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A Brief Outline of Sadhana
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: Meditation: The Apex of Sadhana

The apex of sadhana, the final onslaught in spiritual practice, is dhyana, or meditation. It should not be imagined that meditation is an easy affair. It is a penultimate stage of the eight limbs of yoga, culminating in divine absorption. Meditation is not the beginning; it is the end of the spiritual endeavour. We should not take it lightly and be under the impression that we are collected at different moments of our day and are engaged in a religious exercise called meditation. Meditation is a stage, one step below divine communion. Its importance must be clear by the fact of its being proximate to the goal of the practice of yoga.

The fullness of achievement that is expected in meditation is practicable only if there is a fullness of aspiration. An overall whole-souled adventure of the spirit within is spiritual practice. When that is done, everything else is done simultaneously. Meditation is not one of the routines of our daily practice. It is not one among the many, even as God is not one person among many other persons; He is the Person, and all the persons. The longing that surges forth from the heart of the seeker has to be commensurate with the ideal that is sought in meditation. The means develops into the end. A maturity of the processes which we call ‘means' or ‘methods' is the flowering and the fructification which is the divine experience. The means gradually evolves to the end, and the end determines the nature of the means.

What kind of means are we to adopt? It will depend upon what we are expecting by the practice. The total inclusiveness and perpetuity of the goal aspired for will call for a similar characteristic from the means adopted. Inasmuch as after achieving that expected goal nothing further remains to be expected or achieved, so also when the requisite methodology or means is adopted towards the achievement known as meditation, it should be equally inclusive and there should not be any other method better than that. The method that we are adopting in meditation should be the best of all methods. It is to be considered the best because it wholly satisfies our soul. If something that we do fully satisfies us, we can be sure that we have done it correctly. If after having done something we feel distracted and find ourselves in a state of anguish and despondency, with inadequacy of some kind or the other, we may be sure that we have not adopted the proper means.

The object of meditation is very aptly designated as ishta, or the most beloved. It is not just an object; it is a beloved deity for the purpose of concentration of the whole spirit within us. It is beloved because nothing can be more dear than this chosen ideal. Have we, in our mind, anything in the world which can be considered as surpassingly dear? In haste we may say this is dear or that is dear; but haste makes waste. We should not make such statements. There is nothing in the world which can be regarded as unsurpassingly dear because under different conditions and circumstances another thing may look very dear. When conditions or circumstances change, the affection also changes. Loves that are the characteristics of the human mind are fickle. They change their point of concentration from time to time according to the requirement felt by the individual personality.

As I mentioned yesterday, in the process of evolution automatic changes take place in the universe as well as in our individuality, and corresponding to and in accordance with the particular changed condition in which we find ourselves, we consider a particular object as dear to us. That which is dear is not any particular thing, really; it is that counterpart of the requirement on the part of the individual at any given moment of time in the process of evolution. Nothing, therefore, can be dear always. As the evolutionary process is perpetual movement, the longing of the mind is also a perpetual movement from one point to another point.

This is not the nature of the ishta, or the divine ideal, which is to be taken as the object of meditation. An ishta devata is not a flitting object; it is a permanently dear thing. A permanently dear thing is not available anywhere in the world. Even the dearest, nearest relative, the largest wealth, the highest position, a great reputation or power and authority can all flee at any moment; therefore, they cannot be considered as beloved objects.

What we are aiming at in meditation is not the possession of something that is fleeting, tantalising, and moving from one point to another point. Since every person can be any person under different conditions, and no single person can be self-identical in behaviour because of the pressure exerted by the process of evolution, any person can behave in any way, at any moment of time, under prevailing conditions. We can behave like gods, and we can behave like tigers, snakes, scorpions. There is nothing which cannot be compared with us. It only depends upon the circumstances of the case.

People who are caught in a flooded river carrying their beloved family, finding that death is at the elbow, would not mind throwing away their wealth. There is a great desire to protect one's wife and children, but that all vanishes when the flooded river threatens the very life of the person. There is a last longing to save oneself because one can later on acquire all the things that were lost in the flood.

Such being the case, we cannot find any object of love in this world. So, the meaning of the ishta devata should be defined in a different way altogether. The ishta devata is not anything that is available in the world. It is a form, a symbol, an item which is invested with the highest values of life. The highest values are perpetual existence, not temporary living. The highest value is being possessed with all the values and treasures of the whole world. The highest value is being imbued with mighty power, invincible strength. These are the longings of the spirit. We cannot love anything which is not invested with these qualities. The divinity, the deity of our concentration, is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-pervading. It is most beautiful.

