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Yoga as a Universal Science
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 15: Meditation – Theory and Practice (1)

Now we are in a field which is entirely practical, having covered a large ground in discussing the theoretical basis of Yoga, as propounded by sage Patanjali. Perhaps the most difficult part of any teaching is the practical part of it. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi—the last three stages of the eightfold Yoga—constitute the main Yoga, so to say. The discussions in the earlier chapters are but a prelude to this final leap that one has to take into the unknown, as it were. In the last chapter was expounded a few ideas concerning dharana or concentration, its meaning, its significance and its value. Students of Yoga generally take to meditation at once under the impression that Yoga means meditation. While the notion that meditation means Yoga is correct, yet, nevertheless, without a proper preparation of oneself for the adoption of this final technique of Yoga, it would be rather a tedium than a happy occupation of the mind. One of the tests that we can apply to our own selves when we sit for concentration or meditation, as to whether we are well prepared for it or not, is to see how we feel when we sit for concentration. Are we frightened? Do we get exhausted? Do we feel like getting up as early as possible and diverting our attention to some other activity? Do we sometimes feel that this practice known as concentration or meditation is a painful one from which one would very much wish to be free at the earliest hour? Or do we feel, on the other hand, that the more we sit and the more we concentrate, the better and the happier we are? Do we feel when we rise from our concentration a greater energy, a better satisfaction, and a more comprehensive understanding of things? Or, do we rise up from our meditation with despondency, a spirit of defeatism, and a hopelessness of pursuit? These questions each aspirant may put to himself, and the answers that come would let him know where he stands.

Choosing the Point of Concentration

Teachers of Yoga have hundreds of things to say about concentration. Each teacher will propagate his own technique—whatever he has studied, or whatever he has heard, or whatever he himself is doing as a practice. All these are methods, are valid techniques. Any method is good enough, provided it is resorted to in right earnest. The initial difficulty that the student will feel is the choosing of the particular point of concentration; whether it is to be internal or external is a question that will be raised in the mind. What should one concentrate upon, the outside or the inside? It will be difficult to decide this at once because both alternatives will look all right, and yet the student will be oscillating between the two alternatives. Even supposing he comes to a decision as to whether it should be the outside or the inside, he will not know how to conceive of it. What is he to think? Many say, “We think nothing when we concentrate.” It is a foolish statement. It is impossible not to think anything unless one is sleeping or one is in a state of supernal absorption in a high state of consciousness. A beginner cannot be in a state where no activity of the mind is there. It may look like no activity, because of a total absorption of the mind on one thing. When it is moving fast in one direction, it may look that it is not doing anything, but it is doing work.

In order to avoid these difficulties of choosing the point of concentration and deciding upon its nature or characteristic, it has always been suggested that one should receive initiation. Initiation is the process by which the student is introduced into the very characteristic of concentration, together with a description of the nature of the object, perhaps even with a little bit of caution as to the difficulty that he may have to encounter on the way, the problems that he may have to face. Nobody generally, especially in the traditions of mysticism and Yoga, would take to Yoga or meditation independently by one's own self. Everyone receives commission or an initiation from a Master. All great men had their Gurus, though they themselves were great men. Initiation by a Guru is a requisite on this mysterious path which we call Yoga or meditation or spirituality or God-consciousness.

Any object is good enough, provided it is possible for us to visualise in that object all the values that we are seeking in life. The object as such is not what is important. What we see in that object is important. The visualisation of value in that object is what is of consequence, and not the mere substantiality of that object. What is in a person, or in anything in this world, except some material content constituted of the five elements—earth, air, fire, water and ether? Every person's body is constituted of these elements only, and every blessed thing is of this nature only. But then, do we not see difference? One person, to us, is of one value, and another person is of another value. One thing is this, another thing is that. We have to read a meaning into the persons and things of the world for various reasons of our own. And it is the reading of this meaning or value into the person or the thing that is of consequence to us, and not the person or thing itself. Otherwise, nothing has any value in this world, unless we are able to see any value in them.

