What is Knowledge
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 9: Yoga Meditation

If we had leisure and time to concentrate on the implications of our studies and analysis, we would have realised that this system of living known as yoga is a sort of hackneyed name that we give to the most normal way of living, which again, at the same time, is invariably associated with what is known as meditation. Neither yoga, as anyone would like to understand it, nor meditation, as one may be accustomed to, can be considered as something or anything outside the normal way of living, if ‘living’ or ‘life’ is to mean a progression towards larger and larger successes, achievements or attainments. If living in the world – or life – is not to mean merely existing like a stone or a tree, and if it does not mean merely vegetating, but is a purposive advance or movement in a given direction, this purpose towards which life is an advance can be fulfilled or achieved only if this something called ‘yoga’ or ‘meditation’ becomes nothing but the way of such living itself.

The meditational procedure is not a mystical introversion or a difficult circus feat which only certain people in the world are expected to perform. It is a systematisation of thought and living, which is invariably associated with any project of worthwhile success and attainment.

The environment in which we are placed calls for this adjustment of ourselves we call meditation – call it yoga, if you so like. We cannot independently live, freeing ourselves from all associations with our environment. The very meaning of ‘environment’ is that area which is sticking to our personal life, as our skin is sticking to our body. We are not living in an environment with which we are vitally not connected. The very meaning or significance of this term is that it is an unavoidable association of our very existence or life in this world. Plainly speaking, yoga is this unavoidable obligation on the part of any person to place oneself in harmony with the environment in which one is, whatever be that environment. To come in conflict with an environment would not be yoga, and to be perpetually feeling a sense of opposition from an environment outside is also not yoga. Rather it is not meditation, at least, because the yoga of meditation, or the yoga which is meditation proper, is the healthful adjustment of whatever one is with that we call environment, whatever it be.

The thing we call peace of mind, inward satisfaction, or even security is that friendliness and a state of en rapport with which we are not only related in our day-to-day life, but from which we cannot in any way extricate ourselves, because our very existence is inseparable from this environment. If environment is something different from our own selves, then we need not bother about anything in this world, because the world itself is an environment about which we seem to be feeling the necessity to bother. The need to think of anything is, at the same time, the need to think that there is an environment around – otherwise, there would be no necessity to think at all. The thought of any particular thing is nothing but the thought of that which is outside us, which I call the environment, the atmosphere, whatever be our notion of that particular thing.

This ‘environment’ is a very intriguing peculiarity, because every person has his own or her own idea of this environment. For some person, the environment may be a little office in which he or she is working: “I have no other environment. I am concerned only with my office, and if I don’t come in conflict with my colleagues in the office, I am supposed to be perfectly all right.” But this is only one way of looking at the environmental condition. Everyone is not only in the office, but everyone is somewhere, and that ‘somewhere’ is one’s environment. It may be a shop in which we are working; it may be a laboratory, a school, a university, a train in which we are travelling, or any blessed place. But it is certainly true that we are somewhere, in some way. That peculiar ‘somewhere’ or ‘somewhen’ is our environment. This is always with us wherever we go, because our movement in any direction, in any part of the world, is not going to free us from being in some sort of an environment. We may change the physical location or the conditions of our immediate environment, but we are nevertheless in some environment. A change of environment is not freedom from environment or freedom from involvement in it. So, no one can be freed from being involved in some environment, notwithstanding the desire that sometimes arises to change the environment in which one lives.

The point is not in what environment we are. The point is how we are able to get on with this environment. But if there is a perpetual rub which we feel between ourselves and our environment, it is something for us to think deeply upon why this situation should arise at all. There is a vehemence on both sides: the environment refuses to adjust itself to our way of living, and our way of living refuses to adjust itself with the environment. Both sides assert a sort of individuality of their own, and this affirmation is from two parties which are somehow related to each other for important reasons. The irreconcilability of the circumstances of two sides, which are really not two sides literally, is the conflict of life. It is the problem of existence, and it is the sorrow of man. This is solved, or is attempted to be solved, by what people call yoga or pinpoint as the way of meditation.

