Sathya Sai Baba's words (sometimes paraphrased) on various meditative pathways to God
Adapted from article on International Sai Organization site
Prayer versus meditation return to top
"There are two roads to fulfillment: prayer and meditation.
Prayer makes you a supplicant at the feet of God. Meditation (dhyana) induces God to come down to you and
inspires you to raise yourselves to Him; it tends to make you come
together, not place one in a lower level and the other on a higher."
Teaching meditation return to top
"Can anyone train another in meditation? Or claim to train? It
may be possible to teach a person the posture, the pose, the position
of the legs, feet, or hands, neck, head or back, the style of
breathing, or its speed. But meditation is a function of the inner man;
it involves deep subjective quiet, the emptying of the mind and filling
oneself with the Light that emerges from the divine Spark within. This
is a discipline that no text book can teach and no class can
"You need not rely on another for success in mediation and
soft repetition of the name (dhyana and
japa) and await contact with some
sage in order to get from him a mantra for recitation. Pray to the God
within, and you will receive guidance."
Schedule for meditation return to top
Recommended time is before dawn (between 3 and 6 AM,
'auspicious time is 4:30-5:15 AM'
But regularity is most important. Swami also recommends a few minutes of meditation in the evening after dusk. Swami told the students that you have to look at any object --flame, idol, or picture for 12 seconds with total concentration amd without blinking eyelids. This is concentration (dharana). Twelve dharana concentrations make one meditation (dhyana). This means that meditation should last for 12x12 = 144 seconds. Thus, proper meditation need not last more than 2 minutes 24 secs. Twelve meditations equal one samadhi, which amounts to 12x144 seconds = 28 minutes 48 seconds.
However, it is not something that one does by sitting for a couple of minutes or hours. Contemplation of the Lord should be always at all places. Sri Ramana Maharshi was once asked, "How long should one practice meditation? 15 or 30 or 45 minutes or an hour?' His reply was, 'You should continue doing it till you forget that you are meditating. As long as you are conscious (physically aware) that you are meditating, it is no meditation at all." The consciousness of body and mind and the thought of yourself should become totally extinct. The experience of only the object of your meditation should subsist, i.e. nothing else but the presence of divinity. The state of meditation is experiencing but without the consciousness that you are experiencing.
Posture for meditation return to top
Sit on a special mat/piece of cloth/cushion that you use for prayers. This acts as an insulation for not earthing the body currents. Sit straight because, "when the body is straight and quiet, the mind is also straight and quiet. If you cannot control your body, how can you control your mind"
Relax the hands in two ways: (a) place hands in lap, with one palm on top of the other with thumbs touching at the tips or (b) rest your arms on your knees with the palms facing upward and the fingers in chin-mudra posture as shown. The symbolism of the fingers in this posture is explained in the section on soft repetition (japa).
To regulate the breath for Soham
session, keep "the tip of the tongue gently on the rear of the teeth."
Concentration, contemplation, and meditation return to top
There are the three stages: concentration, contemplation, and meditation. Gearing all the senses into action is concentration. Right from dawn to dusk, whatever activities we perform, they are done with concentration. There is a border between concentration, which is below senses, and meditation, which is beyond senses. This border is known as contemplation. When contemplation deepens, it moves naturally into meditation. Meditation is entirely above the senses; it transcends the senses.
A rose plant has leaves, thorns and flowers. Concentration helps you to identify as to where the thorns are and the flower is. To cut the love (rose flower) away from worldly desires (thorns) is contemplation. Concentration is identifying the various locations of the thorns and flowers by looking at the rose plant. To offer the flower, so cut, to the Lord is meditation.
In meditation, there are three aspects: the one who is doing the meditation (i.e. the subject), the object of meditation (i.e. God), and the act or process (i.e. the rapport that the subject is trying to establish with the object). Proper meditation or the culmination of meditation occurs when the three factors --meditator, object of meditation, and act of meditation-- coalesce and merge into one. In the state of meditation, the meditator, the object of his meditation and the process of meditation have fallen away and there is only One, and that One is God. All that may change has fallen away, and That Thou Art (Tat Twam Asi) is the state that exists. It is an experience of unity (without the meditator being conscious of himself). As one gradually returns to his customary and habitual state of consciousness, the lamp (jyothi) is again placed in the heart and kept lighted there throughout the day.
One should understand that what comes about in meditation as
one moves deeply into it is not the thinking of the light but the
forgetting of the body and thereby the direct experience that the body
is not oneself. This is the stage of contemplation, when the body is
totally forgotten. It cannot be forced. It comes about by itself and is
the stage that naturally follows concentration. Vivekananda said that
in meditation he was unable to find his body.
