A session led by the Warden at Shanti Sadan
There are great benefits awaiting us if we allow meditation to take root in the soil of our mind through regular practice. In this way meditation practice becomes a pleasure rather than a labour. We will come to it with joy and expectation. Our experience of our own mind will show signs of new possibilities. Life will acquire purpose and direction.
But meditation is not just forward-looking, in a way common to all courses of self-development. It is concerned with the treasure of the here and now. Even now our experience—experience itself—is rooted in a fundamental peace and bliss that our normal, busy mind fails to recognise. So meditation has much to do with recognising the depth and glory of the present moment.
Once we are alert to this teaching, we find references to it in all the great wisdom traditions. The idea is that reality is not revealed to us through the seemingly ‘normal’ mental activity, where the past impressions which shape our mind give rise to speculations about the future in the form of desires and fears. Reality is revealed to the calm mind, attentive to the here and now. For example, in the Vedanta classic, Yoga Vasishtha, we find the following teaching:
The way to be rid of this delusion of the mind is to fix our attention upon the present moment, and not to employ our thoughts on past or future events. The mind is clouded so long as the mist of its desires and fancies overshadows it, as the sky is overcast so long as drifting clouds spread over it.
Jesus advises his disciples to ‘take no thought for the morrow’, and the thirteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart speaks of the eternal now: ‘There exists only the present instant… a Now which always and without end is itself new.’ And in the Sufi classic, the Masnavi, Rumi quotes the saying: ‘The Sufi is the son of the moment’ and adds: ‘He is of the (timeless) River, not of Time, for “with God is neither morn nor eve”. There the past and the future, and time without beginning and time without end, do not exist’.
In one sense it is logical to consider that reality is contained in the present moment. The past has by definition vanished; the future has not yet arrived. Even in past times, what we experience is always experienced in the present moment, which in turn had its own phenomenal past and imagined future. And what we will experience tomorrow will again be only in the present moment. So there is an obviousness in the teachings that remind us to rest in the eternal now.
On the other hand, the teaching ‘to fix our attention upon the present moment’ is subtle, profound, and not to be achieved without deep insight. For it is clear that in a sense the past has not gone away at all, and that the marvellous instrument which is the human mind, harbours the impressions of everything we have ever consciously experienced or known—or known about. Hence any obscure detail from the seemingly forgotten past can flow back into our mind in waking or in dream with a vividness that has lost nothing with the passage of time. Such is human imagination, human memory, that the past is gone—but won’t go away; the future has not yet come, yet it looms large in our thought world.
Yet though impressions cling to, and even characterise, the mind, they have no ultimate reality. The very transiency of these mental events exposes their phenomenal nature.
How can we learn to find reality, freedom and bliss right now in the present moment in contrast to our usual strategy of seeking happiness through mental effort and outer quest? What liberates us is to pursue the ultimate desire, the only desire that is truly fulfillable and based on the real—the desire to realise our true identity. This does not mean to manipulate experience in such a way that the mind no longer has thoughts—for the mind is thoughts and nothing else. Our way forward is to free our true Self, as it were, from its sense of identity with the life of the mind—to stand back, and realise that the passing clouds of thoughts are different from and never taint our infinite and immortal Self, the un-wavering, pure consciousness that witnesses all change but is never affected by it. This innermost consciousness is the source of the reality of the present moment, the eternal Now. It is our true ‘I’, ever above time, and self-knowledge is to know directly:
I was, I am and I shall be! Nothing other than Myself ever was or is now or ever shall be! (Vira Vijaya, 134)
All these ideas are reflected in our set of meditation practices.
1. Inner Preparation
Let us sit for a minute or two knowing that our experience here and now, as at all times, is revealed and sustained by that deeper reality in which we live and move and have our being. Reverence to that invisible power within and around us.
2. Breathing Practice
Sit in relaxation, in the meditation posture. Breathe slowly and deeply, drawing up the in-breath as if from the navel to the space between the eyebrows. With each in-breath, affirm the word ‘Here’, with each out-breath the word ‘Now’.
The aim of the practice is to calm our mind and bring our attention to what is our own immediate experience, something deeper and more fundamental than thought. When we say ‘here’, we bring our mind back from wandering into daydreams, worries, and so on. Similarly, when we say on the out-breath, ‘Now’, we are affirming our independence of the mental flow, preventing its submersion in thoughts of past and future. Here, now, is what is important during the practice, which should be done for five minutes.
3. Dismissing thoughts
Give free scope to your mind to think, but whatever thoughts the mind brings before you, say calmly: ‘Not wanted now. You are passing clouds. I am the sun.’
This practice is another way of helping us to transcend the normal behaviour of our thoughts, in favour of our communion with the deeper reality behind experience. Here we have the positive image that our reality is like an inner sun. Our reality is more than this because it is the consciousness that reveals, and in a certain sense, observes or witnesses the passing thoughts, yet is never affected or tainted by them. The practice reminds us that we are not these thoughts. We are that unchanging consciousness, and that interior sun turns out to be the ultimate light. Devote six minutes to this practice.
4. Meditation on a Text
Our text for meditation consolidates and expresses more directly what we have been working towards with the earlier practices.
MY MIND RESTS
IN THE PEACE AND LIGHT OF MY TRUE SELF,
THE INFINITE, TRANSCENDING THOUGHT.
THAT PERFECT PEACE AM I.
This is not to be seen as tomorrow’s goal. It is an expression of the eternal fact of our deeper nature. As meditators, this realisation even now is nearer than the nearest—as long as we can free our mind from the mist of its desires and imaginations, and fix our attention on that present moment, the eternal Now.
5. Closing Offering
When we meditate in calmness, it is a time when we transcend race, gender or age, and look beyond our individuality, to that which is infinite and universal in our own being. And it is this universality that is valuable for the upliftment and liberation of our own consciousness and that of others. So from our impersonal being, which here and now is one with the reality underlying the universe, let us send out thoughts of peace, light and goodwill to all without exception.