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The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 17: True Yoga Begins with Samadhi

We concluded that the aim of life is a universal union of things, a confederation of existence, where each one exists for everyone else. Each is all, and all is each. This is the beginning of a great spiritual endeavour culminating in the communion usually known as samadhi or samapatti—the direct Realisation of the ultimate nature of things.

It is a supernatural awakening of ourselves from the dream of this world, as it were, wherein we contact the originals —whose reflections and shadows the things in this world seem to be, including our own personalities, our bodies, and our appearances here. We would realise that we are in utter darkness as to the nature of the originals which cast this shadow in the form of these phenomena, this visible creation.

This inward art of spiritual communion is called, in the language of yoga, samadhi or samapatti—the great attainment, the finale of the life of people, wherein the deepest spirit in man recognises its home everywhere. Its home is not just inside the body of some person. We have houses built everywhere. “In my Father's house there are many mansions,” said Christ. There is not just one little room or a cottage. So, we are not located in one house. We have mansions everywhere, citadels built for us in all places. Everywhere, everybody is eager to welcome us, always.

We are like the Prodigal Son in the biblical story, who runs away from his father and, now repenting, returns; the father willingly, joyously embraces this little ignorant exile—which is what we all are. When we return to the originals, it is as if we are gazing at the sun. Because we had turned our backs to the sun, the light was behind us. Now we are face to face with the light when we effect a right-about turn of our consciousness and behold things as they really are. It is a beholding—not by the eyes, but the spirit envisaging its own original in the very structure of all things. This beholding is a pressure which the little spirit in man cannot contain.

It is like the river, the little daughter of the ocean, finding herself in a state of ecstasy when she communes herself with her father, the ocean. The river jumps and dances when it touches the ocean. It is as if the whole treasure of the world is given to us—which we cannot contain, and we cannot even think in our mind. The tentative inability of the human spirit to gather itself up before this mighty Reality of the universe is the reason for the rapture, the ecstasy that one feels in heights of spiritual communion.

It is difficult to explain what one feels at that time. It doesn't mean that we will be always in a state of ecstasy. The ecstasy ceases when we enter into the bosom of the ocean; but, until we touch it, until we enter into it, there is an inexplicable experience, and there is joy. At the same time there is also a danger, because there is a possibility of getting frightened and then wishing to revert to the little cocoon of the body once again—and expecting the great majesty to withdraw itself, as our little eyes cannot behold this blazing sun. “Enough of this!” said Arjuna to the Great Lord. “Come down! Bind yourself. I cannot behold you any more.”

Even when desirable things come to us in large quantities, beyond our comprehension, we cannot contain them—even though they are desirable things. Our desires are puerile, feeble instruments which cannot understand their own aims and objectives. Before desires are fulfilled thoroughly to the brim, overflowing and breaking the limits of even our requirements, we will not be able to contain or understand what is happening to us. Hence, even to fulfil desires is a danger because we do not want to fulfil them thoroughly, root and branch. There is a little defect and a foible even in our expression of desires. They are misguided, thoroughly. When we come face to face with the realities, the originals of things, we are touching the samadhi of consciousness.

As I mentioned previously, this entering into the truths or the archetypes of things seems to be taking place gradually, stage by stage, as we touch the waters of the ocean when we step in for a bath. Slowly we enter, little by little—first drenching our feet, then going knee deep, navel deep, neck deep and then, finally, plunging into it. Something like that seems to be the usual way in which the spirit enters the original, though this need not necessarily be the only way. There are occasions when we can be totally inundated in one stroke, but these are rare occasions—most blessed things, that all cannot expect. Usually it is a gradual process, though occasionally it can be a sudden thing. We shall not bother about the sudden things just now because to expect too much, also, is not a happy thing.

The graduated touching of the originals of things is the graduated samadhis of the yogas. When we behold the radiance, the beauty, the glamour, the fragrance, the taste and the majesty of the original, we get pulled towards it, as iron filings may be pulled towards a magnet. This pull is the urge towards samadhi.

