The Ascent to Moksha
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 13: Our Preparation for Meditation

We should keep nothing of a distracting nature in the place where we sit for meditation. The atmosphere should naturally be congenial. The character of the place of meditation differs from person to person according to the social conditions in which one has to live. The social and living conditions of brahmacharins, householders, vanaprasthas and sannyasins are likely to differ due to their various obligations, and consequently, the nature of works that they perform.

But whatever be the social stage in which one may be, the spiritual practice in which one has to engage oneself should be undertaken in congenial conditions wherein no factor of a distracting character is deliberately introduced. To give an instance, if we have a small meditation room and we paste posters on the walls which are absolutely irrelevant to the ideas that we have to entertain in meditation, or keep articles that are repulsive or even tempting, or keep anything that is even capable of bringing into memory repulsive or tempting things, this may be regarded as objectionable. The whole atmosphere should be holy. Nothing that would attract our attention should be placed in the vicinity of the room where we sit for meditation.

This means to say, we have to prepare ourselves to be alone. The preparation for meditation is a psychological undertaking to place oneself at the disposal of reality, and here we should have no kind of reservation within ourselves. All reservations are shed, and we become open to the nature of Truth. It is only when we sit for meditation that we become natural to ourselves. At every other time we may be said to have a little element of unnaturality. We are not natural in a hall like this, for example. We have etiquettes, social manners and customs, and various other factors which restrict the exhibition or manifestation of our true nature. In a marketplace we are not natural. In a court we are not natural. In an examination hall we are tense. In society, whatever be its nature, we put on certain characters conducive to the structure of outward environments rather than be natural to one’s own self.

But when we sit for meditation, the character of the atmosphere is quite different. We should select a place and a circumstance where there would be no interference from outside. A time should be such that within the next two or three hours there would be no necessity for us to engage in any other work. The place also should be such that it is free from distracting or jarring noise, and from the intrusion of persons who are likely to disturb the attitude or the mood of meditation.

Now we come to the attitude or the mood of meditation. What should be our attitude? In what mood should we sit? This is a very essential thing to remember even before we try to concentrate our mind. The mood should be congenial. We have various moods. When we speak to a person, first of all we have to find out in what mood that person is, and only then can we start speaking. Otherwise, there would be no purpose in speaking because it will not be successful. Suppose there is a case of bereavement. A person is crying, so we know the person’s mood and what sort of thing we have to speak at that moment. We cannot speak something quite contrary or unsuited to the occasion.

Just as there are moods in our mind which vary according to external conditions, including physical and physiological characteristics, there is also a mood of meditation. When we sit, we become relaxed in every sense of the term. Every sense feeling is reduced to its minimum. We have tensions of various kinds: muscular, nervous, mental and even intellectual. All these tensions have to be relaxed, just as in hatha yoga practice we have what is known as the shavasana, where we are asked to relax to such an extent that we do not feel that there is a body at all. When the relaxation is complete, there is forgetfulness of the existence of the body. It is only in a tense state that we feel that there is a body. Also, when we are perfectly healthy, we do not feel that we have a body. When we have an ache or an illness of any kind, we become conscious of the presence of the body. A small baby who is perfectly healthy and skips and dances in delight has no consciousness of its body or its personality. It is spontaneity manifest, and has no tension. We have, to some extent, to become like a child in its spontaneity and naturalness, with a sense of relief from all tension.

Now, tensions are of various types. I have mentioned only a few: muscular, nervous, mental and intellectual, but we have worse tensions than these. Social tensions are the immediate difficulties that we have in life, and with a mood of social tension we cannot sit in meditation. We may feel wrath with a certain event that has taken place or an act that a person has done. We may be completely upset due to an injustice that has been meted out to us. A person may be completely worried over an unlawful act of a promotion being given to a junior when a senior is there. It happens these days. Suppose a junior is taken up due to some nepotistic attitudes of rulers while you are poverty stricken, living from hand to mouth with half a dozen children to maintain and educate, with daughters to marry, and there is nothing at home, no meal for tomorrow. How will you sit for meditation with this situation? So the mood of meditation is very important, and we have to be sure that we are prepared for meditation. If we are not prepared, the meditation will not be successful.

