The principle of evolution
Let us recall a fundamental principle of spiritual evolution which has been mentioned several times in these pages before we begin to consider the purpose of meditation. The principle is that the divine life, within every atom in the universe and within all the forms of life in every kingdom of nature, is exerting a continual pressure from within and slowly and gradually working out a great purpose. The life within these forms, like myriads of streamlets, is always seeking to reunite itself with the source from which the separate streams proceed; and that source is God. At the human level of evolution a stage is reached at which each individual streamlet is able to correspond self-consciously and intelligently with the main purpose, and the more there is intelligent correspondence with the divine urge the quicker will be the evolution of those units of consciousness who are able thus to take their own evolution very largely into their own hands. The pressure from within continues in any case. Where human beings do not consciously and deliberately assist the pressure evolution is slow; but where they are alive and awake and realize what is happening and deliberately work with the plan–in such there is a combination of two mighty forces working for the same end, and evolution is rapid.
The connection between this principle and the practice of meditation must be obvious. Meditation is distinctly a religious act, for it is a deliberate and intelligent effort on the part of a centre of consciousness, in whom the divine life is exerting a strong pressure from within, to reach up to its Source and to unite itself with that Source. That is the whole idea of religion–to seek emancipation from bondage to the lower material self and to substitute for it a freedom of spirit in God, which is true liberation (moksha). All ties of earth are dissolved in the freedom of union with God.
Ascent of consciousness
With this idea in our minds, let us try to understand how best we can direct our meditation to that end. This will be largely a question of the degree of spiritual activity which we are able to exert; it will also be a question to some extent of temperament. If we can rise in thought higher and higher till we can reach some level of abstract awareness at which the concrete mind is, so to speak, left behind, and can maintain awareness at that level, the purpose of meditation is achieved: communion with God is effected. Even if we cannot rise so high immediately, still the purpose of meditation is being achieved: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Isaiah 40:3-5). In every meditation there is some degree of communion with God, and it prepares us for the higher experiences which will come to anyone who perseveres, “for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it (Isaiah 40:5).
By steady practice of meditation, consciously and intelligently directed to the highest Object that we can reach, a way is pierced, so to speak, through the clouds of unreality, which hide from us the kingdom of God, and through that way, pierced by our own efforts, the stream of divine life pours into our own souls. The divine energy from above is liberated, and that is the purpose of both meditation and worship. A union between the upward-pressing life within and the downward-pressing life from above is effected.
Meditation is purposeful interior aspiration, producing such an effect as I have tried to describe. If regularly practiced, must assist the process of spiritual evolution in the individual who practices it to an incalculable extent.
Worship is the same effort practiced by a number of people collectively and simultaneously. In public worship the particular aspect of the divine life to be approached is suggested by the words of the ritual.
It is essential that in collective prayer or worship all should have in mind the same aspiration to and toward divinity. When a group of worshippers is united and inspired by the same aspiration, the effect is far greater than if the same number of people were to worship separately, each in his own way. The opening which is pierced through those clouds that divide us from the world of Reality by a united body of people is vastly wider than the sum of the openings pierced by the same people separately, and the downflow of divine power thus released is correspondingly greater. That is mainly the purpose of public worship. It is also of incalculable benefit to all whom the intercessory efforts of the worshippers can reach.
Practical points for meditation
Those are principles of meditation which we may take as a guide in its actual practice. The best conditions are: privacy, freedom from hurry, and opportunities in the morning for the practice of meditation. The morning is a better time than the evening for this purpose, both because we are fresher and more alive after the night’s rest, and also because the forces of nature give us more help before noon than later in the day. Where all these conditions are present there should be no practical difficulty about meditating. Under these conditions the person concerned may choose whatever posture he finds most conducive to a real exercise of the spiritual faculties. Most people find the sitting posture most suitable for deep meditation. The posture is not a matter of great importance; it is only a means to an end; the end which we seek is to reach Reality, and any posture which most helps us to reach this end should be adopted.
Meditation greatly assists growth or evolution. It must be obvious that at the human level of evolution there must be effort on the part of individual human beings, as well as, and in combination with, the great urge from within and help from above, if progress is to continue. The effort on our side liberates the divine force from above, and that force, which is for our helping, descends through the channel which our effort creates. There is thus co-operation between ourselves and God for our evolution. Considered in this way, meditation is a strong laying hold of the forces and graces that make for our further evolution.
Why is this the shortest chapter of all in this book? Because it is practice alone, and not words, that makes clear to us the way and the value of meditation.
Thy kingdom come.