The Importance of Self-Control for the Conservation of Energy
by Swami Krishnananda


Conservation of energy may be said to be the essence of yoga practice, which is a system of graduated education in the art of maintaining this optimum of energy in harmony with the self-contained system of the energy of the cosmos. The physical laws of thermodynamics, entropy, etc., give us some clue as to the manner in which energy operates. In our own personal lives we have a daily experience of the rise and fall of energy in our system. We feel fatigue when the quantum of energy is not in a state of balance, when there is more of an outgoing than an incoming, and we feel a sense of disturbance when the energy in the system is not properly channelised.

The maintenance in the requisite order of the power that is basically the essence of the cosmos is associated with the daily living of people in any walk of life, and also with every level of the practice of yoga. Energy and life go together. The word 'energy' is also to be understood in its proper connotation. It is a tendency to self-maintenance and a persistence in the maintenance of self-sufficiency of the system. The universe persists in the effort to maintain itself in a state of equilibrium and also insists that every content within itself also maintains this requisite order of harmony within everyone and in everything.

In a figurative or illustrative manner we may say that the energy of our body, or any psychophysical organism, is, from one point of view, an undivided whole in itself; from another point of view, we may say that this wholeness of energy and strength is expected to be maintained by every part of the body, every cell of the organism. Every cell of the body has to be healthy if the body is to be healthy. To the extent there is a deterioration of this capacity to maintain a wholeness in oneself, to that extent there is degeneration of a part of the system. The body becomes sick when some part of it is ill.

The health of the body is a completeness of experience, as we all know, and it is not that I am happy and healthy only in part of my body and am ailing in other parts. Any part which is ailing reacts upon the whole to which it belongs and diminishes the optimum that is required to be maintained by the organism. The universe is an organism in the same sense as the body of a human being is an organism. It is a living entity as the human being is a living entity, and we participate in this work of the cosmos in the maintenance of the health of the universe in a manner similar to the participation of the inner constituents of our body in the maintenance of the health of the body.

We participate in the cosmos, we do not interfere with it. Our works, our deeds, our performances, our projects are not independent initiatives; rather, they are a collaborative activity of the parts in terms of the requirement of the whole. The physical system of our body is such a collaborative, cooperative system. Independent action is unknown in the body, notwithstanding the fact that independent work is carried on by its different organs. The eyes see, the ears hear, the legs walk, the hands grasp, and so on. These are, for all outward purposes, independent activities of the organs of the body, but basically they are internally coordinated actions for the purpose for which the organism exists.

In a similar manner our actions, which appear to be free from one point of view, are free only in the sense that the eyes are free to see and nobody will interfere with their activity of seeing, the ears are free to hear and are not asked to do the work of seeing, and the legs will not be asked to do the work of digesting food. There is a sort of freedom given to each individual organ: It shall perform only its function and it shall not be asked to do anything else. This is a privilege, a kind of independence that they seem to be enjoying, but everyone knows that this independence, this freedom of action, is restrained by the demands of the whole body of which they are parts and for whose welfare they are existing.

This is the way in which we seem to be involved in the system of the universe. There is independence.  A question is sometimes raised of whether we are free or we are determined. We are free, and we are not free also, at the same time. The freedom that is given to us is only in the field in which we operate and to the extent that it does not contradict the welfare of that to which things belong. It is a freedom which grants similar freedom to the other constituents of the organism also. A citizen in a country is free to the extent that he or she does not interfere with the similar freedom of other individuals. That it is necessary not to interfere with the freedom of other people is a determining factor over and above the freedom that is granted.

So is there determinism, or is there freedom? There is freedom to the extent we are prepared to abide by the law of there being an atmosphere around us to which we are organically related and whose welfare must be kept in mind. This consciousness of there being an atmosphere outside us that also requires to be maintained in a manner we maintain ourselves is the determining factor. Law binds, and law also frees. It can act in both ways. It frees when one abides by the demands of that enactment we call law, but it restrains when the freedom that one exercises interferes with the similar freedom that others would also like to enjoy. The universe is a government of this kind where determinism and free will act simultaneously, not in succession. It is not that today we are free and tomorrow we are bound. It is a simultaneous action.

As I mentioned, to return to the analogy of the human body, there is freedom of the sense organs to act according to the functions they are expected to perform, and simultaneously they are restrained by the requirements of the body as a whole. So it is an instantaneous occurrence, we may say, a timeless action taking place which is free and not free at the same time. We become bound by the laws of the world when our consciousness gets intensely tethered to the individuality of our personality, as a person can be intensely selfish in human society, for instance, and may not bother about the welfare of others.

