It is often recommended, that before we begin to study the spiritual texts, we should bring the mind to the central line, and one of the ways of doing it is to isolate the point in the centre of the chest: just below where the ribs meet. This is technically called `the lotus of the heart’. Just touch there, sit reasonably upright and then using the after-sensation of the touch, bring the mind back to this point. Just keep bringing the mind back to this point, until we feel it.
Of the one who has controlled the mind, he is the inner Self, he is always in Samadhi. (Bhagavad Gita, VI.7)
By bringing it to this point, we control the mind and tranquillize it. Then, like Paramatman, the Supreme Self within, who is always in Samadhi, we shall find that there is something here which is always calm. It is described: `like a serene ocean’. And, if we become familiar with this, even at a time of crisis, we can bring the mind back to the centre. There is something here which is unmoving, immortal, in a different space from our ordinary space, but which can be touched. One method recommended by Dr Shastri is that we take this point as the point of concentration – there are others – but this is the main one and we bring the mind onto it. Then it wanders off. We remember, bring it back, it wanders off again, we bring it back and so on and on. Dr Shastri said that if we think in long waves, it takes some time for the mind to return to the point of concentration. He said, instead, learn to think in short waves, then though the mind may wander off, the period of distraction will be shorter and the focus of attention will return quickly. When we can control it during concentration on the heart centre, then we can control it in other things. We can begin to think what we like, how long we like, instead of being at the mercy of whims, of sets of desires, irrelevances and trivialities.
Even physically, if we have to wait an hour or two, we must do something. Generally we get nervous and the energy runs away to the hands, face and to shuffling with the feet. If we have learnt to bring the mind to the heart centre, the body will become serene and it won’t twitch. When the time comes that it must go into vigorous action, then that action will be well-controlled and proper, not jerky and spasmodic, which it would be if we were nervous.
One who is always twitching can’t do anything. Can a surgeon or a violinist have a twitch? It applies in everything, we need concentration. Worse than a physical, is a mental twitch. By practice, we can learn to control not only the physical, but the mental. People try this type of practice for a time, they struggle and then give up. And this is because the method is not understood. In yogic psychology, action is defined as having a `purposive content’ when it is planned and performed – and it is this that makes an impression on the mind. The impression is dynamic and wants to repeat itself. In our lives, we are laying down by our action sanskaras, dynamic impressions at the base of the mind. These are not available to inspection, but they are there. They produce impulses in us, `I can’t stand this’, or `I love that’.
Sanskaras can be controlled, but not by thoughts of struggle and effort. When we wish to establish patience we should not think resolutely `I must be patient, not impatient’. If you are an impatient chess player, an expert will tell you to sit on your hands when you get in a good position. This way you cannot lose by an impulsive move.
There is, however, a way of changing the very base of the mind. In one case, a future chess-master was impatient and this cost him many games. When he was in a winning position and the thought came, `I’ll polish him off , he tried to think, `I’ll go slower’, but he couldn’t. The opponents, who were often inferior, knew he was impatient, and would play even more slowly. In his impatience he would make a false move and lose. In time, he realized he would always lose because of his impatience. So, he took a chessboard and trained himself to sit for an hour in front of the empty board. He did this for a week.
Then, the next week, he sat for two hours, boiling with restlessness. In the third week, suddenly, he began to feel a sort of peace: `Yes, I can sit here’. He was no longer fretting, because he had changed the basis of the mind. The method in Yoga is not to think, `I must not be impatient’, but to meditate on patience as achieved. On patience, calm, and serenity the sanskaras are being laid down. For a time we see no improvement. But we must try to understand the dynamics of the mind. Yoga teaches us that the changes are being made in the deep recesses of the mind. When there are enough of them, suddenly, in the middle of a situation, there will come a feeling without a struggle, `I don’t need to hurry’. You have to set up your own discipline, and daily practice is the key to changing the sanskaras at the base of the mind. Learn to meditate on the desired characteristics as already achieved, and in Yoga, it is calmness, co-operativeness with the universe and surroundings and a constructive attitude.
The mind will say, `You’re wasting your time!’ Swami Mangalnath’s advice is to bring the mind to serenity at the heart centre for two hours a day. The mind will probably object, `But I’ll have to cut my television time!’ Sometimes beginners feel that even an hour’s meditation a day is wasted. There may be a temporary exaltation but it is soon lost in the rush of life. Would it not be better to use the time in life itself, perhaps doing some good instead of just sitting there?
