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The Teachings of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: Meditation – A Discipline of Self-Integration

The discipline of yoga culminates in meditation, dhyana, which is the subject of the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita. The art of yoga is principally the process of self-integration by degrees through the levels of the constitution of one's personality, such that when we reach the point of meditation proper there is a total concentration of the whole of one's being in the direction of the whole of that which one aspires for through this discipline we call 'yoga'. Last time we noted that essentially this is a technique of communing the lower self with the higher self, and I endeavoured to briefly mention the characteristics of the higher self and the way in which we have to understand what this term means. It means many things, and in every sense of the term it has to be taken into consideration when it becomes an object of meditation – gradually by stages. We can today take up the practical side of it as enunciated in the sixth chapter, since the theoretical side is already known to you, to some extent, through our studies conducted earlier.

Meditation is no doubt the fruit of the enterprise called yoga, but it is a fruit of the tree of an inner development into a state of maturity of personality which is prepared for this last attack, as it were, on the problem of truth – of reality. The scattered particularities of human thinking get gathered in this focusing of attention, and we may bring back to our memories here what we understood of the process of vairagya and abhyasa – the detachment which is a requisite in this practice, and a concentration or habituation of consciousness which is simultaneous with it. This mustering in of the forces of one's self, the focusing of them, and the attention to be paid on the object of meditation – all these processes involve a gathering up of whatever we are, in every sense of whatever we are. I am not going to repeat what we studied earlier, since we have not much time and we are to cover the entire study in a few days.

"Whatever we are" is an important sentence to be underlined, and we have to understand first of all what we are, which is another way of saying what 'self' means. We are to understand the self in every sense – in terms of the definition of it as gaunatman, mithya-atman, and mukhya-atman, to which we made reference earlier. So, our self is not merely the imagined location of our consciousness within the body, as it were, but everything that we are, even in an established relationship of ourself – spatially, temporally, socially and otherwise, together with our consciousness of this psychophysical organism – finally to culminate in the mukhya-atman or the primary Self, which is the universality of our essential being.

For the purpose of meditation, a proper place is necessary – śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya sthiram āsanam ātmanaḥ (Gita 6.11). Śucau deśe: In a purified atmosphere, in a conducive environment we have to place ourselves comfortably in a posture for the purpose of this great adventure called meditation. This is a great spiritual worship that we are performing, an ardent invocation of divinity, a soulful devotion that we manifest within ourselves towards the Creator of the Universe, and an inward communion spiritually established between ourselves and all that God has created and God Himself is. So it is a sanctified, sacred, worshipful attitude. It is not a mechanism that we are operating – it is a spirit that gets unfolded in meditation. There is an organic growth, an advancement of personality in the process of meditation, so that we become richer and richer, wider and wider, deeper and deeper, and grow well beyond in our spirit as we advance in meditation. The place that we select for our meditation should be free from distractions. Some more details concerning this matter is available in the Swetaswatara Upanishad. There again we are told that the location for the purpose of our seatedness in meditation should be conducive in the sense that there should be no other avenue to pull our attention in any other direction than the point of concentration we have chosen; this is an important point to remember. There are loves and hatreds, prejudices and emotional tensions to which man is heir and from which no one is totally free. These are important things that we may bear in mind.

The process of meditation is not a struggle in the sense of a fighting with nature, or with what we call the odds of life; it is an establishment of a harmony, rather than a conflict with the powers that be, in which we are engaging ourselves. It is more an attitude of friendship by way of communion of feeling that meditation is, than an encounter with an enemy; though in the earlier stages all the opposing forces appear to be our opponents, enemies, and intruding factors. There are stages by which the senses and the mind have to be weaned from the points of distraction, and the highest method should not be applied when one is in the lower stage of evolution. Each one has to realise where one is positioned in this world. There should not be any kind of over-estimation of one's capacities, nor is there a necessity for under-estimation. It is a need for a careful observation of one's self in the true perspective of the position or the station one occupies in this great scheme of evolution. This requires a knowledge of the vaster field of our relationship with the entire scheme of things, where we touch upon the whole story of creation – the cosmological process to which also reference has already been made. When we touch the point of meditation, we are actually coming in contact with every sleeping dog in the whole universe – they will slowly wake up and become conscious of our adventure, our activity and our intentions.

