The Heart and Soul of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: The Psychology of Meditation

It is well known that in all our worthwhile efforts in life, the mind plays a pre-eminent role. When you know the mind, you have known almost everything. Generally, almost all people feel that the mind is inside the body. Further, you make statements like "my mind", by which you seem to imply that you are different from the mind and you possess the mind as if it is your property. In fact, there is no such thing as "my mind". You yourself are the mind. The reason why such expressions are used is a subject for very deep psychological study.

The mind is not inside the body. This erroneous notion should be removed as early as possible. If the mind is locked up within the periphery of this little body, it would be aware only of those things which are taking place inside the body – but it knows even the existence of the stars. This is to say that it has certain peculiarities and potentialities not easily known by ordinary observation in our day-to-day life. If the mind is not really inside the body, and we ourselves are the mind, it would suggest to us that we ourselves are not inside the body. This is a very important analysis with which we have to get accustomed. The mind is ourselves, which is not like an object that we are holding in our hands or observing as operating inside. Can you imagine that you yourself are not merely inside the body?

There are certain limitations under which the mind works. It has tremendous suggestive potentialities due to which it always keeps us asking for more and more things, and it manifests a desire to know more and more – endlessly. That is its potentiality, not easily available as a working process on its outer surface. It keeps us restless due to a clash between this call of the potential in the mind and its ordinary way of working through the sense organs. We seem to be, so to say, living in two worlds at the same time, and not just in one country, one land or one place. We are used to thinking that we belong to this world and only to this world; there is nothing more that we can have. If that is the case, a person who has almost all the things of the world should be a perfect person – free from anxieties of every kind. We have seen that even kings and emperors, who may be said to possess the largest estates in the world, are very insecure and filled with anxieties galore.

The ordinary operations of the mind, conditioned by the processes of sensation, get limited to sensory observations, and we think as we see, as we hear, as we smell, as we taste, and as we touch. A thing that has never been seen with the eyes, nor even heard, cannot be thought by the mind. Whatever thoughts occur to the mind are thoughts limited to the region of visual perception and sometimes auditory operation. The mind cannot think totally unseen and unheard of things. This is to say that the mind is practically a servant of the sense organs. But it should not be really that. Why should there be a mind at all if it is only to work like a servant? The senses themselves can do all the work.

The mind functions in a variety of ways. While the ears can hear and the eyes can see, and the other senses can perform their own individual acts, they cannot be harmonised into a single feeling of "I am seeing, I am hearing" and so on. This synthetic act which brings about a harmony among the different sensations is actually the function of the mind. Mind is a synthesiser of the sensory activities into a coherent whole by which you begin to feel: "I am seeing, I am hearing, and I am this and I am that." Does it mean that the mind is only okaying whatever the eyes see and the ears hear, etc.? Is there nothing more in the mind than merely a replica of the scattered particulars provided by the sense organs? A great analysis has been done in this respect by philosophers, both in the East and the West.

Actually, without a proper comprehension of the manner of the mind's working, we cannot even be sure whether what we think we know is really knowledge, or if it is a trick played by the mind in consonance with the operations of the sense organs. Are we sure that we are in contact with actual knowledge? The mind is, of course, the primary faculty in us. Does it really contact reality when it thinks? This is a long, historical study of philosophy, both in the East and the West: does the mind really come in contact with reality? When you see, are you really coming in contact with that which you see, or you are imagining that it is in contact with you? That you are perhaps under an illusion and you are really not contacting the object, so to say, is proved by the consequences of perception – any kind of sensation – namely, a dissatisfaction continuously harassing your mind in spite of umpteen contacts that you can make in this world. If you are really in contact with the real thing in the world, that must satisfy you. But practical living – your day-to-day experience – shows that coming in contact with whatever you consider as an object of sensation does not satisfy you.

Even your attempt to contact an object through the mind and the senses seems to be defeated in its purpose. After some time, when the illusion subsides, the things that you are apparently contacting through the mind and the senses organs do not satisfy you. Have you seen any person who is a hundred percent satisfied with the things that he has? He has a suspicion that there may be bereavement and the things which he seems to be contacting may run away one day or the other. Nobody can be sure that what one possesses can be always with oneself. Why is this anxiety inherent in the mind at all? Why are you so agonised in your mind, in your day-to-day life?

