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The Philosophy of Religion
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: The Art of Meditation

What Is Meditation?

The true meaning of religion, its inseparability from man's entire life and activities, the necessity to maintain a continued form of the religious consciousness, have all been discussed to the point of some clarity. But, how to go about achieving such a state of religious consciousness is what now remains to be considered. There are methods known as meditation. What is meditation, and how is one to proceed with it?

The philosophical foundations and the religious consequences of the analysis lead to the need for a meditation on consciousness as the quintessence of the whole adventure. All study, all endeavour, and every enterprise, in every walk of life, results in the fixing of oneself in a type of reality. This is precisely the function of meditation. To recognise one's true relationship with the Ultimate Reality is to place oneself in the context of the highest form of meditation. Meditation is, in fact, not a psychological act or a physical movement, or even a social adjustment, but a trans-empirical attitude of the whole of what one is, a perfection of outlook one adopts in the light of the nature of the facts of life.

From the beginning of this study, an attempt has been made to understand what reality is, how it manifests itself by degrees of expression in the universe and in the individuals who form themselves into groups, societies, or organisations for the purpose of self-fulfilment. There is a gradual descent of the character of reality in the process of creation, and the aim of meditation is just the opposite of this descending series. Meditation leads to the gradual ascent of self by degrees of expansiveness.

The universe may be regarded as the body of God, the appearance of the Absolute, the very embodiment of the Cosmic animating Consciousness. The form appears as a material cosmos since it is represented as a sensory object. The world is envisaged as an object of the senses, located in space and time. It is the intervention of space and time that is responsible for the notion that the world is material and external. Materiality is the form which anything takes when it becomes an object of sensation by the mind. But it puts on a new colour and presents itself in a new light when it is recognised no more as an object of the senses, or even a content of the mind, but as something inseparable from the very fact in experience.

To everyone, experience is sensory, empirical, psychological, externalised, spatio-temporal. But true experience is integral. It is incapable of partition into the division of the subject and the object. It was noticed earlier that even the so-called division between the subjective factor and the objective one has implicitly hidden within it the feature of a transcendent presence, without whose operation the division between the subject and object cannot be accounted for. One cannot even know that there is such a thing as the subject distinguished from the object, unless there is something transcending the subject and the object, which is implied in experience, though not visible as an object of the senses. The moment it becomes an object, it gets distinguished from the subject, requiring once again another connecting link which is transcendent to this division. The meditative effort is directed to the inward recognition of the presence of this transcendence involved between the apparent distinctions made between the subject and the object. Man lifts himself up into a new atmosphere wherein is comprehended the subjective location of the observer or the meditating individual and the context of what is called the object which is the universe.

To meditate is not to think of an object outside, though many a time it is thought that it is such an effort. It is not just shifting the mind from one object to another when it is meditation in the spiritual sense. It is not another kind of work in which one is engaging oneself. It is not thinking of some other object than the one to which one is usually accustomed in daily life. Human consciousness which is at present limited to an individual existence is perforce aware of something outside, and this is what is commonly called life in this world. But spiritual meditation is a novel type of effort on the part of one's being, novel in the sense that it is not comparable with any activity to which man is used in ordinary life. Hence, meditation is a little difficult performance, and not an easy matter. It requires a power of will and a capacity to adapt oneself to an environment which is not purely objective, but superior to the objective predicament of day-to-day experience. One has to be able to place oneself in an atmosphere which rises above the distinction between oneself and the objects of experience. This requires some effort, but not an ordinary effort in the social or physical sense; it is a new type of effort of the wholeness of one's being in its envisagement of a presence which includes within itself what one is as one regards one's own self to be at present, and also what the object is, to which one is related.

The object on which one is expected to meditate is not outside; that is all the difference. The object of meditation is superior to the subject, but not external to him, and, therefore, it is not on par with him in reality. The external objects of the senses are on a par with man, as far as their reality is concerned. But the object of meditation is not on par with the meditator, for it is transcendent. So, when a person is in the state of meditation, he is not in himself. He has lifted himself above himself. It is difficult for the mind to understand what this feat can mean. The grace of one's Preceptor, the wondrous touch of the Almighty is necessary, and the consequences of good deeds that were performed in one's previous lives have to fructify in order that one may succeed in this arduous task. The difficulty lies in placing oneself in this peculiar mathematical position of transcendence, and not merely in the position of an observer. One does not observe an object in meditation, nor does one look upon it as one does certain other things in the world. The personality does not move outwardly to the object. It is raised vertically, as it were, rather than horizontally as in sense-perception. As the meditator is no more in himself in meditation, he is also no more in the objects of the senses. He is empirically connected with the external objects even as the objects of the senses are empirically connected with him from the point of view of his psycho-physical relations. But, here he is not establishing a new kind of relationship between himself and the objects, but is rising above the limitations to which both the objects and he himself are victims. One is midway between oneself and the object, connecting the two, and yet beyond both in a living wholeness. The meditator has become a different thing altogether, and no more is he what he has been till then. He would not be a person when he is meditating; he becomes, rather, a super-person. A super-subjective presence would be the characterisation of that state which one assumes in meditation.

