GEMS FROM THE OCEAN OF HINDU THOUGHT VISION AND PRACTICE
BEACH 11: LIVE HAPPILY, THE
WAVE 3: SENSE-CONTROL or YOGA-SADHANA
The internal face of Yoga-SadhanA is Dhyanam (Meditation). Meditation should not be confused with either Concentration or Contemplation. They are not all the same.
We play chess. We read a book. We play tennis. We work out a mathematics problem. We listen attentively to somebody’s speech. We cook in the kitchen. We write an examination. We talk on the phone. All this needs concentration. We do concentrate while we are at each one of these activities. And while we concentrate we do channelise our mind in the direction of the task on hand. But none of these things can be called ‘Meditation’. Because, though we do throw away all extraneous distractions while we are in the midst of each one of these actions, we still keep our minds alert to multifarious things which are connected with our action or involvement, and we allow our mind to keep thinking and processing several preliminary steps or follow-up steps pertaining to our action and we act accordingly. The mind deliberately invites itself to handle several things, though all of them are connected to that single piece of activity in which we are concentrating.
Contemplation also is not meditation. Contemplation is like putting together pieces of a puzzle. The pieces are many; though the puzzle is one, our mind simultaneously looks at the multifarious ways in which the pieces can be put together and it analyses all of it at the same time.
Meditation on the other hand is the capability of pointing our mind in one direction, on one object. That object may just be a word or several words constituting a mantra; that object may be visual; or it can even be totally an imagined one. The objective of meditation is to be totally absorbed in that one object. Concentration and Contemplation are certainly the prior preparation of the mind for meditation. But what makes it meditation is the keeping of the mind steady (for a time) on one object, in one direction, at one point.
The dhyAna-yoga that Gita teaches is based upon the principles of Vedanta. The three fundamental principles by which Hindu religion recognises its Ultimate are: Transcendence, Immanence and Perfection. ‘T’ for Transcendence, ‘I’ for Immanence and ‘P’ for Perfection. This is only the ‘TIP’ of the Iceberg, that is God. Transcendence is another way of saying that it is all ‘Existence’, therefore ‘sat’; Immanence is another way of saying that it is all ‘Consciousness’, that is ‘cit’; and Perfection is another way of saying that it is all Bliss, that is ‘Ananda’. It is thus the ‘sat-cid-Anandam’. This Transcendent Ultimate Reality, which when talked about in concrete terms is perfect in every sense of the word, is also immanent in the core of our cores and therefore in all living beings. But it is not visible to us or perceptible to our senses. The only way we can realise its presence is by Meditation.
Gita tells you to meditate on that unique light of all lights (“jyotishhAm api taj-jyotiH”), that transcends the three gunas (“nirguNaM, nistraiguNyaH, guNAn-etAnatItya trIn”), that does not go through any change (“avikAryaH”) and which exists always (“nityaH”) and is everywhere (“sarva-gataH”). That entity is called Atman. To make this the object of our meditation is most difficult because we have to cease to think of ourselves as either the body, or the mind or the intellect or any combination of them. We have to 'cease' to be what we think we are, in order to 'seize' the Light of all lights. The cessation of thinking ourselves as the body, mind, intellect, is nothing but the cessation of our ego. And Ego, as we all know, is the most difficult enemy to vanquish.
The difficulty is further enhanced because while the purpose is the stilling of the mind, the instrument used is the mind itself. We have to use the mind to kill the mind. This is what makes meditation so difficult. Actually it is not the whole of the mind that is the problem here; it is the ahamkAra part of the mind. For, whenever a thought arises in the mind it is the ego which claims proprietorship for that thought; there is probably not a single thought that goes through the mind without being claimed by the ego as its own.
Suppose there is something happening on the street – say, a verbal quarrel between two people totally unknown to us. We watch it through the window. And we are totally unconcerned, because it is not our business. We are just a silent witness of what is going on.
