Meditation & Spirituality
Meditation & Spirituality
(Please Note: the questions and answers on Meditation & Spirituality are borrowed from my book “Close Your Eyes & Open Your Mind – an Introduction to Spiritual Meditation.”)
1. Why do you think meditation has become so popular in recent times?
a. It is practical. It is something we can do by ourselves, and we can experience the benefits first hand.
b. It promotes good health. A growing number of doctors and scientists recognise the beneficial physiological effects of meditation, especially in the areas of stress relief and relaxation. This has been so widely researched and documented that there is now little doubt that meditation has significant health benefits.
c. Meditation has received widespread coverage in the media. Sports people and health care professionals openly advocate meditation, and magazine editors and advertisers now portray meditation as a normal part of everyday life.
d. Meditation has been accepted as a part of popular culture. Meditation was first introduced to the Western world in ancient Greek times, nearly 3,000 years ago, but this knowledge was to a large extent lost over time. It was re-introduced to the Western world at the beginning of the 20th century, and European intellectuals were exploring oriental mystical philosophy, which has its roots in meditation, long before that. But it took the revolution in thinking of the 60’s generation, and events like the Beatles taking up meditation, to create widespread public awareness of the practice. Now that same generation have entered middle age, and some of the values that they embraced during their youth have gained broad-based acceptance.
e. Nowadays we have access to vast reservoirs of knowledge from many cultures. We can choose from the best that a wide variety of traditions have to offer. People have sometimes asked me why I chose a spiritual practice originating in a culture other than my own. Just because something originates in another country does not mean it is unsuitable for us. Computer science was first developed in America, but no one suggests that computers are not useful elsewhere. Meditation originated in India and has been practised for thousands of years in Asia, but people from all backgrounds can experience its benefits.
f. Meditation is a way for people to explore their own spirituality. At a time when many people are disillusioned with institutionalised religion, meditation offers us a method to enter our own inner world, and experience spirituality directly.
2. So what exactly is meditation?
Meditation has been described as a kind of concentrated thinking, but this does not mean just any kind of concentrated thinking. Concentrating on a pet rock or an ice cream is not meditation. Meditation is the process of concentrating the mind on the source of consciousness within us. Gradually this leads us to discover that our own consciousness is infinite. This is why the goal of meditation is sometimes described as ‘Self Realisation.’
3. What is Self Realisation?
The goal of meditation is to realize who we really are at the core of our being. The philosophy of yoga says there are two different levels to our inner self: our mental or emotional self and our spiritual self.
The mental self is sometimes called the individual mind. It is limited because it is strongly associated with our limited physical body and is the cause of the feeling “I am this individual person” – our ego.
But our real sense of self-awareness comes from our connection to a wider, subtler form of consciousness. Yogic philosophy says there is a reflection of an infinite, all knowing form of consciousness within our minds. This Infinite Consciousness is unchanging and eternal, and is at the core of our true spiritual ‘Self’.
When we identify with the small ego-centred self this is called relative reality, because that small self is prone to change and death. But when we realize that there is a subtler, permanent reality behind the relative one and we see that our true nature is pure unlimited Consciousness, this is known as Self Realisation.
4. What is the difference between meditation and yoga?
To many the word yoga means a series of physical exercises stretching and tying our bodies into impossible knots. But these physical postures are only one aspect of yoga, known as ‘asanas’. The physical postures of yoga are practiced for their health benefits, and because they help to prepare the body for meditation. Yoga is both a philosophy of life and a system of spiritual practice. The word ‘yoga’ actually means union between the individual self and Infinite Consciousness. Meditation is the most important practice in the yoga system and is the means by which this merger or union is achieved. So yoga is a system or science that enables an individual to develop themselves physically, mentally and spiritually, and meditation is the practice that makes the mental and spiritual development possible.
5. What is the difference between prayer and meditation?
Evidence of the existence of religion dates back more than 40,000 years. Early religions were animistic, believing that the forces of nature were beings or Gods, and later pantheistic, worshiping many deities, and assigning divinity to the invisible but powerful forces of nature that held sway over people’s lives. These gods were feared and were appeased through prayer or sacrifice. As society evolved, people gradually realised that there must be a single guiding power behind all these forces of nature, and theistic religions emerged – the belief in only one God. But the relationship was still based on fear, flattery, appeasement and attempts to persuade God to grant favours to individuals. Some religious prayer still reflects this today.
Philosophically, praying to God requesting something or asking God to do something, even for someone else, is illogical. According to all the theistic scriptures of the world, God is an all-knowing (omniscient) and infinitely benevolent being (‘God is love’), who already knows if somebody’s mother is sick, or someone is unhappy, and surely cares enough to do whatever is necessary to help them. Any concerns, or ideas we have originate with God anyway, so telling God how to run the universe seems inappropriate, to say the least.
