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The Yoga of Meditation
by Swami Krishnananda


(Spoken on September 18, 1976.)

The retention of the mind in the nature of the Self or the Atman, which is the main theme of discussion in the Dhyanayoga section of the Bhagavadgita, is the essence of the whole teaching, and it sums up the very essence and the meaning of the aim of life of all mankind. The equilibrium that preponderates in the relation between the mind and the Self is the state of Yoga, and this state has to be reached by efforts which have to be put forth very slowly and gradually, inch by inch, as it were, missing not even a single step in the process of the movement of the ascent, for missing any step would be a predecessor to a fall. The difficulty in this practice is really the context of the lengthy teaching which is the Bhagavadgita up to the eighteenth chapter; and in a way we may say that the eighteen chapters are the eighteen steps in the practice. Inasmuch as nothing can be more difficult than this attempt on the part of the soul to unite itself with the Divine Purpose of the universe, we are asked to go very slowly and very cautiously:

Sanaih-sanair uparamed buddhya dhritigrihitaya;
Atmasamstham manah kritva na kinchid api chintayet.
Yato-yato nischarati manas chanchalam asthiram;
Tatas tato niyamyai'tad atmanyeva vasam nayet.

This is the teaching of the actual practice. You must exert your control over the mind without allowing it to feel that any pressure is exerted. That is the technique of the educational process in any field of life. The mind has to be enabled to flower or blossom forth into a higher experience spontaneously and automatically, without pressurising it into any kind of pain or sorrow in the practice. The more you are able to introduce the principle of satisfaction into the practice, the more is the likelihood of an early achievement; because any pain that is inflicted upon the mind may be a causative factor of a recoil of the mind. Hence it is that while there should be intense ardour for the purpose of the practice, there should be no over-enthusiasm. That means to say that we should not overestimate our powers. God is, no doubt, at our back and he is the greatest help in this endeavour of the soul for this Supreme Achievement, but the way in which God works is a mystery by itself; and inasmuch as this mystery cannot be grasped, one has to move only in proportion to the extent of one's understanding of this mystery, and when the mystery remains an object of one's ignorance it may not be able to render conscious help.

Understanding and feeling blend together in the practice. There is a gradual coming together of these two functions. While in the initial stages the understanding may predominate over the feelings, and the feeling may be at the background, so that one may be under the impression that the heart is not cooperating with the understanding, by assiduous steadfastness in this practice, one would be able to bring the two together until they do not remain two faculties but one focussed force of intuitive cognition. In fact intuition is nothing but the coming together of understanding and feeling. In normal human perception they stand apart. The head and the heart do not go together always; but they become one when the third eye opens, as they say, and the physical eyes are no more necessary for the vision of perfection. For this achievement the practice has to be very gradual in the sense that one has to observe the extent of reality present in the different stages of one's ascent; and the most important thing to remember in the practice is to be honest to the particular stage in which one is stationed at any given moment of time. One should not wrongly imagine that one is in a higher state than the one in which one is really. The mind can stretch itself into an imaginary condition of a false achievement and one can be mistaken in this concept.

There are several sincere seekers who are prone to the mistake of thinking that they are liberated souls: the only duty they have is to save the world, and they have already saved themselves, and entered the Infinite. While they can be thoroughly mistaken in this feeling they may be cocksure that they are right. So, this is a difficulty into which one may fall as if into a quagmire in the middle of the practice; and no one can be of help here as the understanding has failed. It is the failing of one's understanding that makes one feel that one is in such an elevated position. The rationality gets stifled and it becomes torpid instead of getting transparent, and this is due to the interference of old 'Samskaras', or buried impressions, frustrated desires, etc. The frustrated feelings need not necessarily be those of this present life. There are feelings and feelings, impressions after impressions, piled up like thick layers of clouds in the sub-conscious and the unconscious levels of the mind which retard the progress of the soul towards its aim. It needs no mention that we have passed through various lives. This is not the only life we are living, and whatever we are today is a fraction of the total of which we are made, the larger part of which lies hidden as a potential power in the unconscious layer of our personality, acting, of course, like a spring which pushes forward certain impressions and impulses into the surface of consciousness and compels the conscious level to commit the error of thinking that it is totally free in the conduct of its ideas and thoughts through the daily vicissitudes of life. If we take into consideration the presence of this motive force behind our conscious activities, what we call the unconscious level, one would very much doubt if there is any freedom of will at all. It is the conclusion of psycho-analysts today that there is no such thing as the freedom of will. It is only a chimera because, according to their finding, whether they are wholly right or not, the conscious activities of the mind which are the causes of the feeling of the sense of freedom in oneself are themselves the outcome of certain hidden impulses which, like dark forces, work from within and drive a fraction of these aspects of the personality into the conscious level for fulfilment of certain purposes which in our traditional language, is called the sum total of the Prarabdha-karma.

