Meditation: time, place, posture, method9 min read

Is meditation an invasion of pleasant thoughts which takes place during a visit to some beautiful garden or during idle moments, or is it, as described in the Dictionary, “to think quietly” and “reflect”? References are made nowadays to meditation in these connections, and yet others confuse it with prayer. In the mystic sense meditation means much more; it is not a supplication for help as in prayer, nor does it mean “to think quietly”. True meditation begins when the thoughts are subdued and the mind is quietened. The reason for subduing the mind’s activities is that ultimately, to understand Truth, the mind has to be transcended during meditation.

In ordinary life the mind continues to function, but with the difference that it is recognised to be an instrument to be used for the good of the individual and later for the good of others. Every good workman respects his tools; they help him to earn his livelihood and at the same time contribute to the needs of those around him. He treats his tools with great care, he uses them when he needs them and puts them away safely after use out of danger’s way. Similarly, in spiritual schools the mind is treated as a very necessary instrument and, as such, every care is taken to keep it clean, alert and in good working condition, protected from harmful outer influences.

The body is accepted as an instrument which deserves a certain amount of care, and nobody would unnecessarily expose it to danger. Yet the mind, which is as invaluable an instrument, is seldom recognised as such, and very little care is taken as to what it is allowed to assimilate. In this particular age it is not difficult to appreciate the dangers to which the mind is exposed—especially the inexperienced and immature mind—for it is continuously receiving impressions, good and bad, through all the senses. There appears to be no limit to what the machine of the mind has to absorb, and little or no discrimination is exercised as regards what is allowed to enter this grinding machine.

In the case of the body, the mind is there to determine what is harmful and what is not, but what is there to determine what is harmful and what is not for the mind? According to the Advaita philosophy there is an intuitive faculty known as the buddhi (higher intellect), which every individual possesses and from which the intellect and mind draw their power. It is said that in most people the buddhi is asleep and has to be roused. In the wise man and sage not only has the buddhi been roused, but it has also been purified and enlightened. The difference between the philosopher, whose buddhi has been roused more than the ordinary individual’s but is still unenlightened, and the sage, whose buddhi is enlightened, is that, although he exercises extraordinary perception and consciousness in the realm of matter, the philosopher is left pondering and forming conclusions which are ever subject to variance and dissatisfaction; the sage, however, draws his inspiration from the source of all knowledge, consciousness and bliss, and his experience of Truth is direct and full of satisfaction.

It may be queried: “How then is the buddhi to be roused in order to drink from the Divine Fountain of Truth?” And again: “If it is through meditation, what part does the mind play?” As mentioned previously, in order to meditate it is necessary for the mind to be quietened first, not just during the meditation period, but throughout the day. It is an instrument which has to be used consciously during the day and at the same time to be protected from useless and harmful outer influences.

Meditation is not a practice reserved for monks and philosophers, and anybody who wishes to, can meditate. Many of the disciples of Shri Dada of Aligarh were classed as illiterate, for they could hardly read or write, and this applied to a few of Jesus’ disciples as well, and yet they were able to drink from the Divine Fountain and come out filled. The first qualification is the yearning for Truth and understanding, and this they possessed. In the case of Shri Dada’s disciples they listened to the Truth of the Scriptures as taught by Shri Dada in all sincerity; and, acting in obedience to scriptural injunction, they meditated on the Lord or on the Truth, as instructed by their Holy Teacher, Shri Dada.

It is written in the Sanskrit classics that when there arises in the aspirant, whatever his qualifications, a sincere yearning for Truth, he seeks out an enlightened Sage or Teacher (Guru) and in accordance with tradition, asks to be taught the Supreme Truth in all humility and earnestness. When the Teacher is satisfied that the seeker is sincere and a fit candidate for teaching, he teaches him nothing new, but repeats the Truth contained in the Scriptures in terms intelligible to the pupil, and instructs him to meditate and reflect on what he has heard.

