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An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: The Object of Meditation

The object of meditation is the degree of reality aligned to our state of being. This is a sentence which may appear like an aphorism. We have to meditate only on that which is the exact counterpart of our present level of knowledge and comprehension. There should not be any mistake in the choice of the object. If the object is properly chosen, the mind will spontaneously come under control. The restlessness and the resentment of the mind is due to a wrong choice that is made in the beginning. Often we are too enthusiastic and try to go above our own heads. The mind is not prepared to accept such a sudden revolution which is beyond not only its comprehension but also its present needs or necessities.

There may be many good things in the world, but they may not all be necessary for us. It should not mean that merely because something is grand and great, it should be the proper thing for us all. A thing may be, on the other hand, small and insignificant, but it may be just the thing that we need, and we should not be under the impression that it is a small, petty thing. Often we are happy over petty things, and they cease to be petty when they become our needs, and then they assume an importance. There should be an exercise of proper discrimination; the true rationality of ours has to take possession of us and free us from unnecessary emotions and sentimental exuberances of any kind.

Spiritual seekers are certainly after God. This is very well known. But we must know who is our God. God is the fulfilling counterpart of the present state of our evolution. Anything that is capable of making us complete is our God. Anything that allows us to remain partial is not going to satisfy us. That which completes our personality in any manner, in any degree of its expression, is to be considered as our necessity, and teachers like Patanjali, who were great psychologists, have taken note of this important suggestion to be imparted to students.

We are not asked to jump at once to the great theological doctrines of the creator of the cosmos. That would go above our minds. The teachings remain merely as theories and gospels in books. We have internal necessities of a peculiar nature. We have psychological hungers and thirsts which project themselves from our feelings, apart from the hunger and thirst of the physiological system. The mind, too, hungers and thirsts. Emotions also hunger and thirst. Sentiments hunger and thirst, and whatever we are made of has its own hunger and thirst. We cannot regard these as devils that have to be exorcised and thrown out. Such a mistake is not to be committed in the scientific approach called yoga meditation. The more are we cautious, the greater is the chance of our success. The more are we emotional and miss the point, the greater is the chance of reversion and retrogression and a feeling of failure.

Our problems are our desires, and they have to be tackled in a very careful way. Some of them may have to be fulfilled immediately. One may be having a very strong urge from within to have a cup of tea, for instance, and then one should not be stupid enough to say "I am a spiritual seeker, I am not going to take this cup of tea", even when the impulse is annoying. So is the case with medicines, when one is ill. Some of the desires are simple, harmless, physiological and have to be fulfilled in a systematic manner – not with the intention of indulging in them but with the higher purpose of subduing them. Sublimation of desires is to be distinguished from a suppression or repression of them, because the latter is harmful to one's wholesome growth.

There are other desires which are either meaningless or impossible of attainment, and they have to be sublimated with the strength of understanding. They have no sense, practically, and are just crotchets of the head of a person. But these are more difficult things to understand than the ordinary, simple desires. These idiosyncrasies, as we may call them, are harder things to tackle because they are more internal than these external appearances of the normal desires. They are part of our sentiments, emotions, or ego and here we require an expert guidance from a master, a teacher, who has to act not only as a physician but as a psychotherapist in the above circumstances.

The more internal we go, the greater is the need we will feel for guidance outwardly. One may look all right and not feel the need for any kind of assistance from others. But the internal forces are more difficult to subdue and handle. They are impetuous, uncontrollable. The desires which are of this character have to be sublimated with a great analytical understanding by the study of scriptures, resort to holy company, isolation and self-investigation, and methods of this nature. Thus, and in these similar ways, we have to check up the strings which connect us with the world. They cannot be snapped suddenly; they can only be thinned out so that they break later on due to the feebleness of these threads.

One cannot cut off a strong bond, just as one cannot sever a limb of one's body, or peel one's own skin. The desires are so much part of oneself that they can only be compared to the limbs of one's body and to remove them at one stroke with violence would be something unimaginable. Desires which are forcefully cast out like devils can work havoc afterwards, because they are actually driven down to the unconscious. They are not cast outside in space, as one imagines. They are pushed inside, which is still worse. Unfulfilled desires are not going to keep quiet and live in the space outside. They go inside and remain in a seed form and may manifest themselves when there is suitable rainfall, and then they sprout and germinate into living creepers once again; and even after years and years, nay, even after births, they can demand satisfaction.

Desires are like creditors, who cannot simply be shunted off with a 'no'. They are to be paid their dues, either by an actual disbursement of their parts, or by a reconciliation with them in some intelligent manner. The object of meditation is not necessarily the highest God of the universe, at once, in the beginning itself, though we may call our object of meditation as our God, for the time being. This concept of the degrees of reality or the necessity to consider the object of meditation as a deity in itself under every degree of manifestation has led to the notion of the many gods of religion. Often we say that some religions are polytheistic since so many gods are there. There are, in fact, not many gods. They are only the necessary acceptances on the part of the individual of degrees in the concept of reality. They are not many gods, but the many stages of acceptance. It does not, however, mean that the one God has many degrees. There are no partitions in the existence of the Absolute. But there appear to be partitions distinguishable one from the other in the degrees of concept because of the distinguishing layers existing in our own psychic personality. The degrees are in us and not in the reality.