The present condition of our life, the life that we are living today in the conscious stage, cannot be regarded as the whole of our personality. There are many who think that there is what is called a collective unconscious, a racial unconscious, and sometimes there is also a set of opinions held by people that there can be even a cosmic unconscious. Perhaps this is corroborated by even the Vedanta philosophy where it says that there is such a thing called Ishvara wherein the unconscious personalities of all the individuals are kept latent in a seed-form. Thus, it is not safe on the part of any seeker to be totally sure that the practice is properly directed at all times. One can go wrong while being sure that one is right. Your confidence that you are right is no test of your being right? because this confidence is merely the result of the functioning of the unconscious mind which need not necessarily be the total of your personality. You may be under the pressure of an impulse from within which has not fully manifested itself in the conscious level and is working inside behind veiled iron curtains, of which one cannot be aware, and so one can make the mistake of thinking the wrong way. Here, again, comes the need for the guidance from a competent person who knows the path and has trodden the path and knows the pitfalls. Since these hurdles are possible and inescapable for anyone and everyone, it would be wisdom on the part of people, seekers, to go slowly so that there may not be a necessity to retrace the steps that one has already waken forward. You can avoid the possibility of a fall into a lower region which happens on account of a sudden jump to the levels which one cannot reach under the conditions prevailing. Hence the caution: Sanaih sanair uparamed buddhya dhritigrihitaya.

With the courage that is born of confidence well-directed, one has to propel the force of one's understanding towards the direction of the achievement and it has to go very slowly; the slower is it done the better it is. There is no need to be too anxious about the time-limit involved in the process of God-realisation. It can take its own time. God is not going to run away. He is always there. You need not be under any doubt that if you do not catch Him today he may not be available tomorrow. Inasmuch as He is eternal He is always available. But one has to be prepared to be able to come in contact with this power, and for this purpose the vessel has to be properly cleaned by the practice of the necessary prerequisites known in our discipline and in our tradition as the Sadhana-chatushtaya, the practice of Yama, Niyama, etc. In the understanding of this injunction of this verse of the Bhagavadgita that we have to move slowly, we have to grasp its implication. What does it actually mean by saying 'go slowly?' One has to be very clear about one's own self You have to be equipped with a thorough knowledge of your present psychological state and the powers that you can wield in the field of practice. The essence of the matter is that other desires are working in the mind, other than the desire for God or the great aim of Yoga towards which one is endeavouring to move. Is there any distracting impulse hidden in the mind which shows its head now and then, though not always, and makes one feel that there can be joys other than the joys of God-realisation? Well, this is a very important thing to remember, because it is not possible for a human being to be totally free from the feeling of the reality of objects of sense in front of oneself; and as long as there is the consciousness of the presence of objects in one's presence, there is also felt a need to establish a relationship of oneself with this object. Who can say that one is unaware of the presence of the world in one's front. There is this world staring before you as a hard reality, and the belief in the existence of a world outside is itself a proof of your need or necessity felt within to establish a vital contact with it and do something with it. You either love it or do not love it but you are at least conscious of it.

