Concentration, Meditation and Contemplation18 min read

We live. But an important function of our soul is: to improve the quality of our life. Unless we improve our life, it will degenerate. We may have wealth; we may have learning; we may have up to-date cars; we may have any physical advantage. But the improvement of life is quite a different thing. Life improvement means first a feeling of inner tranquillity; second a feeling of satisfaction; third ability to face the daily changes of life unmoved; and fourth, to expand our sympathy, our compassion and our consciousness wider and wider.

If we do this, then we are living well. If we neglect this part of our life, we may boast of having travelled much, having had many holidays in a year, having attended many music halls; but in fact we have made no progress and our life is degenerating. As a man who wants to sail in a boat on the sea has to endow himself with a compass, with a chart and with other nautical instruments wherewith he can make his journey smooth and progressive, so man too must endow his life with certain great qualities which make it worth more and more and still more.

To live is to live intelligently, just as you cannot play a game of chess just depending on chance. You have to study very carefully your own moves and you have to guess the moves of your opponent, and then you can play chess and perhaps you can succeed.

If you want to sail, you have to see that the boat is seaworthy; that the nautical instruments are well provided, and that the provision on the ship is adequate, and that the pilot is not given to drinking. If you see to all these things you stand a very great chance of completing your journey. If you leave the things to chance, then what will happen? Miserable failure. But unfortunately we become aware of failure too late in life. Man’s real eyes are opened on his deathbed.

But it is too late for him to improve. Then he realises, ‘Oh, what chances I have missed in life, what opportunities to exercise virtue I have wasted. How I have wasted my life on pleasure, on gossip and on other modes of living which do not add light to the soul!’

The word light is a very revealing word. As in the outer world we cannot do without light, so in the inner world. Our mental, our intellectual, our emotional world, the world of aesthetic appreciation, and the world of inspiration and mystic experience, also needs light. The light that we need is called wisdom – jnanam. Wisdom is based on authority. And authority is based on tradition. And tradition is based on a desire to make new experiments in wisdom, with fearlessness.

Now this is the right way to live. In order to live in this way we have to exercise reasonable control over our life, and then we have to lead our life, our inner life, upward and upward and upward. Kant has said that the most important part of man’s inner life is his will, and that if will is correct all is correct. If the will is weak or is vacillating. The life goes wrong. I do not fully agree with the sage of Koenigsberg but there is much truth in it – there is no doubt about it. Further on he says that the personality of man consists of his self-consciousness and his will. These are the two important factors.

Man first of all must know what he is, where he is, what he has to do, what he has not to do. That is a most important factor. And then he should exercise his will consciously to add improvement to the inner life from all directions.

If a man is seen wasting his money, we feel sorry for him. We say: Oh, what a stupid man he is. If a man is wasting his opportunity – suppose he is a student, and instead of devoting himself to his studies, to his books and to the lectures that he receives, he goes about visiting music halls and playing a mouth organ with a big glass of foaming beer in front of him, then we will say: Oh well, we are sorry for this fellow indeed; we are very sorry.

But are we not comparable to that man, when we leave our life to chance, and we don’t take care of our will, of our self-expression and of the height of consciousness to which we must direct our life? In our own way we can say that we are unconscious of our progress but we can become very conscious.

The Chinese sage Mencius has said; ‘’Look up and see that you have nothing to be ashamed of. Look down and see that you are not doing an act of injustice or malevolence to any fellow man.’ Well, these two indeed are very good maxims.

But then there are laws. And we have to live according to law not only according to maxim. Maxims are individual and personal and law is universal like the categorical imperatives of Kant. They are laws, they are not maxims. But the sayings of Sir John Falstaff are maxims; they are not law, and they may help and they may not help. We can make maxims to suit our convenience but law we have to follow; we cannot make it.

