Chapter 29: The Disentanglement of the Personality
As we might have observed from an analysis of the mind and experience in general, the central aim of the practice of yoga is an ultimate disentanglement of the personality from the various types of psychological clutches in which it is involved. It will be realised later on that the practice is not so much the achievement of anything that is presently unattained, but rather a discovery of an essential nature and a realisation of a status quo which has always been there. The practice therefore is a concentration of consciousness towards its gradual freedom from complicated involvements in the various levels of manifestation. The entanglement of consciousness is the crux of the whole matter, and the returning of the consciousness to its own self, and its resting in itself, is the definition of the ultimate purpose of yoga.
This is to be attained by a very slow, methodical and graduated process. Concentration does not mean a sudden withdrawal of consciousness from something. A sudden step here will not be of much advantage to us. Many of us may know of the fort of satyayuga, which is a very complicated stronghold described in the Mahabharata war. This fort is very intricate, involved and difficult to enter, such that a hero could venture to penetrate it only at the risk of his own life. This analogy of the fort corresponds to the task of freeing the consciousness from its delusions and entanglements.
The consciousness has been entwined in a whirlwind of motion so that we cannot extricate it from these apparent paths without the tremendous caution exercised in skilled practice. It is difficult at the outset to understand the many layers of being through which the consciousness projects itself until it finally reaches the earth level or the physical state of experience. We have been told that there are five layers of this kind. These layers are the encasements of the soul, or in Sanskrit they are called the koshas, which means literally a kind of sheath—like a scabbard of a sword. But while a sword can be pulled straight out of a scabbard, consciousness is not so easily freed from these encasements. It is not a simple affair to draw consciousness out like one would draw a sword from the scabbard, as consciousness has been organically involved in the encasements. To give a very crude example, it would be as difficult to extricate the consciousness from these clutches, as it would be to remove our own skins from our bodies. Theoretically speaking the skin could be peeled off, but yet we know for obvious reasons how impractical it would be. The thing that we have to remove and that from which we wish to extricate ourselves has become so much a part of our own personality and being. When we try to free ourselves, it may appear like a veritable death for our personality. It is for this reason that yoga practice appears so difficult.
In terms of the metaphorical language that is often used, it is a dying to one’s own self for the sake of being reborn into one’s true Self. Many other such analogies are given to make out what is supposed to take place in the disentanglement of consciousness from the meshes of empirical experience. The practice of yoga has to do all this, and the effort commences with the art of concentration, which we began to study earlier. The practice of the concentration of the mind, which leads to meditation or dhyana, is therefore not a mechanical action of the will whereby we merely fix our attention on some chosen object. It is a more difficult technique of a vital and organic nature where we deal with ourselves rather than with an object of concentration located externally. To touch the object of concentration in yoga would veritably mean a kind of profound engagement with one’s own experience. We are not so much concerned here with objects that stand mechanically unrelated to us in the world, but those things which are organically related to us. I have mentioned the example of a triangle, and how the thinker, the process of thinking, and the object thought are related to one another like the three points of a triangle. The example is given to point out the relationship that exists between the thinker and the thought, the meditator and the meditated upon, and so on.
The object of our perception is not an extraneous something and is not so estranged from our personality as we imagine it to be. The difficulty is that usually our perceptions are wrong and do not touch on the vital nature of truth. The object of perception is vitally connected with us in the sense that it is a living part of our being. This is the reason why we cannot so easily get rid of it. It is related to us in a very mysterious manner—so mysterious that it cannot be explicit to the common perception of the senses. While the object appears to be something outwardly, it is something else inwardly. This is the case with every type of relationship in the world—more so in the case of emotional relationships. Finally we will realise that when we fathom the depths of this relationship between the thinker and the object thought, the relationship between the two becomes more and more intimate.
While at the surface it appears to be an isolated object standing external to the thinker, in the deeper stages of concentration, the relationship between the two seems to narrow slowly until it reaches a point of union, wherein the two become indistinguishable. It is towards this end that we slowly move through the path of concentration or meditation. The two points located on either side of the base of the triangle later on converge at one point at the apex of the triangle. Likewise, the apparent distance between the thinker and the object thought in ordinary perception and cognition gets narrowed down gradually in concentration. It looks as if the object were coming nearer to us and we were going nearer to it.