Equipoise (samadhi) is the culmination of meditation; it transcends all states of physical consciousness: conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. It is a state that transcends the mind; it is super consciousness --the intelligence is steady. Sama means balanced state, and dhee means the intellect. Samadhi means a balanced and steadied condition of the intellect --equal-minded in all circumstances, heat or cold, good or bad, joy or sorrow.
References: Some of the material in this section is paraphrased from two discourses (1978 and June 1989) as described in Sathya Sai Baba American Bal Vikas manual and Sathya Sai Newsletter, USA respectively.
Practicing concentration, contemplation
Assign the job of a watchman to the mind by following one of the practices described below in order to concentrate and contemplate more.
(1) Keep eyes half opened, and focused on the tip of the nose.
Inhale through the left nostril, closing the right nostril with the
right thumb. As the breath goes in, it utters So
(meaning 'He'); then exhale through the right nostril, closing the left
nostril. As the breath goes out, it utters Ham
(meaning 'I'). Inhale and exhale slowly and deliberately, conscious of
the identity of He and I (yourself), which it asserts, until the
breathing and the awareness grow into an unnoticed process. Keep the
mind as a watchman to note the incoming and outgoing breaths, to listen
with the inner ear to the Soham that the breath whispers and to witness
the assertion of your being the Divine, which is the core of the
You could also chant Soham,
inhaling So and exhaling Ham. Harmonize the breath and thought. ...
If you have some flour on your palm, hold it near the nostrils, it
should not get fluttered in the least; the breath has to be soft as
that. The mood of relaxation produced by Soham
is a precondition for a profitable meditation session.
(2) First, when you sit for meditation, recite a few verses on
the glory of God, so that the agitated mind may be calmed. Then
gradually, while repeating the Lord's name, draw before the mind's eye
the form that that name represents. When your mind wanders away from
the recital of the name, lead it onto the picture of the form. When it
wanders from the form, lead it onto the name. Let it dwell either on
one sweetness or the other. Treated thus, it can be easily tamed. The
imaginary picture that you have drawn will get transmuted into the
emotional picture, dear to the heart and fixed in the memory.
Gradually, it will become the sakshathkarachitra
(coming face to face with the Lord) when the Lord assumes that form in
order to fulfill your desire. This spiritual discipline is called
(Name-and-form meditation (japasahita dhyana).
I advise you all to take it up, for it is the best form of meditation
(3) Alternatively, one should construe three types of
pictures: imaginary, mental, and one based on feeling and
actualization. When this Soham meditation has stabilized itself, you
may start stabilizing in your mind the form of the Lord of your choice.
Picture the form from head to foot, taking at least 15 to 20 minutes
for it, dwelling on each part of the body and imprinting it clearly on
the heart,and then proceed from foot to head in similar way. This will
help to fix the form in the altar of the heart. Then, you will see in
everyone that Form only; in all beings, you will find Him only. You
will realize the One manifold as Many. I am He, Only He is (Sivoham, Soham)
Hence, the meditation is that which would transform mind into the form and not vice-versa.
(4) Choose some base 'lamp' as the point of concentration. Seeing the light and moving the light here and there, in the meditator's body, is to give work to the mind, to keep the mind occupied in the right direction, so that the mind will not be thinking of this and that and thus interfering with the process of becoming more and more quiet. Spreading the light into its universal phase, sending the light into every other body, and when one is so concentrated in that that he is no longer conscious of his body, is the stage of contemplation. As contemplation deepens, the stage of meditation comes about of its own volition. It cannot be forced. If the meditator remains conscious of himself and that he is engaged in meditation, then he is not meditating but is still in the preliminary stage at the beginning of concentration.
Light (jyothi) meditation return to top
Universality of light (jyothi)
The flame never does diminish in luster, however many lamps may be lit therefrom. So, the flame is the most appropriate symbol of the eternal Absolute. Light symbolizes divinity in man. The importance of the light in contrast to other things is that other things are decreased by sharing, but the light remains shining in all its splendor even after a thousand or more have lit their candles or lamps by it. This explains the universal soul, from which all beings come as individual souls.
The idea of moving the light within the body and then into the universal stage, the idea of universality is that the same divine light is present in everyone and everywhere. To impress this universality on the mind, we do the spreading of the light outside one's own body.
Conversations with Sathya Sai Baba, XLIX , by John Hislop.
