The Yoga of Meditation
The focus of this chapter is Meditation. Verses in Gita are multilayered and open for interpretation. However, I find this chapter pretty straight forward and is almost instructional in nature. Following the Q&A style of learning, let’s understand various aspects of meditation.
Why should one meditate? what is the need?
Any action in life (such as work for livelihood, studies, managing family affairs, finances, etc.) needs focus / concentration for successful task completion and they sometimes cause mental stress. You need meditation to develop focus / concentration and maintain mental tranquility against daily stress. There is no better mental tool than meditation to properly train and calm your mind. (6.3)
What are the signs of attaining focus / concentration?
Two signs of attaining focus / concentration –
- When any external stimuli fail to distract you from the task on hand e.g. you do not hear anything when you are deeply engrossed in studies
- You do not worry about the outcome and you enjoy the process e.g. when deeply engrossed in painting, it’s not the end product that matters but the very process of painting (6.4)
How do I motivate myself to meditate?
Only you can motivate yourself to raise up and only you are responsible for your own downfall. You are your own friend and you are your own enemy. None other than you can motivate yourself to start and sustain on the path of meditation. Also once you start to enjoy the equanimity, calmness and tranquility that comes from meditation and the vagaries of life don’t cause stress anymore, you will stay motivated to meditate in days of happiness and /or stress (6.5, 6.6, 6.7, 6.8, 6.9)
How to meditate?
Follow the below instructions –
Location Preparation (Goal – Make sure you are physically secure, comfortable and remove external distractions)
- Find a place of solitude that is free from sensual distractions and unnecessary possession (i.e. TV, audio, luxuries, etc.)
- Make sure the place is clean and clutter free
- Create a seat that is comfortably firm to sit for long duration (Gita mentions a seat to be made up of Cloth, a Skin and Grass arranged in consecution)
- The seat should not be too high in the air nor too low on the ground
Mind and Body Preparation (Goal – Stop all internal and external movements)
- Prior to meditation, you should have had moderate food, adequate sleep, not undertaken stressful physical activity that may cause bodily pain
- Seated on the seat, subdue your senses slowly i.e. close your eyes, stop body movement, etc.
- Keep your body, spine, head and neck aligned, erect and still
- Focus on your breathing and get the flow of Prana and Apana i.e. inhale and exhale currents even and rhythmic (this is Pranayama exercise).
- After the breathing exercise (i.e. Pranayama), slowly minimize the movement of your eyeballs and gaze internally towards the tip of your nose
- Focus your mind on a single point. It can be anything – a mantra, mental image, sound of a bell, etc.
- Maintain an attitude of fearlessness and calmness during the practice of meditation (i.e. not to cause unnecessary distraction)
The Practice (Goal – slowly, steadily and consistently eliminate all distractions)
- With the above preparation, slowly and steadily with deliberate practice try to eliminate all mental distractions to reach a state of thoughtlessness (akin to the state of deep sleep)
- All you have to do is constantly eliminate every distraction as they arise (generally a thought, a mental image, an emotion, etc.) and when distractions no longer arise the final state of thoughtlessness is reached.
- The goal of the practice is to remain in the state of thoughtlessness for an extended duration of time
“A lamp in a spot sheltered from the wind does not flicker” is the simile used in Gita to describe a Yogi practicing meditation (5.27, 5.28, 6.10, 6.11, 6.12, 6.13, 6.14, 6.15, 6.16, 6.17, 6.18, 6.19, 6.24, 6.25, 6.26, 6.47)
What are the other benefits of meditation?
Attaining focus / concentration and ability to deal with mental stress are a couple to start with. However when the practitioner is able to remain in the state of thoughtlessness for an extended duration of time, such a person experiences, in the exact words of Gita, ‘infinite bliss’ that transcends senses and intellect.
Such a practitioner never departs from this real state of bliss, having obtained which, no other acquisition is more superior to such a state. He attains quietude and is satisfied in his own self and is not moved by even heavy sorrow. Ongoing practice of meditation also purifies heart, mind and intellect resulting in love and compassion for one and all. (6.20, 6.21, 6.22, 6.23, 6.27, 6.28, 6.29, 6.30, 6.31, 6.32)
Given the powerful, unyielding, restless and turbulent mind is such an ‘infinite blissful’ state achievable and is such a state lasting and enduring?
Only through practice and dispassion (i.e. freedom from desire for never-ending pleasures) the mind can be controlled. Infinite blissful state is nothing but an outcome of constant practice. Self-discipline and perseverance are essential traits needed to achieve a state of ‘infinite bliss’. (6.35, 6.36)
What if I practice a lot but do not get to experience the end state? Are all my efforts wasted?
No efforts are wasted in meditation. The conditioning of the mind, however small, results in benefits commensurate with the efforts (the wiring in the brain is changed for good). Even when the practice of meditation is discontinued for an extended duration, upon resuming the practice, the practitioner starts where he left. Even without practice, when right conditions emerge (i.e. insights, experiences, life altering events, etc.) the state of ‘infinite bliss’ / enlightenment is sometimes realized. The knowledge and experience gained from practice is long-enduring. (6.40, 6.41, 6.42, 6.43, 6.44, 6.45)