Each person’s difficulty is different from the difficulty of another person. It is difficult, it is impossible rather, to give a common solution to the problems of everybody in the world, just as we cannot prescribe a single medicine for all the illness of the world. Each person has a specific difficulty. My problem is entirely different from yours, though outwardly we may look alike in social circumstances and activities.

We have to reduce these tensions to the minimum. I do not say they should become nil. That is impossible. They should be pressed down to the minimum level. How you can reduce this to the minimum is a matter left to you individually, in consultation with your Guru. This question cannot be answered publicly because each person’s difficulty is individualistic. Even the social tensions have various degrees or shades of difference. They vary. Everyone has some sort of social tension, but it is not of a similar or uniform nature. So you have to sit in consultation with your well-wishers and your teacher, or a Master or Guru, if you have one, and then find out a solution for the reduction of the element of tension.

We should not be worried over unnecessary things. We have to learn not to be worried. The world is full of factors causing worries. You cannot get rid of these factors in this world. Whatever be the circumstance in which you are, you have a complaint against it. You may be a king or a beggar; it makes no difference. You have a complaint. This complaint should go by an analytic attitude of the mind.

I will tell you a story from Jalaluddin Rumi’s Masnavi of how a Guru gave a humorous but very practical suggestion to reduce uneasiness of mind.

There was a poor man who was a chela of a fakir who was his Guru. The chela, the disciple, used to complain to his Guru, “Maharaj, I am in misery, a poor wretched man. One small room I have for half a dozen children. My wife is sick, and there is nothing to eat.”

The Guru said, “What is your trouble now?”

“I cannot even sleep at night with so many children screaming in the small room. It is only ten feet by six feet perhaps, and there I have to cook my food, there I have to sleep, there I have to meet people. What a misery! Can you not save me from this misery?”

The Guru said, “I have a solution for this misery. Shall I tell you what the solution is?”

“Yes, please. I shall think that God has blessed me,” said the disciple.

“Have you a dog?” asked the Guru.

He said, “Yes, I have a dog.”

“You tie it inside the room,” said the Guru.

The Master’s order, he obeyed. He did not know what was the matter. “Why should I tie a dog inside my room? How can it solve my problem?” Anyhow, the Guru’s orders cannot be disobeyed. He tied the dog inside, and the whole night the dog was barking. He could not sleep. It became worse.

The next day he went crying, “Master, I am dying! The whole night I had no sleep.”

The Master asked, “What is the matter?”

“The whole night the dog was barking.”

“I see. There is a solution for this. Have you a camel? Tie it inside the room,” said the Guru.

“What is this? What is happening now? The camel cannot even enter inside the room with such a small door,” said the disciple.

“You tie it,” said the Guru.

The Guru’s orders cannot be disobeyed, whatever the Guru says. If he says, “Hang yourself,” you have to hang yourself. With great difficulty he thrust the camel into the room. Well, there was no place to sit inside after that. Oh, what to do? There was no question of sleeping or eating or sitting because the camel was giving kicks with its long leg. And the dog was barking. You can imagine the condition of the man. He did not know what was happening.

He went to the Guru the next day and said, “Maharaj, I prefer to die rather than live.”

“What is the matter?”

He said, “I cannot explain.”

“Oh I see. There is a solution for this. You have got a donkey? Tie the donkey also inside,” said the Guru.

The sense of obedience of the chela was such that he obeyed, with great difficulty. He tied the donkey also inside, and then there was no place to enter. What was to be done now?

The next day the Guru asked, “How are you?”

“It is hell, hell, hell!” he said. “Hell is better than this. I shall go to hell rather than live there.”

“Oh. Tomorrow you tie the dog, the camel and the donkey outside. Take them out. Let them be where they were before. You sleep inside the room,” said the Guru.

That night the disciple had a nice sleep, poor man, a very good sleep.

The Guru asked the next day, “How are you?”

“Heaven, heaven, heaven! It is all heaven,” he replied.

“Previously you were complaining that it is all hell. Now you are saying it is heaven. The same thing has become heaven now, is it?” the Guru said. “You couldn’t sleep in a small room with a few children and with your wife ailing, and now you are saying it is heaven. How it has become heaven now?”

This is a story from Jalaluddin Rumi. Very interesting. I like this story so much.

