by Swami Krishnananda
Dhyana yoga, or the art of meditation, is the subject of the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita. The subject of the collecting of the forces of one’s personality into a centre is the great theme of this chapter. The dissipated energies of one’s individual personality, which channelise themselves through the senses in the direction of objects, are conserved and raised to a higher level of potency for the purpose of an ascent in a vertical direction, we may say, towards the realisation of the highest Self of the cosmos. So at the very beginning of the chapter we are asked to raise ourselves by our own selves—uddhared atmanatmnam. The self has to be raised by the Self, uplifted by the Self. We ourselves are to lift our own selves. The difficulty in the practice of this yoga is precisely in this interesting feature, namely, that the manipulator and that which is manipulated are one and the same. The meditator and that which is meditated upon do not stand apart as two principles or elements cut off from one another, but they combine to constitute a power by which the higher level has to be reached through the transcendence of the lower level. Uddhared atmanatmanam natmanam avasadayet: We should not deprecate or create despondency in ourselves. We should not condemn ourselves; we should not regard ourselves as weaklings, as nobodies, as sinners, as helpless victims, etc. This is not the attitude that we have to develop in regard to ourselves. We are none of these things—we are not helpless, we are not sinners, and we are not victims. All these are erroneous fabrications of the false personality, which is the obstacle to a clear perception of the truth of the universe.
We are always to tread the path of positivity and never the path of negativity. The whole art of yoga is a question of absorption of values and not of negation or repulsion. The more we are able to assume the attitude of absorption, comprehension, collaboration, cooperation, etc., the less we will find the necessity to repel, reject or to condemn things. The so-called objects, the so-called things of the world and circumstances which are regarded mostly as outside the self of one’s own being, are to be brought into our own selves from the objects and the various environments outside. Uddhared atmanatmanam natmanam avasadayet, atmaiva hy atmano bandhur atmaiva ripur atmanah: We have no enemies except our own selves and we have no friends except our own selves. Atmaiva hy atmano bandhur: The Self is the friend of the self, and the Self is also the enemy of the self.
Now, the word ‘Self’, or Atman, is used in two different senses. The higher Self and the lower self are both indicated by the common denomination of the word ‘self’—we may say the self with a small ‘s’ and the Self with a capital ‘S’. The higher Self is the friend of the lower self, and it is also the enemy of the lower self under different conditions. Just as the law is a friend of the citizen of a country, it also is an enemy of the citizen of a country, for different reasons. When one obeys the law of an atmosphere, that atmosphere becomes friendly. When one disobeys the law of the atmosphere in which one is placed, that law becomes a punishing medium. So, the higher Self becomes a friend of the lower self when the lower self abides by the law of the higher Self. The higher Self becomes the enemy of the lower self when the lower self asserts its own independent, egoistic attitude, contradicting the requirements of the law of the higher Self.
What is the higher Self, we may be wondering, whose law we have to abide by and whose law we have not to contradict? The higher Self is not some different thing; it is not another person. It is a larger degree of our own personality. It is a wider dimension of what we are in our own selves. It is, to give an example, an adult in comparison with a small baby. Very crudely, in a physical sense, we may say the mature mind and consciousness of a wise adult is the higher self of the baby that knows nothing. But the higher Self here is used in a more significant manner than this analogy would indicate. It is a qualitatively more intense consciousness and a quantitatively larger dimension at the same time. We may also give an example of waking and dream, to make the matter clear. The waking consciousness may be regarded as the higher Self in comparison with the consciousness of the dream subject, which can be regarded as the lower self in comparison with the waking, because the waking consciousness comprehends all that is in dream and determines all the values that go as realities in dream. We should regard that as the higher Self which exceeds the limits of our present personality.
The more unselfish we become, the more we are tending towards the higher Self; and meditation is nothing but the focusing of the consciousness of the lower self in the direction of this higher Self or, we may say, the intention of the selfish individual to become more unselfish in various ways. There are hundreds and hundreds of ways of becoming unselfish, and we know very well what it means. To regard the values which exceed the limits of our physical personality would be a tendency towards unselfishness. But we cling to this body and consider only the physical values of this body as the be-all and end-all of this life. To disregard the lives of others would be a life of selfishness. A person who has a consideration for values which are outside of and transcending his own individual self would be regarded as an unselfish individual.
But the unselfishness that is indicated here, in the art of meditation, is not merely the social definition of unselfishness. Well, a person who has a desire to take care of his family—wife, children, brothers, sisters, etc.—and who does not cling very much to his own bodily individuality would be regarded as an unselfish man. And a person who has love for the whole nation rather than merely his own family, can be regarded as an unselfish man. And a person who has love for the whole of humanity and works for the good of mankind, rather than clinging to the ideals of one’s own nationality, can also be regarded as an unselfish person. But here the word ‘unselfishness’ is used in a more profound sense, not in the social sense of unselfishness—which of course is good in its own way. There is a qualitative enhancement in the realisation of the higher Self in the movement the individual towards the family, or from the family to the nation, or from the nation to the whole of mankind. There is not much of a qualitative transformation, though there is a quantitative increase in the outlook of life. But the higher Self is not merely a quantitative largeness; it is also a qualitative enhancement.
