In the Light of ...|Oct 20, 2011 6:20 AM| by:

Meditation and Concentration

(This was a talk delivered at the “Intensive Awareness Camp” for Workers of the Society, 2008. We have refrained from too much editing so as to maintain the rhythm and flow of the talk.)

I had come a few minutes earlier and I was listening to the questions and was moved by one of the observations someone made. I felt that that is the key to concentration, to meditation, to sadhana and since it is the key we should not take it lightly. The key someone mentioned was about Meera. True knowledge comes in a state of direct union with the Divine. And the knowledge that is sought in yoga is not the knowledge that comes from books for books are merely an aid. Even if we read all the books in the world any number of times we may not yet follow the path of gyana yoga. Reading books may be a form of mental curiosity and it may be an intellectual preparation which is good. Reading books also helps to clarify certain confusions in the mind but sometimes it increases confusions. It’s very easy to pick up bits and parts and end up feeling that is what Sri Aurobindo is trying to tell us. Nevertheless it is a first step at the most and the next is—I think Mother gave this message to Society —‘To know is good, to live is better’. The next is to try and put into practice all that we are reading. Books don’t give us knowledge, they prepare us for knowledge and knowledge only comes by identity and union.

There is a letter of Sri Aurobindo where he says, what is the use of vichara bhuti. No amount of vichara, vivechana, analysis, intellectualisation, rationalisation, any of the mental processes can lead us beyond the mind. Yoga begins when we first take a glimpse into the regions beyond the mind or the regions which are behind the surface nature. Yoga is a plunge into the multiple profundities of the soul, it is to take a plunge into the soul depths. And without that plunge any amount of surface activity does not lead to yoga, it is only a preparation for yoga. Knowledge in the yogic sense means knowledge of the One. In Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga it is the knowledge of the One playing with the many. In traditional paths it is enough to know the One behind the many. Appearances are appearances – cut through them to know the One by an identity, that is enough. There’s Krishna behind all this world, that is enough. There is a Divine reality behind all these appearances, that is enough.

The traditional paths will say, they don’t care or they will say, they have come out of the womb of some mysterious maya or they will say it is a spiritual or cosmic accident. It happened somehow, aghatan ghatani, that’s how it’s told. Something which has come into being, why, without any apparent purpose, don’t bother about it, find the One. But in Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga this knowledge of the One is not enough. By knowledge here of course we are meaning, identity. We touch the One, we unite with Him, now we want to understand how this One unfolds Himself in life and through works. That’s where Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga really begins to take its colour and its unique stamp. We find this hint in the Isha Upanishad, which speaks about ‘those who live in the domain of avidya alone’ and that would answer another interesting thing, not really answer but an observation about money and other things that come often in yoga, how to deal with it, deal with life. So it says that those who dwell in this plane of multiplicity who are beguiled and misguided by multiplicity and the vision of multiplicity, they live in darkness. That’s what the Isha Upanishad says. But then it goes on to say, ‘Those who live in oneness alone enter as if into a greater darkness’. So what is the solution?

Sri Aurobindo speaks of the Isha Upanishad as the basis of Divine life. Solution is vidyañca avidyañca yastadvedobhayam saha, play with the vidya but from the standpoint of vidya, play with this world of multiplicity but with the union with that oneness. Relate with this entire world without jukupsa, that is how it says, tatona vijukupsa sate. Whether it’s war or peace, whether it’s sport or adventure, whether it’s a battle where life may be lost, remain in a state of not only an inner union but act from the state of that inner union just as how the Divine would act in a particular situation or circumstance. Concentration in this yoga cannot only be a limited concentration meant only for a few minutes or few hours. That is useful, beneficial, again as a preparation. Sri Aurobindo draws a distinction between the two processes of meditation and concentration. Meditation is an activity of the mind. It’s an activity by which the mind can do many things with itself and within itself. For instance, there is a capacity of the mind to detach from its own self and observe, ability to witness and when it does that, we see that many things that enter the mind, begin to slow down and quieten. They don’t get an active sanction and this witnessing is one of the ways. It is modified in many ways all over the world, people use it as a course, but this witnessing is one of the tools used in yoga to quieten the mental activity.

