Concentration and Meditation27 min read

It is often recommended, that before we begin a study the Holy Truth, we should bring the mind to the central line of the body, 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”. Sitting reasonably upright, touch that spot; then using the after-sensation of the touch, bring the mind to this point. Keep the attention there, bringing it back if it is distracted, until it becomes continuous.

Here is a text on this practice of samadhi meditation:

 Bhagavad Gita, Ch VI.7 `Of the one who has controlled the mind, he is the inner Self, always in samadhi.’

 The Supreme Self called Paramatman, within each living being, is always in the peace and clarity of samadhi. By bringing the mind to this point, we control it and tranquillise it. Then Paramatman, the Supreme Self within, who is ever in Samadhi, can be at least glimpsed. We shall find that there is something here which is always calm. It is described as being “like a serene ocean”. And, if we have by practice become familiar with it, then 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 given by Dr Shastri is to take the heart centre as the point of concentration – there are others but this is a main one so we bring the mind onto it. Then it wanders off. We recall it and bring it back, it wanders off again, we bring it back and so on and on.

 Long Waves And Short Waves

The same thing happens when we take up anything new which requires practice. Before we have got any definite results, we are not sure what we are trying for, and we find that the mind wanders off occasionally. Why am I doing this? Suppose I am not suited for this? Am I wasting my time? To master anything we have to come back from these distracting thoughts.

An important point is, that we should try to come back quickly to what we are doing. Dr Shastri said that if we think in long waves, it takes some time for the mind to return to the point of concentration. And soon it is distracted again, and again takes some time to get back to the desired focus. It corresponds to someone working at a desk, who at every sound from the street gets up and looks out of the window. Instead, we must learn to think in short waves. Then though the mind may wander off, the period of distraction is short, and it comes back to the focus quickly. (When watching a favourite TV serial, people have no difficulty in waving away all interruptions.) A serious aspirant will practise the heart meditation given above for twenty minutes each morning at the same time, and another twenty minutes in the evening. When he can to some extent hold the mind steady during the practice periods, be finds he can begin to control it at other times.

When a little control is established by one practice, We can begin to think what we like, how long we like, instead of being at the mercy of whims, of sets of desires, irrelevancies and trivialities.

 Mental Twitching

Even physically, if we have to wait an hour or two, and then go into decisive action, during the waiting period our body feels it must do something. We cannot just sit, fighting phantoms of what may happen, and what we will have to do to meet it in the various forms it may take. Generally we get nervous and the energy runs away to the hands, face and feet. We fiddle with something, smoke cigarettes perhaps, chatter if there is the chance, and shuffle endlessly our feet.

But if we have learnt to bring the attention to the heart centre, the body will become calm and it won’t twitch. The inner landscape of the mind too quietens down. When the time comes for it to go into vigorous action, then that action will be well co-ordinated and appropriate, 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 where we need concentration. Worse than a physical twitch is a mental one. By practice, we can learn to control not only the physical, but the mental twitch also.

 Practice makes Perfect

Practice makes perfect, but one has to be a perfect practiser, or at any rate on the right lines. People take up this type of practice for a time; they struggle with it for a bit 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 are called sanskara-s. and they produce impulses in us, “I can’t stand this” or “I love that”. Sanskara-s can be controlled and changed; but this can be done only indirectly, not by direct confrontation with struggle and effort. Struggle and effort are needed to confront the impulses when they have risen up clearly before us, But this necessary control of instinctive, or simply irrational behaviour, does not immediately change the basic sanskara-s from which the impulse has come. So though conquered this time, it will rise again, with seemingly undiminished force. Experiences like this often lead to despondency; `you can’t change human nature’, people say.

 Changing the nature

There is quite some difference between the popularly held views in the East and in the West on this question. In the West we often think that it is impossible; the basic nature is there and cannot be changed. All one can do is to try to develop means of adapting to it. In the East there are traditions which say, roughly, that it can be done, but not by sudden force. When we wish to establish a pattern of patience for instance, it will not be effective to try to do it by resolutely thinking: “I must be patient, never impatient.”

