Meditation Techniques of Detaching Consciousness from Its False Associations
by Swami Krishnananda
(Spoken on September 11, 1983.)
Last time we considered some important processes that are associated with the state of meditation. In the Dharma Shastras and the Manusmriti certain specific types of meditation are particularly mentioned as may be easily graspable by the human mind without much technicality, as we have in the well-known systems of yoga practice.
What exactly do we intend to achieve in meditation? This is the direction that our mind has to take while it takes a decision on this path. There is a direction which the whole spirit of the individual takes in this dedication called meditation. What is it that one expects finally? The difficulty in clearly conceiving the central, or rather, the final objective in meditation is a principal hindrance to any palpable success.
Most of us are bodily conscious, intensely aware of this physical encasement, and no human being can reasonably be expected to be unconscious of the needs of the physical body and also the needs of all the associated factors in relation to the physical body. The life of man in the world today is mostly physical, and therefore, materially conditioned. All the values that we attach to human existence seem to be mainly associated with the physical existence in the world, and we cannot entirely rule out the possibility, even in a fairly advanced seeker's mind, of expecting a result which will bring about such a transformation in visible existence that the pains of life in the world will be completely abolished and there will be a temporal continuance of the joys of earthly life – joys minus all the sorrows and pains concomitant with the usual life in the world.
It is difficult to believe that we have no desire to live in this world. A thoroughgoing conviction that the conditions of life as experienced by the physical body and this mind are worth the while will pursue us as long as we are in a peculiar network constituted of spatial extension, temporal succession and causally related object relationship. With all our efforts, this threefold notion of involvement cannot easily be avoided. An extension to limitless expanse in a spatial sense would be certainly a desire because it means complete authority over the whole world, and perhaps even the whole universe – not for a few minutes only, but for an endless period, that is to extend one's aspiration to a succession of time which will have no limit. Nevertheless, it is an aspiration for a life in space and in time, and also in relation to things. So the causal and the spatiotemporal concept seems to be propelling even our consciousness in its attempt to fix a goal for its meditative practice. These are fundamental difficulties, apart from minor problems such as the hesitancy of the mind in stepping into the discipline of self-control, for instance.
The Manusmriti, the Yajnavalkya Smriti and certain other Dharma Shastras have a method which is also mentioned in the Yoga Vasishtha. The idea of space, time and objects cannot leave us, so let the idea be there, but we can utilise this idea for setting at naught its binding character. It is, as we have been told again and again, not the world as such that is a source of bondage but it is our peculiar notion about it that binds us. So the notion of space, time and causal relation is what is to be put to a complete trans-evaluational test so that it matters little for us whether there is space or time, or whether there is causal relation. What matters is something else: our connection with this so-called world of space, time and causal relation.
We receive the impact of the world and we react in a corresponding manner to this world of such an involvement and structure. This impact we feel in ourselves from the world outside is what bothers us. Conversely, the reaction that we are forced to project forth from our own selves as a counterbalancing activity in respect of the response from the world is this impetus mentioned. This physical body is there, no doubt. Let us take it for granted that it is there. Let us reduce this physical body into its components. This is one method of meditation. To understand a thing would be to reduce that thing to its fundamentals. The basic common factor in a particular object, the substance out of which it is made, is really what the thing is. The value of the object, therefore, basically consists in the substance out of which it is made. What is the substance out of which this body is made? It is made up of the well-known elements earth, water, fire, air and ether.
Now comes the meditational touch in this analysis. If this body is made up of these five elements and it is also well known that the whole world is made up of these five elements only, what is the relationship between our body and the physical world outside? This is a stroke of meditation, and what does this stroke achieve? It immediately abolishes the difference between the physical body and the physical world outside. This is a basic and important achievement. Though it looks so simple, it is indeed very revolutionary because the entire business of life is an action and reaction process between the physically conditioned individual and the physical world outside. This action and reaction process would be completely ruled out and would lose all its significance or meaning if the very need for such an action or reaction would not arise due to the fact that there is no difference in the constitutional essence of either the world outside or the body which is said to be located in the physical world. In fact, in this analysis we would realise that the physical body is not in the world, it is just the world itself.
