Seeker: Are physical exercises such as jogging, bicycling, aerobics, etc., harmful to spiritual development? If not, can exercise be done on a daily basis for thirty minutes to an hour? Would that be excessive and upsetting to the balance of body, mind and spirit?
Physical exercises by themselves do not disturb the balance of body, mind and soul. We are creatures of three gunas, the three stages or qualities of the mind: tamas (inertia), rajas (activity) and sattva (quietude, tranquility). The highest is sattva, the balancing aspect of the mind. In everything we think and do, we are affected or influenced by these three qualities. And because most of us are not in full control of our minds, or even in considerable control, therefore physical exercise creates rajas, the active energy of the mind. The mind becomes dominated by that particular quality. Whereas balance is tranquility, the clash of rajas and sattva in the mind makes the mind disturbed.
One hour of strenuous physical exercise should be the maximum for spiritual seekers. In such exercise, the mind gets active, blood circulates quickly, toxins are burnt up and your nervous system gets more active. Even though you may feel good after exercise, the mind could be restless, meaning in tension. So after exercise you may allow some time to lapse before you attempt meditation. You can lie down for ten to fifteen minutes in the corpse pose and relax so that the mind begins to quiet down. If you have achieved a sufficient degree of balance, you could be relaxed in a few minutes even after strenuous exercise. It depends on to what degree you have achieved control of your mind.
Yoga exercises and pranayama (breathing exercises) contain all the benefits you would have from physical exercises except for muscular development. I always feel that the development of the physical portion of your being makes you more identified with it. Therefore we do not recommend that you go into it too much. See how much balance you can keep. Sometimes you have to experiment and see what happens, whether you are disturbed or not. I am using the word disturbance in its pure yogic meaning: disturbance of mind means whatever takes you away from your one-pointedness on the goal. That would be called disturbance even if you feel good about it. Otherwise, hatha yoga and pranayama once or twice a day are more than enough to maintain a healthy body.
You have spoken about developing finer energy to evolve upward and also the problem of leaking energy. Would you say a few words about that in relation to the conscious and subconscious will or inner attitude in a person?
The subconscious is a hidden portion of the mind. Many of our thoughts and actions settle in the subconscious mind. It is like a water tank where impurities slowly accumulate on the bottom. The surface water may seem clean but when it is stirred, the residue on the bottom comes up. In the mind this residue is vibrations that, when allowed to remain intact, are hidden from us. When stirred up, these vibrations circulate through the mind and our attitudes and moods change accordingly.
Supposing a leakage in the tank is one foot from the bottom; then only fresh water may go out. The hidden residue will still remain. If the leakage is on the very bottom, some dirt also may go out. There are leakages that can be good and others that can be bad. Regardless, you are losing water along with the dirt, which means that even if certain leakages may be driving away the impurities, they are also taking away the good things.
Let me give an example of a leakage: you must have seen that if you express anger rather than suppress it, often it releases you. Though anger is a sin or a vice, after having suppressed it ten times or twenty times, if you let it out it may give some relief. But at other times anger is a waste or drain of energy. So it is best to first plug the leakages and then clean the tank. Otherwise, if you put fresh water in the tank it will continue to leak out.
Leakages are basically vices such as negativity, prejudice, selfishness, greed and attachment. Whatever you practice - meditation, prayer, going to holy places, reforming yourself, study, purification - all this builds up your energy and raises your consciousness. If you have leakages, your energy will dissipate and your level of consciousness will reduce. It can be compared to earning and spending: even if you earn $5000 a month, if your expenditure is $5500 you will always be in debt. You have to plug those leakages in order to conserve your energy and raise your consciousness. The word for this in yoga is dharana, retention. In order to retain that power in your consciousness, the leakages must be plugged in.
There are things that you can see by yourself but there are other things that you cannot see. For example, at times self-confidence is a virtue, but it can be a blinding factor. It gives you strength and courage to do things, but if you carry it too far it can become stubbornness, pride and arrogance. Self-confidence can prove to be a leakage or a saving grace. How to distinguish this is why we need Masters. It also depends upon individual capacity or intelligence. I am using the word intelligence as synonymous with consciousness. If you are more conscious and awakened, you can see your leakages more. If you are less conscious, then you may not see many of your leakages.
There are various ways to stop leakages: practices such as prayer, auto-reflection, meditation, yoga, and accepting the truth in us. If there is something wrong in you, to understand and accept it as wrong helps block the leakages. If you have tried all of these and everything has failed, there is only one way left: surrender unto God, “God, now help me. I’ve tried my best. Thou art my only refuge.” Utterly surrender unto God, “Thy Will be done,” and accept the situation. If you can change, change it. If you cannot change, have the courage to accept it. This is my way and it has helped me.
I wonder if the method we use to plug the leaks is the same way of getting rid of the mud at the bottom of the tank, or is there another way?
Sri Ramakrishna gave this example: if you use a brass vessel daily, you have to clean and polish it daily; but if it is made of gold, you do not need to clean it daily. Clean your mind daily with prayer, meditation, chanting and yoga until it becomes like gold. You have to stir up the subconscious so that you see what impurities are there. Clean it out with daily practice and add the fresh waters of devotion, charity and holy company. It is a constant process.
The restless mind finds it difficult to concentrate and be one-pointed; it is often a herculean job. The mind is habituated to externalize through the senses. In one-pointed meditation we are not using the senses; we are using the mind. So we pray and chant so that the mind becomes purified, steady and concentrated. When that happens the mind becomes poised, and when you are poised you can go into meditation.
Mauni Sadhu said that where there are no ripples, no vibrations, even the thought of meditation is not there. Awareness is rolling upon awareness, without being aware of thought, without even being conscious of your Pure Consciousness. There is nothing greater than that. When you come to that Great Silence, there are no words, no sound, only the original sound. The Word of God and that Silence are the same.
© 2010 by Truth Consciousness. Excerpted from the Satsangs of Swami Amar Jyoti: Blocks to Pure Existence (M-44) and Thinking, Contemplating, Meditating (I-2). For further information on the audio Satsangs of Swami Amar Jyoti please see truthconsciousness.org.