Swami Abhedananda.

Vedânta philosophy; three lectures on spiritual unfoldment online

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trying to develop and strengthen the will

A Yogi develops his will-power by daily
practice; he rouses up the higher powers and
continues to fight against his greatest enemies
with firmness and determination until he ac-
complishes his end. Perfect self-control of a
Yogi is that state of mind where no desires
or passions of any kind disturb the peace and
tranquillity of his soul. Such a state can be
acquired more easily by removing the bubbles
of desires before they take the wave form of
passions, that is, by attacking them while
they are in their weak state. This can be
done either by right discrimination of the
nature of desire or by comparing the tran-
sitory pleasure which results from our con-
tact with the objects of senses, with the serene,
peaceful mind which is undisturbed by de-
sires or passions. We should also remember


that the highest ideal of our life is not pleasure
of the senses, nor slavery to desires and pas-
sions, but the attainment of mastery over the
lower self, and the manifestation of the Su-
preme Self.

There is another way of obtaining self-con-
trol, through concentration and meditation.
Concentrate your mind upon the Supreme
Self and do not let it be disturbed by any
other thought or desire at that time. Those
who have read the "Light of Asia" will re-
member that when Buddha sat in meditation
under the Bo tree all the dormant impressions
began to rise in his mind. They are described
as the attendants of M^ra, the personified
evil thought. But Buddha said: ''It is better
to die on the battlefield while fighting with
the enemy than to be defeated and forced to
live like a slave, seeking little bits of sense
pleasures and enjoyments." With such a
strong determination Buddha became master
of himself; whosoever will display similar

determination of purpose and strength of


character, will surely attain perfect self-con-
trol. They alone who have acquired self-
control enjoy eternal peace and happiness in
this life, and attain the goal of all religions,

the knowledge of the Divine Self.


The spiritual life of a man or a woman
depends upon the subjugation of the senses,
upon control of the passions, and upon the
manifestation of the divine powers that are
latent in every individual soul. Such a spirit-
ual life can be attained by different methods.
Each of these methods is called in Sanskrit
"Yoga." The method or path of concen-
tration and meditation is known as the "royal
method," or Rdja-Yoga in Sanskrit. It is
the royal road which leads to the realization
of Truth. The word Raja- Yoga is a com-
pound word; Raja means king, and Yoga
method of concentration. The method of
concentration is described as the king of all
other methods, because nothing can be achieved
without concentration. There is no power in

the universe higher than the power which


comes through concentration. The power
acquired by its practice can control all the
physical forces of nature. A Raja- Yogi says
that wherever he concentrates his thoughts,
there, for himself and to his own consciousness,
he will control phenomena. Raja- Yoga teaches
that mind is the sovereign power in the uni-
verse. Faith-healers, mental-healers, Chris-
tian Scientists of to-day have appreciated
only one hundredth part of the mental powers
which a Yogi in India claims to possess.

When the mental powers are properly
guided and directed toward any external ob-
ject the true nature of that object is revealed,
and the result is the discovery of the physical
laws which govern the phenomenal world.
The powers of the mind are scattered like the
rays of an electric light that illumines the
surrounding objects. An electric light which
enlightens the objects within a very limited
circle can be made to illumine distant objects,
if we know the art of gathering its rays into one
beam and can throw that one flood of con-


verged rays on anything at a considerable dis-
tance, as is done by a search-light lantern. We
may compare the concentrated mind of a
Yogi to a mental search-light. There is as
much difference between the scattered mind of
an ordinary individual and the concentrated
mind of a Yogi as there is between the light of
an ordinary lamp and that of an extremely
powerful search-light. A Yogi can throw the
search- light of his min-l upon the minutest
objects at any distance in the realm of the in-
visible and unknown, and can learn most easily
every particular connected with those objects.
When the same concentrated mind of a Yogi
is directed towards the internal world, it en-
lightens the most subtle things connected with
his inner nature and unveils those higher laws
which govern his spiritual nature.

