What is Knowledge
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: The Stages of Samadhi

In the specialised system of meditation, as we have it in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there is a novel and very interesting method prescribed for every student, which may be said to go directly into the heart of the matter. What is it that we are meditating upon? What does the mind think when it meditates? It may appear, as it is sometimes felt by most people, that the mind is blank and thinks nothing in meditation; but it is not blank or literally a nothingness, because the emptiness or blankness which the mind may seem to maintain is also to become a conscious experience.

In meditation, one does not become unconscious; and if one is conscious that the mind is not thinking anything, one must be clear as to what one is actually saying when making such statements. What do we mean by saying that we are conscious of nothingness? It is a statement whose meaning cannot be very clear so easily. It is a state of awareness. But if it is an awareness of a blankness or a nihil, then that blankness or zero has to become an object of consciousness. It has to become a content thereof.

While there is some great point in the teaching that the mind does not think anything in a state of meditation, it can easily be misinterpreted by novitiates. While the blankness may easily be identified with a cessation of all thought minus consciousness, turbidity or torpidity of mind can nevertheless be a state of stability because sattva and tamas have certain similar characteristics – namely, fixity, stability, and a sort of immovability, we may say.

Intense awareness may look like no awareness at all. Hence, the absence of any kind of consciousness may look like a state of intense concentration of mind. This is known as stabdha avastha, or the cessation of all activity of the mind. But cessation of activity need not necessarily be associated with a consciousness of that cessation of activity. We are not conscious that we are not active in the state of sleep. We are not active in sleep, but we are not conscious that we are not active. This is a very important demarcating point. The essential behind any worthwhile state of concentration of mind is the kind of awareness that is maintained.

Now we come to the point of the pre-eminent method prescribed by Patanjali, on which he does not expatiate too much, nor does he seem to enter into great detail about it, though this is the central point of his system of meditation. Whatever be the object of our meditation, let it be this or that, this particular thing we call the object of our thought is a peculiar blend of three characteristics. This definition of the object of thought is the novel instruction of Sage Patanjali. The three factors which contribute to make the object of thought what it is are to be understood carefully before one tries to concentrate or meditate upon that object.

What are these three features that go to constitute the object of thought? The object as such is something by itself. It maintains an existence of its own. It has a status which it maintains, as every one of us may be said to have a status of our own. We are something, in spite of there being no relationship of ours with anything whatsoever. When we are bereft of connection with everything, deprived of every possession, and reduced to the condition of a practical nothing in terms of external relationship, we may still be something in ourselves. Minus all external relations, we do not become a nothing. It is impossible for us to conceive that we can be a nothing at any time, under any circumstances. When we are rid of every possession and there is nothing that we can call our own, and there is nothing with which we can establish any kind of contact or relation either externally or internally, we are reduced to a barest minimum of what we are. Even that barest minimum of whatever we may be is something, and not nothing. This is what we call the status of a particular thing. That which remains in a particular thing even if it is divested of every kind of relationship or interpretative association – that barest substantiality of the very root of anything – is the status, or what we may call the ultimate reality of that thing. This is one feature of any object, including our own selves. This is one aspect or feature of the constitution of what we call the object.

There is a second factor which goes to constitute what we may say is the appearance of the object to thought or consciousness. This second feature is the characterisation or the definition of that object, in terms of which it is known as something, as distinguished from something else. A tree is different from a stone. That which distinguishes the tree from the stone is the conglomeration of characteristics which can be seen only in that thing we call the tree, and cannot be found in anything which is not a tree. When we say that there is ‘something’, we mean that this so-called ‘something’ is possessed of certain characteristics, or qualities, attributes, properties, by which we specify that thing by what is called psychological definition. Unless we have a psychological definition in our minds of any particular thing, that thing cannot be distinguished from something else. This differentia, or visesha, as it is called in Indian philosophy – this specialised heap of characters attributed to a particular thing which makes it possible for a perceiving subject to know that it is something distinguished from something else – is the second character, feature, of the object.

The nomenclature is one feature by which we know or think of a particular thing. The utterance of a particular name rouses in our minds the form of that object which is referred to by this particular name or definition. The association of the form of the object with this characterisation or nomenclature is so intense that it is not possible for a person to think anything else at that time, except that particular form which is supposed to be indicated by that definition. When I utter the word ‘tree’, you cannot think of a ‘stone’ or something else. It is impossible for you to think of anything else except that thing which is considered as ‘tree’ by everybody else. No other idea can enter the mind except the idea of that thing, which is to be known as that thing only because of the association of a given form with a particular nomenclature. This is a sort of limitation we impose upon the independent status of the object, and whether or not the object as such is concerned with that definition or nomenclature, for the percipient this is a very important particular thing.

