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The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 14: The Essentialities in the Stages of Meditation

In the process of the descent we were referring to, the nearest cosmic principles visible to our eyes and intelligible to us are the five elements, known as mahabhutas—earth, water, fire, air and ether. This body of ours is, also, made up of these five elements. Hence, we have in our body all those characteristics which belong to the five elements. That we seem to be separate from these elements as independent persons and, as a consequence, the five elements appear as objects of our senses outside, is due to the fact of a cohesive effect exercised by certain forces within us—rather, forces which we ourselves are.

We independent persons are really not independent persons. This we shall realise gradually as we advance through the stages of yoga. Even this body is not an independent object belonging to us as individuals. The so-called independence of this body—the feeling that this body is the I or the me—is a misconception arisen due to some unfortunate event that has taken place in the process of the descent.

There is a power which we sometimes call desire. It is very difficult to understand what desire means, here. It has a higher than psychological significance in this particular context. There is an intensive urge to solidify matter into a localised existence, which is what we call the ego. The ego is not a substance. It is not a thing. It cannot be seen, and it is not tangible. It is only an energy that centralises itself into one point—as the eye of the hurricane, for instance, into which the power of the hurricane converges and from where it deflects its energy. There is a point which is not geometrical and not physical, but only conceptual, which is called the ego. This point is the converging centre of certain forces which go to form what is called self-affirmation—the hard feeling that I exist, or this so-called me is existing here. It is the vehemence of this force that makes us feel that we are so vehemently independent of the five elements.

This is what is also known, in certain forms of yogic language, as the knot of the heart—granthis, as they are called. A granthi is a knot. They say that there are various granthis, types of knots, the major ones being called brahma-granthi, vishnu-granthi and rudra-granthi. Whatever the names be, there seems to be a triple knot, sometimes philosophically called avidya-kama-karma—ignorance, desire and action. All these mean one and the same thing.

The three knots constitute the three stages of the affirmation of individuality. First there is the total ignorance of one's connection with the cosmic existence, which is called avidya, or ignorance; and then there is the desire arising to affirm one's individuality. In the beginning there is only a forgetfulness of one's relationship with the cosmos, or God Himself. That is avidya, ignorance, maya—whatever we call it. A total obliteration of the consciousness of one's connection with the whole creation is avidya, ignorance. This is immediately followed by a strong wind of desire, as winds blow when the sun is covered and clouds hover heavy over our heads. The desire to exist independently as an individual immediately follows this ignorance of one's connection to the cosmic existence. Kama means desire. Kama simply means the desire to exist as an independent individual; and everything else that follows it is also called kama.

But, here the matter does not end. Avidya and kama, ignorance and desire, immediately ramify into activity—karma, or action—in relation to the atmosphere and the persons and things around oneself. The whole of samsara is this much. All our bondage is threefold—avidya-kama-karma. This is what is called brahma-granthi, vishnu-granthi and rudra-granthi. They are internal, as well as external.

This physical body is, therefore, a part of the five elements, and when we die, it goes back to the five elements. It disintegrates. But the so-called personality, the desire, does not die. Even if the body dies, desire cannot die, because desire is not material, as the physical elements are. Desire is a force, and nobody can destroy force.

In modern science there is a principle called the conservation of energy, which makes out that energy cannot be created or destroyed. It does not increase, and it does not decrease. It is always the same in quantum, but it is unequally distributed. This unequal distribution of energy is the cause of the appearance of individuals, persons, things, objects, etc. Where there is an equilibration of the energy by a reverting of the centres into their causes, there is dissolution of the cosmos—pralaya, as it is called.

Our scientists also tell us the same thing: one day the universe will cease. Scientists speak of a principle of heat called entropy, according to which the heat in the universe is now unequally distributed . For instance, there is tremendous heat in the sun, and less heat around the sun. This unequal distribution of heat is the process of creation. The heat of the universe will be equally distributed one day. Then, everything will become cold, and the whole universe will perish. It is not merely the heat that is unequally distributed; all the energy of the cosmos is unequally distributed. Consequently, we have a variety of things in the world, including persons.

This kind of thing cannot go on for a long time, because any kind of inequality is unnatural. The natural condition of things is equality, and they will revert to this equality one day or the other. The impulsion to move towards equality is the impulsion to the dissolution of things. Individually, it is called death; cosmically, it is called dissolution, or pralaya.

