Why meditate and how?

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It is often thought that meditation is about emptying the mind, by purging it of all images. In reality, meditation means maintaining a single thought, even if one can indeed call this “emptying the mind” in practice. Completely suppressing one’s thoughts only exists in deep sleep, as well as in some rare forms of absorption, such as samadhi. To get there, our mind must grasp no object and, instead, must objectify its own tendency to grasp. If one tried to remove all thoughts without having acquired such purity and spiritual power, the result would most likely be a form of sleep or hypnotised stupor. Here is what Swami Vivekananda tells us on this point:

When individuals try to empty their mind without having been properly taught or prepared, they have every chance of succeeding only in covering themselves in tamas – material ignorance. This makes the mind lifeless and stupid, and leads them to believe that their minds are actually empty.” 

Meditation on the subject, on the “me”, is called aham grah upasana in the Vedanta. But the subject, here, is the empirical self: the reflection or image of the real atman—the universal Self. The existence of our individual self is obvious and does not need to be proven. However, its real nature, in the form of atman, is not apparent precisely because the pure atmancan never become an object of our meditation. Inthe state of samadhi, once all the waves of thought are calmed, the pure atman shines of its own light. Introspection is a state of being and as such is not a meditative process.

It also happens that, sometimes, we enter into a state of consciousness where the mind becomes calm and watchful. We distinctly feel a deep inner silence. Each movement, each thought seems fresh and meaningful. This feeling arises when the mind has not landed on a particular image and, instead, is calmly observing our thoughts as they come and go, like clouds dancing in the sky. This is what it means to live in the present. 

As a result, we become capable of observing the silent current of life without being pulled by the power of this same current. In this state, the individual self becomes conscious of the entire mind, rather than of a particular object or image. We can liken this to a fish that suddenly becomes aware of the water in which it previously had only noticed other fish, worms, plants, etc. Now, the fish is there in the water, silently gliding along with all of its fins. This is the type of consciously-cultivated calm that is appropriate for meditation. 

Some seekers reach this meditative consciousness thanks to the love that they bear towards their beloved Divinity. They think of It with such love that their entire self vibrates from this thought, like a musical instrument producing a single continuous sound. There is no room for any other thought, there is only the living presence of the Divinity attached to the present moment. 

Thus, in true meditation, the mind becomes like the string of a violin held taught between the self and the object. The mind vibrates in the present moment, producing endlessly-renewing melodies in our consciousness.