in this universe, in one respect man’s condition is the same. No matter
how vastly different he may be in the outer appearance of his life, different
countries, different races, different cultures, different languages, different
ways of living, eating, dressing, etc., he may be completely different
in all of these aspects, but there is one thing that is the same to all
human individuals. And it is this factor that binds them into a global
unity. If analyzed, it will be discovered that all humanity is engaged
ceaselessly, day after day, from the cradle to the grave, only in trying
to avoid painful experiences and in trying to attain that which gives them
Yet, beloved seeker, let me ask you this one very important question. Since the time of creation, is there one single individual who has been born onto this earth who can stand up boldly and declare, "In my life I have never experienced any sorrow or pain or suffering whatsoever. My whole life has been a life full of joy, full of happiness, full of bliss". You will find that there is not even one single individual on earth who has not had at some time or another some type of pain or suffering or grief or sorrow.
This is a world of pain and sorrow. With a few minutes thoughtful reflection you will see that this is so. Many painful experiences are brought about by natural forces beyond our control—floods, earthquakes, tidal waves, cyclones, fires, famines. Then there is suffering brought about by other forms of life—germs, microbes, bacteria, viruses, insects, reptiles, animals. But by far the greatest source of suffering is caused by man himself. It is suffering that is self-created, that arises within our own psychological self due to desire and attachment for worldly objects—love and hate, anger and passion, fear, worry, tension, anxiety, jealousy, envy, greed, frustration, disappointment, disillusionment, the sorrow of separation, bereavement, and all other varieties of restlessness of mind due to our multitude of desires.
Everyone thinks happiness is to be found in objects and experiences. Everyone thinks, "If I could only attain certain objects, if I could only possess them, if I could experience them, I will get happiness." In spite of countless disappointments and disillusionments, man never learns.
There is not an iota of happiness in earthly objects. No object is perfect. They do not have in them the power or ability to give you lasting happiness or joy because they are finite and they are imperfect. Otherwise, they must be able to give a homogeneous state of happiness to all beings at all times under all conditions. But what do you actually see?
If you like milk and you take a glass full of sweetened milk flavoured with spices, the first glass may give you satisfaction. And if you are pressed upon to take another glass, the second glass may give satisfaction, but it is not the same degree of happiness or pleasure as was the first glass. And if your stomach is already full with two glasses of milk, if you try to take a third glass of milk, it becomes unpleasant, it becomes undesirable. And if it is forced upon you, a fourth glass of milk produces nausea and you will have to throw it up. Where then is real happiness?
If milk had in it the power of giving happiness, it must be able to grant you this happiness at all times, under all conditions. It cannot change its nature. Such examples show that all experiences derived from the contact of senses with their respective sense-objects ultimately are experiences that end in disappointment.
Therefore, the great world teacher, Lord Krishna had this very important insight to impart to us when he said: "O Arjuna, all these experiences brought about by the contact of one or other of the five senses with their respective sense objects, these experiences are ultimately the source of sorrow. There is no real happiness in these sense contacts and sense experiences. They are but mere momentary sensations afterwards giving you pain."
Handed down since ancient times by religious seers who had attained self-realization by chanting them, mantras are words or syllables in Sanskrit which when repeated in meditation helps you transcend into a higher state of consciousness. As sound energies that have always existed the universe, they cannot be created or destroyed and command the power to heal you physically & spiritually. At the very basic level mantras help you to concentrate in meditation. And once you enter its auspicious circle, the mind instantly gets focussed and you discover a new realm of peace and tranquility.
The original of all mantras, Om, is the root of all sounds, thus letters and therefore of all language and thought. The "O" is generated deep within the body, from inside the navel, and slowly brought upward joining with the "m" which then resonates through the entire head. Chanting Om in a whisper correctly for twenty minutes relaxes every atom in of every cell of your body.
A mala (garland of Sandal or Rudraksha) is often used in accompaniment. It has one hundred and eight beads plus the larger `meru' beads. Holding it in the right hand, start at the meru and roll the beads along one by one between your thumb and third fingers while repeating your mantra. When you reach the meru, roll the mala in the opposite direction. Do not cross over the meru bead.
BHAGAVAD GITA AND MANAGEMENT
Management has become a part and parcel in everyday life, be it at home, office, factory, Government, or in any other organization where a group of human beings assemble for a common purpose, management principles come into play through their various facets like management of time, resources, personnel, materials, machinery, finance, planning, priorities, policies and practice.
