The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 15: The Great Yoga of Meditation

We are now on the pedestal of the great yoga of meditation, which is the sum and substance of all spiritual endeavour, finally—the end, which includes also all the means that led to the realisation of this end. In the beginning the means appears to be separate from the end, just as the destination is different from the road that leads to that destination. That which leads to a thing appears to be different from that thing which is attained, reached or obtained.

We always make a distinction between the means and the end—the modus operandi and the final achievement. All our efforts, all our activities, all our performances are means to this great end of cosmic integration of spirit. But, this great destination is, also, inclusive of every step that we took earlier. The means in every form, and in every stage and level, gets swallowed up in that great destination which does not any more remain as a distant object to be reached or a place to which we have to traverse, inasmuch as the nearer we go to this goal or destination, the further we get lifted from the notion of spatial distance and temporal succession.

The lower we are in the category of evolution, the more removed we appear to be from one another in space, and the more intense seems to be the distinction of one from the other. The grosser is the body, the greater is the vehemence of the attachment to it, and the more intense is the separation of it from anything else or everything else, due to the vigorous impact of space and time. When space and time very actively have their say upon us, we seem to be like abandoned children, completely cut off from everything else, totally thrown into the prison of self-encasement in this body, which we are told is our only property.

But this is an illusion, a type of make-believe—which is what all space-time arrangement is, in the end. The way in which space and time tell upon us is, again, a graduated knotting of our personality. The stages of yoga—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi —or the stages mentioned in other systems of yoga, are only the internal efforts of the spirit within us to disentangle itself gradually, by stages, from the clutches of the space-time complex which the world is, in essence. The world does not exist, except as space-time. Though it wrongly appears to our blinded eyes that the world is inside space and time, it is not so. The world is not inside space and time.

We are accustomed to think of the world as the planet Earth, the Sun and the Moon, etc., which appear to be hanging in space. It is nothing of the kind. There is an invisible connection of the vast space-time complex with the apparent configurations in the form of matter. This invisible connection is unknown to subjective percipients like us. Inasmuch as we are involved in this concretisation into material forms, we cannot know what is above or beyond us.

In cold areas, parts of the ocean may solidify into ice and parts may remain liquid, yet the liquid and the solid parts of the ocean are not really cut off. There is a continuation of substance common to both the liquid portions and the solid portions of the ocean. If we like, we may theoretically distinguish between the solid and the liquid. But, in fact, the liquid has become the solid and the solid is going to melt into the liquid, and in bodily substance they are inseparable. Even the word ‘they’ is inapplicable there. It is one mass.

Something like that is the kink which the space-time complex seems to have developed in the form of material content. What we call the hard, physical substance of this earth, or even the entire solar system, is said to be the space-time configuration getting curdled, as it were, into formations including our own bodies, abolishing at the base any distinction between these curdled forms of solidified substance and the so-called empty space—which to us is a nothing, but really it is everything.

Thus, the bondage of the soul is a universal bondage. We are not involved only in one place, in a single family or a house. It is a terribly unintelligible complex of involvement which we have to free ourselves from in the process of the practice of yoga. When we are sunk into bondage, we are universally sunk from every side, in every way, and it is not only in one place. Bondage and liberation are both universals. There is no individual bondage and individual salvation, but it appears to us that it is wholly individual and each one reaps his or her own isolated harvest.

Finally, it is not so. There is an internal family relation among ourselves which is deeper than family relation or organic connection. An unthinkable relation subsists among the very atoms of the cosmos, what to speak of ourselves as human beings, here. Thus, when the vista that is to be presented before us in the practice of yoga unravels, we step into the waters of the ocean of the cosmos.

We are not merely sitting in a meditation hall. These few words that I have mentioned are very important words which may try to brush aside the illusion that is before our mental eye that we are meditating on the top of a hill, or inside a room, or in our little cottage. We are not doing this meditation in a cottage. There is no such thing in this world. We belong to the whole of creation.

