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The Spiritual Import of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: The Art of Meditation

Dhyana yoga, or the art of meditation, is the subject of the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita. The subject of the collecting of the forces of one's personality into a centre is the great theme of this chapter. The dissipated energies of one's individual personality, which channelise themselves through the senses in the direction of objects, are conserved and raised to a higher level of potency for the purpose of an ascent in a vertical direction, we may say, towards the realisation of the highest Self of the cosmos. So at the very beginning of the chapter we are asked to raise ourselves by our own selves—uddhared atmanatmnam. The self has to be raised by the Self, uplifted by the Self. We ourselves are to lift our own selves. The difficulty in the practice of this yoga is precisely in this interesting feature, namely, that the manipulator and that which is manipulated are one and the same. The meditator and that which is meditated upon do not stand apart as two principles or elements cut off from one another, but they combine to constitute a power by which the higher level has to be reached through the transcendence of the lower level. Uddhared atmanatmanam natmanam avasadayet: We should not deprecate or create despondency in ourselves. We should not condemn ourselves; we should not regard ourselves as weaklings, as nobodies, as sinners, as helpless victims, etc. This is not the attitude that we have to develop in regard to ourselves. We are none of these things—we are not helpless, we are not sinners, and we are not victims. All these are erroneous fabrications of the false personality, which is the obstacle to a clear perception of the truth of the universe.

We are always to tread the path of positivity and never the path of negativity. The whole art of yoga is a question of absorption of values and not of negation or repulsion. The more we are able to assume the attitude of absorption, comprehension, collaboration, cooperation, etc., the less we will find the necessity to repel, reject or to condemn things. The so-called objects, the so-called things of the world and circumstances which are regarded mostly as outside the self of one's own being, are to be brought into our own selves from the objects and the various environments outside. Uddhared atmanatmanam natmanam avasadayet, atmaiva hy atmano bandhur atmaiva ripur atmanah: We have no enemies except our own selves and we have no friends except our own selves. Atmaiva hy atmano bandhur: The Self is the friend of the self, and the Self is also the enemy of the self.

Now, the word 'Self', or Atman, is used in two different senses. The higher Self and the lower self are both indicated by the common denomination of the word 'self'—we may say the self with a small 's' and the Self with a capital 'S'. The higher Self is the friend of the lower self, and it is also the enemy of the lower self under different conditions. Just as the law is a friend of the citizen of a country, it also is an enemy of the citizen of a country, for different reasons. When one obeys the law of an atmosphere, that atmosphere becomes friendly. When one disobeys the law of the atmosphere in which one is placed, that law becomes a punishing medium. So, the higher Self becomes a friend of the lower self when the lower self abides by the law of the higher Self. The higher Self becomes the enemy of the lower self when the lower self asserts its own independent, egoistic attitude, contradicting the requirements of the law of the higher Self.

What is the higher Self, we may be wondering, whose law we have to abide by and whose law we have not to contradict? The higher Self is not some different thing; it is not another person. It is a larger degree of our own personality. It is a wider dimension of what we are in our own selves. It is, to give an example, an adult in comparison with a small baby. Very crudely, in a physical sense, we may say the mature mind and consciousness of a wise adult is the higher self of the baby that knows nothing. But the higher Self here is used in a more significant manner than this analogy would indicate. It is a qualitatively more intense consciousness and a quantitatively larger dimension at the same time. We may also give an example of waking and dream, to make the matter clear. The waking consciousness may be regarded as the higher Self in comparison with the consciousness of the dream subject, which can be regarded as the lower self in comparison with the waking, because the waking consciousness comprehends all that is in dream and determines all the values that go as realities in dream. We should regard that as the higher Self which exceeds the limits of our present personality.

The more unselfish we become, the more we are tending towards the higher Self; and meditation is nothing but the focusing of the consciousness of the lower self in the direction of this higher Self or, we may say, the intention of the selfish individual to become more unselfish in various ways. There are hundreds and hundreds of ways of becoming unselfish, and we know very well what it means. To regard the values which exceed the limits of our physical personality would be a tendency towards unselfishness. But we cling to this body and consider only the physical values of this body as the be-all and end-all of this life. To disregard the lives of others would be a life of selfishness. A person who has a consideration for values which are outside of and transcending his own individual self would be regarded as an unselfish individual.

