Mastery is when the mind can be steadied on anything from the ultimate in smallness to the ultimate in greatness (Sutra 1.40 )
The Upanishadic verses quoted in the Chapter of the Self describe Brahman:
Subtle, finer than a lotus-fibre, he stands covering all;
Greater than the earth, firm, he stands supporting all.
These are the two extremes, and the Lord is ultimately found in each of them. All the other exercises in training the mind refer to objects between these limits. Shankara sums up by saying that he has mastered the practice who is not interrupted by any opposing thought in his experience of the very small or the very great, or what lies between them. He also adds an interesting comment that all the practices are really the same; it is a question of mastering one and then the others also are accessible easily.
These are all exercises to purify and stabilize the mind, and they use the things of the world. Even the divine forms are of the world, though in them the divine actor shows himself more clearly than in other things.
The first step is dharana, persistently holding the attention on to a point like the heart-centre; this develops into dhyana where there is a steady flow of thoughts and feelings all of one kind into the object of meditation; in samadhi, the separate ideas of meditation, meditator, and object of meditation disappear. Only the object remains, filling the whole field of awareness. This cannot happen till the mind has been cleared, at least for the time, of other thoughts.
Samadhi is when the natural restlessness (sarvarthata – ‘going to all objects’) of the mind has been attenuated and its other capacity one-pointedness (ekagrata) has been brought out, and the mind becomes like a pure crystal, through which the object of meditation appears clearly. Unless the crystal is quite clean and held steady, the object on which it is focused does not shine clearly in it.
Dr Shastri often used the modern example of the telescope, whose lenses must be clean and steadily focused.
In the ordinary process of knowing, the object known is mixed up with its name and the concept of it. It is assimilated to them; for example, because we think that the lines of a Doric temple like the Parthenon must be straight, we see them as such, though in fact they are not.
It is well known how the eye scales down the size of things in the foreground; amateur photographers take a picture of a friend in a deck-chair which looks a satisfactory picture, but when it comes out they find it seems to be all feet. A man who has volunteered for an experiment in endurance of pain is willing to have a burn inflicted on his arm while he is blindfolded. He endures it, and in some cases, burn blisters result. In fact, he has been touched on the arm by a piece of ice. This experiment has been repeated in laboratories on many occasions, one of them in the department of anatomy at Heidelberg University. There exists a critical review in the literature, though there is apparently no altogether satisfactory account of the fact that the sympathetic action is confined to a defined locality. But it is an example of experience of an event being assimilated to a concept.
In samadhi the confusion with concept and name begins to be dissolved, and at a deeper level the associations with time and space also. This requires a forgetting of all associations, and is technically called ‘purification of the memory’. Shankara makes the important point that these things can only really be forgotten when they are recognized to have been illusory. The concepts and names and associations have been super-imposed on the object, as the world of the play is super-imposed on the actor.
When they have been forgotten, the object is known as it is, an individual thing free from the super-imposition of universals (concepts like ‘hot iron’ in the case of the blister experiment). This is the true perception; all ordinary perceptions are mixed up with associations. It is called prajna or insight.
Here is a translation of the commentary of Shankara on the point:
The memory is to be purified from the conventional uses of words, for instance the general consensus, ‘This is the expression for this, and this is to be expressed by this’. The memory produced by the conventional use is the memory of word-association. Washing away of this memory means its cessation by reason of the fact of its illusoriness (being recognized). The purification arises when rajas (passion) and tamas (inertia) have been overcome.
The memory is purified from ideas received from others, even from the scriptures, and from ideas derived from inference, which means from indications. These two, inference and authority, have for their field universals alone. The ideas received from them are a superimposition (adhyaropa) on the particular object. When there is absence of that superimposition (adhyasa) for the yogi in his samadhi-insight, when in other words it is freed from superimpositions of inferential or verbal knowledge, then the samadhi grasps the object in its own nature, as it is, freed from associations of direction, space, time and so on.
It is magnified, in its own qualities alone, and does not show anything – space, time or anything else – apart from its own bare nature. The prajna-insight of the yogi is determined by the bare nature of that object.
The prajna does not appear as the ordinary process-of- knowing, for it has no impediment (to be overcome), and it is distinct as the form of the object alone. All the relations superimposed formerly on it have gone. This is the higher perception. The lower perception is common to everyone, and it is mediated by a modification of the mind. but higher perception is had by a yogi alone”.
