“The mystic (yogi) tries to concentrate upon the Supersoul by controlling the senses from all other engagements, and thus he ultimately attains samadhi. A devotee more easily attains samadhi, or trance, by constantly remembering the Lord’s personal feature along with His holy name, fame, pastimes, etc. Therefore, the concentration of the mystic yogi and that of the devotee are not on the same level. The concentration of the mystic is mechanical, whereas that of the pure devotee is natural in pure love and spontaneous affection.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.9.39 Purport)
When learning a new skill, there is the mechanical approach, wherein one accepts certain tools and tricks and then tries to implement them through steady practice. This method is helpful considering the difficulty of the skill being learned, but for the person who is naturally prone to such behavior there is not a problem at all. In many instances the person providing the instruction developed the technique through their own ability and then only after the fact performed some review to decipher the specific mechanics that went into their technique. In a similar manner, there is a way to reach the highest end of divine trance, or samadhi, through a mechanical method, but the natural approach is always more effective and easier to implement. Those who practice the latter method are so immersed in blissful thoughts of the divine that they don’t even know they are trying for samadhi.
Picture an expert ice hockey player, who can shoot the puck up to 100 miles per hour. Perhaps in their youth they were taught the proper skating technique and how to put weight into the shot, but nevertheless, not every professional hockey player has a hard shot. The bending of the stick and the right timing of skating and backswing all go into the perfect shot that is both fast and accurate. Those with a hard shot can try teaching their technique to others, but likely their own ability was developed naturally. It was already within them, so they figured out how to extract it on their own, without following a mechanical approach aimed at reaching the future end.
For the spirit soul trapped in a cycle of birth and death, some instruction is required in order to find the highest end. This is because by default the animal instincts take over. Leave a child to play for the rest of their lives and they will never learn anything. That’s why during the critical early years, when the child is willing to listen to parents, education is imposed. Without some sort of discipline, the hyperactive senses of the child would run wild, causing them to be spoiled and grow up to have a difficult time coping with life.
In the larger scheme, the living entity in general is prone towards eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Divine trance is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It occurs when the aforementioned activities take a back seat, when they are done as a matter of fact rather than a matter of pleasure. This shouldn’t be that difficult to understand, for if we have a higher engagement, we will only eat what is required to maintain the body. Sleep will be a necessary evil, not something we truly relish. Mating and defense also take on a minimal role, for the mind will be focused on something else.
There are two pathways towards samadhi. One is mechanical. It involves some sort of austerity, with the senses controlled through niyama, or regulation. There are also breathing exercises, sitting postures, and specific meditation techniques that further purify consciousness and reduce the influence of the senses, which are likened to serpents with deadly fangs. The mechanical route essentially removes those fangs.
The mechanical approach is appealing because there is no sectarian designation. No one is going to hell if they don’t practice yoga, and neither are they dedicating their worship to a distinct figure of a specific tradition. If they will recite any name at all for the divine, it will be the impersonal sound representation of the Absolute Truth, om. Find a peaceful spot, sit quietly, chant om for a while, and then go back to what you were doing.
It is this last piece that causes the whole system to break down. Meditational yoga is introduced in the Vedas, which come from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The impersonal feature of the Supreme Lord is known as Brahman, and since it lacks opportunity for personal interaction, those who try to connect with it find the path very difficult. Meditation on Brahman is meant to be a full-time engagement, not something that you do for five minutes a day. Think of it in terms of exercise. If I spent one hour in the gym each day but then ate without control the rest of the time, what good will my exercise do?
In the same manner, if the yogi follows the dictates of the senses for the majority of the day, their yoga practice will not do much for them. Therefore it is not surprising that the mechanical process aimed at finding samadhi has degraded to the point that just the extraneous health benefits are now sought. Forget the spiritual component, do yoga so that your body’s internals will be in balance, so that you can enjoy your life of sense gratification even more.
The natural process is much more beneficial. It is known as bhakti-yoga because it involves love directed at the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There are mechanical components to it in the beginning, but in the stage of maturation there is no conscious thought given to practicing any type of discipline. Rather, the devotee connected to God almost spits at the thought of practicing yoga, for the term implies that there is some benefit the devotee is trying to acquire. It’s like a friend going up to you and complimenting you on your parenting abilities, how you are doing a good job raising your kids. For the good parent, there is no specific reward sought for dedicating your life to protecting your child. You’re not in it for the attention or the pat on the back; the dedication comes naturally.
The path of devotion ideally leads to a point where the worship of God takes place spontaneously, throughout the day. One can be cooking, cleaning, watching television, or even driving and still be in samadhi by thinking of the forms, pastimes and names of the Supreme Lord, who is addressed as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness. Like an iron rod that eventually turns into fire upon steady contact with a scorching flame, the devotee eventually becomes completely spiritualized through enough contact with the personal aspect of the Lord.
That same Krishna descended to earth some five thousand years ago and spent a significant amount of time engaged in delightful pastimes in the farm community of Vrindavana. As time passed, Krishna had to depart for the neighboring town of Mathura, leaving the cowherd women, the gopis, most affected by the separation. Shortly after He left, Krishna sent His cousin Uddhava to deliver them a message. Uddhava looked just like Krishna, so at first glance the gopis thought that maybe Krishna was returning to them.
When it came time for Uddhava to speak, the gopis were more interested in Krishna’s welfare than the message He had given. Through Uddhava, Krishna told the gopis that they were the topmost yogis. They had abandoned attachment to their husbands, friends and family in favor of loving the Lord, and for this there was no way Krishna could repay them. He declared that they were exemplary devotees, and that they should be proud of their exalted position.
This is some lofty praise. If your aim is to be a mystic that reaches the samadhi stage, this news confirms that your yoga practice is going very well. Ironically, the gopis did not like this message. Granted, they loved hearing Krishna’s words and the chance to think about Him, but they paid no attention to the descriptions of yoga. What did they care if they were practicing yoga? They just wanted to know if Krishna remembered them and those moonlit nights in the forest when they all danced together. Did He miss them? Was He happy as a king? Was He ever going to come back?
Uddhava was overwhelmed with appreciation for the gopis and their behavior. Though the gopis didn’t know it, they were exhibiting all the signs of samadhi, the goal for the mystic yogi. Because they only wanted to think about Krishna and love Him, they had no need for the mechanical processes of yoga, nor hearing about how they were practicing mysticism so well by concentrating on Krishna. Through their reaction to Krishna’s message, the gopis showed that the Lord was indeed correct about their position as the greatest yogis.
The simplest method of yoga and the most effective are one and the same. Regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, reignites the devotional flame that is inside all of us. This sacred mantra also addresses the pleasure potency of the Supreme Lord, whom the gopis represent as well. Therefore “Hare Krishna” calls both the author of the message delivered by Uddhava and the recipients. The underlying request with the perfect prayer that is the maha-mantra is to have the ability to practice devotion spontaneously, to be immersed in blissful thoughts of the delight of Vrindavana, the life and soul of the gopis, and the author of everything good that ever was, is, and will be in the future. With a humble request made at the feet of the object of yoga, the need for the mechanical path goes away, as it becomes unappealing at the same time. The devotional path is always superior because it directly leads to Krishna, whose association is most cherished.
By following yoga’s mechanical process,
One can surely reach a point of success.
The forced restraint and practice gives chance,
To reach position of full divine trance.
But in reaching pleasure no need for force,
Divine love charters simpler and better course.
Just think of Krishna always like gopis did,
Shyamasundara from their minds couldn’t rid.
Their supreme standing messenger Uddhava could tell,
Their hearts and minds to Krishna the gopis did sell.