The Heart and Soul of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 9: Meditation on Cosmic Consciousness

To make the mind feel itself somewhere else, apart from its being inside the body, is a hard task, and it is the crux of the meditational process. You are contemplating something which appears external – away from yourself, beyond yourself, and not necessarily confined to only your particular bodily location. However much you may struggle, you will not easily succeed in this activity because the mind is like a leech. It will stick to this body as if a cement-like paste is acting as an adhesive force to powerfully inject itself into this body and make itself feel like this body only. The mind does not think that it is a mind; it thinks it is only a body.

Great care has to be taken in releasing this attachment that the mind has got to this one body only and neglecting the presence of any other body or any other thing in this world. Some of the simple methods in achieving this purpose are stated in the Yoga Shastras. You have to listen to me very carefully. Imagine that you are somewhere far away in mid-space, and from there you look at your body which is sitting here. "Far, far away I am in a distant place – many, many kilometres away from the earth – and from there I am looking back at my own body which is sitting here and meditating." Great power of imagination is necessary to think like this.

Actually, who is meditating? Is it the body that does it? It is the consciousness – the mind, so-called, that is actually engaging itself in meditation. So let the body be here; let it do what it likes – sitting. But, that which really does the work of meditation is the mind. Place yourself in a distant place, other than the location of this body. Very intensely feel that "I am in mid-space, away from this body where I am sitting for meditation." There is a practical double-consciousness involved in this. On the one hand you feel that you are sitting here, as a little individual, meditating. On the other hand there is another aspect of this consciousness which takes you away – high, high, high, like a kite flying into space. There you are sitting. Go on telling yourself, "Where am I? I am here, in space. The planets are revolving around the sun. I am somewhere there – very far, very far, very far, very far away from the earth, away from the earth, away from that 'me' which is meditating on the ground here."

This peculiar technique is highlighted in an aphorism of Patanjali: bahih akalpita vrittih maha-videha tatah prakasha avarana ksayah (Y.S. 3.43) – a very, very beautiful sutra. The vritti of the mind is the modification that takes place whenever it thinks anything. When the mind thinks anything, a modification takes place in the form of that which it thinks. This is called kalpita vritti, a process to which the mind is habituated, and it is a psychological function. But there is another process called akalpita vritti – not a psychological movement of the mind, but what may be called metaphysical, in philosophical language. It is difficult to understand what this metaphysical mind is.

The mind of a particular individual thinks of another object, another person – of something outside. But it is not easily noticed that such a thinking or even visualisation of something other than one's own self is not possible unless there is something that connects the thinking mind with that which it thinks. What is it that connects the object with the mind that thinks the object? You can think of distant things, like the stars in the heavens. How is it possible for the mind to transfer itself to the location of a distant star, or the sun or moon, though it is a psychological act taking place within the body itself?

This very strange method of being able to consider or visualise something other than one's own self is worth studying deeply. There is a medium between you and the object of contemplation which is present not only in you, but also in that on which you are concentrating; but you cannot know its existence because of the fact that it itself is actually the metaphysical mind, as I referred to – not the psychological mind which is working inside the body.

Here is an example. There is a broadcasting station where somebody speaks or sings. There is a recorded voice. The singing or speaking voice is transmitted through vast, distant space to any other location where there is a receiver set. That which communicates the speech or song from the broadcasting station to the distant receiver set is not itself a song or speech. There is nobody singing or speaking in the sky. Yet, that speech or song is communicated even to a very far-off, distant place, and it is converted once again into a song or a speech in a receiver set. What is there between the two? To explain analogically, that is the metaphysical entity, which is neither the broadcasting medium nor the receiving medium. It is transcendent to both. That transcendent thing does not speak, does not see, does not think, does not do anything, but it has the potentiality to manifest itself as anything. You may call this the cosmic mind in terms of the meditational process.