But the unselfishness that is indicated here, in the art of meditation, is not merely the social definition of unselfishness. Well, a person who has a desire to take care of his family—wife, children, brothers, sisters, etc.—and who does not cling very much to his own bodily individuality would be regarded as an unselfish man. And a person who has love for the whole nation rather than merely his own family, can be regarded as an unselfish man. And a person who has love for the whole of humanity and works for the good of mankind, rather than clinging to the ideals of one's own nationality, can also be regarded as an unselfish person. But here the word 'unselfishness' is used in a more profound sense, not in the social sense of unselfishness—which of course is good in its own way. There is a qualitative enhancement in the realisation of the higher Self in the movement the individual towards the family, or from the family to the nation, or from the nation to the whole of mankind. There is not much of a qualitative transformation, though there is a quantitative increase in the outlook of life. But the higher Self is not merely a quantitative largeness; it is also a qualitative enhancement.

Likewise, we have the example of the waking consciousness, to come to the analogy once again. The waking consciousness is not merely quantitatively larger than the dream consciousness, it is also qualitatively higher. So it is that we are happier in waking life than in dream. We may be emperors in dream and beggars in waking, but a person would be happier to be a beggar in waking than an emperor in dream. That is because the emperorship, or wealth, or whatever value that we may have in dream is a qualitative deprecation; it is inferior in quality, and therefore the beggarhood in waking is superior to the kingship in dream. Though we may say the king is superior to the beggar in economic value, but what of that quality of consciousness? This example is only to give an idea of what the higher Self can be. The higher Self is not merely a physical expansion in the society of people; and so the movement towards God is a little different from becoming unselfish in the purely social sense, though social values, as I said, are preparatory steps for self-purification. All this I am mentioning in connection with the implication of a single verse of the sixth chapter: Uddhared atmanatmanam natmanam avasadayet, atmaiva hy atmano bandhur atmaiva ripur atmanah.

Bandhur atmatmanas tasya yenatmaivatman jitah, anatmanas tu satrutve vartetatmaiva satruvat. He is the friend, the higher Self is our friend only in the case of that person who has overcome the lower self by means of the higher Self. But if the lower self has taken hold of the whole personality, and there is a complete oblivion of even the existence of the higher Self, that higher Self will be an enemy of the lower self. It will come like a thunderbolt, because nobody can violate existing laws; 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' is a saying not merely applicable to man-made laws but also to divine laws. Merely because we do not know the existence of divine law, it does not mean that we can be exempted from the operation of that law. So God Himself acts as an enemy, as it were. Of course, we cannot say that God is an enemy of anybody, but the reaction that is set up by the higher law of God is something like an automatic action of a computer system that has no friends or foes. A computer has no enemies; it has no friends. It depends on how we feed the matter into it. If we wrongly feed it, a wrong result comes, and we cannot say that it is an enemy because a wrong result came—we have fed it wrongly. But if it is properly fed, the correct result comes. As with electricity—we cannot say electricity is a friend or an enemy. If we are able to control it, it is a great harnesser of power, but if we do not know how to manipulate it, it can kick us and finish us off. All laws are of this nature. Every law is impersonal and unprejudiced—there is no friend or foe for it. So it depends upon the extent to which we are in harmony with the regulations and the regulatory laws of the higher Self—to that extent we are successful. All success is a consequence of our alignment with the requirements and laws of the higher Self, and all failure is contrary to it.

Thus is a great dictum that is placed before us by Bhagavan Sri Krishna at the very beginning of the sixth chapter, which is going to describe to us the method of meditation. With this interesting introduction and a very important foundation of values, the practical techniques are described. Yoga is meditation finally, and meditation is a fixing of attention on consciousness. Consciousness pervades the whole body, and our consciousness, secondarily, pervades even our society. This peculiar relationship of ours with human values and things of the world creates a peculiar self outside us, which is known in Sanskrit Vedantic terminology as the gaunatman. A father regards his son as his self; he has so much love for the son that anything that happens to the son appears to happen to his own self, and the same is true in regard to many other things.

