The Philosophy of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 11: The Yoga of Meditation

The Yoga of Meditation is the subject of the Sixth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita—Dhyana Yoga, as it is called. We have noticed that, for the purposes of meditation, a convenient place, free from distractions, is necessary. The time that we choose for meditation, also, is to be such that it should not have the background of any engagement or activity which may distract the attention of the mind from the goal of meditation. A suitable place, a suitable time—these two are very important prerequisites.

But more important, perhaps, than place and time is the preparedness of the mind. The mind should be eager to sit for meditation, and it should not feel any kind of compulsion. We do not sit for meditation merely because in our daily routine it is the time allotted for meditation. That would be something like going for lunch at noon, even if we are not hungry, merely because noon is prescribed as the time for lunch. It is not the time, but the need that is important. If the mind does not feel the need for meditation, a mere prescription of place and time will not be of much benefit. Most people feel a difficulty in getting any kind of satisfactory result, because the mind is not prepared.

How is the mind to be prepared? Here a question arises, which can be answered by each one, independently, from one’s own point of view. Why do we feel the need for taking to Yoga practice? If the need has not been felt, we would not have been resorting to Yoga at all. Somehow, we have felt within our hearts that Yoga is a solution to the problems of life. Everyone has difficulties and tensions, and our conscience has somehow persuaded us to accept that the panacea for all problems in life is Yoga, finally. We have accepted, of our own accord, that no one can help us in the end, except that great principle which Yoga regards as the ultimate reality of life. We do not take to the Yoga of meditation just because somebody has told us to do it, or some textbook has eulogised it, just as we do not go to the dining hall for our lunch, or dinner, merely because somebody asked us to go there. We feel that it is necessary, and, therefore, we go.

Now, this need that we feel for the practice of Yoga should be a genuine one. The mind is a trickster. It always deceives us from moment to moment, because it does not have a continuity of moods. The moods of the mind change almost every day. It is not difficult for the mind to get dissatisfied with things, and it can be dissatisfied even with that which it once regarded as a very necessary item in its life. There is no more difficult thing to understand than our own mind. We ourselves are the greatest difficulties in life. Our mind, like a weathercock, moves from one state to another.

So, while most of us may be honest and sincere in our resort to Yoga practice, we are also in some way subject to the whims of the mind. “I do not feel like it,” is what we often remark. But why should we not feel like it? What has happened? And we would only say, “I do not know what has happened.” That means to say that our mind is not under our control. Even our taking to the practice of Yoga may be a mood of the mind and not be a real conviction born of understanding; this is important to remember. Even as there are umpteen moods of the mind, Yoga also may be one of the moods, and it may be a very unreliable mood, for it may pass away. The problems we feel when we sit for meditation are due to the unpreparedness of the mind basically, at its root, though on the surface it appears as if it has accepted the adventure. Many times we accept things only on the surface, and in our basic attitude we are not prepared to accept everything.

Now, the acceptance of Yoga should be a whole-souled attitude of the seeker. It should not be merely a surface outlook which has somehow acquiesced in the situation. And, as the great goal of life is the wholeness of reality, our preparedness for its realisation should also be a wholeness from our side. Hence, a moody attitude and an acceptance which is partial cannot be satisfactory where our objective is such an important factor in life as Yoga. All this has been touched upon in a concise manner in different places of the chapters of the Bhagavadgita, which will give us a clue as to why we have varying moods and contradictory desires, which will surprise even our own selves.

The answer to this question in the Sixth Chapter is that we are often likely to be extremists in our activities. We are not sober and harmonised in our engagements, in our relationships. When we like a thing, we sell ourselves, as it were, to that which we love. It is an extreme attitude of attachment. When we dislike a thing, we wholeheartedly condemn the thing, and go to the other extreme. We have found that it is very hard to maintain a balanced mood of equanimity of attitude. It is easy to be an extremist, while it is hard to be a person of sobriety of perspective. Either we eat too much, or we do not eat at all. Both these things are very easy. We suddenly declare, “I shall not eat. For one week I shall observe fast.” But to control the appetite in a way that does not affect either the body or the mind, or even our relationships and activities, is a little difficult.

