I hear so much talk about meditation from so many different perspectives that I’ve become confused. Can you explain what meditation is? Meditation is an advanced state of concentration in which one single object of concentration flows without interruption. In this state the mind becomes fully one-pointed, and this one-pointedness starts expanding into a superconscious state. Ultimately there comes a state of samadhi—complete spiritual absorption. This is a spontaneous expression of the unbroken flow of supreme consciousness. The process of withdrawal of the senses, concentration, and meditation can be compared to a river that originates when many small streams gather and merge into one large flow. The river then flows through hills and valleys without being stopped by bushes and rocks, and then it finds the plains, where it flows smoothly and harmoniously, passing through forests and villages until it reaches its final destination and merges with the sea. So it is with the process of meditation. At the initial stage, the senses and mind are withdrawn and made one-pointed. That one-pointed mind flows constantly toward one object without being distracted by petty emotions, thoughts, memories, and anxieties. Then it enters into the smooth, uninterrupted flow of the meditative state. At last the mind enters samadhi and merges with the ocean of supreme consciousness.
When I meditate on my mantra, thoughts still come into my mind. Does this mean that I’m not doing my practice correctly? No. It is the nature of the mind to think. Therefore if the mind starts wandering during meditation, do not criticize it or force it to focus on your mantra. Simply remind yourself gently that you have put aside this particular period of time for meditation and bring your mind back to your mantra. Keep your mind engaged with the business at hand—the object of your meditation—and it will have no reason to attend to any other business.
Even when my mind is engaged with my mantra, I’m still aware of other thoughts. It is natural for the mind to be aware of background chatter while you are focusing on your mantra. If you analyze it, you will find that most of this chatter is related to trivial thoughts. When you notice that your thoughts are running to trivial matters, let them run—simply maintain your focus on the mantra and do not give them your attention. The more attention you give these trivial thoughts, the stronger they become and the farther they will pull you from your mantra.
Form a habit of living in the present by focusing on your mantra; the more you focus on your mantra, the less you will be distracted by memories of the past and anxiety for the future. Thoughts are associated either with the past or with the future, and in most cases they are meaningless—fleeting images, snatches of remembered or anticipated conversation—and are simply an expression of the mind’s wandering habit. Don’t worry about them; the more you worry about them, the more life you breathe into them. Instead, steady the mind by focusing it on the mantra. That is the only way to overcome this ever-wandering habit. You will find that with practice the mind is able to focus on the mantra for longer and longer intervals and you will no longer notice the background noise.
Form a habit of living in the present by focusing on your mantra.
Most of these intruding thoughts that I experience are trivial, but some of them are significant and are powerful enough to force me to pay attention to them. What can I do? When you cannot let certain thoughts and emotions recede into the background, you must learn to witness them. This means acknowledging these thoughts and emotions without elaborating on them or interpreting them. Don’t try to deny them or pretend to be indifferent. Instead, try to understand what they are, what is causing them, and how meaningful they are in the present moment.
As you cultivate this skill, you will discover that it is your attachment to these thoughts and feelings that gives them life and allows them to influence you here, in the present. By witnessing these powerful thoughts and emotions in a detached manner, you will nullify the influence they have over you.
For this technique to be effective, you must remember that witnessing does not mean involving yourself in a mental debate. Rather, it means letting the facts present themselves objectively. When done skillfully, this practice induces a sense of non-attachment and non-involvement. And when this feeling mingles with the stream of meditation, then thoughts, emotions, memories, and anxieties will lose their power to entangle your mind.
Are there any other ways of dealing with deeper issues? The scriptures describe many methods of dissolving deeper issues. Prayer, selfless service, making a fire offering, studying the scriptures, visiting holy places, practicing austerity, and simply surrendering to divine providence are a few of them. These techniques work when you decide they will work. Miracles do happen, but only when you make them happen. That is why cultivating sankalpa, the power of will and determination, is the key to any successful practice. Without this determination, even God’s grace will go in vain.
