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Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 14: The Samvarga Vidya of Sage Raikva: The All-Absorbent Meditation

During our earlier considerations we had occasion to place emphasis on the fact of self-control as a preconditioning requisite in the practice of any type of sadhana or spiritual endeavour. It was made out that in the process of the restraint of the senses, what is to be done is to abstract the forces of the sense organs from their contact with their corresponding objects, and revert the energy of the senses to the source thereof, namely, the mind and the Atman inside. But there is another way of self-control which is more glorious, more thrilling, and more satisfying at the same time.

An illustration of this kind of self restraint is given to us in the Chhandogya Upanishad in the context of the story of a great mastermind, Sage Raikva. Apparently, for all outward appearances, he was a poor person, unknown to the public, and no one recognised him. He had no belongings except a cart, which he himself was evidently pulling. But his power was such that he could absorb all things into himself by a peculiar technique of meditation. He practiced a vidya, an art known as Samvarga. This vidya is known as Samvarga Vidya, the all-absorbent meditation. What does this mean? In this connection, the story goes in this manner.

There was a king called Janasruti. He was a very famous, charitable person. He gave so much in gifts and did so much charity that his glory spread everywhere, not only in his kingdom. The Upanishad says his glory rose like a flaming fire, even up to the skies. One day, perhaps during the summer season, when he was reclining on the terrace of his palace, two flamingos flew above him. It is said that these flamingos were certain sages who took that form, and they were flying above, over the head of this king who was reclining on the terrace of his palace. One bird was ahead; the other was to the rear.

The bird to the rear said to the one in front, “Oh, foolish one! Oh blind one! Don't destroy yourself! Don't you know the glory of this king Janasruti is rising to the skies, like a flame of fire, and it will burn your wings if you cross it? Be careful!”

This bird who heard this glory of a person called Janasruti retorted back, “Oh, King Janasruti of great glory you speak of. Who is this great Janasruti, as if he is equal to Raikva with a cart?”

This remark of one of the birds was heard by the king, to his utter humiliation, because he was respected everywhere as a great man whose glory spread to even the skies, and now he heard that there was someone greater than he, in comparison to whom he was nothing: “Oh, after all, who is this Janasruti, as if he is equal to Raikva with a cart?” This discussion between these two birds upset the mind of the king, and he did not sleep the whole night.

Kings are generally woken up in the morning by music, a band, and songs of the bards. So, early in the morning the bards started singing, “Oh great Maharaja, wake up!” The king immediately said, “Stop! Whom are you praising, as if I am equal to Raikva with a cart? Go and find out who this Raikva is.” They were all surprised at what the king was saying: “Go. There is a person greater than me, a person called Raikva, who has a cart with him. Go and find out!”

The messengers, the attendants of the king, ran to all quarters of his kingdom, to every town and every city, and found nobody of that name. They returned disappointed and told the king, “Your Highness, we cannot find any such person in any town or city in your country.”

“Foolish ones! Do you find great ones in towns and cities? Find them where they are to be searched for,” said the king.

Then they went to some villages, to remote areas. They went everywhere and found one person sitting alone with a cart, careless in his appearance as if he bothered about nothing. These messengers of the king prostrated themselves before him and asked, “Are you Raikva?”

“Oh, yes. They say that,” Raikva replied.

They ran back and told the king they had found Raikva. The king went with large gifts of gold and silver, cattle, and what not, and offered very valuable things. He placed them before this master and requested him, “Please, please, please instruct me in that knowledge by which you are absorbing everything into yourself.”

“Oh, you want to purchase knowledge by these gifts? Go away from here, useless one,” said Raikva. He shooed him off. “You want to buy knowledge from me.”

The story goes on elaborately. The king again came with larger gifts, which somehow seem to have satisfied the sage, and the king was initiated into this great mystery called Samvarga Vidya. What does this mean?

Every one of us knows that we are pulled towards the objects of sense, but we cannot pull anything to our own selves. The objects seem to be stronger than our own selves. It is a shame upon every sensuous person, who seems to be controlled by the character and the contour of the objects. He runs after them as if he is a slave, a servant of the objects of the world.