Jyothi meditation details
"As regards the technique of meditation, different teachers and trainers give different forms of advice. But I shall give you now the most universal and the most effective form. This is the very first step in spiritual discipline. At first, set a few minutes every day for meditation, and extend the time as you feel the bliss that you get.
"Let it be in the hours before dawn.This is preferable because the body is refreshed after sleep, and the dealings of daytime will not yet have impinged on you. Have a lamp or a candle before you with an open, steady, and straight flame. Sit in front of the candle in the lotus posture or any other comfortable sitting position. Look on the flame steadily for some time, and closing your eyes try to feel the flame inside you between your eyebrows.
Let it slide down into the lotus of your heart, illuminating the path. When it enters the heart, imagine that the petals of the lotus open out by one, bathing every thought, feeling, and emotion in the light and so removing darkness from them. There is no space for darkness to hide. The light of the flame becomes wider and brighter.
Let it pervade your limbs. Now those limbs can never indulge in dark, suspicious, and wicked activities; they have become instruments of light and love.
As the light reaches up to the tongue, falsehood vanishes from it.
Let it rise up to the eyes and the ears and destroy all the dark desires that infest them and which lead you to perverse sights and childish conversation.
Let your head be surcharged with light and all wicked thoughts will flee therefrom. Imagine that the light is in you more and more intensely. Let it shine all around you and let it spread from you in ever widening circles, taking in your loved ones, your kith and kin, your friends and companions, your enemies and rivals, strangers, all living beings, the entire world.
"Since the light illumines all the senses every day so deeply and so systematically, a time will soon come when you can no more relish dark and evil sights, yearn for dark and sinister tales, crave for base, harmful, deadening toxic food and drink, handle dirty demeaning things, approach places of ill-fame and injury, or frame evil designs against anyone at any time. Stay on in that thrill of witnessing the light everywhere.
If you are adoring God in any form now, try to visualize that form in the all-pervasive light. For Light is God; God is Light.
"Practice this meditation as I have advised regularly every day. At other times repeat the name of God (any Name fragrant with any of His many Majesties), always taking care to be conscious of His might, mercy, and munificence."
Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol X (Old edition, pages 348-350)
Namasmarana (remembrance of the Lord's name) return to top
The tongue's purpose
Words have tremendous power. They can arouse emotions, and they can also calm them. They direct or infuriate, they reveal or confuse. They are potent forces that bring up great reserves of strength and wisdom. The tongue should be used for pronouncing the Name of the Lord. It should not be used to hiss like a serpent, or growl or roar with intention to strike terror. That is not the purpose for which the tongue is granted to man. Dwell on the Name, and its sweetness will saturate your tongue and improve your taste. Speech is so powerful that it indicates one's character, reveals one's personality, educates others, and communicates experience and information. So be vigilant about words. Slip while walking and the injury can be repaired, but slip while talking and the injury is irreparable. The tongue must be sanctified by repetition of the Name. It has also to be used for sweet expressions, which will spread contentment and joy.
Advantages of this iron age (kali yuga)
The present age is described in the scriptures as very conducive to liberation, for, while in past ages, rigorous penance was prescribed as the means, the present iron age (kali yuga) requires only repetition of the name of God (namasmarana) to win liberation. When the name of the Lord is remembered with all the glory that is associated with It, a great flood of happiness wells up in the mind. The Lord is full of bliss, and in fact He is Bliss Itself. All this Bliss is to be tasted through the Name. Vyasa himself knew this, for when some sages once went to him to find out which period (yuga) is most conducive to success in man's efforts for liberation, Vyasa anticipated their question and repeated to himself aloud, "How fortunate are those destined to be born in the kali yuga! It is so easy to win the grace of the Lord in the kali yuga by repetition of the name."
Universality of Name
Select some Name and Form for this all-pervasive immanent God and keep It on your tongue and before your mental eye. That is what is called recitation of the Name-cum-meditation (japa-sahita-dhyanam). When you select one Name and one Form for repetition, do not talk ill of other Names and Forms. Behave like the woman of a joint family. She respects and serves the elders of the family, such as the father-in-law and his brothers and her own brothers-in-law, but her heart is dedicated to her husband, whom she loves and reveres in a special manner. If you carp at the faith of others, your devotion is fake. If you are sincere, you will appreciate the sincerity of others too. The Lord has thousands of Names. There is no Name that is not His. Krishna, hrinivasa, Sai Baba --all Names are of the same Entity.
