Note: the original post has been revised to expand and correct the text as well as to re-order certain paragraphs.
The benefits of meditation are well-known, but we must go beyond that. Our meditation must have a purpose, to bring us closer to the heart of God. We are called by the scriptures of many traditions to devote time to regular spiritual practice. For those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition, this is our birthright, the result of a long, hard struggle to realize the intimacy which God desires to have with us (see my post The Indwelling of Compassion). Our scriptures are full of phrases such as going to the “house of the Lord”, “the Lord’s dwelling”, or, in The Secrets of Enoch 51:5: “It is good to go morning, midday, and evening into the Lord’s dwelling, for the glory of your creator.” To explore the practice (and purpose) of prayer and meditation is the purpose of this post.
None other than Jesus has said, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)Unity.org contains this interpretation: “Jesus is speaking here to Nicodemus, who is confused about what Jesus means when he talks about being ‘born again.’ Jesus explains that it isn’t a literal rebirth, but a return to Source. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ (John 3:6). In other words, the ‘rebirth’ is a surrender of human demands and limitations and a return to the Oneness with Spirit that is our true source and identity. This surrender can’t be defined or justified to our mortal mind, any more than people at that time could define the wind, except by feeling its effects as it passed. When we are ‘born of the Spirit’, we express as the wind expresses, in the loving guidance and flow of Holy Spirit.” It is, indeed, a rebirth, a refreshment of our being.
My meditation must begin with worship of the Lord. This is the one whom the Upanishads have called “the golden person in the heart of the sun”. I wish to be joined with that Person and absorbed into the totality of his presence. So there is worship of the Divine Person and then there is meditation. Are we talking about two practices or one? Perhaps a key lies in Kenneth Chandler’s book The Enlightened Jesus. Here he has called Christian teaching and belief the “lesser mystery”. These are the writings about faith and doctrine which appear in the New Testament scriptures. This “mystery” is then aided and expanded by the “greater mystery” of meditative descent into Being, which Chandler claims Jesus taught as alluded to by several passages. The first teaching as a preparation for the second, as explained by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2: “Brothers, I myself was unable to speak to you as people of the Spirit: I treated you as sensual men, still infants in Christ. What I fed you with was milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it; and indeed, you are steal not ready for it, since you are still unspiritual.” The two practices, however, cannot be separated and flow into one.
And so, meditation for me begins by bowing at the feet of the Transcendent Lord, the Personality of Godhead. I worship the Divine Person who is beyond my own ability to transcend in order to then enter the source of Being, and upon whom I must ultimately rely upon for grace. In practice this becomes the beginning and end of the meditation process as we ascend to, and then emerge from its transcendental depth. I have mentioned Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabupadha, that tireless proponent of Divine Personhood, in other posts. Of his many comments, here is one: “The Supreme Lord, who is the Absolute Personality of Godhead, cannot be known by mental speculation even by the greatest philosopher. He can be known only by His devotees, through his mercy.” What is the reason for these two approaches? It is because the Upanishads make it clear that there are two competing philosophies. This is the great divide which crosses nearly all spiritual traditions. It is between those who are personalists and those who are impersonalists. I must take the side of personalism. Again, quoting Prabupadha, “Real meditation means to achieve a state in which the mind is saturated by God consciousness….” This is what I want, the presence of God, not only the stress-relieving and bliss-producing benefits of the meditative state alone.
Silently chanting a mantra stills the mind and allows the meditator to be carried to deeper levels of consciousness, disappearing, and then reappearing again just as spontaneously at other times. This is the method taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He has explained that we cannot in any way force this effort. It must be like diving, a graceful falling into the depths of the Divine. The attraction is “the natural tendency of the mind”, because “the mind finds the way increasingly attractive as it advances in the direction of bliss.” [The Science of Being and Art of Living, p. 55]
Swami Satchidananda provides a valuable insight as to the choice of a mantra and its function in meditation. He has commented that OM is the mantra which is “the easiest, the simplest, and the best. Why? Almost every religion has this, because all the prophets, sages, and saints have understood the greatness and the power of the repetition of God’s name.” He states that it brings us into the presence of God. OM is also the Pranava, the sound of creation, a humming sound. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) This hum of creation has actually been captured by physicists going back in time to the Big Bang. Here science and religion are in accord, for sound energy is the basic energy from which all that follows is built, hence the reliance upon the sound of the mantra to reach the level of Being. Satchidananda continues, “whatever the mantram, the basis is OM”. He goes on to state that, after the three stages of the pronunciation of the ‘seed’ OM as AUM, A-U-M, which may be expressed as Mmm, Amen, or Amin (because people hear it differently), there is a fourth stage, the Anaagata, which is silent and always with us. And it is to this silence that we return in meditation. [Integral Yoga, Aug-Sept 1974, pp. 3-7]
As I observe the descent into the depth of meditation, something interesting occurs: my inadequacies, my failures, instances where I have hurt others, times that I have cast discredit upon myself, of which I am ashamed—all these come welling to the surface and demand to be dealt with. This is as it should be for they cannot be ignored. And, interestingly enough, this corresponds directly to the “lesser mystery” practice of Confession of Sin in the liturgy, always occurring at the beginning of the service, the necessary condition for forgiveness that we may free ourselves for the worship of God. These “lesser mystery” prayers, conscious moods, are linked with corresponding “greater mystery” moods which occur during descent to the oceanic level of transcendence. As I am still grappling with my conscious state of awareness, I am naturally called to repentance, for my awareness of my faults is heightened. Unresolved feelings—both what I have done and what has been done to me—guilt, hurt, sadness, anger, stress, and regret, linger and swirl at the surface and occupy my awareness. This is painful, as it should be. I await the washing of the refreshing waters of forgiveness and resolution—the Lord’s grace—as I become increasingly immersed in the depths of the Divine.