They do not understand the dynamics of Yoga meditation. As a parallel, consider the case of an undeveloped country which wanted to industrialize itself. The government found young, idealistic, intelligent people and sent them abroad on scholarships to main centres of engineering and science, with different political systems, to examine and learn about the world. There was opposition: people said, `We need them here and you’re sending them away’. But the government was far-seeing and said, `Send them!’ The young were a great loss, but after a few years, some began to return. Almost at once changes began. At the time, for instance, the midwives didn’t know about wiping the eyes of newborn children and as a result many children were blinded from birth. When the students returned with new training and experience, they called conferences and explained hygiene and sanitation. At first there was resistance from
the old midwives. They said, `We’ve never done that. It’s not necessary’. Again the government intervened, the reforms were put through and the number of cases of the infection fell dramatically.
In the same way when we sit in meditation, we may feel that time is being wasted. The thought arises `I’m only dreaming’. No, the time will come when we find that the basis of our character has been changed and we have become much more energetic, constructive and inspired. It is called ‘concentration’.
The next stage is `Dhyana’ – translated `meditation’. When we concentrated, we had to keep supporting the idea or the mind would fall away. When it did, we brought it back. But when the practice has advanced and the new sanskaras laid down have changed the basis of the mind, then the mind can flow in a line of similar thoughts. These become powerful, not on an individual level only, but on a spiritual level. Shankara, in his Bhagavad Gita commentary, says the Gita gives three main meditations on the divine powers which hold the world together, the forms of the Lord culminating in the universal form of Chapter XI and the Absolute beyond all forms. He gives examples such as the fragrance of the earth which we know well in summer after a shower. He says, `Meditate on this as divine. Meditate on light, the moon and sun, the majesty of mountains. Another is on the law of karma, which brings the results of our good and bad actions to us’. He says it is not a question simply of hoping or having faith but instead, trying the meditations on an experimental basis.
In Dr Shastri’s book “The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching” there is an account of one such experiment, a vision seen by someone meditating on Rama:
The physical form of Shri Rama is in paradise, Vaikuntha, but the vibrations are ever around and within us. You can even now come into contact with the grace of Rama by praying to Him with a tranquillised mind, divested of vanity and the longing for pleasure and by being devoted to service. Each particle of the holy vibrations of Rama contains His essence. You can have a vision of His materialised personality anywhere and any time, if your devotion to Him is complete. The saint, Tulsi Das, and Raghunath Das in our own time, had this vision. Surely the privilege is open to each and every one of you…
We can say, `This is very high’. We think that ordinarily, we can’t aspire to it but the quotation above is directed to `each and everyone’. Shankara meets this very point in one of his great commentaries: he cites 11.44 of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras, to the effect that study of the scripture and repetition of OM bringing about a face-to-face meeting with the deity of one’s devotion, with an upanishadic text confirming that this applies not merely to great spiritual figures of the past but to the ordinary people of the present, who must therefore not rule themselves out. The same warning was given by St Teresa of Avila to nuns who told her: `We are simple humble persons, and it’s not for us to hope the Lord will speak to us directly’. She would say, `Sisters, if you knew how the devil laughs when you say that!’
The great point is, not to rule ourselves out but to follow the instructions and make the experiments. The sceptic may say, `There is no Rama, no such God in reality. What is the proof? Rama and Krishna were simply mythological dark-skinned south Indian divinities taken up by the Aryans after they found they could no longer believe in the old Vedic gods such as Indra’.
They support their view by inferences from texts, always with the absolute conviction of materialist pre-conceptions. But these texts are to be tested by experiment, not ruled out from the beginning by what Shankara calls `forceful assertion’. In the Brahma Sutras, one of the great text books of yoga, it says (3.1.5), `By meditation, that which is hidden becomes manifest’. His commentary explains that there is divine inspiration and power within everyone and, if there is resolute meditation, the divine within begins to show itself. Such manifestations are not personal powers, but movements of the God within. Our teacher often said that nobody is without inspiration. It is raining on everyone all the time, and through meditation they can come into touch with it.
You might say, `That’s all right for people who are musical or artistic; how is it going to be expressed through ordinary people?’
Our teacher had lived in Japan and spoke the language, and sometimes quoted the tiny Japanese poems called Haiku. One was by a Japanese poetess, Komachi, one of the eight poetic geniuses of Japan. It sums up a thought which Chekhov expressed in many more words in his play The Three Sisters. `What has happened to us? We were so full of life and so interested in life, but now we have become so bored and boring?’
Komachi’s poem is:
Alas, it is the flower of the heart that fades with no outward sign.
Though the poem is tiny and is in simple Japanese, it is a masterpiece. All Japanese know these words and there is nothing impossible about the arrangement of them. Our teacher used to say that in everyone there are such inspirations seeking to come, even in the form of a single sentence, and when they come they can change someone’s life.