The conditioning factor of an atmosphere is something worth taking note of. The ingredients of the universe are the so-called individuals inhabiting it, and they constitute little bits of wholeness, self-sufficient completions in themselves, tending to gradually become larger and larger in the dimension of their wholeness until there is a vast sea of completion. We have heard there are different realms, lokas, of being: Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Suvarloka, Mahaloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka, Satyaloka. Layers and layers of the degrees of cosmos manifested in several densities are these so-called lokas. They are actually not piled up one over the other. They are distinguishable only in terms of the density in which they are involved; virtually and basically, in their inner constitution they are connected to one another. The physical body, the subtle body and the causal body, for instance, which are supposed to be the constituents of the inner personality of the human being, are not laid one over the other like plates piled up. We cannot separate one from the other; they are internally cohesive and yet seem to be distinguishable by the degree of intensity that they manifest in consciousness.

We are in a particular state of the degree of consciousness which has always been the vehicle of the energy of the cosmos. Our consciousness is actually our energy. They go together. All energy is finally a vehicle of consciousness. Unconsciously we cannot be healthy. There should be an association of intelligence with it. To the extent we are conscious, we seem to be alive. To the extent we are not conscious, we are not alive.

Now, this living in a state of consciousness as an individual human personality is also to embody at the same time a packet of the power of the cosmos, a little of the energy content of the universe, which keeps us alive. The yoga system is the procedure laid down for enlarging and also intensifying the energy content in ourselves, which is simultaneously an enhancement and expansion of the dimension of consciousness. It is a very carefully laid out system.

To repeat, we belong to the cosmos. We are inseparable from this vast creation, as no limb of the body can be separable even in dream from the whole to which it belongs. We are strong and energetic, healthy and happy only to that extent to which we are consciously participating in the total energy optimum of the cosmos. For instance, a limb of the body cannot be strong and healthy unless it is proportionately related to the total health-giving powers of the human personality. But what happens to us generally is we are not in such a conscious state of participation with the cosmic powers. Our consciousness is extremely delimited to the shape, as it were, of this body within which it seems to be confined – a wrong imagination indeed because it is not possible for a part that belongs to the whole to act independently to such an extent as to deny and be completely oblivious of the existence of the whole with which it is internally related. We are in a state of involvement in different layers of environment, and these layers of environment are the lokas – Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, etc. We are involved from head to foot in all the layers of creation.

The system of describing the inner powers of the body in terms of plexuses or chakras is only another way of stating the truth that the fourteen realms are involved in our body in a microcosmic state. We are a miniature cosmos. The fourteen worlds are not just outside, just as the body is not outside the nose. It may appear to be outside the nose if the nose is so conscious of itself as independent. The body is not an external object to the limbs of the body; it is a tremendous involvement, and its involvement precludes the consciousness of externality. So no limb of the body can say that the body is outside it. In a similar manner is our involvement in this whole cosmos. The world is not outside us in the same way as the limb of the body is not outside the body or the body is not outside the limb.

Now, in this system of thinking, which is the yoga system of thinking, we will find it very difficult to understand how we manage to confine ourselves to such a low and narrow perspective as to be completely drowned in body-consciousness and not concern ourselves with the source of our very existence itself. The energy of the body, the consciousness that we are entertaining which is the source of our life, is actually bequeathed to us as a proportion of our participation in the universal existence.

The sense organs always tell us that our environment is an external object – the fourteen lokas, the world, or whatever it be. We may be told many a time that we are vitally involved in them, but the senses say we are not. The ego says that anything may happen to anybody, anything can take place anywhere in the world, and it does not affect us because it does not believe that occurrences are universally construed phenomena. But no event takes place from the purely physical point of view; no event takes place only in one place. An event is a universal occurrence, as pain is felt everywhere in the body. It is not only a little toe that is feeling pain; the entire system is agitated. All events are spatio-temporal and not merely local.

Yoga is, therefore, a conscious and intentional procedure adopted by a carefully chalked-out program of our viveka-shakti to intensify ourselves and also to simultaneously enhance our dimension. In yoga we, on the one hand, become larger in the dimension of the scope of our life, and on the other hand we become more intense in the potential of our capacities. There is power entering into ourselves both from within and from without. This happens only when the doors, windows and ventilators of this house of the body are opened for the ingress of the wind of the universe that blows into us and makes us feel a sense of health and vigour. But we have closed the entry of these forces. The closure has taken place on account of an intense affirmation of egoism. The ego is an affirmation of a self-centred activity preventing the outer atmosphere from touching it, covering itself with a shell, as it were, of its own self. Consciousness has built a cocoon around itself in the form of this body, and it is struggling and writhing within it, not knowing the fact that the very substance of this cocoon has come from the building bricks of the cosmos.