Again, one has to exercise the mind to understand the meaning of this requirement. It may appear a little difficult, but by continuous practice one will find that it is the only justifiable way of thinking that can be entertained, and all the other ways will look drab and meaningless in comparison. Even as it would be meaningless to contemplate the objects of the dream world when one has risen into the wider consciousness of waking, one would consider all the business of the world as a hangover burden when living the larger life in the insight of meditation, when the consciousness occupies an intermediary position between the subjective individuality and the objects of the senses. This is the crux of meditation, and this is its foundational meaning.

The Object of Meditation

Many teachers tell us to contemplate, to meditate upon, an Ishta-Devata, or a Deity of our choice. This Deity, which the adepts speak of, is that Divine Presence ranging between the subject and the object – God descended in one degree of expression. The many gods of the religions are the many degrees of this transcendent position which the Absolute occupies in the different degrees of relationship between the subjects and the objects in the history of evolution. They are many degrees of the descent, or one may say, the ascent, of the very same Being, which explains the relationship between subjects and objects in any plane of existence, in any realm of being, anywhere, at any time. So, the Ishta-Devata, the God of one's meditation, the Deity that one worships and contemplates upon, is the immediately superior presence.

This is somewhat akin to the synthesis which the German philosopher Hegel attempted in his 'dialectical process' of philosophy: A position has an opposition, a thesis has an antithesis, which are brought together in a blend called the synthesis. The synthesis becomes a thesis, again, of which the antithesis becomes the opposing element. The two have to be brought together in a second synthesis. The second synthesis becomes a thesis to a third antithesis, and so on, till the largest generality of perfection is reached. The synthesis is the Deity. The thesis is the subject. The antithesis is the object. And the bringing together of these positions and oppositions is the recognition of the Deity, which is transcendent to both the terms. As there are degrees of synthesis, until the Absolute Synthesis is realised, there are several gods in religion. These many gods are the many types of synthesis, bringing together the different degrees of subjects and objects in the evolutionary process of the cosmos. In meditation one places oneself in this position of the Divine Synthesis that is between oneself and the object, and fixes one's attention on this Deity.

When it is said that we have to fix 'our' attention, one has to be a little clear as to what this 'our' means. The reference is not to the attention of this so-called Mister or Missis, the boy or the girl, the son or the daughter, this person or that person. One has, as already mentioned, to become a super-person when seated for meditation. The seeker is no more the person that he has been; he is above involvements. It is the total consciousness that is affirming itself in meditation, the Deity becoming conscious of its presence, God becoming aware of Himself as the all.

Meditation Energises Personality

Here is also the explanation as to why there is a feeling of so much strength and energy being infused into one's being during the process of meditation. One does not rise from meditation as the same person that went into it. One becomes a different thing altogether, with a new joy imbued and a new strength felt within. The reason behind it is that consciousness has outstripped the limitations of physical individuality and the limitations that the sense-objects cause are also broken through. Inasmuch as the limitations are outgrown, a larger freedom is attained. Freedom is the overcoming of all limitation, the restrictions imposed on one by extraneous factors. Man lacks freedom because of the presence of things outside. Now, this object before oneself, which is the limitation of one's personal self, is withdrawn into a larger individuality, which is the contemplating being. An integration of consciousness takes place, as the two attributes of the Substance of Spinoza, or, to come to a homely example, as the two hands of a person are brought together into a single, united collaboration. This centrality of the meditating consciousness brings into a unity of operation the empirical subject and its corresponding object.

The individual is like one of the hands of a wider body, the other hand being the object. One may consider the right hand as oneself and the left hand is the object. The right hand is looking at the left hand and imagining that it is an object. Man should cease to imagine that he is only the right hand, but that he is the whole body to which both the hands belong. This is an illustration to bring out the significance of the process in which one has to meditate on the Synthesis, rather than the thesis or the antithesis, the subject or the object. The body to which the two hands belong is not a subject, nor is it an object. The body is not the right hand, nor is it the left hand, for both belong to it. The meditator occupies the position of this integrating centre to which the right and the left belong and which is above both the right and the left. This is what is meant by placing oneself in meditation. The energy of the right and the energy of the left get both united in this central energy of the body. The right hand has a strength of its own, but it does not have the strength of the left hand. But the body has the strength of both, because they both belong to it.

