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The Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 14: Breaking Through the Name-Form Complex

We were discussing the subject of meditation. Here, when we go further into the nature of the object of meditation, we notice that every object, whatever it be, is a name-form complex with which it is bound to a particular space-time location. The substance of any object is not capable of any external contact because the true substance is a universal existence, and that which is universal cannot become an object. But there are objects. These objects are pin–pointed name-form complexes; and every object, every person – anything in this world – is a type of the basic substance with a particular nomenclature attached to it and a form that is conceptualised by the perceiving or the knowing subject. This is a purely technical aspect of the nature of an object, which includes the nature of anything – including one's own self as a visible individuality.

The purpose of yoga meditation is to pierce through this name-form complex, to tear this veil of empirical formation and enter into the substance. This entering into the substance of the object is called samadhi. Incidentally, this entering into the substance of the object is the same as entering into the substance of all things because all things are made up of the same substance. According to the Sankhya, or the specific yoga of Patanjaii, all forms are constituted of prakriti. They are modifications in one way or the other of the three gunassattva, rajas and tamas – which are not things but forces which concentrate themselves at a particular point; and this assumption of a location of a particular point is the notion of space and time. Thus, name, form, space and time all go together, and we cannot separate one from the other. We are involved in a multi-formed complex, and many factors have contributed their might in forming a particular individuality, whether it is organic or otherwise.

Now, what do we do in meditation? We do not merely think the object because we have already noted that every thought assumes that the object has a name and a form and if our meditation is of a name and a form, or even a name-form complex, it becomes an ordinary psychological concept based on a sensory percept. While this sort of perception or cognition cannot be avoided, however much we may try to penetrate through the name and the form of an object there would be no success in this endeavour because all this effort of ours is psychological and, therefore, the mind which is itself involved in space and time cannot usually win victory here.

We have to understand a little more about this peculiarity of the name-form complex, which is associated with the true subject or the true object. What do we mean by all these things? The Sanskrit terms ‘nama' and ‘rupa' translated into English mean ‘name' and ‘form'. These terms ordinarily mean the inseparable connection of something, whatever it is, with a definition of it and a particular form which it has, which distinguishes it from other forms. The knowledge of a particular form is possible only if it is capable of being distinguished from other forms. That which is uniformiily present everywhere cannot be seen. We say, “Here is this, here is that” and so on because everything is distinguishable from the other by the form, the pattern, the structure and the nature of the individuality of the thing concerned. We say, “Here is this person, here is that person” because one person differs from another in the makeup of the whole individuality or the personality. This is a very important basic differentia that is invariably associated with every objectivity or form of objectivity.

Also, there is a definition, a characterisation of the object. We cannot distinguish between the form of an object and the definition of it that we associate in our minds. When we think of any particular object, we have two associations mixed up in the concept; they cannot be distinguished easily. We know very well that a stone is different from a tree. Mentally, psychologically, we describe the stone in a particular way and distinguish this description from that which we give to a tree, for instance. This description of a particular object is not easily separable from the structure of the object because this description is entirely dependent upon the way in which the object is constituted. We, by way of a reaction to the nature of that object, recognise the speciality in the constitution of the object as distinguished from the constitution of a different object, and on the basis of this direct and immediate instantaneous perception or recognition of the peculiarity in the structure of the object, we distinguish it in our minds by describing it in a particular manner, not necessarily by language. But before that, we have to have a description of it in our minds. A psychological description is converted into a linguistic definition. We cannot dissociate our minds from this sort of involvement in the knowledge of an object.

Can we look at a tree, see it, and remove from our minds the description that we attach to it by naming it as a tree? Try dissociating it. You would be surprised how much you are attached to names or descriptions. We are called by certain names; I have one name and you have one name. It may appear that this naming of an object is a secondary affair in life and is not very important. We can name a thing in any way we like; nevertheless, the psychological association of something or anything with the name attached to it is so intense that the impact it has upon the object makes it inseparable from the object itself.

Take the example of a sleeping person. If that person is called by another's name, he will not wake up. A sleeping person will not wake up if he or she is summoned or called by another name, but if called by their name, they awaken immediately. This proves the intensity of the association of the definition or description by way of name with the consciousness or the psychic individuality of the person. Can we forget for the time being that we have this name? Can any one of us dissociate ourselves from the name with which we are called? Though theoretically this may not look impossible, in practice we will find that it is hard. This name is ingrained into us; it has become part of our skin and blood. We have to develop that intensity of thought by which we can know ourselves independent of the description that we attach either to our own selves or that others attach to us by this name.

