ஆன்மீக வாழ்வில் அக மௌனம் மிக முக்கியமானது. எவ்வளவுக்கு எவ்வளவு மனதில் எண்ணங்கள் குறைகிறதோ அவ்வளவுக்கு அவ்வளவு நல்லது.
ஒரு நாள் ஒரு 2 மணி நேரம் நண்பர்களுடன் அரட்டை அடியுங்கள். அதில் நகைச்சுவை, கருத்துப் பரிமாற்றங்கள், அரசியல், வாதங்கள், எதிர் வாதங்கள், கிண்டல், கேலி, குத்தல், சீண்டல், பொறாமை, அறிந்தும் அறியாதும் மற்றவரைப் புண்படுத்தல் என்று பல உணர்ச்சிகளும் கலந்திருக்கும். மனம் இவை எல்லாவற்றிலும் ஈடுபடும்.
அதோடு மட்டுமல்ல; பேசி முடித்தபின்னும் பேசிய பேச்சுகளைப் பற்றிய எண்ணங்கள் மீண்டும் மீண்டும் சுற்றிச் சுற்றி வரும்; ஒரு விவாதத்தில் நீங்கள் தோற்றிருந்தால், ஒரு நண்பன் விளையாட்டாக உங்களை மட்டம் தட்டியிருந்தால், பேச்சில் ஏதேனும் ரசாபாசமான விஷயங்கள் இருந்திருந்தால் இந்த எண்ணங்கள் பின்னும் பல மணிகள் உங்களுள்ளில் வளைய வரும்.
ஒருவேளை அந்த அரட்டைக் கச்சேரி நடக்காமலேயே இருந்து நீங்கள் அந்த நேரத்தில் முழுமனதுடன் ஒரு பலன் மிக்க புத்தகத்தைப் படித்திருந்தால்?
ஆக, வெளிப்பேச்சு, அகப் பேச்சைக் கூடுதல் தூண்டிவிடுகிறது. பேச்சுக் குறைந்தால் அகச் சலனங்களும் குறைய வாய்ப்பு கூடுதல்.
ஆகவேதான் மௌனம் ஆன்மீகத்துக்கு ஓர் உபாயமாகப் பரிந்துரைக்கப் படுகிறது.
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Unless very spiritually evolved, most of us live in this world with lots of selfish motives. We lead our lives for our sustenance and procreation, to protect ourselves from dangers, to fulfill our desires, to dominate others, to love others, to hate others, to be loved by others, to be respected by others and so on. When, in these motives, we encounter resistance or hurdles, at times we do not mind acting too selfish by causing difficulties and troubles others, subjugating others or treading into others’ territory to garner forcefully something from their rightful share.
The tendency to help others
Side by side with our selfish motives, we also have inkling within our heart, either prompted by our own conscience, or based on the teachings and advice from parents, teachers and religious masters, that selfishness is essentially an undesirable quality. We are also taught to be kind and helpful to others; we are also advised to pay something back to the society in return for what it does for our welfare.
For those believing in God, it is told that God lives in the heart of every being and by offering help to the needy without selfish motives, we are in a way doing something to please the God who happens to be the indweller of the recipient.
Thus even in the heart of a hard core criminal, there is a soft corner to extend a helping hand to others. Tendency to help others is a spiritual force to counter-balance selfishness existing in human psyche.
When one willingly offers one’s time, money, material or physical/ mental/intellectual help to others, without “outwardly” expecting anything in return, it is volunteering. Volunteering may take place either unasked or after asked. You see an accident happening on the road right in front of your eyes. You run to the spot and try to extricate accident victims from the damaged vehicle and also call police and ambulance. That is volunteering help unasked.
A neighbor’s son has fallen seriously sick at mid night. The lady in the house is alone and she is too nervous to take her son all alone to the hospital. She wants you to accompany her and you readily agree sacrificing a peaceful sleep at the night. This is volunteering help, when asked.
Who receives the voluntary help
We may offer our voluntary help to relatives, friends, neighbors, local church/ a religious group/ organization, a philanthropic organization, non-profit activities (scientific, intellectual etc) or to a society in distress (say in floods, earthquakes, storms, etc).