Where is the freedom that we boast of, when we are utter servants of the demands of the sense organs and we run like servants towards the objects, who seem to be singing a tune to which we have to dance perpetually till our deaths? But, is there a way of not becoming servants of the objects of the world, and converting the objects into our own servants?

You are now the servant of the world, but can the world become your servant? Is it possible? The world absorbs you into itself, which is the sorry state of affairs for every human individual. Now, can anyone absorb the world into himself? If this could be done, self-control has reached its pinnacle. There would be no object left afterwards, if success can be achieved in this art of peculiar meditation known as Samvarga Vidya. Nothing can attract you afterwards, because the attracting things have become part of your being. Because of the force that you have exerted upon them, they have merged into you. They have become your servants. They are at your feet.

In another context, the same Upanishad tells us: sarvā diśo balim asmai haranti, sarvam asmīty upāsita, tad vratam, tad vratam (Chh. Up. 2.21.4). Here is a great tapas for you: meditate that the thing that pulls you has become united with you by the power of your abstracting power, your controlling will, and the reabsorbing power which you are exercising in your meditation. The meditational technique is so cryptic that the Upanishad will not give any detail about it. It merely says that initiation was given into “the absorbing technique of meditation”.

This technique seems to be something like this. The mind, in its usual operations, visualises an object – it may be one thing, two things, many things or the whole world itself – as a large mass of material placed in front of itself out of which it can select anything it needs, fulfil its requirements and reach a state of enjoyment. Actually, the word ‘enjoyment' is a very intriguing term. What happens to us when we enjoy things, so-called? From where does the joy arise? It does not arise from anything. This is what we will realise on a careful scrutiny of this entire matter.

Consciousness, which is operating through the mind and the sense organs, moves out of itself in the direction of spatio-temporal objects when there is a desire for anything. When there is the feeling that the desired object is spatially near, the agony of not having that object diminishes in its intensity because of the feeling of proximity of the object. When there is the feeling that it is possessed already, and it is under one's control, the consciousness that has moved out of its own location through the mind and the senses reverts to its own source. Then the self-consciousness, which was artificially and unfortunately diverted to a location out of itself in external space and time, stations itself in itself.

This is called establishment of self in the Self. Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe avasthānam (Yoga Sutras 1.3): The seer establishes himself in himself. The moment this happens – when the consciousness withdraws itself spontaneously and lodges itself in its own root because of the feeling that there is no further need to go outside towards the objects, having obtained them – a splash of sattva guna manifests itself within us, while rajas and tamas were active during the operation of a desire. Sattva, which is like a mirror, like a clean glass through which the Atman within manifests itself, flashes forth like a bright light; and as the Atman, which is existence and consciousness, is also bliss, the bliss of the Atman manifests itself immediately like a ray of lightning, and we feel as if we are enjoying the object. Actually, the object has brought nothing. It has only brought the sorrow of a possible bereavement that is to take place in the near future, and many other factors of agony, of which no further explanation is necessary.

Samvarga Vidya, the art of the absorbing activity in meditation, is the centring of consciousness in everything in the world – not regarding it as an object to be cognised or perceived by the sense organs, but as a phase of consciousness itself. This, again, can be illustrated by a small commonsense observation in our daily life. When I look at you, you are an object, and when you look at me, I am an object. But, neither of us is an object. There is a self-consciousness in me, and there is a self-consciousness in every individual. There is a unitary self-affirmative principle in every object, even in an insect and a particle of sand.

Thus, the assertion that something is an object that can be possessed and enjoyed is an erroneous thought arising in the mind due to thinking that things are located outwardly in space and time, forgetting the fact that everything, whether or not it is in space and time, has its own self-affirmative principle of selfhood. Therefore, every object also is a self for itself. Everything in the world has a self-respect, as much as you have towards yourself. Even an ant has a self-respect of its own. It would not like to be interfered with. Everything has its own cohesive feature of self-maintenance – even an atom, though we wrongly think that it has no awareness of itself.

