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The Ascent to Moksha
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 18: The Stages of Spiritual Yoga or Meditation

The grasping of the universality of things in their gross form in relation to space, time and cause, and the grasping of the very same object by consciousness in its subtle form, together constitute what is known as grahya samapatti, or the recognition by consciousness of the universal objectivity of things.

Here, as we saw earlier, the object of meditation ceases to be an ordinary, sensible object. For want of adequate words and terms to express this subtlety of perception, we use the term ‘object' uniformly whenever there is a content of consciousness. But the object in the highest reaches of consciousness in meditation is different from the object that we usually sense physically in our day-to-day experience.

This grahya samapatti, or the conscious recognition of the universal objectivity of things, is a meditation so deep that it is almost identical with the goal of the practice of yoga. It is, therefore, sometimes called samadhi, especially in the Sutras of Patanjali – vitarka vicāra ānanda asmitārūpa anugamāt saṁprajñātaḥ (Yoga Sutras 1.17). The term samprajnatah is used in the Sutras of Patanjali for the process of the grasping by consciousness of this universal objectivity as well as a tendency of this consciousness to get merged into this object, which is called samadhi.

Now, there is a very interesting supernormal process which supervenes when meditation enters this state of the interconnectedness of things and the subtlety known as the tanmatras, or the object potentials, operating behind the physical forms of things. These experiences and these expressions pertaining to supernormal types of meditation are naturally unintelligible to the beginner in the practice of yoga. They remain merely as words for those who have not had access into this kind of experience.

We are trying to understand by this process of yoga analysis the passage of consciousness to its ultimate attainment – how, from the incipient condition of the meditating consciousness apparently existing as an isolated unit, it gets lodged in the physical body which is limited to the weaknesses and the various foibles of nature, and how this consciousness gradually expands its operation and enters deeper and deeper into the object of its experience so that the more it advances in this process, the greater is its grasp over the object, the nearer does the object become to consciousness, and the more is the realisation of the interspersed background of the objects of the world. From mortality we rise to the state of the immortal by a very, very slow, gradual and subtle process. This is the art of meditation, or dhyana.

So in the condition known as grahya samapatti – the collectedness of consciousness wherein it enters into the fibre of things like water seeping into every fibre of a submerged cloth, to give only one instance or example – consciousness does not exist outside as an observer or a percipient. It is not like cloth hung in a room, far away from the waters of the Ganga. That is different in its location. It is a permeation of consciousness into the structure of things. This is vitarka and vichara dhyana, to use the terms of Patanjali. These are states of consciousness in which it does not exist as an individual observer as we exist, for example, as observers of trees, mountains, etc., apparently unconnected with the objects, having nothing to do with them, so that when the object undergoes a particular transformation, nothing happens to the subject of the experience. For example, if a tree in the jungle is cut, we are not affected by it because it remains as an external object, but here the object does not any more remain unconnected with the observing or perceiving consciousness.

We know how cloth is connected with water when it is soaked through its very fibre. We will find water permeating every particular of the structure or the constituents of the cloth. Likewise, here consciousness pervades the very content of the object, yet there is an object, even as the water and the cloth are different though the cloth is soaked to the core by the water. For all practical purposes we can say that water permeates every part of the cloth, yet it is clear that the cloth has not become water and water has not become cloth. By this analogy we can gain an insight into the type of experience that one enters into when grahya samapatti, or the consciousness of the universal objectivity of things, arises. This state of experience is so lofty that it is identical with samadhi itself in one of its forms.

What happens further? Things undergo a further transformation. Changes take place continuously right from the beginning till the attainment supreme, and in every stage of experience of this transformation, consciousness seems to rise higher and higher in its graspability of the object. In Sanskrit the grasping of the object by consciousness is called graha, grasping, and samapatti is attainment. So grahya samapatti is the attainment which is identical with the grasping of the object by consciousness in a particular fashion.

As I stated, this grasping is quite different from the perceptual grasping of the object by sensory operations. The senses may be said to be grasping an object such as a tree when they cognise or perceive a tree, but, as mentioned, this is a different state of the connection of consciousness with the object, where it does not remain outside at all. This object is equanimous with the subject, just as two brothers, though born of the same parents, yet exist separately. The brothers are not identical with each other; they are two different persons, but constitutionally, temperamentally and even psychologically, they are uniform in most respects.