This is a mantra that you can repeat to yourself: “I belong to the whole of creation. I am a citizen of this universe.” This is a very important mantra for every one of us: “I am not Indian or American or British. I am not white or black. I am not a man or a woman. I am a pressure point in the cosmic continuum of space-time.” What a thrilling message this would be for the heart to receive, if this could be repeated again and again, inwardly, and made the object of deep contemplation by every one of us! All our little problems would vanish like mist before the blazing sun.

When we enter into this vast field of meditation, ‘vast field’ are the words to be emphasised. It is not a little act of ours. It is not a little psychological operation within the brain that is taking place in meditation. It is a ripple that we are setting up in the whole atmosphere in which we are seated, which we are occupying, which is this creation of God. But, in earlier stages, this relationship is not felt. That is why, particularly, the emphasis is made obvious in the system of yoga propounded by Patanjali —that from more and more gross particularities of observations and experience, we move to larger and larger generalities of experience. It is necessary for us to tabulate our involvements in life and be totally dispassionate in this assessment of ourselves. We should not hide any of our prejudices, weaknesses, desires, longings, involvements, emotions, attachments, likes or dislikes. We are before God, the Almighty. We are in His presence, so no hiding is possible there. It is useless to hide anything where everything is clear, as in the midday sun.

Since we are the persons concerned in the practice of yoga, we have to be honest to our own selves; this is important. And while we are in our mood of deep meditation, we should open up our hearts to our own selves—and all the mud, rubbish and cobwebs are brushed aside. With great effort of psychic operation conducted vigilantly within ourselves, all our desires are melted down into liquid by methods which we have to adopt for our own selves by our own intelligence, understanding and discrimination—if we have that discrimination. Otherwise, we go humbly to our master.

Tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya, upadekshyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah, says the Bhagavadgita. Go to your master: “This is my predicament; this is my condition inwardly. I am very much tied up in all the layers of my personality. Everything is dark before me. I do not see any ray of light on the horizon.” Thus, you surrender yourself. Confess all your weaknesses. To confess a weakness before a great master is not a shame. It is like exposing one’s illness before a physician. It is a necessity, and is in your own interest.

But if this is not possible, if you have not any person before you who can take care of you in every way, humbly offer your prayers to the Almighty Himself, who is the Guru of all Gurus, and light will dawn before you if your sincerity is genuine.

Thus, our outward involvements are to be taken into consideration in the beginning, and our inward involvements are to be taken into consideration afterward. Finally, our attachment to the body and the ego come like Ravana and Kumbhakarna. They are the last enemies to be faced. Our attachment to the body and the ego is terrific, and nothing can be compared to it. Everything else fades into insignificance. All problems go as if they are nobodies in comparison with this terror of our attachment to the ego and the body.

We cannot peel off our body as if it is an onion skin; it will not leave us. We have become the body, and nobody can believe that we are other than the body. Even this conviction will not arise. We cannot think, even for a moment, that we can be anything other than this body. We are heavy, many-kilo-weighted persons—nothing more, nothing less. This will catch hold of us in the end.

These are the difficulties before yoga. The agonies that one feels and passes through when the body struggles to maintain itself in the name of yoga, in the teeth of all opposition, are indescribable. They are like tearing out one’s own flesh, and cutting the cords of one’s life. And the ego will say, “I must exist. I shall exist. I have to be.” Nobody would like to be annihilated.

There cannot be a greater terror to man than the idea of self-annihilation. This possessed Arjuna himself, when he witnessed the vision of the Lord’s Visvarupa. “Great Master, Lord Supreme Almighty, subdue yourself and come down to the original form. Enough of this vision!” was the exclamation of even that great disciple and devotee, incomparable as he was, as we are told. We cannot stand this vision. It is a terror, like a roaring lion before us. And we say, “Come down! Enough! Tad eva me darsaya deva rupam prasida devasa jagan-nivasa. Come down! I do not want this cosmic vision always, because the cosmic vision is the death of the individual ego. Who wants it? If God exists, I cannot be. And, if I have to be, then God must die.” We would wish that God dies rather than we die.

