If everything is part of the same "One", then the idea of retreating from the world to connect with the universal consciousness doesn't make sense. A look at the relationship of meditation and social service.

by Kristin Kaoveri Weber 

Before I started to meditate I had some preconceived notions. It seemed like a good thing to do: to sit quietly and contemplate the peace within, to find one's center, to focus on the infinite. But it also seemed like something for quiet, low-key people: you know, meditative types. And I certainly could not include myself in that category. I was kind of outspoken and noisy, and very interested in social action, especially women's issues. So I had another bias against meditation: maybe it was really just an escape from reality. Perhaps quiet meditative people were selfish and only concerned with their own spirituality, not with working towards social justice and equality.

 Meditation also seemed like a ploy to keep people from fighting exploitation. Haven't the disenfranchised always been placated with religion? "Pray to God and things will get better." Be quiet, look inside." "The hereafter will be better than this place." I didn't want to be quiet, I wanted to change the world.

 My previous ideas about meditation were not unfounded. Certainly the monk-in-the-cave image has been perpetuated in the west. But after I got over some of my biases and started to meditate (and to understand more clearly the concepts of Tantra, the Indian spiritual tradition which emphasizes the development of human vigour both through meditation and through confrontation of difficult external conditions)I began to see that true spiritual progress can only be made when the internal and the external move together. That is, when we do the internal work of meditation, and we use the strength it gives us to serve our societies, then we have progress. For thousands of years, some spiritual aspirants have chosen to retreat from the world, to caves or ashrams, for the sake of spiritual realization. But the greatest spiritual teachers have never advocated such paths.

 "The purpose of our life is certainly about helping others," said the Dalai Lama, "It must be positive. . . Whatever way we can make a small contribution, that's what's important, that's our responsibility." Meditation helps us connect with the universal consciousness, "the One", as some teachers have called it. It helps us to see the unity of all things. And when we begin to sense that unity, we start to feel compelled to make life better for other people and for animals and the earth. If everything is part of the same "One", then the idea of retreating from the world to connect with the universal consciousness doesn't make sense.

 The spiritual teacher Shrii Shrii Anandamurti said:

"Do you require the help of a mirror to see your wristwatch on your wrist? No, you will never do that. Likewise, you need not go to the Himalayas in search of Paramapurusa (God), who is hidden in your own 'I-ness'. Living in the world, put forth your entire self for the service of society, and then you will attain Paramapurusa."

 Meditation is the means to spiritual enlightenment. It is the vehicle by which we purify our body and mind. If everything is part of "the One," and meditation helps us to see this idea more clearly, then meditation will also lead us towards connecting with others--humans, plants, animals, and the earth. We begin to realize that we can't get to our goal of self-realization alone. We have the responsibility of bringing the rest of creation along with us.

 As we chip away at our ego and self-interest, feelings of love start to rise. That love, that open warm feeling you get in the center of your chest when you hold a baby or pet a kitten or nurture a houseplant back to life, that's what meditation cultivates. You start to feel this open warmth more and more often, until it's almost always there.

 While meditation creates that feeling from the inside, it's caring for the baby, kitten or plant that feeds it from the outside. In order for the process to work, both the internal and the external forces of love have to be working on the body and mind simultaneously. This is why it is essential to combine social service with spiritual practice.

 I remember when I first felt my fourth chakra (that field of energy in the center of the chest, or the "yogic heart" as it's sometimes called) really open up. I had organized a vegetarian dinner to raise money for a children's school in the Dominican Republic. I spent three days cooking, but I managed to get some sleep and do some meditation during the preparation. On the day of the dinner, I had to walk to the store to get some forgotten lemons. I was tired, but as I stepped out into the sunlight I was overwhelmed by an explosion of joy in my chest. I felt like singing and dancing my way to the supermarket. I saw in the trees and clouds the radiant pulsing joy of life and I couldn't help smiling at everyone I passed. It is in these moments, that we feel heaven resides on earth.