The Meaning of Meditation



“Meditation is the art of uniting with Reality.” – Swami Krishnananda

The art of meditation is not a job to be performed as one does the duties of one’s profession in life, for all activities of life are in the form of a function of ones individuality or personality which is to a large extent extraneous to one’s nature, due to which there is a fatigue after work and there are times when one gets fed up with work, altogether. But meditation is not such a function and it differs from activities with which man is usually familiar. If sometimes one is tired of meditation, we have only to conclude one has only engaged oneself in another kind of activity, calling it meditation, while really it was not so.

We have to make a careful distinction between one’s being and the action that proceeds from one’s being. What sometimes fatigues the person is the latter and not the former. We may be tired of work, but we cannot be tired of our own selves. So it naturally follows that whenever we are tired of a work or a function, it is not part of our nature but extraneous to it. If meditation is also to become a work or a function of our being, it too would fall outside our nature. And one day we shall not only be tired of it but also be sick of it, since it would impose itself as a foreign element upon our being or nature, and it is the character of essential being to cast out every foreign body by various methods.

Aspirants on the spiritual path are generally conversant with the fact that meditation is the pinnacle of Yoga and the consummation of spiritual endeavour. But it is only a very few that really gain access into the centrality of its meaning and mostly its essentiality is missed in a confusion that is usually made by equating it with a kind of work or activity of the mind, which is precisely the reason why most people find it difficult to sit long in meditation and are overcome either by sleep or a general weariness of the psycho-physical system. It is curious that what one is aiming at as the goal of one’s life should become the cause of fatigue, frustration and even disgust on occasions. People seek to know the secrets of meditation on account of dissatisfaction with the normal activities of life and detecting a lacuna in the value of earthly existence. And if even this remedy that is sought to fill this gap in life is to create a sense of another lacuna, shortcoming or dissatisfaction and if there should be factors which can press one into a sense of ‘enough’ even with meditation and make one turn to some other occupation as a diversion away from it, it has to be concluded that there is a serious defect in one’s concept of meditation itself.

When we carefully and sympathetically investigate into meditation as a spiritual exercise, we come face to face with certain tremendous truths about Nature and life as a whole. Before engaging oneself in any task, a clear idea of it is necessary, lest one should make a mess of what one is supposed to do. The question that is fundamental is: ‘How does one know that meditation is the remedy for the short-comings of life?’

An answer to this question would necessitate a knowledge of what it is that one really lacks in life, due to which one turns to meditation for help. Broadly speaking, one’s dissatisfaction is caused, by a general feeling which comes upon one, after having lived through life for a sufficient number of years, that the desires of man seem to have no end; that the more are his possessions, the more also are his ambitions and cravings; that those who appear to be friends seem also to be capable of deserting one in crucial hours of life; that sense-objects entangle one in mechanical complexities rather than give relief from tension, anxiety and want; that one’s longing for happiness exceeds all finitudes of concept and can never be made good by anything that the world contains, on account of the limitation brought about by one thing excluding another and the incapacity of one thing to include another in its structure; that the so- called pleasures of life appear to be a mere itching of nerves and a submission to involuntary urges and a slavery to instincts rather than the achievement of real freedom which is the one thing that man finally aspires for.

If these and such other things are the defects of life, how does one seek to rectify it by meditation? The defects seem to be really horrifying, more than what ordinary human mind can compass and contain. But nevertheless, there rises a hope that meditation can set right these shortcomings and, if this hope has any significance or reality, the gamut of meditation should naturally extend beyond all limitations of human life. Truly, meditation should then be a universal work of the mind and not a simple private thinking in the closet of one’s room or house. This aspect of the nature of meditation is outside the scope of the notion of it which many spiritual aspirants may be entertaining in their minds. An analysis of the nature of meditation opens up a deeper reality than is comprised in the usual psychological processes of the mind, such as thinking, feeling and understanding, and it really turns out to be a rousing of the soul of man instead of a mere functioning of the mind.

The soul does not rise into activity under normal conditions. Man is mostly, throughout his life, confined only to certain aspects of its manifestations when he thinks, understands, feels, wills, remembers, and so on. All this, no doubt, is partial expression of the human individuality, but it is not in any way near to the upsurge of the soul. The difference between normal human functions and soul’s activity is that in the former case, when one function is being performed the others are set aside, ignored or suppressed, so that men cannot do all things at the same time; but in the latter, the whole of man in his essentiality rises to the occasion and nothing of him is excluded in this activity. Rarely does the soul act in human life, but when it does act even in a mild form or even in a distorted way, one forgets the whole world including the consciousness of one’s own personality and enjoys a happiness which always remains incomparable. The manifestations of the soul through the channels of the human personality are seen in the ecstatic enthusiasms of art, particularly the fine arts, such as elevating music and the satisfaction derived through the appreciation of high genius in literature. In such appreciation one forgets oneself and becomes one with the object of appreciation. This is why art is capable of drawing the attention of man so powerfully and making him forget everything else for the time being. But in the daily life of an individual there are at least three occasions when the soul manifests itself externally and drowns one in incomparable joy; these are the satisfactions of (1) intense hunger, (2) sexual appetite and (3) sleep. In all these three instances, especially when the urges are very uncompromising, the totality of the being of a person acts, and here the logic of the intellect and the etiquettes of the world will be of no avail. The reason is simple: when the soul acts, even through the senses, mind and body, which are its distorted expressions, its pressure is irresistible, for the soul is the essence of the entire being and not merely of certain functional faculties of a person. While the joys of the manifestations of the partial aspects of the personality can be ignored or sacrificed for the sake of other insistent demands, there can be no such compromise when the soul presses itself forward into action.

The outcome of the above investigation is that when the soul normally acts, there is no consciousness of externality, not even of one’s own personality, and hence the joy experienced then is transporting and enrapturing. And we have observed that meditation is the soul rising into action, not merely a function of the mind. This will explain also that meditation is a joy and cannot be a source of fatigue, tiresomeness, etc., when rightly practised. But meditation wholly differs from those channelised spatiotemporal manifestations of the soul, itemised in the above paragraphs. In meditation the soul’s manifestation is not through the senses, mind and body, though its impact may be felt through any of these vestures before it fully reveals itself in the process called meditation.

The Sadhaka (aspirant) attempts to manifest the soul gradually in the meditational technique. The senses are bad media for the soul’s manifestation, because the sensory activity is never a whole, one sense functioning differently from the other and being exclusive of the other, while the soul is inclusive of everything. Hence, when there is a sensory pressure from the soul it becomes a binding passion, almost a kind of madness, as it does not take into consideration the other aspects of life. The body, too, is not the proper medium for the soul’s expression, for it is inert and is almost lifeless but for the Prana (vital energy) pervading through it. The only other medium through which the soul can reveal itself is the mind which, though it operates in terms of the information supplied by the senses, has also the capacity to organise and synthesise sensory knowledge into a sort of wholeness, and, hence, is in a position to reflect the soul whose essential character is wholeness of being. Thus, the process of meditation has always to be through the mind though its intention is to transcend the mind. The mental activities, being midway between the operation of the senses and the soul’s existence, partake of a double character, viz., attraction from objects outside and the longing for perfection from within. The more does the mind succeed in abstracting itself from sensory information in terms of objects, the more also is the success in meditation. For this purpose Sadhakas (aspirants) develop a series of techniques to draw the mind away from the objects of sense and direct it slowly to the wholeness of the soul. The main forms of this method, to put them serially, in an ascending order, would be (1) concentration on an external point, symbol, image or picture; (2) concentration on an internal point, symbol, image or picture; (3) concentration on universal existence.

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