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The Process of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: Communion with the Object through Yoga Meditation

A standard way of conducting meditation is according to the well-known system of what is called Ashtanga Yoga, known also as Raja Yoga. Here is a highly scientific technology before us, whereby we are enabled to strike a coordination and a final unity between the world and the individual.

The world stands before us as an object of our perceptional consciousness. We are the seers of the world, and the world is there before us as the seen object. The whole problem of life is in the dissociation of the seer and the seen, and an erroneous coordination established in perception itself between the seer and the seen. While it is perfectly true that the world has nothing to do with us and what happens to the world does not vitally affect us – if a mountain collapses, we do not feel the pain of it, proving thereby that the world of Nature is dissociated from our consciousness – this is not the whole truth. There also seems to be a simultaneous association of the world with consciousness, without which we would not even know that there is a world in front of us. How do we come to know that the world exists if it is totally cut off from our conscious being? Confusion seems to be operating continuously between us and the world outside, and this confusion has to be understood in its depth. How is it that we seem to be connected with the world in some way, and yet not connected in some other way? This self-contradictory position obtaining between us and the world is to be probed threadbare, analysed and solved.

This system of Yoga takes upon itself the task of solving this great cosmic problem. The Yoga system referred to is based on another system, called Sankhya, which enumerates the categories or the degrees in terms of which the evolution of the world takes place, or has taken place. Where is this world located? On what does it stand? The composition of the world of matter seems to reveal the fact that it is made up of internal components and it is not a solid mass, which is another way of saying that it is of the nature of the effect, rather than a final cause by itself. The changing character of things in this world proves that they are an effect of something which stands above them as the cause.

The Sankhya tells us that this world of physical elements is constituted of earth, water, fire, air and ether. This world of material composition is of a changeful character, and it must have a cause in terms of which it is undergoing a transformation in the evolutionary process. The cause behind the five elements is something like the causative factors behind matter that have been investigated by modern science. Behind the apparently solid masses of material substances before us, there are molecules which are also material in their nature but which are the inner components of the so-called material substance. Molecules also are not hard compounds; they are capable of further dissection into atomic particles. Once upon a time atoms were considered as the ultimate principles or building bricks of the cosmos, but today we are told that they are not ultimate in their nature. Atoms are pressure points of electrical charges surrounded by an aura which fades away beyond the horizon of their visible existence. Investigations in physics tell us that the aura of an atomic particle extends beyond itself to such an extent that it seems to be touching the highest heavens. A little particle here can touch the stars, and the events in the world are cosmic events. The vibrations within a particle of sand on the bank of a river are motivated by a vibration emanating from the centre of the cosmos. According to the Sankhya doctrine, these vibratory backgrounds of the physical elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – are known as tanmatras, or subtle potentials. They are more subtle than electricity, and fade away into vitality, prana, energy quantum, which are not merely material in nature.

Above the physical world of the five elements, there are the tanmatras, known as potentials of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting, producing reactionary effects in the form of sound, colour, taste, smell and tangibility, which are the essences behind the physical objects and not capable of direct physical perception. These potentials are not isolated particles of matter; they are super-matter, we may say. Electricity is material, but it is more subtle than any ordinary solid object such as a brick or a table in front of us.

But these potentials, tanmatras, are also effects of something beyond them, that something being the cause of all causes. Both Sankhya and modern science tell us that space-time in a unified form may be regarded as an ultimate cause of things. The causation of things – the feeling that something comes from something else, that one thing is the cause and another thing is the effect – arises on account of the action of space and time, which is continued existence. They call it the space-time continuum. We are accustomed to speak of space and time. Nowadays, people say space-time, a blend of both together – not a three-dimensional space and a one-dimensional time, but a four-dimensional total, which is incomprehensible to the mind. We can think of length, breadth and height, and a linear movement of past, present and future as duration, but we cannot imagine the coming together of these two at the same time. A four-dimensional thinking is beyond our capacity. But there seems to be such a mysterious existence – a space-time complex and compound, a continuum – which gives rise to these potentials known as the tanmatras, which again give rise to the five elements – space, air, heat or fire, liquid or water, and solid or earth – and our physical existence cannot be separated from the existence of these mentioned categories. Our body or the body of anything in this world, whether material or living, inorganic or organic, is constituted of the same five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether as the world.

Questions arise here in this context: How is it that we see the world as something placed outside us, while the constituents of the world seem to be the very constituents of our body also? What is the reason for our feeling that the world is placed externally when it is not true? How could it be externally placed before our eyes, when the very eyeballs, the very sense organs, the entire organs of the body are constituted of the same matter as the world outside?

