Meditation: Prayerful state can take many forms

Voices of Religion

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2004

To some, the word "meditation" calls up images of monks seated in the lotus position, eyes closed, perhaps quietly muttering mantras to themselves.

Others may think of meditation as a set of techniques designed to empty the mind of all thought, to achieve "oneness with the universe," or otherwise to tear down our everyday conceptions of ourselves and the world around us.

The Bah'i writings also speak at some length on the subject of meditation. Far from being alien to our beliefs, meditation is regarded as an integral part of spiritual life. Some of its quotes on meditation follow:

"There is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: The sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time he cannot both speak and meditate.

"It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: The light breaks forth and the reality is revealed."

Of particular note here is the direct connection between the words "meditation" and "contemplation." Indeed, the two are used synonymously. Far from being a complete inward silence, activity is indicated, since in meditation we are "speaking with our spirits," "putting questions" and "receiving answers." Bah'u'llh himself made a connection between meditation and the concept of reflection:

"The wine of renunciation must needs be quaffed, the lofty heights of detachment must needs be attained, and the meditation referred to in the words 'One hour's reflection is preferable to 70 years of pious worship.'

"The meditative faculty is akin to the mirror. Consider how a pure, well-polished mirror fully reflects the light of the sun, no matter how distant the sun may be. The more pure and sanctified the heart of man becomes, the nearer it draws to God, and the light of the Sun of Reality is revealed within it. This light sets hearts aglow with the fire of the love of God, opens in them the doors of knowledge and unseals the divine mysteries so that spiritual discoveries are made possible."

According to this, as well as turning the mirror of our hearts to the spiritual sun, we also have to polish it from "the obscuring dust of acquired knowledge" and "worldly desires" that it can better receive and reflect the Light. So what might be the reasons that all the major religious movements have used this form of devotional practice to help with this polishing?

The following may provide a helpful perspective on this. Taking forward the analogy of the mirror and the sun, if we think of a pond, it is in some ways like a mirror, and when the water is still it can reflect the image of the sky and the plants around its edge, and be warmed by the sun.

If we think of our soul as being like this pond, it, too, has the capacity to receive and reflect understanding and potentially contains beautiful qualities such as love, courage, compassion and so on.

If we wanted to see what was in a pond we wouldn't get a stick and poke around in it, for that would create waves and stir up sediment that would obscure our vision. When we want to look into our inner self and meditate, that is what we tend to do. The waves and sediment are our already stirred up thoughts and emotions, and the stick is our ego's active efforts to be in control of the investigation, which only makes matters worse. If we can learn just to hold the stick of our mind's intention still for long enough, the thoughts and emotions will settle down and we will become astonished by the spiritual realities reposing within.

Unfortunately, it is not normal for most of us to be able to focus our attention for more than a few seconds before sounds from the world around us, or thoughts and feelings from the world within us, hamper our attempts at concentration. Holding the stick still, even for a short while, over and over again, allows the disturbance in the pond to settle.

"Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, he is giving praise."

So how are Bah's supposed to meditate? Are there any prescribed forms, any positions to be assumed, any mantras to be used? In short, no. Ultimately, of course, the only real guide is individual experience. Meditation is a very personal thing, and it is quite possible that different people will find different techniques of value. To place meditation in a Bah' context, all we need to do is approach it as silent contemplation or reflection upon spiritual realities, particularly as expressed in the word of God.

"The prayerful condition is the best of all conditions, for man in such a state communeth with God, especially when prayer is offered in private and at times when one's mind is free, such as at midnight. Indeed, prayer imparteth life."

One Bah' prayer I have found especially enlightening is this prayer to be said at midnight;

"O Lord, I have turned my face unto thy kingdom of Oneness and am immersed in the sea of Thy mercy! O Lord, enlighten my sight by beholding Thy lights in this dark night, and make me happy by the wine of Thy love in this wonderful age! O Lord, make me hear Thy call, and open before my face the doors of Thy heaven, so that I may see the light of Thy glory and become attracted to Thy beauty! Verily, thou art the Giver, the Generous, the Merciful, the Forgiving."

Paul Gray is a member of Baha'i Faith. Sunday devotions at the Ridgeway Baha'i Center on Knight Drive in Ridgeway, are at 11 a.m. Children's class is at 11:30 a.m.

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