A Study of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 9: The Yoga of Meditation

The Yoga of meditation is the subject of the Sixth Chapter of the Gita. At the very beginning, the Lord tells us that the art of Yoga is a system of raising oneself by oneself. In meditation you qualitatively improve yourself and do not merely carry on a quantitative process for a long time. Many days, several months, are occupied with the act of meditation, but it is not just that you have been doing something for a long time. Also you have improved yourself; you have become a better person through meditation. The betterment is the qualitative aspect of it.

We have a Self; everybody has a Self, usually called the Atman. “My self has been engaged in the work of meditation.” This is what you generally say. This self of yours is one kind of self. It is one layer of a possible long series of different layers of the same self. These layers of self are the determining factors of the quality of your being. What sort of person you are as far as your quality of existence is concerned will be decided by the level of selfhood that you are rooted in.

There is, for instance, the instinctive self, the sensory self, the physical self, the involved self, the social self, and so on, all which mean that the self of the person – the you, the I, or whatever it is – is not existing for itself independently but is conditioned by certain associations such as sensation, instinctive desire, social relation, and the like. Mr. so-and-so is a particular kind of self. That self is decided upon qualitatively by the kind of social relation that the self is maintaining, and you know what the social relation is.

You are something in human society – something important, something unimportant, something responsible, something not responsible, something recognised, something unrecognised. The society has something to say about you, and that depends upon what kind of position you occupy in the social setup. Your social position very much influences what you are. When you think about yourself, you will also think – and perhaps only think – in the sense of your involvement in society. Suppose you are an official in the government; you will be thinking only that you are a magistrate. You will not think that you are the son of your mother. Though you are perhaps that, you will never forget that you are a magistrate self. The magistrate self has become so much involved in your being that you are only that. This is an example of the social self, which everyone is, in some way or the other.–Your involvement in external society in any manner whatsoever will condition you and make you a social self.

That is to say, you are not independent because you always define yourself in terms of something with which you are associated. You feel you are rich, you are poor, you are male, you are female, etc. These definitions that you unwittingly foist upon yourself tell you that you are not independent, and cannot be regarded as free. To the extent you are dependent on feelings, instincts, social contexts and relations, to that extent you are a bound soul.

But meditation is the art of the achievement of freedom. Perhaps it expects you to achieve the highest kind of freedom – untrammelled not only by external relations, but by conditions given by space and time. Such kind of absolute freedom is your expectation through spiritual meditation. So a seeker of this highest freedom in the spiritual self will analyse and assess the category of selfhood in which he is, or to which he belongs. How do you define yourself?

The Bhagavadgita says, in one or two verses, that you have to raise your lower self by the power of the higher Self. You should not be always a physical self, an instinctive self, a desire-filled self, a sensory self or a social self. The Self cannot be so described as something conditioned by other things. The very meaning of Self is unconditionality, indivisibility and self-sufficiency. If the self of yours is inadequate in some way, you cling to certain associations outside, as I mentioned, so that you look like an adequate self. But the Self cannot be made adequate or self-sufficient by any accumulation of external factors. Society, objects of sense, or even the satisfaction of the physical body cannot make the Self a better Self because the Self cannot be associated with anything other than its own Self.

The meaning of Self is non-objectivity. It cannot be externalised in any manner whatsoever, and it cannot be related to anything. The Self cannot be a relation of somebody else, and somebody cannot be a relation of the Self. As long as you feel that you are related to something – to property, to selfhood, to family relation, to position in society, whatever it is – your self is not unconditioned. It is a grieving self, limited self, finite self, dependent self, a slavish self. This is the lower self. The Gita instruction is that this lower self has to be purified and raised to the level of the higher Self. Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ (Gita 6.5): By the higher Self you raise the lower self.

As we have studied earlier, the higher Self is the adhidaiva, the conscious transcendent principle of divinity ranging above yourself as an individual, as well as above the outside thing with which you are related.

Now, the higher Self, this adhidaiva, also has various degrees of manifestation, and these degrees depend upon the kind of relation that you have between yourself and the world outside. There are layers of creation; there are realms of being, degrees of reality. This earth plane – this physical space-time complex – is one degree of the manifestation of reality, and in this particular material field, we establish one kind of relationship with the objects outside. Therefore, this transcendent adhidaiva will operate in a particular manner, taking into consideration the physicality and the nature of the type of world in which we are living.

