencing the clamour and demands of our body, vital and mind. As they withdraw, so much more is revealed behind, within, around and above them. In meditation we have entered into and discovered as more real than our outer world, the inner spiritual realm of ever-transcending peace, light, love and bliss. Our real self is our infinite soul, which can never be contained by the finite, by time or space and hence can never be subject to physical death. How can we fear that which has no dominion over us?
Most of us feel that we have a soul; through meditation we realise the truth that we are the soul.
No more the fear of death: the effulgence-liberation-light of our soul is the death of fear.
“If you are constantly
Afraid of death,
Then you can never
– Sri Chinmoy
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
– President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Against fear of death, meditation is the remedy.
It is an irony of human existence, that life can be miserable for the fear of losing our miserable life. Absent the fear of losing it, our life might be worthy of the fear of being lost. Fear, misery and death feed off and promote each other – all while we are alive.
We fear the unknown and what we cannot control. Meditation erases fear by offering the light of knowledge and wisdom of control.
Meditation is self-discovery. Our physical death is as much a part of our self as our life. Only by accepting and embracing all of our existence can we fully know ourselves. Only in self-awareness is self-control, and only in self-control is happiness and fulfilment. If we fear to enter the realm of death, we can never fully know ourselves: a life thus lived is spiritually dead.
Thus in life can be death, as in death is the connecting thread of life.
Life is a constant opening of movement, flow, discovery and progress. Spiritual death is a closing of stagnation, complacence, absence of growth and aspiration.
By fearing our future physical death, we ensure our immediate spiritual death and thus cripple the purpose and potential of our life. The fear of death kills us, even while we live and breathe.
Consciousness, like a balloon in the sky is never stationary, always rising or falling. Fear reduces and drags our consciousness down, while it is lightened and raised through aspiration.
To avoid going down, meditate daily to go up, up and up.
Energy comes in many forms: physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, psychic energy. We derive energy from our food and drink, from air and water, from sunlight, colour, music, art and beauty, from action, interaction, inspiration, ideals and emotions. We also expend energy in many ways: physically, vitally, mentally and psychically.
In simple terms, anything positive in our lives energises us, while everything negative drains our energy. Thoughts can inspire, enthuse and uplift us, or they can dishearten and debilitate us. They can give us wings to fly, or drag us into the pit of despair.
While negative mental and emotional patterns are our greatest energy-sappers, all pointless mental activity is exhausting. Experience shows that the clearer our minds become through meditation, the less energy is expended on mental processes, the more is available for other tasks, and the more open we are to the inflow of further energy in the form of positive, uplifting thoughts and emotions.
The more active our minds when we go to bed, the longer before we can sleep. This is sheer wasted time. When we do fall asleep, much time is still spent “unwinding” our minds and clearing the mental clutter. Only once our mental activity has calmed, are we able to enter into the deeper states of sleep necessary for our bodies’ rest and revitalisation. The less cluttered our minds to start with, the sooner we will fall asleep and the less time is needed for this unwinding phase, and consequently the less sleep we require.
The less sleep we need, the more time and energy we have to enjoy life to the full.
Meditation is the most natural, reliable method to overcome tiredness and achieve better sleep, while increasing the supply of two priceless assets: time and energy.
Time and stress are intimately related. The pressure of time is the oxygen of stress. Without time and beyond time, there can be no stress; stress evaporates. So the surest way to alleviate and remove stress is to go beyond time. To go beyond time we must go beyond the mind – to meditate.
How can meditation take us beyond time? Thoughts, sensations and desires are the footsteps and markers of time. When we go beyond thoughts, sensations and desires, we are liberated from the awareness of time. Time measures the finite; when we fly into the infinite, we rise beyond time for nothing can measure the infinite. In pure meditation, the simple act of silencing our thoughts enables our ascent beyond the confines of the limiting mind and simultaneously frees us from the reach of time and its attendant, stress.
The regular practise of meditation not only takes us beyond the reach of time, it also creates time. The more time we have at our disposal, the less susceptible we are to stress.
How can meditation create time? Regular meditation enhances our capacity to focus, to concentrate our attention on one thing at once, to the exclusion of all else. When we can absorb ourselves utterly in one task, without the constant distraction of extraneous thoughts and desires, we are able to accomplish each task much more quickly and effectively. An activity that might take us one hour when we are being distracted, might take only 10 minutes when we are fully present and wholeheartedly immersed in the task: hence we have more time at our disposal. We have effectively created time, time for the fuller enjoyment of life.
Regular meditation = better concentration = extra time = diminished stress = more happiness.
The question is often asked: which technique is best for meditation? Should I practise mantra, breathing and counting, concentration on a candle, creative visualisation, singing or gazing at the sky?
We might as well ask, which is better – Lebanese or Thai food, Irish or Hungarian folk music, judo or karate, green or blue, sunrises or moonrises? There is no right or wrong, no better or best: they’re all good, and the one we choose is a matter of our personal preference.
Those with a good ear are more inclined towards singing, those with a good eye do better with visualisation. Basketball tends to favour the tall, rock-climbing the short. We can enjoy equally Indian, Italian, Guatemalan and Ethiopian food; we might play cricket, scrabble, frisbee and water polo. Our preferences might also vary according to our mood and circumstances.
For a beginner, the only essential thing is to start. Far more important than technique is attitude: the sincerity, eagerness and enthusiasm we apply.
Technique is the means to reach our goal, our road leading to Rome. We might walk, run, ride a bike or horse, drive a car, take the bus, the train or fly – all that matters is that we arrive.
It is tempting to obsess with technique, forgetting its purpose is to take us beyond itself, like the rocket engine that is ejected once it has powered us beyond the atmosphere. Technique is the usher who shows us to our seat and then withdraws; if the usher remains chatting, we cannot enjoy the concert.
