A Textbook of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: Recipes for Meditation Practice

I mentioned previously that the object of meditation really is not a sense object, as something placed outside before the eye. It may appear to be placed outside, but it is actually a symbolic externality of something which is really not outside. I also gave you an illustration of how this can be. Mostly, it is difficult to understand how a thing that is outside can also be transcendent, and not just outside. This requires a little bit of a special type of attention on the subject.

It was also pointed out that the mind cannot pay sufficient attention to anything unless it visualises an entire fulfilment of its longings in that particular object of concentration. Nobody will go on thinking something with no purpose behind it. Attention, concentration, meditation is not a purposeless activity. A great meaning, significance and value is already there. But often the value is not fully recognised, the reason being the difficulty in entertaining a proper concept of the object, or rather, the objective of meditation. As has been pointed out, it is an Ishta Devata—a very, very dear, beloved thing. Longing is supposed to be the principle qualification of a spiritual seeker. You have to long for it, ardently wish for it, and feel miserable without it. That is the characteristic of the attitude of a person towards that which is dear and considered very near.

I also mentioned that it is difficult to find anything in this world which can be so dear to anyone, because all dear things in the world are relatively so. Absolutely dear things cannot be found, because they come and go. In this world, the dearness—the value attached to a thing—is circumstantial, conditional, and never absolute. Circumstances create value and meaning to things. If the circumstances change, there is no value in anything—though it was, once upon a time, a very valuable thing.

Hence, one has to present a trans-terrestrial objective before one's own mind. Any object can be as good as any other object for the purpose of concentration. That the object of meditation should be loveable is, of course, a special feature which may demarcate it from other objects of concentration. That is an emotional and purely personal aspect. But philosophically considered, even those things which cannot be regarded as very beautiful or attractive can be considered as an object of meditation if they are seen from a purely scientific point of view.

Scientific objects are not necessarily beautiful things. They need not attract our feelings and emotions; nevertheless, they may be very important and may call for our exclusive attention. It may be a small particle or some little thing which we consider as quite adequate for our purpose. You may wonder how this so-called little thing will take you beyond yourself in meditation. This is so because the whole universe is concentrated in every little thing in the world. This is something very important to remember. The total cosmos can be seen scintillating even in a particle of sand, though the universe seems to be so big and the sand particle so insignificant. Its insignificance vanishes the moment it becomes a replica, a representation of all the forces operating in the cosmos. One can strike the centre of the cosmos by striking anything in the world. This is why poets have exclaimed that we cannot touch a petal of a flower in our garden without disturbing a star in the heavens. The connection between a star in the heavens and a flower in our garden is capable of appreciation only if we know the scientific structure of the cosmos.

There is no distance between things, finally. Space is an illusion which creates an artificial distance between things. Facts like telepathic communication, which can work or produce effects at so-called distances, are instances which prove that really there are no spatial distances. The most remote object can be operated upon by a thought, because remoteness is not actually a basic fact in the structure of things. Space and time themselves are not ultimately real. Hence, that which is past, that which is future, and of course that which is present, can also be contacted by a thought. We can materialise the past in the present, and bring back into the present consciousness that which appears to be in the future, because the time process is not absolute. It is relative to the other relative factor: a distance which is presented by space. Such being the case, anything—a little plant, a flower, a dot on the wall, a candle flame, or anything for the matter of that—can be considered as a representation of the great ideal that we see before us for our liberation.

This also explains the philosophy behind what is known as idol worship. It is not 'idle' worship; it is 'idol' worship. An idol is a symbol; and who in this world is not worshipping a symbol? Those persons who put on an overweening attitude towards ritualistic worship and the adoration of idols and symbols do not understand that no one can exist in this world without some kind of symbol that is considered as most valuable. Whatever you hold in your hand is a symbol, finally. A coin or a currency note is a symbol of monetary power, which itself is invisible. A photograph of some dear person—your father, mother or whoever it is—is an idol that you are worshipping. If some dear relative has passed away, you hang a photograph of that person on the wall in your bedroom. Is it not a symbol; is it not an idol? Any gesture that you make is also a symbol. The idol so-called, which is worshipped in religion or taken as an object in meditation, is a nail struck in the wall to hang the coat of your mental operation. Something must be there to hang on to, because the mind cannot operate in emptiness.

The concentration of the mind on an object is like the bombardment continuously effected upon a particular spot so that it splits and opens up its internal constitution. Like in the breaking of an atom, this releases its forces. Continuous thinking is a bombardment—a hitting, a striking and a breaking up of a knot, as it were, which has presented itself before us as a symbol, an ideal, or an object of concentration. All objects in the world are knots of Universal Force; they are concentrated essences of the all-pervading Reality. Every cell in our body is also the whole body. One can study a person by studying a little hair, or one cell, or any part of the body. The entire organism is concentrated in every part of the organism, so nothing is unimportant in this world. In that sense, everything is also divine. It is divine because the Universal pervades and is hiddenly present in everything that appears to be outside and segregated.