When this pralaya, or dissolution, takes place involuntarily, even without our wanting it, it does not lead to liberation. So, while liberation is the state of ultimate equality of being, when it is forced upon us, it does not lead to liberation. It remains like a cosmic sleep, just as entering into the state of deep sleep is not equivalent to entering into the Atman— though, in a way, it is something like that. When anything is done by constraint of force from outside, it does not bring satisfaction. It has to be realised voluntarily, by one's own self. A voluntary entering into this final equality of things is moksha, or liberation, but an involuntary entering is pralaya, or dissolution.

Voluntarily entering into the deepest core of one's being is Self-realisation. Involuntarily entering into the core of one's own being is deep sleep. This is the difference. There is no point in entering into deep sleep, or getting dissolved in pralaya, the cosmic end of things. There should be an activity of consciousness inwardly towards Self-realisation—entering into one's own being—and outwardly in the direction of Cosmic-realisation. Hence, Self-realisation means the same as God-realisation. This is why it is said that, in a very ultimate sense, Atman is Brahman.

Inasmuch as this physical body is a part of the five elements, the Yoga System takes into consideration this very, very important fact. The practice of yoga asana towards meditation is, finally, a tendency towards the dissolution of this cohesive, self-affirming principle within us and coordinating it with the five elements. This is the beginning of samadhi, or samapatti—the entering into the substance of all things.

Yoga tells us that one gains mastery over the five elements in the same way as one has mastery over the limbs of one's own body. We have no difficulty in lifting our legs or raising our hands, because we are identical in consciousness with these limbs of the body. We cannot lift an elephant, it is too heavy; but an elephant can lift itself because its consciousness pervades its whole body and it is identified with its limbs. We cannot lift even one leg of the elephant, it is so heavy, but the elephant moves its tremendous weight. Even a larger animal like a mammoth could move, because the weight is felt only when it is outside one's consciousness. We do not feel the weight of our own body; however heavy we are, we can move. But somebody else cannot come and lift us, because we are outside the consciousness, or the mind, of that person.

Thus, we cannot do anything in this world. We have no control over anything. Everything is outside us. We are helplessly situated here because we are independent of the five elements. We have no control over the earth, or the water, or the fire, or the air, or anything else. But, when by deep meditation we enter into the reality of our body, which is nothing but an edifice constructed out of the building bricks of the five elements, we slowly gain control over the physical elements.

This is very easily said, but cannot easily be achieved, because our egoism is very hard. It cannot melt by any amount of meditation, just as flint cannot melt by a little bit of heat. The heat that we apply by means of meditation is inadequate for the melting of this ego. The sense of I and the struggle for the existence of this I is so indescribably strong that it cannot easily melt unless proper meditational techniques are employed.

Everyone knows how hard each one is, how much self-love is there, and how much effort is exercised by every one of us to maintain our individual existence in every walk of our life. Such tendencies cannot be avoided by a little scratching of inadequate meditations.

Dirgakala nairantarya satkara asevitah dridhabhumih, says Patanjali in one of his sutras. Many, many years of practice are necessary. With great love, as we love our own mother, this practice has to be conducted—unremittingly, without break even for a single day. Just as we have an appointed time for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sleep, etc., and we have a regular routine for our daily occupations, so should the disciplined routine be maintained by every seeker in regard to meditation practice.

Meditation should not be considered as a hobby. Spiritual practice is not a diversion, like hockey or cricket. It is the very purpose for which we exist. Everything else is secondary to it. We are somehow tolerating other things. The main thing is meditation. It should not be the other way round—that we are somehow tolerating meditation, and other things are important.

In the beginning, a certain amount of discipline is necessary. And, as we cannot impose discipline on our own selves, we require somebody else to impose this discipline upon us. That is the Guru. That is why people live in ashrams, monasteries and sequestered areas where the normal functions of the senses are curtailed to a large extent by the very nature of the atmosphere. If we go to a lofty mountain in the Himalayas, we may not get milk, and so on. Certain needs are cut off by the very nature of the circumstances there. We will not have a television or a radio. Nothing of the kind is possible in Nanda Devi or Badrinath, etc.

But, that is not enough. These are only initial steps that we are taking. We require, also, positive solace. It is not enough if we merely cry that we do not have anything. We should also have the satisfaction that we have something. This can come only from a divine source—secondarily from a scripture, primarily from a Guru and, ultimately, from God Himself.

Thus, a disciplined series of sessions in meditation conducted along the lines prescribed in the yoga scriptures will gradually end the cord which connects this body with other bodies by way of affection, love and hatred, and we will be centralised in our true relation to the very original cosmic substance from which everything has come. Our physical body is a part of the five elements. Our mind is a part of the cosmic mind. Our intellect is a part of the cosmic intellect. Our consciousness, the Atman within, is identical with the Universal Atman, Paramatma, the Supreme Self, the Absolute.