There are not, actually, degrees of reality, as it is sometimes thought. There are degrees in the consciousness of reality, degrees of the perception of reality, degrees of our capacity to understand the nature of reality. So, the gods come into existence and our God can be anything that attracts us as an absolutely essential item under the conditions in which we are placed. When one is seriously ill, a particular medicine may be required, though that medicine has nothing to do with one's spiritual life, apparently. But it is not true. Anything that sustains one and enables one to live a wholesome life is God revealed in one degree.

One cannot say easily what is spiritual and what is unspiritual, if one only goes deep into things. All is a question of understanding the relevance that a particular thing has with our mind, our consciousness, our being as a whole. In the Sutras connected with the subject, Patanjali gives suggestions for varying types of concentration on the requirements of the seeker under different conditions.

When one is in these stages of the choice of the object of meditation, one requires guidance from someone who is competent, who has trodden the path, who knows the pitfalls, who has seen the difficulties and known the remedies for the problems. The seeker is treading an unknown path, a path whose future is completely out of sight; he cannot know what is ahead of him, and therefore, the need for guidance and timely instruction and assistance of a personal nature, from a Guru.

A Guru is not a professor or a schoolmaster. He is intimately related to the disciple's very existence. People have many Gurus these days, but that is not what we mean by a real Guru. One who has spiritually taken charge of the soul of the disciple is the Guru, and not merely one who gives an intellectual instruction and goes away. Tradition considers the relation between the Guru and the disciple to be a perpetual one until the salvation of the soul is reached. The Guru helps, not merely in this life, but even in the future life, because the relationship is not social. It is not even merely psychological; it is spiritual.

The choice of the object of meditation, to come to the point again, is an important aspect of the very beginning of spiritual life. This choice is the initiation that the disciple receives from the teacher. What is called initiation in the mysteries of the practice of yoga is nothing but the initiation of one's spiritual being into the technique of tuning oneself to that particular deity, the form of God, or the object which is going to be one's target at the present moment. This is a secret by itself and the teacher will teach it to the disciple. The object of meditation should satisfy the student; that is why it is called 'ishta devata' (loved deity). The 'ishta' is that which is desirable, beautiful, attractive, required, that which attracts one's love and one's whole being. One pours one's self into it. One likes it so much that one cannot like anything else as much as that. 'Ishta' is the beloved. 'Devata' is deity. It is a deity because it is one's God. It is that thing which one really requires, so that without it one cannot exist.

That which causes a cessation of one's restlessness, satisfies one's whole being and not merely one's sentiment, is one's devata or deity. And it is most lovable: obviously one cannot have love for anything else under the circumstances. An ishta-devata is a chosen Deity over which one pours one's emotion and love and affection. Now, what connection has this ishta-devata with God, the Creator, the Almighty?

Everything has a connection with everything else. There is nothing which is not internally related to the Almighty, the Supreme Being. Every atom is so related, and every atom can be a teacher under given conditions. We can touch God through every speck of space, because there is no such thing as a universe outside God. God is in everything that is experienced here as the world, or the universe, pervading and permeating all things, so that one cannot touch anything without touching God in some way. There should not be any misconception that the deities, even the images, the so-called idols that the people worship, are all just nonsense or insignificant nothings; these are necessary prescriptions for the illness of the spirit in the stages of its evolution.

We see people changing their aims constantly. They cannot stick to any particular scripture, ideal or teacher. They cannot stick to a mantra, cannot stick to a method, cannot stick to a place, cannot stick to anything. There is a perfunctory external touch with the ideal of life and not a going deep into it. The choice of the object of meditation is a final act and once we make this choice, we have to adhere to it, and there should be no misgivings. There should be no doubt in the mind if a wrong choice has been made. The choice is to be considered as correct when it has been made by a teacher. Secondly, any object can take one to anything, because of the connection it has with all things. What is required is deep concentration. We can dig the earth at any place and we will find water, provided we go deep enough. We have to go to the oceanic level at the bottom.

Thus a concentration on the chosen ideal or the given object, whole-heartedly, continuously and regularly for a lifetime, is essential. It would be a wonder to hear stories of great saints and sages who are supposed to have spoken even to idols, to inanimate matter, a bronze idol, or a stone image. How can matter speak? It speaks because of its getting charged with the spirit of the consciousness of concentration. Nothing non-material exists in the world, finally. Matter is sleeping consciousness. What we call the inanimate is the slumbering Absolute, and it can be awakened by a deep concentration of consciousness. The awakening takes place when the consciousness gets communed, but the object appears as a material thing as long as it is outside consciousness in space and time. So one should not be too much fidgeting about the propriety in the choice of the object of meditation.