In yoga philosophy it is said that since Infinite Consciousness has given us everything, we should not ask that Entity for anything. But if we have to ask for something, we should ask only for more love for God, which is known as devotion.
Prayer can take various forms. What I’ve described above is known as intercessory prayer – asking for God’s intervention in our affairs. More developed forms of prayer include prayers of gratitude, worshipful prayer, contemplative prayer and meditative prayer. These can help to bring the worshipper closer to God through cultivating devotion, the feeling of attraction towards the Infinite Consciousness. But as long as it is based on a dualistic conception of God, meaning that human beings and God are kept inherently separate, prayer cannot be considered meditation. Spiritual meditation places no limit on our realization. It is a non-dualistic practice, and its goal is to merge our inner ‘I’ feeling with the Infinite Consciousness.
I think it very likely that all of the great spiritual teachers practised some kind of spiritual meditation and initiated their closest disciples into this practice. This was their treasured ‘inner teaching’. Often however, with the passing of time, this esoteric part of their teachings was lost or watered down, their later followers were left with only their outer teachings about morality and philosophy. But the key to realising what these enlightened individuals realized has always been, and will always remain, spiritual meditation.
6. Is meditation a science?
Science (from Latin scientia – knowledge) is most commonly defined as the investigation or study of nature through observation and reasoning, aimed at finding out the truth. The term science also refers to the organized body of knowledge humans have gained by such research.
Since the yogic approach to spirituality uses both observation and reasoning to get at the inner truth, it must therefore be a science.
Meditation has been described as ‘Intuitional Science.’ Extensive laboratory tests have demonstrated the physiological effects of meditation, but this only shows us its external effects. Even a recording of a person¹s brainwave patterns is just a measurement of physical electrical waves. It does not tell us exactly what they are thinking or feeling. The only real laboratory for testing meditation is the mind itself, and the results need to be experienced personally. Another name for this science is “Tantra” – the science of spiritual meditation, which enables the practitioner to merge his or her unit mind into Infinite Consciousness.
7. What is spirituality?
Spirituality is that which concerns Infinite Consciousness.
First let me make it clear that ‘spirituality’ should not be confused with ‘spiritualism’, which is concerned with mediums, communicating with the dead etc. Spirituality concerns Infinite consciousness – the same ultimate Truth that was realised by the great spiritual teachers throughout history such as Buddha, Jesus, and Krsna. According to spirituality, the goal of life is to merge the individual mind into Infinite Consciousness, and the way to attain this is by practising spiritual meditation.
8. Is Spirituality Scientific?
The central idea of spirituality – that Infinite Consciousness is the ultimate reality – is common to most oriental and some occidental forms of mysticism. It is not so remarkable that this idea is widely accepted by mystics and philosophers, but in the last century many scientists have pointed out parallels between quantum theory and the mystical view of reality described in the ancient texts of Taoism, Buddhism and yoga.
Not only Albert Einstein but virtually all his contemporaries including Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger and Max Planck, in fact most of the pioneers of modern physics testified to a belief in mysticism. When Heisenberg (discoverer of the “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”) went to India and met with Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize winning poet and a great yogi, he was enormously relieved to find someone who didn’t think his ideas were crazy. The ancient yoga philosophy seemed to be saying much the same thing about reality as the emerging Quantum Theory. This has been the subject of much discussion and many publications, particularly since the 1960s. This topic, though fascinating, is beyond the scope of this book. I will refer you to some of those publications for a detailed explanation.
9. What is mysticism?
“The unending endeavour to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite is mysticism.”
Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
“The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is at the root of all true science. Someone to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, is my idea of God,”
10. What is the difference between Spirituality and Religion?
The founders of all the great religions taught spirituality, yet religion and spirituality are not the same. When my own spiritual master was asked if he was trying to start a new religion he replied:
“I am not interested in religion. I am interested in human beings and the goal of human beings, and how to bridge the gap between the two.”
Many religions may make the same claim, but the reality is that all too often the spirituality taught by the founder of those religions has been lost, or obscured by dogma and ritual. There are profound differences between the teachings of Christ and the practices of mainstream Christianity, between what Krsna taught and Hinduism, between the teachings of the Buddha and Buddhism. Over time, divisions have developed within religions, which have sometimes led to persecution and even war. When you look at the darkest periods of religious history, it is hard to believe that people could depart so far from the exalted teachings of their great preceptors. The original message was spiritual, but to varying degrees that spirit has been diluted or lost through mistranslation and misinterpretation, through the loss of spiritual meditation practices, through the attempts of less evolved individuals to cloak spiritual concepts in dogma, and through religions becoming religious and political institutions.
Within all the major religions there are mystical traditions that include many of the features of spirituality, but these are the exception rather than the rule. They do not represent mainstream religion, and in many cases have even been branded as heresy, and the propagation of such teachings has all too often been rewarded with persecution.