Let us take an example from the history of chess. In the 1840s, the Englishman Howard Staunton was generally accepted to be the best player in the world. (No one had heard of the Indian masters then.) He designed the chess pieces which are still used in tournaments, and wrote a massive Handbook on the game. He also wrote on Shakespeare, and was a man of considerable intellectual standing. But he sometimes lost, in tournaments, to very slow players. such as the American Elijah Williams. Staunton’s thought processes were quick, and he often made his reply as soon as the opponent had made a move. But Williams used to stare at the board for sometimes twenty minutes without making his move, even when (as Staunton irritably commented afterwards) there was obviously only one move which could reasonably be made. When this obvious move was finally made by Williams, Staunton, fuming with impatience, would make his reply instantly, to try to finish the game quickly. Inevitably he made occasional mistakes which cost him the game. He tried various means to control his impatience, but often failed. Williams, the weaker at chess, was his superior in self-control. By attacking Staunton’s weakness there, he could sometimes beat him. Some other players, against Williams, would read a newspaper while waiting for the move. The historian Buckle is said to have written a chapter of a book during ;a match against Williams. Today this would not be allowed, and the best advice that can be given to impatient players is: `When it is your turn to move, sit on your hands. Then at least you will have a little time to consider your first impulse, because it will take a few seconds to get a hand out.’

No one seems to consider the possibility of changing an underlying impatience into its opposite. But in the East there have been ;examples of this very thing. In Japan, a brilliant young chess master was impatient like Staunton, and this cost him many games against old masters who deliberately played very slowly, like Williams. The young master realized his own weakness, and when he was in a winning position and the thought came, “I’ll finish him off now”, he tried to think, “I’ll go slower”. But he couldn’t keep it up. In time, he came to realise that he would always lose in this way.

Now he did something inconceivable in the West. He set up an empty chessboard, and made himself sit for an hour in front of it without moving a muscle. He pictured himself as a big rock, motionless in a Japanese garden. He did this for a week. The next week, he sat for two hours, outwardly motionless but inwardly boiling with restlessness. In the third week however, he suddenly felt a sort of inner calm: “Yes, I can sit here”. He was no longer fretting, because he had changed the basis of the mind. The impulses of restlessness could not be controlled by direct confrontation (though the outer behaviour was). They were sanskara-s, beyond its reach. But they were finally changed by new sanskara-s, not of the form `I must control my impatience; but of the form `I am at rest. like a rock.’ Consciously directed and substantially laid down sanskara-s, steadily laid down over a period, can finally disperse even long-held habits and convictions picked up semi-consciously throughout life, just as a small but organized force can disperse a rabble.

 Yoga Methods

The method in yoga is not to think: “I must not be impatient”, but to meditate on patience as achieved. Meditate in wide concepts: on patience, calm, and serenity. With each meditation, sanskara-s 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, changes begin to appear on the surface, at first in fragmentary forms. impatient, or timid, or harassed people begin to find that they can occasionally calm themselves down, by recalling the atmosphere of their meditation. But that is not all that is to come. Some time later, suddenly, in the middle of a situation which always sweeps them off balance, there comes of itself, without any struggle or effort, a feeling like a cool breeze: “I don’t need to hurry or worry”.

 Practice Programme

You have to set up your own discipline, and daily practice is the key to changing the sanskara-s at the root of the mind. Learn to meditate on the desired characteristics as already achieved. Characteristics of advantage in purely worldly achievements could also be cultivated, but such achievements are fundamentally illusory, and often leave an adverse reaction. In yoga, qualities such as calmness, clearness of inner vision, and right purpose, are cultivated, as these lead to truth and not illusion. The yogin learns to co-operate with the cosmic purpose, and not necessarily with passing fashions and prejudices of society.


The large part of the mind which consists of unexamined ideas and habits, will often raise objections to Yoga practice: `Waste of time’.