This quotation from Shankara shows that he sees all relations and predicates of an object as ultimately illusory, super-imposed on it. This does not mean that they are valueless, but only that they are not absolutely true. (He uses the technical words adhyasa and adhyaropa for ‘illusory super-imposition’, which are frequently used in his other commentaries, this is a pointer to the authenticity of the present one.)
However even these objects as known in samadhi are themselves only relatively real; though as Shankara says a horse is a real thing, known from daily dealings in the world, it is real only on that level. There are deeper levels – for instance the level of atomic structure, as he points out. And deeper is the mental level of the cosmic mind. The deepest level of the world is bare energy, which appears as the projection by the Lord of the play of the world. The purpose of meditation is not to determine relative realities, but to penetrate through:
Subtle, finer than a lotus-fibre, he stands covering all;
Greater than the earth, firm, he stands supporting all.
He is other than the sense-knowledge of this world.
The world is not different from him,
who is ever standing as the supreme,
who is to be known,
who himself divides into many.
From him the bodies all come forth,
he is the root, eternal, he is constant.
In discussing samadhi, it has to be recognized that descriptions of yogic states, not part of ordinary experience, will be increasingly unsatisfactory when judged by ordinary experience and its standards. A man who has never seen the sea will find descriptions of it increasingly incredible; he who has only seen ripples on a little lake will not be able to accept stories about waves eighty feet high round Cape Horn.
To get a hint of samadhi, a student is recommended to create particular circumstances favourable to it.
He should get up early and be sitting comfortably on a hill looking towards the east, half an hour before dawn on a clear morning, to watch the sun rising.
It is essential that he should not see anything close to him in the line of sight; that sets up reactions in his body.
He may be unconscious of them but they can prevent the experience.
His vision should go out to the far distance; if he cannot find a hill, he can look out over the sea on a calm day.
He watches the lightening of the sky before the dawn, then the edge of the sun coming up, then the whole orb. It is often found on these occasions that there is a partial loss of body consciousness, and absence of the verbal associations ‘sun’, ‘sea’ and so on.
Many people feel also some great significance which they cannot properly grasp; when they try to verbalize it, there is nothing to lay hold of. But it can give some idea that ordinary experience is partly a mental construct, and this is a help in practising yoga.
Shankara says that such things are samadhi states, but they are not part of yogic training because they are so brief, and obscured by rajas and tamas. In yogic samadhi, the mind has been partially purified; the first stage of it is the same as ordinary perception except that the attention is steady, which in ordinary perception it is not. When samadhi progresses, the associations begin to drop away, internally and externally. When the memory is finally ‘purified’ and all associations recognized as illusory superimpositions – forgotten, the object, on the level of meditation, becomes radiant. It becomes ‘magnified’ in the sense that there is nothing else. it fills the whole universe.
When this higher samadhi is repeated again and again on the same object, the yogi becomes ‘skilled’ in it; it becomes natural to him and it is serene and clear. Then it is ‘truth-bearing’ – it reveals truth by inspiration. In connection with objects or situations in the world this is like a ‘revelation’, but inasmuch as it is truth about limited objects, it is still concerned with illusion. This is the purest and most beautiful part of illusion – it corresponds to enjoying the play, and taking part in it, in inner tranquillity, appreciating its beauty and vigorously performing the role which is now clear.
In the Chapter of the Self, the samadhis are of three kinds:
Preliminary – on the highest mental functions like
sharing with others,
These are the yogas of verse 14. (see note below)
On Brahman as ‘projecting’ the whole universe and entering it as consciousness.
On Brahman as the Lord of the ‘city’, ‘hidden in the cave’.
Preliminary are the samadhis on the highest part of the illusion; the others are meditations on truth.
Increasing ‘skill’ in samadhi comes about because samadhi, like every other experience, produces a dynamic impression in the seed-bed at the root of the mind. The impressions, called sanskaras, are of course of many kinds. They manifest in accordance with a law of association, both positive and negative. At the beginning meditation is constantly interrupted by the emergence into mental awareness of sanskaras which are irrelevant or hostile to the subject of meditation. Each effort at disregarding them and returning to the meditation creates a new sanskara of its own; finally these new sanskaras show themselves at the time of meditation in strength, as a continuous flow of related thoughts and feelings, and the meditation becomes continuous. Sanskaras of meditation on the one object form a mutually reinforcing group, which facilitate meditation on it, and that in turn creates new ones.
Shankara in his Gita commentary remarks that the onrush of passion cannot always be restrained by will alone; only when samadhi has been attained can it invariably be controlled. The Gita says that when assailed by passion, the yogi should sit in a solitary place and practise samadhi. When he has done this for some months, the sanskaras of that samadhi will rise spontaneously at the time of the onrush of anger or other doshas.
