Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda
QUESTION: Why is it that in order to get the most out of our life we need to set aside time for meditation when instead we could practice embracing life as a gift of being human without having to try so hard to be God?
Answer: It is like asking the question, "If we have a garden, why do we need to take care of it? Why do we need to water it? Why do we need to nourish it? Why do we need to take care of the weeds so that they do not overpower the plants that we try to cultivate? Why do we do all these things when we try to develop a beautiful garden?" Just as a gardener who tries to develop a beautiful garden does all these things, and needs to do them regularly, the different practices of yoga are meant to help us achieve the human goal of life.
The human life has different aspects. Some aspects are simple, like taking care of the physical body. There are different ways to take care of the physical body. I can watch the physical body going through health and through disease. As a human being I can attempt to cultivate a healthy body and in order to cultivate a healthy body there are certain things that I need to do on a regular basis. I need to develop a certain quality of sleep. Sleep is very important so I need to learn how to sleep well. Everybody sleeps but human beings are leading a very strenuous life and they may need to learn again how to sleep properly as we need quality sleep. We need to eat good food. We need to breathe fresh air. We need to learn to breathe deeply. The body needs exercise. We need to learn how to exercise and we need to exercise regularly. This has to do only with the physical body. Even if we do all these things, occasionally we may be sick. Nevertheless, as human beings this is the best that we can do in order to cultivate a healthy body. Why do we need a healthy body? The body is an instrument through which we can achieve many human aspirations. If the body is sick it is more difficult to attain or to achieve our human goals and aspirations.
The mind is similar, and no less important than the body. How do we make sure to keep the mind healthy, and what is the method? The main method here is to develop what we call in yoga the skill of positive thinking and the art of meditation. Meditation is that method through which we can cultivate our mind like a wonderful gardener cultivates a wonderful garden. The mind can be like a wonderful garden or the mind can be like a neglected garden which is taken over by weeds and which may even die. And when we go around and look at plants, we can see some plants are well taken care of and some plants are neglected. And so it is with the mind.
The mind, even more than the body, needs to be cultivated. It needs to be healthy. And the mind is the key to attain the highest goals of a human being. Therefore we need to develop a beautiful mind, a healthy mind, a well-cultivated mind, a mind that is capable of taking us to the higher goals of human life and at the same time can allow us to lead a joyful and happy life. Meditation is the science that teaches us how to cultivate a healthy mind, a mind that can appreciate the beauty of life, which cannot be appreciated so well when the mind is unhealthy because an unhealthy mind is a mind full of pain. An unhealthy mind is a blurry mind, it is a dull mind, it is a cloudy mind, it is a mind full of anguish, depression and restlessness. Such a mind does not have the capacity to see the divine beauty of creation. In order to see the divine beauty of creation, the mind needs to be purified; it must become like a polished diamond. Then such a mind can behold divinity within creation. It can behold beauty, the utmost beauty.
Of course, to a certain degree we can see these things but when we correctly analyze human life and when we do it objectively, we see that a large portion of human life consists of suffering. This is a great truth. Suffering happens in the physical body but most suffering is of the mind. In order to remove suffering from the mind, and by doing so also remove the suffering from the physical body and from our life, we need to cultivate the mind in such a way that it becomes a healthy and shining mind and this can be done through the practice of meditation.
Think of a house. If you do not clean the house every day, if you leave the garbage everywhere, if you let the cockroaches and the rats run all over the place, the house becomes an unbearable place for a human being to inhabit. A human being living in such a house will become sick, will become depressed, will not be able to attain the goals that are the birthright of a human being. Our real house consists of the physical body and of the mind. We need to cultivate that house. We need to clean it. We need to decorate it. We need to turn it into a beautiful house and then the real person, the divine soul that dwells in that house can attain the goals for which that soul came to this earthly plane.
In order to attain all of these things, says Swami Sivananda, meditation is the most important key. Therefore it is important to learn how to meditate and not just to let things happen as they come, because if we just let them happen as they come then, if we observe, we will see the consequence. The consequence is a constant decline into deeper and deeper and vaster and vaster suffering. It is in order to exit that state of suffering that we learn how to meditate.
Swami Swaroopananda, one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vishnudevananda, is the Acharya (spiritual director) of Sivananda Yoga Centers and Ashrams on the West Coast of the United States, in the Middle East, and in the Bahamas. This article is from one of his spontaneous question and answer sessions, which he frequently offers at Sivananda centers all over the world.
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