These difficulties are indescribable, even to one’s own self. To avoid a sudden boomerang coming upon us, or a thunderbolt descending on our heads, or a bomb being thrown at us in the form of these difficulties, physical as well as egoistic, we should proceed slowly—by untying knots, by pulling out our hair one by one and not pulling out all our hair at one stroke, which is more difficult.

We can remove all our hair by pulling out only one strand every day. We will not feel that all our hair has gone. But if we pull out all our hair at once, we know what a pain, what a terrible terror it is. So, do not pull out all your hair in one stroke. Pull it out strand by strand, and you will not feel that it has gone. We have to be very cautious in dealing with these problems, which are part and parcel of our own existence.

Every step in meditation is a meditation itself. It is not merely a step to something else. It is, itself, a meditation, and every conscious effort towards meditation is, also, a meditation. Anything that we do for the purpose of attaining the state of meditation is, also, a meditation. Even if it be the least step that we are taking, even if it be a little relaxation that we are having in preparation for further meditation, it is a part of meditation because it is necessary for the purpose of the next onslaught.

In fact, when we are conscious, really, of what we are doing in the light of the great purpose of life, every act becomes yoga. Only when we are not conscious of the connection of our daily occupations with the purpose of life do we seem to be miserable. So it is necessary, first of all, to awaken within ourselves a consciousness of the relation of everything that we do with the purpose of existence.

We are not manufacturing this purpose and our relation to this purpose. It is already there. We have only to awaken ourselves to this fact, and then we shall be enabled to adjust ourselves to every circumstance—good or bad, beautiful or ugly. All circumstances are within the circumstance of life. Inasmuch as every circumstance is connected to the greatest circumstance, which is the aim of the cosmos, we will be able to find ourselves accommodated to any circumstance, without a word of grumbling or complaint.

Thus, life becomes yoga. Every activity becomes karma yoga, as we have been told again and again. All actions become karma yoga when actions are related to the purpose of the universe. Dissociated from this purpose, they become our bondage. Teachers of yoga generally prescribe karma, upasana and jnana as the traditional steps that have to be taken in the direction of this fulfilment. Karma, upasana and jnana are supposed to be aids in getting rid of the three troubles called mala, vikshepa and avarana.

Mala is the dirt of the mind. Vikshepa, vacillation, is the distraction of the mind.Avarana is the veil of darkness over the mind. Dirt, mala, is that which tarnishes the transparency of the mind—on account of which it is having a blurred and distorted vision. A long list of what this dirt means is given in a very famous Vedanta text called Vasudeva Manana. The list in Sanskrit is: raga, dvesha, kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya, irsya, asuya, dambha, darpa and ahamkara, all which finally mean likes and dislikes manifested in various forms—likes in a chain of their details, and dislikes in a chain of their details. Desire, anger and greed sum up this long chain mentioned. This is the dirt of the mind.

Desire, anger and greed cannot be removed except by unselfish service, dedicated sacrifice—karma yoga, which may begin with actual religious rituals like worship, performance of mass in a church, puja in a temple, namaz in a mosque—whatever we may call it. The religious rituals of puja, worship, chanting and satsangas all come under this category of karma intended to purify the mind of all the dross with which it is infested.

In certain systems of thought, particularly a system known as the Saiva Siddhanta, which is famous in southern India, there is a beautiful categorisation of this process of moving from outward ritual to inward contemplation by processes known as chariya, kriya, yoga and jnana.