We are all called by certain names, and we know how important that name is. The importance of our name is such that we cannot for a moment be dissociated from our name. “I am so and so; my name is such.” Now, we know very well how meaningless a name is when there is no necessity to define oneself in terms of that name. If we are alone somewhere, and we are not going to be known or seen or contacted by anybody, our name has no sense for us, because nobody is going to call us by that name and we do not require to be called by ourselves in terms of that name. So, it is possible under certain circumstances to be free from association of names, though as social beings, we have never been placed under those conditions where names are not necessary. However, it is not a total impossibility. The object that is known, therefore, independent of whatever it may be by itself, is also definable by certain relational characteristics – namely, name, nomenclature, word, definition.

The third feature which Patanjali mentions is the idea that we have about something. The conditioning of the object by the way of thinking is a very central point in philosophical studies. What is the relationship that mind maintains, or thought maintains, or consciousness maintains, in relation to what it thinks or knows? Does the mind determine the object? There are thinkers called Idealists who emphasise the conditioning power of the mind of the percipient, which influences the nature of the object of perception when it is perceived. The Idealist doctrine is that nothing can be known as it is, except in terms of the mould into which it is cast by the structure of the mind that thinks. Realism, which is opposed to Idealism, holds that objects are directly perceived by the mind, and the form of the object as known by the mind is not merely a duplicate, a copy, or a conditioned reflection of the object. It is a direct something, as it is in itself. However, we are not concerned here with these quarrels of the Realists and Idealists.

The point that yoga makes out in the context of meditation is that some interaction takes place between the object and the thought that thinks the object, whether or not this conditions that, or that conditions this. Now, the fact that there is an interaction taking place between mind and the object is to be taken into consideration, because any kind of interaction is a contribution that is made mutually by two parties. At least some contribution is made by someone, because every perception is a maintenance of a relation between consciousness and object. We have thought over this matter adequately on earlier occasions, and we have also seen how difficult it is to understand what sort of relation is maintained between consciousness and object. This relation has also been found to be a mysterious, intriguing something, which maintains an independence of some sort, so that it is able to distinguish between the percipient and the object. The relation between the seer and the seen cannot be identified either with the seer or the seen. We know very well what consequence will follow if it is going to be merged either with the seer or the seen. If the relation between the seer and the seen belongs only to the seer and not to the seen, there would be no relation between the seer and the seen, because it has already got merged with the seer. If it belongs to the seen and not to the seer, then also there is no connecting link between the seer and the seen, because it has become identified with the seen.

Somehow, the fact of the external perception of an object necessitates the operation of a third thing called relation, which can neither be identified with the seer nor with the seen. This situation implies that any perception of an object is not a simple entry of the object into the mind without any transformation taking place at the time of perception. This particular ideational transformation, which takes place in the perception of an object, is a third conditioning factor, which need not necessarily be identical with the independent character of the object in itself. The thing as such cannot be known as long as it remains totally outside the thinking process or is placed outside, external to the senses.

Thus, what is one to do in the meditation of an object? What is our purpose in meditation? What do we intend at all in our endeavour called meditation? Our endeavour is simple. We have to know the object as it is, and we wish to identify ourselves with it, possess it, control it, and know it thoroughly, root and branch. To know a thing as it is in itself can be said to be a real knowledge of the thing. To imagine some characteristics in something is not to know it as it is. To hold some opinion about a thing may be some kind of information, but we know very well how conditioned it is, and how hard removed it can be from the true nature of the object as it is in itself.

Patanjali says that if meditation is to be an attempt on the part of consciousness to know a thing as it is in itself, it has to be freed from the notion which one has about it, and also freed from the nomenclature with which it is characterised, or by means of which it is defined. I must know you independent of your name, and I must know you independent of the way in which I am able to think of you. This is not an easy thing, as we know very well. It is ordinarily impossible to dissociate a thing from its name. The idea of the name immediately jumps into the mind, and also the notion which one holds about that particular thing – it is of this nature, it is of this character, it is related to me in this particular manner, etc. – is also impossible to avoid.

How will we avoid it, if it is supposed to be an absolute necessity that knowledge of a thing as it is in itself is practicable and desirable? Everyone will accept that knowledge should be pure and unadulterated. Adulterated, conditioned knowledge is no real knowledge, and if true knowledge of a particular thing – or anything, for the matter of that – is desirable, and one thinks it is possible, it has to be freed from these external associations either by means of ideational thinking – holding of a notion about it – or from any kind of verbal definition.

Sabda, artha, jnana are the three terms used in the sutra of Patanjali. By artha he means the substantiality of a thing. By jnana he means the notion one holds about that thing. By sabda he means the characterisation of that thing by name or definition. So, freeing an artha – or a substance as it is in itself – from external associations, either by way of definition or ideation, is the first step. Perhaps it is the only step.

