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”