as expatiated by Prof. R.D. Ranade

  Article by Dr. N. V. Kulkarni

We will start with Prof. Ranade’s (hence forward addressed as Gurudev) definition of Mysticism:  “Mysticism denotes that attitude of mind which involves a direct, immediate, first hand, intuitive apprehension of God”.

For Gurudev the highest ideal that a man is capable of is to realize God for oneself and for others.  Therefore it is no wonder that the ultimate purpose of Gurudev’s writing is spiritual and God is the central thread running through his monumental works.

In his book Pathway to God in Hindi Literature, he gives in the opening paragraph the methodology of treating philosophy and psychology of mysticism.  It is veritably a “’prolegomena’ to all future” Critiques of Mysticism.  This is a methodology to treat mysticism in any language, given in the saintly literature.

Philosophy of Mysticism is its intellectual interpretation, an attempt to express one inexpressible thing i.e. the experience of Ultimate Reality in a variety of wholly inadequate ways.  It is essentially a metaphysical doctrine of Mysticism.  It is the body of truth about the nature of Ultimate Reality and one’s relationship to it to be derived from the content of mystical experience – it is thus the philosophy of the unlimited.

Mysticism has been defined as an attitude of mind while apprehending God.  It is primarily a psychological question.  Psychology of mysticism is a study of aspects of human nature conspicuous in mystical experiences.  It represents an effort to remove that part of “inner life” from the domain of occult or mysterious wherein it was dubbed hithertofore and incorporate it in that body of facts of which psychology takes cognizance.


Gurudev has discussed many aspects pertaining to the philosophy of mysticism.  Some important covered in this article are :

1)      Criteria

2)      Problem of God and arguments for his existence.

3)      Metaphysics, Morality and Mysticism

4)      Nature of self

5)      Necessity of a spiritual teacher.  His nature, function and relation to the disciple as well to God.

6)      Meditation on Om Vis-à-vis Name of God – functions of the Name of God.

7)      Meaning of Liberation, Immortality.

8)      Effects of God Realisation.

We shall see some of these in detail.

1. Criteria

Prof. Ranade has discussed the problem of the criterion in almost all his works.  In Pathway to God in Kannada Literature, he has enumerated a number of criteria used by Indian and Western thinkers.  Another account, with special reference to Kant, is found in Mysticism in Maharashtra and Pathwayto God in Hindi Literature.  In The Bhagavad-gita as a Philosophy of God-realisation, he has discussed criteria as found in the Gita verse IX.2.  The freshness of his approach to the Bhagavad-gita has resulted in locating in just half the verse, three major criteria of mystical experience.  The highest criterion according to him is personal i.e. one’s own experience, the reality of which is beyond any doubt.

Gurudev says “Those of you who have studied European and Indian philosophy and followed the controversies in both will understand how difficult the problem of the criterion is.  In Indian philosophy we have fought for Pratyaksa (direct evidence), Anumana (Inference), Upamana (similarity or analogy), S’abda (authority), and so on.  In European philosophy they fought in ancient times for catalepsia, self-consciousness, the unity of being and thought, apperception, absolute idea and so on.  In contemporary philosophy, we have so far three great schools of thought, each battling with the other, in regard to the nature of the criterion.  The realistic criterion is correspondence, the idealistic criterion is coherence, and the pragmatic criterion is utility.  Of course, the criterion which I am discussing today is a practical criterion, a mystical criterion.  It is not merely an intellectual criterion.  But it is our own experience that matters, and it is that experience which makes Reality real.”

A criteria is a means to know what is true and what is false – to separate truth from false-hood.  ‘A thing is true’, is a metaphysical fact.  It remains true whether anyone knows it or not.  But if anyone wants to know the truth of a thing, one has to use an instrument.  Such an instrument is a criteria, in the order of knowledge, criteria gains priority.

The surest criterion must be comprehensive and self-evident; it should not require any other criterion to validate it.  It is obvious that there can be only one such criterion.

2. Problem of God

Gurudev discusses the problem of God in the fashion of Kant’s discussion of his antinomies.

Found in his Bhagavad Gita book, are doctrines over which philosophy has broken its teeth all these ages.  One such problem is Antinomies of Reason.  Antinomy is imbedded in the nature of thought, i.e. one argument is countered by another argument, and both appear to be cogent; reasons can be found to support both; and hence the problem as to which side is true.  Solution to such a dilemmatic situation will have to be found out.  Kant’s famous antinomies, four in number, belong to the field of cosmology.  Of the five antinomies which Gurudev discusses in connection with the Gita philosophy, three belong to the field of theology, one to the field of cosmology and one to the field of psychology.