It is very unfortunate that no religion of the world describes God as a beautiful person. God is always depicted as a judiciary in the cosmic court, a terrorising parent, a lawgiver and a lawmaker, but no one can think that God is beautiful because we have an inveterate habit of considering God as old. We even invest God with a beard. How could a bearded man be beautiful? God is very old and doddering, due to the age of creation. This is the picture that we are given by religious scriptures. We read all the scriptures and get this idea only: Father in heaven. A father is not a beautiful person; he is a feared individual. But God is beautiful. If He is not beautiful, the mind cannot be pulled towards Him.

Very rarely do we find in scriptures a description of the beauty of God. Not in any of the scriptures, not even in the Vedas, will we find the beauty of God being described. The might and the glory of God are described in the Vedas and the Upanishads, not His beauty, though sometimes, especially in the Upanishads, we have indications of God's happiness. It is a sea of happiness. Eṣāsya paramā gatiḥ, eṣāsya paramā sampat, eṣo'sya paramo lokaḥ, eṣo'sya parama ānandaḥ (Bri. U. 4.3.32), says Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. A flood of bliss will inundate our personality if the vision of God becomes practical. We will be flooded with bliss. We are not accustomed to bliss in this world; we are used only to that kind of pleasure which is nothing but a titillation of the nerves. Real happiness is not available in this world. Nobody has experienced happiness anywhere, except a scratching of the itches, as it were, in the desireful mind.

As unseen things cannot be conceived in the mind, God's beauty also cannot be conceived. Beauty is inconceivable. No beautiful thing in the world can be really beautiful because it is a conditioned complex arising in the mind under given circumstances in the process of evolution. A perpetual beauty should be conceived in the mind. We may mentally bring together all the conceivable beauties that we can imagine in the whole universe, blend them together into a cosmic form, and feel that this glorious beauty is standing before us.

It is only in the Srimad Bhagavata that we hear that God can be the highest beauty. Sākṣān manmatha-manmathah (S.B. 10.32.2) are the words used by Vyasa in the Tenth Skandha of the Srimad Bhagavata. He is the Cupid of Cupid. Cupid will be ashamed of himself. These are only stories for us. Mortals that we are, we can imagine nothing out of them. Great effort is necessary to perceive for ourselves that God is beautiful, powerful, all-pervading, and immortal. This object that we choose for meditation should be invested with this power. We do abhisheka in a Siva temple to a lingam or we worship a murti of Sriman Narayana or Devi on an altar, and we invoke the royal glory of God into that particular murti. In large temples, the deity is treated as an emperor. The deity is taken out in a procession, called a rathotsava. An emperor is coming! Give way!

How do we receive an emperor if he happens to come to our house? Everyone can imagine what one would do. There will be a great commotion of joy: “The king has come to my house!” The usual practice in India of receiving a guest is to offer holy water to wash his feet, give him a beautiful seat, wave a holy arati, give everything we would generally give to a king, and arrange for music and dance to celebrate the festival of a king's coming to our house. In large temples there is daily utsava. Musical instruments are played—nadaswaram, etc. And in some temples even dance is part of the worshipping process. It is an expression of the ecstasy of feeling that God has come.

Each one should feel in the heart what our feeling would be if God comes and stands before us. We would not be alive at that time, due to the excess of joy. Fear can kill; too much joy can also kill. Not eating can kill a person, but too much eating can also kill a person. So is the case with anything anywhere. These wondrous qualities of immortal inclusiveness and perfection should be invested upon the deity by mental invocation. Place the power of God in that idol, and feel it is vibrating with the divinity.

Sometimes mantras are chanted. The name of God dear to us is recited loudly, so that it pleases the worshipper. When the joy reaches a pinnacle of ecstasy it becomes uncontrollable. Then it is that in the temple people dance. This dance is not a ritual, actually. It is a spiritual exercise demonstrating the excess of joy arising out of the feeling that God has come.

The choice of the object of meditation, the ishta devata, should be such that there should be no need felt to change the object. Once the object is chosen, it is a final choice. We should not experiment with the object. Experiment will not bring any result. If we want to dig a well, we do not go on digging in a hundred places, little by little. We will not find water anywhere. We have to dig in one place only; then we may find it. So allowing the mind to move from various conceptualised objectivities will not bring anything worth the while. There should also be a certainty in the mind that this is going to bring the desired result.

Actually, the force that is invested in the object of meditation arises from one's own self. It is the power of the mind that is working when such investiture is performed on the object of meditation. Our thought of divinity, our thought of inclusiveness, our thought of intense concentration and positivity charges the object, and the object vibrates by the power of thinking.

The mind is all powerful. Incalculable is the speed and also the strength of the mind. A very intense assertion by the mind materialises itself according to the proportion of the mind's strength. If the strength is a hundred percent, the objective should be realised in this life itself. If it is mild, it will be realised in the next birth.