Management is a systematic way of doing all activities in any field of human effort. It is about keeping oneself engaged in interactive relationship with other human beings in the course of performing one's duty. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their weaknesses irrelevant -so says the Management Guru Peter Drucker.
It strikes harmony in working -equilibrium in thoughts and actions, goals and achievements, plans and performance, products and markets. It resolves situations of scarcities be they in the physical, technical or human fields through maximum utilization with the minimum available processes to achieve the goal.
The lack of management will cause disorder, confusion, wastage, delay, destruction and even depression. Managing men, money and material in the best possible way according to circumstances and environment is the most important and essential factor for a successful management. Managing men is supposed have the best tactics. Man is the first syllable in management which speaks volumes on the role and significance of man in a scheme of management practices. From the pre-historic days of aborigines to the present day of robots and computers the ideas of managing available resources have been in existence in some form or other. When the world has become a big global village now, management practices have become more complex and what was once considered a golden rule is now thought to be an anachronism.
Management Guidelines from The Bhagavad Gita
There is an important distinction between effectiveness and efficiency in managing.
Effectiveness is doing the right things and
Efficiency is doing things right.
The general principles of effective management can be applied in every fields the differences being mainly in the application than in principles. Again, effective management is not limited in its application only to business or industrial enterprises but to all organisations where the aim is to reach a given goal through a Chief Executive or a Manager with the help of a group of workers.
The Manager's functions can be briefly summed up as under:
Forming a vision and planning the strategy to realise such vision.
Cultivating the art of leadership
Establishing the institutional excellence and building an innovative organisation.
Developing human resources.
Team building and teamwork
Delegation, motivation, and communication and
Reviewing performance and taking corrective steps whenever called for.
Thus Management is a process in search of excellence to align people and get them committed to work for a common goal to the maximum social benefit.
The critical question in every Manager's mind is how to be effective in his job. The answer to this fundamental question is found in the Bhagavad Gita which repeatedly proclaims that 'you try to manage yourself'. The reason is that unless the Manager reaches a level of excellence and effectiveness that sets him apart from the others whom he is managing, he will be merely a face in the crowd and not an achiever.
In this context the Bhagavad Gita expounded thousands of years ago by the Super Management Guru Bhagawan Sri Krishna enlightens us on all managerial techniques leading to a harmonious and blissful state of affairs as against conflicts, tensions, lowest efficiency and least productivity, absence of motivation and lack of work culture etc common to most of the Indian enterprises today.
The modern management concepts like vision, leadership, motivation, excellence in work, achieving goals, meaning of work, attitude towards work, nature of individual, decision making, planning etc., are all discussed in the Bhagavad Gita with a sharp insight and finest analysis to drive through our confused grey matter making it highly eligible to become a part of the modem management syllabus.
It may be noted that while Western design on management deals with the problems at superficial, material, external and peripheral levels, the ideas contained in the Bhagavad Gita tackle the issues from the grass roots level of human thinking because once the basic thinking of man is improved it will automatically enhance the quality of his actions and their results.
The management thoughts emanating from the Western countries particularly the U.S.A. are based mostly on the lure for materialism and a perennial thirst for profit irrespective of the quality of the means adopted to achieve that goal. This phenomenon has its source in abundance in the West particularly the U.S.A. Management by materialism caught the fancy of all the countries the world over, India being no exception to this trend.
Our country has been in the forefront in importing those ideas mainly because of its centuries old indoctrination by the colonial rulers which inculcated in us a feeling that anything Western is always good and anything Indian is always inferior. Hence our management schools have sprung up on the foundations of materialistic approach wherein no place of importance was given to a holistic view.
The result is while huge funds have been invested in building these temples of modem management education, no perceptible changes are visible in the improvement of the quality of life although the standard of living of a few has gone up. The same old struggles in almost all sectors of the economy, criminalisation of institutions, more and more social violence, exploitation and such other vices have gone deep in the body politic.
The reasons for this sorry state of affairs are not far to seek. The western idea of management has placed utmost reliance on the worker (which includes Managers also) -to make him more efficient, to increase his productivity. They pay him more so that he may work more, produce more, sell more and will stick to the organisation without looking for alternatives. The sole aim of extracting better and more work from him is for improving the bottom-line of the enterprise. Worker has become a hireable commodity, which can be used, replaced and discarded at will.
