by Swami Krishnananda
Constancy is most important in the achievement of success in this path. This constancy gets affected by intermittent difficulties that occasionally may come up due to conscious as well as unconscious causes. Very few really succeed in the path of yoga on account of these difficulties through which one has to pass. The difficulties become more intense when they cannot be easily foreseen or detected. All this happens because, when we have newer and newer phases of experiences, we seem to be coming in contact with newer and newer types of force in the world, and each force produces a peculiar type of reaction. We cannot tell today what will happen to us tomorrow, because tomorrow’s experience will be of a new order altogether. It is like when we have to keep changing our path every day in our travels from one country to another country. When we move from one state to another, the conditions prevailing in the social atmosphere are different. Naturally, we are a stranger there until we get accustomed to the prevailing conditions. Hence, in every realm of experience which opens itself up before one’s vision, peculiar experiences will follow, and in their wake certain difficulties will also follow. The difficulties are nothing but our inability to adjust with the prevailing conditions. The conditions will not adjust themselves to us—we have to adjust ourselves. But we do not know what the conditions are, and hence we have these difficulties in the beginning. The difficulties start from the level of physical experience.
In one of the Sutras of Patanjali, he gives a list of the obstacles that one may have to pass through. Broadly speaking, the classification is into the physical, the emotional and the intellectual difficulties. Desires have vital and physical reactions, and due to our anxiety in overcoming these reactions, we go to excess many a time. An excess in anything brings about a reaction of its own kind. We may go to excess in work, excess in not sleeping, excess in sleeping too much, excess in intelligence or even excess in abstinence. Any kind of excess, whether it is in speaking or even thinking, may tell upon the system. Yoga is the art of not going to excess. The Srimad Bhagavadgita is our guide here. It is mentioned in the sixth chapter that all excesses are to be avoided. Whether it is in intelligence or in obliviousness, both ways we have to be very cautious in treading the middle path. But it is difficult to find this golden mean. It is always easier to go to an extreme rather than to follow the middle path, due to a peculiar difficulty of the mind in selecting the via-media. Excesses of any kind, whether intellectually, emotionally, vitally or physically lead to disorder of the system. The first difficulty mentioned by Patanjali is illness among many other things, and this is one thing from which we have to guard ourselves with caution. These problems of illness and emotional upheaval, intellectual doubt, etc. come in larger numbers in the earlier stages. Later on we become more and more liberated from them.
There is a big chasm in front of us in the earlier stages, and wherever we put our foot, we will feel that the wall of the chasm is giving way. There is the possibility of the student becoming diffident, because whatever we touch appears to turn black, and we do not know what is happening to us. It is all because of our newly entering into a system of experience, whose structure and law we have not yet understood. The excess can find its expression in immoderate force in meditation. In their initial enthusiasm people are likely to mistake meditation for a kind of exerting of the will. Complete seclusion for many years together is one kind of extreme, or not speaking to anyone, or not even looking at people—these are some of the kinds of excessive emotional enthusiasm that often come upon people. Everything is good in its own place, and these things may also be good things, but when they are out of place they become undesirable. Even this attempt at reclusive isolation retards one’s normal way of thinking, and a sluggishness can result. Just like the sluggishness experienced in the liver or stomach, there is also a sluggishness of thinking. Instead of becoming sattvic we become tamasic, and one can be mistaken for the other. There are certain similarities of tamasic conditions and sattvic conditions. Both look alike on the surface, and one can be mistaken for the other. Not only this, a greater difficulty comes from rajas, which can simply devastate the system and upset the balance.
There are in addition abnormalities of various types which may afflict the student. For instance, in some peculiar cases the more he meditates, the more difficulty he may have in sleeping. All this is because he has mistaken meditation for an action of the will. It is not the will alone that is exerting itself in meditation. The will is only one function of the psychological organ—along with understanding, feeling, memory, etc. No part of the vital function should be exclusively employed in the practice of meditation. There are other certain small mistakes that students commit in their enthusiastic approach to yoga, namely, neglect of the body. They think of the body as an ass and as something that should be cast away. This may be true in the metaphysical sense, but practically it would be un-wisdom to deal with the body in this manner. The body acts as a kind of ladder to climb up to the terrace, and we may not need this ladder when we have climbed over the terrace, but on the way up it is still entirely necessary.
There are many other layers internally, along with the physical form, which act as rungs in the development of consciousness, and all have to be transcended. No rung of the ladder can be regarded as unessential until it is transcended. In the practice of yoga, no step is redundant. Everything is essential in its own place, and it has only to be outgrown and transcended—but not cast away. There is no such thing as casting anything away in the practice of yoga. We have only to transcend it, which means to say we have to sublimate it into a higher experience. However, often students of yoga are not wise enough, and they suddenly and without proper preparation want to try to catch a hold of God. While the aspiration is good, it should not go to excess. All excesses are contrary to the practice of yoga, whether it is in the body, whether it is in the mind and feeling, or whether in understanding or in exerting the will in meditation.
