8.3 Upasana Yoga

This sub-module is based on the teachings of Swami Paramarthananda and Swami Viditatmananda.
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Upasana Yoga can be translated as disciplining and integrating the personality. Upasana Yoga is similar to Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali. Adi Shankara accepts Ashtanga Yoga and renamed it Samadhi Yoga. So Upasana Yoga can also be called Samadhi Yoga.

In simple terms, Upasana Yoga consists of various types of meditations to develop different aspects of our mind.

It’s important to understand that meditation does not give you Moksha, because Moksha or freedom is your very nature. Nor is meditation practiced for Knowledge, because meditation is not a “means of knowledge” (Pramanam).

What is the Purpose of Disciplining Ourselves?

Disciplining ourselves is like building a dam across a river. The purpose of building a dam is to conserve water, which otherwise would have wastefully flowed into the sea, and utilize it for other constructive purposes like irrigation and electricity generation.

Similarly humans have a lot of power (Shakti) inside which is normally wasted. These powers are in the form of the power to desire, the power to know and the power to act. Every great thing that happens in the world is because of these human powers. If I learn to conserve these powers, I can channel it towards constructive purposes.

Hence discipline is meant to conserve and channel these powers. And for a student of Vedanta these powers are channelled into the pursuit of Moksha.

The 4 Levels of Discipline

The principle of discipline is quality control and quantity control. Whenever we act, both the quality and quantity of the action is controlled or moderated.

The control over quality and quantity is the principle of all disciplines. In other words, moderation in everything is the highest discipline.

The scriptures talk about discipline at 4 levels:

1. Physical discipline at the level of the physical body.
2. Verbal discipline at the level of speech.
3. Sensory discipline at the level of sense organs.
4. Mental discipline.

Let’s discuss each of these disciplines:

1. Physical Discipline

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A healthy physical body is the basic requisite for achieving anything in life, including Moksha. So physical discipline is needed where we pay attention to the physical body, to our physical activities and to our dietary habits.

Without proper health we cannot accomplish anything in life. Even if we do, we won’t be able to enjoy the benefits. Take the case of a person who has a high flying career, who earns lot of money by working 18 hours a day, travels all over the world, does not rest properly, does not have proper food habits; basically abusing his body to achieve his material goals.

Even if this person acquires a lot of material possessions, he won’t be able to enjoy them because of poor health. We appreciate the value of good health only when we lose it, not when we have it. And by the time we lose it, it’s already too late.

Preservation of health is much easier and more cheaper, than getting it back. If one does not voluntarily gives time towards health, they’ll be forced to give time to diseases.

To seek Moksha too, we need health. Even in the Vedantic portion of the Upanishads we have prayers for good health. In the Gita, Krishna says that for the sake of health one needs to have discipline towards food, both in quantity and quality.

Eating too much is as dangerous as excessive dieting. Excessive activity is as dangerous as too much inactivity. Activity and rest must be balanced. Eating and dieting must be balanced. Our daily sleep time should be moderated.

All these aspects of our life should be disciplined so that the physical body remains fit for Vedantic study. Physical exercises, Yoga, and dietary discipline are some ways to keep the body fit.

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2. Verbal Discipline

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Verbal discipline is called “Vak Tapas” in Sanskrit. Scriptures give a lot of importance to verbal discipline. In verbal discipline we control the quantity and quality of our speech.

So how do we discipline our speech?

Speech Quantity Control

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a. Avoid getting into arguments with others. It will save a lot of your time and energy. In addition to straining relationships and increasing stress, arguments also waste our time.
b. Avoid gossip. Never talk about others.
c. Avoid frivolous talk.
d. Avoid excessive talk about the past or future. Dwelling upon the past is worthless, and we cannot predict the future. On the other hand talking about the present based on the past or future is more useful.
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Speech Quality Control

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a. Speech should be non-hurtful to others. In the Values module we learnt about Ahimsa, non-violence. We should practice Ahimsa not only at the physical level, but also at the verbal level. All forms of abuse, criticism, blame, denigration, arguments is violence. If I cannot avoid hurtful speech for some unavoidable reason, then I should find a way to minimize the hurt.
b. Be truthful. We do not want others to lie to us, so avoid lying to others. This is the basics of Dharma. Do not do to others, what you do not want done to you. In the modern world always telling the truth may not be practical. So we should sensitize the mind to such an extent that telling a lie should disturb us. The pain caused by the lie should be greater than the benefit gained by the lie. By doing this we create a value for truthfulness within us.
c. Avoid cursing and swearing. Speech should be soft, slow, polite and gentle.
d. Speech should be beneficial to both the speaker and the listener. Don’t talk to people who are not interested in listening to you.

