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Yoga as a Universal Science
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 16: Meditation – Theory and Practice (2)

Pratyahara leads to dharana by a gradual self-movement of itself towards a larger expansion and an inward intensification. The stages of Yoga gradually taper off into one another, without it being possible for us to draw a hard and fast line between one stage and the next, just as we cannot know when a child becomes an adolescent, an adolescent a youth, and a youth an old man, because there is a slow, continuous movement without points of hard demarcation, proving thereby that the whole of Yoga is a completeness, a whole by itself, and is not like a house built of isolated bricks, which can be removed one by one, without one brick disturbing another. The Yoga process is an organism of practice, and is a greater wholeness than even our own physical body. We have bestowed sufficient consideration and thought on the nature of pratyahara, and the way in which it enters into concentration or dharana. The difficulties on the way, the nature of the practice, and the necessity for exercising vigilance on the part of the activity of the mind in the arduous task have also been discussed.

A fourfold psychological activity takes place when concentration or dharana is undertaken, an activity which can best be compared to a struggle or an effort, not less difficult than the process of medical treatment or military warfare. There is a negative process and a positive one, catabolic and anabolic, we may say, both taking place at the same time, as it happens in our own body. There is a rejecting process and a constructive process taking place everywhere in nature, physically outside in the five elements, in society, in the bodies of men and animals, and even in our own psyche. Every movement in the world is a double process of rejection and absorption. And this movement of nature as a whole is also the movement of the internal psyche of man, even if it be in concentration or meditation.

Rejecting the Irrelevant Thoughts

The mind feels a need to reject the thoughts that are not supposed to be consistent with the requirements of concentration or meditation. Each one knows for one's own self, from the way in which one's conscience speaks, what are the ideas, thoughts or feelings which cannot be regarded as compatible with the character of the ideal that one places before oneself. What is to be regarded as not consistent with the ideal of Yoga is a matter to be decided in each individual case isolatedly, without any generalisation about it, because what may be consistent with one individual may be inconsistent with another, and so on. That is why Yoga was taught individually from the earliest times, and not en masse. It is because the details of the workings of the mind of people vary from individual to individual, though in general they may appear to be practically the same in the case of all people. When we go into the internal intricacies of dharana or dhyana—concentration or meditation—we are not tackling merely the general processes of the mind, which are practically the same among the whole of humanity, but we are touching the details of the internal working, and there, individualities differ from one another. Hence, as we advance, we have to be more careful in the analysis of the components of the mind, as careful as the research scholar in physics or chemistry is in the analysis of scientific matters in the laboratory. In the internal mental laboratory of the Yogi or the external laboratory of the scientist, as a person advances, he becomes more concentrated, because then he enters into greater details, into more minute details involved in his observations and experiments.

Broadly speaking, without touching upon the difficulty connected with individual idiosyncrasies, we may say that any thought, feeling, or idea, which cannot be easily regarded as directly or indirectly connected with those thoughts which go to conceive the object of meditation may be regarded as irrelevant. The relevancy or the irrelevancy of a thought depends upon the kind of object or ideal which one is holding before one's mind's eye, as that on which one has to concentrate or meditate. So, we cannot say what is relevant and what is irrelevant, generally speaking, because it has something to do with what one has kept as one's ideal before oneself. Here again, the role of the Guru comes in, in the work of distinguishing between the positive thoughts that act as constructive forces in concentration, and the negative ones which interfere with it and create distraction in the mind. Such a distinction should be followed by a rejection of the irrelevant thoughts and ideas. A list of these possible irrelevant thoughts has to be prepared, each for oneself. A distracted mind cannot take to serious concentration or meditation. The seeker has to be prepared as a dedicated individual when he takes to spirituality or Yoga. That is his whole occupation and vocation. Nothing else is there before him. However, whatever be the nature of the thoughts that have to be abandoned, there is a stage where one feels the need to abandon certain thoughts.

Here, one may be faced with a tremendous difficulty. In this world, it is difficult to reject anything that has been accompanying one for a long time. Thoughts that were our friends and inseparable from us in our daily life are now to be rejected, which is not easy, because the rejection becomes possible only when their valuelessness is recognised. Anything that has a value for us cannot be subjected to this vivisection in the psyche. That which we consider as necessary in one way or the other in our daily life cannot become an object of our abandonment. It has to lose all sense of value, every meaning and connotation, much as a dream object becomes irrelevant to us in the waking state. Only then can we reject it. But, no thought which is of the waking life can be shunned easily, because that which we consider as irrelevant is also a part of the waking consciousness, and so, we will find it a painful process.

