The obstacles to meditation11 min read

Why do some earnest and eager students of the Vedanta philosophy, who have accepted a Teacher, are intent on Yoga and determined to pursue the path of discipleship, still find that they are unable to concentrate during meditation ? Why is it that, not only desirable, but apparently unwanted pictures, and even those that have but little interest, fill the mind at the time of meditation ?

The answer appears to be that the mind has a kind of life of its own, that it is not naturally interested in the meditation, and may even be said to be bored with it. Therefore anything can claim its attention, because it has no wish to be lost and dissolved in meditation.

It will be suggested in this article that this lack of interest may be overcome by bhakti, or worship. It is natural for men to wish to adore, to worship.

Everyone worships something, even if it be only a pet dog or a film star. In the process of worship the mind finds interest and because it is interested and forgetful of itself, may more easily be changed into a fit instrument for meditation.

I in worship the part strives to be united with the whole; that in worship there is no self-seeking, as there may be in prayer, but only adoration.

When adoration fills the mind, it becomes relaxed and emptied of egoism, the conception of ‘ doing ’ vanishes and is lost in the process of worship. There remains a one-pointed attention, in which emotion, intellect and will, all play a part and are at one, united each with the other.

The negative quality is a sort of stillness, and the positive, acceptance and adoration. In true worship the sense of individuality is lost in contemplation of the concept or the object worshipped.

This attitude not only results in changing and stilling the mind, but makes it easier to concentrate the whole personality on the object worshipped.

Part of the early lack of interest in meditation is due to the emotions being very slightly concerned. The student cannot ‘ feel ’ the meditation, he can only try to concentrate that very changeable force, the mind. In worship this is not the case, for by using worship as a framework for meditation (or rather, by cultivating bhakti in all the activities of life), the mind will become absorbed in it, and will not feel bored, because the meditation is no longer a practice, but a part of adoration.

An illustration of the part played by the emotions, is that when a loved friend is ill, the mind has no difficulty in attaining a kind of concentration. There is such a deep desire for recovery that prayer takes on a one- pointedness in which there is no lack of interest. So if the emotions can be turned from their usual focus on outer objects to inward meditation, then one-pointedness becomes comparatively simple. Bhakti would appear to be the way to harness the emotions of the devotee. In the Bhagavad Gita, the power of adoration is repeatedly affirmed:

“Whosoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a fruit, a flower, or water, that offering of love I accept.”

And again: “ Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou offerest, whatever thou givest away, in whatever austerity thou engagest, do it as an offering to Me.”

It is said that the easiest way to control the mind is by self-surrender to God and the Teacher, and we find the same statement made in the Shri Dada Sanghita. We hear of self-surrender so often that perhaps it ceases to be fully heard, and it is forgotten that by such surrender, the mind will be more easily tamed and turned into a fit instrument for spiritual action.

While worship is natural to man, it is not natural for him either to adore constantly, or necessarily to adore that which is worth while.

Therefore, if the student seeks to remove the obstacles within himself through the practice of bhakti, he will first have to learn how to worship one- pointedly and constantly; secondly, he will have to discover what is to be, for him, the object of adoration; and finally and perhaps most important of all, he will have to purify and still his mind, for without a stilled mind, the layers of ignorance covering knowledge will not be removed. Worship may trick the mind into interest and concentration, but the mind will not become purified without persistent effort. In fact the three essentials which have just been mentioned, are complementary, that is, each is dependent on the other.

The mind will not be stilled by these three methods alone, for discipline, austerity and renunciation are also necessary, but they are outside the scope of this discussion. The remainder of this article will deal with the nature of the mental obstacles, and the way to overcome them.

We are told that the mind is made up of three modes or gunas—sattwa, light or harmony; rajas, activity; and tamas, or sloth. Everyone has experienced these three modes. In the sattwic mood there is happiness, peace, contentment and worship; in the raj ask mood, intense activity, mental unrest, desire and aversion harass the soul; in the tamasic mood, laziness, sloth and sleep are the chief obstructions.

In meditation, rajas and tamas are particularly disturbing, for when in the rajasic mood, the mind constantly moves outward and is extremely active, while when tamas predominates, sleep is apt to overtake the student. Even sattwa has its own disadvantages in the form of joy or happiness, which can be quite as disturbing as desire and aversion in their effects on meditation.

We are told that by employing all the powers of the will, by learning concentration through long practice and self-restraint, the opposing gunas of rajas and tamas may be tamed into some sort of equilibrium, but we are also told that control of the mind is rather like emptying the ocean with a straw. In any event, this method, though it has to be employed to some extent, involves a long and protracted struggle, and the student tends to get bored with the effort. If however, the rajasic element—that is, the emotional element in the mind—can be harnessed by the practice of bhakti, then rajas will overcome tamas, and united with sattwa will be turned inwards, through the purifying quality of adoration.

Meditation will become easier this way. The mind will have been tricked, as it were, into using its whole force on the meditation, instead of being dispersed and at odds with itself. Instead of being considered as a practice with which the mind has to struggle, the meditation will be offered to the object of meditation, be it a concept, or a personal aspect of God.