Visualisation of Value in the Object of Meditation or Worship

Now, the visualisation of value in an object is again a difficulty. When we worship an image, conceptual or physical, we superimpose upon it all the characteristics of a transcendent being. Do we not often offer our obeisance to a photograph or to a portrait of some personality whom we consider as worthy of adoration? What is there in a photograph except paper and ink? Do we then prostrate ourselves before paper and ink? No. We visualise a meaning and a significance that is imbedded in the photograph, as it were, due to the operation of our psyche in a particular manner in the context of our relationship with that object. This is a very strange thing and very difficult to grasp. What is meaning, what is value, where is it located, nobody knows, whether it is in our head or whether it is in the object. We cannot say that it is in our head. We are not offering our obeisance to something in our head, we are seeing something outside. Nor is it true that it is really there outside. There is some peculiar intermixture of values. Here is the problem. However, people who take to religious practice, whatever be the form of it, find that it is the nature of the spirit, the characteristic of their aspiration, to see God in some form. Every religion, even that which does not recognise much the value of idols and images, has some image before it. There is no religion without an idol. Only, the definition of the idol changes. Some worship a stone, some worship a picture, or a marble statue or a portrait, or even a kind of atmosphere which they create physically, where they offer prayers, viewing that atmosphere as the idol of their devotion. Whatever be the idol, the idol is a conceptual form that we superimpose on the physical atmosphere outside, as a necessity of the very structure of our mind in its religious aspiration. So we offer a prayer in a temple, in an auditorium, in a church or in a mosque, where our mind gathers itself into a force of invocation of a power which it feels as a Presence, transcending the image or the concept of the portrait, and yet animating it in some way, mysteriously, capable of being appreciated by the devotee only and not by anybody else. We begin to feel the pervasiveness of some force in the object of our adoration—a murti in a temple or anything else, as the case may be. We are not offering our prayers to any physical object. It is not a prayer or an adoration to a painting in a physical sense. It is a psychological atmosphere that we rouse within ourselves. Or, to put it better, a spiritual atmosphere rises under circumstances which are beyond the ken of psychology and logical science. Religion overcomes the limits of science and logic, and they have nothing to say about religion. They can say nothing, because they lie outside the purview of religion.

The Religious Spirit and the Inrush of the Soul towards the Absolute

There is something in man that defies the definitions of science and logic. There is something in man that tells him that he is something more than a man, though he always regards himself as a man. There is sometimes a feeling in us that we are more than mere human beings, and this feeling in us rises to the surface when we are in a state of intense rapture caused by either great joy or sorrow. Great agony and unbounded satisfaction, both break the boundaries of our personality. At that time a person is no longer a man or a woman. He is something he himself cannot define. This spirit, which overwhelms individuality oftentimes, and breaks the bounds of the limitations of individuality, is a religious spirit. No man can define what religion is. Only he who is religious knows what religion is. It is neither a matter to be written in a book nor something to be gathered as a piece of information from libraries. Nobody, no one can define what sorrow is, and no one can say what joy is, unless one has felt it within one's own self. Lo! So is this religious spirit, which is the cause, or the cause of all causes, behind our efforts in life which urge us towards an effort for something which we cannot see in this world, yet can visualise in all the forms. People offer prayers to trees, stones, and even to the skies above, which apparently is an emptiness. They look up to an emptiness and pray to the mighty power which they feel as something which is there, whether or not they are going to see it with their eyes, or even conceive it in their mind ordinarily. Unless we are possessed with a true religious spirit, understanding religion in its proper meaning, we will not be able to take to Yoga concentration or meditation with seriousness.

