As all things spiritual, meditation evolved from the need to assimilate oneself. If we are still then we can resonate with our environment. That environment is not the nature around us but in fact it is the one inside of us. We do not realize that we as human beings are also projections of the world order. We have been assaulting nature with technology for so long that we think that we are inviolable. We feel that we are in control of everything that we survey. In this context, we forget about what we are and what makes us tick.
Meditation is a contemplation of our role in the universe. There may be many questions that we have about the world and its vicissitudes but there is one that we must answer. who are we, really?
The art of spiritual soliloquy has been hijacked by the modern gurus. Meditation is bandied as an exercise for the mind just like we have workouts for the body.Mindfullness is a word that gets tossed around in corporate circles everywhere. Spiritual proponents are everywhere advising us on the techniques of meditation and how it can be used to repair the soul. People write coffee table books on meditation that are avidly consumed. Spiritual institutions prescribe meditation as an analgesic for the stress that we face every day in our lives. At last count there were millions of people advocating meditation as a self help tool. In YouTube you are swamped by people offering tranquility through transcendental reflections. There are retreats that are optimized for meditative purposes and you have to shell out a lot of money to able to partake of their hospitality.
There is a very popular set of practitioners who believe that meditation is a weapon which can manifest whatever it is you desire. We have been told many times that if we want to succeed in life, meditation is the key. Spirituality has become a technological masterpiece of the millenials.
How did we get here? Meditation was such a profound discovery achieved by people who practiced it throughout their lives. It took them the better part of their existence to realize what self realization really meant. The acquisition of empirical knowledge came about only because they ceded everything else. The quest for perfection will never be achieved without personal sacrifice and an unquenchable thirst.
Nirvana has become a verb that is thrown about with reckless abandon. It is a sad reality that meditation which is the epitome of a deeply personal self-interrogation instead has been transformed into a Swiss army knife of modern living.
The Hindus originated meditation sometime in 1500 BC and it was substantially mentioned in the Vedas. In a startling coincidence, meditation and Hindu religion grew at the same time and perhaps at different velocities. The spiritualists withdrew to transcend life and the priests proceeded to further life. Hence two orthogonal practices were originated to wage war on the same narcissistic streak that was emerging among human beings.
Religious practices were always formulaic consisting of chants and prayers inevitably meant for mass adoption. Religion is always meant to sustain or grow a community. Due to its intimate connect with people; religion easily gravitates into a tool for control. Spiritual practices on the other hand were always intended as an evolutionary step. It kept people away from common interactions and even went as far as to make them reclusive.
The word penance which is liberally found in all English translations of the Vedic texts implied a fundamental measure of self imposed austerity. It was well known that people would withdraw into the jungle or to some other remote corner of the world in order to practice meditation. In fact people who grew up meditating were invariably ascetics and those who adopted it later on in their lives did so as part of their renunciation of all worldly things. Austerity was abstention from sex, luxury, excesses and all forms of social interaction.
It is remarkable that in a world long ago which had so few vices and fewer diversions, renunciation was the only path to achieve mental tranquility. It was a widely held belief that food was the main reason for fissiparous tendencies. Hence a true practitioner of this mystic art would limit himself to simple food that was easily digestible, need not be cooked and would not ferment.
Today, renunciation is not even considered because it is neither convenient nor practical. Meditation has become a progressive fad devoid of the very tenets that defined it.
There is a great story by SL Bhyrappa (an Indian author) about a man who turns to the spiritual quest to achieve peace.
A man loses his family and decides to renounce his life. The man abruptly leaves everything including all his worldly assets and sets forth to the Himalayas. He is never heard of again for decades on end. One day a few travelers who braved the Himalayan cold come across a Sadhu who was sitting meditating on a table top rock. The wind was driving frozen air into their lungs and they were struggling to breathe but the Sadhu did not move. He was wearing just a loin cloth, sitting in the lotus position and lost in deep contemplation. They were fascinated by the ability of the man to bear extreme weather conditions without any clothes. They waited for him to wakeup but that did not happen.
They climbed up further and left the Sadhu to his musings. A week later they finish their odyssey and go down the same way. The Sadhu has not moved in all this time and this sets them wondering as to the power of the man. They forthwith decide to stay until he wakes up. They fervently wait for a couple of days and just when they are at their wits end, he gets up without any noticeable sign. He glances at them, does not speak, completes his ablutions and comes back with a raw potato in his hands. He eats the potato all the while ignoring the travelers. He them composes himself to slip back into meditation. One of the travelers impulsively bursts out, “Dear Guruji, please tell us who you are.”
