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A Textbook of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 11: The Rising of the Soul in Total Action

It was pointed out that anything can be taken as an ideal for meditation, inasmuch as all things in the world are inseparably related to the world as a whole. Every object in this world may be considered as a kind of knot of universal energy; therefore, we can untie this knot and release the energy by concentration on that particular spot called the object of meditation, and the knot opens up.

A knot has a peculiar characteristic. What we call egoism, or a sense of ego, is also a psychic knot. It is a concentralisation of idea, consciousness, thought, or whatever we may call it, at a particular chosen spot, conditioned by space as well as by time so that this knot prevents the entry into itself of the larger force that is pervading the whole creation. It becomes self-enclosed; selfishness becomes the rule of its operations. It is just itself, and nothing else can there be in the world. It is not merely a philosophy adopted by egoism, but it strongly believes that nothing anywhere can be equal to it, and it is the principle judging factor of anything and everything. This attitude is a kind of definition of what self-centred means.

I used the word ‘knot' both in a physical sense and also in a psychic sense. Psychologically, we may call it the consciousness of finitude, ego-sense; and physically, it is any object, including an atom. Even an atom is governed by the principle of egoism. It cannot permit itself to be other than what it is, physically and chemically. The electric forces that determine the structure of the atom make it what it is, and differentiate it from every other atom. If this atom can be broken by bombardment, if the knot can be untied, the littleness of the energy that is there will become the largeness that is at the back of it, and it will look as if the whole ocean, so to speak, is rushing through a conduit pipe. The effect of it is unimaginable. This is what will happen in meditation.

The process of the releasing of this energy is important. Though you have understood what I told you, you will not actually be able to put it into practice on account of the habit of the mind to think only in that old fashion to which it has been accustomed right from childhood. You have been told by society, by your family, by your community, by your culture, that this is what it is and it cannot be anything else. Children are oftentimes told by their parents that the man next door is their enemy. The children are told again and again, “The man next door is our enemy. He is not our friend. Don't go there, to the other compound. This is our land. That is our enemy's land.” It looks as if it is a very good education that is being given to children—a fine education indeed, of a very fine ethical character. It is told to us by the circumstances of the society of individualities—physically, socially and psychologically—that each one is what one is, and others are different from what one is. This is a wrong psychology which tells us something about what appears on the surface of things. No doubt everything looks different from everything else—but it only looks different. It really is not, because behind the millions of these little concentrated knots of force which are the objects of perception there is one universal sea gushing forth and wishing to introduce itself into these little knots.

It is said that at every moment, God calls everybody. God calling is another way of the universal force wanting to enter into the finitude of egocentric centres. The release of this energy, which is in our own selves as individuals as well as in objects outside, is the principal motive of the meditational practice. This, as I have mentioned to you earlier, has also a philosophical background, namely, the aim of the realisation of a cosmic purpose, which is a universal realisation, called God-realisation in religion, and sometimes known as Self-realisation, or the attainment of deathlessness, or the reaching of infinity and eternity. These are some of the words that are used to explain what you are aiming at finally through spiritual meditation.

But your heart has to be there. The meditator is the heart, principally; it is not merely the thought. You have to realise that you are where your heart is. You are not where your intellect is; this is a wrong notion. Let the intellect be anywhere, even in the atomic structure of the solar orb in the sky, but where is your heart? It may usually be in your kitchen, in your bank balance, in your family, or in something well known to everybody. But where is the heart during the time of meditation? Are your feelings, which are the principal function of your heart, absent during the so-called mental operation of meditation?

This is a very principal issue which has to be taken into consideration, the clarifying of which is the purpose of the yamas and the niyamas in the sutras of Patanjali, and yoga shastras in general. The heart will have its own reason, which your reason cannot understand. Rationally, everything is established and scientifically proved, and no one can gainsay this truth; but the heart says, “Yes, but I have something to tell.” Let what it is be told. Why are you hiding it? It will say, finally, “This is not for me, and I wish that this other thing should be there.”