Thus monitoring the quantity and quality of our speech is a great discipline. This is accomplished by being alert and deliberate in the use of our speech.

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How can we take care of these 4 factors when we are busy speaking? How do we practise speech quality control in daily life?


We should follow these 4 rules to practise speech quality control:

Rule 1: Speak less

The first rule is to reduce speaking. 99% of all problems will be solved if we reduce speaking.

Rule 2: Plan your speech

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Whenever we have something to say which cannot be avoided, and which has the possibility of hurting someone, then we plan beforehand what we are going to say.

For casual talking no planning is required since we’re not dealing with sensitive topics. There is a lesser chance of saying something hurtful.

So the second rule is that whenever there is a serious issue and there is scope for hurting another person, then better plan what you will say.

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Rule 3: Don’t speak when emotionally disturbed

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Take a decision that whenever you are emotionally disturbed, you will not speak. When the mind is disturbed it loses its discriminative abilities.

Therefore the moment we see some kind of emotional disturbance coming, we decide to stop the conversation. We say to the other person “Now my mind is disturbed. If I speak further, I may hurt you and it may affect our relationship. Therefore let’s discuss this subject when both of us are calm.”

So, whether my mind is disturbed or the other person’s mind is disturbed, we decide to postpone our conversation.

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Rule 4: Two-fold introspection

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I remember from past experiences that certain things have hurt me. I have been a victim of certain words in the past. So from my own experiences I know things that can be hurtful to others.

I also know from my past that when I have said certain things, they have tended to hurt others. I know because the other person reacted negatively, either by crying or getting angry or by avoiding talking to me after the incident. So I know the words that are hurtful to others.

Either I am victimized by someone else’s word, or someone else is a victim of my harsh words. So I introspect, and throughout the day whenever I am hurt by someone else, or I hurt someone else, I should note. This requires a very alert and careful life.

And as I start noting these words, and I analyze the situations that caused this exchange of words, whether I like it or not, they get entrenched in my mind. And there afterwards whenever there is an occasion when hurtful words are going to come out of me, a warning sign goes off in my mind. So constant introspection help prevent me from accidentally hurting others.

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So these 4 rules help us in speech quality control.

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3. Sensory Discipline

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The sense organs are open gateways through which the external world enters our mind in the form of sound, touch, colour, taste and smell.

Words spoken by others enter my mind. Some sense organs can be closed, while some cannot. I can close my eyes, but I cannot keep it closed all the time. I cannot close my nose all the time.

The sense organs are open when I go into the external world. And whether I like it or not, the world enters my mind. And when the world enters, it is capable of disturbing and polluting my mind.

Therefore, if I do not have discipline, the world can disturb me. I should have a clear cut policy on which objects to indulge, and which to avoid.

I should learn self-control to avoid anything that can pollute my mind. The avoidance of unhealthy objects and situations is sensory discipline. Even indulgence in healthy objects should be moderated. Too much of a good thing can also be bad. So the rule should be to avoid unhealthy objects, and avoid excess of healthy objects.

Swami Chinmayananda once said “Put a board, ‘No admission without permission’. Don’t make your mind a public toilet.” So this is called sense discipline, and it is accomplished by living an alert life, and a life of discrimination.

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4. Mental Discipline

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All forms of meditation come under mental discipline, although meditation is not the only method.

The word “Upasana” basically means meditation for mental discipline. But since the mind is interdependent with the body, speech and senses, we include their discipline as stepping stones for mental discipline.

Mind is a very subtle instrument, and not so easy to control. Hence to make mental discipline easier we progress from the gross to the subtlest. We start with physical discipline, then speech discipline, then sense discipline, and finally the mind. Therefore the first three disciplines become indirect means for mental discipline.

Any meditation program will always include physical, speech and sense discipline. These supplementary disciplines are included even in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, even though the purpose of Ashtanga Yoga is mental discipline.

The body and mind are connected; speech and mind are also connected. When we are highly emotional or angry, it’s difficult to talk slowly. Psychosomatic studies reveal there’s a link between physical and mental health.

Therefore to improve mental discipline we first try to be disciplined with our body, speech and senses. This makes practicing mental discipline much easier.

So the primary purpose of Upasana Yoga is mental discipline, but to achieve that body, speech and sense discipline are supplementary means.