Apart from an individual mind, there is a cosmic mind, which cannot be known, cannot be visualised, cannot be seen because it is not an object. You cannot think the cosmic mind, because it is the thinker. It thinks both you and the object that you are supposed to think externally. In philosophical language, especially in Vedanta, this consciousness which is thinking, and the object which is being thought of, are known as pramatr chaitanya and prameya chaitanya: subject-consciousness and object-consciousness. There is a chaitanya, or awareness, in the thinking individual, and there is something which connects that object of thought with the thinking mind. If the object is totally material, as we generally imagine, then there could be nothing to connect the thinking mind with the object that it thinks. Consciousness cannot come in contact with matter. Yet, it appears that our consciousness comes in contact with a wall or a mountain. How does it happen?

This is explained. If consciousness is within the mind – in the mind, within the body – and seems to be contacting an object conceptually or visually, you have to explain how this contact takes place. Consciousness is quite different from materiality. Matter is a total objectivity, whereas consciousness is total subjectivity. How did subjectivity become objectivity? It is a contradiction in terms. The subject and the object are different in their characteristics; one cannot become the other. But how do you know that there is an object outside you? Your consciousness – your mind which thinks or knows – cannot contact that which is other than itself. This analysis amounts to saying that there is something in the object akin or similar to the thinking consciousness. Unless this is accepted, you cannot explain perception, visualisation or even thinking an object. This 'something' which is in the object also, akin to the thinking mind, is the transcendental consciousness. This is what I meant by saying 'metaphysical mind', or 'cosmic mind'. When I tell you to place yourself in distant space, I am indirectly saying that you are sitting in the cosmic mind and not in the individual mind. This space which is so vast around you is a subjectivity for the cosmic mind, but an object for your individual mind. The world is an object for us, but it is a subject for the cosmic mind.

In creation, during the evolution of the universe, a wonderful situation is created, as is described in the Upanishads. The Universal Being gets concretised, as it were, in the evolutionary process, until it becomes what is called the hardened materiality of the universe. This consciousness is aware of this universal materiality, universal objectivity. Remember what I am saying. This consciousness which is aware of a universal materiality spread out everywhere, the whole universe itself, that consciousness is called Virat in the language of the Vedanta – Virat-consciousness. We may call it cosmic consciousness. This consciousness splits itself into individuals, like a ray of light becoming multiple when it passes through a prism. In a similar manner, a peculiar contextual, perceptional process takes place when this ideational, universal consciousness becomes multiple, individual centres of thinking. There is a great difference between the Virat being conscious of the multiple forms of the universe and the individual consciousness thinking itself as self-identical, as an individual.

For instance – again I come to the usual analogy – the body, assuming that it has a consciousness of itself, knows, at one stroke, the multiplicity of its limbs. It does not take time to think 'right hand', 'left hand' or any other part of the body. It is a simultaneous awareness of all its multiple parts. That kind of simultaneity is analogous to the cosmic mind thinking the whole universe at one stroke. That is the Virat Purusha thinking, we may say. But when the individual sparks of consciousness are shot off from the universal consciousness by some kind of mysterious isolation in the space-time process, what happens is, there is an upside-down thinking. There is a vertical thinking, we may say, in the Virat-consciousness, but there is a topsy-turvy thinking in the individual consciousness. The Upanishad tells us there is a fall, as if the head is below and the legs are up. And, this fallen consciousness does not see the world or the cosmos as the Virat sees it, but sees it in a topsy-turvy fashion.

For the whole – for the Virat-consciousness, cosmic mind, metaphysical mind – the universe is identical with itself, as we feel that this body is identical with our soul or our individual consciousness. We do not feel the body is sitting outside us. It is one with us. In a similar manner, this Virat-consciousness experiences the whole cosmos as its body. This is why some philosophers say that the world is the body of God. The Virat, which is the consciousness of God, feels the universe as its own body, as we feel this body as identical with our soul. But, there is a difference in the individual thinking. The topsy-turvy falling down is explained in the Aitareya Upanishad especially – namely, that the object looks like a subject, and the subject looks like an object. This happens when there is a topsy-turvy thinking – your head is below and your legs are up.

