A session led by the Warden at Shanti Sadan
We may find ourselves being asked why we turn to meditation practice. All who meditate regularly know that time given to meditation helps meet various needs concerned, particularly, with our inner life—the state of our mind.
There is the need for relief—relief from whatever at the moment is making us feel limited, heavy, confused, frightened or fatigued—in other words, relief from whatever is preventing us from being our normal relaxed self.
Instead of tolerating unresistingly or suffering passively these negative energies that arise in us, in meditation we step back and re-direct the unhelpful currents of thought. We do this by withdrawing more deeply into ourselves, to get beneath the surface tension into that realm of our being where these disturbances have no power over us.
Another need meditation fulfils is our need to merge ourselves with the positive energy of creative peace. This contact with the deeper peace within is like inner food. It not only relieves, but nourishes and strengthens. This too is a great gift of meditation practice. This peace— shanti—is not an idea manufactured in our mind. It is a reality which has its source in our true Self. The Katha Upanishad refers to this deeper Self as ‘the Self of peace’—the shanta-atman—shanta or shanti meaning peace, and atman meaning higher Self. This Self of peace is not a deprived or dulled state of mind. On the contrary, it is taught as the highest of all, above intellect in its most expanded form.
We are led, in turn, to another need meditation fulfils—the need for expansion of consciousness. In the world, human beings seek to enlarge themselves and expand their consciousness in many ways—through education, achievement, entertainment, relationships, religion, art, sport, and so on. The fact that we are always reaching for, and welcoming, such experiences in the world suggests that our present consciousness is limited and incomplete. We want to rectify this shortcoming of our experience. But lasting fulfilment, leading to the end of our restlessness, continues to elude us—until we turn within.
Meditation leads us out of the circle of limitations and restrictive thoughts, into a depth of our being which not only transcends the activities of the mind, but which is free from limitations of any kind. This conception of a true and free Self is not a creation of our imagination. It is based on something deeper and much truer than the passing thoughts.
Thus, meditation ‘opens doors’. The ideas we meditate on help to stir deeper facets of our mind, and reveal a dimension of our being which is normally ignored as we go about our lives. This deeper aspect of our nature—whether we call it the transcendent, the infinite, the spiritual— holds the key to our happiness and liberation. It should not be ignored, but rather should claim priority, and be at the forefront of the life skills we are expected to develop. For if all else in the world fails us, this dimension of being will uphold us. There is a short poem from the Zen tradition:
Your own self has nowhere to hide.
When the worlds are destroyed,
it is not destroyed.
Our set of practices may be viewed as a means to relieve our mind from the limitations of restrictive thinking, to connect it with the deeper peace of our own being, and to expand our consciousness so that we realize that our innermost Self or ‘I’ is the source of the highest meaning and value. If we do these practices, they will serve to open inner doors to the higher consciousness. This consciousness is an ever present abode of tranquillity and true wisdom. Communion with our deeper nature will uphold us at times when all else is being challenged. Even when our life is running smoothly, this higher awareness will be to us a light of inner progress and enlightenment.
Approach the meditation with reverence and calmness. Feel that you are in the presence of the divine, within and around you. Mentally bow to that invisible power.
Breathe slowly, drawing up the in-breath as if from the navel to the spot between the eyebrows. With each in-breath say silently: ‘Peace’, with each out-breath, ‘Patience’. Do this 21 times.
Peace and patience are qualities we already have. They are part of our human endowment, part of the higher phase of our being, expressions of the innate wisdom of our mind when it is functioning correctly. But their root is in something deeper than the mind. For peace and patience mirror the nature of our innermost Self. Our true Self is never agitated, ever at peace. But this innate wisdom is often forgotten, eclipsed or ignored, as we dedicate our attention and energy to the pursuit of our intentions in this world. When this happens, we sometimes lose perspective and get too identified with things that are transient. Instead of meeting our frustrations and disappointments with peace and patience, we may find ourselves agitated, angry or depressed.
The practice is reminding us of our higher nature. Our peaceful patient self is in harmony with our true identity. So let us now apply our concentration to what really matters, the restoration of our mind’s peace and boundless patience.
Visualization: The Lotus in the Heart
Bring your attention to the ‘heart centre’. When you can fix your mind there at will, visualize a lotus of bluish colour at this spot, and rest your attention on it.
In this practice, the visualization is to focus on a lotus flower situated at the centre of the upper part of the body. The lotus is not only an image of beauty, but it is also a symbol of purity and of the inner unfoldment of consciousness. It points to something that is already present in our heart—something that is full of potentiality and richness. And this potentiality will be unfolded and released within us as we pursue our practices.
Rest the mind on this image. Look at it interiorly, imagining that the petals are gently astir and unfolding. Devote five minutes to this practice.
Meditation on a Text
I AM THE SUN THAT NEVER SETS.
I AM IMMORTAL, ALL-PERVASIVE AND BLISS.
The meditation text impresses on our mind our essential identity—our ultimate selfhood—reality itself. What is real in ourselves and in the universe is one and the same being and consciousness. It underlies and reveals our thoughts, like a sun which never sets. This I is not the individualised ego, for the individualised ego is itself an appearance in the mind, a certain kind of thought. This conception of Self may be accepted by some people in faith, coupled with reverence and humility. Others will need to question it, study it, go into it deeply through its presentation in the philosophy called Vedanta. But during the meditation period, this reflective analysis is not applied; rather, we affirm and trust, and something deeper within us will respond. Our own experience will confirm that we are looking in the right direction and taking the right steps. Spend about seven minutes focused on the text.
It is not hard to appreciate that if this teaching of peace, patience and quest for truth and beauty in one’s own being were followed by the whole of humanity, there would be no need for armies, weapons, police or prisons. Conflict between people cannot occur if the human mind is steeped in peace and patience.
But humanity at large is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is guardianship of the kingdom of our own mind. And when we cultivate within ourselves these great thoughts, we create an influence that penetrates and helps the Whole.
So let us close our meditation session by spreading this great influence far and wide, through consciously sending out thoughts of goodwill to all.