by Swami Krishnananda
The first two stages of meditation are subdivided into four aspects in the system of Patanjali’s yoga. The two have become four by a division of each into the determinate and the indeterminate forms of meditation, or in other words, the gross and the subtle ways of thinking an object. The ground that we have already covered actually includes both the determinate as well as the indeterminate ways of thinking a gross object. When an object is meditated upon, it ceases to be an ordinary object of perception. Our thinking becomes more scientific and dispassionate when the object before us becomes an object of meditation rather than merely a perception. There is a difference between perception and conception on the one hand, and meditation on the other. In the state of meditation, the mind is wholly present in the object—not partially present as in ordinary perception. In this whole-souled meditation on the object, all the external relationships with which the object seems to be connected are removed by an effort of the mind. The attempt is made to think in terms of the object independently, rather than in terms of definitions, characteristics, etc. These definitions always bear reference to other things different from the object itself. While in the earliest stage of meditation the mind becomes conscious of a necessity to divest the object from all its associations, in the second stage it actually does this dissociation.
Even the first step in meditation is higher than ordinary perception. It is different, because in ordinary perception we are not even aware that we are in confused state of mind. We are just confused, and we have no consciousness of our being entangled in the mental and relational processes. Meditation has already started when we become conscious that there is an entanglement, and we begin to behold the object with a more intensified sensitiveness and with a feeling to free the object from associations of any kind. The very first step in yoga is not actually achievement of freedom, but the feeling of an intense necessity for its achievement. The feeling of the necessity itself is the first step, while the achievement comes later on. Most people do not even feel the need. This is the difference between ordinary people and those who are treading the path of yoga. In one of the famous verses of the Srimad Bhagavadgita, we are told that even a desire for perfection in yoga is more than all the learning a person can have in the world. All learning is nothing compared to a longing to tread the right path. To actually tread it is of course much more important. In the first step there is a tendency of consciousness to dissociate the object from its relations. There is only a tendency, but an actual achievement has not yet taken place. In the second stage, the object is dissociated. The third stage is a little more difficult, because we are not accustomed to think like this. All this looks new and strange to us, but if we carefully consider this question, we will realise that it is the only proper way of thinking, and that our usual way of thinking is not the right one.
Sometimes when we are introduced to certain new things, we are taken by surprise, but that new way of thinking may be the most normal thing. This yogic way of thinking is in fact the normal thing, and our present way of thinking is abnormal. The third stage of meditation is to consider the very same object of meditation, not in terms of its name and form, but in terms of its constituents. What is the object made of? The stuff constituting the object is our concern here rather than the formation of the object. The concern is with the essence of the object, says Patanjali. What are the essences of the object? What is an object made of? A physical substance in front of us is constituted of certain essential ingredients, and we are now to concentrate upon these ingredients rather than the outer composite structure. For example, our own bodies are not as they appear to be. We all know that they are constituted of certain minute elements. It is known nowadays that the human body is constituted of cell organisms which can be differentiated from one another. This body is not a compact, single unit, and this is the case with everything in the world. The physical form of an object is not its truth; the constituents appear to have taken a form on account of their location in space and time. We are now more concerned with the constitution rather than the outer form. Again, the constitution is a series of many layers. There are layers within layers constituting the formation of an object.
We have layers of reality within us. Within the physical there is the vital, and then there is the sensory, the mental, the intellectual and the causal in our own bodily system. So also is the case with everything in this world, even if it is inorganic stuff. Today we knew well that physical objects ultimately are resolved into their atomic constituents. The pencil is no more a pencil to the scientist’s eye—it is a composite structure of fast-moving atoms in a particular pattern. The pattern is the shape of the object, and the velocity of the subatomic particles make up the pencil—otherwise it could become something else. The number and the velocity of the constituents are said to make an object what it is. Some such analysis seems to have been made by ancient seers in yoga. They went deep into the root of the substance, and they discovered a power behind things. Things are made of forces—this was the discovery of the great seers. It may be a scientist of our modern times or the intuitional seers of ancient times, but they seem to have come to a common conclusion as to the inner stuff of objects. Things are forces rather than localised substances, and no force can be located in one particular part of space. A force always tends to merge into something else, and every centre of force has a tendency to commingle with other centres of force. The localities of objects slowly break their boundaries and commingle or even merge with other centres of force. The great philosopher Leibnitz was a philosopher of force, for instance. Centres of objects are centres of force—this was his discovery, which is again the discovery of our modern times. The force that constitutes the objects is the essence of the objects.