How do you explain this? What happens is the severe agony that is felt when this severance takes place. The very birth of individuality is the original agony, we may say, of individuality. What is agony? It is the feeling that the soul of one's own self is cut off from the real soul to which it belongs. Here I am reminded of Plato's imagery that we are actually in heaven, and we are shadows imagining that we are originals here. This is the nature of topsy-turvy perception. Immediately – to repeat what the Upanishad says – you are caught by the anguish of self-supporting effort, as you have lost contact with that which is supporting you, which has been supporting you, which was your very soul.

The individual soul severs itself from the cosmic soul by an agonising assertion of itself. Then sorrow, which is life itself, is bred, and a seed of it is sown in this very act of creation of the individual. Hunger and thirst, and a feeling of insecurity certainly advance themselves at the very birth of individuality. Every individual is conscious of the insecure type of life that it leads – always insecure in every way. There is no security for any individual anywhere in this world. There is fear and dread from all sides, opening its jaws as if death is yawning. Hunger and thirst immediately rise in this individual because the original cosmic soul, which was the sustenance of this individual, has been severed in its contact during the coming down of the process of evolution, and as the central government is not going to support this alienated individual, it feels difficulty in finding resources to maintain itself. There is a feeling of cold and heat, hunger and thirst, to mention the least. But, it cannot go on in this condition. It is in hell. It wants to create a heaven in hell itself. Unless a heaven is created in hell, you cannot survive there. You may perish instantaneously.

Hence, an artificial kingdom is created by that which has fallen into this hell of experience. What is this kingdom? It is the kingdom of the joy that it imagines to be there by coming in contact with that which it regards as an object while it was the subject for the Virat. The individual thinks that the world is an object, while the Virat – cosmic mind, metaphysical mind – knows it is the subject. Can you feel that the whole world is you? That is the Virat thinking. But if you think that you are sitting somewhere and the world is outside you, you are thinking like a severed individual. Then hunger and thirst, heat and cold are felt because of this isolation – the severance of the individual from the cosmic sustenance. It tries to grab several media from what it considers as the objective of its perception – food, water, air, light and many other appurtenances to guard itself from attack from external sources.

When it artificially creates a kingdom of objective sustenance and feels for a moment that it has got what it wants – wrongly, though – immediately there is satisfaction. This is what is called sensory satisfaction. It is really not satisfaction. It is only an imagination that it has got what it wants which is created in the mind that is craving for security from outside. But, in this appeasement of hunger – the appetition of the soul – it has not really appeased its hunger. Perpetually you are hungry; perpetually you are thirsty; perpetually you are insecure from birth to death, however much you may try to appease your appetite by coming in contact with objects that you think are outside you, while they are really not outside you.

A tremendous mistake has taken place in the very beginning itself when the individual has fallen down from this great universal force. To free yourself from this tragedy, engage yourself in deep meditation on that very condition in which you were prior to your fall. It is impossible to think it. The mind cannot think that state which was there prior to its coming down as an individual. So, great effort is necessary. Yoga is not a simple thing; it is a tremendous job. It is wrenching yourself from yourself and placing yourself in that context of the cosmic mind. You are struggling to think as the cosmic mind thinks, which is the real way of thinking, and to free yourself from this disease of thinking through the body-consciousness.

This is the significance deeply buried in this interesting sutra of Patanjali, akalpita vrittih bahih. The word bahih, or outside, suggests that when you are meditating as if you are outside your body, away somewhere, you appear to be outside yourself. Therefore, bahih akalpita vrittih means a non-psychological, metaphysical way of feeling that you are away from your own self, in another location of that mind which feels the whole cosmos as identical with itself. This little sutra is not understood by people. Even commentators bypass it because unless a person has practised yoga, he cannot understand the meaning of this sutra. It is not a professorial dictation or a lecture that Patanjali gives. It is a medicine for the illness of man.

Thus, here is a great task before you – to think as the mind of the cosmos thinks, and not think as your body thinks. Go on asserting this, again and again: how was the cosmic mind thinking before it fell as a bodily individual? A little study of Vedantic cosmology is very helpful here. It is necessary to know the cosmological process of creation so that you may know how to retrace your steps back, as it were, from the fallen state of this individuality to the earlier state, by a recession of consciousness from effect to cause. It is a difficult thing – very difficult. But once you taste this joy of being able to think as the cosmic mind thinks, that joy knows no bounds. It is actually the borderland of God Himself thinking.

