How do we know which of the seven chakras we should focus on while we do our meditation practice? The general rule is that if you are an emotional person, focus on the heart center (anahata chakra), but if you are intellectual by nature, then focus on the eyebrow center (ajna chakra). But this general rule applies only under the following conditions: when you are trying to learn to meditate on your own; when you are experimenting with various methods of meditation; or when you have chosen a particular sound, a mantra, or a visual object for your meditation because you are attracted to it.
The mantra itself has its own power, its own guiding capacity.
If, on the other hand, you have been initiated into a mantra and the person who initiated you belongs to an authentic tradition, then the mantra itself has its own power, its own guiding capacity. In other words, the mantra itself will lead you to the most appropriate center. Simply listen to your mantra and you will notice that when your mind is absorbed in the mantra, your awareness becomes condensed and concentrated at one of the centers. Let your mind go there, as this is a sure sign that this center is the center for your concentration.
I’ve heard that for a mantra to show its effect it has to be said in the correct way. At my age, I’m never going to be able to pronounce a Sanskrit mantra perfectly, so where does that leave me? When you are initiated by a person who is authorized by the tradition there is no way that you can mispronounce your mantra. At the time of initiation, the mantra is placed in the deepest recesses of your heart. Your vocal organs may have a hard time voicing it, your tongue may have a hard time pronouncing it, but the mantra is repeating itself somewhere deep in your heart. Let it happen.
A mantra is the divine sound, which is being vibrated in every single cell of your body. Mantra is an eternal sound which is inseparable from your life force—it is ringing in the interior of your mind and heart whether you are aware of it or not.
Once the teacher connects you to the divine source within you, the mantra cannot be incorrect. This is true even if you received the mantra from someone who did not know how to pronounce it properly. If your heart and mind are in the right place, if you are sincere and honest but somehow ended up with a teacher who did not know how to pronounce the mantra properly, the true teacher, who dwells in your own heart, corrects it. When we do something with a good heart, God takes care of us and guides us. How can the heart be incorrect?
So once you have received a mantra, try your best to pronounce it as well as you can, then leave the rest to the One who dwells in your heart, the One who witnesses every single thought, word, and action and guides you in the right direction.
I try to be both disciplined and systematic in my practice and so have been following a systematic method of breathing, relaxation, and concentration on the mantra for many years. Yet my mind still wanders here and there instead of resting on the mantra, and my meditation practice has borne no fruit. Why? You are working in the subtle realm with intangible tools and expecting a tangible result. This is self-contradictory and self-defeating. We are conditioned to experiences in the gross realm of physical existence. In the external world, we work with tangible tools and see a tangible result: here is the cause—here is the effect. When we bring this conditioning and these expectations to the subtle realm we meet with disappointment.
That is one problem. The other is that your mind is still not under your control. It is not fully convinced that by doing this meditation practice it is really going to achieve something wonderful. The mind has not found the joy right here within you because it is not fully convinced that there is really anything here. The mind thinks, “The mantra is still just a sound. What’s the big deal?”
The mind has not understood that there is something infinitely more valuable than whatever it is searching for in the external world. That is why it keeps experimenting with thoughts and objects even when you are sitting and attempting to concentrate on your mantra. What you need is to bring the Divine into the realm of your practice. Let your practice be fully accompanied by love for the Lord. Once you fall in love with the Divine and experience that the Lord of Life is right here, then your mind will no longer be interested in wasting its time anymore.
That’s a tall order. How do I go about falling in love with something as intangible as the Divine? Imagine that the mantra is like God himself in the form of sound. Or if you don’t believe in it, forget the mantra. You must have some kind of image or symbol of God. For purposes of illustration, let’s say it is the cross and that the cross itself is the focal point of your meditation. If you are fully convinced that the cross is a living symbol of God, then the mind will not have any interest in running elsewhere. The problem is that the mind is not convinced that this shape really means anything. There are many actors and actresses more beautiful than this symbol. Your fiancée is more beautiful than this symbol. A breathtaking landscape is more captivating than this symbol. What is so great about this symbol?
From the standpoint of the mind there is no divine awareness involved in the symbol of the cross. You may be offended when someone else criticizes this symbol, but when it comes to adoring the cross in your heart, when you sit down and concentrate on it, you do not find yourself in a blissful state. This symbol is not able to generate a state of ecstasy. Although you may believe that this a great symbol, somehow it has less power over your mind than many of your possessions. Even your car seems to be more precious and impressive than this cross. Think about it for a few minutes in an honest manner. When somebody steals your wallet or purse you become frantic. Or if you park your car in a large parking lot and can’t find it because you don’t remember exactly where you parked it, you panic and run around thinking “Where’s my car? Oh my God, it must have been stolen. I need to call the police.” That car has so much importance that misplacing it has an enormous effect on you. But do you ever become frantic about forgetting your awareness of the cross? Or your mantra? When we realize that we are not remembering our mantra, we don’t feel bad, and this means we have not really understood what the mantra is.
Or take another example. Let’s say you have a great desire to be a leader of your nation one day. Although you have not yet become a leader even in your own county, you have the opportunity to meet the president of the United States when he comes to town to give a speech, and to your surprise, he requests a meeting with you at your house. Overwhelmed by your good fortune, you accept. To your delight you find that the president thinks you are a hidden star. He tells you he just talked to the mayor and the mayor thinks that you would be an excellent candidate for your district’s congressional seat and he will support you. All your dreams are coming true.
The mind is not fully convinced that it is a privilege to be in the presence of the mantra.
In the midst of all this you see the mailman drive up and put some items in your mailbox. You know most of it will be junk mail, and you know the president is going to leave in a few minutes. Will you leave the president to go get your mail? Will you start reading the flyers from Walmart and the local supermarket? Yet during meditation you do that all the time. You are with your mantra and suddenly you start thinking of cutting out coupons to buy some cheese or apples. Why? Because the mind is not fully convinced that it is a privilege to be in the presence of the mantra, the cross, the name of God, or whatever your object of meditation is. But if you bring awareness, spiritual awareness, to your meditation—“My mind is not fully convinced that the Lord of Life has entered my heart. This is a blessed moment; let me simply be in the company of the Lord, everything else can wait until I finish my period of meditation”—then you will see improvement.