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To Thine Own Self Be True
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: The Psychology of Meditation

The usual habit of the mind to think only in one particular way persists continuously throughout one's life. A total transformation of the process of thinking in an entirely different manner is next to an impossibility for any human mind. Hence, the method that is to be adopted should be in terms of a graduated progress in the visualisation of the object of meditation.

Whatever be the maturity of our thoughts or the extent of our education, the mind will still go on telling us again and again that there is something in front of us which is our divinity, our god, our object of meditation. Some people struggle to avoid this concept of something being in front by imagining that it is present somewhere in one part of the body only, such as the middle of the eyebrows, the heart, etc. Even then, in spite of the attempt to place it in one's own personality, it will remain a kind of external object. It will never get identified with oneself. One may feel in the centre of the eyebrows something standing, sitting, or placed in some posture, but not united with oneself entirely.

In order that the mind may not be forced to think in an unusual way, it is better to give it a long rope; start with the very same concept which it is accustomed to and gradually raise this vision of the object in the direction required. There is a well-known illustration known as shakha-chandra nyaya, which means the way in which one can locate a star in the sky, in the midst of many others. There is a star in the sky called Mrigasirsha, for instance, and I want to show you where exactly it is above. Thousands of stars in the sky can be seen on a clear night. Now, which one is the Mrigasirsha? If I say, "Look at this," and point my finger to that particular star, my finger is not touching the star, and you will not know where the star actually is. Then, the method I adopt is: Do you see this tree in front of me? Do you see one branch shooting off in an eastern direction? Do you see a little twig rising from the particular branch, rising vertically up? Just above that vertical shooting twig, do you see a star there? To the right side of it do you see something twinkling? That is the star Mrigasirsha. Now you can see and know where it is.

So much time had to be taken in order that the distant star could be located for the purpose of correct perception. In a similar manner you have to adopt certain techniques when you go for meditation. The mind will always have to say something contrary to your ideas, that the object is far away, and is in one place only. Let it be so. Let the object be in one place. What is your object?

Bringing back to our memories what we have considered earlier, that object is something which is very desirable, but it is in one place only. There are other things external to it, outside it, many things in the world which are other than this one desirable object. The mind will say that there are many other things, also. When the mind wanders like this in the thought of other things than the particular chosen object, open your eyes. Generally, where the eyes are, there the mind also is. When you look at a thing with open eyes, the mind also goes with this visual perception. Keep an image in front of you; what that image may be is left to your choice. It may be a painting, photograph, idol, symbol, diagram, anything that will satisfy your feelings. Open the eyes and look at it for as long a time as possible so that the mind feels delighted that it is there: "My desirable thing is just in front of me. I am very happy to look at it! Come, come!"

After a few minutes the mind will again jump into something else. It will not agree to go on thinking continuously even the most desirable object because this open-eyed concentration by the mind is actually the conscious level of the mind operating. The human psyche is not merely the operation of the conscious mind. Even when you are looking at a thing and consciously thinking it, your whole being is not comfortable on account of the other subliminal layers of the personality getting disturbed by a subtle subterfuge of feeling of an indescribable nature.

Even the most desirable object can disturb our personality inwardly for certain reasons which the conscious mind cannot know at that time. We cannot be comfortable in the presence of anything for a long continuous period because mostly our thoughts are on the surface of consciousness. We have never an idea that we have also subconscious levels, and deeper still an unconscious sea of potential urges.

When a presentable object is placed before the conscious level of the mind, tentatively it appears to be satisfied. Inasmuch as the satisfaction is tentative, the lower subliminal layers do not interfere, just as a mother will allow the little baby to crawl to some extent in any direction while keeping an eye that it does not go too far. A little freedom is given to the crawling child, but when it goes too near the steps where it is likely to slip and fall, the mother will run and pull it back. Likewise, the subconscious which is our real mother, as it were, which is what we really are basically, will not suddenly interfere with our conscious level's operations. We may go on gallivanting anywhere with our conscious mind, looking at things and enjoying them, but if we persist in concentrating only on one thing and are likely to forget the possibilities of other things also in the world, the subconscious will say, "thus far and no further." Immediately it will move in some other direction. What is the direction towards which it will jump? It will go towards those things which are ignored in our conscious visualisation of the object.

Remember the same analogy I mentioned to you last time that your personality is not in one place only. It is an admixture of forces joining together and coming from various levels of the personality, from many previous births through which we have passed and the several possibilities of our future births, also. Thus, the past and the future will not allow you to be continuously conscious of one thing alone in the present. You will be pulled and pushed from two different directions. This is why the scriptures in Yoga tell us that we have to be a little bit cautious in knowing ourselves well before we embark upon the Yoga of meditation wholeheartedly. We have to bring to the level of our conscious thinking whatever is buried deep inside, also. You should not keep something secret within and then appear to be well off on the surface level. If you have something troubling in the deepest level of your mind, that has to be brought to the surface of consciousness, to the daylight of proper understanding. You have to look at it together with your looking at the object of meditation.

