Some thoughts on why we sing Bhakti. Also, little snips of the Gayatri and Adi Mantras.
Here’s the link to register for the event.
This is one of my favorite chants to the Divine Mother.
Kali Durge Namo Namah
Uma Parvati Namo Nahah
Shakti Kundalini Namo Namah
“Having polished the mirror of my heart with the dust from my Guru’s lotus feet, I sing the pure fame of the best of the Raghus which bestows the four fruits of life.”
So begins the stunningly beautiful Hanuman Chalisa, a poem of devotion to Lord Hanuman composed by Tulsidas in the 16th Century.
Maharaj-ji said that every line of the Hanuman Chalisa is a Mahamantra. In my own experience, it does seem to be an extremely powerful prayer. It has certainly helped me trust and surrender to God more.
This is one of the chants that Devadas includes several days a week in his daily livestreamed sadhana. Also, Shyama Chapin has been livestreaming the Chalisa, along with other chants and readings from the Ramayana, each morning at 7 AM Eastern Time for nearly a year on her Facebook Page.
The photo above is a page from the Kainchi Temple prayer book available from the Taos Neem Karoli Baba Ashram’s online store.
As my practice develops I thought it might be good to keep track from time to time of my daily sadhana routine. Here’s what I’m doing at the current time.
Now that the holidays are behind us, I do my best to rise around 6:30 AM Central Time. This gives me an opportunity to brew coffee for the family, and spend some time in meditation before the day begins in earnest and the kirtan stream from Brooklyn begins at 9 AM Eastern.
Silent Mantra Meditation – Usually while coffee is brewing I sit for my first meditation of the day. I begin with a short prayer of invocation and some breath work. Some days it is just a few deep breaths or cyclical breathing, some days I also include a couple minutes of breath of fire to really clear out the CO2. Then I begin the mantra repetition, and continue for twenty minutes or so. At the end I bring my hands into prayer mudra and give thanks for another day in this life.
Daily Draw – I have been in the habit for nearly two years of drawing a Tarot card each morning, reflecting and journaling. These daily draws are the practice that first brought me out of the darkness. They led me to sobriety, meditation, and the other habits and resources that have helped me develop. They’re still teaching and guiding me.
Office of Readings Combined With Lauds – I began the daily scripture and prayer discipline of the Divine Office for Lent 2020. In prior years I have left off the practice at Easter, but this time continued with it.
Daily Word – This short daily reflection from Unity has been a source of great comfort and encouragement to me since I began reading it in May of 2019. It’s uncanny how the messages and scripture passages so often relate to things in my life, and also relate to the scriptures in the Divine Office, and to the card that turned up that day.
Gratitude – This is the time that I set aside to write down a few things for which I am especially grateful. Sometimes they will be things that have presented themselves already in the morning, or sometimes they are things that I remember from the prior day. I find that starting each day with gratitude and thanksgiving is the foundation for a happy life.
In all, these morning devotional practices usually take less than an hour, and they help me bring a calmer mind and a better sense of purpose to everything that I do for the rest of the day.
At 8 AM my local time, Devadas’ Daily Kirtan begins streaming. I find that hearing and chanting these ancient names of God have brought innumerable graces into my life. The main benefit of the practice, for me, has been surrender.
There’s a great story about Swami Prabhupada. He had come to New York City at the age of 70, with little money, no connections, and no worldly support. His guru had told him to spread the practice of bhakti to the West. At his lowest point, he wrote a poem saying that though things looked hopeless, he trusted that there must have been some reason that the Lord had brought him to America. His words were to the effect of “very well, Krishna – make me dance as you wish.”
I cannot explain how bhakti works in this way, but it does. When one feels like a feather on the breath of God, everything in life is sweeter and easier.
I’m a lot more flexible with my practice later in the day. Without fail I pray Vespers each day. I nearly always spend twenty minutes in meditation as well, and lately we have been praying a Family Rosary before bedtime. I’ve also been delving into Paramahansa Yogananda’s lessons lately, and beginning to learn some of the techniques that he taught. These afternoon and evening practices are a lot less routine and fixed for me, though. I depend on the morning practice to do the “heavy lifting” and am able to just enjoy whatever I do later in the day as it comes. In this respect it’s something like the combination of a structured fitness regimen and open gym.
