The physical dogma about the world is that as you look deeper inside things, you get to know smaller and smaller parts of the world. As a result, by looking deeper, you lose the big picture. Thereby, there is a contradiction between depth and breadth. You can be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Or, you can be master of one trade, and know nothing about anything else.
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Withdrawing the Consciousness
This physical dogma is easily refuted experientially by those who seriously meditate. Meditation means the concentration of consciousness. The Bhagavad-Gita states: The yogi withdraws his consciousness like a tortoise its limbs inwards. When the consciousness is withdrawn, then the senses are withdrawn, the mind is withdrawn, the intellect is withdrawn. By these withdrawals, superficially, we stop knowing the world. But paradoxically, by this withdrawal, we know more about the world than by looking at it.
When the consciousness is withdrawn, concentrated, and focused, it begins expanding such that the greater the concentration, the greater the knowledge of reality. Thereby, the contradiction between depth and breadth is dissolved: Going deeper within is knowing the broader reality beyond the self.
The Philosophy Underlying Meditation
The reason for this paradoxical outcome is the transcendent and immanent nature of truth. The concept of mammals is transcendent to cows, dogs, horses, and tigers. And yet, the concept of mammal is immanent in cows, dogs, horses, and tigers. So, if you want to know the meaning of mammal, you can potentially study all the cows, dogs, horses, and tigers (and all other types of mammalian species) and if you have completed the study of all possible species then you can claim to know the mammal. But you can also look within a single species and try to fully understand that species to know a mammal.
In the former case, you are going ‘outward’—i.e., studying all the species. And in the latter case, you are going ‘inward’—i.e., studying just one instance of one species. The latter is how we understand humanity; we don’t have to know every human to know what human means. We know the meaning of a human by knowing ourselves, although we are just one of the many humans.
Physical Ideas Hinder Knowledge
And yet, the physical dogma has conditioned everyone to believe that mammals and humans are never in anything. These are simply words used to describe collections of things. At best, humans or mammals may represent DNA, but you cannot know that by knowing yourself. Rather, you have to look through a microscope to understand the DNA to define a human or a mammal.
If, however, you look into the microscope, what you see is not what you experience yourself to be. Thus, a contradiction between first-person and third-person knowledge is created. And this general pattern continues endlessly—even the knowledge obtained through different third-person methods produces contradictory pictures. For example, the picture of society and economy contradicts the picture of reality in physics, biology, cosmology, psychology, and so on. Nobody knows how to reconcile these pictures.
Transcendence and Immanence
The problem of unity and diversity is resolved in Vedic philosophy by stating that there is only one reality—God—but He has infinite aspects. The whole truth—God—is within each aspect, such that the whole truth can be known from each aspect, and yet, the whole truth transcends each aspect.
This is the paradoxical transcendent and immanent nature of God. If God were not immanent in each thing, then it would be impossible to know Him except by knowing everything, which would be impossible for any finite being. But if God was confined to one of these things, then He would be at most those things and not God. This problem is solved by a trinity called Brahman, Paramātma, and Bhagavan. Bhagavan is transcendent, Brahman is all His aspects, and Paramātma is immanent in each of the aspects.
The soul or the self is one of these aspects, and it is part of Brahman. However, the whole truth is immanent in the soul, therefore, by knowing itself, it can know the whole truth. We don’t have to endeavor to know the entire reality in order to know the entire reality. We just have to know ourselves completely, and by that process, we will know the entire reality. This is the philosophical foundation of meditation—withdraw the consciousness inward and as it finds that which is immanent in the self, it will also find the whole truth, which is transcendent and includes everything beyond the self.
This principle applies to matter as well. As the consciousness withdraws from the body to senses to the mind, intellect, ego, and so forth, it climbs up an inverted tree from leaf to twig to branch to trunk to root. This rising consciousness naturally reveals the nature of the subtle material reality, of which the gross reality is a part, quite like the concept yellow is part of the concept color, and the concept color is part of the concept seeing. So, withdrawing consciousness is the process of knowing the reality even more.
Theory and Practice of Meditation
Concentrating the consciousness is the method for expanding consciousness. Expansion means that we know more and more. And we know more and more by withdrawing from trying to know it. This idea is inconceivable in physical thinking and it can only be realized through meditational practice.
It can also be understood theoretically if we give up physical thinking and embrace semantic thinking in which the whole truth is inside every partial truth, the partial truths are within the whole truth, and yet, the whole truth is transcendent to the partial truths. However, if we continue under physical thinking, then the emphasis on the withdrawal of consciousness seems to entail that the goal of life is not to know reality, that the external world is an illusion, or that any attempt at knowledge is a waste of time.