In the lowest stages, such as the one in which we are at present – the purely social, political, and physical – the forces of nature do not actually make themselves felt in our relationship to them. We are so self-centred, physically and socially, etc., that the wider involvement of ours in the larger scheme of things does not become an object of our awareness, usually. But any act of concentration, a pointed attention of consciousness, stirs the atmosphere in a particular manner and this stimulation, communicated to the whole environment of ours by the effort of our consciousness in meditation, rouses into action certain powers whose existence itself might not be known to us earlier. These are the oppositions we feel when we actually enter into the process of meditation in right earnest. In the beginning nothing may seem to happen. For days and months, and even years, it may appear that our meditation is not yielding any result at all, and we are just the same person that we were – but, this is not the truth. Every effort at concentration of consciousness is a great asset, and even if it be not tangible to our outer consciousness or our surface mind, it is there, like a little bank balance. Though it may not become cognisable because of the little quantum of it, it is nevertheless there like an incipient disease or a possible potentiality for a future development of any kind whatsoever.

Things invisible and unfelt are not necessarily non-existent. But, at a particular stage, when this concentration attains some maturity – gets fructified, becomes ripe – it calls, invokes or elicits the attention of everything in the world with which we are connected in our personality. The so-called obstacles in meditation are not inimical forces attacking us. In fact, there are no enemies in this universe. But, certain operations in the universe may look antagonistic to us due to our inability to reconcile ourselves to the modes of their working and the purpose for which they are operating; the defect is not in them but in ourselves. The forces of nature are also manifest in different degrees of density and, if you recall to your memories the earlier studies, you will realise that the forces around us are manifold in nature. In a way we may say it is a single force manifesting itself as manifold presentations or expressing itself in various forms. We are related to other people in the world. This relationship that is social will also evoke the sort of reaction in a particular manner, when we go deep into this technique we are adopting for awakening our spirit that is asleep now. There are other associations, which are purely empirical, also will get stimulated by the act of our concentration if it is accentuated enough.

But these are minor things compared to the more powerful ones – namely, the elemental forces, which cannot easily be roused by a little of meditation. A huge lion, very strong and confident of his strength, will not wake up even if we pelt a stone at it. Only a little puppy will wake up; it will bark at us even if we look at it. But a mighty lion or even an elephant, which knows its own strength, will not in any way be affected by our gazing at it or even with our interfering with it in a mild manner. So our little meditations may not even be felt by this mighty lion of the physical universe. It may be like scratching a rock with a little needle; the effect is so little and imperceptible that it is practically not there. But if it is strong enough, if we are attacking it with sufficient force and it is aware that it is facing a power almost equal to itself, then it wakes up. This is the waking up of the powers which constitute what we may call, in ordinary language, the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether. If the powers of the elements wake up, then we are really in a state where we have to reinforce our energies to effectively take up this task on hand.

We are mostly in a state of irreconcilability with the powers of nature. The elements are not in harmony with the structure of our individuality. We can be seriously affected by physical forces – we can be drowned by water, burned by fire, blown by wind, and become destroyed by anything that is material or physical. Hunger and thirst, to mention only the least among them, are some of the consequences that follow from the weakness of the physical personality in its relation to the five elements. These energies do not make themselves felt ordinarily; most of us will not feel this difficulty at all. For us, all is a theory only, because our meditation may not be so strong as to wake up the five elements. But, until we are able to touch the borderland of this novel experience where we are able to face the five elements and become cognisant of their existence as vital elements involving our own lives, until this state is reached, we may be said to be a little novice only in meditation, just a 'kindergarten meditator'. But, according to great teachers of yoga such as Patanjali, for instance, true meditation begins only when we contact reality, at least in one of its degrees.

The grossest manifestation of reality may be said to be the five elements in the cosmological process; and until we reach this stage of vital contact with the five elements, we are cut off from reality in a very significant manner. At present, we are out of touch with reality. That explains our misery in life, our sorrows, and our difficulties even in understanding what the world is made of. Scientific analysis, even logical approaches, will not serve any purpose finally when the world of five elements, or the world as such, is considered to be a total alien to us from the way in which we are encountering the world at present. To us, all people around us are aliens – the world is a foreigner, and it is an object of the senses. It is an object in such a way that it bears no organic connection with ourselves; and we study it, try to understand it, experiment upon it and observe it as something totally different from us, which is the error of pure, classical approach of science. There is a vital, basic organic connection between ourselves and the world of nature which is not available to us when we live in the world of pure sensory operations or are cut off totally from this contact with reality due to our involvement in this extreme, externalising feature called space-time.

