Let’s say I want to meditate. What do I need to do?
First I must understand what “meditation” is. It is concentration of the heart upon a specific subject.
Next I must understand how the heart “concentrates.” The heart focuses naturally and spontaneously upon whatever is naturally and truly most dear to it.
Here is the challenge. Let’s say I am going to practice meditation, keyword “practice.” Practice means I am going to follow a routine, a regimen, a program, an exercise, a discipline. None of those words sounds anything remotely like “natural and spontaneous.” But “meditation” is supposed to be the full concentration of the heart on what is naturally and spontaneously most dear to it. So how can I practice being natural???
That is why meditation is freaking rough.
It’s easy to change a light bulb. It’s a little hard to change a habit. But meditation means changing myself, changing my heart. That is the most challenging thing anyone could ever attempt. I am going to try to convince my heart to fully concentrate on something other than what it now naturally and spontaneously considers dear.
In the beginning my heart is spontaneously convinced that self-centered benefits are the best and most attractive things. Therefore my heart easily and fully runs toward meditation on such subjects. I don’t need to sit in any yoga posture, or count on beads how many times I am successfully practicing selfishness per day. It happens naturally, spontaneously, all the time.
The point of meditating is to put a new idea into my heart: The idea that selfless love of the root of all beings, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the best and most attractive thing in the world. For that I am going to need a regimen, a routine, a discipline, a coach, etc.
The result of exercise is that muscles grow and strength becomes natural. The result of practicing a guitar is that the fingers move spontaneously and allow natural self expression on the frets of the instrument. The result of meditation on this concept of bhakti (pure love for Godhead) is that it will start to come more and more naturally, until it is truly spontaneous and natural.
The objective I meditate on will eventually stop requiring “practice” and will achieve the “perfection” of being a natural, normal and spontaneous part of my heart.
Srila Sanatana Goswami, a sixteenth century grand master of bhakti meditation, left me the following advice about how to practice meditation.
Step 1: Decide who is Boss (mahah samkaranam)
The foundation of practicing meditation is developing true self-strength and declaring myself to be the boss of my concentration (“mind”). I am going to decide what I concentrate on. I have to make this declaration my motto and stand by it at all times. I will decide what attracts my attention, I will not let the force of habit and conditioning drag my attention wherever it desires. I am the boss here, and I am declaring control.
Step 2: Purity is the Force (shaucha)
I am not talking about washing hands and being germ free. I am talking about my habits. Remember, I just declared that I was taking control of my concentration/ mind away from my habits and conditionings? That is something like a small hobbit walking up to a huge fire-breathing dragon sitting atop an mound of treasure in the halls of an ancient mountain and saying, “HEY YOU! I am declaring control of this treasure.”
Get ready for a fight. But how stupid would the hobbit be to feed the dragon? Or give him a machine gun? That would be dumb, very dumb.
I am telling the dragon of my habitual conditionings to vacate the premises because I am taking back control of the treasure of my mental concentration. Now comes the fight – the actual practice of meditation. Step two is not to feed and arm the dragon!
Purity is the force.
Impurity will give force to the dragon of habitual conditionings.
The practice of meditation is not something I can do for five minutes a day. Nor for two hours a day. Nor for eight hours. Nor for any amount of time except always. My whole life has to change, and become “pure” so that my practice of meditation has a fighting chance of defeating a dragon.
What do I mean, “pure”? I mean that I am going to have to stop feeding the habits that condition my heart to consider selfish things attractive and desirable. No need to glorify these habits by enumerating them here. But identifying these habits, especially as they polymorph themselves into ever more devious shapes in an effort to survive, and mustering the renewed determination to extinguish them… that is a very important part of meditation.
Purity is not instantaneous. But start now and keep working towards it.
Step 3: Shut Up (Mauna)
I am going to try to be more pure, right? So I ought to shut up about it. Shut up about myself, and especially shut up on all the topics connected to the habits I want to shut down.
The best way to shut up is to speak up. Speak up about the new idea I am planting in my heart. Speak up about things related to pure devotion to godhead. Shut up about things related to I, me and mine.
The more noise pollution I make on topics related to habits I want to avoid, the more I reinforce those habits. I want to defeat the dragon of conditioned habit who currently controls my mental concentration – so I don’t want to give him extra strength by indulging in those habits. So far so good. But now in step three it is time to realize that I should watch my mouth. “Hey dragon, I don’t want to tell you how to completely kill me, but I heard the other day some people talking about it, and well, they say that if you…” I mean, how stupid would that be? Very. So I will not only stop the habits that condition my mind from its new objective, I will also stop blabbing about topics directly and indirectly connected to those habits.
Step 4: Know What I Am Doing (mantrartha-chintana)
Now, I have (1) declared control over my powers of concentration. (2) I have stopped feeding the habits that pull that concentration out of my control. (3) I have stopped expressing affection for those habits by shutting up about them. At this point in the game I am really ready to actually do the meditation.
It is time for the mantra to meditate upon.
In my case I take the mantra saturated in the sweetest, more deeply enchanting and charming mellows of pure ecstatic and affectionate love for the Reservoirs of Bliss – Sri Sri Radha Krishna.
hare krishna hare krishna
krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare
The advice at step 4 is that I have to “get a clue.” I can’t just be flapping my mouth, clueless to what I am doing. What is the point of this mantra??? What is it’s purpose. When meditating on a mantra I have to keep its point and purpose at the forefront of my awareness at all times.
In this particular instance, the point of this mantra is sublime. It is to please Radha Krishna with no ulterior motive, no purpose at all… except the natural joy of pleasing Godhead. To focus on this while enunciating the mantra is the most effective way to meditate upon the mantra. Each syllable of the mantra will gradually reveal different emotional expressions of desiring to be pleasing to they who the mantra name. If I focus on this I will accelerate rapidly from practice to perfection. If I just absentmindedly chant a mantra I will stall and put-put-put towards the ever-distant goal.
Step 5: Relax (avyagratva)
Speaking of “acceleration” I have crashed off the road on more than one occasion, usually with pretty severe injuries. Acceleration is not everything when it comes to meditation. If I want to make it from New York to Los Angeles (though God would only know why ), it’s not just about driving fast. It is about endurance. And if I overdo it on the speed I am going to wind up in jail or in a hospital.
So the advice is, once I am meditating with a purposeful mind, relax. The destination of enlightenment is far away. I need to come to grips with that. I am not going to get to L.A. in 30 minutes no matter how fast I drive. So it is better to be patient and measured and favor endurance over short bursts of enthusiasm.
Step 6: Cheer Up (Anirveda)
As far as I get it, step 5 and 6 are really two aspects of the same advice. In step 6, Srila Sanatana Goswami is telling me to, “Cheer up. Why be glum? Sure, it is going to be a prolonged effort to reach the goal you are trying to get to, but why be so grim and depressed about it? Be happy that you are making an effort. Be happy with every little bit of progress you make. Each bit is so valuable.”
And another thing I learned about this. I should be “enjoying the ride.” Going back to the trip from NY to LA. I could get all impatient about it and try to go faster and faster and wind up dead, or I could slow down. Why don’t I want to slow down? Because I am glum and depressed about the trip, that’s why! But now Sanatana Goswami is asking me why on Earth I am depressed about being on a trip from the misery of selfish love towards the ecstasy of selfless love? Realizing that I should “enjoy the ride” I can slow down and make each turn carefully and surely.
Enjoying the ride actually makes the ride itself become like the destination – and this is where my practice of concentrating my heart would itself start to become natural and spontaneous.