by Swami Krishnananda
How can we cast out this limitation of space and time? We cannot do that easily, nor can we stand apart from the process of thinking. We have been guided by them for so many years—through so many incarnations—and now that we are told that we have to stand apart from them, we do not understand how it could be done. But it has to be done one day or the other, and with continued practice we begin to feel that it is a necessity. This transformation can be done by a gradual introduction of non-objectivity in our consciousness. While all our normal experiences are objective, yoga is a tendency to non-objectivity in experience.
Dharana is thus a creating of a tendency in consciousness towards non-objectivity. All objectivity is bondage, and all tendency to non-objectivity is a step taken towards freedom of the soul. The more external we are, the more entangled we are with objects. The more objective our experience is, the more our suffering in the world is. Consciousness has become so objectified that it has lost itself in the physical objects. We exist therefore almost totally in a physical world, which is the bhuh loka or earth plane, as we call it. Such is the descent of consciousness that it has lost itself, and we cannot see consciousness apart from the objects. We are the objects, as it were. We hug them so affectionately. Our notion is that the body is ‘I’ and the object related to me is also ‘I’. This only points out the intensity of our entanglement. We can realise how difficult yoga would be from the extent of our entanglement in objectivity.
The art of concentration is a retracing of the steps of consciousness from externality to internality. There are three stages: 1) the withdrawal from the external to the internal, 2) the rising from the internal to the universal, and 3) the identification of the subject with the Absolute. In the Absolute this triad of experience in the form of thinker, thinking and thought are brought together. It is towards this end that we are now slowly moving in dharana. We are now walking on very slippery ground, and so we have to look into these things with great caution and attention. If we miss a single point, we may falter. It is very difficult to think along these lines, but once we have learned the art of thinking in this way we will be thinking only in this way throughout our lives! Even while we walk, while we have our lunch, and while we take our bath we will be thinking in these terms. When this thinking becomes a habit of our minds, we become a perpetual yoga student—and not only in the meditation room. We will always be a student of yoga, and we will always be in a state of yoga. In our normal existence, we need not exert to think that there is a building or a tree standing in front of us. Do we exert, do we concentrate, or do we close our eyes? Do we put forth any kind of effort to know that we see a tree in front of us? It has become a natural part of our thinking. Just as natural as this should be our yogic way of thinking, if we are to be established in yoga. We should be incapable of thinking in any other way. When we open our eyes we think in these terms only.
When we succeed in concentrating the mind in this way of thinking for a protracted period, then we can say we are established in dharana. It may take many years—it does not matter. We will realise that the extent of time that is needed in the achievement of this way of thinking depends upon our intensity and the nature of our understanding of the process. If we erroneously practise concentration, it may take a long time, and even many years will not bring us any result. What is important is not merely the length of time in concentration, but the extent of our understanding of the technique. Do we understand the technique properly? Do we know what we are doing? If we are confident about it, then we will succeed—there is no doubt about it. But the confidence has to come, and the conviction has to be there. We have to proceed boldly in the path of yoga.
We have now come to the practical processes of concentration, about which I have given this elaborate introduction, so that we may know what our goal is. I would request again that these things be carefully attended to, because this attention is what is going to help us in our daily yogic life. The first thing that we have to do in concentration is to learn to observe in a detached manner. When we observe a thing, we should observe it in a detached way—not as if it were ours or as if it were related to us in some way. We know an object that is in front of us has a status of its own, in the sense that it need not necessarily be related to us. It can exist even without relationship with us, and it is independent and has a status of its own. Just as we say every citizen of a nation is an independent unit, and every citizen has the same rights, likewise in this citizenship of the cosmos, we may say that in one sense at least every aspect of this creation has a status of its own. Can we observe an object from this angle of vision? Can we look at this something in front of us in a detached way—not assessing a value to it, not saying something about it, not commenting upon it?
It is difficult to observe in a detached manner. Though it may look simple, it is very difficult to practise. We have never known what detached observation is, because we are always accustomed to have an opinion about an object. “Oh, it is like this; it is like that.” But can we think an object without making any comment on it, even psychologically? There should be no psychological commentary on the object of our perception. This would be detached observation of the object, which is the first thing that we have to learn in concentration of mind. To be able to evaluate the object from its own standpoint is detached observation. To think of it only in terms of what it means to us would be a relative observation. While an object may mean something positive or negative to us, it is something by itself free of any such opinion. This is the first step in concentration, whatever be our object chosen for concentration. We may choose the flame of a candle, we may choose a pencil in front of us, we may choose a dot on a wall, or we may choose a painted picture—it makes no difference. Can we look at it in a detached manner? Again, this is the first thing to be done: to encounter an object without referring it to us in any manner whatsoever. Let there be no such personal reference to us—it is as it is. To think an object from its own standpoint is detached observation of the object.