In India we had theories like those of the Nyaya and the Vaisheshika philosophers. Like Democritus and Thornton in the West, we had Nyaya and the Vaisheshika in the East, which concluded that atoms constitute the object. The yoga philosophy of Patanjali, which is mainly based on Samkhya, does not fully believe in the atomic philosophy of Nyaya, as Patanjali has his own philosophy. But for the time being we can say that Patanjali’s philosophy has passed through these stages of discovery. The constituents of the objects are not merely atoms as we conceive them. For us, atoms are perhaps akin to minor sand particles. That is how a crude, uninitiated mind would imagine atoms to be. But they are not—they are in fact forces. Atoms are not minute particles like sand—they are rather forces.
The very thought of a force gives us an idea of how it is different from a solid object. Force is not solidity—it gives more an idea of liquidity rather than of solidity. It is difficult to conceive, but we will never think electricity to be a solid matter, because it is something flowing—maybe different from liquids—but nonetheless it cannot be conceived as a solid matter. Inasmuch as it flows, it is not solid. Like electricity then, we should not conceive of an object as a solid body. Forces flow, which means to say that they can outstrip the boundaries of space, which generally locates bodies in particular spots. In our third stage of meditation, we do not confine our attention merely to the formation of an object as a located body in space, but we go into the force aspect of it.
“Tanmatra” is the word used in Indian psychology for this force that is behind the physical form of an object. Tanmatra means “the essence of that,” literally speaking. The essence of an object is the tanmatra of an object. To better facilitate our understanding, I substituted this term by the term “force.” It is however not an ordinary force with which we are familiar in the world. It is supposed to be a manifestation of a cosmic force. The cosmic force is at the background of all individual centres of force as objects. Now we can see where we are going. The particular objects are slowly tending towards the universal—this is the object of yoga meditation, and this is very important for us to remember. We are slowly tending towards the universal in our meditation. By breaking the boundaries of physical locations, we are tending towards the force aspect of matter.
The isolated objects which apparently stood different from one another in the initial state now seem to be tending towards a matrix of connectivity, when they are looked upon as forces rather than separate units. We seem all to be more related among ourselves than we appear to be on the surface. To look upon ourselves as persons sitting in a hall with no connection between one another is to be only in the very initial stages of meditation. A higher state of meditation would be to regard each person sitting here as a force which extends to other centres, and which can merge into other centres.
Like billows in the ocean, every centre of force tries to mix with other centres. The individual centres have not united themselves, but there is the tendency of movement in that direction. This tendency becomes the object of meditation in the third stage of the attention of the mind. What do we find here then in this state of meditation? We don’t find physical objects as we had earlier, but rather centres which long for a union with others, though they have not yet attained this union. These centres cannot anymore rest in themselves; they flow like fluid or like mercury that is trying to change its location. A universal affection seems to possess the centres. Each centre begins to love other centres as part of its own organisation. Each centre begins to recognise every other centre as a member of a single family. This is the difference between the initial stage and the succeeding stage. While we stood isolated in the beginning, now we tend to regard ourselves as a “fraternity” in the higher stage, because we recognise something common among ourselves. Where there is nothing common between us, there cannot be friendship. When there is something common between us, we start smiling at each other and would like to sit beside each other and talk to each other! We help each other when we are on the same ground of reality. We become intimate and inseparable friends when the thinking of the two becomes almost identical. There is almost an identity of character among the centres of concentration when the third stage of meditation is reached.
The essence or the force of the object is our concern. Yet, it is looked upon as a centre, which means to say we are thinking still in terms of space and time. The moment we regard something as a centre, the idea of space and time is very much present—otherwise we would not call it a centre. Even the idea of force cannot enter our minds if space and time are not implied in our thought. We have to go still further, to the fourth stage of meditation, where we contemplate the centre of force as free from the associations of space and time. Now we are in a very difficult mental situation. Nobody has thought like this, and nobody would easily be able to think like this. We have never known how to think a thing without associations with space and time. Patanjali does not actually prescribe a meditation of this kind. He thinks that these stages continuously follow when we have outgrown the earlier stages. It is difficult to initiate a person into the higher stages unless one has already passed through the experiences of the earlier stages. How could we be initiated into the non-spatial way of thinking? Such initiation is impossible and unknown. We have to be initiated into the lower stages, and then experience will unfold the possibility of there being something non-spatial. We ourselves will know how things truly are, and nobody need tell us that.