What we are left with in our various religions is a somewhat confusing blend of truth and dogma. If we wish to sift out the spiritual elements it is important to understand the real differences between spirituality and religious dogma. With the passing of time, these differences within mainstream religion have become increasingly distinct:
a. Spirituality is theistic, and has a highly developed and rational concept of God or Infinite Consciousness. Religious dogma can be theistic, as in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or atheistic, such as Buddhism, Shintoism, and perhaps even communism. Dogmatic Religions generally have either a poorly developed and irrational concept of God, or no concept of God at all.
b. Spirituality is non-dualistic, and states that the purpose of human life is to merge one’s self (or sense of ‘I’) into Infinite Consciousness. Theistic religions tend to be dualistic, propounding a fundamental separation between God and the world and the belief that the purpose of human life is to enter into a relationship with God and go to heaven after one dies.
c. Spirituality is practical, and can be experienced and realized by practising spiritual meditation. The focus is inward, taking the practitioner towards a personal realisation. Religions on the other hand, emphasise faith and belief, and though they teach people different types of prayer, most of the actual practice is externally focused, involving rituals, festivals and ceremonies.
d. Spirituality is a lifestyle choice, and is integrated into every aspect of a person’s existence. Much Religion is ritualistic, and is generally a compartmentalized part of a person’s life, practised primarily in temples and churches.
Religion can only serve it’s proper purpose of liberating the faithful from ignorance and spiritual darkness, to the degree that it remains true to its original spirituality.
11. What is Spiritual Meditation?
In Spiritual meditation our mind is directed towards a spiritual idea. The simplest way to conceive of this is to think of infinite love, peace and happiness, or an entity embodying that. We may call it God, but the name is not important. What is important is to remember that this infinite love is within us and surrounding us.
If we pause to consider, it becomes apparent that every experience we have ever had took place within our minds. If we want lasting happiness or love, what better place to look than at the source of these feelings?
Spiritual meditation is concentration on a spiritual idea, an idea associated with Infinite Consciousness, an idea that is greater than our selves. As we contemplate this vast and beautiful idea, our mind is transformed into pure consciousness that has no boundary.
So spiritual meditation is the effort to merge our sense of ‘I’ into Infinite Consciousness.
12. Do you have to be a monk to be successful in meditation?
Clearly not. Buddha was a monk, but Shiva – regarded by many as the father of yoga, had three wives. (This was not unusual 7000 years ago) Swami Vivekananda was a monk, but my own Guru, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, was married. And many great spiritualists were women, such as St Theresa of Avila (a nun) and Anandamayi Ma (who was married).
I chose to be a monk for both personal and practical reasons, but I certainly do not see it as any kind of pre-requisite for spiritual practice or success on the spiritual path.
13. Isn’t it self-centred to sit around meditating all the time when there is so much suffering in the world?
I could be. It rather depends what you would be doing if you weren’t meditating. If the answer is “watching television”, by all means, meditate. But if it means you are neglecting your family, or using it as an excuse to avoid doing something for others, that is another matter.
I discuss this in detail in chapter seven of my book, “Close Your Eyes and Open Your Mind.”
14. Is meditation a form of brainwashing?
While it is no doubt true that the minds of some people could do with a good wash, I have to say that meditation is not a form of brainwashing. Usually when people express concern about brainwashing, they are afraid of losing control of their minds and being manipulated.
Meditation actually helps to protect us against having our minds manipulated by strengthening our willpower and making us more self-aware.
If you’re seriously concerned about other people manipulating your mind for their own purposes, I suggest that the first thing you do is switch off your television, a device which is used to great effect by advertising companies, amongst others, to influence people¹s behaviour.
15. Where did the science of meditation first develop?
Tantric meditation was first developed by the tribes of South India 10-15,000 years ago, as an expression of their natural desire to understand their own consciousness. About 7000 years ago it was further developed by Shiva, the great yogi of ancient India. This practice has since spread and been absorbed into different mystical traditions, including yoga, Taoism, Sufism, Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. Similar practices have also emerged in indigenous cultures.
16. When did meditation come to the West?
Meditation practices were introduced into Europe at the time of the ancient Greeks, some of whom travelled to the East and learned from Indian yogis and philosophers. Alexander the Great, a student of Aristotle, brought a yogi back with him from India to be his spiritual advisor. The great Greek mystic and social reformer, Apollonius, found wisdom in the East and was greatly revered for his spiritual power. He was an advocate of universal religion and propagated the idea of internal rather than external worship. Refusing to champion one popular cult against another, he declared that he ‘was concerned with the spirit rather than the form of religion.’
The early Judaic and ancient Egyptian religions were heavily influenced by oriental mysticism, and many people believe that Jesus may have practised and taught a form of yogic meditation that he learned in India during the 18 years of his life that are unaccounted for in the Bible.
