by Swami Krishnananda
The subject of meditation which I wish to touch upon today is so profound and so comprehensive that there is no aspect of life which can be excluded from its purview. It is the attention the human individual places in any particular walk of life that goes by the name ‘concentration’, and in technical parlance the word ‘meditation’ is nothing but a deepening and an intensification of concentration.
We know very well that no success in any field of life is possible for a person who lacks some amount of power of concentration. A fickle mind will yield no substantial result. Even the members of the lowest strata of society, even those who are not professionals in any field, exhibit a power to concentrate when called upon because of the intense interest which they evince in regard to any particular thing in their personal lives, and in fields where interest is lacking, concentration is absent completely.
In the spiritual sense it is a profounder term and more difficult to conceive. It is not merely attention, but something more than what we understand by this word. The difficulty in understanding this profound subject is merely because of the absence of a deep knowledge of psychology. Meditation is a purely practical affair, and it is removed from the theories and the sciences that we study in institutions. The more practical it becomes, the more difficult we find life is, because we tackle the realities. When we are studying we are only concerned with facts, accumulating information and merely understanding the structure of things, but in practice we grapple with reality and it is not merely an understanding of the structure or makeup. It is coming face to face with a profound existence of which we have very little knowledge up to this time. And now we realise it is as real as ourselves, and perhaps more.
Generally, we view life in a haphazard manner and have a very poor knowledge of it in spite of our education and our status in society. Our knowledge of the world is meagre because we have a very poor understanding of the very structure of the world itself. Either we are not interested in certain aspects of the world, or we have not time enough to devote for understanding of the nature of the world, or we are taught the world is something which it really is not. To some extent, our professors and teachers in school, and our parents and associates with whom we live, are responsible for this meagre information which we are provided about life.
Whatever the reason, it is impossible to engage oneself in any activity that has a living contact with life, unless we have knowledge and understanding of it to the core. There is no use merely taking a thing on the surface when we are required to deal with the core. A hardhearted attitude towards a subject leads to failure, either in the beginning or in the end. Moreover, as spiritual seekers – I am addressing you all as spiritual seekers and not as the general public, because the subject today is concerned with spiritual seekers and not with the public in general – as spiritual seekers, you will be able to appreciate that the act of spiritual meditation is an attempt on the part of the soul to establish a living contact with God, your Maker, and to the extent you have understood the nature of God, you will succeed in the practice of meditation. It is no use complaining that you have sat for hours and there is no success. Why is there no success? It is a simple question with a simple answer, and you are the best person to answer this question. It is due to of several factors. Maybe the circumstances in which you are placed are not conducive or, more importantly, your understanding of the technique is shallow.
Wherein lies the shallowness of our understanding, and what is the defect that we fail in life? Why are we sufferers more than enjoyers of God's bounty? It is because of a lack of proper education of the inner man. The human individual is not the outer incrustation that we see with the physical eyes. It is something deeper. Mr. so-and-so is not the individual, because the person or the personalities with which we generally identify ourselves is an association of certain social characteristics which we connect with our real being.
Why are we profoundly ignorant of what we really are? We have always a very false notion of ourselves. We always identify ourselves with the office that we hold, our education, wealth, prestige, and so on. Unfortunately, these are not our personalities; they are far removed from what we are. But we can think of nothing except these because we think we are only these associations, these characteristics. If we are asked to describe ourselves, we will mention only these things. “I am the son of so-and-so; I hold such and such an office,” etc. This is the description we hold of ourselves. This is not our personality, and if our understanding of our personality is this much, then naturally we can imagine what contact we can establish with God. When we have such poor knowledge of even ourselves who we see daily, what knowledge will we have of things we have not seen? And if our knowledge of unseen things is so meagre, our success in the spiritual field will be equally meagre.