Now this is a prelude to what I have to say today particularly. And that is: that unless we devote a good bit of our time in tranquillity (mind it! in tranquillity, not in a hurry – ‘Oh well, I have to catch a train, what does it matter whether I eat well or not?’ – No, in tranquillity, and we make a proper use of our mind – unless we do these two things, practise tranquillity and make a proper use of our mind, we cannot live a successful life like the life of von Goethe. He was the man who introduced a new note in civilisation, in art, in science, and he changed the whole current of Renaissance from humanism into higher and higher spiritualism. This is the type of life, my friends, which is open to you. You will have to do it; nobody else can do it for you. And unless you do it, at the time of death you will feel a great disaster and you will be very sorry.

Then let us first of all practise inner tranquillity; not to be upset by the happenings of life. In order to acquire tranquillity you have to concentrate your mind on a great inner truth. And the greatest inner truth is ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’ _ even God is secondary; even virtue is secondary; even beauty is secondary, even wealth is secondary. The first thing is ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’.
Then the Yoga comes and gives here very valuable advice: Sit down in tranquillity and think that now you are going to do something most important. And that something is to make life worthwhile, to enrich your life with light and truth and love. When you sit down then there are three processes of which I want to speak to you.

One is concentration, another is meditation, and the last is contemplation.

Concentration means fixing the mind, with all the will force that you can command, on a symbol. What is a symbol? Symbol is a tiny representation of word and idea of a universal truth, which when concentrated upon adds power to our soul. Not Hitlerian power but a power to withstand the shocks of life; the power not to lose courage in misfortune; the power to resist temptation; the power to increase love of God day by day.

One of such symbols is Christ.  He is a complete master and a great yogi. His life is a symbol. This word Jesus is a symbol. It contains the highest spiritual truth and shows the way to the highest detachment. Two things we should remember about Christ. One: he has no love of ease and comfort. He shuns them. You will never find him trying for ease and comfort. He does not want them at all. Two: he wants to live higher and higher. ‘And he took his disciples on the Mount of Olives and taught them as follows:…’ higher on the Mount of Olives; higher. And when He was in the house of a disciple He was on the first floor. He said to one of His disciples: ‘Go and see what they are doing now in the city against me.’ Higher, higher. And in the end the highest point that he obtains is the Cross. The victory of the Christ life is the victory over Cross.

Cross means crucifixion, renunciation of the little ego, of the little ego in favour of the infinite ego of God. Unless you give up your own little joys and pleasures in life, your life is no better than the life of a caterpillar. One great lesson which Sigmund Freud has taught us is that the main principle of life is love. To love wisely, to be loved wisely and to dissociate love from all selfish motives.

If you believe in this, then concentrate your mind on a symbol. Another symbol is OM – most mystic, most mystic symbol.
The word OM has great power in it. Hundreds of most important verses in the Upanishads have been written to explain the meaning of ‘OM’.

When it is said by Patanjali, that God is such and such and such.  What does he give as the symbol of God? OM (or pranava as he calls it) is the symbol of God.

The holy syllable OM

Another symbol can be truth; another symbol can be virtue. Anything which is infinite in value; anything which leads the mind upward, epitomising benevolence and self-sacrifice, the infinitude of them in a finite form. That is called a symbol.

Concentrate your mind on a symbol.

Take the word OM as it is written in Sanskrit; place it on your heart and then focus your attention on it. Look at the blue sky. Place the symbol OM on the blue sky and go into concentration; forget all, each and everything; and be devoted to this great symbol.

Every word can be a symbol. To the Chinese the whole world is one great symbol which expresses something which is symbolised by this symbol. The Chinese are not theological people but they are very benevolent people, and the two words which the sage Mencius uses so often – righteousness and benevolence – sum up the great symbology of the Chinese sages.

So you must choose a symbol and keep to it. You cannot choose a new symbol every day. Because among other properties of the mind is the habit-forming property. We should remember very carefully that our mind has a habit-forming property. Habit-forming means to devote the mind to something with interest, and to fix it on it.
Now here let us apply the principle of William James which he has expressed with great clarity. He says that the children and the youths and the grownups are first and foremost interested in self-preservation, in their own self, and then they are interested in anything else.