Arjuna speaks to Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Sixth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Cañcalaṁ hi manaḥ kṛṣṇa pramāthi balavad dṛḍham (B.G. 6.34): “All this is very difficult. The mind is fickle.” Abhyāsena tu kaunteya vairāgyeṇa ca gṛhyate (B.G. 6.35): And Bhagavan replies, “It is true that the mind is uncontrollable, but repeated practice will bring it under control.” Even if there is no expected achievement in this life, there should not be any disappointment. The practice of this birth will be carried forward to the next birth. Automatically, the reborn individual will be prompted along the lines of the same practice which was done earlier in the previous life. Though no one remembers their previous life, a spontaneous impulsion will be there, right from the beginning of one's life, towards this practice. Pūrvābhyāsena tenaiva hriyate hy avaśopi saḥ (B.G. 6.44). Because of the impetus of previous practice, the newly born individual will be carried along the same lines.

If the fructification of meditation does not take effect in one life due to the obstructive activity of certain rajasic and tamasic prarabdha, the achievement in one life may be difficult. But really, nothing is difficult. The power of the mind is such that it can transmute rajas and tamas into sattva by its ardour of concentration. The impediments caused by rajasic and tamasic prarabdhas will be transferred to another condition of sattvic motivation. There is also compassion and goodness in the world; it is not merely law and order. Any good intention is rewarded because the heart has greater force and power than mere intellectual motivation. It is possible that in one birth itself the realisation may take place.

With this conviction, one may be seated in meditation. Finally, we are our own guide in the advanced stages of meditation. Our conviction, our assiduity of practice—tivra samvega, as the Yoga Shastras tell us—will bring good dividends. Tīvra saṁvegānām āsannaḥ (Y.S. 1.21): The achievement is very near to those whose ardour of longing is sufficiently intense. The Yoga Shastra also subdivides this ardour into mild, middling and intense. Like that, it is multiplied nine times, so that the ardour becomes inexplicably intense—wanting it, and feeling that it is impossible to live without it.

“I want it, and I must get it.” This is the highest qualification required of a spiritual seeker. Every other requirement is subordinate to this great ardour called mumukshutva. It swallows up every other discipline. If all the disciplines are well intact but our longing is lukewarm, these disciplines will not bring any result.

The mind is fickle; this is well known. When it concentrates itself on the chosen ideal, it is very eager to exclude certain other thoughts, not knowing that the thought of excluding another thought also is a thought itself. So two thoughts are operating, even at the time when one is imagining that there is only one thought. By a dexterous operation of the mind, the thought of that which is excluded should also be brought within the purview of the thought which is actually concentrating on the object. This is a psychological secret.

Likewise, there may be an endless series of these thoughts, one following the other, and a time may come when we have to bring all the thoughts into the focus of attention on a single thought. Then, the thought becomes what we call cosmic thought. That thought which is cosmic in its nature is called brahmakara vritti. All other thoughts in our mind are vishayakara vritti; object-motivated thinking is called vishayakara vritti. When the universe becomes the object of meditation, the thought assumes a vritti called brahmakara vritti, the total vritti of everything. A single thought is a binding vritti, and all the thoughts joining together, like an army marching as a single force, as it were, in a given direction, is brahmakara vritti. The whole world cooperates at that time. The gods dance in joy over the world-redeeming thought of the spiritual seeker.

This is the greatest service that one can do to the world. Service does not mean running about here and there. It is not a question of doing at all. A total being of our mind, that is the greatest service. Contemplation is action when it reaches the highest stage. Those who are engaged in this kind of total concentration of mind touch the corners of creation and have done the greatest service to humanity, much more than all the social workers anywhere in human history can imagine. Hands and feet do not do any service; it is the mind that does the service. A powerful blessing that emanates from our mind is a redeeming service, more capable in its potency than what we can give in the form of service through our hands and feet.

Nothing equals meditation. The greatest duty of every individual is to perpetually engage oneself in this art, and be sure that the whole world will be at your feet at that time. Things will be at your beck and call. The gods will be pleased. The denizens will serve you. The whole world of humanity is served at one stroke instantaneously by this non-active activity of the cosmic endeavour of the spiritual seeker. Words fail here. It is non-active adventure, but it is all activity blended together into a total focus of concentration.

These are some of the preliminaries in meditation. ‘Glory' is the word that we can use to designate meditation. ‘Wonder' is the word we can use to designate meditation. ‘Treasure', ‘magnificence' and ‘blissful experience' are the words we can use to designate meditation. It is your dearest relative. The Yoga Shastra tells us this yoga of inner communion with the outer reality loves you more than a hundred mothers. A mother loves her son or daughter, but yoga will love you more than a hundred mothers. It wants you more than you want it. The world wants you more than you want the world because that is the cause and you are the effect. The effect pulls itself towards the cause, and the cause exerts its influence on the effect.

These words that I have spoken themselves constitute a kind of meditation because if you have listened to me properly you would be in a state of great attention, bereft of any kind of distractive thoughts in your mind, and you will be inordinately enthused to take upon yourself this divine task of achieving divine perfection, which is the highest goal of life.