To be successful in the spiritual field, we must have an orientation. And as we are inheritors of a great culture – the vast heritage of the Rishis, the Vedas and Upanishads – the difficulty should not be much. We have been brought up in religious families that have taught us that there is a God and it is our duty to know Him, to associate ourselves in His activities as a Cosmic Lila, and not to forget Him. In India, this is what our parents teach us. Parents teach these simple truths to their children. But, as we advance, we have to do more and more research in the field, just as when a student moves from high school to college he is expected to do more research in the field in which he was a novitiate in the beginning, and he will begin to discover truths which were hazy to his mind earlier.
This applies to the spiritual field also. First of all, it is essential that we remember our life is not a mere joke, but a series of facts. Most of us fritter away our energies, imagining life is to be lived somehow or other. This is not the correct appreciation of life or the true understanding of life. Life has to be lived in a particular manner, and not in any manner we like, because it is governed by certain rules which are meant to restrict our activities and make them come in consonance with internal laws which were made even prior to our being born into this world. There are laws of the government, of society, of community, of family, etc., which are all framed so there may be a restriction on the egoism of man and he may not overstep his boundaries. He may be in a position to participate in the activities of others, and thus become a citizen in the true sense of the term. If we live for ourselves, we are not citizens. In other words, we participate in the activity of the environment to which we belong. The environment in which we are born is the environment of creation itself, and we should not forget this point.
In our attempt to sit for contemplation on God, we immediately enter into a fabric which is far wider than the one which we appear to be entangled in, and the more we probe into it, the more we discover that it is wider than we can comprehend. Suppose we enter the ocean. First it is knee deep, then it is waist deep, then it is neck deep, and then, finally, we find it is deep enough to swallow us completely. When we enter maya, first it appears soft; but then we find that it is impossible for us to extricate ourselves from it because it is so deep that we cannot know how deep it is. Life is like that. We may compare it to maya or to an ocean. When we enter into it, we find we are in a realm which is very deep and very wide.
In the spiritual activity of the soul it is especially important to take into consideration the factors which come into play when we engage ourselves in this spiritual activity. Most of you, if not all, are rigorous practitioners of spiritual sadhana, and each one of you must have taken away some positive experiences, some negative experiences at various times, and these difficulties must have been of a queer nature to you, so queer that you have not been able to understand the causes. Some of you must have gone to a superior, to a Guru or to books, and, to some extent, you have found the solution. You have had a hint, but not much. Because your being is very deep, you have to draw deep from the source in order that you may derive enough strength to sustain the shocks in your practice that may be given to you by the world.
The practice of meditation is difficult, and the difficulty is explained by the simple fact that – as I began by saying – we are tackling the world as a whole. We are confronting creation, and are face to face with an unknown complexity. Suppose we are faced with a problem we have never envisaged, the pros and cons of which we have never thought about. We will be frightened, and it is in this fright that we give up spiritual sadhana. We are faced with something which we are not able to understand even now. When something unknown is presented to us, we are frightened.
There is a story that in ancient days, during the rule of the kings of Vijayanagar, a very learned pundit came to the court and summoned all the existing pundits regarding a controversy about the eight Shastras. In those days the Shastras were such a terrible affair that people shunned away from any discussion in case they were defeated, and the pundits were not prepared to meet him. The king, in his greatness and pride, ordered that every one of his pundits be ready to meet this newcomer; otherwise, he would banish them all.
The pundits were frightened, and they went to the court poet, called Tenali Ramakrishna, and told him, “We are in a very serious predicament. Our life is in danger. Some new pundit has come, and the king has ordered us to face him in a controversy. We are not ready to meet this man.”
Ramakrishna said, “Don't come to the court tomorrow. I will take care of it.”
He took two pieces of wood, wrapped them in a piece of silk, and carried them under his arm to the Court.
The king asked, “Where are the pundits?”
Ramakrishna replied, “I am here to represent the pundits.”
When the learned pundit came, Ramakrishna put the package in front of him and slowly began to untie the rope.
He said, “My dear gentleman, today I am going to a pose question to you on this new book.”
The pundit said, “What is the name of this book?”
Ramakrishna replied, “It is called Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam.”
