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The Process of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 3: Concentrating on the Spiritual Ideal

The object of concentration in our spiritual endeavour is the great ideal before us which we choose with great care and caution, the implications of which were already considered in some detail. The ideal that we have chosen is the object of concentration and meditation. We have to bring to bear upon our mind again and again the fact that the ideal that we have chosen is complete in itself – a very important point, which is always likely to slip from our mind.

The most difficult situation that we face in our process of concentration and meditation is half-hearted interest in the ideal. Though I tried to explain why the ideal should possess us entirely, the mind has its own ways of tricking the seeker, the student of Yoga, and whispering into his ear, “Whatever ideal you have chosen for your concentration or meditation cannot be all-in-all because, my dear friend, don't you see many other equally good ideals in the world which can satisfy you in many other ways?”

The multiplicity of ideals presented before the mind due to our old habits of seeing many things through the eyes will intrude again and again, and distract our attention. It will be difficult for us to accommodate ourselves to the required conviction that the ideal is all-in-all because we are accustomed to think that nothing in the world can be all-in-all. With a force of effort and understanding – power of analysis – we have to convince ourselves that the ideal is complete in every way; it is not just one thing among many other things.

Suppose, for the purpose of a theoretical argument, that the ideal is one among many other possible ideals; notwithstanding this fact that this one ideal appears to be one among many others, it can take us to the total involvement of the whole creation. As I mentioned by way of illustration, one single official of a government can take us to the entire government by his interconnection, interrelatedness. Any object, any ideal, any picture, any thought, any god, any divinity, any beloved can take us to the Total, because the total cosmos charges itself powerfully upon every little part in this world. As every cell in the body is charged with the power of the whole body, every particle of creation is charged with the power of the whole cosmos. Therefore, we need not fear that we are catching a part, only one among many possible things. Even supposing that it appears to be one among many other things, there is no harm in pursuing that one thing. A river is only one among many other rivers in this world, and one river is not the same as another river; yet, through any river we can reach the ocean which consumes all the rivers. As all rivers lead to the same ocean, every object will take us to the cosmical setup of things, God Almighty, thus bringing into the mind a conviction driven forcefully every day, every minute, every moment, that what we have chosen is perfectly good enough and there should be no occasion of distraction or diversion of attention.

What are you going to think in the mind, or with what kind of visualisation are you going to engage yourself in your concentration or worship process? Since looking at things, seeing with the eyes, is the usual habit of the human personality – pre-eminently more than the activity of any other sense organ because of the fact that the mind thinks mostly in terms of perceptible things – you may visualise your divinity, your god, your ideal with open eyes. What is that thing that you see with your eyes?

You are now in the most initial step of spiritual practice. You are taking the first step, second step or third step, as it were, where it is necessary for the mind to hang on something which is capable of visualisation in terms of perception through the eyes. This is why you keep an idol before you – a mandala, a diagram, yantra or a written mantra, a god in a temple or an altar of worship, a painted picture or a portrait or a sculptural piece – some holy atmosphere which is visible to the eyes. It may be a chidambaram, an empty space of godly atmosphere, yet it is something capable of visual perception.

It is not always necessary to open your eyes in order to concentrate on your ideal. But, inasmuch as the habit of the mind is to think in terms of visual perception only, and concentration practised by closing the eyes may lead to a super-lethargic condition and even a kind of sleepiness, the earliest stages may begin with visualised, open-eyed perception of your god. When you see a thing that you like, you feel happier than when you visualise it mentally without actually looking at it. Would you not like to see a thing which you like, or would you prefer to merely think of it by closing the eyes? In the earliest of stages, it is better to look at it, embrace it, love it, praise it, sing its glories and say it is all things for you. This is how the great saints of Maharasthra, for instance, sang and danced in front of the idol Vittala in Pandapur. They danced in ecstasy because they saw what they wanted to see.

So, each one of you may choose whatever can be a visible pictorial form of your idol. Some god has to be in front of you, so that you may worship it. It can even be a sacred scripture – the Bible, the Bhagavadgita, the Ramayana, the Srimad Bhagavatam, or a written mantra. Even that is a god, a divinity, if you really have faith in it. But you can feel God as a person, which is the usual way of conceiving God, by letting that person be in front of you. The Universal Person has descended into a concrete form and centralised Himself in your presence in this visual presentation of a deity. It may be a painted picture or a sculptural ideal – whatever it is, you would like to have it. Feel that this thing in front of you is a ray of radiance which is coming from the sun, inundating the atmosphere of all creation. When you see a little ray of light passing through the aperture of the screen in your room, do you not feel that it is coming from the sun in the sky, and the entire sun's force is in that piercing medium of the ray that is peeping through your window? The sun is behind that little incarnation of the sun in the form of the ray. So bring into the focus of your attention this fact that the cosmic person – God Almighty or whatever be the name that you give to Him in terms of Hinduism or Christianity or Buddhism, whatever it is – is that great person.