In mental discipline there are four aspects of the mind we need to take care of:

a. Relaxation – The mind should be able to relax. Only a relaxed mind can accomplish anything in life.
b. Concentration – The mind should have the ability to focus.
c. Expansion – Most people’s minds are self-centered. They look at issues from a narrow prism of their likes and dislikes or what is advantageous to them. So I should develop a mind that is capable of looking at issues from a larger perspective.
d. Refinement – I should possess a mind in which all Values (See Universal Values module) are assimilated.

To develop these aspects of the mind, scripture prescribes meditation, which is called Upasanam in Sanskrit. For each aspect we have a particular type of meditation.

a. Relaxation Meditation

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In relaxation meditation the aim is only relaxation. I do not concentrate on anything. I just physically and mentally relax myself. It can be an independent meditation or a preparatory meditation for other types of meditation.

We have different ways to do this. One method is mentally visualizing beautiful surroundings like gardens, mountains, the sky, or the ocean. Nature is always relaxed; there is no tension in nature.

Other methods include watching your breath, repeating a mantra or listening to meditative music. You can also use auto-suggestions like “I am relaxed”. Any technique will do as long as you’re able to relax yourself.

And when you’re relaxed, surrender to Isvara or your favourite deity (Ishta Devata). In any meditation it’s important to bring in Isvara, otherwise it becomes just an exercise.

I can visualize my Ishta Devata and see the presence of Isvara, see the grace of Isvara. I see the strength of Isvara behind me and therefore I can face any situation in life. My worries melt away and I relax.

Relaxation meditation is particularly important in today’s fast paced and stressful life. This type of meditation can also be called de-stressing meditation.

Learn to sit for a few minutes every day just relaxing. This will also be beneficial for your physical and mental health.

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b. Concentration Meditation

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In any field, whether material or spiritual, the ability to concentrate as well as our attention span is important. Attention span is defined as the amount of concentrated time one can spend on a task without becoming distracted.

Both these abilities are required for everything in life, be it our daily mundane tasks, office work, studies, sports, or studying Vedanta.

In concentration meditation if we focus on any object, it will become just an exercise. To truly make it a meditation we have to bring in Isvara.

Therefore to develop concentration and attention span, Vedic scriptures prescribe mental worship of the Lord or your favourite deity. This is called Manasa Puja, “Manasa” meaning “mind” and “Puja” meaning “worship”. Mental worship involves 2 types: recitation and repetition. In recitation you mentally recite verses, and in repetition you mentally repeat one mantra.

You can also do mental chanting, also called Manasa Parayanam. In Parayanam you chant a prayer. Another form of chanting is called Japa where you repetitively chant one name of the Lord.

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c. Expansion Meditation

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In this type of meditation I try to expand my perspective, I learn to expand my mind to visualize the totality of creation. Only when we visualize the total do we come to know of our significance, our place in the scheme of things, which is virtually zero.

Most of us have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, to our life and to our situations. Such incorrect perspectives leads to incorrect responses. Everything should be put in its place, and I will know my place only when I look at myself from the standpoint of totality.

Expansion meditation is a meditation on creation itself, on stars, galaxies, the solar system, the planet, the sky, continents, rivers, mountains, birds, animals and human beings. Here we look upon creation as the universal form of God. In Sanskrit this type of meditation is called Visva Rupa Dhyana or Visva Rupa Upasanam.

After expansion meditation our problems seem insignificant. The death of an acquaintance appears as a big calamity, but it becomes acceptable when you look at the millions appearing and disappearing in the whole world.

If you look at it from the cosmic angle, life is nothing but the flow of one generation into another. With this meditation not only do I learn to accept the events in my life, but to also accept all things and beings. This is expansion of the mind.

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d. Value Meditation

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This is also called transformation meditation where I refine my mind to inculcate more positive values. In this meditation I bring about a total, inner transformation by changing my thought patterns.

We generally neglect our thought patterns because it’s too subtle and too fleeting, and others can’t see it. But we should remember that our thought patterns determine our destiny.

Watch your thoughts, they become your words,
watch your words, they become your actions,
watch your actions, they become your habits,
watch your habits, they become your character,
watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Hence thought is the subtlest seed that determines your future. As you think, so shall you become.

There are two types of thought patterns: positive and negative. Positive thoughts take us towards our spiritual goal, and negative thoughts patterns take us away. Positive thoughts are called “Daivi Sampat” in Sanskrit, and negative thoughts are called “Asuri Sampat”. Daivi Sampat is conducive to Self-Knowledge and Asuri Sampat is an obstacle to spiritual pursuit.

Negative traits include jealousy, depression, impatience, irritation etc. These are born out of negative thought patterns. If you have to transform your life, you have to transform your thought patterns.