The Sankhya and Yoga systems tell us that egoism is the cause of this unwarranted feeling of the external placement of the world in front of our consciousness. Egoism is the archvillain in the life of all people. What is egoism? The Sankhya takes us beyond the space-time continuum, which is the last point reached by modern science. Modern science cannot go beyond space-time because it cannot analyse egoism or even understand what that principle means at all. Egoism is self-consciousness of a particular nature which asserts itself as being distinguishable from everything else.

The Sankhya, which is the basis of the Yoga practice of Patanjali, tells us that beyond the space-time continuum, which is the physical ultimate available for our perception, there is a principle of cosmic self-affirmation – the Universal ahamkara, the whole cosmos feeling “I am”. If the whole world, including ourselves as a part thereof, is to know that it is, that would be the universal ‘I' asserting itself. Our I's are all fractions of this Universal I.

How could there be two I's? There cannot be two subjects in one sentence. Here is the clash before every one of us. As you are an I and I am also an I, how would we tolerate each other? We cannot be friends even for a second, for the reason that you are an I and I am also an I, and they clash. I can somehow get on with you for some time by bringing you down from the level of your I-ness to the object content that I consider you to be. Unless I force myself into the belief that you are not an I but a ‘you', I cannot get on with you for a moment. Otherwise, there will be a war between two I's, and nobody knows what will be the consequence thereof. And unless you feel that I am a ‘you' to you, you will not be able to say anything to me or get on with me. The world is a clash between I's, but it does not dismember into smithereens because each I struggles to consider and convert every other I into a you, he, she or it – otherwise, why should there be words like ‘you', ‘he', ‘she' or ‘it'? These words have no meaning, because you never regard yourself as a he or a she. You always say ‘I'. If you are an I, why should I call you ‘he' or ‘she'? Here is the problem before us.

This cosmic ahamkara, the Universal I, has no he, she or it before it. It is neither ‘I' nor ‘you'; all things are blended in that Universal menstruum, the melting pot of all possible contents. This Universal I is, as Sankhya tells us, ahamkara-tattva. Those who have studied the six systems of Indian philosophy know what Sankhya is and how it enumerates these categories in this fashion. The Sankhya also tells us that above this principle of cosmic self-affirmation, there is a cosmic consciousness called Mahat. These are technical terms used in some of the Upanishads and particularly in Sankhya philosophy. Cosmic consciousness is distinguishable from the cosmic I, meaning thereby that cosmic consciousness is a general pervasive awareness of all things without any special emphasis on the I-ness attached to it. For us at the lowest level of Earth consciousness now, all this is only an absurd story and nobody knows what it all means. Anyway, even an absurd story has some entertaining effect; otherwise, we would not listen to it. There is something behind it which satisfies us. Later on, it will become a reality when we actually enter into it by our consciousness.

Mahat-tattva, or cosmic consciousness, is prior to and superior to the Universal I or ahamkara. The Sankhya goes beyond still, because it is not satisfied by tormenting us with these theories. It wants to crush us with the weight of this complication of the arrangement of these categories, so that we escape from it as early as possible. There is something called Prakriti, the material original of all things – the matrix. We do not know what it means. It is supposedly not a substance. It is a pervasive background, a dark screen, as it were, a liquefied universe, we may say, subtler than the liquids we think of in our mind, constituted of three forces. Science knows only two of these forces; it does not know the third. Dynamic and static are the two forces that science knows – rajas and tamas, as Sankhya calls it. The power of isolation, separation, activity, dismemberment, movement, motion, force, energy, action is rajas or dynamic. When motion is absent, things are in static condition; that is tamas. These two forces are known to scientists, but there is a third force which Sankhya posits, called sattva – equilibrium. We have never seen anything in the world that can be regarded as an equilibrium of forces. There is always separation, isolation – one thing here, another thing somewhere else.

Prakriti is a balance of these three forces known as sattva, rajas and tamas – staticity, dynamicity and equilibrium of these forces. It is only in the state of equilibrium of these gunas that consciousness can manifest itself. It is only in the cosmic sattva predominant at the time of creation, at the beginning of things, that it became responsible for Universal consciousness being reflected through a medium called Mahat, bringing thereby into existence what is known as cosmic consciousness, and so on.This is to state briefly the evolutionary process of this universe – how the world has come to be, what it is. Let it be what it is. We have understood this is the position. Now, what is the trouble with us?

The trouble is mentioned in the very beginning itself. We cannot reconcile ourselves with any one of these categories. Everything is outside – the tanmatras, earth, water, fire, air, space, and colour, sound, and so on. And about the higher states such as Mahat, the less said the better. We know nothing about it. What are we supposed to do with these things that are apparently outside? The outsideness of things is the problem before all mankind. Wars have taken place. History has been a succession of conflicts from day to day. Things come and things go. There is birth and death, and the drama of life is perpetually drawn before us with picturesque screens. What do all these things mean to us?