Firstly, in meditation on an object, try to dissociate that object from the name which is attached to it. This itself will be a very difficult thing, though it looks like an initial step merely. It is not possible to easily dissociate the object from the name that is connected to it, but it has to be done because the name is only a convenient modus operandi we have adopted on mutual agreement in order to distinguish things from each other. Things independently in their own selves have no names. If we are alone somewhere, unknown, unbefriended, and not likely to be seen by anyone, we would not feel the need to have a name. Why should we be called by any name when there is nobody to call us and we need not refer to ourselves by any name? In that situation, we will see that we can exist independent of a description.

But there is a more difficult thing, which is the form. It is harder to dissociate the substance from the form which it has assumed than to dissociate it from the name with which it is connected. When we conceive a tree, it will look only like a tree in form, and it cannot look like a mountain or something else. We cannot look at a tree and imagine it is a heap of stones or something else. The necessity to distinguish the substance of the object from the form which it has assumed arises on account of the fact that all objects are certain permutations and combinations of sattva, rajas and tamas. All objects are some shape taken by a certain percentage of the combination of these three forces, sattva, rajas and tamas. If we remove threadbare the inner constituents, we will find the formation melts away. Now the form of the object sits upon our heads so tightly and compels us to think of it only in that way, especially as we are forced to gaze at it as something external to us. When it becomes something, an object outside us, it has naturally to be conceived in some way; we cannot know it in any other manner. This conception of the object is the reason why we have to define it in a particular way and also recognise it as formed in a particular manner.

One of the methods of meditation on the object as prescribed in standard systems is the contemplation of the object as it would know its own self, rather than as we are looking at it. This is to say very little, not going very deep into what is implied here. The technique is simple if we can apply a little bit of our will in regard to it. We conceive people, persons, things, etc., as they appear to us and not as they appear to their own selves. This is an obvious phenomenon known to everyone. We have an opinion about things and persons. This opinion is, again, an association of that person or thing with name and form. There is a difference between the opinion which the subject holds about the object and the opinion which the subject holds about its own self, especially if the subject is not associated with any other object.

Even when we conceive ourselves, we conceive ourselves socially in many ways because we cannot dissociate ourselves from association with other people and things. Even if we sit alone in a room or in a forest where we are not seen by anybody, we cannot forget that we are likely to be associated with other persons and things. So, there is a little bit of relative definition of our own selves even if we are literally alone in a room or in a forest. Though this may not be literally practicable, it is theoretically conceivable that it is possible for us to be absolutely independent and unrelated to other persons and things. We need not associate ourselves with any kind of relationship to other people and things in the world, and can know ourselves as if we are alone in this world. Just imagine that you exist alone in the world; nobody else exists. You would have a different notion about yourself than the notion that you now entertain in regard to yourself when you are in the midst of human society where you have to put on appearances and adjust and adapt yourself to social circumstances.

The assumption of an independence on the part of the object is the great task in meditation which, incidentally, is similar to the independence that one may assume about one's own self if one is freed from all conceptual relationships either with people or with things. In one stroke of a great effort of imagination, we may have to place ourselves in the context of an aloneness in the universe, unrelated to things. Actually, in meditation we psychologically cut off all relationships. Though we may physically free ourselves from relationships by moving to a distant place, to the top of a hill for instance, the psychological dissociation may not be complete.

It is necessary to dissociate oneself from all kinds of conceptual relationships because relationships are temporary adjustments of name and form for the purpose of maintaining itself. Every form of existence is a kind of product arisen out of a relationship. Minus relationships, forms will dwindle. This relationship is outwardly social but is inwardly metaphysical. The social relation is hard enough of course, but what is called a metaphysical relation is harder to understand. While it is difficult enough for us to imagine that we are unconnected with other people and things in the world because we are connected with them so intimately that any kind of severance of this relationship looks like peeling our own skin – so difficult is social relation – there is another thing called metaphysical relation, which is what has to be broken through in meditation.

Things appear to be inwardly related to one another by an association or structural pattern on account of the concentration of the forces of sattva, rajas and tamas. This is something more than what we can conceive in social patterns. This has to be broken through by a bombardment of the form of the object by the concentration of the mind. As we are sometimes told that the bombardment of an atom by powerful beams of electric energy releases strengths which are not visible outside, so the inner constituent force or strength of the object will be revealed when it is bombarded by the power of concentration. A diffused form of bombardment will not effect this required result. There should be a concentrated bombardment. This is exactly what is meant by concentration, dharana. Dharana is the concentration of the mind. The mind has such a power that if it is properly employed, with a correct understanding of its nature, there is almost nothing impossible for us. Nothing is impossible because our mind is a point of universal energy. It has at its back immense power, a magazine of force, as if the whole ocean is behind us, pushing us onwards, and we are a drop on its surface.

