Like many other great things that have come to us through the rich inheritance of ancient Indian art and culture, the origin of meditation is difficult to pin down to a single date of the Gregorian calendar (the current map of our oh-so-busy daily routines).
But never mind that. Let’s begin with mindfulness—the very essence of the life mantra that the Buddha, arguably the greatest teacher who ever walked on Earth, chanted for himself and one that he compassionately advocated for millions of his followers.
The four establishments of mindfulness help us see the interconnected nature of everything in the universe and nudge us toward attunement of our self/non-self dualistic instruments to the rhythm divine (or Nada Brahma, as per ancient Indian spiritual sages).
If that sounds quite a mindful, here are the four establishments: in mindfulness, the adept or practitioner tries to maintain awareness of whatever is going on in their “body, feelings, mind and objects of mind”. For instance, if you are breathing, you are aware that you are breathing; if you are feeling angry, you observe this anger and contemplate on the constituents or causes of this anger, how it arises, how it affects your breathing, how it fades, etc. (you do this without reacting to the anger or without abruptly trying to stop feeling angry); and so on and so forth. (This simplified explanation is based on Satipatthana Sutta as described in the book Old Path White Clouds by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh).
The basic idea of mindfulness is to detach ourselves from the perceptions and objects imagined or visualized by the mind and watch over whatever is happening with us as if we are an outside observer to all these phenomena. Gradually and with practice, we can begin to see the cause-and-effect reality around us and the dependent co-arising of everything that exists.
And let’s also not forget about emptiness or Sunyata, another construct of the grand edifice of meditation. In Buddhist references, it is also known as voidness.
So, thus far, you have these three key terms to juggle and tease: meditation, mindfulness, sunyata.
Stay with me a little more, before you run away to the noisy craziness of your life. I know you will. Why, I will (to my own box of craziness, not yours :) But it wouldn’t hurt to let the balmy breeze of meditation caress and smoothen your hair a bit before you put on your daily hat.
Before we talk further about meditation, be aware that just as the divine river of yoga has flowed continuously since eons, so has the ocean of meditation been churned for nectar for ages. And just as yoga today has scores of tributaries, with multiple streams (and “revenue streams” in a fast-commercializing world; see my post on the origins and significance of yoga), the ripples from the ocean-font of meditation have had their far-reaching waves of influence as well. Take chakra meditation, for instance. (Google it, I’m not giving you the link this time :)
One earnest request I would like to make in the backdrop of the apparent usurping of the eternal legacies of yoga and meditation by political and commercial entities. Like the Buddha had said, if someone points a finger to the moon to show it to you in its cool majestic brilliance, then you should not “mistake the finger for the moon.”
So, if the Modis and Ramdevs of the world happen to be, at the moment, “showcasing” yoga or meditation to the world at large, why mistake their religion-loaded or money-making follies for the supreme, everlasting mind-body-soul systems we all can practice and benefit from?
Without further ado, let me put down some of my *meditations* on meditation (a few are taken from my book, Strings of the Soul). So sit back, relax, read, and breathe easy:
“Meditation takes you away from the torrent of oppressive thoughts into the inexplicable joy of stillness.”
“Make your mind not a tangled cocoon of familiarity but a wide open sea, where the waves of free thought continually sweep the beaches of your imagination. And let these waves wash away your worries and keep the delta where mind meets body fresh and fertile.”
“Meditation is the process of setting yourself free from the prison of your own thoughts.”
"Meditation is the key to transforming your monkey mind into a monk."
Don’t try too hard to meditate, nor think too much about what really is meditation. Get a handle on your body, a grip on your mind and a bridle to your breath. Devise your own mantra if you haven’t found a worthy guru who can give it to you (in all likelihood you haven’t but in all possibility you can :) Be with yourself for as long as you wish in an inner atmosphere of freedom, trust and tranquility. Explore the visions of your mind, not with craving or aggression but in a blissful balancing of mind-body-soul. Dissect, analyze as much as you want but, gradually, finally, take a few quiet steps in making everything in the universe look one, look great, look whole.
The thorns pricking in your inner consciousness will begin to feel like rose petals. The turmoil of your feelings and sensations will subside to a gentle swing. And your heart and mind will aspire for something higher, much higher than you ever thought possible.
That, my dear, is meditation.
Meditation teaches you to hold infinity in the calm of your mind.
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