This picture of the three gunas is unfortunately very much over-simplified. If it were correct, no doubt the obstacles which might arise would be great, but at least the conception of the gunas would be clear-cut, and the would-be Yogi would know that he had to deal with three moods only.

But this is not so. The mind is said to be a mass of movement or vrittis, These vrittis, while basically composed of the three gunas, have come into being as the result of the activity of past incarnations. Every thought and action done with desire for results,, makes some slight change in the mind. It survives in the form of a sanskara or tendency, which will not become conscious unless it is brought to the surface of the mind by the law of association. When this happens, its strength would appear to be made greater or less by the student’s acceptance or rejection of that particular line of thought.

It will thus be seen that the student will have to deal with desires and tendencies of which he has no prior conception. He does not know when they will arisefor in this present incarnation he may not even know that they exist in himself, nor be conscious of any interest in them. It is this fact which perhaps explains why some apparently interested students find themselves unable to continue their research. Their past karma has created in them a desire for knowledge, but there are other tendencies working, which for the time being prove of greater weight.

Thus everything man has—the brilliance or dullness of his mind, his devotion to Yoga, his dharmic or adharmic nature are the result of past karma, and form the raw material of his instrument the mind, through which he has to seek stillness and one-pointed devotion.

One very comforting deduction comes from all this. What has been made by thought and action can be remade. Present thought, present action, and, above all, present desire, will gradually change the mind. It is even said that complete devotion and self-surrender destroys previous karma.

Yoga is a whole-time job and every effort must be made to encourage those vrittis which are helpful and to discourage those which hinder progress, Emphasis is not laid on whole-time Yoga simply because it is good to live a virtuous life, but because it is absolutely essential, if Yoga is to be practised in any real sense.

The statement that you cannot worship both God and Mammon is literally true. You cannot change the vrittis of the mind unless the mind makes a choice between these two. Once this is recognised, other points in the teaching become much clearer.

Is there any indication in the Scriptures of what happens to those who constantly perform acts of worship, both in thought and deed ? In ‘The World Within The Mind’ we are told that desires ignored do disappear, and that long and patient worship without desire for results does still the mind. This point might well be stressed: haste and the taste for results destroy worship, for they imply egotism and self-will, the antitheses of devotion.

In Chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita the Lord says: “ Fix thy mind on Me, be devoted to Me, bow down to Me, so shalt thou surely reach Me. I promise thee truly, for thou art dear to Me ! ”

In Chapter 2 however, there is the definite statement that though desire for sense objects may vanish for him who does not participate in them with his senses, still the taste for them may persist; but this relish also disappears in the man of stable mind who has seen the Supreme.

This is an important statement; it shows that knowledge must be the object of the way of bhakti, for nothing can take away the taste for sense pleasures but knowledge, It is obvious that there can be no release without knowledge, and that bhakti is only the means of purifying the mind and rendering it fit for knowledge.

The two processes of enquiry and adoration must be followed side by side. First the truth must be sought from the Scriptures and the Teacher, then the student must learn to adore Truth as he sees it, either in a personal form or as a concept.

How can this be carried out ? First there is the process of learning what to worship, by study of the Scriptures, by the word of the Teacher, by discrimination, enquiry and renunciation.

It has been said by a modern Saint: “ Create a new atmosphere of peace and self-surrender to God. Imagine Him to be the law of life and matter, allpervasive, and also abiding within you as the support of your being and offer your soul to Him or to the Teacher.”

Some will worship the Imperishable, the Absolute, the pure concept of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute, while for others this concept is too hard and too remote; they will worship an Incarnation of God, Krishna, Christ, Rama, or the Teacher. But whatever is worshipped must be regarded as all-pervasive and also as within themselves.

In this way adoration will lead the student on towards that knowledge which is the end of Yoga, in which complete freedom and peace are to be found. Shri Vasishtha even says in Chapter 19 of The World Within The Mind’. “True worship consists in inward meditation only, and in no outer form of worship. Therefore apply your mind to the adoration of the universal Spirit by meditation within your Self. He is the form of the intellect, the Source of all delight, and glorious as millions of suns. He is the inner light of the mind.”

Thus the student who worships one-pointedly, turning slowly more and more inwards, will find that in the end Worship is akin to meditation. Indeed the Sanskrita word “Upasana ” or worship, is often used to mean meditation.

In the process of arousing devotion, what has become of the obstacles which the student found so difficult— the restless mind, the sloth, the pictures—are they still there, have they gone, or are they now merely unnoticed?

When the mind is rendered pure and egoless, then to a great extent it is peaceful.

There must always be some slight agitation, for the mind is made up of the three gunas and cannot be perfect, but whether distractions come or not, they will not seem of great importance to the one who is filled with worship, but rather like a child’s toys, they will no longer hold great interest.

The Lord promises that such a devotee shall be dear to Him, and shall be filled with the consciousness of His presence.

He who can thus be filled with the consciousness of the presence of God, may rest in peace, content in His worship.