Then there can be another kind of meditation where we allow the mind to run along a certain pre-decided course. We take up an idea and allow the mind to run along that idea. It may be the idea of faith, it may be the idea of love, it can be the idea of god, whatever. We allow the mind to run in a certain direction and as it runs it climbs from layer to layer of thought, if we let it run in the proper way. The Vedic Rishis speak about the nine levels of thought and the ten levels of thought. Thought climbs from one to another, winged, as it were, uplifted by a sublime breadth. And as we proceed, higher and higher levels of seeing and understanding begin to pour into us, like rivers of the Vedic Rishis, they speak of the seven rivers like the vanished Saraswathi of the Kali Yug which is being rediscovered, the purifying streams of the Ganges, the dancing Yamuna, turbulent, rajasic, yet immensely pacifying in its own way. So all these powers and energies and forces and knowledge pours into the yogin as his mind becomes quieter and quieter.

But there is another approach, the approach of concentration. Now concentration is not only a mental process, concentration can mean any part of the nature. The body cannot meditate, it can assist in the meditation but the body can concentrate. We all see how a tiger—Sri Aurobindo gives this example—before it leaps upon its prey, what does it do? It engages itself into a physical concentration, a very, very physical concentration which gives it immense power. Concentration of any energy gives it power. When we concentrate on light, ordinarily light cannot cut the skin but light when concentrated can cut through the skin and do a surgery. Laser is concentrating. Similarly sound when you concentrate, it can demolish things. So when any energy is concentrated at any plane one can have concentration. In other words, there is something like dispersion and something called concentration and these two are elite processes. If we keep dispersing whole day, keep losing energy and consciousness in all kinds of things then its futile to talk of concentration, there is nothing left to concentrate. That’s why it is so difficult to concentrate when one has thrown out energy in meaningless activity. We have to gather the energy to concentrate. That’s why it’s very important that the activities of the day are a prelude to how we lead the day. It’s a prelude to entering into a state of concentration and that is true of anything. If the body is very tired for it has rubbed itself off under the vital forces riding over it and then you tell it, now come play a game which demands physical concentration, its difficult because there is no energy left in the body but after a while it recoups and then it can go ahead and play a game. So first thing is concentration can be at any level. There is a vital concentration, there is a physical concentration, there is an emotional concentration of the emotional being, there is a mental concentration, there is concentration of energy even on the higher planes, right up to the very highest.

In fact it’s very interesting how this world was created. If you go back to the Vedic myths, Sri Aurobindo speaks about it very beautifully. In the Isha Upanishad, where he says if you go to the upper waters of our being you still hear that ancient word, tapas, tapas, tapas. By concentration this world was created. At the very highest levels when energy is ingathered it becomes a power to create so creation is going out and to go out, there must be a concentration. To manifest we need to concentrate, if the mind is not concentrated, if the vital is not concentrated, if the emotion is not concentrated, physical is not concentrated, if the whole being is not ingathered, that is the word Sri Aurobindo generally uses, then we become just a tool in the hands of all kinds of forces. They like that state of dullness, dispersion. So one, concentration can be at any level; second, concentration means a gathering of energies and therefore we need to have consciousness and energy if we wish to concentrate, that means we should stop dispersion of energies through useless activities. As the Mother says, one of the most common forms of human pass time through which they throw out energies is gossip. All kinds of meaningless things going on, there are no words for it, hours and hours one can go on. There are other forms also through which we throw out energies but at least we can try exercise a certain degree of control of our speech. The Mother would tell us, try it only for one hour and by control she means don’t speak about that which is extra [meaning not to speak anything that is not absolutely necessary].

Similarly with the emotions. How many emotions we throw out on things and now there are fake ways of throwing out emotions, there is something in us that loves drama and tragedy. So when there is no drama and tragedy in real life there is always television and you watch and pour out energy. There is a need to throw out, it’s an emotional incontinence, we cannot contain. We need something where we can throw out energy, everything is fine in our life but we need to cry so let us cry at something fictitious. Similarly, vitally we throw out energy, all kinds of meetings. Mother says it’s very important the kind of people we meet, especially when we begin to lead an inner life, it becomes very important. And I think that is in the real sense the sense of sangha. Sri Aurobindo says there are three things in sadhana. One is the individual bhakta who is doing the sadhana, the seeker. Then the Sought, the Divine and then there is of course, the path one has to follow and the sangha. In Buddhism there is the formula – buddham saranam gatchami , dharmam saranam gatchami, sangham saranam gatchami. Now the sangha collectivity is that in man there is a collective respect of life which needs to arrive at its own fulfilment but when we meet and mix with anyone and everyone, we should maintain equanimity.

