by Swami Krishnananda
Now we are in a field which is entirely practical, having covered a large ground in discussing the theoretical basis of Yoga, as propounded by sage Patanjali. Perhaps the most difficult part of any teaching is the practical part of it. Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi – the last three stages of the eightfold Yoga – constitute the main Yoga, so to say. The discussions in the earlier chapters are but a prelude to this final leap that one has to take into the unknown, as it were. In the last chapter was expounded a few ideas concerning Dharana or concentration, its meaning, its significance and its value. Students of Yoga generally take to meditation at once under the impression that Yoga means meditation. While the notion that meditation means Yoga is correct, yet, nevertheless, without a proper preparation of oneself for the adoption of this final technique of Yoga, it would be rather a tedium than a happy occupation of the mind. One of the tests that we can apply to our own selves when we sit for concentration or meditation, as to whether we are well prepared for it or not, is to see how we feel when we sit for concentration. Are we frightened? Do we get exhausted? Do we feel like getting up as early as possible and diverting our attention to some other activity? Do we sometimes feel that this practice known as concentration or meditation is a painful one from which one would very much wish to be free at the earliest hour? Or do we feel, on the other hand, that the more we sit and the more we concentrate, the better and the happier we are? Do we feel when we rise from our concentration a greater energy, a better satisfaction, and a more comprehensive understanding of things? Or, do we rise up from our meditation with despondency, a spirit of defeatism, and a hopelessness of pursuit? These questions each aspirant may put to himself, and the answers that come would let him know where he stands.
Teachers of Yoga have hundreds of things to say about concentration. Each teacher will propagate his own technique – whatever he has studied, or whatever he has heard, or whatever he himself is doing as a practice. All these are methods, are valid techniques. Any method is good enough, provided it is resorted to in right earnest. The initial difficulty that the student will feel is the choosing of the particular point of concentration; whether it is to be internal or external is a question that will be raised in the mind. What should one concentrate upon, the outside or the inside? It will be difficult to decide this at once. Because, both alternatives will look all right, and yet the student will be oscillating between the two alternatives. Even supposing he comes to a decision as to whether it should be the outside or the inside, he will not know how to conceive of it. What is he to think? Many say, "We think nothing when we concentrate". It is a foolish statement. It is impossible not to think anything unless one is sleeping or one is in a state of supernal absorption in a high state of consciousness. A beginner cannot be in a state where no activity of the mind is there. It may look like no activity, because of a total absorption of the mind on one thing. When it is moving fast in one direction, it may look that it is not doing anything, but it is doing work.
In order to avoid these difficulties of choosing the point of concentration and deciding upon its nature or characteristic, it has always been suggested that one should receive initiation. Initiation is the process by which the student is introduced into the very characteristic of concentration, together with a description of the nature of the object, perhaps even with a little bit of caution as to the difficulty that he may have to encounter on the way, the problems that he may have to face. Nobody generally, especially in the traditions of mysticism and Yoga, would take to Yoga or meditation independently by one's own self. Everyone receives commission or an initiation from a Master. All great men had their Gurus, though they themselves were great men. Initiation by a Guru is a requisite on this mysterious path which we call Yoga or meditation or spirituality or God-consciousness.
Any object is good enough, provided it is possible for us to visualise in that object all the values that we are seeking in life. The object as such is not what is important. What we see in that object is important. The visualisation of value in that object is what is of consequence, and not the mere substantiality of that object. What is in a person, or in anything in this world, except some material content constituted of the five elements – earth, air, fire, water and ether? Every person's body is constituted of these elements only and every blessed thing is of this nature only. But then, do we not see difference? One person, to us, is of one value and another person is of another value. One thing is this, another thing is that. We have to read a meaning into the persons and things of the world for various reasons of our own. And it is the reading of this meaning or value into the person or the thing that is of consequence to us, and not the person or thing itself. Otherwise, nothing has any value in this world, unless we are able to see any value in them.