Similarly does the object enter into consciousness and consciousness enter into the object. We are told that in their highest reaches they enter into each other like the water of one tank entering into the water of another tank which are both on the same level. We cannot know that one thing is moving into another at all. There is a flow, and yet the flow is imperceptible, like water flowing on equal levels. This is the acme of perception in vitarka and vichara forms of dhyana, which give way to another kind of experience of pure satisfaction, pure delight or ananda in one's consciousness, born of a situation or a circumstance unfamiliar to the senses, and unknown even to the mind in its earlier forms of sensory perception.

We are happy for various reasons. We have ananda in one sense in our daily life. We laugh and feel happy even with small things and circumstances which are of little consequence. But why do we feel happy? The happiness is a transformation of consciousness which is brought about by an event that is taking place in the external world. The event or the circumstance or the situation acts as a kind of agent in stimulating the consciousness within. The vital juices in the physiological system get stimulated when certain drugs are administered, and then we have good digestion, good appetite, and so on. The medicine acts as an agent in the stimulation of certain vital energies in our system. The medicine itself does not cure any disease. It acts as an instrument in stirring certain potencies in our system which have been lying dormant on account of the entry of certain toxins, which is set right by the agency or the instrumentality of the medicine.

Likewise, we may say the happiness that we experience on any account in this world is not the outcome of any object, as the cure is not caused by medicine. The cure is not in the drug, it is somewhere else. Likewise, the happiness that we experience is not in the event or the circumstance or the situation or the object. It acts like a drug, a kind of medicine that is administered into our consciousness for stimulating it into a particular type of activity.

This particular type of activity, which is stirred in consciousness due to the entry of a particular set of circumstances as objects of consciousness, or content of consciousness, creates a feeling in consciousness. This feeling can be of three kinds. It can be a feeling of equanimity, harmony, stability, and a uniform distribution of forces in our system. Such a stimulation can be caused in consciousness by the entry of a particular set of forces into the system, or the forces that enter our system can stimulate the consciousness into an activity of distraction, agitation and annoyance, or there can be a third type of force which can enter into consciousness and make it stupefied and torpid, stopping all its activities. These three forces are known as sattva, rajas and tamas.

Sattva is that state of consciousness wherein there is an equilibrium of forces in the system, a harmony of activity and a uniform movement of energy in the body and the mind. Then it is that the consciousness feels happy. We have a feeling of satisfaction when consciousness is equally distributed in the mental setup. The happiness that we experience in the world is a mental function. The mind experiences pleasure when consciousness is equally distributed in the structure of the mind, just as we feel health when vitality is equally distributed in the physiological system of the body.

But if there is a retardation of the flow of blood or a stopping of the movement of the prana in a particular limb of our system, we feel there is a sense of paralysis. We feel numbness and awkwardness. Likewise, a sort of awkwardness enters into the mind when consciousness is not equally distributed in it. This unequal distribution of consciousness in the mind is restlessness. That is rajas. We run here and there, talk all kinds of things, and cannot have peace of mind when consciousness is unequally distributed in the structure of the mind. We may say that there is a kind of traumatisation of psychological functions.

Many a time we are also in a torpid condition. We feel sleepy, fatigued to death, and do not want to talk to people. We simply cover ourselves with a blanket and go to bed. That is tamas.

We are not happy in tamas or in rajas. We are happy consciously only in sattva. So the reason for this happiness in the world is not the possession or the non-possession of an object. The object as such was only an instrument in creating a circumstance in consciousness. The experience by consciousness itself is the cause of the happiness. This is the psychology of pleasure.

This psychology can be also applied to the delight that we experience in yoga meditation, only it is expanded much more than it happens in ordinary sensory pleasure. The ananda anugat dhyana mentioned by Patanjali is the meditation bringing that type of satisfaction or delight which is not born of the attachment of the mind to objects, but on account of a reverse process taking place, the detachment of the mind from objects. We may wonder how we can be happy when we are detached from things when in our normal experience we feel happy when we are attached to pleasurable objects. In yoga what happens is duḥkhasaṁyogaviyogaṁ yogasaṁjñitam (BG 6.23), as the Bhagavadgita tells us. There is a detachment of the connection with things. That is duhkha-samyoga-viyoga.

