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In the Light of Wisdom
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 17: What Meditation Is

In our efforts at meditation we are likely to get bored and tired after a few minutes, and the very thought of having to sit for meditation may frighten many minds because of certain feelings which the mind cannot explain properly. We have been accustomed to a certain way of thinking, and it is hard for us to get out of this rut of the processes of thought with which we have been born and with which we have lived our lives. A very strange phenomenon of our minds is that we cannot think except in terms of work, duty, function or activity. When we sit for meditation, the sitting also seems to us to be a kind of activity in which we have to be engaged. That is why we get frightened. We do not like to do work if it can be avoided. We do work only when we are unable to avoid it—otherwise we will not do work. This is a very plain fact of life. Nobody will do work unless one is compelled, and the rare moments of time when we voluntarily do work are those occasions when we are going to be positively benefited and satisfied by that work.

Now, what is meditation? First of all it is a task, or at least that is how the mind will take it. If we are asked to meditate, that means we have been asked to do something. Meditation is therefore a ‘doing'. We do not like any kind of doing, first of all, but there are occasions when we like the doing, when it will bring us some satisfaction or some advantage. Now, will meditation bring anything? If it is merely a work that I have to do because I have been asked to do it, then I will not do it—unless of course my boss threatens to fire me. Meditation, even in its higher stages, looks like a kind of work that we have to do.

So it is that, whenever we try to sit for meditation, we complain that we have no time, because for doing anything at all we need time. All work requires time, and meditation is work for us. That is how the mind takes it, and so we have no time to engage in this practice. Are we happy that we have to sit for meditation, or do we take it as a kind of engagement in our day? That is how we have to analyse the situation in meditation, if meditation is to become successful. If meditation is a kind of work that has come upon us, we cannot meditate because nobody likes to work, and therefore nobody would like to meditate either. It is difficult to imagine that meditation will bring something positive. We are told about it, of course, in the scriptures, and those people who are regarded as yogins also speak about its importance and necessity.

But what do I feel? “I cannot understand this. I will just have to take their word for it, that is all.” That is how the mind will speak to us. If many people say that meditation is good, I may also think that it is good. But my heart may not acquiesce, because I cannot be really happy merely because I have been told that I should be happy. Someone can go on telling me, “Be happy!” but how can I be happy merely because I get this instruction? Happiness cannot come just because somebody asks us to be happy. In a similar way, I cannot sit for meditation with satisfaction merely because someone wants me to do it. If this is the attitude of the mind, meditation will not be successful.

We have to meditate—that is the first and foremost thing to remember. Point number one: we have to meditate, and nobody else can do it for us. Number two: we cannot meditate merely because somebody else asks us to do it—even if it be our Guru or a teacher, it makes no difference. We are not going to meditate merely because we have been asked to do it, because the will resents any kind of pressure. The act of meditation, if at all it is an act of the mind, is wholly voluntarily and never an object of mandate or compulsion. Please remember, meditation is not an action or a work. Merely because it is thought to be a kind of activity or work, we many a time resent it somehow. In such a case it would be better to go for a long walk and have a look at things rather than sit with closed eyes, not seeing anything.

We like activity which gives freedom to the nerves and the mind, and not activity which locks up the activity of the mind. If the process of meditation has not been properly grasped in its inner implications, it will not be successful. It has not brought joy to the heart, and when we come out of meditation, we have not felt anything different. We have only spent an hour of time—that is all that we seem to know. We sat one hour, but what have we gained? That we cannot say. We cannot gain anything, because we have gone to the practice with a mask on our face—the mask of prejudicial thinking and the mask of thinking in terms of activity, work, function and duty.

We do not know anything except work. “What do you do for work? What does he do?” These are the ways in which we measure the circumstances of a person—so if a person does not “do” anything, he is nothing. No one else would want to be associated with someone who does nothing. This is how we think and how we have been taught to think. Unfortunately, this is not the only way of thinking and perhaps it is not the correct way of thinking. We are something in addition to what we do. Meditation is concerned with what we are and not with what we do, and what can give us more satisfaction than the fact that we are something?

