"You make the effort. The Masters only point the Way."
The Buddha, the Dhammapada
Question: Without doubt, God and His scriptures, and those who take up a serious spiritual practice agree that the ultimate goal is within. But when the mind of man goes within, there is found an unimaginable variety of species, living in worlds within worlds of thought. What is the method of first locating, then concentrating on and then attaining the One thing needful?
Unquestionably, the human mind is a well-seasoned traveler, with a photographic memory, through untold lifetimes of worlds of experience.
The Buddha once directed his followers to consider the vast number of different species existing in our creation. His followers were perplexed at failing to bring to mind the vastness of the types, shapes and colors of seemingly millions of life forms. He then declared:
“The human mind is more variegated than this variety of known life.”
Yet we are told to turn within and seek the source that gave birth to these vast worlds. It is no wonder that many, due to memories of past painful struggles and failures, simply declare: “I am not going there and destroy the little peace I have.” Their steadfast stance of holding on to even a fleeting refuge from an apparently uncontrollable world on fire seems to be supported even by the statements of Arjuna and Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna said:
“O Madhusudana, I do not see how it is possible to maintain the steady state of Yogic equanimity which you have taught. The mind is ever so restless! Verily, O Krishna, the mind is fickle, impetuous, powerful and turbulent. To me, it seems as difficult to control the mind as it is to control the wind”. Lord Krishna said: “Indeed, the mind is restless and difficult to control, but it can be brought under control by the practice of abhyasa and vairagya, O son of Kunti. It is my opinion that Yoga is difficult for anyone who is lacking self-control, but it can be attained by one who has mastered the lower self, if he adopts the proper means.” 1
Our Infallible Weapon
Common sense shows us that to combat and conquer a foe that is so powerful and turbulent we must develop our own powers and stability. Meditation is the means to this end. The methods to adopt depend on “where we stand”. But first we must firmly rise to our feet before turning inwards. Practically, we must first decide to invest the time for repeated effort, and then develop strength and perseverance to develop the right discernment and ensuing virtues that will strengthen us. Spiritual life improves much like worldly life; gradually step-by-step.
When we were babies crawling on the floor but wanting to be in the arms of our mother, we leaped forward only to come down with a crash. Innately we learned to concentrate on standing with balance and then moving towards our goal. Through our repeated efforts, and failures, at gaining concentration, we achieved success.
Likewise, in the beginning of spiritual movement the first task before us is to develop the skill of concentration within meditation. In fact, in the Pali Canons containing the words of the Buddha (whom the spiritual world reveres as the Master of meditation), the word in Pali used for meditation (jhana) means exactly “development”. 2
The Buddha (also being the Master of metaphor) likened this development to building a bridge over a swiftly running river. The foundations of this bridge on either shore were virtue and discernment. The most important foundation in the middle of the most dangerously turbulent currents is concentration. If our concentration rests on a weak foundation, then it is only a matter of time before our virtue and discernment are washed away. Therefore to properly address your question, the first step is not a matter of location but rather of “How to develop concentration?”
1. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, verses 33-36. (Translation By Swami Jyotirmayananda, Yoga Research Foundation, )
2. Gunaratna, , "It burns up opposing states, thus it is jhana" (Vin. A. i, 116). The purport being that jhana "burns up" or destroys the mental defilements, thus the development (bhavana) of serenity and insight is promoted.