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The real meaning of meditation || Acharya Prashant, on Sage Ashtavakra (2015)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
29 min
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निःसंगो निष्क्रियोऽसि त्वं स्वप्रकाशो निरंजनः। अयमेव हि ते बन्धः समाधिमनुतिष्ठति॥१-१५॥

~ अष्टावक्र गीता

Translation: You are now and forever free, luminous, transparent, and still. The practice of meditation keeps one in bondage.

~ Ashtavakra Gita (Chapter 1, Verse 15)

Questioner (Q): What is meditation? Why the practice of meditation keeps one in bondage?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Meditativeness is simply our inner nature. To meditate is different from any kind of mental exertion or mental activity. To meditate is to be at a point where parallelly two non-events are happening. First, there is no need for mental activity, because there is no need for any activity, so I am calling it a non-event. So there is no need to think or solve problems or resist challenges or plans. No need is felt. Secondly, and parallelly, even though there is no need to gather knowledge, yet all is known.

Most of the knowledge that we have, come to us because the insecure one within us needs to have information from the world. That is the reason why we seek knowledge, there is a feeling of incompleteness and the possibility of some loss if that knowledge is not there.

"Something would be reduced, something would be diminished within me if I do not have this knowledge"; that is the reason why we chase and store knowledge. In meditativeness, there is knowing without the need to know. Obviously, this knowing is not about people, things, ideas, concepts, or places — which themselves are a product of insecurity.

In the great security of meditativeness, there is a great realization. Of what? Surely not of that, which itself is a product of insecurity. You come to simply know a great deal in meditation, but what do you come to know? Do you come to know about the politics of the country, about the economic situation, about what is happening in the neighbor's house; of all the things that man's mind has erected? No. None of that. Because whatever man's mind has erected, it has done so as a response to the various challenges, to the various threats to its body and ego. That is what we usually call 'advancement'. So that is not what you come to know of, in meditation.

Remember, in meditation, firstly there is no need to know. Secondly, all is known without the need to know it.

Whenever there will be a need to know, all that you will know will be trash, inessential. Whatever knowledge will come to you out of your own will, your own desire and pursuit will be worthless. Because who is chasing this? Think of that entity that is chasing this. What can that entity chase?

The entity that is chasing this, is itself a product of, a feeling of inferiority, which it seeks, to treat through the accumulation of knowledge. Surely such an entity is not going to be able to treat itself by the accumulation of knowledge, because the accumulation of knowledge will only prove that the assumption was correct.

One 'thinks' himself to be sick and goes to buy medicine. And if the medicines are given to him, if he is able to get medicines of 'his' choice, it is not going to rid him out of the assumption that he is sick. In fact, if a sick one comes to you and you tell him to take a few medicines, you have cemented the thought within him that he is indeed sick. That is not what happens in meditation. In meditation, you have no need to know. You are not sick.

It is very pertinent that we notice how much of our need to know simply arises from the trivia, from the rottenness accumulated inside us. We are always on a lookout to gather information. The senses are automatic accumulators of information, and the mind, too, is always on a hunt to know this, to know that. In fact, what we call 'human progress', it is to a great extent the availability of quick and easy information.

Whatever you want to know is available to be known. At the same time, it becomes very important to know from where the urge for that knowledge is coming, and what is, hence, the scope, the domain of that knowledge. What will be that knowledge all about? Because the urge comes from thought, hence all the knowledge that can be gathered in the so-called normal thinking process will only be about the product of thought.

You can have lots of knowledge about what material is like, what the universe is like. Today you can go to the internet and come to know that wherein a particular lane in Mexico is a particular restaurant located, and all of these things can be very easily and very precisely known. But these things, even if they tell us a lot about the world, will never carry us to the underlying mystery of the world. That is not what normal accumulation of knowledge through senses, and through the analytical process of mind can give us.

We will know the material, but never the subtle origin of the material. The very faculty that is asking for knowing, is itself a material faculty. Neither does it have any desire to know the subtle nor does it have the capacity to realize the subtle. So all that will be filled with, is gross, gross, and more grossness.

What is 'gross', is not beautiful; what is 'gross', is devoid of its subtle root, its subtle origin. So it's not really true; neither beautiful nor true. That is what our usual mental processes give us: information, knowledge, and conclusions that are just material and gross. And they leave us craving for more.