This meditation is directed in the manner of converting every objectivity in the objects into subjectivity, which is their real nature. When you look at anything, when you even think of something – a person or any object – you begin to visualise the Self in that, and free it from the outer feature of name and form which have been vested upon it because of its apparent location outward in space and time. This affirmation of the selfhood or the self-identical nature of everything in the world by the meditating consciousness creates a peculiar atmosphere around. The self rushes into the Self. While objects and the contemplating sense organs have a false relationship between them, the Self has a true relationship with another self, apparently located in the body of an individual. The world rushes into you, because you contemplate it as a large Self – or, rather, your own higher Self.

This, perhaps, is the hidden import of the great dictum in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita where Bhagavan Sri Krishna says: uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet, ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (Gita 6.5). The world is your friend and also your enemy, under different conditions. God Himself is a friend, and also a disposer of all that you want if you do not place Him in the proper context. All things in the world are possessed of a self, the Universal Self being present in all things, God Himself being immanent in every object.

What are you supposed to do in this particular application of the art in meditation? Here, the will requires a proper intensity of its own. A weak-minded person cannot do this meditation because of the old habit of thinking that everything is outside. That nothing is really outside, but everything is the Self of its own self and therefore outsideness cannot be attributed to it, cannot be easily imagined by your mind, because the trick of the mind is such that even if you assume that there is a Self in the so-called externality of things, you will, by old habit, imagine that the Self is outside you. It will look like something externally placed in space and time. The Self cannot be placed in space, just as you cannot be placed outside yourself.

So, nothing can be placed outside itself, as you cannot place yourself outside yourself. Hard is this to digest, because this is not the way in which we think in the world. If everything has a self of its own, nothing is outside anyone. If nothing is outside anyone, where is it? It also cannot be said to be inside, because the idea of ‘inside' arises due to the fact of there being something outside. If the self is not outside, it is also not inside. It is just what it is.

If this contemplation is vigorously exercised in this manner with utter sincerity and with the conviction that it shall succeed, and it is not merely an experimentation that you are engaged in, you will find the world becoming friendly with you. You need not run to things; things will run to you. You become the centre of gravity for all the forces of life. You are the gravitational centre of the so-called things apparently located outside. They will gravitate towards you. You become a world figure in one instant – a world figure not in the sense of a political individual who is known as a great man through the newspapers, but a world individual in the sense of a being who has absorbed the world into himself and perpetually contemplates only this fact, and no other thought arises in his mind.

The Upanishad says that such was the power of this Raikva that if anybody did any good deed, the credit of it would go to him. It is something like saying that if you do some charity, I will get the merit of it. What is this? How is it possible to explain this phenomenon? The Upanishad says that just as the larger figure includes all the lower figures, the larger Self includes all the lower selves, and if a meritorious deed or charitable act is done by any smaller self, the credit of it will go to the higher, godly Self, which is the meditating consciousness. You yourself are that godly Self. The Upanishad says here that if anyone can sincerely take to this wondrous Samvarga Vidya meditation, one can be sure that the world is his possession; not merely that, he himself is the world: tasya lokaḥ sa u loka eva (Brih. Up. 4.4.13).

Then, where is the question of self-control? Here is, as I mentioned earlier, a glorious method of controlling the sense organs. The senses melt down completely into the Selfhood out of which they have arisen, and bliss of an uncanny nature will arise from oneself. You will always be happy, smiling, and a radiance will be seen emanating from your face. You will be a giver of boons automatically, without uttering a single word, and your presence will be a blessing. Such is the power of this great Samvarga Vidya, beautifully described to us in this illustration in the Chhandogya Upanishad.

So, try to be like this great master who was poverty-stricken, with nothing, outwardly looking like a nonentity, with a poor cart that he had to pull, but was a world figure at whose command the Earth would shake and tremble. Such was the benediction that this vidya bestowed upon this great master, which will be the blessing of everyone else, also, who takes to this practice.