by Swami Krishnananda
The mind is usually occupied with the world of objects. Our thoughts, right from morning till night when we enter into sleep, range over a variety of things in the world. Inasmuch as the objects are constituted differently and we cannot see a uniform arrangement of things in any considerable area of the world, it becomes necessary for the mind to adjust itself to the conditions under which these objects are placed and the characteristics which evoke a reaction from the mind.
This is to say that from morning onwards, every moment we place ourselves under a compulsion to adjust ourselves and adapt our psychological constitution to the nature of the phenomenon presented by this large area of the world of objects. It is a great strain on the part of the mind to be put to the necessity of tuning itself to conditions prevailing outside. Otherwise, the world will impinge upon it.
Nature and human society constitute, properly speaking, the world for us. The physical elements, known as the world of nature, and the world of people around us produce such an impact upon our existence and activity that for all practical purposes we may say that we are slaves of conditions imposed upon us by nature and human society.
Can this be called freedom? It is far from it. But freedom is the aim. It is the goal or the longing of every individual. We do not strive to continue as servants of somebody, not even of nature and human society. We wish to have mastery over nature and control over social conditions so that we may be satisfactorily considered as free people. How could this be?
The onslaughts of the operations of nature and society are strong and hard enough to require an adaption by every human being, if survival is to be permitted. People who oppose nature and oppose human society may not be able even to survive, let alone be granted freedom.
There is something in the human individual which promises the possibility of the conquest of nature and the conquest of any kind of impediment that may be imposed upon it by external conditions. The very longing for freedom is a potentiality for the achievement of it. We cannot ask for a will o the wisp or a phantasmagoria. How does the idea that we have to be finally free and ultimately liberated arise in the mind if it is impossible to achieve it?
The asking for the endless, in time as well as in space, in possession as well as in long life, is suggestive enough of a magazine of force that is scintillating, simmering, though under a stifling pressure, inside every person. To master the whole world is the desire of a person. Ordinarily, this is an impossibility.
To be supreme over all mankind, standing head and shoulders above all people, is the desire of a person. Ordinarily, this is also not possible. No man can be above all people in the world, and no one can be a master of nature. But there is a desire to achieve that. How does this desire arise? A desire that points to a nullity and a practically vacuous achievement cannot be planted in the heart of a person. This puny individual, this little frail physical personality of man seems also, at the same time, to be a temple of a power that seeks expression and wishes to manifest itself in all might and glory.
This methodology, so to say, of enabling this inner magazine of power to express itself in action and achieve that incipient longing for utter perfection is what is called the art of yoga. Yoga is supposed to be union, a word which is commonplace, but union with what? Union practically and finally it is with that which seeks expression from within our own selves. It is in the end a kind of union with our own true potentiality and possibility. That which we are finally capable of, that which we are to achieve in the end is indicated even now, even in the humblest of our positions, in terms of our desire to be free, and endlessly free unfettered for all times and stand above all subversive forces and conditioning factors. This bringing out of the potentiality within us is the art of education on one side, and the science of yoga on the other side. To bring out the perfection that is present within us, by stages of psychological arrangement, is the course of education. And similarly, to bring out the divinity within us is the stage-wise arrangement of the practice of yoga.
The world, as I mentioned, is an arena of a medley of things of every kind of nature sometimes visible, sometimes not visible. There are forces in the world which cannot be seen with the eyes, such as subatomic powers; but there are others which can be seen with the eyes, like the elements. These are the objects. Like the cutaneous and the subcutaneous layers of personality, we have these layers of physical nature also the visible and the invisible. Nevertheless, they constitute matter.
The essence of an object is materiality the necessity to be perceived. The yoga technique commences with the condition that immediately prevails at the present moment namely, the necessity to be concerned with the variety of objects. Yoga is not merely an action, something that we do every day, but it is also a systematic operation of intelligence, an action of our understanding. While it is true that we are aware of the necessity to be engaged in the objects of the world that constitutes our so-called daily action, our intelligence will put a question as to why this situation has arisen at all. Where comes the need for us to be engaged in so many things in the world?
Hence understanding, or viveka as it is called, goes simultaneously with the actual practice. The intelligence, or the analytical understanding, raises the question of the foundation of this need at all for getting occupied with this world. The question will be answered in various ways, according to the nature of the circumstances of society in which one is placed. An official will have one kind of answer. A labourer will have another answer. An academician will have a third answer. A businessman will have some other answer. And a seeker of God will have something else to say altogether. Why is it that we are so busy every day?
But whatever be the reply that comes from anybody as a response to this question, one essential point that will come out from all these answers is that it would be good not to be so much engaged in the things of the world, if it could be possible. That it is not possible is what makes us somehow get on with things and make the best of a bad bargain, as they say; we find a pleasure even in the sorrow of being involved in things.
Drudging every day is not a great pleasure; but it becomes a pleasure when it is unavoidable. So pain also can be mistaken for joy. The hard work that we put in, in the name of somebody or some cause, some purpose, is not a joy. But it is something that must be done. Therefore, it is a joy.
In this sense it is said that all the joys of life are only a masquerading pain. Sarvam duhkham vivekinah (YS 2.15). For an investigative mind, nothing is joy in this world. All the joys of ours seem to be a consequence that follows from utter subjection to conditions prevailing outside, and these so-called joys of ours are not an emanation of freedom that we enjoy. We have no freedom. But it is necessary to attain freedom the final freedom being called immortal existence. People call it God-realisation.
The yoga technique is the application of understanding into the circumstance of being subject to the conditions of the objects outside, and then trying to find out ways and means of freeing oneself from this tangle of involvement. A simple and easy method prescribed by yoga teachers is that though there may be many things in which we are involved every day in the world, it is not true that we are involved in the entire creation or the whole earth. The area of occupation may be large enough, wide enough; but how wide is it?
We, first of all, gauge the jurisdiction of our action: This is the area of my performance, and all that worries me is only within this jurisdiction. This first step may be taken by any person, whether he is a businessman, a professor, an official, or whoever he is. An official is connected with his jurisdiction. It is not essential for him to be thinking of everybody's jurisdiction in all the parts of the country, because that is what we call purchasing trouble. Only when occurrences beyond one's jurisdiction have some connection with one's own jurisdiction, it may become part of one's concern. Otherwise, the jurisdiction is limited.
Now the yoga teacher, the yoga student, should also take into consideration two aspects of this matter. When a person is staying in an ashram, for instance, the jurisdiction of activity and concern is limited to the premises of the ashram. One may try to analyse the circumstances arising within the premises of an atmosphere of the ashram, for instance, and then tackle each item arising there. As I mentioned, it is not always that the ashram is so insulated that we are unconnected with the world. Sometimes it is connected with a wider atmosphere.
So when a jurisdiction is taken as the point of concentration and occupation, the possible external influences that may be exerted upon this limited area also may have to be taken into consideration because outside the premises of the ashram external to the premises of our jurisdiction of work something is existing, and something is happening. If that which exists there and something that happens there has no relevance at all to us, we need not bother about it. But it may have some relevance, especially in a modern world where we may say that humanity is interconnected in a variety of ways.
The reducing of the circumference of the jurisdiction of concern is the first step in yoga. Unnecessary things should be avoided. Make a list of all the items of your concern in your daily life, within a set of conditions whether a temple atmosphere, or a church, or a school of teaching. This list should be exhaustive enough to give an assurance that it is not necessary for the mind to bestow thought on anything else other than these items. Your needs are only this.
This is to limit the number of objects as far as the concentration of the mind is concerned. After that when the list is made and everything is complete, and the concerns are restricted in their number again a question has to be raised in the mind as to why these little things have become so important for us. What is it that is very important?
That which directly affects us is the important thing for us. A thing that has no connection with us and will have no impact upon us may not be important. We are hungry and thirsty. Food is an item of concern. We feel heat and cold. We require a house to stay in and some clothing to put on. These are what are called creature comforts. People struggle hard in this world, even to get creature comforts. Much of the time goes only in this.
Now, 'creature comforts' is also a vague term, practically. Our basic needs house, shelter, clothing and food though they appear to be simple enough to understand, their definition may vary from person to person according to the position one occupies in society, the work that one does, etc. A motorcar may not be necessary for everybody, but under certain conditions it may be a necessity.
So here again, we have to apply the understanding to go deep into the very structure of this requirement and limit the objects of concern to the minimum. But the human being is not merely a physical body. We are not satisfied merely with eating food, living in a cosy house or having good clothing. There is what is called social recognition. This is the bane of the yoga student.
The yoga student should be cautious about certain impulses arising from himself. The asking for the psychological fulfilments other than the physical needs mentioned raise very poignant questions in the world of psychology; and the whole of the yoga system may be said to be an analysis of this large field of mental operations. We affirm ourselves in two ways: physically as well as mentally. The physical affirmation is manifest every day in terms of hunger and thirst. These pressures hunger for food and thirst for drinking make us feel and remind us moment to moment that we should exist in the body. It is necessary for us to exist in this body. It is not proper for us to ignore the existence of this body. The whip that is lashed upon us to remind us of this necessity to continue with this body is manifest in hunger and thirst, and heat and cold also combined.
But the mind says, "I also should exist." It is not enough that the body exists and the mind dies. A healthy body but an empty mind is not what one aspires for. So the psychological affirmation is as equally strong as the physical affirmation.
There is something else also attached to this affirmation. Very difficult indeed is this problem that arises in us. The physical body not only wants to exist, it wants to exist forever, for as long as possible. The desire to exist in the physical body goes together with the desire to perpetuate this physical body, because existing implies existing for a lengthy period of time. It does not mean existing for a moment, and then passing away.
Now, common sense knows that it is not possible to exist for a long time. The inner impulses, which are mortal, know at the same time that the physical body cannot exist eternally. So it creates a ruse of its own accord in order to falsely satisfy itself that its physical existence can be assured perpetually by the reproduction of its own constitution.
So the impulse of self-preservation goes together with the impulse of self-reproduction. Both are actually manifestations of a single impulse of the desire to physically continue for as long a time as possible a dreaded disease, indeed.
Psychologically also, there is a similar desire to perpetually exist, to exist for endless time. Here again, the difficulty is known very well that no one can exist perpetually in this world, even with a particular way of thinking, so people perpetuate their names in some form or the other under the impression that it is equal to perpetuating their mental existence.
Name and fame are the forms in which the mind, which is otherwise incapable of eternal existence, tries to perpetuate itself in a very foolish manner. It does not mean that a dead man who is known to us is really perpetuated psychologically. Nor is it true that a child born to a person is actually the person who physically represents the existence of that person. A kind of confusion, a kind of chaos in thinking takes possession of the human psychophysical individuality; self-preservation and self-reproduction physically, and name, fame, power and authority on the other side harass the individual day in and day out. This is mortal existence. This is human history, in short. But this is hell, rather than a worthwhile way of living.