Each individual possesses the power of con-
centration in a greater or less degree, and uses
it in his or her every-day life, either consciously
or unconsciously. Concentration in its sim-*

plest form is known to us by the name of at-


tention. If we do not pay attention to the ob-
ject which we see, hear, or perceive we can-
not understand the nature of that thing. When
we read a book if our attention be diverted to
some other thing, then our eyes may read the
letters automatically without grasping the
meaning or sense of the subject. When any
one speaks to you, if you are inattentive, the
words uttered will enter your ears; the vibra-
tions of air carried by auditory nerves to the
brain-centres will produce molecular changes
in the cells of those centres; all the physio-
logical conditions necessary for the perception
of a sound will be fulfilled, but still for want
of attention you will not hear it. When you
are attending a lecture, if your attention be
fixed on something which is more interesting,
you will not be able to understand what is
being talked about in fact, you will not even
hear a single word that is said. Similarly, in
every instance of perception of sense objects
you will notice that if there be no attention

behind it, you do not really perceive at all.


The power of attention is not altogether
an acquired faculty but is largely a gift of
nature. Many are born with this power largely
developed, but wherever there is the manifes-
tation of mind, we find more or less of the
expression of this power of attention. It is a
spontaneous outgrowth of the nature of our

The power of concentrated attention mani-
fests itself in the lower animals as well as in
man. It varies only in the degree of intensity
but not in kind. All animals first direct their
attention to the search for food. A vulture
fixes his attention on the object of his prey,
looks at it from a great distance, then falls
upon it and catches it. When a cat catches a
mouse or a tiger falls upon his prey, he fixes
his attention first, controls his senses from
distraction, collects the scattered forces of his
mind and body, and ultimately succeeds in
fulfilling his desires. His attention is so con-
centrated at that time that he hardly takes any

notice of anything other than the object in


view. Hunters know this fact so well that they
take advantage of it when they go out hunting
wild animals. A great Yogi in India once
noticed a crane standing motionless on the side
of a brook with his attention so deeply con-
centrated upon a fish as not to notice the
hunter who was going to shoot him. The
Yogi was so astonished that he exclaimed:
" O crane ! Thou art my teacher in concentra-
tion. I shall follow thy example when I prac-
tice concentration." In all beasts of prey
the necessity for this concentrated attention
is well illustrated by the w^ay in which they
get their food. If their attention be dis-
tracted by a sudden noise or other interruption
their quarry is likely to escape them. There
are many instances of the power of spontaneous
attention possessed by lower animals. In such
cases mental powers are centred into a focus
and directed towards one object. Every
sense is alert and under complete control, the
whole physical activity is converged towards
one point, and for the time being motion of the


body is arrested. Experience has taught the
animal the necessity of this course of action.

When the diverging rays of the mental energy
which moves the whole system in different
directions are centred into a focus and when
the concentrated energy is forced through one
channel, it strengthens the mind. That men-
tal strength sometimes expresses it*?elf as
physical or muscular strength. In our every-
day life we find the expression of the same
power of spontaneous attention. Only the
workman who is able to fix his mind upon his
work can give it intelligent attention, can rise
above being a mere automaton. A motorman
cannot drive an electric car if his whole atten-
tion be not fixed upon his work. That this is
a well-understood fact is evidenced by the rule
that to prevent distraction motormen in street-
cars are not allowed to talk with passengers.
The rider of either horse or wheel who allows
his surroundings to absorb too much of his
attention is Uable to get a sudden tumble.

The successful chess-player, playing perhaps


half a dozen games at once, has to exercise a
marvellous force of concentrated attention.
In dancing, singing, painting, writing, or in
any other avocation no man can do his best
unless his mental powers are properly con-
centrated upon the object of his particular line
of work.

