In the Light of Wisdom
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 33: All-Consuming Devotion to God

The first stage of meditation is a concentration of the mind on the physical concept of the object with its external and internal relations. The second stage is the concentration of the mind on the very same object, freed from these external and internal relations. The third stage of meditation is the concentration on the same object as constituted of certain essences, rather than on its external form or shape in terms of space and time. The fourth stage of meditation is the meditation on the very same essence of the object as independent of space and time relations. The fifth stage of meditation is the fixing of the consciousness on the joy that automatically follows from the freedom realised as a consequence of the abolition of space-time relations. In this stage, the subject and the object come together automatically when there is no space and time and there is no distinction between subject and object.

The sixth stage of meditation is the resting of the consciousness in itself—pure self-awareness of a universal character, where even joy is not experienced as a content or an attribute of consciousness. Joy becomes consciousness and consciousness becomes joy, because Self-consciousness is joy. The sixth stage of meditation is a very indescribable and blissful state, and it represents a veritable freedom of the soul from mortality. The seventh stage in meditation is the realisation or the experience of the Supreme Being. As a matter of fact, it is not a state, it is the ultimate goal reached in a fusion of eternity and infinity. These are the seven stages of meditation in which certain transformations of the mind are involved, and which take place simultaneously with these seven processes of meditation.

The first stage is that particular transformation or modification of the mind, wherein it keeps a check on the undesirable modifications. There are two types of modifications: the desirable and the undesirable. In this case, the desirable modification of the mind is that which is conducive to the concentration of the mind on the ideal or the chosen object of meditation. The undesirable modification is that which pulls the mind towards sense objects. There is a struggle between the desirable modifications and the undesirable modifications, and one grapples with the other. The desirable one is the stronger one, and it tries to keep the undesirable one in check. This process of struggle going on between the higher and the lower modifications of the mind is one transformation, and is the first one mentioned in the Sutras of Patanjali. The first transformation of the mind in meditation is that which involves an apparent struggle between the higher and the lower mind, wherein the higher mind is trying to keep the lower in check for the purpose of bringing about concentration of the mind.

The second transformation occurs in the context of an oscillation of the mind between consciousness of multitudinous- ness and consciousness of single-mindedness. In this stage, we are sometimes conscious of the objects outside, and at other times our minds are concentrated on the chosen ideal. For a few seconds the mind will be concentrated, but for another few seconds it will be jumping to other objects. That state of mind, where there is a vacillation between external consciousness of variety and the consciousness of concentratedness, is the second stage of mental modification in meditation. Again, this stage involves an oscillation between the consciousness of multiplicity and the consciousness of concentratedness.

The third stage of meditation is where the two processes shake hands with each other, as it were, and become friends. In the first two transformations there was a struggle with one trying to overcome the other. This would mean to say that one is different from the other, one does not like the other, and one wants the other to be gone. The objective consciousness and the concentrative consciousness were apparently in disagreement with each other in the first two kinds of transformations. In the third stage they become as one, like water flowing from one reservoir to another reservoir with both reservoirs situated on equal levels. The mental modifications of one kind flow into the mental modifications of another kind. There is apparently no distinction between external consciousness and internal consciousness. The distinctions of the necessary and the unnecessary, and the desirable and the undesirable cease in the third transformation of the mind. Whether we are objectively conscious or subjectively conscious, it makes no difference in this condition, because the object and the subject cease anymore to have a varying character. As I mentioned before, here we will not know whether the subject is meditating or the object is meditating, because the spatial distinction is abolished.