But there are higher worlds. There are prapanchas – Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka, as they say. Seven realms of being are described in the scriptures. As you rise higher and higher from one realm to another realm, the adhidaiva also becomes more and more transparent, more expanded and wider in dimension, so that the distance between you and the object outside gets diminished.

Now the object is very far away from you; the world does not seem to have any kind of living connection with you. One person has no relation to another person; each person is standing outside like a planet in the sky, apparently not having anything to do with another. That I have no connection with you, that the subject has no relation to the object, that the world is totally outside, is apparent. In this physical world, there seems to be a total disconnection of the subject and the object. Things can be lost, there can be bereavement, and it is difficult to possess anything.

But as you rise higher and higher in the qualitative fields of the upper realms, the relationship between you and the world outside becomes more and more intelligible, and not material as it is now. Less and less material it will become, and the distance that you feel between yourself and the world outside will also get narrowed down until you reach the highest realm where the object merges into the Self, the subject enters into the object, and the divinity engulfs both the subjective side and the objective side so that there is Universal Experience. This is what the Bhagavadgita would like you to understand when it says that the higher Self should raise the lower self: uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ.

But never be despondent and melancholy in your mood. Do not say, “This is not for me! I am an involved.” Everybody is involved in something, but everybody also has a prospect in the future. Everybody has some kind of understanding of what is happening and how to extricate oneself from the entanglement, so-called, of this social and material world. Nātmānam avasādayet: Never condemn the Self as involved, as a sinner, as bad. There is a divinity even in the lowest of selves, but it is buried, and it thinks in terms of senses, bodily associations and social conditions.

Ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ. Who is your friend in this world? The higher Self is your friend, not somebody sitting outside you. That outside person can also become a friend only insofar as that person who is apparently outside can be associated livingly, vitally, with the adhidaiva consciousness. Otherwise, that outside person is an outside person only. You cannot have any real friendship with anybody in the world because of the independence that each one is maintaining. If the independence is slowly mellowed down by its association with the higher divinity with which it is connected as the adhidaiva, the friendship can be forged.

The friend of the Self is the self, and also it is the enemy of the self. The higher Self is your friend, to the extent your lower self is surrendering itself to the higher Self’s demands. The higher Self is an enemy – God Himself is the opponent, and He will see everything is set at naught with all your effort – if this highest Self, which is God Almighty, is not put in the proper context of our relation with Him. God-consciousness, divinity-consciousness, adhidaiva-consciousness, higher Self-consciousness mean one and the same thing, so you may take it in any sense you like.

Furthermore, the higher Self is something that is immediately above us, which can be experienced as becoming the controller of the lower self only if we are able to live according to the dictates and the requirements of the higher Self. What are the requirements of the higher Self? The higher Self is less in need of the senses to acquire any kind of satisfaction. The higher Self is less in need of association with physical pleasures and social contact. The more you feel satisfied with your own self and feel happy when you are alone in your room, you may be said to be moving in the direction of the true higher Self. But if when you are alone you feel miserable and immediately want to get out and meet a friend in the marketplace or speak to anybody on the way, you are a distracted person.

Each one can judge one’s own self as far as the progress that is made in his spirituality. There are many tests. This is one test: Be alone to yourself. For how long can you be alone to yourself – for hours and hours, or for some days? If you can be alone the whole day, from morning until evening – if you do not want to see anybody, and you are the happiest man in the world even if you do not look at anything – if that is the case, it is a great touchstone of your progress. But if you feel miserable after half an hour – the legs are aching, the back is not able to straighten itself, and the mind says to go out and chat with someone – if this is the case, the lower self is controlling you. You are in the lower self only, and the higher Self has not taken possession of you.

The higher Self is an integrated consciousness; the lower self is dissipated, distracted, conditioned. The higher Self is an unconditioned reality; the lower self is a conditioned reality. The Self, as I mentioned, is essentially consciousness in its nature, and therefore it cannot be connected to any object outside. So to the extent the Self, which is consciousness, wants to be connected with something outside which is not consciousness – objects and materials – to that extent the self is not really the Self. It is a conditioned, materialised self, contaminated by tamas and the gunas of Prakriti.