Qualitative and Quantitative Relationships with Objects
It is not merely a proximity of the one with the other that gets realised in the art of concentration. Something of more consequence takes place. Apart from the proximity of the object with the subject, the inward relationship of the two is realised. These are the two factors to be considered—the distance and the nature of the relation. The one may be regarded as the quantitative appraisal and the other as the qualitative one. Quantitatively speaking the relationship becomes one of lesser and lesser distance. Qualitatively speaking it becomes one of more and more living relation between the subject and the object. The object becomes more and more friendly with us, more sympathetic towards us, and more related to us—inwardly rather than externally. A time will come—and has to come—when the object will be in the end indistinguishable from the process of our thinking and our own selves. I began by saying that the consciousness is entangled in certain forms of experience, which is the subject of study and analysis in the stages of dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). It is difficult for a novice to know what sort of entanglement is meant by ‘consciousness getting entangled in experience’.
Let me give a few instances to make it clear. One of the ways in which our consciousness seems to be caught up is the necessity to think only in terms of the mental process. Due to this erroneous manner of thinking, the processes in turn get involved in certain other misleading conditions of experience. We are so much accustomed to these illusions that we take them for facts which are not to be questioned. When we get habituated to a thing, we don’t think anything about it, just as we don’t think about the sun rising and setting. We don’t bother about the matter, though we may vaguely be aware of the importance of the sunrise and sunset. If the sun were not to rise for a few days, we would realise its importance! We know that we have two eyes, but we never think of the eyes, so much identical are they with us. We don’t feel the need to think that we have got two eyes, but we will have to think of them when we have a pain in the eye.
Similar is the case with the entanglement of consciousness. Normally speaking we cannot realise what our difficulty is, because of our habituation to the bondage we are in. We have been born into a state of bondage, and we die with the bondage. A slave born with the consciousness of slavery takes it to be the natural state of living, and he cannot imagine that there is another state which is freedom. He lives as a slave, and he dies as a slave. Our bondage to the sensory apparatus and the conditions of empirical experience is such that we mistake it for freedom, and we go about thinking that we are fully free people. We have many slogans affirming our freedom in the world—not realising at all that we are in fact slaves bound very hard by the chains of certain factors of empirical experience.
One of these forms of bondage is consciousness having to express itself only through the mental process alone and there being no other apparent way of expression. When we are ‘aware’, we are only aware through the mind, and there seems to be no other way of being aware, so that our consciousness has become veritably a kind of process. Our being is only a becoming. Life has become mortal, and we are living a perpetual series of deaths rather than living in any ultimate sense of the word. There is only death and nothing but that in this world. This is the reason why Buddha began to teach the philosophy of momentariness, perpetual change and destruction. So very intense is this entanglement in the process of change that even the personality and the self of the being were denied by the Buddha. We cannot see this self except as a system of relations and processes. This conclusion has been arrived at because of the intensity of the involvement of consciousness in process.
There is a twofold process in which our mind is involved. The one is the identification of being with becoming, and consciousness with thinking. For example, our awareness that we exist—which need not be identified with a process of any kind—has unfortunately taken the form of a process. When we say, “I am”, we mean, “I think”. There was one great philosopher named Descartes who concluded, “I think, therefore I am.” We somehow or the other deduce one thing from the other, and perhaps we cannot distinguish one thing from the other. Our being has been expressed only in our thinking, and if we cannot think, we seem not to exist, so that in deep sleep we seem to be non-existent. ‘To think is to be’ has been our attitude in life. But unfortunately for us, this is not a fact. ‘To think’ need not ‘to be’, and being is not thinking. This is one of the involvements of consciousness or being. The nature of being is not the nature of thinking—mind is not consciousness. Hence, to not be able to distinguish between consciousness and mind is one of our difficulties. This is one entanglement that I mentioned, with the other one being the mind’s entanglement in the external processes of perception. The primary entanglement is the one between consciousness and thought, and the secondary entanglement is the engagement of thought in certain contingencies of experience—space and time being the primary obstacles.
