The Reason For Meditation
Question: I completely understand the philosophy and aim of yoga. I wonder 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 and not try so hard to be God?
Answer: This 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 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?” A gardener who tries to develop a beautiful garden needs to do all these things regularly. Ultimately, the different practices of yoga are meant to help us achieve the goal of human life.
Human life has different aspects. Some of the aspects are simple. For example, 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 disease. But as a human being, I can attempt to cultivate a healthy body. 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 quality type of sleep. Sleep is very important. Everybody sleeps, but human beings are leading a very strenuous life, and they may need to learn once again how to sleep properly. We need to eat good food. We need to breathe fresh air and to breathe deeply. We need to learn how to exercise and we need to exercise regularly. This only has to do with caring for the physical body. Even if we do all these things, occasionally, we may be sick. Nevertheless, as human beings, this is the best 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 of the human aspirations. If the body is sick, it is more difficult to attain or achieve many of the human goals and aspirations.
Similarly, and not less importantly than the body, is the mind. What is the method to keep the mind healthy? The main yogic method of keeping the mind healthy is by developing what we call ‘the skill of positive thinking’ and ‘the art of meditation’. Meditation is the practice through which we can cultivate our mind, like a wonderful gardener who 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 when we go around and look at plants, we can see some plants are well taken care of, and some plants are neglected. So it is with the mind. It needs to be healthy. And the mind is the key to attain the highest goals of a human being. Therefore, in order to develop a well cultivated mind, and a mind that is capable of taking us to the higher goals of human life and at the same time to allow us to lead a joyful and happy human life—such a mind needs to be cultivated. And the method of cultivation in yoga is meditation.
Meditation is the science that teaches us how to cultivate a healthy mind, a beautiful mind, a mind that can appreciate the beauty of life. The beauty of life cannot be appreciated so well when the mind is not healthy, because an unhealthy mind is a mind full of pain. It 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. The mind must become like a polished diamond. Then, such a mind can behold Divinity within creation— and beauty; utmost beauty. Of course, to a certain degree, we can see these things. But as we correctly analyze human life, and as we do it objectively, we see that a large portion of human life consists of suffering—and this is a great truth. And suffering is of the physical body. But much of the suffering is of the mind. In order to remove the suffering from the mind, and by doing so, also to 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.
For example, think of a house. If you do not clean the house every day, if you just leave the garbage all over the place, if you just let the cockroaches and rats all over the place, that house becomes an unbearable place of habitation for a human being. A human being that would live in such a house will become sick, will become depressed, and will not be able to attain those goals which 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, who 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, and if we observe, then we will see the consequences. The consequences are a constant decline into deeper and deeper and vaster and vaster suffering. As a result, in order to exit that state of suffering, we learn how to meditate.