Other Times of Day
I may spend time in meditation or other edifying activities of some sort at other times of the day as well. This might be a short break for meditation, prayer or (most often) chanting.
But I set aside specific time for practice morning and evening each day without fail. I only wish that I had developed the habit in the days of my youth.
Do you have thoughts or questions? I love to read your comments.
Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. – From the First Letter to the Church at Corinth
At the time this letter was written, there was great discussion among Followers of the Way about whether or not they ought to completely renounce life in the world, and spend every moment waiting in rapt anticipation. St. Paul’s counsel is that people should continue to go about their daily lives and activities (married life, mourning, rejoicing, commerce, etc.) but to do it all without attachment to any of it.
It seems to me that this is identical to Sri Krishna’s instruction to Arjuna. “Be not moved in success or failure, for union with God is evenness of mind.” The path of renunciation is not required. Instead, we are to continue to perform the duties of life, but remain unattached personally to the outcomes of our actions.
We should not pretend that our human lives and experiences are divorced from the material realm. The idea is to figure out how to live in the world, to be here now, in a way that is better – a way that expresses the values of heaven: compassion and kindness and patience and humility and joy – to feed each other, to be at peace, and to live with ease of heart.
“I want you to be free from anxieties.”
I recently watched AWAKE: The Life of Yogananda and it got me interested in his teachings. So many people on the spiritual path have mentioned his Autobiography of a Yogi as the prime inspiration for their journey, but I had never picked it up before. After watching the film, I downloaded the Kindle version and am now about halfway through.
Paramahansa Yogananda was the final guru in a lineage that began with the “Deathless Yogi” Mahavatar Babaji. Yogananda came to the United States in 1920 and toured extensively, lecturing and teaching yoga, which he often referred to as “the science of religion.” He also began to publish a series of lessons which were made available by mail, intended to help the reader begin with meditation along the path toward learning Kriya Yoga (the practice taught by his lineage).
The Self-Realization Fellowship is the organization that he established in the US to carry on his work. They still offer his lessons by mail. The content was updated after Yogananda left the body by his disciple Sri Mrinilini Mata, to whom he had entrusted the project. She considered it her life’s work, and the revised series was finally launched in 2019. It remains faithful to the original series, but offers some additional depth, incorporating some of Yogananda’s later writings and quotes.
The introduction to the series is available to read for free at this link.
I am just beginning to study and practice the meditation techniques taught by Yogananda. I don’t know yet whether or not I will adopt them as my principal practice. They are quite a bit more involved than the simple silent mantra meditation that I have been practicing. I am definitely interested in exploring them further, though, and will report back as I progress.
If you have had experience with Yogananda’s teachings or have practiced his methods, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Many people begin meditation as a wellness practice. Others want to sharpen their focus and enhance creativity. Others are trying to develop a calm emotional bearing. Still others are seeking a pathway to heaven or enlightenment.
Here are a few observations about the four dimensions of human experience, and how a daily meditation practice can help to improve and nurture each of them. Some of what I will share has been documented by research, some is anecdotal and some even speculative. I’ll do my best to make clear what can be substantiated by more than my own hunches, and what cannot.
Meditation and the Physical Dimension
Meditation offers many benefits in the physical dimension of life, and could easily be adopted for the physiological effects alone. It’s one of the most effective ways to clear your body of stress hormones such as cortisol, and to promote the release of positive hormones like oxytocin. Daily meditators report that they sleep better. Meditation has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, and to reduce inflammation and help with pain reduction and pain management. There are also numerous health benefits to be derived from leaving behind the bad habits and addictions which tend to fall away after one adopts a daily meditation practice.
Also in the material realm, beyond the physiological benefits, meditation is often the gateway to better financial well being. Part of this is related to the better physical health, better decision making and better overall function promoted by meditation, but there is also a somewhat inscrutable tendency for things to simply “work out better” for people who meditate. Many people attribute their personal material well being directly to their intentional efforts to help it manifest while in a meditative state.