Help may also be volunteered to commercial organizations and organizations without a direct role of social welfare, just because the organization sought for voluntary help and there were eager volunteers who felt attached or obligated to the organization in some way. Example: A commercial Blogging site arranging a get-together of all blogging members in a particular town and asking for volunteers from its members for organizing, coordinating and conducting the meeting in an orderly way.
Getting trapped into volunteerism?
Is volunteering always altruistic?
Though volunteering is generally perceived as a good human quality, which is either to be in existence in everyone’s heart or to be cultivated in everyone’s psyche and is perceived to be a quality oriented with one’s spiritual upliftment too, the tendency to volunteer help may not always be altruistic in the heart of a volunteer.
Ideally, in volunteering, selfish motive must be totally absent. But such idealism may not be practical among common mortals.
Mata Amritanandamayi (the “hugging saint”), a great spiritual master in India (and considered as an Avatar of God- Universal Mother) says “Only after self-realization or god realization, one attains a state of complete and total unselfishness. Until that state is reached, whatever service we do calling “selfless service”, is only an attempt to gain the state total unselfishness. Only when our ego is totally eliminated, true selfless service is possible. Until then, some amount of selfishness will always be found mixed in our service. You may claim that you are doing a selfless service, but if your probe deep into you, you will find an element of selfishness lurking inside”.
As Mata says, many times our ego smartly hides our true inner motives of offering voluntary service, and makes us outwardly imagine ourselves to be very unselfish, endowed with very large, magnanimous hearts! Of course, there will always be exceptions and there will always be different degrees of selfishness or unselfishness behind volunteering service.
Overt or hidden motives behind volunteering
Mental and Ego Satisfaction
“It gives me lots of satisfaction to help others; it enhances my personal value to myself; I enjoy helping others and making the world a better place to live; I believe in sharing something that I have but others don’t have” – these are some of the reasons people give when asked what makes them volunteer service to others.
A website dedicated to offering solutions on “surface protection against corrosion” invites voluntary “experts” to join the site as members and offer solutions to problems in corrosion issues posted by other members.
Engineers and proprietors of firms who are familiar with corrosion prevention may get themselves enrolled as experts and post solutions to the queries there. Their attitude will be like: “I know I am knowledgeable on this matter and I am quite happy to voluntarily share my knowledge”. For such people it is intellectual satisfaction which is another form of ego satisfaction.
Some people say, “I feel proud that I am able to help others through my voluntary service”. This pride will find expression through some form of boasting.
A person made in-charge of free food distribution to the poor in a religious festival will boast at opportune moment: “The Swami is very particular that the job should be entrusted only to me and none else. This is the 7th year in a row that I am in-charge of this service. There is so much of work pressure at the office and my manager would not grant me leave. But I said “Nothing doing – if you can’t grant me leave, you can take my resignation straight away; this service is more important than my job”. He virtually saluted me and sanctioned the leave!”
Many people do not like to lead a faceless life in this world. People want to get noticed. They want to be become widely known to many, if not famous. Whether they are truly qualified or not, whether they have true expertise or not, people think of themselves as possessors of skills and merits that the world has woefully failed to recognize. If any opportunity to showcase and advertise their “unrecognized merits” comes across, they would not mind volunteering their service free, just to get some form of recognition and appreciation.
A website publishes articles under various major subject groups by obtaining them from authors. The website invites volunteers from its writing community to work as subject experts and their duty is to offer suitable titles for articles, monitor the incoming contents for quality and offer “technical” help to the site and to its writing members based on specific needs.
The members are given “Subject Expert” badges that they can prominently display in their Profile pages. They are permitted to boast about it in their writing endeavors outside the website. The site showers them with accolades and smartly gets things done through their voluntary service, what they have to pay and get otherwise!
There are people who would do something voluntarily today with a calculative mind to get something else in return in the future. A clerk in an office goes all out to voluntarily offer service to the Manager, in planning, arranging and organizing the marriage of the manager’s daughter. His idea is that when it comes to promotions in the office, he will stand a better chance to get it when compared to a colleague, who is definitely much more meritorious, but does not care to develop a cordial one-to-one relationship with the manager.
Though many people would stoutly oppose the following statement, it is a widely perceived fact that businessmen and industrialists join Rotary Clubs and Lion’s clubs and offer their voluntary service with an ulterior motive to socialize and develop good business contacts with other businessmen. The services also offer them a respectable recognition in the society as philanthropists.