Hence, the Gita’s instruction is to raise your lower self with the power of the higher Self, aspiring for a larger inclusiveness of your personality. Do you not think if your dimension of personality increases, you will be happier? If you can find yourself in a larger atmosphere, you will see that the atmosphere somehow also gets adjusted to you. To the extent it is not possible – you seem to be facing a difficulty of adjustment of yourself with the outer atmosphere – problems will sometimes harass to such an extent that they do not seem to be tolerable at all. You do not seem to be having any kind of solution to your difficulties. Everywhere there are problems, one after the other. This is because the lower self is somehow or other struggling to get out of its difficulties by its own instruments and appurtenances, without resorting to the power of the higher Self.

You should never be despondent and regard yourself as incapable. One of the conditions of success in meditation is confidence in oneself, not diffidence. You should never sit for meditation with the feeling that perhaps nothing will come. If you have already decided that, then really nothing will come. What you think you are, you really are. Why should you be despondent? You should not go to the examination hall with the feeling that you are not going to succeed. What is the good of going, then? You are going to succeed. That is why you take the exam.

In a similar way, sit for meditation with the feeling that tomorrow all shall be well, and all requirements of meditation should be at your fingertips. If there is any frustration in the mind, emotional disturbance, sorrow that is gnawing into your vitals, you should not sit for meditation at that time. The lower self, of course, is raised by the higher Self, it is true; but if the lower self is in agony, if it is sick or diseased, at that time you cannot bring the force of impact of the higher Self upon it. The disease has to be cured, first of all, as a patient has to follow a certain regimentation when treated in a hospital. You do not thrust medicine into his body immediately, it is given later on; and so the lower self has to be treated.

Everyone has to judge oneself. A check-up of personality is to be maintained with a spiritual diary. It is necessary to check up: “How far have I progressed? Are there any obstacles which are emotionally disturbing me, or am I intellectually in a state of doubt?” Intellectual restlessness and emotional tension is instinctive if there are frustrations of any kind. Do you want something that you cannot get, or are you getting something that you do not want? These are the causes of difficulties.

Many of the difficulties of a spiritual seeker will not be visible in the beginning. You may look as though everything is all right, that nothing is wrong. You sit for meditation. But if you continue to do it for some two or three months, you will see that it is not as simple as it appeared in the beginning. You will find it very hard. You do not know what problems will arise. Nine kinds of obstacles are mentioned in Patanjali’s Sutras, and there may be more also.

A sincere, honest and realistic spiritual seeker should have a spiritual guide, because after two or three months you will find a dark wall in front of you. You cannot pierce through it, as it is like a kind of iron curtain. In the beginning everything looks fine, but afterwards you will find emotions arise, and your physical ailments will slowly start showing their heads in all kinds of ways. You are unable to eat anything, or you start sneezing, or have neck pain. You will say, “It is very difficult. I cannot carry on the practice.” This is a symptom which is very expertly enunciated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which also gives suggestions of how to overcome them gradually.

So have confidence in yourself, but do not overestimate yourself. Do not think that everything is fine with you, because you may have some difficulty which is very minor, but that minor thing will become like a big mountain when it is ignored – like a disease which looks like a very small ache but afterwards it will expand itself into agony. That should not be allowed. Illness should be nipped in the bud, like all problems.

Hence, the spiritual seeker should, first of all, check up his personality, and then see that there are no other desires, hankerings or frustrated feelings of any kind. “It would have been very good if I had some money in my hand. I am a pauper.” If you have this kind of feeling, it is good that you have some money. Do not be unnecessarily dejected with this sorrow, thinking, “God will give me everything.” Maybe God will give you everything, but at the same time you have a feeling that you are a pauper. You have double feelings, and that should not be. If you want something that is permissible, well, have it, but abnormal desires may have to be transmuted by the power of suggestions that you receive from your Guru.

