Sadhana – The Spiritual Way
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: Social Welfare Work and Conceiving Universality in the Ishta-Devata

From what you have heard earlier, you would have observed that yoga practice is also a social welfare work at the same time. The predominant trait of the human being is to misunderstand everything. Anything that is said, one distorts and takes in the wrong direction. Again, and again, the old habit of "myself doing the yoga practice" will persist, as if it has nothing to do with anybody else in the world. If you have properly gathered the harvest of the earlier discussions, you would have been able to give up this wrong notion that meditation is an individual affair. It is not only a cosmic affair, it is also a social affair.

In that sense, we may say that a yogi is the greatest social welfare worker. Nobody can do so much good to the world as a yogi engaged in meditation can do. You must know very well that the value of work depends upon what you think in your mind. There are millions of social welfare organisations in the world, many dedicated to society's welfare, but, actually, what they do with their hands and feet is not so important as what they are thinking in their minds at the time of their working.

What does a social welfare worker think in the mind? "Let me do good to people." And what kind of good are you going to do? You may give people clothing, food, water, arrange for electricity in their houses, also provide for medical attention; but why is a person so interested in doing this kind of social welfare work? There will be a very unintelligent answer in response to this question: "Just to serve. I like to serve and be of assistance to people – help to remove poverty, ignorance and disease. This is what I am intending to achieve."

Now, what do you get out of it, by your hard work in these social welfare circles? "I get satisfaction." What kind of satisfaction are you deriving? "I feel that I have done my duty. That is a great satisfaction to me." How long will you be able to provide the necessary means to a person? And, after all, what have you given to that person? Maybe you provide him with some academic education and the means of creature comforts of the body. Even after these attempts on your part, two consequences may follow. Due to your eagerness to work for the welfare of people, you may come in conflict with people – for some sentimental reason, society may not want you any more. To your own surprise, they can retaliate for your interference with a little sentiment of theirs, though you had a good intention of educating them, making them better human beings.

The great social welfare workers of the world were killed by the very people whom they served; they either shoot the man, or crucify him, or throw him out of their jurisdiction. Very few people go without this encounter with society. Reasons for this kind of unfortunate retaliation from people, against the very people who have done them good work, may also be of various types.

In the enthusiasm to do hard work for the welfare of people, you might not have properly understood their feelings, their needs, and their faiths, which may even be religious. Most of the religious people are fanatics. They will cling to some god, some temple, some fetish, some deity. If you interfere with these, all the good work that you have done to them will be null and void in one day. History is a record before you for your appreciation of this tremendously tragic consequence following from even well-intentioned good work done to people. You know world history and national history, and you might have read what happened to the great stalwarts of social welfare. So, the work that we do for the welfare of people in a purely secularistic manner of outlook will finally end in some despair to the people, as well as to your own self, who has been doing so much good work: "So much I have done. After all, people are ungrateful. I will go to ashrams and lead a retired life."

Politicians become social workers when they get fed up with political machinations: "They say politics is dirty. I will do good work to society." Social workers are again in a state of despair toward the end of their lives, and want to go to ashrams. The reason is that they have not approached the problem of life properly. The sentimental nationality-bound attitude is so limited that it cannot cater to the essential needs of the human being.

Every person has a soul. This aspect is totally neglected by social welfare workers. Nobody knows if there is a soul in a human being. Nobody asks, "How is your soul?" It looks like a ridiculous question to the common mind. But, as is your soul, so is your mind and body. So, without the education of the soul, the education of the mind and the body and social connection is not going to bring much benefit.

The yoga student, the yogi who practices meditation, understands society much better than politicians and social welfare workers. He knows the secret of human existence – not merely the operations of the mind and the bodily relations of people, but the yogi, through his investigational capacity, knows what a human being really needs.

As we have observed earlier, a person needs everything and all things. If you give something, he will feel that something else has not been given to him. And what has not been given will cloud his satisfaction that something has been given to him. "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is often buried with their bones," said Shakespeare. Whatever good you have done for people will be buried with your bones, but the wrongs that you have done will be remembered for eternity. This is human nature! You might have done ninety percent good, but ten percent of something unpleasant. People will remember only the ten percent, and the ninety percent will go to the winds. You have to understand people thoroughly before you deal with them.