The physical body is not different from the physical world because all-pervading space is in this body also, which gives it dimension. There is air, there is heat, there is water, and there is the solid earthly substance. The physical body and the physical world relate to each other in a non-relational manner. It appears, as it were, that the physical body has melted down into its constitutive substance, namely, the fivefold element earth, water, fire, air, ether.
But we are not merely the body. We are many other things also inside us. The human element constitution is a complex of several layers placed one over the other, or one inside the other, as it were. These well-known layers are the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the causal bodies – the annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, and anandamaya koshas. This breath that we breathe is the air that is pervading the whole world. It is not a property of our own, as if it is our individual prerogative. The air, the breath, is the very same substance that moves about externally in the world, and therefore the vital being in us also is commensurate with this airy substance. Not only that, the vital energy which pumps up this breath in the fivefold fashion known as the five pranas, is also a drop, as it were, in the oceanic force of the world outside. The five elements are reducible to forces, finally, these forces being called tanmatras: shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha.
Shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha are Sanskrit words implying the potentials of the various sensations with which we are accustomed. The sensation of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching constitute the world of experience. These sensations are the world for us practically. If these sensations were not to be there, there would not be a world of experience for us. Minus the sensations of hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and touching, what would be the world? Just imagine, if you cannot have any sensation of any kind – neither you can feel anything by sense of touch, nor you can see, nor you can taste, nor you can smell, nor is there any conceivable sensation – will there be a world for you? The world will not be there. The world is only a bundle of sensational reactions.
These sensations are the internal responses to outward potencies called energy patterns in modern language, and called the tanmatras in ancient language. These energy patterns, or the electromagnetic configurations of modern science, are to some extent comparable to the ancient description of these forces by the designations of shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha. These energies are not really five energies; they are five ways in which they impinge on the locations of our personality, known as the sense organs. The same energy strikes our personality in five different centres, and five different sensations are generated within us. One and the same world is experienced in five ways because of the fivefold aperture, as it were, through which our consciousness operates in this world of experience.
Thus, considering the fact that the internal prana is the very same pressurised energy packed up in the physical body due to prarabdha karma, the same energy that is pervading everywhere, the pranic or vital body, the pranamaya sharira, the pranamaya kosha, ceases to have any distinction with the world of energy outside. Thus should you meditate. Deeply be seated in one posture and dissolve this body in the five elements. The earth goes to earth, water goes to water, fire goes to fire, air goes to air, and space goes to space. It is as if you have paid up all your debts and have nothing more to do with your creditors. They will not stand at your door. They will not be objects of perception anymore. Creditors become objects of perception as long as they are concerned with you as external somethings, so long as you have not paid your debts. You have paid the debts and discharged all your dues to these so-called objects called the creditors. They will no longer be creditors. They will be your friends from that day onward. They will not be harassing objects. They will be your own kith and kin because the relationship of give-and-take is abolished after the discharge of the debts that you owed to these external media of sensation.
The body is made up of five elements only; thus, let the mind concentrate upon this fact. Deeply should we cogitate with intense feeling that on the departure of the prana from this body, it shall be dissolved with the five elements. Therefore, it is now also the five elements only. It does not dissolve just now because it is maintained in a position by the energy of the psychic and pranic concentrated intention to live in this body only as a desire potential. As long as this desire potential is not satisfied, it will keep this organism intact and will not allow it to dissolve.
When the task of this desire potential is performed it shall quit this cage, and it shall not anymore protect it or maintain its balance or position. The whole edifice will collapse. The cementing factor will be withdrawn, and all the bricks will fall one after the other, as if the building was not there at all. This is the way in which dissolution of the five elements of the body with the five elements of the world will take place.
Therefore, these bodies of the human beings are not beautiful things. They are just vehicles manufactured by a desire potential inside for a particular purpose. There is neither beauty nor fragrance or anything of the kind in this body. It is as much valuable as mud and stone. That is this body, and you dissolve it and no more remain as an isolated little mud pot. The mud pot is dissolved into this earth of which it is made. There is no pot. The pot is only clay. When you touch a pot, you are touching clay only; therefore, when you touch this body you are touching the world of the five elements. You are not touching a person. There is no person there, in the same way as the pot is not there. The pot is only a spatiotemporal shape. Similarly, this body that you call your own is a spatiotemporal shape. It is only a shape, and therefore it is not a thing. The shape cannot be considered as a thing, and a pot is only a shape. It is not a substance by itself, the substance being only clay. Therefore, this body has no special meaning to us. The meaning is only the meaning that we have with the world as a whole.
