14: EIGHT STEPS TO GOD , A LA PATANJALI
Can the Finite reach the Infinite? Yes, if the Finite goes through the discipline of shedding its finiteness. The eight limbs of discipline described in Patanjali’s Yoga sUtras give the systematic streamlined training to the finite mind in the finite body to attempt to reach the Infinite. The process is usually called Meditation. One path to meditation is concentration through japa. Meditation ultimately slips into samAdhi if the conditions are right. In this culmination of meditation there lies the meeting point of Science and spirituality. The result of this culmination is the attitude of an equanimous view of the whole universe which the faculty of reason alone is unable to provide though it is a perfectly reasonable view. The deepest lesson of Spirituality is this art and science of Meditation.. It is in Meditation that one finds the real difference between Science and Spirituality; because the results are experienced individually. You cannot 'show' it to others. But you can make them repeat the experiment for themselves and probably get the same experience. Meditation is the art of reaching the Infinite, living in this finite body.
Meditation is the skill of one-pointed dwelling on an object which may be visual, verbal or mental. The goal, to begin with, is total absorption in the object of meditation. The bye-products of meditation are less tension, more relaxed mind and peace with oneself. The beginning of meditation is concentration. But now the concentration is on the Absolute Transcendental Reality and so even this concentration needs a lot of preparation. Amidst the multiplicity of names and forms and the plurality of events and appearances that we see around us, there is only one Reality, which is the basic Truth, the canvas as it were, on which everything is laid out. The scriptures time and again emphasize that what we sense by our senses is not what is true but what makes the senses sense is the ultimate truth. This Spiritual Light within, this Reality, is the innermost core of all cores of ourselves. This is the Self of all selves -- physical, mental and intellectual. What we know as the body, the senses and the mind is only its outer cover or sheath. It is something more subtle than the most subtle we may imagine. Anything that we may imagine becomes an object of imagination and perception. The subject that perceives, imagines, feels, thinks and experiences is beyond the status of an object. This innermost self of all of us is the subject. This Subject, this Self, is what is present in the past, present or future. Even when the body dies it is present. It takes another body and pursues its evolution.
On the other hand, there is also a Cosmic unity in all that we experience. The most concrete thing that we see is the Earth and all the objects associated with it. The five elemental fundamentals of Hindu Philosophy, namely, Earth (which is the grossest), Water, Fire, Air, Space (which is the most subtle) have a certain hierarchy in terms of evolution and devolution. The process of evolution goes from the most subtle to the most gross, viz., from Space to Air to Fire to Water to Earth. The process of devolution is the reverse. Looked at from another point of view the more subtle is the base or support for the more gross substance. Thus Space, the most subtle of all the things we sense by our sensory organs is the substratum of all the other Elements. But, say the scriptures, there is something more subtle and more basic than Space and that is the Cosmic Intelligence, the Cosmic consciousness, the macro-cosmic Reality. The Upanishads go one step further and declare that this macro-cosmic Reality is the same as the micro-cosmic Reality one arrives at by deeply looking within oneself. The same Godhead is immanent as the micro-cosmic Reality and transcendent as the macro-cosmic Reality. This they say, is the Realization that sets in, with the Grace of a Guru, if one can do the meditation as prescribed.
In order to see, visualize, realize, the Absolute as the Self within us, and have a glimpse of His three-fold Glory as Transcendence, Immanence and Perfection, we have to first cease to be our selves. This is the most difficult part of the process. This is what makes the art of meditation so mysterious and the science of meditation so logical. And all this has to happen through the medium of the mind. When we are in the dreaming state, buddhi, the intellect, the discriminating part of the mind, goes to sleep and so there is no discrimination. The mind draws its sources from its own memory indiscriminately and presents to us all sorts of funny situations and happenings, without any coordinates of time and space. When we are in the deep sleep state, even this part of the mind goes to sleep. So we don't think during sleep, but the ego part of the mind, namely the ego-sense, which being present before, during and after sleep, maintains continuity of the person's individuality from our pre-sleep condition to our post-sleep condition. But the main function of this ego in one's mind is to identify itself with all the thought waves that arise in the mind. This identification is the prime cause of all our ignorance and all our miseries. Every time a thought wave arises, the ego-sense comes in the forefront and claims that thought wave. One of the early purposes of meditation is to teach the ego-sense not to identify itself with the thought wave that arises in the mind but to make the mind external to it, 'something that you can observe,' according to the Mother, 'as you observe things occurring in the street'. In other words, the thoughts of the mind should be discarded as not pertaining to the Self. The ego-sense itself should become subordinate to the presence of the Self. The thought of the Self should be dominant. When a meditating individual stands thus in himself, as a witness to the dances of the ego-mind, he will notice how the drunken revelry of the mind slowly quietens. To obtain this quietude of the mind is not such an easy affair. So they prescribe methods of meditation through various stages. The path described below is only one of the many that are possible.
