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The Process of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: Place, Time and Method

We had an occasion to consider several associated aspects in connection with the choice of a suitable place for meditation. While a conducive atmosphere is essential, the time factor also is equally important. Where we meditate is one aspect of the matter, and when we do it – which particular period of the day would be beneficial – is another side. It goes without saying that since meditation is the devoting of a whole-souled attention on our spiritual ideal, the time selected for it should be free from any other distracting engagement. Else, the subconscious mind will create a rumbling sound within, pointing out that in a short while something else is going to intrude into our effort at meditation. While the conscious mind is engaged in meditation, the subconscious mind will apprehend a difficulty that is to be faced in the near future; this will be a mixing up of issues, bringing no tangible results. If there is some pressing engagement in the outer world which is important for various reasons, that engagement has to be taken up and dealt with in an appropriate manner so that one can do away with it. The engagement is over for another day, or at least for a half a day, and there is nothing likely to come into the picture before the mind as an obstructing medium.

Generally, we are told that morning and evening hours are suitable for the practice of meditation, but it is not that other hours are unsuitable. Any time is good for thinking of God, but there are minutes and hours when our mental and physical condition seems to be fit especially for our engagement in meditation. After we wake from sleep and before we enter into duties of the workaday world, there is a little field of transition when the tamas of sleep is no more, and rajas of activities has not started. So, in between we are neither in the torpid tamasic condition of sleep, nor we are pressed into the rajasic engagements of our daily duties. This in-between hour is naturally of a sattvic nature. We are conscious, but not exactly conscious of something outside.

When we wake up from sleep, for the first few seconds or minutes we are half-dozing, semi-conscious, but not conscious of any particular thing. We are not sufficiently conscious of even ourselves immediately after waking up. Neither are we aware of our personal existence at that time, because the mind has not sufficiently come up to the surface of active thinking, nor are we aware of the outside world, because the rajas element has not entered into mental activity. So, a state where consciousness is active, but not active in any externalised sense – neither subjectively nor objectively conscious particularly – that intermediate hour between sleep and active engagement in work is a sattvic condition where consciousness can settle itself in itself. Then, spontaneous chitta vritti nirodha takes place without much effort on our part. That is, the psychological functions are in a state of abeyance, yet they allow the operation of consciousness. It is an awareness that is not an awareness of any particular thing. This is the specialty of the early morning hours after waking up, whatever be the time of our waking from sleep.

Sleep is also a very important contribution to our psycho-physiological element. Enthusiasm along the path of spiritual sadhana should not prove in any way detrimental to our health. Health is wealth, and it is the greatest wealth. There are people who are overeager to cut short their sleep in order that they may be able to devote more time for meditation in the early morning hours. If our sleep is over, we will naturally wake up. We need not tell ourselves that we have to wake up. But if we require pushing or a ringing bell, our sleep is not over and we have to wake up by force. This is not healthy. For some days we may succeed in doing this. We may press ourselves into the activity of meditation by refusing to give adequate time for our sleep, but later on we will see an adverse effect following from this practice because in compelling the mind to do something against its normal wishes, we have gone against our own spontaneous nature, and there will be an internal revolt against what has not been given to the mind as its due.

The dues are of various kinds: food when we are feeling hungry, water when we feel thirsty, rest when we are fatigued, and so on. If there is a shortfall in any one of these items, then there will be a long duration of submerged dissatisfaction of the mind, which will later result in a reaction of an unconducive nature. The Bhagavadgita warns us: yuktāhāra-vihārasya yukta-ceṣṭasya karmasu, yukta-svapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkha-hā (Gita 6.17). Balance is to be our attitude towards diet, sleep and activity. Nātyaśnatas tu yogosti (Gita 6.16). A glutton who always thinks of munching, eating throughout the day, and who goes to hotels and gorges himself on anything that is available cannot be a suitable medium for the practice of Yoga. Nor is a person suitable for the practice of Yoga if he over-starves himself. Na caikāntam anaśnataḥ (Gita 6.16). A person who is always asleep, lying down and dozing day in and day out, will also not be a suitable medium for the practice of meditation. Jāgrato naiva cārjuna (Gita 6.16). One who does not sleep at all, who cannot get sleep and does not want to sleep, is also not suitable. No extreme can be taken as a method of Yoga practice. Neither to the left nor to the right can we hang excessively in the balance of practice.

