by Swami Krishnananda
The first two stages of meditation are subdivided into four aspects in the system of Patanjali’s yoga. The two have become four by a division of each into the determinate and the indeterminate forms of meditation, or in other words, the gross and the subtle ways of thinking an object. The ground that we have already covered actually includes both the determinate as well as the indeterminate ways of thinking a gross object. When an object is meditated upon, it ceases to be an ordinary object of perception. Our thinking becomes more scientific and dispassionate when the object before us becomes an object of meditation rather than merely a perception. There is a difference between perception and conception on the one hand, and meditation on the other. In the state of meditation, the mind is wholly present in the object—not partially present as in ordinary perception. In this whole-souled meditation on the object, all the external relationships with which the object seems to be connected are removed by an effort of the mind. The attempt is made to think in terms of the object independently, rather than in terms of definitions, characteristics, etc. These definitions always bear reference to other things different from the object itself. While in the earliest stage of meditation the mind becomes conscious of a necessity to divest the object from all its associations, in the second stage it actually does this dissociation.
Even the first step in meditation is higher than ordinary perception. It is different, because in ordinary perception we are not even aware that we are in confused state of mind. We are just confused, and we have no consciousness of our being entangled in the mental and relational processes. Meditation has already started when we become conscious that there is an entanglement, and we begin to behold the object with a more intensified sensitiveness and with a feeling to free the object from associations of any kind. The very first step in yoga is not actually achievement of freedom, but the feeling of an intense necessity for its achievement. The feeling of the necessity itself is the first step, while the achievement comes later on. Most people do not even feel the need. This is the difference between ordinary people and those who are treading the path of yoga. In one of the famous verses of the Srimad Bhagavadgita, we are told that even a desire for perfection in yoga is more than all the learning a person can have in the world. All learning is nothing compared to a longing to tread the right path. To actually tread it is of course much more important. In the first step there is a tendency of consciousness to dissociate the object from its relations. There is only a tendency, but an actual achievement has not yet taken place. In the second stage, the object is dissociated. The third stage is a little more difficult, because we are not accustomed to think like this. All this looks new and strange to us, but if we carefully consider this question, we will realise that it is the only proper way of thinking, and that our usual way of thinking is not the right one.
Sometimes when we are introduced to certain new things, we are taken by surprise, but that new way of thinking may be the most normal thing. This yogic way of thinking is in fact the normal thing, and our present way of thinking is abnormal. The third stage of meditation is to consider the very same object of meditation, not in terms of its name and form, but in terms of its constituents. What is the object made of? The stuff constituting the object is our concern here rather than the formation of the object. The concern is with the essence of the object, says Patanjali. What are the essences of the object? What is an object made of? A physical substance in front of us is constituted of certain essential ingredients, and we are now to concentrate upon these ingredients rather than the outer composite structure. For example, our own bodies are not as they appear to be. We all know that they are constituted of certain minute elements. It is known nowadays that the human body is constituted of cell organisms which can be differentiated from one another. This body is not a compact, single unit, and this is the case with everything in the world. The physical form of an object is not its truth; the constituents appear to have taken a form on account of their location in space and time. We are now more concerned with the constitution rather than the outer form. Again, the constitution is a series of many layers. There are layers within layers constituting the formation of an object.
We have layers of reality within us. Within the physical there is the vital, and then there is the sensory, the mental, the intellectual and the causal in our own bodily system. So also is the case with everything in this world, even if it is inorganic stuff. Today we knew well that physical objects ultimately are resolved into their atomic constituents. The pencil is no more a pencil to the scientist’s eye—it is a composite structure of fast-moving atoms in a particular pattern. The pattern is the shape of the object, and the velocity of the subatomic particles make up the pencil—otherwise it could become something else. The number and the velocity of the constituents are said to make an object what it is. Some such analysis seems to have been made by ancient seers in yoga. They went deep into the root of the substance, and they discovered a power behind things. Things are made of forces—this was the discovery of the great seers. It may be a scientist of our modern times or the intuitional seers of ancient times, but they seem to have come to a common conclusion as to the inner stuff of objects. Things are forces rather than localised substances, and no force can be located in one particular part of space. A force always tends to merge into something else, and every centre of force has a tendency to commingle with other centres of force. The localities of objects slowly break their boundaries and commingle or even merge with other centres of force. The great philosopher Leibnitz was a philosopher of force, for instance. Centres of objects are centres of force—this was his discovery, which is again the discovery of our modern times. The force that constitutes the objects is the essence of the objects.
In India we had theories like those of the Nyaya and the Vaisheshika philosophers. Like Democritus and Thornton in the West, we had Nyaya and the Vaisheshika in the East, which concluded that atoms constitute the object. The yoga philosophy of Patanjali, which is mainly based on Samkhya, does not fully believe in the atomic philosophy of Nyaya, as Patanjali has his own philosophy. But for the time being we can say that Patanjali’s philosophy has passed through these stages of discovery. The constituents of the objects are not merely atoms as we conceive them. For us, atoms are perhaps akin to minor sand particles. That is how a crude, uninitiated mind would imagine atoms to be. But they are not—they are in fact forces. Atoms are not minute particles like sand—they are rather forces.