The pundit had never heard of this book, and thought it would be dangerous to enter into a discussion about a book he had never heard of. He said, “I think I will brush up on my knowledge of this book. We will sit for discussion tomorrow.” That night he fled from the palace because he knew no such book.
When the pundit did not turn up the next morning, the king asked, “Where is he?”
Ramakrishna said, “I have met this man in argument, and he could not answer. I said the name of the book is Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam. It is only a rope that is used for tying buffalos, but it was so frightening that the pundit ran away.”
We do the same thing in our spiritual practice. An ordinary piece of wood was enough to frighten him because the name was difficult to understand. We are faced with certain psychological situations, and it is enough to frighten us. We imagine them to be difficult. If the pundit had known that the name of the book referred to its insubstantial contents, he would not have been frightened. In the same way, if we begin to know the stuff of the situation we would not be frightened; but we are frightened because of our lack of understanding. What is the reason for our lack of understanding? It is the misconception we have of the world.
To concentrate on either an internal or external point is dharana. Now, we generally take this point to be an isolated bit and begin to concentrate on it. The mind is made of various textures, something like a fabric, and when we change part of it, we begin to change every other part of it. Our mind, which is the subject of meditation, is not the part we visualise in our day-to-day living, but something deeper. There are many layers of our mind, and when we touch any layer of it, the other parts also feel the touch and begin to vibrate. When we see an iceberg in the ocean, only a little is visible and the main part is buried in the bottom.
Similarly, the vast reservoir of our mind, which is unknown, is at the bottom. We walk on the surface of our mind, and we begin to assume that our personality is this shallow surface that we see. We think that our activities and relations in society are confined to this shallow mind, not knowing that the mind is deeper. We cannot come face to face with a person merely by touching the surface of ourselves and the other person, because when we begin to merely float on the surface, our relationship becomes temporary and artificial. That is why friendships do not last. Similarly, enmity does not last. Our relations with people are on the basis of the surface mind. We look to our surface and look to the surface of the other, and establish the contact. It is like a wave in the ocean trying to establish contact with other waves, not knowing that the waves may subside any time. Our mind changes its colours all the time, like a chameleon, and if we establish contact believing in the surface hue, we will be deceived because it will sink any moment, like the waves in the ocean. Huge waves appear in the ocean, and mariners sometimes mistake the back of these waves for a small island and try to land on it. They mistake the wave for an island. The surface of the mind is also like this shell, the outer back of the wave which may sink into the bottom any moment and we will be nowhere in the world. That is why teachers say, “Don't trust your mind.” They mean: “Don't trust the outer circumstances with which the surface mind is associated, and don't start your meditation believing in this surface mind.”
A study of your mind is essential before starting your meditation. A study of the mind is preeminently essential in the practice of meditation, and a study of the mind is the most difficult science in this world. No laboratory is useful and no instrument is helpful, because the subject is the mind of the research worker himself. You cannot get help here. Your professor cannot help you here. You have to take strength from your own mind. The object is not visible. It is inside, and so it is very difficult. How to look at the mind? You cannot see it. Can you see it with your eyes? The mind itself is the eye to see itself. This seeing of the mind is called introspection – the seeing of the mind by itself. It is thought seeing itself. That is called introspection; and meditation commences with introspection of the mind on itself. What am I? What are my capacities, and what are my acts? To what extent can I succeed? It is like a military manoeuvre. You try to study the strength of the enemy in order to conquer him.
Here also it is a very tactful manoeuvre that we have to make because the mind itself is a chameleon which can put on various shades at different times, and when we attack it in one form, it comes in another form. It has infinite forms, and we must have infinite methods in dealing with it. In this, we are likely to get tired. That is one of the tactics of a shrewd enemy. We go on shifting our position, assume various postures, use various weapons, and the enemy gets tired and is easily caught. The mind plays various tricks. It knows how to please us and distract us from our goal.
In meditation, we do not try to please the mind, but to discipline it. We do not give it what it wants. The whole table is turned in spiritual sadhana. Instead of the world controlling us, we control the world. It is to shift the whole process of perception from the external to the internal. Up to this time, we were thinking that the phenomena controlled us. Now, we want to study how we control the phenomena. Instead of the world and its contents becoming the centre of interest, the world comes to us. We do not go from place to place in search of things. Things come to us because of our establishing of an inner contact with them.