From the particular we have come to more and more generalised concepts, from the external we are coming more and more to the internal values and realities, and from more and more isolated aspects of thought we are coming to more and more intimate relationships. When we have reached the fourth stage of meditation, where we can conceive of this centre of force as independent of the association of space and time, we have reached almost a level of perfection in yoga. As a matter of fact there is no use worrying about higher stages. This is quite advanced, and this stage of concentration and meditation, if it is to be perfected to an appreciable extent, will make us an adamantine personality. Many consequences follow after this meditation. Patanjali himself mentions these things, but there is no use merely reading what he says, as we have to experience it for ourselves. A very protracted period of time is required to reach these stages. Most people will find it hard even to peep over the second stage, because the difficulty lies in dissociating an object from its relations. That is, we have to think as a different person altogether. This is the difficulty, because we cannot start thinking as a yogin without extreme effort. We are no longer an ordinary human being when we start thinking like this, and so we have to remake ourselves first before we start remaking the object of meditation.
In the achievement of success along these lines, isolation of oneself in the form of seclusion is recommended. We cannot be in the usual humdrum activities of life and then practise meditation like this. If we are in the old atmosphere, we will be again and again driven to think only along the old lines. The same people meet us, the same work is done, and therefore we would naturally continue to think along the same old lines. No meditation is possible in the thick of the usual activities of the world. We cannot enter the world again unless we are well established in this new way of thinking. After we are well-guided, we may possibly once again start our normal work, as there would be less possibility of harm. We must be well-protected against the onslaughts of our old ways of thinking. So it is that in the beginning stages people live in isolation. It is not that we necessarily have to live like this until death, but in the beginning stages—or for some years at least—we have to live in this way until we are confident about ourselves. We cannot prescribe a specific number of years for the seclusion, because it all depends upon our own strength of will and understanding. Some people may take a few years; some others may take many years. In whichever case it may be, the solitude is an essential in every case of practice. At least for two or three hours of the day we have to practise thinking along these lines: first of dissociating object from relations, then dissociating the physical object from external relations, next the thinking as the object itself would think, next contemplating the inner essence of the constitution of the object as it is located in space and time, and then contemplating it as it is, but free of space and time.
Here we are faced with a tremendous difficulty, because at least one philosopher has said that there is no such thing as thinking without space and time. He is right—there is no such thing as thinking without space and time, because to think without space and time is a contradiction in terms. Either we think or we do not think, but there is no such thing as thinking without space and time. When we start thinking without space and time we do not anymore “think.” We rather simply “are” something else altogether. In this case, thinking enters into a higher state of being—a different kind of being altogether which encompasses a different degree of reality. When the category of reality itself is transcended, the particular tends towards the universal in its internal depths. The consequences that follow in yoga meditation are an automatic sense of freedom from the control that others seem to exert upon us. Objects exert a control over us, people exert a great influence upon us, and we cannot move very freely in this world everywhere because of restrictions from people and things. There are restrictions even from nature, and we cannot just take liberties with nature. These restrictions get loosened a little bit as the limitations get ameliorated through the various stages of yoga.
We will be able to bear hunger and thirst with a greater confidence. As a matter of fact, the intense pangs of hunger are lessened, or at least there would be less of an agonising sensation. We will be able to bear it for some time. This is one of the things which Patanjali says will follow from the higher stages of practice. Hunger and thirst will be capable of being tolerated for a longer period of time than is the case with ordinary people. We will be able to be refreshed with slightly fewer hours of sleep. It is not actually necessary that we sleep for eight hours. With deeper meditation the mind gets more concentrated, and so it is capable of drawing enough energy and freshness from fewer hours of sleep. Not only this, natural forces—including human elements—begin to show a tendency towards fraternity. This tendency takes various shapes, but cessation of any kind of obstacles on our way and a positive contribution in helping us to advance on our way are two examples. Some of the yoga scriptures tell us gods themselves start helping us. The gods of the heavens and the angels will start looking upon us with a friendly eye. Perhaps God Himself will start smiling! If God starts smiling, the whole world will start smiling at once. God’s sympathy towards us is instantaneously and automatically a sympathy of the whole creation.