Once the choice has been made, it has to be adhered to, and the student will succeed. The object has to be such as would satisfy the emotions. It should satisfy even the intellect and reason. There should not be a resentment from any side of our nature. Sometimes it may so happen that the emotions may like the choice but the intellect does not agree, and when the intellect agrees the emotions do not. It is necessary that there must be a blend of these aspects of our inner being; the emotion and the reason should accept the propriety of one's having made this choice. "Yes, this is the thing meant for me, and for such and such a reason." The intellect always seeks a rational justification, a confirming logic. The head and the heart have to be in unison. Then there is a coming together of the understanding and the feelings, and meditation is nothing but this union of the understanding and the feelings in respect of the object that is chosen as the finale of one's life. Mere intellectual deliberation is not meditation. Thinking of some object intellectually cannot be called meditation. In meditation there is a total at-one-ment of the whole of being with the object that is chosen as the great aim. Whatever we are made of or constituted of has to take part in this concentrated effort. There should be a wholesale conscription, as it were, of all the parts of the personality, and every part is involved in this universal cause.

There should be no reluctance on the side of any part of our being in this act of concentration. There should be no difficulty felt in this whole-souled attention on the object. The reluctance arises on account of a mistaken choice, when some part of the personality has felt the need for the object and the others have not felt that it is so essential. We have to bring our forces round, by some method which is apt under the circumstances.

We know how one has to work in order to reconcile people. There are variegated types of personalities in this world. How will one reconcile them? One person does not agree with the other, but if one has to live a peaceful existence in this world of human societies, some sort of arrangement for reconciliation of opposites has to be made, and it has to be done in an intelligent manner, for the good of all. This technique of a reconciliation of differences among the aspects of a thing has to be adopted. If we take time to do this, there is no harm. It does not mean that, today itself, everything has to be done. We may take one month to come to a conclusion as to what that suitable object is. But once the object is chosen properly, the mind will certainly rush towards it, because it is the thing it needs. Sometimes, it may be difficult to find one single object which can satisfy every part of our nature, even as we cannot have only one article of diet which can satisfy hunger, thirst and every requirement of the body. In the earlier stages, it may be necessary to resort to different kinds of concentration with the intention of reconciling them and bringing them together. The programme of our daily Sadhana may have to be spread out to some extent in some manner which will fulfil the various needs of the self.

One may have many other requirements of this nature, such as a desire for study and learning, a desire to go on pilgrimage to holy places or to see a great saint or a sage. Now, all these urges have to be fulfilled in an organised manner. They become essentials on account of their pressing nature. They have to be paid their dues. Thus, in the beginning, it need not necessarily be a single object, literally, but there can be a group of various aspects – we need not call them various objects – which are really aspects of a single intention that is behind the mind, all which may commingle later on into a single object. It is necessary, in the earlier stages, to go slowly and have three, four or five items for the purpose of practice, such as japa, or chanting of a mantra, a formula, which has been given by the Guru, or which occurs in a scripture.

Japa can be of a single word, or a group of words or letters, which is called a mantra or a formula. This practice is necessary because it is difficult to keep the mind elevated always in a high vision of thought. It often comes down to lower levels. To stir it up to a consciousness of the higher levels of being, one requires constant instruction and habituation to one thought. If one does not have a personal Guru to instruct constantly, one has to resort to the secondary method of studying. One takes to a concentrated study of scriptures which will inspire the mind at once. This will prepare the attention for japa, or recitation of the sacred formula or mantra.

Svadhyaya is sacred study. This does not mean study of books from libraries. One generally sees the catalogue and whatever appeals to the sentiments is picked up and one starts reading a novel or an encyclopaedia. But svadhyaya is a religious, dedicated study. It is not just a gathering of information from several tomes. It is not a historical survey that we are making of doctrines, religions and philosophies. It is rather a meditation by itself. Only it is a little spread-out type of meditation, not so much concentrated as the purely technical absorption.

These spread-out types are more diversified forms of meditation, and they are the studies that we make. In a book that we so study, there are various ideas which entertain the mind and do not bore it with one thought on a monotony. The vastly spread ideas which are expressed in the scriptures are meant to tend towards one point, in the end.

Though many things are told us in the scriptures, they are told for a single purpose. The mind gradually converges upon a single point of attention. When we read the Bhagavadgita, for instance, with all the details throughout the chapters, we will find there one ringing note into which we are introduced finally, at the end. But the crucial point cannot be revealed immediately, because we want variety. So, people take to bhajans, kirtans, singing, etc., in the methods of bhakti-yoga especially. While these provide us with an entertainment by way of a diversity, they have a very pious and spiritual motive behind, of allowing the mind to concentrate on a single object. The japa of the formula or a mantra, the study of a scripture, sequestration and holy company, attending satsangas of great souls wherever it is possible, are all to be regarded as parts of our meditation, because they are needed by certain aspects of our personality.

Our personality is very complex. It is constituted of different items of creation and they all ask for satisfaction of one type or the other. We have to move gradually, stage by stage, to transcend ourselves. The practice should not be any sudden assertive renunciation in the form of rejection of values, but it should be a growth of the personality into a wholeness which has overcome the lower, not rejected the lower. This is important to remember. We do not reject things but overcome them by understanding, by fulfilment and an increase of comprehension. Spiritual life is not a rejection of values but a fulfilment of values, a fulfilment for the purpose of the transcendence of values. This is a healthy method, and most positive, to which we have to resort as an aid to meditation.