The detachment of consciousness here, in the state of meditation called ananda anugat dhyana, is not a separation of consciousness from objects of endearment or love, but the detachment of consciousness from factors that cause distraction to consciousness. It is true that all contact is a source of pain, whatever be that contact, and it is also certain that any kind of contact with any object is a source of trouble only; it can never be a satisfaction. In this state of ignorance and untutored stupidity, we think that we derive satisfaction by contact, while what comes is only pain. Pain is mistaken for pleasure in ordinary sensory experiences of the world. It is not that we experience any pleasure in this world. Nothing of the kind. We are duped by a mistaken notion in our mind, due to which we feel that pain is pleasure. A stirring that has been caused by consciousness in consciousness by the attachment of it to objects is regarded by us as pleasure, but in dhyana the cause of pain is directly detected.

In meditation we know a thief as a thief, though up to this time we thought he was our friend. The recognition of the true nature of things is the cause of delight in yoga, while ignorance is bliss in our present condition. We are happy on account of ignorance of the true nature of things, while in yoga we are happy on account of the knowledge of the true nature of things. There is a tremendous difference between happiness born of knowledge and the happiness of ignorance. A baby's happiness born of ignorance is different from the happiness of a wise person who knows everything. So let us not make the mistake of thinking that this ananda which comes to us in dhyana is something like happiness that we experience from objects by sensory contact. It is far from this temporal experience of sensory enjoyment. It cannot be called enjoyment. It is not pleasure; it is the bliss which is the outcome of the entry of the being of things into consciousness. The being of things is different from the forms of things. While in ordinary sensory perception the forms of things enter into the mind and create a sensation in it of pleasure, the being of objects always remains outside the grasp of consciousness. Hence it is that we can never have any real say over any matter in the world, and cannot control anything in the world. All things in the world are out of control, and they are beyond the operation of our mind. But in yoga, the consciousness grasps the object in such an intrinsic capacity that there is control over the object, and the object reveals its essential nature of sata, or existence.

The existence of an object is different from the processional activity or the form of the object. We never grasp the being of the object by our mind or mental perception. The philosophy of the Buddha Gautama says that everything in the world is a procession of forces. He said that everything is momentary because everything is made up of bits of process; everything is made up of parts, as scientists say that everything is atoms or energy particles. They move from one centre to another centre, flooding each other like waves in the ocean. Everything is dynamic. Nothing is static in the world.

Then what is it that we grasp by mental perception as objects? How do we mistake a procession of activities for a stable object? It is an illusion. We may call it a psychological illusion or an optical illusion. The stability of an object is an illusion, according to modern physics and also according to Buddha. This inability of the mind to grasp the essentiality of things and the identification of the movement of forms with a so-called stability results in the illusion.

But in yoga, the real background of this process is grasped. There cannot be movement unless there is a motionless background. If everything is momentary, something has to be stable. That very activity shows that activity is tending towards an actionless state. Thus, in ordinary mental perception the essential being of the object is never grasped because the mind is unstable, even as the forms of objects are unstable. The unstable mind comes in contact with the unstable forms of objects, resulting in a mistaken identity of perception.

But in yoga, it is not mind coming in contact with the form of objects but the soul behind the mind realising and recognising the soul behind the objects. It is the Atman within that begins to see the Atman without. When you realise that the stranger who has come to your house is your own brother, you are overjoyed. “Oh, I thought some visitor has come. You have come.” You feel rapturous to meet your lost friend, as it were, who has been away for years together. Consciousness which has been outside the essentiality of objects recognises that these objects are its own self. You recognise your real nature, as it were, and the joy of this recognition knows no bounds. You have lost a dear object and have regained it. You know the joy. How happy you feel when you find a lost purse! You have lost it in a taxi, suppose. You weep. You do not know what has happened to it, whether you will get it back or not, and the taxi driver comes back as a gentleman and gives you the purse containing so many thousands of currency notes. Oh, how happy you are! The lost friend has come back.