Patanjali goes to the extent of saying that we get filled with truth when we reach the fourth stage of meditation. We don’t know what it means to be filled with truth. To be filled with truth, as he says, is not just to be filled with a mere idea of truth. It is not that we will merely be convinced with the idea of there being truth. Truth fills us! No one can know what this would mean who has not yet directly known what truth is. Truth is not just speaking truth, it is not correspondence of an idea to a corresponding fact, and it is not truth in the legal sense. It is the very substance of reality which seems to fill our consciousness. All these seem to us to be words which have no meaning, because we do not know what truth is. Any amount of description will not help us unless we have started thinking along these lines and we have also started appreciating these values of a supernormal nature.
Our consciousness not only gets filled with the value of truth, but also righteousness begins to flow from us automatically. This is another thing which Patanjali says happens as a consequence of meditation. Our whole nature—our whole personality—begins to radiate righteousness wherever it moves. We will not do wrong. We will be incapable of doing any harm, and our very attitude will be one of spontaneous rectitude. Spontaneity is to be emphasised here. The sun does not exert a will to shine for example—it shines spontaneously. So also we need not exert our will to be righteous when we reach this stage of meditation. “I should do this, I should not do this,” will not be our way of thinking. There is no ‘don’t’ for the yogin. All his actions will be only ‘do’s’ rather than ‘don’ts.’ All his actions will be positive.
There is no restriction on him of any kind, because he cannot think except along the line of righteousness. Dharma becomes his nature. It is said that righteousness and virtue begin to be showered upon us like rain, says Patanjali. He calls this condition “dharmamegha.” “Megha” is a cloud, “dharma” means righteousness. Clouds of virtue begin to gather around us and shower upon us like rain. We are flooded with virtue everywhere. We get saturated with the consciousness of righteousness. Truth and righteousness are the automatic outcome of the establishment of the mind in this state of meditation. I once mentioned two terms from the Vedas: satya and rita. Satya means “truth,” rita means “dharma” or righteousness. While all this has heretofore only been a matter of reading, now it shall become a matter of practice and experience. Truth and righteousness are the manifestations of the cosmic reality as described in the Vedas and the Upanishads, and these very same astounding facts will become part of our practical day-to-day lives, so that man becomes God-man here—and no more a mere mortal. He is not merely a saintly person, but veritably a divinity moving on earth.
There are various stages of man’s evolution. In the earlier stages we think like animals—our way of seeing things is just like a cow seeing things or a dog seeing things. We run after things and run away from things in the same way as a dog or a cow does, and there is no difference. This is animal perception and is what we may call the general human way of thinking. Higher than the ordinary man’s way of thinking is the good man’s way of thinking. Higher than the good man is the saintly man. Still higher is the God-man. It is this God-man whom we call a yogin. When all this happens and when the fourth stage of meditation is reached, the yogin becomes a veritable divinity and like God moving on this earth, say the yoga scriptures. It is good that for now we do not say much about the higher stages of meditation, because it will all simply go over our heads. Even these small things which have been discussed appear to be beyond us. The four stages mentioned now are actually subdivisions made by Patanjali of two ways of thinking: the gross and the subtle. Here is made a fourfold division of the two stages, gross and subtle, in terms of the association and dissociation of space and time, and also in reference to the grossness and the subtlety of things. To achieve this perfection in these stages themselves will take many years of practice.