After the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, when most of the libraries of Europe were burned, yogic meditation practices died out in the West. Later both indigenous and Christian mysticism were actively suppressed, particularly during the dark period of the Inquisition. Europe became something of a spiritual desert, focusing its attention on intellectual and technological development, militarism, trade, exploration and conquest. Religious institutions started to take a greater interest in politics than in spirituality.
But in the 1890s a spiritual renaissance began in Western civilization with the reintroduction of oriental practices by Swami Vivekananda, the dearest disciple of the great Indian saint, Sri Ramakrsna. Vivekananda was the first modern yogic master to come to the West at the beginning of the twentieth Century. This period saw the emergence of the Theosophists and Rudolf Steiner’s school of Anthroposophy as well as a growing interest in Eastern mysticism amongst European intellectuals like Carl Jung, Aldous Huxley, and Herman Hesse. After Swami Vivekananda others followed, and in the 1960’s, interest in eastern spirituality exploded in Europe and America, quickly spreading across the globe, even as far as New Zealand. The most refined expression of this merging of cultures may be found in the writings of the great Indian mystic and philosopher Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, who was the first spiritual preceptor to create a harmonious blending of occidental rationality and oriental mysticism. He was the founder of the modern spiritual movement, Ananda Marga, meaning The Path of Bliss.
Although spiritual meditation originated in southern India in ancient times, its influence can be found in many spiritual traditions. Today it continues to address a universal human need.
17. What kind of meditation do you teach?
The nature of the object or idea you choose to concentrate on in meditation will dictate the outcome. Meditation can be done for spiritual growth, or for relaxation and stress reduction, or even for some other reason, such as success in a sport or a career. The distinguishing feature of all spiritual meditation techniques, as taught in the great spiritual traditions, is that the technique has at its heart the idea of Infinite Consciousness – it is the contemplation of the infinite.
In Tantric meditation the practitioner learns a personal technique through a process of initiation and is taught a mantra which is repeated mentally. He or she is taught how to withdraw the mind from the external world and how to concentrate internally. The primary goal of Tantric meditation is to merge the individual consciousness into Infinite Consciousness. This is the type of meditation taught in the modern Tantric school of Ananda Marga.
18. Aren’t you biased? You only practice one type of meditation – how can you be objective about other methods?
I may be biased – none but an enlightened soul is perfectly objective. I think the technique I am practising is the best, at least for me – otherwise I’d be doing something else. At the same time, it seems obvious that there are many paths to enlightenment – otherwise how could people from different traditions have attained Self Realisation? I try to keep an open mind, and from my study of a wide variety of teachings I have understood that there are common psychological and spiritual principles that can be used in spiritual practice. The extent to which these principles are understood and applied will determine the effectiveness of a technique in taking us forward on the path of spiritual progress.
For example, it is a widely accepted tenet of psychology that “as you think, so you become.” If this principle is applied in spiritual meditation, it means we should concentrate on the idea of infinite consciousness. But if we have been taught since childhood to feel guilty, or afraid of God, this will make it more difficult to practice. If, on the other hand, we are taught that we are children of the Divine, and that our true nature is perfect and loving, then the feeling of bliss in meditation comes far more naturally.
It is not necessary to learn all techniques in order to grasp how they work. In any event it would not be possible in one lifetime – it is hard enough to master even one.
19. How do you know if this is the right meditation technique for me?
This is something you have to decide for yourself. If you come across a practice that makes sense to you, and feels right, I suggest you try it. If you then experience that it is bringing the kind of changes you feel you need, keep doing it. If you experience difficulties, be patient. Don’t be too hasty to switch to another technique. You may face the same problem again, and be forced to realise that the problem was with you, not with the technique. If, after giving it your best shot, it still doesn’t seem to be working, try something else. But don’t keep shopping around forever – you should try to find a technique you’re happy with and stick with it. Remember those holes we were digging for water? If you keep starting new holes you’re going to get pretty thirsty.
20. Do I need to have a Guru to learn meditation?
The word ‘Guru’ means ‘dispeller of darkness’, and really refers to the Infinite Consciousness acting as teacher and guide to individual souls. So since Infinite Consciousness is omnipresent, the real Guru is within us already.
When an individual has attained Self Realisation, they are often referred to as a Guru, because the Infinite Consciousness within them is able to act and speak without the distortions of ego. So they are able to play the role of a perfect teacher and guide to others.
In the Bhagavad Giita, Arjuna asked his Guru, Krsna, whether it was possible to attain enlightenment through the guidance of the Divine, inner Guru, without the assistance of a Guru in physical form. Krsna told him that it is not essential to have a physical Guru, but if you do not, it will probably take you about 10,000 times as long to attain enlightenment.