Roy Masters has provided us a powerful instruction in this regard. He writes that pain should not be avoided or “dealt with”—it should be borne and acknowledged. He writes, “The third stage of meditation can become pain to the consciousness inasmuch as we shall be bothered by what we have allowed to transpire to us in the past. Do not deal with these thoughts or feelings. Do not attempt to change them. Just watch the pain that comes from the observation of them. This is called repentance. You must allow its pain and acknowledge your lack, for any attempt to deal with your old thoughts and feelings merely sickens you and duplicates the egocentric ‘coping’ that sickened you in the first place. Tears may come at this stage—the body my tremble in what seems to be fear. Still do nothing. If your pride is not willing to be humbled in this fashion and is unwilling to receive the essence of new life—if it desires to continue its own cause—you will find yourself in trouble for meditating for the wrong motive.” [Your Mind Can Keep You Well, pp. 39-40]
Lakota Sioux tradition teaches that we inherit a “burden bundle” and a “blessing bundle,” both of which we open. Here, too, we may encounter new perceptions and feelings. As with our earlier acceptance pain, all thoughts are to be accepted and nothing is to be discarded—it is part of the process. In the words of Ram Das, it is “grist for the mill.”
Buddhist monk and teacher Chogyam Trungpa uses the analogy of garbage to describe how burdens—what we have done, what we have left undone, and what has been done to us—are dealt with. The garbage is not just thrown away. It is put to use. It is like organic waste which is gathered up and applied to fertilize our garden, actually increasing the richness of the soil and making it better—all from something which was so painful and disagreeable. Healing results occur from the effective processing of negative mental images that cloud the mind. And with this the way has been cleared to descend into the greater mystery.
The Buddhist approach is to be considered as well. It is known as satipatthana-magga, the way of mindfulness. This simple, direct act of awareness is a time-honored practice which, like the mantra, has the potential for great results. Focus on the breath is common. Chogyam Trungpa writes that once we have established a basic pattern of discipline, the breathing technique dies out: “Reality gradually expands so that we do not have to use the technique at all. And in this case one does not have to concentrate inwards, but one can expand outwards more and more.” [Meditation in Action, p. 56] Nyanaponika Thera calls mindfulness “bare attention”: “the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception”. He goes on to state that this requires a “tidying up of the mental household” of the individual, dealing with “a tangled mass of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, casual bodily movements, showing a disorderliness and confusion which he would certainly not tolerate, e.g., in his living room. Yet this is the state of affairs that he takes for granted within a considerable portion of his waking life and normal mental activity.” [The Power of Mindfulness, pp. 5,7]
During gradual emergence from the transcendental state, we might naturally encounter moods of prayer which are also akin to the traditional liturgy. Those include prayers of thanksgiving and adoration as these find expression. We may be also moved to pray for others and for the world as our compassion extends outward.
All life, all consciousness, is one. Ultimately, there is no division between contemplation and action, between meditation and ordinary waking awareness. We should desire that “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28) will be a constant reality. Living meditation seeks to move between all moments of life, taking them in and transforming them. The great Amen (AUM), as in the creation of the universe, is always there, whether repeated or silent, and goes on and on. Our consciousness can be reshaped, our movement to and from its deeper levels can be increasingly marked with its continuity and flow ever more gracefully through the totality of conscious states, while treasuring and relishing the moments of deep and intimate communion with the Divine. The transcendental state may “spill over” into moments of waking consciousness. Indeed, this is the goal. Longer, more formal meditation periods may be supplemented by briefer periods as they spontaneously arise during the course of the day. This is meditation in action, a meditation that is integrated with all conscious aspects of our waking life. And meditation in Divine Personhood brings us closer to the Source of our being, the One who accompanies us on our path, the One who loves us and always wishes us well.
be increasingly marked with its continuity and flow ever more gracefully through the totality of conscious states, while treasuring and relishing the moments of deep and intimate communion with the Divine. The transcendental state may “spill over” into moments of waking consciousness. Indeed, this is the goal. Longer, more formal meditation periods may be supplemented by briefer periods as they spontaneously arise during the course of the day. This is meditation in action, a meditation that is integrated with all conscious aspects of our waking life. And meditation in Divine Personhood brings us closer to the Source of our being, the One who accompanies us on our path, the One who loves us and always wishes us well.