Everything in this world shall desert us if we think that thing is outside us. In short, if we imagine that some person or some thing in the world is an instrument for our happiness, that person or thing shall desert us one day or the other. We cannot possess a thing so long as we imagine it is a means to an end. The world is the kingdom of ends, and not of means. In spiritual sadhana we visualise the world as a manifestation of God, and if we honestly feel the world is a manifestation of God, we do not take it as a means to our satisfaction. It is a dishonesty in ourselves if we take the world as a means to our satisfaction. The body itself deserts us because of our false attitude towards it.
If we do not have genuine love for things, they cannot have a genuine love for us. This world is one of cooperative activity. We cooperate with others, and they will cooperate with us. If we love others, they will love us; and they will love us in the same manner as we love them. And we can understand what sort of love we have for the world. In spiritual activity, there is no self-deceit. It is one hundred percent honest because it is spiritual, and it is unadulterated simplicity. In this simple life of spiritual activity we begin to know what attitude we have towards the world. Before starting our worship, sadhana, japa, etc., it is essential that we understand our motives and the modus operandi. We should not say, “I love you very much; you are wonderful” to a person when we do not really feel that. Most people do not feel what they say, whatever be the reason for it. It is some sort of hypocrisy in social decorum in order to get on in life.
But in spiritual life, we really have to live. It is an establishment with God. We cannot get on with God, because God understands us even before we start thinking. So, it is a more difficult and dangerous affair. We have to be very, very clear in our minds. Before we start on the spiritual path, we must be honest. We ourselves can know whether we are honest. No teacher, no Guru can come and tell us what we are. We have to be honest with ourselves, and to be honest with ourselves is to act as we feel. And we must never forget that if we feel honestly that God has manifested Himself in this world, our attitude towards this world should be our attitude towards God. If God appeared before us, what would we say to Him? We think He does not see us saying or doing things, that we can do something quietly in a corner which God will not be able to see. If we are honest and if we know that God is everywhere in the world, we cannot tell a lie, we cannot deceive people.
We start spiritual life with a misconception that God is somewhere, and then complain that there is no success. How can success come when we build our house on sand? Fixity of purpose, clarity of understanding and one hundred percent dedication of ourselves to God-realisation are all very essential qualities. With these criteria we can find out whether we are fit for meditation and to what extent we are able to practice, and not blame anyone else in this world – neither God nor creation. This psychology is applicable not only in spiritual sadhana, but also in our day to day activities. If we are sincere, honest, dedicated one hundred percent, success is bound to come.
In spiritual meditation, we begin to establish contact with God who is immanent, who is under our nose, who sees what we do and think and feel. We should know that God sees everything, and if our ideal is the realisation of God, the means which we adopt should be equally genuine. A psychological clearing up of all cobwebs in our personality is essential. We go deep into everything that is buried in our unconscious and throw it all out. When we enter a new house we sweep it, and clouds of accumulated dust rise up. This dust became visible only when we began to sweep. Likewise, when we begin to sweep our mind with the instrument of self-investigation, it appears that dust arises. It is all a haze, a confusion. We cannot see anything, and do not know where we are.
When we enter into the path of spiritual life, everything out of which the mind was made rises and things become unclear, as unclear as they were to Arjuna in the first chapter of Bhagavadgita. The first chapter of Bhagavadgita is a psychological state of perplexity, confusion. Arjuna was quite baffled before he began to face the enemy, but when he entered the field, he found it was different altogether. Likewise, we are all good people, honourable persons, respected, and we appear to be successful, but when we are touched, we are immediately taken to task by the inner forces because we begin to meddle with them; we begin to realise what we are essentially. We cannot understand the nature of a person until we oppose him. We have only to irritate a person in order to see what he is. The real person is not seen when we treat him kindly, when we serve him. If we rub him, we will see what he is. We can also understand what we are because we too have the opportunity of being crossed by others. Sometimes the world opposes us, and we do not like it. When we do not like a thing and we are compelled to do it, then it is that we raise our hood like a cobra and begin to act in a different manner than we would normally. These are instances which give us a clue as to what our real personality is.
