Meditation is the steady, uninterrupted practice of contemplating God. This is the principal spiritual activity taught in the Gita. Thinking of God now and then cannot be called meditation. Meditation is thinking of God at all times, under all circumstances. It is a continuous, unceasing process.
The constant remembrance of God is the method in which you continuously keep turning the mind inwards to become united with the indwelling Lord. This can correctly be called meditation. Any practice that you engage in periodically is a concentration practice. Such a practice will usually focus on a chosen object and be associated with a particular place and time. True meditation, on the other hand, goes on continuously. It is completely free of all objects and phenomena and completely transcends the element of place and time. Therefore, in the Gita, the ongoing practice of meditation has been described as superior to any type of periodic practice.
But, there is a practice even superior to meditation. The ultimate spiritual practice is the development of wisdom. Wisdom emerges from inner inquiry. It is the spiritual practice of looking deep into the essential nature of everything. If you faithfully pursue this inquiry, you will gradually reach the supreme state of peace and bliss. This is the unique goal of human life, a goal which all mankind will one day achieve.
To reach the state of abiding inner peace, you begin by inquiring into the very heart of everything. This is the process of inner inquiry, the first stage on the wisdom path. Then you must make use of the deep insights you have gained by applying the spiritual teachings to every detail of your daily life. This is the second stage. If you continue with this practice unfailingly, then, in time, you will reach the goal of God-realization and enjoy unending bliss. This is the third and final stage on the wisdom path.
You can compare the first stage to the period of life when you are a student. As a student and spiritual seeker you are most active in acquiring knowledge. While you are in this stage you inquire into the principle which underlies everything in the universe. You try to understand the deeper meaning of the great wisdom sayings, such as that thou art. Here, that refers to the eternal divine principle we call God, and thou refers to the immortal self, which is the one true reality of everyone. In this first stage you try to understand this saying, which states that the highest self and God are one and the same, and you look for this oneness in the core of everything.
So, you start off by seeking the unity underlying everything in existence. Then, having become aware of it, you live your life by applying this great truth to all your daily activities. This second stage can be compared to the period of life when you are employed and busy in your profession. If you have not pursued your education and earned good qualifications, you will not be able to find an appropriate position. Therefore, in the first stage you acquire a good education and develop your knowledge so that in the next stage you can put that education into practice and use it to do your life's work. The third stage can be likened to the later period of life when you are retired and become a pensioner.
You receive a pension only after you have completed your working career. You start your career and gain employment, in the first place, only after you have successfully completed your education and acquired qualifications. These then are the three stages in your path through life namely, first is the stage when you are a student, then there is the stage when you are a professional, and lastly, there is the stage when you are a pensioner.
Similarly, on the path of wisdom, you start out as a seeker, then you become a practitioner, and finally, you become a wise illumined one. In this final stage you enjoy complete peace of mind and realize the unity of all of creation.
To permanently acquire peace of mind and the state of unending inner joy, you first have to enter into the stage of inquiry and give up all attachments to the world. These days, so-called spiritual seekers are first entering into the stage of attachment, and later they try to enter the stage of inner inquiry. They call each other brother and sister and aspire to practice unity, while at the same time taking on new worldly attachments. At best, they can only be described as part-time devotees. The Gita does not condone such part-time devotion. The Gita teaches complete surrender by offering oneself and everything one has to God.
In order to experience the principle of complete surrender you need to become aware of time, and how it exercises total power over all that is changing, and yet, how it is utterly powerless over the unchanging divinity, which is its master. God is not subject to time. He not only is not under the spell of time, but he keeps time under his control. The one who is bound by time is man; the one who transcends time is God. The one who is mortal is man; the one who is immortal is God. Only when you take shelter in divinity will you be able to transcend this element of time. Time consumes man, whereas God consumes time itself. It is time which is responsible for man's progress or man's decline, for the promotion of his good or his fall into evil, for his earning merit or storing demerit. Therefore, in the ancient scriptures we find this prayer:
O God, you are the very embodiment of time. Please, help me to sanctify my life and spend all my time in remembrance of you, so that I may safely reach your lotus feet.
