Stages of Jnana Yoga

From Jnana Yoga, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Meditation has to be understood in the right perspective and context. The one word ‘meditation’ contains many different ideas, stages, experiences and attainments within it. What is the starting point of meditation which can lead to jnana yoga?

Stage one

For everyone, the starting point, focus and aim of meditation in the first stage is physical stability. Those who have practised the meditative process sequentially, according to the Bihar Yoga tradition, will know that the first practice of meditation that is taught is kaya sthairyam. Many people think, “It is only a practice to become quiet and still, but I want to meditate.” They forget an important factor: concentration cannot be achieved without stilling the senses, and the senses are not mental, but physical. Therefore, kaya sthairyam, stillness of the body, stillness of sensory input and output, is the first step in meditation.

You may be able to sit quietly for five or ten minutes, but the nature of the senses is such that disturbance will be created in that state of stillness and silence. You will allow yourself to be disturbed; you will not be able to resist the disturbance. I haven’t come across anybody who can resist the mental disturbance. Anxiety overpowers the mind. Frustration, guilt and desires overpower the mind. These are mental dissipations and distractions which break the harmony and peace of mind, and nobody can resist them. Everybody falls prey to anxiety, fears, inhibitions, complexes, frustrations, depressions and elations. This means only one thing: nobody has perfected kaya sthairyam.

How can you resist, observe and quieten the sensorial and physical distractions? Since the term kaya sthairyam means stillness of body, people think, “If I sit still, I am practising kaya sthairyam.” You do not perfect kaya sthairyam by sitting still; it is the stillness of the senses that must be attained. The senses continuously move towards their gratification and identify with sense objects. That craving and need has to stop. Therefore, the first stage of meditation is stilling the senses and the interaction of the senses with sense objects. That is known as kaya sthairyam.

Stage two

After having perfected kaya sthairyam, you come to the mind. In meditation, the mind has to be stilled. The chatter of thoughts has to be stopped, refused and diminished. The cravings and expectations have to be diminished. As you are able to gain more control over your mental behaviour, you will discover that the mental chatter gradually reduces. That is an indication of progress. Today, you might be disturbed by a hundred thoughts. Tomorrow, only ten will come. That is when you know that you are walking on the right path. As the vasanas, passions, lessen, as the thoughts lessen, there is less distraction and disturbance in the mind and more stillness, silence and peace. In this stage, you are searching for that centre within where you experience peace.

One experiences peace only when one contemplates on the Supreme Element. Try it. Begin contemplating on something, your family or your work. The moment you start thinking, the mind becomes restless, thoughts begin to come at great speed, and those thoughts are about your problems, desires, attachments and wishes. However, when you meditate on guru or God, the mind does not become restless. It feels as if the mind has become centred on guru or God and no worldly thoughts come. A feeling of faith manifests. Therefore, one has to discover that centre within where one can fix one’s mind and quieten the chatter of the mind. That is the second stage of meditation.

Stage three

In the third stage of meditation, you become the drashta, the observer. Without becoming the observer, you cannot walk further. You have to know what you are going to do and where you are going to walk. The drashta holds the map of the journey in his hands, because that is a natural and spontaneous attainment of drashta-hood, of becoming the observer.

Until a few years ago, those who wanted to undertake long journeys would go to the Automobile Association. The representative there would help plan out the route by marking it with a highlighter on a map. As you held out the marked map, you saw your route clearly defined as well as all the other lanes and by-lanes which you need not take. You became the drashta of your path. When you hold the map in your hand, you automatically become the drashta of your path, “I have to go through the highlighted road only, as it will take me to my destination.” That is the third state of meditation. After having stilled the mental behaviours, you become the drashta. Being the drashta means that if there is joy, fine, but you are not that joy. You are the observer of the joy. If there is pain, let it be, you are not experiencing it, you are observing it. In this way, no matter what circumstance you go through, you become its observer. Being the drashta, you watch all the experiences that are taking place in the manas, chitta, buddhi and ahamkara. You watch which of them is binding you and which is freeing you. Which desire is binding you to the world and which is freeing you? Which thought is attaching you to the world of senses and which thought is freeing you from it? Until the drashta bhava manifests, you cannot make such a decision. The drashta bhava brings both viveka, discrimination, and vairagya, non-attachment. Therefore, in the third step you have to awaken the drashta bhava. You have to enhance the positive thoughts and samskaras which bring about human evolution and get rid of the unnecessary thoughts and samskaras which manifest incessantly. Your path is now clearly outlined, as all the dissipations of the mind have stopped.