Technique absolutely matters, as the means to reach our goal. Which technique, absolutely matters not. To gaze at the sun we must open our curtains. While gazing, the colour of the curtains is an irrelevance.
The pathway to the greatest treasures of the universe is absolutely free.
Meditation affords us the richest of riches – peace, love and happiness.
All of us have an inner yearning for fulfillment. We look around us and see a world dominated by economics, status and possession, where the standards of worth are material wealth, prestige and social standing. So it is natural for us to assume that the inner yearning we feel will be satisfied according to these measures; that the pathway to happiness lies in accumulating more wealth and property, getting an ever better job and acquiring name and fame.
Yet no material wealth – be it money, gold, land or property; no status, prestige or reputation can ever satisfy our inmost yearning for fulfillment, for all of these can disappear in an instant. Being finite they are always temporary and therefore insecure, tenuous.
Our yearning is infinite, for we are infinite: an infinite yearning can only be satisfied by an infinite, eternal source.
That source is within us, always. We house infinite and eternal peace, light, love, bliss, wisdom and power.
In terms of inner wealth we are all multi-millionaires already – yet we do not have access to our wealth because we are so preoccupied with searching for happiness via means outside of ourselves and beyond our control. We may have millions of dollars in the bank, but we have forgotten the PIN number or password to our account, so we cannot access our money.
Meditation is the PIN number, the password to our inner account of wealth infinite.
The wonderful thing about our inner account is that the more we rely on and draw from it, the more funds become available – exponentially and unendingly.
When we concentrate and meditate, outwardly we are statues of the Buddha: all calm, poise and serenity.
Yet inwardly we must be samurai warriors: all focus, vigilance and intensity.
Here is an exercise for next time you sit to concentrate and meditate…
Imagine you are a samurai. Your duty is to protect your master, your daimyo as he sleeps through the night. You are the solitary guard of the castle, your post its only entrance.
A thousand ninja warriors are eager to capture or kill your master. They are poised to attack, likely to appear from any angle and in any guise.
You are expert in all the martial arts and weaponry. The ninjas know and respect this, and they will not attack as long as they see you are fully alert and on guard. So they wait. But the moment you let your guard down, the moment you are distracted, lose focus or nod off, they will pounce from any and all directions… your master’s fate sealed, you would either be killed directly or live a life of shame.
Your master is your silence-heart of meditation, which you must guard and protect with all your being, capacity and will.
The thousand ninjas are all the thoughts, ideas, plans, desires, regrets, grievances, distractions, disturbances, temptations and impulses that lie in wait to attack, disrupt, capture or destroy your heart’s peace, poise and bliss.
These ninjas work together to distract or disturb you by flattery, trickery or treachery. Yet as long as your focus is absolute, you are invincible, you are more powerful than the entire ninja army.
Never fear, doubt or waver. You are only for your daimyo’s safety and protection – nothing else matters.
When the light of dawn breaks, all the ninjas fade and evaporate.
The goal of our outer quest is to have; the fulfilment of our inner search is to be.
What we have is material, which is immaterial; what we are is spiritual, which is real.
Peace is born in what we are, not what we have.
Love flows from what we are, not what we have.
Happiness radiates from what we are, not what we have.
Fulfilment blossoms in what we are, not what we have.
When we are in the finite consciousness of our body, vital and mind, our focus is on what we have, what we do not have and what we would like to have.
Even our identity and personal worth is derived from what we have: our physical appearance; our possessions; our profession; our income; our intelligence and qualifications; our family, friends and relationships; our social standing; our emotional state; our desires, both fulfilled and unfulfilled; our ideas, concepts, prejudices and beliefs; our allegiances; our land, language, race, religion and nationality; our outer achievements and experiences, successes and failures.
When we are in our infinite consciousness – in our spiritual heart and soul – our focus is on our being and becoming.
Our material self has; our spiritual self is.
We desire to have; we aspire to be.
We have the finite; we are infinite.
We have time; we are eternal.
We have life and death; we are immortal.
Having ends in loss; being never ends, ever transcends.
We think having is being; we know being is having.
Having smothers being; being liberates having.
Having is illusory; being is reality.
Having takes and impoverishes; being gives and enriches.
Having dances with not having; being transcends with becoming.
Having leads nowhere; being is already everywhere.
We go outside to have; we come inside – we meditate – to be.
Though the drops may have forgotten their source, they retain always an innate and compelling urge. Their urge is ultimately to return to the ocean from whence they came. Yet because they have forgotten the ocean, initially the urge presents itself simply as a yearning to transcend their drop-limitations, to grow, learn and explore, to join and become an ever-larger entity.
When drops flow and join together they become streams, lakes and rivers. When a drop joins a river it ceases to indentify as a mere drop: it identifies as the river, a being vastly greater in capacity, beauty, strength and purpose. Rivers flow into larger and larger rivers, their significance, power and glory increasing all the while.
Every river is aiming for the same destination – the ocean. That innate urge is now a powerful unstoppable current. Rivers will shape landscapes and literally move mountains to reach their goal.
Once a drop has entered a powerful ocean-bound river, its chances of being re-evaporated are almost nil. It is now focused squarely on the end-game – re-immersion in the ocean.
As each drop is a soul, so each great river is a spiritual Path, a vehicle carrying countless drops back to their ocean. As there are many rivers, each with its own character, charm and beauty, so there are many spiritual Paths, all appearing different yet all bearing the same underlying current.
According to our many perspectives, we give the ocean different names, yet the God-ocean was, is and will forever be one.
Once the drop merges finally in the ocean, it is no longer a drop, no longer the river: it is once more the ocean itself.
The drop has achieved its original and ultimate purpose.