Here it would be advantageous to make a review of certain of the conditions that are necessary to achieve this stage. I’m not speaking about new things, because I have said all these things already, but I’m only trying to recapitulate what has been said for our own advantage. It is not possible to come to these stages of meditation all at once. We try our best, and yet we will find that it is hard. We will get lost in this attempt, we will start fretting, and then we will not know what is wrong. What I am precisely trying to say is where we can go wrong and why we might fail in the attempt. They are simple things, but they are very important things. We will find it difficult to think like this and even more difficult to achieve any success in this, if we have not taken this as our vocation in life. We should not make this a kind of hobby just as if one might go sightseeing—see this place and see that place—and see yoga in the same casual fashion like one of the items of sightseeing. We will not get anything in this case. We will simply go out as we came in. We should not look at yoga as a hobby and employ a simple trial and error method. “Oh, if I get something, all right, if I don’t get anything, then let it go.” This attitude also is not good, and finally we would get nothing. We must come to yoga wholeheartedly with a determination to achieve something and with a determination that we will not return until we achieve something. With this determination we should come to it. All the great sages and saints of the past did this. Buddha was one. “Even if my flesh should melt, I will not get up from this meditation seat until I find what I seek,” he said, and he found it with this determination.
We should not approach it with a suspicious mood or a critical attitude. We must approach it with an appreciative mood of understanding. No one would like to be approached by a person with a critical demeanour. If I speak to you with a critical attitude, then you would rather leave me and go away! Nobody likes to get criticised—even a stone would not like to be criticised, and it would repel our approach if we were to approach it in that manner! We may be critical in the sense of trying to understand with a discerning attitude, but not in the sense of merely rejecting. We have to remember that even stones can somehow sense our feelings. Don’t think that they are insensible.
Animals of course are still higher. If we read the discoveries of Sir J.C. Bose, the great biologist of India, we will find what a plant really is. It “speaks,” it “weeps” and it “laughs,” he says, and it can feel as we feel though it cannot speak as we speak. We should not think that we can just deal with things as we like merely because they cannot speak. They have their own language, though it may not be in English or Sanskrit or any of our languages. What is language? It is a way of expression, and such a thing is found even in objects which we see as speechless and insentient. If we deal with objects, thinking that they are just nothing, then they will also treat us as nothing. The attitude of yoga should be one of absolute friendliness with things.
We want the help of our object of meditation, for instance. We want it to associate with us in the same way as we want to associate ourselves with it. We are not dissecting the object of meditation as a scientist does with a frog in a laboratory. It is not like that, but is quite a different matter altogether. As a living being we approach things which are also living. There are no such things as dead objects for a yoga student. Not even a stone is dead—it is vibrant with energy and force, and it can be harnessed if we like for certain active and creative purposes. How can we call it death? Today we are told that an atom is not dead—it can burst cities if it is so directed. Dead things cannot do this work. This appreciative attitude, based on a tremendous understanding, is what brings success in yoga.
Apart from this, an even more important aspect is confidence in our own selves. If we have no confidence and if we are diffident, we will achieve little success. “I am not certain; I don’t know if I will get anything or not.” If this attitude is entertained, then with this attitude we will fail. Why do we proceed with a pessimistic mood? Why do we think that we cannot achieve success? The perspective comes on account of some weaknesses in us. We have certain small spots in us which obstruct our attitude of confidence. We come once again to the accumulation of desires within us which speak a different voice, and which may speak in a more empathetic and seductive tone than our yogic approach does at the outset. As we approach this subject of meditation with greater and greater intimacy and as we advance further, the difficulties will be more and more. They will be subtler difficulties, more psychological in their nature, and therefore more repulsive. In the beginning there will be only physical obstacles, but later there will be psychological obstacles. We will have rational difficulties, difficulties of conviction and difficulties finally of fixing ourselves in a position.
Every step that we take in meditation should be such that once we have taken a step we need not take a step backwards. It should be a well-considered step and well-pondered over. To again stress the point, when we take to meditation, we have taken a decisive step in our lives—decisive in the sense that it is going to be our profession, if one would like to call it so. Meditation is not going to be merely one of many objects in our lives. If we take it as just one of many objectives, we are likely to use it as a kind of means to some other end, as many people try to do, but they don’t get anything finally.
It is not easy to catch this object of our meditation. When we treat it as a means to an end, it will elude our grasp. So it is that we find ninety-nine percent of people failing in yoga—perhaps ninety-nine point nine percent. They will all fail because unconsciously they treat this as a kind of means to something else which they want to achieve in life. “What will I get from it?” If this is our attitude, we will go back home as we came. Yoga is not a means to an end, and our subtle intent of using it as a kind of means will be repelled by it. We will realise how difficult it is and how much sacrifice is needed. We have to cut our ego into pieces—it should not remain anymore when we go towards this end. We should stand as a unit of truth facing another unit of truth which is our object of meditation. We are in a world of ends rather than of means.