Yathabhimata dhyanat va is an aphorism of Patanjali in which he very, very compassionately tells us that any object in this world can be taken as a suitable ideal for our meditation. Several objects are prescribed, but finally it is told that we can take what we like. It is so because we can tap the source of the universe at any point, just as we can touch any part of our body from head to foot, but it is our body. In all the realms of creation, in all the forms of manifestation, we will find that a oneness is pervading. Therefore, we can take a scientific object or a beloved object for the purpose of concentration.

The processes of meditation can be classified into three categories: external, internal and Universal. Mostly things appear to be external, as we know very well. It is the habit of the sense organs to tell us that all things are outside. The vehemence, the velocity, the force with which the sense organs compel the consciousness to rush outside into the spatio-temporal context is such that we can never for a moment imagine that things can be anywhere but outside.

Hence, the prescription in the beginning is to take anything that you see outwardly or anything that you can conceive in the mind as an object of your meditation. This is especially seen in adoration, worship, concentration on symbols and idols because they are seen to be outside. You physically prostrate yourself before it, you offer a garland to it, you wave a holy light over it, you dance before it, you sing its glories, and you consider it as your be-all and end-all. It is not that you are fond of that little visible something in front of you, but you are fond of that which it represents.

Do you not salute a national flag? The flag is a piece of cloth, but it is not a cloth for us when you salute it; it is the spirit of the nation that is embedded in that otherwise meaningless piece of fabric, and that is its a value. A photograph—how valuable it is! You cannot trample on it, saying that it is a piece of paper and ink. It may be so, but you cannot trample on even a currency note; it is an insult. After all, it is paper and ink, but you do not say that. It has another value altogether.

Seeing invisible forces and values, and considering them as superior to that which is seen with our eyes, is the philosophy of idol worship. What I mean by 'idol' is any representation before us, concretely placed before the mental vision for the purpose of concentration. It can be a solid material, like a stone structure or a metal piece; it can be a painted picture or a diagram; it can even be a dot. Ma Anandamayi used to sign her name as a dot. That dot was her signature, and people used to worship it. Let it be a dot, but it has been placed there by someone who is not merely a dot, and so it becomes a symbol of superior, supreme adoration.

The externality of the object of meditation is due to the power of the sense organs operating even when we think divine things. The senses are not to be ignored or set aside as something irrelevant to us. Their power is well known to us. When we open our eyes, we see nothing but that which is outside, and when we close our eyes and think, we visualise that which is outside. A mental externality is projected in a space that is mentally construed. Considering the power of the sense organs, which will not allow us to think in any other way than in an external fashion, we give a concession to the activity of the senses. This concession is not in the form of a license for them to do whatever they like, but is a help that we demand from them even in doing something which is not actually their area of operation. The visibility of an object as the idol or a form of worship is a concession that we give to the work of the sense organs: "My dear sense organs, you want to see something? Here it is; you can see it." But we utilise this concession for a higher purpose, as a bitter pill is given to a patient to be swallowed for a purpose which is quite different from the pill itself.

The externality of the object, therefore, is the sensory aspect of it; and this aspect cannot be ignored, in order that we may not suppress the senses beyond a measure. The sense organs are not at all regarded as holy, spiritual or divine by people in general. We condemn them. We hear it said everywhere that the senses have to be controlled, but we must understand that these sense organs are part of our psychophysical existence; and when we say that they have to be restrained, we must know what it is actually that we are speaking about. We are trying to peel off our skin, or perhaps to suppress our own self, and suppression is not an art that is advised in the techniques of yoga. Suppression is the worst of things. It is like keeping a snake inside a basket and covering it with a lid, as if it is not there. But if we lift the lid, it will be there with its hood stretched out. So, we should never suppress a cobra. And the mind is like a cobra.

Sometimes it is suggested that we may divert our attention to something more innocuous when the senses become very powerful. People who are accustomed to chewing tobacco are told by homeopaths that there is some medicine which is a substitute for the stimulation that is caused by chewing tobacco or betel leaves, and so on. It is a substitution. People who have diabetes are not supposed to eat sugar, but in order that they may not feel that things are insipid, some other kind of sweetness such as saccharin, a kind of tablet, is given to them. It is medical. In a similar manner, sometimes it is suggested that a diversion of the attitude or the working of the sense organs may be attempted, without actually telling them that we are not going to give them what they want. We should not tell the senses, "I am going to deprive you of all your demands". Then they will revolt. We can tell them, "I am going to give you," but not give them exactly what they ask for. We can give them something which will attract their attention and satisfy them in an innocuous manner for the time being, like homeopathic medicine which cures the disease by an administration of something which itself is a part of that disease. Similia similibus curentur is the philosophy behind homeopathic medicine, which means 'like cures like'.