Why does this happen? It is because your philosophical clarification has been entirely intellectual—bookish, rather—and it has not been a matter of your feelings. Your feelings have not been convinced, though philosophically it has been very well established to the intellect. “Why all this effort, finally?” is the question your heart will raise once again. “What for is all this effort? Going to institutions, studying philosophy, rolling beads, reciting mantras—what for? What am I aiming at, finally? Is there nothing better in this world? Is it not possible for me to be more comfortable in this world without doing these things? Are there not other ways?” Your mind will say, “There are, of course, other ways, and I can be very well off by taking an altogether different course than this.”

You will not have these difficulties now because you have been told again and again that this is good for you, and so the voice in your heart has been silenced. Because of the pressure of the teaching and the repeated instruction that is being given to you on the worthwhileness of a higher pursuit in life, the little demoniacal voice of the heart, the sensory argument, has been hushed. It will not raise its head as long as you are within the campus of a spiritual institution or in an atmosphere of this nature.

But for how long will you be in this atmosphere? You will be in your office, you will be a clerk, you will be an officer, you will be a typist, you will be a family man, you will be a landowner, you will be a moneylender. Certainly, you will be all this. At that time, what will you think? Will these instructions that I gave you come up for your succour? To obviate these difficulties, it has been told again and again that a little check-up of personality is to be attempted every day, and your daily routine of work and occupation should be integral, and should also include a little time for the consideration of the higher values of life. They are not merely higher; they are the true values of life. That they are the only true values of life, and not merely higher values, is a matter which will take you immense time to accept.

Coming to the point—to brass tacks, as they say—when you sit for meditation, you may have to prepare your personality for the task of bombarding the object of meditation for releasing the energy thereof. The preparation is of various kinds, according to the kind of initiation that you have received, the type of instruction to which you are accustomed, the books that you have read, your religion, your faith, your affiliations, etc.

I would suggest, among many other things that are of course quite good, a calm and quiet recitation of the Om mantra, as it is called. The word ‘mantra' may make you think that this is some religious exercise. A mantra may be connected with religion, but this thing which is called Om or Pranava is a super-religious symbol. It does not belong to any particular religion. It is a vibration that you are attempting to produce within yourself, a vibration that is of a more general nature than the intensely selfish vibration that is usually within us. We have the vibrations of attraction and repulsion which are embedded within us, in our psyche. Though we are not always attracted or repulsed, there is a propensity within us to attraction and repulsion. A person who is susceptible to anger can be regarded as an angry person, though the anger is not manifest. A person may not be stealing, but if he is capable of doing that, he is a thief. Your capacity to be something is what you are, though you may not be manifesting it at a particular time.

The usual propensity of the individual personality is to confine its vibration to its psychophysical individuality, and not permit the entry of any other vibration. For this purpose it is that a symbolic act of introducing a larger vibration into our own selves is attempted through the recitation of Om. The recitation should be very harmonious, calm, quiet, leisurely, without hurry, without any kind of excitement in the mind. Chant Om continuously for about fifteen minutes, and let one recitation gradually taper off into the next one, so that these fifteen minutes of recitation of Pranava, or Om, will look like a mass of vibration inundating you, flooding you, arising from you, spreading around you, and becoming larger and larger in its ambit as the chant goes on successively, one after the other.

If a little pebble is thrown into the middle of a large mass of water—a tank or a reservoir—a little ripple is created around that spot where the pebble landed. Then the circle goes on expanding little by little, until it reaches the edge of the water. Some such thing will take place when Pranava is chanted, when Om is chanted. The vibration that you generate within yourself is like a little ripple, and its circumference slowly enlarges. Let it expand as far as possible. Try to feel that this mass of energy, which you yourself are—this concentrated knot of force which you are—is gradually being released. The knot is untied. This little attempt on your part to concentrate on your own self by means of this chant of Om becomes a medium of the expansion of this energy into the other centres of a similar nature so that, by your feeling, you begin to inwardly touch what is outside you. You yourself become bigger, in one sense.

Now you are very small. You are inside this body; you are just this body. This knot feels that it is only this knot, and that it is nothing more: “I am just this person, this little thing, and I am not anything else. When I walk, I feel this little thing is walking. When I do anything, I feel this little thing is doing something.” This feeling of this little personality remains for twenty-four hours a day, and there is no other thought. But, actually, it is not a little thing. It is a surface appearance of a larger force, which is hidden inside this little finitude of individuality which is this so-called you.