If we throw ourselves out with any kind of company, very little is left inside, to concentrate. And whenever we throw out things, we receive things which are inimical to our inner progress. So these are some simple ways by which we can prevent dispersion. This prevention of dispersion is the first step towards truly concentrating. Many useless activities, restless activities, similarly at the level of the body. So the first thing is to learn to prevent dispersion. The second is, they do not go one after another, they go simultaneously, to learn to concentrate. Concentration is the key to yoga, that’s how Sri Aurobindo puts it. And this concentration on the mind means concentration on an idea, on a thought, anything. When Sri Aurobindo was asked what was the best, heart or idea to concentrate upon, he said the best was what was given in the Isha Upanishad, ‘that the Divine is in all, all is in the Divine and all is the Divine’. It’s very difficult to understand this third one – yastu sarvani bhutani atmanyevanupasyati —and then —atmaivabhud vijanatah – he who knows the self as all becomings. So what happens in that state— tatra ko mohah kahsoka ekatvamanupasyatah—it’s a three-fold concentration. To practise first on the Divine within, the idea of the Divine, you start with that, or the name of the Divine and to know him not only within us but to know him within all creatures, to know everything as within him and to know that all this entire world is a continuous becoming of that Divine. It’s very interesting, it can lead to interesting questions. How do we deal with the world if all is Divine, we’ll come to that later. But this is the fundamental concentration one has to practise in the mind. Now this idea or name of the Divine in our yoga is of course the Mother and Sri Aurobindo but Sri Aurobindo gave a very general term so that the yoga can be more and more wide and those who do not want to necessarily take this yoga but just practise concentration in a way can do it.

Then there is the emotional concentration, the concentration of the heart. The heart very naturally loves the name and the form, heart is its own seeking. There are different relations one forms with the Divine. As a child to God the father, indulgent love of God the mother, the clasp of the hand of the Friend and Beloved, sport and laughter with the Divine as comrade and playfellow, service to Divine the master, and the rapturous love of Divine, the paramour. These are the seven beatitudes of the human life and if one has it, his realisation is greater than the emancipation of the vedanti. This is how Sri Aurobindo puts it. So essentially, concentration of the heart means all our energies which are turned into so many directions seeking some joy of some relationship. In father we seek someone who can protect us, whose love is beneficent, whose very presence gives us a feeling as if ‘badoka saya aysaper’. There is a sense of something which one seeks in the father, one begins to seek it in the Divine. When there is a sense of something one seeks in the mother, then we go to the mother. We know we will be loved, cared and understood irrespective of what we have done. Mother is the only one towards whom a child naturally has this feeling. Then we seek something from a teacher, guidance, understanding, light, to seek it from the Divine. He will guide us, why won’t he? He will first whisper into our ear, we will not hear. Then he will shout into our ears, we will not listen. Then he will shake the world around us and still we will not listen. Then he will catch us by the neck—if you are really seeking guidance, not otherwise—and make us see what we are blind to. He’ll guide us, he has his ways but first he’ll start with a whisper, for a long time he whispers. There is a Divine guidance in the world. So to seek in the Divine the guidance, there has to be discipleship to Divine the teacher.

Then another relation of the heart with the Divine is via laughter and play and sport. Wherever we go the Divine is with us. Meera bai had that, so much so, that when poison was given to her, she said, ‘oh, Krishna has sent it to me’. Prahalad had that concentration – his father wanted to kill him, and he felt it was a gift sent by the Lord. We have Radha’s prayer, whatever comes, joy or sorrow, happiness or suffering, it is a gift and I receive it with joy and gratitude in my heart. So this is another form of relating with the Divine. He is the friend of good and bad days, when we have a lot to pour out, when we are looking for a shoulder to cry on, what a shoulder, what a magnanimous friend. Just go and pour out, say anything to him. Lord I’m very disturbed today, such and such a thing happened today, I felt very angry, I lost my calm and I did this. Few minutes and your whole heart and mind are soothed and caressed as if by the gentlest hand of love. So this is relating to Divine as friend.

Then he says relationship with Divine as the master. This is another kind of concentration; so concentration is not just sitting but work. Mother says what you have, only that is asked from you, not more than that. Service is another form of all our energies relating to the Divine.