Meditation or concentration is not an experiment that we make with things. It is an inrush of the soul towards that, about the value of which it is fully convinced, and there is no necessity to conduct any kind of experimentation in regard to it. One who tries to experiment with Yoga will get nothing out of it, just as one cannot experiment with a person and see whether he is a good friend or not. One becomes the friend of another person by a means which is beyond the ordinary, empirical observation. We are directly pulled towards someone or something oftentimes, or repelled by factors which are not the results of our considered judgement many a time. We suddenly like a thing, or suddenly dislike a thing, not because we have come to a logical conclusion in regard to it by careful analysis, but something beyond this speaks which is not of this world. Such a spirit will possess us when we are real students of Yoga, especially when we are in the heightened stage of dharana or dhyana. These are very highly advanced stages and we should not be under the impression that we are always ready for it. We have to go deep into the precedent stages of Yoga threadbare and see where we stand as regards the requirement. We have tried to understand something about the true meaning of yama, niyama and the other stages that precede the stage which we are discussing now. We cannot be under the impression that everything is over and we have bypassed all these stages. No one can bypass them so easily, because there are tentacles which pull a man to the earth, whatever be his greatness. Nobody can be so great as to defy the world wholly. So, every moment of time, even if we are sometimes having the feeling that we have fairly advanced in Yoga, even then, we must be very cautious to see whether we are well grounded in the earlier stages, in their proper meaning and significance.

We can take to any point as our object of concentration, because, every object is as good as every other object, inasmuch as everything is connected to everything else. If we know one thing, there is no need to know another thing. Such is the nature of things here. If we go deep into anything, we have gone to the depth of everything else. If we have touched one thing properly, we have touched all things. So, we can take to any form which we have judged for ourselves as the proper one for our purpose. Many a time, people take to concepts of God as their objects of concentration. This is the usual method which people adopt, though there are other psychic types who prefer purely impersonal forms of concentration such as a flame, a flower or a brilliant light. The necessity which people usually feel for entertaining a concept of God for the purpose of concentration is that somehow we believe in God. We cannot get away from this idea. There seems to be something about this. So, we are drawn to this concept willy-nilly, and whatever be our notion of this Omnipotence, that notion comes to the forefront as the object that we choose for the purpose of dharana. It does not matter here what our concept of God is. Whatever be our concept, that is good enough. The psychology, or the logic, of concentration applies equally to any form, whether it is religious or otherwise. The idea of the Creator is the overmastering idea generally in religious practices, and we may lay special emphasis on this technique, inasmuch as this seems to be the predilection of all minds everywhere, to whatever religion they may belong. Who can gainsay that sometime or the other one feels drawn or pulled to some invisible presence, from which one seeks succour, when one is drowning in the flood of life? This spirit within us which seeks to overcome itself in a larger communion is the spirit of religion. This must guide us in our practices in Yoga. So, let us come to the point and decide that our concept of God is the object of our concentration in Yoga, because there is nothing else that we can do.

God and His Omnipresence

The next question would be how we can properly conduct ourselves in our devotion to what we call God in our hearts. What is God? Whatever be our notion of the Creator of the universe, to whatever religious faith we may belong, we would certainly conceive that the Creator is an omnipresence. And this acceptance of the preliminary character of the Supreme Creator is something common to every religious faith, and no one will say that God is only in one place. While this is the principal motif behind every religious faith, namely, the existence of God as the Supreme Creator, it is rather difficult for the mind to conceive this omnipresence. We can say that God is omnipresent, but we cannot imagine what it actually means. We may struggle to entertain this notion, but we will mostly fail because its implications are so devastating, and we will not be prepared for it. We can only say that He is omnipresent and keep quiet. But we should not go deeper into its meaning or the results that would follow logically from our acceptance of this fact. However, we do not trouble our minds too much, and content ourselves with merely a notion of the omnipresence of God, together with His omniscience and omnipotence, and impose our factual concept of God with a relationship that it has to maintain in respect of this omnipresent God-Being. That which is omnipresent has also to be omniscient and omnipotent automatically. It follows, and has to follow. That which is everywhere is also in contact with everything, and therefore, It knows all things. So, it follows that the omnipresent is also omniscient. Inasmuch as It knows everything, root and branch, It has control over everything, and therefore, It is omnipotent. So, God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Sarvantaryami, Sarvajna, Sarvasaktiman is God.

