by Swami Krishnananda
The meditational process can be carried on in three ways: internally, externally, and universally. The Atman is generally considered to be the Self of an individual. It is the deepest root of any particular person, and the idea that the person is located in some place also gives rise to the idea that the Atman is in one place. People refer to themselves as myself, my Atman within. They touch the heart when referring to the Atman and the Self, indicating that the Self is the deepest subjectivity of that person. The Atman or Self is a pure subject. The purity of the Self arises on account of it not being contaminated by the desire for objects. The self that desires an object is an impure self – the lower self, the instinctive self, the sensory self. The self that is not contaminated by any longing for outside things is the purified Self.
This Self, which is generally considered to be dominating the personality of an individual, is also the Self that dominates the personality of any individual anywhere. When it is agreed that my Atman, or Self, is within me, it is also agreed that it is within everyone. The within-ness of the Atman in the case of a particular individual does not preclude the very same self also being within other persons, other individuals, other beings. Now, if it is within some particular individual and it is within all individuals, it would be equal to saying that it encompasses all things, that it is everywhere. Because of the fact of its being within all things, it has to be understood as being present everywhere, inasmuch as individuals are everywhere. Even in the littlest forms of individuality, the selfhood can be recognised.
When we investigate into the consequences that follow from agreeing that the Self which is within us is also within all people, the internality of the Self as the Atman becomes the universality of the very same thing as Brahman. Therefore, the Atman is Brahman. The Self within is the Self that is everywhere. The internality of the Self automatically becomes a universalised form of internality, as the Self is not within anything, because to be within only something would be equal to not being within something else. When we accede that the Self is within all things, the within-ness exceeds the limit of its little location of individuality and becomes an all-pervading presence. For example, the space in thousands of pots may look like the individualised contents in those pots. We may say that the space in the pot is the Self or the Atman of the pot. But it is present in all the pots. When the dividing factor which is the bodily egoism is dispensed with – when the pots are broken – we will find that the very same space which was apparently within the pots, is everywhere. It was always everywhere. It appeared to be ‘within’ only on account of our interpreting it as the presiding principle over individual bodies. This Atman which is within me is also the Atman that is within everyone. Therefore, it is a universal internalising. Universal does not mean an expanse in space and time, because space and time are objects of consciousness. We are aware of there being such a thing as space, and we are aware of there being such a thing as time. Inasmuch as space and time – or even space-time blended together – are objects of consciousness, they cannot be regarded as universal. The consciousness itself is universal. Space and time are not universal, because they are limited objects. Thus, the universality of consciousness is different from the sensorily cognised universality of space, because space can be cognised by the mind, perceived by the eye. The Atman cannot be cognised or perceived, because it is the cogniser and it is the perceiver. “Who can see the seer? Who can know the knower?” says Yajnavalkya, the great sage in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Vijnataram are kena vijaniyat (Brihad. Upan. 2.4.14): He is the knower of all things. Who can know him?
Therefore, it is not a universalisation like an objectivity of space; it is a conscious universality. And inasmuch as consciousness cannot be an object, it is pure subjectivity. It becomes necessary for us to stretch our imagination to some extent in order to accommodate these two thoughts into a single point of concentration. Consciousness – which is the pure subjectivity without any kind of objectivity in it, and yet it is everywhere – is difficult to meditate on. Therefore, people generally do not go to such advanced practices in meditation unless they themselves are advanced and have a purified mind and were born with good samskaras. The initial stages of meditation are not conducted along these lines which stretch the brain to the breaking point by making it imagine something which cannot be easily imagined.
The earlier stages of meditation are objectively conducted as concentrations on what are called the Ishta Devatas. An Ishta Devata is our own God, Whom we worship and adore. Now the idea of God being something Who we can worship and adore brings into our minds the idea of His location. Though theoretically it is conceded that God is everywhere, the mind cannot conceive this everywhere-ness. Even when we agree that God is everywhere, the idea of God being everywhere will be a kind of externalisation of form. Even if we think of God as the universal Virat Himself, when we think of the Virat, He will appear to be an object which we are cognising. The necessity to visualise God as an object or Ishta Devata arises on account of the difficulty felt by the mind in transcending space and time.
