There are countless paths, each with its own landmarks, its own route. Meditation unfolds in a sequence, but the specific experiences and their order vary from person to person and from method to method. In devotional meditation or prayer you may be filled with intense love, or with great pain of separation, or with the presence of the Living Spirit. If on the other hand you meditate using a one-pointedness technique, such as concentration on the breath, you may first experience agitation, then quietness, a deepening silence, more immediate awareness of smaller units of thought, and finally the silent space and emptiness that exists beyond form. In still another approach to meditation, say a movement method like t’ai chi, your first experiences might be of balance, harmony, or flow with the earth, the air, and the surroundings. It is not possible to chart a single path, or to say that every individual will have the same experience. The paths of the heart, the mind, and the body each traverse different terrain to the same goal.
Don’t get attached to your way of meditation. Keep in mind that the goal is liberation and that all meditations can be used as you need them to help you in the journey. You can sit and follow your breath to bring your mind to quiet one-pointedness which loosens the hold of all your worldly thoughts. Once the basic tool of one-pointedness is forged, you can use it for any of a number of ends. If you use it to gain insight into the workings of your mind, you ultimately enter the state of Nirvana. Or you might use your one-pointedness to contemplate beings who embody spiritual qualities and develop these qualities in yourself. Or it might work another way: you can begin with prayer, and through the love of Jesus simplify your life to the point that you create no new karma. What may draw you on then is the need for silence, so you seek a simpler meditation, such as following your breath.
I’ve found that each meditation technique I’ve ever pursued seriously has helped me by touching another space in my being. Somehow I’ve danced through them without getting caught in a value system that would say that a single meditative technique is the only way.
You cannot, however, keep collecting methods all the way to enlightenment. Sooner or later you will be drawn to one path or another which is for you the eye of the needle, the doorway to the inner temple. The journey passes from eclectic sampling to a single path. Finally, you recognize the unity of your own way and that of other seekers who followed other paths. At the peak, all the paths come together.
The Indian saints Kabir and Tulsi Dass, as well as St. Theresa, showed an incredibly intense yearning and love for God. Ramana Maharshi, on the other hand, showed the path in which the discriminative mind, through the method of self-inquiry, extricates one from clinging even to the concept of “I.” Others, such as the Tibetan sages Padmasambhava and Milarepa, embodied the skillful use of tremendous powers in the service of humanity. Jesus reflected the purest love, compassion, and sacrifice. Buddha showed the path of insight. All these are different routes to a single goal, liberation.
Many, many paths to the mountain top. Each has its own sights, experiences, hazards. Don’t get stranded along the way.
– Ram Dass