Yoga-Meditation: Antidote for Stress, Anxiety and Worry

Swami Smaranananda Giri, General Secretary, Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, Ranchi, Jharkhand

I would like to share with you a few thoughts on the topic of yoga-meditation as an antidote to stress, fear and worry. The Taittiriya Upanishad says: "From joy we have come, for joy we live and in that sacred joy one day we shall melt again." In a world of duality, where we see so much pain and suffering around us, such a statement may sound unrealistic. Isn't it so? If there is so much pain and suffering around me, is it possible that I have come from joy, that I live in joy and that one day I shall melt again in that joy? However, the words of an Upanishad cannot be taken lightly. We may not grasp the full import of such a statement intellectually, but there is hope. If we practise the eternal principles that have been well mapped out by the ancient rishis, we will find the truth in such a statement. There is hope.

Tapping inner security

In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, 'Samkhya Yoga', Bhagavan Krishna says in verse 40: Swalpamapyasya dharmasya trayate mahato bhayat, meaning – "Even a little practice of this dharma, this yoga, will save you from dire fears inherent in this life." It seems that as long as we have life, what is guaranteed is anxiety. Whether it is a boy of ten or a youth of twenty, a housewife of thirty or a retired person of seventy, the question of 'What next? What's going to happen?' is always there. That anxiety seems to be inbuilt in society, and from anxiety stems fear, and other problems. Bhagavan Krishna did not assure us that we will be saved from the troubles of life, but he said that we will be saved from the fears that come out of these troubles. Therefore, if we practise yoga-meditation, we can be calmly active and actively calm throughout our lives despite all the troubles around us. No matter what is happening around us, no matter what may happen to us, we can still be joyful. That is the assurance given by Bhagavan Krishna which cannot go wrong, if only we practise in the way that he advised us.

I would like to share with you a short story. One person had a lot of difficulties, mainly financial, and because of this he had other difficulties: family difficulties, professional difficulties. He tried and tried, but he could not get through them, he continued to face problems. One night he had a dream where the Lord appeared to him and advised, "Go to the outskirts of the town. There you will find a sadhu, ask him and he will give you a diamond which will solve all your problems."

The man was very happy. The next morning, before the sun rose, he rushed to the outskirts of the town. To his pleasant surprise he saw a sannyasi sitting there under a tree. So he went to the sannyasi and asked him, "Diamond? Diamond? Diamond?" The sadhu said, "What?" The sadhu did not have the dream, the man had the dream, so he didn't know. The man then narrated the dream to the sadhu, saying, "The Lord asked me to collect the diamond from you." The sannyasi said, "Oh! Now I understand. A few days ago when I was walking in the woods, I found something there. This is what the Lord must be referring to." He took the diamond from his shoulder bag and gave it to the man, "Here is the diamond." That diamond was so huge, so precious and so rare, and it would solve all his problems and the problems of his children and their children. He was very happy to have it; in one go, all his problems solved!

He went home. However, that night he could not sleep, he continued to toss around in his bed. The next morning, before the sun came up, he rushed to the same spot on the outskirts of the town and found the sadhu. Addressing the holy man, he said, "Here is your diamond. Please take it back." The sadhu was surprised. "Why?" he asked, "The Lord asked you to collect it from me; I gave it to you wholeheartedly. Why do you want to give it back?" The man said, "There is something in you by which you were able to give away this diamond so easily. I want that something. Not this diamond."

There is something inside us, that inner security, which is more valuable than the most valuable diamond. That diamond could give material security, health insurance and much else even to a sannyasi, yet he was able to give it away easily. There is something inside each one of us, something special that we should tap. Yoga-meditation is the way.

Root cause of problems

I would like to give you an example. Suppose you have fever and you approach a doctor. The doctor immediately gives a tablet of paracetamol. You take it and the temperature goes down, but is that all the doctor gives? No. Along with the paracetamol he also gives an antibiotic, because paracetamol only reduces the temperature, giving you temporary symptomatic relief. The root cause of the temperature, the bacteria inside, has to be removed by antibiotics. An antibiotic is required to remove the root cause of the fever; paracetamol alone will not do.

