The Tree of Knowledge
The Secrets of Meditation
— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
This weekend Art of Living devotees will be celebrating Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s (Guruji) birthday which falls on 13 May with Pujas, a Yagya for Global Peace — Making a Difference for the Planet and its People — Satsangs, Seva (service to the community) and meditations. We wish to take this opportunity to share with our readers Guriji’s discourse on the secrets of meditation.
Is meditation foreign to you? Absolutely not! This is because you have been in meditation for a couple of months before your birth. You were in your mother’s womb doing nothing. You didn’t even have to chew your food, it was fed directly into your belly and you were there happily floating in the fluid, turning and kicking, sometimes here and something there, but most of the time happily floating there. That is meditation. So there is a natural tendency in every human being, in every soul to crave for that state when you are in absolute comfort. So getting back to that state which you have had a taste of just before coming into the hustle, bustle of this world is very natural because in this universe everything is cyclic, everything wants to go back to its source, and that is the nature of the world.
Becoming fresh again, alive again is what mediation is. Getting back to that serenity which is your original nature is meditation. Meditation is food for the soul, so there is a natural craving for food, isn’t it? When you are hungry, spontaneously you go to eat something. If you are thirsty you want to drink some water. In the same way, the soul yearns for meditation and this tendency is in everyone. That is why I say, there is not a single individual on this planet who is not a seeker. It’s just that they don’t know it, they don’t recognize it. We try to look for that food where it is not available, that is the problem.
It is like you going to a grocery shop when you want to fill gas in your car. It won’t work. So the right direction needs to be found and that is what we are going to explore.
First way is through physical means; through yoga and through physical exercise. When our body does certain postures, with a certain rhythm, it brings some tiredness and then the mind slips into meditation. It is very interesting to see. If you are very active you can’t meditate, at the same time, if you are too well rested, you can’t go into meditation. But in a state where the body has the right amount of tiredness, yet still not that tired, in that very delicate balance, the mind slips into meditation, or your whole system slips into meditation.
So first is through the physical. Second is through prana or through breath. Through breathing you can get into meditation. Sudarshan Kriya is one of the best examples. After pranayama and Sudarshan Kriya, when you sit for meditation you slip into it effortlessly. So a breathing technique is one way to get into meditation.
The third is through any sensory pleasure – through sight, sound, taste, smell or touch. The five sensory organs are related to five elements – earth, water, air, fire and ether. A different combination of these five elements is what this universe is made of, and these five elements are connected to the five senses that we have. Fire is connected with the eyes, smell with earth element, taste with water element, sound with ether element and touch is connected with air element. If you are in water or a swimming pool, you don’t feel touch so much. Have you noticed that? Not so much but a little bit, this is because the five elements are present in each one of them. There is air element even in water, but to a small degree. So these five elements in the universe are connected to the five senses. And you can go through any one of the senses to transcend them and become one in a very deep meditative state.
The fourth way is through emotions. Through emotions also you can get into meditation. Then the fifth is through the intellect.
Emotions can lead you to a state of meditation; both positive and negative emotions, not only positive. A state of shock can also take you into meditation. If you have been into a space museum, you are in a different state of consciousness when you come out of the museum. There is a different context, because you have seen yourself in the context of the universe. Who are you? What are you? Where are you? How are you in reference to the unfathomable, infinite universe? If you have studied Quantum physics, you start to see that everything is just atoms, just a wave function, just energy. If you really listen to Quantum physics and then you study Vedanta or the Art of Meditation or Yoga, you will find striking similarities. You will find that the same language is being spoken.
Adi Shankara said, ‘All that you see doesn’t exist.’ One of the top scientists of our times, Dr Hans-Peter Durr said, ‘I studied matter for the last 35 years, only to find out that it does not exist! I have been studying something that does not exist.’ So, through knowledge also you can experience a state of meditation. But about the secrets of meditation?
There is a difference in the Orient and in the occident when it comes to secrets. In the occident, anything that is shameful is kept a secret. In the Orient anything that is sacred is kept a secret. I find a startling difference between the two. If you say something is very secret, it must be very sacred. That is the attitude in the orient — a shameful act is never kept a secret, it is always confessed. There is nothing to hide there. But what is to be secret is one’s mantra – a sound which is kept very secret in the mind. Why is it kept secret? It is said that mantras are like seeds and seeds sprout in secrecy. You put the seed under the ground and cover it with mud and then the seed sprouts and becomes a tree. Of course the sprouts you eat are different.
Anything that you keep to yourself as a secret does not leave you but it takes you deeper and deeper to the subconscious layers. That is one of the reasons for confession also. Why do you confess and say something out? In order that it does not go deep into your consciousness. A mistake or sin that you did, once you confess, it just goes out. It no longer goes in and bothers you. But the mantra, a sound which has been given, and that too by one who is deep into meditation helps you go deeper.’ Here the meaning of the sound is not important, just the vibration is important. Understanding the meaning is superficial compared to the vibrational aspect of any sound.
It could be the same sound which everybody knows. Spiritual journey is considered very sacred, very personal and yet a matter of pride. You are getting a secret sound and that is a big pride because it is sacred. Meditation happens in transition. Actually meditation happens, you can’t do it. You can only create a congenial atmosphere for it to happen.
Somewhere in the teenage the mind starts drifting. It doesn’t happen before teenage. Before the hormones become active in our body it does not happen. A child’s mind is always focused on something and it sticks there. But as the hormones in our body starts functioning more and more, the mind starts swinging and wavering, and that focused attention becomes less and less.