The first stage is japa, counted recitation or repeated vocalisation of a mantra or a syllable. It is by japa man expresses his remorse to God for all his sins. The syllable ja stands for janma (= birth) and the syllable pa stands for pApa (= sin). The word japa has been interpreted to mean therefore the means by which one eradicates all his sins and avoids further birth. This is the reason for the supreme pedestal in which japa is placed in Hinduism. Whether we believe in this theory of japa or not, such a repetition first of all prevents the mind from its vagaries of thinking endlessly about disconnected ideas, concepts, things, events, the words and actions of others, physical sensations of discomfort, pain, ease, taste of physical or mental happiness, or excitement. Secondly it trains the mind to focus attention on one object. This is something more than concentration. Concentration means the mind is occupied with only one topic or activity. Be it a mathematical problem, be it playing chess, be it car driving, be it a domestic financial crisis, be it awaiting the service of the opponent in Tennis, be it talking on the phone, be it a performance of surgery -- the person concentrates totally on what work there is on hand. But the work itself consists of a series of steps, of logic and logistics, of cause and effect, of action and reaction. Concentration is not meditation. Nor is it japa. The latter is ceaseless repetition of one verbal expression and a consequent concentration on the meaning or significance of the same. Whatever the mantra used japa should not be a mindless repetition, though that is how it is traditionally recommended to be begun. The japa with or without counting of the number of repetitions is a prerequisite to meditation, because it has been found by experience to be the best way to warm up the mental framework for it to be ready to plunge into the exercise of meditation.
But the japa is only a beginning stage in the actual process of meditation. The very way of life lived by a seeker through meditation has to conform to certain norms, without which no meditation would be successful. The special treatise on this subject entitled Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra containing 196 Yoga aphorisms has systematic but condensed, almost cryptic, descriptions of this way of life. It has a streamlined way of taking care of all the four planes through which man has to rise step by step: the physical and material plane, the emotional and mental plane, the rational and intellectual plane, and the mystic and spiritual plane. It calls this whole process Ashtaanga Yoga, i.e., the eight-limbed Yoga. The 'limbs' that make this eight-fold Yoga are:
Moral Controls (= yama) These are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-acquisitiveness. This automatically implies that the standard evils like causing injury, falsehood, theft, fraud, incontinence and greed have to be avoided. These apply universally to all, irrespective of birth, place, time, occasion, character-type to which one belongs, and station in life in which one is located at the moment.
Regulatory Spiritual Observance (= niyama) like leading a life with spiritually regulated discipline. It includes, cleanliness of body and neatness of surroundings ; contentment or the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have; the removal of impurities in our physical and mental systems through the maintenance of correct habits of sleep, exercise, nutrition, work and relaxation; study and the necessity to evaluate our progress ourselves; reverence to a higher Intelligence and the acceptance of our limitations in relation to the Omniscient God. Devotion to a personal God, ISvara, is all that we can know of the Absolute Reality. It is the highest that we can reach up to, until we can transcend our inborn Ignorance.
Posture ( = Asana) that is, being seated in a position which is firm but relaxed. The physical body should be put in its place and made to cooperate with the act of meditation. It should not cause the least disturbance. The purpose is to be alert without tension and to be relaxed without being dull. This should be the objective of the seating posture in the beginning stages when the main aim is to steer clear of all distractions.
Breath Control (= prANAyAma). Actual breath control is only one of the manifestations of the regulation of prANa, the vital force, which has specific functions to perform in the different organs of the body. But this regulation (which is neither easy, nor cheap, nor trivial) has to be learnt under the supervision of a competent teacher. What one can begin with, however, is to practice deep breathing., breathing alternately through the two nostrils and holding the breath for not more than a few seconds as will give one time to repeat mentally the short mantra or name with which the japa started. This can be done without any great supervision of the teacher. Any further attempt to retain the breath for a longer time than a few seconds has to be done in the presence of a teacher and with his guidance. The art of breath control is not an art beyond this point It is a physical-cum-spiritual science, in fact a technology, using the equipment called the body.
Withdrawal of the mind from the sense-objects (= pratyAhAra). While Posture and Breath Control take care of the disturbances from within the physical and mental body, this controls the disturbances from external sources. However this requires a major effort. It can be achieved only by constant practice and a gradual weaning away of the mind from its likes and dislikes, in a psychological sense.
Concentration ( = dhAraNa). This is the preparation for the actual act of meditation. It needs tons of will power and faith. Compared to the first five components of Yoga, the next three, starting from this dhAraNA are more complicated. The development has to be gradual. The level of effort needed varies from individual to individual varying according to the store of vAsanAs which make the man. Concentration is the ability to direct the mind and contain it. It is the direction towards a chosen object in spite of the availability or presence of several others. Once the direction is fixed a link develops between the mind and the chosen object. And then the mental activities are only in relation to that object. The chosen object could be as tangible as an idol or a picture or a divine form; or it could be conceptual -- it could be a name or a mantra. Concentration on a mantra begins with the japa of the mantra. As the process of the japa intensifies, slowly even the vocalization of the mantra will stop and there is only a mental cognition of the words of the mantra without any lip movement. Even the slightest movement of the tongue has to stop. The process may now be called a silent japa. This silent japa is spiritually several times more powerful than a japa which vocalizes the mantra by actual lip movements and utterances of the words. Thus what started apparently as a thoughtless and mindless occupation of repeating magic syllables now becomes a genuine appeal of the heart, sinks down into the inward life, and transforms into a delight natural to the soul. It is when the silent japa thoroughly brings a balance in the entire system that the process of meditation starts. The one-pointedness now has to be either towards the words of the short mantra, or the visual picture that the mantra presents or is associated with, or the mental idea that the mantra symbolizes. It is now confirmed by the fact that you can now relax, detach yourself from your mind and watch it, from a distance, as it were. In fact one uses the mind to observe (or listen to ?) the peaceful silence within. If this one-pointedness lasts for a duration of at least twelve seconds, it is technically called dhAraNA. The Lord Himself tells us that there is no shortcut to do this except to keep trying. Every time the mind wavers from its concentration, - it will, because it is fickle and unstable -- one has to draw it back to the object of concentration, says the Lord :
yato yato niScarati manaz-cancalam asthiram
tatas-tato niyamyaitat Atmanyeva vaSam nayet // (Gita - VI -26)
Instead of concentration through japa one could have started with concentration through visualization of an image or form in the mental eye. A figure of the Cross, a picture of a God or a photograph of a Guru -- anything would do, provided there is an association of elevating thoughts and ennobling ideas. What matters is not the time-duration but the intensity, sincerity and consistency that one can bring to bear on the whole process. To measure the success or failure at each stage of the process would be an expression of loss of faith. Concentration on subtle objects like the psychic centers within the body may be tried only after concentration on gross objects have been perfected.
Meditation (= dhyAna). We now come to the real crux of the process, namely, dhyAna, the seventh limb of ashTAnga-Yoga. It is the art of maintaining perfect continuity between successive thought waves so that there is no gap or interval and so that there is throughout only one identical thought, no more a wave which rises and falls. 'When similar thought waves arise in succession without any gaps between them, that is when the mind becomes one-pointed' says Patanjali's sutra III - 12.
tatah punah shAntoditau tulya-pratyayau cittasyaikAgratA-pariNAmah
All the minor thought waves are now swallowed by one great 'flat' wave of concentration on one object and no other. The meditator keeps his attention on the knower and watches the thought waves arising and subsiding in the mind. He becomes aware that between any two thoughts there is a gap. In this gap, the triad of the knower, known and knowledge (jnAtA, jneyam, jnAnam) disappear and there is only the knower. This is pure Oneness, where no division between subject and the absence of object or between any two of knower, knowledge and known remains. The truth is realized that the knower alone exists. When the object and the power of knowing reappear, it is the knower which releases them out of itself and then enjoys its own creation. In the gap between thoughts there is only the knower. The 'flat wave of concentration' without any gaps is this state of Oneness of the knower in whom the other two parts of the triad have merged. It is then we need a total involvement of the heart and a self-abnegating cooperation of the mind. If a movie camera shoots a continuous piece without moving the camera and without the object moving even a bit, the projection of this film will look like a still photograph with all the identical images fused into one. The science of training the mind and the heart to do this is meditation. All this may seem to be an uphill task; but when one enters the spiritual field in this way and courageously makes honest efforts to seek fulfillment, a great Divine Power comes to help the seeker at every turn. This is the experience of all seekers including this writer. We should therefore listen to the great sages when they say: One should never retreat from the battle; even a mountain can be reduced to powder by repeatedly blasting it. Whether or not one goes up to the next stage of samAdhi, once the habit of meditation is firmly established, one will cruise steadily through many a storm in one's own daily life, succumbing neither to despondency when the path seems hard, nor to over-elation when it seems easy. It appears what is needed is a spiritual balance to blend the outer and inner life in one harmonious whole. To do this we should see to it that our whole day is not spent in worldly pursuits but neither should it be, according to the experts, given over entirely to meditation.
Total Absorption or Trance (= samAdhi). This is the state of super-sensuous perception of Truth without any distortion by the mind of the perceiver. Meditation, it is said, slips into this state, if conditions are right. This is an inner spiritual experience. Let us listen to a description of it from one who belongs to the school of exponents that talk from their own personal experience. Here is Swami Nikhilananda speaking about this state in his book on Hinduism:
samAdhi is a super-conscious state of mind, in which ego is completely transcended. After experiencing it a man becomes a saint or a prophet. It is a higher state of mind, beyond both instinct and reason. In the realm of instinct, there is no I-consciousness, as for instance, in animals, and very few mistakes are made; but the area of instinct is extremely limited. Reason functions in a wider area and is accompanied by I-consciousness. But one does not obtain certainty through reason. Furthermore, working through the data furnished by the senses, reason is incompetent to deal with the supra-mental experiences of God, the soul, and Immortality. There is a vast area outside reason, which is the realm of super-consciousness and which can be known only by a faculty higher than reason, called intuition, inspiration, or direct and immediate perception. Through proper disciplines instinct can be transformed into reason and reason into intuition or direct perception. All profound religious experiences are related to the area of the super-conscious: it is from this that the seers and mystics draw their knowledge. ..... A spiritual experience, like ordinary wealth, can be enjoyed to a greater degree when it has been earned by a man's own effort than when it is thrust upon him. The source of all spiritual experiences is beyond reason; reason takes a seeker of supra-mental truths as far as it can and then bows himself out. But although super-conscious experiences are not directly obtained through reason, they must not conflict with reason. And again when these supra-mental truths are presented to the world, the presentation must be couched in rational terms.
Real knowledge begins with the perception of Oneness in your bones; this is the effect of the samAdhi state. We are told by the great seers that once we experience the state of samAdhi, thereafter the perception of oneness will be more natural to us. Oneness - One matter, One life, One mind, One soul, playing in many forms. The declaration by the Vedas of this oneness is only an indirect knowledge (paroksha-jnAna) for us. The indirect knowledge becomes a direct (=aparoksha) knowledge only when there is direct experience. It is the experience of seeing the right thing, that is, brahman, behind the negated universe and the negated individuality of the Atman. This brahma-bhAva, being in brahman, automatically implies an equanimous view of every being in the world as the same self as the one that dwells in the seer. This balanced view of everything as One, everything as the Self, is a blissful experience, called brahma-Ananda. This was the continuous experience of a Ramana Maharshi, a Sadasiva brahmam, a Ramakrishna and sages of that kind. It is naturally a state to be experienced internally, not by any external apparatus. We know that in their cases, even after they came out of the samAdhi, they had an attitude of equanimity in their world perception. The following delightful explanation of this equanimity is found in a most unexpected context, namely in the description of the qualities of proper ‘leadership’ for Managers in the book, Reawakening the Spirit in Work, by Jack Hawley (p.175). Referring to it as one of the most important spiritual discipline, ‘carrying a great cosmic secret’ he says:
Self-possession is the root of it - knowing and being in control of self and senses, being composed and calm. It is a depth of composure that is foreign to most Western thought. The Sanskrit phrase sama-dama-sukha (roughly, same-minded, suffering, and happiness) helps define it. It alludes to an unaffectedness, a steadiness in the face of any circumstance whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is a super-fortitude, an equal mindedness so unfaltering that it results in feelings of deep happiness. The great secret in this is that at some ultimate level there is really neither good nor bad. It is a matter of how we react – and our reactions depend on our steadiness of mind. We create the opposite of a vicious circle: a victorious circle.
Why is equanimity is so important for leaders? It is the qualities of poise, perspective, peace of mind, and patience that come with it. These are not just nice traits, they are the basic components of happiness. This after all, is It. This is the peace so sought by every one ; this is the ultimate aim of it all.
 tatah punah zAntoditau tulya-pratyayau cittasyaikAgratA-pariNAmah