Maha Purusha, Almighty Lord, your Heart of hearts, your beloved Father in heaven, God Almighty is this object in front, which is the vehicle which carries the total force of that of which it is an incarnation. You are actually worshiping and are face to face with that total power of the creative energy in the visible form of the object.

It is easier to conceive God as a person capable of human feelings and human characteristics, though it is not always necessary to consider the ideal of concentration in human form only. As I mentioned, it can even be a diagram or a stone like a saligrama, a sivalinga, a spatika – or anything, for the matter of that.

But the weaknesses of the mind are also to be taken into consideration. We cannot love everything equally, on account of the absence of the human element. We can love a cow or buffalo which gives good milk, we can love the horse on which we ride, but we cannot love them as much as we love our father and mother, son or daughter, husband or wife, because we are human beings and we cannot entirely avoid the need felt inside to conceive things in a human form. That is why we say God, the Father in heaven, and do not say the Cow in heaven. Though a cow is good enough, of course, we cannot think in that manner. This is a characteristic of human nature.

We have to move from manhood to supermanhood, from humanity to super-humanity, from the way of thinking as a human being to the way of thinking as a superhuman entity. This is the reason why we would like to have something before us which is conceivable in terms of human presentation. We sing the glories of God, not as a stone, a picture or a diagram in front of us, but as a great person in front of us. We may sing the glory of Christ or the Father in heaven, or Narayana, Vishnu or Rama, or whatever it is. Do we not sing the glories of these divinities in our own language in terms of scriptural presentations? That is human language that we adopt, acceptable to one who can understand the human style of speaking. When we sing in our own language, we know that our God understands that language, because that language which we speak is the vehicle of our feelings. Though our feelings are not always expressed in terms of language, when we speak or sing, we express the feelings in language. The Englishman's feeling and the Indian's feeling may be identical as far as the psychological function is concerned, but the expression is different because one will express it in English and the other will speak in an Indian language.

Scriptures have also given us certain instructions and guidelines as to how we can move our mind around the area of the location of our ideal. Taking for granted that the god in front of us can be concentrated on in a humanly conceivable form, open your eyes and pour your love on it, as you pour your love on a large treasure which will entirely sustain you for a lifetime. What does a mother feel when her first child is born after twenty years of marriage? The whole world, the entire creation is scintillating through that little baby, and she will forget everything else. She will not like to eat or sleep due to the joy of having the great treasure of the cosmos that has come to her in the form of this little child after years of contemplation and prayers. Only a parent who has had no child for many years can understand what it means; otherwise it is a theoretical imagination. You must know what it means practically. A jobless man who has been walking the streets in the hot sun suddenly finds a job that will fetch him a fortune. Can you imagine that joy that he experiences? You must practically know it. If a starving person has a sumptuous meal, it will fill him with heavenly joy. Imagine what he feels at that time.

My love is my love. It cannot be effectively magnified by any additional qualification. When I say this is my love, I have said everything about it, and you should not add any further word or phrase to qualify it, because any additional qualification will not add to its glory; it will only diminish its content. In the same way, when you say God is, you have said everything. You should not say God is this and that. That is not adding to His greatness. So, the object of your love is the object of your love. There is nothing more to be said about it, and only you know what it means to love a thing which is entirely flooding you with a complete satisfaction. But do not bring the devil's whisper: “No, this is not going to give me what I want. I can have another thing also. I can have another idol, I can have another Guru, just as I can have another husband, another wife.” Then what is the good of your love? It is broken into pieces. This is dishonest affection, and it cannot be applied to God.

You have to be very careful. Either you want God or you do not want Him. Do not say, “I want you if, when, under these conditions, provided that. . . . ” Then this will not work. If a husband says, “provided that,” “under these conditions, my dear,” to his wife, this is not a husband speaking. Neither can the wife say, “provided that.” No ‘providing'; it is a whole-souled dedication. This kind of whole-souled dedication is difficult to find on account of the treacherous movements of the subliminal layers of our personality which always see that we do not succeed in this world. The higher mind and the lower mind act together. While God speaks in one language to Adam, Satan comes and speaks in another language, and spoils the whole attempt.

Hence, to avoid this kind of pitfall, the most poignant form of which is the forgetfulness of the conviction that one's ideal is all-in-all, a continuity of practice is necessary. Every minute, every day, you have to go on hammering it into your mind. If you give scant respect to it or have little time to devote to it, the world of attraction and dissension will intrude into your mind and tell you that you are pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp, a mirage, and you are going to get nothing out of it. “After all, I do not know whether something will come or not, whether this Guru has given me a proper instruction or this is the god I want. Why Rama? Krishna is better. Why Krishna? I will change the ideal to Hanuman.” All these ideas may come because the conviction that your ideal is the all has not been sufficiently driven into your mind. Your bhakti, devotion, should be undivided concentration on that which you have considered as everything. Otherwise, do not go for it. As I mentioned, either you really want it or you do not want it, but do not want it only in some percentage.