If God is everywhere, He is in everything also. Therefore, we can take anything as a symbol of His omnipresence. This is what pulls us towards an image or a form or a concept, or whatever it is. That which is everywhere is in every particular thing also. If it is in every particular thing, anything is good enough for us for our concentration. Every form is a face or a finger of God Himself. So, the Yoga student can well be happy that he is meditating on God Himself, the Great Creator, though he has only a little image in front of him. It does not matter, because even this little image is a part of His omnipresence. The student should convince himself deeply as regards this great value that he superimposes on the object of his meditation. That is necessary.

If every form is capable of enshrining His omnipresence, and there cannot be many Creators for the world, every form is as good as every other form. And, therefore, there cannot be isolated religious faiths that are differentiated at their bottom. So, every religious difference is an irreligious attitude. It cannot be called religion. It is a travesty of religion. Such a travesty is seen in our life, when religion becomes sociology and politics, which it has become, and so much the worse for religion. It is our duty not to contemplate religion in its form of travesty, but to visualise it as it is, and as it ought to be. From such a viewpoint, every form in this world is a vehicle of the omnipresence of the Almighty. Such a conviction in our heart will rouse within ourselves a force of joy, a power of satisfaction, an urge which we sometimes may not be able to control. If this conviction is deeply driven into our mind that the form that we are visualising before us is the form of that Omnipresence Itself, we will be stunned to the core at once, and we will be stupefied by the very thought of it. And this stupefaction, religiously brought about, is the force of concentration. This is meditation. Deep meditation is nothing but a stupefied state of the spirit which stands face to face with the Almighty's Presence as enshrined in a form, a concept, a notion, or any idol, for the matter of that. Such a religious spirit should take possession of us when we are seated for concentration or meditation.

Meditation: A Cosmic Activity and Not an Individual Affair

Now, we come to the more practical initial stages, after considering something of the supernormal aspects of Yoga meditation. What should we do at the initial stage? We have to sit; that is all. Sthira-sukham asanam: we have to be seated. We cannot stand. We have already seen that it is not a proper posture. We cannot lie down. We have to be seated in that particular asana or that particular posture, which is convenient and non-painful. And we should introduce into our mind the ideas of nobility, sublimity and divinity. We should tell ourselves that we are seated, even though for a few minutes only, for a magnificent purpose, which has a value not only to us as individuals, but to the whole of society, why, to the whole world.

The false idea that meditation is an individual affair has to be removed from the mind. Many so-called spiritual men, religious men, and devotees get side-tracked into this erroneous notion that meditation is an individual business, and that it has no connection with other people. The spiritual seeker may be under such an impression, and others also may drive such ideas into his head. People make a distinction between social service and spiritual meditation, as if they are two different things. They try to project the view that while social service benefits a large number of people, meditation is an individual affair which does no good to anyone other than perhaps the meditator himself. This is a bogey that hangs heavy on our heads, even when we are about to touch the fringe of God Himself. The devil will not leave us even to the last moment, because the devil works the most when it tries to feast on our intellect itself, and afterwards we cannot think any more in a proper manner. Who on earth says that the outside is different from the inside? Have we not been repeatedly emphasising that there is no such thing as an inside and an outside for this vast Creative Force called purusha and prakriti, and by other names variously? In this vast atmosphere of an inter-related system of values, called creation, what is inside and what is outside? So, how can there be an individual effort? What is the Bhagavad Gita but this great gospel that there is no such thing as individual activity at all? Such a thing does not just exist. So, there is no such thing as individual meditation also. There is no such thing as ‘my practising meditation'. Therefore, it is stupid to the core to imagine that social work is different from spiritual meditation. The two cannot be isolated. Meditation is a cosmic activity, and not an individual's effort. It is not a mister or a mistress sitting in the corner of a house and thinking something for one's own self, calling it meditation. It is touching at the very base and root and switchboard of the cosmos. When we properly adjust ourselves to the requirements of true concentration or meditation, we interfere with the structure of the cosmos itself. At that time, we are not individuals, we are not social units. We are sparks of that Spirit and units of the Cosmic Force. When a particular drop in the ocean begins to think, quite naturally, that thought of that drop will have to affect the whole ocean. There is no such thing as an isolated activity of a drop in the ocean. It is not there. Every drop is the ocean itself, and therefore, when it starts acting, the whole ocean becomes active. So, when an individual starts concentrating with a proper understanding of the meaning of concentration, the whole universe concentrates. What a joy, what a satisfaction, what an energy comes and how happy the person is at that time! He will not be able to speak afterwards. His mouth will be shut at the very thought of this great energy that seeps into him and the joy that comes on account of his correct apprehension of the very meaning of concentration. How glorious is Yoga! Thus we must ratiocinate and understand the true significance of dharana and dhyana. We are not doing anything for our own selves. We are doing it for everybody. The greatest service that anyone can do to the whole of creation is to commune with the Creator, who is not different from His creation.

