Easwaran: Does Meditation Really Help the World?

“Meditation is a tool. Anyone can use it for releasing tremendous inner resources, and these resources cannot help flowing into loving service.” – Eknath Easwaran

This week we’d like to share two excerpts from the Spring 2015 Blue Mountain Journal. Titled “Does Meditation Really Help the World?”, this most recent edition has caught our attention. There are many issues in the world that we’re passionate about, and it’s often hard to determine what exactly we can do to help. This quote, from the opening pages of the journal, really struck a chord with us, reminding us that meditation is a tool with which we can begin to find ways to serve those around us.

We highly recommend the whole Q&A section, and we’ve shared a portion here to whet your appetite. In these paragraphs, Easwaran tackles questions head-on about how we can deal with the suffering in the world, and how we can use our spiritual tools to act.


When we see the problems around us now, it seems to be too much. How do you cope?

I do not have a trace of pessimism in me, yet I have the capacity for almost infinite resistance. My constant question is, am I doing my best in the situation? Am I doing everything possible to correct it? Then there is no question of failure.

Recently I’ve become much more sensitive to the suffering in the world. Does our meditation really help others? I’m beginning to doubt it.

Nobody suffers like the lovers of God, because they are one with others in their suffering. But they are granted an equal measure of joy, too, because God gives them the capacity to help.

I keep in close touch with what happens in the world. I read a wide assortment of periodicals each week just to do so. And there are times when I feel deeply grieved by the suffering I read about, and I wonder why life has to be this way. But I never despair. At those times I go deep, deep into meditation until I reach the very source of love and wisdom that exists in each of us. When I do, I am reassured that all is well.

This is not merely some sentimental notion. I return from this awareness charged with the energy and vision I need to continue to try to alleviate this suffering.

So what I would tell all of you is this: meditate every day, throw yourself into some form of selfless work, and use your sense of suffering as a powerful motivation to help relieve the suffering of others. It is a wonderful gift to be able to give.

I still feel so helpless.

In the Sanskrit scriptures, this world in which we live–of birth and death, good and evil, right and wrong, unity and disunity –is called karmabhumi, the land of karma, the land of work. When you feel oppressed by the burden of the world and the tragedies enacted on it, please remind yourself

that it is only here, where we find the choice between the best and the worst, that the human being can discover the unity of life.

Strangely, it is in this utter darkness that we begin to grope for light; it is in the midst of utter violence that we begin to yearn for love.

My faith is that if a large number of people take to the practice of meditation and the repetition of the mantram, their intense longing may draw the Lord to inspire ordinary people like you and me to become humble instruments for bringing peace where there is war, food where there is famine, and life where there is death.

I get really angry when I see the state of the world. But I know you say that doesn’t help.

In order to reconcile individuals, communities, or countries, we have to have peace in our minds. If we pursue peace with anger and animosity, nothing can be stirred up but conflict.

As the UNESCO constitution puts it, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

Our age has been called the age of anger, and it is true that we are living in one of the most violent periods in history. But there is no reason for anybody to be left to the mercy of these storms, whether they be physical or verbal, whether they happen on the streets, on the battlefield, or in the home. Meditation and the allied disciplines enable you to take your convictions deeper and deeper into consciousness, so that they become a constant source of strength and security –even when you are severely challenged or threatened. I knew hundreds of students in India during Gandhi’s long struggle for independence from the British Empire. I met hundreds more in Berkeley during the turbulent sixties, when students all over the country were honestly trying to work for peace. I watched their relationships with one another, especially with those who differed with them, and I saw that these relationships often were not harmonious.

I used to remind my friends that agitating for peace and actually bringing it about are not necessarily the same. Stirring up passions, provoking animosity, and polarizing opposition may sometimes produce short-term gains, but it cannot produce long-term beneficial results because it only clouds minds on both sides. Progress comes only from opening others’ eyes and hearts, and that can happen only when people’s minds are calm and their fears allayed. It is not enough if one part of your personality says “No more war”; the whole of your personality should be nonviolent.

One of these students told me with chagrin that he once found himself using his fists to promote peace. Things just got out of control. “How did that happen?” he asked incredulously.

I told him not to judge himself too harshly: the will to strike back is part of our biological heritage. Unless we have trained ourselves to harness our anger – to put it to work to heal the situation rather than aggravating it–it is monumentally difficult for most of us to resist the impulse to retaliate.


What can we do about it?

Detachment can break this chain reaction. A cat is conditioned to leap on birds; it has no choice. A dog is conditioned to chase cats. But you and I are human; we have the capacity to choose our response. We can snap the chain of stimulus and response behavior by meeting resentment with patience, hatred with kindness, and fear with trust, in a sustained consistent endeavor to stanch the spread of violence that threatens us all.

Through meditation, as our minds become calmer and self-will fades, detachment comes and our vision clears. Only then can we see that most of the obstacles to forgiving others do not arise from ideological or philosophical differences. Obstacles arise because we want to impose our way, our self-will, on others, and they want to impose their self-will on us. Seeing this clearly goes a long way toward releasing forgiveness.

But something more than clear seeing is required, and that is the will. It takes a good deal of inner strength to remain calm and compassionate in the face of fierce opposition. But when you can do this, a kind of miracle takes place which all of us can verify. The other person becomes calmer, his or her eyes clear a little too; soon communication is established once again.