The workers have also seen through the game plan of their paymasters who have reduced them to the state of a mercantile product. They changed their attitude to work and started adopting such measures as uncalled for strikes, Gheraos, sit-ins, dharnas, go-slows, work-to-rule etc to get maximum benefit for themselves from the organisations without caring the least for the adverse impact that such coercive methods will cause to the society at large.
Thus we have reached a situation where management and workers have become separate and contradictory entities wherein their approaches are different and interests are conflicting. There is no common goal or understanding which predictably leads to constant suspicion, friction, disillusions and mistrust because of working at cross purposes. The absence of human values and erosion of human touch in the organisational structure resulted in a permanent crisis of confidence.
The westem management thoughts although acquired prosperity to some for some time has absolutely failed in their aim to ensure betterment of individual life and social welfare. It has remained by and large a soulless management edifice and an oasis of plenty for a chosen few in the midst of poor quality of life to many. Hence there is an urgent need to have a re-look at the prevalent management discipline on its objectives, scope and content.
It should be redefined so as to underline the development of the worker as a man, as a human being with all his positive and negative characteristics and not as a mere wage-earner. In this changed perspective, management ceases to be a career-agent but becomes an instrument in the process of national development in all its segments.
Bhagavad Gita And Managerial Effectiveness
Now let us re-examine some of the modern management concepts in the light of the Bhagavad Gita which is a primer of management by values.
Utilisation of Available Resources
The first lesson in the management science is to choose wisely and utilise optimally the scarce resources if one has to succeed in his venture. During the curtain raiser before the Mahabharata War Duryodhana chose Sri Krishna's large army for his help while Arjuna selected Sri Krishna's wisdom for his support. This episode gives us a clue as to who is an Effective Manager.
Attitude Towards Work
Three stone-cutters were engaged in erecting a temple. As usual a H.R.D. Consultant asked them what they were doing. The response of the three workers to this innocent-looking question is illuminating.
'I am a poor man. I have to maintain my family. I am making a living here,' said the first stone-cutter with a dejected face.
'Well, I work because I want to show that I am the best stone-cutter in the country,' said the second one with a sense of pride.
'Oh, I want to build the most beautiful temple in the country,' said the third one with a visionary gleam.
Their jobs were identical but their perspectives were different. What Gita tells us is to develop the visionary perspective in the work we do. It tells us to develop a sense of larger vision in one's work for the common good.
The popular verse 2.47 of the Gita advises non- attachment to the fruits or results of actions performed in the course of one's duty. Dedicated work has to mean 'work for the sake of work'. If we are always calculating the date of promotion for putting in our efforts, then such work cannot be commitment-oriented causing excellence in the results but it will be promotion-oriented resulting in inevitable disappointments. By tilting the performance towards the anticipated benefits, the quality of performance of the present duty suffers on account of the mental agitations caused by the anxieties of the future. Another reason for non-attachment to results is the fact that workings of the world are not designed to positively respond to our calculations and hence expected fruits may not always be forthcoming .
So, the Gita tells us not to mortgage the present commitment to an uncertain future. If we are not able to measure up to this height, then surly the fault lies with us and not with the teaching.
Some people argue that being unattached to the consequences of one's action would make one un-accountable as accountability is a much touted word these days with the vigilance department sitting on our shoulders. However, we have to understand that the entire second chapter has arisen as a sequel to the temporarily lost sense of accountability on the part of Arjuna in the first chapter of the Gita in performing his swadharma.
Bhagavad Gita is full of advice on the theory of cause and effect, making the doer responsible for the consequences of his deeds. The Gita, while advising detachment from the avarice of selfish gains by discharging one's accepted duty, does not absolve anybody of the consequences arising from discharge of his responsibilities.
This verse is a brilliant guide to the operating Manager for psychological energy conservation and a preventive method against stress and burn-outs in the work situations. Learning managerial stress prevention methods is quite costly now days and if only we understand the Gita we get the required cure free of cost.
Thus the best means for effective work performance is to become the work itself. Attaining this state of nishkama karma is the right attitude to work because it prevents the ego, the mind from dissipation through speculation on future gains or losses.