A purchase manager in a multi-bullion business organization has a social service organization run by his wife. When vendors meet him for business deals, he would casually mention about the philanthropic organization that his wife runs and how he would really appreciate people offering money or materials (say, cement and steel needed for a school building they are constructing) to the organization. He would give a small lecture on how the world has turned too selfish these days and how philanthropic activities can “spiritually elevate” people. He would conclude saying that whatever he says is purely suggestive. No compulsions; nothing to do with the business deals!
But his vendors will be smart enough to understand. They would make sure to donate money or materials to the philanthropic organization mentioned by the Purchase manager and would gladly await flow of orders from his company.
And there are people who are lured by worldly pulls, pressures and sensual attractions and go astray by indulging in “sinful” activities. However, deep in their heart, they too may have religious and spiritual moorings and their conscience may warn them of dire consequences of their activities. Such people may tend to consider volunteering service or donating huge sums of money to religious or philanthropic activities as a way of atonement of their sins.
Ramakrishna (left) The Master and Vivekananda (right) the Inspired Disciple – “By serving people you are only serving God”
Helping others – at the exalted spiritual point of view
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a great Hindu spiritual master, who is an expert in exposing threadbare the egoistic machinations human mind, says thus about “helping others”:
“Charity! Doing good to others! How dare you say you can do good to others?… If a householder gives in charity in a spirit of detachment, he is really doing good to himself and not to others. It is God alone that he serves – God, who dwells in all beings; and when he serves lord, he is really doing good to himself and not to others”.
“Helping others, doing good to others – this is the work of God alone… The love you see in parents is God’s love. He has given it to them to preserve his creation. The compassion you see in the kind-hearted person is God’s compassion. He has given it to them to protect the helpless… Do you think the world is so small to depend on your service? ..Whether you are charitable or not, God will have his work done somehow or other”.
Ramakrishna mentions further about his conversation with one of his devotees Shambu.
“Shambu said to me: “It is my desire to build large number of hospitals and dispensaries. This way, I can do much good to the poor”. I said to him: “Yes, that is not bad if you can do it in a detached spirit. But to be detached is very difficult unless you sincerely love God. And further, if you entangle yourself in many activities, you will be attached to them in a way unknown to yourself. You may think you have no motive behind your work, but perhaps there has already grown a desire for fame and the advertising of your name. Further, the pressure of work will make you forget God.”
Charity and love of God
Ramakrishna clearly distinguishes charity work of worldly minded from the Godly minded. He further says “Those who build hospitals and dispensaries and get pleasure from that are no doubt good people; but they are of a different type. He who is a real devotee of God seeks nothing but God. If he finds himself entangled in too much work, he earnestly prays “Lord, be gracious and reduce my work; my mind which should think of you day and night, has been wasting its power; it thinks of worldly things alone”.
Volunteering as Guru Seva with the right mindset
For people who are in the path of spiritual quest, doing voluntary seva is always prescribed by Gurus as the best way of acquiring necessary purity of heart for progressing in spirituality. A spiritual aspirant has to necessarily get rid of his ahankaram (ego) and mamaharam (possessiveness) if he wants spiritual progress. A sadguru will put a disciple in such a service where there is high scope for his ego getting hit and hurt. He will put him into service where the volunteer is forced to share, sacrifice, adjust with others, come out of his shells of comfort, give away his possessions and possessiveness etc.
The satguru will test his disciples in so many ways by putting him into seva and watching how he performs. Some people will be very attached to their own skills (like photography, painting, computer programming, accounting etc). The satguru may test a disciple by putting them into areas of activities that are totally out of tune with their skills and see how far they are able to adapt, learn new skills and adjust. The guru may give power, post and position to a person and see whether he gets corrupted by them. He may put a person quite used to power, position and commanding others, to work as a subordinate under another person who may not be fully qualified or skilled in administration.
Unless the disciple is extremely focused in his spiritual goal and be ready to shed his egotism and serve with humility, he would find volunteering quite painful and taxing under a Satguru.
But if the disciple has patience and perseverance, selfless seva is one of the best means to attain mental purity and progress in spirituality at the fastest rate. The Satguru also paves the way for quick disbursal of prarabdhas of the disciple through whatever suffering he undergoes in doing the seva.