The spiritual seeker must accommodate these noble ideas in his mind. It may take some time for him to think on these lines, to think like this. He may not be able to do this at once. It does not mean that the moment he sits for concentration, he will be able to think like this, in the way we have outlined. The mind will not be ready to think like this; it has its own idiosyncrasies and anxieties, emotions and worries. When there are emotions, tensions, one should not sit for meditation. At that time, one should go and take rest, lie down, sleep for an hour. If one is very much disturbed in his mind, he would be well advised to go and sleep, or take a cup of tea or coffee, or go for a long walk musing within himself as to what has caused the sorrow in his mind. No one can be friendly with God by being an enemy of man. One has to be friendly with every stage of creation, and Yoga is nothing but this establishment of amity and friendliness in every level of creation. All tension and disparity is overcome by a gradual accommodation of oneself with the atmosphere in all the levels in which it may manifest itself. So, there should be a proper mood in the mind to sit for concentration. Otherwise, it will be boring; these noble thoughts will not always occur to the mind. Very rarely do such thoughts come unless one is in the presence of a great person, or one is reading a mighty scripture, or some miracle takes place.

So, in a proper mood, with a sober mind, with no other occupations in the mind, no other engagements calling for attention, one should be seated in a posture, and one should try to concentrate the mind in the manner suggested. At the outset, a need for an external form may be felt. How can anyone think anything when there is nothing in front of him? That is why generally people keep an image in front of them. It may be of Christ, it may be of Krishna, it may be of Devi, it may be of any blessed thing. The person who sits for concentration must open his eyes and gaze at the portrait of that mighty incarnation whom he adores as his divinity. Do we not feel stimulated within us when we see the picture of a great man, whom we adore as a mighty genius born in this world, much more so when we think he is a divine incarnation? When we look at the divine portrait, we will be stirred. Why go so far to incarnations? Even if we look at the portrait of a mastermind in any field of life, we become stirred in our emotions to some extent. It may be even a Churchill or a Khruschev, an Einstein or a Kennedy. When we look at these faces, we will be moved into a peculiar mood that will take us beyond ourselves, to speak the least about the psychology of the human mind. And if we have before us a portrait of such mighty individuals like Krishna or Jesus Christ or Mohammed, or great mystical masters like Lao-tse or Confucius or Zoroaster or any such mighty individual that has trodden this earth, we will be lifted beyond ourselves. This automatic lifting of ourselves beyond ourselves is itself a concentration and meditation. We cannot help being raised above ourselves when we look at the portrait or the picture of these people. Automatically this elevation takes place. So, taking advantage of this psychology of our mind, we may have a portrait in front of us. These are the most initial stages of concentration. Many people love their own father or mother. They have an immense love for their father. Okay, let these people keep the picture of their father or mother in front of them. There are others who have an intense attraction for things of the world for reasons of their own, and those things are all good enough, provided they have the capacity to raise the mind above the limitations of body-consciousness, for the time being at least.