Thirty years ago, I wanted to learn meditation but I didn’t know how to begin. I read some books on the subject, and with what wisdom I could glean from their pages I began to practice. Which means I wasn’t teaching myself – I was learning from those authors. Indirectly, they were my first teachers, even though they were no longer alive. Soon I realised that I needed clearer guidance and I began searching for a living teacher.
The fact that you’re reading this book indicates that you want information about meditation. All of the knowledge in this book comes, directly or indirectly, from a Guru. Practically all of the spiritual books of the world derive their ideas from great spiritual teachers – Gurus. If they don’t, they should. Gurus are the pioneers on the spiritual path who go before us and light the way, guiding those who follow.
Some people are afraid that having a Guru means you have to follow someone blindly. This is a misconception. My Guru, Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii, often quoted an old scripture that says that if a child says something rational we should accept it, and if God Himself says something irrational we should discard it like a straw. Genuine spirituality does not deny rationality.
And what is the rational course when seeking self-knowledge? When we are entering the mysterious realm of consciousness, the most rational course is to take the advice of a guide who knows the territory well.
And this territory can, at times, but quite deceptive, and difficult to traverse. If you read about the lives of great saints and yogis like St Francis of Assisi, or Milarepa of Tibet, you will see that they all had to face many trials and tests, and transcend the temptations of pleasure and power in order to attain true greatness. At these higher stages on the spiritual path, the guidance of the Guru is more important than ever.
If you do not have the chance to meet personally with a real Guru (and they are few and far between) do not despair. It is possible to learn from a Guru through their writings, through learning of their inspiring example, and directly from people they have appointed to pass on their teachings and techniques. And through meditation it is possible to establish a personal relationship with your own inner Guru.
21. What does meditation cost?
Traditionally spiritual meditation has been taught free of charge and it is available to all, regardless of a person’s economic status. Meditation is a subtle spiritual practice and no monetary value should be attached to it. To attach monetary value to meditation taints and degrades it.
Nevertheless, there is a price. To get results from meditation you have to put something into it – your own valuable time and effort.
22. How much time does it take?
I recommend that beginners spend at least 15 minutes twice a day in meditation. Later this can be increased to two half hour sessions. This will give a good result, though some people choose to meditate for longer periods and experience even greater benefit as a result. How much you get out of your meditation is directly related to what you put into it.
23. What are the benefits of meditation?
Extensive studies have been made of the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation, but I prefer to simply relate the benefits I’ve experienced personally from this practice:
a. I feel more mental peace.
b. I am much more emotionally balanced. I am a musician and I can tell you that this is a very real benefit for someone with a somewhat “artistic” temperament.
c. I am more creative. I have always practiced a variety of creative arts, and when I started meditation I felt that I’d tapped into a rich new spring of inspiration, ideas and insights. Many writers, musicians and thinkers report that their inspiration usually comes when the mind is quiet. It seems quite natural that the calming effect of meditation should give us easier access to the deeper, creative level of our minds.
d. I discovered a profound Sense of Purpose in life. I have a growing sense that all life is moving in a positive direction – towards greater awareness, towards a greater feeling of oneness and harmony. I feel that I am also a part of that same flow of conscious evolution.
e. Improved self-awareness. Introspective practice makes us more aware of our own motivations and qualities. This is not always a comfortable thing, but if we don’t see ourselves as we really are, how can we improve? More often it is inspiring to discover the amazing potential within ourselves.
f. I have a developing sense of universal love. As I am more in touch with the source of my own consciousness, I am more aware of the consciousness in everything. I feel more love within my self, and greater love and compassion for others. This naturally helps me relate to others more easily.
g. I enjoy good health – I lead a very busy life – I travel frequently and there are constant demands on my time. Yet I do not suffer from the stress related illnesses that afflict many busy people. Meditation and the natural lifestyle associated with it are definitely a recipe for a long and healthy life.
h. Improved will power and concentration. Over the years I have noticed my mind becoming clearer and stronger. If we exercise a physical muscle, it develops. The same is true of the mind.
i. I really enjoy meditation. Sometimes it is hard work requiring concentration, but when it really flows it can be intensely blissful – more blissful than anything else I’ve experienced. It is far better than taking drugs, or so I’m told.
j. I am happy. I don’t suppose I’m the happiest man in the world, though I’m working on it. But I know that I am much happier than I was before I started on this path, and this feeling has grown over the years. Who wouldn’t be? I’m more emotionally balanced, more creative, I’m developing as a person, I sense a profound meaning in my life, I feel closer to God, closer to people, I feel more love. Of course I’m happier. I’d have to be crazy not to be!
24. How soon will I feel something in my meditation?
Here¹s what happened to a friend of mine.
In the early 1970s, Steve was a young man living in Auckland, New Zealand. He and his friends had become interested in meditation, and they all learned from a yogi, an acarya of Ananda Marga like myself. After learning meditation, Steve practised very regularly, for thirty minutes twice a day but he didn¹t feel any effect. After a week or two he began to worry and asked his teacher what was wrong. They discussed what he was doing, and the teacher reassured him and told him and that he just needed to be patient and keep practising.