The Higher Stages of Meditation

The fourth transformation of the mind in meditation is a check exercised automatically over the sense activities. The senses had to be withdrawn in pratyahara with some sort of effort, and we found it a kind of duty on our part to control the senses. Here in the fourth transformation of the mind there is instead a spontaneous check exercised on the senses, and they will not work in the same way anymore. They will be as if paralysed and stupefied with no more strength to move towards the objects. To give an example, there are certain circus masters who keep a stick in their hands in case the lions or tigers get out of control. If the animals show any tendency to get out of control, the stick will be taken and touched to the animals’ bodies, and they then respond immediately. When they are touched by the stick, the animals are receiving a sort of warning that punishment may follow. Likewise, the senses receive a kind of paralysing check on account of the expansion of consciousness towards the infinite. The senses will not work wherever there is a tendency to an infinitude of experience. They are like a snake who is under the control of the snake charmer, and the snake cannot do anything as long as it is under the control of the snake charmer. We need not exert to control the senses here, because the senses cannot work. They are almost dead and gone, because the energy that was once moving externally towards objects has now been subdued, withdrawn, sublimated and absorbed into the mind. This is like the prodigal son returning home. The father and son embrace each other and are friends once again, and there is such a joy in the house. The senses are prodigal sons. They were running about hither and thither squandering energy, but now that they have realised their fault and come back, they are received with great satisfaction. This is spontaneous pratyahara that is taking place, which is control over the senses that is not exercised with effort, but through realisation. This is the fourth transformation of the mind that takes place.

The fifth transformation of the mind that takes place is also a consequence that follows externally in the wake of this control of the senses. When we are a master of our senses, we are also a master of our destiny, and the environment around us also comes under our control to some extent. This automatic transformation that we observe in our external environment is to be taken as a consequence of the mastery that we are exercising over our own selves. As it is said, self-mastery is world mastery. When we have mastered ourselves, we have also mastered the world, because the world is inseparable from our own constitutional make-up. We are not an isolated entity in the world. We are in every nerve and every pore and every cell of our personalities connected with every bit of creation outside. We cannot deal with ourselves without dealing with things outside. One thing implies the other. Self-control, which is achieved to such an extent here, also means—even without our own knowing it—a control exercised over external environments. Then comes the higher transformations of the mind, where the mind can work independently of the senses. The mind does not need the senses to work anymore, as it can merely think, and things will take place. There is no need of seeing, hearing or even speaking.

This is a very advanced stage of yoga. People in this condition are rare in the world. They have merely to think something, and it will happen. There is no need of saying anything, there is no need of their doing anything, and there is no need of their senses working. They need not see, they need not hear, and they need not do anything. The mind has received such power that their very thought is action. Their thought is more compelling and more powerful than sensory activity. The highest transformation of the mind is where it merges into the Spirit. The mind no more exists as a mind when there is no thinking faculty. Mind becomes consciousness; consciousness is mind. To be is to be conscious, and to be conscious is to think, and vice versa. Our being is consciousness and our consciousness is thinking—thought thinking itself, as Aristotle told us. When thought thinks of an object, it is manifest as man, but thought thinking itself is God. Here is the last transformation of the mind: thought begins to contemplate itself, and it is God thinking Himself. We have become identified with God here. The last experience in meditation is identical with the last transformation of the mind. These again are not mere subjects for analysis and study, but they are matters of experience.

Devotion to the Beloved

Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana are the seven accessories of yoga. Dhyana or the meditation itself is of seven kinds, as I already explained, and it is attended with seven kinds of transformations. With this I have given in a nutshell the essence of the teachings of yoga philosophy, psychology and its practice. This does not mean that the methods of meditation are completely exhausted by the yoga system of Patanjali. There are also other methods of meditation—for example the bhakti method. The devotees of God have their own ways of contemplating God. Their way is not necessarily this analytical, psychological and philosophical method of Patanjali. Their method is more of love, longing and even weeping for God. Only the saints who love God exclusively can tell us what love of God truly is. It is impossible to describe love of God, as we also cannot describe what God is. Even saints and sages who had this experience refuse to explain it, because it cannot be explained.

The love of God is a love that we are having for creation as a whole, because God is manifested in the world. These saints who loved God loved the world, and they made no distinction between the two. Their hearts went out to the Beloved, and we can imagine what it might mean for a heart to go for something beloved. Those who have lived in the world will know what it is for a heart to be moved, and what it means for a heart to go for something it deeply loves. It is not our senses going, not our personality going, and not our speech going—it is something else that goes. Our soul is moved. Nobody can say what it is actually, because we cannot know what happens when a soul is moved. We cease to be anymore when our soul is moved towards something.