We cannot explain in language what samadhi means, though the word is known to us and we have heard about it one hundred times. We may go on doing japa of this word, but we will not be able to make much sense out of it because the minds of most of us are not prepared for this experience. Yet, we wish to be confident within ourselves that we are intending to have this experience; that is why we are considering it here as a theme of our studies.

The creational process is a graduated descent of the Universal Reality into grosser and grosser forms until it becomes what we are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling. I have touched upon the lower categories which we confront in our meditations. I do not propose to revert to the other minor details of the earlier stages which we have already considered, but to gather up our minds to where we are trying to gravitate, finally, as the goal of our existence.

The physical universe is the immediate reality before us. This is the object of consciousness. While we imagine that there are many objects, they can all be grouped together under a single object: the whole physical cosmos. Inasmuch as all the forms which have a physical connotation are included in the physical form of the five elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether—all the forms which we can think in our minds do not stand outside the formations of these five elements. Actually, we cannot think of what we have not seen or heard. Even when we hear things which we have not seen, we cannot conceive them properly.

For example, if we hear of heaven, we will imagine heaven in terms of what we have seen with our eyes. Unseen things cannot be imagined by the mind; and, all seen things are physically connected. The formations, the features, the shapes, and everything connected with these things are, somehow or other, related to the physical universe. All things in the world are physically constituted. Our bodies and everything that our bodies are related to, i.e. the physical objects, all objects of sense, these are a part of the physical cosmos. So, the spirit within man, the consciousness within us, directly confronts the physical cosmos.

This is not done at once. As the mind cannot think of the whole universe at one stroke, we are advised to take certain symbols for concentration—an image, a portrait, an idea, a picture, a candle flame, a flower—anything that is dear to us, and anything that can attract our attention. The whole universe cannot attract us, because we do not know what it is. Unseen things do not pull us towards themselves. Inasmuch as we seem to be concerned with what is visible and intelligible, the advice given by the masters is that we should, in the earlier stages, concentrate on those visible forms or concepts, externally or internally, which are dear to us, which we consider as our own and which we regard as very valuable—the most endearing things conceivable.

I mentioned previously that concentration on the object in yoga has, on the one side, a religious connotation and, on the other side, a purely psychological significance. The religiously conceived object is God as we think of Him—our Ishta Devata, our deity, our dear Lord, the God of the universe as we can envisage in our consciousness. It can be with form or without form, sitting in one place or everywhere—whatever the case may be. This is something which everyone can understand. There is not much of a difficulty here. Everyone has a God, and we may concentrate on our God.

The God that we think of is That, beyond which there cannot be a value for us. That is the meaning of God. If there is something superior to that object or ideal, that cannot be our God. Hence, to utilise that objective as an instrument to satisfy another need would be to misconstrue the whole aim and to regard the final goal as an instrument of another goal altogether. Therefore, the God that we think of in our minds should be the finality of things in which we can attain, achieve, or experience everything that we would like to attain, achieve, or experience.

We have to stretch our minds a little bit to conceive such an idea. As was pointed out before, the psychological concentration involves the process of breaking the knot which intensely ties up the mind to this body-consciousness and all the desires connected therewith. Intense concentration on any conceptual or physical point is an effective method of piercing through this network of mental operation, or psychological activity. We have to go on hammering this point again and again. A few minutes of thinking deeply will not do, because the mind is harder than a ball of steel. We can melt steel, but not the mind. The ego-consciousness is the steel point in us—flint-like, impossible to melt —and it requires great energy and force to bombard and break through it so that what is behind it, at the base of it, can be discovered.

Therefore, concentration on any point, whatever the point be from our own angle of vision, should be a perpetual habit of the mind. It is the only objective and aim of our life, and we are living here only for that purpose; we have no other duty to perform. Even if it appears as if we have other duties to perform in our daily life, they are subsidiary to this great duty, accessories to this duty, contributory to this duty—not opposed to this duty. All our functions in life are small rivulets moving towards this major stream of the movement of consciousness towards the ideal, the goal of yoga. Thus, we are gathered up in our spirits in an intensive aspiration for a communion with the original, of which the universe is a reflection.