So is the delight of consciousness when it recognises the lost friend of the cosmos. The whole cosmos is lost by us. We are strangers to it, and it is a stranger to us. We look at each other through the Berlin wall, as it were. There is no actual contact, but we can see each other from a distance and talk, with no mutual intercourse. Such is our experience in the world outside.

This is the reason why we cannot have control over the objects of the world in ordinary perception, and is also the reason why our happiness comes and goes. No one is always happy throughout the day. It is not possible, because this happiness is an artificial generation of an activity in consciousness by the entry of particular forces from objects. When this entry ceases, we are unhappy again. But in this ananda anugat dhyana, there is a perpetual inflow of the substantiality of things into the consciousness so that there is a perpetual feeling of satisfaction. So the distinction between this happiness and ordinary sensory happiness lies in the fact that while we are duped by the forms of objects and we mistake this deception for a gain and feel happy, in yoga dhyana we are really possessed of the truth of things; therefore, we are perpetually happy. This is ananda anugat dhyana, the perpetual or permanent revelation of sattva guna in the expanded form of the mind. The mind is in a very subtle form, almost about to thin and vaporise itself away.

The mind exists here like a clean glass reflecting the light of the sun. We cannot know whether the glass exists or not because of its cleanliness and transparency, and yet it is there. Such is the ecstatic mood into which the mind enters, where we cannot know which is mind and which is consciousness. Consciousness and mind become almost identical here. We can call it mind or we can call it consciousness because of the reflection of consciousness through a clean, transparent medium.

Here, the vritti or the psychosis, the modification of the mind, is sometimes called the brahmakar vritti in terms of the Vedanta. The vritti is a modification of the mind, about which we have studied enough earlier. Whenever, in perception, the mind comes in contact with an object, it casts itself into the mould of this form of the object. This mould that is created in the mind is called a vritti. If we dip a bucket into water, we find a hole the size of the bucket created in the water. Whatever be the form or the shape of the vessel that we dip into the river, the shape of the vacuum that is created inside is of the shape of the object or the vessel that is dipped. Likewise, the shape of the mind at any particular given instant is the shape of the particular object that it sees or cognises. This kind of transformation of the mind into the form of a given object is called a vritti.

But when it has grasped the being of things, it has no particular vritti. There is no vishayakara vritti. It is not of a particular object. The mind can take the shape of a tree, a river, a person, and so on. This is vishayakara vritti, or the psychosis which is of the nature of the form of any given object. But when the generality of things is grasped, the mind also assumes the generality of psychosis. It is not a particular mould of this or that objective form that is created in the structure of the mind, but a general impression of the structure of the entire existence. It is brahmakara vritti, the psychosis which is absolute in its grasp, not tentative or particularised. This ananda anugat dhyana is called brahmakara vritti in Vedantic parlance.

We have gone very high, far above the temporal realm, and we are face to face with a tremendous transmutation that is yet to take place – a transformation forever, the final transubstantiation, we may call it, of consciousness. The river is entering the sea, as it were, and there is a total cessation of the gunas of prakritisattva, rajas and tamas – yet they mix with each other into a condition of equilibrium and transparency. Asid asitidam tamobhutamaprajnatam alakshanam apratargyam avijneyam prasuptamiva sarvatah. This is how Manu begins his Smriti, wherein he gives us a description of the ultimate condition of things into which our mind enters in this state of meditation. It is stability supreme, amaprajnata alakshanam: unconscious from the point of view of ordinary consciousness. It is unconscious, as it were, because it is not conscious of any object. When we know everything, it is something like knowing nothing; such is that state. Indefinable: aladshanam; apartargyam: not capable of being deduced by logical terms; avijneyam: therefore, unknowable through mental perception; prasuptamiva: as if we are asleep. It is not sleep, but it looks as if it is in a state of sleep. It is dynamism which looks static, as is sometimes seen in the movement of an electric fan. When the fan moves very fast, we cannot know whether it is moving at all. We will know it only if we put our finger into it. It appears to not move at all, as if it is completely static, such is the speed. The speed of sattva is also such that it looks like a cessation of all activity, though it is the highest dynamism conceivable. It is not the torpidity of tamas or the idleness of inactivity, but the supreme dynamism which is incapable of description. That is the condition where the mind is almost about to break, like a bubble, in the sea of existence.