Now, the visualisation of value in an object is again a difficulty. When we worship an image, conceptual or physical, we superimpose upon it all the characteristics of a transcendent being. How often do we not offer our obeisance to a photograph or to a portrait of some personality whom we consider as worthy of adoration? What is there in a photograph except paper and ink? Do we then prostrate ourselves before paper and ink? No. We visualise a meaning and a significance that is imbedded in the photograph, as it were, due to the operation of our psyche in a particular manner in the context of our relationship with that object. This is a very strange thing and very difficult to grasp. What is meaning, what is value, where is it located, nobody knows, whether it is in our head or whether it is in the object. We cannot say that it is in our head. We are not offering our obeisance to something in our head, we are seeing something outside. Nor is it true that it is really there outside. There is some peculiar intermixture of values. Here is the problem. However, people who take to religious practice whatever be the form of it, find that it is the nature of the spirit, the characteristic of their aspiration, to see God in some form. Every religion, even that which does not recognise much the value of idols and images, has some image before it. There is no religion without an idol. Only, the definition of the idol changes. Some worship a stone, some worship a picture, or a marble statue or a portrait, or even a kind of atmosphere which they create physically, where they offer prayers, viewing that atmosphere as the idol of their devotion. Whatever be the idol, the idol is a conceptual form that we superimpose on the physical atmosphere outside, as a necessity of the very structure of our mind in its religious aspiration. So we offer a prayer in a temple, in an auditorium, in a church or in a mosque, where our mind gathers itself into a force of invocation of a power which it feels as a Presence, transcending the image or the concept of the portrait, and yet animating it in some way, mysteriously, capable of being appreciated by the devotee only and not by anybody else. We begin to feel the pervasiveness of some force in the object of our adoration – a Murti in a temple or anything else, as the case may be. We are not offering our prayers to any physical object. It is not a prayer or an adoration to a painting in a physical sense. It is a psychological atmosphere that we rouse within ourselves. Or, to put it better, a spiritual atmosphere rises under circumstances which are beyond the ken of psychology and logical science. Religion overcomes the limits of science and logic and they have nothing to say about religion. They can say nothing, because they lie outside the purview of religion.
There is something in man that defies the definitions of science and logic. There is something in man that tells him that he is something more than a man, though he always regards himself as a man. There is sometimes a feeling in us that we are more than mere human beings, and this feeling in us rises to the surface when we are in a state of intense rapture caused by either great joy or sorrow. Great agony and unbounded satisfaction, both break the boundaries of our personality. At that time a person is no longer a man or a woman. He is something he himself cannot define. This spirit which overwhelms individuality oftentimes and breaks the bounds of the limitations of individuality is a religious spirit. No man can define what religion is. Only he who is religious knows what religion is. It is neither a matter to be written in a book nor something to be gathered as a piece of information from libraries. Nobody, no one can define what sorrow is, and no one can say what joy is, unless one has felt it within one's own self. Lo! So is this religious spirit, which is the cause, or the cause of all causes, behind our efforts in life which urge us towards an effort for something which we cannot see in this world, yet can visualise in all the forms. People offer prayers to trees, stones, and even to the skies above, which apparently is an emptiness. They look up to an emptiness and pray to the mighty power which they feel as something which is there, whether or not they are going to see it with their eyes, or even conceive it in their mind ordinarily. Unless we are possessed with a true religious spirit, understanding religion in its proper meaning, we will not be able to take to Yoga concentration or meditation with seriousness.
Meditation or concentration is not an experiment that we make with things. It is an inrush of the soul towards that, about the value of which it is fully convinced, and there is no necessity to conduct any kind of experimentation in regard to it. One who tries to experiment with Yoga will get nothing out of it, just as one cannot experiment with a person and see whether he is a good friend or not. One becomes the friend of another person by a means which is beyond the ordinary, empirical observation. We are directly pulled towards someone or something oftentimes, or repelled by factors which are not the results of our considered judgement many a time. We suddenly like a thing, or suddenly dislike a thing, not because we have come to a logical conclusion in regard to it by careful analysis, but something beyond this speaks which is not of this world. Such a spirit will possess us when we are real students of Yoga, especially when we are in the heightened stage of Dharana or Dhyana. These are very highly advanced stages and we should not be under the impression that we are always ready for it. We have to go deep into the precedent stages of Yoga threadbare and see where we stand as regards the requirement. We have tried to understand something about the true meaning of Yama, Niyama and the other stages that precede the stage which we are discussing now. We cannot be under the impression that everything is over and we have bypassed all these stages. No one can bypass them so easily, because there are tentacles which pull a man to the earth whatever be his greatness. Nobody can be so great as to defy the world wholly. So, every moment of time, even if we are sometimes having the feeling that we have fairly advanced in Yoga, even then, we must be very cautious to see whether we are well grounded in the earlier stages, in their proper meaning and significance.