Thus, when we are seated for the purpose of this great objective of human life – encounter with Reality – in the earlier stages we guard ourselves, as we put up a fence around our field when we want to grow a harvest, or tend a garden, or grow fruits or vegetables, a fencing, a protection is necessary. We put up a protective fencing around ourselves by means of a dual action on our part – namely, the withdrawal of consciousness from sensory contact with distracting objects, and, at the same time, a focusing of this enriched consciousness upon the chosen ideal of meditation, which perhaps is the essence of vairagya and abhyasa.

In the process of pratyahara, the earlier or earliest stage of meditation, there is a need, first of all, to be conscious of what things there are which will distract your attention. What are your loves and hatreds? What are your inner tensions or frustrations, longings? They have to be dealt with very carefully, as we deal with wild beasts when they are tamed in a circus, or as carefully as a physician will diagnose a chronic illness. Here you should not be in a hurry; it is better to go slow – slow and steady wins the race. You should not be too anxious and emotional or enthusiastic about it. Every step has to be a firm step, a reinforced step, such that you need not have to retrace your steps due to any over-enthusiastic movement in this direction. You have to know your strengths and you have to know your weaknesses also. Here you have to be your own judge, unless of course you have a very competent Guru who may be your judge. Where such a Guru is not easily available you have to be your own intelligent judge; and here you should not be, in any way, over-compassionate in regard to your own self. You should be a physician of your own soul, a judge of your own self, and no hypocrisy is permitted where it is a question of your own welfare and it is not a demonstration before others.

This meditational technique is not an advertisement in society. It is a healing process that you are trying to undergo inwardly for your own ultimate blessedness, so you are concerned here with yourself and not with anything else. Here is the point where you are required to be totally dispassionate in judging your own self. You should make a list of all your weaknesses also together with your capacities, endowments, and know where you stand. "This is my strength, but this is also my weakness." And, so far as your strength goes – so far, so good. Be happy. God bless you. But as far as your weaknesses are concerned, they have to be got rid of with an intelligent psychoanalytic technique of positive induction of a new understanding which you have to receive either from your Guru or, if God has blessed you with enough understanding, to the strength of your own self. Generally your weaknesses are your desires which, somehow or other, seek fulfilment by hook or crook – by any means, fair and foul. This word 'desire' has a vast connotation. It covers a large area; it touches anything and everything in the world. It is a desire for any blessed thing.

Now, a philosophical analysis has to help you here in understanding how desires arise, why they are there, and what are the means and methods you have to adopt in checking them, rather, sublimating them, and transmuting them into a friendly power rather than a disturbing, annoying, agonising distraction. That which is an impediment to you psychologically, may become your friend. An energy that is moving outwardly in the direction of a distracting sense-object may get transmuted into your own mental force or consciousness force, and when this attunement takes place, your energy gets re-doubled. Here we have explained, perhaps, the sum and substance of what pratyahara means – the coming together of the energy of the senses with the concentrating activity of the mind. When the senses unite with the mind, you have achieved the process of total withdrawal, pratyahara, and the mind gets concentrated.

The place of meditation therefore should be, as far as possible, free from nearness to those objects, persons, and circumstances which may draw your attention, either by like or dislike. So here you are free to choose any particular place for your meditation, under this given condition. A suitable time also is necessary – it is not that you will be able to sit for meditation at any time during the day; and you are here, again, your own judge. The mind should be amenable to this task of concentration of consciousness. It should not be repellent – it should not be revolting for any reason. You should not be hungry, you should not be annoyed, you should not have a commitment to be attended to a few minutes afterwards, you should not have to catch a train in half an hour, or you should not have a court case tomorrow. These things are distractions; they have to be dealt with in their own way – and as long as they are not fulfilled or handled in an intelligent way, your concentration of mind, spiritually, will not be a success.

Spirituality is a positive art – it is not a runaway attitude of consciousness. In spiritual meditation, you are not moving away from the problems of life, you are not shirking your duties, but communing yourself with the substance and the very causative factor of every problem in life, and handling these forces as a master rather than as a slave who runs away from difficulties. A spiritual seeker is not a coward – he is a scientist in the highest sense of the term who tries to understand and control the forces of nature, rather than a person who would like to be ignorant of their existence and close their eyes to them, like an ostrich. Thus the art of spiritual living, which culminates itself in meditation, is the highest positivity of approach to Reality by a human being who is fully integrated for this purpose in a most healthy manner. The time that you choose for meditation should, therefore, be conducive as the place is. I need not dilate upon this theme, because many of you know which time is suitable for you, for what reason, in what place is conducive, etc.

