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Swami Krishnananda in Conversation
by Swami Krishnananda
Compiled by S. Bhagyalakshmi

17. Pranayama

A visitor: I have come here not for a vacation. I want to be as deeply in yoga as I can.

Swamiji: A daily routine? What is it?

Visitor: I have a daily routine, Swamiji. My routine is to rise at 3:45, do meditation between 4 to 5, then pranayama and asana.

Swamiji: You do pranayama? For how long?

Visitor: Half an hour.

Swamiji: That is good. You hold the breath?

Visitor: Yes. About two and a half minutes.

Swamiji: So much!

Visitor: I do it relaxed. If I feel suffocation, I don't hold it.

Swamiji: You should not hold it if you feel suffocation. I do not think it is good to do too much pranayama. Meditation is more important, and pranayama can take care of itself ultimately in correct meditation.

Visitor: Swamiji, I having been working on this all my life. When I was six years old I can remember pacing up and down trying to understand why I was here.

Swamiji: Are you a married man?

Visitor: No.

Swamiji: You have family?

Visitor: A brother and a sister, and my mother, but they live in other parts of the country.

Swamiji: So you live alone.

Visitor: I feel that now I need to have a relationship with someone who really knows what I am about.

Swamiji: Can you write down in some detail the relevant theme of your meditation apart from pranayama—the meditation that you follow and the experiences that you have, and the difficulties?

Visitor: I feel that if I write it, it will take a long time, whereas if I talk to you, it will be easier. Swamiji knows that I run an ashram in California and I share my experiences in meditation with my students. For example, I suggest a way, an idea for them to fix their mind on, e.g., one day we will meditate on tat twam asi—I am that that I am—and I elaborate on that. Maybe I talk on it for half an hour before starting the meditation, and then from there we try to experience it. But in myself now, Swamiji, I feel as if I am about to take a very important step. I don't know what it is.

Swamiji: This is very good. I am glad that you are feeling that within. You want to devote your life only to this?

Visitor: Yes, Swamiji. All my life. Even when I was in profession, in architecture, it was all for this. I worked for fifteen years as an architect in New York—famous young architect, that kind of thing. But the more successful I became, the more irrelevant it seemed. I gave it up in 1970. I need very little, and somehow, God has always provided my needs.

Swamiji: You have your own house or ashram?

Visitor: An ashram. But it does not belong to me. It is a non-profit corporation. When I was a boy of eight, I used to try to recite the Lord's Prayer knowing the meaning and having the consciousness of every word. And if I forgot, I would start again. I would spend hours doing this. I did this on my own. I have trained myself all my life in focusing on and being in the Real. There is only one thing that is important to me and that is to be in touch with the reality of my own essence. And I feel now that there is just a membrane between me and that. I have had experiences of very clear realisations. When I talk in the class, I do not prepare words, I prepare myself by meditation, and sometimes such realisations come as I had not known before. Now I feel that I need to pierce that membrane.

Swamiji: What do you concentrate upon when you meditate?

Visitor: I centre upon the Absolute.

Swamiji: There must be some technique for doing this?

Visitor: Well, first I seat myself at ease and let my body go loose, then I place my mind on that point: In the beginning there was the Absolute only—Om, Om.

Swamiji: The most important thing is, the omnipresence of the Absolute. Omnipresence means it exists everywhere and in everything, which means to say it is in you also. So when you think on these ideas, it is not your thinking, you are not thinking. Your thinking personality has gone. You become the focusing point or the manifesting point of the Absolute Force. You are not thinking, you are not feeling, you are not acting, all these actions are of the Absolute. So that when you think, It is the Absolute that is thinking. Therefore, you must visualise things in the light of the Absolute itself. You should not look at particular objects as if they are separate from one another. Put yourself in the position of the Creator of the universe and what the Creator would be thinking of is the whole cosmos in its totality: a total arrangement of all His creatures, instantaneously, eternally—this is how you can contemplate the Absolute.

Visitor: How long should I do this?

Swamiji: Maximum three hours, but it can be one hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon and an hour at night. It is possible that the mind gets fatigued by meditation. So you must have an alternative sadhana such as the study of a scripture, whatever you are interested in. There is a very beautiful exposition of the Gita by Krishnaprem, a Britisher whose former name was Nixon. He was a Sannyasin in India. He was a contemporary of Swami Sivananda, they were friends. He wrote a very beautiful book on the Gita: The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita. Tomorrow you rise at 4:00 a.m. using your will. It is a better time clock than a machine.

Visitor: Then I do pranayama for about 20 minutes to half an hour, may be one more hour of asanas, and then I do some study. Right now I am reading Guru Tatwa by Swami Sivananda.

Swamiji: You could read a book like Meditation and Concentration.

Visitor: I also like the book you wrote on the Kathopanishad.

Swamiji: There is the Mandukyopanishad also.

Another visitor: I had a dream some time ago where Swami Sivananda appeared very clearly.

Swamiji: Mmmm . . . not very important ... you will find at different times different kinds of dreams coming, and you will never know which is what. I think the best thing is just to ignore it. Concentrate your mind on your sadhana and dreams will vanish after a while. You will have no dreams at all.

Another visitor: I have a difficulty Swamiji, I think that I can conceive of God only as an impersonal abstract.

Swamiji: You can conceive of God in any convenient form.

