Question: What is the difference between meditating on something like a mantra and meditating on nothing at all, that is, on no particular mantra, thought or phrase? Will there be different results?

Swami Satchidananda: No. But you have to teach me, how to meditate on nothing. I don’t know who asked this question, but I’d like to learn from that person how to meditate on “nothing.” How would you meditate on nothing? You simply sit there: “I’m meditating on nothing, I’m meditating on nothing.” Is this how such a meditation would go? See? You’re meditating on nothing. Unfortunately, you can’t meditate on nothing. You cannot meditate on nothing, because the mind has to be stuck on at least one thing.

We’re meditating on many things at the same time in our daily lives. That’s why none of this “meditating on nothing” bears good results. Because our concentration is dissipated, the meditation loses its power. If you meditate on one thing, that object of meditation gets all the power of the mind. So, if you meditate on one thing at a time, you can get whatever you want. To quote the ancient South Indian scripture, the Thirukkural, “Whatever you want, you will get if your want is so powerful, so concentrated and with your totality of the mind.” Sure, the mind has that kind of power; it can create anything. It can give you anything. But you have to want whatever it is powerfully, strongly, deeply, collectively and without any dissipation. Then, the next point is that you should decide what you want.

As an example, you can meditate on a monkey. What will you get? You’ll get monkey. As you think, so you become. Think deeply on monkey, you become monkey. Think deeply on hatred, you become hatred. So, if you’re going to practice and think deeply and get what you want, you should know what to think about to make you comfortable and happy. That’s the next point. Therefore, select what you’re going to think about. It’s for this reason that we say to think of a mantra. That mantra has two purposes: one purpose is to make your mind strong, clear and collected; the next one is that when you concentrate on the mantra for a long time, it slowly dissolves and you’re no longer repeating the mantra. Finally, even that goes away, and your mind becomes still.

This means that your mantra, with your mind, is collected to one point, to one thought at the cost of all other thoughts. Your final goal is to make the mind “thoughtless,” but you start with that one mantra, and then the mantra brings you the real benefit: it slowly dissolves. That is to say, the mind becomes thoughtless, free of disturbances. We can call that mantra a catalytic agent, something like soap. Why do you use soap? You use it to get out all the dirt from a cloth, right? What is soap, after all? Soap is also a dirt; it’s good-looking, good-smelling “dirt” that’s been given a good name like “Palmolive, Dial, Ivory” and this and that. You buy that soap like you “buy” your mantra.

Apply the soap to the dirt, and when the soap gets mixed together with all the dirt, how does it get mixed up? All the dirt, when it sees new dirt coming in, in the form of soap, gathers to welcome the new dirt. “Oh! Where are you from? How are you? What’s your name?” The dirt that’s already there receives the new dirt called soap. The laundryman knows the right moment, and he dips the cloth in the water and then takes it out. The cloth comes out of the water free of all the dirt, and the new dirt that we call soap, stays in the water. When you pick up your laundry, do you say, “No, no, no. I paid for this dirt, so it should remain in the cloth.”? No, because it has served its purpose. In the same way, your mantra is soap. Apply that soap well, so that all the dirt gets involved in the mantra; and, then, they all leave you completely free.

That’s why you use a mantra. You cannot meditate on nothing. Even meditating on nothing is a mantra: “Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.” Anything is a mantra. Mantra need not be only Hari OM, Ram, this and that. Anything can be a mantra. Actually, there were mantras like that.

Once upon a time, a saintly person saw a hunter in the jungle, and he saw him going around and killing animals. The saint felt pity on the hunter, and said to him, “Why are you unnecessarily killing all those animals? God will not forgive you. But if you repeat God’s mantra, the name, it will save you from all these sins.

“I don’t know anything about mantras or anything like that.”

“What kind of sound do you know?” asked the saint.

Just at that time, a pig ran by.

“I can make a sound of the pig. Here: Hrmmm!” cried the hunter.

The saint replied, “Okay, that is your mantra.” This sound became a Hrim mantra.

Another saint, with another hunter, wanted to give him the mantra of “Ram. Rama, Rama, Rama.”

The hunter said, “I don’t know any ‘Rama’“

“Okay, what is that over there?” asked the saint, pointing to a tree.

“Well, that’s a mara.” (Mara means “tree.”)

“Okay, repeat ‘Mara, mara, mara.’”

So, the hunter began repeating “Mara, mara, mara, mara, mara, mara, marama . . . Rama.”

We can use any trick to give one thing as an object to focus on so that the mind will dwell on that alone. Why? Because you can’t meditate on nothing. Stick to one thing, and that will take you to nothing. That’s why, something is better than nothing. Then, ultimately, nothing is better than everything.

Question: What should we do about intruding thoughts and desires during meditation?

Swami Satchidananda: One way is to treat the thoughts as an unwanted visitor. To give you an example, you’re in your room, and you’re doing something intensely. All of a sudden, somebody walks in without any appointment. You look at him through the corner of your eye and realize that this is not the time to see him. How will you deal with him? There are three ways to deal with this intruder. One way is to respond immediately: “Why do you come without an appointment? Get out!” If you do this, he won’t go out happily. Instead, you’ll make an enemy. He might bang the door behind him and even stand outside and shout. You can’t force him out. That would be a terrible thing to do. Likewise, don’t try to force intruding thoughts out of your meditation. You’ll only create tension.

The second way is: you know he’s there and you don’t even look at him. You seem to be very busy, deeply involved in something. Even if he calls to you, your ears don’t hear him. He’ll wait and wait, eventually coming to this realization: “I see that he is very busy; I’ll come again.” Then, he’ll walk out.

On the other hand if he becomes adamant and ends up taxing your patience, then you say, “All right. Yes, sir? What can I do for you?” Here, you use the third method: analysis. Let’s examine the third method within the meditative situation. You’re sitting and meditating and a desire to eat or to go to the cinema comes into your mind. If you can’t ignore or avoid that thought, take it and analyze it: “All right, you want to take me to the cinema? Fine; how many films have you seen all these days? With what benefit? What is going to be different about this one over the others? What will benefit me more, the cinema or this meditation?” Analyze, question the desire, and educate the desire itself.

“Well, I doubt that I’ll get much benefit from the cinema.”

“Okay. Then why can’t you wait? I’ll certainly oblige you later. Let me finish meditating. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the cinema.”

Give in a little. Don’t be adamant. It’s necessary to give in a little, but not always. Treat your mind like a child who is naughty and wants this and that. Use your intelligence. Don’t just give in to everything.