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Spiritual Concentration & Meditation: The Restless Mind

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In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources – lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.






Swami Adiswarananda

Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center

New York

Sometimes meditation is linked with prayer, but there is an important distinction between the two. Prayer functions in a dualistic way, in that it is directed to a personal deity or a divine personality whom we perceive as being separate from us. In meditation, that seeming dualism is resolved. It may be that meditation begins with effort, with articles of faith, and with anthropomorphic images and symbols, but it always ends in absorption into the Divine, which is beyond all form, name, and concept. Images, concepts, and symbols are used as mere stepping stones in this spiritual venture. So it is said that in prayer we talk to God, while in meditation we listen to the soundless voice of God within us. In prayer we commune with the Divine, but in meditation we achieve union with It.


Meditation is the highest form of worship. In worship, says Shankaracharya, a person renounces his external activities and “worships in the sacred and stainless shrine of Atman, which is independent of time, place, and distance; which is present everywhere.” The Atman, or Self, is the true internal shrine at which we worship when we meditate. At an external shrine, a holy place where pious devotees go on pilgrimage, there are certain disadvantages. For example, the place may be situated at a great distance, so that pilgrimage entails physical effort and suffering. The comfort of the pilgrims may be disturbed by the weather, and thieves or unscrupulous priests may give them trouble. One may be limited to going only at specific times, since the merit of a pilgrimage is said to depend on the auspiciousness of the season. Further, the merit accruing from a conventional pilgrimage is not everlasting. But one who worships at the sacred shrine of Atman is free from all these disadvantages and obstacles.


Communion with Atman bestows upon the soul immortality and eternal bliss. Communion with our true Self, according to the Mahabharata, is the most efficacious form of meditation, comparable to bathing in a sacred river: “The river of Atman is filled with the water of self-control; truth is its current, righteous conduct its banks, and compassion its waves. …Bathe in its sacred water; ordinary water does not purify the inmost soul.” Meditation is thus the greatest purifier of the mind.


Spiritual seekers often ask: If God is self-evident, the Reality of all realities, then why do we not actually see Him? Why must we undergo spiritual practices in order to see Him? The Vedic sages answer that we do not see God because of impurities on the mirror of our mind, which confuse and mislead us. The world that we perceive and experience is the one reflected to us by our own mind. If that mirror is covered with dust or filth, the reflection it casts back to us will be distorted. But if we cleanse and polish the mirror of mind, it will reflect Reality, which is God. This cleansing is accomplished by the practice of spiritual disciplines and austerities, which include control of the senses and the various forms of meditation.


Meditation is a technique for gaining mastery over the mind. Mind controlled is our best friend; uncontrolled, it is our worst enemy. The human mind is known for its restlessness. The Bhagavad Gita describes the mind by four epithets: restless, turbulent, powerful, and obstinate. An ancient proverb depicts the restless mind addicted to the pleasures of the senses as a mad elephant, while Shankaracharya likens it to a tiger: “In the forest-tract of sense-pleasures there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people who have a longing for liberation never go there.” Swami Vivekananda has compared the restless mind to a monkey that not only is drunk with the wine of desire but simultaneously stung by the scorpion of jealousy and overtaken by the demon of pride. 6 The restless mind is like a monster that can make life a nightmare—but that same mind, when subdued and controlled, becomes a most trusted friend and helper, guaranteeing peace and happiness.

To be continued

[Copyright Swami Adiswarananda]

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