Through meditation the body has to be dissolved into the five elements. The prana is dissolved in the energy. The mind goes to the cosmic mind in a similar manner, and all the deities mentioned in the scriptures presiding over the sense organs revert to their originals. There are divinities presiding over the various sense organs, and they superintend over these little organs or limbs of the body and take care of their proper working as long as they are to form integral constituents of the individuality. When the purpose of the individuality is fulfilled, the deities withdraw themselves. As birds fly in different directions, deities withdraw themselves, and then the eyes cannot see, the ears cannot hear, and there will be no sensation at the time of the withdrawal of these energies.
Our mind is only a pressure of consciousness, a concentrated form of awareness. It is not general consciousness but a consciousness particularly directed at a point in space and in time. Concentrated consciousness lodged in a location of space and time is the mind, and freed from the shackles of spatial and temporal relationship, the same mind becomes general consciousness. So the mind which seems to be our vehicle or instrument of thinking is also a drop, as it were, in the oceanic cosmic mind.
There is only one mind in the whole world. As the physical world is a single unit and energy is one as prana, so is the mind a single thinking substance. It is an organic mentation which is ubiquitous, present everywhere in everything animate or inanimate, conscious or unconscious. In unconscious animals and in inanimate substances it is in a sleeping and dreaming condition, but nevertheless it is there, as the mind is present in an inactive condition even in human beings in sleep and in a semi-dreaming condition. So the individual mind is to be dissolved in the cosmic mind.
Sureshvara, the great disciple of Acharya Sankara, has written a small poem called Pramanavarttika. It is a beautiful composition of about sixty or sixty-two verses in which his main teaching is only this much: When the physical body is dissolved in the physical universe, we step into the realm of Virat. The Virat is the physically conscious universality, the whole physical universe becoming aware that it is. Now, this is a difficult thing for the ordinary mind to conceive because for ordinary conception, the world is always an outside object. But the Virat is not an external object. The Virat is not an object because this subject, so-called, the individual person, is also a part of this Virat, so the thinker and the thought-of get together in a merging of their separate features of internality and externality. The Visva is merged in the Virat. Visva is the name we give to the waking consciousness aware of the physical body as itself. We are under the impression that this body is the self in the waking state. This condition of consciousness where it is enmeshed in the notion of its being just the physical body is the Visva. This Visva consciousness has to be merged in the Virat, or Vaisvanara consciousness. This is one step of meditation.
The vital body, the prana or energy layer, along with the mental layer, constitute the subtle body, or the linga sarira. This has to be offered to its cosmical counterpart, as we did in the earlier stage of offering the physical to the cosmical physical. As the consciousness involved in the physical body is called the Visva, the same consciousness involved in the subtle or astral body, making itself actively felt in the dreaming condition particularly, is called Tejasa in the language of the Upanishads. This Tejasa consciousness of the subtle body should be offered to the subtle consciousness of the cosmical being, Hiranyagarbha. Visva is united with Vaisvanara or Virat, and Tejasa is united with Sutratma, Hiranyagarbha or Mahaprana, as it is usually called.
So these very valuable things we consider as associated with the physical body are together offered in this jnana yajna we perform by means of the surrender and melting away, as it were, of the physical consciousness in the cosmical physical consciousness, Virat Svarupa, Vaisvanara consciousness. Likewise, our subtle body is offered to the subtle consciousness, Hiranyagarbha consciousness. Then what remains in us? The physical is the waking, the subtle is the dreaming, and we have the causal condition which is experienced by us in the sleep state. That is the potential of individuality in us known in the language of the Upanishads as Prajna. That consciousness of Prajna has to be offered up in the cosmical counterpart of it, known as Ishvara. These are the terms associated with these conditions universally known Vaisvanara or Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara, and individually known as Visva, Tejasa and Prajna. So we have nothing with us except these three layers, which are further subdivided into the five minor layers known as the annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas. Compactly they are the sthula sharira, sukshma sharira and the karana sharira or the physical, the astral or subtle, and the causal bodies.