The second step in concentration is to think the object alone, and not to think of any other object. When we are engaged in concentration on a microphone in front of us, for example, we should not be aware of something beside it. The tape recorder is by the side of the microphone, but we need not think of it. Therefore, the first thing is to think the object as it is, independent of any relationship with us, and the second thing is to think it alone to the exclusion of anything else. We will find all these to be very hard jobs when we actually try to do them! We will not succeed. The mind will jump here and there. The mind does not know how to think without relations. This is the difficulty in concentration. To think in a concentrated manner is to think unrelatedly of the objects, but as we do not know what ‘unrelated’ means, we will not easily succeed in concentration of mind. It will take a lot of time, and it involves a herculean task. Anyhow, the practice should begin with these techniques of detachment in observation and exclusiveness of concentration. This is the second aspect of concentration that we have to remember.
The third aspect is that the object chosen for concentration should be such that it should be able to engage our whole being. It should not be a silly trifle that we would not be eager to contemplate. We cannot keep a broken glass in front of us and start concentrating on it. Our mind will say, “What a useless thing you have kept in front of me!” It should be capable of engaging our attention. We must have a longing for it, and our hearts should go to it. We must see a meaning in the object of meditation, and it must have a significance for us. This is the third item that we have to remember in concentration—detachment first, exclusiveness second and meaningfulness the third. When I speak of this meaningfulness of the object of concentration, I am reminded of what is called the ‘ishtadevata’. In yogic parlance we might have heard of this term ‘ishtadevata’ repeated many a time by sadhakas. ‘Ishta’ means something beloved, something longed for, something which we cherish. Something to our liking is our ‘ishta’. ‘Devata’ means a deity. We may be wondering why we call it a ‘deity’. It becomes a deity to us when our whole heart is in it. When the parents have only one child, that child becomes like a deity for them, and they go on thinking of that child alone.
What then is a deity exactly? The deity is not necessarily something in the heavens. That which engages our minds wholly throughout the day and night, which we love exclusively and which we are thinking constantly is our deity. To the miser, money is a deity. We may be wondering why we call money a deity. But that is in a sense what he worships. He cannot think anything else, and the whole heart is there. Therefore, anything in which the whole of our being is engaged may be tentatively called our ‘devata’. Though ‘ishtadevata’ usually means the chosen concept of God in its original status, for psychological purposes we may take it to mean any kind of object exclusively chosen for concentration. The ishtadevata is of great importance, and I would like to say something about it, though many perhaps already know what it means. We have to choose an ideal—this is exactly what we mean when we say to choose an ishtadevata. We must know what to concentrate on. Can we discover for ourselves what we like? We shouldn’t say, “I don’t like anything”, or, “I like all things”. This is not a fact and is a glib way of speaking. It is not true that we like all things, nor is it true that we don’t like anything. Both are not true, as we know that we do like certain things.
Here comes the necessity for a little bit of honesty in our psychological analysis. We must be very honest with ourselves. We should contemplate honestly in the silence of our own meditation room and go deeply into the fact of what it is that we like. It is a fact that each and every person is emotionally tethered to something or the other. This is something which we cannot escape, and we will know it especially when we go deeper into ourselves. There is something after which we will run the moment we see it in front of us. It is difficult for us to find out what actually it is. We could choose a concept or a form which is at least harmless, though it may not have much positive value. We see that in all these matters a guru is necessary. When we cannot understand ourselves, a guru will be able to know where our mind stands, and he will help find the path for us. Of course, we will have to open our hearts to him. Here comes the necessity for initiation also, and there is no yoga worth the name without initiation. We cannot just read a few books and then say, “I’m a yogin”. Especially when we come to the crux of the matter in dharana and dhyana, initiation has its own important role to play. One could say there is no meditation and no japa without initiation. We must always know that there is someone superior to us, and a superior one may be taken as our guru. The necessity for a guru comes because of the guru’s having had a larger experience in this path. He knows the pitfalls and the difficulties on the way, and he has been also initiated by some other guru, and he knows the technicalities involved in concentration. Hence, initiation is very essential.
