Question: Can meditation be harmful? It is said that a person’s head becomes heated when he meditates.
Amma: It is always better to be taught by a Guru how to meditate. Meditation is like a tonic. A tonic nourishes the body. The tonic comes with certain instructions. If you just ignore the instructions and swallow the whole tonic, it can be dangerous. Most tonics should be taken only according to a doctor’s instructions. Similarly, we should meditate according to the instructions of a Spiritual Master. The Guru first makes an assessment of your mental and physical disposition before prescribing the form of sadhana that is most suitable for you. Some people can meditate for any length of time without any problem. But this is not the case with everyone. Some people, in their initial enthusiasm, will meditate or do japa continuously for long hours, without following any rules of regulations. They do this out of a sudden urge. But it will make them lose their sleep and their head will get heated. This happens because they are meditating more than the body can tolerate.
Everyone has a limited capacity, depending on the state of their mind and body. If 500 people are crammed into a vehicle that can seat only 100, the vehicle won’t be able to run. And if we put double the amount of grain allowed into a mixer, it will overheat and become damaged; it may even burn up. Similarly, if you, in a surge of initial enthusiasm, do japa and meditation indiscriminately for long hours, your head may get heated and many other problems may arise. That is why it is advised that one should learn these practices from a Satguru.
We often hear people say, “We are God; everything is within us.” But those are just words. It doesn’t come from experience. The capacity of each instrument is limited. A 10-watt bulb cannot give the light of a 100-watt bulb. Spiritual practices have to be done according to the capacity of the body and mind. You have to be careful so that you don’t exceed the limit.
If you buy a new car, you shouldn’t drive it at the maximum speed at the outset. Only gradually should the speed be increased. Some restrictions have to be followed; otherwise the car will get damaged and become useless. It is the same with sadhana. A beginner shouldn’t meditate and do japa excessively, foregoing sleep in the process. Meditation, japa, physical work and studying the scriptures should all be done gradually in a regulated way.
Some people are prone to mental illness. If they meditate too much, their body will get overheated and this will enhance the agitation of their mind. They should be advised to do mainly physical work. If their attention is channelled towards physical work, it will help to reduce their mental agitation. Being engaged in work, their mind will wander less and can be controlled. If they are allowed to sit in meditation without doing any physical work, their problems will only become worse. But if their illness isn’t serious, they can meditation for 10 to 15 minutes a day — that will be enough for them.
Thus there are many types of people with different natures. Each individual has to be given different instructions. If you learn how to do spiritual practices like meditation just by reading books, you will not know what restrictions are required specifically for you.
Suppose we go to the house and there is a big dog outside. We will call the owner of the house from outside and wait until he has come and tied the dog up, so that it cannot harm us. But if we don’t have any patience and just open the gate and try to enter, the dog will bite us. Similarly, it could be dangerous if we just go ahead with our spiritual practices, without accepting the advice of a wise, experienced person.
A spiritual aspirant is on a journey through a forest full of cruel, ferocious animals. He needs the help of a guide who knows the path through the forest. Isn’t it best to have someone with us who can tell us, “There’s danger ahead. Be careful! Don’t go that way; go this way instead?”
It is useless to blame God when we suffer the consequences of acting on our own whim. A person under the influence of alcohol was driving a car. The car went out of control and hit a pedestrian. When the police arrested the driver, he said, “Sir, it wasn’t my fault that the car hit that person! The petrol is to blame!” We are doing much the same thing if we blame God for the dangers that we face owing to our own lack of caution.
There is a dharma (right conduct) for everything, and we should move in accordance with that dharma. Meditation has its own methodology. The spiritual masters have laid down the rules and methods for each type of practice. One should choose the type of spiritual practices that are most suitable only after taking into consideration the physical and mental propensities of the aspirant. The same method will not suit everyone.
Anybody can learn a theory. However, to be successful in the practical tests you need the assistance of a learned instructor, because it is difficult to master it on your own. In the same way, the seeker needs a Guru who can guide him or her on the spiritual path.