I was once fortunate to stay for about 10 days at a fine hotel in Phnom Penh, which incorporated an international school for chefs. The student chef’s training included preparing meals for our large group of vegetarians. It seemed that at least one dish at each meal had to be prepared from potatoes, and that no dish could be repeated over the course of our stay. Alongside a superb array of other courses, we marveled at the inexhaustible panoply of potato presentations.
We had potato curry, potato casserole, baked potato, roasted potato, mashed potato, buttered baby potatoes, stuffed potatoes, diced, sliced and scalloped potatoes, potatoes au gratin, potato pancakes, potato wedges, potato soup, potato bread, potato cakes, French fries, home fries, hash browns, potato salad, caramelised potato.
Many dishes were seemingly utterly unrelated to each other, yet all were expressions of the one subterranean tuber.
Like Truth or God, the source was one, its forms endless.
The potato is a fine example of the principle of oneness in diversity. Each of us may have our own favourite form of potatoes. Again, we may prefer one potato dish at breakfast and another for lunch. Some may be happy eating only boiled potatoes from morn to eve, while a true potato afficionado will of course love and appreciate potato in all its multifarious forms, always.
Meditation brings us to the source of our being, the central still point from which all our attributes and aspirations arise. We discover this same central silence as the source of not only our being but of all being. By entering into our own meditation heart, we see and appreciate all reality as expressions and manifestations of one Light, one Truth, one Being.
A seeker once came to a spiritual Master, eager to ask one burning question: “Who is God?”
The Master smilingly responded: “Who is not God?”
Throughout the history of human existence, nothing and no-one has been the subject of more speculation, discussion, dispute, reverence and antagonism, than God.
Is God personal or impersonal? One, two or many? With or without form? With or without attributes? Masculine, feminine, neither or both? Does God even exist?
How can we possibly know? And why should we care?
Swami Vivekananda concluded that the search for God was the only quest worth pursuing, so he traveled from place to place asking wise and learned people: “Have you seen God?” If the answer was “No”, he moved on. Only the mighty spiritual Master, Sri Ramakrishna, was able to reply: “Yes, I see God more clearly than I see you standing before me.” So he stayed with Sri Ramakrishna.
Whoever or whatever God is, one thing which all who speculate on God’s existence agree upon, is that God must be everywhere and in everything.
If God is indeed “omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient,” God must not only be all around us, but also within us. There can not be any part of our being which is not God. Mathematically speaking, our existence is a sub-set of God’s existence, our consciousness a portion of God’s consciousness.
The most obvious, and ultimately the only reliable place to seek God therefore, must be within ourselves – not through outer learning, but through direct inner experience.
This is meditation’s ultimate purpose and promise.
Anyone who claims: “I am God”, will likely be viewed as supremely egotistical or profoundly disturbed. Yet perhaps it is we who fail to declare: “I am God”, who are the truly ignorant and crazy ones.
Talking or writing about God is pointless, fruitless frittering.
Whoever or whatever God is, lies beyond the realms of thought, analysis and even description.
God can only be felt, experienced and realised.
Whenever we try to describe, define or confine God, God eludes us.
The human mind seeks the comfort of possession by labelling and confining everything within boxes and definitions. “Understanding” gives the mind a sense of safety and control, and supports the mind’s sense of its own hegemony. This applies to the individual mind, and to the institutions created and sustained by our collective minds.
Too often, a described and defined “God” has become a weapon of control, a tool of the limiting, fear-bound mind seeking to preserve and extend its own sphere of pettiness. The mind’s need for self-righteousness, whether through chest-beating or self-flagellating, feeds off division and difference as its oxygen, spawning arrogance, delusion and even hatred.
The God of Love goes into hiding.
To attempt to know or understand God using the human mind is as useless an exercise as setting out to measure the sky with a 30 centimetre ruler. It is simply the wrong and hopelessly inadequate instrument.
Only the infinite can comprehend the infinite. If we hope to know or to communicate with God, we have first to develop our own infinite instruments with which to do so: our heart and our soul.
Cast aside all speculation about God. Forget everything you have heard, or been taught about God.
Where can we find our father, mother or dear friend when we cannot see them physically? Inside our hearts…
If God is indeed your Father, Mother or Friend, then you have every right – and opportunity – to seek and approach God inside your own heart.
