by Swami Krishnananda
Meditation on Brahman leads to its realisation, as in the case of Samvadi-bhrama, or erroneous notion of a thing leading to a successful result in relation to that thing. Hence in the Upanishads various kinds of Upasanas, or meditations, are described. Take the instance of a person seeing from a distance the ray of a light, situated within the walls of a room. He sees a gleam of light passing through the window of a house and getting reflected outside, and mistakes the ray of the light seen outside for a gem shining. He commits this error in his mind because he has not seen the source of the light, but only its reflection outside. Suppose this person runs after that reflection thinking that it is a gem. We can imagine the mistake that he is making in cherishing that notion. But, suppose, at another place, there is a gem kept inside a room at a distance and the light emanating from it through an aperture is also reflected outside. If this reflection of light outside is mistaken for the gem itself, there is, naturally an erroneous perception, for the light of the gem is not the gem. In the two instances cited, where one person sees the gleam of the lamp and takes it for a gem, and another where one sees the ray of light emanating from a gem and thinks it is the gem itself, though there is similarity in so far as there is a mistaken notion regarding the gem, yet, there is a difference in the results that they would achieve in pursuing the objects of their quests. While the one who has mistaken the light of the lamp for the gem would not acquire the gem by approaching it, the other who has mistaken the light of the gem for the gem itself would, by going near it, obtain it. This is an illusion in perception called Samvadi, because, though initial perception is a mistake, the end reached is the desired one. Where the end reached is something quite different from the desired one, the mistaken perception is called Visamvadi-bhrama.
We have also instances of Samvadi error in inference and also acts based on scriptural injunctions. It is likely that by seeing mist at some place we may mistake it for smoke emanating from fire and move towards it in search of fire, and by chance, find fire there, though what was perceived originally was not the smoke emanating from the fire. This is an instance where there is Samvadi in inference. If a person sprinkles some water over himself thinking that it is from the holy Ganga, and gets purified, but it so happens that the water is not of the Ganga but of the Godavari, which is also holy, it is again the mistake known as Samvadi, where the mind thinks something different from the actual fact and yet reaches the desired result. If one is affected by high fever and utters in a delirious mood the holy name of Narayana, and reaches spiritual exaltation in the higher planes of existence thereby, it should be considered as an instance of Samvadi error. And so on, there can be hundreds of instances of such errors in respect of perception, inference and scriptural testimony, which lead to the desired end, nevertheless.
All types of meditation on images, such as those made of earth, or wood or stone, and also meditations on such concepts as prescribed in the Panchagni Vidya of the Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads, come under Samvadi ideas, because, here, the desired object is attained even though the means employed is a knowledge which does not really and directly correspond to the whole nature of the object. As in the example of the Samvadi-bhrama cited, an incorrect knowledge leads to a proper realisation of the end; so Upasana, or meditational concepts on the reality of Brahman lead to the final liberation of the soul because of the intense habituation of the mind to the sublime concepts of universal Existence, Consciousness etc., by which the Vedanta texts describe Brahman. By acquiring such indirect knowledge, the aspirant begins to intensely feel within himself the communion of his innermost ‘I’ with Brahman and recognises the presence of Brahman in his innermost being. This is the highest type of meditation, whereby the highest Reality is asserted in each and everything in the universe, including one’s own Self, but as long as there is only an idea of Brahman in the mind, as Existence, and there is no direct inward realisation in one’s own experience, as in the case of indirect knowledge of the deities like Lord Vishnu gathered from scriptures, this general knowledge acquired has to be regarded as conceptual (Paroksha) alone, notwithstanding that by the study of scriptures one has a clear notion of the Divine Being, Vishnu. This is just indirect knowledge, because, here, the Divine Being is not directly seen, but only visualised; but because of this, it cannot be said that indirect knowledge is an illusion, for, what makes knowledge an illusion is not its indirectness but the absence of the object to which it relates. A Divinity like Lord Vishnu is not a non-existent being, because his existence is affirmed in the scriptures which are valid proofs of knowledge, though in the present state of knowledge we have no direct realisation of such a Divine Being. Similarly, though we hear from the scriptures that Brahman is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, etc., since this has not yet become an actual experience within, it cannot be equated with realisation or direct knowledge of Brahman. Yet, this knowledge of an indirect nature is not