Here, we may recollect our earlier observations regarding the errors in our very perceptional process, and the division of the thought-process into klishta vrittis and aklishta vrittis by Patanjali. The klishta vrittis are obviously irrelevant to the practice of concentration and meditation. There is no need to explain how they are irrelevant. But, the more difficult thing would be to realise the inconsistency of the aklishta vrittis, or the non-painful operations of the mind, which are part and parcel of our daily life. And, therefore, to regard them as irrelevant would be a hard job. So, we should not suddenly jump into the higher stage of abandonment, when we are still in the lower stage. We have to bring back to our memory our earlier observations regarding the nature of the creation as a whole, the universe in its internality of structure, in whose light we cannot say that it is permissible on the part of the mind to regard objects as external to the perceiver. The whole point about the aklishta vrittis of Patanjali is that the world is not an external object, even if we name it prakriti in the language of the Samkhya. It cannot be regarded as an object, because the so-called subject who considers prakriti as an object is a part of prakriti itself. The individuality of the purusha, the percipient character of the individual, has been brought about by the workings of the gunas of prakriti, but for which there would be no individuality of the purusha. Therefore, the individual percipient who considers the prakriti or the world as an external object, is himself a part of that object. Therefore, there is some mistake in the operation of even the aklishta vrittis, what to speak of the klishta vrittis! Thus, it will be known what is irrelevant and what is relevant if we go into the philosophical implications of the very nature of existence.

The Fourfold Psychological Activity in Dharana

In principle, therefore, it follows, and it should follow, that the ideas, thoughts and feelings which are inconsistent with concentration or meditation are those which insist on the externality of the objects and the location of things in space and time. Together with this effort on the part of the mind to reject these ideas of externality, spatiality and temporality, there is the positive, constructive activity taking place at the same time, towards collecting those ideas which focus themselves towards that conception of the object of meditation which has been considered as the proper one for the aspirant. So, there is a double activity—an activity of the abandonment of those vrittis or activities of the psyche which insist on the externality of things, and the insistence or the taking in of those ideas which are contributory to the higher idea of the total indivisible structure of the object of meditation. So, one aspect among the four mentioned, is the activity of the mind to abandon thoughts and ideas which are irrelevant to the purpose. The other one is the thought of the object itself. While we are conscious of the nature of those ideas and thoughts that are to be abandoned, we are also conscious of the ideas and thoughts which are to be maintained in regard to the nature of the object. There is a third set of ideas which maintain the consciousness of the existence of the meditator himself. We are aware that we are seated there as a meditating principle and that there is the object also before us on which we have to concentrate. Also, there is a fourth process, which is the knowledge process, which connects the meditator or the concentrator with the object. This is the pramana chaitanya, as they call it, in the technical language of Pramana Sastra, epistemology.

We are aware that we are, we are aware that we are thinking something, we are aware of the nature of the object on which we are concentrating, and we are also aware of those thoughts which have to be abandoned. So, these four sets of ideas commingle with one another, all appearing to be there at the same time. That is why it looks like a struggle on the part of the mind to create a sort of a system in the activities of these four aspects that impinge upon it simultaneously. This is the difficulty. We have to think all the four aspects at the same time. Though we cannot be deliberately exercising any effort to maintain these fourfold thoughts, they will present themselves there subconsciously, or in a spontaneous manner.

What Differentiates Meditation from Concentration

We have seen already that the tying of the mind to a particular concept is concentration—Desa-bandhas chittasya dharana. And, a continuity of the very process of concentration is supposed to be meditation or dhyanaTatra pratyayaikatanata dhyanam. We cannot easily understand the relation between concentration and meditation, just as, to give a very homely analogy, we cannot know the relation between threads and the cloth which they constitute. It appears often that the cloth is the same as the threads. We cannot see, in the cloth, anything but the threads. Yet, something tells us that the cloth has some characteristics that are different from the qualities present in the threads. Hence, often, no distinction is drawn between concentration and meditation, dharana and dhyana, and Patanjali himself does not seem to suggest any distinction qualitatively between concentration and meditation, when he says that a continuity of the process of concentration itself is meditation—Tatra pratyayaikatanata dhyanam. But, we may say that there is some distinction in the qualitative make-up between the two, just as we can wear on our body a cloth but not a bundle of threads, though they are virtually the same thing, and not two different things.

