The Yoga of Meditation
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 2: Impediments in Meditation

The more we try to understand life, the more complicated does it appear and the more also does it try to elude our grasp. Human wisdom seems to be inadequate to the task of handling the situation in a world of unintelligible forces and strange facts which appear to strike hard upon the heart of man. Much of the difficulty is in understanding the structure of one's own personality which is composed of elements that do not always come within the ken of normal perception. The truth of the matter is that man lives in a world of forces and not persons and things. It is one thing to handle persons and things, and quite a different affair to deal with forces. For the human attitude towards a centre of force and what is named as a person or thing varies. It is naturally impossible to have emotions of love and hatred in regard to centre of force which is intertwined with other such centres in the world. But one experiences a tumult of emotion in regard to persons or things. This happens because of the differing modes in the evaluation of values. We see something in a person which we cannot see in a centre of force, just as a child sees something in a doll which an adult mind does not see there. The child has a special value attached to a doll, or, say, a motor car made of sugar. For the child it is real, while for a mature mind it is stupid something made of sugar. Here lies all the difference between the child and the adult. While the child sees the shape, the adult sees the substance. The child's value is in the shape and the colour, while the adult's value is in the essence thereof. The adult is amused at the child's evaluation of values because of there being no such thing as that which the child sees apart from what the adult sees.

Centres of energy impinge upon our personalities in a variety of ways. That particular centre of force which for the time being exhibits characters of a structure which happens to be at that time the exact counter-correlative of the structural pattern of the individuality of a person becomes an object of attraction and of love to that person and there is an emotional upheaval in the person in relation to that centre of force which is visualised as a localised object due to the limited capacity of visual perception in a human being. But when, in the course of the natural evolutionary process of everything, the structural patterns of these 'related' centres of force automatically undergo such change as to modify their entire form in a given space-time continuum, there is said to be what we call bereavement, loss of possession and a breaking of one's heart as a consequence. Sorrow to the human being seems to be unavoidable when he refuses to see things rightly due to his weddedness to the senses which cannot see what is beneath their own skin. The human eye cannot see what the X-ray or the microscope sees. Just as the baby's eye is incapable of a probe into the substance of the sugar-doll the human vision cannot have access into the internal structure of objects and mistakes them for solid bodies while they are in fact whirling centres of energy. The microscope would see our body differently from the way in which our own eyes see it. It is this mistake of the eyes that enables us to see value in things. Likewise, our other senses play mischief with us. The taste to the tongue, the odour to the nose, the sound to the ears and touch to the skin are really different psychological phenomena produced within our own system when the vibrations from different centres of universal energy impinge on our senses in different ways. This difference again is due to the difference in the structure of our senses. As the same electricity freezes things in a refrigerator, boils our tea in a stove and moves a train on the rails because of the difference in the structural media through which it is made to manifest itself, the universal energy is received as colour by the eyes, sound by the ears, odour by the nose, taste by the tongue and touch by the skin. The form of a body seen by us is the manner in which our total personality is able to react to a given centre of the universal energy.

When one attempts to enter the field of spiritual life, it is not enough if one merely tries to understand how to concentrate one's consciousness on one's concept of reality, for, it is equally important to know the ways into which one can be easily side-tracked in this endeavour. The great opposition which the seeker has to face in his arduous pursuits comes from the reports of the senses. Then begin to complain that they see beauty and meaning and have reasons to love multi-formed things, while the investigative consciousness within argues that reality ought to be one. Thus it is that in spiritual meditations on one's chosen idea of reality, the senses set up a rebellion and compel the consciousness to pay attention to their affections. The senses seem to have no use with an attitude which cannot appreciate that there are localised objects which they can love with satisfaction.

