Japanese Tea Ceremony

Continuous meditation is meditation in daily life. It reminds me of the well-known tea ceremony in Japan. It’s a way of welcoming a guest into your home. And when the guest comes, you just give them a cup of tea, which we normally do, but in Japan, giving a cup of tea becomes a ceremony, a sort of meditation. If you just sit and watch them, you see how carefully they pick up the ingredients, prepare the place, and put the pot on the stove. You notice how mindfully they pour the water from one bowl into the heating pot. Not even a single action misses their attention. Even after pouring the water, the spoon is cleaned and wiped with a small piece of tissue—even that is done so carefully. They pick the spoon up, wipe it out, and then gently, put it down.

Sometimes, when we go into the kitchen, all the pots and pans, the spoons, and foods rattle around. But in a Japanese tea ceremony everything is done with total attention, total concentration. That’s a sample of how we should normally function. But of course you might wonder, “If I had to take the spoon, put it  down very slowly in one place, slowly bring it up and put it down in another place, the whole day will be spent only for that. What am I supposed to do to finish the rest of my work?” But that’s how you learn—like a person who wants to learn to play the piano. You have to look at every key before playing to put the appropriate finger on the proper key. Everything has to be done slowly—that’s the way we begin. But when you go to Carnegie Hall, you don’t look at your fingers to know which goes on what key. It wouldn’t be a concert. By then you would have gotten used to everything and you wouldn’t see the key at all. You just look at the audience and the hands flow. That means, in the beginning, you have to be very attentive. Once you get used to that, things become natural but still the attention is there. You can do something faster with proper attention; it doesn’t need to be always slower. The mind simply follows.

In the Indian art form called Bharata Natyam, the eyes follow the fingers. The eye should follow the hand and the mudras. They do it very fast and that is what you call meditation in action. Your sitting quietly and learning to meditate for a half an hour or one hour morning, noon, and evening should not stop there with your saying, “I meditate three times a day.” That means that at other times, you don’t meditate? Out of the 24 hours, probably you are in meditation for an hour and a half. The rest of the time, you don’t meditate at all? So what will form your character? What will predominate in your life? Your unmeditative actions. Your half an hour or one hour meditation in the morning, should permeate every action of your day-to-day life. When the totality of the mind is applied to something, you can never go wrong; you will always achieve success. Success depends on our one-pointed concentrated effort.

Thiruvalluvar, a Tamil poet and philosopher once wrote, “Those who wish to achieve something will certainly achieve it without any doubt, if only they wish it 100 percent, not halfheartedly. We often hear people say, “Oh, I’ll try. I hope I will. I may be able to.” There itself, you see the lack of strength behind the words. You need total conviction: “This is what I’m going to achieve! I’m going to apply my entire mind on it!” Actually, that’s what meditation is. It could be applied for anything. I like to tell a joke about someone who is very rich and how he became rich. His friends noticed him constantly murmuring something and they wondered what he was saying. They heard him repeating “Money, money, money, money,” almost as if he was repeating a mantra. He was a well-known a multimillionaire.

If you want money, repeat that mantra. Of course, Hindus will repeat, “Lakshmi, Lakshmi,” because for them, she is the Goddess of Wealth. They even put bundles of money in front of the Lakshmi deity when they go to the temple. Once, when I saw that I wondered if they were worshiping the Goddess or the money! But, it doesn’t even matter because money becomes God in that way. You don’t see money as just money but you see money as something spiritual. It’s a spiritual energy—the Goddess Lakshmi. So when you see money as a spiritual energy, you don’t misuse it. You respect it and you use it for a good purpose. That’s why it is spiritualized. If you just want the money repeat “Money, money, money” and constantly think of it. As you think, so you become. “I want to be rich, I want to be rich.” Likewise, a person who wants to maintain their beauty will constantly think of that. To win a gold medal in the Olympic games, you don’t think of anything else. And that’s all meditation—one-pointed attention. Our normal practice of meditation—what you normally call meditation—during certain hours, should ultimately help you. You are learning to make the mind one-pointed. And then, once you train the mind to stay put on one object or one idea, that trained mind can be used for any purpose. That is the benefit of meditation: putting the mind in one place, one position, on one mantra, one deity, or one quality that you want to develop. Of course, it is easy to say but hard to achieve in the beginning. But perseverance will make you achieve it.

