The samādhi of karma-yoga is a method of tranquillizing the whole mental process, purifying the deep layers of the mind where the latent dynamic impressions lie, and focussing the stilled and purified mental energy on divine manifestations. Finally the higher mind is able to focus on the cosmic intelligence, the source of all manifestations. When such a mind comes to rest, time and space and body-consciousness forgotten, without even the thought I am meditating’, the subject of meditation blazes forth in its own true nature: that is called samādhi.
The samādhi of the Gītā is not imagining as existent what does not exist. In the world, meditations can be used as auto-suggestions which can be helpful though not literally true. For instance, Japanese wrestlers, whose art consists mainly in pushing the opponent out of the ring, meditate: ‘I am a great wave.’ A champion attributed his success to practising this meditation, sometimes all night. He said that, in contest, he used to feel a mighty wave surging through him. In fact, the successful pushing action in these contests is a sort of wave movement.
On the other hand, Śaṅkara points out how, in ancient India, the central post in a ritual ceremony was meditated on as the sun. The splendour of the sun was felt to be in the post, and the ritualist was exalted. Still, he remained aware that the post is not actually the sun. Śaṅkara explains that in such cases the things continue to be known in the same way, and it is not supposed that there is a change of the substance. But he says repeatedly that the rituals do bring worldly success to those who perform them with full conviction.
In yoga, samādhi meditation is not directed at success in this or another world; such successes are illusory and create bonds. Nor is it any kind of exalting poetic simile. It can be compared to using a telescope to focus on something in a distant scene, not visible to the naked eye. The instrument is directed roughly in the right direction, and now the anticipated appearance of the sought object is vividly imagined. This is, it is true, an imaginary picture, but it is not wholly imaginary When something like it is dimly glimpsed, the telescope is held quite still, and focussed on it. Gradually the outline becomes clearer, and then the detail. It is not quite like what was imagined; but it is close enough to be recognized. Now it has become direct perception, not imagination. Similarly the mind has to be held steady in meditation, and then focussed on some aspect of the Lord. That aspect is first imagined from the classical descriptions given by those who have recorded their own experiments, but later directly perceived.
The first step, then, is tranquillization. It is first practised in a quiet place. Later, it has to be practised not only in retirement but in action, and when meeting the impact of the opposites. No one could call himself a swimmer who could swim only in perfectly still water, though certainly to break a world record, the water does have to be calm.
Some theory is necessary, but the main thing is practice. Without that, theories are sterile and disappointing.
II.52 When your mind crosses the tangle of delusion
You will get sick of all you have heard and all that they still want to tell you.
53 When your mind, turning from words, stands motionless, immovable in samādhi concentration,
Then you will have attained yoga.
Samādhi practice, namely meditation in a secluded place, is the third element of karma-yoga. Later it will be compared to a candle burning steadily in a windless enclosure, and (by Śaṅkara) to a stream of oil smoothly pouring from a jar. In both the cases there is in fact movement: the flame is consuming the wax, the oil is passing down. But the successive states are so similar that it makes sense to say for instance that the flame does not move. Meditation aims first to make the successive states of the mind so similar that it does not appear to move.
The efforts in meditation towards samādhi can be explained in terms of waves, though as always the analogy must not be pressed too far. The first diagram represents a mixture of light waves of various wavelengths. Ordinary daylight is such a mixture.
The next diagram shows waves all of the same wavelength. They would be seen as a pure colour, such as red.
In the last diagram, the waves are not only all of exactly the same wavelength: they are ‘coherent’. This is laser light, which can burn a hole in a steel plate in a few minutes.
For some time, the mind in meditation is a mixture of thoughts; it is, so to say, mostly ordinary daylight. But by practice, a certain stream of thought is encouraged and finally becomes dominant. This can be done only by persisting with the same meditation, with interest and expectancy (not anxiety), for at least six weeks. When the thoughts are all on the same line, it is meditation. The successive thoughts are now similar. If this is continued, on the same object, thoughts become not merely similar but the same. They come to one point, and the mind is felt to stop on that point. This is samādhi. The awareness ‘I am meditating on this’ is thinned away, and the object alone remains, in a radiance. Up to this point, the meditation has had to be constantly supported; it was an idea in the mind. Now the object stands in its own strength; it is an experience of direct perception.
Such an experience, however, is not necessarily a clear revelation of truth; it is usually mixed up with latent impressions of words and ideas from the depths of the mind. These distort it. But if the process is repeated daily, they begin to drop away, and the divine energy and light are realized as pouring through, and upholding, what has been meditated on.
As meditation progresses, there is an increasing awareness of space: it is called, in the ancient Upanisads, ‘the space within the heart’. The object may be seen shining in a vast space. It does not do to give many descriptions. The mind may build them into some detailed expectation, and then use that individual mental construct as a touchstone. The genuine experience, on the other hand, when it comes, is always a surprise: the meditator for the first time really understands what the ancient texts refer to. They appear in a new light, and confirm what has happened.