While the Gita has emphasised the factor of harmony in Yoga, it has not confined this harmony merely to the ultimate union of the Self with the Absolute, in a transcendent sense. Again and again it has been driven into our minds, in various places, that Yoga as harmony has to be applied in its relevance at every level of life, even in our kitchen and bathroom, our social relationships, our personal vocations, and the like. Even in our eating and sleeping and our recreation there should be a harmony, and there should not be any extreme mood. It is not that we indulge in eating and sleeping too much, not also that we completely abstain ourselves from the needs of the body and mind. The golden mean is supposed to be the essence of the ethical attitude—the golden mean—and it is so subtle as a hair’s breadth; it is an imperceptible reality.

The arrangement of factors in a harmonious manner is an imperceptible truth, not visible to the organs of the senses. But we have to conceive it in our minds, with some effort. Yoga is not for that person who eats too much, or does not eat at all; sleeps too much, or does not sleep at all; works too much, or does not work at all; plays too much, or does not play at all, etc. These are common statements, but very important ones.

The great Masters of Yoga are most normal persons. They are not queer individuals looking like otherworldly ascetics, making themselves conspicuous. There is no conspicuity about Yoga practice. It is not an unnatural way of living, making oneself an exhibit in the social atmosphere. When we are a real Yogi, we will not appear as a Yogi at all. The moment we start appearing as a Yogi, there is to be sensed some unnaturalness in the practice. Why should we ‘appear’? There is no need to put on countenances. Normalcy of behaviour is a spontaneous consequence that follows from an understanding of the wholeness of life, which is, basically, Yoga.

With this preparedness of the mind in a healthy manner towards all things, one has to sit for meditation on the degrees of Reality, the particular degree that has to be chosen is the Ishta-Devata. We have already referred to the Deity, or Devata, on an earlier occasion. And our soul-filled absorption in it with affection, with love, and with utmost regard, is our Yoga in respect of it. The mind is steady absolutely, when it is in the presence of that which it likes immensely. When we have something highly valuable as our possession, we get wholly absorbed, and we are in a state of rapture, as it were, by the very presence of it, because it is the Deity that we like, and the only thing that we want. Then it is impossible for the mind to think anything else at that time.

Is there anything in the world which we like so much that we cannot think anything else at the moment of being in its presence? Here is the significance of what is called initiation into the technique of meditation. The choosing of the objective, or the ideal of meditation, is very important. It is done with the guidance of a preceptor, a teacher, a superior, a Guru. Most of us are incapable of choosing our ideal. We drift from one point to another, today one thing looking all right and tomorrow another thing. A superior mind which has passed through certain stages of psychological development would be a good guide to people who are in the initial stages; such a person is a  Guru, or a teacher. If one has already passed through some stages which another has not come across, the former can tell the latter what are the things which have to be expected on the path.

Initiation into Yoga is the introduction of the mind to that particular ideal or concept of the objective which can engage the attention wholly, so that it becomes the only reality for the practitioner. The mind can concentrate itself entirely only on that from which it can expect everything that it needs. If we are sure that a thing is going to satisfy every one of our needs, and there is nothing else left out, then there would be no need for us to think anything else. But there is a suspicion in the mind, a doubt that, perhaps, it is not the only thing that is needed in life, that there are other things also which are equally important or, at least necessary in some way. This would be another way of saying that one has not chosen the ideal properly, has no faith in the glorious object which has been chosen as the target of meditation.

The Ishta, or the object of meditation, is God-incarnate in that particular form, and if one has no trust in God Himself, what else can one be expected to believe in? There is a basic error in the very choice of the object, on account of which the mind distracts itself from the point chosen and flits from that thing to another thing, searching for that which it needs or requires. Really, it does not know what it wants. The psychology of meditation is to be mastered before one actually sits for Meditation. The Supreme Being is present in every object. God is everywhere. And it will be quite in the fitness of things for a person to choose any particular form, or concept, for the purpose of meditation, because God is present even there. But what is important is not the presence of God in a theoretical sense; rather, it is the recognition of it and the acceptance of it from one’s heart, for which a little bit of understanding is necessary.

The all-pervading nature of God excludes nothing from its purview and inclusiveness, and that which we regard as the best thing in our life may be regarded as our object of meditation. Anything and everything can be a suitable object, provided we believe in its capacity. The purpose of meditation is to break through the fort of the mind which has guarded itself very securely in the prison-house of this body. It is tremendously attached to the particular things in the world. And the existence of the mind as an isolated unit of thought consists in its desires for the varieties of phenomena. To make the mind cease to exist as an isolated unit would be to cease from thinking of the particular, isolated objects.