It is the same with your problems. You say, "I have this financial problem, I have this family problem, I have this professional problem, I have this relationship problem, I have this social problem." All of these problems are there; however, if you try to remove the financial or the family problem only, it will reappear in some other form. So understand the root cause of these problems and remove it. That root cause which is giving rise to all these external problems should be removed. Otherwise we are only trying to have symptomatic relief by removing the financial problem or the family problem. What is the root cause of these external problems? It is ignorance, ajnana.

Ignorance is the root cause; ignorance of the truth that 'I am divine'. I am ignorant of that highest truth. That is the cause of all these problems. If I am divine, and if I really know and realize it, then these problems would not make an impact on me.

Nourishing the soul

Let me put this in some other words. I have this body. I take care of this body, by right diet, right exercise, and so on. I must take care of this body because it is my responsibility. When I take care of this body, the body in turn gives me health and mobility. It is not only a body that I have to take care of, but I have a mind, too. I have to take care of the mind by intellectual pursuits, by positive thinking. If I do so, the mind gives me intelligence in return, the ability to get along with others in society, the mind gives me all that. However, many people stop here. They take care of their body, they take care of their mind, but that is not adequate.

I also have a soul. I have to nourish my soul, too. Nourishment for my soul is deep contemplation, or yoga-meditation. That is the nourishment for my soul. If I nourish my soul properly, cultivate it properly, then in turn, the soul gives me something: intuition, perfect joy and unconditional love. All this doesn't come from the body or the mind; unconditional joy can only come from my soul, and I have to nourish and take care of the soul by proper meditation. I am a threefold being: body, mind and soul. It is my responsibility to develop all three in a harmonious way so that I receive health, intelligence, perfect love, intuition and that unconditional joy. Here I stop for a little while and talk about another topic.

What is God?

What is God? 'God' is a word we have been hearing from childhood. Did we ever stop and contemplate what God is? There are many books written on this concept, many lectures given. All are correct in their own right. However, to me, to my heart, the closest definition of God is this: God is Satchidananda. That is the definition of God that I like most, the definition closest to my heart. God is Satchidananda. Let me explain.

'Satchidananda' is a word we have been hearing from childhood. We even name our children Satchidananda, but what does it mean? You see, we don't know what God is, we have no concept, but whether God is a 'he' or a 'she' or an 'it', there is someone called God. Can that someone be sorrowful? Even if we do not know much, without any loss of generality we can definitely start with the assumption that God is joy, someone who cannot be sorrowful. However, to say 'God is joy' or 'God is bliss' is a gross understatement. God is not simple joy.

When I take a mango, it gives me joy. When I take a second mango, it gives me further joy. However, the third mango doesn't give me the same joy. Isn't it so? The fourth one I don't want to take. By the fifth mango, I will hit the person who gives it to me, because of the theory of diminishing returns. The theory of marginal utility applies. Not only to mangoes, it applies to every item; every experience in this creation is governed by this. Any experience that you think of which gave you some happiness once, twice, thrice, slowly loses its charm. There is one thing in this creation which is not subject to the theory of diminishing returns, and that is God and contact with God. God-contact is ever-new. So God is not simple joy, He is ever-new joy. God is not simple ananda, He is nitya-navina-ananda, ever-new joy. Always joy, always ever-new.

There are devotees who meditate one day, the next day they meditate and the next day again they meditate; day after day after day they meditate. Somebody else who does not meditate may think, 'Yesterday I saw him meditate. Can't he skip it today? How does it matter?' No. He knows that God-contact is ever-new, ever-new joy.

Now God may be ever-new joy, but what good is it if God is not aware of His ever-new joy? So God is also ever-conscious, ever-aware of His ever-new joy. So God is ever-conscious ever-new joy. What is consciousness? Chit, chit is consciousness. God is chidananda: ever-conscious, ever-new joy.

Now God may be ever-new joy, and He may be ever-conscious of His ever-new joy, but what good is it if it exists only for a little while and then is gone? That is for me human. As a human being, I can only think of things between my birth and death, for a finite period. However, God is, God was and God will be. God is ever-existing, eternal. That is sat, truth. God is ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy, sat-chit-ananda. God is Satchidananda. That is a description of God, Satchidananda.