Only a yogi can know the secret of human nature, in which the yogi also is included. So, the moment the yoga of meditation commences, a breeze of potential comprehensiveness blows from his heart and touches, through his deep feelings, the corners of the earth. It can satisfy even the gods in heaven.

Nobody has seen gods; we have seen only people and things. The meditational technique, being transcendental as well as personal and social, gets related to all things at the same time. Your meditations will stimulate the atmosphere and people around you, the world around you, and it will stimulate even the gods seated in their thrones.

In the earlier stages of this stimulating activity of the meditational process, there will be a surprised tumult both in earth and in heaven because you do not know what you are doing, and why you are doing it. Because the intention of your meditational technique is not known in the beginning, there is a disturbance created, as it is before we have a cool and balming rainfall. It is a tumultuous uproar in the skies; thunders and lightnings strike from all sides, disturbing us and the whole atmosphere, only to end in the great satisfaction of rainfall. In a similar manner, deep meditations (I am not talking of ordinary shallow contemplations) stimulate the vibrational contents of the entire atmosphere. Everything will sense what is happening.

In the earliest of stages, there will be a kind of oppositional atmosphere created around you. This is because the sense organs, which have been habituated to a particular way of operation, when they are made to retrace their steps to their source, will act in a manner like an ocean that is pushed back from the shores by a powerful wind. Huge waves will rise in the ocean, because of this gale striking the ocean-waves back towards its enter. There will be a catastrophic rising of water waves, which will dash with double force on the shore, deluging villages, uprooting trees, and inundating the entire area; but that is only in the initial stage. When the wind ceases, they retrace their steps and then the ocean maintains its original position.

You might have read in the Puranas and epics and the yoga scriptures that gods themselves feel disturbed by your meditations. Though you may not expect to see gods directly in your meditations, their actions can be seen manifest in the behaviour of people in the world. The god is not an isolated far-off divinity, astral in nature. It is an operative force in an ethereal region which can descend into the lowest region of the earth, so that a person just before you, around you, can act towards you in the same manner as the gods in heaven disturbed by your meditation. They can tempt you. You may say, Gods have not come, but you must know that people have come. They are the grosser media employed by the higher powers to carry out their intentions.

Ugly things will look beautiful. Tasteless dishes will look extremely delicious. A little thing in front of you will attract your attention. You may like to possess even a pencil, though earlier you had renounced the whole world. A little petty object that will not draw the attention of an ordinary householder will draw the yogi's attention because of the subtlety of the operation of the mind, and the subtle ways of the retaliation of the sense organs. Varieties of difficulties will arise.

These are not to be feared at all, if you are fully aware of the causes of these appearances. If you know what kind of illness you have, you will also be prepared to know all its manifestations through the body. Unprepared minds, suddenly exacting their will force, compelling the mind to meditate without proper understanding and discrimination preceding the act of meditation, will have to face problems. They can be thrown back to their original bound life in the world. But when you go deep into the structure of your meditational process, you will be touching your own heart.

Finally, it is the heart that meditates, not merely the mental conscious process. Where your heart is, there you also are; so, if the heart is elsewhere, the mental operations in the form of meditation will yield no benefit. If your heart rises to the surface of activity in the form of meditation, it will touch the souls of everybody else also, simultaneously. There will be a turning of the tables round, and all opposition will be pulled down, like the cessation of a tempestuous wind.

I mentioned to you about the amritamanthana process where the desired result, which was nectar, was not coming up. Deadly contradiction arises to cause you a sense of defeat, as if you have done something utterly wrong. After that, you will have a side-tracking process going on in your mind, which will direct you to pay excessive attention to things which look like achievements and attainments in yoga. They are the jewels that rise from the ocean. Finally, you have the nectar.

Thus, when you are seated for meditation, have a clear mind first. Viveka precedes vairagya and mumukshutva. Understanding is at the back of your renunciation and your aspiration for liberation. This understanding should guide you always. All your performances should be based on understanding, says the Bhagavad Gita. "Establish yourself in buddhi yoga, the yoga of understanding," which is the operation of the higher reason.

There are two types of reason: the lower reason and the higher reason. The lower reason is always attending upon the reports of the sense-organs. The lower reason says nothing new, apart from what the senses say. But the higher reason warns you, mentioning to you from moment to moment that there is a higher than what you are, higher than the world, higher than people, higher than even the gods in heaven. With this surety in your mind, sit for meditation.