These are the processes described by way of meditation in the epics and the Puranas. Many a time we see it described in the Mahabharata, the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, the Vishnupurana, the Manusmriti, and so on. There is not much of a strain of thinking here; it is an easy process. Whatever I have does not belong to me, and whatever I apparently am, that also does not seem to be really me. It looks like that. It is very clear that my property is really not my property. The house, the money and the land, and everything that is socially connected to me, is really not mine. I will leave it one day, and go independently. A little bit of thought will reveal that this is the truth.
But it is difficult to know that we are not the body, not the mind and not the prana, that there is something else. It is necessary to cast away all our associations with what is known as the gaunatman. Gaunatman means the association of the self with beloved things – husband and wife, son, daughter, relations, money, property. Every belonging, whatever we call our belonging or relation, is called the gaunatman. It is gauna because it is a secondary self, not a real self. We cannot say the son is a real self, though the father loves the son intensely. Similar is the case with everything we love intensely. We may love it, but it cannot be us. To foolishly regard it as ourselves would be a sort of illusion we are hugging; therefore, it is called a secondary self, not a major self or a primary self.
Thus, the gaunatman, which is the secondary self, has to be abandoned first. Then comes this other atman which is falsely assumed to be the real self, namely, this so-called psychophysical organism. It is called mithyatman because it is not true. This body, this mind, this prana are not ourselves. The feeling that we possess these is an illusion. Already it has been shown by a little understanding and analysis that these elements constituting the body, the pranas, and the mind belong to somebody else. To imagine them to be ours would be an illusion; therefore, they are called mithyatman, illusory selves. It is like the bank manager imagining that the bank's money is his. It is an illusory assumption of property – absolutely illusory because it is not his property. Likewise is this illusion of our body being of ours.
While the external relationships are secondary and can be set at naught at one stroke as meaningless even with a little understanding and the exercise of some common sense, it is a little more difficult to understand that the body is an illusion. The idea that it is ours is an illusion because it is made up of the same substance of which the world is made. Therefore, it does not belong to us; it belongs to the world, and all the things we have as the three bodies also belong to the world in its three planes – physical, astral and causal.
Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svargloka – bhu bha svaha we sometimes say when chanting the Gayatri mantra, for instance – represent the three layers of the cosmos corresponding to the internal layers mentioned already. The three planes of the physical, the subtle and the causal, or the seven planes – Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Jnanaloka, Tapoloka, Satyaloka – these subdivisions or interpretations again correspond to the layers inside.
There are, for instance, seven chakras, the nerve centres, and the koshas already mentioned. Whatever way you imagine yourself to be, whether threefold or sevenfold, or whatever it is, individuality seems to be a presentation of borrowed property; therefore, it is shining in somebody's colours, like washerwomen sometimes going to marriage parties with saris belonging to somebody else. Goldsmiths also do this many a time. If you give some necklace for repair, the wife of the goldsmith will use it for a few days to parade her beauty in a function in her own locality. But this beauty has no meaning; this necklace or sari is not hers, and therefore it is an illusory presentation of one's importance and significance.
Similarly, the individual has no significance finally; it is a zero, and if the whole world is nothing but value associated with individuals, it also becomes a zero. With all these illusions attached to individual personalities, the world value also goes like a huge illusion. These methods may be employed in meditation so that the consciousness may get detached from its false associations with imaginary conditions it has created, manufactured, like a silkworm manufacturing a cocoon around itself for its own bondage.
These methods of meditation are deeply psychic processes of intense affirmation of consciousness. And while this is one way – a direct attack, as it were, a frontal attack on the circumstance of one's relationship with the whole universe – there is also a devout and humble method of adoration in which also, by means of atma-samarpana, or surrender of one's personality to the cosmical being, the very same purpose is achieved. This Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara that we have spoken of as universal realities, with which our individualities have to be communed and in which they have to be dissolved, are also objects of worship. They are divinities, gods, whom we may adore.
In meditation, we do not suddenly plunge into this experience at one stroke. Though whatever has been described just now may look like an act of sudden involvement in the cosmical existence, in practice we will find it is not a sudden act. It cannot take place so quickly, though the explanation may make it seem as if it is an immediate act that can be achieved at one stroke. It is a slow process of inward communion.
