by Swami Krishnananda
It is necessary to note that religion, in the true sense of the term, is far above the usual concept of it that people have – for instance, as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. You think that religion means only this much; and in order to be religious, you have to be either a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Jain, or a Christian, or a Muslim, and so on. The truth is quite different. Religion is actually what you feel when you stand before God Almighty; and you do not place yourself before God as a Hindu or a Christian. Perhaps you do not place yourself before God even as a man or a woman. This is sometimes called religious consciousness rather than religion in the ordinary sense of the term.
The spiritual import behind the denominational practice of religion is the religious consciousness. It is what you do when you are absolutely alone to yourself. Philosophers have defined religion as that which you do when you are absolutely alone to yourself. When nobody is around you and you do not talk to anybody, when nobody speaks to you and you are literally alone to yourself – what you feel at that time is your religion. You shed all the accretions that have grown around you in terms of family and social relations, and spiritually naked, as it were, you stand before the great Judge of the cosmos. It is said that Truth is naked; it has no dresses, coats and shirts, etc. You do not carry this body to God. Therefore you do not carry anything that is associated with this body either. You do not carry even your thoughts when you are face to face with the Almighty. How would you feel if you are face to face with the great Creator of the universe? You may ask me: "I have never seen this Creator of the universe; how will I place myself before Him?" Your mind has such a capacity that it can expand itself to an unending, limitless vision of a Total Power being there above this vast extended cosmos. It requires a little bit of imagination on your part, and a power of will to assert this feeling. The whole thing is in front of you. Inasmuch as bodily associations and kindred things do not go with you when you shed this body, you must know what it is that goes with you at the last moment.
In the Bhakti Shastras – scriptures of devotion, religious lore – different prescriptions are placed before us to conceive the presence of God for the purpose of meditation. The Vaishnava scriptures are particularly known for their classification of divine concepts into five categories, known in Sanskrit as para, vyuha, vibhava, archa and antaryami. Para is the transcendental concept of God, as God is uncontaminated by the evils of the world; He is above the world. This is one way of thinking of God. You cannot regard Him as involved in this world of defects and finitudes of every kind. To be untouched by every kind of evil characteristic of human life and the world here is transcendence. Many religions, or perhaps all the religions of the world, mostly regard God as transcendent perfection – far, far beyond even space and time. This places God far away from you in distance as well as in the time process. Where He is, you cannot know, and when He will come, you also do not know. You have to wait for His grace. Para is the word for this concept of the transcendence of the Absolute.
Vyuha is a concept which is novel, especially in Indian thought. I do not know if it is seen in other religious fields also. You visualise God in degrees. The well-known concept of degrees in Vaishnava theology goes by the nomenclature of Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. This is pure Vaishnava theology. Vasudeva is Lord Sri Krishna, the Incarnation of God; Sankarsana is his brother, Balrama; Pradyumna is his eldest son; Aniruddha is his grandson. All these divine personalities are regarded as one group which represents the total power of the Almighty.
If we are to free this classification of degrees of the Vaishnava theological aspect and look at the same thing in a more philosophical form, we may compare this to the Vedantic classification of the Absolute known as Brahman, Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat. Brahman is the transcendent, all-pervading, immanent, total Absolute. Ishvara is the potential form of the Absolute tending towards creation, dark with the power of externalised projection – dark because the light of externalisation has not yet manifested. Hiranyagarbha is a faint outline of the possibility of future creation. Virat is what you see with your own eyes – the fully manifest concrete form.
In a work called Panchadasi, in its sixth chapter, the author gives an analogy of how you can conceive these gradations. Think of a painted picture. In order to paint a picture, you require a cloth as its background. You cannot paint on ordinary porous cloth so you have to stiffen this cloth with starch in order that it may become a suitable background. A hard surface, practically, is necessary. First is the cloth only, as it is – pure, unadulterated. Then there is a stiffened form of that cloth. In the third stage the artist draws an outline in pencil of what he pictures the completed painting to be. In the last stage he fills it with ink and colour. This colourful vision, which is the complete picture, is the Virat. The outline is Hiranyagarbha. The stiffened cloth is Ishvara. The pure cloth is Brahman itself. This is one way of looking at the degrees in the vision of God with reference to the concept of vyuha, or degrees. Para is the transcendent Almighty, above all things. Vyuha is this gradational concept.
The third is the vibhava concept. It is difficult for you to conceive the transcendent Absolute and these gradations, which are also of a cosmic nature. You require a more convenient form for your meditation. That is the Incarnation, vibhava – the glory. The glory of God is condensed in the Incarnation. It is before you in a visible form. It may be as Jesus Christ, or as Lord Krishna or Rama, as the case may be. Though these forms of the Incarnations are visible at a specific location, this does not mean that they are limited in their powers.