Therefore, chanting Om in this manner is also a kind of concentration, an intense concentration. It is japa and meditation combined. If it is continued for a sufficiently lengthened period of time, it will have a tremendous effect. Even if you do not think anything in the mind, if this recitation goes on continuously, in a sonorous manner, and gradually increases from fifteen minutes to thirty minutes, you will see a difference in yourself. You will feel that your emotions are calmed, your nerves are cooled down, and agitation ceases. You will even feel healthier, better. You have become a different person, as it were, as if a kind of psychic acupuncture has been done on you by this chant. The knots have been pricked and have been made to release the energy which was otherwise locked up in that particular centre. All ill health, all sorrow, all tension, all agitation is due to the concentration of consciousness on this knot and not permitting the entry of healthier sources of energy that are pervading everywhere. These sense organs are like closed windows that completely block the entry of forces from outside, from nature and creation. Sunlight and fresh air cannot enter the room because you have closed the windows. You are living in a dark little closet and imagining that it is the entire world.

Thus, one method, among many others, is the recitation of Om. And, to repeat, this should be made part of your daily routine. You are all very busy people, no doubt, but let this also be a necessary item in your daily routine. Because of your heavy work in the office, etc., you may sometimes find no time at all. Actually, the length of time is not as important as your feeling inside, the quality of the chant, and the intensity of your concentration.

When a person is drowning in water, there is an intense concentration of thought on something, though it is not a long period of thinking at that time. Because you are drowning, it is an instantaneous thinking of a tremendous concentrated form. When everything has gone, one's life is at stake and the earth is shaking, a thought arises in the mind. That is an example of intense concentration. When you have lost everything or you have got everything, there is concentration of the mind.

The tremendous result that is expected to follow should be considered as sufficient reason for the development of the concentration. You are sure that you are not merely going to pass the exam, you are going to stand first in the exam. There are some students who are sure that they will stand first because everything is at their fingertips, and they can answer any question. But if you are dubious and there are certain things which are not clear, you do not know where you stand. Are you certain that you are going to get something, that you are going to achieve it? The certainty must be there that you will have it in this birth itself. It is not merely a statement; it is an intense possibility. Your feeling is the determining factor of the progress that you make in your meditations. Feelings rule the world; everything else comes afterwards. You can achieve anything by appealing to feelings.

One of the sutras of the great sage Patanjali is tīvra saṁvegānām āsannaḥ (Y.S. 1.21): Quick is the result for those whose heart is ardent in its aspiration. Ardent longing, impossibility to be without it, craving for it, and sinking the mind into this one thought even in the midst of every other occupation—in whatever work you do, your heart knows that it is a means for an achievement that is transcendent.

On what will you meditate? We tentatively answered this question in the previous session. Anything and everything can be the object of your meditation. Your Ishta Devata—that which engulfs you with love and affection, and with the expectation of fulfilment—is the object of your meditation. That is your god. Where your love is, there your god is. Here, the love that is spoken of is a total pouring forth of the soul of the individual for its final expectation of achievement. Finally, the meditator is the soul itself. It is not the buddhi, chitta, ahamkara or manas that is meditating individually, isolatedly, in a segregated fashion. The whole of you asks for it.

As I mentioned, when you are drowning in water, the whole of you expects something. The whole of you does not usually manifest itself in daily life. When you work, when you think, when you speak, when you eat, part of your personality is outside. Even when you eat, you do not wholly think of the food; part of your mind is elsewhere. That is why the food is not appetising and cannot be properly digested. You do not give sufficient respect even to the food that you eat because some percentage of your mind is in a railway train or somewhere else.

Here, in the case of meditation, that should not be the predicament. We are not doing some occupational duty when we are in meditation. Somebody is not asking us to do it as a job, for remuneration. This is a different thing altogether. It is the ‘must' and the ‘ought' in this life. The difficulty that you may sometimes face is the arid, abstract form of this concept of achievement even in the thought of God, in contrast with a solid reality and value of this world that you see with your senses. These senses, this ego will go on saying, “Whatever you may say, I have something else to say.” The reality of the world sets itself in contrast with the reality of the object of your meditation when the object appears to be conceptual, ideational, a thought process, while the world appears to be a solid, tangible thing.