There are later confirmations of knowledge and power, in what is loosely called inspiration. In the scientific field we can look at Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity (in darkness, when he was looking for X-rays produced by fluorescent light), or Rutherford’s crucial experiment in 1911 which gave the clue to atomic structure. We find that the decisive action was taken contrary to the whole logic of the situation. It was not chance: the discoveries resulted from their own illogical actions. They were impelled, almost like marionettes, to seemingly quite irrational behaviour. The result in each case was amazing. Rutherford emphasizes this in his account. He led a dedicated life, exceptionally free from worldly considerations, he despised money His genius inspired two generations of physicists. He was a yogin of science, and used to say that he felt a unity with the newly discovered alpha-particles: ‘I feel I know what they are going to do.’ He humorously criticized some later ideas of Becquerel in the field, fallible as all individually produced ideas must be.
Inspiration comes as a result of prolonged concentration; the divine breath is attracted, and then struggles to express itself through the limited channel of the individual mind. It thus varies in quality of expression, depending on the clarity and purity of the receiving channel. Children may hear a lecture on cosmology, or hear a Beethoven sonata: how much they get from it depends on how far their minds have developed in the fields of physics or music.
Relations revealed by physics are only a tiny part of the divine manifestation. In the ultimate analysis, they are illusory. Scientists are no more fulfilled than others: artists may be better off, since their earlier work is not necessarily replaced by later. Shakespeare is still read by millions, but not Newton. The yogin has to penetrate much deeper than a scientist or an artist.
Chapters VII–X of the Gita give subjects for meditation by karma-yogins. Śaṅkara stresses at the beginning of VII that it is not a question of building emotional faith and stopping there. It must lead to direct vision in samādhi, vision which pierces the veils of differences. It is true that if anything at all is meditated on steadily for a long time, the divine will shine from it. But the seen world is like a great desert, under which there is known to be water; some places are easier to dig, and some are rocky and refractory So the Gītā recommends certain classes of things as most suitable for practice.
One is the essential characteristics of a thing, for instance, the heat and brilliance of fire. In the human sphere, the Lord is austerity in the ascetics, intelligence in the intelligent, heroism of the heroes.
When a man sees such things in others, or finds a trace of them in himself, he meditates: ‘This is not an individual possession: it is from the Lord.’ After some time, the roots of the mind begin to change.
He becomes free from jealousy at seeing these things in others, and free from arrogance when they manifest in himself. And that is a great relief: some have said it is like getting out of a room in which there is a snake concealed somewhere.
Another type of meditation is on the Lord as the highest manifestation in some class. ‘Of mountains, I am Himālaya … of animals the lion… of words, I am the sacred syllable OM.’ There are many examples from Indian traditional history: I am Rāma of warriors,… of rivers, the Ganges’, and other such which mean little to the West. The scope becomes wider: T am the origin of all beings … Of the feminine I am Fame, Fortune, Speech, Memory, Understanding, Constancy, Patience.’ All these words are feminine in Sanskrit grammar, but Śaṅkara points out that prosperity has always been symbolized as a goddess, and that the virtues given are characteristic of women at their best.
The list has been mainly of what is regarded by human beings as favourable, but it begins to include what they feel as darker: ‘Of the trickster, I am the dice’, loaded, we may assume. ‘I am all-seizing death.’ Then again, previously it had been said: ‘I am the desire that is not opposed to righteousness’, but now comes also, ‘I am desire.’ This meditation does not mean that wrong desires should be yielded to; they are to be opposed by the yogin. As he stands, they are his enemies, and so the Gītā has termed them in III.37–3. But through this meditation, he takes one more step, and sees them not as enemies but as opponents. They are like fellow wrestlers in the training hall, against whom he struggles with all his skill and endurance, but without hating or fearing them. They have been selected and pitted against him by the Trainer. In combat with them, he builds up good physique, balance and speed, strength of will and general health. This example was sometimes given by Dr Shastri; wrestling is a national sport in India, and one of his fellow disciples was a champion amateur wrestler.
The final meditation of the karma-yogin is the universal form of the Lord partially described in Chapter XI.
Here is a short account of samadhi experience by Dr Shastri’s own teacher, in his book The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching. It is given in a context of yoga practice of self-control and devotion to the Lord:’
If you meditate daily in this way for eighteen months and every now and then devote a week or two entirely to it, you will, in your meditation, lose consciousness of both the world and yourself and experience only the object of meditation. You will see an extraordinary light resembling the colour of a lotus, in its intensified form, in your heart and all mental limitations will disappear. This state is called samadhi.
Again, he says of meditation:
The feeling that I am not the body is the primary condition of the Yoga, and the complete relinquishment of body-consciousness marks the attainment of samādhi.
While you have consciousness of time and space you will not see Ātman.
The state passes. But by repeating it, the dynamic seed-impressions forming the basis of the mind are purified, and become partially transparent. Then the vision of the Lord is still seen, as if through a thin veil, during ordinary active life. The Gītā calls this state also, by extension, samādhi. But it generally uses the word as defined in the passage above. In the pure samādhi, the veil of body-consciousness is not merely thinned, but completely withdrawn. Dr Shastri quoted St Paul of 2 Corinthians 3:18: ‘But we with face unveiled behold as in a mirror the Lord, and are changed into the same image, from glory to glory reflecting.’