This suggestion that morning hours are suitable for meditation also applies to the evening hours, before going to bed, because prior to the actual time of going to bed, we are in a mood of the cessation of rajasic activity of the day. The work of the day is over, and we are free from engagements. People who are in a family atmosphere may devote a few minutes in calling the members of the family together for a short session of kirtana, bhajana, japa or prayer, and then after the work of the day is over, the family members can go to sleep. But you need not sleep at that time. The atmosphere of a family with many members is also sometimes a kind of disturbance. When children are crying and other members are working, you feel a little distracted. Even if you are living in a family, it does not matter. After they go to sleep, you can remain awake for some time.

Usually, the sequence of practice in the morning hours would be meditation first, japa or the chanting of the Divine name next, and study of a holy scripture afterwards. Meditation, dhyana, japa and svadhaya may be regarded as the three prongs of a spiritual adventure. At night, you can reverse the process. First devote a little time to study scripture, then you can do the recitation of the holy mantra, and lastly go to meditation. You will find that many a time you will have no time to be alone to yourself to devote in this manner. Very rarely we are alone to ourselves, though in all types of spiritual sadhana we become, or try to become, alone in ourselves. We cannot be in a social consciousness when we are actively engaged in spiritual meditation.

The aloneness should be not merely physical; it should also be a feeling of psychological aloneness. Alone did you come to this world. You did not bring family members or treasure and property with you when you came. And alone you shall depart. Ekaḥ prajāyate jantur eka eva pralīyate, eko 'nubhuṅkte sukṛtam eka eva ca duṣkṛtam (M.S. 4.240). When one comes to this world, one comes alone, without any kind of external association, and one departs alone, without any kind of accompaniment. Alone do you reap the fruits of your actions. Nobody will share your debts. Good deeds and bad deeds are your business. Whatever you have brought as your karma phala from your previous birth, that you will enjoy. If you have brought some good karmas, you will be happy; otherwise, you will be grieving. Na-amutra hi sahāyārthaṁ pitā mātā ca tiṣṭhataḥ, na putradāraṁ na jñātir dharmas tiṣṭhati kevalaḥ (M.S. 4.239). Your parents will not come with you. Some people will come with you to the burial or cremation grounds, and some will not come even that distance. "Gone. He has gone." You will go on hearing these statements of people in the astral realms, and then your existence will be forgotten. Not only parents, but husband and wife, children and property will also not come.

What comes with you? That which you have totally ignored and rejected in this world will come with you. Tragedy shall be your life if this is your fate. What is it that you have totally ignored in life or to which you have given stepmotherly treatment? That shall be your last resort. Please think over this matter. For the years that you have lived in this world till now, what is it that you have clung to, day in and day out? That to which you have clung will not come with you. What have you loved in this world? Those things will not come with you. Those things that you have completely ignored and never even thought of, as if they do not exist, will come and vitally pursue you, as your skin will pursue you wherever you go. That is dharma. The law has arms as vast as the sky, and the dharma of the universe will pursue you wherever you go. Your longings are your treacherous friends, your desires are your undoing, your property is your sorrow, and your belongings shall be your tears one day or the other.