Place, time and method are three of the important factors that have to be taken into consideration in your spiritual practice: Where do you sit, at what time do you sit, and what is the method that you are adopting? There are also many other factors connected with success in meditation, but these three are predominantly important. Are you sitting in a marketplace, in a railway station, in a police station, on the street, in your house among a large number of family members, in your puja room, or in Uttarkashi, Gangroti, in a forest or on the bank of Ganga? Where are you sitting? The physical and geographical atmosphere around you also has some impact upon you. Though the external atmosphere is not all-important, it has some importance. The people around you, the air around you, the Earth around you are also important. So to the extent possible, under the conditions with which you are living, choose the best place for the practice of sadhana.

Now, the best may involve various other aspects which will not easily come to your mind. The place where you are located for the purpose of spiritual practice should not cause any disturbance, agony or anxiety of any kind. Suppose you have a vocation or a job, and suddenly, through an emotional outburst of love for an ideal of God-realisation you may like to resign, put an end to your career or profession, renounce everything and go to a distant place in the Himalayas and devote yourself entirely to God. This is praiseworthy, a very noble aspiration indeed. But, this person who takes such a decision is also a person, and not merely a ray which works impersonally without any connection with external conditions. There are the onslaughts of heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and fear of death – which may suddenly rush upon the person as if from an ambush after days or even months of this step that has been taken.

Dharma, artha, kama, moksha are supposed to be the fourfold form taken by the requirement of a human being. Your want is not one-sided; it is a fourfold requirement. You require material amenities to the extent you have to survive in this world through this body. Spiritual practice is not a crushing of the body; it is a utilisation process of the physical atmosphere also. The energies of the body are harnessed and used for the purpose for which this body has been given, and not killed under the impression that you are doing spiritual meditation. This body has come through the karmas of the past. The karmas of the past – all those impressions created by your performance of work or thought and feeling in earlier lives – have produced this form of the physical body to benefit you by way of experience through this body. A debt has to be discharged, and you cannot run away from it. Suicide is running away from a debt, and you will not be saved from it. You can go to the nether regions or the highest heaven, but the creditor will pursue you. As a calf can find its mother even in the midst of thousands of cows, your karma will find you wherever you are, even if you are in the thick of a forest.

So, do not be under the impression that you can destroy your body by wilful negligence of it, and go above it. You can transcend a thing, but you cannot bypass it. You can transcend a gatekeeper or a tax collector, but you cannot bypass him. You cannot tell them to go. That kind of thing will not work. There is a duty that the tax collector or the gatekeeper is performing, and you have to respect that duty. This body is performing a duty, and the duty is the means by which it exhausts the karmas of the past. You are benefited by that.

While the process of exhausting the prarabdha karma of this body is being discharged, certain other associated factors – desires connected with the very fact of having a physical body – will also creep in. That is called kama, which means the necessity to maintain this body requires certain amenities. The longing for the amenities necessary for the maintenance of this body, as long as it is to survive, is the kama spoken of. If this body is to survive, certain other things in the world are also to be associated with it, such as warm clothes in winter, water when it feels thirsty, a little meal when it is hungry, and a place to lie when it is tired and wants to sleep. The desire is for some protection, some security. The word ‘kama' has a wide connotation. It means many things. For the purpose of our present context, we may consider kama as that psychobiological longing which is an obligatory expression of the personality of the individual for the purpose of security, survival and self-maintenance. The body has to be maintained as long as it is to be used as a tool for spiritual practice. A dead body cannot do meditation. The mind that has been forcefully wrenched from the body against its wish, in suicide or wilful destruction, will also do no meditation.

The will alone is not sufficient. Understanding has to go with will. Rajasic, sattvic and tamasic will and understanding are categorised in the Eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. You should not rajasically or tamasically apply your will minus understanding. I mentioned the three categories of understanding as Bhagavan Sri Krishna puts in the Eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Thus, the desire for material amenities to the extent of survival in the interest of spiritual practice is permissible, and the fulfilment of desires to the extent necessary for this purpose of the very existence in this world is also permissible.

But then comes another prescription – that the law of creation, which is called dharma, is to restrain your operations through the body and through the manner in which you express your desire for kama. You cannot go wild in the expression of your desire. You cannot contravene and oppose a similar desire of another person just because you have that desire. While you have to survive, you cannot deny the prerogative of that kind of wish on the part of another person. You require freedom, but your freedom cannot intrude into the freedom of another. So, we can have only conditional freedom in this world. Our very physical existence is supported by various associations from outside – the people around us, the world around us – and you know well that you cannot exist singly in this world. The cooperation and help of other people – parents, family members, society, etc. – are also called for. Hence, dharma comes into high relief here even in fulfilling our desire in order to live in a justifiable manner through this body for the purpose of spiritual practice. Dharma is the law of the world, and is equally operative in all in a cooperative spirit, not in a competitive spirit. There is no competition, but cooperation. One thing hangs on the other for its very existence.