Now suppose a certain thought passes through our mind. Can we be a silent witness of it too, just as we were of the quarrel in the street? We can, says The Mother of Aurobindo Ashram. In fact she says, ‘we should’. That is what will train you to detach yourself from the mind and its activities. ‘The thoughts that arise in my mind are not ‘me’. I am different from my mind and its thoughts’ – this is the whip that we have to use against our ego every time it rises up and revels in the thoughts and attempts to involve us in the thought process. To train ourselves to use this whip consistently, is part of the spiritual exercise of meditation.
Now there are several several ways to meditate.
The meditation that I am going to talk about here is only one such way. It is called ‘japa-sahita-dhyAnaM’. It means meditation with the help of a japa. Japa as you know is counted repetition of a certain mantra or passage, which could even be just the name of God. Listen to what Ramakrishna says about how japa can benefit us and bring us the Lord’s Grace easily. Suppose there is a boat that lies at the bottom of a river, but tied to a long chain anchored to a pole on the bank. Now the boat is not visible from outside and we don’t know where exactly the boat is. All that we have to do is to catch hold of the chain and move our fingers from one link of the chain to the next, and keep going, from link to link, until we finally hit the boat itself at the other end of the chain. The Almighty who is not visible to our senses, is also easily identifiable like this by the links of a chain of japa of the mantra or name of God, says Ramakrishna!
We all know that the mind is a monkey. It is continuously thinking of something or other – not necessarily consistently, not necessarily on the same topic. There is no end to this flow of thoughts in the mind. In addition to ideas, policies, objects, events and tasks, it also has to deal with the sense experiences of convenience and inconvenience, of physical pain, of excitement of the mind, of happiness and unhappiness. All these are crisscrossing the mind. A properly done japa has the power to stop this continuous thought-flow of the mind. Give the monkey mind the repetitive work of counting the japa. When the intensity of the japa increases, the mind will be seen to stay with the content of the japa, namely, the mantra and/or its meaning. When it learns not to stray outside the content of the japa, that will be the time when the japa can also cease to be a vocalised one. The repetition of the mantra will now be totally mental. Even the lip movement will not be there. Not even a movement of either the tongue or the vocal chords. This is called mauna-japam. A mauna-japam is several times more effective than a vocalised japam. It is the mauna-japam that is the first exercise to be practised before we attempt to enter the stage of DhyAnaM.
About two thousand years ago Patanjali wrote an authoritative book, now called ‘Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali’, of 196 sutras dealing with dhyana and the samadhi state that one can obtain through the method of dhyana-yoga. In this book he defines eight limbs of this yoga.
The first two are yama and niyama. These are disciplines that pertain to our daily life. The “yama’s” are moral codes of conduct and the “niyama’s” are spiritual observances.
( Sutra Nos. II-30 and II-32)
Meaning: Non-violence, Truth, Non-stealing, Celibacy, Absence of desire to possess, -- these constitute ‘yama’;
Purity, Contentment, askesis, study of scriptures, faith in God – these constitute ‘niyama’.
Equivalently the first three shlokas of the 16th chapter of the Gita details 26 qualities of life that are together called a divine treasure (deivii-sampat) in man’s make-up.
Satva-samshuddhiH: purity of temperament;
jnAna-yoga-vyavasthitiH: steadfastness in jnAna-yoga;
damaH : self-control;
yajnaH : sacrifice;
svAdhyAyaH : study of scriptures;
tapaH : askesis, austerity;
ArjavaM : straightforwardness;
akrodhaH: absence of anger;
apaishunaM: absence of fault-finding;
dayA bhUteshhu: compassion for all living beings;
aloluptvaM: absence of crookedness or pettiness;
mArdavaM : gentleness;
hrIH : modesty or humility;
acApalaM: absence of temptation;
tejaH : energy;
dhRtiH : firmness of mind;
shaucaM : purity
adrohaH : absence of envy;
nAtimAnitA: absence of pride.
In the 18th chapter when the Lord summarises his own teachings he sums up by condensing these necessary qualities of life in a single shloka:
“ahamkAraM balaM darpaM kAmaM krodhaM parigrahaM /
vimucya nirmamaH shAnto brahma-bhUyAya kalpate //” 18-53.
Having abandoned egoism, egoistic strength and arrogance, desire, anger and covetuousness, peaceful and free from the notion of ‘mine’, one becomes earmarked for being one with brahman.