In the beginning the mind will run here and there, and often we hear people say, “My mind seemed to be very quiet but the minute I began to meditate, only then, it started getting all kinds of thoughts. Until I went into the meditation room, it didn’t bother me.” Why is that? Because it is during the meditation that you want to gain a little control over your monkey mind. At other times you don’t bother trying to control it, so it doesn’t bother you. It just has its own free time to do what it wants.

Imagine you have a nice pet puppy that roams around all over the house and jumps wherever it wants. First it jumps on the sofa, then the bed, your lap, and then it lies down quietly and doesn’t bother you much. But one day you are expecting a guest and you don’t want the puppy jumping on their lap and licking their face. So you decide to put the puppy on a leash and tie it up outside. And that’s the worst thing you could do because the puppy will begin to howl. Why? The puppy would feel, Oh well, all this time you left me untied, allowed me to do whatever I wanted and I was quiet and happy. I was the master of the house. At other times, you let the puppy do what it wanted; you didn’t try to control it. But today, you put it on a leash and so it begins to shout because you are disciplining it. The mind is just like that. If you just leave it alone, it will be doing whatever it wants, pull you and drag you here and there. Then it is the master and you are the slave. But in the name of meditation, you are trying to switch the positions. You say, “Be my slave. I’ll be the master. And the mind goes, “Aha! So that’s what you are going to do. Come on let’s see who wins.” And that is why the moment you go to sit for meditation, the mind revolts and it brings in all kinds of thoughts which you probably never thought about for the past several months. You wonder, Where is all this coming from? The mind will run here and there so fast. Every minute the mind will jump from one place to another. But it’s all natural. That is the way the untrained mind works. So we have to reverse that trend.

One thing you can do is to ignore the thought, and keep asserting what you are doing. For example, repeat a mantra very fast, and if that is not enough, repeat it out loud. If you can’t sit still and repeat it, then walk around the meditation room and repeat the mantra while walking. If you cannot control it even then, jump up and down and repeat “Hari Om, Hari Om!” Use your sound, use your body, use your symbols, use everything to keep the mind just within that one area. You are forcing your mind to stay put so that the other thoughts will wait for a little while and then for want of attention they will go away.

If you can’t achieve that, then stop your meditation for a little while. Pick up the thought that came to interfere and begin to analyze it. If you begin to analyze it, very soon you will realize it’s not even worth thinking of. When you are convinced of its worthlessness, dispose of it. So either ignore the thoughts or analyze those thoughts and then dispose of them.

Sometimes you may be doing something that looks selfless, such as donating money to build a church or a temple. But in the process of building a temple, if the mind gets agitated, seems to be losing its peace, sit back and question: Why am I disturbing my peace in building a temple? Then in the background, you will realize you are building it not for God, but for your name. You’re building it so people can praise you, so there is a selfish attitude behind it. Once that attitude is eliminated, you will just be doing it for God. You can think that God prompted you to do and so you are doing it. If it is God’s work, and God’s will, then help will come for whatever needs to be done.

If we put our personal interest into things, our mind can never remain peaceful. So unless our daily life is free from these anxieties, worries, and selfish interests, it’s impossible to focus the mind and meditate on anything. That means, learning to meditate is a continuous process—a constant practice from morning to evening, even during sleep. Meditation is not something you do just a few times a day when you go to sit in your meditation room. Even when you are in your office, do your work as a meditation. Do all your service as a meditation. That is how we spiritualize our entire life and that is what you call meditation in action.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda