The Purpose of Meditation

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, talk given in Vienna, Austria, in 1968, originally printed in YOGA, Vol. XIV, No. 1, January 1976

What is the purpose of meditation? Some people proclaim it is a way to self-realization and the fusing of individual awareness with higher awareness. In my humble opinion, this aim is too high and the outcome of a psychological error in human minds. Meditation is for self-realization, but very few people can teach it in this light, very few can learn it and fewer still can practise it. Until the mind is sound and healthy, and the subliminal inhibitions and personality errors are completely remedied, it is not at all advisable to take to the practice of meditation for the expansion of cosmic consciousness. Otherwise it tends to be self-hypnosis.

Human welfare

I want to discuss yoga in relation to human welfare, not divine awareness. Spiritual awareness may be the summum bonum of life, but it is too early for us to think of it because we are not healthy. We are suffering from not only chronic physical illness, but also mental illness. We are not aware of the deep-rooted tensions guiding human behaviour. The individual afflictions and subliminal pains in our lives are guiding the destiny of the world. The restlessness throughout the world is an outcome of the sickness in man’s mind. There must be some way to cure this illness, some method to develop a healthy environment in society, the community, the family and also in the individual mind.

Religions have failed; economic programs have also failed to bring peace to mankind and to solve the problems of the individual, the community and the society. The problems start with the individual, and they can only be resolved by the individual.

What is meditation?

If you agree that meditation is a science of mind and not a science of God; if you agree that it is a system for the reorientation of human personality as a whole and not mere physics; if you agree it is a system through which we can root out the individual’s pain, the unseen afflictions and tensions around us, in the muscular, mental and emotional bodies, then let us go ahead with the subject.

Our behaviour, thinking, actions and reactions are guided by the soul, by the consciousness. This consciousness is not pure; it works in association with the atmosphere, environmental conditions, etc. As a result, tensions pile up in the different spheres of our personality and we are not aware of it. Therefore, we suffer from insomnia, inhibitions, juvenile delinquency, sexual anarchy, hatred, restlessness, anxiety, worry and so on. Then we look for peace and tranquillity, but peace does not come from outside and tranquillity cannot be introduced. They are the result of unfoldment, but we do not know real unfoldment.

Meditation is a system by which we are able to get rid of the tensions and at the same time analyse the deep-rooted psychological errors. After surveying the different meditation movements throughout the world, I am sorry to tell you that people do not know what meditation is for. Concentration of the mind on a particular point is not meditation. Developing inner awareness is not meditation.

Eliminating tensions

The first step towards achieving meditation is relaxation. It is not the relaxation where you lie down, close your eyes, and feel yourself becoming lighter, happier and so on. This method of autosuggestion is the hypnotic method. In yoga the process of withdrawal is the process of relaxation. What Patanjali calls pratyahara, withdrawal of external consciousness, or dissociation of consciousness from external objects, is relaxation. It cannot be complete unless you have relaxed all the tensions within the system.

Tensions are physical, mental and emotional. Unbalanced hormonal secretions due to faulty living, faulty breathing and so on can cause tensions. They are not necessarily due to the psychological problems of society or the emotional maladjustment of the family. There can also be nervous disorders and other physiological problems. Therefore, in yoga, asana and pranayama come first in order to get rid of muscular and physical tensions, to eliminate the toxins from the body and, at the same time, to balance the hormonal secretions. For instance, over and under secretion of the pituitary hormones, the sexual hormones, adrenaline, thyroxin, all have a great influence on our behaviour and thinking.

These tensions can be solved by the practice of hatha yoga. Asana and pranayama are not just exercises, and should be performed with great care. Scientific investigations carried out in Russia, Poland, India, France and Germany have shown that the whole endocrine system is greatly influenced during the practice of asana. As a result, toxins are eliminated and energy blocks are cleared. Therefore, asana and pranayama remove muscular tensions and then mental tensions, which are the greatest tensions.