In earlier days, before this happened, before someone gets into their teenage, they used to train him or her in yoga and meditation. So all through the teenage when the mind is swinging and going here and there, already a youth is trained how to handle the mind. It is a very good age to start, at eight or nine years old. Just before the hormonal changes start appearing is the right time to initiate one into meditation, yoga and all the martial arts. Body is ready and is flexible and mind is ready. This is most ideal, but any time is good to start meditation, any age is okay. But the most ideal is to start at eight or nine years old. Today, even eight and nine years old kids have such a wavering mind. So many things influence the child. Like food has an influence on the mind, environment has an influence, lifestyle has an influence. So many things have an influence. But all those influences are minor. Let us understand, meditation is uplifting the energy and spreading it out. Uplifting the mind and spreading it all out. Sound does this to meditation. Sound uplifts you and sound can also shrink your consciousness. How? Okay I will give you an example, whenever you experience pain, what is the sound that comes out of you? You say, ‘Ha’.
This is all over the world, from Mongolia to Tierra Del Fuego. You go anywhere and ask any kid or anybody, what does one say when they experience some pain, they say, ‘Ha’. Nobody says, ‘Ho’, when pain happens.
The sound ‘Ho’ comes when there is astonishment.
Now when you say, ‘Ha’, where is the prana? You will see it is on the lower portion of the body.
Now when you say, ‘Ho’, the prana is in the middle portion of the body, the thorax region. This is when there is surprise or astonishment; ‘Ho! I didn’t know.’
We say, ‘Wah!’ This is when there is even more astonishment. Then the prana is high in the throat and upper region. The life force is higher.
And then when you laugh, what is the sound that comes out? ‘He he he he.’ There is a ‘He’ sound in every genuine laughter.
When you say, ‘He’, what is happening? A sense of genuine expansion happens. See whenever you have been happy, that happiness has been associated with a sense of expansion. And whenever you have felt miserable, that has been associated with a sense of shrinking or contraction. There is something in you which expands when you are happy and contracts when you are unhappy. But we never pay attention to what is contracting and expanding. We are only keeping our attention outside.
We see the reason outside, but that is really not the reason. We have not paid attention to the reason. There is something inside that is expanding and that is contracting.
One of the sages of the past, Gaudapadacharya, he has said, ‘There is something in you that is expanding that is worth knowing.’
Even a glimpse of this consciousness, this energy inside you, can make the smile on your face so strong that nothing whatsoever can take it away from you. Nobody can make you miserable; nobody can take away the joy from your life. Life assumes another dimension suddenly; just a glimpse of this, an idea about that something inside us that is expanding. So this expansion is always connected with laughter, joy and the sound ‘He’.
If there is a ‘Ha’ in one’s laughter, that is a villain’s laughter.
‘Ha ha ha ha! See I told you. You fell because you didn’t listen to me. Look what happened!’
Just by listening to the laughter you can find out what type of laughter it is. Whether it is sarcastic, it is teasing or it is out of arrogance or anger.
Even angry people laugh but it is a different kind of laughter. The sound is different. A genuine child like laughter has a ‘He’ in it.
So, today we are going to meditate using two sounds. We are going to say ‘Ho’ six times with full force and energy. And then the seventh time we are going to say ‘He’. We have seven energy centers in our body corresponding to the endocrine system. Again these are sacred centers.
Don’t confuse this to be a mantra meditation, no! This is a guided meditation. Guided meditation is good to give you a glimpse of meditation. When you want to do it on your own, it is better you take a mantra meditation – Sahaj Samadhi. Of course sometimes you can put on a CD and just sit and do guided meditation also. Time to time, but not every day; mantra meditation you can do every day and anywhere. Sit and take your mantra, let go and be with it.
Okay! Ready?! So buckle up.
Sit comfortably, spine erect and body relaxed.
You know, sometimes people sit with their body so stiff for meditation. The whole time they will be so body conscious and what comes out of them is only anger later on because they put so much effort, and that effort and stiffness doesn’t really bring in that meditative quality.
If you have meditated, you should feel light like a flower, where your inside feels so soft, beautiful, delicate, delicious and comfortable. But if you feel uptight, angry and upset inside then mediation has not happened. Now don’t sit and think, ‘Oh I have to feel very soft and gentle, and whatever Guruji said. This has to happen.’ It is not going to happen because the anxiety itself will be a block for that to happen. That is why I said it is a very delicate situation. You cannot expect things to happen, you simply have to be. Just be!
Experiences come, they change and they go. Everyday there will be different experiences, never mind, just the procedure needs to be correct. Procedure is what, not being uptight and at the same time not being loose in the body. If you start with your body being loose then it doesn’t work. If you start with lying down on your coach with your legs up, thinking you are meditating, you are fooling yourself. It is not going to work. It is not like the way you watch television, with a bag of potato chips. ‘Oh, by eating also you can get into meditation. Guruji has said it’, no! Your spine erect but body relaxed, your shoulders relaxed, you start like that. Not stiff but your shoulders are relaxed and head is straight. Then you close our eyes and let go.
During meditation if the head goes down, it is okay. Your head may go down or go to the side, whatever position it takes is fine. But you don’t start with that.
The best example is how a coat hangs on a hanger. Like that the body is hanging, just the spine is erect.
You are welcome to contribute. Write to: