by Swami Krishnananda
The subject of meditation which I wish to touch upon today is so profound and so comprehensive that there is no aspect of life which can be excluded from its purview. It is the attention the human individual places in any particular walk of life that goes by the name ‘concentration’, and in technical parlance the word ‘meditation’ is nothing but a deepening and an intensification of concentration.
We know very well that no success in any field of life is possible for a person who lacks some amount of power of concentration. A fickle mind will yield no substantial result. Even the members of the lowest strata of society, even those who are not professionals in any field, exhibit a power to concentrate when called upon because of the intense interest which they evince in regard to any particular thing in their personal lives, and in fields where interest is lacking, concentration is absent completely.
In the spiritual sense it is a profounder term and more difficult to conceive. It is not merely attention, but something more than what we understand by this word. The difficulty in understanding this profound subject is merely because of the absence of a deep knowledge of psychology. Meditation is a purely practical affair, and it is removed from the theories and the sciences that we study in institutions. The more practical it becomes, the more difficult we find life is, because we tackle the realities. When we are studying we are only concerned with facts, accumulating information and merely understanding the structure of things, but in practice we grapple with reality and it is not merely an understanding of the structure or makeup. It is coming face to face with a profound existence of which we have very little knowledge up to this time. And now we realise it is as real as ourselves, and perhaps more.
Generally, we view life in a haphazard manner and have a very poor knowledge of it in spite of our education and our status in society. Our knowledge of the world is meagre because we have a very poor understanding of the very structure of the world itself. Either we are not interested in certain aspects of the world, or we have not time enough to devote for understanding of the nature of the world, or we are taught the world is something which it really is not. To some extent, our professors and teachers in school, and our parents and associates with whom we live, are responsible for this meagre information which we are provided about life.
Whatever the reason, it is impossible to engage oneself in any activity that has a living contact with life, unless we have knowledge and understanding of it to the core. There is no use merely taking a thing on the surface when we are required to deal with the core. A hardhearted attitude towards a subject leads to failure, either in the beginning or in the end. Moreover, as spiritual seekers – I am addressing you all as spiritual seekers and not as the general public, because the subject today is concerned with spiritual seekers and not with the public in general – as spiritual seekers, you will be able to appreciate that the act of spiritual meditation is an attempt on the part of the soul to establish a living contact with God, your Maker, and to the extent you have understood the nature of God, you will succeed in the practice of meditation. It is no use complaining that you have sat for hours and there is no success. Why is there no success? It is a simple question with a simple answer, and you are the best person to answer this question. It is due to of several factors. Maybe the circumstances in which you are placed are not conducive or, more importantly, your understanding of the technique is shallow.
Wherein lies the shallowness of our understanding, and what is the defect that we fail in life? Why are we sufferers more than enjoyers of God's bounty? It is because of a lack of proper education of the inner man. The human individual is not the outer incrustation that we see with the physical eyes. It is something deeper. Mr. so-and-so is not the individual, because the person or the personalities with which we generally identify ourselves is an association of certain social characteristics which we connect with our real being.
Why are we profoundly ignorant of what we really are? We have always a very false notion of ourselves. We always identify ourselves with the office that we hold, our education, wealth, prestige, and so on. Unfortunately, these are not our personalities; they are far removed from what we are. But we can think of nothing except these because we think we are only these associations, these characteristics. If we are asked to describe ourselves, we will mention only these things. “I am the son of so-and-so; I hold such and such an office,” etc. This is the description we hold of ourselves. This is not our personality, and if our understanding of our personality is this much, then naturally we can imagine what contact we can establish with God. When we have such poor knowledge of even ourselves who we see daily, what knowledge will we have of things we have not seen? And if our knowledge of unseen things is so meagre, our success in the spiritual field will be equally meagre.
To be successful in the spiritual field, we must have an orientation. And as we are inheritors of a great culture – the vast heritage of the Rishis, the Vedas and Upanishads – the difficulty should not be much. We have been brought up in religious families that have taught us that there is a God and it is our duty to know Him, to associate ourselves in His activities as a Cosmic Lila, and not to forget Him. In India, this is what our parents teach us. Parents teach these simple truths to their children. But, as we advance, we have to do more and more research in the field, just as when a student moves from high school to college he is expected to do more research in the field in which he was a novitiate in the beginning, and he will begin to discover truths which were hazy to his mind earlier.
This applies to the spiritual field also. First of all, it is essential that we remember our life is not a mere joke, but a series of facts. Most of us fritter away our energies, imagining life is to be lived somehow or other. This is not the correct appreciation of life or the true understanding of life. Life has to be lived in a particular manner, and not in any manner we like, because it is governed by certain rules which are meant to restrict our activities and make them come in consonance with internal laws which were made even prior to our being born into this world. There are laws of the government, of society, of community, of family, etc., which are all framed so there may be a restriction on the egoism of man and he may not overstep his boundaries. He may be in a position to participate in the activities of others, and thus become a citizen in the true sense of the term. If we live for ourselves, we are not citizens. In other words, we participate in the activity of the environment to which we belong. The environment in which we are born is the environment of creation itself, and we should not forget this point.
