You Probably Aren't Ready For Meditation
A Conversation with a Hindu Monk
Everyone’s telling you to meditate, it will solve all your problems. But according to Dandapani, a former Hindu monk, who I first met five years ago, it’s likely YOU are not ready to meditate. You might be wasting your time trying to start without first learning how your mind works.
Below is an excerpt from a recent conversation I had with Dandapani.
Craig: What’s your origin story that impacted you choosing not to eat meat. When did you say to yourself “I shouldn't be eating animals, like this doesn't feel right”?
Dandapani:It was at the age of 17 or 18 years. I had never eaten beef being a Hindu, the only thing that we ate was chicken, and mutton. It never made me feel good. Every time I ate mutton, the next day I'd feel super heavy and sluggish and slow and it never made me feel light and dynamic like I did after I was meditating. So I first gave that up goat simply because it did not make me feel good.
Craig: And then how did it progress from there to completely eliminating meat?
Dandapani: In my early twenties I just ate chicken and fish, and then I met my guru when I was 21, and one of the first things he wanted me to do, if I wanted to study with him, was to be vegetarian. And I really wanted to study with him, and I had been wanting to be a vegetarian anyway. So at that point I just said yep. I gave up eating meat on the 5th of September 1991.
C: I love that you know the exact date, and it's nice to hear that there was a constraint, there was something that you wanted and this was put on you as kind of constraint to get what you wanted.
D: Yeah, basically. And I wanted it more than anything else, so I was willing to give up. I still look at chicken every now and then, and it’s smells good. But I just don't eat it, and I don't believe in killing animals, so that's the other strong reason.
C: What’s a time in your life that there was just great adversity and how did you cope and manage through that? And how did you leverage it? So it's a three-part question; what was the time in your life with great adversity? How did you cope? And then how did you leverage that afterwards?
D: I would say that there have been many times with great adversity, but you know, one of the toughest times I would say, probably the toughest time, was when my guru died. That was very unexpected. He was the most important person in my life, so definitely a time that I probably felt my lowest ever in my life. Then I remember just being sad and depressed almost about this whole thing for months on end, and then at one point I just had to ask myself this question, how long am I going to be sad about this? At that point I basically decided I just need to turn it around, and I'm just going to take all of this sadness that I was experiencing and create something in my life, because at the end of the day, like one of the things that I learned from my guru is that, it's all energy manifesting in different forms.
D: And that's why I always tell people now that emotion is energy expressing itself. So when energy comes out of you it expresses itself as an emotion, and that emotion can be happy, it could be sad, it could be jealousy, but the essence of it, it's still energy. So emotion is energy expressing itself, and I'm just choosing it to express itself as sadness now, and I can take the same energy, since I can't create or destroy it, but I can just change it to something else. And I decided to use that to leverage it, to create a whole different life for myself.
C: I know you've had some recent adversity in your life with family related health issues, so how have you dealt with that and how has the lesson from when your guru died impacted how you’ve dealt with this new adversity?. We're you able to take learnings from that to deal with your recent adversity?
D: Last year was an extremely difficult year, and for me and one of the biggest things I learnt from my guru is that when you're going through adversity, the best thing that can help you through it is consistent practice. Keeping a routine and keeping a discipline. And that's the last thing most people want to do when they're going through adversity
C: So as you head into adversity itself, you shouldn't really change a lot in your routine is what you're suggesting.
D: Exactly, because it's the routine, that what makes you, right, and routine stabilizes you, it gives you a structure, it brings meaning to the life, it gives ... And I think a lot of people when they going through adversity just let go of the routine, because it's extremely difficult to have some routine. You're depressed, you're sad, whatever you may be experiencing, but the routine is so key. And even though I wasn't consistently doing my routine, I was at least doing it a few times a week, which was better than not doing it at all or completely abandoning it. And then realizing that when I lived as a monk for ten years, one of the big trainings is that monks were trained to welcome adversity. Because it gave you a chance to look at what needed to be encouraged, and we used that as a catalyst to be a better version of ourselves.
C: Ok, on to the main topic at hand, we both know the world has more distractions than ever.
C: We’ve got screens everywhere distracting us, in waiting rooms, in restaurants, in elevators. There are more learning events and invites than ever before, so it’s harder to say no to things, we’ve got more information than we can handle at a click of the mouse and I won’t even get started on email and our apps. Personally, my mind feels like there is no more memory left. How are people dealing with this?
D: Not very well.
C: So what is the impact of not dealing with it well, and what are some of the steps to managing distractions?