The concentration of the mind on any particular thing, or object, continuously, without thought of anything else, will break the mind to pieces; the bubble will burst. A continuous hammering of a single idea upon the mind will see that the mind transcends itself, and one wakes up as if from a dream into a new perspective and awareness. The rising of the mind from phenomena to Reality is something like the rise of our mind from dream to waking. There is a difference in that which we experience, as there is a difference between dream experience and waking experience. We have to be sure that pure meditation is the state when the mind does not think of two objects, or does not entertain two ideas. When the mind is moving from idea to idea and is flowing with a series or current of thoughts, we may be sure that our meditation is not complete and the object chosen has not been properly considered. The only solution here is to go to the teacher, the Guru. There is some mistake. We have some unfulfilled desires.

It does not mean that there are people in the world with no desires at all. Everyone has some desire; yes. But it is the duty of the seeker on the spiritual path to sublimate his desires in a positive way. And how one is to sublimate impulses is to be known only from the teacher, because people do not have uniform desires; each one has a particular type of desire, and that particular desire has to be tackled in a manner that is befitting the condition in which it has arisen.

Hence, there is no such thing as a wholesale initiation of the masses. We cannot shout in the streets and initiate people in thousands. Each individual case is like a patient treated by a physician. We cannot have a mass treatment of diseases by uniform injections or capsules. Each disciple, each student, is a unique item by himself, or herself, and the Guru has to pay particular attention to the condition of the mind or the state of the disciple concerned, from the point of view of the state in which that person is. When a serious problem arises, we cannot solve it ourselves, at least when it is apparently beyond our understanding. We cannot know the mystery of our own desires, and the obstacles in meditation are only desires which have not been fulfilled.

Now, the fulfilment of desires need not mean indulgence in satisfactions, though some of the desires have to be satisfied in a manner when it is necessary to adopt that method. But, otherwise, they are to be absorbed and melted away by other techniques which are followed in Yoga. All this is a subject one cannot read in books. They are secrets and esoteric approaches, and connected with the idiosyncrasy of the particular individual concerned.

Thus, the preparation for Yoga is, perhaps, going to take more time than the actual concentration of the mind on the chosen object. It is no use suddenly saying, “I will go for meditation.” The point is not that. What is important is: are we ready for it? Is it possible for the mind to accept it completely, or are we suppressing certain needs and demands of the mind brushing them aside in the subconscious, giving them a ‘no’, when they ask? If that is the case, we have to be thrice cautious in our approach. When we succeed in understanding ourselves and the nature of our desires, fulfilled or otherwise, the mind will stand unflickering like a flame placed in an atmosphere where there is no breeze of any kind. There is no flickering.

Such an attitude, such a mood, is hard for most of us. The Bhagavadgita here tells us that we shall feel such a joy, such a satisfaction, such a delight when the mind is wholly absorbed in this manner, that even the worst sorrow of our life will not be able to shake our minds. There is no sorrow at all for us at that time. Everything will look beautiful, and we will be able to adjust ourselves with every blessed thing in life. We, at that time, become friends of all, and all become our friends. We get severed from the sources of all pain and we stand independent in a unique sense, in a superb expandedness of being, where the cause of sorrow which is the ego is overcome to the maximum extent.

But it is doubtful if everyone will be able to achieve the goal of life in one life, because of the various difficulties and weaknesses which are part and parcel of bodily existences here. Can anyone be sure that the goal of Yoga, the purpose of life, can be realised in one existence, physically? A doubt occurs to the mind: ‘Is it possible, or, perhaps, it is not for me?’ Arjuna put the question to the great Teacher.

Take for granted that there is a sincere student, honestly practicing Yoga throughout his life, yet does not realise the goal of Yoga, and his life is cut off by death, having not achieved the supreme purpose. What happens to that person? Imagine, we have endeavoured to our best in the practice of meditation, in taking to Yoga. Yes, wonderful. With all our efforts we have not succeeded, and we have been forced by the karmas that determine our life to leave this body. What happens, then? What is going to be the fate of that person in the future existence, is the question of Arjuna.

The answer is very satisfying and solacing. Krishna says, “Whoever does good in this world, even in the least measure, cannot go to ruin.” That is the beautiful side of karma, or the law of action and reaction. While we are always afraid of the word karma, as if it is a binding chain, we are likely to forget the positive side of its being capable of giving credit also, when we follow it according to the system of its operation. Our efforts towards the practice of Yoga are praiseworthy attempts that we have undertaken in life; whether or not we succeed is a different matter. As a matter of fact, the Yoga of the Bhagavadgita is not concerned with success or failure; it is rooted in the attitude that we adopt throughout our life, the sincerity with which we have taken to it and the honesty of purpose that was backing us up. For, God values our honesty and sincerity and not the ulterior success that one may expect but should not expect. The whole of the conditions is in us, and not outside.