Without using the power of attention there
could not be any great artist, sculptor, or phi-
losopher; no mathematician, scientist, or chem-
ist; no astronomer, musician, or composer.
The more this power is developed the more
marvellous are its results. All the discoveries
in the realms of nature, inventions of machines
and of other things which we see to-day, all
the amazing' achievements of modem science,
are nothing but the results of that wonderful
power of concentrated attention displayed by
the inventor and the scientist. If a born
genius should suddenly be deprived of this
power, he would act Hke ordinary men, for
what we call genius is in reality immense

power of concentration, so that all the faculties


devote themselves to one object, which pro-
duces work so remarkable that we at once
regard the man who manifests this wonderful
ability as above the dead level of ordinary
humanity; while on the other hand if an idiot
could develop and manifest this one power of
concentrated attention, then he would be
reckoned as one of the geniuses of the world.
Such is the power of concentration. It is the
source of all our knowledge. In short, it is
the condition of our life. Without exercising
a certain amount of this power we could only
live while watched over by others, we could
not avoid the constant difficulties and dangers
with which our life is beset on all sides. Ninety-
nine per cent, of the diseases and accidents in
our lives are the results of inattention to the
laws which govern Hfe and health.

A child in the earliest period of its life ex-
presses this innate power of attention by fixing
its gaze upon shining objects or upon the face
or eyes of its mother or nurse. That simple

undeveloped and spontaneous power of atten-


tion in a child gradually develops as the little
one grows older and comes in contact with
the world.

The spontaneous attention which expresses
itself in lower animals, in children and uncul-
tured persons, is directed at first towards the
objects that are most necessary for the sus-
tenance of life, such as food, clothes, etc. As
we rise above the animal plane through cul-
ture and education the power of attention
manifests in a different way. Then we gradu-
ally learn to direct our attention towards ob-
jects which are not merely attractive to the
senses or necessary for bodily sustenance, and
can fix our minds on such things as are attrac-
tive to our intellect and higher nature. Here
begins voluntary attention, or attention well
controlled and properly directed by intellect
and will. This leads to the intellectual cul-
ture of an individual and to the attainment of
mental strength and to the creation of new

The same attention, v>rhen directed towards


the observance of moral laws and right actions
which bring good results not only to ourselves
but also to our fellow members in the social
order, leads to the moral culture of our minds.
Again, when our voluntary attention is directed
towards our spiritual nature, it makes us vir-
tuous and religious and develops our spiritual
character. Ultimately, when it is directed in
the form of concentrated meditation towards the
Universal Spirit, or God, it brings the highest
wisdom. It leads to the freedom of the soul
from the bondages of ignorance, delusion, and
selfishness, and results in the attainment of
BHss absolute, which knows no limit. This
highest state is called the state of God-con-
sciousness. Therefore, everything that has
brought human beings to the present stage of
civilization, culture, and advancement; every
act that produces physical good, and moral,
intellectual, and spiritual concepts is but the
expression of that well-directed power of con-
centrated attention. Emerson says: *'The

one prudence in life is concentration; the one


evil is dissipation. Concentration is the secret
of strength in poHtics, in war, in trade in short,
in all management of human afifairs.'*

The spontaneous attention, which is a gift of
nature, can be transformed, by voluntary effort,
into the power of higher concentration upon
the most abstract truths, and lastly upon the
Absolute ReaHty of the universe. That simple
power can become enormously strong if we
know the secret of controlling it. As a gar-
dener, by severe pruning, forces the sap of the
tree into one or two vigorous buds instead of
suffering it to spindle into a sheaf of twigs, so
a Yogi, by controlling the dissipated mental
powers and concentrating the whole energy on
one point, stopping for the time being the mis-
cellaneous activity of the mind, develops a
power which brings wonderful results in every
line of his work. The control of attention by
will-power is called concentration, in Sanskrit
Dh^ran^. Perfect concentration brings su-
preme control over external and internal

