The Secret of the Practice of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on March 1, 1978)

The human organism may be compared to a central electric switchboard. In the same way as various points of electrical connection in a vast installation are centralised in the switchboard and a manipulation of these centres in the board can control the operation of the electrical connections in the various parts of the installation, the forces constituting the world can be operated, regulated and controlled by certain manipulations within the human system. This is the central philosophy of the practice of yoga. Whatever be the nature of that yoga, this is the technique and ideology that is behind the whole practice.

The nomenclature which goes by such epitaphs as karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga, hatha yoga, tantra yoga, etc., is only a phraseology describing the types of method adopted in the practice of yoga by variegated manipulations of the centres in the human system in their relationship with the world or the universe outside. This analogy of electrical installation will give an idea of the important role that the human being plays and the significance that he enjoys in the setup of all things. It is not for nothing that we are told that man is the centre of the cosmos. This also brings out the meaning of the old adage that the human being is the switchboard of the cosmos. It is also agreeable to common sense that because of the fact of it being possible for a human being to realise cosmical powers and sources, it follows as a corollary thereof that there is a vital relationship between man and the universe. If this relationship were not to be there, salvation would be impossible. The forces of nature would harass the individual to such an extent that he would remain a victim and a prisoner forever.

The practicability of the salvation of the soul in universal realisation is proof enough of the vital and inseparable connection of the individual with the universe. This is a tremendous revelation that yoga philosophy places before us. The significance of the human being is raised in its status to an immensity comparable to the Infinite itself. The so-called insignificance and the finitude of the human being is overshadowed by the greater implications brought about by this discovery of the commensurability of the individual with the cosmic existence. Every breath that we breathe is connected with the winds of the world outside. The great cyclone that has been blowing for a few days here is not entirely outside us. It is in our nostrils too. The very same wind is blowing within us. The rains that fall from the skies above in the outer world are also inside us. There is raining inside too, not merely outside. The winds blow within us. The sun and the moon and the stars shine inside us. The Ganga and the Yamuna and the Amazon and the Mississippi flow within us. The whole cosmos is reflected as in a mirror in this centrality of finitude of human nature. What a glorious concept and what a great solace it is that we are, after all, going to encompass this mystery called creation by this technology of practice called yoga.

And what is yoga? It is nothing but the awakening of consciousness to this presence of the Infinite in the finite and a realisation of this completeness by the mere awareness of it – nothing more, nothing less. The practice of yoga is not actually bringing you something from outside which you do not have at present, but only making you conscious that you are the son of an emperor, while all the while you have been thinking that you are a beggar on the street. A friend who is the Guru, a well-wisher, accosts you on the road while you are walking in rags and begging for alms as if you are nobody in this world, and tells you, “Friend, do you know that you are the son of the king of the country? You are heir apparent to the treasures of the whole empire. Do you know that?” the Guru says.

“I don’t know. I never knew this. I am surprised to hear this,” you say. The very consciousness of this heritage which has automatically devolved upon this individual brings about a confidence, a satisfaction and a power within oneself.

Unconsciousness of the existence of a power is no power at all. Unconsciousness of the presence of wealth is no wealth. So any possession ceases to be a possession when one is not aware of the fact of that possession. You may be a big zamindar, landowner, you may have land extending over thousands of acres but are unconscious of this fact. What is the use of that? You may be having millions of dollars in a bank but are not aware of it. You are a pauper in spite of there being such a wealth. So the consciousness is important, not the possession of wealth. Now you understand what is important in life – not possession of anything, but awareness. While all things may be there, if awareness is absent, you are nothing. You are like a brick, you are like a stone. You are a clod of earth and nothing more than that, whatever be your so-called material associations or possessions of material wealth. What is of greatest significance in life? Not money, not social status, not power, because all these mean nothing when you are not aware of them. You may be the president of a country, but not aware that you are the president. What is the use? You are just a nobody. So awareness is the criterion of everything.

Therefore, the greatest treasure in life is awareness, consciousness, knowledge, understanding – chit chaitanya, as it is said in Sanskrit. The highest value in life is consciousness, the greatest treasure in life is consciousness, and the final aim that you are driving at is consciousness and not a physical possession of emperorship, etc. As I told you by these examples, everything is a nullity and a void and a meaningless nothing when it is divested of consciousness. All existence is valued only on account of consciousness associated with it. Minus consciousness, existence itself is nothing. You may exist but not be aware that you exist; what is the use? So your existence means consciousness of existence. Minus consciousness of existence, existence itself is nothing. We say in Sanskrit sat is chit, and the moment you become aware of your completeness you are happy, and that is ananda. Perfection is defined in Sanskrit philosophical terminology as sat-chit-ananda. God is sat-chit-ananda because God is perfection. He is perfect existence which is conscious of its existence, and therefore, it is happiness. Happiness has come there not because of any possession of external material wealth but merely because of the awareness of their being perfection. Very wonderful is this concept indeed! The very existence is awareness, and the very awareness is happiness.

This is a revolutionary idea to the untutored, uneducated mind of the populous in the world, something startling and amazing to a man in the street who thinks that to be great is to be a president or a minister, to be rich is to possess dollars, rupees, pounds, etc. To such a person this would be tremendously shocking knowledge and information. You can be perfect and the greatest force in the world even if you have nothing physically in your hands. Is this not a revolutionary idea? And yoga is the greatest revolutionary force ever conceived in the human mind. It is revolutionary in the sense that it simply topples down all your concepts of value, turns the tables round, and tells you something which is amazing to your so-called logical intellect. While you think that the accumulation of finite particulars is wealth, it tells you the Infinite is the wealth, not the accumulation of particulars. While it tells you that awakening into a new consciousness is the greatest achievement in life, you are certainly told something which your mind cannot contain.