Overthinking, wrong thinking and vicious thinking, which we do in our day-to-day life, cause these mental tensions. To eliminate them, we must practise relaxation where we withdraw our consciousness. When the withdrawal or the negation of consciousness has taken place, the next step is the expansion of consciousness. So the whole process is divided into two stages: negation and expansion. In the process of negation, there are different techniques to withdraw or calm the tensions created by the ocular system, the auditory system and the nervous system, and those created by internal functional deficiencies.

Relaxation and meditation

When we practise mediation or relaxation, we must have a technique. Not all techniques are suitable for everyone, but various practices can be taken up without any difficulty or risk. The easiest one is ajapa japa, spontaneous awareness of japa while concentrating on the breath. When you concentrate on the breath, you try to formulate an ascending and descending process. Then the consciousness is withdrawn; the area of experience is diminished. The consciousness functions in a limited area and thereafter you start with a symbol.

You have an image; you have a centre. You try to develop a clear-cut psychic, internal, non-sensuous, mental awareness of that symbol. This symbol must become clear to you. You should be able to see it consciously in order to effect complete relaxation. It is not enough just to visualise your subconscious mind. Yoga believes that in meditation you should be able to see your conscious mind, your subconscious mind and also your unconscious mind, which is very difficult.

The moment the experience of the unconscious personality arises, complete relaxation takes place. There are moments during deep sleep when we become aware of the unconscious mind and afterwards we feel completely relaxed. In the science of yoga, it is believed that when the awareness is detached from the conscious, subconscious and unconscious, and when the individual awareness functions independently of these three dimensions of consciousness, relaxation takes place and meditation begins.

Meditation can never begin before relaxation, and relaxation is the most difficult thing. You may think that meditation is difficult, but it is not. Meditation is accomplished spontaneously. Meditation comes to you and it does not take a long time. But in order to develop the spontaneous state of meditation, it is necessary to go through the whole process of relaxation.

Perception of consciousness

In yoga this process is called pratyahara and dharana. Pratyahara means withdrawal of consciousness, and dharana means conception of consciousness in a particular way. You are your consciousness; you see your awareness but it is an internal perception. It may be a round stone, a triangle, a flower or anything, but you should be able to see it. The object you see inside is not imagination; it is a form of your consciousness.

The triangle you see inside is made up of your consciousness through which you understand me. It is the same consciousness through which I am able to speak to you on yoga, It is the same consciousness through which you know what is right, through which your intellect functions. It is the same consciousness which manifests in day-to-day life in the form of memory, and through which you understand hatred and love. It is the same consciousness which functions in the world. It is not imagination or hypothesis but a force, an awareness, an instrument of knowledge, or medium of understanding, the substance of perception.

It is this consciousness that is withdrawn from objects, from intellectual knowledge, from experience and memory of the past, from the knowledge of right and wrong. When it has been dissociated from the different bases of perception, but at the same time it becomes clear to you in the form of a triangle, flower, stone, light or an animal, then it means that you are seeing your own consciousness. This is the fundamental secret of yoga and meditation.

Exhausting the subliminal impressions

Meditation, therefore, is the process in which you see your own consciousness. Consciousness sees itself through itself without any agency. You undergo a process of self-perception, not self-analysis. Here meditation surpasses the psychoanalysis of modern psychology. You not only analyse yourself, you see yourself. How do you see yourself? You see yourself in the form of a triangle; the triangle vanishes and is replaced by the images of your psychological personality.

Hundreds and thousands of images come up, as they do on a reel of film. You do not see objects and scenes from real life, as you have experienced them; perhaps you don’t even see the people you know in this life. You will see those images which represent your consciousness, your instincts and your subliminal impressions. You will see the things which have been causing trouble in your life, the basis of tension, the causes of hatred, insomnia, anxiety and all sorts of psychosomatic problems.

When you try to bring back the triangle, again it disappears. It is replaced by deeper psychological images, because in the subconscious mind there are also depths and layers. You will have to realise these subconscious layers, one after the other, and there are moments in meditation when you will see visions, both good and bad.

Unfortunately, in the absence of this knowledge, you may take them to be what are called astral entities or objective travelling. You may think that ghosts or angels have come to you, but nothing comes from outside; everything emerges from within. Everything has exploded from inside. Your consciousness is everything. There is nothing beyond it. Anything you see in the deeper states of meditation is a manifestation of different, complicated, unseen, unknown and invisible layers of your personality, which, perhaps, you will never know through any method of psychoanalysis.