Benefits of repetition of the Name (namasmarana)
The Name of God, if recited with love and faith, has the power
to bring upon the eager aspirant the grace of God. The Name has the
overmastering power of even leaping over the ocean. It can award
unimagined strength and courage. When questioned whether it was
repeating the name of Rama that strengthened Hanuman to cross the
ocean, Rama replied that since His body was called Rama, the Name that
combines the bijaakshras of both Siva
and Vishnu, He Himself was able to conquer Ravana and his hordes. The
name has such efficacy. By repeating the Name, the Lord and His
attributes can easily be identified. Remember the God in whom you move,
the God who makes you move, the God who is all this vast universe
--every little atom and every huge star-- remember Him! The following
are a few aphorisms on the benefits of repetition of the name (namasmarana), based on our Swami's
There are two ways of doing repetition of the name (namasmarana):
Silent Recitation (japa) return to top
The little finger, the ring finger, and the middle finger represent the three characteristics (gunas), viz. dull (thamasic), passionate/dynamic (rajasic) and balanced/pure (sathwic). The middle finger thus signifies purity (sathwa).
The forefinger, that is, the pointer finger, is called the life finger; it symbolizes the individual (jiva) aspect of man. The thumb signifies Brahman. The joining of the forefinger with the thumb, and the three other fingers stretched together apart, indicates the desire for the emergence of the individual with god (deva). This is called 'chin mudra'. While performing silent repetition of the name (japa), the rosary (mala) should be put on the middle finger, which represents the pure quality (sathwic guna), thereby isolating and separating the individual (jiva) from the qualities (gunas).
With the tip of the forefinger touching the thumb, go on rotating bead by bead. This signifies the aspiration of the individual (jiva) to merge with Brahman. In this process, even if the forefinger were to touch slightly the middle finger, it would acquire only the pure (sathwic) quality and not all the qualities (gunas).
In some centers and devotional gatherings, we recite the 108 Names (ashtothara satha namavali) or chant just one name 'Om Sri Sathya Sai Baabaaya Namah'. We find that all 108 names start with 'Om (the pranava, the sound of the universe)' and end with 'salutation (namah)'. The sound of pranava is the basis of all other types of sound. A mantra or Name (namavali) without pranava is like a gun without a bullet. 'Sri' means glory in all its aspects. The Name in the middle is a description of an aspect, a characteristic, the depiction of an event, etc. For an inspiring commentary on the string of the 108 names, please see the first reference for this section.
'Na' means no, nil, or not. 'Ma' signifies the delusion that makes one identify with the inert body (ego) and thereby subjects one to ignorance, misery ,and death. 'Namah' signifies the surrender of one's ego to the Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent God in recognition of the truth that we are also part of that Supreme Reality. Namah must be done with the mental resolution 'not mine' but 'Thine' (Na Mama).
A corollary of this explanation would suggest that one should worship the Lord without desire (nishkama), for God knows what is good for the devotee. The I must be cut right across, and the individual must be crucified in that 'Namah'. All action and all the means of knowledge and awareness should be offered at the feet of the Master, before whom one bows, with folded palms. The right palm is 'Tat' (the Unseen Basic Universal Absolute, the Paramatman), the left palm is 'Twam' (the seen, the particular, the limited, the wave, the image, the soul in the individual (jiva). When the two palms are brought together and kept in contact, the oneness of that and this, of Tat and Twam, is emphasized and demonstrated. It is the gesture/symbol (mudra) of 'I am Brahman, the individual soul is the universal soul (Aham Brahmasmi).
The number 108 is sacred because man breaths 21600 (=200x108) times a day, and it becomes 9 by adding up each number (=1+0+8). 9 is Brahman's number. 108 or 1008 Names is recommended in the scriptures because there is just a chance that we will utter at least one Name out of the Namavali with the sincere yearning to which the Lord will respond and bless.
Swami on Soham return to top
"Before you start meditation (dhyana),
your meditation session, chant Soham,
inhaling So and exhaling Ham. Soham
means 'He is I'; it identifies you with the infinite and expands your
consciousness. Harmonize breath and thought. Breathe gently, naturally;
do not make it artificial and laboured. Slow breath quietens and calms
the emotions. The mood of relaxation produced by this Soham recital is a precondition for a
profitable session of meditation"
"Aim high, resolve on the supremest adventure --everything
will be set right to lead you on to the goal. In fact, you are urged on
toward this adventure by your very breath, which repeats 'He-I (Soham)' 21,600 times a day, thus emphasizing
the identity of the Indweller with the Principle that is Imminent in
the Universe. You may declare "There is no God" with your tongue, but
the breath repeats So as it goes in
and Ham as it goes out, making it
clear that the He who is imminent is the I that is resident!"