The very thought of a force gives us an idea of how it is different from a solid object. Force is not solidity—it gives more an idea of liquidity rather than of solidity. It is difficult to conceive, but we will never think electricity to be a solid matter, because it is something flowing—maybe different from liquids—but nonetheless it cannot be conceived as a solid matter. Inasmuch as it flows, it is not solid. Like electricity then, we should not conceive of an object as a solid body. Forces flow, which means to say that they can outstrip the boundaries of space, which generally locates bodies in particular spots. In our third stage of meditation, we do not confine our attention merely to the formation of an object as a located body in space, but we go into the force aspect of it.
“Tanmatra” is the word used in Indian psychology for this force that is behind the physical form of an object. Tanmatra means “the essence of that,” literally speaking. The essence of an object is the tanmatra of an object. To better facilitate our understanding, I substituted this term by the term “force.” It is however not an ordinary force with which we are familiar in the world. It is supposed to be a manifestation of a cosmic force. The cosmic force is at the background of all individual centres of force as objects. Now we can see where we are going. The particular objects are slowly tending towards the universal—this is the object of yoga meditation, and this is very important for us to remember. We are slowly tending towards the universal in our meditation. By breaking the boundaries of physical locations, we are tending towards the force aspect of matter.
The isolated objects which apparently stood different from one another in the initial state now seem to be tending towards a matrix of connectivity, when they are looked upon as forces rather than separate units. We seem all to be more related among ourselves than we appear to be on the surface. To look upon ourselves as persons sitting in a hall with no connection between one another is to be only in the very initial stages of meditation. A higher state of meditation would be to regard each person sitting here as a force which extends to other centres, and which can merge into other centres.
Like billows in the ocean, every centre of force tries to mix with other centres. The individual centres have not united themselves, but there is the tendency of movement in that direction. This tendency becomes the object of meditation in the third stage of the attention of the mind. What do we find here then in this state of meditation? We don’t find physical objects as we had earlier, but rather centres which long for a union with others, though they have not yet attained this union. These centres cannot anymore rest in themselves; they flow like fluid or like mercury that is trying to change its location. A universal affection seems to possess the centres. Each centre begins to love other centres as part of its own organisation. Each centre begins to recognise every other centre as a member of a single family. This is the difference between the initial stage and the succeeding stage. While we stood isolated in the beginning, now we tend to regard ourselves as a “fraternity” in the higher stage, because we recognise something common among ourselves. Where there is nothing common between us, there cannot be friendship. When there is something common between us, we start smiling at each other and would like to sit beside each other and talk to each other! We help each other when we are on the same ground of reality. We become intimate and inseparable friends when the thinking of the two becomes almost identical. There is almost an identity of character among the centres of concentration when the third stage of meditation is reached.
The essence or the force of the object is our concern. Yet, it is looked upon as a centre, which means to say we are thinking still in terms of space and time. The moment we regard something as a centre, the idea of space and time is very much present—otherwise we would not call it a centre. Even the idea of force cannot enter our minds if space and time are not implied in our thought. We have to go still further, to the fourth stage of meditation, where we contemplate the centre of force as free from the associations of space and time. Now we are in a very difficult mental situation. Nobody has thought like this, and nobody would easily be able to think like this. We have never known how to think a thing without associations with space and time. Patanjali does not actually prescribe a meditation of this kind. He thinks that these stages continuously follow when we have outgrown the earlier stages. It is difficult to initiate a person into the higher stages unless one has already passed through the experiences of the earlier stages. How could we be initiated into the non-spatial way of thinking? Such initiation is impossible and unknown. We have to be initiated into the lower stages, and then experience will unfold the possibility of there being something non-spatial. We ourselves will know how things truly are, and nobody need tell us that.
From the particular we have come to more and more generalised concepts, from the external we are coming more and more to the internal values and realities, and from more and more isolated aspects of thought we are coming to more and more intimate relationships. When we have reached the fourth stage of meditation, where we can conceive of this centre of force as independent of the association of space and time, we have reached almost a level of perfection in yoga. As a matter of fact there is no use worrying about higher stages. This is quite advanced, and this stage of concentration and meditation, if it is to be perfected to an appreciable extent, will make us an adamantine personality. Many consequences follow after this meditation. Patanjali himself mentions these things, but there is no use merely reading what he says, as we have to experience it for ourselves. A very protracted period of time is required to reach these stages. Most people will find it hard even to peep over the second stage, because the difficulty lies in dissociating an object from its relations. That is, we have to think as a different person altogether. This is the difficulty, because we cannot start thinking as a yogin without extreme effort. We are no longer an ordinary human being when we start thinking like this, and so we have to remake ourselves first before we start remaking the object of meditation.