I’ve heard that the gayatri mantra is helpful in cleansing the mind of negative thinking and resolving deeper issues. Why is that, and how can I use it as a means for overcoming mental pollution? The gayatri mantra works with the subtle impressions in our mind that are the source of negative thinking. It calms mental noise, washes off karmic impurities, purifies the ego, sharpens the intellect, and illuminates our inner being. It connects us with the inner teacher so that we become receptive to guidance. This mantra is particularly helpful to those who are struggling with confusion, doubt, skepticism, and lack of direction.
The formal name of this mantra is savitri, which is the feminine form of savita, meaning “source,” “origin,” “sun.”
The formal name of this mantra is savitri, which is the feminine form of savita, meaning “source,” “origin,” “sun.” Savitri, or the sun, is the source of our existence. This is the force from which the entire world evolves. When that divine force manifested in the form of sound, it was revealed in the meter known as gayatri. That is how it came to be known as the gayatri mantra.
Everything in the solar system is sustained by the sun and controlled by the sun’s energy. All the planets and their moons are held in place by the gravitational force of the sun. Even at the microcosmic level, everything is sustained by the sun. All forms of energy on the earth are different manifestations of solar energy.
The same is true of the gayatri mantra. This mantra is related to the sun, to solar energy—not to energy as an unconscious, blind force, but to conscious, intelligent, divine energy. Just as everything in the solar system is dependent on the sun, so does all knowledge have its source in the gayatri mantra. That is why it is called the mother of knowledge (Veda Mata). The thinking process itself begins from the gayatri mantra. The energy, the shakti, the force that gives direction to our force of intelligence, is the gayatri mantra.
Gayatri creates a link between the practitioner and the sun, between the physical body and the subtle body (of which the solar plexus and the navel center is the hub). The gayatri mantra introduces us to our own solar plexus. It forges the link between our first and third chakras, our second and third chakras, our third and fourth chakras, our third and fifth chakras, and our third and sixth chakras. Gayatri is also the link between mind and ego, mind and intellect, mind and intuition, mind and revelation; it is the link between the physical level and the subtle energy levels of our reality. The gayatri mantra is a self-conscious, self-illumined force. I say this with conviction because of my own personal experience. The gayatri mantra not only works in dissolving negative thinking, it transforms even the toughest and most complicated issues of life.
To answer the second part of your question: practicing the gayatri mantra cleanses the mind of mental pollution because this mantra works directly with the force of intelligence. For example, it is negative thinking, or mental pollution, that has caused us to create an endless number of objects and to spend our time and energy accumulating these objects. Analyze the world economy and you will see how greed and insatiable desire are damaging the planet and creating conflict among people. Behind this whole process is our mind. Then study the meaning of the gayatri mantra; it clearly says, “Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat—I pay my homage to that which is the guide, the supervisor, the light of my mind.” Thus, in practicing this mantra you are going into the root of the mother of all mothers, the force of all forces, the intelligence of all intelligences. That is the way to banish pollution from the mind once and for all.
The gayatri mantra is our mother.
The gayatri mantra does not need to be received from a teacher through a formal process of initiation, because it is the mother of any spiritual aspirant. It is available to anyone who is motivated to practice it. Just as a child does not need to be introduced to her own mother, we do not need an intermediary to introduce us to the gayatri mantra. We are children of the sun, and the gayatri mantra is our mother. Anyone in any circumstance can practice this mantra: lovingly, or without love; with faith, or without faith. What respect or understanding does a child have for his mother when he dirties his diaper? Yet while changing the diaper, how lovingly the mother kisses the child. This is exactly the relationship between the gayatri mantra and any spiritual seeker.
The gayatri mantra is a living mother. And just as there is unspoken understanding between mother and child, so there is an unbreakable link between the practitioner and gayatri. A good mother always does whatever is good for the child, with full understanding that it is natural for a child to get into trouble. For his part, the child understands that his mother loves him and so he runs to her even when he is upset with her. This understanding is called bhakti—love laced with trust. When you practice the gayatri mantra with bhakti it will resolve all your unresolved issues.