The subject of external aids (videos, satsangs, music, chanting, books, etc.) came up in a comment yesterday. These things can be very helpful by reminding us, inspiring us, and transmission.
Incidentally, if you’ve never been in a large hall, especially a large wooden hall, where hundreds of people are chanting, try to arrange it at least once before you die. The wooden walls enhance the vibrations like the body of a giant guitar.
But listening to chants on YouTube through earbuds is good too. Anything can be good, because it’s our reaction to the external stimulus, not the external stimulus, which is what we really know and feel. The Godliness is always inside us and all around us. Chants may make us notice it and feel it, but it is always already here.
Religious services can be good too. I’ve felt enormous energy radiate outward from my girlfriend Julia’s body after she receives the eucharist in a Christian church.
Oh, pets. How could I have omitted pets from the list. The love they give and elicit can be a very powerful aid. I’ve written here about a cat named Susie who used to lie on my chest and purr while I meditated. I think in some way she knew what I was doing and was helping or participating.
Many stories are told and written about Ramana Maharshi’s friendships with animals. He slept with animals next to him on his couch; he was best buds with a cow named Lakshmi; the king of the local monkey tribe consulted him for advice; etc., etc., etc. People read these stories and think, “How marvelous! Ramana was a saint! Animals loved him just like they loved St. Francis!” These readers are missing the point completely. We are supposed to be like Ramana, not put him on a pedestal.
I am not Ramana, far from it, but I live with a cat named Frank who spends a good part of the day lying on my desk with his head on my arm (his idea of a pillow) while I try to type. The love that radiates from that cat, and the love that pours back toward him from my heart, is tremendous. I do nothing. The love just pours and swirls around us like incense in the air. Is this not an aid? Is this not the reality itself? You too can have a Frank. Anyone can have a Frank.
People read about bhakti (love, devotion) and think it has to be directed toward a certain object — God, Guru, Self. No. Take nonduality seriously. There aren’t any objects. All is one. There is only one Reality. Love for God, love for a cat — there’s no difference. Love itself is God. It’s the Love itself that’s real, and Love is always Love. We think, “I love the cat” or “the cat loves me.” But inspect love carefully, the actual feeling, just like we inspect “I” when we do Self-enquiry. (The analogy is more than an analogy, because subjectivity and love are qualities of the Self.) When love is felt, is there really any subject or object? When we say “I love” are we really the subject? There’s no subject or object in love. Look and see whether I’m right. This isn’t anything mystical or hidden. When you feel love, do you really have a sense that it’s something you are doing? Look and see.
As usual I’m digressing. That was the 2021 model of Freddie speaking. This post is supposed to be about the 1998 model. Back to yesterday’s comment. It made me recall an experiment I did a couple of decades ago shortly after I got serious about sadhana.
A little background: a visit to a south Indian temple in 1985 put me in an altered state of consciousness and changed the course of my life. As a result, since then I’ve been convinced that physical locations can affect us spiritually. Years later (probably around 1998, I don’t remember exactly) I was living in New York City and wondered, “Where can I go in New York City that will quiet my mind or have some other beneficial spiritual effect?”
I had noticed already that my mind became quiet on the third floor of the flagship Barnes & Noble bookstore on Union Square. I tried many other buildings and places of various sorts. It was fun wandering around New York City, walking in and out of various public buildings looking for spiritually powerful places — a kind of tourism, I suppose, although I was a resident. Also, I suppose, a kind of sadhana, since whenever I looked to see whether my mind was quiet, I was meditating.
And then I remembered the familiar stories of Indian ascetics who retire to caves. I wondered whether caves have a beneficial spiritual effect because the resident is separated from the earth’s surface by dirt and rock. I decided to test that hypothesis.
As far as I know, New York City has no caves except shallow ones in Inwood Hill Park that barely deserve the name, but it does have subway stations, some of which are deep below the surface of the earth. A little research showed that the 191st Station in Washington Heights is the deepest — 173 feet (53 meters).
Later that day I spent a couple of hours sitting on a wooden bench on the platform of the 191st Station. I felt nothing spiritual, just damp and cold. Oh well. They say negative results are essential to science, and afterward I probably visited the Cloisters while I was there or Inwood Hill park (the only place in Manhattan with old-growth trees, where you can get an idea what it looked like before white people came — it was gorgeous) so the trip was probably worth it.