If you start visualising the object which is the target of meditation with only the power of your will, minus an adequate understanding going with it, your heart will rumble inside like troubled waters. Even for a month you may not know that anything is happening to you at all. Go on with your meditations for three months, six months, with earnestness and intensity of concentration, carried on at fixed hours of the day, every day. Then the whole personality which has been ignored earlier will rise up to action. A neglected individual can do anything; an ignored disease can erupt in any form, and a neglected creditor can give any kind of trouble. Anything rejected totally, as if it is not there, while it is really there, can cause such troubles that we cannot foresee.

You are your own danger, and you are inviting that trouble by ignoring some part of yourself and imagining that you are only some side or aspect. You may believe that you have no desires because you are in a holy place, thinking holy things. It may look true, but it is not wholly true. When you leave the holy place, go to the railway station, the bus stand and the market, that which you have not taken into account at this present moment will come up and engage your attention adequately. It is better that you guard yourself about it now itself before you prepare yourself for meditation. We should not be having secrecies about our own selves. Are you going to hide something in yourself? You may not declare yourself to other people for certain reasons, but will you not declare yourself to yourself? Tell your own self honestly what you are. Will your heart say that you are a God-man, a spiritual seeker? If you are honest, you will realise that you are a dustbin filled with umpteen cravings, submerged longings, and disturbed emotions. If you are dishonest to yourself, you will not progress even by one inch.

Most people have the capacity to know what is inside them. While you are in a temple or a satsanga, in the company of great souls, what you really are in the subconscious or unconscious may not come to the surface of your mind. If you want to know what you really are, what you are basically at the root of your being (other than what you are appearing to be in public), you have to leave your home for some time, because your home atmosphere conditions you into thinking in one way only. Go a long distance, some 500 kilometres away from your house. It may be a holy shrine, it may be Uttarkashi, Gangotri, Rameshwaram, Varanasi. Never write any letter to your family when you are staying there. Make a decision that for one month you shall not leave that place. You should not have any correspondence with your family. Do not send letters, because other people will then start writing to you; do not write anything. Go to a place where people do not recognise you, so that they may not come and chat with you. Let the atmosphere be strange. If you go to a large city, people may not know who you are. You are just one pilgrim among thousands. Live in a place where you are literally alone. For a few days you will feel like fish out of water. You have lost your peace of mind with nobody to talk to; you are lonely.

The social part of your personality will revolt against the individual life that you are forcing into yourself. Most of us are in a social atmosphere and if you are wrenched out of that social condition, literally placing yourself alone, you feel miserable at that time. Being literally alone is very difficult to conceive but it is necessary to pass that test, also. Can you live alone?

Stay for a while, for a month at least, in a place where you are unknown to people and you have no connection with anybody. You have plenty of time for yourself; nobody will disturb you. When you have your little breakfast or lunch, etc., sit and cogitate about what is happening with your mind. The first thought will be that you have lost something. You may have pain in the body or feel that you are not fit for this, that your desires are not being satisfied, something looks odd, not quite all right.

All the desires submerged will slowly creep out. Do you know how many desires you have? They look like several things, like the many branches of a tree, but they are all capable of being boiled down to certain units, just as medical science tells us that all illness is threefold, known as vata, pitta, and kapha – windy, bilious, and phlegmatic. These are the three humours in the body. When these are maintaining a state of balance, we feel healthy. But if any one of them is out of balance, it will rise up and indicate an illness. Though diseases appear to be manifold, they arise from a threefold disturbance in the body.

The Nature of Basic Desires

Desires also are not so many in number. They are squeezed down to only three, according to an analysis made by the great masters of the Upanishads. They put on various colours and shapes and make it appear that they are too many. These three desires are called eshanas in the language of the Upanishads – basic longings which are psycho-biological. They are psychical and also connected with the biological makeup of the body.

The impulse of self-respect and reputation goes with egoism or the affirmation of individuality – you think you are such and such a thing, and you would not like anyone to think about you in any other manner. Suppose someone calls you a fool. Although you know that you are not a fool, still the word disturbs the concept that you have about yourself. It is an attack on your notion about what you are.

If I say that you are a tree, you will not be agitated so much. But, suppose I say you are an ass. You are disturbed beyond imagination. Why are you not disturbed when I say that you are a tree? You know very well that you cannot be a tree, so what I talk is utter nonsense; but if I say you are an ass, you have a suspicion that perhaps you may be a little bit that also. That is why you want immediately to retort, "No, I am not!"