We can take to any point as our object of concentration, because, every object is as good as every other object, inasmuch as everything is connected to everything else. If we know one thing, there is no need to know another thing. Such is the nature of things here. If we go deep into anything, we have gone to the depth of everything else. If we have touched one thing properly, we have touched all things. So, we can take to any form which we have judged for ourselves as the proper one for our purpose. Many a time, people take to concepts of God as their objects of concentration. This is the usual method which people adopt, though there are other psychic types who prefer purely impersonal forms of concentration such as a flame, a flower or a brilliant light. The necessity which people usually feel for entertaining a concept of God for the purpose of concentration is that somehow we believe in God. We cannot get away from this idea. There seems to be something about this. So, we are drawn to this concept willy-nilly, and whatever be our notion of this Omnipotence, that notion comes to the forefront as the object that we choose for the purpose of Dharana. It does not matter here what our concept of God is, Whatever be our concept, that is good enough. The psychology, or the logic, of concentration applies equally to any form, whether it is religious or otherwise. The idea of the Creator is the overmastering idea generally in religious practices, and we may lay special emphasis on this technique, inasmuch as this seems to be the predilection of all minds everywhere, to whatever religion they may belong. Who can gainsay that sometime or the other one feels drawn or pulled to some invisible presence, from which one seeks succour, when one is drowning in the flood of life? This spirit within us which seeks to overcome itself in a larger communion is the spirit of religion. This must guide us in our practices in Yoga. So, let us come to the point and decide that our concept of God is the object of our concentration in Yoga, because there is nothing else that we can do.
The next question would be how we can properly conduct ourselves in our devotion to what we call God in our hearts. What is God? Whatever be our notion of the Creator of the universe, to whatever religious faith, we may belong, we would certainly conceive that the Creator is an omnipresence. And this acceptance of the preliminary character of the Supreme Creator is something common to every religious faith, and no one will say that God is only in one place. While this is the principal motif behind every religious faith, namely, the existence of God as the Supreme Creator, it is rather difficult for the mind to conceive this omnipresence. We can say that God is omnipresent, but we cannot imagine what it actually means. We may struggle to entertain this notion, but we will mostly fail. Because, its implications are so devastating, and we will not be prepared for it. We can only say that He is omnipresent and keep quiet. But we should not go deeper into its meaning or the results that would follow logically from our acceptance of this fact. However, we do not trouble our minds too much, and content ourselves with merely a notion of the omnipresence of God, together with His omniscience and omnipotence, and impose our factual concept of God with a relationship that it has to maintain in respect of this omnipresent God-Being. That which is omnipresent has also to be omniscient and omnipotent automatically. It follows and has to follow. That which is everywhere is also in contact with everything, and therefore, It knows all things. So, it follows that the omnipresent is also omniscient. Inasmuch as It knows everything, root and branch, It has control over everything, and therefore, It is omnipotent. So, God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Sarvantaryami, Sarvajna, Sarvasaktiman is God.
If God is everywhere, He is in everything also. Therefore, we can take anything as a symbol of His omnipresence. This is what pulls us towards an image or a form or a concept or whatever it is. That which is everywhere is in every particular thing also. If it is in every particular thing, anything is good enough for us for our concentration. Every form is a face or a finger of God Himself. So, the Yoga student can well be happy that he is meditating on God Himself, the Great Creator, though he has only a little image in front of him. It does not matter. Because even this little image is a part of His omnipresence. The student should convince himself deeply as regards this great value that he superimposes on the object of his meditation. That is necessary.
If every form is capable of enshrining His omnipresence, and there cannot be many Creators for the world, every form is as good as every other form. And, therefore, there cannot be isolated religious faiths that are differentiated at their bottom. So, every religious difference is an irreligious attitude. It cannot be called religion. It is a travesty of religion. Such a travesty is seen in our life, when religion becomes sociology and politics, which it has become, and so much the worse for religion. It is our duty not to contemplate religion in its form of travesty, but to visualise it as it is, and as it ought to be. From such a viewpoint, every form in this world is a vehicle of the omnipresence of the Almighty. Such a conviction in our heart will rouse within ourselves a force of joy, a power of satisfaction, an urge which we sometimes may not be able to control. If this conviction is deeply driven into our mind that the form that we are visualising before us is the form of that Omnipresence Itself, we will be stunned to the core at once, and we will be stupefied by the very thought of it. And this stupefaction, religiously brought about, is the force of concentration. This is meditation. Deep meditation is nothing but a stupefied state of the spirit which stands face to face with the Almighty's Presence as enshrined in a form, a concept, a notion, or any idol for the matter of that. Such a religious spirit should take possession of us when we are seated for concentration or meditation.