That is, the mind can create hell or heaven out of circumstances. We can adjust ourselves if we want to. But if we do not, then everything looks as if it is in sixes and sevens. The world is the world. We cannot make the world other than it is. We are also told that we have to bathe in the ocean while the waves are still dashing. If we want the waves to subside and then bathe, we will never take the bath. The world is an ocean with waves dashing upon us in the form of tapatrayas. We have all kinds of misery. Whatever be the life we lead, whether we are brahmacharins or grihasthas or vanaprasthas or sannysins, it makes no difference. Each stage has its problems and difficulties. But these are the waves, these are the tapatrayas. And when these waves of the ocean of samsara are dashing upon us, we have to take a bath in it; otherwise, if we wait for the cessation of these waves, they will never cease. We will never do anything in this world.

Hence, the mood of meditation is a psychological adjustment of our entire life with the reality of the world. The world is a reality; it has its own degree of truth, and we should not take it as a kind of thorn or an obstacle in our meditation. If we think it is an obstacle, it will remain that only; it is not going to be different, and we will go on cursing it till our life’s end, and achieve nothing.

The wisdom of the spiritual seeker consists in an inward transformation rather than an attempt at an outer reformation of the world of Ishvara’s creation. That cannot be done. Buddha came, Christ came, and the world is still the same; it has not become different. Even if a hundred more Buddhas come, the world is going to be the same; it is not going to change, for reasons of its own. But we can begin to see newer and newer meanings in the evolutionary process of the world. The world is perfectly all right. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is something wrong with the perception of the world or the attitude we have in regard to the world.

Therefore, the seeker of Truth has to be a realistic person. There is no use being too idealistic and imagining that milk and honey should be flowing everywhere, and that the earth should be velvet, with no hard corners. We should not imagine impossible things. We have to be realistic in the sense that we have to take things as they are, and not as they ought to be. Well, they ought to be wonderful, but what are they? They are something else. We may expect every person in the world to be a celestial. That is our pious wish, but they will not be. They are just human, and we have to take them for what they are and live with them and yet take advantage of the beauties and the goodnesses that are still present in the world.

So when you enter into your room of meditation, or the temple or a secluded place, prepare yourself to be face to face with reality. What is it that you are confronting in meditation? With whom are you going to converse in meditation? With reality. And you have to be open before it. People are open before the doctor, and before the Guru, but they are not open with others. Here again, you have to be more open than you are with these persons. Every prejudice or preconceived notion has to be shed. No thought or notion of a personalistic type should be entertained. Complete resignation of this personalistic attitude is absolutely essential.

The past has to be completely forgotten, and the future should not worry the mind. The past has gone, and therefore, there is no point in remembering it. The future has not come, and you do not know what it is, so there is no need of worrying about it. A necessity arises, therefore, to live in the absolute present. You have to brush aside memories of the past. You might have had bitter experiences in your earlier days, but those things should not agonise you now when you sit for meditation. Nor should future hopes or future apprehensions come in between you and the reality that you are facing in meditation.

Therefore, the preparation for meditation should be social, physical, physiological, psychological, and intellectual. You have to be prepared socially in the sense that there should be no social interference, as I told you. No other person should come and intrude, and you should not have any kind of immediate social engagements such as catching a train or going to a court, and so forth. These kinds of things should not harass the mind when you sit for meditation. The time should be properly chosen, with nothing to be done for several hours ahead. You are completely free, and no one is going to intrude; the place chosen is such.

Now you are to prepare your personality for meditation. The muscular tension also should be released by a meditation posture, a dhyana asana. The purpose of the asana is to release muscular and nervous tension. Our nerves are tense, not relaxed. Never are we relaxed at any time. We are always in a tense mood, whether we are conscious of it or not. So we have to sit in such a posture whereby the body can place itself in a mood and position without having to strain itself too much. That is the meaning of saying it should be sukha. It should be sthira, and also sukhasthira sukha asana. It should be fixed. That is the sthira of the asana. It should be fixed because you are going to have a continuous flow of thought in that posture. If the posture goes on changing, naturally it will have an impact on the internal structure of the mind, causing the mind to oscillate. So the body should be fixed in a stable posture, and it should not be a difficult posture of which you have to be conscious.