Tension is the philosophy of the mind; it is never free from this. The tension is, on the one hand, the compulsion to attempt contact with the objects, persons and things of the world, and on the other hand a failure to really achieve this contact. You seem to be contacting a mirage which looks like a real river flowing before you, but actually it recedes like the horizon as you try to approach it. The more and more you try to come in contact with a desired object, the more and more you realise later in life that it escapes you. You cannot grasp anything in this world because of certain other limitations of the mind which also have to be taken notice of. Where is this mind? It is now practically clear that it cannot be considered to be only inside the head. If it is not inside the head, where is it?

It has a vision of a vast space; and all the things that you are trying to come in contact with are located in space. Can you think of anything which is not in space – whatever be the stretch of your imagination in the faculty of your thought? Even abstract, conceptual objects that you can imagine in your mind force themselves to get located in a spatial context. Even God exists somewhere. This idea of 'somewhere' cannot leave you. Everything is somewhere, and it is at a particular time. A thing is somewhere and it is sometime. It is at a particular time, somewhere, and you cannot free yourself from this condition of something being somewhere and some-when. Thus, the mind is seen to be not totally free as it ought to be, as you might expect. If you are forced to locate in space everything that you think of, who is forcing you? What is this compulsion? From where does it come?

Philosophers who have studied this subject have come to the conclusion that the mind also is a spatial object. It has to be considered as an object only, in a different sense, inasmuch as it locates itself, together with its object, in some place and in some time. It is not possible to think of anything which is everywhere, or for all time – endlessly. Endless existence you cannot think; and unlimited existence also you cannot think. Therefore, the mind is not free, metaphysically speaking. And even psychologically, it does not seem to be really free, on account of its inability to contact things which it wants to contact.

The great masters along these lines, who have spent a lifetime in this kind of analysis, have concluded that space and time are prior to the process of thinking. In philosophical jargon they call it a priori – not a posteriori, or after. The space and the time factors precede even your attempt at thinking, so your whole personality is a space-time juncture. You are not above this world of space and time. Therefore, you cannot imagine anything that is above space and time. This is because you are under the impression that you are the mind that thinks, and you do not know that you are anything more than the mind.

There is something in you which seems to be deeper than the mental process – without which, unending aspirations cannot be explained. Everything in the world ends. The limitation of space causes everything to end somewhere. The limitation of the time process also causes everything to end sometime. This is a sorry state of affairs in consideration of the eternal longings of a human being. 'Eternal' is the word to be used – that is to say, unending and unlimited in every way is the longing that you have in your heart. Such a longing cannot arise from the ordinary conditioned mind working in terms of the sense organs. The 'you', the 'I', the 'this' or 'that' or 'it' has to be probed into and found out what actually it is. Statements like "I have a mind. It is my mind" also arise on account of a confusion between what you are really and the process of thinking.

Can you exist without thinking? Here is a great question before you. Many times people say, "I do meditation, and I do not think anything." Whether or not it is really possible to do meditation without thinking anything is a different question. However, even supposing that there are occasions when the mind stops thinking – at that time, do you really exist?

There is a daily example of going into deep sleep, when the mind does not operate. Nothing that is your personal character is to be seen in the state of deep sleep. Neither the bodily functions are objects of your awareness, nor is there mental operation. If you yourself are the mind only and there is nothing more in you, you do not exist in the state of deep sleep. Your existence is abolished. It is true, under normal conditions, that your mind cannot be separated from your being, that you are not only the mind but something more. This is proved by the fact that you are existing in sleep when the mind is not working.

Think over this matter a little deeply. Are you really existing in deep sleep? "I do not know. I was aware of nothing." You are sure that you knew nothing in the state of deep sleep. Accepted. But do you believe that you did exist in deep sleep? You cannot deny that you did exist. A persistent memory tells you that you did exist. But memory is an after-occurrence which comes posterior to an experience which has to be prior to it. Unless there is an experience, there cannot be a memory. You felt something – you had an experience of something – that brings about a memory later on when you are in a conscious state in the waking condition.

Analyse once again the fact of memory. What is memory? It is the remembrance of what happened earlier. Deep sleep has become a content of your memory. And, if it is a content of memory, it must have been preceded by an experience which is to be identified with the state of deep sleep. What experience did you have in the state of deep sleep? Nothing. But, is it really nothing? Do you feel it is a great repose, comfort, freedom from anxiety that you experienced there? A rejuvenating process took place in the state of deep sleep. Even sick people feel a little better after they have a good sleep. Pains – agonies in the foot or parts of the body – you feel these less when you get up from a deep sleep. Some soothing, comforting influence seems to be taking place in the state of deep sleep. How does it happen, this condition which you do not enjoy in the waking state? All anxieties are abolished completely in the state of deep sleep. You do not know anything except that you are – a fact which you cannot overlook because of a memory of it. There must be an experience before memory takes place.