You have forgotten that to which you actually belong. Aum krato smara kṛtaṁ smara krato smara kṛtaṁ smara (Isa 17) says the Ishavasya Upanishad, which means to say, at the last moment you weep and cry, and say, "Oh, please remember what I have done." You need not go on saying this. The mind will open up its treasures of all its karmas that were otherwise buried during your lifetime, due to the pressure of outward circumstances. What you really are is not known to you now because the conscious mind is actively operating under the pressure of outward circumstances, but the conscious pressure will be lifted at the time of death. The lid will open, and all the resources of the subconscious mind hidden inside, which you have completely suppressed by the force of conscious activity, will come up like a dustbin being opened, to your horror. "Oh, this was me. I never knew that it was me. I thought I was something else. Now I know what I am." To whom will you say this? Nobody is going to hear your words. You will cry to the wilderness. Go to the forest and cry; the trees will hear. No human being will listen to you. When you have lost everything that is valuable in this world, nobody will look at you. You will have the treasure of your karmas, which nobody will want to share with you.

Thus, though the early morning is of course a good time to go into a state of self-analysis, the immanent and impending engagements of the future hours of the day will subtly intrude their tentacles and tell you that you cannot sit for a long time because of all the things that have to be done in the day ahead. But that difficulty will be less at night because you know the day is over, so you can devote more time for this purpose.

One of the instructions given is that when you go to sleep, close your balance sheet with a credit balance as if you will not wake up in the morning, as there is no guarantee that you will wake up. The lease of life granted to you can end any time without your knowledge. It can be withdrawn immediately, and you will wake up in another world the next morning. So, as far as it is possible, the instructions given to sincere seekers of Truth is that, when the day closes, let it be the closing of your life itself. "If I wake up in the morning, God be thanked for it. If it is written that I will not be able to wake up in the morning, God be thanked for that also. I shall wake up in another world." But do not go to sleep with a debt which you have not paid, thinking you will pay it tomorrow. You will pay it in the next birth. That which you have not discharged as your debt will have to be paid in the next world in the form of grief and difficulty of some kind.

The problems that you are facing in your life today in this world are debts which you have not discharged in your previous life, and you do not know why this harassment has come to you. Every day you have problems which have been brought from the previous life because they have not been discharged. How much have you taken from the world? To that extent you may also contribute to the world. There is no such thing as charity, really speaking. Gratis is unknown to the cosmos. Gift is non-existent. Though it appears that you have been given a gift or a charity, it is really not a gift; it is something that is due to you from the conditions of an earlier life. If something is not due to you, it will not come to you, though it may look like a gift. Hence, let there be no sense of debt.

If you have renounced the world as a vanaprastha or a sannyasin, and seem to be free from the atmosphere of a family life, let the mind be assured that it has no obligations to the family. It has discharged its duties in some way or the other, for some reason or the other. But if something inside is telling you that the debts have not been fully discharged, it will undo your spiritual sadhana. If you have a doubt about your own self, then there is nobody to protect you or save you. The consciousness inside should be clear that you have discharged all your debts. Otherwise, you cannot become a vanaprastha if you go on writing letters to your family members. What is the use of being in Rishikesh when the mind is in Ahmedabad or New York? All debts should be cleared. If you have taken something that you do not deserve, you have to pay it back by some service. It may be a service that you do to people, or even to the world of nature itself from which you have taken something gratis.

Many debts are of a category that may not be clear to our minds. Householders perform a yajna called Pancha-maha-yajna every day – a fivefold sacrifice, a dedication. This is done every day so that their fivefold debt is discharged. You have been educated; you have knowledge. But this education and knowledge has come to you by the effort of somebody else. Your parents have worked hard to educate you. The pitris, whether they are alive or not, and the textbooks that you read, are the blessings of the authors thereof. The scriptures that you study convey the blessings of the great masters who are embedded in these scriptures. From where does the knowledge come? It comes from the scripture, from the Guru, and from parental effort. You owe a debt to them. When you study these scriptures, these textbooks, remember the great masters, the authors, your Guru, and your parents, and offer your obeisance to them. If they are alive and you are with them, you may be of some help and assistance to them. If they are not alive, your humble prayers to the Almighty to bless them will also be a service. This is Brahma yagna.