Visitor: But to me it is totally abstract, no personality. I do japa and go to the temple, but to be truthful to myself I cannot just copy something.

Swamiji: It does not matter, if you have that feeling you can continue that way. You have chosen one particular method.

Visitor: No, I haven't chosen. With me it is just impersonal, it is abstract, even in japa.

Swamiji: This is your way. Only you must not think there is only one way. There are hundreds of ways. Your way is also all right.

Visitor: But it is said by everyone here that you have to have a personal relationship with God.

Swamiji: That is because the impersonal cannot be thought of in the mind. You need the help of a personal concept. You leave that personal later on, otherwise how will you connect the personality of the world with the impersonal Absolute? You do not see impersonals in the world, you see only persons. Now, how will you relate them to the impersonal? You see trees and mountains and human beings. What is their relationship with the Absolute? Are they inside it or outside it, or identical with it, or different from it?

Visitor: Well, I see the Universal Being as one being and everything else a manifestation of it. But I do not have a personal relationship with the Universal.

Swamiji: It is not abstract… Abstract means something not concrete. That is what you mean. Hardness is an abstract concept. Likewise you think the Absolute is abstract in that sense. Hardness does not exist. It is only an idea in somebody's mind. Only the hard exists. So when you say abstract, the idea of abstract must be clear to the mind. Generally, by abstract we mean unreality.

Visitor: Oh, I don't mean that at all. The way I meant it was impersonal.

Swamiji: Impersonal does not mean rejecting the person, it means inclusion of all the persons.

Visitor: Oh, I see.

Swamiji: It includes all. It does not reject anybody. Abstract should not mean something out of the world, other than the world. It includes the world. However, 'abstract' is not the proper word. You may call it the Totality, the Completeness. That gives a positive comprehension rather than the word 'abstract', which means withdrawing something from something else. Something which cannot exist. Everything is included in the One Whole.

Visitor: I said, impersonal. Now, how do I do japa when my whole relationship is impersonal?

Swamiji: Japa means the repetition of a concept in the form of a formula to focus your mind on the idea of the Super Being that is in your mind. You cannot think of the Absolute unless there is some invocation. Invocation is done by some prescription, and that prescription is called the mantra, and the repetition of the mantra is called japa. The idea of tree comes to the mind immediately when I utter the word 'tree'. That is japa. Immediately I utter the word 'tree', I am doing japa of tree. Now, when you say Omnipresent, it is japa only and when you say Omniscient, Omnipotent, it is japa.

Japa does not mean any kind of mystical formula. It is a kind of helpful description of the ideals on which you are meditating. That prescription is necessary because you cannot invoke that idea unless the prescription is there. Some idea must be there of the Absolute, and that idea always comes in the form of some language. Even when you think of the Absolute, the term 'absolute' will come to your mind. That is a mantra for you. The moment you utter the word Absolute, you have done japa of that mantra. So, a mantra need not necessarily be in Sanskrit. It can be any kind of formula, in any language, which describes the characteristics of that on which you are concentrating. One cannot help doing japa. Everybody is doing japa. Even when you think of something, you have done the japa of that thing because you have thought of it.

Visitor: I have been thinking 'Om' all the time.

Swamiji: You can think 'Om', but you must understand what you mean by 'Om'. It is the symbol of the cosmic vibration. It is not merely a letter on the wall. It is not a linguistic concept.

Visitor: I heard it said that 'Om' signifies the Universal; not only this creation, many creations before.

Swamiji: It is the general vibration behind every type of creation, not only this creation. This is only one creation. This is one particular selection of patterns among many other possible patterns. Just as a carpenter can make tables of any shape out of a block of wood, so can any statue be carved out of a block of stone. The possibility of any statue is there, but only one is actually manifested. You can make the statue of a god, a monkey, a tree, anything, out of it. Likewise, within the infinite possibility of God's idea any universe can be manifested. Each atom contains a universe. It is a mistake to think an atom to be small. When you enter into it you will find it is in itself a universe. And this universe that you are in is also an atom in the cosmos. You will find all these things in the Relativity Theory and in Yoga Vasishtha. You will see that this cosmos is in itself an atom only. For you it is a universe, but in reality it is like a minute atom. One can become crazy if one thinks too deeply of these things. There is an infinite universe in every speck of space.

Visitor: The world is said to be unreal. Again, it is said that it is part of the Absolute. So how can it be unreal?

Swamiji: Why do you call a dream unreal? It is a part of your mind. It is real only because it is in your head.

Visitor: Isn't the problem with the unreality of the world rather than with our interpretation of it.

Swamiji: It is real as a unified whole but unreal as an external reality. The things outside are unreal. In other words, the things are real but the outside-ness is unreal. A person suffering from schizophrenia has a double personality. That is an unreality. Something has happened to his mind that makes him think that he is two persons. Likewise, there is a cosmic schizophrenia: each one is thinking that the other one is different from him. It is a mistake, an error in thought. You are real and I am real, but that we are different from one another is not real. This concept is unreal. Even the dream objects are real. To think that they are appearing outside is a mistake. They are inside your head only, yet they seem to be outside.

Just as the individual mind manifests itself as external objects in a dream, the cosmic mind has manifested itself as external objects in nature. The pattern of manifestation is the same. Instead of you dreaming, God is dreaming. So you are a dream object of God just as things that you saw in a dream are your dream objects. You are not waking, you are dreaming still, and real waking is that where you will not see any differences.