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Meditation

Meditation has been at the core of many religions and philosophies. Meditation has been accepted to essentially mean a stillness of the mind. This can be in the contemplation of the infinite or on Sunya or zero or nothingness.

The Hindu religion has placed a great emphasis on meditation and many techniques and methods have been developed . Some of the popular schools of thought are Japa , Bhakti and Hatha yog. In Japa yoga a specific syllable or mantra is repeated again and again. Beads are used to keep track of the Japas.  This form, of meditation can be done individually or in a group. The aim is to concentrate the senses on god. Bhakti yoga is not strictly a form of meditation, in the sense that it refers to focused thought of love and devotion to god. Bhakti is more associated with the contemplation of Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. Hatha Yoga is a form of meditation which is more akin to a search for the fountainhood of youth or an elixir of life. This is also called raising the Kundalini which emerges from the energy source called chakras. The most complete treatise on meditation has been written by Patanjali called the Yoga sutras. According to this thought, the aim of meditation is to calm the mind. The brain is usually in a constant state of flux. The agitated mind is unable to retain pure thought or unadulterated vision of god or the universal truth. The phases through which a person has to graduate to attain this steady state have been described by Patanjali. In the beginning the mind is flitting from one thought to another, unable to conquer the train of thought.

A beautiful analogy has been drawn in the Bhagavad-Gita. The mind or the chariot is driven by the five horses which form the senses. The intellect is the charioteer. The horses or the five senses pull, drag and drive the mind in a confused fashion. An untutored mind behaves in this fashion. It flits from one craving to another trying to engorge the senses with the pleasures of the instant. With the mind filled with   distractions, how can it realize the godhead? The solution is to rein in the senses with the intellect. Among all animals, only man is endowed with the intellect and therefore the only one who can attain god. The ultimate end of meditation according to Patanjali is the destruction of primal ignorance   and the realization of and establishment in the essential nature of the Self.

The Buddhist religion is a strong proponent of meditation. The various sub schools of thought have percolated from India to as far away as Japan. Zen is a form mediation practiced in the Far East.  Buddha achieved salvation or enlightenment while meditating under the Bodhi tree. The actual place where he attained Nirvana (Buddhist term for Moksha) is present in modern day Patna in Bihar, India.   There are two types of meditation in Buddhist school of thought: Shamatha and Vipassana, both of which are necessary for attaining enlightenment. Shamantha practices are aimed at developing the ability to focus the attention single-pointedly; Vipassana includes practices aimed at developing insight and wisdom through seeing the true nature of reality.  Some experts argue that Shamanta is a precursor to Vipassana and one has to graduate from the former to the later, whereas some consider these to be two distinct meditation techniques.

Whatever may be the techniques employed, the ultimate aim of meditation is to conquer the mind. The importance and relevance of meditation is felt all the more in this modern world where there is a surplus of riches but totally bereft of happiness. The wretchedness of the mind arises due to the confusion and chaos of the wandering thoughts. The western society is trying to derive happiness by satisfying the senses which is temporary and fleeting. In a sense, the five horses of the mind are running amok uncontrolled and wild. Meditation or a few minutes of absolute silence of the mind can bring enormous relief to an individual. This not only brings   peace of mind, but also makes one acquire the ability to concentrate.

Maybe, it is not yet possible for us, who are living in this era of materialism, to grasp the concept of eternal peace and salvation. The carnal pleasures of the body are too near and too attractive to be ignored. In fact, the mind will reject all thoughts of giving up the bodily pleasures. After all we are not Buddha, who left his palace to meditate in isolation. But it would do us a world of good if we could spend a few minutes contemplating on stillness.

The Hindu way of mediating is to assume a lotus posture. This means sitting erect with both legs crossed and folded. Both the hands should be straight with palm held outward on the knee with the forefinger and the thumb pressed together. The other fingers should remain outstretched. Breathing in slowly with word ’OM’ resonating in the chest and then breathing out slowly. The mind concentrated on anything or nothing at all. ‘OM’ is supposed to be the primordial sound which resonates around the universe and has spiritual connotations. The idea is to keep the mind steady and devoid of stray thoughts and impulses. For some of us this may sound as too simplistic and easy. But when we do sit down to meditate, we realize that we are not able to concentrate for more than a minute and are swamped by idle thoughts. Over a period of time, our levels of concentration would improve and we can hold on to a meditative state for longer. A few minutes of calm can have dramatic effect on our lives. Use of beads is recommended to help in improving concentration. Early morning time is best to sit down for a good session of meditation, since the mind is still not agitated with the routine of the day.  But if one is unable to take out time during morning hours, any other time would be equally effective. A few minutes break during the lunch hour can do the trick. We need to relax and let our mind detach itself from the humdrum of everyday life.


 

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