Now, inasmuch as this is the position, you have to see that in the expression of longing to maintain yourself securely for the purpose of spiritual practice and also the expression of your desires, you do not contravene the law of sanity of mind, the law of friendliness and welfare of other people, the law of your coordination with the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and sky, and the law of your final coordination with the existence of God Himself. Will God permit me to do this? If I am in the presence of God Almighty just now and He looks at me, will He be happy about the way in which I am presently conducting myself?

Your duty, as I mentioned, is a blending of fourfold factors – dharma, artha, kama, moksha. I have briefly told you something about artha, kama and dharma. Artha, kama and dharma coming together into a single concerted action is made possible on account of the operation of the law of moksha in all three, which is the law of God. Moksha is not the last thing that comes after the other three; it is a whole in which these three are included. The four aspects mentioned – artha, kama, dharma and moksha – are not like the four legs of a cow, one disconnected from the other. They are something like the four quarters of a coin, which are inside the coin itself. A pound or a rupee coin can be divided into four quarters, and the four quarters are inside the coin. They are not inside like four legs of an animal; nevertheless, they are logically present in that whole. In that sense, the four aspects are capable of constituting themselves into a total vision of life.

There is another fourfold vision, apart from the need to blend together artha, kama, dharma and moksha – namely, the relationship that is to obtain between yourself and people outside; between yourself and the physical world outside, the world of nature; between yourself and the Almighty whom you are seeking; and among the very constituents of your individuality, the psychic composite structure of your being. A wholeness of approach is what we have been talking about and considering for the last two days – a hologram of approach, to put it in modern terms. You should be a whole in yourself, a whole in your relationship with people outside, a whole in your relationship with the world of nature externally, and a whole also in your relationship to God Almighty.

Are you a whole, psychologically? Vedanta scriptures and studies in psychology say that there are layers of personality. Apart from the physical vesture which appears to be the outermost, there is the vital breath – the prana, as it is called – which is even more important than the fact of physiological functioning. There are various functions of the mind. Then is the reason, and there is finally the spirit, the Atman Supreme. Are they all stratified in a harmonious manner, or is there a nonalignment of your personality? Are you saying one thing and doing something else? Great people tell us to speak and do one and the same thing. The distracted, disassociated personality says one thing, thinks another thing and does a third thing. This second aspect is the characteristic of a disassociated personality, a dismembered individuality, not a whole person, who can neither eat a meal with joy nor sleep with satisfaction. He cannot utter one good word with kindness of expression.

So, a psychological holism or gestalt, an inward compound of being, has to be introduced into you. You must feel a sense of wholeness in yourself always, and then you are healthy person. You feel buoyant, light-spirited, and everything is a satisfaction.

This kind of analysis has to be carried on every day. As everybody knows, we have our own worries, tensions and burdens of life; but we have to pass through them. They have come with us as our heritage at the time of birth itself. The problems of life are not to be escaped from. All problems are intended to be solved. You are supposed to untie the Gordian knot, not cut it. You cannot cut a problem, a knot, but you can untie it.

Hence, psychologically untying the knot of personality and making it feel a sense of alignment within yourself, which is the first requirement, will also enable you to be harmonious with society, with nature, and with God Himself. This is another set of fourfold requirement. In the same way as there is a fourfold requirement of artha, kama, dharma and moksha, there is also the fourfold requirement of harmony in yourself, with others, with nature, and with God. With these preparations already at the tip of your fingers, you can take steps to advance along the path you have chosen for concentration and meditation.

We began by saying that there should be an ideal before you, which you can visualise – a person in front of you, an image of a god or incarnation that is placed on an altar. Scriptures such as the Bhagavata tell us how we can move the mind along the personality of this deity in front of us. Look at each part of the body – the eyes, the nose, the ears, the chin, the neck, the chest, the arms, the hands, the trunk, the legs, the feet, and take the mind again from bottom to top. Rove the mind from head to foot, and from the feet to the head. Let it move continuously like that throughout the personality of this ideal, so that the mind gets filled up into the crucible of its form by the structural pattern of the object. Then you will be thinking only that, day in and day out, and even when you look around, you will see your divinity everywhere. The god in front of you, the deity on the altar, will become a deity present everywhere around you.

As devotees dance and sing, “Wherever I go, I see You only,” wherever you gaze, wherever you go, even in your workaday atmosphere, you will see this ideal before you because of the power of concentration.