Now, here comes into the surface of our appreciation and understanding the value of the different methods of yoga, known as bhakti yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga. The sudden immersion of yourself in the cosmical existence by the force of affirmation in the manner explained may be considered to be the method of jnana yoga. If you have that strength, do it. In a minute it can be done. But there is a gradational psychic effort involved in the process of one's attempt to unite one's layers with the cosmical layers. These gradational processes of one's endeavour to gradually identify one's layers with the cosmical layers may be said to constitute the method of Patanjali's eightfold path, Ashtanga Yoga. So the very same thing becomes jnana yoga as well as the raja yoga of Patanjali.
It can also become bhakti yoga at the same time because these things mentioned – Virat, Hiranyagarbha, Ishvara – are not sudden presentations before human consciousness. They reveal themselves little by little as divinities transcending the lower levels gradually, one by one. These transcendent divinities, to which we have made reference many a time in our earlier sessions and which we have called the adhidaiva, presiding principles superior to and transcending the subject and the object, connecting the two together, presents itself before you as your God. That is your Mahaganapati, your Vishnu, your Siva, your Devi, or whatever your God is. But the concept of God becomes wider and wider as these transcending divinities start swallowing more and more of the objective universe into themselves, and their expanse increases from all sides as if you are going to reach out to the horizon itself and gulp the entire space.
In the earlier stages of meditation, you will find that your concept of God is that of some anthropomorphic or localised conceptual being. You cannot suddenly feel a oneness with that God which is conceived by you as something placed before you. However much you may struggle, it will be outside only. Even if you believe that the whole world is one with you and you are identical with it, you will subtly feel it is outside only, and you are seeing it with your eyes. So the God whom you worship and pray to will be an outside object for the time being, and in the intensity of meditation you will feel the presence of that One Being filling all space afterwards, as you see suns everywhere after having gazed at the sun for a long time. If you glance at the sun for a moment, you will find that you see the sun everywhere, in all places – bright orbs dazzling because of its impact on the eyes.
So the one Sri Krishna, the one Christ, the one form of your God will be seen to be filling the whole cosmos like forests filled with trees. Everywhere you will see trees and trees and trees, nothing but trees in a vast forest. Likewise, you will find that the entire space is filled with these gods – not many gods, but the One Form manifesting itself as manifold and infinite in Its diversification.
Further intensity of concentration will dissolve this multiplicity into a blaze, as if all ornaments have been melted into one nugget of gold or a huge mass of gold. These beautiful forms that you saw filling all space were like beautiful ornaments made up of the same gold. No doubt it is gold, but there are varieties. There is a beauty in seeing variety, but they will melt down completely into the substance that they came from, and you will find that the whole sky is radiant with sunlight. It is as if the whole sky has become the sun, so you can imagine what that vision could be. The sun is now at one spot in the sky blazing before your eyes, but if the entire space, the all-pervading sky itself, is the sun, what would be the vision? Such would be the vision of that merging of the divinity in a diversified form into that cosmical maelstrom. This is something like what is called savikalpa samadhi. Then you will feel a faint presence of yourself as an individual contemplating this vast radiance.
When this contemplative unit also melts down its own substance into this radiance that is all pervading, that is the utter surrender of the self to God. This is parabhakti, in the language of the Bhakti Shastras, and though I have described these stages in a prosaic manner in a few sentences, when you actually practise them you will find you will pass through thrills after thrills, ecstasies after ecstasies, horripilations after horripilations, sweatings and tremors, and ejaculations of consciousness, as if you are drowned in degrees of joy ranging one above the other.
These are some of the experiences in the implementation of the art of the love of God, bhakti yoga, described in Bhakti Rasayana and such other Shastras. The ecstasies and the different stages of the devotees' experience are faintly explained to us in the writings of saints and sages, such as the writings of St. Teresa of Avila in her Interior Castle, one of the beautiful masterpieces of mystical literature. She mentions seven stages of the ascent of the spirit of the individual to the Godhead. We also have such descriptions in the Yoga Vasishtha, and we have wondrous ecstatic descriptions in some of the writings of the Tamil saints. The various saints of all the times and climes describe the glory of God being the object of the spirit and the spirit being possessed by God.
Thus, one and the same object can become the ideal for these methods called jnana, or psychic concentration or meditation, or bhakti, devotion, intense love and feeling for the Almighty. Some of these are described in the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana and, as mentioned, in the Manusmriti, the Mahabharata and the Yoga Vasishtha.