How do we do this? This is a great feat of the power of the will. A tremendous strength of will is necessary to free oneself from conditioning psychological factors when dealing with any particular person, thing, or even situation. A total dispassion of outlook may be called for. It has to be total, because there should not be any preconceived ulterior notion or motive in this attempt. It is not that I should know you as I want to know you, but I should know you as you would like to be known – also, as you would like to be known in the sense you really are, not in the sense you think you are.

Hence, appearance is to be broken through in order that reality may be penetrated and contacted in meditation. These are the secrets of what is called initiation in yoga, and are not details which are explained in any textbook. We will not find it in the sutras of Patanjali or any book on Vedanta or yoga, because while it may appear that it is clear to us, it is really not so, because it is not possible to make everything clear to a mind which is not prepared for this task of utterly clearing the path of its knowledge of an object. We are all, as human beings, accustomed to think of the world in a given fashion, and yoga tells us that this fashion should be overcome.

The fashion of our thinking is a very part of our social and individualised existence itself. In order that we may overcome this limitation set upon us by our personality and our social existence, we have first of all to rid ourselves of our individualised associations, as well as the preconceived notions which we may be already entertaining in our minds – not only in regard to an object, but even in regard to our own selves. In meditation, it is not that we are dealing merely with some object; we are also dealing with ourselves at the same time. Here, again, we have to repeat the point we emphasised earlier – that the so-called object in meditation is not a totally outside something, because the attempt in meditation is not merely to contact an external something, but to free the so-called something from the externality in which it is involved. Here we have to exercise our thought a little bit to know what actually this means. The object we are thinking of in our mind is placed outside us somewhere, either physically or even psychologically, and the thing – the objective we want to achieve in meditation – is to free that so-called something standing there as an object from the externality in which it is involved.

We are told later on that this externality is nothing but the placement of a thing in space and time. Anything that is in space or in time is externally related, and it is impossible to free anything from this involvement in externality as long as it is thought to exist in space and time. So, a further step is taken by Patanjali’s instruction when he says that a stage has to come in our meditation when it must be possible for us to contemplate the object not necessarily as placed in space and time, but independent of space and time. This is not something that is to be attempted by the force of will, because any pressure exerted by the will on the nature of the object of contemplation will not permit the freedom of the object from the thought of involvement in space and time. We ourselves are in space and time. I think I am here, and I think you are there. This idea of my being here and your being there is the idea of something being in space and time; and something being in space and time means something being external to the other. If something is external to the other, there cannot be internal relationship; there cannot be union, communion, fraternal feeling, or any kind of worthwhile, positive interaction.

Hence, when instruction is given by Patanjali in respect of the necessity to free the object as such from association with notions and definitions, at the same time he also intends to tell us that we have to find a way of contemplating a thing as not placed in space and time. How is it possible? Is it possible to think anything as not placed in space and time? Is there anything in the world which is not in space and time? There is nothing. Then where comes the question of contemplating a thing independent of space and time? While it is true that there is nothing which is not in space and time, and therefore it may appear that there is no way of thinking a thing independent of space and time, yet there is something above all these things.

In philosophical circles, certain schools of thinking tell us again and again that a thing as such can never be known because all thinking is through space and time and by the conditions of thought; therefore, there is no such thing as knowing a thing as it is in itself. We may feel for the time being we are satisfied with this kind of statement of the philosopher, because we know very well what actually he means. We accept the fact that our minds are accustomed to think in a particular way only. There is a set, logical way of thinking, and we cannot jump out of this set mould of logical thought. So it is true that even when we are trying to think in a super-logical way, we are not actually freeing ourselves from the conditions in which the very thought is involved. But, that there is something called the thing as it is in itself, and it cannot be known under the circumstances of the placement of the mind in space and time, is a subtle suggestion that it is possible to contact the thing as it is in itself – because one who knows that it is not possible to contact a thing as it is in itself, also knows that there is a thing as it is in itself. This knowledge cannot be considered to be conditioned knowledge, because conditioned knowledge will never permit even the idea that there can be anything independent of phenomenal involvement. This is something about the philosophical difficulties involved in our attempt to free things from involvement in space and time.

But there is something which cannot be identified with location in space and time, and that is our own selves. However much, physically speaking, we may feel that we are involved in space and time, there is something in us, something we call ‘ourselves’, something that I call ‘myself’, the peculiar ‘I’ or the ‘we’ which thinks that there is what is known as space and time. The consciousness of space and time is the crucial point here that one has to consider. The consciousness of the fact that there is something called space and time and that everything is involved in space and time, itself cannot be involved in space and time. This is a very subtle point. If we know that everything is involved in space and time, this knowledge of the fact that everything is involved in space and time should stand outside space and time. Thus, our immortal rootedness, the pure consciousness that we are, is something which is not in space and time, because it is the knower of space and time, however much we may be forced to think that we are always in space and time.