In Value meditation I take up every positive value (See Universal Values module for the list of values) and dwell on its importance to my spiritual growth. I also meditate on negative values, and see how they pollute my mind and hinder spiritual growth.

After having meditated on positive and negative values, I mentally visualize that I am imbued with positive values. Even if at present these values are not assimilated in me, I still visualize that I have these values. I visualize that I have patience, love, compassion to all. I do this mental exercise for every positive value listed in the Values module.

However I put special focus on my weak points. Everyone will have values which we need more work. So I pay more attention to these weak values.

Even mechanical repetition will bring about a gradual change. If you continue this mental exercise, you will imbibe these positive values, and gradually the negative traits will go away. Thus Value meditation refines your mind, making it more positive and suitable for Self Inquiry.

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Regular practice of these four types of meditation would bring about a wonderfully disciplined mind, and improve your qualifications for Vedanta (See The 4 Qualifications).

In Katha Upanishad a beautiful illustration is given in which life is compared to a journey, the physical body as the chariot, the sense organs as horses, the mind as the reins, and the intellect as the driver.

If the chariot is not in a good condition, there is a risk of break down or an accident. Therefore I cannot afford to travel in such a chariot. Thus Kathopanishad rightly says that one who has a good chariot (healthy physical body), an intelligent driver (good intellect), reins firmly held (a disciplined mind), and horses under control (good sense control) will surely reach his destination (Moksha).

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Upasana Yoga

Meditation Will Not Give You Enlightenment

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It’s important at this point to clear a common misconception about meditation. A common belief nowadays in various spiritual circles is that meditation can lead to enlightenment. People spend years and years meditating of hours a day, and end up being frustrated.

According to Vedanta, meditation will not give you Moksha. Meditation is a tool to aid Self-Inquiry or Jnana Yoga, but it does not equal Self-Inquiry. Unless one has realised that one is not the meditator but the one who knows the meditator.

Meditation can keep one stuck for years trying to have an experience of the Self, which many meditators do have, but the problem is the identification with the experiencer/meditator is still there. Unless the knowledge that meditation is designed to impart is fully assimilated – i.e. “I am the Self” – the experience ends because it was just that, an experience. This is true of any other spiritual experience, such as Samadhis or Kundalini awakenings.

In this way the experience of Self-Realization (Nirvikalpa Samadhi) does not necessarily lead to Moksha. This is why there are so many frustrated meditators and spiritual experiencers around trying to get the experience back. Even if they succeed they will most likely “lose” the Self-Realization once again, because the knowledge that they are that which makes all experience possible, i.e. Awareness, escapes them.

The knowledge that the meditation points to is that meditation is just another object appearing in you, allowing the reflection of the Self to appear in a still mind. However, seeing as no experience can take place without you, Awareness, and because as Awareness you are actionless, no special experience is required to experience the Self.

You are always experiencing the Self whether you are meditating or not, in Samadhi or not, in Kundalini awakening or not, etc. You just don’t know this. And no action the doer takes can produce Self-Knowledge.

Self-Inquiry is the application of knowledge. Self-Inquiry states that Awareness is our true nature and both knowledge and ignorance are objects appearing in you, awareness. Keeping this knowledge in mind and continually contemplating on it is Self-Inquiry.

This is why Self-Inquiry is different from meditation or other spiritual practices, because the knowledge is maintained by an act of will, whereas in meditation/spiritual practice the knowledge appears during a particular experience.

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1. Upasana Yoga consists of various types of meditations to discipline and develop different aspects of our mind. By discipling the mind a Vedantic student conserves and channels their energies towards the pursuit of Moksha.
2. Mental discipline by itself is not enough. Discipline is to be practised at the physical, verbal and sensory levels also.
3. In physical discipline our diet and physical activities have to be controlled and moderated.
4. In verbal discipline we practise speech quantity control as well as quality control.
5. In sensory discipline we avoid unhealthy objects and situations in the external world that can pollute our mind. Even indulgence in healthy objects should be moderated.
6. Mental discipline consists of 4 types of meditations: relaxation, concentration, expansion and refinement.
7. In relaxation meditation we learn to relax our mind. In concentration meditation we try to improve our concentration as well as our attention span. In expansion meditation we develop our mind to look at issues from a larger perspective. In refinement meditation we transform our mind by inculcating more positive values.
8. A common misconception in spiritual circles is that meditation can lead to enlightenment. According to Vedanta, meditation will not give you Moksha; it is only a tool to aid Self-Inquiry. Only acquiring Self-Knowledge through Self-Inquiry gives Moksha.
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