I have tried to mention that there is no necessity to demarcate the inner essentials of what is known as ‘yoga’ and what is called ‘meditation’. For our practical purposes, they are one and the same thing because even when we are not attempting to meditate in the proper sense of the term, even when we seem to be taking only the initial step in the direction of yoga, that initial preliminary step also is a kind of meditation. I told you that even the physical exercise of yoga is a condition of meditation. It may be one type of meditation; nevertheless, it is that. Therefore, yoga is meditation. Yogah samadhih says the great commentator on the sutras of Patanjali. Yoga is virtually meditation; it is nothing else. Even when it appears to be something else, it is just that in one form.

Whenever we feel a necessity to be healthily associated with anyone, anything, or any condition, we are performing an act of meditation. The effort on our part to be in union with that which is outside us, is the act of our meditation. When we are in a parliament house as a member thereof, we are nevertheless in a state of meditation, because the necessity we feel to be non-conflictingly involved in the body called the parliament is our meditation. Otherwise, we know how we behave when we are not in the parliament. When we go to purchase vegetables in a shop, we do not feel the necessity to behave like a member of parliament or to inwardly commune ourselves with the body called the parliament. Whenever it becomes necessary for us to be in tune with whatever is external to us, we are in a state of meditation, though we may not be willing to consider that meditation as a sort of holy or spiritual exercise, as we understand spirituality. We need not bother about these words ‘spirituality’, ‘religion’, etc., for the time being.

Yoga or meditation can be freed from all these preconceived associations which make us feel a sense of holiness in ourselves – as if we are lifted above the world and not connected with anything else outside us. It may be a holy exercise, but it is not holy in the sense that other things are unholy to us, because that unholy or extraneous element around us, which becomes a content of our consciousness for any reason whatsoever, also becomes an object of meditation for us, and it ceases to be unholy and irrelevant. A thing that is totally irrelevant for our purposes cannot become a content of our thought or consciousness; we cannot define it, and we will not feel a need to say anything about it – or, much less, think about it.

Yoga or meditation – or yoga, which is meditation – is a necessary duty, an obligation anyone and everyone is called upon to fulfil or perform in order that one may be healthy. If health is the coordination of the components constituting the body, then this principle should apply equally to the necessity to bring about a unison among the components which form any body whatsoever with which we are not only externally connected but invariably related, and from which we cannot free ourselves, for obvious reasons. So, while health is a very desirable thing, perhaps the most desirable thing in the world, and while it is true that health is a condition of our physical and physiological system, it is certainly not exhausted by the balance of the physiological system. This is because in spite of the fact that the physical and physiological system is in a state of balance and can be said to be healthy from a medical point of view, we may be unhealthy for other reasons than purely physiological. A political catastrophe which is hanging heavy on our heads, or a social onslaught or a mental agony cannot be considered as a healthy state, though the body is robust, well-fed and very strong.

Hence, the health of a person is the harmony or the inner coordination of a cooperative type among the constituents of any environment, which is precisely the ‘body’ of ours. Our body is not merely the little six-foot frame that we are thinking of. Our body is anything which is necessarily related to us in our life – such as a family, or even an office atmosphere. We cannot say that the office is irrelevant to us, because it is our body, and any kind of disharmony among the constituents of the office atmosphere will be our ill health. We will not have a moment’s peace; and a restless condition of mind cannot be considered as a state of health. Yoga meditation, to bring it down to the most practical fields of concrete existence on the face of this Earth, may be said to be a universally applicable technique of coordinating oneself with anything and everything with which one is invariably related, and from which one cannot be free at any time.