The universal consciousness seems to get dissipated and lock itself up in whirling centres of force, which are our objects, and behold itself as if in a mirror where something is visible and yet no contact with it can, in fact, be established and, hence, it cannot also be possessed. Consciousness begins to see itself in the object by transferring itself to the latter and the object having thus assumed the position of the subject is loved as the self and caressed and the subject gets transported into an ecstasy over the feeling of possession when there is the psychological contact with this object which has assumed the character of the subject. What is called worldly existence is this much: the dancing of the self to the tune of its desires and raging against all opposition to its fulfilment. The desire, in the long run, becomes not merely a psychological function but assumes a metaphysical character, hardening itself, as it were, into an obstacle that cannot be easily overcome by an effort of consciousness. The desire for food and sex and the demands of the ego to be invested with power, recognition and glory are not merely a mental act which can be easily silenced but the heavy operation of the forces in which the consciousness has got entangled and which it begins to regard as self. Love is twofold: sensory and egoistic. In spiritual meditations, the desires become the dare-devils which work hard to defy the attempts of the spirit to realise its universal presence. The body-idea is at the root of all the trouble. It acts as a thick mist blurring the vision of consciousness which begins to perceive a difference when there is none. The psychological efforts of the seeker are powerless before these metaphysical forces, for it is not humanly possible to satisfy the idea that there is really an object before one's eyes. The object refuses to be called merely an idea and no one has ever succeeded in achieving freedom from love of objects, for love cannot be withdrawn from what is really there visible as a centre of meaning and attraction. Nor is it a joke to withhold one's anger upon forces which seem to obstruct the development and fulfilment of love. It is because of this operating system of the mind, that spiritual effort has often failed even in monasteries and in meditation caves, and instances are abundant when whole-hearted seekers who dedicated themselves to meditation in seclusion for two or three decades have been stirred to sensory activities and egoistic adventures. No one should have the hardihood to imagine that one has mastered the spiritual techniques or overcome desires in spite of several years of seclusion and meditation. The reason for the failure, in most cases, is erroneous meditation for years, involving the repression of desires rather than their sublimation. The objects have not vanished; they are still there ready to devour us with their tempting looks and they are there present hybernating even in a cave, a temple or a cloister. As long as we behold grandeur and value in the things of the world, in social positions and in power and self-respect, our meditations are likely to prove to be mere roamings in a fool's paradise. Unless we grapple with objects and transform their very nature and form into a spiritual constitution, we cannot be said to be really meditating on reality. A wave cannot resist the ocean. To achieve any success, it has to sink into the very ocean itself.

Weakness of will is partly the reason for failure in spiritual pursuits. Also, it so happens, unfortunately, that the time most people devote for meditation is too little in comparison with the extensive part of the day and night when the consciousness is vigorously in pursuit of pleasure. Whatever little benefit has accrued during the short period of meditation is likely to be swept away by the strong winds of desires during the larger pan of the day. For, desires are not to be taken lightly. They have powers before which the most destructive bombs cannot stand. The celestials who send nymphs to stultify the meditations of Yogins are the subtler essences of the senses which are cosmically distributed in ethereal realms and which fly like jets towards their respective objects while the feeble ratiocinating power of man keeps looking on with bewilderment and a sense of depression, a mood of melancholy and a feeling of the hopelessness of all human efforts in the end.

It is not that effort is useless, but ordinary efforts are inadequate. The celestial beauties descend into the moral world to tempt the unwary aspirants by a constant presentation of f variety in beauty and value. When the aspirant has mastered one form of resistance, he finds himself in the grip of another which is quite new to him. When he is busy with methods of overcoming this second front, he finds that he has fallen into the pool of a third group whose existence he could never notice before. One's life seems to be spent away in this manner in a perpetual struggle for conquering the sense of erroneous values, but life is too short even to be able to count the number of such values and sources of temptation and opposition. This has been the predicament of thousands of seekers both in the East and the West, and it is no wonder that Bhagavan Sri Krishna warns us in the Bhagavadgita: 'Among thousands of people, some single being attempts to achieve perfection; and even among those who strive, some rare soul it is that really attains it'.

The life of the spiritual seeker is one of a throng of miseries, losses and set-backs, which come one after another. It is like attempting to swim across the vast sea with the power of one's arms. Adepts have compared these difficulties to such formidable tasks as binding a wild elephant, swallowing fire, walking on a razor's edge or drying up the ocean with a blade of grass, and so on. These analogies may be terrifying, but they are not very far from truth. No one has attained spiritual perfection by indulging in desires, for even a single act of sensual or egoistic indulgence may work like striking a match whose sparks are quite enough to set up a conflagration and burn up the accumulations of past effort. Stories such as those of sage Visvamitra, Parasara, etc., come to us as cautions on the way and may act as sign-posts or guiding lights, but we cannot learn by others' experience. Everyone has to tread the same path which others have trodden ages ago. Everyone has to undergo the same processes through which Visvamitra was disciplined, Saubhari was chastened, or Durvasa was confronted. The powers of the universe act equally upon all and exert the same pressure of intensity on one's meditation. The loves and hatreds of the heart are the longings of the total structure of one's individuality and are not merely functions of the conscious mind. It is the total being that leaps in joy when an object of love is near. Every cell of the body sends forth its love. Every nerve of the body vibrates in sympathy with the object. It is not merely the thinking mind that functions here. This is why love and hatred are difficult to conquer; they involve conquering of the urges of one's total personality which is up to jump over itself upon an object or objects. These subtleties of human life and spiritual adventure are not known to most seekers. Many have thought that spiritual life is just a matter of free choice and it is enough if one moves about with a single loin cloth, eats only once a day and sleeps for just two hours. While all these practices are good in themselves, they do not touch even the fringe of the main problem on hand. It is here that many have cried out in despair that God alone has to help a seeker, and no mere effort would be of much avail.

