The process of Yoga is recovery of an obscured fact

The Lost Memory

Shri Shankara says that the process of Yoga, of which meditation is one of the main limbs, is to realize a fact. It is not creation of something, but recovery of a fact which is somehow obscured. An example of such obscuring is loss of memory. At the end of the Gita, the disciple Arjuna says when his teacher Krishna, an incarnation of the Lord, has wakened enlightenment in him : ” I have recovered my memory.” Memory of what ?

” When the confusions of the mind are dissolved, that bliss which requires no other witness, that is Brahman ; and that is my highest Self, immortal, brilliant.”

 That one is omniscient and omnipotent, ever compassionate to all living beings, and engaged in sending forth, preserving and withdrawing the universes as his sport. Arjuna realizes the Lord as his own Self, and realizing his true Self to be the Lord, says :  ” I will do thy word.” His body and mind now join in the great sport of the Lord, but beyond the mind and supporting it is the unclouded experience of the supreme Self.

Meditation on the Lord as the Self is not what is popularly called’ auto-suggestion ‘. By this people understand repeating something which is not true in the hope of convincing one self that it is true.     

It is argued that if a man repeats to himself often enough that he is Napoleon or Beethoven, he will come to believe it, and they say the asylums are full of such people. But the question is, when a man says he is Napoleon or Beethoven, where is the military genius ? Where is the music? The lunatics always evade such questions, and if they are pressed, become angry or violent. In the final analysis, even they are not convinced. They avoid anything which would provide a test, whereas a real Beethoven would seek it. But no, the Napoleons refuse to meet a Frenchman to whom they would have to speak French; Beethoven cannot play a note and will not look at a piano.

The point of the yogic process is that when realization comes, the yogi does not simply think : ” Well, I am Brahman after all.” He finds an infinity in himself, and it breaks forth in his outward action in cosmic inspiration which gives the world masterpieces, not necessarily of art, but of spiritual action. The lives of the great sages demonstrate a divinity and perfection far beyond anything which an unenlightened man could even imagine.

Loss of memory is not the only example of a confusion of the mind concealing a fact. In vertigo, a man afraid of heights feels the mountain swaying under him. Though his reason tells him it is not so, he actually experiences the sensation. He has to keep repeating that the mountain is still and shut his eyes to mitigate the evidence of his senses which tell him it is moving. Gradually he can become acclimatized as it were, and then after long practice he can feel the fact of the firm support of the mountain beneath him, as it has been all the time.

One of the French monarchs became king when very young, but was dominated by his ambitious mother, who kept him a virtual prisoner. One day after a council at which he had signed several Royal orders, a general happened to remain behind after the others had gone. The young king said hesitantly: “Am I really king ? ” ” Of course,” said the general, ” do you not sign the orders as king ?               

They are executed because you sign them.” The boy pondered, then said: ” If I ordered you to arrest my mother and those who have been keeping me prisoner, will it be done ?
“The general said :” Does Your Majesty really mean that ? ” The young king hesitated for some time-he knew his mother would have him poisoned if she suspected what he was thinking.
Then he said : ” Yes.”The general scribbled the order, the king signed it, and it was immediately carried out.From that moment he ruled as king in full consciousness of the fact. This example shows how the habitual ways of thinking prevent realization of the facts.
The young king had always thought of himself as a child, quite without any power. His mother had kept him under this belief; she still punished him as a child. By pondering the facts of his life, he came to see that it was possible he was a real king, though practice seemed to contradict it.       But this idea could not have any real effect on his life until he had full realization of his kingship and could act on it.

It is the same in yoga. By pondering on the universe, and then the teachings of the yoga about the universe and the Self, the yogi begins to see that it may be reasonable to suppose that his true Self is not the limited and suffering individuality he knows, but the omnipotent and omniscient Self of the universe. But until the realization comes in practice, the effect on life is small.

The truth can be experienced first in what is called Dhyana or meditation. Just as to recover the memory we need periods of quiet, just as the young king needs to think deeply to realize the facts, so we need regular practice of meditation to remove the confusions of the mind. The process is like ironing out creases in a cloth; when a cloth is folded in a particular way a few times, it will always tend to fall into those folds, and this lessens its usefulness and beauty. By ironing, the tendencies are removed, and it is free to take whatever form the hand requires of it, or to lie perfectly flat.

In meditation we are told to sit in an upright posture, comfortable and steady, and which can be maintained without effort for a long time. The purpose is to forget the body, and experience shows that it is easiest to forget the body if we use one of the traditional postures. Sit on the floor on a blanket several times folded, with the legs crossed and the spine erect. Those who are under thirty years old should practise putting one foot on the opposite thigh for a few minutes morning and evening; after six weeks they will be able to sit comfortably in this way for meditation.

By breathing slowly for two or three minutes, relaxing with each outbreath, nervous tension is reduced and the inner currents harmonised. All this is an aid to meditation.

We are told to meditate first on some object which points to infinity. To meditate on something inherently limited, such as the empire of the world, or great riches, will lead to suffering in the end, because the true Self is unlimited and will break limited moulds into which the meditator tries to pour himself. Such was the case with the Emperor Napoleon and with many others also. Therefore we are given as subjects of meditation truth and universality, friendliness and com passion, unity and God. These are all within the Self ; at first they are taken as objects, different from the meditator, but as the meditation advances flashes of so to say memory will revive, and he begins to have glimpses of infinity within.

