“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
– John Bunyan (English writer of the seventeenth century)
Rasik screamed aloud, “Oh Yamuna, this palanquin is for you, the king desires to see you.”
The stillness of the morning hours was broken rudely.
The fifty of us chanting softly on our prayer beads and seated in semi-circles of six to seven were taken aback. Who was Yamuna, and which king has sent what palanquin, why? What was wrong with Rasik?
As a hundred eyes stared incredulously at the young man, he realized what he had done and needless to say was embarrassed. He shut his eyes, smiled sheepishly and resumed his soft chanting. Others exchanged glances, some laughed aloud and we resumed our prayers.
The gentle pulling
Daily during the predawn hours, the monks sit in groups for meditation in our monastery’s prayer hall. It’s a disciplined effort. We focus on the sound of the transcendental Holy Names of God and we are all concentration.
Of course, it’s not easy to remain attentive; the mind wanders, and a spiritual practitioner is trained to gently but firmly pull the mind back to hearing the sound and be in the present. The two hour exercise helps monks develop strong spiritual muscles; devotees learn to see the mind and ignore its crazy proposals. Of course if you are not careful, you could waste those precious hours by allowing the mind to wander all about.
The success of the session is not in controlling the mind but in gently bringing the mind back to the task of listening to the sound. The mind will surely wander and when we realize it’s gone away from the sound, we pull it back. It’s an exciting daily challenge. At the end of the session, we rise refreshed, eager to face the challenges that the day has in store for us.
Some of us like Rasik on this fateful morning lose the session to the mind. As he allowed his mind to wander to the upcoming drama festival, he was absorbed – not in the prayer session, but on his role in the play as the palanquin carrier for the young scholar Yamuna. The king had summoned for the boy and Rasik had only one but important dialogue in the drama. The previous evening he had rehearsed hard and unwittingly now as he sat for his daily chanting practise, his mind slipped to the event. His poor mind dragged him so far away from the present that the yet-to-happen play became a reality of the now. He spoke his lines aloud, much to our initial shock and later when it dawned on us, to our amusement.
To be continued….