The remedy for all this is meditation itself, for there is no other way. The laws of Nature seem to be such that one can neither live nor die happily. This difficulty is summed up in a single word, 'Samsara'. The cure for Samsara is spiritual meditation, and it has a great many varieties of techniques which have to be employed with incisive carefulness. Nothing would appear to be happening when the meditation process is dull or when a blade of grass sweeps over a sleeping hand. It is only when an intruder seems to be arriving that the watch-dogs wake up to a violent activity and offer attack with all their might. The sensory beauty and personal grandeur which are all hidden within the resources of Nature get stirred up when meditation commences in right earnest.

The universe is something like a powerful radar system that is set up from all sides to record every action and every event that may take place anywhere, even of the least intensity or momentum. Meditation, when it is properly done, is not a silent and non-interfering process of thinking by some individual in some undisturbed corner, but a positive interference with the very structure of the universe and, sometimes, a directly employed system starts working at once and the forces around receive a warning, as it were, that someone is in a state of meditation. Immediately, counter-forces are gathered by what is generally known as the lower nature and the meditation receives a setback. The greatest obstacle in meditation arises from one's emotions, for human life is essentially a display of feelings. Forgotten memories get revived and they assume a life once again, creating a powerful disturbance and vehemently striving to bring back the worldly circumstances of love and hatred in the concentrated state of consciousness. It is here that desires which have once been suppressed get intensified and the occasional cravings of a dedicated one in spiritual pursuits can be worse than those seen even in the normal man of the world. For the rebuff that comes with a vengeance is always more vehement than the usual working of forces. Loves and hatreds are here magnified and even an ugly object looks beautiful. Silly things may assume great importance and even the least reaction from anyone may be looked upon with positive enmity. Imaginary fears crop up, which cannot be remedied by any available means, and attachments of a peculiar nature, sometimes difficult to understand, arise in one's heart. Well-to-do persons may steal a pencil or penknife in such a condition, an act which one would not do normally. Appetites become more virulent and hunger can become insatiable. Aspirants begin to develop affections in spite of themselves. To the starved emotions, everything appears beautiful and lovable. Attachments get formed to such things as a dog or a cat. The variety of the trouble is unthinkable.

Saints have reiterated that the primary oppositions to spiritual meditation come from the desires for fame, power, wealth and sex. The desire to earn good name is indeed quite natural. Censure is never tolerated, for it is a condemnation of the ego. The love for power may also insinuate itself into the mind of a seeker; and one might be satisfied with exercising one's power, over one's attendant or servant, when there is none else over whom it could be exercised. The desire for wealth does not always come as an ambition for vast riches, for desires are also shrewd in the ways of their working, as if they are aware that asking for too much would not succeed, and so they ask for small things which would easily be granted. Money, at least in small quantities, becomes a need, and there are obvious arguments in its favour. No desire presents itself without a good reason behind it. Every preference or wish looks rational and justified. But, mostly, the desire for sex, however, tops all others. This urge is said to die only when the person dies. In our scriptures we are told anecdotes of anchorites, and the primary weapon that was discharged against them by the celestials was the object of lust. This temptation can hardly be resisted. Not even the wisest of the Yogins is regarded as completely free from susceptibility to sexual armour. That one has already led a householder's life and then taken to a life of meditation guarantees no immunity from the further temptation of sex, for this desire is endless and it does not seem to get exhausted by constant use or be satisfied even with repeated enjoyment. Those who are not fully acquainted with this apparatus of the Tempter would indeed prove a miserable failure in their attempts, and suffer a defeat in their meditation.

In educated seekers, the ego may become over-weaning and vain due to which there may arise desire to show oneself off, or they may suddenly imagine that they have a mission to save the world from downfall. Many seekers have honestly felt that they are veritable Avataras (divine incarnations) and that their knowledge is matchless in the world. One may begin to feel that one is always in the right and will never go wrong, and here any advice or suggestion for an alternative gets resented. This is the dominance of the ego, to which aspirants can easily fall a prey.

A sense of an unknown fear often begins to grip the aspirant by the heart, the sources of which he cannot easily discover. It looks as if the earth itself gives way under his feet and everything in the world has left him to his fate. There is desire and it cannot be fulfilled. There is anguish which cannot be recompensed. Occasionally, there is anger which cannot be adequately expressed. There may come even fear of death as the last of all threats, and all effort would appear to have been in vain. Life would appear to be ending without one's achieving anything, except suffering. These are some of the horrid scenes which the seeker on the path of meditation may have to witness, and blessed indeed are those who come out successful through these dangerous precipices and pitfalls. Gautama, the Buddha, had undergone all the trials, but he was a man of a sterner stuff; he attained enlightenment in spite of these oppositions.

