Should I Meditate?

After a class on Chapter Six of the Gita (which is all about meditation), someone asked…

Q: Besides a few poor attemps, I haven’t really started meditating. I am kind of unsure if and how to begin. I wouldn’t say that I am already very advanced on my karma-yoga path. So, should I try to start on meditation at an beginner-level right now or do I need to wait until I reached a higher step on karma-yoga?

You should focus on your actions. Focus on making your actions more beneficial to others, and less motivated by a desire to separately benefit yourself. Dedicate yourself more fully to the service of others.

You won’t be able to succeed in this, however, without wisdom and knowledge about who you are and why typical selfishness isn’t really your own best interest. This is why, prior to discussing karma-yoga, Krishna first gives an initial seed of jñāna in 2.12-30. Only after we comprehend who and what we really are, and what our relationship to the world is, only then can we see that separatist selfishness isn’t really relevant to us, isn’t really our true best interest. And only then can we seriously pursue karma-yoga, which is the dedication of our energy and action to benefiting others.

You will also notice that Krishna’s discussion of karma-yoga mainly spans chapters 3 through 5, and that as it moves from three to five it becomes progressively more philosophical, and regularly refers back to the need of having jñāna to be able to do karma-yoga. In fact one of the most strongly stated and often repeated points Krishna makes in the first third of the Gītā is that knowledge (jñāna) and right-action (karma) are two inseparable parts of a single endeavor for spiritual evolution.

So although you ashould focus on your actions, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore the cultivation of knowledge. If you ignore the cultivation of knowledge you will not be abe to continually decrease the selfishness in your actions, and thus you will not be able to succeed in karma-yoga. So, even a person who does karma-yoga must devote some significant time to study and meditation.

When karma-yoga becomes very mature, the impulse to be active goes away. Then one can devote most of one’s time to study and meditation. That is when one crosses into being a jñana-yogī. As Krishna explains at the beginning of Chapter Six (3rd text), jñāna-yoga is not a different path from karma-yoga, they are actually a beginning and advanced way of doing the same yoga. Jñāna-yoga is simply the more advanced form of karma-yoga, and only a person who has really graduated from karma-yoga can successfully apply themselves to jñāna-yoga. 

In jñāna-yoga meditation is the primary activity. In karma-yoga duty is the primary activity, but this does not mean duty/action is absent from jñāna yoga, or that meditation is absent from karma-yoga.

Meditation should be done by everyone, but not everyone should expect to do it for long stretches of time day after day – that is for jñāna-yoga.

Pātāñjalī reccomends mantra meditation the most highly. Mantra is a set of words that encapsulates deep knowledge, which becomes revealed to a person who carefully contemplates the words (“meditates” on the words). So, every yogi, even the beginner karma-yogi should practice at least a few minutes of mantra-meditation every day.

It should be done as advised in Chapter Six, not while riding a train or bike, or walking around doing housework. It should be done in a peaceful place, seated properly, breathing deliberatly, and with a mind clearly focused on the words of the mantra, allowing their meanings to unfold through the meditation.

The mantra should not be a mundane mantra, since Krishna defines in chapter six that the purpose of meditation is to redirect the flow of thoughts so that they can contemplate consciousness itself, rather than only flowing towards the objects of consciousness. So the mantra should be a verbal form of advaya-jñana (the absolute consciousness). There are many suitable mantras, and different specific schools prescribe different mantra to their students.

In the Gauḍīya school we especially prescribe mantra of Bhagavān Śrī Krishna, such as the gopāl and kāmadeva mantra. We also highly reccomend meditation upon the hare krishna mahāmantra. Everyone in the Gauḍīya school should meditate on these mantra even if they are beginners – though naturally the advanced students will meditate on them much more deeply and abundantly. Still we should all spend a few minutes every day at least in really careful and deep meditation on them.

We should undertake the study of the texts that explain the concepts encapsulated in the mantra. This is an extension of the meditation.

With this study and contemplation/meditation of activities proceed quickly to become purified and we progress towards uttama-bhakti yoga.

Vraja Kishor

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