These are all technical epithets. Humble external service in the name of God, service to God Himself, service to the saints and devotees of God, including service in the temple such as cleaning the temple, washing the vessels, lighting the lamps, bringing bilva patra, tulsi and flowers, all come under the category of divine service known as chariya. Kriya is the internal service, particularly in the temple, where one might see an assistant lighting the lamp and helping the pujari, etc. He does not go to the tree and bring bilva leaves; that is done by another person who is doing external service. The internal assistant is the devotee who is performing kriya.

All these processes of chariya and kriya come under the lower category of worship, which gradually gravitates into pure worship which does not require flowers and bilva leaves. Internal worship is, nevertheless, a worship. We perform the worship in the same way as we would with material offerings, but here the offerings in a material form are not necessary.

Internally, we can offer worship to God. We can collect the flowers. We can climb the tree and bring bilva leaves. We can light the lamp. We can clean the floor. We can perform the ritual and mentally chant the mantras. Everything is done without external appurtenances. Finally, we enter into deep contemplation on the very form of the deity, culminating in the union of the meditator with God Himself.

These are some of the very interesting scientific processes described through the philosophical system of Saiva Siddhanta; and, there are similar systems and processes mentioned in other schools of thought. I am coming to the point of karma, upasana and jnana. Unselfish service, service of the Guru included, is necessary. It is something unavoidable, especially in the tradition of India. No one can say that he is a Guru himself; it is a very preposterous assumption. Everyone is a very humble servant until the end.

Thus, service to the Guru, service to God, service to humanity, service to everyone who needs our service may be summed up under karma, and this includes every religious ritual in any form of religion. Upasana is the direct inward attmpt at worship, without too much external appurtenances. Meditation in the lower forms comes under upasana. But, in the higher forms, meditation merges into the wisdom of God, jnana, or the feeling of inward communion of oneself with the Almighty. All these stages are included in the system of Patanjali. The eight limbs of yoga comprehend all that one can understand by karma, upasana and jnana, without mentioning these words.

We have traversed through the necessary stages of the understanding required for the practice of the last step in yoga, which is meditation. The meditation process is, for a beginner, an inward operation of the psyche, or an activity of consciousness—though it is not, really, an inward activity of consciousness, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. For consciousness, there is no ‘inward’ or ‘outward’. Yet, inasmuch as we cannot escape the notion that we are inside these bodies, for all practical purposes it appears as if our meditation is an internal process. It is not an external activity in the sense of going to a shop or to a railway station. It is something that is taking place inwardly, within our outlook of consciousness.

In the earlier stage of meditation, which is sometimes called dharana, or concentration, a great effort is necessary. It is not easily achieved. Effort is necessary because we have to struggle hard against those thoughts which we do not want to interfere with the thoughts which we consider as the right thoughts in meditation. We cannot help making a distinction between necessary thoughts and unnecessary thoughts in meditation. This is so because we are still in the novitiate stage. When we go into the meditation hall, we struggle to concentrate our minds through certain processes of thinking and try to exclude thoughts which we consider as irrelevant for the purpose or perhaps as even obstructing the very attempt.

There are four facets of effort involved in the process of dharana, or concentration of the mind. The first is the consciousness that we are concentrating. We cannot escape this consciousness. “I am seated in the meditation hall. I am in the temple. I am in the meditation cottage. I am in my room.” We cannot avoid this idea that we are sitting there for meditation. This is one aspect. The second aspect is the consciousness that we are meditating on something. This consciousness, also, cannot leave us. The third aspect is the consciousness that the mind is working, or operating, in a particular manner. The fourth consciousness is the consciousness that we have to set aside certain thoughts which are irrelevant to the process of meditation.

Thus, four aspects operate simultaneously in dharana, or concentration: I am concentrating; I am concentrating on something; the mind is thinking something at the time of concentration; it is trying to avoid certain thoughts during the time of concentration. This is a very difficult thing, not an easy job. We will be tired in a few minutes by thinking like this, because mental fatigue tells upon us more than the fatigue caused by carrying bricks.