Thus volunteering service has quite a lot of emotional, psychological and spiritual machinations behind it. Volunteering is not truly altruistic always.
“Arul Mozhigal – Tamil – Vol. VI Mata Amritanandamayi Math
“The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna” – Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.
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Prayer is the way of communication with God. In the path of Bhakti (devotion) in Hinduism, prayer is one of the essential and natural acts.
God is omnipresent and omnipotent; He is the creator, the protector and the destroyer. Hindus believe that the very sustenance of the human beings on the earth simply depends on the will of God and “nothing ever moves without His moving”.
People are bound to the world and its innumerable attractions; every one’s life runs on wants, needs, ambitions and greed. Atheists depend on their ego and their perceived self-righteousness in chasing, acquiring and enjoying their needs and wants. On the other hand, theists, with the strong belief that it is God who is the sole provider, pray to God to grant their needs and wants and at times extend their prayers to satiate their greed and unjustified ambitions too.
In the 4 Vedas, a prominent segment of the contents is devoted to rituals and prayers that are meant to invoke Gods to grace the populace with essentials as well as wealth and riches. There are plenty of prayers seeking good rains, bountiful crops, welfare of cattle, healthy offspring, punishing of enemies, elimination of diseases and so on. The following famous vedic chanting called Chamakam is of this category and is chanted popularly. This chanting is popular for its sonic beauty and the postive vibrations it produces in the ambiance (Click the picture to listen).
Many “homams” (rituals conducted in procedurally in front of fire as per norms given in Vedas) are performed even today by householders as well as religious institutions and temples praying for God’s grace to lead happy worldly life.
Prayers are done on one side for seeking boons; on the other side, prayers are made to ward off sufferings.
Hinduism preaches karma or action and Hindus believe in the dictum “what thy sow, thy shall reap”. All your actions – good or bad, will have their repercussions and the occurrence of the repercussions transcend time and births. But great masters in Hinduism strongly advocate that karma is not self-propelling and whatever fruits or punishments to your past karmas are executed only by the will of God. In other words, God has the powers to reward you, to punish you less even for heinous crimes or can condone your sins – if only he is happy with you.
That’s precisely where prayers come in handy. When you suffer, pray to God for relief and succor. When you are in trouble and feel lost and directionless in life, pray to seek God’s guidance. Prayer helps to subdue your egotism. Prayer helps you to express your helplessness and seek the help of the higher force.
However, praying God for goodies and worldly riches is always discouraged by great saints and sages in Hinduism. Worldly pleasures have pains always attached at the back. When you pray for pleasures and get them, you have to invariably suffer the pains that come attached to them.
Another point of view is that when you pray for a specific want, YOU think that it will do good to you. This way your egotism deceives you that you know what is better for you rather than the higher force that is going to grant that boon! This way, one who prays to God for a specific want, in reality, undermines the glory and greatness of God.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa reiterates that the only thing one ought to pray to God is pure devotion at the lotus feet of God and NOTHING else. Some sages greatly emphasize the efficacy of prayer in getting rid of your bad qualities. If at all you pray, pray for removing your pride, your greed, your envy, your lust, your anger, your hatred and so on. Pray to purify yourself.
“Saranagati” (total surrender to God) is one excellent qualification that Hinduism recommends; when your dependence on God becomes total, at that exalted state, there is no need for any prayer at all. The individual has no personal needs and preferences; he accepts the fact that it is not he who knows what is right or wrong for him, but it’s God who knows best. Whatever God wills is absolutely the right thing and he will accept everything as God’s holy prasad.
Let us end this article with a few typical prayers uttered by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa:
“O mother, I am just a machine; you are the operator. I am the house; you are the dweller. I am the chariot, you are the charioteer. I do as you make me do; I talk as you make me talk; I am not; I am not. It’s you; it’s you”
“O mother, here is your virtue; here is your vice. Take both and grant me pure love for you. Here is your knowledge; here is your ignorance. Take both and give me pure love for you. Here is your purity; here is your impurity. Take both and give me pure love for you. Here is your dharma and here is your adharma. Take both and give me pure love for you”
“Mother, I don’t want name and fame; I don’t want the eight occult powers; I don’t want a hundred occult powers. O Mother, I have no desire for creature comforts. Please mother, grant me the pure devotion that I may have pure love for thy lotus feet“.
