A Textbook of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 9: Meditation on the Ishta Devata

Having known so much about our own selves during our sessions of consideration of various aspects of life and creation, it becomes incumbent upon us to place ourselves in a position that is befitting the structure of this vast atmosphere. The word 'yoga', translated as union, is a simple act of being friendly with the atmosphere, the environment, the structure of creation. If we think of it deeply, we will find it is a simple matter to be just normal, friendly, harmonious, and be in a state of 'at-one-ment' with that to which we really belong, and from which we can never be separated.

What is the problem? It is so simple. We are not being asked to do something unnatural, something out of the way, some work, some duty, some obligation—something that has been foisted upon us as a work that does not belong to us. Meditation is not a work; it is a state of being. It is an affirmation of what we really are.

Now here immediately an answer will come from you: "I know very well what I am." It is only to decondition your mind from the old idea about yourself that we have to take so much time going into several kinds of in-depth analysis. To be what you are would also mean being in harmony with everything inextricably related to you. Again, you have to remember the three aspects of the self which we considered deeply the other day. What you are is a blend of all the three aspects of the self, though these aspects will gradually melt down into a singularity of the concept of the self as you advance in your practice of yoga meditation.

It was also pointed out that, in the context of the consideration of asana, or posture, meditation requires a seatedness of your personality. The position, the posture of your body, should be seated—not walking, standing or lying down—for reasons you already know. Where will you be seated? In the railway station? In the hotel? Where are you going to sit? In your house? You have to find a place for sitting. Place, time and method may be regarded as three important factors in yoga practice—and all three should be proper. An improper place, improper time and improper method will yield no result.

Now, what are these proper methods, proper timings and proper places? You know very well what you are aiming at. You know what your goal is. What are its characteristics? Meditation is an endeavour on your part to behave in your own self in a manner which is harmonious with the characteristic and behaviour of that which you are aiming at. A friend is a person whose behaviour, conduct, outlook, requirement, is set in perfect tune with the person to whom he is a friend. People who think differently cannot be friends. Even the outlook of life should be similar; they have to aim at the same thing.

Meditation is a development of friendship with God; and you cannot be a friend of God unless you are able to think in the manner He thinks. You know very well that disparity of conduct cannot become a qualification for friendship. There is no secrecy between friends, so you should not keep something private which you will not reveal even before God Himself. Then you cannot be a friend of God.

After having heard so much, can you visualise what kind of thought could be God-thought? What would be the way in which God visualises this creation? What would be His attitude to this world? You may say, "I have never seen God. How can I know what He thinks and what He feels about things?" You need not see God to answer this question. The question can be answered by an effort on your part to place yourself in a position which can safely be regarded as something like the position God occupies in this universe. You have to transfer your consciousness to another location. Actually, meditation is nothing but this transference of consciousness from the location of the body to the location that is the object of meditation.

Inclusiveness, freedom from every kind of exclusiveness, universality, absence of any kind of want, presence everywhere—these may be said to be the characteristics of God. In a way, this is a characteristic of consciousness. That which is everywhere should also have an attitude towards things which cannot contradict its being present everywhere. If you are everywhere, in all things—if consciousness, which is your essential nature, is also the consciousness which is the Self of all beings—what would be your attitude towards things? So your own extended outlook developed in this manner may fairly be said to be the outlook of God Himself. All things are within, and there is nothing outside consciousness. This is the position which you may associate with God's existence.

The place, the time and the method should not be in any way disharmonious with your expectation from the practice of meditation. The troubles of a spiritual seeker arise from a difficulty in freeing himself from the atmosphere of likes and dislikes, loves and hatreds, and the idea of possession of property, wealth, relationship with people, and the like. To avoid this difficulty, people generally leave an urban atmosphere, a large city of noise, and go to mountaintops, sequestered places where people around are not in any way disharmonious with their spiritual ambitions and aspirations. This is the first step that people generally take. They go to an ashram or a temple, or even a dharmashala, or any place other than that with which they are habituated—a place where circumstances prevailing outside do not excite their old desires or even bring the memory of old desires.

The timing of the practice is the second factor. Will you be sitting for meditation at any time? In advanced stages, any time is good. "Any time is teatime," as people say. But in the earlier stages, you will find that the body will not easily cooperate. Even the mind will resent this practice. Hence, a gradual progress should be attempted. Never jump, and never expect a double promotion. Every step, every stage should be carefully passed through. People say many things about this time factor. Some people say early morning, before sunrise, is good; some people say it is good to meditate before going to bed, and so on. These are prescriptions of a traditional nature. Though these prescriptions have some meaning, they need not be taken too literally because whatever is feasible and comfortable, causing no pain either to the body or the mind, may be considered as suitable for your purpose.