It has been presumed for long that satisfying lower needs of a worker like adequate food, clothing and shelter, recognition, appreciation, status, personality development etc are the key factors in the motivational theory of personnel management.
It is the common experience that the spirit of grievances from the clerk to the Director is identical and only their scales and composition vary. It should have been that once the lower-order needs are more than satisfied, the Director should have no problem in optimising his contribution to the organisation. But more often than not, it does not happen like that; the eagle soars high but keeps its eyes firmly fixed on the dead animal below. On the contrary a lowly paid school teacher, a self-employed artisan, ordinary artistes demonstrate higher levels of self- realization despite poor satisfaction of their lower- order needs.
This situation is explained by the theory of Self-transcendence or Self-realisation propounded in the Gita. Self-transcendence is overcoming insuperable obstacles in one's path. It involves renouncing egoism, putting others before oneself, team work, dignity, sharing, co-operation, harmony, trust, sacrificing lower needs for higher goals, seeing others in you and yourself in others etc. The portrait of a self-realising person is that he is a man who aims at his own position and underrates everything else. On the other hand the Self-transcenders are the visionaries and innovators. Their resolute efforts enable them to achieve the apparently impossible. They overcome all barriers to reach their goal.
The work must be done with detachment.' This is because it is the Ego which spoils the work. If this is not the backbone of the Theory of Motivation which the modern scholars talk about what else is it? I would say that this is not merely a theory of Motivation but it is a theory of Inspiration.
The Gita further advises to perform action with loving attention to the Divine which implies redirection of the empirical self away from its egocentric needs, desires, and passions for creating suitable conditions to perform actions in pursuit of excellence. Tagore says working for love is freedom in action which is described as disinterested work in the Gita. It is on the basis of the holistic vision that Indians have developed the work-ethos of life. They found that all work irrespective of its nature have to be directed towards a single purpose that is the manifestation of essential divinity in man by working for the good of all beings -lokasangraha. This vision was presented to us in the very first mantra of lsopanishad which says that whatever exists in the Universe is enveloped by God. How shall we enjoy this life then, if all are one? The answer it provides is enjoy and strengthen life by sacrificing your selfishness by not coveting other's wealth. The same motivation is given by Sri Krishna in the Third Chapter of Gita when He says that 'He who shares the wealth generated only after serving the people, through work done as a sacrifice for them, is freed from all the sins. On the contrary those who earn wealth only for themselves, eat sins that lead to frustration and failure.'
The disinterested work finds expression in devotion, surrender and equipoise. The former two are psychological while the third is the strong-willed determination to keep the mind free of and above the dualistic pulls of daily experiences. Detached involvement in work is the key to mental equanimity or the state of nirdwanda. This attitude leads to a stage where the worker begins to feel the presence of the Supreme Intelligence guiding the empirical individual intelligence. Such de-personified intelligence is best suited for those who sincerely believe in the supremacy of organisational goals as compared to narrow personal success and achievement.
Work culture means vigorous and arduous effort in pursuit of a given or chosen task. When Bhagawan Sri Krishna rebukes Arjuna in the strongest words for his unmanliness and imbecility in recoiling from his righteous duty it is nothing but a clarion call for the highest work culture. Poor work culture is the result of tamo guna overtaking one's mindset. Bhagawan's stinging rebuke is to bring out the temporarily dormant rajo guna in Arjuna. In Chapter 16 of the Gita Sri Krishna elaborates on two types of Work Ethic viz. daivi sampat or divine work culture and asuri sampat or demonic work culture.
Daivi work culture - means fearlessness, purity, self-control, sacrifice, straightforwardness, self-denial, calmness, absence of fault-finding, absence of greed, gentleness, modesty, absence of envy and pride.
Asuri work culture - means egoism, delusion, desire-centric, improper performance, work which is not oriented towards service. It is to be noted that mere work ethic is not enough in as much as a hardened criminal has also a very good work culture. What is needed is a work ethic conditioned by ethics in work.