Thus, here is something interesting for you in a single verse of the Gita: Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ: raise the self by the Self; nātmānam avasādayet: never deprecate yourself; ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur: the Self is the friend of the self; ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ: the Self is also the enemy of the self. The Self is the friend of the self because the lower self has surrendered itself completely to the requirements of the higher Self. It will certainly take care of you. God never ignores any person, provided there is real surrender. Otherwise, it will look as if the higher Self is not cooperating with you. How will it cooperate with you when your self is conditioned by so many physical and social associations? Therefore, be brave – vira, as the Upanishad puts it.

Bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ, anātmanas tu śatrutve vartetātmaiva śatruvat (Gita 6.6). These two verses in the beginning of the Sixth Chapter are crucial in their meaning. Bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ: The Self is the friend of the self of that person who has overcome the lower self by the higher Self. The Self is the enemy of the self of that person who has not been able to overcome the lower self by the higher. Here is a concentrated, very valuable instruction for spiritual seekers in the art of meditation, put in a little capsule.

The Gita goes further into the art of practical meditation, telling you that you are to be seated in a particular posture. Śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya sthiram āsanam ātmanaḥ, nātyucchritaṁ nātinīcaṁ cailājinakuśottaram (Gita 6.11), etc. These are all in the scriptures. It is not that you should go away somewhere for the purpose of meditation. You can be in your room if that is convenient. Otherwise, for atmospheres of this kind you can sit in a forest, under a tree where it is cool, not in the hot sun, etc. Wherever it is, as is convenient, well ventilated by a breeze and not suffocating, be seated calmly and read these verses of the Gita, and see to what extent you can raise yourself to a higher consciousness.

The philosophy of the Sankhya evolution that you have studied earlier will, to some extent, help you in transferring your lower consciousness to a higher one, which is the transcendent adhidaiva. You will find it difficult, no doubt. That is, you have to be something other than yourself in meditation. You cannot continue to be what you are, and then be successful in meditating. There is a little bit of otherness of yourself in a transcendent sense. If you are looking at some object, transfer your consciousness to that state which is neither you nor that object. This is also suggested in a single sutra of Patanjali where he says you become maha videha, or the larger self, by transferring your consciousness to another which is not yourself. The suggestion is that if you meditate on a tree, for instance, it is not enough if you consider the tree as something outside you and are looking at it with your sense organs. That is sensory perception. It cannot be regarded as meditation on the tree. Your consciousness has to get transferred to the very existence of that object; you have to think, as it were, as the tree thinks; and, much more than that, you have to think in terms of that which is between you and the tree, so that there is a simultaneous consciousness of what you are and what the object outside is. This is suggested in the doctrine of the evolution of the universe in terms of the adhidaiva connecting subject and object, and also in the sutra of Patanjali.

The Gita’s instruction in regard to meditation is that you may be seated on some asana which is neither on the ground, nor too high from the ground: nātyucchritaṁ nātinīcaṁ. Perhaps the reason is that on the ground itself some insects may crawl and trouble you. If it is too high, you may fall off the seat – so, neither too high nor too low. Something which is supposed to be a non-conductor of electricity is spread on the ground. In earlier days, we used to have a tiger skin or deerskin, but you can have grass – kusa grass, a grass mat. It is generally used for meditation. On that you have a soft cloth: cailājinakuśottaram. Caila is a cloth. Over that you sit.

That is, all the preparations should be such that they do not cause any kind of difficulty for you. They should not be painful or distressing in any way. Certain positions that you assume in asana, such as padmasana, etc., may be painful. You should not struggle to maintain it if you cannot sit in that pose for a long time. Whatever is convenient, that is the proper pose. Yathābhimata dhyānāt vā (Y.S. 1.39), as the Patanjali sutra tells us: As is convenient to you, so is the posture that you have. The only thing is, the position that you maintain in meditation, though comfortable of course, should not cause sleepiness or any kind of pain in the joints, etc.; then use any other convenient posture.