The word OM, or the Chinese symbol, symbolises infinity of the self. The Self is not a tiny little thing. The Self of man is not a tiny little thing. Remember the words of Shakespeare in Julius Caesar where he says how divine is man, what miracles man can perform. Remember the words of Goethe in’ Faust’ when he says: ‘It was I who raised the sun out of the sea; the moon began her changeful course with me.’ Now these words of Goethe are in accordance with the teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita. Therefore cease to think that your I is a tiny thing, that your I will be blotted out at death, that your I is an insignificant thing.

No. Today your I may look insignificant but by meditation, concentration and contemplation, by living a life of tranquillity and peace to all, by following the wisdom of the Gita Shastra, you can turn your I, which is today like a tiny spark, into a conflagration of ‘Anal Haq’, ‘Shivoham’, ‘I am all, I am all’, I am all’. And this is the realisation of which Goethe speaks not only once but many times in the third part of Wilhelm Meister, and with great force brings it to our notice. Then let us try to enlarge the meaning, the scope and the identity of our life.

Now this is what I call concentration.

Concentration, to repeat, means: fixing the mind on a symbol of infinity, of truth, of beauty, of wisdom, of the greatest height to which man’s soul can aspire. The words of Al Hallaj ‘Anal Haq’ are very very true indeed. He proved it when he was being led in the streets of Baghdad; blood was flowing from his veins; his eyes had been picked out; he was being beaten mercilessly and taken to the scaffold to be beheaded: he was still saying ‘Anal Haq, Anal Haq, Anal Haq’, ‘I am Truth, I am Truth, I am Truth’.

A man is what he verily thinks himself to be, says the Upanishad. This does not mean mere fancy. Hitler merely imagined himself to be a genius, and he turned out to be one of the greatest wasters of life, one of the greatest fools that ever lived. There is more wisdom in the sayings of Falstaff than in the sayings of Hitler. There has to be one-pointed concentration which you have to practise; it is not fancy. Concentration is to be followed by meditation.

Meditation is possible when your mind is trained in concentration. When you have acquired the ability to fix your mind on the blue sky as long as you like, on the 29th sonnet of William Shakespeare as long as you like, on a passage from the Second Part of Faust as long as you like, – my friends, you have obtained something much more than dollars can ever buy or any pleasure can give. Remember, that is not true pleasure if it does not exalt your soul. You go to seek pleasure and you come back a bankrupt. You have lost your mental energy; you have lost your poise; you have lost your contentment. And what have you got? Nothing but disapprobation and discontentment.

Therefore meditation is important.

Meditation trains the mind. Meditation uplifts the mind.

What is meditation? To take a text which is based on a law. On a law. Now remember the words of Immanuel Kant which I have just quoted; not on maxims, not on individual likes and dislikes but on a law which is universal. There are not only three categorical imperatives; there are many more which are mentioned in the Holy Shastra and in the Gita. You light your mind with that law, and it is called meditation.

I can give you an example:



You will say it is mere imagination. No, no, it is a fact.

It is a fact. The general rule is that the object which you think or you see is far smaller than the seer. The great discussion of Shri Shankara in his most famous introduction to his commentary to Brahma Sutra starts with the statement

‘The subject and the object are as different as the darkness is from light.’

What is the subject of the sun? What is the subject of the sun?

Your ‘I’. Your ‘I’.

Your I knows when the sun is rising, when it is hidden in clouds, when it is under eclipse and when it totally disappears.

Your I knows.

And that I, if properly understood and properly awakened from the slumber of pleasure desires and vanity and running after the trivialities of life, is realised as the sun of suns.

In the Holy Gayatri it is called Savitri; Savitri does not mean only the outer sun.

Sayana Acharya commenting on Holy Gayatri brings out the point that the real sun of the sun is the I of man. Now, if you meditate on it in quietude:

‘The sun is the light of the world.

I am the light of the sun.’

I am light of light.