When we construct a house, we can carry bricks and we will not be tired; but to think like this is a great exhaustion. We will sweat and say, with a yawn and a sigh, that it is enough for this time. To streamline the activity of the mind is harder than any other job, because the mind is very rebellious in its mood. It is unyielding, even until the end. It will have its say always, and will not listen to what we want it to do.

The conflict between relevant thoughts and irrelevant thoughts is a very important matter to consider. That we are conscious that we are concentrating, and that we are concentrating on something, and that there is something taking place within the mind is all right, understandable, because they are almost friendly processes. But there is an unfriendly kick given by another aspect which we consider as undesirable in the process of concentration. Our consciousness that we are concentrating, and our consciousness that we are concentrating on something, and that the mind is thinking of the object, is a friendly process. Let those thoughts be there; it does not matter. But, we do not like to be aware that some thoughts are intruding into this holy of holies—this ‘in camera’ process going on. This is a very secret thing that we are conducting within ourselves, and we would not like anyone to eavesdrop or probe into what is happening and interfere with us with shouts, noise, clamour, and demands. This is very unfortunate, and that tension is a real difficulty. We would be trying our best to set aside these irrelevant thoughts, and they would be coming again and again, like a river in flood, trying to break the bund that we have put against this inflow. Here, we would be struggling against odds for days and months and years.

We may be wondering why there should be such a difficulty in setting aside extraneous thoughts. After all, they are extraneous; we have concluded that they are irrelevant. When we have concluded that they are irrelevant, there should be no difficulty in setting them aside. Why is it so hard? How is it that we have to put forth a herculean effort in setting aside things which we have concluded are definitely unnecessary things? Nobody would like to purchase trouble. When we have been convinced within ourselves that these thoughts are not good for us, it should be very easy for us to set them aside. Why should we struggle against them? Why is it that people always complain that they find it very hard to set aside unnecessary thoughts? The difficulty is that they are not really unnecessary thoughts. We are not really convinced that they are irrelevant to us. That is why there is a struggle.

We may imagine that these thoughts are irrelevant, due to an emotional enthusiasm—a spurt of an idea that we have to sit for meditation in order to attain the goal of life. Maybe it is all very praiseworthy. Yet, in the heart of our hearts, we have not been wholly, entirely, totally convinced that these so-called irrelevant things are really irrelevant things. There is a little taste in the honey of this world, though it may be scattered over poisonous shrubs. What of the poison in the shrub? Nevertheless, there is a drop of honey on top of it. We would like to lick this little honey. This is very unfortunate, and we may accept that it is very unfortunate. “I am very sorry that this should be the state of affairs.” But, what is the use of saying that it is unfortunate? It is still what it is.

The craving of the senses, the desire of the mind, is inordinate. Nobody can escape it, not even a great saint. No saint ever maintained a continuous spiritual consciousness from birth to death. Impossible is this task. There are ups and downs in the lives of anyone, even if he is a great man. Unavoidable is this difficulty, man being what he is and God being what He is. Yet, we have to swallow this bitter pill and live in this world, whatever it is, and take things for what they are and not imagine what they are not.

These little desires of ours—our thoughts, which are so-called irrelevant events in the process of concentration—have been our own children. Now we are trying to abandon them. Abandoned children are also, after all, our own children. They were born to us. Just because we do not want them now—they are burdens on the family, and we want to throw them out—they have not ceased to be those born to us. “I cannot sustain, maintain you naughty boys. Go!” we may say to them. Yes, they understand that they are unwanted children in the house; yet, they were born to us. They say this, and loudly say this. We have to go on listening to the loud noise and clamour of these children of ours, though they have now become very undesirable.

These so-called undesirable things are the insistences of the processes of the fulfilment of desires which we entertained once upon a time, in earlier lives. The pains of life today are the consequences of the pleasures that we sought in earlier lives. Today they have become pains; and, the pleasures that we seek today will become our pains in the next birth or in future lives to come. Beware! We have to be very cautious when seeking for pleasures and satisfactions of the ego, whatever they be. When we asked for pleasures in an earlier life, they did not come. They were not presented before us, for reasons God only knows.