God, Personal or Impersonal? Reconciled in Super Personalism

Let us then proceed to the first antinomy, namely, the antinomy of the Impersonal and the personal, the Nirguna and the Saguna, with which we are all very familiar and which has divided, for example, interpreters like Samkara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, Nimbarka and others into different schools.  In regard to this antinomy, only the most relevant and important passages will be quoted.  In regard to the Impersonal characterization of Reality, no better passage could be found in the Bhagavadgita than “That which constitutes the object of knowledge I shall now expound; that by which one attains the immortal (it is) that thing which is other than the things with a beginning, the highest Brahman, which is said to be neither existent nor the non-existent.”

Purusha is the Personalistic conception of God, which is pitted against the former part of the antinomy, namely, the Impersonalistic conception.  We are familiar with solutions of the antinomies in Kant where he gives us probable reconciliations; but here in the case of the Bhagavad Gita, the solutions are found in the words of the text itself.  In regard to these solutions, we shall take a third passage which puts forth the Personal and the Impersonal characterizations together.

                                                                                                                                                               Gita XIII – 12

“Having hands and feet on every  side, having eyes and heads and mouths on every side; being endowed with hearing in every  direction and which abides enveloping everything in the world”.

                                                                                                                                                               Gita XIII – 13

This is an absolutely Impersonal characterization of the Absolute.  That is one part of the antinomy.  The second part is, of course; in Chapter XV verse 17 and 18.

“But there is still another, the Highest Purusha, who is proclaimed as the Supreme Self, permeating the world triad, sustains it as the eternal hold”.

                                                                                                                                                               Gita XV – 17

“Since I have transcended the Mutable and am even superior to the Immutable, therefore it is front, both in the world and in the veda.  I am proclaimed as the Purushottam”.

Then in Gita verse 17 and 18 of chapter IX, Gita XV – 18, God is called not only Pita and Mata but also Prabhavah, Pralayahal, Sthanam.  In that way there is reconciliation between those opposite schools of thought which stress Personal and Impersonal characteristics of Reality.

Gurudev further discusses the antinomy of whether God is Actor or Spectator and whether he is Transcendent or Immanent.

While in Vedanta book Gurudev says that Anandamayadhikarna establishes the beatific nature of Paramatma, so does the Bhumadhikarana, but the Anandamayadhikarana established his transcendence of bliss and adds, phenomenally God may be described as full of bliss; nouminally he is beyond bliss.

3. Name of God

“All mechanically utter the name of Rama; but none knows the Atmarama (the real Rama who is the Atman).  The historical personage, known as Rama, was the son of Dasaratha, and is of a very recent origin; Atmarama however, belongs to eternity.  If the historical Rama had known this Atmarama, why would he have approached in all submission to the sage Vasistha for realization of Atmarama?”  Even the great Rama had to seek the aid of his spiritual teacher before he attained to the experiential knowledge of Atmarama.  This name is the real spiritual name, the divya nama which means divine or sublime name.  It was brought by Sri Nimbargi Maharaj from heaven to earth.  It is The Name, which is conveyed by the spiritual teacher to his disciple at the time of the latter’s initiation into spiritual life.  It comes directly from God, and is communicated to the disciple as ‘God in posse’.

Gurudev then brings out the part which the Name of God plays in the meditational scheme and the relation it bears to Form (as described by Tulsidas).

Tulsidas insists upon the Name of God equally with Kabir.  We shall first give an account of the famous passage from Tulsi Ramayan  नाम रूप दुइ ईस उपाधी, which regards Nama and Rupa as the two attributes of God.  This is a very great philosophical poem from the pen of Tulsidas.  It is not a mere literary interpretation of it that matters; but it has a great philosophical import.

We are told in this poem that Nama and Rupa are the two “attributes” of God-exactly the word which Spinoza has used concerning his Substance.  Thought and extension are the two attributes of Substance but do not constitute the Substance.  Similarly, Nama and Rupa do not constitute God, but they are the attributes of God.

A second point in Tulsidas is that if we enquire which of them is greater, whether Nama or Rupa, Tulsidas gives a cautious though an intelligent answer.  It is impossible for us to say which is greater, says Tulsidas.  To say either Nama or Rupa is greater is committing a sin.  But the philosopher knows in his heart, says Tulsidas, which is greater, and sits silent.