Superimpositions of Ignorance
We cannot think except in terms of space and time. Our thought is localised and restricted due to the operations of space and time. We think in space and think in time—there is no other way of thinking. This is a bondage. Should we call it freedom that we are tethered to certain processes, and we cannot be free from them? We are in the double bondage of being identified with the process of thought, and the process of thought having been identified with the limitations of space and time. This is the condition into which our true state has apparently degenerated itself. We see ourselves only as mortal empirical beings trapped in this world of death and destruction. What else could it be? The world of space, time and causality is the world in which the mind moves and acts. The purpose of concentration and meditation is to free the essence of experience from these extraneous factors in which it seems to be involved. These are all very difficult things to understand unless we carefully contemplate them with great attention.
These are difficult because it involves new ways of thinking—ways to which we are not usually accustomed. We have been told to think in a certain way our whole lives, and now we have to rethink the whole matter. We have to remake our lives and think in a different way altogether. To think in terms of yoga is to think in an absolutely different manner altogether, and we are not to think like an ordinary man of the world. This entanglement is of great consequence, because as long as we take for granted that we are connected with these limiting agents of space, time and causal relation and the process of thought—so long shall we be mortals, and so long we will not escape the circle of birth and death.
What is birth and death? What is the process of transmigration? What is change? Our consciousness seems to be compelled to move in the processes of the world. When an object changes, the consciousness associated with it also seems to change, though the actual fact is otherwise. The body is a process concretely experienced by the mind on account of intense identification, and the consciousness identifies with the bodily changes, and vice versa. In Sanskrit we call this ‘adhyasa’, or superimposition. There is such a kind of superimposition between the subject and the object—the processes of the object getting identified with the being of the subject. When there is such a drastic change of the object so that it is impossible anymore for the consciousness to cope with the change, that is what we call the death of the body. The mind then casts off its relationship with the external vestures, and this is what we call death, mortality or the destruction of the body. The cause behind this experience does not cease, and that is why there is rebirth. Rebirth is nothing but the mind’s relationship with a new system of experience and its drawing towards itself certain conditions which are necessary for the fulfilment of its unfulfilled desires. Mind is the cause of birth and death, and it is the mind that is reborn and that then once again dies. All these experiences are ultimately mental.
This is what I have mentioned by way of digression. The essence of the matter is that consciousness is entangled in a process of experience in a dualistic manner—first in its relation to the mental process and then with its relation to the external world. Both these are the causes of the bondage of the self. In the art of concentration we try to disentangle ourselves from the clutches of the experiences empirically created in this manner. Concentration is a very graduated process and not a sudden action of the will. It takes a long time, and when we sit with closed eyes for the purpose of concentration, for a while we will find that there are no results. This is because we will be thinking in terms of space and time and in terms of the mental process. Whatever be our thought, even if it is a thought of God, it will be involved in this limitation introduced by the spatio-temporal process and the process of the mind. We cannot think God—there is no such thing as that, because to think God would be to reduce Him to an object of experience. We bring God down to the level of a process when we think Him. There is therefore no such thing as thinking reality or understanding it through the mental process. There is no such thing as a psychological relationship with reality.
But there is a negative influence exerted by the art of concentration on the ultimate realisation, which is the goal of yoga. All sadhana is negative in the sense that it is the way of disentanglement, disillusionment, de-hypnotisation, untying the knots and so on. We are not going to create something new here. That’s why I said that sadhana is negative. We are only to cast off the illusions, tear the veils, and clear the cobwebs. It is all negative action. What is there is already there in its essential, pristine purity. The essential consciousness that we are—which is the same as true Being—is vitally related to the objects of experience. Through an analysis of perception we came to know that there is consciousness immanent not only in the subject but also in the object. What we have to achieve through concentration and meditation is to melt in the crucible of concentration the network of relationships that are artificially created in perception and cognition. We must melt them in such a way that we will see things as they are in themselves. It is only by logic and inference that we have come to the conclusion that our consciousness is inherently and immanently connected with the object. In our perception we cannot perceive it, because we see the object standing apart from us. This is on account of the operation of space, time and the causal relation. The spatio-temporal relations create an artificial distinction between us and the object.
How can we cast out this limitation of space and time? We cannot do that easily, nor can we stand apart from the process of thinking. We have been guided by them for so many years—through so many incarnations—and now that we are told that we have to stand apart from them, we do not understand how it could be done. But it has to be done one day or the other, and with continued practice we begin to feel that it is a necessity. This transformation can be done by a gradual introduction of non-objectivity in our consciousness. While all our normal experiences are objective, yoga is a tendency to non-objectivity in experience.