When our personality in its manifestation as the sense organs, the mental faculty and so on is moved, we may be aware of what is happening. But when our soul is moved, we cannot know what is happening—just something happens, that is all. Love of God is a sudden, ultimate transformation in which the mind longs for God alone and does not want anything else. This cannot be explained with any amount of philosophical analysis. We can know it only to some extent by study of the lives of saints. Study the life of Christ, the life of St. Francis of Assisi, of St. Theresa, of Gauranga Mahaprabhu and of the great acharyas who founded the bhakti cults in India. Read the Srimad Bhagavata Purana and read about the love of the gopis for Lord Krishna. We will be wonderstruck as to how this level of love could exist. Is it possible? Can we conceive of such a thing? But that is love of God. The love of God has again certain stages of development. It does not suddenly drop from the skies. The bhakti scriptures describe elaborate processes of the development of love for God. These are very strange things and are especially unknown to people in the West. It is not that devotees of God did not live in the West—there were some—but they were more prominent in the Eastern countries, and especially in India.

For those who are interested in the study of this psychology of the intense love of God or devotion, I would suggest one or two books—the most prominent being the one written by a disciple of Gauranga Mahaprabhu, the great saint of Bengal, namely, Bhaktirasam Ratasindhu. It is a very beautiful book. Bhaktirasam Ratasindhu means ‘the ocean of the essence of devotion’. I happened to come across an English translation of it recently, and it is a very beautifully written work in English. This book is published in its English translation by the ‘Institute of Philosophy’ in Vrindavan. We should also read the Srimad Bhagavata Purana. We should read it in the original, but of course those who don’t read Sanskrit can read it in any good translation. We can have an idea through these books about the approach of the devotee to God. The third one is the Narada Bhakti Sutras. This is one book worth reading, and it is a very exhaustive work. The Narada Bhakti Sutras, the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, and this particular one, the Bhaktirasam Ratasindhu, are all to be recommended.

The devotee of God generally regards God not merely as an Absolute in the philosophical sense. It is very difficult to love God in the absoluteness of His being, though there is one stage of devotion which is compatible with the highest of philosophical knowledge. They call it ‘parachute’ or supreme devotion, where devotion becomes identical with knowledge. That is however something very difficult to understand. In ordinary language when we speak of devotion to God, we mean love of God as someone or something, and not everything or nothing. The devotee does not regard God here as everything, as one school of philosophy would say, or God as nothing, as another school says. He is something and is someone whom the devotee can approach with an expectation of response from Him. The God of the devotee is one who responds to the love of the devotee. If there were no response, we could not love, so God responds to the devotees’ calls.

The Srimad Bhagavadgita is the ‘mother’ of all the texts of devotion, but it is a very elevated text, and it is difficult for a beginner to extract the essence out of it. I didn’t suggest it as one of the texts of bhakti yoga, though it also is a very great aid in understanding the devotion to God. In one of the verses of the Srimad Bhagavadgita, God is said to take care of the devotee fully, and that the only responsibility of the devotee is to love God—he has no other responsibility. He does not have to study books or to go to school or do this and that. He has no responsibility, no function to perform, and no other yoga except for intense thinking, longing and loving of God. As I said, God is conceived by the devotees as someone who can respond to this affection. “Oh God, please come! I am dying of separation from you.” When such a cry comes from the devotee, God should be able to respond to that cry. That is the essence of devotion, and we can easily imagine what could be the concept of God in the mind of such a devotee who wants an immediate response. It might be like the child wanting a response from the parent, like a friend expecting a response from a friend, the servant expecting a response from the master, or the husband expecting a response from the wife, or she from him. The human expectation of a sympathetic response is sublimated into a divine emotion in love of God.