The Technique and Stages of Meditation

One should gaze at the picture, gaze at the image, look at the idol, and begin to feel the greatness, the nobility, the sublimity, the force, the knowledge and the power and the capacity of these forms, of the individuals or incarnations, whom one is gazing at. Then the eyes must be closed, and the outer form or image must be forgotten or dropped from the mind. And one should begin to closely think, “How would Einstein have thought? He was a great man. How would he have thought? Why is it that I cannot think like that?” If one starts analysing his own mental processes, he will be lifted beyond himself. The mind of Einstein could go beyond the limitations of ordinary empirical objects and probe into the mysteries of space, time and causation. Oh, how wonderful! How would Jesus Christ have thought during his days? What was the thought of Krishna? What was he thinking every day, from morning to night? We can go mad if we think like this persistently. How could we imagine what they were thinking? What was Sankaracharya thinking every day from morning to evening? What was Jesus Christ thinking? What was Lord Krishna thinking? What is Brahma thinking, what is Vishnu thinking, and what is Siva thinking just now? We will go crazy at once if we start imagining in this manner. Well, this craze is good if it could take possession of us. So, thus the mind should be brought back to the point of concentration. If one cannot think anymore, the eyes may be opened, and once again the gaze may be directed at the portraits, and the presence of the wonderful values mentally associated with the persons may be imagined as present in the forms and portraits. The eyes may be closed once again and an attempt may be made to entertain these thoughts independently, without an external prop of pictures and idols. All this may take some months of effort; it may take even years. The mind cannot be so easily brought into harness for the spiritual purpose, because it has got various impressions, samskaras, suppressed desires and frustrations.

After some months and years of practice in this manner, one will find that an external image is not necessary. The idol and the picture become redundant; one can think for oneself. But even when one thinks like this, one thinks only on the earlier pattern. Though there is nothing outside, inwardly there is the same concept of the very same form which was visualised in the earlier stage. So, the difference arises only between the physicality of the form and the conceptuality of it, but the characteristic of it remains the same. So, the further succeeding stage of concentration would be to entertain only a concept, independent of the outside form. Practice in the foregoing manner must be continued for a long time, must be persisted in, until one is able to get to every succeeding stage of meditation.

All this is a bare outline of the possible stages through which the spiritual aspirant may have to pass. Though the stages may vary from individual to individual in their detail, in broad features, they are perhaps something as outlined above. In the beginning, there is the necessity for an external form, a prop. Afterwards, there is no such necessity. One has gained the capacity to think only, and the very thought itself is enough. The third stage is more advanced, and here comes real religion, real spirituality, real mysticism, real Yoga. We may call it a real divinity that takes possession of us. The omnipresence of the Almighty which we were trying to tether to a particular form, begins to make itself felt even outside this form, just as a pot that is sunk in the ocean contains water not merely within itself, but also outside itself. So, His omnipresence is not only in the form that one is meditating upon, but is also outside it. If this omnipresence is in one form, why should it not be in any other form? This charity that one develops is a higher religion, beyond the religions present in this world now. One becomes a really religious person when one begins to see the same God in all the forms, not merely in one form, in just one concept of Christ, Krishna, Brahma or Allah. A person goes beyond the limitations of religious faiths, and becomes a truly religious, impersonal super-individual, and no more remains the merely individual religionist that he was earlier. The omnipresence of the Almighty thus makes itself felt also outside the form that one worships. It is here that the seeker will see a kind of light flashing in front of him. Until this stage, no light will be there. The seeker will have only the suffering of concentration, and a pain sometimes felt due to the effort required. But, when he comes to the third stage, he will feel the liberation of a light from the atom of concentration, a flash that will strike like a lightning in front of his mental eye, which will look like a light before the physical eye. He will imagine that he is seeing a light with his eyes, though it is not seeing of any physical light, but an internal flash which is released on account of the concentration that he has been practising. Just as energy is released by bombarding an atom, the mind atom, when it is bombarded, releases an energy in the form of a light which is super-physical. So, here in the third stage of concentration, the seeker is in a blessed mood, feeling that one is lifted above the earth. He does not any more think that he is a man of this world. He belongs to other worlds also. And he has friends not only in this world, he has friends in other realms also. He can summon their succour if he so needs it. He will begin to see light flashing forth in the shape of various forms, and everyone will be his friend. He will be able to smile before every person. He need not have to frown or close his eyes at any person in the world afterwards. He has no enemy, and he will not be able to dislike anything. That would be an utter impossibility for him. Everything will be able to exude a love and an affection which he could not discover earlier in anything in this world.