Meditation is not just a ritual. There is a deep purpose to it. And, by understanding why we meditate, we can be faithful to the meditation practice, no matter what may happen in our life.
In Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III, Maharaj Sawan Singh emphasizes the value of understanding our ideals and goals:
Those who follow a path followed by others without due consideration get involved in some superstition. Their progress stops and they do not get spirituality. It is, therefore, an essential condition of success to keep before you the ideal. Ask of yourself as to what you want to be. What ideal have you set in life?
Since we do want to “get spirituality”, knowing why we do what we do is essential. So, let’s explore some of the reasons we might have for meditating. These reasons can differ from person to person, and they can also change during the course of our lives.
First and foremost, many of us come to the spiritual path because we are seeking truth. We come to feel that there must be more to life than living here in a mindless way; accumulating material possessions, forming human relationships, growing old, and then dying. When that feeling comes in us, then our view of what is really important begins to shift. We cease to be satisfied with the emptiness of life, and we develop an inner desire for something more real and lasting than the external world that is full of turbulence. Saints build on that feeling of emptiness.
Soami Ji says, “Come, my friend, to your true home. Why live in an alien land?” Why does Soami Ji call this world an “alien land”? Because we don’t belong to this world, nor does anything in this world belong to us. We belong to a different land.
Unless we have that awareness and the desire to seek that land, that truth, there is no next step. But, once we have that awareness, there are many ways to seek the truth. For example, we could adopt a belief in a set of religious concepts or doctrines, or we could seek direct experience of the truth within ourselves.
In the book, One Being One, the author illustrates one master’s approach to explaining the difference between a conceptual approach to truth versus direct experience of it.
“What’s an orange?” asks the Zen master of the eager young disciple, and the disciple sets out upon a long conceptual discourse on the nature of oranges. “No!” exclaims the master, taking an orange in his hand and squashing it firmly upon the head of his surprised disciple, “That’s an orange!”
Without experiencing the orange, without experiencing spirituality through meditation as taught by a living Master, the path is just a philosophy; it is not knowing the truth.
So, one reason for meditating is to connect with the truth within us. We come to understand at a deep level that our meditation is our search for truth that can help to sustain us and keep us focused. This is one answer to the question of “why meditate?”.
Obeying Our Master
Another reason we often hear for meditating is, “Because Master wants me to meditate.” This is a wonderful reason to meditate - if this is really true for us.
But, if we honestly look at ourselves and see that we don’t really put in sincere effort in meditation - because we say it’s all in his hands and we can’t do anything - then perhaps we are just fooling ourselves when we say that we are meditating to please him.
Saints definitely want us to meditate. The writings of Soami Ji, Kabir Sahib, and other saints are full of warnings of what will happen if we don’t meditate. They remind us of our death and that our time here is limited. Saints try in one-hundred-and-one ways to encourage us to meditate. Through their charming natures, they make us fall in love with them - and that also inspires us to meditate.
But, the irony is, that despite all that they do to encourage us to meditate, Masters acknowledge that our efforts, limited as they are, will be insufficient to take us back to the Father, who is unlimited.
Yet, somehow, they want that sincere effort coming from our heart, the kind of effort that touches their heart. Otherwise, why would they keep urging us to meditate? Why would Maharaj Charan Singh have spent forty years of his life encouraging us to attend to meditation? Baba Ji also mentions meditation in every satsang. So, if our reason for meditating is to please the Master, then our sincerest and most honest effort must be made.
Feeling Closer to Him
Another reason to meditate is that it makes us feel closer to the Master. In Philosophy of the Masters, abridged, Maharaj Sawan Singh says:
Nearness to God is achieved and felt in two different ways: outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly it is done by keeping the company of saints; but inwardly one cannot attain it unless heart is connected with heart.
Perhaps there have been times in our lives when years and years have gone by without us having an opportunity to see the Master physically, or perhaps we have never seen his physical form at all. The inward connection of meditation is our real link with Master. The body is limited, but the Shabd is not limited. And if we don’t meditate, we are losing the opportunity to do our part to grow that connection and make it real in our lives.