Meditation distinguishes itself qualitatively by an intensity, which is characteristic of its own self, apart from the activity known as concentration. In meditation, in dhyana, some novelty takes place. We do not any more feel a necessity to reject thoughts. There is nothing to abandon. The idea that certain thoughts and feelings are inconsistent is dropped. One has already accommodated within oneself all sets of thoughts which arise in the mind, and the so-called irrelevant thoughts and feelings have been so co-ordinated with the existing system of thinking, that they have ceased to be irrelevant. Even that which appeared very ugly, inconsistent and evil has lost its ugly character, and has undergone a transformation in the process of meditation. It has not been rejected, as it was thought earlier. It has been absorbed by a transfiguration of its inner constituents. Thoughts are incapable of rejection finally, in the end. They cannot be abandoned, because they are our thoughts, and not somebody's thoughts. That which we have to reject is not the thoughts themselves, but the way in which the thoughts function. Here is a subtle distinction in psychological operation. For instance, we do not reject a person when we hate a person, but only dislike the way in which the person himself or herself acts in the context of things. It is a peculiar, subtle distinction that we have to draw between the sinner and the sin, as they say, the person and his conduct and behaviour and the way he manipulates relationships. Such is the case with thoughts. Thoughts are like things; they are like persons. They are substances, perhaps more concrete than the so-called objects which feel as tangible. The undesirableness of any particular thought in the mind is in the way in which it is conducted in respect of things in the world, but not in the thought itself. So, in meditation, the way in which the thought erroneously conducts itself in respect of things is harnessed in the proper manner. The restive horse that tries to move in its own way, in any direction it pleases, is put to the yoke and made to move in the required direction. The horse has not been thrown away or rejected, but its movement is regulated. So, in meditation, in dhyana, rising above dharana or concentration, the irrelevancy of things itself becomes irrelevant. The very idea of evil itself becomes evil. Such a thing as the idea of evil does not exist any more.

Dhyana Is Total Thinking

All this is a very advanced stage, and one is not supposed to go on haranguing on these things, since they are matters for personal experience, and no amount of explanation will mean anything at all to the people who read or listen, because it is like a taste of sugar and cannot be known by reading a textbook on it. What all this means will be known only when a person enters that stage himself. And any amount of reading or hearing will not help much. Whatever has been stated above is only to project the mathematical structure or the logical pattern of the way in which ideas have to be brought round in harmony with, or in tune with, those thoughts which may be considered necessary for the purpose of meditation on the great ideal that one has placed before oneself. When thoughts become harmonious, everything else also becomes so, because the jarring noise and the ugly scene which we see in the world, which we come in contact with through our senses, are due to a peculiar working of our minds which is what makes them appear as inconsistent with our meditation. This situation has now ceased to exist, on account of a new way in which we have begun to view things, in co-ordination with the system of our total thinking. Dhyana is total thinking. It is not partial thinking. It does not mean that some thoughts have been thrown away as irrelevant, and some thoughts have been kept as our friends, as relevant to meditation. All thoughts have been brought together into a completeness as a focus. We meditate as a whole, and not only as some thoughts which we have kept within ourselves as necessary. At this advanced stage, the meditator becomes a whole man, and ceases to be a schizophrenic individual, which one usually is in the workaday world. We have a double personality, even a treble or quadruple personality, when we live in this world. But that double, treble, quadruple personality coalesces into a single individuality in meditation. Very few can be said to be fit for meditation in this light. We are all poor nothings, considering the difficulty in actually making ourselves fit for this great attainment called the meditation of the mind on the ideal of Yoga.