The meaning is simple. There is a perpetual irreconcilability between what we are here and what is happening in what we consider as the world. When we speak of the world, do we for a moment imagine that we are also included in the process of the world? No. When we say that the world is so bad, do we mean that we are also a little bad? We cannot stand outside the world, but never for a moment do we imagine that we are part of it. When we say, “Oh, what has the world come to?” we are unwittingly saying, “What have I come to?” Are we condemning ourselves, criticising ourselves when we criticise the world? Even in this criticism,we keep the world outside and we want to go scot free. The Sankhya tells us this is not possible.

The Kingdom of God will be revealed before us if a rapprochement between us and the world can be established. All problems will cease in a flash, this second; and, as great saints, sages and masters sometimes say, heaven will descend on Earth and the Earth will melt into heaven. This is the function of the Yoga system of Patanjali. The ahamkara-tattva in us, the fractional ‘I' in us, the ego that creates a chasm between ourselves and the world has to be eliminated by deep meditational techniques.

Meditation is the art of communion with that which appears to be outside us, and yet, on deeper analysis, is seen to be somehow connected with us. Everything in the world – anything and everything – is of equal importance from the point of view of this method of meditation. Everything is a god for us, if the Sankhya and the Yoga systems are to be followed as our way. How it is so? Because every atom is connected to every other atom and, as it is said, touching even a flower in our garden disturbs the stars in the heavens. This poetic expression, startling in its effect, deeply touches the recesses of our hearts. If a flower that we touch in the garden can communicate its message to the stars in the heavens, we can imagine our relationship to the world! Our very skin is touching the black holes and the white holes, the Milky Way, the solar system, and the entire space-time complex of creation.

Techniques of meditation along these lines have been prescribed by the great sage Patanjali in various sayings known as the Yoga Sutras. Yathabhimatadhyanatva (1.39): We may take any object for our meditation. Any object – even this microphone, or a pencil, a candle flame, a flower, a dot on the wall, a diagram, a picture, an idol or a concept can be the object of our concentration. Anything may be taken as the object of concentration and meditation because of this system of the universe clearly placed before us.

How do we start meditation according to this system? Why does the object appear to be outside? One of the reasons is our incapacity to accept the existence of the objects as part and parcel of our existence due to the intense operation, the flint-like action of our egoism. The other reason is the very structure and composition of the object itself. When we behold an object, says the Yoga System, we are not actually seeing the object as it is, nor are we thinking properly. It is a camouflage of the object that is presented before us; in philosophical parlance, this way of camouflaged perception of an object, chameleon-like in its nature, is called representative perception, secondary perception – not primary in its nature. The primary qualities of an object are not visible; only the secondary qualities are seen. We see the colour, the dimension, the structural pattern, the height and weight, but none of these is the object by itself. The thing as it is, is not merely weight, dimension, or colour. It is none of these. Minus these adjectival associations, what is the object? You are in front of me, and I can see you as a physiological arrangement of bodily parts. Bones and flesh, marrow, nerves, heart, lungs, and brain put together – do they make you? You will resent this definition of yourself, and feel that you have an importance that is different from the so-called importance attached to the physiological complex; yet I can see only this much in you, and nothing more.

The definition of the object in terms of these qualities and the notion that you have about the object act in coordination to prevent you from knowing what the object is in itself. The composition of the object, with its defining characteristics as mentioned, gives the impression that this object is nothing but a medley, a formation of these characteristics. Only the qualities are seen; the substance is not seen. Can you isolate these qualities and look at the substance? With the effort of concentration, let the name and form associated with the object be isolated. When I see you, can I see you without knowing that you have this name attached to you? Forget this name, and also this form which is given to you by this physical personality. As you know very well, this formation of the physical personality is not really you. Can you take that person for what that person is, minus the notion that you have adopted in terms of the qualities? Then you will be in a position to establish some kind of correct relationship with that object. Would you regard yourself as a bundle of anatomical structures or chemical components? If you are not that, another is also not that. So who sees whom in perception?

Sankhya tells us that “Who sees whom?” is a difficult question. There is a mixture of Purusha and Prakriti taking place here. Consciousness, which is not to be identified with anatomical or physiological parts in the seer, beholds only consciousness – which is also the background of the object – which is also not to be identified with physiological and anatomical parts. Consciousness is consciousness, truly speaking, if you dispassionately envisage this situation. But when you see an object, it is not consciousness seeing consciousness. “I am seeing you.” Again this devil comes in and obstructs you from knowing what is actually taking place.