What is it to be in a world of ends rather than of means? We must approach the object of our meditation as an end and not a means. One can never try to use it as a means to benefit ourselves merely and thereby regard ourselves alone as the end. The object of meditation will escape our grasp if we approach it as a means rather than an end. This is the greatest sacrifice that we have to make in yoga; there can be no greater sacrifice conceivable in the world than to treat things as ends in themselves rather than as means. Here we would feel almost like dying. We don’t know whether it is worthwhile living in the world when we cannot treat anything as a means but only as an end.
Well, this is the difficulty that we feel in the beginning. Later on though we will experience an excessive joy; “Oh, this is the truth!” The help that we gain from persons and things when we treat them as ends will be more than the little lip sympathy that we receive from persons and things when we treat them only as a means to our own selfish ends. Let us therefore think rightly, and let us not delude ourselves. Let us not be under the impression that to treat things as ends would be to lose something valuable in the world. Quite the contrary, it is then alone that they will come to us. “Here is our friend,” they will say, “we shall go to him.” Like dogs licking our hands, everything will start “licking” us with friendship as it were, because we are treating them as we are treating ourselves. The opposite view leads to a more negative scenario. “Very well then. I will come to you, but if you treat me as a stranger and a servant or as a subordinate or as a mere adjunct to yourself, well, I shall also treat you like that.” It is simple psychology and a great scientific truth. If we remember these truths, we will have real success in yoga. To come to the point then, these four stages of meditation are difficult steps that we must traverse. One must know the difficulties in order to understand what I have been saying. We can imagine the difficulties in practising it, but yet it becomes easy by a continuous thinking on the same subject.
As I have said, at least for two or three hours we must be able to sit and think like this. Go for a walk; sit alone for some time. Can we think like this when nobody disturbs us? I don’t know if any one of us can lead a life of seclusion in the sense of a yogin or a full-time aspirant, but we can go for a walk, and we can sit quietly for an hour in the morning and in the evening. Yes, I know that it is difficult to find time these days—it is a great problem. Everyone is lacking time, but there are certain ways of finding time. We will realise that when we carefully analyse our daily schedule. We waste our time in many ways, but we can reduce the time we spend in unnecessary activities. We need not meet people whom it is not necessary to meet. If it is necessary to meet them—okay, then meet them—but if it is not necessary, then don’t meet them. Why do we meet people unnecessarily? We can at least reduce some time spent for this habit.
There are some people who can profitably reduce the time spent in the routine of lunch, dinner, breakfast, etc. Most of us go on eating several times. Sometimes we take tea at bedtime, milk and lunch tea, and this tea and that tea, and then something in the middle. These are all not necessary things. As a matter of fact they are very unnecessary things. Why do we take a tea at bedtime? We seem to need to stimulate ourselves to get up from bed, otherwise we can’t get up in the morning, but in fact this bedtime tea is not necessary to aid us in getting up. We may take a mild breakfast in the beginning stages. I don’t think that everyone in fact needs breakfast, but in the beginning we may need it. Afterwards, there is no need of eating anything till lunch. People will say, “Let’s go have a cup of coffee or tea at 10 o’clock and enjoy ourselves,” but where is the necessity? It will not help us. This is waste of time when we have to think of it. This thinking itself is a waste of time.
There is no need of eating anything after lunch until our supper. We must think over honestly—is it necessary to eat anything? This constant eating will spoil our health and also disturb our stomachs. We need not go on eating all these things. We can reduce a little bit of the time spent in unnecessary things, as that is our interest here. Why do we waste our time in all these things—they are not necessities. Take our lunch, take our breakfast, take our supper—these three things may be necessary for us, but to eat more than three times would be quite unnecessary, and we should rid ourselves of it completely in our yogic way of life. Going to films, etc. may be habitual for some of us, but that also we can give up. I don’t think that many of us will go, but some may have the habit. Reading things which are not necessary is not helpful. If it is necessary, we can read it, but if it is not necessary, we should give it up. We should not go on picking up any random paper that we find anywhere and any book that is nearby. Why do we want to see it? We have a prescribed course of studies made for our own yogic way of living. This is called swadhyaya. Apart from this, there is no need of reading anything. Read constructive literature. One need not read things which are merely of an informative character, or things with a destructive nature. We would best read only constructive literature which will help us to build up our souls, otherwise, we need not read anything. Thus also we can reduce the unnecessary wastage of time.
