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The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Chapter 83: Choosing an Object for Concentration

Deśa bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā (III.1). Tatra pratyaya ekatānatā dhyānam (III.2). These two sutras at the commencement of the Vibhuti Pada of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define the processes of concentration and meditation. The fixing of the attention of the mind on a particular objective is called concentration, and the continuous flow of the mind uninterruptedly for a protracted period in respect of that objective is called meditation. This fixing of the mind on the objective is itself a very difficult task, and the very fact that so much preparation had to be done in the form of yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, etc. for getting into this mood of concentration should prove the nature of the difficulty. The mind will not agree to concentration on anything exclusively because the structure of the mind is like a web which has its warps and woofs and is not a compact substance like a piece of diamond. It is a fabric constituted of various individual and isolated functions which get together into a so-called compactness and create the appearance of there being such a thing as a self-identical mind.

The mind is constituted, to some extent, in a way similar to the structure of the physical body. That means to say, even as the body is not a compact indivisible whole and is constituted of many, many minute parts, down to the most minute called cells and organisms, and yet the body appears to be a single concrete substance, so is the case with the mind. It is constituted of functions – vrittis, as they are called – and yet it appears to be a single entity. This singleness of its existence is an appearance, not a substantiality or reality, even as the single concrete presentation of the physical body is only an appearance. It is not there really. The peculiar structure of the mind – namely, its internal disparity of character – prevents it from focusing itself wholly on any objective. What is it that prevents the concentration of the mind on any one thing continuously? It is the mind itself. The nature of the mind is averse to the requisitions of concentration. Concentration is the flow of a single vritti, one continuous idea hammering itself upon an object that is presented before it. But the mind is not made up of a single idea. The mind has hundreds and thousands of ideas hidden within it, and it is made up of these ideas, like a cloth is made up of threads. Because of this composite character of the mind, which is made up of fine elements inside in the form of these vrittis, it becomes difficult for it to gather its forces into a single focus.

The gathering of the forces of the mind into a single focus becomes difficult because the internal elements, which are the vrittis of the mind, do not agree with each other. The members of the family have independent views. If one member does not agree with another member in the family, we can imagine the nature of the family and the kind of life they live in the house. If at every step a member disagrees with the other, and yet he belongs to the family, there would be a continuous restlessness felt internally in the family. This is what is happening to the mind. It is a restlessness continuously felt inside on account of the disharmonious relationship of the ideas, or the vrittis in the mind, which hanker for different types of satisfaction in respect of different objects which they want to grab on different occasions. That the mind is ordinarily contemplating on a particular object of sense at any given moment of time is not any indication that it will not like other objects.

The particular attention that the mind and the senses pay to a given object at a particular time is an indication of the preponderance of the particular vritti at that particular time in respect of that object, for the sake of fulfilment thereby. But the fulfilment by contact of the senses with the objects is variegated, and it is not of any specific character. The reason why there is an endlessness of desires, and a continuous dissatisfaction felt even in spite of the fulfilment of desires, is due to the presence of infinite urges in the mind which want to press themselves forward in respect of their own objects. But, due to unfavourable conditions, all of them cannot press themselves forward at the same time. Though a hundred people may have a hundred desires in their minds, it may be that every desire cannot be fulfilled at the same time because of the different conditions which contribute to the fulfilment of these desires, so each desire will raise its head at the appropriate moment. Hence, the mind is filled with these urges and is made up of these urges. How will we bring all these urges together in a compact mass and focus the whole of them into the direction of the object of meditation?

The very first step is the most difficult step. This requires a very terrible adjustment of ideas. The sadhaka, the seeker, has to work very hard to introduce some sort of an organisation in the midst of the variegated ideas which run hither and thither in disparity – just as the head of a family, if he is wise enough, may bring about some sort of an organisation in the family in spite of the fact that the members disagree among themselves, as otherwise there will be only disagreement and no such thing as a family. The very purpose of there being a head of the family is to introduce system into the chaos that would be there otherwise. The aspiration for the realisation of a higher goal acts like the head of a family which brings this disparity of ideas into a focused attention. It does not mean that the mind is really united in the act of concentration, or dharana. It is still disunited inside; therefore, there is a vast difference between the stage of dharana and the further advanced stages, which are yet to be reached, where there is a complete union of ideas. There is no such complete union in dharana – there is still restlessness. But there is a force exerted upon the mind as a whole by the aspiration that is at the background of this effort at concentration.