Now, having conceded this much, you must know what is experience. What is experience? It is a kind of awareness of something. That is your experience. Were you aware of something in the state of deep sleep? No. If there were no awareness of any kind, would experience be possible? No experience would be possible. Minus consciousness, minus awareness of something, of some kind, experience is not possible. If experience has not been there, memory also is not possible. A memory speaks to you in a language of the existence of a precedence of a true consciousness. How is it that by a logical analysis you seem to accept that you were perhaps only conscious of your being, though it was not true, actually, in the state of deep sleep? Like the sun shining in the sky, covered with dark, dense clouds, making it impossible for the vision of the sun – that type of experience perhaps you had in the state of deep sleep. The sun must be there – illumination, awareness of consciousness – without which the memory of an experience in sleep would not be possible. "How wonderfully I slept," you say. Who slept when you say, "I slept"? Who slept? This is also an object of further analysis. If you dispassionately analyse this situation without any kind of encumbrance of thoughts entering your mind consequent upon the waking condition, you will feel that you did exist as a pure, unadulterated awareness of being.

This unadulterated consciousness of being is indescribable because all description is a function of the mind, and the mind was not operating in that condition. Your true nature as true existence, coupled with an awareness of existence only, without any kind of attribute or externalised characteristic – that seems to be your real nature. The clash – the opposition set by this true nature of yours wanting its own Self-realisation with the mental operations of the waking state – keeps you restless, and you do not know where you actually are in this world. On the one hand, you have the conceptual world before you, the world of your eternal longings that get generated by the true being that you are as seen in deep sleep. On the other hand, the senses play havoc by saying that this sensory world of perception is everything. The phenomenal, which is this world of perception, and the noumenal, which is the true being that you are, oppose each other.

The eternal and the temporal clash in their purposes. And as you seem to belong to both the levels, you seem to be torn between two sides. You belong to a noumenal, eternal realm, which is the world of your aspiration, which is never ending – asking for more and more, endlessly – and on the other hand, you belong to the world of humdrum activity, sensations and mental operations. What is your status finally, then? You are a cross-section of two different realms of action. Two different worlds meet at one point, which is hidden within. There are other things which are very intriguing in human nature, but the most prominent intriguing factor is that you are pulled by the world of sense on the one hand, and you are pulled by the eternity that you are on the other hand. The world that you are not is considered as yourself by the insistence of the sense organs. But what you really are, the eternal being that you are, calls you by a different name and suggests your goal to be elsewhere – in the high heaven of the true Self, which is not in space and in time.

When you meditate, these factors do not always come by way of analysis. But if you practise deeply, they will come suddenly as a vista opened up before your mind and you will find yourself pervading an area far beyond the area of this world. You will feel lifted up from your own self in this act of meditation. What are you meditating on? When you consider yourself as someone belonging to this world of space-time limitation, the object of your aspiration looks like something beyond you – a transcendental existence away from you – which you have to reach by great effort. But if you are able to probe into the truths of your true nature, which is Being- Consciousness, you will find that there is no such conflict between your aspiration in meditations and the tussles which the mind presents before you. Two things take place in meditation – a pull from the world, and a pull from your true being.

The Yoga Shastras tell us that there are stages of the illumination of the entanglements of the mind in meditation. The entanglements have to be analysed first and foremost. The mind says that you are in one place and the thing that you are contemplating in your mind is in another place. Rarely can you identify the object of meditation within yourself. It is always somewhere.

There is a third factor, which is the movement of the mind towards the object of your meditation – a process of knowledge, as it is called. A triad act takes place psychologically. You are aware that you are meditating, you are aware that you are meditating on something, and you are also aware that meditation is going on. But there is something more, apart from this triad act – namely, thoughts which are irrelevant to the act of meditation. You would like to be free from certain thoughts which are not going to contribute to your meditation.