What will you contemplate? What will you think? How will the mind operate in this effort at meditation? Usually, in the strictly religious sense, it will commence with a prayer to God, a prayer to the universe, the Great Father, the Supreme Being – whatever be your concept of the Supreme Being or the Almighty. In your own language, in your own style, offer prayers to this great master of creation. “This universe must have been created by something; so large is this universe, incomparably vast is this creation. How vast the Creator should be! He is everywhere in this universe, and also above this universe. What glory, what power, what knowledge! Oh, such a Being is looking at me, because omniscient is the eye of God. That which is immanent in all things, that which is all-pervading, is also all-knowing. I am blessed because I am in the presence of this all-knowing, powerful Being.”

In the beginning, feel that energy is flowing through you from this Great Lord of the universe. When you sit in the Sun, the energy of the Sun enters into you. So is the impression that you have to create in your mind. “I am slowly drawing strength and energy and prana from the cosmos. The cosmic prana is entering into me. Through the nostrils it is entering, through every pore of the body it is entering. As a magnet pulls things that are near, this Great Being is attracting me and pulling me towards it. I am inundated by the power that is flowing into me from that Great Being. I am stronger today, healthier now, better in every way. I have no difficulty, because I am in the presence of this all-compassionate, all-powerful, all-knowing God.” This is one way in which you can offer your prayers in Sanskrit, English, Latin, or in any language. And then place yourself mentally, psychologically in the presence of this Great Being.

But you should not think that this is only a kind of concoction of your thought. It is not so. This is not an imagination; it is a factual and actual operation that is taking place. You are not as disconnected from the world as you imagine. You are also not as far away from God as you may think. There is no distance between you and God, no distance at all. The idea of distance arises because of the conception of space and time. They are illusions, finally. Remove this idea of externality. Your prayers to God will certainly reach Him if you believe that God is not even one inch distant from you. Thus, picture before yourself your concept of God in whatever way your religion, your understanding, prescribes it.

In the earlier stages, it is very hard to even carry on this concept of concentration. Have a concrete picture of God before you. There are people who keep a picture of Christ, Mohammed, Lord Krishna, Devi or Durga, Narayana, Vishnu, or Siva. There are people who meditate on the Cosmic Being as represented in these forms because there is no way to adjust the mind to a total abstraction in the beginning itself. Hence, there is a portrait of this Great Master. Here is the Great Being portrayed in a particular form as an incarnation at least, though not in that Absolute form. That incarnation is the pathway for you to enter into that which is above the incarnation.

You will find it difficult even to think it for a long time. Even a picture of Krishna, Siva, Devi – how long will you go on thinking it? The mind jumps here and there, thinking twenty things. So the suggestion is that you have a puja room, an altar of worship, and a portrait in front of you. Why not open your eyes, gaze at this majestic portrait which is painted in such a way that it will please you aesthetically, and give you great satisfaction? How beautiful it is, how majestic, how powerful, how complete, how satisfying! I am one with it, so I become fully satisfied. I become completely perfect. I become beautiful. I become everything, as that on which I am concentrating is everything. Go on looking at it, and at the same time keep these ideas of self-fulfilment in the mind. After gazing for a few minutes, close the eyes and feel the presence of this portrait, this form, in your mind only, without opening the eyes. If you feel tired of contemplating like this, open your eyes once again and look at the picture. If you feel pain in the legs because you have already sat for half an hour, straighten your legs or just walk about for a few minutes. Then take a deep breath, wash you face with cold water, and sit again. The pain will go.

So this process, this practice of meditating with open eyes on a portrait – a form that is concretely there as an image such as a statue, a sculptured piece, or a painted picture – and then contemplating the same thing with closed eyes, may continue. Let it continue like this for one, two or three months; then you will find that you no longer require any portrait. No picture is necessary. You can close your eyes and feel its presence anywhere you want. Wherever you sit, you can see that it is this form. Contemplate it. The power of your concentration will charge this form to such an extent that, after some years of practice, perhaps, you will feel the presence of this divinity everywhere, as if the whole world is filled with it. If you gaze at the sun for a long time and then look this way and that way, you will see the sun everywhere because of the power of the sun on your eyes; everywhere you will see the orb of the sun. In the same way, you will begin to see the form of this divinity everywhere on account of the concentration which you have been practicing for a long time on this particular form.