You may see childhood experiences which you have forgotten and thought insignificant but were causing you trouble. These come up in the form of explosions, evil pictures, or divine expressions. These are the subliminal images or samskaras as they are called in yoga. They come up and exhaust themselves, one after the other. But this is only possible if you try to bring about a concentration, consolidation or crystallisation of your consciousness.

Ajapa japa meditation

In meditation, therefore, when you concentrate on the natural breath, you try to find a psychic passage for it. Breath is breath, it is physical. But the idea ‘I am breathing’ is not physical, it is psychic. When I breathe, it is physical. The breath goes into the lungs, supplies oxygen and purifies the blood. It is a scientific fact that when you know ‘I am breathing,’ you create a psychic idea, and this is the gateway to meditation, or rather the gateway to psychoanalysis.

In yoga there are hundreds of passages, but I will introduce only two. One passage is between the navel and the throat for beginners, and the second is in the vertebral column, the spinal cord. The idea ‘I am breathing’, the consciousness ‘I am breathing’, should be felt in one of these two passages. Either you feel ‘I am breathing’ in the frontal passage or you feel it in the spinal column. If you feel the breath in the spinal cord, it is much better, because concentration on the spinal cord takes you directly to the unconscious. Please remember that I am not talking about kundalini yoga. As a student of psychology and yoga, I believe kundalini yoga is a gate to the unconscious and I know the unconscious is the way to perfect peace and complete power.

Take your consciousness to the spinal cord, right from the bottom to the top, in the form of ‘I am breathing in, I am breathing out’. This idea should create an ascending and descending order in your spinal cord. As you breathe in, you must feel that you are ascending, and as you breathe out, you should feel that you are descending. Who is ascending and who is descending? Consciousness is ascending and descending. When you synchronise it with the breath, it becomes easier to feel the ascending and descending movement. At the same time, as you breathe in and out, you create more oxygen in the system and as a result relaxation takes place. You exhale carbondioxide and you accelerate metabolism in the system. This also accelerates relaxation.

Awareness of the unconscious

Therefore, in ajapa japa, it is necessary to be aware of the fact that you are breathing by the process of counting. This will keep you from falling into deep unconsciousness, because that happens sometimes in meditation. When concentration takes place, the breath stops and suspension of consciousness takes place. The purpose of meditation is not to become unconscious. It is to develop awareness even when there is absolute unconsciousness. I am not talking about samadhi, cosmic awareness or divine experiences – please do not confuse them. I am saying that yoga or meditation is a system, a process, a method by which you can see your own consciousness.

At night when you go to sleep, you become unconscious, but you do not see it, you do not experience it. Therefore, only partial relaxation takes place, not complete relaxation. In yoga a method has been developed by which you can go into the unconscious and see it. You can investigate and visualise your unconscious and come back again. You come back with energy, power, confidence and absolute equilibrium. This is the basis of yoga.

The process of inhalation and exhalation, of ascending and descending consciousness in the spinal cord or the frontal passage is not meditation. It is an act of negation of consciousness, of withdrawal of empirical, external, objective consciousness. There is a moment in meditation when the circle of consciousness is reduced to one point. That is where relaxation must be stopped. A yoga student should know how far to continue relaxation. If you continue relaxation any further, you will enter into unconsciousness and you will never become aware of it. This is the death of yoga, the death of a yogi.

Darshan: unconscious visualisation

You must know the point where you should stop the process of negation of consciousness. It is for this reason that every student of meditation should have a symbol. The symbol can be a green leaf, a flower, a star, a triangle, or anything as a matter of fact, but you must have one. It is no use having an abstract idea. I have practised this for years and years and it is called abstract meditation, meditation without form. Abstract meditation leads one to unconsciousness; concrete meditation leads one to the unconscious with consciousness.

