What is meditation?

from The Art & Science of Raja Yoga

Meditation is to religion what the laboratory is to physics or chemistry. Whether one follows the outward forms of religion depends more or less on personal taste, but whether one seeks in his life some of religion’s practical, inner benefits is a matter of life or living death. The reason religion persists in spite of the general worldliness of man is not that a few otherworldly types keep fanning the dying embers, but rather that all human life would be insufferable without at least some of the inner peace that religion offers. The essence of religion is not its ceremonies, nor even its talk of a life hereafter, but its emphasis on an inner life here and now, and on the lasting peace that accompanies this inner life once it is discovered. The true purpose of religion is to point out that human existence on every level is empty when only emptiness is affirmed, and when inner awareness is allowed to become nothing more than an echo of the world, offering nothing creatively to the world in return.

Some people confine their understanding of religion to a reproving frown, or to some pious (and usually fleeting) emotion. They see not that religion is one of the very sinews of a healthy, normal existence. Without ever going to church or reciting a single creed, one can be religious in the true sense of the word. Simple, genuine good will for one’s neighbors is a religious phenomenon. So also is an experience of wonder at the mystery of the vast universe. The central teachings of religion are universal truths of life itself. To reject those teachings is to reject life.

Outward religious practices, of course, without the development of an inner life, are of secondary value. In their practical effects they are rather like trying to fly an airplane with an insufficient wingspread: No matter how much of a "racing start" one gets with them, he can’t quite get up off the ground. Essential to the religious life is an inner unfoldment. Vital to this unfoldment is the daily practice of meditation.

What is Meditation?

It is not, as so many people assume it to be, a process of "thinking things over." Rather, it is making the mind completely receptive to reality. It is stilling the thought-processes-those restless ripples that bob on the surface of the mind so that truth, like the moon, may be clearly reflected there. It is listening to God, to Universal Reality, for a change, instead of doing all the talking and "computing" oneself.

This is how all the great discoveries have been made not by human creation, but by receptivity to rays of inspiration from higher sources than those with which the conscious mind is familiar.

Try meditating every day for at least fifteen minutes (half an hour would be even better). Usually, the best time for meditation will be directly after your practice of yoga postures.

A Meditation Exercise

Sit very straight and still. Think of your mind as a lake. At first, the ripples of thought may seem very important to you. That is because your awareness is centered in such a small section of your mental lake that even little ripples create a tumult. Gaze mentally outward in all directions; see how vast the lake really is. Mentally expand its shores farther and farther, until you realize how insignificant, in relation to its vastness, are the little thoughts that bob up and down here at the center.

Tell these thoughts to be still, to allow you to listen to the waves lapping on the distant shores of your mind. Then listen intently.

When everything is perfectly calm, feel on the still surface of your mind the soothing breath of Spirit. Do not be impatient. Allow the breezes of divine inspiration gently to caress you, to play over you as they will. Seek not to control them; remember, in nothing in life are you really the doer. Your ego is only an instrument. Offer yourself wholly, ever more deeply and calmly, to the Divine.

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