Shankara in the Chapter of the Self points out, however, that though the passion may be temporarily pacified, it will return, because the root cause, Ignorance, has not been pulled up. He makes this point repeatedly in his great commentaries. In this commentary, he sets it out at length, explaining how the yogas can overcome the doshas just because yogas are associated with truth and doshas with illusion. The man who has accurate knowledge will defeat, in worldly strife, one who is deluded as to the facts.
The objector is not silenced. He makes the apparently strong point (which at some time or other comes up in the mind of every yogi) that after all yogas and doshas are like opposing armies, and it cannot be assumed that yogas will necessarily defeat the other side. Shankara explains that the yogas only do defeat the doshas when they are associated with knowledge, that is, when the yoga is in fact reinforcing meditation on the Lord and on the Self as the reality, and the world as not absolutely real.
Without this knowledge of truth, the yogas do not necessarily defeat the doshas. He says here, and elsewhere also, that in the end the doshas are dissolved by knowledge of truth; the yogas are really a sort of systematic practice of the expressions of knowledge of truth in this world. The negative yogas like freedom from anger are deliberate practice, in meditation and action, of the independence and serenity of the Self; the positive ones like sharing out are systematic practice of realization of the Lord as standing in all beings equally, the Lord who is to be known, who himself divides into many.
The doshas do not absolutely cease, but they are so thinned out that the reality shines through the transparent veil. There is still movement of the mind, but it is not something which builds up into a persistent attitude of passion. Socrates very rarely showed anger, but when he did, the effect was devastating, as we know from accounts of him in battle, and on a few other occasions. But there was no hate or malice in him; he never showed anger for personal reasons. He met assaults on himself with humour; when his pupils protested that he should prosecute he answered,’ if a donkey kicks me, do you want me to take him to law?’
The objector still persists that even though the doshas may be met and dissipated when they arise, they will go on rising in full force while life lasts, because the sanskaras which cause them remain. The sutra of Patanjali on this is 1.50:
the sanskara produced by the higher samadhi is the master of other sanskaras
Shankara comments that the higher samadhi, when it is ‘skilful’, is truth-bearing, and it de-energizes the opposing sanskaras of ordinary experience, which are tainted with illusion. So though the onrush of passion is met when it arises in the mind, it may occur again until the sanskaras which give rise to it have been dissipated by the sanskara produced by repeated higher samadhi. It is true that a slight veil of sanskaras does remain while life lasts, but this is so thin that the truth of the Lord shines through it, and the actions prompted by these very refined sanskaras are for the good of the whole world.
A samadhi on an ordinary object of the world, when it has become ‘truth-bearing’ dissolves the illusions of time and space and cause-and-effect. But the ‘truth’ of an ordinary object is only a relative truth, and to integrate the knowledge of it into other experience, some of the illusory super-impositions have to be put back on to it. Still, they are put back in the knowledge that they are illusory, stage-props in the cosmic play.
When the samadhi is made on final truth, of the Lord as all- pervading, and as the Self, the sanskaras of it dissolve all the other sanskaras, as the dawn dissolves the illusion of the night whereby a post appears as a man. The post is still seen, but it is no longer mistaken for a man.
As the samadhi becomes ‘skilful’, its dynamic seeds go into the seed-bed, and the doshas are attacked at their root, Ignorance. For this reason Shankara emphasizes that fundamentally it is practice of truth itself which dissolves the doshas ; they are not dissolved permanently by samadhi practice alone, because its effect is temporary. The individual yogas of verse 14 are combined with truth – in fact they have to be based on vision of truth, or at least faith in truth. The essence of the process is a change in the seed-bed at the roots of the mind; a violent change of attitude by conscious application of will, or emotional excitement, or intellectual application, does not last unless the seed-bed has been changed. It is not directly accessible to the ordinary functioning of the mind; it consists of sanskaras, dynamic latent impressions, and it is changed by dynamic impressions laid down as a result of continued practice. Until this has been done, sudden conversion in a state of excitement is often followed by a violent reaction. As an indication, it has been said that it takes six weeks of keen application to yoga to make a significant change, three months before the change is apparent to the man himself. In three years there can be a complete and lasting change of the whole roots of the personality.
