In the Hours of Meditation
By F.J. Alexander
Publisher: Hollywood CA: Vedanta Press, 1996.
In the Hours of Meditation is a compilation of articles published in Ashram magazine between 1911 and 1913, arranged here in 30 chapters. Since the original publication of this inspiring book in 1969, it has been continuously in print. Many of the original articles were titled simply “In the Hours of Meditation”, the title used for this book.
These articles were originally written anonymously as ‘a disciple’ or under a pseudonym, but all are by Frank J. Alexander, an American newspaper journalist. Inspired by the writings of Swami Vivekananda, Alexander went to India in 1911 and joined the Advaita Ashram at Mayavati, which was founded by Swami Vivekananda. In 1913 he went from Mayavati to Almora to “live a more intense spiritual life”. Two years later he returned to America to recuperate his failing health. Although Alexander never met Vivekananda, who had died in 1902, he always considered himself a disciple of the Swami and devoted himself to the service of his successors and to the order the Swami had founded. He died in 1917, back in America, of tuberculosis.
Alexander recounts in his articles his experiences of meditation at the ashram. The opening lines of the first chapter paint an inviting picture of that experience:
There are hours when one forgets the world. There are hours when one approaches that region of blessedness when the soul is Self-contained in the presence of the Highest. Then is silenced all clamouring of desire; all sound of sense is stilled. Only God is.
In the hours of meditation, he says, one enters the true temple, the true holy place. “There is no holier sanctuary than a purified mind, a mind concentrated on God. There is no more sacred place than the region of peace into which the mind enters when it becomes fixed in the Lord.”
Meditation, he says, places one in a certain atmosphere, “the atmosphere of the state of meditation”, whose components are “purity, bliss, blessedness, peace”. In this atmosphere, one discovers his own real nature. “In the hours of meditation the soul draws from On High those true qualifications which are of its nature – fearlessness, the sense of reality, the sense of deathlessness.”
The spiritual consciousness dawns in these silent, sacred hours. The soul is close to its source. The streamlet of personality expands in these hours, becoming a mighty, swift-flowing river, flowing in the direction of that true and permanent individuality which is the Oceanic Consciousness of God.
At times his writing style becomes ecstatic, as if he simply cannot express the depth of his experience without many exclamation points. “Peace! Peace! Silent – Audible Peace! Peace wherein the Voice of God is heard. Peace and Silence! Then comes the Voice of God, Audible – Audible within the Silence.” He exhorts the reader, “Draw within thy self, O Soul! Seek thou the silent hour of truth. Know thou thyself to be of the substance of truth, the substance of divinity. Verily, within the heart doth God dwell!”
Throughout the book Alexander discourses eloquently on the wisdom he has absorbed from the teachings of the line of spiritual teachers that he followed. The importance of experience, rather than theory, for bringing about a transformation in the individual is stressed again and again.
A little learning has made thee an intellectual egotist; a greater learning will make thee spiritual. Remember that mind is not the Soul. So let experience pound the mind as it will. It will purify it. That is the main thing. Gradually the Sun of the Soul will pierce the dark clouds of ignorance, and then the goal shall be revealed to thee, and thou shalt be merged in its effulgence.
He emphasizes the need for effort and sacrifice for anyone pursuing the path of meditation. More particularly, he says, one needs the courage and open-mindedness to step beyond the narrow confines of traditional and culturally bound ways of thinking.
Think of the sacrifices made by the worldly in worldly pursuits. Wilt thou not make sacrifice in the spiritual pursuit? Is God to be realized by eloquence or by mere form! Get out from under all sheltering influences. Come out into the open. Make the Infinite thy horizon … come out of thy narrow grooves.
He guides the reader toward an approach to life focused on controlling one’s self, as opposed to judging others, and on developing equanimity:
Over thine own actions thou canst have sway; over the actions of another thou hast no power. His Karma is one; thine another. Do not criticize; do not hope; do not fear! All shall be well. Experience comes and goes; be thou not disconcerted … do not expect; do not anticipate… Remember that thy true Nature is the Ocean, and be unconcerned. Know the mind to be the body in subtle form.
Alexander often strives to capture the experience of meditation in the form of a dialogue between the Guru and the soul of the disciple. He writes, for example, “When the Soul had entered the Silence of meditation, the Guru said: ‘My son, do I not know all thy weaknesses? Why dost thou worry?’” Or, “The voice of the Guru, who is God, speaks: ‘Lo, I am ever with thee’.” These ‘sayings’ of the Guru are always understood to be a communication perceived subtly through the experience of meditation, not a quote from a Guru in human form. For example, he introduces a teaching topic with the words, “And the Voice that dwells in the silence, speaking in the hours of meditation, said unto my soul …” And what is the key message of that Voice, reiterated in one way or another over and over? “Come, My son, into the deep, deep Quiet.”
According to Alexander, Guru Bhakti, or devotion to the Guru, is the key factor in spiritual realization. As he writes: “Before even thou dost worship God, worship the God man!” Alexander makes it clear that he is not talking about worshipping a human being, but rather the subtle reality of the Guru:
Through the supreme expansion of the personality, the Highest Selflessness, which is the Self, is realized. There, Guru, God and thyself, the whole universe are made ONE. See the Guru through the perspective of the infinite. That is the highest wisdom. Through Guru Bhakti thou walkest on the highest path.
Thus, reaching a state of oneness with the Guru is equated with oneness with God and with all creation. In one of the chapters, the “blissful words” which the voice of the Guru speaks to the soul “in the Silence of the hour of meditation” are: “Let thy Mantram be thy Name. Let thy Yoga be the union of thy soul with mine, thy Realization be the conscious knowledge, that in the heart of things, I and thou are ever ONE.”
Following a series of chapters each beginning with a phrase like “the Guru spoke these blissful words to my soul”, in the final chapter Alexander sums up what he has learned through the experience of meditation:
Hearing these words of the Guru in the hours of meditation day by day, I was made conscious of the real relation between Guru and disciple. An immovable, eternal realization hath become mine; and in life, or in death, I know that a Great Living Presence is always nigh, Presence that is unconfined by Time or by Space, a Presence that can know no separation.
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