[Source of Sri Ramakrishna’s prayers: “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna” – by Ma]
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Many people who undertake meditation with lots of initial enthusiasm discontinue it after a while. There are many obvious reasons for it. Hindu saints, who devised meditation as a means of attaining self-realization or Samadhi (or Nirvana in Buddhism) were quite aware of this stark reality. The goal of meditation being the highest, the task of succeeding in it is also the toughest.
To attain success in meditation, there are, in reality, several preparatory disciplines needed. A sportsman participating in 100-meter-dash is expected to run just for about 10 seconds only in the actual competition, but think of the extreme physical rigors he has to undergo just to tune up his body for the purpose.
In the same way, in Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga ( by Saint Patanjali), meditation comes only as the seventh and penultimate step in attaining Samadhi.
Swami Shivananda (1887-1963) the founder of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, used to retort to his disciples who complained about lack of success in meditation this way: “Meditation is only the seventh step. Have you succeeded in all the previous six steps?”
Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) absorbed in meditation)
The Preparatory Disciplines for Spiritual Meditation
Of the six steps preceding meditation, the first two are really concerned with attaining the physical and mental purity so basically essential for any spiritual aspirant to aim for a divine pursuit in life. They are yama (self-restraint) and Niyama(observances).
Then comes the right sitting posture (asana) and then the right breathing practice (pranayama). Pratyaharaand Dharana are the 5th and 6th steps that are at times considered as part and parcel of meditation itself. Unlike the first two, these four disciplines are closely associated with the actual practice of meditation. We can study them more deeply in separate articles.
Here, let us see in detail what the first two basics stand for:
Practice Yama (self restraint):
Yama includes the following qualities:
Ahimsa: non-violence, non-killing, non-injury, remaining harmless. A body and mind inclined towards violence causing injury (both physical and mental) to others will be in an agitated state. Naturally calming it down through meditation is difficult.
Satyam: truthfulness, honesty.
Brahmacharya: continence, being free from sensual cravings. Attraction towards sex is a taboo for any spiritual aspirant. Body and mind craving for sex can never be easily tamed by meditation. Any craving for other sensual pleasures is also highly detrimental in attaining concentration at meditation.
Aparigraha: non-covetousness, not yearning for gifts. In other words, non-attachment to materialism. To love things coming free is a human tendency that, when nurtured, increases one yearnings. A mind always craving for materialistic possessions becomes unfit to meditate. Further, getting a gift from a person makes one obligated to that person which can become a bothersome bondage.
Practice Niyamama (observances or disciplined habits).
Niyama includes the following:
Soucha: purity, cleanliness. This includes both external as well as internal. External purity is obtained by bathing, wearing clean clothes, etc. and internal purity comes by regular practice of yama.
Santosha: happiness, contentedness. Being happy with what you are and what you have, remaining contented without unnecessary cravings – this quality makes one fit for undertaking meditation. A person who gets upset for trivia, one who is mostly unhappy and dissatisfied with himself or with others around him will find meditation too difficult.
Tapas: practicing austerities, spiritual disciplines. Willingness to give up physical comforts, readiness to sacrifice, observing fast, tolerating physical suffering, engaging in regular spiritual practices, readiness to help others at the cost of one’s own personal comfort – these qualities elevate one’s mind to a higher level.
Swadhyaya: self study, spiritual study. Reading spiritual books, scriptures, life history and teachings of great spiritual masters will help one to constantly think of what is truly essential in spiritual life. This practice also negates reading novels, watching television and movies, reading newspapers, etc. which have the tendency to dissipate the mind on sensual and worldly matters.
Ishwara Pranidhana: worship of God, surrendering to God. Acceptance of God as the supreme power controlling everything in the creation is one of the best ways of subduing the ego. The more one surrenders and worships God, the more one is freed of the machinations of self-will and egotism. A mind thus unburdened finds it easier to do meditation.
How About Disciplines Needed For Non-Spiritual Meditation?