Likewise, we have the example of the waking consciousness, to come to the analogy once again. The waking consciousness is not merely quantitatively larger than the dream consciousness, it is also qualitatively higher. So it is that we are happier in waking life than in dream. We may be emperors in dream and beggars in waking, but a person would be happier to be a beggar in waking than an emperor in dream. That is because the emperorship, or wealth, or whatever value that we may have in dream is a qualitative deprecation; it is inferior in quality, and therefore the beggarhood in waking is superior to the kingship in dream. Though we may say the king is superior to the beggar in economic value, but what of that quality of consciousness? This example is only to give an idea of what the higher Self can be. The higher Self is not merely a physical expansion in the society of people; and so the movement towards God is a little different from becoming unselfish in the purely social sense, though social values, as I said, are preparatory steps for self-purification. All this I am mentioning in connection with the implication of a single verse of the sixth chapter: Uddhared atmanatmanam natmanam avasadayet, atmaiva hy atmano bandhur atmaiva ripur atmanah.
Bandhur atmatmanas tasya yenatmaivatman jitah, anatmanas tu satrutve vartetatmaiva satruvat. He is the friend, the higher Self is our friend only in the case of that person who has overcome the lower self by means of the higher Self. But if the lower self has taken hold of the whole personality, and there is a complete oblivion of even the existence of the higher Self, that higher Self will be an enemy of the lower self. It will come like a thunderbolt, because nobody can violate existing laws; ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ is a saying not merely applicable to man-made laws but also to divine laws. Merely because we do not know the existence of divine law, it does not mean that we can be exempted from the operation of that law. So God Himself acts as an enemy, as it were. Of course, we cannot say that God is an enemy of anybody, but the reaction that is set up by the higher law of God is something like an automatic action of a computer system that has no friends or foes. A computer has no enemies; it has no friends. It depends on how we feed the matter into it. If we wrongly feed it, a wrong result comes, and we cannot say that it is an enemy because a wrong result came—we have fed it wrongly. But if it is properly fed, the correct result comes. As with electricity—we cannot say electricity is a friend or an enemy. If we are able to control it, it is a great harnesser of power, but if we do not know how to manipulate it, it can kick us and finish us off. All laws are of this nature. Every law is impersonal and unprejudiced—there is no friend or foe for it. So it depends upon the extent to which we are in harmony with the regulations and the regulatory laws of the higher Self—to that extent we are successful. All success is a consequence of our alignment with the requirements and laws of the higher Self, and all failure is contrary to it.
Thus is a great dictum that is placed before us by Bhagavan Sri Krishna at the very beginning of the sixth chapter, which is going to describe to us the method of meditation. With this interesting introduction and a very important foundation of values, the practical techniques are described. Yoga is meditation finally, and meditation is a fixing of attention on consciousness. Consciousness pervades the whole body, and our consciousness, secondarily, pervades even our society. This peculiar relationship of ours with human values and things of the world creates a peculiar self outside us, which is known in Sanskrit Vedantic terminology as the gaunatman. A father regards his son as his self; he has so much love for the son that anything that happens to the son appears to happen to his own self, and the same is true in regard to many other things.
So, there is a social self. Social self means the particular person or object with which the consciousness of a person has become identified for a peculiar reason, which varies from person to person. When consciousness identifies itself with any object, that object becomes the self, because consciousness is the self. What we call ‘self’ is nothing but self-consciousness. But if we are able to transfer our consciousness so intensely and vehemently in respect of a person or an object outside, that person or object becomes the self, and then becomes a centre of attraction and love. That is the so-called artificial self that is created by the identification of consciousness externally with the secondary self, or the gaunatman. There is the bodily self, called the vichataman. We identify ourselves with this body, we identify ourselves with the mind, and we identify ourselves with emotions and with various internal mechanisms. These are all our ‘selves’.
And so, yoga being the attention on the Self, it means that all these so-called selves have to be put together in harmony, one with the other. That is why great teachers of yoga, such as Patanjali, have instituted the methods of regulating our consciousness through all these layers of the self, beginning with the social self. The yama and niyama of Patanjali’s yoga system are only the methods of organising the social self for the purpose of withdrawing it into the personal self, from which it has emanated as a ray, as it were. From the personal self we go higher up, gradually into the universal Self by the technique of asanas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, etc. The entire system of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is compressed into a few slokas in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Yogi yunjita satatam atmanam rahasi sthitah, ekaki yata-cittatma nirasir aparigrahah. In a secluded place one must seat oneself and concentrate one’s whole being. Yoga is the concentration of the totality of our being on the great objective of our lives.