But, unfortunately for us, this consciousness of being backed up by such an energy is absent in us. We are unaware of the presence of this force behind us on account of the awareness getting diverted to external objects – objects which attract us or repel us. The concentration, the dharana that is required in yoga, is to be such that whatever thought may arise in the mind in regard to any object whatsoever may have to be harnessed only for the purpose of this concentration on hand.

To repeat what I said sometime earlier, this is not easy as long as we believe that there are values in life which are other than the values that we attach to the object of our meditation. This is a terrible weakness, and a little amount of study or hearing may not be sufficient to free ourselves from this difficulty. The wholehearted concentration of the entirety of our mind on a given object of meditation will not be possible as long as the mind refuses to undertake this task. It will give lip sympathy and a little bit of attention to the object which we call the object or the target of our meditation.

Most of our meditations are only lip sympathy paid to that object because the whole mind cannot go, for reasons well known. We have other occupations in life. These so-called occupations may not always be on the conscious level. You may be wondering, “What occupation do I have? I am a totally dedicated yogi. I am devoted only to God. I do not have any other occupation.” You may be honest in this feeling as far as your conscious activities are concerned, but you know very well that a human being is not merely the conscious mind. It is a buried debris of all kinds of impressions which often come up in dreams, memories, frustrated feelings, fears, anxieties, etc., which are not always visible on the surface of consciousness.

Therefore, the psychic occupations, arisen on account of the very fact of one's being a human individual in human society, prevent the withdrawing of all the rays of the mind into a single focus of attention. But this is not impossible, provided we have succeeded in reconciling ourselves to the conviction that this so-called object of our meditation, whatever it be, is all the things that we want in the world. “It is my God, the deity. It is the whole objective of life, and anything that I require, want or need will be found here. This is my deity, and I need nothing else.” If it is possible for you to convince yourself that what you have chosen as an object of meditation is the thing that you need and nothing else is needed, then through the avenue of this particular object you can break through the subtleties of the cosmos and enter into the treasures of the universe. If this conviction is there indomitably, why should the mind not come back to meditation? But weaknesses which are common to human nature always speak, telling us constantly that the world has beauties, values and delicacies which cannot always be imagined to be present in that object which we have conceived as our goal of life.

We have to get past these difficulties by the application of will. An application of will is important. We may have good understanding and good intentions, but the will may be lacking. The will is the application of the whole of our understanding and the whole of our feelings. The will is the total cream of the very substance of our being. If our whole substance is not concentrated, and part of our personality is given over to other enterprises, projects, etc. which we subconsciously feel are somehow or the other important enough – important in the sense that they are not organically connected with the object of meditation – then to that extent our meditation will be weakened; it cannot be strong. The sensations which are often associated with experiences in meditation are consequent upon the rejoicing of the spirit that it has found, after all, what it wanted.

At present we are only experimenting with things. We have found nothing in this world. None of us can be said to have found what we wanted. We are moving from place to place, running hither and thither, eating this, drinking that, touching this, seeing that. We are conducting a kind of experimentation with persons, things, and places, etc., to see if what we want can be found there. But no one can find things by jumping like a grasshopper from circumstance to circumstance. Anything can be found at any place because all things are concentrated in all places. Just as we can find water in any part of the ocean, we can find what we want in any part of the cosmos. The treasure that we seek can be found anywhere we are seated. The value we are aspiring for is under our own seat, but finding it is a training that we may have to undergo, an education that we have to be provided with, requiring years and years of effort.

Considering all these aspects of the problems we may have to face in meditation, we would accept that a lot of preparation is necessary before we sit for meditation. Though meditation is the final word – it is the last stroke that we deal at the problem of existence and will solve all our problems and nothing will remain afterwards – to deal this stroke we may have to prepare ourselves adequately to acquire the necessary strength. That strength can come only if we are collected in ourselves – if we are wholes and not parts or fragments.

At present we are shreds of personality, torn individuals and fractions rather than wholes because we think many things at a time, and an endless number of thoughts occur to the mind every day. Every thought is pictured in the subconscious. As the film of a photograph receives the imprint of any form that is brought before it, every thought of any object produces an imprint on the mind. These create distractions, and we are disturbed. Again, to come to the point, why should it be necessary for us to go on thinking one thousand things every day? What is the point? Why do we jump from thought to thought? Again, the answer is, we are experimenting with things. We have not been convinced of the ultimate value of anything in this world. We cannot have a hundred-percent affection for anything because a total value cannot be recognised in anything in the world. This is because our understanding of anything is meagre. We have a surface education of things, some sort of information that has been gathered regarding things, but a real understanding of anything is lacking.

