People live their lives engaged in worldly things, often pursuing their personal goals which may be focused on earning money, receiving higher education and skills, running after name, fame, power, position, etc. In doing so, they face various challenges in the journey of life itself and feel a need to calm the mind so that they can pursue their goals with more energy, clarity and concentration. People can have different needs at different phases of their life and one is not restricted from adopting any religious and spiritual practice if one gets inclined towards them. After all, these are there to help human beings find a way out of suffering. Many opt for chanting practices or sing and listen to devotional songs. Many get inclined towards meditation practices and benefit from them too. They continue like this for years; constantly challenged by various factors and issues on one side and using chanting and meditation to manage the mess that goes on in their mind. But how long will this go on?
Misuse of chanting and meditation
There are numerous chanting, meditation and other techniques such as yoga postures and mindfulness activities used to calm the body and mind. But we may keep chanting regularly, meditate daily or we may keep singing devotional songs which may not change anything within us at the core. The primary work of these practices and techniques is to make our mind temporarily calm so that we can challenge our thought process and ask the most important questions of our lives. What are these most important questions of our lives?
If we engage in chanting and meditation for gaining focus and clarity, reducing stress, and managing our emotions so that we can function productively in the world but not trying to understand the workings of the mind, we may not land anywhere. This is the reason why people even after doing chanting and meditation for years still find that they have not progressed spiritually and are still getting swayed by external circumstances. We may chant and meditate regularly but actually we are misusing these practices if they don’t make us aware of our limited perceptions, beliefs, expectations, likings, dislikings and habit patterns.
True role of chanting and meditation
What we need to see is whether chanting, meditation and other mindfulness techniques help us to go to the deepest levels of our being or not? It is necessary to be in a calm, still and silent state of mind to start with as our mind is very flickering by nature and that is where the role of these practices fulfills its purpose. Once a silent state of mind is achieved, we can see things neutrally, as they are (free of our biases, notions, beliefs, likes and dislikes). This happens for people on its own as well when life creates certain situations and a person understands something deeper even without going into meditation.
The chanting and meditation practices are suggested for training the fickle mind to be silent for some time and observe what happens during this still and silent state. Ultimately all these practices help us to be aware of how we operate out of ego which leads to suffering. The cultivated awareness over a period of time helps us to understand how we assume ourselves to be something that we are not; this is what ego is all about. One can only see and understand this side of created personality in self when one is in a state of awareness and uses the same mind to observe itself which is responsible for all this in the first place.
Nature of human mind
This mind of ours deals with dynamic awareness which by its very nature observes a situation and accordingly responds taking all alternatives into account for best possible outcome. But our mind often engages with the outside world pursuing pleasurable experiences one after another, while simultaneously avoiding pain. The mind keeps on jumping from one object to another for more and more satisfaction with respect to things, people and thoughts, seeking a sense of pleasure or relief. Whenever things turn out well according to the wish of mind it feels happy and whenever things do not turn out well it feels unhappy. It does not see and understand the reality that no external object can provide ultimate satisfaction. Similarly, there are many default workings of the mind which can be meditated upon and deeper contemplation can take place while being aware about them during meditation practices such as thought observation along with sensations in the body. This is done while practicing vipassana. One can go deeper in such meditations if one pays attention to the workings of mind.
Preparing mind for silence and peace
Ultimately, applying all these practices must help us to operate from a silent and calm state of mind which can change our life at a very deeper level. When we understand the importance of peace in our life, we start the inward journey and come closer to realizing the truth. Chanting and meditation are tools that help us to reach this understanding but these practices alone must not be considered the ultimate goal. One must not stop there and wish that by engaging in these practices, they have realized the truth. Though these practices give us a taste of peace, there is more to life. These are just passing milestones which guide us only to move towards realizing the ultimate truth.
If we use chanting and meditation only to calm the mind down in face of external stressors, it is like taking symptomatic treatment and therefore a very limited way of living. That’s why it is necessary to use it as a stepping stone to observe the workings of the mind and come out of the mind’s limiting patterns. It is only after reaching a particular state of consciousness that we start seeing things as they are. Most of the time, our thoughts about the external world cloud over our real self in the form of perceptions, beliefs, preferences, expectations and habit patterns and make our inner world filled with confusion, insecurity and misunderstandings. We need to understand ourselves deeply to find a way out and this requires serious preparation of body and mind. Chanting, meditation and other mindfulness techniques help us in this preparation so that we can advance our journey in the right direction and live life in the most beautiful way.
By Kamal Naresh