The desires of the sense organs are like diseases, and you have to cure these diseases—not by the allopathic method of an antidote which suppresses them, but by a method which is harmonious and not opposed. This is a subtle matter, mostly personal and difficult to imagine in these initial stages. The problems that you will face in meditation cannot be known now. Even if your practice goes on for months, or two or three years, you may not know what exactly the sense organs are capable of, because the senses will not interfere with you unless they begin to feel that you are bent upon doing some harm to them. If they think that your meditation is only a childish play and is not going to affect them in any way because they will still be given what they want, everything will go on well. But if you are serious in the matter and you are not going to think in the manner that the sense organs would like you to think, then you will see what they do. If instead of telling the creditor to come tomorrow or the day after, which is a palliative method, you tell him that he will get nothing, you will see what he does! Suppression is the worst of methods.

Diverting the attention is a little better than suppression, but the most beneficial process is sublimation. Sublimation is the melting down of the force of the sense organs into almost a kind of liquid of spirituality. The power of the sense organs is like a knot—granthis, as they are called. You are not asked to cut the Gordian knot, but to untie it gradually. Force should not be applied by the application of will. The meaning of the word 'sublimation' should be clear to you. It is eliminating the very cause behind the impetuosity of the sense organs.

Why do children behave in a naughty manner? There are turbulent children who behave very badly in school and at home. Their parents and teachers find it very difficult to handle them. Generally they slap the child on the cheek and say, "Keep quiet! This is not the way of behaving, idiot!" This is a very, very undesirable way of treating children when they are behaving boisterously or naughtily. The Montessori method is known to educationalists as a very understanding method. It is a happy process of psychologically entering into the feeling and the difficulty of the child, even if it behaves in an inhuman or unsocial way. Such a Montessori method may be psychologically applied to the sense organs, which are naughty children. They will never listen to what we say. They are truant; they will never go to school. They are bent upon getting what they want.

Sublimation is the most difficult of all methods; it requires tremendous understanding. Inasmuch as this understanding is the prerequisite for all practices in yoga and meditation, so much time was taken in our earlier lessons to consider the philosophical, metaphysical and the foundational aspects of the practice. Otherwise, we could have directly gone into meditation to sit and think something. That may have been quite all right; but really, it would not have been all right because, finally, sublimation—which is the prerequisite of the diversion of the sense energy into the meditational method—is possible only on a higher understanding of our relationship with the universe. The senses are impetuous because they do not understand what our relationship is with things. They want to grab things outside because, first of all, they think that the thing is really outside—which is not a fact. You have now understood why things are not really outside. Secondly, the senses insist on not only believing that things are outside, but that they are desirable and must be had. This also is a mistake in the way of thinking. It is not true that things are outside, and so asking for them is due to a mistake in the thinking itself. Secondly, it is not true that things are really desirable. That is also an emotional blunder. These two primary difficulties can be melted down by a process of sublimation, by a philosophical analysis of the structure of the universe with which we are connected in a vital, organic, living fashion.

Here is something by way of an introductory remark on the characteristics of externality that introduces itself somehow or other, willy-nilly, in your practices. This externality can also be considered as, finally, a kind of internality of the structure of the universe. All things are inside the universe; but to the sense organs, all things are outside. Even if they are considered as outside, are they also inside the universe? You are also inside. You see me sitting here outside and I see you sitting outside, but in the light of the inclusiveness of everything in the universal structure, we may say everything is also inside. Therefore, in a larger perspective, an external object can also be conceived as an internal something. The very external becomes an internal. It is also universal because everything is connected to everything else in the world. So a so-called external thing can also be an internal thing, and it can also be a universal thing.

If it is too difficult for you to think in this manner, let us consider the internalised something which is inside the body itself. This technique is adopted by those who take to methods of meditation associated with breathing or with the nervous plexuses in the body, called chakras, or even with sounds like anahata, as they are called—certain sounds that the prana makes when it moves inside. You can concentrate on internal sounds. If you close your eyes, and close both your ears tightly, you will hear some sound inside. It is not a sound made by contact of one thing with another thing, like a bell being rung. It is an internal bell. It is anahata sabda, as it is called. Ahata means struck, anahata means non-struck. It is a sound that is produced by not striking anything on another thing. It is an automatic rumbling sound of a very, very subtle, melodious nature, like the movement of clouds when they create a mild rumbling of thunder. Anahata sabda dhyana is one method of internal concentration.