Therefore, this attempt at going beyond space and time should not be worked on or attempted in the earlier stages, because it will be a great strain to the mind. We have an Ishta Devata. It may be our dear God. It may be Rama or Krishna or Devi or Surya or Jesus Christ or Mohammed or any incarnation. Whatever be the dearest and the nearest and the best that we can think of, that is our object of meditation.
It is many a time felt that we can concentrate on anything; we can concentrate on even a pencil or a candle flame or a rose flower. Yes, it is possible for us to concentrate on anything, but this effort at concentrating on such objects as a pencil, etc. will not succeed finally, because the emotions will have their say. The emotions will cry out and proclaim that the pencil is not going to bring anything. We cannot love a pencil; we cannot hug it; we cannot consider it as a dear object. At least here, in the case of meditation, the Ishta is the dearest and the best that we can think of; and inasmuch as we have conceded that it is the best, there cannot be anything better than that anywhere in the world.
Hence, in meditation the choice of the Ishta Devata is very important, and it is not all right if we just choose anything for the purpose of practice. We should be clear that we have chosen the best, and there cannot be anything better than that. There cannot be anything better than the best. That is to say, when we have chosen the object as something capable of fulfilling all our desires – because it is the dearest and the nearest to us – then the mind in concentration on that Ishta Devata will not move out in any other direction. The distractions and the oscillations of the mind in meditation – its moving away from the object of concentration to some other thing – are due to a feeling that this Ishta Devata is not all-in-all, that there are also other things in the world which are dear and which are capable of satisfying it. The mind feels that all satisfaction -the highest satisfaction and every kind of satisfaction – cannot be expected from this particular object. This is due to a defect in the choice of the Ishta Devata. If we have not chosen the Ishta Devata properly, the mind says that there are other things which are also equally good, and so it runs here and there during concentration.
It is not possible to conceive any object in the world which is so dear, because every object in the world has a defect of its own, and we cannot consider anyone or anything as the dearest. Not even jewels, not even diamonds, not even the most glorious valuable objects can be considered as the dearest, because they lose their value under different conditions. The Ishta Devata becomes, for our purposes, a conceptual ideal that we have placed before us on which we foist all the greatest qualities of God. We consider the Ishta Devata as an all-pervading essence concretised in one form, like the sun manifesting one ray. But, one ray is not all rays, and one form is not all forms. Nevertheless, through this one form we can reach all forms because the quality of the Ishta Devata is something like the quality of the ray of the sun, and the ray is equal to any other ray in its quality.
We must foist all the characteristics of the best of things on our object of meditation. We must think that it is alive and not dead. If we think that our god is dead, and it is not speaking, and it is only an image, then we will not have any affection for that object. If possible, we should choose an object that is mentally construed as a symbol of all the perfection that we can think of. We should feel that it can connect us to the omniscient and omnipotent Godhead, and it can melt into a universal existence if necessary. We should feel that the Ishta Devata is an ambassador of God Almighty and that it has all the powers of the government which has brought it and employed it here, and we can speak to it.
It is true that our Ishta Devata can speak to us. The lives of saints like Purandaradas, Tukaram, Ekanath, Namdev and such people have illustrated this before us -as Vitthala danced with the devotees. Though for us it is only a stone image, it broke into action. The other day I mentioned to you how the image of Kali broke into action and became alive, as it were, to protect Jada Bharata when dacoits wanted to finish him off. Did not Narasimha come from a brick? Therefore, we should not say that there are only inanimate objects in this world. The idea that our object is an image or a picture or that it is not going to bring us that which we expected should be removed from the mind. The conceptualisation of the Ishta Devata should be as a specimen of God Almighty Himself.