Every object in this world has a threefold character: It is something in itself, it appears to be something to each one who beholds it, sees it, conceives it, contacts it, experiences it, and it has a relationship to other things, which is what we call the definition of an object. These are subtle points which are worth considering. Our concept of an object is nothing but a relation that we try to establish, psychologically, with other objects. Generally, when we look at any object, we do not understand how this process takes place. We take everything for granted, and do not probe into the intricacy of the process of perception.

The location of any particular object in the world and the cognition of its location is a result of a simultaneous rapid process of a relating of that thing with every other thing by comparison and contrast. The mind does this so quickly that we cannot even know how it has worked. If comparison and contrast are not there, no object can be visualised or known. This is what is called the definition of an object, creating in the mind an idea about that object independent of what the object is in itself.

Why go so far? Even in our social life—look at a mother seeing her child, and look at a physician seeing the child as a patient. Is there not a difference? The physician who treats the child as a patient has one idea of that child, and the mother has another idea of that child. They see two different things there. Perhaps, a tiger who is a man-eater may see a third thing altogether in that human body. It cannot see what the mother sees or what the physician sees. And a scientist viewing it through a microscope may see a fourth thing altogether. He will not see a child; it will appear as something else. The subtle microscope, which reveals the atomic structure of things, will not show the form of the child. It will look like something else.

I placed these as examples before you to give you an idea of the various possibilities of visualising of one and the same thing, and that the thing in itself may be quite different from the visualisations thereof. We have to concede that a thing is what it is from its own point of view and it may not necessarily be what it appears to others. My idea about you need not be the idea that you have about yourself or what you actually are. Thus, every object has a threefold character—two characters foisted upon it by the process of externalised perception, and one ontological status which is its own being.

This ontological status is the reality of the object. This is its original, the archetype which we have to contact in samadhi —not the definition or the idea that we have. How can we achieve this? We are involved in this tangle of definitive perception and ideational notion of an object. Everything is only this much; nothing more can be available to us in this world. How could we have samadhi with the original of things, which we have not seen? These are the secrets of meditation, into which one is supposed to be initiated, and are not subjects for a platform lecture. Yoga is never taught from a pulpit or from a broadcasting station. It is always a communication from spirit to spirit, from a Guru to a disciple. Such mysteries cannot be understood by reading books or even hearing lectures. How do we contact the original? We have to do that, somehow.

When we contact it by freeing ourselves from our involvement in the definition of an object and the idea about it, we rub our shoulders against it; we recognise it as it is, as it has always been, and as it shall ever be. The mask of the object is lifted when we lift the mask of our perceptional process. Since we are looking at things with a blinkered mind, we cannot see all the aspects of anything in this world. When we cast off these blinkers and lift the mask from the spirit which we really are, we will find, simultaneously, the mask outside is also lifted. The progress in yoga is a parallel of movement and attainment, subjectively as well as objectively. Which comes first and which comes afterwards, we cannot know. Perhaps both things happen simultaneously, internally and externally.

This is a very hard job. In the perception of an object, we cannot break through this tangle of our wrong notion and the completely different way in which the object is in itself. But, by abhyasa, or practice, we can break through this tangle and reach the original of the object.

Here we are in samadhi. The mind is balanced completely. It does not perceive the object any more; it is balanced with that object. It stands on par with the reality of the object, and it should not any more be considered as an object. Would you like to be called an object of anybody? It is an insult. It is a derogatory definition of a person to call him an object. It means a satellite. It is a very unpleasant word—not a cultured way of defining people. It is to rob the thing of its subjectivity and its own status.

Here, it does not remain a satellite or a thing of satisfaction by contact. In samadhi there is no contact, because contact is an operation of the senses. Here it is a contact-less coming together of one's spirit with the spirit of things—duhkha samyoga viyoga. This dukha samyoga viyoga is the separation from a union with the pain that is caused by the contact of the senses with the false forms of objects imagined in the idea of the mind.

