Secrets of Meditation By: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Meditation is the journey from sound to silence, from movement to stillness, from a limited identity to unlimited space.
Last night, I said that there are five ways through which meditation happens. Let us recapitulate.
The first is by physical manipulation. Yoga, Tai-Chi, all these come under that. By stretching and contracting the body, the mind experiences a state of awareness that you can call meditation.
The second is through breathing exercises and pranayama, the mind becomes quiet and still.
The third is through any of the five senses and sensory objects; one can experience a state of no-mindedness, no thoughts, calmness, serenity and inner beauty.
If you observe a child, a baby enjoying a lollypop or a toffee, you can see how the child is engrossed totally in enjoying that piece of candy. You ask the baby, ‘What is your name?’ It won’t answer. They are fully into it. Being 100% engrossed in a particular sensory object brings you to a state of meditation.
On a free day, just lie down and keep looking at the sky, a moment comes when the mind becomes still, there are no thoughts and you don’t know where you are, but you know you are. An experience of the center everywhere and circumference nowhere. Limitless awareness can happen through just watching an empty space, because our mind is also space; consciousness is a space.
You listen to music and then a moment comes when you are completely engrossed in the music and you snap out of it. You no longer hear the music, but you know you are and yet you have no boundaries. In the language of Yoga, it is called Laya Yoga, which means dissolving in it. That leads you to meditation.
Any wonderment or astonishment also leads you to that state. Whenever a ‘Wow!’ arises in you, there is no mind, there are no thoughts, but you just are.
Sense of touch, smell, taste, sight and sound can all lead you into meditation, provided you do it in the right way. It needs a certain skill to experience that.
Emotions can lead you to a state of meditation; both positive and negative emotions, not only positive. A state of shock can also take you into meditation. Again, it is a little risky.
You know, when you feel utterly hopeless, you say, ‘I give up!’ When you are very angry, what do you say? ‘I give up!’ It means, ‘This is it. I can’t take it anymore.’
During those moments, if you don’t slip into frustration or depression or violence, you will find that there is a moment where it snaps and there is no mindedness. So, whether it is positive emotions or negative emotions, like fear, the mind stands still, it stops. It can lead you into that spot.
The next is intellectual stimulation, through knowledge, through awareness you can go into meditation. This is called Jnana Yoga.
If you have been into a space museum, you are in a different state of consciousness when you come out of the museum. There is a different context, because you have seen yourself in the context of the universe. Who are you? What are you? Where are you? How are you in reference to the unfathomable, infinite universe?
If you have studied Quantum physics, you start to see that everything is just atoms, just a wave function, just energy. If you really listen to Quantum physics and then you study Vedanta or the Art of Meditation or Yoga, you will find striking similarities. You will find that the same language is being spoken.
Adi Shankara said, ‘All that you see doesn’t exist’.
One of the top scientists of our times, Dr. Hans-Peter Durr said, ‘I studied matter for the last 35 years, only to find out that it does not exist! I have been studying something that does not exist’. So, through knowledge also you can experience a state of meditation.
I won’t go into the benefits of meditation. You can go to google and find out. There are greater minds that have done a lot of research on meditation and have put it there – what are all the benefits of meditation. Any meditation has some benefits. But the secrets of meditation, that is what we are interested in. We are inquisitive about this – what are the secrets?!
There is a difference in the Orient and in the Occidant when it comes to secrets. In the Occidant, anything that is shameful is kept a secret. In the orient anything that is sacred is kept a secret. I find a startling difference between the two.
If you say something is very secret, it must be very sacred. That is the attitude in the orient. In the orient, a shameful act is never kept a secret, it is always confessed. There is nothing to hide there. But what is to be secret is one’s mantra – a sound which is kept very secret in the mind.
Why is it kept secret? It is said that mantras are like seeds and seeds sprout in secrecy. You put the seed under the ground and cover it with mud and then the seed sprouts and becomes a tree. Of course the sprouts you eat are different. The ancient concept of mantra is a sound which is kept very secret in you grows from inside; means it resonates inside you. Anything that you keep to yourself as a secret does not leave you but it takes you deeper and deeper to the subconscious layers. That is one of the reasons for confession also.
Why do you confess and say something out? This is so that it does not go deep into your consciousness. A mistake or sin that you did, once you confess, it just goes out. It no longer goes in and bothers you. But the mantra; a sound which has been given, and that too by one who is deep into meditation, one who has mastered it, helps you go deeper. The sound (mantra) is given to another person, a student saying, ‘Keep it to yourself, it is your personal mantra, and let it grow.’
Here the meaning of the sound is not important, just the vibration is important. Understanding the meaning is superficial compared to the vibrational aspect of any sound.
It could be the same sound which everybody knows.
In olden days they used to do four days of celebration to give a mantra. They would call all the relatives and friends when the child was going to be initiated. They would bring horses and put the child on the back of the horse and have a procession.
This was the ancient way of doing it.
Spiritual journey is considered very sacred, very personal and yet a matter of pride. You are getting a secret sound and that is a big pride because it is sacred.
Meditation happens in transition. Actually meditation happens, you can’t do it. You can only create a congenial atmosphere for it to happen.
Somewhere in the teenage the mind starts drifting. It doesn’t happen before teenage. Before the hormones become active in our body it does not happen. A child’s mind is always focused on something and it sticks there. But as the hormones in our body starts functioning more and more, the mind starts swinging and wavering, and that focused attention becomes less and less.
In earlier days, before this happened, before someone gets into their teenage, they used to train him or her in yoga and meditation. So all through the teenage when the mind is swinging and going here and there, already a youth is trained how to handle the mind. It is a very good age to start, at 8 or 9 years old. Just before the hormonal changes start appearing is the right time to initiate one into meditation, yoga and all the martial arts. Body is ready and is flexible and mind is ready.
This is most ideal, but any time is good to start meditation, any age is okay. But the most ideal is to start at 8 or 9 years old.
Today, even 8 and 9 year old kids have such a wavering mind. So many things influence the child. Like food has an influence on the mind, environment has an influence, lifestyle has an influence. So many things have an influence. But all those influences are minor.
Sit comfortably, spine erect and body relaxed.
You know, sometimes people sit with their body so stiff for meditation. The whole time they will be so body conscious and what comes out of them is only anger later on because they put so much effort, and that effort and stiffness doesn’t really bring in that meditative quality.
If you have meditated, you should feel light like a flower, where your inside feels so soft, beautiful, delicate, delicious and comfortable. But if you feel uptight, angry and upset inside then mediation has not happened. Now don’t sit and think, ‘Oh I have to feel very soft and gentle, and whatever Guruji said. This has to happen.’ It is not going to happen because the anxiety itself will be a block for that to happen. That is why I said it is a very delicate situation. You cannot expect things to happen, you simply have to be. Just be!
Experiences come, they change and they go. Everyday there will be different experiences, never mind, just the procedure needs to be correct. Procedure is what, not being uptight and at the same time not being loose in the body. If you start with your body being loose then it doesn’t work. If you start with lying down on your coach with your legs up, thinking you are meditating, you are fooling yourself. It is not going to work. It is not like the way you watch television, with a bag of potato chips. ‘Oh, by eating also you can get into meditation. Guruji has said it’, no! Your spine erect but body relaxed, your shoulders relaxed, you start like that. Not stiff but your shoulders are relaxed and head is straight. Then you close our eyes and let go.
During meditation if the head goes down, it is okay. Your head may go down or go to the side, whatever position it takes is fine. But you don’t start with that.
The best example is how a coat hangs on a hanger. Like that the body is hanging, just the spine is erect.