The pupil reflects on what he has heard and tries to control his mind, so that during the meditation period he can focus it on the text or object of meditation. It is worth noting that the mind is kept fully employed and yet the object is not to rouse it into activity aimlessly but to use it for reasoning, for study, for work, etc., as an instrument under control. The aim of the pupil is not to become just a philosopher, and so he regards all his initial intellectual speculations and findings as a traveller regards mile-stones and objects of interest on the wayside—not as objects for collection, but just as worthy of note and no more, for he knows that an active but unenlightened intellect can be a burden to him and a hindrance to enlightenment.

There are many texts suitable for meditation which can be found in the Bhagavad Gita and other Scriptures and, providing that the aspirant is sincere, whatever the text, it will help him. Sincerity is a very important factor in the early stages, for it is that alone which helps the focussing of the mind on the text of the meditation. Having selected a text, the beginner might find the following hints as regards time, place, posture etc. useful:—

Time

The early morning and at night before finally retiring have always been recommended, but whatever time is chosen, it should be kept to. The mind cannot get into the habit of becoming focused if one day the meditation takes place in the evening and another day in the morning. If the morning is chosen (which incidentally has been found by many to be the best time of all, for the mind is quietest) the meditation must be done every morning at the same time.

Place

A clean quiet place where there is the least likelihood of being disturbed should be chosen and, if possible, it should become a permanent place of meditation. As in the case of time the place chosen and used regularly helps to form a habit, and the mind reacts more favourably.

Posture

The best posture for meditating is the sitting posture, whether on a chair or cross-legged on the floor, but the important thing about posture is that the spine is held erect, the head balanced and the muscles relaxed. When the posture is correct, body-consciousness (that is, its discomforts) ceases to trouble the mind. If the posture is not correct, the head and shoulders may droop forward, but this can be corrected immediately the drooping is noticed.

Method

Sitting in the meditation posture, a few deep breaths may be taken, and the breathing should be done consciously, counting the breaths, say, to 21. Again the purpose of this exercise is to help quieten the mind.

The text selected should then be repeated aloud, listened to with attention and dwelt upon. While the mind is thus being focussed, all other thoughts should be ignored or expelled with will and determination and, whatever happens, the mind should be kept focused on the text, and its import felt in one’s inner understanding.

The mind may try to reason about the text during the meditation period, but this should be avoided, for the purpose is not to exercise the mind at this particular time but rather to quieten it. As mentioned previously, however, outside the period of meditation, during spare moments in the day, reasoning is important and helps the inner understanding to mature for fruition during the meditation.

To begin with, 10-15 minutes at least may be allowed for this practice and gradually the meditation period can be increased. It is better to meditate well for a short period than to do so badly for a longer period. To close the meditation, it is customary to offer all efforts to the Lord and to bless all living beings, friends and foes alike.

Finally, some people regard meditation with suspicion, for it is sometimes felt that service, devotion and ritual are ignored completely in favour of meditation. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible of India and of all Yogis, there are three courses open, that of Works (Karma Yoga), that of Devotion (Bhakti Yoga) and that of Knowledge (Jnana Yoga), not that one path functions in opposition to the other, but that one is conducive to the other. Service to God, the Teacher and also to fellow-men and selfless performance of obligatory duties leads to Devotion to the Lord, and in Devotion are included not only love and worship of the Lord but also meditation, study of the holy dicta, study of the Advaita Philosophy etc., and this in time is said to lead to Jnana or Knowledge.

The path of Knowledge is the path of Contemplation in which the mind is completely transcended and the buddhi purified. Adhyatma Yoga is a fusion of all three, and one complements the other. It cannot, therefore, be said that meditation removes the need for Works and Devotion. Works and Devotion continue and increase for they become purifiers of the mind and heart; but meditation is the door that leads to supreme Knowledge and Contemplation and as such is very essential, for ultimately the body and mind have to be transcended in order that the purified buddhi can drink from the Fountain of Truth and Bliss through the grace of the Lord, to become enlightened and to enlighten others.