Thus each stage is first practised deliberately and systematically; as it becomes more and more powerfully represented in the seed-bed, it becomes natural and spontaneous. In the Gita commentary Shankara gives samadhi the highest place in karma yoga, but it has to spread out from the time of meditation to form a background to the whole life. Let a man have a vision of the Lord all the time, he explains, but in so far as he fails to do this, let him practise samadhi on the Lord at fixed times; in so far as he does not attain samadhi even at these favourable times, let him do all his actions for the sake of the Lord, without performing any for his own personal needs; if he cannot do this for all his actions, then he may also perform actions for personal motives, but he must give up attachment to the fruits of them; whether they succeed or fail, he must be independent and self- controlled.
These are the four stages. Shankara remarks that it is not a question of ruling out the higher stages because one is not yet ‘ready’.
They have to be attempted every day. The continuous vision of the Lord has to be attempted each day, and if it is not continuous (as it cannot be at the beginning) then it must be revived at fixed times of meditation, and if samadhi is not attained, by which all his actions will naturally be for the Lord, then he has to imitate that effect by deliberately making them, doing them in dedication; and in so far as he cannot do this with all of them, let him do some personal actions but holding himself independent and self-controlled. Each lower stage is a purposeful and conscious imitation of the effect which will naturally come about in the higher stage. This is a general principle of yoga training, and of other trainings too – a student of a foreign language learns carefully rules of grammar which later will be used naturally without thinking about them.
Each stage is practised by an effort of will, supported by emotional concentration in the form of devotion, and intellectual concentration in the form of rational conviction. As the stage becomes natural, it springs spontaneously from the sanskaras, and is experienced as will-less joy. There is no will in the consciousness of truth; the will is concerned with removing the obstacles to it.
So for a man at the beginning there is a fourfold exercise of the will, which gradually comes down to a single exercise of it, and then a flooding of the instruments by the divine will, with no individual concerns at all. In the end, no individual will is left.
(i) He must try every day to keep up awareness of the Lord in the universal form, as described for example in the eleventh chapter of the Gita, or the verses of the Chapter of the Self:
It is great, a mass of splendour, all-pervading, the Lord.
He who is in all the beings, wise, immortal, firm, without limbs, without sound, without body, without touch, great, pure –
He is all, the highest goal, he is in the centre, he divides, he is the city.
This awareness, or faith, will frequently lapse.
(ii) At fixed times he sits in samadhi practice on it.
(iii) Until he attains samadhi experience, he must also deliberately set himself to direct all his actions to cosmic purposes,
which he knows of at second-hand from traditions like ‘love the neighbour as the Self’. This practice purifies and calms the mind and brings samadhi experience closer in his set meditation periods.
(iv) At the beginning he finds he cannot give up all his personally motivated actions, so he must make some of his actions for the good of others as an offering to the Lord. He will know whether he has done this by his reactions when they are met with ingratitude, or when they fail completely, or are misused. He may keep his struggle for personal status and comforts and personal attachments, but when he acts for these, he must practise independence and worship. He must not be upset when success produces resentment, when failure produces contempt or accusations. He has to try to control the rush of thoughts and feelings, to be able to forget both success and failure, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, not anticipating them eagerly or fearfully before they come, nor looking back after they go.
When he has gained some independence, he is no longer dominated by the pulls of personal wishes, like a marionette on strings.
He now needs to practise only the three steps. All his actions he tries to make meaningful in the spiritual sense, and he is able to shake himself free from reacting to their immediate success or failure. The lowest stage is now natural to him.
He practises samadhi at the fixed times, and also tries to protect what experience he has by returning to it and reviving it during the day.
The actions are now naturally for the good of all, and he no longer has to think about them. His practice is samadhi at fixed times, and trying to preserve it during the day.
When samadhi experience comes at the fixed times, he seeks to keep ‘yukta’ or steady in samadhi, even when perceiving and acting in the world. The consciousness of Self, which at first comes in flashes longer or shorter, he seeks to make continuous. Finally there is a conflagration, whereas the Gita says the Lord reveals himself as the Self. Shankara calls this the rise of Knowledge.
© Trevor Leggett
Note: Verse 14:
Freedom from anger, freedom from thrill, non -irritation, freedom from greed, being without delusion or self-display or spite, truth-speaking, moderate diet, no back-biting, freedom from jealousy, sharing with others, giving up, straightforwardness, gentleness, calm, control, the yoga which has no conflict with any being, nobility, kindness, contentment – these apply to all the stages of life. Practising them in the approved way, one becomes all-pervading.
Note Dohas are:
Anger, thrill, irritation, greed, delusion, self-display, spite, false speech, over-eating, back-biting, jealousy, lust and hate, loss of self-possession, absence of yoga. They are shaken off on the basis of yoga.