Spontaneous Awareness of Consciousness

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, talk at Bihar School of Yoga, 1972, originally printed in YOGA, Vol.XI, No.7, July 1973

The Sanskrit word for spiritual practice is sadhana. Sadhana means spiritual effort, not physical or mental effort. Spiritual effort should be made. This spiritual endeavour seems to be an act of opening the door beyond which there is enlightenment. How do we open the door and how do we discover spiritual life inside us? Enlightenment is the prime purpose of yoga and we practise it for that purpose. There are many spiritual practices. Out of these there is one method which has become very popular throughout the world and that method is called the spontaneous awareness of consciousness.

Isolation of consciousness

Let anyone who is interested in developing higher awareness sit down in a calm and quiet posture with the eyes closed. Let the mind be aware for some time of the physical body from top to toe. Let the awareness remain in the body. Now, usually when body consciousness comes to our mind, we try to avoid it, so that body consciousness is lost and then it comes again. However, in this method we know that we are thinking of the body, we are aware of the body and we are conscious of the existence of all the bodily things. But, at the same time, the concentration becomes so deep that after a while we switch from the body to the mind and become aware of the thought process which is taking place somewhere in the conscious and subconscious fields.

The body is gone, the mind remains. What is that mind? We experience the mind in the form of thoughts, in the form of emotions and in the form of certain subtle processes. You also have to see that. Every thought that emerges from the subconscious level, every thought that comes in the form of a symbol, vision or idea, you must see as clearly as you can. Detach yourself completely. When you disidentify with the thought process, you will find that after a few days’ practice you are beyond the mind also. Although you were aware of the body, you were aware of the mind, you lose the idea of the body and the mind.

After that, what happens? The consciousness of ‘I’ comes. ‘I’, that is all, devoid of the idea of body, devoid of the idea of mind, just ‘I’ without name, without distinction of caste, creed, sex or formal name. Nothing, only awareness of ‘I’. This awareness becomes so extended, so supreme, that there is a point where difference between I and you, they, he, everything, is lost. This is the final point of spiritual realisation.

When doing meditation, the aspirant should develop the awareness to the maximum degree and a little awareness must diffuse into the supreme awareness. Ultimately, nothing should remain except ‘One’. When that supreme state is attained, we arrive at a point which is called revelation, or the giving up of knowledge. That is the point of liberation, that is the point of freedom, and that is the point of the isolation of consciousness.

Overcoming obstacles in meditation

In yoga, it is believed that one becomes free of all tension in deep meditation, free from all worries and anxieties, from all so-called subconscious trammel and finds peace within. This peace is different from happiness. This peace is a kind of positive, dynamic power. Those who wish to take to this meditation should remember a few points. First of all, they should make their asana perfect, the asana in which they can comfortably sit for an hour without moving the body, without feeling any pain or hampering the blood circulation.

Then, after deep meditation, they must see that they do not go into a state of depression, which is usual for all spiritual aspirants because of the lack of sufficient oxygen in the system. Lack of oxygen in the system causes depression, yawning and sleep, which one has to avoid by the regular practice of pranayama, a pure diet and so on.

When this has been done, one has to fix up the faults in one’s own meditation. Meditation seems to be so easy in the beginning, but when you actually practise it, you find it so difficult. To sit down for meditation is so easy, but after a certain stage, what happens? The practitioner sleeps. He forgets everything around him. He does not remember what he is doing. Not only that, he forgets that he is doing it. The self-awareness is lost and that is not desirable in meditation.

Most aspirants who sit for meditation want to forget everything. That is quite all right, but please remember that you should try to forget everything except self-awareness. This is the one central point you must remember during meditation. If you forget it, you miss the path and then you enter into laya, total suspension of consciousness, and that is a spiritual loss.

What should happen in meditation? When you sit down quietly for meditation and try to forget your body, try to forget your mind, through positive or negative methods, the consciousness should remain throughout. The awareness that you are meditating should remain to a very great extent. This is the point where the awareness of the meditator, the object of meditation, the process of meditation, this threefold process, exists. The knowledge ‘I am meditating’ remains, and the awareness ‘I am meditating on the point’ should remain, and the process of meditation, ‘how it is proceeding’, should also remain.

This threefold process helps you in the beginning to maintain awareness throughout meditation, otherwise suspension of consciousness takes place. Finally, you must have patience, perseverance and the power of intuition, through which you force your consciousness to detach from the material aspect of your personality.

The divine pilgrimage

In short, I have given you a little glimpse of meditation and yoga. Much more has to be told about it. I personally feel that in our lives everything is available, you can get everything very quickly, but you do not get what we call meditation. Very few teachers and very few guides are there to give us guidance, point by point, to let us know how to take this mind on the path of divine pilgrimage.

The mind has to be taken from outside, where it is wandering here and there among the sense objects of the world, the temporary things, the things that are so nice in the beginning and so bad in the end. The mind has to be taken from these things and directed inside, where the innermost part of our personality is full of illumination, full of knowledge, full of peace and bliss.

Those who know how to go there at least for a few seconds every day know how to maintain peace, tranquillity, equanimity and strength in their lives. This is the panacea for our age. My request to all of you is to try meditation every day, if possible in the morning hours, and if not in the morning, then definitely at night before you go to bed.

If you practise in the morning hours, the condition of the mind, body, glandular secretions and so on is very conducive to meditation. Yogis throughout the world get up at four a.m. and meditate until six a.m. It may be not possible for you, but those who can, please try to see that you experience the divine moment of meditation. Let it not be forced, let it be spontaneous, let it come from within you. If you find it difficult to meditate in the morning, then practise it at night.

Please give us an idea of the practical completion of one’s meditation in activity, in karma yoga.

When you dedicate yourself and find the light within, then you have to transfer the light outside into your life. The peace that is experienced within should reflect and emanate to the life outside in behaviour, in thought, in action and so on. It is said that the yogi who has experienced peace within takes everything in this life, every action, as the command of the higher powers.

Not only that, it is said in the Bhagavad Gita that ‘every action is an instrumental cause for self-purification’. Therefore, we should do work and be free from its negative influences. We must see that we do not shake the personality and taint our inner order, equilibrium, tranquillity, which we have attained through meditation. Through spiritual silence, we should prove it to be the same in our day to day life. That is the order of karma yoga in relation to spiritual enlightenment.

Could you please amplify that a little further, for instance, the statement from the Bhagavad Gita, “Do action for the sake of action, not for the results of action.”

Usually what happens when you do anything in this world is that you achieve results, positive, negative or mixed. Usually it is negative results which influence your mind. If you get good results, it is all right, but you never get only good results. The results are usually mixed or negative, so therefore, the mind is greatly influenced by the negative aspect of results. Now what one has to do, since one has to reap results anyway, is to make the mind so strong, so well-attended and at the same time so powerful that the influence is not felt by the mind. We are not shaken by anything. It is said in the Gita, “You should do your duty, but do not be attached. Do not be influenced by the results of action.”

What is the relationship between breathing and mind control?

The system of pranayama is practised so that the grey matter, the brain, can be affected to a great degree. Peace of mind increases on account of the introduction of extra oxygen. By the practice of pranayama, the mind is quietened. Perhaps kumbhaka, breath retention, brings about a state of inertia in our coronary system, so that naturally where there is inertia, there is peace and tranquillity.

Apart from the regular method of pranayama, there is another technique which is little known. Through that method the awakening of kundalini takes place and the control of the mind becomes quite easy, but this pranayama is not usually spoken of in books. All other breathing exercises that we do are naturally useful in bringing about a state of passivity in the mind, but to have complete control over all dimensions of the chitta, the mind, higher pranayama should be practised.

Please explain more about this feeling of awareness in meditation.

In every human being there is awareness and that awareness is present even now. It is because of this awareness that you are aware that you are listening, you know what you are doing. You are doing something, you are thinking and at the same time you are aware of it, you are a witness. You do not find this awareness in an animal. An animal does so many things, but the awareness is not developed, it is dormant, and therefore it does not know. So, this awareness which is developed in man, right from the beginning, when it leaves the portals of this body, the portals of this mind, becomes completely pure. When the body consciousness and the mental consciousness are not activated with this pure consciousness, this is known as cosmic consciousness.

This particular awareness has no form. It is not in the form of attention or in the form of thought. You are sitting there now; you are aware of so many things, and the awareness is full of illumination. For the time being, maintain your awareness as it is. Then take away the objects, yourself, myself, and everyone else, as if by magic they become absent for some time. Only awareness remains at the same intensity.

That is the form of awareness in yoga and usually it is not properly understood because we have no fundamental concept of the word awareness. When I use the word awareness, I use it to mean this kind of awareness. This is the awareness which remains even at night, when you are asleep. In the morning when you wake up, if I ask you, “How did you sleep?” you answer, “I had a nice sleep, I slept well.” Now the question arises, if you were sleeping, how did you know that you were sleeping well? It means that the experiencer, the witness of the sleep, was also there. So, this awareness is the supreme and subtle state of awareness in yoga.

What is your concept of bhakti yoga?