One may achieve empirical strength. But this strength is limited due to the presence of an object, which also asserts its independence in its own way. This assertion of independence ceases on the part of the subject as well as of the object when meditation supervenes. Hence the manifestation of a new strength. The power of the subjective side as well as the objective comes together, and a larger freedom is enjoyed than when one was an empirical subject. There will be a greater freedom, a greater strength, and hence a greater satisfaction. Joy, satisfaction, happiness, bliss, is the experience of a freedom that is attained by transcending the lower limitations of the realms to which subjects and objects belong in the world.

Meditation Is Religion's Aim

When one is in a mood of meditation, one is practising true religion, but by so doing one does not belong to any particular religious cult. We live religion when we are in a state of meditation, because religion is the relation between man and God, between the soul and the Absolute. The affirmation of it in life is religion's aim. Religion is not the act of belonging to a creed, a temple, or a church. It is an inward acceptance of one's conscious relation with the Almighty, who presents Himself as the degrees of Deity in the different religions. When we are in a holy mood, we are really in the temple of God. When we are in a state of meditation, we are in the church of Christ. The temple or the church is this very transcendence which is the spirit of religion that occupies a position superior to the empirical subjects and objects of the world. The church does not belong to the world. It is a divine occupation, lifted above the mundane. The temples are trans-earthly atmospheres which have in their precincts whatever is of value. Anyone seated there does not belong to sides or parties, but to the Divine Whole. This world is nothing but a spatio-temporal complex of subjects and objects. And our endeavour is to overcome this limitation. One becomes truly religious only in meditation. In other activities one sinks back into the bodily individuality. The births and the deaths of the individual are the consequences that follow from the tying up of consciousness to one point only in space and time and getting thereby subjected to the force of evolution which urges everything onward and forward towards a higher integration.

Asana: Physical and Mental Posture

When seated for the purpose of meditation it is usually required that you must be in one posture, Sthirusukham-asanam. Asana, or the posture for meditation, is that fixed pose of the body which is comfortable and not pain-giving. It should not be a torture or a contorted fixing of oneself in a painful way. The purpose of the Asana, or the pose in meditation, is to relax oneself.

In one of the aphorisms, Patanjali tells that it is convenient for the mind to feel the presence of the Infinite in its own way when one is seated in the bodily posture of any Asana, such as Padmasana, Siddhasana, or Sukhasana. There should not be a consciousness of being seated in a posture. If it becomes an object of awareness, it would mean that it is not a natural position. When one is perfectly natural and normal, there is no awareness of oneself. When there is awareness of oneself, there is something also of the not-oneself.

Meditation is the highest form of relaxation, where one is free from tense moods, where one is not even aware that one is concentrating or doing something at all. One is completely released of all vexations of sense. Tension of any kind is traceable to one's occupying an unnatural position in the world. When one is unnatural in some way, one has also tense moods, and there is a peculiar sensation of anguish. Rarely is one released of all tensions in life. Man lives like a soldier in the battlefield ready for an onslaught, and is never free with himself. There is a feeling that one is at war always, and has to come to grips with some situation or the other in life, which is there confronting and facing one with an opposing attitude. In meditation this contending posture is overcome. We become friends of all beings. The Transcendent Presence is the friend of both the subject and the object at once, and, therefore, we, too, are friends of everyone. We become benefactors, well-wishers, philosophers, and guides of all when we are in this non-subjective position, which is the position of meditation. For this purpose is the physical Asana prescribed, tending towards the very same aim. The physical posture is contributory to the mental posture that is to be adopted in meditation. The posture of the mind is more important than the session of the body. If the mind is distorted, even when the body is equally posed, that would not be the required mood of the personality. The mind and the body being related to each other, there is a need to adjust both simultaneously.

One is a little sick or anxious or emotional or disturbed or over-enthusiastic. In a normal position of utter spontaneity, there is no awareness of one's existence at all, as children who do not know that they are, and are buoyant, and run about without being aware that they are busy. That would be a symbol of spontaneous naturalness. But when an old man runs, he lumbers with a heavy body. Children have no consciousness of themselves. Such is the kind of psychological mood that one has to spontaneously adopt by freeing oneself from occupations of a distracting nature. Earthly occupations, all circumstances of bounden duty, as they are usually called in the social sense, put a limitation on man and keep his mind sunk in a state of anxiety. There should be no anxiety when one sits for meditation. If there is worry, it is better to go to the depths of the problem, discover the cause thereof, and remove it. It is better to be healthy first than be unhealthily religious.