Stage four

In the fourth stage, you start fine-tuning yourself. This is where the process of jnana yoga begins. The body is still, the senses are still, the mind is still, the disturbed state of the mind has been quietened, you have become the drashta and made the appropriate use of viveka and vairagya. After stilling the senses, stilling the mental chatter and becoming the observer of your mental processes, you consciously alter your mental behaviour. You apply your power of discernment, viveka shakti, to sift the appropriate from the inappropriate and then apply your power of non-attachment, vairagya shakti, to detach from the negative and move towards the positive. In this way, slowly, the percentage of tamas and rajas reduces and that of sattwa is enhanced.

Now begins the contemplation: Who am I? In this contemplation, the mahavakya that you focus on is Prajnanam Brahman – “This consciousness is Brahman, this whole life is Brahman, I am surrounded by Brahman, I am surrounded by that Supreme Element.” We are surrounded by that Supreme Element just as a fish is surrounded by water, but does not know that it is living in water. We are surrounded by air and know that is so due to our intelligence, but we would not know it if we did not possess intelligence. How would you then know that you are surrounded by something called air? In the same way that air pervades the entire earth, an element subtler than air is the Ishwara tattwa, Paramatma tattwa, Brahma tattwa. It is also all-pervading like air. Air is not Indian, American, Chinese or Russian; it is all-pervading. In the same way, the Supreme Spirit is not Indian, Chinese, American, European or African; it is all-pervading.

That Supreme Element is what you need to search for. The process of connecting with it begins with the thinking, “The Supreme Element is all pervading. It is within me, it is in my consciousness and I am a part of it. I am not the body, nor the experiences associated with the body. I am the conscious element and that conscious element is prajna.”

Prajna means awakened intellect or awakened discrimination. In that awakened state, you are able to establish a connection with God. But this God is not a physical entity which is manifest; it is formless. Brahman means formless God, a combination of consciousness and energy. When this jnana or understanding takes over the consciousness, the whole world appears as a playground. You realize that just as children go to a park and play, you have come to this earth to play with wealth, family and job.

Stage five

When you go on contemplating the above, you reach the fifth stage of meditation where you perceive the whole world as manifestation of the Supreme Spirit. You no longer see yourself as separate from God. Right now, there is an experience of duality, “Here is me and there is God.” ‘My’ experiences take place in a narrow field and the God experience takes place in an expansive field. There is dvaita bhava: “I am here and I am contemplating my object of worship, my ishta or my God, my Brahman.” By contemplating in this way for a long time, you begin to feel Sarvam khalvidam Brahman – “All is Brahman”. Now comes the second mahavakya: Aham Brahmasmi.

The second mahavakya is an experience of advaita, non-duality. There are always problems in duality, whereas there is peace in non-duality. Take the example of religions. Every religion says, “This is it.” A Hindu will say, “This is the truth.” A Muslim will say, “This is the truth” and a Christian will say, “This is the truth.” No one will say, “That is also the truth.” When you highlight only one thing, that which you are connected with, it represents dvaita. You think that what you are seeing and experiencing is the only reality. However, if you say, “That is also true,” it becomes an accepting statement. “This is true and that is also true. We accept both.” At this point, all differences come to an end. When there is acceptance, differences cease to be.

Through meditation, you come to the point where, after transcending the mind, you begin to experience the totality of consciousness. In that experience of totality of consciousness, you begin to experience and contemplate upon the transcendental or divine nature. That is when you realize that consciousness is Brahman.

The first mahavakya , Prajnanam Brahman, is called ‘lakshana vakya’. Vakya means statement or sentence and lakshana, in this context, means quality. There are two meanings of the word lakshana: symptom and quality. In this context, it means quality. The quality of consciousness is Brahman. Therefore, reflect on that. Reflect on that quality of consciousness which is unbound by the fetters of maya and avidya, delusion and ignorance. That luminous state of consciousness is Brahman. The luminous state of consciousness is an outcome of wisdom, of knowledge becoming an integral part of consciousness. When consciousness and knowledge become one and there is no distinction between the two, inner luminosity is experienced. That is prajna. That inner luminosity is known as the transcendental, divine or godly luminosity, or Brahman. That is what you discover in the fifth stage of meditation. After you have modified and fine-tuned the expressions and behaviour patterns of the mind, consciousness, energy, lifestyle, environment, family, routine, and acquired a state of balance, you are able to practise this stage. Thus, meditation is actually the method by which one can perfect jnana yoga.

13 May 2011, Ganga Darshan, Munger