For those who may not know, the word Sadhana means practice or askesis.
Question: Why is meditation not given prime importance in this yoga as it is in other places?
Answer: It is a very interesting question which merits a detailed answer. In the first place, let me make it quite clear that meditation need not necessarily be a spiritual practice. It is not always a part of yoga. A person may not believe in God, in the soul, in a spiritual destiny, and yet there may be occasions when the right type of meditation would help him to meet the challenges of life and to find out solutions for himself. And what is meditation? Meditation, truly speaking, is a flow of consciousness, a flow of the mind, on any subject, on any theme. It may be a problem in mathematics, a problem in politics, some knotty point in economics.
Normally the mental faculties are spread out in a hundred directions. Not only mental faculties, but emotional faculties, and sense faculties also–they are all dispersed. When one needs to think out something seriously, attend to a matter with concentration, what is normally done is to summon back mental thoughts, energies, sense-impressions and focus them on one particular point, one particular theme. By such practice one learns the art of concentrating the whole mind on a particular subject. Concentration is that which fixes the mind on a particular point, particular form, particular sound (or sometime. In the very nature of things one can’t keep concentrated on one stationary thing in this moving world. So after some time there is a relaxing and the mind begins to think. The art of meditation is to keep the flow of thought running in the chosen direction without allowing the thoughts to run helter-skelter, irrelevantly day-dreaming.
In spiritual life, in the setting of the Ashram, meditation is the means to open the mind, the being, to some greater light, to some greater being, to some guidance from God. What one does is to gather the mind and think of what one wants. Say, I want peace, then I pray for peace, I think of peace, I pray to God to grant me peace, and keep that prayer all the time in the background of my mind and keep the mind open in that direction. If I want knowledge, if I want joy, that is the theme on which I pray, on which I keep the mind open. So what precisely must be the thought occupying the person who meditates, depends upon each person, depends upon what the person wants. So meditation is a special period when one’s hopes, one’s aspirations, one’s prayers for anything that one wants are held in a concentrated way and one reflects upon them, dwells upon them without distraction. Naturally, the first obstruction one comes across when one doing this is irrelevant thoughts, one gets disturbed. That always happens in the beginning. There are three or four ways of keeping out the restless thoughts. One is to be alert and reject each thought as it comes. If this is done for a length of time, the force of disturbing thoughts slackens. Another is to think of peace, to think of silence and concentrate upon it without caring for the thoughts that may come. The thoughts that may come are left to go on, on the surface, but one’s main concentration is kept on the object of meditation. This leads to what is called a bifurcation of the mind separating the main mind from the surface mind. Thoughts are allowed to run about on the surface without oneself running with the thoughts.
These are some of the ways in the technique of meditation for keeping out intruders. Places like Ashrams, forests, hilltops, the sea where there is some breath of infinity, are especially favourable to the exercise of meditation. But ultimately each individual should work out his own poise of meditation, his own climate for meditation. It always helps to read something that calms the mind, that creates the proper atmosphere before one goes into meditation. This is the usual method of meditation. Speaking more closely of meditation in our life here in the Ashram, I should say that meditation is only a part of our life. Meditation does not occupy, is not allowed to occupy the major part of our life. It is the attitude of meditation, the attitude of receptivity to some higher silence and peace, that is sought to be cultivated as a background for the day-to-day activity. Periods of meditation, indeed, there are, but they are seldom allowed to run into hours. A few peak periods, moments of meditation form a part of our programme but during the rest of the day, the spirit of meditation is sought to be prolonged, so there is always a background of meditative attitude supporting the consecrated life of action.
Image: prague astronomical clock via wikipedia (Creative Commons)
Question : Here we find that meditation and other sadhanas are only given for a brief time. We had thought that yoga-sadhana is a whole time occupation. You said that meditation is only during peak-periods.