This suspicious character that is in us also will be a trouble one day or the other. People hang themselves, drown themselves, to maintain their self-respect. There is nothing more important than self-love, but you cannot describe what it means. It is a flimsy indescribable notion, an idea, an appreciation in the mind. You will die for the sake of it. You have an idea about yourself and you would want to die to maintain that particular idea. Such a strength this egoism of human psyche has!

Wherever you go, even if you are a beggar on the street, you would not like to be insulted by anyone. The beggar has a personality which he respects even when he is in the most wretched condition. Even a dying man would not like to be ridiculed. This self-affirmation aspect is a bane. It is the Ravana inside us; it is the Kumbhakarna, which everyone is basically.

Which of these three desires will come first, you cannot say; it depends upon the circumstance. When you are intensely hungry and have not eaten for several days, you will not be thinking other aspects of your desires because of the pressure of the appetite and the hunger of the stomach. You will want only food at that time; the other desires, though they are present, will withdraw themselves for the time being due to the exigency of the time and the condition.

The desire to maintain oneself physically appears as hunger and thirst. If hunger and thirst are not attended to properly, the physical existence itself will be threatened. The psychological existence also is important, together with physical existence. You have to be something physically, and you have to be something in your mind also. So, you must maintain the ego psychologically as a way of internal self-affirmation and maintain the physical body as a kind of external self-affirmation. This is the whole picture.

Self-affirmation of a twofold character (physical and psychological) is one kind of desire which is inseparable from our existence itself. It is not a desire emanating like a shoot from a plant; it is identical with what we are. It is a desire for security of existence.

The second desire is the urge to possess appurtenances of life in as large a measure as possible. It is not merely enough if you exist as an individual physically and psychologically. You have to expand the dimension of your personality by adding to yourself whatever is possible from the outside world. This is the desire for property, wealth, belonging, gold, silver, land, house, money.

As the individual personality is characterised by two types of self-affirmation (physical and psychological) the desire for expanding one's personality also is of a twofold character. You want a twofold wealth from this world outside – physical property as well as psychological property (intellectual property, as people sometimes call it). You would like people to recognise you as much as possible. Everybody should praise you. If you do not receive enough recognition from people around, you create means and circumstances of contacting as large a number of people as possible so that you may be recognised by them. You go about and tell people what you are and speak to them, and advertise yourself. If the world pours on you encomiums, your intellectual property gets expanded. You have become larger in your conception of what you are.

Who likes finitude? The little tiny tot that you are, though you are secure, what is the good of it, the security as a finite individual? Would you like to live like a little animal, like an ant or a plant? This is not the way in which we wish to have security. It has to be enhanced properly.

There is a third one, which is the desire to perpetuate oneself. The secret person inside tells us that one day we are going to die. You may have a lot of wealth and everybody is praising you as the greatest man in the world, but for three minutes only. After the three minutes you are going to perish. This is indeed shocking. You want to be, always. You desire to be in possession of all the wealth that you have acquired and to be also in possession of all the name that you have gained in this world. What is the use of having it for three minutes? The fear of abolition in time and in space gnaws into the vitals, but you know very well you cannot perpetuate yourself in any way.

A distorted thought arises in the mind that you can perpetuate yourself by producing a child; the child is you in replica. That is why the urge to have a child is so strong in people. It is not a desire for the child, actually. It is a desire to perpetuate yourself in the time process. You would like to see your grandchild, also. If the grandchild is not born, you are unhappy. Your great grand-children also you would like to see with your eyes. You have, as you believe, perpetuated yourself in the process of time. The mind may say that you will perish, but you do not want to perish so easily as that. An idiotic idea arises in the mind that the production of children and increasing the number of members in the family is a great achievement.

The nature which is around us, which is intent on producing species of different kinds, exerts the pressure of the species so that a human being would like to have children of a human type only. You would not like to have frogs and scorpions as your children.

You would like to marry. Whom do you want to marry? Do you want to wed a bull, or a cow, or a cock, or hen? You want to marry your species. Do you know why it is that you want to cling to your own species only and not any other thing that also is there in nature? The individuality is a slave to the pressure of nature, though you may think that you are an independent, isolated person. Nature's species impulse pressurises you, so everybody goes to multiply the species concerned. Else, it would look that life is a hopeless wretchedness. It is worth nothing.

These are the three eshanas, longings, which do not always come to the surface of consciousness. Thieves do not come in front of you because if they so come, they cannot do their work. The greatest thieves in the world are these three desires. They want to rob you of everything and make you a pauper until you die a miserable nobody. All people in the world who are subject to these desires die wretchedly, though they might have thought that they have achieved a lot.