Meditation as promoted today through techniques like Transcendental Meditation is more for “commoners” who seek physical and mental well-being. For them too, some good measure of disciplines is essential if they want to pursue with meditation in the long run and reap the benefits aimed. Many drop out in the middle because they lack such disciplines in life. If one word is to be used for explaining what are the disciplines needed, it is “moderation”. They are given below:
Eat moderately, Eat “sattvik” (pure) food: Food is intrinsically connected with thoughts. Food, mild in taste and texture most preferably vegetarian, not too hot and spicy, not fried with excess fats and oils, has to be consumed in moderate quantities. Drinking alcoholic drinks must be either avoided altogether or curtailed heavily.
At least 2 to 3 hours should have passed after eating food when one sits for meditation.
Sleep Moderately: Both excess sleeping and inadequate sleeping are detrimental to doing meditation. A healthy person needs about 6 to 8 hours of sound sleep (which may vary with age and body nature) a day. Sleeping in the daytime can potentially affect doing meditation.
Enjoy sensual pleasures moderately: Whether engaging in sex, seeing movies, watching television, listening to music, speaking over the cell phone or whiling away time with friends – whatever be the activities, engage in them in moderation.
The more one progresses in maintaining the basic preparatory disciplines elaborated above, the more one will feel his/ her progress in meditation. A strong will, a sense of surrender to God and determination to succeed are needed for one to maintain these preparatory disciplines and reap success in meditation.
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Meditation is a disciplined practice to attain control of the mind, by way of limiting the flow of thoughts and then ultimately leading to a state of consciousness with cessation of thoughts. The goal of meditation at a “lower” level is to attain physical and mental well being. At a “higher” level, it is to realize God or the Atman – one’s true inner-self.
The Hindu system of meditation has only one fundamental goal – God realization or realizing the Atman, which are one and the same, viewed from two different perspectives. But this quest of the ultimate goal is never easy; for an earnest aspirant, it may even take several births to attain it. Such a “higher goal” could at the best be the bastion for only a woefully small minority of people.
But the effort put in meditation never goes a waste; meditation calms down the mind, improves one’s mindset and mental well-being and enhances one’s physical health too. It is by grasping these benefits that meditation has evolved into a ‘science’ to offer these fringe benefits, namely the physical and mental well-being for the benefit of the majority.
Before going into the ways of learning meditation, some basics about the mind and its relationship with the body have to be understood.
The mind – body relationship
The mind is known as the subtle body. All our emotional dualities – pleasure and pain, peace and restlessness, anger and compassion, love and hate etc are all caused by the unceasing activity and oscillations of the mind. The mind has its existence only in the form of flow of thoughts. The more turbulent the flow of thoughts is, the more are the fluctuations of emotions. The less the flow of thoughts in the mind, the more peace and tranquility does one get. If the mind could cease its activity altogether, one transcends the dualities of pain and pleasure, the relative and the absolute – a state known as “Ananda” or bliss or Samadhi.
It is a known fact that gross (physical) body functions as a slave of the mind. Physical activeness, fitness or sickness has its intrinsic connection with the mind.
The converse is also true. The condition of the gross body affects the condition of the mind. The vital force that controls the body is known as Prana, whose gross function is breathing. Functioning of the mind and prana (breathing) are intrinsically interlinked. When the mind slows down, breathing slows down; conversely, when breathing is controlled, mind is controlled. The control of the breathing by disciplined practice is known as Pranayama.
Lured by the umpteen “schools” that profess teaching easy ways to do meditation, many think that it is akin to learning some form of fitness exercise – learn the basics and procedure and then go meditating happily ever after! Nothing could be more naïve than that!
Mind is compared to a male elephant in heat; mind is compared to a monkey which can’t sit in a branch ever for a short while. Our mind is a storehouse of accumulated impressions (called vasanas) and the moment one sits to meditate, the store-house opens and one faces a flood of thoughts that can thwart one even from doing even a semblance of meditation! Whatever be the “easy” way to meditate, be forewarned that it may take even years for the “less-prepared” ones to calm the mind for 10 full minutes.