Then finally the most rapturous, the love of Divine, the paramour. There is a very beautiful story about it. When Draupadi goes to heaven Savitri meets her, ‘How come you have come here, you have been given such a high status?’ she asks. ‘Why what is wrong with me?’ ‘No, no, you are supposed to have five husbands.’ ‘No, I loved only one’. ‘What! That means you were partial towards one? Then you don’t deserve, because you must be equally poised towards all’. ‘No, no you don’t understand, I always loved only one and that was Krishna.’ So in our inner being we are constantly ingathered upon the Divine. That is concentration. If we can do that then we can take the help of naam jap, of the image, but it must be done with the ardour of the heart. Most important it is not a mechanical process. Unless the fire is lit and it grows it cannot work. That’s why people will ask why Sri Aurobindo is not giving us a method. Of course he has given so many methods but the real purpose, the real thing has to come from inside. We must aspire, seek, then the rest follows. If that is not there and there is no agni and we sit to concentrate what will we concentrate on? We will concentrate on the smoke, there is only smoke so we will concentrate on the smoke and become more and more dense and heavy. But when we have the agni inside and we concentrate, then it grows. So first we light the agni, whether by meeting with those in whom the fire is lit, reading things, being at places where the fire, the yagna is going on, through constant remembrance, japa, holding the image of the Divine in the heart, of the Mother in the heart, her luminous form, in whatever way and to constantly refer everything to her. Sometimes seeing oneself inside the Divine, is another form of concentration, the whole world inside her. Imagining her as the vast, the virat, beyond the last expanse of the universe, she is there. To look at life with that constantly, to imagine the Divine beyond the farthest reaches of the universe, holding this entire srishti in the hollow of his palm, that is concentration which brings results and not a mere mechanical process.

We should read directly from Sri Aurobindo. On page 72 of the Synthesis of Yoga – the chapter itself is consecration, one of the marvellous, most beautiful chapters which lays the foundations of yogic life.

‘Concentration is indeed the first condition of any Yoga, but it is an all-receiving concentration that is the very nature of the integral Yoga.’

All receiving, full of aspiration for that light, it’s not just making oneself awakened. Yes, one has to make oneself quiet but to receive that light, that force, that strength, that love, that ananda, that peace, which is waiting to pour down into our system.

‘A separate strong fixing of the thought, of the emotions or of the will on a single idea, object, state, inner
movement or principle is no doubt a frequent need here also;’

We can concentrate on a single idea, object, union with the Divine, state of relationships, state of consciousness, inner movement, movement where all in us is flowing towards him as the ardhia, or principle, the Divine is love, the Divine is knowledge, the Divine is strength, the Divine is peace, the Divine is ananda.

‘… but this is only a subsidiary helpful process. A wide massive opening, a harmonised concentration of the whole being in all its parts and through all its powers upon the One who is the All is the larger action of this Yoga without which it cannot achieve its purpose.’

So this is one of the suggestions Sri Aurobindo gives us regarding concentration, it’s like a key.

And then something very interesting, on page 75 – ‘But on that which as yet we know not how shall we concentrate’? – People say Sri Aurobindo is not practical. We don’t know the Divine, how shall we concentrate and yet we cannot know the Divine unless we have achieved this concentration of our being upon him – so it’s a knotty problem. ‘A concentration which culminates in a living realisation and the constant sense of the presence of the One in ourselves and in all of which we are aware, is what we mean in Yoga by knowledge and the effort after knowledge.’ We have already alluded to this at the very start. Then Sri Aurobindo tells us what is not enough. ‘It is not enough to devote ourselves by the reading of Scriptures or by the stress of philosophic reasoning to an intellectual understanding of the Divine; for at the end of our long mental labour we might know all that has been said of the Eternal, possess all that can be thought about the Infinite and yet we might not know him at all’. Look at the sense of humour and irony in Sri Aurobindo’s words. This intellectual preparation can indeed be the first stage in a powerful Yoga, but it is not indispensable: it is not a step which all need or can be called upon to take. Yoga would be impossible, except for a very few, if the intellectual figure of knowledge arrived at by the speculative or meditative Reason – meditation is a mental activity – were its indispensable condition or a binding preliminary.