D: I would say the impact of not dealing with it very well is chaos, and that's just what comes out of this. It's because you are allowing information and the opportunity to essentially distract you. And you know we were at the same event in San Diego, and I don't know who it was on stage but someone just said that opportunities are not always good, and opportunities can be distraction, right? But the key is to take the right opportunities and I think when you're starting off in business or whatever it is, you're kind of taking every opportunity that comes your way, and then see further along the path, you go like, no, I'm not going take every opportunity. I'm going take the opportunity that best aligns with my purpose or my goal.
D: So I think, in terms of like data and information that's out there, and also learning. I think, two separate things here. In terms of information and data I think for me how I consume it is that, it has to be aligned with my purpose, right? It has to be aligned with what I wanna do. And once I feel like once you're super crystal clear with what you want in your life, what you wanna accomplish, then it's very easy to syphon off data that you don't want, that you don't need, right? And you just narrow down and hone into exactly what it is that's helpful to you. So for me I don't get overwhelmed with the information out there, because I actually, you can ask my wife, I rarely consume information. I rarely ... I know people that read tons of books. I don't.
D: I find people, I meet people that I want to learn from, and then I ask very, very specific questions to get specific information from them. And that's how I do it. And then other thing is learning, right? That's something I see quite often, where people are in this crazy state of mind of perpetually learning, going from one course to another course, attending one conference after another conference, one training program after another training program, and I think personally that's useless. What's the point of learning something if you don't end up practising it? And the way I was trained as a monk, we didn't learn very much. We only learnt a few things, then practiced. At the end of the day you don't need to learn a lot, you just need to be really great at a few things. You just need to learn a few key things, and then practice those things and master them. And I think that's where people get lost, and people feel like learning means improving, that's not okay.
C: Right. That's a good point. So, that can bring us around to.
"Meditation is a meeting with your energy, so every day energy is going out of you to people and things around you."
D: I'll just interrupt you in for one thing, to share what my guru used to say. He defined wisdom as the timely application of knowledge. So a library is absolutely useless, right? Useless in one sense, that it contains tons of information, which is wonderful, but unless you can take that information, apply it at the right time in your life to create some significant change, it's useless. People gather information, they're walking libraries, which is useless. Wisdom on the other hand, it's the timely application of that knowledge. A situation happens, you're able to find what knowledge it is you've learnt, apply it to that situation to create a positive outcome. That's when you become wise.
C: Really nice.
D: And then people don't know how to do that, or have never been taught how to do that. They're just accumulating knowledge, and think accumulated knowledge leads to growth. Not necessarily. It's the application of it, the timely application of it.
C: Yeah. So, how does that relate to meditation... It’s obviously great that so many people are taking up meditation but I think you have an opinion around how people are jumping into meditation without understanding the basics ... it's kind of like going to the gym, you haven't been to the gym ever, and you decide you're gonna start pumping like 250 pounds on the bench, right? What are the steps that really need to take place before you establish a strong meditation practice.
D: Yeah, and I can do that. I just also wanna touch on the point you just made, you know. It's like if I went to learn ballet, I wouldn't go to ballet class and my teacher wouldn't teach me to do pirouettes on the first day. I'm going to spend weeks and months getting my body trained, doing all the boring stuff, before I do anything remotely exciting. And that's like any art form, anything, right? Playing sports, you know, music, you learn the basics. You spend months and months learning it before you start doing something remotely exciting. So, meditation is the same way too, you know, like maybe almost every meditation that's being sold out there today, you can start meditating within a few seconds. Where's the preparation, right?
C: And that's what people want, and that's what they're being sold. But in traditional schools of meditation like where I was trained as a monk, you can't learn to meditate at first, First you'd learn about the mind, because you meditate with the mind and if you don't understand how the mind works, how are you going to come to you use it? How are you going to control it? How are you going to harness it and direct it in the direction that you want? So we start by learning about the mind. Second we need to learn to concentrate, because meditation is a prolonged state of concentration. And if you can't concentrate, you can't meditate. So then you need to learn to concentrate, then you need to learn to sit down. As an example, I have a 12 week online meditation course, and you don't start meditating till week 11. And some people like it and some people don't like it, right? .
D: Yeah, and we live in a society where, with technology we are trained for instant gratification, right? So, if I want an app, I can just go in an app store, download the app, within a minute and start using it. Everything comes really, really quickly, right? I want something I can go buy, have Amazon deliver it the same day or the next day, and because we're so trained to be thought that we can get things so quickly, email, text messages, get in touch with people whenever we want digitally, now we take that, I don't know the right word for this, but habit.