There is a simple awareness of being – asmita matra. This ananda also gets merged into this pure sense of being. Ananda is an experience of having possessed everything at one stroke, but this experience ceases when the feeling of having possessed also ceases because there is nothing to be possessed here. We have become what is to be possessed. There is a sense of pure Self-existence, asmita matra, so we are also above ananda now, and this is the indeterminable, indescribable, supreme individuality, sometimes identified with Ishvara, or God. The sense of being in that condition is asmita matra: I am. It is not an assertion of “I am” verbally; it is a way in which we can describe that condition. It is an “I am” in which everything else which is “I am not” is also included. God is supposed to have declared to Moses, “I am that I am.” In the beginning of the Old Testament we will find this statement: “I am that I am.” This is the name of God. This “I am that I am” is asmita matra, aham asmi.

Now, in our temporal experience, what do we feel? We feel that we are, and that others also are. When we wake up from sleep we have an experience of the stages of objective consciousness. We know nothing in sleep, but when we wake up we have a hazy notion of something being there. Sometimes we do not know whether we are there or somebody else is there. You might have felt this sometimes. You cannot be fully conscious of your own self when you have just gotten up from sleep; nor are you aware of anybody outside. Afterwards, the next state of consciousness is that we exist. We begin to feel ourselves, but we are not distinctly conscious of others. Then later we begin to feel that there are others also, and still further on we actually realise the particularity of persons and things.

Here, in this supreme I am, or asmita, there is no exclusion of the object from consciousness because it is the universe that is saying, “I am,” not you or I. When you or I begin to say, “I am,” naturally others have to be. But the whole cosmos is saying, “I am,” so naturally there cannot be anything outside it. Now, the cosmos asserts I-amness in a transcendent sense, not as we would conceive it in our mind. It is not the assertion of the forms of things, of the bodies of objects, but the essentiality of things. It is the substantiality of objects in their universality that begins to feel or realise “I am”, asmita. This dhyana is asmita anugat dhyana. Vitarka, vichara, ananda, asmita are the four stages of meditation mentioned by Patanjali, and the highest form is this supreme Self-consciousness inclusive of all objects. Here one is possessed of all the powers of God. Ishatva means divine power, and it is the highest of the eight siddhis.

Here prakriti, which stood as an outside object to consciousness, ceases to operate as an object of consciousness. One cannot know what actually happens. Some mystery takes place. The Sankhya and the Yoga tell us that there is a complete isolation of consciousness from objects which stood as prakriti earlier. It is like fever dropping down completely to normal, and immediately we feel a sense of elation and health.  Our temperature is normal; the disease has gone. Prakriti is the disease. It is the illness in our system, the foreign body that has entered into consciousness. It gets eliminated little by little, little by little, by process of dhyana, meditation. Then it is completely cast out like a devil. It is exorcised, and when consciousness regains its health, it becomes normal in the true sense of the term. Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe avasthāna (Yoga Sutras 1.3). This is the drasta, or the Supreme Being-Consciousness, resting in itself. It is called sata, resting in one's own self.

This self is quite different from the bodily self, the selfish self, the mortal self, or any kind of temporal extension of self, as we know very well. It is the universal Self asserting itself in asmita anugat dhyana, where there is a severance of contact with objectivity of every kind, and consciousness stands supreme. This is Absolute. This is kaivalyatva. This is kaivalya moksha of consciousness, moksha or mukti, nirvana, whatever we call it. This is the state.

