Students often ask me if there is one method of meditation that is the best. There is no one particular way of meditation. Meditation is the same process for all of us, no matter what technique we use. It is only the object or idea for meditation which may vary according to the taste and temperament of an individual. The process of meditation is simply to focus the mind on any one chosen thing, either an object or an idea. You can say misers meditate on their money; they want to amass money so they think of their dollars and cents every minute. Scientists meditate on their inventions; atomic scientists meditate on the atom.
You know the maxim, “As you think, so you become.” If you think of something nice, you will become nice. If you constantly think of a monkey, certainly you will become like a monkey. So we suggest you meditate on something higher, something holy, something that will release you from all your limitations, bondages, worries and anxieties. This is where prayer comes in, or a mantra—a beautiful sound vibration. Or you can meditate on God or the form of a holy person—a sage or saint.
The more a person meditates on a divine form, the more his or her mind perceives that form. When the mind is completely taken up with that form, you feel, “I am having the vision of God now.” It’s just like if you meet a nice handsome boy and the impression goes deep into your mind, you will probably have his “vision” in your dream, is it not? In the same way, we get visions of God. Our mind completely accepts that form. So according to your taste, temperament and capacity you can either take a form or a prayer or a mantra.
Meditating with a mantra is something I usually recommend because it is easy—anyone can use this method. The Cosmic Consciousness, which we call God, first expressed Itself as sound. That’s why the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word.” The sound vibration is the very first expression of God. To communicate with that Cosmic sound you can use a sound also. It’s a sound method! That’s why the mantras are given. Keep on repeating it and you tune your mind to that Cosmic wavelength.
It’s something like tuning your radio to the station you want. The Cosmic God transmits different aspects—love, beauty, strength, power and so on—from different wavelengths. If you want to experience God’s beauty, you take a mantra which will tune your mind to the beautiful vibrations of God. If you want divine wisdom, you are given a different mantra.
This mantra method is very direct and the most convenient. You don’t need to carry a form or image or altar or anything around with you to do your meditation. Your mantra is with you wherever you go. Even in the toilet room you can sit and repeat your mantra. There are no formalities.
That is what you see most of the Yoga masters giving as initiation to their students. But, of course, initiation is not merely giving a mantra. They also pass a little of the vibration they have cultivated by their own practice. It’s like a culture which is poured into prepared milk to make the entire pot become yogurt.
But, of course, we don’t discard the other methods. Some people want a form. They keep a picture and worship. Some repeat some prayers. Others sit and watch their own breath. Some analyze their own minds. All these are different techniques of meditation. There’s no one “best” way.
In fact, the ancient sage Patanjali, who is called the “Father of Yoga,” coordinated the thoughts on Yoga in a work called the Yoga Sutras, in which he describes the different forms of meditation. He describes so many methods. He never says, “This is the only one you should do.” He gives hundreds of varieties.
One method he talks about is meditating on the incoming and outgoing breath. In fact this technique has become an important form of Buddhist meditation—the annapanna sati they call it. And if you can’t concentrate on the breath, they say to concentrate on the movement of the stomach which is caused by the breathing. You are even allowed to put your hand there. From there you are asked to feel the breath and then to listen to the sound of the breath.
At that point you will be hearing the mantra “Soham” or “Hamsa.” It is the breath’s sound. It is called “ajapa japa,” the japaless japa or unrepeated repetition. Maybe I’m confusing you with so many terms, but it’s helpful to know because one day a teacher will come and say, “I am teaching something totally new and superior … ajapa japa!”
So there are many, many methods. If you begin to pull one link of a chain, the entire chain comes to you. It doesn’t matter which link you begin pulling. Unfortunately sometimes one teacher will say, “Hold this chain link and pull,” while another one says, “No, no. you must hold only this link and pull, only then will the chain come.” But a teacher who sees the overall picture will say, “Both links are linked to the same chain. It doesn’t matter where you pull, you will get the whole chain. Pull. Don’t even worry about which link is to be pulled. If you get one link, pull. If another has a different link, let him or her pull that.”