All of our desires are not fulfilled, though they will be fulfilled one day or the other. Do we think that everything that we ask for in this world is given to us? Nothing of the kind. Something is given; many other things are not given. But, these many things that are not given to us for certain reasons are going to be given to us afterwards, when we will not want them. This is a travesty of affairs.

They may come to us after centuries, saying, “Here are the things that you wanted, sir.” “When did I ask?” “You asked for them many centuries back.” “I don’t remember. Go away.” We may remember or not; these are the things that we wanted, and they shall be heaped upon us. Then we say, “Oh God, unkind One, why is this terror coming upon me now?”

God has never been unkind. He has been a systematic computer, an electromagnetic force—no friend, no enemy, nothing of the kind for God, the Universal Law. Two and two make four; and they shall always make four—nothing more, nothing less. We should not say, “Why should I have to pay four rupees to the creditor? Let less be given to the creditor.” Nothing of the kind—arithmetic is arithmetic always, whether it be for the creditor or the debtor. These irrelevant, unpleasant and painful things, the things that we want to set aside, are those things which impinge upon us as necessary consequences of the earlier operations of our own mind.

So, what is to be done? “I understand what you say, but what am I to do?” In the process of concentration, we have to increase the intensity of this positive thought on the ideal we have chosen. The intensity of this concentrational process will be able to force aside the other thoughts—as, in Allahabad, the power of the Ganga pushes aside the Yamuna and creates great floods and havoc, because the force of the Yamuna is less than the Ganga. There are two rivers meeting in Allahabad. When they are in spate, the Ganga is so powerful that she does not allow the Yamuna to flow so easily and join her. The Ganga elbows and pushes the Yamuna, and on the other side there is a rising up, and the bridge over the Yamuna breaks.

Likewise, the Ganga of our concentrational process should have a stronger current than the other currents, which should be pushed aside by this power. If we elbow them continuously, they get famished and go elsewhere. Famished desires dry up. They get extinguished, like fire that is not fed with fuel. This is a very hard thing in the earlier stages, a terrible thing —very painful because we go on thinking of them again and again even though they are undesirable things. A thought of the undesirable is also a thought, after all; it does not cease to be a thought.

In the earlier stages, meditation is not an easy, happy thing. It is very difficult and painful. But, when we invoke the glory, the majesty, the power and the bliss of God’s existence by our positive processes, they will inundate us enough to give us the strength to bear the onslaught of these irrelevant ideas.

Suppose we get a telegram that we have won a hundred million dollars in a lottery, but to get it we have to walk to Delhi. We will certainly walk to Delhi in the hot sun. The pain of walking in the hot sun will not be felt because of the joy that we are going to get a hundred million dollars. “Let me walk to Delhi. Walking is good. After all, I have not walked for years.” We will have good arguments for this. We will walk to Delhi in the hot sun, for a hundred million dollars. The joy of the positive side completely swallows the pain that is involved in the process of the attainment of this joy because it is larger, greater and more intense.

Thus, the glory of God should be able to set aside every other thought in our mind. “What wonder; what grandeur; what majesty; what perfection! What perfection and what completion it is that I am going to attain, wherein I shall become immortal forever!” These insistent contemplations will slowly set aside the irrelevance and absorb it into this force, as the Yamuna will slowly be made to flow together with the Ganga. They become a terrific flood.

Similarly, all this phenomenal experience will be inundated by the great flood of meditation. The power of the noumenal will make the whole of phenomena melt down. The world will converge into God, and the solid earth will melt under our feet. When the light dazzles from every corner of the earth, we will find that the weight of the body, and the weight of the very earth, will vanish. Life will become a buoyant and happy process of a Godward movement. This is the final aim in meditation.