One such sentence was `God will speak to us when we stop shouting at Him’. Another is by St Francis: `Short prayer pierces heaven’. There are also people, who, when you visit them, say almost nothing so that you think perhaps you’ve wasted your time going to see them. But when you get home, you find something you’ve been frightened of doing is now not so frightening after all, in fact it is easy. You have received the holy gift of courage.
Classically there are three kinds of gift: the gift of things, the gift of courage, and the gift of wisdom. You can be given money, that would be the gift of a thing, but that soon goes. There is another gift, not given necessarily through anything physical, and that is the gift of courage. Instances of it were often cited by our teacher Dr Shastri.
And the third gift is the gift of wisdom. Swami Mangalnath, a great yogi in our tradition, at the turn of this century, lived mostly in retirement as a monk but he did sometimes come down from the mountains. His talks had a strong effect on the hearers, amongst whom was Pundit Madan Mohan Malviya, famous as the founder of the university at Benares. Later, one of these meetings was the scene of an example of inspiration from samadhi. From that very university, a learned man, young and arrogant but with a genuine desire to know truth, came to challenge Swami Mangalnath. He asked two difficult questions with some idea of trapping the mahatma. (There is a brief account of what happened in the introduction to the book Triumph of a Hero by Dr Shastri.) `Swami Mangalnath made no reply but went into samadhi, the state of meditation, and by grace the student found the answers arising in himself. He fell down and asked to be taken as a disciple. He thus received the gift of wisdom, and it was given in complete silence’.
So the Brahma Sutras say, by meditation, what is hidden becomes manifest. Shankara explains that what is hidden is the divine potentiality in the individual.
Meditations on objects are performed by karma yogis, to whom the world is real. Meditations such as `God is the light of the sun and moon’ and `God sends the rain’ are on the pure divine attributes which uphold the world; they exalt, purify and clarify the mind of the meditator, to whom they are as real if not more real than his own body. How real that is to him is soon made obvious by events of daily life. Suppose a splash of boiling water falls on to the hand: if its owner feels `I am burned’, then this world is real to him. So when instructions are given to Arjuna to do his duty in the world, its reality and importance are taken for granted. In the present state, things are real and we are to respond properly to events. For karma yogis, the world consists of separate things. God too is apart, to be worshipped and obeyed; from his side, he helps and blesses us.
One of the three main elements of Karma Yoga is samadhi practice, which means penetrating meditation. It has grades. Teachers give as an example the meditation described above, on the form of Rama. The karma yogi feels that the Lord is apart. The time comes when meditation begins to lose its own character of `I am meditating on Lord Rama’. Patanjali, who wrote the classic on meditation, says, `It is when the meditation loses its own nature, as it were…, the separation into subject and object, (I am meditating on this) begins to disappear and there is only the object blazing forth in its own light’.
There are different forms of samadhi. Patanjali lists nine and they are all based on the experienced fact of the reality of the world and its causes and effects. So, when the state of meditation, with its exaltation and freedom ends, the meditator comes back to a real world. In that system, Prakriti, the world, is as real as the Self, and the aim of the yoga practice is to separate the two. The illusion which has to be dispelled is the idea and actual experience that the Self is entangled in it. Their ultimate samadhi-meditation is on Knowledge-of-the-difference (viveka-khyati). Finally that too is no longer needed, and the realized Selves have no involvement with, or finally even awareness of, the world, though it continues to exist for those still caught up in it.
But in Vedanta, there is a step beyond Knowledge-of-the-difference and this isolation of the Seer. As Shankara says, when the Yoga meditation has made the mind clear and focused, Knowledge arises from the Lord as grace from outside or as a stirring within. What is first known as a witness-self of things apart, finds its fulfilment in the truth of the holy texts as the Universal Self. The world itself is known as what is called `mithya’, of shadowy indeterminate character. It is not wholly real nor wholly unreal.
What does this mean? In a TV play, though it is unreal yet it affects us, and if it’s well done, it can affect us powerfully. So it cannot be completely unreal. The world is like that. The resemblance between the teachings of Patanjali and Karma Yoga is, that the latter too is based, as Shankara says in his Gita 12.12 commentary, on the idea of a real world. That is the practical conviction. But, in Karma Yoga this conviction thins out and Knowledge arises. Then the meditations change into Knowledge meditation; they cannot be complete till the whole world-process is known to be no more than a rainbow or a mirage, or the illusions created by a conjuror. In the final liberation, as Shankara says, even these shadows melt away and Brahman stands clear in his own glory.