Tulsidas makes a further point.  We are told that he who contemplates on God’s Name without thinking about His Form, without thinking as to whether his meditation by means of the Name would ever result in his vision of the Form, is superior to the man who meditates on the form of God, because his meditation is Nishkama.  To meditate on God conceiving His Form in our mind is Sakama and to meditate on God without conceiving His Form is Nishkama.  God comes with greater love, says Tulsidas, to the man who meditates on His Name without thinking about His Form.  So, this is another point in Tulsidas’s discussion.

There is a fourth important point in the song of Tulsidas which we are considering, namely, the conflict between Saguna and Nirguna as being resolved by Nama.  What does this mean?  Now those who have studied Kant’s philosophy and especially that most difficult chapter on Schematism would understand exactly what Tulsidas means.  According to Kant, perception and understanding will not meet without the help of an intermediate imagination.  Similarly, conflicts of Saguna and Nirguna, says Tulsidas, can not be resolved without the office of an intermediary, namely, the Name.  Name is ubhayprabodhak the illuminator, susakhi the witness, and dubhakhi the interpreter between saguna and nirguna.  It teaches Saguna to respect Nirguna, and Nirguna to respect Saguna.  The great function of schematism in bringing together the opposite irreconcilables is the function here performed by Nama according to Tulsidas.

4. Effects of God Realization

Out of many effects discussed by Gurudev we will consider one:

Apostleship and Prophethood:

We shall next proceed to consider the highest watermark of Jivanmukti in Kabir, namely his apostleship, or prophethood.  In the poem ‘Kahun re jo kahibe ki hoii’, there are three very important points.  In the first place, Kabir asserts that the world is indifferent to the Saints, second, he analyses the causes of this indifference, third, he proclaims his apostleship to the world.  Kabir begins by saying cryptically, “I will tell you only if it can be told by word of mouth.  I am astonished at people’s indifference, in spite of my continued endeavours for their betterment.”  These remarks of Kabir put us in mind of similar utterances from other great writers.  Jesus Christ has told us that the prophet is not honored in his own time and country.  The great Vyasa said in the Mahabharata ऊर्ध्वबाहुर्विरौम्येष नहि कश्चित् शृणोति माम: “with my hand uplifted, I am telling the whole world to listen; but nobody is so good as to listen to me.”

Ramdas has said :

सांग सांगोनि दमलों| पाठीं जगाच्या लागलों|

जन ऐकेनासें झालें|

“I am tired of teaching the world.  People have remained listless and indifferent, in spite of my repeated efforts to better them.”  Who will not recall Mahatma Gandhi’s utterances in this connection towards the end of his career?

Kabir goes on to analyse the causes of this indifference.  He finds that people are following each his own whim.

Lastly, with great pity for this condition of the world, Kabir unmistakably proclaims his apostleship or prophethood.  “God in his graciousness gave me the mandate and the power to save some at least, and thus to bring light into the life of some.  If you are not now saved, you have to blame yourself and not me.”  The great Tukaram said in a famous Abhanga in the same spirit:

              वचनाचा अनुभव हातीं | बोलविती देव मज ||

              परी हें काळे अभाविकां | जड लोकां जीवांसी ||

अश्रुत हे प्रासादिक | कृपा भीक स्वामीची ||

तुका म्हणे वरावरी | जातो तरी सांगत ||

  “It is not I who is speaking to you”, says Tukaram: ”It is God who is speaking through me.  Those who may not put their faith in me may not regard this as true.  I am telling you words which are filled with the Grace of God.”  “It fills me with wonder”, says Tukaram, “how in spite of my repeated warnings the world is not listening to me.”  Kabir’s message was not different from that of Tukaram.

These God realisers constitute a blessed community, and on account of their intense love for afflicted mankind, they live only for its benefaction and betterment, proclaiming from pole to pole, like a rumbling cloud, the eternal Gospel of God from everlasting to everlasting.


The following are some of the main points in the psychology of Mysticism.

  1. Place and limitations of Intellect, Feeling and Will
  2. Relation of these with Intuition
  3. Incentives to spiritual life and / or conversion
  4. Introversion, Quiet and Contemplation – walking on the pathway to God
  5. Meditation
  6. Dark Night of the Soul
  7. Faith, Devotion and Surrender
  8. Ecstasy
  9. Rhetoric’s – Bhakti as Rasa

We will consider some of the above aspects in detail.