Meanwhile, all Steve¹s friends were enjoying their meditation, and some were having nice experiences. He continued. After another two weeks he became really frustrated and came to his teacher again and said he was not sure if he could go on. The teacher told him, “We are having a weekend meditation retreat in two weeks time. I am sure that if you keep practising, and come to the retreat, something will happen.”
Reluctantly Steve agreed to keep trying. He was afraid that if he gave up, his friends would ridicule him, so he kept at it but began to hate meditation. By the time the time for the retreat came around he didn’t even want to go, but since he had said he would, he couldn’t easily back out without looking like a failure.
The retreat was on Waihiki Island, and everyone had planned to meet at the ferry in the morning. Now it happened that Steve’s house was infested with wood eating insects called Bora. Since he was going away, he planned to ignite a ‘Bora Bomb’ – a canister of poisonous gas which kills these insects and stops them eating all the wood; otherwise they will eventually make the house fall down.
So he put his luggage outside, lit the ‘Bora Bomb’, came out and locked the door. When he got to the bus stop he realised he had forgotten his wallet. Part of him thought, “Great! Now I’ll miss the bus and I’ll miss the ferry and I won’t have to go to the retreat”. But he thought he still had to try to get there in case he was interrogated by his friends, so he ran home. Then he had to wait for his breathing to slow, as the house was full of poisonous gas. By the time he had caught his breath, gone inside holding his breath, retrieved his wallet, and got back to the bus stop, the bus had gone.
“Good”, he thought, “but I suppose I should try to hitch hike”. He was confident that no one would stop as he had tried to do it before and never succeeded in getting a ride from this stop. So he put out his thumb. The first car stopped.
“Where are you going?” the driver asked.
“To the ferry.”
“No problem, I¹m going there too.”
He was caught.
He arrived at the ferry just in time to meet his friends and then he was stuck on the island for a weekend meditating and chanting and eating vegetarian food, all of which he was now beginning to detest. His meditation was worse than ever and he was completely depressed. Everyone else was so happy and high and he thought maybe he was the only person in the world who could not meditate.
If they had not been on an island he would have left and gone home.
Finally the last meditation session of the retreat began, and he thought, “This is the last time I am going to meditate in my whole life. Fantastic!” They were all chanting so happily and he was thinking, “So what? Who cares? I just want to get out of here.”
He sat down for what he thought would be the last meditation of his life. Within seconds after closing his eyes he had an amazing experience. He felt as if the top of his head had been removed and was open to the whole universe. He lost all awareness of his body and became lost in a blissful trance. Afterwards he felt overwhelmed and went up to people in tears saying, “It works, it works,” like a fool. So that wasn¹t the last time he practised meditation after all.
A colleague of mine calls that my ‘can opener story’.
So how soon will we feel something in our meditation? Everyone’s mind is different, so it is difficult to answer this question precisely. Some people I know had an incredible experience the first time they sat for meditation. More commonly, people find it hard at first, and begin to enjoy it as they develop more concentration and mental stillness. Some, like Steve, have dramatic tales to tell. Others give up and never find out what might have happened if they had persisted just a little longer. One important thing to realize from Steve’s story is that all those weeks when he thought nothing was happening during his meditation were actually an essential part of the process, and that a deep change was going on within him all along. It just took some time to come to the surface.
If we really want to know how long we will have to practise meditation before we too can taste its benefits, there is only one way to find out. The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll know.
So let us close our eyes and open our minds, and accept that meditation practice involves an effort. If you undertake this wonderful practice with sincerity, I am sure you will long thank the day that you did.
“You can chase a butterfly all over the field and never catch it. But if you sit quietly in the grass it will come and sit on your shoulder.”
1. What is Ananda Marga?
Ananda Marga (lit. The Path of Bliss) is a spiritual and social service organisation founded in India in 1955 by the great mystic and yogi, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, also known as P. R. Sarkar. It has branches all over the world. Ananda Marga teachers offer free instruction in meditation.
More information can be found at www.anandamarga.org
2. What are the Activities of Ananda Marga?
Ananda Marga teaches meditation, yoga and yoga lifestyle and philosophy. It's social service and cultural branches work in education, disaster relief, community health, publishing, developing model communities, co-operatives and music & the arts.
3. Is Ananda Marga a religion?
Dharma is one, religions are many. Dharma means our true spiritual nature. Someone once asked Anandamurti, "is it not true that there are many spiritual paths, all leading to the same goal?"
He replied, "no. There is only one path. The path of the kundalinii (the latent spiritual potential of every human being), which travels from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. (when the spiritual force of kundalinii reaches the crown of the head, the person attains enlightenment.)