Holy bath for external purity (Niyama)
The 8-stage Yoga – Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga
The Eight-steps in Patanjali Yoga are:
Yama (Self control/ morality)
Asana (Physical Posture)
Pranayama (Breath control)
Prathyahara (withdrawal of mind from senses)
Dharana (Focusing mind on a single point)
Samadhi (Attainment of Unity with Divine)
Sitting in Padmasana (Lotus posture) and doing Pranayama
The Hindu system of 8-stage meditation guidelines (known asAshtanga yoga) as professed by Saint Patanjali (in his Yoga Sutra) places meditation at the 7th out of 8 stages, the last one being,Samadhi. All the 6 stages preceding meditation are only preparations that make one qualified better to succeed in meditation.
The first two preparatory steps are known as yama and niyama. If the goal of meditation is the “Higher one”, it goes without saying that these two steps are extremely important.
Yama covers non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-covetousness. Niyamacovers internal and external purity, contentment, austerity, study of scriptures and a sense of surrender to God.
Assuming that the goal of meditation is only the “lower one”, even then certain basic disciplines are important to get benefits of meditation. They are:
(a) Moderation in intake of food (b) Moderation in sleep (c) Moderation in indulgence in sensual pleasures and physical activity.
Excessive eating or inadequate eating and excessive sleep or inadequate sleep will act as hindrance in practicing meditation. One should not undertake meditation when the stomach is full. At least 2 to 3 hours should have passed after eating when one sits for meditation.
Moderate and simple stretching exercises (which are calledYogasanas) can make the body conducive for undertaking meditation.
Choose a nice and calm place for meditation
The sitting posture (Asana) must be comfortable. Sitting on a flat surface over a soft mat or a folded blanket (but not too thick a cushion), cross legged in the posture known as “Padmasana” (Lotus posture) is the best. But, for westerners not used to sitting cross-legged, sitting on a bench, hanging the legs down is acceptable. Sit erect, with the spinal chord and neck vertical. Place your hands on your knees or clasp your fingers and place your palms near your stomach.
The choice of place for undertaking meditation should be calm, free from possibilities of disturbance, unobtrusively ventilated and comfortable. Certain holy places (certain mountains and hills, certainriverbanks, forests, temple premises and places where the mortal bodies of great saints were laid to rest) are very conducive for undertaking meditation.
Meditation is best practiced at early morning known as Brahma Muhurtha(after 4:00AM till sun-rise), noon, evening (at about 6:00, around sun-set) and at mid-night.
We have already discussed aboutPranayama, the breath control. It is generally said that Pranayama helps one to prepare effectively for meditation. Kriya Yoga is one popular method for Pranayama. Pranayama involves slow breathing in, holding and slowly releasing the air from the lungs at controlled timings. There are also schools of opinion which do not insist on practice of Pranayama.
Sri Sri Ravishankar — The Hindu guru who is popularizing the Pranayama Technique ‘Sudarshan Kriya;
A word of caution about Pranayama
It is extremely important that pranayama must be learned from a properly trained and trust-worthy Guru. It should be practiced strictly under the direct guidance of the guru in the initial stages. Uncontrolled and unguided practice of pramayama has potential dangers of creating troublesome side effects. Any attempt to practice it in excess (of one’s physical capacity) must be shunned.
Considering such risks, there are some spiritual traditions that do not emphasize the need for practice of Pranayama. Saints like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Saradadevi, Ramana Maharshi, Mata Amritanandamayi and the like do not really give undue importance to the practice of pranayama.
Some techniques of meditation offered by different Gurus
When we come to procedure, it’s here that we come across myriad options and schools of practice. Hinduism insists that one should learn meditation from a qualified Guru.
Some of the various methods professed by different schools are:
(1) Meditate on the form of your favorite God
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa says practice of intense love on ‘ishta’ (favorite/ personal God) and meditating on Him is the easiest way.
This is the most widely suggested method for Hindus, who have the natural flair for establishing a loving relationship with physical forms of God. Bhakti (devotion) is the easiest to way to relate to God according to Saints like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Know your Ishta (favorite God) first. If it is ,say, Krishna, keep a picture of Krishna before you, intently watch Him, close your eyes and meditate on his form within your mental eye. if you can’t get His whole form, even meditating on his lotus feet or his glowing face is quite fine. Let all other thoughts except your ishta’s form be wiped away from the mind.