Self-control and Self-realisation are two aspects of yoga practice. For the sake of Self-realisation, it is necessary for us to be self-controlled. On the one hand we restrain the self and on the other hand we realise the Self. The realisation of the Self is possible only after the restraint of the self is properly achieved. What is the sort of self that is to be restrained, and what is the kind of Self that is going to be achieved in realisation? There are not many selves – a self to be restrained and a Self to be achieved. There is only one universal Self.

But there is a peculiar affirmation of a part of the universal consciousness, as it were – the jiva-tattva, as they call it, differentiating itself from Ishvara-tattva, or the Cosmic consciousness, and feeling self-complete, self-sufficient and totally adequate unto itself. Do we not feel adequate, many a time, in our own selves? I mind my business and you mind your business; this is what we sometimes say. But it is not possible to mind one's business, because we have a cosmic business. It is an interrelated duty that has been made incumbent upon all that belong to the cosmos. Yoga is, therefore, a cosmic rise and not merely an individual performance in the corner of our room.

When a person sits for meditation, though in the preparatory stage it may look like a performance in a sacred spot somewhere, actually it is a stimulating of the powers of the universe. In yoga, the consciousness that is within the body tries to liberate itself from the shackles of the sense organs and attempts to touch its own existence in the field that is outside the body. It tries to reorganise its existence. It annexes its kingdom, as it were. The little principality becomes a large empire. It touches the environment that is outside the body, which really belongs to itself and is inseparable from it.

A sutra of Patanjali is pertinent to this point. Meditation can be said to become successful only when the consciousness that is usually thinking and working inside the body is made to operate outside the body also. Bahiḥ akalpitā vṛttiḥ mahāvidehā tataḥ prakāśa āvaraṇakṣayaḥ (III.44) is the sutra of Patanjali. The consciousness does not think through the body in terms of an object that is outside. Rather, the consciousness thinks in terms of that which we wrongly consider as an object. It becomes a subject in the sense that the consciousness starts operating through that particular thing which, to the sense organs, is apparently an outside object, but for pure Consciousness is involved in itself. This is a very difficult technique because we have never been able to think in this manner. That is, we cannot think in terms of another person. I can think only as I am, and I cannot think as you are. But it is necessary to be able to think in terms of the constituents of the world outside.

For the purpose of the practice of meditation, any object can be taken as an instance. It is not that the whole world can be taken at once as an object of meditation, though that is the expectation later on. Any particular thing is taken as an object of meditation, such as our Ishta Devata, but this Ishta Devata is not outside us. God is a transcendent being and not an outside thing. An Ishta Devata, as a symbolic representation of the divinity of the universe, is also a transcendent inclusive person, an inclusive atmosphere, and not something outside. We do not open our eyes and look at the Ishta Devata. The Ishta Devata is inclusive of our own existence also. This inclusiveness of the god, the Ishta Devata, is the aspect of transcendence mentioned. So the requirement is that in our meditations we should be able to gradually liberate our consciousness from excessive concern with only the body, and it should be able to feel its own existence in things which it had wrongly imagined to be totally external to it.

The bondage of consciousness is the consciousness of externality, and yoga is supposed to be union. What is the union? It is the union of consciousness with itself in the essentiality in which it abides in the objects. The chaitanya, or the consciousness that is perceiving the object, is called vishayi chaitanya. The consciousness that is embedded in the object that is so perceived is called vishaya chaitanya. The process of perceiving the object through the sense organs by the vishayi is called pramana chaitanya. The result that is achieved finally as the consciousness of an object is called prameya chaitanya. So pramatr chaitanya is the visualiser, pramana chaitanya is the medium, prameya chaitanya is the object, and pramiti is the actually achieved consciousness.

We may think that these are all watertight compartments – that the perceiver is somewhere, that a process of perception emanates from the perceiver and impinges upon an object which is the perceived, and lastly there is a consciousness of the object being there. We call this sense perception, but it is really not like that. It is like the rolling of the waves within the bosom of the ocean. All activities are taking place within the heart of the cosmos. Brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam, brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahmakarmasamādhinā (Gita 4.24) is one of the verses in the Bhagavadgita which tells us in a symbolic manner that all action is taking place internally within the cosmos, and no individual performer is totally free to himself or herself minus relation with the outer atmosphere.