No knowledge is ever sufficient; you want more knowledge. So there is grossness and there is craving for more of this grossness. No coming to a stop, no stillness, and hence no peace. But surely these being the essentials of living, without which the mind is going to go mad, these too must be found. Beauty, Truth, Stillness, Peace — there has to be something that validates them, that confirms their presence with such surety that you do not need to seek any more knowledge or certification. A final stamp of there is-ness must be there, that they do exist.

Knowledge will never convince you that peace exists. Accumulate as much knowledge as you can, about peace, but that will not give you peace. Read as much as you want to, about beauty, but that will not fill your heart up with the realization of beauty. Keep reading, more and more reading will not bring you to an end of the reading, and hence stillness. Knowledge fails there. It so miserably fails that after a point all it can say is that "I have failed".

Then how does and where does the doubtless certainty about all that which makes life worth living come from? That comes from your meditativeness; and because that comes from meditativeness, it is not at all external, unlike knowledge, which is always external. Always external, and hence always prone to doubt.

Whatever has been told to you by an external agency, will never become your life-blood. You will take it, store it, but yet there would be something foreign about it. You would never have complete faith upon it, even if there is nothing to argue with.

The knowledge may seem impeccable, the arguments that have been presented to you may seem perfect, the logic behind everything may seem inviolable, and yet you will find that your heart is not being stilled, that you are not so sure about anything. That sureness arises only in meditation.

Now let me put it this way: You attain to your nature of sureness only in meditation. And then, something magical happens there, knowledge-less knowing, which is so very difficult for a non-meditative mind to believe. You walk without legs, you fly without wings, and you speak without knowledge.

Have you ever spoken without knowledge? Only in meditation does that happen. It is like flying without wings. It is the ultimate magic. You love without reason. You are joyful without looking for profit. Only this magic makes life worth living, otherwise, there is no point dragging on, and on.

The mind that lives only in theories, and concepts, and knowledge, and all of that, quickly becomes conditioned. That mind somewhere just waits and prepares for death, because life is then just a burden. You are carrying so much load upon the head, without a moment of rest. It's like working so hard without even getting paid. There is only agony and more agony. Going on living, working hard to feed the body, thinking so much to protect yourself, and not getting even a drop of that divine nectar which can make you forget all your tiredness. So tired day-in and tiring day out, like a bonded labor, working without remuneration, always trying to get security without ever being secure; so working so hard without ever getting that which you are working for. Always desperate for love without ever getting love; so always desperate and never contended. Running from one place to another like that proverbial deer in the mirage, always thirsty, always thirsty, and just running around till he dies.

Look at the agony, that's how the normal mind and the common man lives, like the thirsty deer hoping that the next promise of water will indeed materialize and quench his thirst, and it never materializes. You just keep on running from here to there without ever reaching anywhere.

Stopping never happens. Life without that meditativeness is surely a torture. Only in meditativeness you actually reach there, where the thought is attempting to reach all its life. And that is the difference between a 'thinking mind' and a 'meditative mind'. The thinking mind is all the time trying and never reaching. The meditative mind is so sure that it has no need to try, and in its non-trying, it reaches a magical place where all is just known. How? Magically. Reasonlessly. Thoughtlessly. That cannot be explained.

But you can have some taste of it, if you are prepared to let go, of your clinginess to security. And how much we tolerate just to secure ourselves. And what do we secure? Nothing except our chains, only they are secured! When from head to toe we are nothing but chains, even if we do secure something, what is it that we would secure? The chains. But how diligently do we secure our chains, we work so hard to maintain our fetters.

The man has worked his entire life to build his own prison. There are some who save their entire life, only to dig their own graves and ensure that the graves are gold-plated, or air-conditioned, you never know.

Have you heard of that incident? There was a man walking on the highway, someone comes to him and says, "Give me all your money, otherwise I will shoot you." He says, "Let me think for a while." Even the robber is amazed. He says, "Please do think, I want to see you thinking. You are the first man who has given me this reply." So he thinks, and as happens with all the thinkers and as is the nature of the thought, the man comes up with the most brilliant response to the situation. He says, "All right, shoot me." The robber says, "Shoot I surely will. But, tell me how did you come to this conclusion? What was the tremendous thought process?" The man said, "See, this money that I have is for my security, it is tremendously important. I will use this in my old age, it is for my future. Now the future and security are very important. You can shoot me, but how can I give up on security? Shoot me, but I can't give up my security. Kill me but I can't give up my future."