The definition of sukha, or satisfaction, is that it is spontaneous. You are not to exert in a state of satisfaction or enjoyment. Enjoyment is always spontaneous. You are absolutely free. It is only when you are free that you are happy. If there is tension, there is no happiness. Hence, let the asana or the posture be comfortable, comfortable in the sense that you can sit in that posture for a protracted period without moving. There is no hard and fast rule about this position except for the fact that it should not be a lying posture, nor a standing posture. If you stand and start meditating, you may fall down. And if you lie down and start meditating, you may go to sleep. The Brahma Sutras say asinah sambhavat (B.S. IV.1.7): It is possible to achieve success in a seated posture – not standing, not lying. This is the via media course.

But how are you to be seated? That is left to you. Patanjali does not mention the name of the asana at all. It is any comfortable posture. He is very liberal and charitable in his definition. You may be seated in any definite stable posture in which you can sit for at least one hour, not less than that, even as a beginner. When you are seated in that easy, comfortable, fixed posture, you slowly begin to forget the need to exert in any manner to maintain the position of the body. Maintaining your position should be effortless; only then can you forget the presence of the body. If there is any exertion to maintain that posture, a part of the mind goes to maintain that position. It should be completely spontaneous.

It is said that a straightened back is very conducive to the maintenance of nervous equilibrium. If there is any awkwardness in the position of the body, to that extent the flow of the pranas through the channels of the nerves is obstructed; there is a retardation of the force or the movement of the prana. The prana moves through nadis, subtle nerve channels in the astral body, and as the flow of the Ganga is retarded on account of some obstruction, the pranas may be retarded in their free motion on account of a bent or twisted body or an awkward position, which has an impact on the nervous system within because every part of the body is connected with every other layer of the personality – the muscles, the nerves, the pranas, the mind. They are all interconnected.

Hence, sthira and sukha asana imply the easy seatedness of the body for a time long enough for the mind to be free from direct awareness or consciousness of the body. Do this and see. You will feel so happy merely by sitting. You need not think anything. You need not meditate. You need not chant anything. Merely sit in one posture for at least one hour, and you will begin to feel that the burden of your body is lightened. You are lifted up from tensions of every kind, and slowly you begin to feel that you are not burdened with the body so much.

The muscular tension, therefore, has to be released by a steady posture. Simultaneously with this release of the muscular tension, nervous tension also is released. Most people are nervous and easily sensitised by any person, any thing or any event that confronts them. You have to be free from these nervous tensions; therefore, it is prescribed that the place and time selected for meditation is such that it is far removed from such possibilities of external intervention.

Now, the most difficult aspect is freedom from psychological tension. While social tension, muscular tension and nervous tension can be released to some extent by these methodologies, you will find it is not so easy to get rid of psychological tension because the mind and yourself are almost identical. You can, to some extent, feel that the body is different, the muscles are different, but you cannot feel that the mind is outside. The mind is you, as far as your practical life is concerned, so to reduce the tension of the mind would be to operate upon yourself.

This can be done only with difficulty, at least in the beginning stages. There is revulsion from the mind itself to this very attempt. The mind is not prepared to be chastened for meditation because the achievements of meditation are still a future. No one is satisfied with a future; we always want things in the present, and the mind begins to have an apprehension that the possibility of any kind of success in meditation is a future which may be or may not be. The immediate realities of life are more valuable and meaningful than the future apprehended facts, and so a subtle revolt is set up from the mind, which is the first obstacle in meditation. However much you may try to concentrate the mind, you will not get at the point of concentration at all; or even if you happen to have a little success in the beginning, the mind will side-track you from one point to another point by a subtle method of its own.

There was a student who started meditation. He meditated on Lord Vishnu, Narayana, in Vaikuntha. The first thought of the student was Narayana in Vaikuntha. The moment he thought of Narayana, he remembered the Satyanarayana pujabecause Narayana is connected with Satyanarayana. The moment the idea of Satyanarayana came, the prasadthat is offered to Satyanarayana also came to his mind. The essential part of the Satyanarayana pujais the offering of the prasad. If you read the story of the Satyanarayana puja, you will know that the prasad is very important. The prasad consists of bananas, milk, ghee and many other items. In his meditation his mind has gone there, and, you will be surprised, from prasad it went to various articles of fruit such as oranges, etc., and from oranges it went to Nagpur because Nagpur oranges are very famous. Finally, he got up with Nagpur consciousness rather than Vishnu or Narayana consciousness. This is to give an instance of how the mind can lead you from one thing to another thing by association of ideas, and you will be in a fool’s paradise when you get up, not having meditated. Nothing has been achieved.