Now, considering all these aspects, we may have to apply our will with a tremendous power of aspiration which has to be effected by various methods, as one method alone may not be sufficient. We have to tackle the mind, attack it, as it were, from various aspects of its expression, by adopting various means of sadhana such as trying to be alone to oneself as far as possible throughout the day. You may be a very busy person, an officer or an official of some type, but in spite of all that, by streamlining your daily routine you may be able to find some time for your own self. There should be absolute aloneness for as long as possible by cutting short activities which are avoidable. You know what is unavoidable and what is avoidable. The essentials may be maintained, and what you consider as non-essentials should be severed from your occupations. Then you will find time. Many people complain that they have no time. It is not that they have no time, but they are unable to find a proper routine for the day. Why should there not be time? The people do not work twenty-four hours of the day. There is time. So, first of all, find adequate time to be alone to yourself.

Then, have a programme by which you can occupy your mind. When you are alone, what do you do with your mind? What do you do with yourself? You will find that you cannot deal with yourself so easily. You rebel and revolt against this kind of aloneness. This is why ancient masters have suggested many methods. In the earlier stages, several techniques may have to be adopted. In the early stages of our education many subjects are taught, but as we go further and further the subjects become focused, and finally there is only one subject. In the beginning we have to be trained in various ways because we do not know what our specialisation will be later on.

Thus, we have to find time to do a little bit of sacred study, svadhyaya. Sacred study is a bombardment of the mind by the same subject again and again – not merely by conceptual concentration, which is hard, but also by study of scriptures or texts which deal with the liberation of the soul. Svadhyaya is important. It burnishes the mind, brushes it, cleans it, because it may be difficult to maintain a single thought throughout the day. In the study of scriptures, which deal with such sublime things, we are no doubt concentrating the mind, yet we are not troubling it excessively because we give it a large ambit, a wide area of movement, so even though the mind is circumscribed to a limit of activity within the periphery of the theme or the subject of the text concerned, yet it is a sort of concentration.

Chanting of the divine name, usually called japa or prayer, as you may have been taught by your own religious faith, is an important item. In the beginning, offer prayers out loud. You can loudly chant mantras or recite hymns either from the Bible, the Upanishads, the Vedas, or any scripture. If you are afraid of chanting loudly before others, go to a forest and chant loudly until your voice reverberates in the atmosphere. Pray to the Almighty. Pray every day, for as long a time as possible. Study scriptures, chant the divine name, do japa, and have a very systematic routine.

Write in your diary what it is that you are to do and not do, and adjust yourself to this routine every day. Maintain a kind of self-checking diary – a spiritual diary, as Swami Sivananda Maharaj used to call it – to have an idea of the progress you are making. Are you making any progress, or are you stagnating and nothing is happening? The reactions that you evoke in regard to the environment outside, the number and kind of thoughts that occur to the mind every day will give you an idea of the nature of the progress that you are making. Every day we react to our environment. We react by words that we utter, by thoughts that we entertain or by deeds that we perform. Watch yourself every day. “What is the reaction that was evoked by the environment outside me which drew thoughts, words and actions from me, and in what way am I better today?” Keep a record of the time that you have spent in your sadhana, the extent to which it has lengthened its course, and the increase in the quality of the concentration of the mind.

Japa, svadhyaya and dhyana – recitation of the divine name, study of a sacred scripture and meditation – these three may be said to be principle modes of spiritual practice, though there can be many other modes such as prayer, the special ways into which you might have been initiated by your own religious circles, and so on. But, above all things, a watch has to be kept over one's own self in regard to one's mental, verbal, physical, social, and many other performances.

I spoke these introductory words to give you an idea of the kind of preparation that you– may have to make before you try to bombard the subject with the power of your concentration to break through the name-form complex in order to enter into its substance. Existence, consciousness, bliss, name and form are supposed to be the constituents of everything: nama, rupa, sat, chit, ananda. Nama, rupa constitute the world of perception; name, form constitute what you see with your eyes, what you sense with your senses. But the basic reality is sat, chit, ananda – existence which cannot be disassociated from the consciousness of it. This is the freedom that you are aspiring for because this existence is universal. Inasmuch as it is universal, it is not related to any other thing and, therefore, there cannot be any suffering. So, sat-chit-ananda is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, which is one compact being of utter freedom which is at the back of all objects and subjects, but which is shrouded in the name-form complex which has to be broken through by the power of concentration.