The gods who superintend over your sense organs are responsible for your very existence as an individual who sees through your eyes, hears through your ears, etc. These devas also require your gratitude. They do not want anything material from you; the expression of your sense of gratitude is itself a great gift. If I express my gratitude to you, that is also a service. If these divinities are ignored, if the god that is digesting the food in your stomach as Vaishvanara is not at all remembered when you eat your meal, you are a thief, says the Bhagavadgita: stena eva saḥ (Gita 3.12). Householders especially, when they take their meal, are in the practice of putting a little food from the plate aside for the divinity, for the god, for this, for that. A share is given to them as a token of one's remembrance of them. The quantity that is offered is not important; it is the feeling that is associated with it that is of consequence.

And there are other requirements. When you take a meal, if anybody is standing at the gate, hungry and expecting something from you, it is called atithi yajna. Atithi is one who comes without previous intimation, and is considered more important than an invited guest. It is divinity itself coming, God Himself coming, as it were, and he has to be taken care of.

Then there is a blessing that you have to bestow upon even subhuman elements such as cattle, dogs and cats, even to the ants, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Destroy not the ants; they will take care of you. The Upanishad tells us that these little ants which seem to be nothings before you will assume a large proportion in the next world. They will come as elephants and protect you because you have taken care of them and not trampled them. Ants will become mighty agents of succour for you. The Garuda Purana and other scriptures say that even the cow that you loved, not for its milk but because of its sanctity and goodness, will come and stretch its tail across the river Vaitarani to help you cross it. Vaitarani is a river in Yamaloka which cannot be easily crossed. You will sink into it. But this cow will stretch its long tail across it like a bridge over which you can walk. Many other things of this kind are told in the Garuda Purana. Suffice it to say, you owe a debt to nature. In the early morning when you wake up, pray to the great orb Surya Bhagavan, Narayana himself rising in the eastern horizon to vitalise your pranas and bless you with long life. Pray to mother Ganga, pray to the early morning Usha, pray to the sky, pray to the rain god, pray to the stars, which are all in an invisible way responsible for your very existence. Prayer is the greatest of sacrifices. It is the greatest yagna that you can perform.

With these and many other means that you adopt in your own way, discharge your debts before you go to bed, and go with the feeling that you are now going to sleep with no compunction in your heart, and no feeling of debt that you owe to anybody. Go to bed with a credit balance left in the accounts of life, but not with a debit. Do not sleep until your duties are finished. This is something about the time factor that you have to choose for the practice of meditation, apart from the place you choose.

The most important thing is the method of meditation. I mentioned three important aspects of spiritual sadhana: the choice of place, time and method. What is the technique that you adopt in your meditation? There are the usual Yogas, as they are called: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Japa Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Nada Yoga, etc. The Guru who initiates you into the methods of spiritual practice is also expected to tell you what kind of technique to adopt. Here you have to follow the instructions given by the Guru implicitly, with faith. Once the initiation is done, the path is shown to you and it is cleared of all obstacles.

In earlier sessions I said something briefly as to how we can actively engage ourselves in this world of duty and perform what is known as Karma Yoga in the light of the guidelines available from the Bhagavadgita. I also mentioned something about devotion to God, bhakti marga, where the nine methods known as kirtanam, visnoh smaranam, pada-sevanam, archanam, vandanam, dasyam, sakhyam, atma-nivedanam are employed.

In your love of God, which is the devotion spoken of, you transfer your human affection to God. If you love your father or mother intensely and cannot forget them, channelise this affection to God as your father or mother. The Almighty is your father. The Almighty is your mother. Mātā dhātā pitāmahaḥ (Gita 9.17): I am mother, I am father, I am grandfather, says the Lord in the Bhagavadgita. So, why should you spill your affection on mortal parents? Let your love go to your immortal parents. How many parents have you had? Do you know? In this birth you were born to some father and mother, and are very much concerned about them. But who was your father and mother in your previous birth? Are your parents in your previous birth so very negligible that you need not think of them? You will also have the same attitude towards your present parents when you go to the next birth. They will become objects of neglect. If you have taken a thousand births you have had thousands of parents, and all of them have gone into the limbo of neglect while you cling to one particular circumstance of parenthood, brotherhood, sisterhood, etc. Therefore, these affections are unnecessarily distracting media which have to be channelized to God.