The method of meditation is perhaps more important. Place, time and method – these three are especially to be taken into consideration. The Bhagavadgita succinctly mentions something about the place, time and method – the techniques to be adopted in concentration. The method is the way in which you conduct yourself, the manner in which you place yourself in the context of your relationship with reality – firstly in its most immediate form of manifestation, and later on in any form of its expression. Usually we are seated for the purpose of meditation – we don't stand up or lie down. You know very well why it is not possible for you to meditate by standing; you also know well why it is not a suitable posture to lie down on a bed. So, a 'via-media' technique is prescribed – to be seated, which means to say, to repose or posture in an asana like sukhasana, padmasana etc., with the spine, head and neck erect, as far as possible, because a crouching pose will affect the nervous system and consequently the movement of the prana, and again consequently the very activity of the mind itself. The atmosphere around, the body, the nervous system, the muscles, the mind – all are interconnected; they are not disassociated, isolated aspects. So, you have to be first of all in harmonious condition with your atmosphere, with society, with your daily routine etc., outwardly, and also in a harmony with your muscular system, with the anatomical and the physiological organisation of your personality, which is achieved by being seated in a comfortable posture, as mentioned.

Then, of course, something is mentioned about the breathing process – a little of it is mentioned in the Bhagavadgita, and there are larger details in other yoga texts like Patanjali and Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, etc. As far as you students here are concerned, I would advise that you need not go deep into these technical matters of pranayama as it has been described in the Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, etc., because, for your practical purposes, it would be enough if you breathe normally by a daily practice of consistent and harmonious deep inhalation and exhalation than merely breathe shallow; you don't breathe deep, for various reasons. For fifteen minutes or twenty minutes or even half an hour in the morning and in the evening you may stand up, or even sit down, and throw your arms out by breathing deeply, slowly, gradually, in an open atmosphere, if possible, or in even your own room – opening the doors and windows, breathe deeply and exhale also slowly. This simple, non-technical procedure of gradual, deep, consistent, persistent inhalation and exhalation itself will be sufficient for you. The other technicalities like sukhapurvaka – holding your nostrils etc. – may not be necessary for you at the present moment, though they have their own value.

So the asana should be a seated, consistent posture. If you cannot sit for a long time in one position, with a straight spine, etc., you can, in the beginning stages at least, sit near a wall which is perpendicular to the ground. This is a convenient position, and you will not feel much of an ache in the back because of your leaning on the wall; but it should be perpendicular, not slanting. And then this breathing process gradually, together with the recitation of OM, pranava, if possible with a mild sonorous sound by which systematic, harmonious, calm process of chanting of OM. You will create within yourself a vibration which you will yourself feel as a creeping ant through your nerves. As if a mild electric shock is given to you, you'll feel a sensation through the entire body when you chant OM without any kind of occupation in your mind but with a feeling of devotion to the great ideal before you. This chanting of OM may be done every day, for fifteen minutes, before your concentration on the object.

Then, the crucial point comes in – the nature of the object of meditation and the way in which you have to adjust your consciousness to that location and structure of the object of meditation. Here you are face to face with a problem. The earlier stages may look simpler – asana, pranayama and pratyahara even may be regarded in any way, the outer court of yoga. When you come to meditation proper, you are in the inner court. Here, initiation is necessary; mere book reading may not be insufficient. Whatever may be your study, however vast it be, that may not be sufficient because here you are facing a difficulty which cannot easily be explained in textbooks. You may study the biology, the anatomy of a lion, but you will not be able to face it though you are a master of anatomy. You know what the lion is made of, its psychology also is known to you if you have studied a lot about it, but you cannot go near it, in spite of all your knowledge of how its body is made and how it thinks etc. So, likewise, any amount of academic knowledge here may not be adequate to the purpose. A professorial understanding is one thing, and a practical ability to handle the situation is a different thing altogether; like rowing a boat even – you may know the art theoretically, but you cannot row the boat in the water.