The objects of the world are somehow capable of temptation in various ways, and the principal obstacle in the practice of meditation, the Yoga proper, is temptation; nothing but that. The wisdom that one would exercise in this context is to free oneself, as far as possible, from involving oneself in atmospheres which are capable of this temptation. It is better not to fall sick at all rather than fall sick and then go to a doctor for treatment. Once you have recourse to temptations it would be difficult to withdraw yourself from this involvement; because the temptation is nothing but a belief in the reality of an object and a feeling from within that the object of sense is capable of bringing about a joy which cannot in any way be less than the joy which one is aspiring after through Yoga. Whatever be the effort of one's understanding, the heart can detract one's attention from the concentration of the understanding, and once a chance is given for even a little leakage of energy through the feeling towards an object of sense, this leakage can become a torrent, a flood and the bund can burst, and here it is that the understanding can totally fail us. One should not wait until the temptation comes; and no one should have the hardihood to imagine that one can stand a temptation. That is not possible when it comes; and we have picturesque and dramatic stories and anecdotes of these phenomena in our Epics and Puranas.

Great problems and difficulties had to be faced even by masters, and we should not think that we are greater than they. What happens to one can happen to another, and everyone can be susceptible to the same weakness which is the common feature of all human nature. It is, therefore, wise for a seeker to be aware of the power of Nature, the extent of the problem that one may have to face and the hidden resources of distraction which Nature holds within her bosom, multifarious in their character and picturesque in their forms, inconceivable to even the depths of one's mind. Therefore, with guidance received from one's own Guru, or Master, one has to endeavour hard to live in an atmosphere physically free from temptations, not merely psychological in the beginning stages. That is why people go to sequestered retreats, resort to Ashramas and holy shrines and temples, etc., to forests and stiller atmosphere, so that the chances of temptation get diminished, though they cannot be completely avoided or obliterated. With the aid of physical solitude, one has to learn the art of psychological detachment, because physical seclusion is not the only thing that is called for or necessary. It is only a preparation for a higher practice which is internal detachment, because physically one may be in a very holy place like Badrinath or Kedarnath, but mentally one can be in Hollywood. So, while physical solitude is a necessity, it is not everything. It is only a preparation for the internal refinement of personality which has to be acquired and achieved through other means than mere physical practices.

The Bhagavadgita is a great guide in this line of conduct towards self-control. The great injunction that we are provided with, for example, in the Thirteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita commencing with the verse, amanitvam adambitvam etc., tells us something about what we have to do in this connection, how we can psychologically purify ourselves and gradually move onwards, and prepare ourselves steadily, and gain strength from within, so that we may be ready for the practice. And together with this caution from the physical side as well as the psychological side, one has to be persistent and tenacious in the practice, in the sense that one cannot leave it even for a day, just as we do not miss a meal. We have to take at least one meal every day, and we feel like fish out of water if a single meal is missed. Like that, one should feel unhappy if one is unable to be seated for this practice even for a single day. The great masters in Yoga tell us that not only has the practice to be continuous and unremitting, but it has also to be coupled with an intense feeling of love and affection for the practice. The heart has to be centred there and our love has to be focussed in the practice. All the loves of the world have to be brought together into a concentrated essence and this focussed attention of affection should be fixed in the practice of Yoga, because no mother can be so affectionate as Yoga. It can take care of us at all times and protect us from all dangers. But one has to know the majesty of this practice in order that the loves of the world can be withdrawn from the objects of sense and concentrated in the practice.

Why is it that the mind is distracted? Why is it that we cannot concentrate the mind? How is it that we feel unhappy when we are seated for meditation for an hour or two and want to get up as early as possible? The reason is that the heart and the feeling are not co-operating with the will. The heart is somewhere else, and naturally, we are where our heart is. If our heart is somewhere else, we are also there, and naturally, we are not in the practice which is supposed to be what we are conducting. Where our heart is, there our treasure is, and where our treasure is, there our heart is. If our treasure is somewhere else, secretly beckoning us towards itself and calling our attention towards it, we have to pay our dues and debts towards that centre which calls us for attention. When we are distracted, when the mind is pulled in some other direction than the one which is the ideal in Yoga, what we are expected to do is not to draw the mind back by force and compel is to practise meditation once again but to understand why this is happening at all. We have to exercise understanding at every step, under every condition. If the mind is distracted, why is it distracted? What has happened? If we are seated for contemplation on the Divine Ideal, why is it that the mind jumps into some other object of sense? Naturally, the reason behind it should be that certain values are recognised by the mind in the object which attracts the attention, and these values are, of course, real values. If they are unreal, the mind will not go there. So the mind is seeing a set of values in an object and considers these values as real, other than the reality which we have theoretically held before our mind's eye in the practice of Yoga. Mostly our practices in Yoga are theoretical, and the practice, really speaking, is motivated by certain feelings at variance with the conclusions of the understanding. Our feelings are our real guides.