You have to persuade and convince yourself to accept the real truth about things, namely, that all the so-called solidity of the world is ideational, finally. It is only a centre of consciousness. There are no solid objects. Do not be carried away by the substantiality and the solidity of the world, because this substantiality is nothing but an electrical vibration produced by the action of the sense organs; and if the five sense organs do not operate, the world of solidity will not be there.

Is there not solidity even in the dream world? Stones and mountains appear in dream. Are they not facts for your perception? You can eat a solid meal in dream. You can hit yourself against a solid wall in dream. Therefore, solidity can be purely conceptual even though it may look external and entirely different from the perceptual process. The dream world, the dreamer's perception, is a great example before you to understand how this world is operating. The reality of the world, which is so tantalising, catching and enrapturing to the sense organs is finally, cosmically interpreted, the same nature as the enrapturing objects and the solidity or the substantiality of things that you see in the dream world. This is a little bit of philosophy in order to give you enthusiasm for the practice.

In the earliest stages of meditation, everything will go on well. The body and the mind will get adjusted to your instructions. But after about twenty-five to forty percent of your practice has become successful, you will find certain unseen, unforeseen and unexpected difficulties arising. They will arise from the body as well as from the mind. Even for three years, you will not find that anything is happening at all because of the lukewarm nature of the concentration process. In the beginning, no one can be so intense and ardent in concentration, on account of other external factors intruding themselves. But if you are tenacious in the practice and persist in it wholeheartedly for a long time, giving sufficient time for it every day, certain unknown phenomena will manifest themselves before you. One of them is a complaint from the physical body, which will say, “I am not feeling well, so today it is not possible to think like this.” Why does it say that? You may put this question to your own self.

Aches in the body, pains of different types, and an inability to be seated arise on account of a peculiar borderland which the pranas operating inside reach, automatically, by the very fact of the concentration of the mind. I am not speaking about pranayama here; this is a discussion on concentration and meditation. But the pranas are affected even by a thought. Mostly, the pranas are servants of the mind. Whatever the mind says, the pranas will do. If the mind thinks something, the prana directs itself to that particular thing, whether it is inside the body or outside the body. If you think of a tree, the prana will jet forth in the direction of that object. It can touch even a star, if the mind is concentrating in that manner. On account of the desires of the mind, which are multifarious in their nature, there is usually a disharmonious movement of the pranic energy in the body.

The attempt of the kumbhaka process in pranayama is only to harmonise the working of the prana through the body. Usually, the prana is not harmonious because the thoughts themselves are not harmonious. Varieties of thoughts arise in the mind—sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes very disturbing, sometimes jubilant, etc. These thoughts interfere with the harmonious working of the psychic content, and so the prana is also affected.

When you go on meditating in this manner for a long time, with sufficient attention paid on the object of meditation, you are perforce entering into a new field of action of harmonising, stabilising and introducing a kind of symmetry and system into the working of the prana. Then there is an agitation. You are introducing a rule into the working of the prana which was not its original rule. When a change is introduced in any performance, in the beginning there is doubt and resentment about it: “What kind of thing is coming?” In the earliest stages, the pranas resent this introduction of your new type of meditation, and so they sometimes create tremors in the body. Oftentimes, those who are accustomed to meditation may have felt a shake-up, a jerk. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras tell us that aṅgamejayatva (Y.S. 1.31) is a shaking up, a trembling caused by the pranas because they seek a new course of movement, a course quite different from that to which they have been accustomed under the orders of the sense organs. The pranas act according to the orders they receive from above, which are the sensations.

We live in a sensory world. All of us have something of the sensory pressure even in our thoughts and our feelings. We think sensorially, feel sensorially, argue sensorially. Finally, it is only the sense organs that are ruling the world. This is the way in which we live. This is also the way that the pranas act. Now a new system of law and order is being introduced into the organisation of the body, and in the beginning there is a suspicion about it. “It may not be good. I will not do it. I will not cooperate.” But if you insist on it, there is tremor, agitation, pain, and a cessation of activity for some time. There can even be a dislocation of the working of the physiological organs: lack of appetite, sleeplessness, and new kinds of pain in the neurological system which you have not had earlier. But these are secondary matters. The main problem will arise from the mind itself. It will get fatigued.