Can you imagine the joy if you can think as God thinks, and as the universal mind thinks, as Virat thinks? "Look at me!" says the Virat to Arjuna. Stunned is this ego of the individual. What will you look at? "Lo, it is terrible! You want me to think in a way other than the way in which I am thinking." The Virat is compelling the individual to think as it thinks, and as it is in itself. He is flabbergasted. "Come down!" The individual mind tells the cosmic mind: "Come down! I shall think as my mind only. I want to see the cosmic mind as my mind." This is what Arjuna prays for. "Come down! It is not for me. My body shakes. The mind is torn and I feel as if I am in flames when you are asking me to see you. What am I seeing? I am seeing only my stupid body; that is all. I cannot see anything more."

Great effort is necessary. Nobody can see this vision. This is what Bhagavan Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavadgita. Nobody can see this. Impossible! Sudurdarsam idam rupam (B.G. 11.52). Very terrible is this form. It is terrible because the ego feels it is terrible. Justice, law, operating perfectly, is a terror to the mischievous individual, who always goes against rules and regulations of any kind. So, the Great Justice is before you as a cosmic vision, and the ego is terrified because it is a thief before the great Cosmic Policeman. It says, "No! No, I cannot look at you! Go!" Though it is there, promising all the satisfaction of the whole universe, the ego says, "No, no, no, no, no, no! I want to see you as me! I want to see you as me! I want to see God also as I am!" This is what Arjuna says, finally.

But beware! You do not lose anything by thinking as God thinks. Let not the ego assert itself as if it is in joy. It is in hell. "Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven," is a line from Milton's poetry. "Why should I be a subservient meditator on the cosmic, which is my master? I shall be a master of myself, here itself in this world. I have a large kingdom. I have a profession. I have money. I have a bank balance. I have great strength of army and police." Does not the mind think like that? This is what is called creating heaven in hell. But if you are asked to think as the cosmic mind itself, it terrifies you. "No! I don't want." There is fear, fear, fear. Nobody, even a sick man, likes to take a bitter medicine. "Oh, I don't want this bitter medicine. Let me be a sick man only. Don't give bitter medicine." "Don't give me an injection," the child cries.

This is what you are doing, actually. You have to transform yourself completely into a divine context in order that you may be really able to meditate. Do not think meditation is just closing the eyes and chanting something. It is not like that. It is a complete burnishing of your whole personality, because who can think like the cosmic mind? This itself is the very secret of meditation. Virtually you are thinking like God Himself, the metaphysical mind – that which is thinking through you in terms of yourself as well as the object, on account of which it is possible for you to know that there is a world outside. Great difficulty, but great joy! Would you like to be transformed into the emperor of the whole world? Can you contain such a situation? You will be torn even to think such a thing. And still greater is the joy to think that you are emperor of the whole cosmos – of all the stars, sun, moon and everything, everything that is created. You are thinking like the Virat; you are thinking like the source from where you have fallen down. Think this again and again. Strike it in your head, catch hold of your ears and chant the mantra of this analysis in your mind.

Here I have given a large commentary before you, which is not found in any book, on this little sutra of Patanjali, bahih akalpita vrittih maha-videha (Y.S.3.43). It is maha-videha meditation, meditation on the non-physical, cosmic, Virat-body consciousness. It is non-physical – videha means non-body – yet, it is a body for the cosmic form. The moment you are able to visualise and think like this, even for a few minutes, that dark veil, the iron curtain that is before you, preventing you from being conscious of this cosmic whole, is immediately lifted up and torn: prakasha avarana ksayah. The hard iron curtain will melt into liquid and air and gas before the hot light, as it were, emanating from this Cosmic Being.

Is it not happiness? All your problems, all your suffering, will be solved in an instant. All that you want, whatever it be – gold and silver, rice and wheat, sugar, tea, coffee, whatever you want – everything is instantaneously poured into you the moment you become the Soul of this cosmos.

This is the highest type of meditation, for which many other techniques are prescribed – to which reference may be made at some other occasion.