Meditation in the System of Patanjali

What are the things on which we are going to concentrate or meditate? We are specially concerned here with the system of Patanjali, and so, we shall not touch upon any other subject or theme which may be discussed in the Vedanta or other systems of philosophy. According to the system of Patanjali, the objects of concentration are the evolutes of prakriti. The stages by which prakriti descends into diversity are the very same stages by which we may say that we ascend to the completeness of the object in the form of prakriti. This is the sum and substance of the concentrational or the meditational process. The Samkhya or the Yoga has it that prakriti is a vast indivisible, incomprehensible, indistinguishable mass which is the whole universe itself. What we call the entire creation is comprehended within prakriti. There is nothing outside it. We are also a part of it. The peculiar activity of the Cosmic sattva of prakriti projects a Cosmic Intelligence, called mahat. These are terms used in the Samkhya. An intensification of this Cosmic Intelligence into what we may call Cosmic Self-consciousness is called ahamkara. So, there is prakriti, there is mahat, and there is ahamkara, gradually descending from the higher to the lower. This ahamkara, sometimes known as bhutadi in the language of the Samkhya, because of the fact that it is the 'adi' of the 'bhutas', or the origin of all the elements, is supposed to manifest itself in a tripartite form—the subject, the object, and that which connects the subject with the object. We have touched upon this theme, this tripartite division into the adhibhuta, the adhyatma and the adhidaiva in an earlier chapter. The cosmic subtle elements known as the tanmatrassabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha—are the immediate evolutes of the ahamkara or the Cosmic Self-affirmation. These tanmatras, by a process of permutation and combination, become the substances known as the five gross elements—ether, air, fire, water and earth. Meditation, properly speaking, in the light of the system of Patanjali, is the concentration of the mind on these stages, the five elements, the tanmatras, the ahamkara, the mahat, and prakriti.

No one can imagine what all these things mean, if these things are told at once, at the very outset. Therefore, cautiously, Patanjali has given us other minor techniques of concentration in the very first chapter itself, the chapter known as the Samadhi Pada. It is not possible for anyone of us to think of the five elements suddenly, though we are expected to gather our minds to such a height one day or the other. So, we take one particular object before us, any object which is a form of the five elements themselves. This particular form should have those characteristics which will attract our attention. Unless we are so deeply philosophical as to know the connection of this particular physical frame with all the five elements, we have to emotionally relate ourselves to the object. In meditation, especially in its advanced stages, there is no necessity to bring in the emotional aspect. There is more the logical side of things than the emotional one. But, in the earlier stages, emotions do not leave us, because we have a liking even for God Himself, so to say, due to an emotion that is worked up when we think of this great idea called God.

Role of Constructive Emotions in the Earlier Stages of Meditation

Our concept of God is not purely logical. It is also emotional. And, therefore, when we take to any point in concentration, and choose any object for this purpose, we have to see if it agrees with us emotionally. For instance, we cannot keep a snake in front of us and meditate upon it, though, for the purpose of concentration, that is also good enough, as any other thing is. But, emotionally, we will not be in harmony with the thought of a cobra sitting in front of us. There will be a disharmony, for reasons well known to us. But, if we choose an object which is emotionally connected with what we like for reasons of our own, our mind will concentrate immediately. While it is true that we have to be emotionally appreciative of the object of concentration or meditation, we must also see what sort of emotion it is that we entertain when we meditate. There are emotions and emotions. Even when we are rebellious, outrageous and rude, we are in a state of emotion. But, that is not the type of emotion that we speak of when we say that emotionally we have to be related to the object of concentration. Rebellious emotions are distracting emotions. They are not wholesome feelings. They tear our personality to shreds and throw us in different directions. But, the constructive emotions knit the parts of our personality into a whole, and we become brighter and more beautiful than a tyrannical individual with a self-assertive individuality. When we frown, we are in a state of emotion. When we smile, we are again in a state of emotion. But, the two emotions are of two different types. When we are very ruthless and cruel, we are also in a state of emotion. When we are compassionate, kind and merciful, we are again in a state of emotion. There can thus be different kinds of emotion, and we have to know where we stand. The constructive emotions make us strong in our personality, and the destructive emotions make us weak and dejected in our moods. Thus, it requires a lot of psychological training in the beginning to find out what sort of object would best suit us for the purpose of meditation.