When you are tired of sitting for a long time, do not continue the meditation. There may be an ache in some part of the body – knees, joints, back, spine, neck; even a slight headache may be there because of erroneous attention, erroneous concentration not properly analysed. At that time, stop the meditation. Lie down for a few minutes. Wash your face. Stroll on the verandah for a while. Take a few deep breaths and again relax yourself for some time. Then sit for meditation. You should not do anything continuously all the day. Persons who eat too much cannot meditate; persons who starve themselves also cannot meditate. Those who sleep throughout the day and night, or who do not sleep at all, also will not succeed, says the Bhagavad Gita.

Harmony is called yoga, balance is yoga – balance between the inner and the outer life. The extrovert and the introvert conditions of the mind have to be balanced in an awareness of your larger individuality. People who are always busy working, without even thinking about themselves, are half persons – only fifty percent. They are the extroverts. Those who have nothing to do with anybody in the world and only brood inside their own ideas in themselves in a corner of the world are also only fifty percent. They have severed a part of their connections with the world by this overemphasis on one side – either internally or externally. You should neither be an introvert nor an extrovert, but a balanced person which will produce a sense of cheer in your face – a smile, a kind of satisfaction which a healthy person has after a good meal, for instance. Such a satisfaction will arise in the mind.

"On what do you meditate?" is a question that repeatedly will come up. Devotees of God take to a form of God. After all, we have to worship only God. The idea of God is mostly made to arise in our minds by study of scriptures or company of saints. We have read the Vedas or the Upanishads, the epics, the Puranas, the Koran or the Bible, or some such thing which has compelled us to form a particular idea of divinity. According to the cultural background in which you have been brought up, even considering the ethnic impressions at the back of your mind, take to the concentration on that visualized form of the Supreme Creator of the universe.

Every religion believes in a Creator, but every religion differs in the idea of the Creator. We should not try to impose upon ourselves any new thought alien to our svadharma or svabhava, i.e., personal predilection or essential character. Don't try to introduce into your mind a concept that is alien to your belief and your faith. Take to that particular form of the higher ideal which is satisfying to you, because it is your faith and your religion, your culture: "My God is in front of me." God is not necessarily standing in front, but the habit of the mind to conceive everything as existing outside persists even in divine contemplations. "Bhagavan, come! I want to see you." This is how devotees offer their prayers. You would expect that divinity, God Almighty, to present Himself before you, and stand before you in the very form in which you expect Him to appear.

Conceive this form in your mind for as long a time as possible. If you cannot conceive anything in the mind because of the fickleness of the mind, have a portrait of that conceived ideal of your divinity in front of you; concentrate on that form. From head to foot, from foot to head, contemplate on all the parts of this wondrous manifestation before you. Why do you meditate on this divinity? Because, it is all-power, all-knowledge, all-blessing. Then feel in your heart that Bhagavan Sri Krishna is standing, Rama is there, Christ is there – whatever your god be in your mind. Tremendously, deeply, adjust yourself to the feeling that beams of compassion and power emanate from this divinity, as if the great god is blessing you and a ray of hope, divinity, power and solace is projected from the palm of that great god, and it is flooding you all over. You are bathed in the waters of knowledge, in the satisfaction of the sweetness of the nectar, and you feel a sense of security that nobody can shake a hair of your body, because here is the protecting force before you, ready to offer you whatever you want. This is the initial stage in which you can adjust your mind to the concept of your ishta-devata.

But is your god only standing in one place? Anybody else, also, anywhere in the world, can meditate in a similar manner and that very god of yours will be appearing there also before them. Then, in a second step, you raise your thought and feeling to the presence of this very divinity in many places at the same time. In all directions of your room you will find this divinity gazing at you from all directions. Many are the forms of that great god. As the sun can manifest himself in millions of rays, so God can manifest Himself in millions of forms. This is a step in advance over the initial concept of God standing in front of you, alone before you.

Then, take to the third higher step of feeling the presence of this divinity not pervading merely your room or the nearby atmosphere, but even all the sky and all space. When you look up, you see nothing but this flood of the forms shining like brilliant stars everywhere; wherever you cast your eyes, you see only that god.