So, there is a social self. Social self means the particular person or object with which the consciousness of a person has become identified for a peculiar reason, which varies from person to person. When consciousness identifies itself with any object, that object becomes the self, because consciousness is the self. What we call 'self' is nothing but self-consciousness. But if we are able to transfer our consciousness so intensely and vehemently in respect of a person or an object outside, that person or object becomes the self, and then becomes a centre of attraction and love. That is the so-called artificial self that is created by the identification of consciousness externally with the secondary self, or the gaunatman. There is the bodily self, called the vichataman. We identify ourselves with this body, we identify ourselves with the mind, and we identify ourselves with emotions and with various internal mechanisms. These are all our 'selves'.

And so, yoga being the attention on the Self, it means that all these so-called selves have to be put together in harmony, one with the other. That is why great teachers of yoga, such as Patanjali, have instituted the methods of regulating our consciousness through all these layers of the self, beginning with the social self. The yama and niyama of Patanjali's yoga system are only the methods of organising the social self for the purpose of withdrawing it into the personal self, from which it has emanated as a ray, as it were. From the personal self we go higher up, gradually into the universal Self by the technique of asanas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, etc. The entire system of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is compressed into a few slokas in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Yogi yunjita satatam atmanam rahasi sthitah, ekaki yata-cittatma nirasir aparigrahah. In a secluded place one must seat oneself and concentrate one's whole being. Yoga is the concentration of the totality of our being on the great objective of our lives.

What is this objective? It is the higher self. The higher self also has degrees; we cannot suddenly jump to the highest Self. It is impossible to have even a conception of what the highest Self is. So we have various techniques of meditation wherein we are asked to regard a conceptual self as higher than our present self. The devatas, the deities, the bhagavans of bhakti yoga, the various angels and the digdevatas, the guardians of cosmos, the various gods that we worship in the religions of the world, are all the higher selves, tentatively accepted as necessary objects of meditation, because we have to move from the present state of our self to the immediately succeeding higher self. We cannot have the consciousness of what is beyond that.

For this purpose one has to regulate oneself with a sort of self-discipline, and yoga is self-discipline. Therefore it is necessary to put an end to all distractions, and a distraction is nothing but an agitation of the senses with respect to the objects outside, together with the similar and sympathetic attitude of the mind and the intellect. The mind, intellect and senses have all to be brought under control at one stroke. For this, a little hint has been given also in the third chapter where, in connection with the control of the emotions of the mind, the suggestion given was that: Indriyani parany ahur indriyebhyah param manah, manasas tu para buddhir yo buddheh paratas tu sah—something comparable to a similar verse occurring in the Katha Upanishad. “Above the senses is the mind, above the mind is the intellect, and above intellect is the higher Self.” So, one can control the senses by the mind, and control the mind by the intellect, and control the intellect by the Self. While there is some sort of a similarity of structure and function among the intellect, the mind and the senses, the Self stands apart from all these. The similarity of the intellect, mind and senses in their structure and function is this: they somehow or other acquiesce in their relationship with objects outside. But the Self has no object outside. That is the important distinction that we have to draw between the Self and the intellect, the mind and the senses. So, the intellect, the mind, and the senses can be subdued only by resort to the consciousness of the Self. What is the Self? The Self on which we have to meditate is that which includes the object towards which the senses are moving, and the direction in which the mind also is contemplating.

For the purpose of the achievement of this great success in yoga, one has to carefully regulate one's daily activity. Various types of advice are given to us—we are to be socially free and free from family engagements, we should not have harassment of any kind outside, and emotionally we should be calm. We should not have tension in the nerves, not even in the muscles; all tension should cease. When we are seated in an atmosphere of distraction, we are automatically in a state of tension, and therefore we are asked to move away from human society and be in a secluded place for some time, at least, until we are masters of our own selves. Gradually, says the Bhagavadgita, the senses have to be brought back to their own source. Sanaih sanair uparamed buddhya dhriti-grihitaya, atma-samstham manah krtva na kincid api cintayet.

