QUESTION: Is meditation ONE of the paths/tools towards gaining knowledge or is it PART of the path to knowledge?
This is answered directly in Gītā, which is a summary of the entire Veda. Meditation is a part of the path towards knowledge.
It can’t be subbed out but there are different versions of it for different people in different situations and at different stages of progress along the path. (This is also very clearly answered in Gītā).
I noted a lack of meditation in your memoir but a megaton of chanting…
Chanting a mantra properly is meditation. The object of the meditation is the mantra. In fact, Patāñjalī himself, in yoga-sūtra (the original manual for meditation) says that “oṁ” is the best object of meditation, because it is a name for īśvara (“god”).
Meditation is hard for me. It’s only been a few years of serious attention towards it so perhaps I’m just being weak about it.
It’s hard for everyone, but we can make it harder than it needs to be if we don’t do it with the guidance of someone experienced, successful, and learned in it.