In the Mahabharata, towards the end, there is an event described when the Kauravas were overthrown, and Duryodhana fell. Dronacharya's son Asvatthama was bosom friend of the fallen hero. Asvatthama was full of anger against the Pandavas because they caused the death of his father, and destroyed his friend Duryodhana, as well as the whole Kaurava army. Asvatthama had a cruel feeling in his mind. When he was brooding as to the method to be adopted, he saw in the twilight during sunset crows attacking a corpse, and even animals that were about to die. He thought, "This is the lesson for me. I shall follow this technique." He entered the camp of the Pandavas in the night. Fortunately, the omniscient Krishna knew what was going to take place, and had told the Pandavas not to sleep in the camp that night. Only Draupadi's children, five in number, were sleeping there.

But when Asvatthama was about to enter the camp, he found that it was not an easy affair. He found a tremendous, fierce figure standing in front of him, extending from the earth to the heaven. Nobody could know what it was. Fire was emanating from its mouth. The great poet Vyasa says in the poem that by the sight of that form, even the mountains would break to pieces – such a terror manifested itself when Ashvatthama was just entering to do a heinous deed.

Not only was this form terrible to look at; millions of Krishnas started emanating from every pore of the body of this being. The whole sky was filled with Krishnas, the very thing that he hated and would not like even to think in the mind. Everywhere round about, top and bottom, all the sky was filled with Krishna. This fierce being was Lord Siva, an alter-ego of Krishna.

This is how you have to conceive your divinity as present everywhere, in all places. Suppose you see stars only everywhere, without any gap between one star and another star – just a flood of light everywhere, and then feel a thrill. In this way you contemplate your divinity, your ideal, your Rama or Krishna or Christ, whatever it is.

Then go a step further. If everywhere this divinity is seen, then where are you sitting at that time? You also have gone to the stars. You have become one of the stars; you have become one of the forms of this divinity. When the divinity has flooded the whole space, do you think it has excluded you? It has transformed you with the magical touch of its manifestation everywhere. You have also started shining like a star at that time. Stars are contemplating the stars, divinity is looking at divinity; God is meditating upon Himself. "I am what I am," - not this little Mr. "I," Mrs. "I." It is the "I" of God, the only "I" existing everywhere, supreme aham brahma, as the Upanishads say. This is a very high state of meditation, penultimate to merging completely, in which you do not know what actually happens to you. Several stages of your ascent have been described in the yoga scriptures.

Don't be under the impression that it is all so easy, as it has been described here. Your physical nature, your bodily impulses, will prevent you from taking sudden steps of this kind. You have to be austere in your thinking and detached in your personality from all contacts in the world, and learn to be satisfied with your own self.

Each one of you should know: Are you completely satisfied in your own self, and you don't want any contact with anybody? "I am sufficient to myself." That sufficient individuality only is capable of taking such steps in meditation, as described. So the prerequisites come to our mind once again: yama (self-restraint), niyama (self-discipline), viveka (reasoning capacity), vairagya (non-attachment), shatsampat (sixfold moral virtues), and mumukshutva (longing for liberation). We should pave the foundation of cleansing before the meditation commences. A dustbin cannot meditate. There must be the clarity of a crystal, which is possible if the dirt of kama-vasana, krodha-vasana, lobha-vasana are melted down from their gross condition to the transparent condition of luminous spirit. Then meditation becomes possible.

This is the reason why the yoga texts tell you that meditation is not the first step. The earlier stages are not to be ignored (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara), about which we learned something already. Dharana (concentration) comes later on; dhyana (meditation) is very far indeed. Though meditation is what you should practise every day, you must also have paved the ground of all the previous stages in your mind. Either you go stage by stage, or, with your power of discrimination and will, transform yourself through all the earlier stages also at the same time and become a giant of understanding. Either way is possible. One way is called the ant's process, another is called the bird's process. The ant goes slowly, crawling, but it will reach its destination one day. This is how you go slowly practising yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana for years and years, and then go to meditation. This is the ant's process.

But the bird flies at once to the point where it wants to reach. You can compress all the stages into your personality, if you have the power to do that. That power will be there if you have no desires in your mind. It is up to you to decide whether you are an ant or a bird. The bird has two wings; the ant has no wings, so you have to develop the wings of viveka and vairagya so that you may fly like the bird. Both things are possible, and in fact you have the capacity to do both the things. But if you are not sufficiently competent, don't endanger yourself by breaking your legs, running fast too early.