illusory, because it has a relevance to reality, though indirectly. Though there are instructions in the Upanishads such as, Tat-Tvam-Asi (That Thou Art), where direct experience of Brahman is indicated, yet, merely on hearing such sentences, no immediate realisation comes to the seekers because of the absence of proper discrimination, reflection and profound meditation subsequent to hearing or studying. So long as there is the strong erroneous feeling that one is only a body or an individual, and there is the consequent relationship with the objects of the world, no amount of force applied on the mind will ever succeed in coming to the realisation of the Oneness of the Atman with Brahman, because here, after all, the impurity of the mind still persists, which accounts for its dullness and incapacity to grasp deeper truths. The faithful disciple and the student who knows the true meaning of the scripture has an adequate indirect knowledge of Brahman, but this indirect knowledge is not opposed to the direct knowledge of the dualistic world which he sees simultaneously. There is no opposition between the indirect feeling of the Divinity in an image and the direct perception of an ordinary object in it; naturally, no one can prevent the mind from visualising Beings like Lord Vishnu in images, though to the ordinary mind the image is only a physical object. Here the instance of the faithless need not be brought in as an argument, because the faithful alone are competent to undertake these arduous processes of practice prescribed in the Vedas and the Upanishads. Once this faith is acquired, there is an immediate rising of devout knowledge of the objective of meditation by means of instruction from the Preceptor, and this instruction in regard to meditation does not need any argumentation. Due to a possible diversity likely to be seen in the instructions, and the variety of Karmas and Upasanas mentioned in the scriptures, which are hard to understand for the ordinary minds of mortals, sages have taken the trouble of bringing all these teachings together and collating them in a suitable manner in such works as the Kalpa-Sutras, Brahma-Sutras, etc. With the help of these guides, the faithful aspirant can, even without further rational investigation, undertake the practice directly, with confidence in the words of the teachers.
The sages of yore have described the practice of various Upasanas (devout meditations) in their works, and those who have not the capacity to conduct self-enquiry and investigation for themselves can study these and grasp these under the instruction of a preceptor and then directly engage themselves in meditation. No doubt, a thorough investigation and enquiry may be required in the case of those who are aiming at ascertaining the true meaning of the scripture such as the Vedas, but the practice of Upasana does not require such arduous investigations. What is necessary is a mere implicit confidence in the words of the teacher and an immediate resorting to its practice. However, Brahma-Sakshatkara, or the realisation of Brahman, is not a question merely of faith or belief in what others say about it. It is a question of direct experience for oneself in one’s own deepest understanding and conscience. What prevents success in putting into practice all the indirect knowledge acquired through the scripture or the teacher is faithlessness, and the obstacle to direct realisation is non-discrimination. Though it may be that a person has practised self-enquiry for a very long time, if he has not yet realised Brahman, the duty here of the aspirant is not to discontinue meditation and enquiry, but proceed with it again till the attainment of direct experience. Sadhana (practice) concludes only in experience and never before. It is also possible that even though one practises enquiry and meditation till death, yet, the Atman has not been realised. But this should not be the cause for any dissatisfaction, because it only means that the obstructing Karmas have not yet come to an end, but it is certain that on their cessation realisation shall be attained in some future birth. In the Brahmasutras, too, it has been corroborated that one can attain knowledge either in this birth or in a future birth and it shall be attained the moment the obstacles have come to an end. This is also the reason why many people, though they have heard and studied much on the nature of the Atman, have no real knowledge of it. In the case of Sage Vamadeva, the obstacles to knowledge came to an end even while he was in the womb of his mother, and he had illumination then and there due to the force of the previous spiritual practices which he had undergone in past lives. As in the case of studying one may not be able to commit to memory a particular part of a text, for example, even after repeated reading of it, and it may be that on the next day the memory of it comes of its own accord, so in the case of knowledge, it reveals itself as a consequence of intense practice for a very protracted period, when the impediments are over. Knowledge matures gradually and not immediately, as in the case of the harvest. A child in the womb matures gradually, and Nature always goes by stages, and never by leaps and bounds. Yet, it is likely that on account of the threefold obstacles mentioned previously, knowledge may not dawn at all even after continued practice. These obstacles have to be overcome first in order that there may be final success on the path.