It is in this light that the counsel 'yogah karmasu kausalam' should be understood. Kausalam means skill or method or technique of work which is an indispensable component of work ethic. Yogah is defined in the Gita itself as 'samatvam yogah uchyate' meaning unchanging equipoise of mind. Tilak tells us that performing actions with the special device of an equable mind is Yoga. By making the equable mind as the bed-rock of all actions Gita evolved the goal of unification of work ethic with ethics in work, for without ethical process no mind can attain equipoise. Adi Sankara says that the skill in performance of one's duty consists in maintaining the evenness of mind in success and failure because the calm mind in failure will lead him to deeper introspection and see clearly where the process went wrong so that corrective steps could be taken to avoid such shortcomings in future.
The principle of reducing our attachment to personal gains from the work done or controlling the aversion to personal losses enunciated in Ch.2 Verse 47 of the Gita is the foolproof prescription for attaining equanimity. The common apprehension about this principle that it will lead to lack of incentive for effort and work, striking at the very root of work ethic, is not valid because the advice is to be judged as relevant to man's overriding quest for true mental happiness. Thus while the common place theories on motivation lead us to bondage, the Gita theory takes us to freedom and real happiness.
The Gita further explains the theory of non- attachment to the results of work in Ch.18 Verses 13-15 the import of which is as under:
If the result of sincere effort is a success, the entire credit should not be appropriated by the doer alone.
If the result of sincere effort is a failure, then too the entire blame does not accrue to the doer.
The former attitude mollifies arrogance and conceit while the latter prevents excessive despondency, de-motivation and self-pity. Thus both these dispositions safeguard the doer against psychological vulnerability which is the cause for the Modem Managers' companions like Diabetes, High B.P. Ulcers etc.
Assimilation of the ideas behind 2.47 and 18.13-15 of the Gita leads us to the wider spectrum of lokasamgraha or general welfare.
There is also another dimension in the work ethic. If the karm ayoga is blended with bhaktiyoga then the work itself becomes worship, a seva yoga.
Manager's Mental Health
The ideas mentioned above have a close bearing on the end-state of a manager which is his mental health. Sound mental health is the very goal of any human activity more so management. An expert describes sound mental health as that state of mind which can maintain a calm, positive poise or regain it when unsettled in the midst of all the external vagaries of work life and social existence. Internal constancy and peace are the pre- requisites for a healthy stress-free mind.
Some of the impediments to sound mental health are
In Mahabharata we come across a king called Yayati who, in order to revel in the endless enjoyment of flesh exchanged his old age with the youth of his obliging youngest son for a mythical thousand years. However, he lost himself in the pursuit of sensual enjoyments and felt penitent. He came back to his son pleading to take back his youth. This yayati syndrome shows the conflict between externally directed acquisitions, motivations and inner reasoning, emotions and conscience.
Gita tells us how to get out of this universal phenomenon by prescribing the following capsules.
Bhagawan's advice is relevant here :
"tasmaat sarveshu kaaleshu mamanusmarah yuddha cha"
'Therefore under all circumstances remember Me and then fight' (Fight means perform your duties)
Management Needs those Who Practise what the Preach
Whatever the excellent and best ones do, the commoners follow, so says Sri Krishna in the Gita. This is the leadership quality prescribed in the Gita. The visionary leader must also be a missionary, extremely practical, intensively dynamic and capable of translating dreams into reality. This dynamism and strength of a true leader flows from an inspired and spontaneous motivation to help others. "I am the strength of those who are devoid of personal desire and attachment. O Arjuna, I am the legitimate desire in those, who are not opposed to righteousness" says Sri Krishna in the 10th Chapter of the Gita.
The Ultimate Message of Gita for Managers
The despondent position of Arjuna in the first chapter of the Gita is a typical human situation which may come in the life of all men of action some time or other. Sri Krishna by sheer power of his inspiring words raised the level of Arjuna's mind from the state of inertia to the state of righteous action, from the state of faithlessness to the state of faith and self-confidence in the ultimate victory of Dharma(ethical action). They are the powerful words of courage of strength, of self confidence, of faith in one's own infinite power, of the glory, of valour in the life of active people and of the need for intense calmness in the midst of intense action.
When Arjuna got over his despondency and stood ready to fight, Sri Krishna gave him the gospel for using his spirit of intense action not for his own benefit, not for satisfying his own greed and desire, but for using his action for the good of many, with faith in the ultimate victory of ethics over unethical actions and truth over untruth. Arjuna responds by emphatically declaring that all his delusions were removed and that he is ready to do what is expected of him in the given situation.