What are these thoughts? They are thoughts which engage your attention in the waking state, with which you are busy. They intrude because of the habit of the mind to think only in terms of this world of objects. You were born many, many years back; since that time, how many times have you thought of this world and things? Every thought produces an impression on the mind – an impression which, like a gramophone groove, repeats itself again and again for further operation along the same line – and the mind cannot easily accommodate itself to the thoroughly reverse process in meditation. A new educational career is embarked upon in meditation. You are not the same person as you were when you were born or as you lived in this world. A new orientation of thought takes place.

The ordinary way of thinking is to bifurcate what you are expecting to achieve finally and the thing that you are seeing with your eyes. This bifurcation has to cease by many methods that you have to employ, and a general recipe to tackle this problem cannot be given at one stroke for the benefit of everyone. Since emotions and impressions in the mind, caused by perceptions in the world, vary from person to person, a single medicine cannot be prescribed for all people; they vary in detail, though generally they are common to some extent. So, in the state of meditation, in the earlier stages, at least, it looks like a struggle to pull yourself from the temptation to think in terms of things to which you are accustomed and, on the other hand, to raise the thoughts higher up to the realm of the comprehensive form of the object of meditation, which is your be-all and end-all.

Another difficulty which arises in the process of meditation is the fear arising from an indescribable and unclear relationship that you have with your object of meditation. "How am I related to this object?" Whatever your object of meditation and your relation to it may be, you have taken for granted at the very outset that it is going to satisfy you fully. The ishta devata, as it is called, is your dear object. That which is dear is capable of satisfying you entirely. Otherwise, it cannot be really dear. Hence, the ishta devata is the deity which is dearest to you.

The charm of the object of meditation makes you feel a little cautious in the choice of the object. In a highly philosophical sense, you can concentrate on any part of the universe and it will lead you to the entire structure of the cosmos. But this is hard in the beginning stages. You have to choose that which you love most and think is the best thing that you can satisfy yourself with. It is the whole thing that is there before you. The object of your meditation is not one thing among the many things in the world, because one thing which is only an item among many other things in the world will feel very humble and simple and neglected in the midst of the vast ocean of other things like it. It will not be pre-eminent or capable of satisfying you entirely, because there are other things also which are equally competent. One finite object is as good as any other finite object.

So if your object of meditation is one finite object, there is certainly a point in the mind running to other things. "When there are many other things which are equally good, as good as the object on which I am contemplating, why should I engage myself unnecessarily on this one object only? Why should I not go to other objects?" This is the philosophy of the distraction of the mind. But the choice of the object is to be such that it has to be above the finitude which is characteristic of things. In a sense, the object that you are contemplating is infinite in its possibilities and potentiality; it can give you everything.

Is there one thing in the world – think of it – that can give you everything that you want? You will find there is nothing in the world which can give you everything that you want. Everything can give you little, little things, but you cannot get all things. You have to find, by deepening your thought process, a thing which can give you everything possible – that is to say, a point of concentration which draws into itself the forces of the whole of nature, like a magnet pulling towards itself every iron filing around it. The object of your meditation is capable of pulling towards itself the whole cosmos of energy. On this you contemplate as something which enters you through your thought process of meditation and energises you at the same time with such potency as can be compared with the potency of the entire creation.

Here you have to have the guidance of a teacher, because you cannot know what it is that you are thinking in your mind and what actually is the object that can satisfy you fully, entirely, eternally – for ever and ever. Normally, you cannot think of such a thing at all. This requires initiation by a competent master who knows the relationship between you and the entire creation around you. The problem is the relationship between you and the whole of creation around. However much you scratch your head, you may never know how you are connected with this world – this universe, this creation. Initiation by the Guru, by the mentor, by the teacher, by the guide, is a process of gradually, through an educational process, introducing you to the great concept of the cosmic relationship between you and the object of your meditation. Here is the sum and substance of the psychology of the meditational process.

Unless you know your mind, as I mentioned to you, you will not know anything because, somehow or other, the processes that you employ to attempt knowledge pass through the lens of the mind, which is partly a medium of thinking and partly a representative of the eternal object of your longing. Sometimes the lower mind and the higher mind are separated. The lower mind is that which pulls you toward the object of sense, and the higher mind, the reason, with a superabundance of intense longing for the higher, pulls you in the other direction. You are pulled horizontally by the lower mind in the direction of sense objects and you are raised up vertically by the reason, which is a reflection of Cosmic Intelligence.

Here is before you an outline of the psychology of meditation. With this knowledge you will choose your object correctly and you will never grieve, under any circumstance, because this thing on which you are meditating blesses you with everything.