phenomena. This kind of higher concen-


tration is described by "Patanjali in the third
chapter of his "Aphorisms on R4ja-Yoga'';
Dharan^, or concentration, is when the mind,
being restrained from taking various forms,
holds on to some object, either in the body or
outside the body, and keeps itself in that state.
If, by gradual practice, we can control the
modifications of the mind-stuff, such as sensa-
tions, passions, desires, etc., and converge the
whole mental energy towards one point, then
that process is called Dharana, or concentra-
tion. The result of such concentration will
vary according to the nature of the object
towards which the concentrated mental energy
is directed. The principal aids to concentra-
tion in the way of obtaining the best results
from it are, first, right discrimination of the
object of concentration; secondly, a clear and
definite understanding of what one wishes to
acquire; thirdly, self-confidence; and lastly,
firm determination, settled purpose, and per-
severance. Disraeli said: "I have brought

myself, by long meditation, to the conviction


that a human being with a settled purpose
must accomplish it, and that nothing can
resist a will which will stake even existence
upon its fulfilment." According to a Yogi,
a firm, resolute, and determined mind with a
settled purpose will accomplish the best re-
sults of concentration in the shortest time

Man's greatest achievement is to understand
the mysteries of his own being to know him-
self. A true Yogi, therefore, does not care
to concentrate his mind upon a search for
pleasure as worldly persons do. He does not
even spend his mental energy in trying to
avoid things which may appear unpleasant
for a short time. He does not divert his
mental powers by fixing his attention upon
the diseases of other persons, nor does he con-
centrate them to gain selfish ends by injuring
others, as trusts and monopolies of the civil-
ized world do; nor does he practice black
magic. A true Yogi never concentrates his
mind upon the phantoms of wealth and vain



earthly ambitions. According to a Yogi, this
kind of misdirected concentration brings waste
of that energy which must be stored up to a
considerable extent before the highest result
of concentration in spiritual Hfe can be ob-
tained. All these worldly objects are but
obstacles in the path of spiritual progress.
Few people in this world can understand why
these things obstruct the path of spiritual
development. But a true Yogi is one who
can discriminate truth from untruth, real from
unreal, spirit from matter. A true Yogi does
not wish to waste his energy in gaining mere
transitory things. He wants to attain the
higliest ideal of life; so he centres his thoughts
upon the Supreme Truth or the absolute
reality of the universe, and the result of this
concentration is the Sam^dhi, or the highest
superconscious, tranquil state of mind where
alone is possible divine communion, or reali-
zation of unity with God on the spiritual plane.
The Hindu psychologists have classified
mental activity into five different states: (i)



Kshipta; (2) Mudha; (3) Vikshipta; (4)
Ekdgra; (5) Niruddha. The first means
"scattered," that is, always active, the kind of
mind which is constantly at work and never
restful. In this state the whole mind rushes
like a mad elephant in whatever direction it
chooses. It wanders here and there without
any aim or purpose, and cannot be brought
under control. Those who are in such a
state of mind do not even try to stop this pur-
poseless activity, because they believe it to be
their normal state and that all other states are
abnormal, morbid, or diseased. They are
afraid of sinking into indifference or losing
their individuality if any one tells them to
reduce the tremendous speed with which the
machine of their mind is running and advises
them to take a little rest. They think rest
means either sleep or death.

The second class is Mudha , meaning ''stupid
and confused." Those people who are dull,
lazy, inactive, and idiotic belong to this class.

In this state intellect, understanding, and rea-


son are enveloped, as it were, with the dark-
ness of ignorance. These two are the two
extreme states of activity and inactivity of
mind. The third state is called Vikshipta,
that is, sometimes active and sometimes dull.
The fourth state, Ekdgra, means " one-pointed,"
or, in other words, concentrated. The fifth
mental condition, known as Niruddha, is that
state of well-controlled concentration in which
all involuntary activity is subdued and the
mind, transcending its ordinary limitations,
reaches the superconscious state of Samddhi,
the state of God-consciousness. The first
three states are to be found in ordinary per-
sons, and none of them is of any help in spiritual
life The last two alone are conducive to
spiritual growth.