This is the reason why many of the Yoga teachers, Gurus and Masters tell us that it would be good and profitable to take to the chanting of the Name of God instead of unnecessarily struggling in the mind by an imposition upon itself of thoughts and feelings which it is not accustomed to or familiar with. Each individual has his own notion of God, the Almighty Creator, to whatever religious faith he may belong. It is sure and certain, and clear and obvious for him, that his own notion of God is the best of thoughts. He may not have a better thought than that. There, his emotions come together in a fraternal embrace, and his logic also works in a friendly manner. So, japa of a Name of God, concentration on the meaning of the mantra, or the formula containing the Name, is regarded as perhaps the best method to bring the mind to the point of concentration. When we offer prayers to God, we say something, at least mentally. We say something in our mind, and emotionally, we feel certain attitudes towards God. These are the things that we have to maintain perpetually, as far as possible, by repeated sessions of prayers, and a continuous sitting for japa or chanting of the Divine Name, which will bring us to the point of concentration. This is a religious technique of concentration.

There are other techniques of concentration that need not necessarily be called religious. They are, rather, psychoanalytic or psychological, and they are suggested by Hatha Yogins, Tantriks and others. In those techniques, there need not be thoughts of God in the sense of an omnipresent Creator, but there may be any particular thing with which one is emotionally tied down. These are subtle secrets. All meditation is a secret working of the mind, in accordance with the instructions received from a superior. What is it that the seeker is emotionally tied to? Only he knows this, and he cannot shout it, will not be able to shout it in the market, but he has to reveal himself to the Guru, as a patient reveals himself to the doctor. The patient should not hide facts before a physician, if his ailment is to be cured. Similarly, in spiritual life, there must be a complete confession before a superior, as sometimes this process is insisted upon in churches. So, the disciple confesses, inwardly and outwardly, the totality of his emotional set-up before his great Guru, who is responsible, who is supposed to be responsible, for the spiritual progress of the disciple. So, there is no hiding of facts from a Guru, if we regard a particular person as our Guru.

We should not try to tear our emotions from the objects of our affection under the impression that they are unholy, irreligious and unspiritual, because, finally, there is no unholy thing in the world. We have been brought and bred up somehow in some atmosphere of religiosity, which makes us sometimes think that something is evil, and, therefore, it has to be thrown away as religion is opposed to it. But, religion is not opposed to anything. It is opposed only to a misunderstanding of the context of things. Very difficult is Yoga practice. It is a very hard thing to do, and a long time is to be taken in understanding its requirements. A sudden bounce of a spirit of renunciation and rejection is not called for. Yoga is a process of healthy living, and not an unhealthy wrenching of oneself from all ties, like tearing one's own skin. Even if we have certain emotions which religion would not permit as holy, even if we think that they are rogues, they have to be treated as our friends for the time being because the association that we have maintained within ourselves, with those feelings, is so intense that the knot of this association has to be gradually untied. And, in Yoga, there is no such thing as cutting the knot. There is only a gradual untying of it, and a vehement behaviour with anything will prove to be a disastrous process.

Necessity to Establish a Proper Relationship between the Conscious and the Subconscious

No one can understand these processes by one's own self, nor can one practise them by one's own self, especially when one reaches these stages where one has to fight with one's own mind and not with other people in the world. We cease to have a practical relationship with the objects and the persons of the world, when we realise that the objects are only psychological objects finally, and there are no other objects in the world. Physical objects appear to be external things, because of the operation of the mind in a particular manner, and if this operation ceases and is transformed into a different process altogether, the so-called persons and things cease to be objects. So, we have to deal only with our mind finally, and not with persons and things, or the world as such. A gradual healing process has to take place in our mind, with constant guidance from an experienced teacher. We all are emotionally connected to things. These emotional connections have to be brought into right relation, directly or indirectly or in some way, with the purpose of our meditation. Otherwise, though our conscious mind may be putting forth hectic efforts in concentration on the so-called religious ideal of ours in Yoga, our subconscious mind will be revolting against our practice. We will become a double personality, inwardly one thing, and outwardly another thing, and we will be dreaming of our rejected form, while in waking life, like an unhealthy individual, we will be trying to practise Yoga.

