What’s the proper frame of mind in order for a person to engage in meditation and the highest of all of them, Hari-nama which means contemplations upon God's name? “One must recite the name of God in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than a straw in the street, more tolerant than a tree, offering all respects to others, and devoid of all sense of self-prestige. In such a state of mind, one can recite the Lord's name constantly.”
This quote is a translation of the Sanskrit verse written by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a very wise sage who lived about 500 years ago. He was a liberated being, he was an Avesha Avatara, he was the personification of God’s grace and of God’s love. He only lived to be 48 years old but he personified what it meant to love Krishna, specifically. He was a brilliant logician who was part of what’s called the Nyaya school and taught logic there. However, in his life, he only wrote eight verses. This collection of eight verses is known as Shikshashtakam, shiksh means teaching and ashtakam means eight, so the word means the eight teachings. The translated Sanskrit verse above is one of those eight verses and is the most beautiful of the verses Mahaprabhu wrote. .
The Nature of Humility
More than anything, even though it’s addressing several things including what is the nature of humility, what it’s really doing is explaining to us is what we should be feeling and what our attitude should be when we’re engaging in meditation, such that we can maximize the experience of meditation. Every spiritual practice that we do can be done in such a way that we’re doing it by rote where we’re just repeating things like a parrot. It’s interesting how you can take a parrot and teach it to recite the name of God. But the intentionality is not there because the parrot doesn’t know what it’s saying, the parrot is just repeating, “Krishna, Krishna, Krishna”, the way it can repeat, “Polly want a cracker”. So doing it by rote means the intentionality, the attitude, the goal, the choice to focus on this as a name of God is not there, the understanding is not there. Thus, the parrot won’t achieve self-realization or God realization.
Human beings can also do spiritual practices by rote, in such a way where it seems like we’re doing something. Sadly, for many of us who’ve been to Hindu temples, we’ve seen Priests who will do a ritual and, as their performing the ritual, they’re looking around to see who’s coming in through the door. I know of a Master Teacher who gently chastised a Priest at one of the local temples in his city. The Master Teacher said to the Priest, “To simply be human in the human form of life, is the greatest blessing. To be born in such a way that you even know and have an inkling of what is God, what is Narayana. To then have the blessing in your life to be a Priest doing a puja to Naryana. When you do this Puja to Narayana don’t look around to see what donor’s just walked in to the temple. You only look at this Murti, you only look at Narayana and you focus with complete devotion with everything that you’re doing.” Although he was shocked at this admonition, the Priest took it the right way because, apparently, no one had ever instructed him about this. After that, the Priest never did a Puja like that again and became focused.
Here again, whether it’s meditation, Puja, mantra, or something else, one can do spiritual practices where it’s unfocused, meaningless, and is just an empty ritual. We can do it with the proper understanding or we can do it in the highest form by performing our spiritual practice with devotion and with humility, which really is synonymous because you can’t have one without the other. No one without devotion has true humility and no one without humility can ever have devotion or Bhakti. The above verse is wonderfully explaining to us is what is the internal process occurring within the Yogi, within the meditator as they’re doing the highest meditation that is possible, and that is, meditating on the names of God? They have absolute and utter humility. What this means, without going through the entire verse is, is be more tolerant than a tree. When an individual has the ability to both understand but also see what is the nature of Sri Guru, understands that Guru is all around them because we can learn from anyone and we can learn from anything. We can also learn from the trees.
Here, Chaitanya gives us an example of how we can be more tolerant than a tree: When we meditate on the nature of a tree, what do we see? We see a being who is alive, every tree is alive it has Atman (a soul) and that soul is just as good as ours. But what do we see? We see a being who has complete tolerance. It rains on the tree, it snows on the tree, children come along and will, maybe, kick the tree. Does the tree complain? Does the tree get angry or furious, pick up it’s roots, and start chasing the children down the street to try to get revenge? No, the tree is tolerant. In fact, what does the tree do? The tree is a gift to the entire world, it gives shade to anyone who will come and take shelter under it. If it’s a fruit bearing tree, it has these lovely fruit that people may come, take the fruit from the tree, enjoy them, and have nourishment.
Tolerance in Mind, Words, and Actions
In a way, we’re also meant to be like this, to be tolerant. We are meant to offer all of our respects to another being when we see them. What does this mean? This means in all three ways in which we engage in activities: In our mind, with our words, and with our actions. These are the three Vedic ways in which we act within the world. It means, everyone we encounter we have to be respectful, we have to offer our obeisance. We have to understand, in offering our obeisance, who we’re offering our obeisance to. It’s not to the external at all but to the internal, to who that being actually is.
This is why we say Namaste - Namah Te = Namaste - which means, “I offer my obeisance to you”. What a civilized way of greeting each other instead of, “Hi. Howya doin’?” I look forward to the day when all of humanity says, “Namaste, I offer my respects unto that being that’s within you, that eternal Atman. At the very least, in our minds, we should be thinking this. Offering all our respects to every being and to who they truly are within. We know that very few beings are perfect, no matter who they are. That’s alright. It’s why I say we’re not necessarily offering our obeisance to the external of what they are but we’re seeing beyond that into who they truly are within.
Continue to part 2 of Meditation’s Most Significant Component.