Sri Krishna's advice with regard to temporary failures in actions is 'No doer of good ever ends in misery'. Every action should produce results: good action produces good results and evil begets nothing but evil. Therefore always act well and be rewarded.
And finally the Gita's consoling message for all men of action is : He who follows My ideal in all walks of life without losing faith in the ideal or never deviating from it, I provide him with all that he needs (Yoga) and protect what he has already got (Kshema).
In conclusion the purport of this essay is not to suggest discarding of the Westem model of efficiency, dynamism and striving for excellence but to make these ideals tuned to the India's holistic attitude of lokasangraha -for the welfare of many, for the good of many. The idea is that these management skills should be India-centric and not America-centric. Swami Vivekananda says a combination of both these approaches will certainly create future leaders of India who will be far superior to any that have ever been in the world.
In the Rig Veda, the universal truths propounded explain the universal order of life in three planes
* Internal ( to the Soul )
* External ( to the body in terms of Dharma or worldly life )
* Spiritual ( in terms of the cosmos )
The universal order of life in these three planes is then linked to the Supreme encompassing the three planes. Thus all terms / names mentioned such as Indra, Agni, Vayu etc. have exoteric and esoteric significance in each of the three planes as understood by the individual Soul depending on the spiritual evolution of the Soul
The Sama Veda consists of hymns (many of them common with the Rig Veda) which when sung in the appropriate manner will strike a chord in enabling one to understand the universal truths and order of life depending on their stage of spiritual evolution. The source of the musical patterns of the Sama Veda hymns is derived from the vibration / sounds of the cosmos. This reveals that spiritual evolution can be achieved through music (by hearing as well as singing).
The Yajur Veda consists of hymns from the Rig Veda along with other hymns which when recited in the performance of a yajna / havan will enable the Soul or the beneficiaries to understand the universal truths of the Veda in any or all of the three planes of its meanings depending on the individual's stage of spiritual evolution. Though the Yajur Veda is associated with performance of Yajna for worldly gains, it is understood that the individual beneficiaries will ultimately evolve spiritually and subsequently undertake these Yajnas for the spiritual and material benefits of mankind as a whole. The Yajur Veda has two distinct schools of presentation and following as explained below.
The Veda is followed in the Northern parts of India has mantras in the form of the Veda and Brahmanas (explanatory notes to the mantras) presented in the Satapatha Brahmana. The Shukla Yajur Veda is said to have been taught by the "Sun" to sage Yajnavalkya and hence the name "Shukla" or "White" Yajur Veda.
That followed in the Southern parts of India has Veda mantras and Brahmanas intermixed - that is, the Brahmanas follow the mantras as explanatory notes in the Veda text itself. Since Shukla Yajur Veda is known as "White", this Yajur Veda has been denoted as "Krishna" or "Black" Yajur Veda. Both the versions are accepted as authentic and both schools are practised widely.
The Atharva Veda, when understood in the external plane, is generally known to contain hymns common to the Rig Veda including others for the sole purpose of performing "Magic" or to communicate with ghosts and spirits or for curing ailments. However, when viewed in the spiritual plane, the Atharva Veda expounds universal truths of the oneness of the universe, the way to live in communion with the world of evolved souls, to pray for a healthy life and finally to merge with the Supreme.
All the Vedas provide the same knowledge to experience the Supreme through different paths.
The Rig Vedi would approach this goal through prayer and intellectual pursuits.
The Sama Vedi through musical renderings of the hymns.
The Yajur Vedi through Yajna and invocation of Agni to carry the message of the hymns to the Supreme.
The Atharva Vedi through tantra or other rituals.
All the Vedas provide the same knowledge to experience the Supreme through different paths. The Rig Vedi would approach this goal through prayer and intellectual pursuits. The Sama Vedi through musical renderings of the hymns The Yajur Vedi through Yajna and invocation of Agni to carry the message of the hymns to the Supreme. The Atharva Vedi through tantra or other rituals. The Vedas propound and accept all forms of religious practice in the pursuit of understanding and merging with the Supreme. Hence it is highly secularand tolerant in its teachings by ultimately preaching.
"May Happiness and Peace come to One and All irrespective of Faith, Creed, Colour and Social order of the Society including Beings of other forms of evolution."
