In 1995, when I arrived for the first time in India, I went straight to Bodhgaya where Gautama the Buddha got enlightened under the famous Bodhi Tree. No, I did not go there with the intention to learn meditation and get enlightened. Even when some other travellers asked me to join their group meditations, I did not go. I spent my days just hanging out on the banks of the dried river bed near the village and close to the bodhi tree inside the main temple. I also spent a lot of time going through the Buddhist scriptures in the main library. I was fascinated by the Buddha’s teaching, but I felt it was not the right time for me to learn meditation, maybe because I could not sit cross-legged without pain.

Unexpectedly, the ‘right’ time came sooner than desired when I stayed in Rishikesh learning yoga. Every evening, as part of the schedule in the ashram where I was staying, there was a one hour group sit. So I also joined. There were no instructions, and to my dismay, a one hour session meant one hour of suffering. I had to endure intense pain in the hips, knees and back from sitting cross-legged on the floor without cushions. Luckily, I remembered some of the meditation instructions I had read in the scriptures back in Bodhgaya. In a nutshell, the instructions were simply to observe the breath. This somehow saved me. I guess at that time it was more of a forceful pranayama to distract myself from the pain, rather than an observation of the breath. However, just staying with the breath helped me gain tremendous focus. With the yoga practice and continued sitting practice, meditation became my favorite pastime. It seemed natural to spend two hours every day sitting for meditation and it soon became an integral part of my daily life. I did not have to think about the benefits to get inspired to practice regularly. For me it seemed simply the best activity I could think of, as any other activity appeared egoistic to me. Only later, after I met Amma, it dawned on me that if I really want to become selfless, I need to learn to be of service. Just sitting around with eyes closed is not enough. Amma says meditation is as precious as gold but she also says if we combine meditation with selfless service, it would be like gold becoming fragrant.

Lately, when I was involved in teaching IAM (Integrated Amrita Meditation) I seriously started to contemplate on why we should meditate. I received questions on the benefits of practice from the participants and wanted to have this clear in my mind whenever I had to present this subject. So, I came up with 3 reasons why I meditate and would like to share those here. 

1. Meditation is fun

OK, maybe not always and not for everybody in the beginning, but with ongoing practice, everyone will experience some blissful moments. Of course these are only temporary moments and their occurrences are not under our control. It would be foolish to get attached to those fleeting moments. At the same time I feel it is important to enjoy those blissful moments and use them to get inspired to sit regularly. In this process, the mind WILL get more concentrated and a concentrated mind is by nature a happier mind than a distracted mind. At times of deep concentration the mind can become so blissful that it feels like joy is oozing out of every pore of one’s being.

It has another advantage when we discover that meditation can be blissful: We learn to become less dependent on outer circumstances for our joy, which allows us to move effortlessly towards that joy which we carry within.

2. We learn about our self

In the process of trying to focus the mind, whether we want or not, we will learn more about our mind. That might not always be so pleasant but it is always rewarding. Benefits will show not only on the path of meditation but also in our daily life when we interact with the world and with people in the world. When we understand how our mind works, which in essence operates like anyone else’s mind, we become more understanding towards others and also more compassionate. We recognize that others have to deal in principle with the same ‘mental issues‘ as we do. 

3. We learn more about the ‘SELF

As our mind becomes more one-pointed and more refined, the teachings of all the masters will become clearer and more accessible. Hearing them say “You are eternal,” or “Pure Consciousness is all there is,” will have a different effect on us than before. Even listening to our friends or our partner will have more depth. In regard to all matters, spiritual or worldly, a mind which is lucid and one-pointed will be able to focus better on the task at hand. That is also true when we listen to spiritual talks. It becomes of real importance especially when we listen to the words of the Guru. Gradually we comprehend that these words are not only theory and our mind will become more and more fit to abide in the Guru’s words of wisdom.

If you are still doubting, ‘could I not be doing something more fruitful than just sitting here with my eyes closed?’ and these 3 reasons are not enough to get you on your meditation cushion, here is one more quote from Amma:

“Not even a single moment spent in meditation is a waste of time”

Prior to moving to Amritapuri, I had prayed fervently to Amma for a silent retreat at Her Ashram. I had experienced retreats in Thailand, where I lived at the time, and now dearly wanted a retreat blessed by Amma in Her Ashram, instead of sitting retreats elsewhere.

Then, within a few weeks of moving to Amritapuri in 2015, I saw a poster on the message board announcing the first Amrita Silent Meditation Retreat. I was overjoyed! The experience of having this prayer answered became the catalyst that gave birth to my regular practice of telling Amma everything.

By Amma’s Grace, I have been able to participate in many successive retreats over the past four years. People have asked me if I notice a difference in myself today. It was a blessing to receive this question, as it gave me a chance to reflect.

The retreats have changed me in both profound and subtle ways. Amma says we are changing every moment, more than we can comprehend. I experienced this Truth as I found that sitting each successive retreat revealed a new, slightly improved version of myself. I got a chance to learn anew and gained the awareness not to repeat the same mistakes. Beginning with an open and curious mind, each retreat became an adventure into seeing what new tricks my mind would conjure up. Gratefully, the closed environment and caring retreat team supported me on each step of the adventure.

“No one can upset you without your permission.” Amma

Amma says an important sign of progress on the path is how equanimous we remain in challenging situations. One encounter, after a number of retreats, made a deep impression on me. One day in the ashram someone approached me and started yelling. I just stood there like a deer in headlights as they walked off. A moment later, I realized that their anger had just washed over me – nothing stuck. The next thought was ‘this is the miracle of sitting retreats!’ I felt grateful to Amma and encouraged by this sign of my progress. The prolonged periods of silence and heaps of meditation seemed to be working. Didn’t try for this result. It just dawned. An Amma Miracle!

“Only the faith that comes from one’s own experience will be permanent, like the new leaves that sprout after the plant has taken root.” Amma

Everything that arises in the mind is an opportunity to look within. As I sat successive retreats, the ability not to project became more natural. Actually, I started to have the experience that looking outside myself was painful. Undoing this ancient habit takes courage, intense effort and, most importantly, Amma’s Grace.

“You weigh things and stamp them as good and bad according to your likes and dislikes.” Amma

In the retreat orientation, it is recommended that participants adopt several attitudes. In addition to maintaining a beginner’s mind, two other attitudes that I adopted and sincerely practiced throughout the duration of every retreat were:

  • Be at ‘zero-complaint level’ – letting go of likes and dislikes
  • Do not look for an experience – neither to recreate a previous experience nor search for a new one

Amma says that the nature of the mind is to swing like a pendulum, never resting in the present moment. Constant chatter!

“The mind is the noisiest place in the world.” Amma

I realized that underneath every complaint and expectation of a new experience, was a comparison with the past, dwelling in the future, or wanting things to go my way. Like bubbles rising, I would try to catch them before they surfaced. Dissolving complaint and expectation bubbles with gratitude!

“Only when the mind stops all its interpretations can we hear the inner voice of God.” Amma

My intuition had been telling me to sit multiple retreats, and I allowed that inner voice be my guide. The benefits have been invaluable and immeasurable.

I offer these humble words at the Lotus Feet of our Most Beloved Amma.