Then the slumbering seeds of wisdom consciousness, of loving devotion to God, of peace which passes understanding, will begin to wake up in your soul. That is the real life.

The real life does not mean fatiguing the soul by drinking up to 3 o’clock soda and whisky and then sleeping in the morning up to 2 o’clock. The Chinese Confucianists have a saying: If you want to be happy for an hour, drink; if you want to be happy for a week, marry; if you want to be happy for a month, kill a pig; that is to say sacrifice something valuable you have in hospitality and for the good of others; and if you want to be happy for ever, be wise, be wise, be wise. Now this is the message of the Confucian philosophy, my friends. By meditation you awaken these qualities.

The third method is called contemplation which is above meditation.

Concentration: fixing the mind on a symbol is a preparatory state. Meditation comes next: awakening the slumbering potentiality of infinite peace, infinite virtue, infinite freedom in the mind, is meditation.

What is contemplation, which we call samadhi? The word samadhi is untranslatable into English. I prefer the Japanese word Satori because it means much more than the English word contemplation does or the word trance does. Now what is the meaning of it, what is the meaning of contemplation?

I can give you in short the meaning of it. Mind is prepared by concentration; mind is enriched in virtue, in peace and in light by meditation; and in contemplation you sacrifice that mind at the altar of God within you. The mind has a value but its value is not the ultimate value.

The ultimate value of mind is to sacrifice itself. (And this is the principle which Sigmund Freud has tried to bring out in his theory of libido. Poor man, so much misunderstood on account of his sexology essay, but far far removed from it. In my own studies I have come to the conclusion that Freud is not a narrow thinker at all.) What to do with the mind? It is meant to be sacrificed at the altar of God within, and this is called love.

Love, according to Freud, is otherness. As long as man is an individual, he is not worthwhile. When he begins to love, he realises the meaning of otherness. He sees himself in the other. But that is just the beginning, not the further progress of it. The further progress is when the mind is completely surrendered.

Once the Emperor of China sent a looking glass to the Mogul princess of Delhi, and the looking glass at that time was not known in India. The princess was very proud of it, very proud of it. One day another princess visited her in the palace in Delhi and she said to her maid: ‘Go and bring the looking glass; I want to show it to my friend.’ The maid went, and she dropped it and it was broken into pieces. And she said: ‘Alas, alas, the Chinese looking glass is broken into pieces.’ And the princess cried ‘Very well done! That which was making me concentrate only on my own visage is broken; I am very glad.’ That is, my friends, wisdom.

The real meaning is, that the I, the mind, is meant to be sacrificed.

And when the mind is sacrificed then follows the state which the Japanese call Satori, or in Sanskrit, Samadhi or Nididhyasana.

Our revered great sage Vidyaranya Swami has written a chapter in his Jivanmukti Viveka on how mind is to be made no-mind.

Mind is to be made no-mind.

As long as we have the mind, we are aware of the reflection of God within.

When the mind is broken through detachment and through wisdom, then we get infinity; then we taste the highest delight of freedom called enlightenment.

Excitement is the enemy of the human soul. Any pleasure that leads to excitement . I want to generalise on it as much as Kant would on a principle; any pleasure that leads to the excitement of the soul, man is digging his own grave in it. Read the opening chapters of the second part of Faust when Faust is sleeping in a most beautiful scene in the forest. Goethe describes it with a beauty which is inimitable. What happens then? Is there any excitement? No, no, no, peace within and peace without. That is the test of great poetry. When you read the concluding portions of Herman and Dorothea, are you excited at that time? Are you excited when you read The Sorrows Of Werther, or you read Torquato Tasso? Not at all. Peace, enlightenment; peace, enlightenment. And this is what contemplation gives us.

Purnamadah purnamidam,
Purnat purnam udacyate;
Purnasyapurnam adaya,
Purnam eva avashishyate

That is the All, this is the All,
From the All comes forth the All;
When from the All the All is taken,
The All still remains.

This is an article by Trevor Leggett’s teacher and one which Trevor regarded very highly.