Gradually, slowly we have to educate the senses, the mind and the intellect, just as a father and a mother educate their children. The children should not be spanked, or threatened, or given unpleasant advice, even if they are going to school. So, a Montessori method or a psychological method, whatever we may call it, may have to be applied in educating the senses. We are like parents, and the senses are like children. Children are very unwieldy. We know very well that all children are naughty; they have their own ways, and it is very difficult to educate them unless, in the earlier stages, we are able to understand the emotions that work in their minds and their idiosyncrasies. So the senses, the mind and the intellect have to be gradually subdued very slowly, just as when we chew our food, slowly from the gross condition it becomes a little pulpy, and they from the pulpy condition it becomes liquid, and from the liquid condition it becomes very subtly adjustable to the alimentary canal of the whole body, then it is digested. If we suddenly gulp solid food into the stomach, it cannot be digested.

Likewise, we have to understand our weaknesses and also our strengths. One of the important things that a yogi or a meditator should do is to investigate into his own self. He has to become his own teacher; he is his own psychologist; he is even a doctor and physician. We have some strength of our own, it is true, but we also have weaknesses. The weaknesses are many a time known to us, and sometimes not known to us. But it is not difficult to know our weaknesses, because when we are absolutely alone we are free, to a large extent, to think in an impartial manner. We are not able to think in an impartial manner when we are in a public place or with a huge group of people, where our minds are diverted in a different direction altogether. When we are absolutely alone for a protracted period, we will be able to know our own subconscious, our desires which are vehemently troubling us—and we have to know how to deal with these desires.

Desires are the impulsions of consciousness in the direction of objects outside, and these impulses are like torrents of flood that bursts the bounds and damages villages and cities. Likewise can be the state of the meditator if he builds a dam across a river which is in flood. He has to have an outlet, a little gate through which the flooding water can escape and the dam may not burst. But if we block the water completely, under the impression that we can control it, there will be devastation and catastrophe. We are a dynamo and a magazine of power, like a river which has been dammed by the building up of a barrage. Hence, it is necessary to know where we have to exercise control, in what measure, to what extent, in what manner, etc. Like a physician treating a patient, we know that we cannot give the same medicine always. We check the patient's temperature every day, whether it is high or low or normal, and look for possible complications. Many methods are involved in treating diseases, so there is no stereotyped treatment along a beaten path in medical psychology.

So is yoga. It is not a beaten track that we are running on directly, as if it is an open highway, but it is a zigzag path where at every moment of time we should exercise caution. We have to know where our emotions stand, and where our intellect and mind are directing themselves; what are our achievements and what are our problems. Many a time this will be a hard affair, because it is easy to control others, but it is not so easy to control one's own self. Therefore a Guru is necessary. In the earlier stages, when we are just chanting a few mantras or rolling a few beads, it may look as if everything is fine—everything is milk and honey. But if we are sincere and honest and really go deep into our own selves, we will find wonder, to our surprise, and we will be unraveling mysteries of our own self of which we had no prior awareness. We will become a miracle to our own self. We will be surprised. “I am this person. I never knew that.” When we are confronted with our real personality that is placed before our eyes, we will not know how to face it. At that time we require a teacher, as in the case of psychoanalysis there is a well-versed guide who knows how to manipulate the mind of a person who is diseased mentally, and in which case the true personality has been projected out by various mechanisms of psychology. This is exactly psychoanalysis, which one does for one's own self, where all that is inside us is brought to the conscious level.

What is called psychoanalysis is nothing but the simple process of bringing the subconscious and unconscious to the conscious level. We are not aware of what we are inside us. Therefore many a time we have moods; we have whims and fancies; we think differently on different days. Suddenly some thought comes, and we do not know why this thought has come. We say, “Well, I thought differently. Yesterday's thought was different; now I give up that idea.” Why did we give up that idea? We do not know what we are inside. Something that has been working and trying to get matured has suddenly come up to the conscious level. A deliberate process of bringing out the inner residue of the subconscious to the conscious level is to be attempted, and this is done by concentration. This process cannot be achieved by diversification of thought. Whenever we concentrate our minds, it is like hitting the subconscious with a hammer—it bursts. Otherwise it is like a hard nut which does not let out all its secrets. Concentration is a death blow that is dealt at the very root of the subconscious and the unconscious levels; that is why the mind resents concentration. Nobody likes concentration; they get fed up. Ask anybody to concentrate continuously. They get tired and run away from that place for a long walk, because the mind is very unhappy, as if it is a thief who is going to be detected. A thief is very uncomfortable in a public assembly; he wants to escape, somehow or other, if he is going to be pinpointed and interrogated. So if we go on attacking this subconscious by concentration, again and again, thinking only that, it resents, and the resentment of the subconscious creates various complications. We become unhappy and give up the practice itself.