Choose a quiet, uncluttered place. Sit so that the spine is straight, yet relaxed. Close your eyes and focus all attention on your breath.
Imagine the outside world has dissolved. Nothing exists beyond your controlled breathing.
Now imagine that you do not have a body or a physical form; you do not have a mind or any thoughts or desires – you are only your spiritual heart. Your heart is all love, joy, sweetness and light.
Now imagine it is not your lungs that are breathing, but your entire spiritual heart. You are not breathing in air from the physical atmosphere; you are breathing in peace, love, light and joy from the spiritual realm within and all around you. With every breath you become calmer, lighter, purer, sweeter, vaster and stronger.
Just as our physical breath brings oxygen, essential energy and nourishment into our physical body and removes carbon dioxide and metabolic waste; so our heart’s breath brings a flow of inner energy, nourishment, peace and enlightenment to bathe our consciousness and releases stress, attachments, desires, limitations and the ignorance of ego.
Just as our physical breath connects us with every other physical being on this earth – people, animals and plants – as we all breathe the same atmosphere; so our heart’s breath connects us directly with the infinite inner realms of God. Our heart’s breath has a free access to the spiritual wealth of boundless enthusiasm, limitless light, absolute freedom and unhorizoned delight.
We do not have to sit and meditate to be conscious of our heart’s breath. With every breath of our lungs we can be aware of the deeper breath of our heart – while walking, playing, studying, sitting at our desk.
Through our heart’s breath, every moment is an opportunity for spiritual growth, for meditation-in-action.
“When the flower blooms, the bees come uninvited.”
– Sri Ramakrishna
As we grow through our meditation and spiritual practise in peace, poise, clarity, creativity, purpose, joy, inspiration and aspiration, it is inevitable that we will want others to enjoy these same benefits. The practise of meditation is so simple and its effects so overwhelmingly positive, how can we not wish our friends and loved ones – indeed all of suffering humanity – to share in our miraculous discovery?
Yet shouting from the rooftops, proselytising or trying to “convert” our friends is often counterproductive. When a fruit is ripe it falls from the tree. If you pluck it earlier, you just get a sour taste. Meditation is self-discovery: just as we all have to breathe for ourselves, so we all have to meditate for ourselves.The impetus to meditate has to come from within; it cannot be forced from without.
From one candle, many can be ignited. Everyone embodies the ultimate truth, beauty and perfection within, and to discover this treasure we have only to meditate: yet first we must want the treasure badly enough to actively seek it. Candles are meant to burn. Every candle has the potential to burn brightly yet some are content to remain asleep, unignited. When a sleeping candle feels the yearning to become alight, it has only to seek out one flaming candle. Just by coming close to the existing flame, the dormant candle ignites.
If we want to inspire others, we must keep our own candle flaming.
All spiritual qualities – peace, love, light and joy – expand and radiate, continually. The deeper we dive into our hearts, the wider and vaster the fragrance of our hearts spreads.
Folded hands are the symbol and expression of devotion.
Devotion is the fast lane of spiritual progress. Devotion and meditation help each other like two arms, left and right. Devotion deepens, sweetens, purifies, clarifies and intensifies our meditation practise. Meditation reveals, strengthens, liberates, protects and perfects our devotion. It is impossible truly to experience one without the other. As one grows and develops, so must its twin.
Devotion is love in action. Devotion is not content to accept oneness as a state of being: it must taste, explore, express and celebrate oneness as fully lived, manifested reality. This oneness is with our own higher self, with the Divine within and all around us.
Love adores and yearns to approach the Divine. Devotion storms the heart of the Divine. Where love may flow as a stream, devotion surges as a torrent. If love is a wave, devotion is a tsunami. If love is honey, devotion is ambrosia.
Devotion reverberates with overwhelming sweetness and inexplicable bliss.
To meditate well, devotion is indispensable. Devotion compels us to meditate, for devotion knows that meditation is the doorway to its goal.
To gain true devotion, meditation is indispensible. As meditation draws aside the curtain of the mind’s illusion, the force of devotion from within becomes irresistible just as the gravitational pull of a large planet increases as we approach and the brilliance of the sun brightens as we come nearer.