A person who leaves the body before the achievement of the goal of Yoga will be reborn—but under favourable circumstances. He will be born under those conditions where the earlier practices can be accelerated. He will be born again in a condition where he will be finding conducive circumstances around him, not obstructing his practice. The memory of the past will work its own way. This memory may not always be a conscious operation of the mind. Many of us cannot have a memory of our previous lives, but every one of us feels an urge towards a particular end, though this urge is not intelligible on the conscious level of the mind. This deeper longing that we feel within ourselves is the propulsion of our previous practices and aspirations. The mind is not merely the conscious manifestation of it; it is deeper still in the subconscious, and further deeper in the unconscious, and so on. So a person reborn in this manner is impelled to move in the direction of the very same practice which was not completed in the earlier life, and everything that is necessary for the practice will be provided to him by the very law of things. And no pain will be felt on account of the blessedness that accrues from the merits of the earlier life.

We have been very sincere and honest in our efforts in the direction of Yoga, and it shall take care of us; it cannot desert us. And Yoga is a more loving mother than all the mothers that we can think of in the world. Or, the great Teacher, Krishna, tells us that one may be born as a child of a Yogi himself, and what can be a greater blessedness than that to a seeking soul? There is no fear of destruction or loss of effort.

The Fifth Chapter concludes by saying that God is the Friend and Protector of all. We shall achieve peace of mind only when we realise that God is our Friend, and the only Friend, and the most real of all friends. When we turn to Him for succour, how could He desert us, leave us, and forget us? We can forget Him, but he cannot forget us, because the Real is more powerful than the apparent, or the unreal. Our distractions are movements of the mind towards shadows and not realities. But when there is a sincere movement towards Reality, though without a proper conception of it, it shall work in its own way in a miraculous manner. The ways of God are mysterious in themselves and, therefore, the sincerity, in whatever measure, that we exercise towards God, whatever our concept of God, wholehearted like a child’s, that shall be our saviour in our future life. Not merely that, here in this life itself we shall be taken care of. Krishna says that neither here nor hereafter will there be any trouble for that person.

The difficulties are only in the beginning when one feels as if one is in hell itself. But, later on, one will see the rays of the supernal light flashing upon one’s face. Everything is difficult and hard and unpleasant in the beginning. The Gita will tell us sometime afterwards that things which are good ultimately look very unpleasant in the beginning, but they yield the fruit of the greatest satisfaction and delight later on.

The pains of life, the sufferings through Yoga, are inevitable in the face of every kind of spiritual practice. When we practise meditation, we are clearing the debris of our personality. It is as if we are sweeping our room which has not been dusted for years, clearing the cobwebs, etc. And when we clear the room of the dirt, there we will find the dust rising up and blinding our eyes, and it may look as if things have become worse than what they were earlier. But afterwards the dust goes; it has been swept completely, and we are happy.

So, these problems and difficulties, pains and sorrows and doubts, the agonies that appear in the course of the practice of Yoga are the inevitable consequences of our effort in cleansing the mind of all the dirt that is deposited there since years and incarnations. But a glorious day is to come; we shall become happy, expecting a blessedness that is supremely divine.

One who believes in God and trusts in God wholly, taking refuge in God, shall be taken care of by God. “He shall not lose Me, and I shall not lose him,” says the great Master. One who has taken shelter in God cannot be deserted by God under any circumstance, and peace, protection and satisfaction of every kind shall be the fruits of sincerity and honesty. What we are called upon to be sure of is that we are honest at the core, and there is no duplicity of attitude even in the least. We are not gambling with God, and we are not testing Him, and we are not expecting anything from Him with a personal motive. Let these things be clear to us, and we shall receive the flood of His Grace descending upon us instantaneously, because God is Spaceless and Timeless.

“He sees the Self abiding in all beings and all beings in the Self, whose self has been made steadfast by Yoga, who everywhere sees the same.” “He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, to him I cease not, nor to Me does he cease.” “Whoso, rooted in oneness, worships Me who abide in all beings, that Yogi dwells in Me, whatever be his mode of life.” “Whoso, by comparison with his own self, sees the same everywhere (as his own self), O Arjuna, be it pleasure or pain, he is deemed the highest Yogi.”