Physical fatigue can be tolerated to some extent, but mental fatigue is intolerable. It will not permit you to do anything at all. You will say, “This is no good.” Psychic fatigue is a very peculiar phenomenon before us. Why do we feel exhausted? What is the reason? There are two reasons. One reason is that perhaps the mechanism of the body and the mind has been loaded with some work or performance beyond its capacity. Even a donkey cannot carry bricks beyond a certain limit. Maybe the work load has increased so much that the mind cannot get on with it any longer. The other reason is that we do not like that work. We do not feel that anything is going to come out of it. It is not that the workload is too much, but that it is useless, so why should we do it?

In meditation, the workload may not be much because you are not going to meditate all twenty-four hours of the day, so that complaint is irrelevant here. But the mind may say that this is not worthwhile, finally. People come to the Ashram saying, “For the last twenty years I have been meditating, but I am in the same condition. I have not achieved anything—no visions, no sounds, nothing like that.” The mind may be concentrating, meditating for twenty years, but it is like an unwilling labourer—a person who works without heart, without mind, and without knowing at all what is actually being done. The god of the object of meditation has not entered the heart.

Unless God calls you, your heart will not concentrate on God. Many people say, “Only the grace of God is the final solution.” Grace implies the cooperation of the Almighty Power with your effort. There is a question whether effort is necessary or grace is important. This is difficult to answer because grace and effort go together. The response from the cosmic forces is directly connected with the effort that you make from this side.

In the Bhagavadgita, for instance, the symbolism of Krishna and Arjuna seated in one chariot and wanting to achieve a single purpose is an illustration of the need for a combination of effort and grace. Why should Krishna be there? Arjuna alone is sufficient; he knows how to fight the war, so why should Krishna sit there? Or, Krishna is almighty and can do everything, so why should Arjuna be there? The individual and the cosmic are commensurate with each other, and they have to join hands in a mysterious manner. Yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo yatra pārtho dhanurdharaḥ, tatra śrīr vijayo bhūtir dhruvā nītir matir mama (B.G. 18.78): Where God and man work together... You should not expect God to do everything for you; then you will not even lift your plate. This is a mistaken understanding of the phenomenon of grace in religious practice.

Because you are conscious of being there as a person, an effort on your part is called for. It is true that, finally, only God does everything. It has to be accepted. But if that is the case, you immediately cease to be there. But you also seem to exist there, and you are conscious that you exist. Arjuna felt that not only was Krishna there; he was also there. You are yourself the creator of the problem. You create the problem by feeling that you are also there. Do you not believe that you are there? Or do you believe that only God is there? Because your feeling that you are there is inseparable from your very existence, your effort is called for. But as you are a part of the universal energy, grace is also necessary, and so grace and effort go together.

Thus, prayer to God is also a very essential medium for your success in meditation, together with your own effort of concentration. When a little child is learning to walk, its mother holds it up by the hands, but the child also moves its legs back and forth. Both efforts, at the same time, are necessary. If the mother lets go, the child may fall down; but if she merely holds on, what is the purpose? The child will not learn how to walk. A little effort on the part of the child to move its legs should go together with the support of the mother, until the child is able to walk on its own.

Ultimately, yoga is a super-religious practice. I do not want to call it religious, because it does not come under the category of any kind of religious denomination. It is religion in the sense that it is connected with ultimate divinity, but we may also say it is super-religious. Yoga is the art of intense human effort of the total soul rising up into a complete action because when God calls us, the whole totality of the universe responds. The response does not come from any particular part of the world.

The Bhagavata Purana tells us that when Suka Maharishi, the son of Vyasa—a little boy who was a brahmanishta—was walking, unconscious of even his own physical existence, Vyasa called, “My dear boy, where are you?” The answer came, “Father, I am here.” But who gave the answer? Every leaf of every tree around started vibrating: “I am here.” It was not a little boy responding. Before that boy stones would melt, leaves would speak, and every tree, every shrub would smile. The response comes from everything because of That which is there in everything. When God calls us, the whole world calls us. If God loves us, the whole of humanity will love us.