This environment with which we are related, from which we cannot be free, and whose relationship with which we should be so very harmonious, is a very intriguing outward dimension which ranges beyond even human comprehension, such that we will realise one day that our environment goes beyond even the stars. It is not a mere idle thinking when we are made to feel that our little existence inside our kitchen is invariably connected with the conditions of even the distant stars. We are not talking merely theoretical astronomy here; it is a practical state of affairs. If this is true, our environment is not such an easy thing as we can define at once with a few words.

Yoga meditation, thus, is the simple recipe of it being possible for us to be friendly with one person in the world; and from this little recipe of it being possible for us to be in a state of freedom from conflict with even the littlest thing in the world – from this basic position of the smallest act of sacrifice we perform by being in harmony with this basic thing – from this littlest thing up to the highest conceivable adjustment that we can imagine in our mind, yoga is a uniform law. Yoga is, therefore, not merely meditation on a holy thing called God, as we may imagine in a sacrosanct mood or in a mystical condition of introversion. There is no great sacrosanct holiness about it. It is as holy as any science is in this world – as holy as arithmetic, mathematics, or any kind of sane thinking. It has, therefore, no connection with the so-called isms or religions of the world. It is not religion at all, and we need not even call it a philosophy if we think philosophy is frightening armchair thinking. It is a basic fundamental of any systematised thinking, which is also a healthy way of thinking, and without which life would be a chaotic mass.

What is yoga, and what is meditation? It is not to assume a very holy attitude, as if we are superior to other people. It is not a question of our being better than anybody else; this is precisely what we should free ourselves from in our thinking. When we take to religion, spirituality, yoga, meditation, or a life of God, as people may think, we are not lifting ourselves to a high, lofty, elevated realm whereby we look down upon the crass Earth of matter. It is an inward adjustment of ourselves with That which really is – and we know what really is there. We have thought well to appreciate that whatever may be there anywhere is that with which we are connected and, therefore, it is incumbent upon us to be in a state of meditation always, if meditation is our obligation to be in tune with that which is outside us. Else, we will be in a state of restlessness of mood and agony of spirit. Such a simple and humble way of living is yoga.

The humility that is usually associated with great wisdom of life is a necessary consequence that follows from the invariable association of oneself with all things. The superiority complex that may enter into the mind of any unwary person is an unfortunate consequence of not considering all the aspects of one’s associations with the world. The mind of the human being is made in such a way that it cannot think all things at the same time. There is something which it misses always, and that which it misses becomes the target of its opinion, positive or negative, because there is no need to hold any opinion about that with which we are invariably related. The life of opinion is transcended automatically by the life of the superior reason, by which we do not have to hold any opinion about anything in the world. That state of affairs does not arise because of the fact that there is nothing on which we have to hold an opinion. This is the case because that which usually remains as an object on which we have to pass judgment, or regarding which we have to hold an opinion, is no more that which we have to look upon as an extraneous something – because the notion of an extraneous something is the notion of non-yoga, non-meditation.

Meditation, therefore, is inward communion. The word ‘inward’ also has to be understood in its proper spirit. Inwardness does not mean here the abstraction of any kind of relationship with the outer world. It is not to be understood in this sense. To close the doors and close the eyes and be seated in a mood of thinking personally need not necessarily mean inwardisation of spirit. The word ‘inward’, to be understood in the sense of yoga and true meditation, means that capacity of consciousness to feel its presence in the very thing which it considers as its content or object. We are driving to the point which yoga considers as samadhi. It is an inwardisation in the sense that the so-called object, or the external environment, does not anymore remain as an external content of the contemplating consciousness, but becomes that with which it has to tune itself in such an intensive manner that it is its own self. As I mentioned, the skin of our body is our own self; it is not an object that we have to think as if it is outside us. As the skin of our body is ourselves, the object of our thought is also ourselves. We need not have to think of it anymore, further on, as we might have been thinking of it earlier.