In the fourth state, that is, when the whole
mind is concentrated or "one-pointed," we
can realize the true nature of things; all pain-
ful modifications of the mind become less and
less; all knots of desires for worldly things

and sense-pleasures are slackened, and they


cease to disturb the peace of mind. This
state of mind leads gradually to the attain-
ment of the fifth state, when comes perfect
control over the mind. Those, therefore, who
aspire to spiritual perfection, should make
every effort to reach these last two states.

When the fifth, or superconscious, state of
concentration is attained the true nature of
the knower or Spirit (Atman in Sanskrit) is
manifested. But at other times the knower
appears as identified with the modifications of
the mind substance. Sometimes the knower
is identified with impulses, good or bad, some-
times with emotions, painful or pleasurable
sensations, or with the changes of gross body
and its diseases. This identification of the
spirit (or Atman) with the changes of mind
and body is the cause of our bondage, misery,
and suffering. When the knower of misery
and sorrow becomes identified with them, he
appears as miserable and sorrowful; but in
reality the knower is always distinct and sepa-
rate from the object known.


For instance, when an iron ball is heated in
a furnace, it appears red and hot. An igno-
rant person looking at it will easily mistake it
for fire. The intellect, mind, and body may
be compared to the iron ball and intelligence
to fire. Intellect, mind, and body being heated
or illumined by the fire of intelligence, which
is the true nature of Spirit or Atman, appear
to the ignorant as intelligent. By mistake
the changes of mind and body are identified
with the pure and changeless source of intelli-
gence. As we can know the true nature of
the iron ball by separating it from the fire, so
we can learn the true nature of the "iron ball"
of mind-stuff, when in the state of Samddhi
we separate it from the fire of intelligence.
We then realize that it, like the iron ball, is
but dark and dead in itself, and that only
when illumined by the pure intelligence, or
Atman, does it glow into apparent life.

We can illustrate this in another way. When
any bright-colored object is placed near a
piece of pure, transparent crystal, the whole



crystal is so suffused with the color thrown
upon it that only a close observer can detect
that in itself the pure crystal has no color.
Similarly, the true nature of the Atman, or
Spirit, is covered over by the reflected hght of
the constantly changing modifications of the
mind-stuff such as thoughts, feelings, passions,
desires, etc. until the pure "crystal" of At-
man appears to have these modifications in
itself. Only the ability to rightly discriminate
the real from the apparent can enable us to
discover the truth in either case.

If for a moment any one can make his true
Self free from the changeful reflections of the
mental activities, that instant he will realize
the Atman or Spirit, and he will cease to
commit further mistakes. No longer he will
identify himself with the various changes in
his mind and body. Concentration and medi-
tation are the only processes by which this
realization can be accomplished.

There are various methods for developing

the power of concentration. Those methods


should be learned from skilful spiritual teach-
ers who have practised them for a long time
and whose lives are pure, chaste, and free from
blemishes. One can easily learn some of the
methods from Raj a- Yoga or any other book on
the practice of Yoga, but without the help of a
competent teacher no one should begin to
practise them. The power of concentration
can be acquired by mental processes alone,
or by physico-m^ental processes. The mental
process begins with holding the mind to certain
points, sensations, or feelings. Suppose you
try to concentrate your attention on your little
finger. At that time you will have to feel your
little finger only, you will have to gather up,
as it were, all the mental powers that are scat-
tered all over the body and converge them
towards your little finger. If any other
thought or idea arises in mind, you must not
let your attention be distracted by it, nor let
it wander in any other direction. After prac-
tising for a few days you will notice that you
have acquired som.e power of controlhng your



attention and of directing it towards one ob-
ject. When you have fully attained this con-
trol over your power of voluntary attention,
you will be able to concentrate your whole
mind on any object, whether external or in-
ternal, concrete or abstract, material or spir-

At the time of perfect concentration you

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Online LibrarySwami AbhedanandaVedânta philosophy; three lectures on spiritual unfoldment → online text (page 2 of 5)