The entire world is inextricably enmeshed in the grip of time. It is not possible to fight against this element of time. Time does not wait for anyone. You are bound by time, time is not bound by you. Time can be compared to a great flowing river. All living beings are washed away by this flow of time. If you are washed away by a flood you cannot take protection and shelter in someone or something which is also being washed away. You, as well as the people and objects in which you try to find security, are all being washed away by the flood of time. If you seek to gain protection from something that is itself being washed away, it is like a blind person following another blind person. In the end, they both get lost. But if you were to be helped by someone who is standing securely on the bank, you would surely be saved.
The one on the bank who is not caught up in the flood of time is God. If you take refuge in God you will be able to free yourself from all the troubles and problems associated with time. God has proclaimed the principle of surrender and emphasized its importance by telling man, "O man, you are being washed away by the flood of time. The only one who can shelter you is myself. Take refuge in me, and I will save you." When you obey this divine command and offer yourself, your wealth, your property, your entire family at the Lord's feet and surrender yourself completely, then you will surely be saved.
At first it is difficult to experience this principle of surrender because there is a very big veil between you and God. Due to this veil, you are easily subject to doubt and confusion, and then you feel yourself unable to surrender completely. This veil is illusion. What is the meaning of illusion? Illusion refers to that which does not exist. When you are under the spell of illusion you imagine that which does not really exist to exist. And you imagine that which really exists to not exist. What never changes really exists and is true. What changes does not really exist and is not true. The one thing which always exists, which is true and unchanging is God, the one without a second. The world, when thought to be devoid of God, will be seen as constantly changing. Since it is changing, it cannot be true and, therefore, cannot really exist. But, in this, you are not seeing the world correctly.
When you are under the spell of illusion, you see the world as separate from God. You do not see the divinity as the principle underlying everything in the world, and as a result, you become afraid and find it impossible to surrender yourself completely. It is like seeing a rope and thinking that it is a snake. But there is no snake there at all. You are subjected to fear and tension by imagining that there is a snake where there really is no snake, at all. What is the reason for this fear? Imagining things which really do not exist, as existing, is the cause of fear. This feeling is responsible for all your troubles. If you were to see all this in total awareness, you would find that there is only a rope; there is no snake. Then you would have no fear whatsoever. You would not be afraid to reach out to it, to hold it and to play with it, because you would realize that all there is, is only a rope.
You are subject to many sorrows because you forget the fact that the entire world is the embodiment of God. It is not just the world as you think it is. You see the world only from the phenomenal point of view; you are not looking at it through the eyes of inquiry. If you were to look at the world correctly, you would realize that it is a stream of continuous change. This ongoing, uninterrupted flow of change is the basic characteristic of the phenomenal world. But within and governing that flow of change, is the one divine principle which is forever unchanging.
It can be likened to a river. The water in the river will flow continuously and give rise to the apparent effect of a steady stream, flowing without end. But at any given period of time, and at any particular place along the river, the particles of water rushing by will all be different; some will be muddy, some will contain rocks, some will be foamy, some will be pure water. Although the flow is continuous, the exact makeup of the water is constantly changing. We see that the river is a combination of both changing and unchanging elements.
In a similar way beings, which are the expressions of life, are born and die. Although they come and they go, there is a continuity of life in the world. Life which goes on continuously can be considered to be truth, whereas living beings which are born and die and are constantly changing, represent untruth. Therefore, the changing expressions of life are untrue, but life itself, which is a steady stream whose essence is the divinity, is true.
That is why the world has been likened to a river, where reality has become associated with unreality, or change. You can consider it a stream of changing truth, a truth which is qualified and not fully true. The world is a combination of pure truth, which remains the same and never changes, and untruth, which deals with things that are constantly changing. The wisdom teachings have described this state as truth-untruth, namely, a mixture or combination wherein both truth and untruth coexist. Spiritual practice is the process whereby you separate the truth from the untruth, and retain the truth. You see the illusion that the world exists separately from yourself and God for what it is, namely untruth. Once recognized as untruth you are no longer deluded by it, and the truth, which is the unity of God, man and world, stands revealed.