The great religions of the world are theoretically based on the realisations and teachings of great spiritual personalities like Christ or Buddha. But in practice religions tend to be a poor reflection of the teachings of their founders. Many religious dogmas encourage intolerance (the doctrine of 'my way is the only way'). Heartless cruelty (koranic punishments, the Inquisition), irrationality (creationism), injustice (the Hindu Caste system) superstition (deification of humans, false miracles) and exploitation (the priest ordained dowry system, denegration of women, and of nature herself, justified by scripture) have all been widely propagated and practiced in the name of religion.
The founder of Ananda Marga was keenly aware of this problem of spiritual teachings degenerating over time into materialistic or worldly religions. In forming Ananda Marga he took a number of precautions against this tendency. He warned us of this danger by clearly describing the difference between spirituality and religion. There are several factors that lead to the generation of spiritual teachings into dogmatic religion:a. Loss, misinterpretation and mistranslation of the original teachings of the Guru. The highest Truth cannot be expressed in words - it has to be experienced directly. However, the words of a truly enlightened person serve as an invaluable guide on the spiritual path. So the preservation of the original philosophy are of primary importance. In our modern age this is far less of a problem than it was for Buddha or Christ. The exhaustive writings of P.R Sarkar – the basis of the philosophy of Ananda Marga, have been preserved and reproduced so that it is hardly conceivable that they will ever be lost. Many of the translations were personally checked by their author, who spoke many languages. He even wrote several volumes of a dictionary, where he recorded the precise meaning of thousands of words in his native Bengali, to assist in the future interpretation of his writings. b. Loss of spiritual practices that the preceptor taught, and resulting loss of quality in the spiritual experience and awareness of followers.The meditation and other practices of Ananda Marga are likewise recorded in great detail. A school of more than 1000 teachers or Acaryas was established in the founders own lifetime to pass these practices on down through the generations.c. Religion becoming a political institution. Ananda Marga monks and nuns are proscribed from holding any political office, and Ananda Marga is not a political organisation. d. The development of superstition.
It is a fundamental precept of Ananda Marga philosophy from the outset that spirituality should not contradict rationality, and that dogma and irrational superstition are the enemies of humankind. e. Belief in a creed becomes more important than practice and personal realisation, and spiritual practice degenerates into empty ritual. The emphasis throughout Ananda Marga teachings is on practice, not on belief. Membership of Ananda Marga is defined not by what a person attests to but by what they do. Members of Ananda Marga ('margiis'), practice meditation twice a day, follow the ethical principles of Yama & Niyama (see the appendix of my book) and engage in social service. Anyone who does not do these things is not considered a member of Ananda Marga and is not entitled to hold any position in the Ananda Marga organisation. To merely attest to a philosophy does not make one a yogi. This is probably one of the reasons why Ananda Marga is not a much larger organisation.
1. What kind of music do you play?
I call it Spiritual Eco-Folk. Some people assume that because I’m a yogi and into Indian spirituality, I will play New Age or Indian music. Well I don’t. I’m a spiritual folk singer.
I usually play solo, or with a small acoustic group. I've been told I sound a lot like Cat Stevens (I wish). My music might remind you of Simon & Garfunkel, or even the Beatles.
The lyrics are important to me - since most of my songs are on spiritual or ecological themes I call my music ‘Spiritual Eco Folk’.
2. What are your musical influences?
I started playing the piano when I was 6 years old and studied classical music until I was 20. Then I took up guitar, singing and song-writing. That classical background is a strong element in my musical mental makeup – you can probably hear it in my guitar parts. I have years of Mozart and Bach and Beethoven somewhere in the back of my mind.
But I’ve also listened to a lot of early 70’s rock – The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Santana, the Beatles, and that has left a deep impression.
Since getting into yoga I've done a lot of kiirtan (chanting of mantras) and have developed a taste for Indian classical music, and world music.
My lyrics are tinted with the Renaissance poetry I studied in University, as well as mystical poets like Tagore & Rumi, and even modern progressive rock lyricists like Jon Anderson. A bit of an eclectic mix.
3. What’s so special about music?
Today music permeates our lives. In the car, at work, at the supermarket, in the elevator – it is difficult to get away from. At home we can choose to listen to practically any music we want and think little of it. But there was a time when only the privileged few ever heard the great masters play. Now we can download their works from the internet. With such an abundance of choice, sometimes we lose our appreciation of music’s sacred origins, and how it affects us.
Sound is a part of our environment that influences us in subtle ways. When you watch a good movie, you may be unaware of the music and how it affects the whole mood of the film, but even if you don’t think about it, you certainly feel it. Music has a profound effect on our emotions. Consider the different experiences of hearing wind in the trees, or the ocean breaking, compared to the sound of traffic, or fingernails screeching on a blackboard. We are constantly surrounded by sound, and just because we forget about it does not mean that it has no effect.