There is no independent existence in any part of our personality. Neither is the body independent, nor is anything else. The body belongs to the five elements, the mind to the cosmic mind, the intellect to the cosmic intellect, the Atman to Brahman. So, what remains in us? We have nothing with us; we do not any more exist.

This gradual ascending from the body to the mind, from the mind to the intellect, from the intellect to the spirit is to be practised slowly, every day. The concentration of the mind should be on this ideal of a transference of the physical and psychological individuality to the sources thereof. Since we are very tightly bound to the physical body, in the beginning we have to maintain only a physical concept of reality. This is the philosophy behind idol worship and adoration of diagrams, portraits, etc. of divine beings, because at the present moment we cannot think anything which is non-physical. Even when we conceptualise objects in meditation, they are the counterparts of physical things that we have seen with our eyes or at least heard with our ears. It does not matter. The point in meditation is not the kind of object that we select for meditation, but the extent to which we are able to focus the attention of the mind entirely on that object. We have to understand the psychology of meditation, and the purpose behind it, in order that we may feel a sense of satisfaction within us. It does not matter what object we select for this purpose. The object is not what is important. What is happening to the mind at that time is important.

As I mentioned, the existence of the mind is like a network of relations centralised in a point called the ego. The purpose of meditation is to break this centre. Now the mind is maintained by relations, as a cloth is maintained by the threads. If the threads are not there, the cloth cannot be there. Likewise, if relations are not there, the mind cannot exist. The mind is only a name that we give to a relative centre of externalised contacts.

We can imagine this very well by contemplating a little over the very process of thinking itself. When we think, we always think something other than the mind itself. The mind does not think itself when it thinks. This process of thinking something other than thinking itself is called relation. This has to cease; and when this relation ceases, the mind cannot exist. It will be starved of its very existence, because the existence of the mind is nothing but the existence of relations. It is a fabric constituted of external, as well as internal, contacts with physical, as well as conceptual, objects. So, when the mind is concentrated on any particular point or object, or whatever it is, the relationship is focussed and gathered up by a mustering in of all the energy in one direction only.

The mind does not think only one thing throughout the day. It has got thousands of things to think—consciously as well as subconsciously. The attempt at meditation is to bring the mind to a focus of attention on one thing only, whatever that thing be. Therefore, the distractions of the mind are collected together into a single attention. This is what is important, and not the object that we are choosing. But, we cannot easily do that because we have no love for any one single object in this world. We cannot love anything entirely, wholeheartedly. All our loves are spilt over scattered objects which we remember now and then on different occasions as the pressure within is felt, but not continuously. We can neither love anything wholly, nor hate anything wholly.

But, there is a necessity in meditation to centralise the attention and not to scatter the attention in diverse things, either consciously or unconsciously. Hence, meditation is a very difficult process. We cannot bring the energies of the mind together into one point. We cannot concentrate on anything for a long time. Even the most endearing of things cannot attract our attention for days together, because it is not true that any particular thing is so very endearing to us. We are falsely under the notion that things are dear. They are dear only tentatively, for a particular purpose and under given circumstances, for a period only, and not throughout our life. Nothing can be endearing throughout our life. This is very important to remember. But, here is a necessity to make some point the object of our concentration forever and ever. Is this possible? If this is possible, we have succeededin meditation.

We have no knowledge of the way in which our own mind works. We are totally ignorant of even our own mind, what to think of other things. There is a deceptive activity going on in the mind in the form of relations that we establish, internally as well as externally. We are perpetually being deceived by the activities of the mind. Inasmuch as we have somehow accepted the way in which the mind works, we have also accepted this deceitful activity, and so it is very pleasant. Meditation becomes unpleasant when we throw a counter-bolt on this natural activity of the mind.

In the earlier stages, all good things are unpleasant and all useless things are pleasant. This is what the Bhagavadgita makes out in one of its passages in the eighteenth chapter. Good things appear bitter in the beginning, but in the end they will become pleasant, like nectar. And, things which are going to bind us appear beautiful and pleasant in the beginning, but they will become bitter and poisonous in the end.

So is meditation, spiritual discipline—very unpleasant in the beginning. Nobody likes it, and they would like to get over it, get out of it as early as possible. How long can we sit for meditation? It is a very unpleasant thing. We feel it is a kind of torture that is imposed upon the mind. We rather go for a walk, chat with friends or watch television. Going to a movie, reading the newspaper and so on, are more pleasant than sitting and concentrating on one particular thing—which is hell itself. Nobody would like to do that, because the mind resents this activity.