"Each individual is born with the question 'koham (who am I)', on its lips. 'Who am I' is the question that presses on every breast. And the answer is given by every breath: 'Soham (He is I)' --the inhalation whispering So and the exhalation whispering Ham!" Sathya Sai Speaks VII, 'My Three'
"Let your mind have no waves; let it be silent, level, calm,
so that the hamsa can sport thereon! Hamsa is the bird of purity, with perfectly
white plumes. The bird that can distinguish between right and wrong,
accepting right and rejecting wrong. The bird that is the symbol of Soham. Sa
(He) Aham (I), Soham: the principle of the One, embracing
He and I, I and the Others, I and He becoming We, or even I."
"... the pure bird that is endowed with the rare power of
discriminating between water and milk, even when they are mixed, and
receiving only the milk (that is to say, separating the valid from
invalid, the lasting from the fragile, the true from untrue). Moreover,
hamsa is a symbol of Soham, the seed mantra that is uttered by
human breathing from birth to death, meaning that the individual (jiva) is Brahman, no more and no less."
"The bird in this physical cage wherein man is imprisoned is
always, from the moment of birth to the moment of death, chirping 'Soham', declaring that the individual (jiva) and God (Deva)
are ONE. It is this affirmation that is the justification for the gift
of life. When the chirp does not emanate from the breath, the body
is a corpse (savam)! When it
manifests, it illumines and fills the cage with the divine fragrance,
it is a tabernacle, Sivam! Identify yourselves with the mantra the bird
chirps, the breath repeats. You might forget any other spiritual
discipline (sadhana) or any other duty
to yourself, but, the breath never, even for a moment forgets this
spiritual discipline-- reminding you of your innate Reality, namely, Sa (He), I am He, He is I. ...that is the
refrain of every breath."
"The mind has been holding conversation with itself, when it
is supposed to be silent! Give it perpetual tasks. Ask it to climb a
pillar and slide down it whenever it has no other work. The pillar is 'Soham (I am That)', a mantra that the breath
repeats from birth to death, 'So' when
you inhale and 'ham' when you exhale.
Let it repeat Soham all the time."
"With each breath you are positively affirming 'Soham (I am He)'. Not only you, every being
thus affirms it. ... When you watch your breath and meditate on that
grand truth, slowly the 'I' and the 'He' will merge; Soham will become transformed into Om, the primal sound, which the Vedas (ancient scriptures) proclaim as the
symbol of the formless, all-knowing God."
"You are born with the cry 'koham'
on your lips; when you depart, you must have the declaration 'Soham' on your smiling face."
"Repeat Soham with every
breath: So when you take in and ham
when you exhale. 'So' means He and 'ham' means I. When you complete the
inhalation and exhalation, feel that 'So'
(namely the Lord) and 'ham' (namely 'I'
i.e. (you)) are One. Later, after long practice, the idea of He and I
as separate entities will disappear and
there will be no more So and ham. These sounds will be reduced to O and
m, that is to say it will be Om or the Pranava.
...This Soham recitation is a good
means of restraining the mind from running away with you."
"Every time we breathe, we say Soham;
'So' when we inhale and 'ham' when he (who is all this external
world) is I (who is all this internal world), the conviction of Unity.
During sleep, when the senses, the brain, and the mind are dormant and
de-functionalized, the 'he' and 'I' are not cognized as separate; the sa (he) and the ham
(I) both fade, and the sound Soham is
transformed into OM, indicating the
merger of the external with the internal into one Truth."
"Koham (who am I)? --the
question with which he emerged into this world has been answered; he
knows: Soham (I and He). He is born
ignorant; he dies a spiritually wise one (jnani)."
"Bliss is the
nature of Atma, your own innermost
Reality. That Reality is reminding you of its existence, with every
breath that you take: Soham, Soham, 'He-I' 'He-I'; the self is repeating
that it is not the limited, the prisoner (held-by-the body). It is a
wave of the vast Ocean named 'He'... Inhale the vast; exhale the
limited. This has to be observed during the waking stage. When you are
in deep sleep, the awareness of the body disappears; there is no
awareness of the outside world, of which, while awake, you felt you
were a partner. There is no So or ham (no 'He' or 'I'). it is all one; one
integral whole. The breath then says not Soham,
"The life-breath repeats Soham
every time you breathe. It means, I am He, I am God. What a profound
authentic declaration the breath is making every moment of your life,
while waking, dreaming, or in deep sleep, this simple lesson, this
truth of our truth, which is being dinned all the 24 hours of the day
does not alert you or inform you of your real task. How can you
understand your Reality by the mere study of books?"