by Swami Krishnananda
As we might have observed from an analysis of the mind and experience in general, the central aim of the practice of yoga is an ultimate disentanglement of the personality from the various types of psychological clutches in which it is involved. It will be realised later on that the practice is not so much the achievement of anything that is presently unattained, but rather a discovery of an essential nature and a realisation of a status quo which has always been there. The practice therefore is a concentration of consciousness towards its gradual freedom from complicated involvements in the various levels of manifestation. The entanglement of consciousness is the crux of the whole matter, and the returning of the consciousness to its own self, and its resting in itself, is the definition of the ultimate purpose of yoga.
This is to be attained by a very slow, methodical and graduated process. Concentration does not mean a sudden withdrawal of consciousness from something. A sudden step here will not be of much advantage to us. Many of us may know of the fort of satyayuga, which is a very complicated stronghold described in the Mahabharata war. This fort is very intricate, involved and difficult to enter, such that a hero could venture to penetrate it only at the risk of his own life. This analogy of the fort corresponds to the task of freeing the consciousness from its delusions and entanglements.
The consciousness has been entwined in a whirlwind of motion so that we cannot extricate it from these apparent paths without the tremendous caution exercised in skilled practice. It is difficult at the outset to understand the many layers of being through which the consciousness projects itself until it finally reaches the earth level or the physical state of experience. We have been told that there are five layers of this kind. These layers are the encasements of the soul, or in Sanskrit they are called the koshas, which means literally a kind of sheath—like a scabbard of a sword. But while a sword can be pulled straight out of a scabbard, consciousness is not so easily freed from these encasements. It is not a simple affair to draw consciousness out like one would draw a sword from the scabbard, as consciousness has been organically involved in the encasements. To give a very crude example, it would be as difficult to extricate the consciousness from these clutches, as it would be to remove our own skins from our bodies. Theoretically speaking the skin could be peeled off, but yet we know for obvious reasons how impractical it would be. The thing that we have to remove and that from which we wish to extricate ourselves has become so much a part of our own personality and being. When we try to free ourselves, it may appear like a veritable death for our personality. It is for this reason that yoga practice appears so difficult.
In terms of the metaphorical language that is often used, it is a dying to one’s own self for the sake of being reborn into one’s true Self. Many other such analogies are given to make out what is supposed to take place in the disentanglement of consciousness from the meshes of empirical experience. The practice of yoga has to do all this, and the effort commences with the art of concentration, which we began to study earlier. The practice of the concentration of the mind, which leads to meditation or dhyana, is therefore not a mechanical action of the will whereby we merely fix our attention on some chosen object. It is a more difficult technique of a vital and organic nature where we deal with ourselves rather than with an object of concentration located externally. To touch the object of concentration in yoga would veritably mean a kind of profound engagement with one’s own experience. We are not so much concerned here with objects that stand mechanically unrelated to us in the world, but those things which are organically related to us. I have mentioned the example of a triangle, and how the thinker, the process of thinking, and the object thought are related to one another like the three points of a triangle. The example is given to point out the relationship that exists between the thinker and the thought, the meditator and the meditated upon, and so on.
The object of our perception is not an extraneous something and is not so estranged from our personality as we imagine it to be. The difficulty is that usually our perceptions are wrong and do not touch on the vital nature of truth. The object of perception is vitally connected with us in the sense that it is a living part of our being. This is the reason why we cannot so easily get rid of it. It is related to us in a very mysterious manner—so mysterious that it cannot be explicit to the common perception of the senses. While the object appears to be something outwardly, it is something else inwardly. This is the case with every type of relationship in the world—more so in the case of emotional relationships. Finally we will realise that when we fathom the depths of this relationship between the thinker and the object thought, the relationship between the two becomes more and more intimate.
While at the surface it appears to be an isolated object standing external to the thinker, in the deeper stages of concentration, the relationship between the two seems to narrow slowly until it reaches a point of union, wherein the two become indistinguishable. It is towards this end that we slowly move through the path of concentration or meditation. The two points located on either side of the base of the triangle later on converge at one point at the apex of the triangle. Likewise, the apparent distance between the thinker and the object thought in ordinary perception and cognition gets narrowed down gradually in concentration. It looks as if the object were coming nearer to us and we were going nearer to it.