Dharana is thus a creating of a tendency in consciousness towards non-objectivity. All objectivity is bondage, and all tendency to non-objectivity is a step taken towards freedom of the soul. The more external we are, the more entangled we are with objects. The more objective our experience is, the more our suffering in the world is. Consciousness has become so objectified that it has lost itself in the physical objects. We exist therefore almost totally in a physical world, which is the bhuh loka or earth plane, as we call it. Such is the descent of consciousness that it has lost itself, and we cannot see consciousness apart from the objects. We are the objects, as it were. We hug them so affectionately. Our notion is that the body is ‘I’ and the object related to me is also ‘I’. This only points out the intensity of our entanglement. We can realise how difficult yoga would be from the extent of our entanglement in objectivity.
The art of concentration is a retracing of the steps of consciousness from externality to internality. There are three stages: 1) the withdrawal from the external to the internal, 2) the rising from the internal to the universal, and 3) the identification of the subject with the Absolute. In the Absolute this triad of experience in the form of thinker, thinking and thought are brought together. It is towards this end that we are now slowly moving in dharana. We are now walking on very slippery ground, and so we have to look into these things with great caution and attention. If we miss a single point, we may falter. It is very difficult to think along these lines, but once we have learned the art of thinking in this way we will be thinking only in this way throughout our lives! Even while we walk, while we have our lunch, and while we take our bath we will be thinking in these terms. When this thinking becomes a habit of our minds, we become a perpetual yoga student—and not only in the meditation room. We will always be a student of yoga, and we will always be in a state of yoga. In our normal existence, we need not exert to think that there is a building or a tree standing in front of us. Do we exert, do we concentrate, or do we close our eyes? Do we put forth any kind of effort to know that we see a tree in front of us? It has become a natural part of our thinking. Just as natural as this should be our yogic way of thinking, if we are to be established in yoga. We should be incapable of thinking in any other way. When we open our eyes we think in these terms only.
When we succeed in concentrating the mind in this way of thinking for a protracted period, then we can say we are established in dharana. It may take many years—it does not matter. We will realise that the extent of time that is needed in the achievement of this way of thinking depends upon our intensity and the nature of our understanding of the process. If we erroneously practise concentration, it may take a long time, and even many years will not bring us any result. What is important is not merely the length of time in concentration, but the extent of our understanding of the technique. Do we understand the technique properly? Do we know what we are doing? If we are confident about it, then we will succeed—there is no doubt about it. But the confidence has to come, and the conviction has to be there. We have to proceed boldly in the path of yoga.
The Practical Processes of Concentration
We have now come to the practical processes of concentration, about which I have given this elaborate introduction, so that we may know what our goal is. I would request again that these things be carefully attended to, because this attention is what is going to help us in our daily yogic life. The first thing that we have to do in concentration is to learn to observe in a detached manner. When we observe a thing, we should observe it in a detached way—not as if it were ours or as if it were related to us in some way. We know an object that is in front of us has a status of its own, in the sense that it need not necessarily be related to us. It can exist even without relationship with us, and it is independent and has a status of its own. Just as we say every citizen of a nation is an independent unit, and every citizen has the same rights, likewise in this citizenship of the cosmos, we may say that in one sense at least every aspect of this creation has a status of its own. Can we observe an object from this angle of vision? Can we look at this something in front of us in a detached way—not assessing a value to it, not saying something about it, not commenting upon it?
It is difficult to observe in a detached manner. Though it may look simple, it is very difficult to practise. We have never known what detached observation is, because we are always accustomed to have an opinion about an object. “Oh, it is like this; it is like that.” But can we think an object without making any comment on it, even psychologically? There should be no psychological commentary on the object of our perception. This would be detached observation of the object, which is the first thing that we have to learn in concentration of mind. To be able to evaluate the object from its own standpoint is detached observation. To think of it only in terms of what it means to us would be a relative observation. While an object may mean something positive or negative to us, it is something by itself free of any such opinion. This is the first step in concentration, whatever be our object chosen for concentration. We may choose the flame of a candle, we may choose a pencil in front of us, we may choose a dot on a wall, or we may choose a painted picture—it makes no difference. Can we look at it in a detached manner? Again, this is the first thing to be done: to encounter an object without referring it to us in any manner whatsoever. Let there be no such personal reference to us—it is as it is. To think an object from its own standpoint is detached observation of the object.