Patanjali’s third and fourth limbs of yoga are Asana (proper seating) and PrANAyAma. These two are to protect the dhyana from obstacles that may be caused by the physical body.
Let us come to the fifth limb mentioned by Patanjali, namely, pratyAhara. This means retracting the mind from sense-objects. This is what takes care of the obstacles to dhyAna that come from the mind. This is the most important and difficult part of the preparations for dhyAna. Also pratyAhAra is not a one-shot affair. It is not as if you succeed once in pratyAhAra and then you are protected for the rest of your life. No. It is a constant and continuing effort that is needed; because the sense objects are always there and the senses are always running after them. So the effort of pratyAhAra has to continue for life. But one can certainly succeed, though gradually, if one makes sustained efforts almost all the time. Lord Krishna never tires in pointing out the importance of pratyAhAra.
The senses have to be withdrawn from the sense-objects, like a tortoise does with its limbs on all sides. (II-58).
“yadA samharate cAyaM kUrmongAnIva sarvashaH /
The mind which follows in the wake of the wandering senses, carries away one’s discrimination, as the wind carries away a boat on the waters (II-67).
“indriyANAM hi caratAM yan-mano-nuvidhIyate /
tadasya harati prajnAM vAyur-nAvam-iv Ambhasi”
Attachment to pleasurable sense-objects and aversion to non-pleasurable ones are certainly there in our sense behaviour; but do not come under their sway. They are your enemies. (III – 34).
“indriyasyendriyasyArthe rAgadveshau vyavasthitau /
tayor-na vashamAgacched tau hyasya paripanthinau”
With the self unattached to external contacts, one finds happiness in the self. With the self engaged in union with brahman, one attains endless happiness. (V-21).
“bAhya-sparsheshh-vasaktAtmA vindaty-Atmani yat-sukhaM /
sa brahma-yoga-yuktAtmA sukham-akshhayyam-ashnute // ”
The enjoyments that are born of contacts are only wombs of pain, for they have a beginning and an end; O Arjuna, the wise do not rejoice in them. (V-22).
“Ye hi samsparshajA bhogA dukha-yonaya eva te /
Ady-antavantaH kaunteya na teshhu ramate buidhaH //”
Ramakrishna’s example in modern times stands supreme, in the most successful application of pratyAhAra in one’s life. Listen to his experience:
“For one who is immersed in dhyAna, the senses stop working. Just as the closed doors of a house would not admit any person to enter or leave, so also, the mind stays within because the ‘doors’ are closed; and the sense-objects, smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch have all been left outside!”. Obviously, the great Master as he was, a Ramakrishna can close the doors against the sense-objects just like closing a physical door!
Next to pratyAhAra, there is dhAraNa, the sixth limb of Yoga according to Patanjali. dhAraNa is fixing of the concentrated mind. It is this dhAraNa that is done by the help of the mantra-japa with which we started the japa-sahita-dhyAna. Note that pratyAhAra and dhAraNa are the two limbs which finally prepare the mind for dhyAna.
dhyAna begins. It is
the seventh limb in the ashTAnga-yoga of Patanjali. When
“samam kAya-shiro-grIvaM dhArayan-nacalaM sthiraH /
“samprekshhya nAsikAgram svaM dishashca-anavalokayan //”
“prashAnt-AtmA vigata-bhIH brahmacAri-vrate sthitaH /
“manas-samyamya mac-citto yukta AsIta mat-paraH //”
“yunjannevaM sadAtmAnaM yogI niyata-mAnasaH /
“shAntiM nirvANa-paramAM mat-samsthAm-adigacchati //”
Holding firmly the body, head and neck erect, and motionless, with the vision drawn in and fixed between the eyebrows, without looking around, with the mind kept calm, free from fear, firm in the vow of a brahma-cAri, the controlled mind turned to Me, let him sit firm in yoga, wholly giving himself to Me. Thus always putting himself in yoga by control of his mind, the yogi attains to the peace of nirvANa, abiding in Me.
Go to WAVE 4
Copyright © V. Krishnamurthy Dec.23, 2003