The practice can help you on the job, as well. Meditators report that they experience increased job satisfaction, better performance and better relationships with supervisors, peers and direct reports.
Meditation and the Emotional Dimension
Meditators report lower stress levels, and better overall emotional health. Studies tell us that meditation increases one’s sense of empathy for others, reduces anxiety, boosts self-esteem and optimism, and helps remove addictions, undesirable compulsions and negative states of mind. Better moods, better relationships, a prevalence of calmness and more joy are commonly reported “side effects” of adopting the practice.
Meditation and the Mental Dimension
Study after study has documented effects of meditation which include improved memory, mental clarity, attention spans and ability to focus. EEGs show more electrical activity in the areas of the brain related to reasoning and decision making. They also show enhanced activity between the two hemispheres of the brain, and globally throughout the organ.
Often, people who meditate report that they seem to have tapped into a wellspring of creativity and intuition that they scarcely knew was available to them before. New insights and solutions to problems seem to come to mind “out of the blue.” Creative people become even more creative. Collaboration becomes easier and more effective.
Better Performance by Any Measure
The effects of a regular meditation practice are profound, whether in the physiological, financial, emotional or mental realms. Once people begin to meditate they are generally more productive, happier, perform better and are more pleasant to be around. Even a quick review of the data confirms all of this, and should be an encouragement to anyone who is considering beginning a meditation practice.
There is yet another dimension to be discussed, though – that of the spirit. It is in the spiritual dimension where meditation proves itself to be not only a useful practice, but a nearly essential one.
Meditation and the Spiritual Dimension
When I use the word “spirituality” it is meant to describe the activities and pursuits in our lives through which we attempt to find meaning and purpose. Whether we are drawn in these spiritual pursuits toward theology, cosmology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, art, religion – whatever the approach – we are trying to determine why we are here, what meaning our lives might have, what legacy we might leave, and how to live the best and happiest life that we can during a relatively brief human life span.
It’s a little more difficult to speak with clarity, let alone certainty, about the effects of meditation in this dimension of human experience, but I shall do my best. Much of what I write falls within the domain of speculation, but I do believe it to be a well informed speculation.
It first ought to be said that the meditation practices that we know, whether focused, mindful or transcendental, all come to us from spiritual traditions. They may be used to good effect by those who have little interest in spirituality, let alone religion or mysticism, but the fact remains that these practices and techniques are rooted in humankind’s quest for meaning – for a deeper understanding of the universe and our place in it.
So it is natural that a meditation practice, whether it is intended to do so or not, may lead one to levels of consciousness where glimpses of “the answers” arise, or at least where a further interest in “the questions” is sparked.
People who meditate often report a growing sense of their lives as part of a unity, or kinship, with other human beings, other sentient beings, or indeed with all things, living, dead, animate and not. I believe that this is because that unity is the fundamental truth, and meditation can bring us into a state of consciousness where that truth is not only evident, but where it is directly experienced.
Meditation also helps to cultivate the qualities of compassion, kindness, forgiveness and joy. Regardless of how one views the “purpose” of life, certainly these qualities are preferable to misery, hostility, callousness, rudeness and holding grudges or seeking revenge.
Meditation also seems to help us get in touch with the passions in our hearts, and helps us develop the courage to pursue them. This is key to finding purpose and meaning.
It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I have noticed in my own life and practice that meditation has helped me “get ready” – bringing ideas, resources and assistance to me by happy accidents of synchronicity at precisely the right times during my journey of personal development.
Explorations in the Essential Field
There are those who believe that our minds are structured in very much the same way as that which we observe as material reality. On the surface, things appear and behave differently than what we know to be true when we delve into their essential nature. Moving from the outward appearance of a “solid object” we first see compounds, then molecules, then atoms, sub-atomic particles, and then it gets very strange. As nearly as we can tell, the fundamental essence of things can be described as an energetic vibration, and what is experienced of it depends at least in part on the expectations of the observer. The vast field of probabilities waits until it is being observed before it decides how to express itself. Everything that we experience arises from this field of probabilities. All things arise from no thing.