In our attempt to sit for contemplation on God, we immediately enter into a fabric which is far wider than the one which we appear to be entangled in, and the more we probe into it, the more we discover that it is wider than we can comprehend. Suppose we enter the ocean. First it is knee deep, then it is waist deep, then it is neck deep, and then, finally, we find it is deep enough to swallow us completely. When we enter maya, first it appears soft; but then we find that it is impossible for us to extricate ourselves from it because it is so deep that we cannot know how deep it is. Life is like that. We may compare it to maya or to an ocean. When we enter into it, we find we are in a realm which is very deep and very wide.
In the spiritual activity of the soul it is especially important to take into consideration the factors which come into play when we engage ourselves in this spiritual activity. Most of you, if not all, are rigorous practitioners of spiritual sadhana, and each one of you must have taken away some positive experiences, some negative experiences at various times, and these difficulties must have been of a queer nature to you, so queer that you have not been able to understand the causes. Some of you must have gone to a superior, to a Guru or to books, and, to some extent, you have found the solution. You have had a hint, but not much. Because your being is very deep, you have to draw deep from the source in order that you may derive enough strength to sustain the shocks in your practice that may be given to you by the world.
The practice of meditation is difficult, and the difficulty is explained by the simple fact that – as I began by saying – we are tackling the world as a whole. We are confronting creation, and are face to face with an unknown complexity. Suppose we are faced with a problem we have never envisaged, the pros and cons of which we have never thought about. We will be frightened, and it is in this fright that we give up spiritual sadhana. We are faced with something which we are not able to understand even now. When something unknown is presented to us, we are frightened.
There is a story that in ancient days, during the rule of the kings of Vijayanagar, a very learned pundit came to the court and summoned all the existing pundits regarding a controversy about the eight Shastras. In those days the Shastras were such a terrible affair that people shunned away from any discussion in case they were defeated, and the pundits were not prepared to meet him. The king, in his greatness and pride, ordered that every one of his pundits be ready to meet this newcomer; otherwise, he would banish them all.
The pundits were frightened, and they went to the court poet, called Tenali Ramakrishna, and told him, “We are in a very serious predicament. Our life is in danger. Some new pundit has come, and the king has ordered us to face him in a controversy. We are not ready to meet this man.”
Ramakrishna said, “Don't come to the court tomorrow. I will take care of it.”
He took two pieces of wood, wrapped them in a piece of silk, and carried them under his arm to the Court.
The king asked, “Where are the pundits?”
Ramakrishna replied, “I am here to represent the pundits.”
When the learned pundit came, Ramakrishna put the package in front of him and slowly began to untie the rope.
He said, “My dear gentleman, today I am going to a pose question to you on this new book.”
The pundit said, “What is the name of this book?”
Ramakrishna replied, “It is called Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam.”
The pundit had never heard of this book, and thought it would be dangerous to enter into a discussion about a book he had never heard of. He said, “I think I will brush up on my knowledge of this book. We will sit for discussion tomorrow.” That night he fled from the palace because he knew no such book.
When the pundit did not turn up the next morning, the king asked, “Where is he?”
Ramakrishna said, “I have met this man in argument, and he could not answer. I said the name of the book is Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam. It is only a rope that is used for tying buffalos, but it was so frightening that the pundit ran away.”
We do the same thing in our spiritual practice. An ordinary piece of wood was enough to frighten him because the name was difficult to understand. We are faced with certain psychological situations, and it is enough to frighten us. We imagine them to be difficult. If the pundit had known that the name of the book referred to its insubstantial contents, he would not have been frightened. In the same way, if we begin to know the stuff of the situation we would not be frightened; but we are frightened because of our lack of understanding. What is the reason for our lack of understanding? It is the misconception we have of the world.
To concentrate on either an internal or external point is dharana. Now, we generally take this point to be an isolated bit and begin to concentrate on it. The mind is made of various textures, something like a fabric, and when we change part of it, we begin to change every other part of it. Our mind, which is the subject of meditation, is not the part we visualise in our day-to-day living, but something deeper. There are many layers of our mind, and when we touch any layer of it, the other parts also feel the touch and begin to vibrate. When we see an iceberg in the ocean, only a little is visible and the main part is buried in the bottom.
Similarly, the vast reservoir of our mind, which is unknown, is at the bottom. We walk on the surface of our mind, and we begin to assume that our personality is this shallow surface that we see. We think that our activities and relations in society are confined to this shallow mind, not knowing that the mind is deeper. We cannot come face to face with a person merely by touching the surface of ourselves and the other person, because when we begin to merely float on the surface, our relationship becomes temporary and artificial. That is why friendships do not last. Similarly, enmity does not last. Our relations with people are on the basis of the surface mind. We look to our surface and look to the surface of the other, and establish the contact. It is like a wave in the ocean trying to establish contact with other waves, not knowing that the waves may subside any time. Our mind changes its colours all the time, like a chameleon, and if we establish contact believing in the surface hue, we will be deceived because it will sink any moment, like the waves in the ocean. Huge waves appear in the ocean, and mariners sometimes mistake the back of these waves for a small island and try to land on it. They mistake the wave for an island. The surface of the mind is also like this shell, the outer back of the wave which may sink into the bottom any moment and we will be nowhere in the world. That is why teachers say, “Don't trust your mind.” They mean: “Don't trust the outer circumstances with which the surface mind is associated, and don't start your meditation believing in this surface mind.”