There are many factors involved in initiation. It is not merely the wisdom of the guru that is of importance here. The power of the guru also has some effect upon us. The way in which the strength of the guru impinges upon us and works in us is called the ‘shakti pata’. The descent of the power of the guru is the shakti pata, and this is done by different types of gurus through various means, according to their own strength and experience. We cannot meditate merely by listening to a discourse. It is impossible, because our predilections vary and our temperaments are of different types. Though the general instructions for concentration and meditation may be similar for most people, the subtleties involved are different in each case. Therefore, initiation has its own importance, and initiation in the art of meditation is essential.
The ishta devata is our object of concentration. While we try to understand what this ishta or object of concentration should be, we have to recall to our memories the purpose of the art of concentration. Why should we concentrate at all? This is the philosophical foundation of yoga and its psychological analysis. That’s why we have taken so much time to understand what it means, and this understanding is a precursor to this practice. The purpose of concentration will be our guide in the practice of concentration. Again, why do we concentrate? We do it to go nearer and nearer to the universality of reality. ‘Nearer and nearer’ means to not suddenly try to jump—which would itself be impossible—but to proceed with caution and care.
We do not know how many stages there are. It may be not only the eight stages mentioned by Patanjali. There are many more stages of ascent, subtle distinctions, minor differences and marked stages of the practice of yoga. We have to pass through every stage, keeping our steps firm. Every step taken is a step towards the universality of being. Every step taken is a step from the external to the internal. Every step taken is a step from the gross to the subtle. Every step taken is a step from the material to the subtle. This is the whole of yoga, to put it in a few sentences. When we come to the practice, we will come to know yoga is actually a very simple affair—it is not very difficult. A lot of explanation may be needed to make us understand what it means, but once we understand it, it will be very simple. Concentration is a very easy and a joyous process. It is not a hard job that is thrust upon us by someone else. It is something we take upon ourselves voluntarily because of the joy it involves, because of the freedom it gives us and because of its necessity in our practical lives. In yoga we move towards God—we move towards the Absolute. It is difficult to understand what ‘to move towards the Absolute’ really means. How can we move towards something which is everywhere? What do we mean by moving? We can move to something which is somewhere, but this is something which is everywhere. How can we move towards it? It is not a physical moving through space and time—it is a movement of the mind, as it were.
What do we mean by moving from the dream state to the waking state? In one sense we may call it a movement; we have to move from the particularities of dreaming to the universality of the waking experience. What does it mean to move from the externalities of dream to the universality of waking? Whatever it may mean, it is exactly what is meant by the movement from the external to the Absolute. It is an internal process of the mind, not a physical motion in space. No movement of this kind is implied. In fact, we may remain seated in one place for an extended time, and this is exactly what we have to do later on in isolation and in seclusion. There is again no physical motion, but there is a tremendous psychological motion—if we call it a motion at all—taking place. A universal evolutionary process is going on in yoga, and yoga is the compression of the whole process of evolution into a shorter period of time. Ordinarily one would take aeons to pass through the evolutionary process, but the process can be compressed into a few lives or a few years in some cases. Yoga is deliberately accelerated evolution. When evolution is a mechanical process unenhanced by yogic practice, it becomes birth and death. We participate in yoga as an art in the adjustment of ourselves with creation as a whole. Creation moves to the rhythm of our thoughts in the practice of yoga.
The choosing of the ideal for the purpose of concentration of mind is therefore to be such that it is conducive to our movement from the external to the universal. We may choose our own object, but if this is absolutely impossible, we should go to our master. He will guide us as to how to do it. We have now come to the stage of dharana or concentration, which is itself meditation or dhyana in an evolved form. The bud becomes an opened flower, and likewise concentration becomes meditation. Many people think that concentration and meditation are related to each other as a part is related to the whole. While this may be somewhat true, it is not the whole truth. It is not true that many separate concentrations make meditation, though this is usually the definition of meditation given in certain texts. To some extent it is true that many concentrations make meditation, just as we may say that the many processes of growth involved in earlier stages of life constitute our present stage of life. But this is only scientifically speaking, and is not the whole truth, because we are not merely a total of parts. We have something organic and alive about us, and so also is the case with meditation. Meditation is not merely a total of many efforts to concentrate, but rather a growth of the process of concentration into something transcending concentration. In meditation we are in an altogether higher transcendent process.