Why does it resent this? Because it is a tendency to the death of the mind; and who likes such a tendency? We are trying to destroy the mind itself by this peculiar introduction of a discipline called meditation. The mind knows it, and so it will not permit such an activity. It understands. It senses some danger. “Something is coming before me that is not good for me.” So, it deceives us, distracts us and sidetracks us into misconceived notions even when we are honestly seated for meditation.

Doubts enter the mind; difficulties come. “Why are you seated here, useless person? Get up. You get nothing out of it, this very useless will-o-the-wisp,” says the mind. Buddha was told this. “Why, foolish man, are you sitting here? What are you going to gain? Nothing is going to come. It is a waste of time! Go to the palace. Be happy.” The mind will repeat this many times; and, a falsehood uttered one thousand times becomes true. We should be very guarded in this matter.

Again, I revert to the point of the psychology behind meditation. It is difficult because we cannot understand why we are meditating at all. We, ourselves, will develop certain doubts inside. “What is the matter with me? What is all this about, and what am I going to get out of it?” No amount of instruction in the lecture hall will have any effect upon the mind later on, when it is in a rebellious mood. Rebellious people do not listen to any advice. When the mind is revolting, nobody will help us. This is why it is said that a guide is necessary. That person will guide us.

This is the psychology of meditation. The point in meditation is not what object we are selecting, but what we are doing with our mind at the time of meditation. What we are doing during our meditation is important because the mind, as I mentioned, is a falsely-imagined centre of internal and external relationships, loves and hatreds—avidya-kama-karma, the granthi mentioned. Any concentration on one single point, either externally or internally, cuts off connections of the mind with relations other than this one relation that we have maintained with the conceptual object or physical object. The relation is still maintained, but with only one relation—notmultifarious relations.

At present, we have hundreds of relations. We gather them up into a single relation, so the mind becomes very strong. Then it is focussed on one point, and thoughts begin to materialise when such effect is produced in the mind. A meditator's mind is so strong that whatever he thinks, will happen. What he utters will take place. The words of a great yogi have such powerthat they will materialise. “It shall be like this; it must be like this.” If the mind thinks something, it shall take place.

This is so because the mind becomes so powerful, as a river becomes powerful when it is concentrated in one direction only. The river becomes very weak, and cannot move even a single log of wood, if it is diversified in a thousand ways. The power of the flow is irresistible when it is directed only in one channel. To repeat once again, the purpose of meditation is not external, but internal. It is not physical, but psychological. It is intended to break this centre inside us called the ego, the affirming principle, the I-ness which is connected to this body —which is not our property, which really belongs to the five elements.

Nothing is our property. We, ourselves, do not exist as we imagine ourselves to be. We belong to the cosmic substance —physically, psychologically, intellectually, spiritually. The Supreme Absolute alone is. Nothing else exists. It alone is, and all these particularities, including our own individualities, are limbs, as it were, of this Cosmic Being. Hence, meditation is a movement towards this great realisation of cosmic interconnection and Absolute Existence.

What happens in meditation? External relations are cut off, and a single relation is maintained—in the beginning with an external object, because we are used to thinking of external objects. It is advisable not to concentrate on the centre of the eyebrows or the heart in the earlier stages, because the mind will resent it much more than our instruction to the mind to concentrate on external things. To think something external is easier than to think something internal. Even the internal concentration is to be transcended later on, in a further stage, but we should not take immediate steps. Nothing should be done with haste. We have to be very cautious in dealing with everything.

Therefore, in the earlier stages, we have to take care that in meditation the mind is not given a sudden blow on the face. If that is done, we may be defeating our own purpose. Even when we lay an axe at the root of a tree, we do it stage by stage. At one stroke, the tree will not be felled. This axe that we deal at the tree of attachment is, therefore, also to be levelled stage by stage. The knots are untied, one after another. We don't cut the Gordian knot; we untie the Gordian knot. The granthis, the knots of avidya-kama-karma, are to be untied—not broken through, as that is not a possibility.

If there are three knots, in the beginning we untie the first one, the second one next, and then the third one. In these knots of avidya-kama-karma, the knot of karma is cut first, kama afterwards, and avidya finally. We cannot cut avidya itself in the earlier stages, as the first knot cannot be untied unless the other knots are untied first. Avidya-kama-karma is a graduated knotting of individuality.

Therefore, first external withdrawal, then an internal withdrawal, and then, finally, a universal centralisation—these three may be said to be the essentialities in the stages of meditation.