The fixing of the mind on the point also implies the choosing of the point. What is the point on which we are concentrating? We have the traditional concept of the ishta devata, a term designating the nature of the object of meditation, which gives a clue as to what sort of object it should be. It should be ishta and it should be our devata. Only then we can allow the mind to move towards it entirely. We must worship that object as our god or goddess, our deity, our alter-ego, our centre of affection, our love, our everything; that should be the object. And, it is the dearest conceivable. There is nothing in this world so dear to us as that – such a thing is called the ishta devata. What is there in this world which is so dear to us, which we worship as God Himself? Is there anything like that? If there was no such thing as that, it would have to be there; otherwise, the mind will not move towards the object. How can the mind move towards an object which it does not regard as the highest ideal, which it regards as only one among the many? If the idea is that there is a possibility of other objects also, equally valuable as the one here presented, why should not the mind turn to other directions?

When there is an equal reality or value recognised in the other objects of the world, then there is every chance of the mind moving towards other objects also, because of an equal reality and value present there. Then there is no question of ishta or devata here. If there can be another ideal which is equal to this, this cannot be called ishta. The ishta is the highest conceivable object of affection and, therefore, it is necessary to feel the presence of the highest values in this object of meditation. Here the difficulty that one feels is really insurmountable, because there is no conceivable object in this world which can be regarded as the dearest, with nothing equal to it. How is it possible to imagine such an object? There are other things also equal to it; and as long as this feeling is there that other things are equal to it, there is a fallibility of concentration, a coming down of the aspiration and a lessening of the intensity of the process.

With a tremendous effort of will and understanding, we have to create an object of concentration if we have not got one already – one which is physically available to us in this world. All that we need should be present in it. Only then the mind will go there. What is it that we need? Do we find it there in the object of our concentration? If we are convinced that everything that we require, everything that is the ideal of our aspiration is present there, naturally there is a point in the mind going towards it. But if we think that our ideals and loves are somewhere else, then the mind will naturally go somewhere else and not to this object. So it is necessary at the outset to make an analysis of our needs, aspirations and requisitions. Why are we concentrating the mind at all? Why have we taken up this task? What is the purpose? The purpose is to achieve something. What is that something?

This something which we achieve, or wish to achieve through concentration, is something very difficult to understand in the beginning. People are very restless in their minds and incapable of thinking about one thing continuously, even for a few minutes. That is the reason why they cannot understand what is good for them. If we ask a person, “What is it that you want?” – he cannot answer this question. He does not know what is good for him. Even a very intelligent man cannot answer this question, because this intelligence, ordinarily speaking, is useless when we come to this difficult problem of choosing the highest objective of one’s life. Such a thing does not exist; it is not conceivable. Nobody has seen it and nobody can think about it. But now comes a time when it is necessary to pinpoint this object, and we cannot continue to hobnob with various other sense-objects, thinking that each one is equally good. If each one is equally good, even then, what prevents the mind from choosing one, since it is as good as the other? Why is it that the mind is restless?

Again we come to that original analysis of the nature of the mind – why it is moving like that, from object to object. It has got many aims in intention, and these aims are nothing but the satisfaction of the different types of vrittis of which it is constituted. So it will not be amenable to any kind of pinpointing, because this pinpointing implies the satisfaction of a single vritti only, leaving the other vrittis unsatisfied. This is a difficulty which it feels, and a suspicion that it has got: “You are trying to compel me to concentrate on one thing, so that I may get only that, but what about my other children who also ask for many things?” If only one child is satisfied, the father is not happy. Other children are there, and they also have to be satisfied. So, what about the other children – the other vrittis – whom we have completely ignored, as it were, in our attempt at driving any one particular vritti only in the direction of the object that we have chosen now? The mind cannot appreciate that this object of concentration is not going to be the fulfilment only of a single vritti – that it is going to be the fulfilment of every vritti. It is something which can satisfy all our children and is not merely the goal of only one child. This is what the mind has to understand. But it will not understand.