One Should Always Remain Guarded

When you enter the portals of meditation, as a seeker trying to rise in God-consciousness, these natural impulses will come and tell you that they are not going to permit you to do anything against their wishes. What do you do at that time? Remember what Kaikeyi told King Dasaratha. When you try to live a secluded life, for a long time, these impulses will take different shapes and tell you that they are also there. They will all itch and scratch your body from different sides. You will feel miserable and leave that place and go back home, but at least you will know that these things are inside; otherwise, when you are in a comfortable atmosphere in your house, you think that you have no desires and that everything is well. But be alone to yourself somewhere, and see what your heart says.

When you are drowning in water and you know that in a few minutes your breath is to cease, death is at the elbow, what do you think at that time? That thought will not be available just now because you are not drowning now and you think death also is not at the elbow – it is a little far away on the distant mountain. The possibility is not there, so thoughts that may arise at that time will not occur now. When you have lost everything and the very ground under the feet is cut off, what do you think? You cannot imagine that condition now because it has not actually taken place, but it can take place one day. You must be prepared to envisage such a circumstance, also. If nobody wants you in this world, what will you do at that time?

As an intelligent person, you must appreciate even now that nobody really wants you in this world. None is your friend here. Why should you physically expect a situation in the future where you will know that nobody wants you? You can use your mind and see the future of a possibility where a condition may arise when nobody is there for you. You introduce into your mind a situation where none will want you and nothing is with you. Then you are face to face with that which will come to your aid at that moment.

When everything goes, God comes; when something is there, He is a little far away. There is a little story of how God comes and how God does not come. Sri Krishna was in Dwaraka. He was having his midday meal; Rukmini was serving him lunch. In the middle of the process of eating, Sri Krishna got up and caught hold of a stick that was in a corner of the room. Rukmini asked, "What is happening to you? Whom are you going to attack at this moment, with a stick in your hand, in the middle of the meal?" He did not utter a word. He kept the stick there and came back and started taking his food. "What is the matter?" Rukmini asked. Sri Krishna said, "What is happening is this: Somewhere far off in the middle of the (Rajasthan) desert (away from Dwaraka), a pilgrim is passing. Some dacoits attacked him. I thought I would protect him. But, when I was going to do something, that pilgrim took his stick and started beating the dacoits. I decided to let him manage himself by himself. Why should I interfere?"

If you have your own security, of your glory, in this world, well, let it be. Why should you worry about God? Let Him mind His business. If you can live without Him, you are free to be happy with yourself. But, beware!

The object of meditation is the God you have invoked into your consciousness, and you are not going to listen to the voice of the desires inside, which say that they are also there ready to give you what you want. What are you going to do with these desires? They peep through the apertures of the mind again and again and try to jump on you from ambush. When you are unprepared, they may come and catch hold of you. What can you do at that time? You have to know very well that they may come at any moment. You should not say that they have not come as yet. They can come without giving you notice. If they come, what do you do?

There are various ways of handling desires. One is a crude way; another is a subtle, rarefied manner. The crude way is to be physically away, as much as possible, from that atmosphere where there are things which tempt you. Go far away from them. You should not go on looking at a thing which is disturbing your mind. The other way is psychological, which is done by another technique called substitution. This is the way by which you give to the mind something else instead, not the thing which it is asking for, but something equivalent to it in some way. What that substitute is, is left to each individual to suggest to oneself under the circumstances prevailing.

"When some particular impulse is rising from within, think of its opposite," says one Sutra of Patanjali. Think of the condition which is totally different from that particular situation arising in the mind: the strength of Bhishma, the power of Hanuman, the glory of Bhagavan Sri Rama or Krishna, or some such sublime, exalting feeling. When you feel miserable or weak due to the onslaught of a desire, invoke Hanuman's strength and valour. When you think of him you will feel yourself also a little bit strengthened.

Sita was weeping like a weakling, helpless, with nobody to protect or console her. At that time Hanuman was sitting on a tree and singing the glory of Rama. Slowly he got down and placed himself before her and then introduced himself as a messenger of Rama. "Mother, this is the message: Rama will come and take you. But if you so wish, I can take you now itself from this place. Just now I can lift you and take you to Rama." Hanuman had reduced himself then. He was looking like a small monkey. Sita said, "What kind of person are you? I am a large body and you are like a little kid, a monkey. You are telling me that you can carry me?" Hanuman felt within himself, "The Mother Divine does not know who I am. I will show myself." And he immediately grew to immensity, like a mountain. "Mother, I can carry not only you, but the whole of Lanka together with Ravana. That strength this body has by the grace of Rama."

When you feel helpless, think of the indomitable Bhishma. All the Pandava forces together could not face that one man, as all the Kauravas could not face one individual, Sri Krishna.

All this is a description of what may be called the spiritual crisis of a seeker. "At every juncture, or crisis, I shall manifest myself," says the Lord in the Gita. The spiritual crisis arising out of turbulent desires from within will summon that power transcendent and see that you are freed from your agonies. When God takes up cudgels, none can stand before Him. With that confidence, resort to Him alone.