This initial stage in samadhi is very hard—impossible to attain. However much we may try to go into the ocean, we will be thrown back by the force of the waves. They do not want us. But once they embrace us, we enter into them. It is to enter into the gravitational field of the object of meditation, breaking through the other impulse which is the movement of the mind towards this body only—which it regarded as its own, up to this time. It is like the Sun pulling us upwards when we cross the border of the gravitational field of the Earth, instead of the Earth pulling us down because we are within its field.

However much we may try to enter into the substance of an object in meditation, the body—which is manifested by the desires of the senses and the impulsions and assertions of the ego—will pull us back. The ego and the senses will not permit this samadhi. They will pull us back, as the Earth will pull us down, however much we may try to go up. The higher we go, the greater is the danger of falling down; and we fall with a thud and break everything. This can happen if caution is not exercised. We require the grace of the Guru, the infinite blessing of the Almighty; this is the only thing we can say, as we do not know how this mystery operates. All great achievements are mysterious. They are not expected things. Great things come unexpectedly, whatever they be.

Thus, we enter into the structure, the original, the true nature of an object—which is also the true nature of every other object in the world. The definition, the idea and the contactual notion of an object may vary from one thing to another thing. Therefore, we seem to be in a world of multitudinous varieties. But once we enter into the substance of one object, we have seen the substance of every other object in the world—just as when we break through one wave in the ocean, we have touched the base of every other wave in the ocean.

The last thing which will harass us, again and again, is space and time. It is impossible to get out of this idea of space and of our location in time. In fact, our idea of objects, whatever they be, is involved in the concept of space and time. Everything is somewhere, and sometime. How can we think that something can be there without being in space, and without being in time? The idea of space and time arises on account of the distance between the subject and the object, and the isolation of one thing from another thing. Samadhi is the abolition of this distinction between the seer and the seen—which means to say, the overcoming of the distance between the subject and the object, the seer and the seen, the knower and the known, consciousness and matter, ourselves and somebody else.

We appear to be outside somebody, and something or somebody seems to be away from us in space, and therefore in time, on account of the operation of the senses, which tell us that things and persons are external to us. When we place ourselves in the context of those very objects and things, the distance between ourselves and others gets abolished.

Nobody can understand what all these things mean unless we actually practise. Otherwise, we will go on listening and nothing will enter the head, because the mind cannot contain these things. It is not accustomed to think in this manner. This is not the way in which we usually think in our life. This is something quite novel.

The notion of spatial location and temporal process is overcome by the placement of one's own self in the ideal of meditation—the absorption of ourselves in the object, which is the deepening of meditation, dhyana, into samadhi. As our understanding of the creational process seems to involve a gradational descent, our notion of ascent, also, involves the same gradations. Whatever be the ultimate truth of things, we have to go according to our notion of things—because what binds us is our idea, and not the thing as it is. So, we have to pay due respect to our envisagement of things. Behind the physical is the subtle, behind the subtle is the causal, and behind the causal is the Supreme Truth. This idea of one thing behind another thing is also involved in the concept of space and time—which, again, has to be abolished by a great effort of consciousness.

Various schools of yoga have various things to tell us. Some say that we will rise from one chakra to another chakra —from muladhara to svadhishthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddha, ajna and sahasrara. This is one way of looking at things from a mystical, microcosmic point of view. The individual persists as long as consciousness is at a chakra that is below the sahasrara. A chakra is a whirl of energy, the way in which the mind understands things. This is the hatha yoga technique, the kundalini yoga technique, and other techniques associated with these systems. The Yoga Vasishtha and such other mystical texts like the Tripura Rahasya say another thing altogether, about which I have mentioned something previously.