That is the brilliance of thought! And remember that it is easy to laugh at it because it has been laid so bare in front of you, but this is exactly what thought does in every situation. It wants nothing except security and continuation in time. Future and security, except that no thinking process has no other objective. All thinking processes are towards only this objective, and if you are vigilant enough, if you bother to inquire, you will find that out.

Whatever you are thinking is ultimately about securing the thinker. Thought has just one function — secure the thinker. The thinker by definition is insecure. So thought has just one function — secure the insecurity. And it does that perfectly. It secures your insecurity. It ensures that your insecurity continues.

Meditation is far beyond all this stupidity. You say, "I don't need to know what Truth is. I am alright. Who bothers to know?" Meditation says, "I have no need to get the definition of love. Don't explain me what are joy and peace. It's okay. My memory is fairly poor. I don't need to load it. Even if you tell me, I will forget very soon. So it's alright, I am okay. There are a lot of other things that we can do. The weather is nice, we can walk a little and if there is a thing else to do. We can just lay down and sleep. Why talk unnecessarily? What is this futile exchange of words, like armies exchanging bullets?"

Meditation says this, but when the moment comes, the meditative mind finds that even without knowing the knowledge, it knows all that is essential. It knows without knowledge, so much so, that it does not even have the knowledge that it knows.

Remember, not only is this knowing, knowledge-less, in the sense that it has not come from outside, it is knowledge-less even in the sense that it itself has no knowledge that it knows. So deep is its courage that when the moment comes, the knowing just shows up only to the extent it is needed. And it will be perfectly matched to the moment. It will not show up any more than what is needed, and not an iota less than what is required.

It is like a magical pocket. You go to a shop without knowing how much there is in your pocket, and when the moment to pay comes, you put your hand in your pocket, and only as much will be there in the pocket as is needed to pay. But that pocket is only available to those who do not earn. All those who are great earners, and intent upon filling the pocket themselves, they do not get that magical pocket. Their pockets have only a little bit of money. How much can you earn? There is no end to numbers, whatever you will earn will be nothing if your net worth is multiplied by thousand and a ratio is taken. You may have a thousand rupees and multiply that by another one thousand and take the ratio, you have nothing! You may have a trillion dollars, and divide that by a trillion-trillion dollars, and you have nothing. It is all comparative and the thinking mind is anyway nothing except knowing by associating, knowing in a relative sense, knowing in a dualistic sense. So, whatever we earn, is anyway already insufficient. The magical pocket gives you whatever you want, without even you knowing that this much exists in your pocket.

But for that, there are a few conditions:

The first one has already been stated that: you should have not earned it. It should not have come from outside. Second, you will not decide to pick the challenges, you will be choice-less. You will not order the food depending on the money you have. You will not order a lot, thinking that you have a lot of money. And you will not hold yourself back from eating, assuming that you don't have much. You will order exactly as much as is needed. If you need a lot, order a lot and if you don't need a lot, don't order a lot. And then you will get a sumptuous meal, and you will eat to your heart's content. And then when you fearlessly put your hand in the pocket, you will get the money.

For this, you require a lot of faith. Otherwise, you will keep wondering even while having your dinner that you may have to wash these utensils after eating. "I am eating all this, but who knows that when I put my hand in the pocket, the required amount will be available or not." You need to have absolute faith. You need to have absolute faith that the required amount will be there, and you cannot be greedy about it either. You cannot say that because it is going to be available anyway, so let me order twice the quantity that I need, and also have something packed to show-off elsewhere. Then if you put your hand in the pocket, you find nothing, and you will actually have to wash the utensils.

So, it is available. That magic, that blessing, that grace is available only to those who do not ask for it, who really do not need it, who are not greedy about it, and at the same time who value it so much that they will never say that we can get it from elsewhere, or that we can earn it on our own.

And if you see, all these are the functions of the thought. Thought acts exactly in these ways. "I can earn on my own. I can know. I can distribute it to others. I can get it from others. I can check what I know.", all these are typical characteristics of thought. When these are not there, then where you are is called 'meditation', and then greatness happens there. It is difficult to share meditation in words. It is difficult to share the 'beyond knowing', the 'beyond knowledge', through the instrument of knowledge; so meditation cannot really be explained through words.

Meditation can be shared, meditation can be explained only through meditation.

