Few of us dream of reaching perfection in this life, but all of us can get our mental luggage ready, as H.P.B. has said, for future lives. "Luggage" here stands for those faculties, powers, knowledge and character which by their nature will become assets when we are reborn in future births. Of course there is the other aspect to the "luggage," namely, the "bad" Karma we make, but we are not concerned with that in this article.
One faculty that we shall need more and more as we progress is that of concentration, the power to pay full attention to every aspect of our daily life, not merely to our study. Concentration alters our character, and without it neither faculties, powers, knowledge, nor disposition can be improved, for it is the capacity to keep the mind, that is, the attention, on whatever we have decided or desire to do, whether the desire be a lower or a higher one.
In Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms, that wonderful treatise on how to achieve concentration leading to meditation, we are told that at the early stage we must start where we are, with our everyday affairs. We are familiar with the idea that meditation is not only to be practised at set times, for a definite purpose, but is also a special attitude of mind underlying all our daily activities. During the day we gain most of our experience through the sense-organs which convey messages to the brain, and we are faced with the fact that our senses either give us accurate information or wrong information, depending on the degree of attention we have achieved. But this attention is not enough, for Patanjali tells us that to have correct cognition we must have direct perception, followed by inference from the facts noted, and testimony.
We see the necessity for the testimony of others all along the line of our evolution, for in The Secret Doctrine we read that even Sages, Adepts, who had all their senses and other aspects of their nature in complete control, checked their findings with the testimony of others. How humble this should make us as to our "opinions"!
Lack of correct cognition gives rise to misconception. Misconception can be the result of either lack of accurate perception or fancy; that is, they are based, not on facts, but just on our imagination or desire. Or they might arise because we see everything in terms of our own limited knowledge, experience and understanding.
Apart from misconceptions and fancy, sleep is mentioned, which here means non-use of any of our senses, or passivity, even though we may be awake. And we have memory, which is perhaps one of the worst foes of concentration, for our mind, like a butterfly, flits from memory to memory. To help us, The Voice of the Silence has many graphic sentences, such as: "Look not behind or thou art lost"; "Mistrust thy senses, they are false"; "Have mastery o'er thy thoughts."
We must, therefore, begin by trying to give our full attention to everything we have to do during the day, and to be accurate as far as possible. Of course it will take time before full concentration is achieved, but as this is a universe of Law we cannot but succeed if we go on trying.
We learn that that which hinders us from fixing our attention on anything is our desires which call up pictures or remembrances of pleasurable or painful emotions, to which our mind flies. That is, our attention wanders to the most attractive position. Therefore Patanjali says that not only is constant practice necessary but also dispassion has to be achieved, and he gives us the key to this. Only when we realize that all is for the benefit of the soul can we get rid of the many personal desires we have. Then alone can we desire to concentrate, desire to live as souls, reincarnating beings, responsible beings, divine beings.
Another aspect of this effort to cultivate the faculty of concentration is taken up later on by Patanjali. The phrase "culture of concentration" is interesting in this connection, for it brings to the mind the idea of growth, or of training and improvement. We have to nurture this faculty, to see that the soil in which it is sown is suited for it, to see that it receives the light of our own energy, and the sustenance of our true desire. This culture of concentration is to be achieved by constant attention, by persistent, daily exercise. Exercise requires that we "sit for concentration," make a definite, self-induced effort to concentrate, and to do so we need to choose an object, physical or metaphysical, on which to keep our mind fixed. That is, the attention is to be kept on it, and if it wanders, which it will, it must be brought back. Attention is the fixing of the mind; continued holding of the mind in that position is concentration. How is this to be achieved? We need to contemplate on the object chosen, not just look at it, mentally or physically, and this implies that we analyse with the mind all we can see—its colour, form, growth, source, life itself, until we find that we have become so absorbed in it that we are in the state called meditation. We and the object have become one.
If our main desire is to think of all things as existing for the benefit of the soul, then bit by bit we should choose objects which are universal. Krishna says that that which is not manifest or which cannot be visualized in a form is difficult to dwell upon, but we have to learn to go beyond the manifested to the unmanifested. Krishna, the Real, is beyond form, so Patanjali tells us that there is "meditation without a seed," when the object selected for meditation disappears from the mental plane and there is progressive thought upon the higher plane of abstract ideas.
Mr. Judge tells us that he had a fruitful meditation when he let his mind, that is, attention, dwell first on his friends, then on all human beings, including the wicked and the ignorant, then on all nature and the elemental world, and so on until the whole universe was reached. In time one's soul will be merged in the ONE SOUL, and there is achieved what Patanjali calls consummation of the aim of the Soul, or "the abiding of the soul united with understanding in its own nature." Manas becomes one with Atma-Buddhi. When this stage is reached, the Soul is no longer affected by objects, senses, suffering and pleasure, but partakes of the great life of the universe.