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras it is mentioned that the mahabhutas—the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether involved in name, form and the space-time complex—are the initial objects of meditation. Beyond these five elements are the tanmatras: shabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha. When we contact these subtle forces behind the five elements, we enter the kingdom of heaven, the cosmic ahamkara, the mahat tattva, the prakriti and, finally, the purusha. The Vedanta, in one of its phases, tells us that we cross this border of the five elements and the tanmatras and enter into Virat, Hiranyagarbha, Ishvara and Brahman, the Absolute.

To give an example, it is something like the probing of our understanding of the nature of an object by carefully observing it through an intensely powerful microscope. We begin to see molecules rather than a desk or a table or a chair. If we go deeper into it, we will not see molecules; we will see atoms. The molecules are chemical in their nature, and a molecule of water may look different from a molecule of air or of something else. But atoms are not so differentiated. They look alike, though certain atomists distinguish between an earth atom, a water atom, a fire atom, and an air atom. But, notwithstanding that atoms may differ one from the other in their structure, we can break through the atom by bombarding it. Then, we enter into the electromagnetic field where the atoms enter into one another and we do not know which is earth, which is water, which is fire, which is air—because, as we are told, the atomic structure of a particular form is the reason behind our distinguishing one form from another. Finally, we enter into a wide sea of indistinguishability and an incommensurable, wide-spread continuum.

This is to speak in the language of our own present-day understanding; and all these things, perhaps, mean one and the same thing. But, the yoga technique goes beyond these methods and investigations of science. We are not merely entering into a continuum of an energy as if we are observers of this continuum, standing outside it. The great scientist, the visualiser, the observer, is inseparable from this continuum. He has entered into it. There is no instrument of perception when this continuum engulfs even the beholder thereof.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali dilate upon the stages of samadhi, known as savitarka, nirvitarka, and so on. I am not going to speak about this theme now. But these are also the difficulties that we may have to expect, and this instruction as to the degrees involved even in the samadhi process is supposed to tell us that, perhaps, true yoga begins only when samadhi starts. Until that time, it is only digging the earth, laying the foundation and putting the bricks one over the other. The structure is not complete.

Thus, yoga does not end with samadhi; it begins with it. All other things prior to it are a large preparation for this, what some mystics call the spiritual marriage. Perhaps this is the term used by St. John of the Cross where the Great Beloved, centred in all things, lifts the veil and is beheld by the lover. This is how the Sufis, the mystics, and the bhaktas conceive the ideal in yoga. Who can love us more than God loves us? What can we love more than we can love God?

In the beginning, yoga looks like a great analysis of the sensory operations. Sensations and perceptions, including social relationships, are the theme of our discussion and study in the earlier stages of yoga. Later on, yoga melts into understanding. It is a rational, intellectual, logical process, and not merely an analysis of sensation and perception.

Then yoga, when it comes to what is called samadhi, goes beyond the intellectual, rational features of yoga. It becomes spiritual, an affair which can best be described as soul coming in contact with soul—which is generally considered as filled with joy, bliss, or ananda. The nature of the spirit is not a sensation or a logical understanding. It is love which loves only itself. It is joy arising not from contact with any other thing, but from the very consciousness of the very existence of the spirit. It is not love and it is not joy in the way that we understand in this world. It is not loving something and rejoicing over something else. It is a joy accruing from the recognition of the fact that we, ourselves, are the source of joy. The origin, the substance, the root of all things is said to be love. That is why, in the heights of samadhi, we are in raptures of joy.

In the final reaches of yoga, we are not intellectually operating or rationally arguing. In the earlier stages of savitarka, etc., argument ceases. We are possessed. In a state of possession, there is no intellectual operation, no rational investigation, no sensory perception. Possession is possession, and nobody can say anything more about it. When we are possessed, we are in a condition of losing ourselves, totally. We are tripped under our feet, and we lose grip of ourselves because we are gripped by something else to which we really belong. These are the very, very difficult ways in which language tries to express that which it cannot express, by using idiomatic expressions and language which is poetic, imaginative, grasping, melting, possessing—an entering into us, rather than merely an informative description as in science or even in ordinary visual art. Such is the bare outline of the features of that glorious entry into the truth of things that is called samadhi.