In Die to Live, Maharaj Charan Singh explains that meditation can create the same type of love and devotion in us as personal contact:
In the past, there were only a few people following the saints. They had a personal contact with the saints, and the saints gave their writings mostly from that point of view. That is why the saints have given so much emphasis to love and devotion, which can be created through that atmosphere. But we can create the same love and devotion from within by attending to meditation.
We are fortunate to have a Master with whom we feel a personal connection, someone who jokes with us and listens to all of our questions, patiently and nonjudgmentally. Having that relationship encourages us to follow his teachings, but it is no substitute for the work of meditation. Just because a patient is very friendly with the doctor, that friendship won’t cure his disease; he has to take the medicine prescribed by the doctor. So, in order to feel close to the Master and develop our relationship with him, we must meditate.
Gaining Practical Benefits
Meditation changes our approach to life. It gives us happiness, balance, and clear thinking. Even scientists are beginning to discover the benefits of meditation.
In the June 2011 issue of Scientific American there is an article entitled, “Meditation Correlated with Structural Changes in the Brain”. It states:
Recently scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital had 16 participants take an eight-week mindfulness meditation program…. Brain images were taken of each subject before and after the training. Scientists found increases in gray-matter density in the hippocampus - an area responsible for learning and memory. And they saw decreased density in the amygdala - which is responsible for our anxiety and stress responses.
Over the past decade, there have been numerous studies documenting the positive impact of meditation on the physical brain and body. As practitioners of meditation, we may sometimes feel that our meditation is having no effect or that it is an exercise in futility. When we feel this way, we are simply one hundred percent wrong!
But meditation is not just about brainwaves and blood pressure. Perhaps the biggest benefit of meditation is that our attitude changes to one of accepting the events of our life and not losing our balance.
In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, there is a question and answer with Maharaj Charan Singh on this point:
Question: How can we better accept the conditions of our lives?
Well, that is what the meditation is training us to do; to accept everything which comes in our destiny. Meditation is nothing but training our mind to accept or to live in the Lord’s will. That is the object of meditation: to surrender to him, to keep us in any way he likes. We accept both joy and misery with the same balance, the same attitude.
Sometimes we may think of progress in meditation as being only about inner experiences of sound and light. But, developing an attitude of living in his will is real and tangible progress. And there is nothing more beautiful than this kind of surrender based on the direct experience of meditation.
In Legacy of Love, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
The best plan you can make is to live in his will and accept his commands and be receptive to his grace - that’s the best plan we can make.
Enjoying the Experience
Recently, Master advised a questioner who was seeing light and hearing sound within that it’s best not to bring in the analytical mind at that time. Instead, he said that we should just enjoy the experience, go with it, and give ourselves to it. Master wants us to enjoy our meditation. The experience of enjoying meditation is powerful. Once we begin to enjoy meditation, we’ll never leave it. Even in our daily lives, we always tend to repeat the experiences we enjoy - whether it’s eating certain delicious foods, watching movies, or going to beautiful beaches. The same is true for our meditation. The more we enjoy meditation, the more we are naturally inclined in that direction. And then our whole life becomes meditation, not just the time of sitting.
There is value to understanding why we are meditating, since that awareness can help to sustain our efforts. Our reasons for meditating can change during our lifetime and usually do. We might begin meditating because we are seeking the truth, then we may develop a relationship with Master and meditate to please him, and we may also meditate simply because we enjoy it and see its many benefits in our lives. But, whatever our reason, the main point is to attend to meditation with sincerity. The Master maintains that what we can obtain within through our meditation is vastly superior to anything in this world.
Soami Ji says:
Why do you drink water, O swan soul?
There is an ocean of nectar within you,
which you can drink
just by withdrawing your consciousness inside.
Sar Bachan Poetry
In Love, if you are comfortable for the space of a breath, what right do you have to stand with the lover? You cannot approach the Beloved with your mind sharp as a thorn; become a rose and the Beloved will fall into your arms.
Rumi, as quoted in The Rumi Daybook Translated by Kabir and Camille Helminski