1. Place and limitations of Intellect, Feeling and Will and Their relation to Intuition – the faculty of God Realization

Gurudev says “Now it is a matter of common knowledge that even for heights to be reached in artistic, scientific, or poetic activity, a certain amount of direct, immediate, intuitive contact with Reality is required, far more is the case in the matter of mystical experience.  Intuition far from contradicting intelligence, feeling or will, does penetrate and lie at the back of them all.  Intuition would not deny to Mysticism a little to philosophy if intellect requires it.  As it connotes a determinative effort towards the acquisition of reality, it implies a definite, prolonged and continuous exercise of the will.  As feeling brings the subject and object into more intimate contact than any other psychological process, it also becomes a vital part of the process of realization.  Thus it seems that intelligence, will and feelings are all necessary in the case of Mystical Endeavour.”

Further he adds – “that kind of mystical experience must be invalid, which does not tend to an intellectual clarification of thought.  A man who aspires after the mystical life must have a penetrating and unfaltering intellect; he must also have a powerful philosophic imagination.  Accurate intellectual thought, among other things, which will compel philosophical assert and admiration is a sure accompaniment of mystical experience.  A man who is laboring under delusions, a man who is likely to suffer from hallucinations, a man who is pathologically neutral, can never hope to attain real mystical experience.”

About emotions he adds – “- No mystical experience is possible unless we have a plentitude of finer emotions all tuned to the experience of God”.  He then refers to the account of emotions given by Tulsidas or Surdas and Eknath, Dnyaneshwara and Tukarama – the Eight satvik Bhavas and asserts that “the life of emotions is almost a sine qua non of mystical experience”.

2. Incentive to Spiritual Life

All men at one time or another, have fallen in love with the veiled Isis whom they call Truth.  With most, this has been a passing passion; they have early seen its hopelessness and turned to more practical things.  But others remain all their lives the deviant lovers of reality.

This quest for reality is awakened by certain incentives that crop up in us and lead to conversion.  James defines conversion “is the process by which ‘God – Consciousness’ hither to marginal and vague becomes focal and clearly defined, passing from its former position as an accessory to its new position as the most real and penetrative influence in life.”

Gurudev says:

“So far as Karnataka mysticism is concerned, I spoke about some of the incentives in my first lecture at Dharwar in the year 1950 under the auspices of the University, then at Belgaum in 1951 and late when I delivered last a series of three lectures at Dharwar.  But that does not exhaust the problem of incentives.

The first song that I discussed was a philosophical investigation of the problem of God, kandireno mahakarana brahmana, ‘have you seen Brahman, the Primal Cause?’  This question is a challenge to all those who say they have known God.  Then the second was a realisational incentive.  Many people are attracted and prompted by the idea of realization before they enter the spiritual life.  The song, ide brahmajnana nodiko, ‘behold, this is the real knowledge of Brahman,’ was from Sarifsaheb, and he mentions there the Nijaraga (the real inner music) which I referred to as the Raga (musical note) which springs from within and not something which one hears in a musical concert or from the Radio.  That was a realizational incentive.  The third was a psychological one, alutidya kanda alutidya, ‘Oh child, were you crying,’ a very famous song in Kannada literature on the doctrine of reminiscence, as Wordsworth put it.  That is the psychological or if you might prefer to call it even an eschatological incentive.  Then there is a somewhat physiological incentive in the shape of bare sleep.  We are sleeping in the world though we seem to be awake; elo darikarana, ‘Oh, you traveler it was the song that I dealt with.  A similar topic we find in Bunyan which also I have discussed thoroughly.  Finally, so far as Karnataka mysticism is concerned, I explained the ethical incentive, nayanendriya visayadinda, ‘due to the attraction of the object of the eye’ and how to get rid of our thralldom to passions and to sensuality.  Our sense organs are being attracted by various objects of sense such as the eye, the ear and so on.  These are the great temptations that drive us to destruction through sensuality.  If, however, a man is fortunate enough to be saved, he begins to think about the spiritual world, and not otherwise.  So that is the ethical incentive I discussed with regard to Karnataka mysticism.

In this connection, I want to draw your attention to some incentives in Hindi mysticism a few of which I have already discussed.  I shall not be dealing with the incentives in Maharashtra mysticism, because I have not discussed them in my book on that subject from that point of view.  I have given there an analytical and not a synthetical survey of the teachings of the great Maharashtra saints.  You might remember of the great Maharashtra saints.  You might remember that such subjects are capable of both kinds of treatment, the analytical and the synthetical.  I have followed both these methods in the case  of the Upanishadic philosophy.  I have followed the analytical method in the case of the ‘Creative Period of Indian Philosophy’, which I wrote in collaboration with Dr. Belvalkar, and the synthetical method in my work.  ‘A Constructive Survey of the Upanisadic Philosophy,’ which I wrote independently.  Of these two methods, the synthetical one is, of course, better.  So I have chosen this one in the case of Hindi mysticism as well as in the case of Karnataka mysticism.