Ignorance, nature, world, illusion, mind, maya are all synonymous. They are all the illusory power of God. Thinking that things exist which do not really exist, and coming under their spell, is illusion. A saint summarized this as, "God is true but the world is false". You must understand this statement correctly. What it means is that our mistaken perception and experience of the world is untrue. The world itself, in essence, is true. God is the one, unchanging basis of this world of change. When you examine this in some depth you discover that the world is truly not world, but the divinity itself.
In the Gita, Krishna told Arjuna, "Arjuna, you are subjecting yourself to this element of time. You are getting yourself caught up in its flow, and you are going far, far away from me. Surrender yourself to me and all your sorrows will soon be removed." When you are associated with God, when you are near him, illusion cannot harm you. Here is a small example for this.
In the expensive homes of the wealthy there will often be a watchdog guarding the gate to keep people out. This dog is not like a street dog; it has been brought up by its owners with great affection and has been carefully trained. This dog does not go on barking whenever it sees people walking or moving about. It starts barking only when someone comes near the gate and tries to get in. When they see the dog and hear the barking, most visitors will quickly leave the gate and go away. Others, however, who have taken a firm resolve to meet the owner of the house, will continue to stand there and loudly call out to the owner of the house. Eventually, the owner, hearing all the commotion at the gate, will look out from his upstairs window to see who is standing at the gate. Once the owner recognizes the person waiting there to be his friend, he will come down, go to the gate, let his friend in, and take him upstairs into the house.
When this apparent stranger, who had been waiting at the gate turns out to be a friend of the master of the house and goes with him, the dog will no longer bark at him or try to harm him. The dog now knows that this person is being allowed in by the owner himself. Illusion can be compared to this dog. It guards the gate of liberation and bliss. If a person comes who is not a friend of the master of the house, if he has nothing to do there, but insists on coming in through the gate, the dog will catch hold of him. Fearing the consequences of being accosted by the dog, most people will run away. In a similar fashion, most people, as soon as they experience some difficulties on the spiritual path, will choose to turn away, instead of persisting on their quest, undaunted by difficulties. And so, they do not reach their goal and thus continue to be buffeted by the spell of illusion.
But a real devotee, who in this example is the person with a strong determination to reach the owner of the house, does not mind the dog at all. He remains at the gate and attracts the attention of the master, and stays there until the master comes out. To such a persistent one waiting at the gate, even the barking of the dog, even the pain caused by illusion is helpful, because the pain draws the attention and compassion of the master inside. The master turns his gaze on the devotee, recognizes him, and takes him into the house. Therefore, only the one with courage and a strong resolute nature, who has decided to remain there no matter how ferociously the dog is barking, will get to see the master and be able to enter this palace of ultimate peace.
The five senses and the sense objects we perceive with them represent this dog of illusion which will distract you and keep you from reaching God. It is for this reason that Krishna told Arjuna, "Arjuna, you are attached to so many sense objects; therefore you are ruffled by events. You have not been able to control your senses and you have not been able to develop concentration. Therefore, you have not been able to establish the divinity in your heart. Continue to cultivate your practice of constantly turning your mind back to God dwelling in your heart. Then you will gain concentration of mind. Only when you have concentration of mind will you be able to fully surrender to God. At all times and in all places always think of God. Whatever work you are doing, think of God. Remember God with love. Remember God with faith.
"Even when you are waging a war, think first of God, then fight. This is not an ordinary war; this fight you are now becoming involved in is not like a quarrel between you and some other individuals. What you are fighting most of all is your own weakness, your bad habits, all your limitations and frailties. With warm thoughts of love for the divinity dwelling in your heart, wage this inner war and win. Remember you are not just fighting a war against others. You are fighting your own inner sense organs. So, do not quit until you have achieved victory, until you have conquered your senses and fully mastered them."
In an earlier age, Prahlada also spoke of this inner fight to his father, the powerful demon king. He said, "Father, you have won many wars and have gained lordship over numerous worlds, but you have not been able to win a victory over your own senses. By winning all the worlds outside you have become a powerful king, but only when you can control your own senses will you be king of the whole universe. If you keep being defeated by your inner senses, how can you ever win a lasting victory against your enemies outside? When you win over your inner enemies, you can easily win over the external ones, also."