The mind has many techniques of deceit. It is a wonderful deceiver, and can employ many kinds of tactics. It is difficult to tabulate all the tricks that the mind can play. When you sit for meditation, you yourself will see what tricks it can play. So it is essential to have a program of meditation in the beginning. You must refuse to think thoughts that are extraneous to the program that you have fixed for yourself.

The program should consist of various items. The first is: How long are you going to sit? You should not be kept suspended. For example, I have heard of some Zen institutions in Japan where the students are made to sit in a hall for the purpose of meditation, and they do not know how long they will be made to sit by the Guru. It may be for ten minutes, it may be for fifteen minutes, it may be for three hours, so this creates a sense of uneasiness in their minds. Well, it may be a good thing if the Guru is there by their side, but if the Guru is not there, there is no use sitting for an indefinite period of time. Fix a definite period for yourself so that the mind is satisfied: “After all, the devil is only for this time, not beyond that.” So it will yield. “Oh, only for fifteen minutes. All right, I’ll agree. Beyond that I will not sit,” the mind will tell you. So tell it, “I am going to sit only for fifteen minutes, my dear friend, don’t bother.”

And the method of meditation also should be clear before the mind. You should not go on changing the attitude. Mostly, the method will depend upon the nature of the initiation that you have received from the Guru. This should be clarified from the Guru himself. You should not go on bringing innovations into meditation because the initiation is inclusive of a definition of the nature of meditation and, to some extent, a description of the possible obstacles that would have to be faced in the process of meditation.

Mostly, the initiation consists not in a direct introduction to methods of abstract meditation, but to concrete contemplation. Most of the Gurus will initiate you into a mantra. Perhaps every Guru does that. They will not, in the beginning itself, initiate a disciple into pure, impersonal concepts of meditation, though the purpose is to lead the mind to that concept. I feel that this is a very suitable method to be adopted for everyone.

The formula or the mantra into which one is initiated becomes a very useful prop in fixing the mind on a prescribed ideal, but if it is a mantra, the advantage is still more. I have mentioned a little about it last time. The mantra is a very beautifully arranged system of verbal junctions employing powers that are not easily visible outside, and by the chant of the mantra, the energy of the mantra is supposed to be released in a mysterious manner.

The Veda mantras have their own method, and the tantric mantras have a different method altogether. Veda mantras are more difficult to chant than tantric mantras. Generally, the mantras into which the student is initiated by the Guru are not Veda mantras, though sometimes they can be. Veda mantras are difficult to chant because of the intonation involved, the svaras with which the mantra is associated. It is a fixed conviction of Vedic adepts that the meaning of the mantra as well as the effect produced by its chant depends not merely on the utterance of the words of the mantra, but also on the intonation, the svaraudatta, anudatta, svarita, etc. In tantric mantras the svara question does not come to such an extent, but the pronunciation should be correct. You should not make a mistake in the utterance of the syllables of the mantra. In the Devi Mahatmya there is one passage, one line: bhāryāṃ rakṣatu bhairvῑ. One person chanted it wrongly, and his wife died. Bhāryāṃ rakṣatu bhairvῑ means “May my wife be protected”, but he did not know how to pronounce it, and what he said was “May Kali eat my wife”. So when you are initiated, be sure that the pronunciation is clear, that you understand the meaning of the mantra, and that you develop a real devotion to it.

The chant of the mantra should, therefore, be the beginning of meditation, and before the chant of any mantra, Om chanting is beautifully prescribed. Whatever be the mantra into which you are initiated, it should be preceded by Omkara. So chant Om for a few minutes. The mantra Om has its own beneficial effects while it is chanted. It produces a very harmonious vibration. All these things cannot be explained. You have to chant it and see what happens. You will feel a rhythm and a thrill produced in your system. You will feel a titillating sensation in your body when you continuously chant the mantra for at least fifteen minutes.

In the beginning, you will begin to feel as if ants are crawling over your body, and then you will feel a very pleasant sensation, difficult to describe. You will be overjoyed, as it were, without a reason which you can visibly perceive. The more is the harmony achieved in the system, the greater is the joy that you feel with it. The misery of life is caused by disharmony of every kind – disharmony in the mind, disharmony in the nervous system, disharmony in the pranas, disharmony in social relationships. This is the misery of life. Wherever there is harmony, there is pleasure, satisfaction. The chant of Om, therefore, is supposed to bring about a physiological and psychological harmony. But you must also know how to chant Om.