Answer: What you said is exactly what we are trying to do. I did not say that we should do sadhana only in peak periods and not in the rest of the time. I said meditation as meditation should be done at certain peak points. But the rest of the time the attitude of meditation must back up the activity in consecration. The sadhana is to continue all the twenty-four hours. We do not distinguish between life and sadhana. In sadhana there are certain movements: like concentration, like meditation, like intense prayer-those moments have their own time. They cannot be allowed to occupy the whole day even as in some-of the older yogas: one was expected to meditate for four hours or five hours. do pranayama for six hours and so on. We say that is not our yoga. In our yoga, there must be a continuous life activity, serving as a channel of sacrifice, self-consecration to God; things like meditation and prayer have their own timings. The sadhana goes on all the time. Sadhana does not consist only in meditation or asanas. Sadhana is in the culturing of one’s consciousness, right from head to toe Godward, utilising each occasion to let the consciousness growing towards God express itself in our day-to-day movements, transforming the entire life into a rhythm of God. Nobody can claim to be a sadhak here or a yogi who does not keep his mind constantly attuned to the higher vibrations, to the Grace that is aflow, regulate his movements, mental, physical and others in consonance with the spirit of the ideal which he has accepted. It is an incessant endeavour for change and self-transformation that is on. It is certainly left to the sincerity of each individual to what extent he will participate in this effort. But the sadhana continues all the twenty four hours. And for your information I may add that there are sadhaks here who do not do meditation at all. They believe only in consecrated work and they have certainly arrived at certain high points in the evolution of consciousness only by work. Some natures are so constituted that meditation is not meant for them, even as there are some natures which are predominantly mentally developed and their way is through knowledge, meditation. They may not spend as much time in work. It depends upon each nature. There can’t be any one fixed schedule to apply to all. Adhikara bheda is there, variation in competence. So meditation, prayer, concentration, work in the yogic spirit all are parts of sadhana. Sadhana is a continuous process. Whether one is lecturing, whether one is driving, whether one is eating-that movement must go on. It is the affirmation of one’s aspiration for God that must express itself in every movement of our life.
[M.P.Pandit, Under the Mother’s banner, Pondicherry : Dipti Publications, 1975.]
Question: Is not an increasing effort of meditation needed and is it not true that the more hours you meditate the greater progress you make?
Answer: The number of hours spent in meditation is no proof of spiritual progress. It is a proof of your progress when you no longer have to make an effort to meditate. Then you have rather to make an effort to stop meditating: it becomes difficult to stop meditation, difficult to stop thinking of the Divine, difficult to come down to the ordinary consciousness. Then you are sure of progress, then you have made real progress when concentration in the Divine is the necessity of your life, when you cannot do without it, when it continues naturally from morning to night whatever you may be engaged in doing. Whether you sit down to meditation or go about and do things and work, what is required of you is consciousness; that is the one need, – to be constantly conscious of the Divine.
Question: But is not sitting down to meditation an indispensable discipline, and does it not give a more intense and concentrated union with the Divine?
Answer: That may be. But a discipline in itself is not what we are seeking. What we are seeking is to be concentrated on the Divine in all that we do, at all times, in all our acts and in every movement. There are some here who have been told to meditate; but also there are others who have not been asked to do any meditation at all. But it must not be thought that they are not progressing. They too follow a discipline, but it is of another nature. To work, to act with devotion and an inner consecration is also a spiritual discipline. The final aim is to be in constant union with the Divine, not only in meditation but in all circumstances and in all the active life.
There are some who, when they are sitting in meditation, get into a state which they think very fine and delightful. They sit self-complacent in it and forget the world; but if they are disturbed, they come out of it angry and restless, because their meditation was interrupted. This is not a sign of spiritual progress or discipline. There are some people who act and seem to feel as if their meditation were a debt they have to pay to the Divine; they are like men who go to church once a week and think they have paid what they owe to God.
If you need to make an effort to go into meditation, you are still very far from being able to live the spiritual life. When it takes an effort to come out of it, then indeed your meditation can be an indication that you are in the spiritual life.
There are disciplines such as Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga that one can practise and yet have nothing to do with the spiritual life; the former arrives mostly at body control, the latter at mind control. But to enter the spiritual life means to take a plunge into the Divine, as you would jump into the sea. And that is not the end but the very beginning; for after you have taken the plunge, you must learn to live in the Divine. How are you to do it? You have simply to jump straight in and not to think, “Where shall I fall? What will happen to me?” It is the hesitation of your mind that prevents you. You must simply let yourself go. If you wish to dive into the sea and are thinking all the time, “Ah, but there may be a stone here or a stone there”, you cannot dive.
[Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 3, pp 20-21]