When is this possible? Only when you surrender yourself completely to the divinity. You say, 'my objects', 'myself', 'my people'. As long as you have such feelings it will not be possible for you to surrender. These are all attachments associated with the physical realm. You will have to gain mastery over not only the physical, but over the mental realm as well. Finally you will have to gain entry into the spiritual realm. Once you have fully surrendered yourself and entered the spiritual realm everything will be taken care of automatically, and you will no longer be bothered by any burdens and cares.
When you take a train journey, upon reaching the railway station you have to transport your luggage via a porter, or by one means or another. If there is no one to help you, you have to carry the luggage yourself. But once you enter the train you can put the luggage down anywhere you like. Then you can relax and there is no further bother with the luggage. The train will carry you and your luggage. Nevertheless, there are some fools who will sit in the train and carry their luggage on their heads. Those are the ones who have been blessed with God's grace but still doubt and continue to follow their own independent will. They have not surrendered fully.
Once you surrender yourself fully to the Lord and offer up everything that is to be done, as well as when it is to be done and how it is to be done, at the Lord's feet, he will take care of everything. To achieve this level of surrender there can be no trace of ego left; there should be no sense of yourself remaining. This has been shown in a particularly clear manner in the Ramayana by Lakshmana, the brother of Rama.
Let us pick up the story when Rama, Sita and Lakshmana during their exile in the forest, were moving through a mountainous area. As is the Lord's nature, he always loves to carry on some playful sport; he is the perfect actor. He never has any sorrow or pain whatsoever, but sometimes he will act as though he has these feelings. Whenever God comes down in human form he acts this way in order to conduct himself in a natural way as man. The human form is taken on by him so that he can be easily accessible to people. On that particular day, Rama, the incarnation of God, acted as though he was very tired. He was removing the sweat from his brow and telling Lakshmana, "Lakshmana, I am so tired. I don't think I will be able to go any further. Please put up a hut somewhere nearby, so that we can take a little rest."
Lakshmana asked Rama, "Brother, where shall we have this cottage?" Rama said, "You can decide for yourself which place will be most appropriate, and then put it up." Lakshmana responded, "Rama! Rama! What have I done? What is my error? What sins have I committed to hear these words? Please let me know why you have spoken to me like this!" Now, Rama knew the mind of Lakshmana and so he knew why Lakshmana was saying this, but in order to help Sita understand the level of Lakshmana's surrender, Rama said, "Lakshmana, please tell me what is troubling you. What have I said that has made you feel so much pain?"
Lakshmana replied, "I have given up everything. I have given up wife, mother, father, kingdom, everything. I have come along with you feeling that you are the father, that Sita is the mother, and that wherever you are is our beautiful capital city of Ayodhya. I have come only to implement your will. I have given up my own individual will, and now you ask me to construct a hut and choose the place in which to build it. Your command is my only thought. I have no other thoughts than that. Whatever is your will, I will do. My only duty is to obey you. My only goal, truly my everything, is you. You alone must tell me where the hut is to be put up." Sita realized the depth of Lakshmana's devotion and surrender. She turned to Rama and asked him to relieve Lakshmana's distress by designating the site for the hut himself.
The basic lesson of this story is that man should not have any desires separate from the one desire to fully surrender to God. Everything belongs to God, and only to God. Surrender means implicitly following the commands given to you by the Lord, whose directions will be clearly heard when he is enshrined in your heart. Surrender is the basis of the declaration, "Come and sit in my train and I will look after you. Let go of your ego-sense and desire. Don't carry your baggage on your head and suffer."
In this context, Krishna taught surrender as the highest and most important stage of devotion. Once you have surrendered yourself fully to the Lord, you will gain his grace. "Wherever you are, be it in a town, in a village, in a forest or in the sky, I will be your refuge. Come and surrender to me!" That is the command of the Lord, and that is also his promise. Once you are his, he will shelter you and protect you from all harm.
But, surrender does not mean giving up your discriminating faculty. You must discern what are desires and what is truly divine, and surrender all your worldly desires, offering them to the divine. Make every effort to discover the right way to surrender yourself, and thereby sanctify your life and reach the goal.
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