What is the proof that you have been able to perceive the unconscious? What are the symptoms? What is the indication that you have visualised your unconscious? I am not speaking about superconsciousness. When you are able to visualise the object of your meditation as clearly as you see me or other people every day, you will know that you have seen your unconscious and you have come back.

It is not a conscious dream. In a dream, if you see a rose, but you are not aware that you are seeing a rose, then it is subconscious. The indication of manifestations of the subconscious personality is that you will see psychic visions, one after the other, both good and bad. When you go into the unconscious, the visions stop. No angels or ghosts come. You will only see the object upon which you were trying to crystallise your consciousness. You will see the lotus flower, the elephant, the serpent or the flame, that is all, because this was your object of meditation.

When you see the object of meditation internally, it is so clear, so true, that sometimes when you come out, there is a doubt as to whether this is true or that is true. When the unconscious is perceived, the distinction between conscious and unconscious experience is dissolved. The experience is unconscious if the object is as real as the experience of that object on the conscious plane. If you happen to see me in the unconscious, it is only when you withdraw yourself from the unconscious and come back to the conscious plane that you will know, “Oh, yes, I saw Swamiji as real as this.” This particular state of experience is known in yoga philosophy as darshan, which means unconscious visualisation or perception of the object in all its dimensions.

When your consciousness has become completely free from limitations, completely free from sense consciousness, intellectual consciousness and all other modes of empirical consciousness, it is in this state that peace is achieved. It is in this moment that you become a yogi. It is in this moment that all the tensions, afflictions, troubles, shocks and reactions of day-to-day life are completely resolved.

Yoga, the way to self-purification

So the topic of meditation is not at all difficult. It is divided into two stages. The first is negation and the second is what I call expansion of awareness. In this process you will have many experiences and a lot of mental turmoil. You will see the subconscious and many past memories will return to you. If you believe in reincarnation, you may even go back to other lives, but this is not possible for all.

This is how through yoga and meditation you go into the different rooms of your life and try to clean them all one by one. Once you have cleaned yourself within, you should take to the spiritual path. You should go to a guru and ask him for initiation. Perhaps at that moment he may touch your forehead and you may attain samadhi. I do not say that samadhi is not there. There is a spiritual state also; there is superconsciousness. One can attain samadhi and have higher experiences than this, but for that we must qualify ourselves. In order to do this we must practise yoga.

Yoga is not the end, it is the means, the process. The ancient scriptures say it is a method of self-purification. By medicine you cure disease, by food you purify the body, but by yoga you purify the body and the mind. The mind in all its dimensions, conscious, subconscious and unconscious, all three stages of personality, are cleared.

When everything is calm and quiet, when the samskaras and karmas have been exhausted, and the afflictions are no more, then you should go for the higher spiritual path, not before. Although the aim of your life should be to attain spiritual realisation, you should never seek that higher path unless mental health has been attained and the errors, confusions and pandemonium in the personality have been completely calmed down.

Integral yoga

It is for this reason that karma yoga is practised. Meditation by itself does not help entirely. Through meditation you clean your body, mind and consciousness, but again your karmas accumulate impressions. Your emotional personality gets confused and your thinking becomes erroneous again. It is like cleaning a room and then putting the dirt back inside. In the same manner, you are trying to clear your personality of dross, tensions and afflictions, but what is happening is that the karmas and samskaras that you are clearing out on one side are being reintroduced on the other side.

This is the reason why a yogi who practises meditation must also practise karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. Through karma yoga you stop the samskaras, you stop the effect of karmas going into the deepest core of your personality. There is an art in stopping them and it is given in the Bhagavad Gita. You should study it.

Then comes the practice of jnana yoga. Here you have to understand that I am consciousness, the light is in me, I am not this body, I am not the senses. This kind of understanding should be gained so that the mind does not become attached to things. Try to nip the samskaras in the bud with correct thinking. In this way the emotional tensions, the tensions born of karma, or wrong thinking, should be stopped side by side with meditation.

There are hundreds and thousands of people throughout the world who practise meditation but who are not happy with the results because they think that meditation in itself should solve all their problems. However, please remember that meditation should be practised side by side with the other forms of yoga. Jnana yoga, bhakti yoga and karma yoga are also very necessary.