He tells us – ‘All that the Light from above asks of us that it may begin its work is a call from the soul’ – it’s not a mental curiosity, it’s not just a kind of a window-shopping yoga. There is a yoga in the nature of window-shopping, you go, you see it from outside, you like it, you appreciate it, you go and tell others, oh I saw this, it’s a fascinating thing. There are three kinds of people who turn to yoga: one who comes to pay the price and get what they are looking for, second are window-shoppers and third are shop lifters, they don’t want to pay the price but want the yoga. Sri Aurobindo says in one of his letters, everybody wants what the supramental will bring but they are not willing to pay the price. I will read about the supramental, talk about it and I will get it somehow, this is like shop-lifting. I enter the shop and I go and I pick it up. Some apparently do very little and they get it by Grace.

‘All that the Light from above asks of us that it may begin its work is a call from the soul and a sufficient point of support in the mind.’ – That support can be faith or insistence on an idea, a thought. ‘This support can be reached through an insistent idea of the Divine in the thought, a corresponding will in the dynamic parts, an aspiration, a faith, a need in the heart.’ – What a beautiful integrality of movement. What is asked is a call from the soul: I want this, nothing else, even if the whole world were to contradict my faith, I would go on till I perish or conquer.

‘This support can be reached through an insistent idea of the Divine in the thought,’ – If we just look at ourselves, 90 percent of the time where are our thoughts running? Mostly physical needs. Only now it’s taken a more dangerous form. We have to catch ourselves, many times, especially when we are depressed, for our thoughts are running around ourselves. We end up quarrelling with no result, so this is not the way because we have to think of the Divine; if I have to think of the Divine where is the time left to think of myself? A corresponding will in the dynamic parts is set to work to serve the Divine. It’s not enough that only here something is happening and the rest of life is following its own rhythm.

And at the core and centre of it, spearheading the shortest route – an aspiration, a faith, a need in the heart. A need for the Divine, this is the first step. Do I need him, has he become the reason of my existence? Do we need the Divine more than anything else, even if everything else was taken away from us? It’s very easy to say Mother’s Grace when everything is fine but when things are going totally topsy-turvy, when everything is the opposite of what I want or prefer, when the circumstances totally obstruct and stand in the way like unsurpassable barriers, can I still have a faith and a need in my heart? That is concentration. Any one of these may lead or predominate, it all cannot move in unison or in an equal rhythm. The idea may be and must be in the beginning inadequate, so it doesn’t matter. He is not saying that you must ask from somebody which is the best mantra, which is the best idea.

‘…. an aspiration, a faith, a need in the heart. Any one of these may lead or predominate, if all cannot move in unison or in an equal rhythm. The idea may be and must in the beginning be inadequate; the aspiration may be narrow and imperfect, the faith poorly illumined or even, as not surely founded on the rock of knowledge, fluctuating, uncertain, easily diminished;’ – all this is natural, the alternating of the day and night of the Vedic Rishis, it’s clouded – often even it may be extinguished and need to be lit again with difficulty like a torch in a windy pass. But if once there is a resolute self-consecration from deep within, if there is an awakening to the soul’s call, these inadequate things can be a sufficient instrument for the Divine purpose. What a hope he is giving us. Anybody can do this yoga if there is a call from the soul, it should not merely be for attraction. The object of this yoga is not to become a great yogi, swami, guru or anything like that but to rediscover ourselves more and more as the eternal child of the eternal Mother. Therefore the wise, he says, have always been unwilling to limit man’s avenues towards God; in any name, any form, any symbol, any offering, anything, you put it before the Divine. How beautiful it would be to sleep and slip into her lap, to wake up and remember. Every activity can be offered to the Divine, the good and the bad that comes from the world – by our standards of course because often evil lurks in the heart of what seems good and evil serves the purpose of the good in this world. Nevertheless to receive all things with an equal heart, if there is the consecration along with it, anything is sufficient support if the consecration is there – the stress is on consecration. ‘For the Divine knows himself in the heart of the seeker and accepts the sacrifice.’ We should not go by what people tell us. In one of the prayers, Mother says, ‘Poor sorrowful earth, do not lose hope, each pang of your heart, each need, each changing of season, each pleasant and unpleasant circumstance, what seems good to thee and what seems sorrowful to thee, everything I receive and take note of. Harken and take new courage.’ So we have to live in that state that even the smallest effort is not wasted. Even if for one second we have tried to control an impulse, it is documented in the book of yoga. Outside it may not be seen, but all this struggle of yoga is inside and it helps as a stepping stone towards tomorrow’s victory.