Ashtavakra is saying that the practice of meditation keeps one in bondage. Why is he saying that? Because the method or technique for meditation cannot come through knowledge. Meditation surely does require a technique, because it is the mind that ultimately relaxes, settles and disappears into meditation, and mind moves only on techniques, so techniques are needed. On the one hand, techniques are needed; on the other hand, as Ashtavakra says, the practice of meditation keeps one in bondage.

What is this contradiction? The contradiction is: that the technique for meditation too can be known only in meditation.

It is your meditation, it is your meditativeness which will automatically, from nowhere, reasonlessly, tell you the right technique suited to you and that technique cannot come from anywhere else. No book can tell it to you, no amount of thinking and planning and analyzing can tell it to you. You will just know.

When you are meditative, then you will also know how to live in a meditative way. And this living in a meditative way, this itself is the technique for meditation. You will know whom to talk to, you will know what to read, you will know whom to avoid and whom to come close to, you will simply know. The technique itself opens up when you are there. Otherwise, the technique will not be known to you. Otherwise, you will have all these borrowed practices of meditation which are of very little help.

Understand it this way:

What is happening here, right now? We are talking about meditation, but even these words about meditation will be meaningful to you only if you are meditative. Only in your meditativeness can you understand these words about 'meditation'.

"What is the significance of these words if I already have to be meditative?" It is the words that are bringing you to meditation. "And where are these words coming from?" They are coming from meditation itself. "Then what is the source of all this?" Meditate, and you will know!

It is not a crude and linear cause-effect diagram. Do not come up with your chicken and egg story, that what comes first, meditation, or technique for meditation? Thought will not be able to understand all this. You understand what I say because you are meditative, and you are meditative because I say what I say.

"What comes first?" Meditate. "What does meditation mean?" Throw away this stupid question!

When you throw away this stupid question, then you realize that meditation is sufficient. The answer to this question anyway does not matter. What will you do with the answer to this question? You will try to capture it. You will try to do some kind of mischief with it. What else will you do?

Ashtavakra is very right in saying that practices are a great barrier towards meditation. He is saying, "You are now and forever free, luminous, transparent, still. The practice of meditation keeps one in bondage."

'Practice of meditation' means acquired knowledge about meditation. "What is meditation? How to go about doing it?" — that will not help, because the acquirer of that knowledge itself is the bondage. Knowing a few more practices, he reinforces himself. Gathering that knowledge, he does not dissolve, he becomes all the more cemented. And that is the funniest game that Maya plays with us. The very same knowledge that is intended to treat us, becomes an instrument of the disease.

It requires a bit of grace, it requires an ambrosial touch for words to be really successful. Otherwise, in most of the cases, words are going to be co-opted. I am not very sure whether a recording of this session will be of any use to you. It requires something beyond words, maybe a particular presence for the words, to have any effect. And that is what is wrong with meditation practices. They are mere words, things, methods expressed in words. The touch of the special is missing; the aliveness is missing. The words are like corpses. You look at a corpse and you look at a living man, there is not much of a difference on the outside. But still, everything is different: one is alive, one is dead.

Words are co-opted. And that is what I just said is one of the funniest games of Maya, that the very same words that are said to take care of illusions, to dissolve them, they become an agent of illusion itself. You gather knowledge, and that knowledge itself makes you more cunning and clever. Instead of dissolving the cleverness, it makes you all the more sophisticated in your cleverness; nuanced cleverness, subtle cleverness. It is not the rough type of cleverness that can be easily seen, exposed, and hence, dissolved; but a very fine cleverness.

Ashtavakra is advising that the practice of meditation keeps one in bondage. Yes, any practice that is not arising from meditation itself, will keep you in bondage. And the practice that will arise from meditation will be a practice touched by life, it will not be a dead practice.

The practices that we have are all dead practices. One takes up a practice and gets stuck to it. Whereas the practice that arises out of your meditativeness is a dynamic practice. It changes every minute because life is a fresh movement every minute. The flow is not the same as it was a few seconds back. So the right action is not the same this moment, as it was a few moments back. Hence the meditation method for this moment must be different from what it was.

Kindly understand two things in this regard: One, you need meditation every moment. Meditativeness is not something that you practice for a fixed number of hours every day. Secondly, you need a different method of meditation every moment.

Your so-called conventional wisdom and gurus go against both of these. First of all, they have confined meditation to one of the activities of the day. Just like you have many other activities confined to their own time slots, similarly, meditation too has become an activity confined to its own time slot.