It is not merely a proximity of the one with the other that gets realised in the art of concentration. Something of more consequence takes place. Apart from the proximity of the object with the subject, the inward relationship of the two is realised. These are the two factors to be considered—the distance and the nature of the relation. The one may be regarded as the quantitative appraisal and the other as the qualitative one. Quantitatively speaking the relationship becomes one of lesser and lesser distance. Qualitatively speaking it becomes one of more and more living relation between the subject and the object. The object becomes more and more friendly with us, more sympathetic towards us, and more related to us—inwardly rather than externally. A time will come—and has to come—when the object will be in the end indistinguishable from the process of our thinking and our own selves. I began by saying that the consciousness is entangled in certain forms of experience, which is the subject of study and analysis in the stages of dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). It is difficult for a novice to know what sort of entanglement is meant by ‘consciousness getting entangled in experience’.
Let me give a few instances to make it clear. One of the ways in which our consciousness seems to be caught up is the necessity to think only in terms of the mental process. Due to this erroneous manner of thinking, the processes in turn get involved in certain other misleading conditions of experience. We are so much accustomed to these illusions that we take them for facts which are not to be questioned. When we get habituated to a thing, we don’t think anything about it, just as we don’t think about the sun rising and setting. We don’t bother about the matter, though we may vaguely be aware of the importance of the sunrise and sunset. If the sun were not to rise for a few days, we would realise its importance! We know that we have two eyes, but we never think of the eyes, so much identical are they with us. We don’t feel the need to think that we have got two eyes, but we will have to think of them when we have a pain in the eye.
Similar is the case with the entanglement of consciousness. Normally speaking we cannot realise what our difficulty is, because of our habituation to the bondage we are in. We have been born into a state of bondage, and we die with the bondage. A slave born with the consciousness of slavery takes it to be the natural state of living, and he cannot imagine that there is another state which is freedom. He lives as a slave, and he dies as a slave. Our bondage to the sensory apparatus and the conditions of empirical experience is such that we mistake it for freedom, and we go about thinking that we are fully free people. We have many slogans affirming our freedom in the world—not realising at all that we are in fact slaves bound very hard by the chains of certain factors of empirical experience.
One of these forms of bondage is consciousness having to express itself only through the mental process alone and there being no other apparent way of expression. When we are ‘aware’, we are only aware through the mind, and there seems to be no other way of being aware, so that our consciousness has become veritably a kind of process. Our being is only a becoming. Life has become mortal, and we are living a perpetual series of deaths rather than living in any ultimate sense of the word. There is only death and nothing but that in this world. This is the reason why Buddha began to teach the philosophy of momentariness, perpetual change and destruction. So very intense is this entanglement in the process of change that even the personality and the self of the being were denied by the Buddha. We cannot see this self except as a system of relations and processes. This conclusion has been arrived at because of the intensity of the involvement of consciousness in process.
There is a twofold process in which our mind is involved. The one is the identification of being with becoming, and consciousness with thinking. For example, our awareness that we exist—which need not be identified with a process of any kind—has unfortunately taken the form of a process. When we say, “I am”, we mean, “I think”. There was one great philosopher named Descartes who concluded, “I think, therefore I am.” We somehow or the other deduce one thing from the other, and perhaps we cannot distinguish one thing from the other. Our being has been expressed only in our thinking, and if we cannot think, we seem not to exist, so that in deep sleep we seem to be non-existent. ‘To think is to be’ has been our attitude in life. But unfortunately for us, this is not a fact. ‘To think’ need not ‘to be’, and being is not thinking. This is one of the involvements of consciousness or being. The nature of being is not the nature of thinking—mind is not consciousness. Hence, to not be able to distinguish between consciousness and mind is one of our difficulties. This is one entanglement that I mentioned, with the other one being the mind’s entanglement in the external processes of perception. The primary entanglement is the one between consciousness and thought, and the secondary entanglement is the engagement of thought in certain contingencies of experience—space and time being the primary obstacles.