The second step in concentration is to think the object alone, and not to think of any other object. When we are engaged in concentration on a microphone in front of us, for example, we should not be aware of something beside it. The tape recorder is by the side of the microphone, but we need not think of it. Therefore, the first thing is to think the object as it is, independent of any relationship with us, and the second thing is to think it alone to the exclusion of anything else. We will find all these to be very hard jobs when we actually try to do them! We will not succeed. The mind will jump here and there. The mind does not know how to think without relations. This is the difficulty in concentration. To think in a concentrated manner is to think unrelatedly of the objects, but as we do not know what ‘unrelated’ means, we will not easily succeed in concentration of mind. It will take a lot of time, and it involves a herculean task. Anyhow, the practice should begin with these techniques of detachment in observation and exclusiveness of concentration. This is the second aspect of concentration that we have to remember.
The third aspect is that the object chosen for concentration should be such that it should be able to engage our whole being. It should not be a silly trifle that we would not be eager to contemplate. We cannot keep a broken glass in front of us and start concentrating on it. Our mind will say, “What a useless thing you have kept in front of me!” It should be capable of engaging our attention. We must have a longing for it, and our hearts should go to it. We must see a meaning in the object of meditation, and it must have a significance for us. This is the third item that we have to remember in concentration—detachment first, exclusiveness second and meaningfulness the third. When I speak of this meaningfulness of the object of concentration, I am reminded of what is called the ‘ishtadevata’. In yogic parlance we might have heard of this term ‘ishtadevata’ repeated many a time by sadhakas. ‘Ishta’ means something beloved, something longed for, something which we cherish. Something to our liking is our ‘ishta’. ‘Devata’ means a deity. We may be wondering why we call it a ‘deity’. It becomes a deity to us when our whole heart is in it. When the parents have only one child, that child becomes like a deity for them, and they go on thinking of that child alone.
What then is a deity exactly? The deity is not necessarily something in the heavens. That which engages our minds wholly throughout the day and night, which we love exclusively and which we are thinking constantly is our deity. To the miser, money is a deity. We may be wondering why we call money a deity. But that is in a sense what he worships. He cannot think anything else, and the whole heart is there. Therefore, anything in which the whole of our being is engaged may be tentatively called our ‘devata’. Though ‘ishtadevata’ usually means the chosen concept of God in its original status, for psychological purposes we may take it to mean any kind of object exclusively chosen for concentration. The ishtadevata is of great importance, and I would like to say something about it, though many perhaps already know what it means. We have to choose an ideal—this is exactly what we mean when we say to choose an ishtadevata. We must know what to concentrate on. Can we discover for ourselves what we like? We shouldn’t say, “I don’t like anything”, or, “I like all things”. This is not a fact and is a glib way of speaking. It is not true that we like all things, nor is it true that we don’t like anything. Both are not true, as we know that we do like certain things.
Honesty of Approach
Here comes the necessity for a little bit of honesty in our psychological analysis. We must be very honest with ourselves. We should contemplate honestly in the silence of our own meditation room and go deeply into the fact of what it is that we like. It is a fact that each and every person is emotionally tethered to something or the other. This is something which we cannot escape, and we will know it especially when we go deeper into ourselves. There is something after which we will run the moment we see it in front of us. It is difficult for us to find out what actually it is. We could choose a concept or a form which is at least harmless, though it may not have much positive value. We see that in all these matters a guru is necessary. When we cannot understand ourselves, a guru will be able to know where our mind stands, and he will help find the path for us. Of course, we will have to open our hearts to him. Here comes the necessity for initiation also, and there is no yoga worth the name without initiation. We cannot just read a few books and then say, “I’m a yogin”. Especially when we come to the crux of the matter in dharana and dhyana, initiation has its own important role to play. One could say there is no meditation and no japa without initiation. We must always know that there is someone superior to us, and a superior one may be taken as our guru. The necessity for a guru comes because of the guru’s having had a larger experience in this path. He knows the pitfalls and the difficulties on the way, and he has been also initiated by some other guru, and he knows the technicalities involved in concentration. Hence, initiation is very essential.