The objects in this world are, unfortunately, constituted in such a way that they can attract only a particular vritti at a particular time; they cannot attract all the vrittis. Hence, we are not accustomed to the conception of any object which can attract all the vrittis. Such a thing has not been seen in this world, and now we are saying that such a thing is possible. Is there anything which can draw the attention of the entire force of our mind at one stroke? We have not seen such a thing, and so we do not believe it when we are told that in yoga such a thing is possible. One thing that is important here is to make the mind awaken itself to this enlightenment that the object of meditation is not the satisfaction of one vritti merely, like the objects of the senses. It is the total aspiration of the whole structure of the mind getting fulfilled. “The whole family will be happy,” we must tell the mind, “not merely one vritti.”

The desires of the mind generally cannot get fulfilled, on account of an infinite craving that is behind the vrittis of the mind. It is not a finite desire that we have got; our desires are infinite. The reason is that we are in some way connected, rightly or wrongly, with something behind us that is endless. We are not completely cut off from the forces of nature, though it looks as if we are outside them. There is a pressure exerted by the vast reservoir of the entire nature, due to which it is not possible for any vritti to be satisfied entirely.

Therefore it is that no desire can be really satisfied, because the intention of a desire is not merely the contact of it with an object; it is a satisfaction that it seeks, not contact with objects. That satisfaction cannot come as long as the asker for the satisfaction is an infinite background. The infinite is asking for infinite joy through the little tunnel, or the pipe, which is the mind that connects the individual with the objects. The whole ocean cannot pass through a pipe; it is not possible. But yet this is what is expected. We are trying the impossible; therefore, we can never be happy in this world. The impossibility of fulfilment of desire arises on account of an infinite urge that is at the background of a finite desire. This is a contradiction. A finite desire cannot comprehend or contain within itself the energy of an infinite asking, so we are kept in suspense at all moments of time. At any given moment of time we are forcefully driven to the object for the achievement of a satisfaction which is really not in the hands of any vritti of the mind. This difficulty is there at the base of even the effort at concentration and meditation.

This difficulty has to be solved first, by proper viveka and vairagya – a clear understanding of the difficulty in which we have been placed, the nature of the difficulty or the reason behind it, and the way out of it. How do we know that meditation is the remedy for all these problems? Why is it that we take to yoga? It is because we have got great sufferings in life. The whole of life is nothing but an endless medley of confusion, chaos and pain. We want to get out of this. That is why we take to yoga. But how do we know that yoga is the remedy for it? How is yoga going to rectify all these difficulties? Unless this is understood properly, the mind cannot be taken to the point of concentration. We cannot simply hear someone saying that yoga is the way, and then proceed. The mind has to be convinced that this is the remedy, and that this is the remedy because this is our problem. When we know the nature of the disease, we can also know the nature of the medicine. If we do not know the disease itself, how can we know the medicine? How can we know that yoga is the remedy unless we know what our problem is? So, what is the problem? What is the difficulty? What is the trouble? Why are we crying? What are we asking for? If this is clear to the mind, the way out of the problem also will be clear automatically. We will at once know that yoga is such a peculiar thing that there can be no other alternative for this problem.

As a little hint, I have mentioned what this problem is. It is the problem of fulfilment of desires – nothing but that. The whole of life is nothing but this difficulty. The desires spontaneously arise in the mind but they cannot be fulfilled for various reasons, the main reason being that they are propelled by an infinite urge which seeks infinite satisfaction; but this cannot be achieved due to the little aperture through which the finite movement of the mind moves towards finite objects. Thus, the means adopted in the achievement of the objective is defective. If the infinite urge within has to be satisfied, there should be an infinite means to fulfil it. We cannot have a finite means. The individual is finite, the senses are finite, the mind is finite, and the objects also are finite. How can we have infinite satisfaction from them? But that the desire within is infinite is not known to us. We are cleverly screened away from this knowledge by a trick of nature which keeps the world going on. Otherwise, we will immediately wake up to the problem on hand, and then defeat nature of all its purposes.