Sometimes Yogis become queer individuals, unsocial and anti-social, and sorry within themselves and unhappy in their core, because some of them have not succeeded in bringing the subconscious and the conscious into a proper relationship. The two levels of consciousness always remain separate. They are like warring camps and they do not agree with each other. The conscious mind does not agree with the subconscious, and vice versa. And psychologists tell us that we have got a deeper terror inside us, known as the 'unconscious vast', the racial unconscious as the psychoanalysts tell us, which keeps us in contact with the whole of humanity. And that is why we are always thinking of mankind only, and we cannot think anything else in this world. All our problems are human problems. Why is it so? Why should there not be anything else? It is because our racial unconscious has the larger say, it forms the larger base of our personality. It is connected to the species into which we are born. That is why our problems are problems of the human species only, and not of other things in the world, though they may be more important than the human ones. So, when we enter into the deeper levels of Yoga practice, we are entering into dangerous zones, forbidden areas where angels fear to tread. But, no fear will be there if we have a good Guru. No person should have the hardened egoism to imagine that he does not require a Guru. It is a stupidity and he will not succeed, because he will be faced with terrors as he goes further and further, and these terrors are not outside things, lions, tigers. They are the forms taken by the incapacity of the person's own mind to adjust itself to the requirements of meditation. So, here the seeker lands in a tumult within himself, caused by various obstructing powers, mentioned in some of the sutras of Patanjali, in the third chapter called the Vibhuti Pada.

From Meditation to Samadhi

While the concentration process has the fourfold aspect mentioned earlier, in meditation there are only three processes. The rejecting process is dropped. The consciousness of the meditator and the consciousness of the nature of the object of meditation, together with the process of concentration or meditation, remain—what are known as the dhyatr, dhyeya, and dhyana. These three continue, but the earlier requirement of the effort on the part of the mind to reject certain ideas is no more there. We will be continually flowing to the object of meditation, as it were. We will be flowing in the whole of our personality, and not merely in one of the aspects of our mind. All meditation worth the name, in the spiritual sense at least, is an integrated movement of the whole mind, and not merely of a segment of it. In the light of this analysis of the nature of meditation, very few of us will be fit for it. We struggle unnecessarily and reach at nothing. However, this is the ideal before us, to reach one day or the other, may be in this birth with the Grace of God, and if not, in the next birth. It does not matter; one day or the other, we have to get there. The movement of our wholesome, soulful individuality towards the object of meditation is dhyana. This is what Patanjali calls pratyayaikatanataI, or the continuity of the flow. There is no break in the flow, but a wholesome continuity, as in the flow of oil from one vessel to another, or as in the flow of a lamp where bits of process join together in such a harmonious manner that we do not feel that the flame is a process at all. The whole flame looks like a compact completeness. Likewise, though meditation is constituted of bits of thought, we will not feel these bits as different from one another. They will together make one whole process, like the movement of a river where we cannot see the distinguishing drops of the waters. The whole river will be one mass. So, in meditation, the whole mind assumes the shape of a mass that moves wholly, entirely, totally, completely towards the object, the great point on which we may be concentrating for the purpose of our union with it.

The union that is attempted in Yoga is known as samadhi. It is a very hard word even to hear, because each one has his own or her own idea about it, which is quite natural, and we get frightened by the definitions given of it. A complete absorption of ourselves with anything is impossible. We cannot identify ourselves with anything in this world. We cannot become anything other than what we are ourselves. A cannot become B. A is A, and B is B, always; and this is the essence of the world. But, why should A be A and B be B, and not otherwise? The Yoga psychology or philosophy tells us that the very fact that we know that B exists, and yet B cannot be A, must tell us implicitly as a meaning between the lines, that there is an undercurrent of unity between the seer and the seen, between A and B. A totally dissociated B cannot become the object of knowledge of A. While A says, “I am different from B”, A is not fully conscious of what he is speaking because, though in the light of the characteristics of B, as situated in space and time, B may be different from A, the fact that A has a knowledge of the existence of B itself should reveal a deeper truth than is available on the surface. Here is a deeper psychology, the philosophy of perception or knowledge. A hidden connectedness of A with B is the reason behind the knowledge which A has about B, and A takes advantage of this fact of there being such a connecting link, and touches B through this knowledge process, rather than through the form or the name which B has apparently assumed in the spatio-temporal location. So, when we go further and further in Yoga, we confront greater and greater difficulties, which we will not be able to accommodate in our minds at once. Hence, the slower we go, the better for us. We must go very slowly. The union or the coming together in utter communion between the seer and the seen is the aim of dhyana, or meditation, and towards this end, we have to move with great caution.