Swami Mangalnath’s advice is to bring the mind to serenity at the heart centre for 2 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 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’s 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 sanskara-s 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 partial forms of the Lord culminate in the Universal Form of chapter XI. The absolute is beyond all forms. He gives examples of partial forms 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, by someone meditating on Rama. “The physical form of Shri Rama is in paradise, Vaikunta, but his 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…”

One can say, as a sort of self-defence masked as humility: “This is very high. I do not pretend to aspire to these states, which are after all a bit unnatural. They are not for ordinary folk” But the quotation above is directed to `each and everyone”. Shankara takes up this very point in one of his great commentaries: he cites II.44 of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutra classic, to the effect that study of the scripture and repetition of Om, the highest name of God, bring about a face-to-face meeting with the deity of one’s devotion. He also gives an Upanishadic text confirming that this applies not merely to the spiritual giants 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 me 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 every one and, if there is resolute meditation and resolute inner purification, 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.

Here someone may interrupt; “They always quote Beethoven or Michelangelo for these things; it might be 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; sometimes he quoted the tiny Japanese poems called Haiku. One was by a poetess, Komachi, one of the Eight Poetic Geniuses of It puts into seventeen syllables of Japanese what Chekhov expressed in many more words in his play Three Sisters”. `What has happened to us? We were so full of life and so interests in life, but now we have become so bored and boring?’

Komachi’s poem is, in Dr. Shastri’s translation, which is very literal:

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 difficult about the arrangement of them. Our teacher used to say that in everyone there are such inspirations seeking to come, even perhaps 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”.

 Three Gifts

Words may not be needed. There are 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, which 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. He recalled how Japanese would seek an interview with the great Saigo, and sit silently in the same room with him but without a word exchanged. They returned peaceful, free from their anxieties, and invigorated..

And the third gift is the gift of wisdom. Swami Mangalnath, a great yogin in our tradition at the turn of the century, lived mostly in solitude as a monk. But he did sometimes come down from mountains. His talks had strong effect on the hearers, amongst whom was Pandit 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, the peak of meditation. From that very university, a learned man, young and arrogant but with a genuine desire to know truth, came to challenge Swami Mangalnath. He posed two difficult questions with some idea of trapping the mahatma. (A brief account of what happened is in the introduction to Triumph of a Hero, by Swami Mangalnath, translated by Dr. Shastri.) The Mahatma made no reply but went into samadhi, and by grace the inquirer found the answers arising in himself. He prostrated himself and asked to be taken as a disciple. He thus received the gift of wisdom and it was given in complete silence.

The ancient Brahma Sutra classic says:

By intense meditation, that which is hidden becomes manifest

. The commentator 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 upheld 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, however, when the Rama-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.’

 Patanjali – The World Is Real

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 Patanjali’s system the objective is limited to escaping from suffering of being identified with a real body and mind in a real world. To that extent he is like a doctor whose purpose is to get the patient out of the suffering condition and back into society. The doctor does not inquire what the patient will do when the patient is healed. In the Advaita system of Shankara, there is the same purpose of relieving the immediate suffering of those who are sure that the world is real, and to this extent the Yoga system of Patanjali is authoritative. But in the Advaita there is a further step, namely the penetration into the truth of the world, whether it is real or unreal, and whether the true Self is individual or Universal.

 In Patanjali’s system, Prakriti, the world, is as real as the Self, and the aim of the yoga practise 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 released 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? 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 when the Karma Yoga of Advaita is complete, this conviction of a real world thins out, and Knowledge arises. Then the meditations change into Knowledge meditations; 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 magician. 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.”

 Advaita – The World As Unreal

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 Advaita Vedanta experience, however, 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 on Samadhi

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. Sanskara-s 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 sanskara-s, whereas in sleep, there is no control. So the sleeping man’s mind is dispersed, at the mercy of sanskara-s 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 the mind is largely withdrawn from the senses and the mind is not moving in thoughts. But the sanskara-s 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.’

 The Universal Self

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.

This is from the fifth article in “Jewels from the Indranet”

© 1998 Trevor Leggett