No, meditation cannot be that. It has to be continuous. It has to be like breathing, continuous.

So, first, meditation has to be continuous. Second, the meditation technique, the method, the practice has to be very-very dynamic and flexible. You cannot keep employing the same method from morning till evening. It has to be so dynamic that nothing can be said about it. It has to be so flexible that it is a universal set; it involves every possible action that there can be. So walking is meditation, eating is meditation, talking is meditation, sleeping is meditation, running is meditation, anger is meditation. Meditation is the universal set of whatever you do.

Constant meditation, unhindered, unflinching, still, and stable core, and from that, a lively flow of the right response to the moment arises. This right response itself is the meditation technique.

So, you are sitting here now, and you are just sitting, listening. This is your meditation technique right now. Do you think that my words are benefiting you? No, it is your sitting that is important. If you could sit like this, exactly like this, even without my words, then my words are simply not needed. Then I am redundant. It is your sitting that is important. I am repeating. I may not be there, you may find that this place is vacant, but even then if you care about yourselves, just sit like this. It may be a little difficult, maybe my presence helps and facilitates this, but just sit like this, as you are sitting right now, and then the same effect will be there. It is your sitting that matters.

Conversely, if you are not sitting like this, then I may go on talking and talking, and yet there would be no meditativeness.

So what is happening?

Your right response is the meditation technique.

There is a particular moment, and you are doing what is right at that moment, and that is 'meditation'. Someone knocks the door and attentively you open the door, that is the meditation technique for that moment. It is as simple as that. You are swimming in a river and you are swimming with all your presence, that is a meditation technique.

But that meditation technique is not useful while sitting in a cinema hall. Sitting in a cinema hall, you require a different response to that moment, and that will be the right meditation technique for that moment. And where does that technique come from? It comes from the meditation itself. I am repeating this. The right meditation technique can come from no place other than meditation.

And it is not somebody else's meditation, not some guru's meditation, it is your own meditation. That is why people keep struggling with meditation and it becomes such a puzzle for them. And you have people teaching meditation, and how difficult it is to meditate, and this and that.

It is because you are eating medicine that is not suited to you. The medicine that is suited to you can come only from your own inner doctor, that is the magic of this. You are the patient and you are the doctor, and only your own inner doctor can treat this patient. You go to an external doctor, he cannot help.

The inner doctor is so flexible, versatile, and compassionate that he gives you dynamic prescriptions. Think of a doctor working so hard, every second he gives you a fresh prescription every moment. And his pharmacy is always open. Not only does he give you a prescription, but he also tells you that the prescription is available there, free of cost. You only have to go and fetch it.

That is how this thing works: meditation, meditation technique.

Do not be taken in by the complication of the word 'technique'. 'Technique' simply means the right response to the situation of life. Sitting in a cinema hall is a situation of life. What to do there, is a meditation technique. Somebody comes and abuses you, it's a life situation. What response should come, is a meditation technique. It is as simple as this, and as difficult for the ego as this. Because in all this, there is no place for any kind of planning, cleverness, or manipulation.

You have to surrender to the doctor. There is no place for your own knowledge that, "I went somewhere and read this. I have read on the internet that these are the new medicines." The doctor will refuse to talk. You are so clever, you go and treat yourself. Only when you just sit silent and say, "I don't even need any medicine. Doctor, you are so beautiful, your presence is enough", then the doctor starts treating you.

It's a strange thing about meditation and about life. When you say that I don't want anything, then suddenly the immensity of the unknown opens up to you.

It's a little unjust. Those who don't want anything get everything, and those who are craving to get, just get the craving and more of it.

Yes, of course, you want more, you will get more. What? Craving.

"I don't need to know", and you know. "I am so complete. I don't feel lonely. I don't need a partner", and you find that the entire world is lovable. Searching for a special partner, you only get a special search. You get it when you are not demanding it, and of course, you don't demand it when you have it. So what comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Just meditate! Don't engage yourself in silly questions.

Q: Is there any difference between attention and meditation?

AP: Essentially the same, used in different contexts. When dealing with the world in a meditative state, you are said to be in 'attention'. But it's the same thing, just that it is used in a different context. In general, when you use the word 'meditation', you mean being centered. When you use the word 'attention', it means that you are dealing with the world with a particular quality of the mind. That quality is meditation.

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