Nature is very clever and will never allow us to know what her tricks are – a great magician indeed. So we will not know what the magician is doing, and how things are coming up suddenly. We are placed in a very difficult context. We are always embarrassed and caught by both our ears, so that we cannot move either this way or that way. We cannot keep quiet and not attempt to fulfil the desires. That is one way we are caught. The other way is that we cannot be satisfied by any amount of satisfaction of desires. So we are caught the other way also. We cannot keep quiet and we cannot do anything. This is a problem. How is yoga going to be the remedy for it?

Yoga is the remedy because it summons to the forefront, to the daylight of knowledge, the deep-seated urge which is causing this problem. The ringleader of the problem is called immediately to the court and accosted openly, and the problem is tackled directly in an open forum – it is not kept hidden inside. Our difficulties are caused by the presence of the infinite behind them which is the problem. It is not the finite objects that are the causes of the troubles. We are unnecessarily complaining that this is like this or that is like that. The world is not the cause of our problems. The world has been only a cat’s paw that has been thrust forward by the infinite behind it, which is always kept in the background and never brought to the forefront. What is behind is something unseen, and what is in front of us is not the cause of the trouble. But we transfer the cause of the trouble to the seen objects, and then it is that we make complaints about things. The trouble arises from something which we have not seen with our eyes, and which cannot be seen. It is the cause of the outward movement of the mind and the senses.

When the cause is brought to the surface of consciousness, the problem is brought to the surface of consciousness and then we can deal with it directly in the manner required. This is what yoga does. In the great endeavour called concentration of mind, or dharana, we try to pull up to the surface of consciousness the infinitude of aspiration that is behind the desires of the mind which are limited in nature. If this is properly understood, we will know how and why the object of concentration should be our ishta, because it is ‘that’ which can fulfil the infinite longings of this infinite background. It is, really speaking, a symbol of all-round perfection that we place before ourselves as the object of meditation. The object of meditation is symbolic of perfection; it should have no defects. It should be artistically beautiful, philosophically sound and spiritually solacing. That is the nature of the object of concentration, because if there is any defect – either from the point of view of the understanding of the intellect or the appreciation of the aesthetic sense, or in any other manner – the mind will not move towards this object. It should contain all the characteristics that are regarded as valuable in the world.

Thus, we have to superimpose, in the beginning, all those blessed qualities which we require to be satisfied in our mind, ordinarily speaking. This is a type of psychological analysis that we are making of the point on which the mind is to be fixed – the desa, as the sutra puts it, to which the mind has to be tied. The mind cannot be tied to a point like that easily, unless all this background, or its history, is properly known. From this analysis we also come to the understanding that this point is not merely a dot on the wall, as many people imagine. Rather, it is a symbolic focusing point, a metaphorical point – not a geometrical point – which allows all the infinite characteristics of our longings to converge upon one point. It is the point, really speaking, where we find the satisfaction of our desires. Though the desires of the mind are endless, how is it that the mind sometimes rushes forward towards a single object? How does it become possible for the mind to see all perfection in a single object at the time when it runs towards the object? That is because at that particular moment of time, the given object manages to attract towards itself all the values which the mind seeks. That becomes the converging point of all our longings – for that particular time only. Afterwards, that object will withdraw itself and some other object will come to the forefront. So unless all our aspirations get focused at that particular point, it cannot become the point of concentration.

We now conclude that this point is not merely a physical point. It is more a type of conceptual point, or rather the centre of our affection, which cannot find a physical location anywhere. It cannot be seen in this world. Such is the intricacy that is involved in the choosing of the object of meditation itself. This difficulty is a little bit obviated by the assistance that we receive from a Guru at the time of initiation.