The chant of Om is threefold. It can be short, it can be middling, it can be elongated. This question has been raised in the Prashna Upanishad, and different effects are attributed to the three types of chanting of Om. You should not chant Om as if it is a business, that somehow or other you have to recite ten thousand and then get up. That is not the way of chanting Om. The best way of chanting would be the middling tone. I can chant Om before you, and you can see how I chant it. The short form of Om is Aaauuummm, Aaauuummm, Aaauuummm. The middling form of it is slightly elongated: Aaaaauuuuummmmm, Aaaaauuuuummmmmm, Aaaaauuuuummmmmm. The elongated form is not suitable for meditation, but I can tell you what it is: Aaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm, Aaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm, Aaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm. The elongated form is wonderful, but generally students are asked to chant Om in a middling tone. For fifteen minutes it can be chanted.

Afterwards, take to the chant of the mantra together with the notion or the idea of the meaning of the mantra. Most of the mantras mean surrender to God, prostration to the Almighty, union with the Absolute, and so on. So when the mantra is chanted you entertain the ideas of protection from all sides, freedom from tension, grace descending from God, and surrender of oneself to God. With these ideas, the mantra is chanted. This is, to some extent, dhyana itself combined with japa. They call it japa-sahita-dhyana. Dhyana associated with japa of the mantra is japa-sahita-dhyana, which will lead to japa-rahita-dhyana later on. Pure meditation, independent of chants of any kind, will come later on when you get absorbed in the thought of God. So, all these prescriptions are to prepare the mind for the higher absorption of the mind in a loftier consciousness.

There are certain methods which are usually employed by sadhakas to always keep themselves prepared for meditation. Do not possess things, the loss of which will cause you mental agony. As a sadhaka, be a simple person. Do not have two wristwatches, four transistors. If they are stolen, you will be wracking your head. Why do you possess these things? Have a minimum of requirements, and live in a simple manner. Let your needs be minimum so that you may have those needs wherever you go, wherever you are. Do not ask for badam sharbat wherever you go, or cow’s milk. There are some sadhakas who say, “We are sattvic and take only cow’s milk, badam.” How will you get these things wherever you go? So be a very simple person, not very sophisticated and complicated in your behaviour, and live in such a way that it will be difficult for people to interfere with you or trouble you. People cannot trouble you if you have become so simple. And internally entertain the attitude that you do not possess anything, that everything belongs to God Himself. You have come with nothing, and you shall go also with nothing. You came to the world with a cry, and you shall leave the world also with a sob. You cannot go laughing. We unnecessarily laugh in the middle for a few days without understanding the reality of things. The possessions shall be taken away from us at any moment of time, and we shall remember that we came alone, we shall go alone and, therefore, really speaking, we are now alone. We have no friends in this world. Friends are artificial associations that can be separated at any moment. God is our only real friend.

Thus, keep yourself psychologically pure and aloof, and even if you are to be immersed in objects and social relationships, be psychologically detached. Learn to be happy in this world of God’s creation because happiness is health, and happiness is also wealth. Happiness cannot come if you do not want it, and it also cannot come by causes which are transitory. Transient causes cannot bring permanent happiness. As all things in the world are transient, whatever happiness you may get from them also is transient. They may temporarily look delightful, but the delight will be superseded later on by a sorrow that will inundate you. So you should have a permanent attitude of poverty, chastity and obedience, as Franciscans usually say.

I will tell a story as a diversion. There was a shepherd boy in Persia who somehow got into the good books of a king.  The king was so pleased with this boy that he educated him, and he rose up to be a prime minister. He was the pet of the king, and the king would not do anything, even the smallest thing, without first consulting this minister. The courtiers were a little bit jealous. “What is this? We are also important people, learned and capable. Why should the king consult only one man? After all, he was a shepherd. What is his qualification?” Anyhow, the king was so fond of the minister that they could not do anything.