I don't stop here. Whenever I describe God I have some­thing more to say. My full description of God is this: God is Satchidananda and Aham Brahmasmi. What does it mean? Aham means I, so 'I am Brahman'. Potentially I am ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss. That is what my potentiality is, I am That. The only thing is that I am ignorant of this. Yoga-meditation is the key which takes me to that point. It gives me a glimpse of that ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss. I don't have to get it from outside. It is inside. I am there. It is mine. No one can take it, because it is my birthright.

From joy to joy

Now you understand the meaning of the aphorismin Taittiriya Upanishad, "From joy I have come. For joy I live and in that sacred joy one day I will melt again." I am that joy, and if that is true for me, if I can contact that joy through meditation, then I can boldly say that no matter what is happening around me or to me, I can always be joyful, because that is what I am. If we are contacting God that way in our regular yoga-meditation, we can be calmly active and actively calm throughout the turbulent days of our life, and that is the state of sthitaprajna; no matter what is happening around us we can still be joyful.

There may be suffering in life. That we cannot avoid, because suffering is something that is thrust upon us by circumstances over which we have no control. Yet joy is something that we can generate. Essentially, I would like to say that suffering and joy can go together. There can be suffering, there can be pain in me, my body can be aching, but still I can be joyful. That is possible with yoga-meditation, and we give thanks to our ancient rishis and guru parampara who have kept those sacred meditation techniques alive and given them to us.

What happens when we are regularly meditating? Suppose there is a person with mental depression in the family. Friends and family members are so interested in him. They try to lift him up by arranging parties, movies, special food, and so on. They try to take him out of the mental depression, but that person is depressed, he cannot be at parties; they cannot make him better. The same thing happens to someone who is in touch with God through meditation. He is in such a mental state that although the circumstances around him may be trying to pull him down, still he stays there.

That was the state of Bhakta Mira. She had so many problems, probably much more than what you and I are going through in life, yet she was always joyful because she could contact that God-joy. Bhakta Tukaram, Bhakta Mira, they were all like that. We have so many examples around us. I would like to tell you one thing. This joy is not something that is unknown to us. We are joyful when we take a mango, but this is so different. The joy of God-contact in meditation is so different. To explain I would say that joy has three shades: physiological, psychological and spiritual.

Three aspects of joy

Physiological joy is experienced when, for instance, I take a sweet. Immediately my taste buds are excited, and that is why I am joyful. Something happens physiologically: the tongue, the taste buds are stimulated. The same thing happens in meditation. After you meditate, your body feels very light. You don't feel the sixty kilograms you are carrying; the body feels so light. It shows up in the eyes as well. Physiologically, there is some change. This is the physiological aspect of joy.

Psychologically, joy is experienced when the trigger is not physiological, I don't need to take a sweet or a mango to be happy. Suppose I am sitting here and I hear some good news. Something good has happened to my family or my country. Immediately I feel very happy psychologically. Not from anything that I am seeing, but psychologically. The same thing happens in meditation; you don't receive anything physically, but psychologically you feel well, you feel the assurance that all is well.

The third aspect of joy is spiritual. This joy is most important for me. To explain the spiritual nature of joy, I would like to quote Paramahamsa Yoganandaji, whom I follow. Paramahamsa Yoganandaji is the author of the book Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of the Yogoda Satsanga Society. He said, "When bliss comes over you, you recognize it as a conscious, intelligent Universal Being to whom you may appeal, and not as an abstract, mental concept." Mark his words. He said when that bliss comes over you in meditation, when that joy comes over you, you recognize that joy as a conscious, intelligent Universal Being to whom you may appeal.

This means that the experience of joy comes with the sense of a presence, a higher presence. I don't mean that after meditation you see a person with two heads and four hands sitting on a throne. If someone sees this, fine, no problem, but this presence is not necessarily felt that way. The joy comes, and you recognize that joy, "Yes, Lord, yes." It is a conscious, intelligent Universal Being to whom you may appeal. Without seeing anyone, without having a vision, without hearing any sound, you know that you are in the presence of something higher. That is so beautiful about this meditation. The presence, the existence of God is proven to you to the core of your being. It is not intellectual any more. You are not reading or listening to some lectures. It is simply your own experience. Without seeing, without hearing, you are convinced. That is the joy. That joy comes not only to Bhakta Mira and Bhakta Tukaram; ordinary human beings can also feel this joy.