Excesses in the practice may cause physical illness, which can act as an impediment to progress. Overdoing of the practice may land one in dullness and lassitude of mind. One may be given to doubt as to the efficacy of one's own method, at a certain stage. Remission of practice and slackening of meditation may result from a lengthened period of continued effort. A general torpidity of the whole system and a feeling of 'enough' with what has been done may set in. Desire may arise for small satisfactions which, when fulfilled, may assume large proportions. Lights and visions seen due to pressure upon the Prana may be mistaken for God-vision or mystical experience. At times, one misses the point of concentration which refuses to come before the mind's eye. And, even when it is gained, it appears to shake and never gets fixed steadily. Tremors of the body, moods of depression and disgust may appear and disturb the peace of one's mind.

The tumult of obstacles in meditation is there so long as thought has not entered being, but struggles to gain entry into it. The value-judgements of individualistic feelings and emotions do not easily depart but persist in viewing objects as fit to be acquired or avoided. The centres of force of which the universe consists still appear as concrete objects localised in space and attract one's attention. As long as meditation remains only a thinking of the mind, the usual difficulties on the way cannot be avoided. The great war takes place when thought touches the gateway of being and seeks access into it. The oppositions are the strong gate-keepers that guard entry into the Absolute.

One has to be cautious in dealing with the opposing forces. A direct frontal attack does not always succeed, for the enemies are equally powerful, if not more equipped than the seeker's energies. The aspirant should never go to extremes on the spiritual path, but always follow the golden mean in consideration and judgement. Sometimes, a little satisfaction or relief from tension, kept under a strict watch or caution, of course, may be necessary when the mind and senses become turbulent and death seems to be the only thing inevitable. The Buddha, here again, is our example. Too much austerity almost killed his person and no benefit accrued to him thereby. Mild satisfactions, with a tremendous vigilance, may occasionally be advisable. All this has to be done with a superhuman understanding of the situation, for the usual ethics or morals of the world do not apply to the seeker in their mere letter. The ethics of spiritual life is a little at variance from that of the common public of the world. While the morals of the society may be stereotyped, descending unchanged from grandparents to grandchildren, the morals of spiritual life may shift their emphasis on different sides of the mysterious difficulties on the way. The famous verse of the Bhagavadgita on this subject speaks a truth for all times: Yoga is not for one who enjoys too much, or for one who abstains from all enjoyment; nor for one who constantly sleeps, or one who keeps always awake. Yoga ends the pain of him who is moderate in enjoyment, recreation, work, sleep, as well as wakefulness. This golden via media is difficult to perceive, but can be seen with an immense subtlety of discriminating understanding. In all these endeavours, the personal guidance of an experienced Teacher or Adept is necessary.

The obstacles to meditation can be met by meditation alone, practised repeatedly with undaunted vigour. In meditation, thought ant being coalesce and become one. This is the stage of intuition, where objects disclose their essential character and, giving up all their tactics of opposition and revolt which they resorted to earlier, they assume a friendly attitude, and the whole universe seems to be on one's beck and call. The denizens of the higher planes, themselves, begin to help the aspirant, instead of opposing him as they did before. Service starts flowing from all sides and joy supervenes in one's nature. Light begins to flash from every atom of space and time overcomes itself. Distance disappears between things and the far-off stars seem to be rolling under one's feet. All that is covetable or desirable presents itself in its real form as an eternal fact of which one can never be dispossessed. Infinity and eternity blend into pure existence. Friends and enemies meet and enter into one's bosom. The universe casts off its externality, objectivity, materiality and transiency and puts on its supreme form of absoluteness, spirituality, intelligence and delight. Immortality and death become the wings of a single experience and all judgements enter the very being of the Universal Judge. It is the beginning of a Universal Self-possession, where creation seems to seep into one's existence and, in a flash of consciousness, man achieves awareness that his entire nature, physical and intangible, is bound up with all life that throbs and pulsates everywhere. In the lofty reaches of spiritual experience, one becomes all-inclusive, and is included in all, cognises and realises everything. This experience is super-sensory, super-mental and super-intellectual, and here the personality tends to disintegrate and one feels like being swept into a sphere of vaster implications, plumbing abysmal depths, scaling dizzy heights, viewing vast vistas unknown on earth. There is a sensation of Power which affects every particle of one's nature, and one is bathed in the Light of indescribable brightness. There is an awareness of the interpenetration of all things, and one is simultaneously in all places. Every single detail is exactly known in its own place, and in its minute detail, in its relationship to the Whole. Everything becomes crystal-clear, light shines separately from each single point in space, not merely from some orb like the sun from somewhere in distance space. One becomes immortal.