Therefore, the sense control that is spoken of in yoga is not actually a subjugation, crushing or starving of any part of the body, but the maintaining within oneself the energy, the consciousness, which otherwise projects itself out through the sense organs and creates a wrong notion that the perception of an object has taken away some quantum of energy from the perceiving subject – concern, love, etc. – for the sake of the object. In all perceptions of objects, especially emotionally charged perceptions, there is a diminution of energy content in the perceiving individual. All persons who love and hate intensely are proportionately weak in themselves because part of their emotion is poured over the objects of love and hatred.

The Yoga Sutras tell us that there are two kinds of perception: emotionally charged and non-emotionally charged. Emotionally charged perceptions are very bad indeed, and this does not require much of a commentary or explanation because whenever we cognise, perceive, or even think something emotionally with attachment or aversion, there is a curdling of the consciousness inside, as it were. Milk becomes curd and destroys itself. Blood boils. In a verse of the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata it is said that the moment the consciousness contemplates an object outside, the blood inside changes; it curdles, and the energy that is embedded in the bloodstream concentrates itself through a particular sense organ in the direction of that object towards which it is trying to move, and in that way it has diminished the optimum of its energy. It has become weak. This should not happen. All lovers and haters are weak people. The intention in yoga is to educate the consciousness into the belief that its welfare does not lie in the contemplation of that which is regarded as outside; its welfare lies in itself. The universe is a total self, and there is nothing outside it; therefore, its welfare cannot be in somebody else, and as our individual self is also inextricably related to the universal self, our welfare will not lie in something outside ourselves.

'We ourselves' is a phrase that has to be underlined carefully. It is not the individual independently working from its own point of view. I again come back to the analogy of the body and the internal organs. The organs do not work for their own sake, but they work very hard for the sake of that which is their transcendent expectation. The organs of the body have a transcendent expectation, namely, the wellbeing of the whole system. That expectation is also the expectation of every individual self, our own selves. What is that expectation? It is the maintenance of the total equilibration of the universal selfhood.

To the extent we are able to move in the direction of this expansion outwardly as well as inwardly, we are happy, we are healthy, and we are strong. But if we fritter away our energy through sense perception and go on thinking through the eyes, through the ears, and through some organ, that organ will drag into itself all the power of the body, and the other limbs will become very weak.

An equilibrated system is actually the principle of every work that we do in the world – maintenance of balance in society, in the body, in the family, in the country, and in nature as a whole. Samatvaṁ yoga ucyate (Gita 2.48): Balance is yoga. Harmony is yoga, and disharmony is sense perception, mental cogitation of that which is erroneously conceived to be outside. Saṅgāt saṁjāyate kāmaḥ (Gita 2.62): The moment there is a consciousness of the presence of an object outside, there is a desire to be near that object and be in contact with it, and the consciousness of that object is nothing but a diminution of the selfhood of that consciousness to the extent of its going out in terms of that object. A self becomes a non-self, Atman becomes anatman in sense perception.

But even if the physical object of perception is geographically remote, there can be depletion of consciousness by the thought of that object. Consciousness externalises itself not merely by the physical presence of the object. Actually, the physical presence of the object is not an obstacle; the mental concept of an external object being there is the obstacle. There may be something in front of us, but we may not be aware of it; or, we may be brooding over something that is not even here. Viṣayā vinivartante nirāhārasya dehinaḥ, rasavarjaṁ raso 'py asya paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate (Gita 2.59). Maybe we are in the Himalayas and far away from our house in Kanyakumari. All the objects of attraction in Kanyakumari are far away geographically, but that does not mean the consciousness of those objects is absent. Even if a person is on top of Mount Everest, he may be sensorily bound because he is thinking of the very same objects which are far away, but are psychologically present in his mind.

So yoga is not a physical action, it is not a physical movement, it is not moving from place to place; it is an internal adjustment of the mind to the unitariness of the Self and a non-objectivity of consciousness. This is the whole of yoga. We maintain strength physically, mentally, and through prana, by which process it is that we permit the entry of the universal energy into ourselves. If this entry becomes complete, we will be inundated by that universal energy. It is like the ocean entering the drop. There will be no more drop. That experience is called yoga samadhi, God-realisation, and universal Self-realisation. This is the freedom of the bound soul, this is the mukti that we have to attain, and this is the aim of everyone's life.