There are many factors involved in initiation. It is not merely the wisdom of the guru that is of importance here. The power of the guru also has some effect upon us. The way in which the strength of the guru impinges upon us and works in us is called the ‘shakti pata’. The descent of the power of the guru is the shakti pata, and this is done by different types of gurus through various means, according to their own strength and experience. We cannot meditate merely by listening to a discourse. It is impossible, because our predilections vary and our temperaments are of different types. Though the general instructions for concentration and meditation may be similar for most people, the subtleties involved are different in each case. Therefore, initiation has its own importance, and initiation in the art of meditation is essential.
The ishta devata is our object of concentration. While we try to understand what this ishta or object of concentration should be, we have to recall to our memories the purpose of the art of concentration. Why should we concentrate at all? This is the philosophical foundation of yoga and its psychological analysis. That’s why we have taken so much time to understand what it means, and this understanding is a precursor to this practice. The purpose of concentration will be our guide in the practice of concentration. Again, why do we concentrate? We do it to go nearer and nearer to the universality of reality. ‘Nearer and nearer’ means to not suddenly try to jump—which would itself be impossible—but to proceed with caution and care.
We do not know how many stages there are. It may be not only the eight stages mentioned by Patanjali. There are many more stages of ascent, subtle distinctions, minor differences and marked stages of the practice of yoga. We have to pass through every stage, keeping our steps firm. Every step taken is a step towards the universality of being. Every step taken is a step from the external to the internal. Every step taken is a step from the gross to the subtle. Every step taken is a step from the material to the subtle. This is the whole of yoga, to put it in a few sentences. When we come to the practice, we will come to know yoga is actually a very simple affair—it is not very difficult. A lot of explanation may be needed to make us understand what it means, but once we understand it, it will be very simple. Concentration is a very easy and a joyous process. It is not a hard job that is thrust upon us by someone else. It is something we take upon ourselves voluntarily because of the joy it involves, because of the freedom it gives us and because of its necessity in our practical lives. In yoga we move towards God—we move towards the Absolute. It is difficult to understand what ‘to move towards the Absolute’ really means. How can we move towards something which is everywhere? What do we mean by moving? We can move to something which is somewhere, but this is something which is everywhere. How can we move towards it? It is not a physical moving through space and time—it is a movement of the mind, as it were.
What do we mean by moving from the dream state to the waking state? In one sense we may call it a movement; we have to move from the particularities of dreaming to the universality of the waking experience. What does it mean to move from the externalities of dream to the universality of waking? Whatever it may mean, it is exactly what is meant by the movement from the external to the Absolute. It is an internal process of the mind, not a physical motion in space. No movement of this kind is implied. In fact, we may remain seated in one place for an extended time, and this is exactly what we have to do later on in isolation and in seclusion. There is again no physical motion, but there is a tremendous psychological motion—if we call it a motion at all—taking place. A universal evolutionary process is going on in yoga, and yoga is the compression of the whole process of evolution into a shorter period of time. Ordinarily one would take aeons to pass through the evolutionary process, but the process can be compressed into a few lives or a few years in some cases. Yoga is deliberately accelerated evolution. When evolution is a mechanical process unenhanced by yogic practice, it becomes birth and death. We participate in yoga as an art in the adjustment of ourselves with creation as a whole. Creation moves to the rhythm of our thoughts in the practice of yoga.
The choosing of the ideal for the purpose of concentration of mind is therefore to be such that it is conducive to our movement from the external to the universal. We may choose our own object, but if this is absolutely impossible, we should go to our master. He will guide us as to how to do it. We have now come to the stage of dharana or concentration, which is itself meditation or dhyana in an evolved form. The bud becomes an opened flower, and likewise concentration becomes meditation. Many people think that concentration and meditation are related to each other as a part is related to the whole. While this may be somewhat true, it is not the whole truth. It is not true that many separate concentrations make meditation, though this is usually the definition of meditation given in certain texts. To some extent it is true that many concentrations make meditation, just as we may say that the many processes of growth involved in earlier stages of life constitute our present stage of life. But this is only scientifically speaking, and is not the whole truth, because we are not merely a total of parts. We have something organic and alive about us, and so also is the case with meditation. Meditation is not merely a total of many efforts to concentrate, but rather a growth of the process of concentration into something transcending concentration. In meditation we are in an altogether higher transcendent process.