What happens here, finally? We have come to know what happens through the various degrees of perception. There was a grasping of the entirety of objects by consciousness in the beginning. The totality of objectivity was grasped at one stroke, instantaneously, by consciousness. Then what happens later on? This object, in its universality, in its substantiality, entering into consciousness, created a sense of delight. There was universal satisfaction on account of the Universal Being entering into consciousness. Then the sense of satisfaction ceased because the sense of possession ceases when one realises the identity of oneself with the object. Asmita matra alone remains. Then there is the supreme silence of the Absolute. These are, in outline, the stages of spiritual or yoga meditation described in the yoga scriptures, and to come to this stage we have to work very hard. We have seen in our earlier analysis for several days how hard it is, and what disciplines we have to voluntarily impose upon ourselves – social, moral, cultural, intellectual and spiritual.

We are now to grasp the fruit, the delicious product of the maturity of the growth of the tree of knowledge. The growth has been very slow. We have to sow the seed, and tend it, and manure it, and protect it, and see that it grows properly, and it has taken many years to yield this delicious fruit of nirvana.

To sum up, yoga is a collection of various aspects of self-discipline internally related, not externally connected, so they all harmoniously form one body, a single unit of operation. These various aspects of yoga are a single body operating systematically, with all of the many aspects working at the same time. When the body begins to work physiologically, every part of the body begins to work. It is not that some part is sleeping or keeping quiet. If we take a grain of food and put it into our mouth, the whole system starts working. It is not only a part of the body that works. The whole system of self-discipline is one of intense vigilance practised through stages, while bearing in mind the internal relationship of these aspects at every step so that we may not make the mistake of emphasising any particular aspect too much. We have no particular affinity with or liking for any limb of our body. Every limb is equally dear to us. Nose or fingers, eyes or ears, it makes no difference. Likewise, every aspect of yoga is as important as any other. The active aspect, the emotional aspect, the psychic aspect, the knowledge aspect, the will aspect – all aspects are equally important aspects, the ingredients of a single unit of action.

We have thus seen the glory and magnificence of yoga, and how it is indispensible, how it is a must for every individual because it is the goal towards which humanity is unwittingly moving, the supreme attainment towards which the whole cosmos is tending in every atom of its existence. So there is no question of whether yoga is necessary or not; it is a question of whether we have to live or not. It is impossible to avoid because it is the art of living. Life is essential, and yoga also is essential because life is yoga. Such is its vast gamut and expanded comprehensiveness. Such is its connection with the practical life of every person, and in one stage or the other yoga can be applicable to every person in the world. There is no one who is totally unfit for it, just as there is no one totally unfit for being educated at some stage or level. Even the first step in yoga is yoga. Vijñāya madbhāvāyopapadyate (B.G. 13.18): Even an aspiration to know it is transcendence of scriptural verbosity and knowledge, says the Bhagavadgita. Even to have a longing to attain the higher is yoga. We might not have achieved anything, and have only a longing, but that longing itself is the initial step in yoga. Viveka, or the yearning of the soul for the higher, is the first step of knowledge, the first step of yoga.

We have to bring back to our memory the various stages we have traversed to come to this culmination of experience. We had to disentangle ourselves from social complexes, from personality complexes, from vital, sensory, psychological and intellectual complexes, and we had to be a psychoanalyst of our own selves in a very dispassionate manner so that from stage to stage we rose from being to being in different degrees, and from stage to stage we also entered from a lower kind of satisfaction to a higher state of satisfaction, from a lower sense of power to a higher state of power, from a lower condition of health to a higher condition of health, and in every stage we realised and recognised that we are rising integrally from the lower reality to the higher.

Thus, we realised the supreme status of things, known as Brahma-sakshatkara, the Absolute Being directly experienced in one's own consciousness. This is God-experience, God-consciousness. This is God thinking of Himself, Being identical with thought. All these terms are Greek and Latin for those who have had not had enough moral purification and intellectual equipment to understand their implications. But once they are grasped, they will fill us with such power and sense of satisfaction that we will not know how to express it. That is the silence of conscious satisfaction. We will shut our mouth because of the sense of having possessed things and knowing all things. This is the state of the sense of having done whatever is to be done, the sense of knowing whatever is to be known, and the sense of attaining whatever is to be attained. Whatever is to be obtained, we obtained, whatever is to be known, we have known, and whatever is to be done, we have done. The supreme duty of life has been fulfilled, the highest dharma has been practised, and the consciousness now rests in its highest experience.