We cannot think except in terms of space and time. Our thought is localised and restricted due to the operations of space and time. We think in space and think in time—there is no other way of thinking. This is a bondage. Should we call it freedom that we are tethered to certain processes, and we cannot be free from them? We are in the double bondage of being identified with the process of thought, and the process of thought having been identified with the limitations of space and time. This is the condition into which our true state has apparently degenerated itself. We see ourselves only as mortal empirical beings trapped in this world of death and destruction. What else could it be? The world of space, time and causality is the world in which the mind moves and acts. The purpose of concentration and meditation is to free the essence of experience from these extraneous factors in which it seems to be involved. These are all very difficult things to understand unless we carefully contemplate them with great attention.
These are difficult because it involves new ways of thinking—ways to which we are not usually accustomed. We have been told to think in a certain way our whole lives, and now we have to rethink the whole matter. We have to remake our lives and think in a different way altogether. To think in terms of yoga is to think in an absolutely different manner altogether, and we are not to think like an ordinary man of the world. This entanglement is of great consequence, because as long as we take for granted that we are connected with these limiting agents of space, time and causal relation and the process of thought—so long shall we be mortals, and so long we will not escape the circle of birth and death.
What is birth and death? What is the process of transmigration? What is change? Our consciousness seems to be compelled to move in the processes of the world. When an object changes, the consciousness associated with it also seems to change, though the actual fact is otherwise. The body is a process concretely experienced by the mind on account of intense identification, and the consciousness identifies with the bodily changes, and vice versa. In Sanskrit we call this ‘adhyasa’, or superimposition. There is such a kind of superimposition between the subject and the object—the processes of the object getting identified with the being of the subject. When there is such a drastic change of the object so that it is impossible anymore for the consciousness to cope with the change, that is what we call the death of the body. The mind then casts off its relationship with the external vestures, and this is what we call death, mortality or the destruction of the body. The cause behind this experience does not cease, and that is why there is rebirth. Rebirth is nothing but the mind’s relationship with a new system of experience and its drawing towards itself certain conditions which are necessary for the fulfilment of its unfulfilled desires. Mind is the cause of birth and death, and it is the mind that is reborn and that then once again dies. All these experiences are ultimately mental.
This is what I have mentioned by way of digression. The essence of the matter is that consciousness is entangled in a process of experience in a dualistic manner—first in its relation to the mental process and then with its relation to the external world. Both these are the causes of the bondage of the self. In the art of concentration we try to disentangle ourselves from the clutches of the experiences empirically created in this manner. Concentration is a very graduated process and not a sudden action of the will. It takes a long time, and when we sit with closed eyes for the purpose of concentration, for a while we will find that there are no results. This is because we will be thinking in terms of space and time and in terms of the mental process. Whatever be our thought, even if it is a thought of God, it will be involved in this limitation introduced by the spatio-temporal process and the process of the mind. We cannot think God—there is no such thing as that, because to think God would be to reduce Him to an object of experience. We bring God down to the level of a process when we think Him. There is therefore no such thing as thinking reality or understanding it through the mental process. There is no such thing as a psychological relationship with reality.
But there is a negative influence exerted by the art of concentration on the ultimate realisation, which is the goal of yoga. All sadhana is negative in the sense that it is the way of disentanglement, disillusionment, de-hypnotisation, untying the knots and so on. We are not going to create something new here. That’s why I said that sadhana is negative. We are only to cast off the illusions, tear the veils, and clear the cobwebs. It is all negative action. What is there is already there in its essential, pristine purity. The essential consciousness that we are—which is the same as true Being—is vitally related to the objects of experience. Through an analysis of perception we came to know that there is consciousness immanent not only in the subject but also in the object. What we have to achieve through concentration and meditation is to melt in the crucible of concentration the network of relationships that are artificially created in perception and cognition. We must melt them in such a way that we will see things as they are in themselves. It is only by logic and inference that we have come to the conclusion that our consciousness is inherently and immanently connected with the object. In our perception we cannot perceive it, because we see the object standing apart from us. This is on account of the operation of space, time and the causal relation. The spatio-temporal relations create an artificial distinction between us and the object.