Patience and understanding are the watchwords of yoga and not just enthusiasm of an inordinate nature. We have to be spurned on by emotion and aspiration, it is true, but we should not be stirred up by a wild wind of enthusiasm. When this happens there are likely to be disorders of the system. We must recognise that everyone has to pass through these stages. Everyone starts as a novice, and no one can be fully mature at the beginning. Everyone has to pass through the very same rut, for the reason that the actual problems of life cannot be avoided merely because we were instructed about them by others. We have to pass through the experiences ourselves. If some elder tells us something is not good, we are not going to listen to him. We have to pass through the experience ourselves, suffer from it, and then not go for it again. Though in certain things we may heed advice, in certain other vital things we do not take advice. These are all things to be considered, because on account of them we may get into difficulties.
The disorders of the system are not merely physical disorders—a total disorder of all the five sheaths may actually take place. This is related in the first chapter of the Srimad Bhagavadgita, where the condition of Arjuna is described. All the sheaths began to tremble, to vibrate and to go out of order because of an internal difficulty that was in his mind. He was trembling in the body, trembling in the prana, trembling in the senses, and trembling in the mind and intellect—everything started trembling. This may happen to any student, and as a matter of fact, the description of Arjuna is nothing but the description of the student of yoga in the initial stages. We will all be in these conditions one day or the other, and then we will feel as if we were lost at sea. To reiterate, in situations like these, the guidance of a guru is most important.
The golden mean of practice is the central instruction in yoga. One should also not overestimate oneself in meditation or in any other area. We need not be too anxious to immediately catch a hold of God, as it is an extreme in thinking. It is not easy to catch God like that, unless we pass through the proper processes of thinking, training and discipline. While God is very easy of approach, He is also very difficult of approach from another standpoint. The difficulty arises in understanding Him, not actually realising Him. The understanding takes so much time that all our lives will go only in understanding what it actually all means. Then and only then can we try to understand Him and then adjust ourselves with Him.
Hence, “Samatvam yoga uchyate,” says the Srimad Bhagavadgita (Yoga is balance in all our enterprises in life). Social, personal, physical, vital, emotional, psychological and intellectual—a balance has to be maintained. How do we know what a balance is, and how are we to know whether we have gone to an extreme or not? We must see that every extreme sets up reactions. This will be one of the tests for us to see whether we have gone to an extreme or not. We will be unhappy and distressed, we will feel that we have realised nothing, we will have doubts of various kinds harassing us, and we will have a sensation of going down rather than going up. These are some of the difficulties that may set in on account of going to extremes.
The path of balance or harmony in yoga is the path of happiness. It is not the path of sorrow. Yoga is not sorrow or grief, and whenever grief sets in we have to be aware that something is wrong in our practice. There should be confidence and a sense of freedom which are the consequences of a balance of practice. When these are absent we move from doubt to doubt, from one kind of diffidence to another kind of diffidence, into suspicions of various types, and a sense of weakness in our system, and then we have to assume that there is an imbalance in our approach. All difficulties listed in the Sutras of Patanjali have to do with the consequences of an imbalance of approach. ‘Pramada’ is the word used by the Kathopanishad to describe this imbalance. A kind of heedlessness becomes the cause of our failure in yoga. We are not careful enough in considering all aspects of the matter. We must be aware that the practice is novel and new to us and is therefore even more difficult.
Even in daily life and in our practical workaday world, we find that often we get into difficulties on account of not being able to consider all aspects of the matter. We suddenly get into a fit of emotion, then take only a few aspects into consideration and ignore certain others. It may be any small matter, but when this happens we are bound to get a reaction or a rebuff. We must also exercise a tremendous balance in our practice. The balance involves bringing every aspect into consideration. The condition and preparedness of the physical body, the mental attitude to things, the intensity of aspiration, and the motive behind practice—all these have to be properly judged almost every day.
When we sit for meditation each day, our first task would not be to concentrate the mind on the object of meditation, but it would be more than anything else to review our present situation. We should not suddenly close our eyes and jump into meditation, because we must be confident that we are ready for it. Is everything all right from all sides, and can we take a step? Is there any kind of disturbance from outside or from inside? Am I calm in my mind? This is what we have to consider. A kind of review, a spiritual diary that I had recommended that we maintain, should be our guide in judging our mental condition before sitting for meditation. Otherwise, there will be revulsions of various types, and these revulsions will prevent us from going further—there will be a stagnation in the practice.
When we exert too much pressure, there will be temptations of various types. Temptations will come in larger number and in greater intensity when we exert pressure on the will beyond a certain limit. In the practice of yoga we will find that what we do not want to have, we will get more of it! We will try outwardly to avoid something, and then alone it will come to us. This is a secret of nature: if we ask for a thing, it may not come, but if we seem to not want it, it will come. These are again due to internal maladjustments. On the other hand we have strong secret cravings for certain things, and the craving is sufficient enough that these things are coming to us. We may outwardly not want them, but inwardly we want them. The inner nature craves, while the outer nature discards. Nature sees our inner being, and so it provides us what we really need inside rather than what we seek outside.
Hence, there must be a discipline of all the mental layers of our personality. I shall not grow tired of saying that what meditates is not merely our conscious mind, but our total mind. We should not then cherish notions inside secretly and then try to contemplate with the conscious mind; otherwise the bottom will come up and disrupt the top. Immediately the lid will be opened and then everything will be upside down. It is better to proceed from the lowest layer of our personality and to take into consideration the least important first, rather than to leap after the most important things first. This is because sometimes the difficulties are from the smaller things rather than the bigger things. It is therefore necessary to take notice of the pennies first, as they say, and the pounds afterwards. The pounds will take care of themselves. A small pencil may save us one day or the other. We should not then merely focus on the bigger things, because the smaller things are also important. The small things may assume a large proportion one day or the other.
It is not advantageous to confine oneself merely to the conscious level in meditation. We are something else in our subconscious, and this has to be brought out as well. It is therefore proper to attach adequate importance to our buried feelings and frustrated attitudes and bring them to the surface. We then deal with them as we consciously deal with people, and then we will find that there will be no inner disturbance. The imbalances which may come in the form of physical sickness and mental unhappiness are all due to the revolutions that take place in the lover strata of our personality. We may look all right at the conscious level, but still we are not okay. We will have a secret sickness which we will not be able to understand or explain. All this is because things may appear to be satisfactory on the conscious level but are not satisfactory internally. Therefore, we must be a very good psychologist in the proper sense of the term when we become a student of yoga, but it is of course in order to examine ourselves and not others. When the whole personality gets cleared up and it shines like gold, then all the three layers of the personality will come up and stand in unison for meditation. Then it is that we will realise quick results in meditation. Otherwise, it is only a futile attempt to engage a part of our personality in meditation and still keep the deeper layers buried—completely disconnected from the action of meditation.
All these are precautionary measures in meditation. We have been discussing the four stages in the practice of meditation, according to the system of Patanjali. The first four stages are connected more with external experience rather than pure experience per se. When the meditation leads back to the undifferentiated subject, there is a no longer a separate meditator and a separate object, hence the object of meditation has been totally absorbed into the subject itself. The procession of ideas is from the external to the internal. Gradually we have to move from the objects of meditation back to our own selves. We would then have succeeded to some extent in disentangling the object of meditation from its external relations. We would also be able to contemplate the inner essence of the object in terms of space and time and as also free from space and time. When the concept of an object in meditation is freed from its relations to space and time, something very strange takes place. Here we overcome the physical and the empirical barriers of experience and enter into a more divine type of experience.
It is difficult to explain what transformations really take place here, but we can just imagine with a stretch of our imagination what it could be. When we dissociate the object of our meditation from its relations to space and time, the object ceases to be external to us. What makes an object external is the intervention of space and time. There is space between us and the object, and therefore the object is external. If we free the object from association with space, there would be practically nothing left to differentiate us from the object. All differences are due to the intervention of space and time. When we can contemplate the object as independent of space and time, what are we really contemplating? Are we thinking an object? What do we mean by an object? How do we define an object? In the grammatical or logical language, an object is that which stands before us as something capable of being grasped through the senses.
The senses cannot operate here, as no sensation is possible without space and time. The senses will withdraw themselves, and there will be an automatic pratyahara when there is no space and time. What will the senses do when there is no avenue for them to express themselves and there is no field for their activity? Where is the field? The field has been withdrawn altogether. Space and time are the field of operation of the senses, and therefore through this field they act upon the objects, and then it is that we regard something in front of us as an object. But if space and time are not existent, what is an object? Where is the object now? It has ceased to be.
Our minds will get giddy when we start thinking the possibility of there being something to contemplate without the intervening modes of space and time. In the majority of cases our minds will simply cease being able to meditate and will turn back upon themselves negatively—either as sleep or as intense rajasic activity. When we press a thing beyond its limits, it will show its power—even if it is a small thing. Even a mouse can threaten us if we try to catch it. The mind refuses to come under control when we press it too hard and do not give it any object for thought. We are then not allowing the mind to think an object because the object has been freed from space and time, and at the same time we will not allow the mind to go to sleep. What is the mind to do? Then it is completely confounded. The mind can neither think nor can it sleep—it cannot do anything else. When it normally thinks, it thinks of an object in space and time. When that is not possible, it drops into non-activity like torpidity or sleep. Now we are exerting a peculiar kind of pressure on the mind by not giving it an object to think because of our dissociating the object from the relations of space and time. At the same time we want to melt in consciousness.
Here we are on difficult ground, and here it is that we rise from ordinary spatio-temporal experience. If we succeed—by God’s grace or by whatever reason we may call it—in maintaining this state of consciousness beyond space and time even for a few minutes, and also if we have succeeded in preventing the mind from going to sleep, we will enter into a state of joy. The fifth stage of meditation is meditation on the joy that comes about as a result of the abolition of the difference between the subject and the object in meditation.