If you were to refer to some incentives in Hindi mysticism, you will see how closely they resemble those in Karnataka mysticism.  In the first place, there is the question of the philosophical incentive, dhokhai hi dhokhai dahakaya, ‘I was cheated by illusion after illusion’.  That was the incentive of illusion.  Then there is the incentive of the inscrutability of fate.  We do not know what fate has ordained for us, how it is driving us, how, as the Bhagavata puts it, ‘a deer ran successfully through all sorts of obstacles, but ultimately fell into a pit and lost its life.’  This is the doctrine of inscrutability.  Then there is the question of blindness.  We are all blind in this world even though we have our eyes open.  We are absolutely blind, kohi samujhavau hai saba jaga andha, ‘whom shall I teach.  Oh, the whole world is blind.’  ‘If only one or two men were blind, I would teach them, says the poet, but the whole world is blind.’  Then there is the question of death.  Verily, old age and approaching death are very great incentives to spiritual life.  We see that people who have worked with us and lived with us have passed into the other world, ja dina pancchi udi jai hai, ‘when the soul bird flies away.’  Finally, there is the consciousness of sin which serves as an incentive to spiritual life.  I have already spoken to you about sensuality, the other aspect of which is sin.  Sin leads us to a life of religion, but not in the case of everybody.  Most people sink in the depths of sin.  There are many utterances in Hindi literature where sin has prompted men to a life of spirituality.  Indra, for example, when he was asked in the court of King Janaka, said that he had a thousand eyes, and that other gods were jealous of him on that account.  Other gods had two, four, six, eight, twelve, fifteen eyes and so on; but Indra had a thousand.  ‘You are so fortunate, Oh Virocana, that you are enjoying with a thousand eyes the ‘Chchabi’ (beautiful form) of Rama’.  ‘I have to thank my sins,’ he said; ‘I looked at Ahilya with lust and I was cursed with a thousand holes or eyes.’  So we have to be thankful to our sins.  I have a friend of mine, who is still living, and who told me that he was thankful to his sins for driving him to a spiritual life.  It is the consciousness of sin which thus becomes an incentive, provided a man outlives his sins.

We will discuss in detail treatment of an ethical approach to spiritual life based on Surdas’ song.

We quote:

The Gopis here are addressing Uddhava or Krishna, they do not know whom.  Literally, the song seems to be addressed to Uddhava, really, it is addressed to Krishna.  In fact, their minds were so confounded by the devotion they bore to Krishna that they could not distinguish between Uddhava and his Master, and they wanted to accuse Krishna of certain things which imply an incentive to spiritual life which we shall explain just now.  “In the first place,” the Gopis say, “O Uddhava, you are cutting mango trees and planting prickly thorns.  Wherever there is sandle-wood to be found, you are consigning it to flames.  Good things you despise, and bad things you encourage.  You are rehabilitating the thieves, and making the good people run away, and you place reliance on those who bear tales to you.

We cannot understand your threefold manner, O Uddhava, namely, Kathani, Karani and Rahani.  “None of these can we understand in your case.”  So, we have to come to the conclusion, say the Gopis, thy Court, thy Assembly Hall, is merely chaotic: andhadhund darbar.  “The good people are punished and the bad people prosper” – that is what in a sense the Gopis have said to Uddhava or Krishna.  In Maharashtra, there was another poet, named Tatyaji, who has said the same thing.  One does not know whether he knew the song of the Gopis.  He is, in a sense, re-echoing the very words of the Gopis:

              दाताओंको बंधन पडे | भिखारियों को दोलत चढे ||

              चोरों को इमारत बढे | दुश्मनको मुक्ति सिद्धि ||

              सेवकको चिथडी | पतिव्रता की बींपत पडी ||

              छिनाल जा वैकुंठ चढी | तात्याजीकी ऐसी बानी है ||

                             अंधाधुंद सरकार है |

“Liberal donors are put into prison, and beggars are placed on the throne.  Chaste women fall into adversity, and courtesans ascend to the heaven”.  Tatyaji says, “Verily, thy world-court is only full of anarchy.”  What is the philosophic consequence of this that perturbed the intellect of such a great German philosopher like Kant?  Kant, who in his First Critique, the Critique of Pure Reason, could not by any intellectual arguments prove the existence of God, has discovered a very suitable argument in the second Critique, the Critique of Practical Reason, where he finds his proof of God upon this disparity between desert and fruit.  Good people suffer in the world, and bad people prosper.  How is an adjustment to be made between desert and fruit, asks Kant?  He gives two answers.  In the first place, he says, we have to posit an immortal life – a long life – through the course of which, the good people, who have suffered in this life, might be rewarded in a later; and the bad, who have been prosperous in this life, might receive due punishment.  So this mal-adjustment in the world implies, says Kant, the proof of immortal life.  Second, it requires a Judge who is to adjust the desert to fruit.  That great Judge is God.  It is only God who can adjust works to fruits.  So, this proof of God, which is known as the moral proof, is very famous in the History of Philosophy.  In the last Critique, namely, the Critique of Judgment, Kant comes to the teleological proof, which is next to this moral proof, but this moral proof stands highest in the case of Kant.  According to Kant, this discrepancy between desert and fruit leads, on the one hand, to the proof of an immortal life, and, on the other, to the proof of God; but in our case, who are discussing the Nature of spiritual life, how does it affect us?  Is it not our concern, as members of the Spiritual world, so to feel and pray within ourselves that Providence may bring about an adjustment between merit and reward?  If these are not righted, as we may see in the world, will it not be our spiritual Endeavour so to will, that they are righted here and now?  At least, the endeavour will inspire us with a strong spiritual impulse for bringing about this very necessary desired adjustment.

3. Meditation :

Gurudev discusses three types of meditations in his book on Vedanta.

a)       Symbolic or Pratikopasana .. A pratika is a symbol which represents God.  It stands for divinity and thus has its own significance.

b)      Gunopasana or Qualitative .. The qualities to be meditated upon are qualities of God

c)       Unitive – this is meditation of Atman as Atman itself. 

In his Gita book, Gurudev gives a threefold classification of methods of meditation.  The three are Ideological Method – wherein we are asked to meditate on the idea of God i.e. the different conceptions of life Purusottama, Sutra, Rasa etc.  The second is the moral method.  Meditation is to be carried out on virtues so that they are inculcated in ourselves.

The third is the most important, The Mystical method which we will see in his own words.

This is a very practical method and has been practiced by all great aspirants.  I myself had known about this method in my boyhood when I used to recite the Bhagavad Gita and began to practice it at the age of eighteen.  I shall stress here some points which might be useful for beginners, seekers as well as those who have made some advance in their spiritual realization.  Under the mystical method, we shall deal with four points.  There is a physiological element in this mystical method, then there is what we might call a psycho-ethical element, thirdly, there is the devotional element, and finally, the element of Grace.  When all these are fully present, we might say that the mystical method has achieved its purpose.

a)       Physiological Element: It has been customary among people to suppose that it is the posture or Asana which has got everything to do in the matter of meditation; it is not so at all.  This method of postures cannot take us far in achieving our spiritual end.  But it has its own use of which we must take advantage.  Patanjali in his Yogasutra has told us that the only Asana that a Sadhaka should perform is one in which he can sit or lie down for a long time and at the same time fill himself with joy in such a way that he may not be required to move from his seat.  Any Asana, therefore, in which we can continue our God-meditation for a long time and in a happy mood is the Asana that is useful for us.  I have myself used four or five different Asanas in my early spiritual career, but that Asana alone has value which enables us to sit for a long time in our contemplative mood.

The second point in the physiological element is breath control.  A good number of Kumbhakas have been regarded as having some function to perform in the matter of God-realization.  They might, like the Asanas, put the mind in a certain equable mood, no doubt, but in themselves they cannot lead to spiritual realization.  The Prana and Apana must be equalized.  Anyone who has tried this experiment will see that they are generally never equal, that one is always longer than the other; and it is only when Prana and Apana become equal that a mental equilibrium is created.  Sometimes it also happens that both Prana and Apana might stop altogether, a Kevala Kumbhaka might be produced and the man might live without breathing.  This state would certainly be useful for spiritual contemplation.  Samkaracarya has said that there might be a thousand kinds of Kumbhakas but the best of them all is the Kevala Kumbhaka.

Then the third point in the physiological element is that of sight.  We are told by the Bhagavadgita that we should look at the tip of the nose.  It might mean either the tip of the nose or the top of the nose.  They are both useful only so far as they would draw the sight of the man from the external object to something internal which he wants to see.  But Drusti or sight by itself and in itself is not of much consequence.  Our sight must be directed to the spiritual object of perception, but not to the physiological tip of the nose, either up or down.  That is intended only to fasten the mind and to make it a little composed, and to draw it away from the objects of sense perception.  No further value can be attached to this process of looking at the tip of the nose or the root of the nose.  So far then about the physiological element in the mystical method.

b)      Psycho-ethical Element: Let me proceed to the psycho-ethical element in the mystical method.  This is rather important, because without it no spiritual realization is ever possible.