Again we have to emphasise the point that the feelings have to be properly investigated into and they have to be brought to the surface of consciousness, they have to be analysed threadbare and placed before ourselves as if in daylight. We must be in a position to understand the character or the nature of every one of our feelings and know the causes behind their rise. When we are sincerely getting devoted to the practice of Yoga, perhaps, we will find no time to do anything else, because all the-time we have to be cautious like a soldier in the battle-field. We cannot be wool-gathering, we cannot sleep, we have to be vigilant to observe what is happening from all sides. As a matter of fact, the practice of Yoga is nothing but a warfare. In a sense, it is a Mahabharata, it is a Ramayana. It is a struggle of the finite to confront the infinite at every level of ascent, an attempt to tune oneself to the requirements of the infinite in the different degrees of its manifestation. So it is that the Gita exhorts us:

Sanaih-sanair uparamed buddhya dhritigrihitaya;
Atmasamstham manah kritva na kimchid api chintayet

Once we are able to fix ourselves in the Atman, then there is nothing else to think.

Yato-yato nischarati manas chanchalam asthiram;
Tatas tato niyamyai'tad atmanyeva vasam nayet

As a rider on a horse, or a person who drives a horse-carriage, tries to restrain the movement of the horse by means of the reins which he holds in his hands, so is the power of the Atman to exert its control over the movements of the mind by means of the reins of the relation that obtains between the two. Towards the end of the Third Chapter of the Gita we are mentioned this aspect of the practice, also. It is not possible to control the mind merely by ordinary means available to us. We have to take the help of a higher force:

Indryani paranyahur indriyebhyah param manah;
Manasas tu para buddhir yo buddheh paratas tu sah.

This verse is a guide in the practice. We have to take the help of a higher stage, receive strength and guidance from the immediately higher level, so that the lower may be mastered. In fact, the moral force which one is supposed to apply in one's practical life is nothing but the way of determining everything that is lower in terms of the higher which is immediately above. The higher which is immediately above will be the source of a vision of the character of what is immediately above. Only, one has to be careful enough to observe what is happening, and by the power of one's vital connection with that which is above, it is possible to restrain the movements of the mind in a lower level. Thus it is that we have to spend the whole of our life, as it were, in the practice. One should not be despondent. Am I to waste all my time only in this?

Here is a point which makes out that the whole of one's life is a spiritual dedication. Here is one's supreme duty. Renounce all other duties, and resort to this primeval duty. The error involved in the variegatedness of duties has to be abandoned. It is not the abandonment of duty that is suggested here, but the relinquishment of a mistake that is involved in the concept of a variety of duties, with a knowledge of the fact that there can be only one duty ultimately, which includes every other duty that one may regard as meaningful or necessary. So, it is not that the Bhagavadgita asks us to relinquish anything or abandon anything, renounce anything. It is true that, it asks us to renounce something. What it asks us to renounce or abandon is the ignorance that is involved in a particular stage of experience for the purpose of sublimating it into a higher condition which is more inclusive than the lower. How this is done is also mentioned in certain verses which are to follow later;

Sarvabhutastham atmanam sarvabhutani chatmani;
Ikshate yogayuktatma sarvatra samadarsanah.

Yo mam pasyati sarvatra sarvam cha mayi pasyati;
Tasyaham na pranasyami sa cha me na pranasyati.

Sarvabhutosthitam yo mam bhajayekatvam asthitah,
Sarvatha vartamanopi sa yogi mayi vartate.

Atmaupamyena sarvatra samam pasyati yorjuna;
Sukham va yadi va duhkham sa yogi paramo matah.

These verses towards the end of the Sixth Chapter give us certain positive aspects of this apparently negative injunction for renunciation, namely, that true renunciation is the transcendence of the notion of spatio-temporal externality in the light of the omnipresence of God.