C: The mentality?
D: The mentality, thank you. Yeah, take the mentality of instant gratification, and we apply it now to personal change, and it doesn't work. And that's why people get frustrated, and people go, ‘you know what, if I start meditating now, I'll fix this. And I'll fix it in a week’. And here's a weekend program on how to, you know, change your life around. It doesn't work that way, right? But we're trained by technology to create this mentality like you setup instant gratification, and we apply it to personal development, and it doesn't work.
"If you don't understand how the mind works, how are you going to come to you use it? How are you going to control it? How are you going to harness it and direct it in the direction that you want?"
C: So can you recap in three or four steps what needs to happen before you practice.
D: You start by understanding how the mind works, that's number one. Second step is to learn to concentrate. Once you know the workings of the mind, now you can learn to harness it and focus it. And concentration needs to be learnt and practiced, in order to be good at it. Third, we develop will power. Will power is super crucial in meditation, because if I go to the gym and I lift weights, I feel the repercussions, I feel the benefits of it. It's almost instantly gratifying. The same way like doing yoga. I can do yoga and feel the effects of it right away. Meditation is not the same.
The benefits of meditation come much later on, not until you become really good at it, and then once you become good at it, then you kind of feel the instant gratification of it. But in the early stages, you sit down for five minutes and quite often you don't feel anything. So willpower is necessary, to keep you doing consistent practice. Number four I would say is getting a couple of things together, which is, getting a location, a space where you meditate, getting that set up, so that's a good place to do it, same way that you might need a space for doing yoga or going to the gym, you go to a location where it's set up for you to do weights or exercise, there needs to be a place where you can meditate.
That's the external spot. And then the internal part of that is getting your physical body in the right place to meditate. So sitting with your spine straight, knowing what to do with your hands, are you sitting on a chair or you sitting cross-legged on the floor, and if so what's the best way to sit, what do you do with your hands? Getting that structural part of it is very crucial. Because the whole idea is to still your body to go inside of yourself. Then comes breathing, learning to breathe, becoming familiar with energy inside of you. Meditation is a meeting with your energy, so every day energy is going out of you to people and things around you. Meditation is the process of feeling that energy, harnessing it, withdrawing it, and centralizing it into one location.
C: So if it was over a year, the first 11 months. If it was a calendar year, you spend the first 11 months learning about that and then, you know, you go into practice in the last month. Just trying to draw a comparison to a full year.
D: Yeah, it would be, and you might not have to wait that long, but you definitely have to do a lot of work and especially around concentrating, because being distracted is a huge thing to overcome. How do you expect an average person who say sleeps 8 hours a day, and is awake for 16 hours a day, out of the 16 hours, how many hours does a person practice distraction? Probably a huge chunk of it. Just say 14 hours practising distraction. How then can they go sit down for five minutes and expect during that to be totally focused? Their state of minds can be a state of distraction. So if you don't learn concentration, then meditation is absolutely useless.
C: That's fantastic. So I have one last question for you. How do you practice love and kindness and compassion on a daily basis? What's your practice for those living a life of loving-kindness and compassion?
D: For me it's always looking at my life and seeing all my shortcomings, all the mistakes that I've done in my life, or what I consider to be mistakes and hoping that, first of all I have empathy and love and compassion for myself. And second is that others would have empathy and compassion and love for me, and knowing that I am a product of evolution, I'm growing, I'm a working progress, and it's going to take a little time to get where I want to go.
So if people can have that for me, if I want people to have that love and empathy and compassion for me, then I should have that same love empathy and compassion for other people. So when someone makes a mistake, or you know, I try always very hard to go, well, they must be hurting or they must be going through a very difficult time and how can I support them? Because if I was in a position I'd want someone to feel this way about me, as opposed to shunning me or, getting upset with me, angry with me, or yelling at me. So I look at myself and ask myself, how do I want to be treated?
C: That's great. Thanks Dandapani. My greatest takeaway is this, I want a focused life, and I will not compromise and if I practice being distracted, I will just get better at being distracted.
D: It's not so easy, but you know, that's a great place to be. Yeah, and the thing is, you know, I think the bottom line is people may want to be focused, but they don't want it badly enough. And that's the bottom line, and that's why they never do anything about it. They talk about it and they tell people they want it, but they never get it. Ultimately people do what they want in life, right? And if you really wanted it badly enough you'd go do it. But most people don't, so therefore they never get it.