Do we want satisfaction because of doing something or because we are something? We know very well, all our actions are associated with our being. The actions proceed from us and they rebound upon us—pleasurably or otherwise. In the field of causation it is called ‘karma', and in the field of ethics it is called ‘pleasure and pain'. When the actions of our being do not produce reactions of any kind, then action becomes meditation. Action is not differentiated from meditation when action ceases to produce reaction. Actions which produce reactions are worldly actions, and these give us pleasure and pain. But the meditational activity which will not produce reaction of any kind—because it is a movement of being within itself—will generate a joy which is not in the form of a reaction.

Being Contemplating Being

Generally, our pleasures and satisfactions are of the form of a reaction that has been set up. We do something and a reaction is set up—that is called pleasure or pain. Meditation on the other hand is a kind of function of the mind which absorbs all reactions into itself. The character of being rather than doing is maintained throughout in the process of meditation. It is being contemplating being in meditation, not being expressing itself as action. We are concerned with ourselves in meditation and not with anything else. Even where some other factors seem to be associated with us in meditation, these factors are to be so identified with us that they cease to be external to us. Even if it be a meditation on a concept of God—whatever be our concept of God—that meditation would become successful only when that God of our meditation is vitally connected with us in such a way that He cannot exist independently of us, and we cannot exist independent of Him.

When an object of meditation stands outside us as unrelated to us and as something with which we have no inner connection or contact, that object of our meditation will always cause distraction to the mind. The object will be among the many things in the world demanding exclusive attention, but at the same time it is capable of giving rise to a reaction from the other objects on which we are not meditating. The thought process in meditation is wholly integrational. It is cognisant of the positive in the form of the chosen ideal and also the negative in the form of the ideas that are excluded in meditation. Objects that are different from the chosen ideal generally stir up a reaction. This is why there is a jumping of the mind in meditation. Attention on one thing and inattention to something else which we believe is also equally existent is the cause of the movement of the mind away from the chosen ideal.

There are two methods of approach. One is to also associate the other things vitally and internally with the chosen ideal in meditation. The other is to take at once all things into our consideration at the same time, so that the many objects of the world become only various shapes of one object in its completeness. There are at least two or three factors involved in successful meditation. The first is that the object of meditation should not stand apart from us, as if unconnected with us—like a cow or something which we see outside. We cannot meditate like that, because the object of meditation must have some sort of inner relation with us. That is one thing. Second, the object of meditation should not create a tension between itself and other objects excluded from the thought of meditation. It should be internally connected, not only with us, but also with the other things of the world with which it has to be harmoniously set.

The third point is that we must have a longing for the chosen ideal. Our heart should move towards it. We must love the object of our meditation. It should be our ishta, which means in Sanskrit ‘the beloved'. It is an ishta—we love it so much that nothing can be so attractive as that; it is like God for us—a devata. So, the object of our meditation is called ishtadevata. Thus one chooses the ideal in meditation and integrates the mind with that object. One should establish an inner relationship with it as well as other things in the world, and love it wholeheartedly.

If one takes to the practice of meditation, one will begin to notice certain responses. The mouth may get dried up, the nerves may get tense in the beginning, or a slight numbness of the body and insensibility of the extremities may occur. Certain characteristics are akin to the condition immediately upon going to sleep. Of course, in sleep we cannot feel this, but in meditation we are conscious of what is taking place in the body. The saliva in the mouth will diminish slowly and there will be a dryness of the mouth due to concentration. The nerves in the beginning will feel tense, and then afterwards there will be some relaxation. There may be a slight numbness, especially of the feet, then a numbness of the whole body—particularly the sense organs. They will appear to get shrunken. Lastly, we will feel as if we have been infused with some force. In the beginning it may be like touching a live wire. Some energy is creeping in—not strong like a live wire, but mild. Then we will feel that a sort of strength flows through our nerves. This will be felt only if the concentration has been good; otherwise we won't feel it.

These are all stages of feeling, and there are many such stages. Later on, after this feeling of a creeping sensation through the nerves and a deadening of the physical system, the meditator will feel a joy. We do not know from where it comes. Sweetness is the word that we can use for this type of joy. We will feel a kind of sweetness in the system. Everything will look sweet inside—like honey. There is a section in the Upanishads which compares the state of a particular meditative consciousness to a flow of honey. Like that we will feel honey is dripping. It won't drip from any particular part of the body, but we will feel a kind of sensation of sweetness like that of honey. Strength and sweetness and delight—all we will feel together. Power, sweetness and delight will all come together in the state of proper concentration.