So, the meditation in which the consciousness engages itself during yoga is an inwardisation in a very, very special sense. The contemplative process of consciousness is inward because it has no outward object to think at that time. The outwardness, or externality, or the position of a thing as if it is there in front, ceases to be operative because of the consciousness contemplating the basic relationship of itself with that object in such a way that it has already become a limb of a larger body of consciousness. I come back to the analogy of the parliament house. A really dispassionate and unselfish sacrificing member of the parliament will not consider other members as outside objects. He will consider them as limbs of his own larger body. The parliament is only a body of which the so-called person is a member and, therefore, one member cannot consider another as an object, if he is a true patriot and a real statesman. It is one single operation which we call the body here in the analogy of the parliament, or any kind of organisation. A member of an organisation cannot consider another member as an object, because all members constitute a single body.

Hence, the object in meditation is no more an object, because the object – or, for the matter of that, any object whatsoever – becomes such an invariable association of consciousness that the object, as well as the subject contemplating, become features of a larger area of experience. Again to come to the analogy of the parliament house, the parliament is neither this member nor that member; it is something more than all the members put together. It is an impersonal power which brings or cements together all these members called the members of parliament. Actually, the parliament cannot be seen with the eyes. It is a power, a force. It is a universalising principle.

Thus, the thing that we are trying to achieve in meditation is not merely the inward association in a literal sense, to be achieved by the subject in relation to the object. It is inward in a different sense altogether, namely, the transcendent meaning implied in the relationship between the contemplating consciousness and the object is inward to both the two terms of the relation we call the subject and the object – consciousness, and its content. This is something I tried to explain on an earlier occasion. In an act of deep meditation, the consciousness neither thinks of itself nor of the object as an outsider. It is trying to overcome the limit set by its own localised existence and the apparent localised existence of its outwardness in the sense of an object. There is a larger being which includes the meditative subject as well as the object meditated upon. This association of consciousness with that transcendent something lying beyond and yet implicit in both the subject and the object is what we call samadhi in yoga. It is not a mere blankness of the mind; it is an intense awareness of our having broken the limitations of our personality, and also outgrown the limitations of that which we call our object or our environment, to which I made reference already. This is the height of yoga meditation.

Here, we are achieving a purpose which is the purpose of everybody in the world. It is the purpose for which the universe is apparently evolving from stage to stage. It is the intention of the cosmos. In a way, we may say, in the act of meditation we are participating in the purpose of the world, in the intention of the cosmos, in the fulfilment of the direction of the universe as a whole. Thus, there is nothing peculiar, strange, or weird about yoga mediation. It is a most necessary, invariable concomitant of any purposive and large-hearted existence.

Mediation, whatever be the way it pursues, aims at a particular uniform goal or aim. We can climb the top of a hill from many points at the base of the mountain. We can climb to the peak of that mountain or hill from any side, but when we climb up to the peak, we will find that we are in the same place which anyone may have reached through any other way. So, meditation is the peak of yoga, which is attainable through any way, by any road which one can follow according to the direction which one takes or the location in life in which one is placed.

Yoga meditation is, therefore, a simple technique and not a difficult art, but it requires a little bit of leisure of the mind to think by itself. What most people lack is the leisure to think. We are preoccupied with pressures which call our attention in different directions, and find little rests for the mind to feel the need to place itself in this condition of attunement. Actually, this pressure that we feel by the calls of life is an unnecessary intrusion in the very purpose for which we are living in this world, because any pressure is a disharmonised element outside, with which we have not been able to set ourselves in tune. It is a toxic matter which the body cannot tolerate anymore – here, our body being what we are involved in.

It is possible to find leisure even in the midst of intense activity. We may wonder how it is possible, because they are contradictions. Leisure and intensity of any activity are not to be equated with some particular thing. But the engagement of a person in a diversity of pursuits need not necessarily mean the absence on the part of the mind to feel a sort of attunement with these diverse pressures. This is a very subtle psychological point. A pressure is not necessarily something with which we are unconnected. It is something with which we are connected – otherwise, we would not feel its presence. But we may wonder that if we are really connected with it, how does it come upon us like a pressure? It comes upon us like a pressure or a pain because we have not been able to understand the voice with which it speaks, the language which it utters, or its own demands. This pressure called the activity of life which we consider as the cause of our not finding leisure or a moment’s rest is not something unrelated to us because, as I mentioned, if it is unrelated to us, we would not bother about it. It is really related, but there is a miscalculated and disproportionate arrangement between ourselves and itself, and this disproportionate relationship between ourselves and that which is pressing upon us is the cause of our considering this pressure as an undesirable pain.