Then a question about sleep arises—how many hours of sleep are needed? We should choose it for ourselves. Each person may have predilections, weaknesses, illnesses and so on, according to which the time of sleep may vary from person to person. We will find that we need not bother about it too much, because the extent of sleep necessary depends also on the condition of our health. We should try as far as possible to maintain good health, and then we will find that we don’t need much sleep. It is some kind of sickness in us that makes us sleep a little more. We are often bored, worried and nervous for various reasons. We sometimes find ourselves to be in a weakened condition. There is some kind of deficiency in the whole physical system—aches in all parts of the body and various difficulties like sneezing and headaches in almost every person. These can be avoided by a regimentation of diet and a changing of the ways of thinking. One must understand that many of the sicknesses are due to wrong ways of thinking. We have many psychological difficulties, and that makes us sick. It may not make us sick in one day, but when there is a cumulative effect produced by these erroneous ways of thinking, we develop certain illnesses. We may even not be able to digest our food. Our stomach becomes weak as a result of wrong thinking for years and years together.
We will not know that we are in these physical conditions. We will think that everything is all right, but it won’t be all right. We should always have a robust appetite—that is the sign of health. We should not be brooding whether to take a little meal, or not to take it after an hour. That means we are not all right. There was a medical man who used to say how we can test our hunger—that is to say, whether we are really hungry or not. How do we know whether we are really hungry or not? If we see a dish placed before us and we salivate immediately, then we are really hungry! It is very humorous, but there is a great truth in it. He said that even with plain cooked rice without any ingredients at all, if we see it in a state of hunger, salivation should occur. If so, we are really hungry, and at that time we can digest anything. We should not go on saying, “This food is not all right,” and “That food is not all right.” Everything will be all right when we are truly hungry. It may not be all right only because we are not ready to take it. Of course, these are all very small and humorous things, but they are very meaningful and of great value. Many of us are not really hungry. We so often eat with only a half hunger in us, and these habits make us sick—not merely sick, but we also become weak in many ways. We cannot sit for meditation, and we are disturbed internally by worries and nervous symptoms of different types.
I am not just joking around—these things are all mentioned in the Sutras of Patanjali. He has given us a list of the obstacles that we face, and illness is one. I’m not going through this list now, as it is not my main interest, and there is not enough time to put it into focus. These difficulties that we may have to face in the practice of yoga are of various types, with physical illness being one. We have to avoid falling sick as far as possible. ‘As far as possible’ is the key phrase here, because I don’t think that we can be absolutely the master over illness. But to the best extent possible, we can avoid illness by thinking rightly, honestly and in a godly manner. If we try to think in a godly way, we will see that our health improves. Don’t think merely like a human being, as we have been thinking for so many years. Now try to think like God—a veritable God moving on this earth. Can we think like this? Just see whether it has any effect on our systems or not. It will have an effect. We will feel a freshness in our bodies, a normalcy of our breathing, and a kind of freedom which we will be unable even to express. Therefore, a divine way of thinking is necessary to regain our health.
In addition, one should not brood over the past. The past is past, so let the dead past bury its dead. We need not think of yesterday. We do not know what incredible things happened in our previous births, so where is the necessity to bother with what happened yesterday? Give it up completely. Yesterday has gone, and there is no more need for it to worry our minds again. Think as if we were reborn today! We can truly reconstruct ourselves, if we can think as if we were reborn today. A fresh child we are today, and how youthful and strong we will feel if we don’t care to know what happened yesterday. These are all small suggestions that we can give to ourselves, and we can have many more such suggestions according to our own interests. These suggestions are given lest we should be obstructed by unnecessary botheration in life, and the suggestions are to be coupled with the honesty of purpose that will lend them strength. A divine way of thinking will ensure us success in the practice of meditation.