One time, many years ago, I was visiting the Himalayan Institute, in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and encountered Swami Rama, surrounded by several people. He was so big, so confident; such a mystery.
Screwing up my courage, I walked up to him, and asked, “Will you teach me to meditate?”
He looked at me gently, and said, “Yes.” My body relaxed a little.
Then, still looking at me, he said, “Are you prepared?”
Prepared? “I don’t know if I’m prepared, Swamiji.”
“Get prepared and I will teach you!” he said forcefully.
Our dialogue ended.
Moments later, a man who had overheard the conversation approached me and said “you should have told him that you are prepared!”
“How could I tell him I was prepared when I don’t even know what he meant by being prepared?” I responded. It didn’t make sense to lie to my teacher, especially when I was sure that Swami Rama could tell whether I was prepared or not.
This conversation with Swami Rama got me wondering what preparation meant. At that point I had been practicing yoga-meditation for a few years. “Didn’t that count as preparation?”
The correct answer that question, I believe, is, “yes, and no.”
“Yes,” in that I had begun the journey and was doing some basic practices. This was a good step.
“No,” in the sense that actually entering and maintaining a state of meditation, as opposed to simply doing a meditation practice, requires the mind to be one-pointed and stable. For this to happen, there needs to be stillness in body, prāna, and mind.
Stilling the body, prāna, and mind means being able to sit without moving in a comfortable posture, with body deeply relaxed, smoothly flowing prāna, pure and calm emotions, a diminished tendency to cling to external things and to suffering, and a tranquil mind.
This is what the basic practices of Yoga are aimed at accomplishing. But there is a catch.
Sūtra 1.14, of the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali, says, sa tu dīrga-kāla-nairantarya-satkārāsevito dṛḍha-bhūmiḥ, which translates into English as, “That practice becomes firm of ground only when pursued and maintained in assiduous and complete observance for a long time, without interruption and with a positive and devout attitude (Translation by Swami Veda Bharati).”
I’d been practicing, but had not practiced enough.
A Master gives what you’re ready for. When I asked Swami Rama to teach me meditation, I was ready to do the practices leading to a one-pointed mind, but those practices needed time and effort to have an effect.
By his question, Swami Rama helped me look at whether my mind had the adhikāra (the readiness) to meditate, and he motivated me to practice to attain that readiness.
In the twenty years since that conversation, I’ve continued practicing, and my mind has become more calm. Still, there’s a long way to go. My sense is that Swami Rama has helped me along the way, and that, as the practices become firm of ground and I become ready, I’m presented with the next step toward deeper meditation.