The Disciplines of Self-Control

The student on the path has to disentangle himself in a wise way from the tangles of social involvement and psycho-physical tension by the practice of what Patanjali calls Yamas. They are supreme norms prescribed by the sage for relieving oneself of obligations and debts, fears and anxieties in life. Each one is to be a judge of oneself here, and, perhaps, at a certain stage, one would realise that oneself is one's own best guide, because there are subtle adjustments that are required to be made in life, which call for different types of adaptation of oneself from moment to moment, which cannot always be foreseen. Here, one cannot go on consulting books or even run to teachers. One has to use a little bit of discretion and commonsense in the light of the purpose for which one is practising this attitude of adjustment. The most important thing to remember is the purpose set before oneself, the ideal or the goal ahead, which conditions one's general attitude to life. Whether this is right or that is right, this is good or that is good, how would one find out? By reading a book? Such crucial questions cannot be answered by the printed line, nor can one resort to teachers and masters every day. The nature of the goal that one has chosen for oneself will, to some extent, indicate what is right and what is wrong in any particular context in which one may be placed in life. This has been broadly outlined in the principles of Yamas, or rules of self-restraint.

Every day one may have to check up one's personality by maintaining a spiritual diary. Like an auditor striking a balance sheet to find out the assets and liabilities of an occupation, one closes one's day with a balance sheet of what has happened to oneself from the morning till the evening, to find out if there is any liability on the part of oneself. The liability is the due that one owes to something in the world. This should not be there at the close of day. One should not owe something to somebody when retiring at night. If something is due, it must be paid then and there. It must also be seen that there is no further due. Any kind of debt that one owes to anyone or anything in the world, in any manner whatsoever, physically, socially or psychologically, will distract one's attention. To that extent, in that percentage, the mind will go in that direction, and to that extent and in that proportion the meditative consciousness will be debilitated. It will not have the strength that is required for the purpose. There must be no subtle sorrow inside. All dues to the society have to be discharged, if there be any. To the extent man is independent of human society, to that extent also he is free from dues to society. Each one has to find out to what extent one is indebted to society and to what extent one is free from debts to society.

In the same way as one has to think carefully about one's relationship to human society, lest one should be in some bondage of debt or due, one has also to assess the requirements of one's body and mind. We owe some debt to the body, and also to the mind and emotions. The limitations with which man is born and through which he lives are creditors demanding their dues. The hunger of the stomach, the cold and the heat, the emotions that heave up within are all conditions which require some attention. An emotional frustration, or defeatist attitude, would have to be taken care of in a proper manner, as a medical man would examine a patient. Let there not be too much enthusiasm about God, religion and spirituality when there is still a downward pull by the gravitation of these little calls, which will not leave one in peace even till eternity, if one does not clear their accounts. As Christ said somewhere, before man tries to make friendship with God, he has to see that he has no enemies in the world. Make peace with your neighbour first, before you try to make peace with God. These are small things, but very important check posts on the journey. Both socially and personally, one has to be free. A bonded slave of human society or a slave of one's own emotions and affections may be debarred entry from above. If there are strong instincts and cravings, they have to be attended to in a proper manner. If one cannot understand what to do, the Guru must be approached: 'I have a problem, emotional, instinctive, social, whatever it is. I am not able to solve this situation. I am here before you, seeking a solution.' One's superior will be able to show a path out of this impasse. Everyone has some understanding in calmer moments, and discriminative powers well exercised would provide necessary guidance. Under any circumstance, freedom from entanglements which are empirical in nature – social, physical, psychological, emotional – is necessary before one attempts to enter into this noble, sublime state of meditation, which is the holiest of endeavours in which one can engage oneself, and which is the final act that one performs as the culmination of human evolution.

The meditations in spiritual life are of different types according to the way in which the individual reacts to the concept of reality. These reactions of the soul to the truths of the universe are the Yogas. The different names with which the practice is associated are the different ways in which the soul feels its relationship with the cosmic environment and affirms it in its practical life. The manner in which the spirit contemplates God is conditioned by the predominant faculty which principally operates in the outlook of life envisaged by the individual.

Man has, among many other things, the ratiocinating capacity, the philosophical attitude (Jnana), together with the occult sense which directs him to investigate into the phenomena that transcend the visible panorama of Nature (Dhyana). He is also emotional, with which sense he reacts to God in the manner of a finite individual which feels rather than understands the transcendent (Bhakti). And there are other ways by which these reactions of soul to reality are manifest, such as the recognition of an omnipresence in the multitudinous variety of creative activity (Karma). These constitute the well-known paths of Yoga, all which converge, in the end, as a central occupation of the consciousness awakened to the eternal values that reign supreme in all life.