The man looks at them and says one word, “AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.” They wait expecting more but they realize that he has gone back into a world that does not exist for ordinary mortals. They did not realize that he had actually never spoken to them but the word Om was a preamble to his self imposed trance.
The moral of the story was the man had not cared as to his own identity and in fact had not even bothered to be sociable. It did not really matter to anyone who he really was! He was lost forever in his pursuit of the eternal energy that permeates through the universe. He had no connection with the outside world and did not even desire such a symbiosis.
Meditation is the ability to focus unwaveringly on the self. What does this mean? It is the ability to look inward at ourselves until we are able to rip the veil off of our senses and dwell on the denuded soul. The end result is known only to the person who meditates and achieves fruition. Some people were born with the power to look inward and not shy away from the pulchritude of their soul. Others achieved the same power over a prolonged period of time. Yet others never were quite able to distance themselves from life to scale this most difficult of mountains.
Yet meditation never promises anything else but the precise strength to confront reality which is concealed from us by our own misgivings about life.
Samadhi which is the highest level of meditation that a human being can reach is defined as The mind loses its own consciousness and becomes identical with the object of meditation. As you can see at no point of time does even the most classical definitions allude to meditation as a way to get power. It is always a tool to examine the inner consciousness.
It should be very clear by now that religion and meditation are entirely different spheres of our lives. In the same way, our banal desires in life have absolutely nothing in common with the contemplation of the self. The role of meditation is transformation of an individual from a hunter to a seeker. We do not question the world around us but instead we decipher ourselves.
In the last 35 years, there has been a great advancement of technology and an even greater disconnection with reality. This has affected all of us to such an extent that we have slipped our moorings to nature. In doing so, we are at a cross roads. Fear, disappointment, ambition and greed have clouded our senses. People are frustrated with life and desire a modicum of balance. They turn to spiritual doctors who prescribe meditation like their medical counterparts prescribe drugs.
The modern masters have dissected meditation down into an assembly line of components from which they are able to create imaginative models at will. Spiritual contemplations are miniaturized and sold in varying forms, shapes and sizes.
Consider a few examples:
- Forbes magazine on how meditation will help your career
- Forbes magazine on how you can manifest what you want
- How meditation benefits CEOs
- When capitalism intersects meditation then enlightenment is sold at every neighborhood meditation center. With the advent of internet, even physical locations are redundant as proved by Meditation Studio
Meditation is not a pill that can be taken when desired. It is a process that needs to be followed from commencement to end without an associated goal. It is a way of life that sustains introspection about your deepest apparitions. It is definitely not about having the ability to influence other people to achieve your aspirations.
The most beautiful aspect of gaining spiritual insight is that it is relevant only to you. The lessons that you learn along the way as well as the culmination of the process are customized to the rate at which you imbibe. Even though the answer may be identical, traversing the path is a profound experience. The manifestation of the answer is recognizable only by you. Hence group meditation may appear as an attractive experience but it scarcely serves its purpose.
I have witnessed group meditation sessions where you are asked to share your experiences. It is important to realize that there is no way to convey your learning without severe dilution. You could impart techniques but every milestone is yours and yours alone. A good teacher will always tell you that he will show you the door but you have to open and walk through it. We must realize that meditation techniques that work for the teacher may not make any difference to us.
Remember that meditation is not an answer to your problems; instead it answers you.
When I initially was instructed in meditation, I was taught early on that there is no way for someone else to describe the bliss that one gets at the end. It must be experienced, felt in every micro fiber of the body and then it is perhaps visible. In many cases there are premature false positives that cloud the mind and create an illusory effect of bliss. It is incredibly hard to follow the process if you don’t know the end goal and you will not know the end goal until it is reached. It is a pretty paradox, isn’t it?
Spiritual enlightenment arrives when your only goal is self investigation. If there are no expectations or assumptions then your mind will be receptive. It will reflect at length before arriving at a suitable premise and test it over and over again. When bliss is reached, there is no room for achievement or a feeling of superiority. In fact there is nothing remaining except eternal simplicity because you have no questions left for your insignificant self. Finally you realize that meditation was never the goal, it was only a path that needed to be taken to end up right where you started.
If spiritual enlightenment is a lock then meditation is the key that will turn it.