Reply To: Modes and Methods of Meditation

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Ashish Dalela

In Vedic philosophy, the term “meditation” doesn’t exist. The term used often is “yoga”. Yoga comes from the root “yuj” which means to join. Joining requires two things, and by joining, two things do not “merge”. They are however united.

The basic principle of unity is that between whole and part. When the part doesn’t work in concert with the whole, then it is “disunited” although the part is actually not separate from the whole. This “disunity” is just like an employee in a company who doesn’t do the work in the company’s best interest. He might do other things which should not be done or work against the company’s interest. He is still a part of the company, but still not “united” with the company. So, unity with the company simply means that the employee starts working in the company’s interest. Then, we can say that the part is united with the whole. That union is also called “yoga”.

Now, working in the interest of the company can be divided into three parts. First, each person must have some role in the organization. Second, to fulfill that role, he must have some abilities. Third, to use those abilities, we must enjoy doing that work. If we don’t enjoy that work, then even if we have the ability, we will not do the work. Then, if we want to do it, but we don’t have the ability, again, we will try to do the work, but we will fail. Finally, if we don’t have a role, then our work is not well-defined, so we cannot use the ability, and we cannot enjoy. Therefore, there are three things–a role, an ability, and a desire. Yoga can pertain to each of these.

In the perfectional state, we have a well-defined role, the ability to fulfill that role, and the desire to use the ability. In the imperfect state, either we don’t have a role, or the ability, or the desire. To transform the imperfect state into the perfect state, we have to begin with desire. If we get the desire, then we can acquire the ability, and then we can find the role. Without desire, nothing else works. Therefore, the ultimate aim of all yoga is to change our desire, or “purify” the desire. If that desire is purified, then a suitable role and the ability suited to the role is easily identified.

The only additional idea required is the definition of whole and part. God is the whole, and the soul is the part. So, the perfect soul serves God just like a hand or leg works in the interest of the body. This is not a perfect analogy, but for present understanding, it suffices. A more perfect understanding requires many additional complexities, which I’m ignoring for now. The basic principle of yoga is that the soul’s desire must be purified to serve God. When that desire is purified, a suitable set of abilities and a role suited to that ability is also identified. Those things follow naturally after the desire is purified. The preliminary step is to purify the desire.

Now, this desire can be purified in many ways. It can be purified by working for God in this world, which is called karma-yoga. It can be purified by studying books about God, which is called jnana-yoga. It can be purified by worshipping a deity or chanting God’s names, called bhakti-yoga. And it can be purified by concentrating the mind on the form of God present in our heart, which is called dhyana-yoga.

There are many mechanisms to purify our desire, but they have a common and singular purpose. In the perfectional state, there is the perfect concentration of the mind on God. There is perfect knowledge of God. All one’s work is performed only as a service to God. And God is also served personally. So, in the perfectional state, all four kinds of yoga are naturally achieved. Hence, there is no contradiction between these yoga either in terms of their goal or in terms of the ultimate state.

However, it is also true that different abilities are required to practice different kinds of yoga. For example, to practice jnana-yoga, one must study dozens of Vedic texts, and try to obtain an understanding by reconciling all their conclusions. Then, to practice dhyana-yoga, one must renounce this world, and sit either in a cave, or a forest, or the bank of a river, and completely renounce sex, and greatly limit eating and sleeping. Since these two are practically impossible for people of this age, therefore, they are not considered suitable for the present age and people.

Only two methods are possible in this age. First, we can perform karma-yoga, by serving God by our ability in various ways. For example, a musician can sing for God, a painter can paint His pictures, an architect can build temples for God, and so on. This is an example of karma-yoga or doing the kind of work that comes naturally to a person but as a service to God. Second, we can perform bhakti-yoga, by reading about God’s pastimes, worshipping His deity, and singing His glories.

There are also many practical difficulties even in doing karma-yoga and bhakti-yoga. For example, worshipping the deity of God requires a lot of cleanliness. Cooking for the deity is difficult. Most people cannot do that. Likewise, most people are not artists, musicians, or architects. They may not have the talents to serve God. Then, most people are not intelligent to understand philosophy, study many books, analyze different points of view, and understand philosophical nuances. Finally, our bodies and minds are weak and unsuited for austerities and sacrifices. By the incapacities of the mind and body, many methods that worked earlier, don’t work now.

Therefore, it is stated that the most practical method for performing yoga effectively in this age is chanting the names of God. This method doesn’t require any special mental or bodily skill (only the capacity to speak), it can be done at any place and at any time, and it is not very hard. The strict requirements of other processes and difficulties in these systems are either relaxed or absent in this process.

This process of chanting God’s names was elaborated by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the form of Hare Krishna maha-mantra. This is called maha-mantra because it yields the results of all other mantras. There are thousands of mantras in the Vedic system, and they produce different results. But if there is one mantra that produces all the results of chanting all the mantras, then it is the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Hence, it is called the “maha-mantra”. How and why this mantra produces the results of all the mantras is a deeper topic that we can discuss another time. If we try to do that right now, it will become overwhelming due to a lot of information.

Chanting the names of God is the yoga for this age, and chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra is one of the ways of chanting the names of God, that delivers the highest results of chanting all mantras. Of course, one can truly understand the benefits of chanting the names of God only when one chants them.

Now, we can address the prevalence of many methods of yoga around the world.

First, there are some legitimate methods like karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, dhyana-yoga, and bhakti-yoga, which are discussed in Vedic scriptures, but due to various reasons, they are very hard to do in this age. Certain limited parts of these systems can still be practiced in this age, by few people who are qualified to do them. For example, deity worship is restricted to a very few people; elaborate yajna is forbidden. These systems are good, but our ability to perform them is very limited.

Second, many people create unauthorized deviations in the prescribed systems by selecting what is easy and rejecting what is hard. There is certainly some leeway in selection and rejection, but the core parts can never be rejected. For example, we cannot say that I am producing alcohol or killing animals as a service to God. That kind of exception is not karma-yoga. Likewise, we cannot reject Bhagavad-Gita while understanding Vedic philosophy, because that will not be jnana-yoga. We cannot neglect celibacy and restrictions on eating and sleeping and call that dhyana-yoga, because these restrictions are absolutely foundational to the system of dhyana-yoga. So, in every yoga system, there are some inviolable things, which have to be done even if they are hard. The problem today is that people are violating even the core principles which make their practice useless. They create their concocted system without references to the Vedic injunctions and thereby cheat people.

Third, the practices of yoga are divorced from the science and philosophy of how the yoga system works and why it works. The so-called gurus who cannot explain how the yoga system works don’t have a deep realization about their own practice. But they like to have many followers. Since most followers are also lazy and not serious, they don’t ask difficult questions, and the guru remains popular.

If you want to escape this confusion, then you have to do three things: (a) validate that the method is authorized by Vedic texts, (b) validate that it can be practiced by someone of your ability, and (c) ask the hard questions about the science and philosophy underlying the method. If the science and philosophy of the method are known, then you can know what is core and essential and what is not. The core and essential principles can never be compromised, but peripheral things can be.

I have done this test for myself, and I have found all the criteria satisfied by the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. There is a sound philosophy underlying it by which we can understand how this system works, it can be easily practiced, chanting the names of God is a Vedic authorized system, and none of the core principles of yoga or of Vedic philosophy as a whole are violated by its practice. So, you can carry out the same type of test if you like, or evaluate other methods if you want to do so.