The chakras, such as the muladhara, svadhisthana, etc., are also methods. They are all very good indeed, but should not be attempted without proper initiation because these centres get stimulated when they are bombarded with our thought or concentration; and when they get stimulated, certain forces are released. In the initial stages, the forces that are released are not very conducive. In the Puranas there is the story of Amrita Manthana, the churning of the ocean. When the gods and demons churned the ocean for nectar, what came out first was not nectar. Poison was the first thing that came out—fumes which burnt everybody. The deadly poison that arose in the beginning when the churning was going on for the sake of nectar could not have been tolerated by anybody in the world. We are told in the Purana that Lord Siva bravely drank it.

In the beginning, you will have before you only that which you do not like. You will think that nothing is happening, that the whole meditation process is a waste. This is also a kind of trick played by the mind so that you may not go on with it. But that smoke and dust is something that arises when you sweep the room for the sake of cleaning it. Do you not see dust rising up when you sweep the floor with a broom? But afterwards the dust settles, and the whole room becomes clean. The tamasic character of the personality manifests itself as these fumes—something detrimental, and very, very unpleasant. You will have unpleasant experiences in the beginning. In the most initial stages, you will have no experience at all; you will think that nothing is happening. If the concentration is very intense, you will have experiences even in a few months, but if it is dull, it may take years.

In the earliest of stages, there will be no experience. The practice will be just mechanical, like a religious routine. Afterwards, you will find some difficulties before you. Many difficulties are mentioned in the yoga shastras: pain in the body, distraction of the mind, inability to concentrate, and some kind of doubt as to whether it is worthwhile doing anything at all, or perhaps some mistake has been committed in the choice of the object, or whether this Guru is good or another Guru should be found. These doubts will arise in the mind, and you will find that nothing is moving forward. The tamasic nature manifests itself in this way. If you have somehow succeeded in overcoming it, the rajasic nature will come and throw you out of gear completely, and make you run here and there searching for better places than the present one. "This place is no good, that place is no good, this method is not good," and so on. You will be doing something in a perfunctory and desultory manner. Such is what happened in the Amrita Manthana, or the churning of the ocean. In the beginning it was deadly poison; then tempting objects such as jewels started coming out—attractions, beauties, which thrilled the gods and demons both.

So, what do you get in meditation? In the beginning you get tremendous opposition, so that you may not do anything at all. Then temptations arise: this is good, that is good, all that is good—but not really good. Meditation on these chakras may stimulate tamasic or rajasic forces. You may become wild in your mental performance. People become abnormal in their behaviour. They become irascible, angry and upset over even the littlest of things, and look upon everybody with suspicion. They have abnormal desires. People become kleptomaniacs, sometimes. Even very well-to-do people who are living a very good life can steal a pencil from your table. This is an irritation of the senses that is created by certain unknown suppressions. These things, among many other things which I will not explain here, may become the consequence of unintelligently concentrating on the chakras. This is why Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj very wisely used to say that this kind of meditation on the chakras, the kundalini method, is not meant for people with desires in their minds. And who has no desires? Everyone has desires.

Therefore, a more polite, harmonious, sublime, pleasing, loving method of bhakti, or love of God, may be a safe object of meditation. Do not consider bhakti as an inferior method. It is love of God; and without love, without affection for that which you seek, the progress will be retarded. Only that which you want will come to you, that which you do not want will not come to you; and wanting is nothing but an expression of affection.

The internal method, to which I made reference, can also be a concentration on internal structures like chakras, etc. But it is to be carried on with great caution under a competent master. Otherwise, give up that method. Do only japa of a Divine Name, with concentration on the Devata or the deity of that mantra, which will do you immense good. This is about the internality of the object which otherwise looks outside.

I also mentioned that which is outside and that which inside is essentially a universal object. The universality of a thing, when properly conceived, will put a check upon all irregular activities of the sense organs, because the senses will not ask for that which is everywhere. They want only that which is in some place; they are exclusive in their demands.

The best method of sublimation of the sense powers is to introduce universality into the concept of the object of meditation. Let it not be outside or inside, because they will take advantage of this little finite concept. Whatever be the object of your meditation, it is finally a symbol of universality. This is the important factor because then the sensuality behind it will automatically get eliminated.

These are certain recipes for you in your practice of daily meditation, for a purpose which is higher than yourself, higher than what you see in human society, higher than this world of perception. This is the way to God-realisation, finally.