2) Do Mantra Japa and immerse yourself in the thoughts of God
Papa Ramadas – The saint who strongly recommends Mantra Japa
Learn a Mantra (generally the holy name of your favorite God beginning with Om) from your Guru, repeat it by concentrating on the God-form or on the sound or on the meaning of it. In the recent past, Papa Ramadas was a great votary of the efficacy of Mantra. Naam (the Mantra of god), Dhyan (Meditation) and Seva (service) are the ways he recommended for spiritual progress.
Mantra Without God Form
As per the school of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, A Mantra can also be just a syllable, without relation to a God (as practiced in “Transcendental Meditation“).
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became extremely popular in west as he could offer TM as a meditation technique for people with no interest in religion or spirituality.
Maharshi Mahesh Yogi – The saint who took TM to the west.
“Who am I?”
Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi
For that, meditate with an inquiry: “Who am I?” Inquire by negation “I am not the body, I am not the mind, I am not the ego…” Proceed till mind settles in its inner most recess at peace. If a stray thought comes up, “Ask where from has this thought come?” The reply is “from inside me”. Then look deeper and go to the source of the evolution of the “I” thought in you. Kill all thoughts in the same way as and when they emanate and establish yourself in thoughtless state.
According to Ramana Maharshi, this is the “straight path” practicable by all needing no external support like pranayama, bhakthi (devotion) on God, worship of divine forms or chanting of mantra.
4) Relax-Chant Om-Delve deep-Watch your breath (Ma-Om) and Meditate – the IAM Technique
The Integrated Amrita Meditation(IAM) technique evolved by divine mother Mata Amritanandamayi can be learned free of cost from qualified trainers from Mata Amritanandamayi Math. According to the IAM technique, the watching of the breath is coupled with “Ma-Om” mental chanting while inhaling and exhaling. Certain prescribed Yogasanas too are to be practiced before doing meditation. (To be learned from qualified trainers only. See introduction to IAM technique in the video below).
Integrated Amrita Meditation (IAM) – benefits
Sri Abhinava Vidya Tirtha Swami of Shrinkeri Sarada Math. According to his biography, Lord Shiva himself taught him Kundalini Yoga in his dreams and made him visualize all the Chakras, the presiding deities of each chakra and experience Samadhi.
5) The Kundalini Yoga
(7) Awaken the “Serpent Power – The “Kundalini” and imagine its traverse through various nerve centers (Called Chakras) along the spinal chord (This is the “Tantrik Method”, never to be practiced without Guru’s guidance).
And there are more and more techniques….
What we discussed above are only a few techniques offered by great masters of Hinduism. There are so many other techniques evolved by so many other Hindu and Buddhist monks being practiced by different schools of religions and sects. Ultimately, a sincere and earnest seeker will surely end up in the right school and technique for meditation by the will of God.
All these techniques are aimed at withdrawing the mind from running behind sense objects and turn it inwards (known as pratyahara by Saint Patanjali – the 5th stage) and then making the mind focused on single point (known as dharana – the 6th stage). Remaining steadfastly focused is dhyanam (7th stage). When mind transcends even this stage and remains in thought-free awareness, it is Samadhi(8th stage). Some say that all these three – pratyahara, dharana and dhyanam put together is meditation.
Though these guidelines may look too simplistic,practicing them to perfection is not an easy task. One has to practice with perseverance, never losing heart and never slacking on the preparatory disciplines. In the beginning, one may try to sit in meditation for 5 minutes and gradually increase the period to 15 minutes and more. Experience will tell you that duration of sitting many a time will be beyond your control.
What is the sign that you are really doing meditation and not simply watching the plays enacted by your mind? When mind is truly focused or truly stops, it transcends time. One tell-tale indication of successful meditation is this: When you open your eyes after meditation thinking that some 10 minutes would have passed, but you find that almost 20 minutes have gone. Yes! You have succeeded in meditation. Another indication is: your erect posture will remain so when you open your eyes; you would not have stooped nor slouched from your position. Drowsing to sleep is a normal problem faced by many beginners! If done rightly, you will feel very refreshed, peaceful and contented when you wind up your meditation session.
To repeat, the preparatory disciplines are quite important in succeeding in meditation. Surprisingly, you will also find that as you practice meditation with perseverance, your capacity for self-discipline also improves; you will find that you are able to gain control over your sense organs and also the mind’s tendency to hanker behind sense-pleasures.
Know your goal; learn from a qualified Guru and practice with determination to succeed in meditation.
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