Painlessness is also a very important factor; otherwise, it will become a kind of infliction, an imposition, a mechanical routine that that will bring nothing in the end. Anything that is done with resentment is not a fruitful activity. Neither should the body resent, nor should the mind resent. You should feel happy. How do you feel happy? The position of the body, the asana, should be so flexible that it should not cause agony either in the joints or in the back, etc. That is a minor point which is known to you; but the more important factor is the mind. Is it amenable to the ordinance that you have passed on it, that at this time of the day you will do this thing? Like an army commander, you are issuing instructions. Generally, nobody likes to receive instructions. They think, "This is a hopeless thing, as if I don't understand. Why do you give me instructions? What this man is ordering?" The mind should not be given instructions. It should not be ordered. You do not like to be ordered by anybody; you know this very well. It is not very pleasant.

There are three ways of handling a thing. One is by saying, "I am saying that this should be done, and you have to do it." The second way is, "It is very good to do this. If you do this, so much benefit will accrue. Look at this! The same thing was done by so many people in earlier days. They had blessings of various types. That person lived like this. That king, that emperor, that saint, that sage, that genius, that scientist, that litterateur—see how they lived! This is a very good thing. How glorious and great they were! You should also pursue this method. Don't you think this is good?" This is a more pleasant way of handling a thing than saying it has to be done. The third way is, "It will be very beneficial. Do you know what will happen to you if you do this? Gradually, your efforts will fructify into a glorious achievement, and the achievement will be so blissful, so inclusive that you will find everything that you want! So why don't you do it?" These are the three methods to be adopted, whichever is convenient at the appropriate time.

There is a basic fear in the heart of every person that the achievements in spiritual practice or meditation are, somehow or the other, irreconcilable with the values of life. Everyone has this little suspicion in their heart of hearts. Sometimes in religious circles the feeling goes so deep that the world is entirely condemned as anti-God. It is the number one evil. Even this body is an evil; it has to be disciplined, tortured, crushed, so that it may not raise its head. Extreme asceticism and renunciation of everything that is usually considered as pleasant and worthwhile in this world is dubbed as evil. The whole world is anti-spiritual. Therefore, the pursuit of spirituality is a movement in a direction opposite to what the world is taking. This is the attitude of a section of thinking which is partly philosophical, partly religious—a kind of fundamentalist attitude, as people generally say these days.

Well, you may have this attitude. But, will you tear yourself away from that to which you belong? Let this world be shunned as anti-God. Do you believe that you are an integral part of this world, and your vitality, your very breath is connected with the structure of the world itself? Do you realise that renunciation of the world includes renunciation of what you yourself are?

There is another mistake committed in the attempt at renunciation of things. "I have renounced the world. I have renounced family relations. I will renounce all connection with the world." People sometimes make statements of this kind.

Now, where are you sitting at this moment if you have renounced the whole world? Can you find an inch of space to exist anywhere if the whole world has gone and has been abandoned? Do you realise that you also have gone with the world? A person who has renounced the world has automatically renounced his own existence together with the existence of the world. If this can be achieved, it is wonderful. You have gone with that which has been renounced. If something has gone, you have also gone with it.

But the ego principle will not permit this. "It is a renunciation of everything other than my own self." Unfortunately, in this predicament, "my own self" is the ego principle. The renunciation of the world, vairagya, which is always considered as a prerequisite for spiritual practice, is a highly misconceived and abused concept. Many a time it becomes a formality of outward demeanour without any inner or internal transvaluation of values.

A little bit of philosophical insight, in the sense of a good knowledge of what it is that you are going to do and where exactly you are involved, is also necessary when you practice religion or yoga. Rushing headlong without thinking properly is not going to bring you anything. You should not rush into spiritual practice. Every step should be a firm step, carefully taken, well placed, so that you may not have to retrace it afterwards. Later on, you should not feel that some mistake has been committed. Take time; do not be in a hurry. God is not going to run away. He will be always there. Even if you take years, what does it matter? Go slowly, but do not slip down.

