The Fragrance of Meditation
For the majority of us meditation is a slow process. We go through so many stages, so many ups and downs. Sometimes we waver and perhaps even stop meditating, or we may experience extreme difficulty in attending to the task. At other times we feel filled with devotion and eagerness to sit and enjoy the benefits of meditation. Mostly it is somewhere in between as we labour along, seemingly achieving nothing. Maharaj Charan Singh tells us that we make progress very slowly – that in meditation we always make progress, but slowly.
So what, truly, is the benefit of this labour of love as we go through months, years or a lifetime with no inner spiritual experiences? Maharaj Charan Singh answers our question when he says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III:
Meditation changes the very attitude of our life. That’s different from what we achieve within and how far we still have to go, but meditation definitely changes our attitude towards life. You see, even if we don’t experience anything within, but we attend to meditation, we at least can enjoy the fragrance of meditation, if not the experience of meditation. A blind man goes to a garden full of scented flowers. If he can’t enjoy the beauty of the flowers, at least he can enjoy their fragrance. So meditation changes our outlook on life … and if one is lucky enough to enjoy the experience, there is nothing like it.
This process is essentially the cleansing of the cup and the emptying of all the filth and dross accumulated over eons so that, when the Lord wills, he may fill it with his fragrant nectar.
The awareness of this fragrance urges us on. It encourages us to breathe its sweetness ever more deeply into our spiritual lungs. Just as inner vision and inner hearing have nothing to do with the physical eyes and ears, so this fragrance of which the saints speak has nothing to do with the physical sense of smell.
As the soul travels along the inward path, it slowly awakens to its true identity, and this fragrance becomes more and more subtle, more profound and more evident, both within one’s being as well as in all creation. Most importantly, the pull and attraction towards one’s Master becomes overwhelmingly strong because he is the source, the very powerhouse of this essence.
This exquisite fragrance is also referred to by the Sufi poets, usually in connection with gardens or the gentle morning breeze, as in the following extract from A Treasury of Mystic Terms:
In Sufi poetry, wind and breeze serve to signify God’s grace and His help. Metaphorically, they bring ‘messages’ to the lover from the divine Beloved. More specifically, the wind is the creative Power, the Spirit, the Breath or the Fragrance of God, ‘breathed’ into the creation to give it life and love. Hence, Rumi says:
O you lovely breeze blowing from the prairie of love:
blow upon me that scent
of the flower garden I desire.
The Sufi poets frequently compare a fresh breeze that cools a dry and barren land to an inner breeze ‒ the “breath of God”. This breath brings the intimate fragrance of the divine presence to the consciousness of the mystic during meditation. It carries a message which the poets refer to as “the sweet fragrance of spirituality”, which comes from the divine Friend to the mystic.
Accordingly, in A Treasury of Mystic Terms, Hafiz says:
O dawn wind! Should you happen
to pass by the land of the Friend,
bring a fragrant waft of air
from the perfumed tresses of the Friend.
By my soul, I will surrender my life (ego) in thanks,
if you bring me but a message from the Friend.
God Almighty has a fragrance that can be sensed,
similar to smelling musk or ambergris,
but its loveliness cannot be compared to musk or ambergris.
When he wants to manifest himself, his fragrance comes first,
as an introduction, causing a man to become totally drunk.
In my youth, this fragrance caused me
to turn my face towards the essentials (spiritual knowledge).
I would ask myself, What is the sense of eating or sleeping?
Unless I can first see God who made me this way,
or until he talks to me without an intermediary
and I can ask him different questions to which he replies,
how can I eat or sleep?
Shams-e-Tabrizi, Rumi’s Perfect Teacher