This is important for even non-yogis to understand, because nobody would like to be under a pressure of any kind. It is a very terrible thing indeed in life. But our difficulty is that we cannot escape from it, because if it is something from which we can escape, we would have shoved it out and thrown it into the ditch, and we could be free from it in one moment. There is a conflict in this peculiar situation we call the pressure in life. And what is conflict? It is an irreconcilable position we are maintaining – irreconcilable because on the one hand we do not like it, and on the other hand we cannot avoid it. Look at this situation, how difficult it is, and what a travesty: we cannot avoid it, and we do not want it.

Now, what are we going to do with that thing which we do not like but we cannot avoid? We know where we are. But we have to find a solution, because we have already said it is unavoidable. If it is unavoidable, the reason why we do not like it has to be explained. We have to go a little deep into this matter: “Why do I not like it, and why is it that I feel a kind of pressure when I have already decided that it is unavoidable? I am speaking in two languages – blowing hot and cold at the same time – when I say I don’t like it and yet it is unavoidable. So, I don’t know what I am speaking when I make statements of that kind.” We cannot be yogins or spiritual heroes or anything meaningful or worthwhile in life if this kind of question goes on harassing our mind day and night. We cannot have peace, let alone yoga meditation. We cannot have rest, we cannot have peace, we cannot lie on our bed for a little sleep, and we do not know on what to place our head.

The difficulty of this kind arises because we are very terribly affirmative in holding opinions about our own selves and about other things. We have an opinion about ourselves which is one hundred percent correct according to ourselves, and we also have a hundred percent correct opinion about that which is called the pressure. Both are hundred percents; and two one hundred percents clash. We cannot have two one hundred percents; it is not possible. A hundred percent is hundred percent.

Here, we may employ an interesting suggestion made by a great thinker. When we are in an atmosphere which we consider as unavoidable and which we do not like, we may adopt this technique. That which we do not like and which is unavoidable is something which we would like to change, so that it may be in harmony with our way of living. If it is possible for us to change the condition in which it is pressing upon us, well and good; we can do that. We can change the whole world, and be happy with it. But if we find that we cannot change it or bring about any kind of circumstantial improvement in the condition which is pressing upon us for reasons well known to us, what is the other way? We have to change ourselves. Either that has to fit into our condition, or we have to fit into that condition. If neither I will budge nor you will budge, there will be war. It can be a war inside our mind, or it can be a war outside in the world; either way it is a war. If we do not want a war either psychologically or socially, we have to adopt one technique, either this way or that way. There cannot be two adverse positions totally irreconcilable with each other.

On a careful investigation into the substance of the matter, we will find that the outward world which is pressing upon us does not require so much to be changed as the need we may feel to change our own self. Again, this dual position which we feel the need to maintain in regard to ourselves and that which is pressing upon us may be overcome and transcended if we take resort to that which is above both ourselves and that which is pressing upon us. The pressure is coming from the object outside, and the pressure is felt by us as individuals. In the Bhagavadgita, towards the end of the third chapter, there is a great teaching which points out that clashes of any kind between the subjective consciousness and the object which is pressing upon it can be overcome only by resort to the Atman – yo buddheh paratastu saha. And what is the Atman? It is that which is neither in us nor in the object, but is in us as well as in the object, so that it is pervading an area larger than that occupied by us as well as the object. The Atman is that which is wider than what we are, wider than what is pressing upon us, and therefore, it is a transcendent presence, though it is immanent in us as well as the object. This is why people say that God is both transcendent and immanent.