Meditation is not trying to create something. A Zen monk practising meditation was interrupted by his teacher who came and sat beside him, grinding two tiles together. He asked the teacher to allow him to meditate. The teacher said : ” What are you doing ? ” He said : ” I am meditating in order to turn into a Buddha.” The teacher said : “And I am polishing in order to turn these tiles into mirrors.” The monk said : ” No amount of polishing will turn a tile into a mirror.” The teacher replied : ” No amount of meditation will turn a man into a Buddha.” The point of this story, which is often missed, is that the polishing will only produce a mirror if what we have is a mirror already. A rusted mirror can be made bright; and a real mirror, by polishing. So unless what we are is a Buddha already (though obscured or not realized), no amount of meditation will create him. The Zen teaching is that all beings are from the very beginning Buddhas ; but the monk supposed he was creating something.       

With that attitude he could never revive the Buddha-memory by his meditation.

Through study we must convince ourselves that we are from the very beginning the supreme Brahman, omniscient and immortal. Then in meditation, pondering on the theme of Brahman, and finally on the theme ” I am that Brahman ; experience to the contrary is illusory “, the threads of memory are slowly pulled into full consciousness. It is like pulling the cotton wool out of a medicine bottle; at the beginning there is only a weak thread, and the method is slowly and persistently to bring out more and more, each time getting a stronger grip. It cannot be done with a big jerk at the beginning. Slowly we must catch hold of more and more.

The scriptures and records of the experience of the sages, the instructions and the very life of the teacher, have a peculiar charm which is not exhausted by familiarity. The reason is that if we ponder them, they strike chords in the depths of the unconscious. They are threads which run right down into our essence. The man who has lost his memory is shown a picture of a house, and it means nothing to him, but if he accepts the word of the doctor that it was his, he begins to look at it repeatedly, and finally he recovers a memory of something that happened in one room. Perhaps that is all that he can recover for some time, but now the picture has a special fascination for him, though he has looked at it a hundred times, and gradually he recaptures more and more. So the phrases of the holy scriptures, if learnt by heart, will bring out deeper and deeper meanings to us; they have a connection with us. The stories of the incarnations of the

Lord begin to have profound significance for us, and we find “a life stirring in our appreciation and understanding of them. Some critics say that the illusory nature of mystic experience is proved by the fact that the Buddhist mystic sees Buddha, the Christian Christ, and so on. They see what they have become obsessed with. This is not quite wide of the mark, but it does not have the meaning the critics suppose. Cutting through ice to get to the water, if we cut in a circle the water first appears as circular, and if we cut in a triangle it appears as a triangle. The water itself is formless, beyond all these limitations, but it appears limited because of the channel of apprehension. We cannot make a cut which has no form. Just so, by meditating on any of the forms of the Lord we can reach the infinity beyond, and that infinity is first seen in the form of the meditation. But what comes through the form is far more than our limited concept; it is a living inspiration and experience of the formless. That is why Christ spoke of the Father (Who in Judaism is formless), and why the Buddhists says the real Buddha is formless.

By meditating on the selected text or form persistently and regularly for say fifteen minutes each day for three months, without changing the main current of the meditation, a light begins to shine which illumines it from beyond. Then the meditation is beginning to awaken. It is less and less an effort, like thinking of someone who is not there, and more and more an awareness of Brahman as existence of all, as consciousness supporting all, as bliss in which the universe is drowned. But we must keep the stream of our meditation and study towards the same end. There are many doors,. but it is no use knocking at one and then moving away to another.

The saying ” Knock and it shall be opened “

must be understood in this sense ; as a matter of fact the original text implies to knock and keep on knocking. We should keep at the same door, but there are of course different methods, that may be used, just as when we want to come into a house we may knock, ring, shout and so on to attract the attention of the master of the house.

Meditation means to give up for the time all the fixed postures of our thinking and personality, and to be our real, selves. For half an hour a day, what harm can it do? In our ordinary thinking we are bent over our egoity and our desires like a carpenter bent over a piece of work.      His body gets cramped and finally he cannot work efficiently. Just so our soul becomes cramped and atrophied through persistent occupation with our unreal selves; in meditation the mind is stretched free, relaxed and invigorated. Renouncing our limited concepts, says Rama Tirtha, is relief itself, and all the Mahatmas practise it.

Inspiration comes, and the personality changes. Those who cling all the time to the unreal qualities such as grief and suffering and limitations, with which they have clothed themselves by attributing them to their real selves, are like people trying to swim in their clothes.   The clothes hamper them at every turn, and further the clothes are spoiled.      So are we hampered by taking our personalities everywhere with us into the stream of life, and our personalities too become sodden and spoilt. When we can throw them off we can swim freely and happily, as children do, and then when we wish we can take them up again to go into the towns, but refreshed and revitalised.

Meditation means to come into touch with realities; Patanjali says that the peak of meditation is ritambhara or truth-bearing. The meditator more and more sees the world as it really is, and himself as he really is. Nothing less will bring real satisfaction and knowledge. The Upanishad says ” When the confusions of the mind are dissolved, then that bliss which requires no other witness, that is Brahman, the highest Self, the immortal, the brilliant, that is the Way, that is the true world.”


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