As we achieve deeper and more profound levels of consciousness during meditation, it has been speculated that we can experience this field, and interact with it – perhaps even influence it – more directly than we do when mitigated by our bodily senses. Since the field is the foundational essence of all time and space, it is boundless. While experiencing these deeper levels of consciousness, we, too, become unbounded.
Stories of the great masters and saints who performed amazing feats (miraculous healings, being in two places at once, accurately predicting the future or giving witness of events which are happening great distances away, etc.) suddenly make more sense in this context.
When we meditate, do we really gain access to all of the wisdom and power of the universe? Do we encounter the face of God?
For many, many spiritual seekers over many thousands of years, that has certainly been the primary goal of the practice.
Calmer, Kinder and Better, At Least
Tempting as it may be to adopt the practice of meditation in hopes of attaining sainthood or supernatural powers, I shall be happy if it helps me to become, simply, calmer, kinder and more able to cope with the challenges of life in the coming decade or so.
It seems to me that this is reason enough to set aside a little time each morning and evening to practice.
I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on the matter. Please get in touch by email, or leave a comment below.
Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
Of all-pervading bliss.
From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
Ocean of mind, I drink all Creation’s waves.
Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
Myself, in everything, enters the Great Myself.
From Samadhi – A poem by Paramhansa Yogananda
It strikes me that one of the most important things to bear in mind when beginning any spiritual practice, but particularly meditation, is the word “practice.”
A meditation practice reflects all of the various definitions of that word.
It’s a “practice” in the same sense as “it’s my practice to have a cup of coffee every morning.” It should become a natural and habitual part of the daily routine.
It’s also a practice in the same sense as establishing a legal or healthcare or accounting practice. We become practitioners, and the practice gets to be at the center of our lives.
But it is also a practice in the same sense as “practice makes perfect.” Each time that we sit down to meditate, we are, in a sense, rehearsing, and developing what the Buddhists call “skillful means.”
Meditation practice is very similar to playing a musical instrument in this regard. Very few people can just pick up a new instrument for the very first time and make coherent, melodious sounds with it. In the same way, very few people can sit down to meditate for the very first time and achieve a coherent meditative state of mind as an experienced meditator might. Those rare individuals who can do this have an abundance of grace in their lives (and may perhaps be benefitting from the practice of many past lifetimes).
Here are the important implications of this, especially for beginning meditators.
- You can’t do it “wrong” as long as you do it every day.
- But you must make it a habit, and do it every day.
- It’s alright that you “don’t feel anything” or that you feel things which seem less than “skillful” or “spiritual.”
- It’s important to be patient for results, and to set aside all expectations, except for the expectation that over the long course of time, the practice will be beneficial.
One wouldn’t go to the gym for the first time, and expect to perform as an elite powerlifter does. One wouldn’t expect to workout once every few months and reap the physical rewards of a routine workout regimen. In the same way, it is the constant repetition of meditation practice which yields the benefits.
Let’s say that our physical goal is to lose 25 pounds. It would be foolish to begin an exercise program, and give up after two weeks because we had only lost one pound. If we continue that program for a year, and lose weight at the same rate, we would exceed our goal.
There may be some workouts when we feel particularly strong and fit, and some where we do not. We may not feel anything happening at all during the actual work, and there may be weeks when we don’t see any results at all, or where we actually lose ground. But if we stick with the program, over the long run, we’ll achieve the intended outcome.
This is a good illustration of how meditation works. There may be times when we are able to achieve a deep sense of peace and wholeness and connection during meditation, and times when we feel more distracted and frustrated than anything else. But the goal isn’t to sit down and feel something. The goal is to sit down and meditate.
I did a quick Facebook Live session to help get the word out about our next Key City Kirtan gathering on October 9th, 2020.
The mantra is Om Dum Durgayei Namaha – a chant to Durga, the fierce and mighty protector.
Some Relevant Links
Washington, DC Meditation Study – In the video I mistakenly said that they chanted. They didn’t. They practiced an advanced TM meditation technique.