The time factor for meditation is that time when you are inwardly very happy in yourself, with no occupational thought in the mind. There should be no other occupation for at least three hours from the time you sit for meditation, because if there is something to be done immediately after, a part of the mind will go to that thing which is also equally important. Catching a train, going to an office or having a case in a court—these thoughts should not be there; they should be far, far away. Otherwise, there will be restlessness on the subconscious level. The timing should be such that at that hour or minute of your sitting, there is no mental occupation other than that for which you are sitting. It may be morning, or it may be any time. You select the time for yourself because you are the person who does the meditation, and not somebody else who is prescribing particular timings for you.

But the most important thing is the method that you are adopting. The place and the time are secondary matters. Later on you will know very well which place is good and what time is proper. But the method—what are you doing when you sit for meditation? All sorts of things are told by people. "I think nothing," is one answer. "I drive away all the thoughts," is another answer. "I think of my breath," is a third answer. "I think of my heart," is a fourth answer. "I concentrate on the point between the eyebrows," is a fifth answer. Now, what is your answer? In meditation, you are directing the attention of your mind on something. Concentration—or meditation, as you may call it—is an attention on something, a continuous fixation of the flow of the consciousness through the mind. But on what? On that which you want. This is a simple answer.

Meditation is an attention of the mind on that which you really want. The psychology of the mind is such that you will certainly get whatever you want deeply, from the recesses of your being. There is nothing in this world which you cannot achieve. Even so-called impossible things can be attained. The impossibility is due only to external factors intruding into the practice. Actually, there is nothing impossible. The only condition is, you must really want it. Anything that is wanted by you wholly, whole-heartedly, from your very soul, will be at your service. The heavens will descend, if only you want the heavens to descend. But if you have a doubt in the mind that this is an impracticable thing, then you are to blame.

Choose for yourself what it is that you want to contemplate upon in meditation. It is no use reading a book, asking questions to various Gurus, and getting into some sort of a routine of practice, unless it is really the thing that you want. I mentioned to you one of the methods is the concentration on breath. Let it be; go on with it. But is it the thing that you want? Are you entering into spiritual life, religious practice, meditation, because you want to breathe properly? You will feel that this is not so. "What I want is not merely breathing, though it is true that I would like to breathe well." Then what is it that you want, finally? This question cannot easily be answered unless you have a very good philosophical mind. You want only that which is truly there and which is going to fill you with a completion of your being, and you may add various qualifications like deathlessness, immortality—or you may say God-Being.

That concept has to be clear in the mind, and it can be entertained by various techniques which are prescribed in the yoga shastras. That on which you are concentrating or meditating is a kind of god. By 'god', I do not mean the creator of the universe. I mean something that is complete, without which you cannot exist, and which promises you every kind of fulfilment. That is why it is called a beloved deity, an Ishta Devata. The Sanskrit term is Ishta Devata. It is a very dear, beloved thing. The object of meditation is not merely a technique of discipline. It is a very, very beautiful, dear, inseparable thing. Have you seen anything in this world which is dear to you, which is beloved, before which the heart shakes, is thrilled, is enthused or in rapture? Have you seen anything in this world? Or you are in a state of dispiritedness always, and nothing pleases you? Generally, nothing in the world can please you always.

A certain stimulation of the psyche may appear to be pleasing for the time being; but that stimulation may cease, and then the pleasure also ceases. All pleasures in this world are stimulations of nerves, it is said. So, to always keep something as your final goal is difficult in this world. Even wealth cannot attract you for all times. High position in society cannot be always secure. This is the reason why the yoga shastras, the scriptures in yoga, prescribe an adjustment of thought in such a way that it will create before itself something very dear. There are no dear things in this world, finally. They perish, and you are bereaved of them. You can lose anything in this world, even the dearest thing. Hence, to perpetually hold on to something which is dear is difficult here; but there must be something. Inasmuch as the Ultimate Reality of all this creation is a substance which is inseparable from consciousness, your Ishta or beloved deity also is a form of consciousness. If God Himself is consciousness, the object of your meditation cannot but be that.

You should attempt to create a presentation before you; you have to create a god for yourself. How will you create a god? The consciousness, which is your essential being, adjusts itself to a particular formation of itself, before itself, which is associated with all the qualities of permanency, inclusiveness, blessedness, beauty and perfection. The object of meditation should not only be dear; it should also be perfect, inclusive, in which you can find the fulfilment of all your wishes. All that you want will be found there. It is a divinity because it transcends all the things of this world in its perfection and inclusiveness. It is difficult to conceive of such an object.