This attempted communion with the object is called Yoga union; finally it is called samadhi. Samadhi is complete union with the object, which is made possible only if you are able to unite yourself in your essence with the essence of that which you regard as the object, dissociating both your delimiting conditions and the object of these delimiting conditions. It is not some individual trying to come in contact with another individual. Meditation is not the establishment of friendship in a social sense with the object of meditation. It is not just shaking hands with the object in a roundtable conference. It is an attempt at total merger of one with the other: this thing which appears to be there in front becomes you – you in a larger, enlarged fashion, because of the entry of the object into you – and you enter into the object so that the object becomes the subject, the subject becomes the object. In that condition of union, one will not be able to say whether it is the seer seeing the seen, or the seen seeing the seer. Whether the object is beholding the subject, or the subject is beholding the object, whether I am seeing you, or you are seeing me, both mean the same thing. There will be no ‘you' at that time – it will be only ‘I' – both in the context of the so-called object outside and the seeing subject.

This requires a Herculean effort on our part. We casually talk about people and things. You are so-and-so, and I am so-and-so; this is like that, and that is like this; the world is such and such. None of these statements we make about anyone or anything has any sense, finally. They are a slipshod way of definition, a meaningless comment absurdly made in utter ignorance, at least from the point of true Yoga. As seekers of Truth, we have to understand this situation.

Therefore, the Yoga System tells us our attempt at meditation should go deep into the essence of the object behind these categories mentioned according to the Sankhya description of the evolutionary process, which involves us also at the same time. Deep concentration of this kind is also known to people who are accustomed to telepathic communication. This is an enrapport that people establish even with distant objects. We can look at a photograph of a person who may be five thousand miles away from us, and concentrating with a sense of total identity on the parts of the person in the photo with our own existence will communicate a message to that person, whatever be the distance.

Even if that person is in the other world, that message will be conveyed, like messages conveyed to us by radio. When someone speaks into a microphone in a radio station, a sound vibration is produced; but what actually travels through space is not sound. A particularised vibration which is the sound process created through the microphone in a broadcasting station becomes transmuted into a pervasive electronic charge through space by which it travels not as a sound, but merely as an energy and wave content, which gets retransformed into a sound process in the radio here. Likewise is the action that takes place in telepathy. Our concentration on the object, even through a photograph or a formation in front of us, is actually a mental action or activity taking place immediately in our physical location; but without our knowing what actually is happening, our thought is communicated through the wider mind that is operative throughout the whole world – the cosmic mind, which is like the space between the broadcasting station and the receiving set or radio somewhere else – and it retransmits our message to wherever that object is located, whether in London or New York or the high heavens.

It is a great blessing to us that such things are possible, but the tragedy is that we think that this is not possible; we have to dovetail things artificially, and speak to people, and establish artificial relationships with them in order that we may get on in this world. Getting on with things is different from actually becoming one with things. How long can we get along in an artificial manner? Unless we are one with a thing, neither can we get on with it, nor can we get any benefit out of it; finally, a great sorrow will befall us.

In this manner you can take any object for meditation, disassociating both subjectively and objectively from the characteristics foisted upon yourself as well as the object in terms of the notion that you have wrongly adopted about it and the outer complexity of formation that is before your eyes. This is called Yoga samadhi. When I see you, I should not see you, but I should see through your eyes. Then I can control you, and you will do whatever I think in my mind. But if I see you as someone seeing me, I can never have anything to do with you because you are what you are, and I am what I am. I should never see you as someone seeing me, but I should see you by seeing through you. I should see with your eyes, hear with your ears, speak with your tongue, think with your mind, and operate with your body. This is union.

I do not expect you to use this technique on any person, but to understand the science behind it – namely, that you can have mastery over anything from an atom to the cosmos if this identity can honestly be established by turning the tables around, as it is said. The object is turned into the position of the subject. The subjectivity in the object becomes the subjectivity in you, and it is no more an object. The whole point is this. The egoism of your nature prevents you from considering the other as an ‘I'. You always hammer into your mind that it is a ‘you'. “I am looking at you.” “I am concentrating on that.” Do not say you are concentrating on that. That has become you. You are concentrating on yourself only. A larger I emanates from you when the I of that thing on which you are meditating becomes you. Two I's become a larger I, and then many I's can come together, becoming a still wider I.

Finally, in this fashion the Yoga System will take us to the art of communion not merely with one person and one thing, but with the five elements earth, water, fire, air, space, time, and all that has been mentioned as the cause behind even these things. Finally, we are aiming at the supreme isolation of consciousness, kaivalya moksha as it is called, through the stages of identification known in this system as samapatti or samadhi.