Several years ago, while on Her summer tour of the U.S., someone asked the contemporary Indian saint Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma or Ammachi) the following question: “I have been meditating for many years, yet I am not having any spiritual experience. I try and try, but nothing happens. What can I do?” Amma’s answer revealed the secret of meditation: “Spiritual experience depends upon childlike innocence and faith.”
Having understood from the first article in this series that meditation is the process of making the mind subtle, we can begin to appreciate Amma’s answer. Trying cannot be the way to settle the thought waves of the mind. Just try to have a silent mind for a few minutes. Before you know it, you will be in a wrestling match with thoughts. In fact, any effort to quiet the mind directly will itself agitate the mind.
Actually, trying is due to a lack of innocence and faith. Lacking innocence and faith, instead of allowing the process of meditation to happen naturally, we pit ourselves against the doubting mind, which tells us that meditation is hard, we have to do it, we can’t rely on grace. Thus we try, and we are almost sure to be frustrated, for the mind is a powerful adversary.
This frustration, however, is unnecessary. Watch innocent children at play; they do not have to try to have fun. For instance, when our eight-year-old daughter and her friends pretend to be Radha or Krishna (or for that matter, pretend to be having a tea party), they do not have to try. It’s easy and natural for children to become engrossed in their make-believe world. Likewise, if we wish to meditate, say, on Christ or Amma, we need only follow the example of children. If you’ve received Amma’s darshan, you already know the feeling of her divine love and compassion; you can start by recalling that feeling. You can savor this sublime feeling, gently nudge the mind to recall the details of Amma’s form, feel her hugging you, feel her love for you, breathe in that aura of divine shakti, love, and light that permeates the air around her.
Just as a child pretending, you can do the same thing on the form of Christ, or on any form of God. It just requires a bit of imagination to get started. In other words, we need only give ourselves to the experience of meditation with the innocent faith of a child. What is there to doubt? What need for trying? It should be a charming experience that naturally draws us in, effortlessly. This same principle holds true in any form of meditation, whether on a form, a mantra, or whatever: innocence and faith, not trying, is the way.
Trying also suggests we are striving for a particular experience, as if we know where our effort must lead. Such attachment is not the way of the innocent child at play. It also undermines the experience of true meditation, which is ever fresh and beyond conceptions of the mind. Innocent faith means we follow the natural charm of meditation. We savor that sublime feeling of divine love and our yearning to be one with our deity. We let these feelings be our guide and lead us where they may, which can only be deeper and deeper, towards divine Being, towards our own innermost Self.
Here’s another point about innocence: Any new meditator knows what happens when you have a really great experience in meditation: For the next few meditations, you’re hoping for the same experience. That’s only natural (well, to human nature anyway, which often isn’t all that natural), but unfortunately, it isn’t the innocence required to advance in meditation.
Sure, we sit with the intent to experience the divine, or at least to go deep in meditation; this intention creates an openness, a readiness and alertness. This is what it means to fully give ourselves to the experience of meditation. But we don’t anticipate having one particular experience. Again, this anticipation arises from attachment, which keeps the mind subtly trying, agitated, and on a gross level of functioning. Our innocent openness, faith, and alertness, however, which will automatically follow the natural charm of the experience, will draw the mind to subtler and subtler levels. At these powerful levels of thought, we may experience whatever we wish—but gracefully, innocently, effortlessly.
Children follow the charm of their experience. This is the essence of innocence—following our own nature to seek more happiness. This natural tendency of the mind to spontaneously seek greater happiness is the key to successful meditation. Once we innocently set the mind in the direction of the divine (for instance, by recalling the sublime feeling and form of the deity as described above, or by innocently thinking a divine sound, that is, a mantra), the mind will naturally be drawn inwards. It will be drawn inwards by the sublime feelings of love and by the bliss, ananda, that is our own nature. Thus true meditation involves innocent faith and surrender, not willfulness. It requires detachment, vairagya, not attachment. Meditation is an offering of our heart and mind to God, gracefully allowing the Divine to be revealed from within our own nature. Meditation is the flow of grace, which fulfills the heart and mind.
For centuries this tendency of the mind to seek greater happiness has been depicted as working against our efforts to meditate (“the mind is like a monkey,” and therefore wanders every which way, jumping from topic to topic). Indeed the tendency of the mind to seek greater charm does work against our efforts to meditate, because trying is not pleasing. For this reason, the mind’s tendency to flow in a direction of greater happiness will oppose all trying to meditate. Since this tendency to seek happiness is so deeply-rooted in the nature of the mind, there is no question that it will win out, and we will soon realize that we cannot meditate at all (if we are addicted to trying). Then we blame the mind and call it a monkey.
When we approach meditation with childlike, innocent faith, however, all such effort and frustration become a thing of the past. Whereas previously this basic tendency of the mind to seek greater happiness frustrated our efforts to meditate, it now becomes our best friend and gives us a free ride to bliss, ananda. Ignorance makes an enemy of nature; childlike innocence and faith befriends nature. The more we try, the more the mind seems like an unruly monkey. The less we try, the more the mind becomes instead like a honey bee, seeking, and finding blissful nectar.