You may ask again and again, "What is this Ishta Devata? Who is my Ishta Devata?" Inasmuch as a student in the initial stages cannot prescribe this concept for himself or herself, a readymade concept is placed before the student. Your Ishta Devata is the god whom you worship. Everyone has a concept of God. It may be adequate or inadequate, perfect or otherwise; it does not matter. The very concept of God is a concept of that in which you will find your fulfilment. It does not matter what that concept is. In all religious practices, in all religious circles, there is a prescription of a concept of God which they consider as final for them. This is a purely religious idea. It may be Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, or whatever it is. There are people who do not belong to any religion, or at least they say so. But, they still have some concept of what they finally need, as one cannot always be negative, wanting nothing and having nothing to regard as final.

The choice of the particular deity is left to you; and if you cannot choose it for yourself, it has to be entertained with the consent of a teacher whom you consider as competent—your Guru. The choice of this Ishta Devata is a purely personal matter, and it cannot be the topic of a public lecture. It is a relationship between a Guru and a disciple, because each person differs in their concept of the Ishta Devata, or the beloved deity.

Whatever that deity be, it is something which has a peculiar characteristic differentiating it from all other things in the world. And that differentiating factor is that it is above you and not just outside you. Your god is not sitting outside you, in front of you, or entirely external to you. A thing may be appearing to be outside you, and yet it may be transcendent.

There are illustrations of this kind even in this world. Someone who is holding an authority over a particular atmosphere may be a person, and in the sense of a person, that person appears to be outside. You can see that person holding the authority, so you may say it is external. But that person's importance or authority cannot be seen as an external object in front of your eyes. It is a pervasive principle transcending you; you should call it above you, not outside you. I hope you understand what I mean. Authority, kingship or administrative responsibility is not an external object, though the person holding that responsibility may look like somebody sitting on a chair. Here is an illustration of how something which is very important is really above you, transcending you, superior to you; yet, its manifestation may look like something placed before you as an object or a person.

Thus, you can have an Ishta Devata's picture in front of you: a god that is a painted picture, an idol, a concept, a symbol, a diagram—whatever it is. And yet, you need not regard your deity as something sitting in that particular symbol. Just as responsibility and authority are not identical with the personality of the individual concerned, the god whom you are worshipping is not identical with the symbol or the image, though it is the medium of the expression of that divinity which is otherwise transcendent. Hence, the god on whom you meditate is something above you. A very clear concept of how it is above has to be entertained. Inasmuch as it is above you, it fills you. Inasmuch as it is above you and is transcendent to you, you are inside it—just as you are included in the pervasive atmosphere of someone's authority, in spite of the fact that you are an independent person.

Therefore, this god whom you are worshipping, concentrating upon, this deity or Ishta Devata, is a pervasive force above you, transcendent in every way—filling you, and including you. So you will feel an expansion of your being in meditation. You will not be simply sitting and thinking something, and then getting up. Even if your meditation along this line is only for a few minutes—even if it be only for five minutes—you will get up with a sense of fullness, as if a great authority has been injected into you, to give a homely example. A great power has been given to you.

Do you feel a sense of inclusiveness, fullness, strength, completion, expansion of being at that time? That will happen to you in meditation. You will not get up in the same condition as you sat. "I have done the meditation, but nothing has happened." It cannot be like that. Five minutes of sitting is enough if your mind is clear, and you have properly grasped the spirit of the very idea of meditation and that which you call the object of meditation. It is not something outside you. This is very important. If it is outside, it cannot come to you. All things that are external to you will leave you one day, so this externality is only a secondary aspect of this object of meditation. The real feature of it is transcendence and, therefore, it can never perish, because it is beyond you. It includes you. It cannot leave you. This god will possess you always. You will literally be possessed by a god, and in a few minutes of your seatedness in meditation you will feel as if some nectarine dish has been poured into you. I am not joking. It is a fact.

You are your master. You are the maker of your destiny. Some people say man creates God. In whatever sense they speak, there is some truth in this statement. You have created your god—but you are yourself that, and cannot be isolated from it. You are the miniature Universality. You are a drop of this Absolute and, therefore, that supreme inclusiveness scintillates through your littleness. Thus, this little so-called 'you' is also very big. Hence, the bigness that you are is the object of the meditation of the so-called littleness that you are. The little you is contemplating on the big you, so you are contemplating on yourself only, finally, in an enlarged form.

Meditation is wonderful. It is not something which somebody may do when they become old and retire from life. Without it, nobody can succeed in anything in this world—because it is contact with reality, and who can succeed without such a contact? Thus, we enter into a stream of movement in the direction of a glorious achievement, which is the aim of meditation.