So, here comes the necessity for a spiritual initiation by a competent Guru. Any amount of study is not sufficient; and you have to be very honest here, and don't merely pat yourself, imagining that you can stand on your own legs. That is not possible, because you will face such difficulties that you will not even be able to understand them. The initiation process is not merely a teaching which you receive from your Guru, but it is something more. The Guru does not merely give a lecture to you when he initiates you; he also infuses into you an energy of his own will. This is something very important to note; there is a difference between a Guru initiating a disciple and a professor lecturing in a college – there is no connection whatsoever. You are not merely receiving some information from the Guru – you are receiving something deeper, vital and living; and here the will of the Guru may be said to be operating in your own will, and, in a very important sense, the Guru thinks through a disciple. Sometimes this process is called shaktipatha – the descent of Guru's power into the personality of the disciple. Any amount of teaching verbally was not enough for Arjuna. There was a higher need felt later on, and you know what happened and what Sri Krishna had to do.

The art of meditation is the final touch you give to the whole process of spiritual practice. Which object are you going to concentrate upon? Normally, this object is chosen for you by the Guru. Are you going to meditate on God when you are here for meditation? No one can conceive God – ordinarily. But I may remove this fear from your mind by giving you a lesser and easier definition of God, for practical purposes. Whatever God be as He is Himself, whatever the Absolute be as It is in Itself, that need not deter you from embarking upon this fruitful art of meditation. Actually, for the purpose of yoga which is a psychological technique, the object of concentration – which you may consider as your God, of course – is a thing outside which nothing has to be, can be, or ever is. God is something outside which nothing exists – this is a simpler definition of God. You know the story in the Mahabharata, in the Adi Parva, wherein there is described the tournament which Dronacharya conducted for testing the students – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – and he hung a little wooden bird on the branch of a tree and he asked these boys to shoot the eye of the bird. He asked everyone, "Look, what do you see?" Someone said, "I am seeing a tree with many branches, and a bird kept there with a dot on its eye, of blackish colour. The acharya said, "You're unfit, get out! You are seeing so many things." And another said, "I am seeing the bird tied on a branch and also I see the black spot." "No good, get out!" he said, "You are seeing so many things." Then another he stood up and said, "I am seeing the bird." "Oh, no good, go!" It was Arjuna who said, "I am seeing nothing, only the spot; I am seeing only the black spot. I see nothing else," he said. "Here you are, start. Go ahead, attack!" he said. So, the concentration of the mind of Arjuna was so intense that his consciousness got united with that particular spot of concentration and he was not aware even of the bird, let alone the branches and the tree and the many people around.

Now, for the purpose of your spiritual meditation, the God of your meditation is 'that something' which is the whole reality for you. Remember this here again: a God for you is that which is the entire reality – it is a total substance. It is that which includes everything that you want in this world. This is, again, an emotional aspect which you are to infuse into this object, because you cannot concentrate on an object which you cannot love emotionally. Again I mention to you this is not a machine that you are operating, but an organising of your own total being that is surging forth in the direction of the object, and not merely an object. It is a soul-filled ideal. A compilation of whatever is desirable in this world will have to be seen in that object. This object, whatever be that object, is my God, whom I have chosen for the purpose of my meditation; it is not merely something among many other things that I have taken. When you love a thing whole-heartedly, it is not any more one thing among many things – it is the only thing. Intense lovers see the total reality in their objects, and no other objects exist there – that only exists, and you die for it. Unless the whole of reality is concentrated in that object, you cannot concentrate on it, you cannot love it – so love and concentration go together. You cannot concentrate on a thing for which there you have no love; and it is not a mere ordinary love. It is a love where the passion of the spirit gets roused to such an extent that it is inundated by itself and it sees itself wholly in the object.

So, the object of your meditation should have a double characteristic. One: outside which nothing can be, nothing has to be – it is the only thing before you. Secondly: it is the object of your emotional satisfaction. "I love it, and I cannot love anything else. It is the dearest object for me. I will die for it." And all lovers die for their objects, because they see the total reality there and nothing else exists for them. This is your God. Now, a psychologically conceived totality of reality becomes a necessity in the earlier stages, though the ontological reality is far off from you. As these subjects will be dealt with by our Professor Yavdekar, I don't touch upon these things. There is a distinction between ontological reality and psychologically-conceived infinite, which also is an essentiality in the earlier stages, for the purpose of spiritual meditation.