Tamas brings stupor, and rajas brings distraction. It makes the mind go out. As mediation is a serene activity of the universe, the highest type of sattva must predominate. Therefore, the first step is the removal of the rajasic and tamasic tendencies of the mind by the study of scriptures, by the company of learned people, and honest inquiry into one’s own mental structure.
When we sit for meditation, what happens to us? Certain factors will come to the front. A professor will see his curriculum of study; he will think of examination, and so on. What does a policeman see in meditation? He will see his duties, etc. Likewise, a lawyer, a cook, a sweeper will see their activities. The factors which are governing their lives will come to the forefront and will obstruct meditation. We should not, therefore, identify ourselves with any factors. That is why our teachers emphasise that we must be practical karma yogis in our outward life and jnanis in our inner life. We cannot completely isolate ourselves from work, and if we differentiate work from meditation, work will become an obstacle in meditation. All those things associated with activity will become hindrances in the concentration of mind.
Therefore, some sort of pact must be made between outer activity and meditation. Activity should not be opposed to meditation, because one yoga cannot be opposed to another yoga. The outer activity is meditation in action, and dhyana is action in meditation. It is a psychological activity that we call meditation, and it is the normal phenomenal activity that we call work in society. God is internal as well as external. Isvara has created this world, and if He appears in both, karma and dhyana cannot come in conflict with each other. If we see God in the world and also in meditation, we are in a position to establish harmony in our outer life and in our inner life. Social work and inner personal existence should be in conformity with each other. Then there can be social health; there can be peace and real love. We must be spiritual beings first and then social and national beings, because what we are in ourselves essentially, will tell what we are in life. We cannot do something quite contrary to our nature; and if each person is intelligent in his essential core, he will naturally express what he is. There cannot be harmony in society if harmony from our inner core does not participate in our activity.
What is the spiritual element that is seen in karma yoga? It is the recognition that God is present in things. Equally or in different proportions, His presence in all things summons our attention in our activities in social life, whatever our activities may be. It is immaterial what work we do. The important thing is the manner in which we live our life. The way in which it is executed is the important thing. It is the way we adjust ourselves with our external environment that makes work a yoga or a mere karma. The karma that binds us is that work which brings us pleasure. We do not act in this world for pleasure but because it is our duty, because the world is the property of God. The attitude that things belong to us tells upon the activity we do in life. The activity that is connected with possessions becomes a binding factor. We have no hold upon anything in this world. We have not brought anything with us, and we will not take anything when we leave. Even today, the idea that we possess things is artificial. We imagine that these things belong to us, but it is only a feeling, and the feeling gives us conceit. If we really possess it, we would take it with us when we leave this world. It is our imagination that gives us satisfaction, and this false feeling has to be put aside when we take creation as the manifestation of God. It is Isvara who is the real possessor. It is He who has control over things. We cannot have control over things. The real author is God. He alone possesses things, and our duty is to live in this world as participant. So, selfishness is the first binding chain in spiritual activity.
Spiritual meditation, which is a concentration of the mind on God's existence ultimately, is a process of dismantling our present personality, a reconstructing of ourselves in such a way that our disharmonious existence becomes a harmony, and we become real criteria of God's creation. Then meditation becomes a moment's work. We should not say that we have been meditating for a long time but have had no results. That is because the technique adopted was wrong. If we switch our existence with God's existence, then we are at peace. The success in meditation is to be measured by the peace we derive from it. How much peace do we derive from it; what is the strength that we have derived out of meditation for half an hour, one hour or two hours; and what difference has it made in our lives?
Years of meditation should make us different beings altogether. To put it concisely, spiritual meditation depends on a psychological background which implies the cleaning of our persona, and cleaning it so perfectly that it will reflect God’s existence, which is already in us.