Folded hands act as a magnet to attract devotion. Our folded hands draw devotion into our hearts, and from within our hearts. Our folded hands not only recognise the presence of a higher power, light, love and bliss within us, they impel us to enter into, embrace and become that very power, light, love and bliss as our reality-self.
We talk about going deep in meditation, and we also talk about going high in meditation. Ultimately, a deep and a high meditation lead to the same reality-goal.
Depth and height are both relative concepts, which pertain in the realm of the finite. We strive to go deeper or higher in our meditation because both height and depth lead us ultimately beyond our finite selves into our infinite, wherein we long to dwell. All attributes and barriers of the finite – thoughts, desires, limitations, ignorance, space-time – are dissolved in height and depth alike.
To go deep in meditation means to still our surface consciousness – our bodies, our emotions and our minds – in order to dive into our spiritual hearts. As we dive ever deeper and deeper within, our awareness expands into the infinite.
To go high in meditation means to muster all of our mind’s determination, our emotional intensity and our heart’s inner cry to fly upward, rocket-like, to transcend the gravitational pull of our thoughts, desires and attachments. As we soar higher and higher, our awareness expands into the infinite.
Folding our hands in front of our hearts when we meditate helps and focuses our effort in whichever direction we are trying to go in our meditation – either deep or high – or both at once.
The very act of folding our hands injects purpose and momentum in whichever direction we are seeking to go, inward or upward.
Placing our folded hands in front of our spiritual heart is a call within. Immediately we feel the way within beckoning, and a surge to plumb our inner depths.
Placing our folded hands with fingers pointing upward to the heavens ignites and powers up our heart’s aspiration to rise ever upward and scale infinity’s heights.
“You can increase
Your heart’s intensity
Your mind’s purity
Just by folding your hands
During prayer and meditation.”
– Sri Chinmoy
When we sincerely aspire for a goal, we will take help from any quarter and explore any means to reach our goal. We will listen to advice, read books, attend classes, practise techniques, make sacrifices, travel to far places, we will adjust our diet, daily schedule, exercise regime and sleep patterns – anything to help us reach our goal sooner.
Meditation is at once our goal and our means to reach our goal. The practise of meditationis our means; the perfect state of meditationis our goal. So let us be open and ready to welcome anything that will improve the quality of our practise and hence expedite our progress towards our goal.
In our practise of meditation we are concerned principally with our mind and our heart. We are striving to make our mind still, clear and empty while invoking the depth, vastness, silence, peace and beauty of our heart. Purity in the mind and intensity in the heart are the two indispensable ingredients of successful meditation – yet these two rare exotic birds are scarcely glimpsed in the dense hectic forest of our lives, and even more rarely caught and tamed.
As Sri Chinmoy’s poem states, our heart’s intensity and mind’s purity are enhanced when we fold our hands. How and why are matters not for conjecture, but experience. Folding our hands is a lightning rod that attracts intensity, purity, focus, speed, progress and success into our practise more effectively than anything else we can do on the physical plane. If our goal is important to us, then doing whatever we can to quicken the journey is a no-brainer.
Meditation is the withdrawal of our mind’s engagement with the outer world, to enter into our heart’s realm of peace, light and delight.
Our hands are the executors of our will in the world. When we fold our hands, we both practically and symbolically withdraw our means of action from the outer world. With the outer world – which is our biggest distraction – set aside, our will and focus can now more readily settle within.
With my hands now occupied, there is a sense I am no longer the doer: that whatever will now transpire is no longer my responsibility. The “doer” is elsewhere, within. With my hands occupied, I am outwardly helpless – I cannot act or defend myself. This helplessness intensifies my sincere inner cry, my yearning, my need to enter into the higher power, guidance and nourishment of the inner silence.
With our hands folded, we are surrendering our will to a higher Will within. We embrace the Christ’s words, which embody the highest prayer and deepest meditation: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
For the mind to accept and embrace the submersion of its will and authority in the light and love of the heart requires humility, a quality unfamiliar to the average mind. Humility immediately increases the moment we fold our hands. Humility deflates the ego’s pride and opens wide the door of the heart. Through this open door, sincerity, simplicity, purity, sweetness and devotion all enter and play their roles to deepen, expand and illumine our meditation experience.