As I mentioned sometime back, you must be careful to note that this meditation is satisfying, and it should not be unsatisfying in any manner. The god whom you have chosen for your meditation is all-complete, and you do not want anything else in this world. “This god that I am meditating upon is all things, and everything will come to me from that god.” Faith is necessary. Do not doubt. If there is mere concentration through the will with lack of faith – with doubt that it may come or it may not come – then no, nothing will happen. Let this faith be there that it will certainly come.

The world is a single organic completeness and living whole, and therefore everything is touching you everywhere. God is touching you. You are on the lap of God, as it were. Faith is very important; without it, nothing will work. Mere intellectual study is no good because there are doubts, eventually. But if the faith says it will work, let the intellect say whatever it likes, but it will certainly work. There is nothing, no wonder that faith cannot work. It is a miracle worker. Such is faith.

With this kind of practice for a long time, you will see the divinity present everywhere. You will feel divine energy flowing into you from all sides, and an immense satisfaction that you cannot feel otherwise by the possession of anything in this world.

The Bhagavadgita gives a brief instruction on how you can conduct meditation; in a few verses, it says incomparable bliss will arise from your own self. Yasmin sthito na duḥkhena guruṇāpi vicālyate (Gita 6.22): In that condition established, rooted in that satisfaction, that joy, that arises from one’s own self by non-contamination with external things, even the heaviest sorrow of the world cannot shake a person. The heaviest sorrow of things will not touch you because of the incomparable joy that you feel from yourself on account of the release of the tensions of the self and the uncontaminated Self rising to the surface of its action and flooding you so that you become the whole Self, as if the whole body has become the Self.

Now the Self looks like it is something inside the body, inside the mind, inside the intellect, inside what you are, but it will be everything afterwards. There will be scintillating light everywhere. Everything will shine. Materiality will assume spirituality, objectivity will become subjectivity, and both the subject and the object will assume a sense of universality.

Great difficulty is there. Arjuna, hearing all this great instruction, said, “Lord, it is wonderful! Is it possible to achieve this state in this life? Life is short, time is fleeting; how long are we going to live in this world? Maybe for a few years. In these few years, will I be able to attain to this supreme state of bliss that you have been describing as the consequence of this meditation on the Self?” Suppose the person dies in the middle, before achieving anything palpable in meditation. What is the state of that person in the next birth?

No problem! Great consolation comes from the Master. Even a little good effort in this world in the right direction will pay its dividend. Even a minute of thought of God correctly, properly, with faith, from the bottom of your heart, will not be a waste. You should not say it is only one minute. Let it be only one minute; that minute will come to your aid one day or the other. There is no loss of effort in this practice of Yoga. Every little thing that you do is a virtue because even a half step that you take in the direction of the achievement of this great goal is a great credit for your life.

Therefore, do not be under the impression that in case the body drops in the middle of Yoga nothing will come, that everything is gone. No. This practice will be ushered forward by the very force and the impulse and the momentum of the practice that you have carried on in your previous life. Very early in age you will suddenly rise up into the memory of the need to practice Yoga. Are there not children who, at the very early age of four or five years, are religious and good-natured? From where does this idea of goodness and religiousness arise in small children? It is the samskara of their previous performances, some karmas of good deeds they did, etc.

Hence, a Yogi who is not in a position to achieve the highest goal and departs from this world in the middle of the practice will be reborn in such conditions where it will be possible to continue the practice from the point where he left it in the previous birth. So there is no loss of effort. You may be born as the progeny of some great master, a great Yogi’s son, or you may be born with such affluence, such facility and such comfort and freedom from difficulty that you will be able to carry on your practice there without any kind of hindrance from outside. Either you will be able to carry on the practice by yourself because you have automatically been placed under suitable conditions by the fact of your birth, or you will be the son or the daughter of a great master. That is a great blessedness, very difficult to achieve: labhate paurvadehikam, yatate ca tato bhūyaḥ (Gita 6.43). Do not expect to be a child of a great master so easily like that. You must be a most blessed soul to have such a birth in the next realm. But there is no loss.

So even if the body is dropped and death takes place in the middle of the practice, there is nothing to grieve. Be happy under any circumstance. All is well in this world which is created by God. “All is well. Everything is fine, and I shall attain the goal.” With this faith, carry on the practice. God bless you.