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Why Meditation Doesn’t Work


Why Meditation Doesn’t Work

By Joseph Emmett

First of all, what is meditation?  Meditation is holding the mind on a single thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts, under the control of the intellect. One thought.  The point is to hold it there long enough that even that thought eventually falls off, silence remains and the stunned intellect dissolves, leaving only Pure Consciousness.  At that point, you return to your Original Nature of undifferentiated, non-segregated, ever-fulfilled Peace.  That state has been called Nirvana, Moksha, Self-Realization, Enlightenment, Becoming, Awakening and many more.

But obviously it is not that easy.  Many people ‘have a meditation practice’ or even ‘meditate on’ this or that.  Those practices may have benefits of relaxation and blood pressure reduction and even flashes of stillness, but they are not meditation as defined by Vedanta, the very source of the practice.  Those practices rarely involve the aforementioned single-pointedness and almost never end up in complete, full-blown Enlightenment.

Too many people say ‘I’ve been meditating every day for 30 years’.  If you have been meditating for 30 years, something is wrong.  It’s not working.  So what is that?  What is wrong?

Every human being is a body, mind and intellect plus Consciousness.  Or you could say Consciousness plus a body, mind and intellect.  Body is obvious.  Mind, also called manas in Sanskrit, is what westerners might call ‘heart’.  The abode of feelings, emotions, likes and dislikes, impulses.  The intellect, called buddhi in Sanskrit, is that which reasons, contemplates, philosophizes, concentrates, decides and ideally directs the mind and body in all their actions.

The mind has no capacity to focus itself, stay within a form, say ‘enough’, etc.  It certainly cannot meditate.  Only a very powerful intellect can hold the mind on one thought (meditation).  So, simply put, meditation doesn’t work because the intellect is not strong enough and the mind is too unwieldy.  This is the problem.

The way to meditate therefore is to strengthen the intellect.  Just as the way to run a marathon is to start by running around the block or to surf big waves is to surf a lot of little ones first.  Likewise, the intellect has to be first of all known to exist. Then it has to be developed, strengthened.  The way to develop, strengthen the intellect is:

1.       Not to accept anything for granted

2.       Question everything in life

3.       Never follow anything until your reason and judgement accepts it.

This should have started at the age of seven or eight. Since that time has passed, you could accelerate the development of the intellect through the study of Swami Parthasarathy’s three books –The Fall of the Human Intellect, Governing Business and Relationships and Vedanta Treatise : The Eternities in the early hours of the morning.

The intellect will slowly begin to guide the mind.  It will achieve general concentration.   Given further ammunition of higher values, the intellect will begin to resist the justifications of the mind for its wanderings.  Slowly, the mind is caught.  The intellect has a firm hold, like a rider with a good grip on the reins.

Finally, as the Bhagavad Gita says, one can attempt to ‘sit and focus on Me as Supreme’.  That is, sit and single-pointedly think of God, the Self, your core Being.  Then one is meditating, and soon will be Self-Realized.

If you try to sit in meditation prematurely, you are wasting time.  You are merely sitting in a pool of stagnant thoughts, if not an inferno of boiling ones.

So why do we do this?  Because it’s easy.  It’s easy to sit down and do nothing.  It’s easy to teach and easy to learn.  But to do nothing internally, to make the mind single-pointed and to then be quiet, to actually reform the mind and strengthen the intellect is not so easy.  The former is a physical thing, a breath thing, a posture thing.  A simple thing.  The latter requires years of higher study, reflection on those values and discipline.  So, we take the easy road, convince ourselves we are spiritual for doing it and don’t ask why its not actually working.   What is required is effort, work.  Study of Vedanta.  Daily.

In his book Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities, Swami Parthasarathy writes:

“You cannot practice single pointed meditation until your mind becomes free from worldly attachment and desire.  When your mind becomes free from worldly attraction and entanglement.  Remains under the control of the intellect.  And you are objective in your transactions of life.  The progress and success in meditation is therefore directly proportional to the preparation of the mind.  Your mind must be cleansed before you reach the seat of meditation.  The purer the mind the easier it is to practice meditation.  Purity of mind means rendering it free of desire and expectation.  Means renunciation.  Nothing less.  ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,’ assures Christ.  You must first gain the purity of mind.  But people directly try to meditate without the initial preparation.  Without purifying their mind.  They will not give up their attachment and desire, their hope and expectation, yearning and craving.  They will not pay the price for what they seek.  Those extroverted people, living a  material and sensual life, wish to become the Buddha overnight.”

Swami Parthasarathy will be visiting the LA area on 9/23See this flyer for further details.  All welcome.

Joseph is Director of the non-profit Vedanta World Los Angeles.  For his teaching schedule, visit:  To contact Joseph:



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