The whole energy of the Supreme Being gets concentrated in this localised form. The Almighty can speak through the Incarnation. These days, people extend this concept of the vibhava, or Incarnation, to the Guru also – to great people, mighty geniuses who are the representations of something supernormal in its nature. In the tenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita it is said that wherever there is the glory of excellence you must feel the presence of God. It may be a mighty mathematical brain, the mighty brain of a physicist, the mighty mind of an artist, the mighty mind of a musician – anything that is superb, beyond concept and expectation. Even if it comes in the form of a tornado which you cannot imagine in your mind, there is some unearthly power operating behind it.
Popularly, the Incarnation is the form God has taken according to your vision, in terms of the religion to which you belong. You worship the Incarnation. Even this is difficult for you. Transcendence is difficult. The conception of degree is difficult. The Incarnation concept also does not come to the mind easily, so you require a lesser concession for the purpose of concentration of the mind on God. That is archa, or the idol of worship – the form that you wish God to take, in the form of the visible thing that is in front of you. It can be an actual shape concretely presented before you as an image or an idol, or it may be a painting. It may be a diagram – any symbol whatsoever which inherits the power of the creative forces. Diagrams, which are known as yantras in Tantra Shastra, are supposed to represent the process of the creative act of the universe. They invoke the whole cosmos into this mandala, or the diagram, or the yantra.
Para is one concept; vyuha is another; vibhava is the third; archa is the fourth. The fifth is antaryami. There is something more about God than all these things that have been told. You cannot exhaust the glory of God by description. He is not merely transcendent. He is not merely capable of vision in degrees, not merely an Incarnation, not merely the idol that you worship, but an omnipresent, pervasive Being. That is antaryami. In every nook and corner, in every atom, you feel His presence.
These are some of the prescriptions before us for concentration on God. I would like you to close your eyes and meditate for a few minutes. Hari Om.
[Saying this, Swamiji leads the students through the chanting of Om.]
You will feel something entering into you if your concentration is good enough. You will feel some sensation on your skin and in the cells of your body. You will feel a vibration, a tickling sensation, in the beginning. When the concentration is strong, you may feel a jerk even – a tremor of the body. This tremor, this jerk, this sensation is due to the mind having an impact upon the flow of the prana. Usually the prana directs itself according to the desires of the mind. When you see a thing intently, the mind passes through the retina of the eyes in terms of an object, and the prana moves in the direction of the mind thinking of a particular object. If you are gazing at a thing with tremendous concentration of the eye, your prana gets charged automatically with the form of that object, and the object gets charged with the prana.
But in meditation, what happens is something different. You are not charging any particular object outside you; you are charging yourself only. When this happens, the normal activity of the prana gets reversed in an inwardised direction. It is like blocking the flow of a river or a stream and making the water go back rather than allowing it to move forward, which is its usual nature. This happens in meditation. The mind always thinks of something outside, some object. Therefore, the prana is accustomed to move in the direction of that which the mind thinks. Now you are not thinking of any object in meditation. You are centralising your mind in its own source, so the prana turns back. At that time, because of the unusual pressure that you are exerting upon the prana due to the unusual way of thinking in meditation, you feel a change taking place on the periphery of your skin, in the cells, and you feel a shaking up taking place. After some time the jerks will stop because the habit of the prana changes completely. Usually, its habit is to go out. When you make it move inward, it feels a difference, which is why it causes a tremor. But when it is your practice to think only in that manner and in no other way, it then becomes natural for the prana to rest in itself rather than to move outside. Then, after a long period of meditation, the tremors cease.
If pure, conceptual meditation is difficult due to the distractions of day-to-day life, you can take to japa of the mantra. You are generally told that mantra is a Sanskrit formula. It may be so, but it need not necessarily be that. It is a convenient formula that is adopted to allow the mind to concentrate on that which is beneficial in spiritual meditation. Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya. Om Namo Narayanaya. Om Sri Krishna Sharanamama. Om Sri Rama. Om Jesus. These are invocations of a type which will fill your personality with a larger quantum of energy and make you feel that you are in a level, a realm, which is lifted above the finitudes of ordinary life. But if you are intent purely on a spiritual way of living, God can be called in any way you like, in any language. Language is only an expression of your feeling, and, therefore, you can use your language of exclamation and intense yearning.
When you intensely yearn for something, what do you tell yourself? You call the name of that thing which you like, whatever that be. "Oh, my dear (this particular thing) I want you to come. Come!" If nothing is possible, just recite: "God, please come! Almighty God, please come! Almighty God, please come! Almighty God, please come!" Don't chant any Sanskrit mantra. In your own language – Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil, let it be anything – say this: "Almighty God, please come!" You will see Him in your imagination, before your eyes. "Almighty God, please come! I am yearning for you! I want you! Almighty God, please come!"