1)      The Bhagavadgita in a very famous passage (Chapter IV verse 26 and 27) tells us that the objects of our senses must be sacrificed in the senses, that senses must be sacrificed in breath, breath in mind and mind in Atman :

It is only when this kind of sacrificial process is carried on from point to point and Atman reigns supreme that we may be said to have reached a very powerful stage in the mystical life.

2)      Speaking  from the ethical point of view, Kama may be regarded as the chiefest enemy of man.  To conquer Kama is a most difficult job and he who has been able to conquer it will make easy progress on his spiritual path.  We are also told that this Kama or lust takes its seat in the senses, mind and reason or intellect.

So Kama is the chiefest enemy which must be first conquered.  What in modern psycho-analysis is regarded as a powerful element in human nature must be conquered, if moral and spiritual progress is to be made.  Even to talk about lust, as the psycho-analysis does freely, would itself be an act of lust.  The Bhagavadgita has no difficulty in saying that as a mirror may be covered by dust, as fire may be covered by smoke even so our spiritual life may be covered by lust.  We have to drive it away; then alone would the Atman be born.

3)      Further, the Bhagavad Gita speaks of the great value of concentration for the process of meditation.  It is a very important element which almost everybody, who practices meditation tries to achieve :

Any man who by looking within finds that his mind is wandering all round must turn it away from all objects and ideas and concentrate it on the one object, namely God.

Just look at these conditions, let our mind be composed; let fear be away from our mind; let there be no remnant emotion in our system.  Then alone would we be able to concentrate on God.  All these, however, are negative elements.  About the positive elements we shall speak presently.  But even these three, drawing the mind away from the objects of sense, would constitute some equipment for spiritual achievement.

4)      Finally, the Bhagavadgita tells us that even though we may seem to have conquered our senses and mind, the flavor for sensual and sexual enjoyment remains.  The inner flavor, therefore, must be destroyed and this cannot be done without a previous vision of God.

c)                   Devotional Element: We shall now pass on to the devotional element in the method of mystical meditation.  This is very important.  What is the use of merely looking at the tip of the nose or even controlling breath or trying to purge the mind of all Sensual and Sexual ideas?  Unless we feel an earnest devotion to God, i.e. Bhava or Bhakti, nothing would be of any avail whatsoever.  In one famous passage …

The Bhagavad Gita sums up all the elements that are necessary for the success of devotional meditation.

We are told in this verse, viz. Chapter VIII verse 14 in the first place, that we should be inspired with one pointed devotion towards God.  We should have no other object of attachment.  Then secondly, we are told that we must practice meditation without sacrificing a single moment and finally we are told that this must be continued from day to day, month to month and year to year to the very end of our life.

When all these things have been accomplished, then alone does the success in spiritual life become assured.  We must not, however fail to note that Bhava or Bhakti, unexplained and inexplicable love of God, is a fundamental requirement: meditation from hour to hour and day to day and even concentration on the name of God are of secondary importance.  The Bhagavadgita further tells us that unless there is the element of surrender in our devotion and unless we resign ourselves completely to the Power and Will of God, no great achievement in spiritual life is possible.  Finally, the Bhagavadgita tells us that it is only through one pointed devotion to God that one may be able to know Him, see Him and enter into Him.  (Refer Chapter XI verse 54)  This constitutes the devotional element.


d)                  Element of Grace: The last element necessary for the success of our spiritual meditation is the Grace of God.  It is not simply by performing our devotional acts that we may be able to achieve our highest goal.  God must be moved and it is only when He is moved that He will move the world by His Grace.  Grace of God descends upon the aspirant who is nearing his perfection in three stages.  In the first place, God gives a particular bent to his intellect and volition, a stimulus and a direction in which he might work.  That is Budhiyog.  Secondly, after he has worked unceasingly in this direction for a long time, he becomes the recipient of God’s Anukampa or compassion.  And finally, God crowns his efforts with the gift of His blessing.  God actually delivers his goods. It is only when the aspirant has passed through all these three stages, namely, Budhiyog, Anukampa and Prasad, that we might say that the Grace of God has fully descended on him.