In The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, it says:
Try to take your mind above the trio thinker, thought, thinking. To let yourself be in any of these categories is to slip into the realm of maya, illusion, suffering. As long as you have consciousness of time and space, you will not be able to perceive the light of Atman, your Universal Self. The feeling, `I am not the body’ is a prerequisite for Yoga and the complete relinquishment of body-consciousness marks the attainment of samadhi.
Though there are some resemblances, when the yogi comes out of Patanjali meditation the world is as real as it was before. After a successful Vedanta experience described above, the world is no longer what it was. Knowledge has arisen and though there is a world, it is only an appearance projected onto the Universal Self.
In some cases the one who knows continues to take part in the world as a sort of sport, as we would take part in a game. The yogis give the example of chess where distinct powers are projected onto pieces of wood. They are all known to be merely wood, but they are treated differently: with a bishop all that is expected and permitted of it is a diagonal move. With a rook, straight lines. We know to win is unreal and yet we try very hard and that is the interest of the game.
Swami Rama Tirtha made a list of samadhi-meditations on Knowledge. In some of these there may still be a shadowy knowing process, and known object, but they are no longer real. He calls them vikalpa, which means a theoretical and illusory construct. Shankara uses a pair of terms: `with-vikalpa’ (sa-vikalpa) and `without-vikalpa’ (nirvikalpa). The term Brahman-with-vikalpa emphasizes that supposed attributes of Brahman the Absolute, are in fact Maya-illusion: Brahman-without-vikalpa means the Absolute without illusory attributes. Rama Tirtha adopted the extended use of the terms in his samadhi chart. One of the with-vikalpa samadhis is merely to watch unmoved the changing world, as its Light so to say. He calls this a Phenomenal samadhi. Another, which he calls Noumenal, is to meditate: `I am Existence-Consciousness-Bliss’. Another, the world and its values are accepted as a sport and the yogi takes part in that world.
In the with-vikalpa meditations, some shadowy appearances still arise from unfulfilled karma-involvements of the past; no new ones are created, but the momentum of the past ones may persist for a time. The individual self, said Dr Shastri, becomes like a burnt handkerchief – the form goes on for a little but there is nothing solid there. The Universal Self alone remains, a mass of light and bliss.
In the text called Gaudapada’s Karikas, that teacher reassures would-be yogis who are frightened at the idea of transcendence and going beyond their individual self. They fear that it would be an oblivion, like falling asleep, or losing consciousness. He explains the point in terms of the sanskara seed-bed at the base of the mind. Sanskaras are dynamic latent impressions, laid down by past actions, and not normally accessible to conscious inspection. He says that a mind trained in samadhi remains in control when it enters the realm of sanskaras, whereas in sleep, there is no control. So the sleeping man’s mind is dispersed, at the mercy of sanskaras of ordinary delusive life, which consequently form a thick veil. But not so in practised samadhi. It may resemble sleep and such states in that mind is largely withdrawn from the senses and the mind is not moving in thoughts. But the sanskaras are becoming purer and thinned out, so that streaks of the cosmic light of intelligence find their way through. Perhaps Goethe was referring to his own discovery of this when he wrote to Humboldt: `The secret of inspiration is, consciously to enter the unconscious’.
In Gaudapada’s Karikas , books 2 and 3, there are several verses on this. The essence of the individual self is not lost but expands, finally into the Universal Self. Fear of losing individuality is therefore unjustified.
But when first heard, the maxim `Go above thinker, thinking and thought’ is a shock. An inner voice says: `These things are my life. If they go, what will be left? I can feel nothing else, there is nothing else’.
Here the holy tradition, which embodies the experience of many centuries, tells us that there is something else, as yet realized only intellectually and not in living feeling. An example of a potentiality, theoretically known but not felt is this: if in sleep you lie on your arm, it goes numb. As you get up, the arm seems dead and you can’t move it. Now, though your thought tells you, `This is me’, your feeling says `it isn’t’. When the blood circulation returns, you no longer have to insist by thinking, you feel vividly that it is you. It is not a matter of knowing by words but of knowing by being.
Such an experience can give us a tiny hint about the Yoga process: the spirit within seems merely theoretical. By changing the life to centre it on one Avatar-form – holy Rama or Jesus or Krishna – the spiritual circulation begins to return. The meditation image, at first merely a mental creation, becomes in samadhi a channel for the divine. What follows is given in beautiful descriptions, different yet clearly the same. Krishna says, `I take my stand in the hearts of my devotees, and destroy all ignorance and darkness with the luminous flame of wisdom, as my compassionate gift’.
Jesus says: `Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. But I am going to wake him’. Then Christ comes to the soul, and awakens the dead.