The Yoga Sutra, or any system of yoga, catches hold of this point. If there is something in us which knows the involvement of things in space and time, and therefore that something in us cannot itself be part and parcel of space and time, this can also be said to be the essence of every other object. If we can consider ourselves essentially as something not in space and time, anyone else also can think in the same way, and all objects in the world – even an atom, even a particle of sand – can be thought of in terms of something by itself, and capable of being known as not involved in space and time. This non-involved something which knows the involvements in space and time is the eternity that is speaking through temporality. The eternal something in us speaks in its own style that everything is temporally involved, and the knowledge of temporality cannot itself be a part of temporality. This eternity that is in someone is also the eternity that is in everyone else. Thus, we may say the whole universe is basically eternal – essentially, of course, not as it appears phenomenally, as an involved something.

Now, Sage Patanjali tells us it is possible for us to enter into the essence of the object, as we have been able to enter into our own essence and come to the conclusion that there is something in us which is not so involved in space and time. This contemplation of any particular thing as something in itself, not involved in space and time, would be to attempt at a union with that object. What prevents us from coming in union with anything? It is the externality of the object. That which is outside is always outside – it cannot become something that is inside – and, as we have noted, the outsideness of a thing is the spatio-temporality of that thing, or the conditioned character of that thing in space. So, the freedom of the object from the thought of involvement in space and time is at once the grasping of the eternal principle that is in that object. And eternity is not temporality; it is not time, it is not space.

But you may ask me, “How do I do this, finally? What is it that you expect me to do? Here again comes the question of a personal training and a position which is called initiation. The mind has to be first of all prepared for this instruction. If a very subtle and intricate method of thinking is forced on an unprepared mind, what will happen is that either no consequence will follow – nothing will happen at all, as nothing will happen to the rock if we pour water on it, as water will not enter into it – or there can be an undesirable reaction set up by the mind. There can be aberration of thought because of the unpreparedness of the mind. Such subtle thinking cannot be forced into the mind of any person unless it is prepared for it, and it is well known that the preparatory stages are very carefully defined for us in the earlier stages of yoga, known as the yamas and niyamas, and the sadhana chatushtaya, etc. The internal preparation of the psyche for the reception of this technique is important, lest the mind find itself totally incompetent and unprepared for this purpose.

The final point is that in the last onslaught of meditation, the presence of this principle of eternity is recognised in everything else, particularly in the object of meditation, not by the means of a thought thinking an object, or much less the sense conceiving it, but by the soul that contemplates. True meditation is a performance of the soul, and not merely a thought of the mind. We are not merely thinking something in meditation, we are ‘being’ something; and we know very well how different our ‘being’ is from the way in which we think. Our ‘being’ is what we call our soul, and we embrace that object as a soul in itself. As we have a status of our own, the object also has a status of its own. We called this status the soul of the thing. It is soul entering into soul. What do we mean by the soul? It is, to repeat once again, that very thing which we consider as something which cannot be regarded as involved in space and time.

Anyone can imagine how difficult this feat is. It is difficult, no doubt, but the difficulty arises due to the prejudices of our mind. We have inborn traits of thinking which we have taken for granted as the only real ways of thinking. “I have been born and brought up in this way of thinking; this is the only way of thinking, and there is no other way.” There is some other way, and this has to be known first and foremost.

The instruction in regard to meditation on the object prescribed according to the system of Patanjali is the grasping of the object as such by that which we are essentially. That is, our total being is engaged in a process of total awareness, and not engaged in perceptual activity or the thought as a sort of concept. Meditation on an object is not a concept of the object, much less a percept of the object. It is a ‘being’ contemplating a ‘being’, whereby we may be said to be actually contemplating that object as if we are that object itself. This would be the result that may follow, finally. In the heights of meditation, we are told that a consciousness of the object reaches such intensity of experience that one does not know whether it is ‘A’ meditating on ‘B’ or ‘B’ meditating on ‘A’, whether we are contemplating the object or the object is contemplating us, because that thing which we originally called an object ceases to be an object.

Why the object should cease to be an object in meditation will be known to us if we go back to the earlier lessons, wherein we learned that the universe is an interrelated completeness, an organic totality, where nothing can be regarded as an object, and nothing is a cause, nothing is an effect. So, the idea that one part of the organism is an object of another is not a correct idea of the object. And meditation, according to the system of yoga, is therefore an endeavour of consciousness to reach up to its cosmic level of the interrelatedness of things – wherein, in which condition, nobody is a thinker of anything, and also nobody is a ‘thought-of’. There is a cosmic interconnectedness, so that the whole universe stands supreme as a single awareness. This is what is called Universal Being – the aim of yoga.

Om Purnamadah Purnamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate
Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamevavasishyate
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih