by Swami Krishnananda
We have often heard it said that a thing as it is in itself cannot be known. This is because the thing in itself is supposed to be covered and its understanding limited by and to the means of knowledge, the instruments of perception, just as we cannot have right knowledge of an object if we behold it through some curtain or veil, especially when the curtain or veil has the power to disfigure the shape of the object. That the conditioning factors of human knowledge will not permit anyone to enter into an insight of things as they really are, is a feeling entertained by even advanced thinkers in the philosophical field. And, if this is true, then yoga, which is supposed to be communion with Reality, could be not possible.
The so-called thing as it is in itself is the Reality, and if it cannot be known or contacted by any means known to us, then one cannot have any dealings with such a thing. This is true in some way, but it is not wholly true because if there is nothing in us by which we can come to know of the existence of things as they really are, or the thing as it really is, we would not even think about it. We would not say anything about it; we could not even say that it cannot be known.
So, there is some mystery in us, and it is not wholly true that we are permanently covered over with a veil and it is impossible to have contact with Reality. Ordinarily we see that such impregnable and hard-to-understand conditions such as space, time and causation prevent us from rising above their own prescriptions. Anything that we think of is in space, in time, and it is causally related. If this is so, a thing independent of these conditions cannot be known. Therefore, for all practical purposes, considering the position in which we as human beings are placed now, there is some point in the notion that no one can know things as they are.
But we have in our own selves some means of knowledge, an instrument of contact with Reality as such, which is not so involved in either space, time or causal relations. If we dispassionately try to probe into our own being, in some corner of our room, freeing ourselves of all the prejudices characteristic of the human psyche, we will be able to know that we, the so-called 'I', or the root of our being, is not in space, not in time, and not related to anything else.
We have a desire within us to stand independent of all things; and all our longings, adventures, enterprises, projects and actions in life are directed to the achievement of freedom. Any kind of relatedness is ultimately abhorrent to our sense of freedom. We do not wish to be shackled by any kind of hanging on something else for defining our own selves, much less to enable our own existence to be practicable. That we are helpless and we seem to be inextricably related to and involved in things is a sorry state of affairs. Even though a person may be serving a life sentence in prison and there may not be any chance of him being released, we cannot say that he has no desire to be free. His longing is for utter freedom, notwithstanding the fact that he cannot achieve it under the existing conditions. The possibility of freedom is always there in the longing for it. The prisoner, the captive, has some chance of freedom if the walls are broken down, if the gates are left open, or if conditions become favourable for this achievement.
Thus, while there is a world of bondage in which we seem to be sunk, the bondage of involvement in spatial location – we can only be in one place and cannot be in all places at the same time – we are also caught up in this process called the advance of time from past to present and present to future and, more vehemently so, are involved in conditioning relations with every blessed thing in life. This is the sorrow of the human being; this is what we usually call samsara, entanglement in earthly bondage, and it is practically impossible to break through this fortress of spatial locatedness and limitedness to time and relation by causal association.
Yet, with all these difficulties before us, we cannot be said to be satisfied with it. We do not acquiesce in this condition and say, “thus far and no further!” We struggle to be free. This desire in us to be free totally, not to be satisfied with a location in one place, and many other things mentioned, indicates that there is a supernormal instrument in our own selves by which we can really be free.
What is freedom? Freedom is utter non-involvement in things. Any kind of involvement is bondage. To be forced to be in a particular condition is bondage. To be compelled to do a thing whether or not we want to do it is bondage, and to be forced to even exist in a particular given circumstance is bondage. We are forced to be within this body only; we cannot enter any other body. We cannot pierce through this body and run out of it. We would like to be everywhere if possible, but that is not possible. We are forcefully lodged in this little prison house of the body. This is a sorrow indeed, and we are subject to all the victimisations of the time process – being born, getting old, and dying – and then all the limitations characteristic of dependence on things hang on us. What is the joy in life if this is the state of affairs? There is an unthinkable tragedy that seems to have descended upon mankind, on all things created, if this were to be the final state of affairs and the end of it.
But, that does not seem to be the end of it. There is an ever-increasing upsurge of longing in our own hearts to free ourselves from limitations of every kind –spatial, temporal and causal. Who would not like to be present everywhere, if possible? Who would not like to be living forever without being cut off by the time process? Who would not like to be totally independent of all relations and of hanging on other things? If this is to be our central longing, there should be something in us which projects this longing and this centrality in us from which this veiled longing arises, overwhelming all these factors of dependence, bondage, etc.
This central being in us is what we call the Soul or the Atman. This is impossible to know or understand by means we employ in the perception of objects because these means, these instruments, this apparatus that we employ in the perception of things is a part of the bondage consisting of involvement in space, time and causation. It is like a blind man leading a blind man. This is the kind of life we are living in the world. We know nothing, really speaking. There is a camouflage of knowledge, whatever be the intensity of it, because all our instruments of knowledge are part of this gang of thieves mentioned already – temporality, speciality, causality. But there is a way out, and there has to be a way out. This is the great task which yoga takes upon itself by a novel technique which is not perception or cognition, but meditation.
Meditation along the lines of yoga is not seeing or thinking an object, because visualisation through the senses, or even conceiving through the mind or the intellect, is again an act of spatiality, temporality and causality, and meditation is nothing of that kind. It is an action, if at all we can call it so, of our own soul, and not of our psyche. Meditation is not an act of mentation; it is not imagining something in the mind. It is a process of breaking through all these imaginations, thoughts, feelings, volitions, and piercing though even these faculties of perception and cognition by the action of the soul.
In an important sense, in its true significance, meditation is what the soul does in its aloneness. This is true religion. Religion is often defined as that which we do when we are absolutely alone; perhaps this is so in every sense of the term. But, how do we bring the soul into action? Does it act? It acts, and it does not act. It does not act with physical limbs, with which we are acquainted. The soul does not see with the apertures of the eyes or hear with the canals of the ears. It has no need for sense organs of this kind because the soul is all sensation at the same time. It can see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and do everything by every part of itself because every part is the total whole as far as the soul is concerned. The part and the whole are identical in the soul because the soul cannot be partitioned into segments. There are no parts.
The soul is the representation of the Almighty in us, the Supreme Being operating in its entirety, completeness, utter perfection, totality always, which cannot have partitions of any kind; therefore, whether we call it God, Almighty, Supreme Being, Brahman, the Absolute or whatever the name be, it is capable of action in every way, from every part of its being, and it can hear through the eyes, see through the ears, walk without feet, grasp without hands, think without mind, and be everything. These are the mystical expressions used in such scriptures as the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, and even by those who had insight into this Reality in other climes and times.
It is this unlimitedness which is lodged in us, which we really are, that rises into action in this sublime task called yoga meditation. In this act of spiritual rising up of the soul within us, which is real meditation; this consciousness in us projects itself with an intensity that can pierce through this veil of the spatial location of an object, the temporality it is involved in, and also its causal relations. The object stands outside us because of its spatial locatedness, temporal conditioning, and causal relation. You are there and I am here, outside you, and because of this very reason there is space, there is time, there is causal dependence. If this three-pronged or threefold limitation in the form of this veil of spatiality, temporality and causality is lifted, everyone will merge into everyone else in this world. There will be no personality, no objects, no human beings, nothing to see. There will be a presence of everything, everywhere, at all times. There will be an inundating sea of existence if this veil is lifted.
The base of the sea is within our own hearts; that is why we are kept restless from moment to moment. We cannot have a moment of rest because basically, at our root, we are this vast sea which seeps into everything else, notwithstanding that we seem to be totally other than it, and are dependent on our sense organs for seeing things through space, time and causal relation.
Thus, when we consider the matter in its true signification, we find that we have only one object in front of us which appears as many objects. Even if there is a large army of millions of soldiers confronting us, it is the General of the Army that is really confronting us. His presence is the presence of the army, his victory is the victory of the army, and he is the root of the operation of this battalion. Likewise, there is a concentratedness of the objectifying energy of the universe through every single thing in the world, and whenever we see any object, we are really seeing the whole universe there. Every object, even a little pencil or a pinhead, is constitutive of a force of objectivities that is throbbing behind it in the form of the universal process.
So, in meditation, it is immaterial what it is that we are concentrating, meditating upon. We can touch the ocean anywhere and it is the same ocean, the same waters. Wherever we are, we are in the same sky, same space. To touch space or sky, we need not fly in planes or helicopters. Wherever we are we can touch the sky, and it is the same sky that is everywhere throughout the universe. Similarly, we can touch and contact any object in this world, and we are touching the whole cosmos. In a way, when we touch any limb of our body, we are touching the whole person. If we touch our little toe, we have touched ourselves.
This is why while the choice of the object in meditation is important from certain aspects of consideration, it is immaterial finally if we know the psychology of it. The psychology of meditation is that the object is not as important as the attitude of the mind in regard to the object. What binds us or frees us is our psychological attitude, not the thing as such. Anything can make us happy, anything can make us unhappy, provided there is a remodelling, reconditioning of our inner attitude towards it. Our reaction inwardly in respect of a condition prevailing outside is the cause of our bondage; that is also the cause of our freedom. Inasmuch as this seems to be the fact, we are causing our own bondage and we are finally responsible for own freedom also.
Any object can be a good object. There are certain techniques in meditation which take up any blessed thing for the purpose of concentration. It may be a rose flower, it may be a painted picture, it may be an idol in front of us, it may be a dot on the wall, or it may be anything, for the matter of that. It may be a photograph, it may be a painted picture, or it may even be only a concept in the mind. The point is that in meditation there is a coming together of the forces of the psyche into a single focussing of attention. This is what is important, and not the object that we have chosen.
The necessity to choose a particular type of object for meditation arises on account of the feasibility of the mental attitude in respect of certain chosen objects because our minds are made in such a way that they like certain things, and they are in a position to concentrate with affection and wholeheartedness on certain things only and not on all things. So, we take advantage of this peculiar predilection or the tendency of the mind to like certain pictures, formations, conditions, images, concepts, etc., and we drive the mind along that line. We can bring a naughty child under control and take him along the lines we would like him to move by giving him a candy, a toy, or that which he likes. If we start forcing him to do something or to move in a certain direction against his will, he will not move, so we gradually turn him in the direction we would like him to move by directing him through that which he likes. “We will go to a movie. We will watch T.V. We will have ice cream in that shop.” We can tell the child a hundred things of this nature, and then he agrees and does what we would expect him to do.
This is the reason why there is a need felt for choice of the object in meditation, though in fact, whatever we choose may be good enough. Every person in this world is equally good and not to be compared with others, but we do not see things in that way due to reasons which are obvious to our own selves. So, we choose favourable conditions, suitable circumstances, pleasing things, and so on. This suitable object, that which we consider to be the proper thing for us to concentrate upon, is called the Ishta Devata in Sanskrit – a chosen deity.
Now, when we say it is a deity, we must be able to know what we actually mean by that. A thing becomes a deity, our god, when we love it wholeheartedly. Money is god for the rich man, the miser, and he cannot think of anything else. Likewise, there are many other gods for people when their emotions are centred on particular objects. When our love, affection is bursting out of its boundaries and flowing in the direction of one thing that we seem to like immensely, that thing is our god, for the time being at least. We cannot have any other god in this world.
Is there anything in the world, or anywhere, which we love wholeheartedly? Usually, we will not find such a thing. There is practically nothing in the world towards which we can direct one hundred percent attention. We are capable of streamlining only a little part of ourselves – with a suspicious attitude there also – in regard to any person and anything in the world. We do not wholly like anything; it is impossible. This is a serious defect in us. We cannot like anyone or anything wholeheartedly because we are always doubting Thomases at the root. We have a suspicion in regard to every person. We are guarded always, with sword drawn.
This should not be if we are to know the structure of the universe, the nature of things as they are, and the way in which we are related to things finally, which is also the purpose of our yoga actions or activities. The purpose of meditation is to break through the location of an object because objects are not really located in space. The bondage of existence is nothing but this peculiar thing called location. Neither are we in one place, nor is anyone in one place. Everything is related to everything else; everything is everywhere.
To understand this, we have to probe through these veils which make things appear as if they are in one place only. It is this misconception of the mind that things are only in one place that makes us love things and hate things. “This thing that I love is only here and nowhere else; this thing which I hate is only here and nowhere else.” This is the reason why we distinguish between objects of affection and objects of hatred. But this is not possible because objects are not in one place, and therefore we cannot love or hate a thing as if it is only in one place. So, here is our bondage; this has to be overcome.
For this purpose it is that we take any particular concept or object for focussing our attention as a kind of support in our yoga adventure. Therefore, we have the Ishta Devata, the deity that we choose in our meditation. Though the Ishta Devata, or chosen deity, is mostly understood as a notion of God, or an angel or celestial that we entertain in our minds, if we try to know it in a more psychological way, this deity is anything that we like wholeheartedly. It may be any blessed thing, but it becomes a deity when we cannot draw our attention from it – and we have to see it only, think of it only and would like to be that only, possess that only. If this is our condition, then we are before our god.
But, the human mind is not in a position to consider any material thing or even any human being as a deity. We cannot consider any person as a god. We find it is very odd that any person can be a deity or a celestial or an angel, though during moments of psychological upheaval of love, etc., we sometimes pour ourselves on persons and things.
Religious tradition in human thinking compels us to imagine that these deities are not in the world, but outside the world. We never imagine that God can be here. He is always away somewhere, beyond space, above the skies, and so we conceive a celestial, imagine a deity, and project before our consciousness some picture of spiritual perfection. We have a Jesus the Christ before us, a Lord Krishna, a Rama, a Devi, a Buddha, or some great perfected being.
All this is mentioned in the sutras of Patanjali. Some trans-empirical, super-spatial object conceived as a divinity is taken by us as a thing on which we can concentrate our minds for the purpose of achieving yoga union. But if we know the scientific psychology behind the very process of meditation, there is no necessity to stretch our imagination to something that is above the skies. Any object that is physically seen or mentally conceived can help us to enter into the sea of existence.
Thus meditation, which is the final aim of yoga, is a perfection of attitude of our whole personality. This is so because, as I mentioned, in meditation our soul comes to the surface of consciousness. In our usual daily routines our soul does not seem to act in that manner; we are sensuously conditioned persons, psychologically limited individuals. We are either rationalists, emotionalists, active persons, business people and so on, and the soul is nowhere here. The idea is that in our daily routine of life, the whole of our being does not come onto the surface of action. Only a part of our personality operates. Whether we are in an office, whether we are travelling, whether we are in the family, whatever be our engagement in life, normally the whole of us is never active. Some part is hidden behind; it is non-operative, as the entirety of the person never acts.
When does it act? In deep sleep the whole being sinks down, but in ordinary activity the whole being does not come up. If we are drowning in the waters of the Ganges and it appears as if there is no chance of escape, at that moment the whole being starts acting. Only one who has such an experience will know what it is. When we have lost all hope and we are in the waters, we will see what happens to us and what we feel at that time. There, the entire soul acts with all the indomitable power that it has. Or, we are in the jungle, alone with not a friend, pursued from all sides by tigers. All the energies that are capable of action will rise into operation, and we will see that there is nothing inoperative in us at that time. Every cell of the body will act. The whole soul rises because that is the occasion for it to arise. Intense love, intense agony, intense sense of frustration, almost at the point of dying – the whole personality acts. In meditation also it is supposed to act in a similar manner. How would we concentrate in the same intensity as we would think of survival when we are drowning in a river or our hair has caught on fire – how would we run to extinguish that fire which catches our hair? These are examples, analogies and illustrations to inform us of the whole-heartedness that is to be at the back of the concentrating process in meditation.
Mostly we are incapable of this kind of an attitude. We have always a happy-go-lucky attitude towards things: “Let us do it. Let us drink, let us eat. Let us go.” We have this simple childish notion about all things, taking things lightly, and we also take yoga lightly as a routine. Like we have a cup of tea, so too we have a few minutes of meditation as well. Why not? What do we lose? This kind of ‘cup of tea’ meditation is a blasphemy, a kind of unfortunate woolgathering attitude of the mind which has to realise the seriousness of it if it knows how immensely, sorrowfully, grievously, unfortunately it is sunk in samsara.
If we know where we stand really, we cannot have such a happy-go-lucky attitude in life. It is as if death is at the elbow – and it is literally so, in every sense of the term. Wretched is our condition. If this is to be brought to the surface of our consciousness and we are face to face with the gravity of the situation, it is not possible for us not to be serious about this supreme duty of the human spirit, which is communion with its higher dimension, which is called the Oversoul, the God of the universe.