Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 34: The Art of Meditation

The human individual is a cross-section of the cosmos. The properties that constitute the stuff of creation are also the constituents of the human personality. The order of creation, as we had occasion to notice during our earlier observations, is encountered in certain stages as spiritual, spatio-temporal, causal, intellectual, mental, vital and physical. The cosmic order is reproduced in the individual. Consciousness involved in the physical has to retrieve itself from such an involvement and ascend upwards through these cosmological degrees of self-expansion, and a widening of the dimension of self-existence, until pure universality becomes the same as self-experience.

The Yoga practice, particularly according to Patanjali, is such a progressive process of self-transcendence. The student of Yoga is expected to be seated in a suitable posture for the purpose of meditation. Since the physical body is made of the same substance as the physical world, it is necessary to set in harmony the build-up of the body with the set-up of the world. This stage of Yoga is called Asana, or the aligning of the physicality of the person with that of the universe. Here the awareness of the oneness of the universe, inclusive of one's own self, greatly helps in the maintenance of 'an attitude of infinitude' (Ananta-Samapatti). This mental adjustment of universal inclusiveness stabilises the body in a fixity of posture for the purpose of preparing oneself for meditation. It is believed that if the student can sit in the posture continuously for three hours, perfection in the Yoga Asana is achieved (Asana-Jaya).

A caution should be added here that perfection in physical position of a healthy nature and robust satisfaction cannot be obtained if the student suffers from any mental pressure from within, such as emotional attachment or personal hatred, frustration caused by unachieved ends, and the like. A loving, unselfish, unattached, self-satisfied, self-complete, simple and great vision of life is to pave the ground firmly even before the Yoga postures are attempted. The prior foundations of a life of Yoga are known as Yamas, preceding the stage of the Asana posture. There is also a conditioning discipline known as Niyamas, consisting of the cleanliness of body and mind, understanding and feeling, together with the Yama technique and education prior to the Asana discipline, which actually places the Asana in the third stage of the Yoga ascent. Internal to the body are the vital forces known as Pranas, which generally work disharmoniously in the system due to desires, passions and aversions, whose regularisation constitutes the fourth stage of Yoga, achieved through harmonised breathing – inhalation, retention and exhalation, a process known as Pranayama, the fourth ascending rung in Yoga. The more difficult stages are further on, commencing from the fifth step called Pratyahara, or the student of the very activity of the sense organs. The senses persistently report that the world is outside oneself, the objects of the world are either desirable or undesirable, and the only way of establishing a relation with the world of objects is a sort of social commerce with it, as people generally do in their relation with people other than their own selves. Here the senses make one forget that the world is organic to oneself and it is futile to endeavour to maintain a political relation or a social contract with the objects of the world. The same rule applies to one's relations with other people and things in the world. The cessation of the impetuosity of the senses cannot easily take place in an atmosphere of bewildering social relations or tense conditions of human existence. Usually the student is advised to live in a solitary place where there are fewer chances of the senses contemplating external things. This is why Yoga students mostly resort to forest and mountain areas, Ashramas, temples or monasteries, riversides or ocean shores, for the purpose of ameliorating the intensity of sense activity. This is the fifth stage in Yoga known as Pratyahara.

The actual encounter in Yoga commences with Dharana, or concentration of mind, which is the sixth stage in Yoga. The mind is herein habituated to fix itself on the noblest of objects, the greatest of purposes and the highest aim of life. In the earlier stages the concept of the object of concentration is oriented by an external location of it, since it is difficult for anyone to imagine that anything can be without a spatial position or abode. It is up to the student to choose what kind of object would be best suited for this purpose, which is done in a process called initiation from a competent Teacher. Concentration cannot be achieved in the fullest measure if the object chosen is not as satisfying to the feelings as the other things and values in the world. This is why it is said that the object should be Ishta, or beloved, since the beloved is a term used in respect of that dearer than which nothing can exist in the world. But here the lovableness of the object is not to be compared with any kind of love that can be evinced in respect of worldly things, however glorious and attractive they may be. The reason is that things in the world are perishable in their nature, and the chance of acquiring true satisfaction from anything in the world is not only remote, but even imaginary. Nothing that is entirely outside oneself can bring permanent satisfaction. The Ishta is, therefore, a Devata, or a god, at the same time, since the concept of godliness in an object raises it above all attractions of other things in the world. The object of concentration is, therefore, known as the Ishta-Devata, the beloved god. Meditation, Dhyana, is the continuing of concentration for a prolonged period, and here one is in the seventh stage of Yoga.

Meditation is the pinnacle of the Yoga technique. In the initial stages the externality of the object of meditation is to be bestowed sufficient consideration. All things are in space and time, and even so is the great objective in Yoga. It may be a divinity, an incarnation, a god, and even the concept of the Almighty Himself. There is a spatial circumference surrounding the great object, necessitated by the very law of thought, or the working of the mind. The mind can not think anything non-spatial. This may be a natural limitation to which the mind is bound, but the limitation, when it is real, needs due respect. Erroneous notions cannot leave us when our minds are made of those notions themselves. So, this degree of reality has to be paid its due by resort to meditation on the chosen object as the Great One standing before oneself, seated, or otherwise posed before the meditating mind. The greatness of the object pours beams of power and grace on the mind, and a sense of enhancement of vigour and strength within oneself is felt in meditation, as one may feel warmth before the sun, power and glory before a great personality, composure and satisfaction in the presence of anything whose dimensions of operation exceed one's own. People worship the deity in rituals, offer to it prayers, prostrate themselves before it, sing songs of its glory and engage themselves in ecstatic dance in its stimulating presence. But the devotional fervour in meditation is so intense that the externality of the object gradually tends to melt away in an internality of experience, due to the empathy established by the meditating thought-process. In one of his aphorisms Patanjali states that the profundity of meditation bridges the gulf between the meditator and the object in such a way that the object begins to be reflected in the meditating mind, and the mind enters into the substance of the object, so that, in the equilibrium and balancing of the subject-object relation, one cannot know whether the subject is meditating on the object, or the object is contemplating the subject. As water flows in an undisturbed and limpid manner from one tank or reservoir into another when both are on a common level, and one cannot say which one flows into which, the object of meditation and the meditating mind are in a boundless internality of harmony in which the subject and the object merge into a unitary coalescence and widened self-experience.

Dhyana, meditation, culminates in utter union, a melting down of the subject-object relation in a transcendence of the duality of these perceptional phases, a state known as Samadhi, or the equilibrium of consciousness and the universe in an experience lifted above spatial separation and temporal duration. These stages we learn in the system of Patanjali.