Neurophysiology of Meditation
By simple definition, meditation is engagement in contemplation, especially of a spiritual or devotional nature. To elaborate further, meditation is an attempt to concentrate mind on a single form or an idea or an aspect of divinity at the exclusion of all other forms, thoughts, and ideas. The mind is focused inwards, and this effort of concentration acts as a stimulus to gain access to knowledge of 'object of meditation'. The aspirant makes an attempt to minimize perceptions through senses - inputs through special senses like touch, sight, hearing, etc. - by detaching mind from sense organs in the brain. This helps in controlling restlessness of mind, in favour of inner contemplation. The mind, as if, is made still. Meditation may be, therefore, taken as a 'passive' activity! But is it really so?
Tremendous changes observed in the human brain and nervous system during mediation run contrary to this belief of 'passivity' attached to meditation. Unprecedented progress and research in neurobiology, investigative neurology, and study of neurotransmitters in the last two decades has given a great fillip to the study of neuro-physiology of Meditation and Yoga. Altered State of Consciousness can be brought about by hypnosis, drugs (e. g. LSD), sleep, etc., but here we are trying to study a state specific science of altered consciousness brought about by meditation alone.
We shall attempt to review the progress in neurobiology in the recent years. An attempt is made to throw light on this new and fascinating subject. The terms used are technical, but, as far as possible, an attempt is made to simplify the description.
This attempt to explain the neurophysiology of meditation is purely hypothetical.
Meditation and Changes in Neurophysiology:
One of the ways to control physiological reactions to psychological stimuli is meditation, Yoga, Zen Buddhism etc. The scientists take Transcendental Meditation (TM) as the uniform technique, and base their observations on the study of the subjects engaged in this form of meditation. In summing up the results the scientists have come to conclusion that the effect of meditation is a "wakeful, hypo-metabolic state".
They have found that:
1) Yogis could slow both heart rate and rate of respiration,
2) Yogis could slow the rate of metabolism as confirmed by decreased oxygen consumption and carbon-di-oxide output.
3) Electro-Encephalo-Gram (EEG - recording of brain activity) in Yogis showed changes of calmness in the form of "alpha rhythm" during both eyes closed and eyes open recordings.
4) Their skin resistance to electric stimulation was increased (indicating increased tolerance to external stimuli).
Our usual 'defence-alarm' reaction to emotional and physical stress is in the form of "fright, flight, and fight" mediated through over-secretion of certain neuro-transmitters and neuro-modulators, namely adrenaline and dopamine by way of stimulation of sympathetic nervous system. Under the influence of these chemicals and hormones, we reflexively become panicky or aggressive, our blood pressure rises. Thus stress and anxiety is the end result if we allow our natural age-old sympathetic reactions to act and to come to surface. We try to run away, become fearful, or fight the situation. But today these 'defence-alarm' reactions have no place in our lives. Rather, they should be replaced by more calm and serene reactions of equanimity and fearlessness. The need is to just 'face the brute, and it will go away'. Such desirable reactions of non-aggression and peaceful attitude are generated by Yoga and meditation.
EEG Studies on Yogis and The Zen Meditations:
Yogis practising Raja-Yoga claim that during the state of samadhi they are oblivious to the internal and external stimuli, and they enjoy a calm ecstasy during that state. A study was undertaken to record the electrical activity of their brain during this state by means of a regular and useful test known as electroencephalography EEG. Physiological and experimental studies have demonstrated that the basis of conscious state of brain, among other things, is due to activation of "reticular system" in the brain-stem in response to internal and external stimuli. These stimuli bring about various changes during sleeping and wakeful states of the organism and these can be studied by EEG.
The study was carried out on four subjects during the state of concentration and meditation. Effects of external stimuli, like a loud gong, strong light, thermal simulation, and vibrations were studied. The results were compiled and analyzed. It was observed that two Yogis could keep their hands immersed in extremely cold water for about 50 minutes (raised pain threshold). During state of meditation, all of them showed persistent "alpha activity" in their EEG with increased amplitude wave pattern, both during 'eyes closed' and 'eyes open' recording. It was observed that these alpha activities could not be blocked by various sensory stimuli during meditation. It was also observed that those, who had well-marked "alpha activity" in their resting EEG showed greater aptitude and zeal for maintaining the practice of Yoga. Similar observations and results were obtained when EEGs were recorded in persons adept in Zen Meditative technique. Can we say that only those persons who exhibit such recording of "alpha wave rhythm" in their EEG are fit for Yoga? and be designated as right candidates for meditation and Yoga practices? (Such experiments are indeed very few and the number of yogis examined is also very small. Therefore, scientifically and statistically these observations have only a tentative importance. Further research is definitely called for, albeit it will have its own limitations.)