Now, there was another aspect to it. Wherever the minister went on a tour on business, he used to carry a box with him. In Persia they used to travel on camels and elephants and he would carry the box behind him. Nobody understood what was in this box. Wherever he went, there was a box behind him, and he would not open it. These jealous courtiers thought, “There is something very secret behind it, maybe some treasure which was stolen or something misappropriated. He cannot leave it at home because somebody will see it, so whenever he goes, he takes it with him. Oh, now we will catch this fellow.” They went and complained to the king. “After all, Your Highness, you are thoroughly mistaken. This fellow is a thief. He has looted your treasury and kept best articles, and for fear that people may detect it while he is gone, he takes the box wherever he goes. You are mistaken. He is not so nice and good a man as you thought.” They wanted to drive this fellow out.

The king could not understand how the minister could be like that. He was such a good man. For so many years he had been amiable. Anyhow, when so many people said this, the king said, “I must investigate and see for myself.”

“Yes, Your Highness can see that wherever he goes, he carries a box,” they said.

And so the king silently, secretly observed this, and found that the box was going with the minister every time. He also had a little apprehension, thinking, “There is some mystery behind it.” One day he ordered the minister to come with his box. Well, the minister understood there was some intrigue; otherwise, why should the box be called for? The king asked the minister, “I am sorry. I trust you very much, but for reasons of conformity to law and etiquette I have to ask you to open the box before all people in the parliament.”

“It can be opened,” said the minister. He took a key and unlocked it, and took out what was inside. It was a rag, a torn piece of cloth which he had worn when he was a shepherd.

All were shocked and shamefaced. They could not say a word. They thought it was a treasure, looted from the coffer of the king. They asked him, “What is this horror that you are carrying, being a minister?”

“I am carrying what I am really. What I really am, that I carry with me. I do not want to carry what I am not. I was a shepherd, and I am a shepherd. I am a poor man, I was a poor man, and I shall be only this forever. Nobody can make me rich; no riches will follow me, and I cannot trust these riches. And it has been proved already by you, all people who suspected that I carry gold and silver in the box.”

You can imagine the consternation of the public. No word could come from the mouth of any person.

This again is a story narrated by a Sufi mystic to a disciple, indicating how a disciple, a sadhaka, should conduct himself. You are a poor person, you are a nobody in this world, really speaking, and it is this sense of vairagya that can create in you the fire of dispassion for the world as a whole and a love for God. Love for God and dispassion for the world go together. You cannot have one without the other. The more is the dispassion for the world, the more also is the love for God, and conversely, the greater is your affection for God, your love for Him, the more also is the vairagya or the dispassion. God and mammon cannot both be loved at the same time.

The most important factor conducive to success in meditation is vairagya. Vairagya is a fire which consumes all passions, all longing for earthly things, all desires that are temporal. You want nothing that is external, that is perishable, that is physical, that is associational, that is spatial, temporal or causational. And finally, you are fed up with even individuality itself. You rise above that attachment, or abhinivesha, even to this body. You are flooded with an absorbing love for a reality that transcends the body and the structural universe of space and time. Vairagya prepares the ground for abhyasa, or practice of meditation. And with various techniques, which would be special and peculiar to each individual according to the initiation received, the meditation should be pursued for the sake of the goal that is indestructible, invulnerable and immortal.

I mentioned last time that it is difficult to take oneself entirely to meditation throughout the day. Nobody can meditate for the whole day, so we have to take to methods of practice which shall be equally spiritual, yet slightly more relaxed than meditation in their rigour and stiffness. That is svadhyaya, or the study of scriptures such as the Upanishads and the Yoga Shastras; and, whenever possible, satsanga of great saints and sages, the company of the wise, and attending discourses which will elevate your mind and spirit would help you in your meditation. They are essential because all throughout the day one cannot sit for meditation. If you attempt the impossible, you will be side-tracked and will fall into a pit afterwards.

Hence, go slowly, go cautiously, and never feel that you are so important as not to need the guidance of a Guru. A teacher is always essential, and at every stage you will find a superior to yourself. At every stage there is a superior, and it would be beneficial and good to be humble and receive advice from ones wiser than you are. It is wisdom to be humble, to be small before the might and the majesty of God, creation and the powers of nature and, above all, the mystery of God Himself. A devotee of God is a nobody. This is the special qualification of a devotee: he is a nobody. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say, “A sannyasin is one who can be beaten with a shoe by any person.” It was a humorous definition. It means to say that he has reduced himself to a nihil. His personality has gone, and he lives a godly life of aspiration for the positive by withdrawing himself from the negative through dispassion or vairagya. More about meditation we shall see later.