4. Dark Night of the Soul :

When the seeker begins his spiritual journey, he finds himself composed of a perishable body and in soul an everlasting spirit.  He gives up his bodily cravings and subjugates it to his ultimate goal of uniting with the Eternal flame.  Now suppose he has trodden on this path for a long time and still the Eternal Flame, the supreme spirit has always eluded his grasp, he starts realizing utter helplessness.  He develops utter contempt for the ever dancing sensual images.  Practically, in this pursuit, the self loses itself of which St. Paul speaks “I live, but not I” and of which Christ has said “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.

The loss of the self is not a simple event.

Now the power of contemplation seems not to exist.

What the soul had earned through travails and turmoils of body and mind, of nature and society – a vantage point is no more available to sit upon for grazing the Divine.  It feels impotent, forlorn and blank.  Even the capacity to introvert disappears.  There is complete absence of the Divine.

Here, it is now when the final price has to be paid.  Complete self-surrender is called upon.  Through hours and days of anguish and torture the soul has to take its lesson in lovelessness for the sake of love, nothingness for the sake of all, without hope of finding learn to lose, without hope of living learn to die.  “It sees with amazement the most sure foundations of its transcendental life crumble beneath it, dwells in darkness which seems to hold no promise of a dawn.  An overwhelming yet impotent conviction of something supremely wrong spread out in the consciousness.  Its characteristics being –

i)                    For those mystics where the absolute took the form of a sense of divine companionship and for whom the objective idea of ‘God’ had become the central fact of life, it seems to them God having shown Himself, has withdrawn never to appear again.

ii)                   In mystics for whom “Moral Perfection” was utmost for uniting with the Divine, now being overwhelmed by the Divine perfection and purity, feel that the least atoms of their imperfections as if they were enormous sins, because of the infinite distance there is between the purity of God and the creature.

iii)                 A sort of “aridity” sets in, perhaps due to emotional fatigue, very desire for, and interest in, vision of God grows cold.

iv)                 Emotional stagnation has its counterparts in the stagnation of the will and intelligence.  As regards the will, there is a sort of moral dereliction, the self cannot control its inclinations and thoughts.  The lower impulses below the threshold upsurge into the field of consciousness.

v)                   Teressa says (in that) “Spirit of bad temper that I think I could eat people up!”

vi)                 Some mystics given to rapid oscillations between pain and pleasure are ceased with an abrupt invasion of a wild and unendurable desire to “see God” which can only, they think, be satisfied by death.

No better example can be cited of Saint Tukaram for illustrating the pangs of the soul in this period of dark night. 

Tukaram got married in A.D. 1613 and had two wives.  Soon he lost his parents.  He suffered a loss in trade.  Dire famine set in, one of his wife died for want of food.  He lost his son in this famine.  Overcome by tremendous grief he gave himself up to spiritual reading.  He met his guru in dream and was initiated in A.D. 1619.  He had two great enemies who did not lose a single opportunity of making fun, ill-treating him.  His now living wife was a Xantippe and often quarreled with him.  Her main complaint was Tukaram did not work to earn livelihood and maintain his family (five children from the second wife), and only performed Bhajans with his colleagues and friends.  He composed many great poems.  We will see the various difficulties and his passing into the center of indifference and everlasting No from his poems.

From the everlasting yea, he now began to pass through the center of indifference.  “How long shall I wait,” he asks, “I see no sign of God’s presence.  It seems to me, O God, that Thou and I shall have now to part.  How long shall I wait?  I do not see the fructification of Thy promises.”  Tukaram thought that he was ruined both externally and internally.  His family life was a failure, and it seemed that his spiritual life was equally so.

Tukaram did not stay for a long time in the center of indifference.  He saw no help coming.  He began to call in question the omnipotence of God.  He thought that even his Fate was more powerful than God.  “God’s impotence is now proved,” he said.  Thou livest in my heart, and hast no compassion on me.  Thou are cruel and impersonal.  Thou knowest not the pangs of my heart.  My mind knows no rest.  My senses wander.  My sin is not at an end.  Thou art as angry as ever”, “I shall spoil Thy fair name, if Thou continues to be indifferent… I shall refuse to utter Thy name.  I feel my life to be a burden”.  In my opinion, God does not exist.  I have lost both the life of the world and the life of the spirit”.  Tukaram ends by saying that in his opinion God is dead.  “To me, God is dead.  Let Him be for whomsoever thinks Him to be.  I shall no longer speak about God.  I shall not meditate on His name.  Both God and I have perished…. Vainly have I followed Him hitherto, and vainly have I spent my life for Him”.  “Thou has no anxiety for me.  Why now should I continue to live?….. I have lived in the vain hope that “My hopes are shattered, and I shall now commit self-slaughter.”  

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