If you have a friend with whom you walk every day, feel that the Lord Almighty Himself is walking with you. God is your father and mother, and God is also your friend. If you are attached to any particular thing, let that attachment be diverted to God. Cling to Him for everything. If you are a servant, consider your master as the Almighty and you are his humble servant.

There is dasa bhakti, sacha bhakti, shanta bhakti, madhurya bhakti, and various other adoptions of the technique of diverting the love and affection that are poured upon things in the world to God finally. The highest love is that feeling wherein you lose consciousness of yourself. If you are aware that you are and that there is something else in front of you as your object of love, it is only gauna bhakti, a preparatory love. You have created a division between the lover and the beloved, and there is a gap between the two. Love effloresces into an experience of ecstasy and inclusive satisfaction where the medium that loves and the object that is loved merge into a coherence of compactness. Such an experience is rare in this world. It is called madhurya bhakti. The gopis and many other devotees who adopted this technique are taken as examples. Every other form of devotion is secondary because of the object being outside as something to be loved.

Priya, modha and pramoda are supposed to be the designations of love in the three strata of the nearness of the object of love. When you see an object of love, you feel one kind of happiness. It is called priya. You are delighted to see the object of your love, but it is at a distance. When it comes near, the feeling of love increases in its intensity and you cannot contain yourself. You are in the state of ebullition, boiling, a welling up of your emotion. That state is called modha, more catching than priya. But pramodha is an experience, not merely a love. It is an experience in the sense that the object has become one with consciousness. The content of consciousness has become consciousness itself; the sat, or the existence of the object, has become chit, or the consciousness, which was earlier aware of it as an external something. Sat and chit have become one in the merger of the sat, the existence of the object, in the chit, the consciousness thereof. Ordinarily, such an experience is not to be found. We may read about gopis, but none of us can become gopis because of loves that are otherwise distracting and our bhakti being not sufficiently honest.

Many people are under the impression that Bhakti Yoga is a lower type of sadhana and Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga are higher types. This is a misconstruing of the whole position. Nothing can be equal to the love of God. If you want to know what love of God is, you must read the lives of saints like the Nayanars and Alwars of southern India. Read the lives of these saints, the Saivas known as Nayanars and the Vaishnava saints known as Alwars. They were not human beings; they were only entities. They did not think like men or women; their thinking was not of this world. Their behaviour was totally different from the human way of behaviour, and sometimes they looked superhuman. Sometimes they would even look inhuman from an ordinary perceptional point of view. The devotees of God are as inscrutable in their behaviour as God Himself. What God will do the next moment, nobody knows, as you cannot know what the Ganga will do when she is in flood. To our minds it appears to be anything at any time, but actually it is a systematic action.

Bhakti marga is not a lower type of devotion. It is not a lesser sadhana. In a way, it is the highest. There is an element of love even in Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga, only the object is conceived in a different way from the manner in which love is evinced to the object in other paths. The contemplation of the characterisation or the definition of the object of love changes, but love continues in Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga. But in Bhakti Yoga, the dimension of love becomes enlarged. The limitation is broken, and it becomes as wide as the sky itself. Hence, as an active Karma Yogin who sees God in all eyes, in all faces – sahasraksah sahasrapat; janata janardanah; manava seva madhava seva – with all these types of outlook, you can engage yourself in the duties of the world as a master Karma Yogin as Bhagavan Sri Krishna was, or you may be an ecstatic bhakta as Tukaram, Eknath, Namdev, or you may take to the methodological technique of systematic meditation as it has been prescribed in the sutras of Patanjali, on which theme I shall have something to tell you another time.