Then slowly dawns the truth of another of the Christ’s sublime utterances, which can never be grasped with the mind, only realised and become:
Closing the palms together in front of one’s heart is known in hatha yoga as the “Anjali Mudra”, “mudra” meaning “sign” referring to a posture or positioning of the hands; “anjali” meaning to offer, salute or revere.
The gesture is traditionally used throughout India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and South-East Asia for both social interaction and worship. As a formal greeting and parting gesture, folded hands are associated with the Sanskrit terms “namaste” and “pranam” – roughly translating as “the divine in me bows to the divine in you”, a beautiful recognition of our innate oneness. The gesture is also used to convey gratitude, respect and sincere apology – all deep feelings of the heart.
The first time I flew with Thai Airways, I was surprised and moved when the hostesses greeted the passengers with their hands folded (known as “wai” in Thai) as we boarded the plane. Instantly I felt at home and truly welcomed.
This experience taught me more directly and profoundly than any theoretical understanding or historical or cultural knowledge the significance of folded hands – for in an instant, by sheer magic, my heart was opened. Folded hands connect hearts, bringing forward the best hearts’ qualities – the divine – in both the one folding the hands and the one who is being approached with folded hands: humility, simplicity, sweetness, sympathy and concern.
If two people approach me with the same request – one with hands on hips, the other with folded hands – I am more likely to be sympathetic to the one whose very appearance touches my heart…
When I sit to meditate, I am the one making an ardent request – for peace, light and bliss. With my hands folded … or without – how is my case more likely to receive a sympathetic hearing?
“A theory must be tested.
A fact must be honoured.
A truth must be lived.” – Sri Chinmoy
Everything in meditation and spirituality has to be practical. While theories may be fascinating and sometimes inspiring, only experience is real.
Practical also means personal. We are all unique. Just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for me at this time. Meditation is my journey of self-discovery. Along the way I will take whatever inspires me. If it works, then for me it is real. Of course as I grow, what works for me will also evolve. Something I now put aside may later become an indispensable part of my practise.
Try this simple experiment: for one week, every morning practise meditation for 5 minutes with your hands folded in front of your heart, and for 5 minutes with your hands elsewhere. You will see which works best for you.
Folding our hands plays a similar role to having a designated place in our room for meditation. The mind is reminded that this is where we meditate and this is the posture we assume for meditation – so we must be meditating. Simple but profoundly effective.
Do not press the hands firmly together. There should be no pressure or tension, just lightly touching. If the hands are held properly the arms will not become tired. Your hands are aligned with and match your straight spine.
With our hands folded, our energy is focused in our heart and not in our head or elsewhere, bringing a heightened sense of purpose and vigilance. With this vigilance you may find it is both easier to still the mind and to bring it back to attention when it does wander.
Our energy meridians end in our fingertips; our hands form the left and right “poles” of our bodies’ energy fields. These fields are sometimes expressed as representing left brain/right brain, male/female, ida/pingala or sun/moon energies. When we bring these poles together there is a tremendous focusing of energy, consciousness and will – so the place where they meet is most significant.
Central and equidistant between these two poles is our spiritual heart, our centre of peace, love, light and joy, the seat of our soul and goal of meditation. Our spiritual heart is the great harmoniser of our being, solver of problems, remover of suffering, father of wisdom and mother of bliss. It is here into the heart that we eagerly yearn to dive in our meditation. When we fold our hands – our thumbs gently resting in front of and lightly touching our heart – we are focusing our energy, consciousness and will right where we are aspiring to be and become. It is like facing the direction we want to travel, or looking at the target we are aiming at.
My fingers indicate the direction of my energy and will. When my fingers are pointing directly upwards, there is a strong feeling of a rising flame, aspiring only for the highest. Often we can intensify our aspiration simply by ensuring our fingers are pointing upwards and not forwards or to the side.
Of course folding our hands in front of our hearts with fingers pointing upwards will not guarantee a good meditation; yet every little thing helps. We meditate to deepen our inner awareness and to bring this awareness into our outer lives: folding our hands is more than a pose, it is a powerful bridge to align our inner and outer aspiration.