All this is very difficult to practice, says Arjuna—cancalam hi manah krsna pramathi balavad drdham. The mind is very fickle and impetuous, and we don't know how to control it, just as we cannot control the clouds. But, abhyasena tu kaunteya vairagyena ca grhyate—by a real dispassionate attitude towards all externals and a persistent tenacity in the daily practice of concentration, we can subdue the mind. And finally, the great love that we have for the higher Self is itself a potent method of subduing the lower self. Towards the end of the sixth chapter there is a beautiful message for us, by which we are given solace that things are not as difficult as they appear to be. Sarva-bhuta-stham atmanam sarva-bhutani catmani, iksate yoga-yukta-atma sarvatra sama-darsanah: One who is in the state of the Self perceives the higher Self in such a manner that it is recognised in other persons also. All beings are seen in the Self, and the Self is seen in all beings. The vehemence exerted by the objects upon the senses decreases in its intensity when they are meditated upon as parts of one's own Self. But if we reject them by force of renunciation, not having any positive attitude towards them, then they may do harm by retaliating or wrecking vengeance.

Therefore, the advice here is that the higher Self has to be recognised not merely in one's own personality, but also in other beings—sarva-bhuta-stham atmanam, sarvatra sama-darsanah. Yo mam pasyati sarvatra sarvam ca mayi pasyati, tasyaham na pranasymi sa ca me na pranasyati: “He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, to him I am never lost, and he is never lost to Me,” says the Great Lord. God is ever with us as the supreme Guru and Guide, provided that we wholeheartedly surrender ourselves to Him. He is the highest Self, and when we are able to gravitate the mind and the intellect towards this highest Self, force descends automatically from there. In the same way as we touch a high voltage wire and draw energy, and we feel charged with that energy because we have touched a live wire, so it is, as it were, God is the highest live wire. The moment we contact Him inwardly, energy flows. But, it is not easy to contact that highest Self. So the layers of self are to be regarded as higher selves, by degrees. For this purpose the answer given by Bhagavan Sri Krishna to Arjuna's query is that though all this may appear so difficult, it will become easy by daily practice.

When we were babies we could not even walk; we fell down many a time and injured our knees. When we learned bicycling we fell down many times, and so on. Swimming, cycling, walking—all these are difficult things, but once we master the technique, we can run without even being aware of our legs. Those who are master swimmers do not become conscious of the water in which they are swimming. People who are masters in cycling do not think of the cycle on which they are sitting, and when we walk, we do not even know that we have legs. But when we were babies we were very conscious, and therefore we fell. So, practice makes perfect.

Gradual, honest desire to move away from distractive atmospheres and to concentrate the mind on the higher Being is mumukshutva, and is itself a potent aid. And finally, surrender of self to God. The surrender of the lower self to the higher Self is again, to reiterate, done by stages, by gradual isolation in the beginning—socially, physically, and finally even psychologically. We must find ourselves in a psychological sequestration, not merely physical isolation. We find ourselves alone even mentally, and then the mind comes down on an emotional level and a perceptional level—then it is that we can be said to be in state of proper concentration. Atma-samstham manah krtva na kincid api cintayet: After the mind has established itself in its own root, which is the Atman, there is no necessity to think anything. All thought is external and is lodged in objects outside, but when it has been weaned from objects and centred in the inner selfhood of non-objectivity, no thought is permitted, na kincidapi cintayet, and an unknown joy bursts from within like the sun shining in the midst of dark clouds when the mind returns to its own source. All happiness, whatever be its nature, is only a modicum of the tendency of the mind to return to the Self within. The more we go inside, the more are we happy, so that when we are perfectly established in our Self, we are in the state of highest happiness. The seer establishes himself in himself when consciousness rests in its own Self; chit becomes sat and when cit becomes sat, it becomes ananda, and one exists in a state of the highest divinity.