The fact is that the goal of meditation is knowing everything, and withdrawing from knowing individual things is the process of knowing everything. So, there is no contradiction between a yogi who abandons the world to meditate vs. the attempt to know reality via philosophy. The yogi hasn’t abandoned the pursuit of knowledge; he is rather pursuing the method of concentration to expand consciousness. Similarly, one who has expanded the consciousness to see the presence of God in everything need not abandon the world, because that detachment is for one who hasn’t yet expanded the consciousness. Meditation and knowledge are methods to the same goal.
Then, even those who have not seen God in everything can use the world like wealth is used to serve the owner because, by that process of finding the best way to serve God through the things in the world, they will begin to see which things are more like God’s nature, and which things are dissimilar to His nature. That is also a process by which to understand God’s nature. Thereby, prvṛitti (engagement with the world) and nivṛtti (detachment from the world) are both considered feasible methods for realizing the same complete truth.
The engagement with the world, however, is an inferior method to knowing the truth because there is much scope for misunderstanding, misconception, and misdirection. The concentration of consciousness is a relatively better process for expanding consciousness because the pitfalls are fewer.
Methods to Improve Meditation
The issue is that most people cannot concentrate their consciousness. Therefore, a compromise is reached—(a) try to philosophize as best as possible so that you have more conviction about meditation, (b) try to detach yourself from the world progressively so that your senses and mind are less distracted about the occurrences in the world and you can meditate better, (c) while you are not detached, try to see the presence of God in everything such that if your mind is preoccupied with thinking about the perfect truth, as the meditation will then be easier, and (d) try to perform all your moral duties.
The fact is that most people cannot follow this compromise because (a) there is little capacity for philosophy, (b) there is strong addiction to sensory stimulation, (c) there is no intuitive ability to see God in the world, and (d) there is very little skill to distinguish between the real and imagined duties.
Therefore, even this compromise is further reduced to one injunction: Serve the self-realized soul. Just do whatever he says. Don’t worry about what he means, why he said this, and the outcomes of following his instructions. Just do it. This is the point at which most people revolt. They abhor the idea of being someone’s unquestioning servant. They like their independence.
Knowledge is fine because it is independent. Detachment is fine because it is independent. The vision of God in everything is fine, as it is independent. Doing our duties is fine because it is independent. But becoming someone servant? That is not fine. People forget that we arrived at this solution after two levels of compromise—(a) we could not concentrate the consciousness, and (b) we could not follow the four-pronged process of knowledge, detachment, duty, and mysticism prescribed as a compromise.
Now, if we cannot follow the solution of concentrating the consciousness, and then we cannot follow the four-pronged compromise solution given above, and then we cannot follow the compromise to the compromise (i.e., surrender to the advanced soul), then there is probably no way for us.
The Path of Obedience and Surrender
If we obey (which is a very big if, because nobody wants to give up their false pride), then we get everything else gradually, including the ability to concentrate the consciousness. Then, the soul also becomes independent, and yet, he never becomes disobedient. He always considers himself the menial servant, ready to do whatever is asked for. Obedience means to do what has been asked for by the spiritually advanced soul, not second-guess, analyze, or speculate on what it really means, and why it was asked. When we obey, then we get the realization of what it really means. But if we cannot give up our independent mentality and want to understand before we obey, then there is very little hope, because we will never understand, and we will never have the capacity to do anything independently on our own.
In this way, a self-reliant process of meditation becomes dependent on obedience to a spiritually advanced soul through a succession of steps: (a) we cannot concentrate our consciousness, (b) we don’t have the intellect to understand philosophy, (c) we are unable to become detached from the world, (d) we don’t have the perceptiveness to see God in this world, and (e) we are unable to decide what is morally dutiful in a given situation. The irony is that the process of complete surrender is also rejected by almost everyone due to false pride because now people equate this as a path reliant on faith rather than reason, individual endeavor, and the perfection of the self.
Religion is not about faith. It is about the concentration of consciousness to perceive the complete truth. When that truth is perceived, then knowledge, detachment, duty, and vision of God in everything are attained automatically. Then, there is automatic respect for other spiritually advanced souls because that respect and faith are based on prior direct experience and realization.
However, religion becomes dependent on faith because of our own inabilities. Then if we reject the process of faith out of false pride, or out of the need for independence, then all doors to true knowledge are closed prematurely.
If we cannot do anything else, at least we can be honest about our true capabilities. Honesty devoid of false pride can lead us to surrender not because it is the only path, but it may be the only path for us.
The advanced soul doesn’t want mindless slaves. He wants sentient, intelligent, enthusiastic, loving, and creative individuals. However, this independent thoughtfulness results from a process of concentrating the consciousness and using knowledge, detachment, moral dutifulness, and vision of God in this world, to overcome the shortfalls in any such practice. If even the methods that improve the concentration of consciousness are lacking (e.g., the intellect is not sharp enough for philosophy, or the mind is attached to worldly enjoyment, or that one cannot distinguish between real and imaginary duties, or one lacks the perceptiveness to see when the innate qualities of God are present in this world), then it is better to become a mindless slave to an advanced soul, than to be thoughtlessly independent.