I will tell you a story where ordinary people were able to feel that joy. When we were doing research work at IIT Kharagpur back in 1981, one of our friends finished his PhD work and was going for his viva voce exams, the oral examinations, the final stage to get a PhD degree. The students were all waiting in a seminar hall for an external examiner to arrive and conduct the exam. Professor B. Nag, the man who built the first computer in India in the 1970s, was coming to Kharagpur for examining. He was a little late, and so we were all waiting, students and senior scholars. As soon as he arrived, he asked the head of our department where the first candidate was. My friend came forward, and our Department Head, Professor Saraf, introduced him, "Here is the candidate." As soon as Professor Nag saw my friend, he stepped back. He said, "You appear so relaxed, as if the exam is already over." This was the comment of the external examiner, "You? You appear so relaxed as if the exam is already over." Usually, what does an exam mean? 'Thump, thump, thump, thump' – the heart is beating fast. Whether it is a Class 1 schoolboy or a PhD student, an exam means the heart beats fast. However, my friend said, "I am prepared, so what is the problem? I am ready." He had been meditating for about a year or so. That is the beauty that comes from meditation.

The stillness of meditation

I will share with you another point about what meditation is. One person approached a saint and asked him, "Holy Sir, I want to know God. I am very busy. I don't have much time in life, so please tell me what is God in one sentence." This sounds quite familiar, doesn't it? Generally, we don't have much time for God. We want to know what is God in one sentence. The sadhu said, "Son, why in one sentence? One word will do." The man asked, "What is it?" The sadhu answered, "Silence." Then they had the following exchange:

"What? God is silence?"

"Yes, God is silence."

"What is silence?"

"Meditation."

"How do you meditate?"

"In silence."

"How do you get that silence?"

"By meditation."

Here the three words, 'silence', 'God' and 'meditation' are used as if they refer to the same thing, which is true, because in a higher sense what he is talking about is not the mere silencing of vocal cords. Vocal cords have to be silent, thoughts have to be silent, emotions have to be silent, anxieties have to be silent, eyes have to be silent, tongue has to be silent, skin has to be silent. All the senses have to be silent. All the senses have to be subdued. Thoughts, emotions are all absent.

So where are you? For me a better word is 'stillness' or nischal, rather than silent. In this stillness, where are you? Aham Brahmasmi. When you don't have thoughts, emotions, anxieties, sight, hearing, where are you? You are with your real self. That is what the saint spoke about. If you go to that stillness, you experience God. That is the fifth step of Patanjali's ashtanga marga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara. Pratyahara is that stillness, that interiorization. Then come dharana, dhyana and samadhi. That interiorization is a part of meditation. That is why you meditate, to get to a stage where thoughts, ambitions, anxieties are all subdued. You are so clear, but your mind is active.

That is why the Bible says, "Be still and know that I am God." Jesus is referring to this stillness. The classical example is: If God is Aham Brahmasmi, then God's reflection is in me, I am a part of God; but why can't I perceive this? The classical example given in spiritual literature is this: "If you want to see the reflection of the moon on a lake, the lake has to be still." If the lake is ruffled you cannot see the reflection of the moon. The moon is there, but you cannot see it. Even if you see it, it is distorted. So God's reflection is in me. God's presence is in me, but the lake of my mind, the lake of my consciousness, is always ruffled. This is why I am not able to see. "Be still and know I am God," Jesus says.

In the Bhaja Govindam it is said: Satsangatve nisangatvam, nisangatve nirmohatvam, nirmohatve nischalatatvam, nischalatatve jivanmukti. Satsangatvam leads to nisangatvam; nisangatvam leads to nirmohatvam, freedom from delusion. Freedom from delusion leads to nischalatatvam, stillness, and stillness leads to jivanmukti, liberation. One step below mukti, salvation, is stillness.

A Chinese proverb says, "The entire world surrounds the one who is still within." Here it is not the physical world that is surrounding you, yet the one who is still within is the king of kings. How do you achieve that? Through yoga-meditation.

We must be so grateful to our guru parampara, starting from Patanjali and even earlier, to Bhagavan Krishna, for giving us the techniques which you and I can use in our own homes. We don't have to go out to the Himalayas to practise yoga; we can practise and be benefited in our very own homes.

—Address, 26 October 2013, Polo Ground, Munger