Discussion and Conclusion
Neurotransmitters and Neuro-modulators: These are chemical substances released at the Neuronal Synapses (nerve junctions). They act by altering electrical membrane potential by opening up channels that permit diffusion of Sodium, Potassium, and Calcium ions in and out of the nerve cell. They not only transmit the message from one cell to another, but also selectively facilitate some information while inhibiting the other. Moreover, the action of Calcium ions permits transfer of electrical events into molecular changes that can alter functions of the nerve cells permanently, i.e. change cellular function to subserve a memory or learning response.
Neuro-modulators affect the neuro-transmitters by influencing neuronal plasticity, growth, or differentiation. Different types of receptors, as present in different regions of brain, can account for the complex and multiple effects of medication, meditation, concentration, and contemplation. This may be effected through actions of specific type of neuro-transmitter and neuro-receptor.
For example, a sub-type of glutamate receptor appears to mediate the function of brain plasticity, a process considered important in learning and memory.
Acetylcholine helps in memory, motivation, perception and cognition. It is also involved in attention and arousal functions of ascending reticular system. Decrease in the levels of this neuro-modulator leads to loss of memory, senile dementia - Alzheimer's disease.
Excess of serotonin, another important neuro-modulator, leads to hallucinations, as seen in LSD consumption, which causes increase in serotonin level. This discovery called attention to the correlation between behavior and variation in brain serotonin content. Selective depletion of serotonin, in animals, causes prolonged wakefulness. It also plays important role in circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.
Other neurotransmitters and modulators like nor-epinephrine cause changes in mood - excess leading to elation, and deficiency causing nervous depression. It also controls food intake, regulates temperature, and hormonal secretions.
Excess of dopamine level is responsible for schizophrenia and psychosis.
Nerve growth factor is a hormone like peptide that is responsible for the growth and maintenance of various brain structures.
The plausible hypothesis to explain the altered state of consciousness brought about by intense and prolonged mediation may be constructed as follows:
The evolutionary process adds higher centres to the primitive nervous system. These higher centres have inhibitory influence, in other words they suppress the functions of lower centres. Thus, the brain stem is controlled by the higher limbic system, and the limbic system in turn is controlled by still higher neo-cortex. The neuro-modulators with their influence on various neuro-transmitters effectively bring about this inhibitory modifications and inter-relations among various brain centres (hierarchy).
For instance, involuntary movements like tremors and chorea are suppressed by basal ganglia through the action of dopamine and acetylcholine synergy. Any imbalance in these neuro-modulators causes involuntary movements like chorea, tremors (Parkinson's Disease etc.). Similarly, loss of cortical control over the motor neurons of spinal cord leads to exaggerated muscle and tendon jerks due loss of inhibitory control of the higher motor cortex.
Neo-cortex keeps all the involuntary movements, hyper-reflexivity, rage, aggression, and similar animal tendencies under check so that it can effectively pursue its own highly developed activities of logic, memory, reason, language, calculations, judgement, and concepts, etc. Conscious, willful, imaginative functions are therefore, normal state of awareness of the human beings.
When meditation acts as a constant repetitive stimulus, certain qualitative and quantitative permanent changes develop in the nervous system. The neuro-transmitters and neuro-modulators may stimulate growth of dormant or latent neurons to develop a centre (or centres) which on the evolutionary ladder is/are still higher than the present day cerebral cortex. The brain may develop new connections and plasticity resulting in the capacity to think, to rationalize, and react in a different way to the sensory input than what is expected by present day physiologists. For want of name, we may label such higher center as 'God Module'. This higher centre will exert inhibitory control over the present day neo-cortex, and thereby, over the mind as a whole (consciousness, reasoning, conceptual thinking, willing, feeling, and doing, etc.)! The consciousness and all mental activities will hence be suppressed. The person will reach a state beyond mind itself - transcendental awareness!
"The spiritual ascent is from the least evolved state of consciousness to near perfect state, after which the mind itself will cease to be, and there will remain only non-dual experience."