And even after Patanjali gave so many varieties of meditations, he felt that still somebody might say, “I’m not interested in any of these things. Is there anything else?” Expecting such a question, Patanjali wrote, “Okay, whatever is appealing to your taste, meditate on that.”
There is a beautiful example in the life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Once a student came and said, “You say we should meditate on God and these mantras, but I’m not interested in all that. I don’t even know who they are or what they mean. How can I meditate on something I don’t like and can’t understand? Could I meditate on something I know?”
When you want to meditate on something, you must love that thing. If you don’t, you can’t meditate on it. And if you do love it, nobody even needs to tell you, you will always be meditating on it, is it not? Meditation becomes easy. This is what you call the “Ishtam” or beloved. We say “Ishta mantra,” the beloved mantra, or “Ishta Devata,” the beloved Deity—something which is very dear to you.
So Ramakrishna said, “Okay, what is it that you love best?” “Well, I’m just a farmer. I have a nice buffalo at home which I love more than anything else.” “Fine, meditate on your buffalo.”
“Swami, are you sure? That’s so easy for me.” “Go and do it then.” So he went home, sat down in a room and started visualizing his beautiful, beloved buffalo until it appeared to him in his vision. There was the buffalo, just wagging its tail and smiling at him. He sat there, totally involved in the vision of his beloved buffalo. He forgot his food, his sleep, everything—he was totally drawn into his vision.
His concentration became so intense that he felt he was the buffalo. As I said, what you think, you become. That is the fruit of meditation. You forget your original entity, your individuality, and you feel “I am that.” When one great being (Jesus) meditated on his Father, at a certain point he meditated so intensely on the Father that he lost himself and became one with the Father.
So, here was this farmer meditating on the buffalo and he became the buffalo. His wife really got scared. She ran to Ramakrishna and said, “Swami, he won’t even come out of his room. He just sits there; he won’t eat or sleep. I don’t know what to do.”
So Ramakrishna came and questioned the farmer. “Why don’t you come out now?” “Swami, unfortunately my horns are so wide I can’t get out of the door.” “Is that so? Okay, then chop off those horns.”
“Do you really want me to do that, Gurudev?” “Yes, you have to come out, no?” So he did that, all with his imagination. Then he just tried to push the body out the door. The head came out but the body couldn’t come.
“Okay, take sword, chop off the head. The head is more important than the body. At least let the head come out.” So the man did that.
And you know when the head is chopped off, an animal dies, is it not? So just at that moment, the man felt that his body was dead and a bright light, the spirit, was being released. Because of his complete concentration and the indrawn quality of his mind he was able to realize the spirit.
The fact is, with any method of meditation, at the very end of your practice you will have to renounce the form which has been so beloved to you and on which you have meditated for so long. Then you realize the Truth, the Light, the Spirit.
So this story shows you need not even ask what is the best method or on what you should meditate. Choose anything you want—but meditate. Probably if you meditate on a buffalo, you will have all the problems of chopping off the head… so it’s nice to begin with the light right away, then you don’t need to undergo all this process.
Of course, sometimes teachers do say, “This method is the best. Why? To create an interest in you They may not necessarily be fanatics. Unless they tell you, “You have the very best, the most unique,” you won’t cherish it. That is unfortunately what happens to many seekers. They get initiation but they don’t work with it. They just go and say, “Hey, I got the best form of meditation,” They brag about it but they never do it. So a teacher will normally say, “This has been given only to you. You should not even tell others. Just go work with that.” If you are allowed to talk about it, probably you will just go advertise. Knowing the psychology, the teachers put certain restrictions
So it doesn’t matter what you choose: take it, use it—and ultimately you will get the result. If you are serious and sincere in what you are doing, your time for Self-realization will be shortened.
By Sri Swami Satchidananda