As Yoda might have said, 'never underestimate the power of music'.
Nowadays much research has been started on the effects of different kinds of music on our physical and mental health – today music therapy is being used in thousands of medical institutions all over the world.
The healing power of music is not a new discovery. The earliest musicians were aware of this.
The first music was probably created to create particular moods. Tribal chanting and drumming is used to induce a trance or ecstatic state. Indian classical musicians developed a highly sophisticated system using complex rhythms and different scales that change to reflect the moods of different times of day and year. An inspired adept can weave a spell that transports the listener beyond the circles of the world to feel the touch of eternity.
Spiritual chanting or kiirtan, an old tradition in India, but only recently becoming popular in the West, can have a similar effect and is an important adjunct to meditation practice. But we do not have to look to India to find sacred music – Christianity has it’s own tradition of uplifting sacred music.
Then there is folk music, where the minstrel or troubadour sings of the lives of ordinary people, of their dreams and loves, and touches their hearts, hopefully inspiring some hope of a better future. Folk music takes many forms – a voice of the oppressed and a chorus of protest, stirring our hearts with a sense of righteousness.
Music is powerful. It can transform us spirituality, and it can become a cry for justice for those who have no voice of their own.
4. Why do you think it is important to sing the kind of songs you write?
My Guru was not a trained musician but he wrote more than 5000 songs. In some of his discourses he discusses at length the important role of music in society. When speaking of the arts in general, he says that ‘Art is for Service and Blessedness.”
In this materialistic era I think we would do well to heed these words.
My own music is no-where near as sophisticated as the ragas of the musical sages of India, or as complex as western classical music. I write and play spiritual folk music.
But I hope that my songs resonate with those who yearn for the touch of divine love, and in those songs where I make some social commentary I hope to strike a common chord of compassion for the world and it’s creatures. I endeavour to remind people of our connection with all life, and to awaken that feeling of oneness with others. I address issues of species extinction, climate change, poverty, oppression – issues of common concern, for anyone who loves our world, and would love to make it a better place.
5. How could I get you to come and play in my town?
Don’t be shy to invite me. I’m not a big star, accustomed to playing to thousands of people, though I have occasionally done this. I often do house concerts for quite small groups. I enjoy the intimate atmosphere. But if I'm travelling any distance I'd want to do more than one performance, and you would need to figure out how to get enough people together to make it worth-while, and financially viable. If you live close to somewhere I’m touring anyway, this is may be easier than you think. If you live in Antarctica it may be more difficult. But then I’ve been looking for an excuse to visit Antarctica – I want to meet that penguin from ‘Happy Feet’ – what was his name… Mumble, that’s right.
1. How come you are a kind of pop musician when you are a monk?
I was a musician long before I was a monk, and I actually gave up music to become a monk. But a couple of years after completing my training, I was given the duty of supervising the music department of our mission in Australasia, and by degrees I developed a way to use music to express my spiritual ideas and feelings. I find that it is a great way to inspire people about spirituality. You might like to think of my songs as philosophy lectures set to music!
2. How come you aren’t more serious? Your blog doesn’t seem like what I’d expect from a Yoga monk.
Didn’t I tell you? I don’t write that blog. It’s written by a strange alien who occasionally takes over my body.
But seriously, many people have the impression that to be ‘spiritual’ we have to be terribly grave. I think this is a great misconception – in life we seek happiness and laughter and humour are an important part of that.
I write songs about serious issues, and some of my friends complain because I write too many sad songs. Telling jokes helps to compensate for this. So I try to take myself less seriously, and to take my spiritual duty more seriously.
My Guru had something beautiful to say about this:
“I want to see you all laughing. It gives me great pleasure to see you all laughing.”
3. Why did you decide to become a monk?
This could be a multiple choice:
a. Because no-one wanted to marry me.
b. Because I couldn’t hold down an ordinary job.
c. Because I really like the orange hat.
d. None of the above.
The correct answer is of course ‘d’ – none of the above. I did not become a monk for any negative reason or because I could not adjust with a more ordinary life.
The real reason I became a monk is this. In 1975 I learned about meditation and the philosophy of Ananda Marga, from a monk like myself. In a remarkably short time I experienced tremendous benefits from this practice, and understood that I’d learned something that could really help me become the kind of person I’d like to be. I felt that the best thing I could do with my life would be to dedicate myself to the propagation of these teachings as a monk of Ananda Marga.
I chose not to marry because this work is so demanding that it would allow me to fulfil the responsibilities of a family man.
4. How do you earn your money?
Money? What money???
As a full time missionary for Ananda Marga, I receive a limited amount of support from our members. But in recent years I’ve survived mainly from the proceeds of my CD and book sales. So please don’t hesitate…
I am also often involved in fund raising for Ananda Marga service work in poorer countries.