Karma yoga and bhakti yoga must go hand in hand. Without bhakti yoga, karma yoga cannot be practised. In my opinion, man has bhakti within. According to the yogic concept, there are two types of bhakti. One is the form of ritual and prayer about which we know enough. The other aspect of bhakti is non-ritualistic, and it is the nature of your heart, the feeling for God, about which you have not been trained and you know nothing. The strong feeling, the strong impulse or attraction towards the supreme being is known as bhakti.

As a matter of fact, my concept of bhakti is that it is a method, a process of adjustment, of selfless emotion. We have so much emotional energy in us that we are unable to exhaust that energy. We give that energy to our children, to our family members, to various works in the world, but it remains unexhausted. So then what happens is that it creates an explosion in our personality. It is like a tank being filled up with a stream of water and then overflowing later on. The energy fills our mind; our mind is unable to contain that energy, so it overflows. When it overflows, it is in the form of erratic behaviour, in the form of so many negative things that we see in the world, murder, crime etc. This is nothing but misguided emotion.

Now, this energy which we have so much of inside must be properly directed. How do we do this? If we give the whole of this emotional energy to our family members, the outlet is still not sufficient. We can love the whole world, as a matter of fact, we have so much energy! But we do not know how to do this.

Ultimately, it was decided by the ancient seers that you discover the cosmic being, the supreme being, and whatever love you have within, give to Him. In this way the unused treasure of love which you have been misusing in so many ways can be properly channelled. Since He is infinite, He can consume all the love you give Him. You give love to Him in the form of play, in the form of prayer, in the form of service to humanity, in the form of calm and quiet meditation, in the form of self-purification or by chanting His name day in and day out. You give Him your love in any manner you can and He is able to consume it because He is eternal and infinite. So this is the concept of bhakti which I think is one of the wonderful methods of bringing man to normal behaviour.

You suggested that we do meditation from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. Is there a particular reason for this?

According to our system of hatha yoga, the time from 4 a.m.to 6 a.m. is when the solar system and the lunar system are both active. Because they are active, both nostrils flow freely. As they have a free flow, the meditation becomes easier. What do we mean by lunar and solar? By lunar, we mean the thyroid glands and by solar we mean the sex glands. These two systems start working between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. After this they are again quiet. It is during this time when the energy blocks are completely cleared and the toxins are also eliminated, when the mental and pranic systems, the solar and lunar systems, are working, that meditation will be spontaneous, without difficulty. This is the purpose of doing meditation at this time.

Can you please explain the word kundalini?

In yoga, the word kundalini pertains to the sleeping energy in man. In the lower part of the body is a gland, a muscle, and organ, which is not developed as yet. Through certain kriyas, yogic techniques, the life forces can be aroused in the body. As you know, every part of our body has particular activities and faculties. The brain has its own activities, but these are the psychic faculties, the deeper and higher faculties, the secret faculties.

According to those who practise kundalini yoga, the seat of kundalini is somewhere in the pelvis, in a particular gland or place which can be awakened by definite methods under regulated conditions. When that is done, a sympathetic action takes place. There are many other centres which can be aroused. In kundalini yoga there are many methods by which you can awaken the chakras, the psychic centres.

However, before these psychic centres are awakened it is advisable to try to find out whether any of the aspirant’s psychic centres, or chakras were awakened in a previous life. It is necessary to know this because in many cases, people have already done practices in a previous birth and some of their psychic powers have been awakened, some of their psychic centres are already developed. So we have to find out where we should begin, and ordain practices accordingly. I think that the method of awakening the kundalini depends much upon previous achievement.

What is the importance of diet in yoga practice?

Diet plays an important role because of its relation with the digestion. During meditation, the secretion of hydrochloric acid and other enzymes which are directly stimulated during digestion has proved to be a great hindrance and obstruction in meditation. When you are sitting in meditation, hyperacidity in the stomach can bring about visions, hallucinations and illusions. In the same manner, if your hormones or glands are affected by heat, by toxins or by fermentation in the system, then not only does the digestive system react, but the brain also. So, naturally, it is said that in yoga diet is most important.

Could you tell us briefly about the path to nirvana?

Yes, I personally feel that in everyone’s spiritual life the development of awareness is the greatest event. We don’t talk about the body, we talk about the soul, the spirit. Now, that spirit passes through a dark period and finally that darkness is removed through certain understanding of visions, through certain understanding of hidden light or the experience of astral events.

There is a moment in meditation when the awareness becomes so full and thereafter no further expansion takes place, and that is the concept of nirvana, complete enlightenment. Complete enlightenment, nirvana or emancipation means that the individual awareness fuses with the cosmic awareness. The notion of duality between the individual and the cosmic is completely annihilated. That is the concept on which the meditation or the fundamentals of awareness should be built.