In the achievement of success along these lines, isolation of oneself in the form of seclusion is recommended. We cannot be in the usual humdrum activities of life and then practise meditation like this. If we are in the old atmosphere, we will be again and again driven to think only along the old lines. The same people meet us, the same work is done, and therefore we would naturally continue to think along the same old lines. No meditation is possible in the thick of the usual activities of the world. We cannot enter the world again unless we are well established in this new way of thinking. After we are well-guided, we may possibly once again start our normal work, as there would be less possibility of harm. We must be well-protected against the onslaughts of our old ways of thinking. So it is that in the beginning stages people live in isolation. It is not that we necessarily have to live like this until death, but in the beginning stages—or for some years at least—we have to live in this way until we are confident about ourselves. We cannot prescribe a specific number of years for the seclusion, because it all depends upon our own strength of will and understanding. Some people may take a few years; some others may take many years. In whichever case it may be, the solitude is an essential in every case of practice. At least for two or three hours of the day we have to practise thinking along these lines: first of dissociating object from relations, then dissociating the physical object from external relations, next the thinking as the object itself would think, next contemplating the inner essence of the constitution of the object as it is located in space and time, and then contemplating it as it is, but free of space and time.
Here we are faced with a tremendous difficulty, because at least one philosopher has said that there is no such thing as thinking without space and time. He is right—there is no such thing as thinking without space and time, because to think without space and time is a contradiction in terms. Either we think or we do not think, but there is no such thing as thinking without space and time. When we start thinking without space and time we do not anymore “think.” We rather simply “are” something else altogether. In this case, thinking enters into a higher state of being—a different kind of being altogether which encompasses a different degree of reality. When the category of reality itself is transcended, the particular tends towards the universal in its internal depths. The consequences that follow in yoga meditation are an automatic sense of freedom from the control that others seem to exert upon us. Objects exert a control over us, people exert a great influence upon us, and we cannot move very freely in this world everywhere because of restrictions from people and things. There are restrictions even from nature, and we cannot just take liberties with nature. These restrictions get loosened a little bit as the limitations get ameliorated through the various stages of yoga.
We will be able to bear hunger and thirst with a greater confidence. As a matter of fact, the intense pangs of hunger are lessened, or at least there would be less of an agonising sensation. We will be able to bear it for some time. This is one of the things which Patanjali says will follow from the higher stages of practice. Hunger and thirst will be capable of being tolerated for a longer period of time than is the case with ordinary people. We will be able to be refreshed with slightly fewer hours of sleep. It is not actually necessary that we sleep for eight hours. With deeper meditation the mind gets more concentrated, and so it is capable of drawing enough energy and freshness from fewer hours of sleep. Not only this, natural forces—including human elements—begin to show a tendency towards fraternity. This tendency takes various shapes, but cessation of any kind of obstacles on our way and a positive contribution in helping us to advance on our way are two examples. Some of the yoga scriptures tell us gods themselves start helping us. The gods of the heavens and the angels will start looking upon us with a friendly eye. Perhaps God Himself will start smiling! If God starts smiling, the whole world will start smiling at once. God’s sympathy towards us is instantaneously and automatically a sympathy of the whole creation.
Patanjali goes to the extent of saying that we get filled with truth when we reach the fourth stage of meditation. We don’t know what it means to be filled with truth. To be filled with truth, as he says, is not just to be filled with a mere idea of truth. It is not that we will merely be convinced with the idea of there being truth. Truth fills us! No one can know what this would mean who has not yet directly known what truth is. Truth is not just speaking truth, it is not correspondence of an idea to a corresponding fact, and it is not truth in the legal sense. It is the very substance of reality which seems to fill our consciousness. All these seem to us to be words which have no meaning, because we do not know what truth is. Any amount of description will not help us unless we have started thinking along these lines and we have also started appreciating these values of a supernormal nature.
Our consciousness not only gets filled with the value of truth, but also righteousness begins to flow from us automatically. This is another thing which Patanjali says happens as a consequence of meditation. Our whole nature—our whole personality—begins to radiate righteousness wherever it moves. We will not do wrong. We will be incapable of doing any harm, and our very attitude will be one of spontaneous rectitude. Spontaneity is to be emphasised here. The sun does not exert a will to shine for example—it shines spontaneously. So also we need not exert our will to be righteous when we reach this stage of meditation. “I should do this, I should not do this,” will not be our way of thinking. There is no ‘don’t’ for the yogin. All his actions will be only ‘do’s’ rather than ‘don’ts.’ All his actions will be positive.
There is no restriction on him of any kind, because he cannot think except along the line of righteousness. Dharma becomes his nature. It is said that righteousness and virtue begin to be showered upon us like rain, says Patanjali. He calls this condition “dharmamegha.” “Megha” is a cloud, “dharma” means righteousness. Clouds of virtue begin to gather around us and shower upon us like rain. We are flooded with virtue everywhere. We get saturated with the consciousness of righteousness. Truth and righteousness are the automatic outcome of the establishment of the mind in this state of meditation. I once mentioned two terms from the Vedas: satya and rita. Satya means “truth,” rita means “dharma” or righteousness. While all this has heretofore only been a matter of reading, now it shall become a matter of practice and experience. Truth and righteousness are the manifestations of the cosmic reality as described in the Vedas and the Upanishads, and these very same astounding facts will become part of our practical day-to-day lives, so that man becomes God-man here—and no more a mere mortal. He is not merely a saintly person, but veritably a divinity moving on earth.