People want and want and want, infinitely want things, and do not know what actually they want. There is a want and a need and a feeling of necessity by every person in the world, but if you go into a diagnostic analysis of the nature of this want or like or need, you will find that the person is not really aware as to what he wants. If you ask any person, “Have you some needs?” he will say, “Plenty.” What are the needs? You will have a very gross definition, “I want a house, I want land, I want a large amount of wealth, I want security, I want to live a long life.” This is a very prosaic, outward, gross expression in the form of a reply to this question of what you want.

But why do you want all these things? Why do you want a house? Why do you want to eat food? Why do you want security? Why do you want a long life? This is another question which crops up from your tentative answer. Why do you want all these things at all? You want a long life. What for? Why should you live for a hundred years, two hundred years, three thousand years? All these amenities that you are asking for – security, property, wealth, house, land, food, etc. – is to enable you to live. But the question is: Why do you want to live? There is no answer to this question. No one can answer the question of why one wants to live at all. Why do you want to exist? When any question can be answered, this question cannot be answered because existence is the basic reality. It cannot be questioned. The questioner himself cannot be questioned. All questions arise from existence as such, and you are putting a question to the questioner himself. So there is a logical fallacy in raising a question about one’s own self. You can put questions about anybody but not about yourself, and that is why there is a subtle psychological discomfort when anyone questions you. You do not like to be questioned. “Don’t talk. Keep quiet.” This is all you will say if anybody speaks about you. You would like to be told about others, but you do not want anything to be told about you.

Now, this psychological satisfaction one feels about the completeness of oneself and a resentment towards any kind of interference of one’s own self from any other side is a tentative spatiotemporal egoistic reflection of the perfection that you ultimately ask. It is not for nothing that you are resenting all this interference. There is some meaning behind it. Your essential nature is a non-interfered tremendous completeness. You are not a pauper and a foolish idiot, as people may think. There is something tremendously valuable in you. You are ultimately the son of an emperor, it is true. The whole infinite completeness is present in a seed form in the thought processes and the intellectual functions of the individual.

This secret is taken advantage of by the philosophy of yoga. If I am the seed of the cosmos, I must be able to encompass the whole cosmos. I can eat the fruit of the tree which grows from the seed that I am. If I am the seed, well, I can take the fruit that grows out of the very same seed in the form of a tree. Now, the other question is, how is it possible for this seed of infinitude that an individual is to expand its dimensions to the whole cosmos, which is the aim of the practice of yoga? The methods employed are the various technologies I mentioned earlier – karma yoga, bhakti yoga, tantra yoga, hatha yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga, and what not. People are afraid of these names and go to many Gurus and many schools of yoga, thinking that many things are taught in various ways. It is not like that. The technology is very simple. People are merely frightened by names and words.

The secret of the practice of yoga is an awakening of a consciousness of the higher order that is immediately transcendent to the present one. And what are called the eight stages of yoga – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi mentioned in Patanjali’s systems, for instance – are only names or definitions given of the levels of ascent of consciousness by degrees of completeness, one transcending the other. Every stage is an ascent to a higher degree that is immediately above the present one in which one finds oneself. Every stage is a completeness in itself in its own way, only the dimension of completeness goes on expanding.

When you study in a school, for instance, say in the first standard, that first standard of education may be regarded as a complete education by itself from that point of view. The curriculum and the syllabus provided in the first standard is complete as far as the first standard is concerned. From the point of view of the second standard it is incomplete, but you are not supposed to compare like that. The second standard becomes a matter of consideration only when you overstep the limits of the first standard. The second standard syllabus is also complete by itself. It is incomplete only from the standpoint of the third standard, etc. Every stage in education is a complete syllabus, perfect in itself, adequate to the requirements of the mind which is in that particular stage of education.

Likewise is the practice of yoga. Every stage in the practice of yoga is a small completeness by itself, but the dimension has to be enlarged according to the nature of the ascent higher and higher. The individual is a complete human being, but wider in dimension than the individual is the family, which is also a complete unit by itself. Wider than the family is the larger community, which is also complete in itself. Larger than that is the nation, which is also complete in itself. Larger still is the whole international situation, the whole Earth, which is also complete in itself. How can there be so many forms of completeness? Can you imagine completenesses of many types? It does not mean that there are many types of completeness, but degrees of completeness.

These examples are only to indicate the nature of the ascent in the practice of yoga. Every little step that you take is a completeness because of the fact that it is an awareness of a particular complete circle of comprehension and that, when it is completed to one’s satisfaction, immediately wakes you up into the next level where the dimension enlarges itself, until there is a cessation of all transcendence, which takes place only in the Realisation of the Absolute, or the Infinite, the Ultimate Godhead. In Upanishadic terminology we call it Bhuma, or the Brahman, where there is nothing else outside you to see or to hear or to understand. Yatra nānyat paśyati nānyac chṛṇoti, nānyat vijānāti sa bhūmā (Chh.U. 7.24.1): Bhuma, or the Infinite, is That where you see nothing outside you, where you hear nothing outside you, and understand nothing outside you. That is the Infinite; that is God. What is God? It is an existence-consciousness-completeness where there is nothing else to see outside, nothing else to hear or understand outside. Such infinitude, such non-spatial, super-spatial, space-transcending existence is God. The consciousness of that existence is God-consciousness. The realisation of that is called Self-realisation or God-realisation. Therefore, the various stages of yoga are the attempts of the consciousness to rise from the lower level to the higher level until it comes to this pinnacle of experience.

I began by saying that the individual is a centre of the cosmos, like the switchboard of an electrical installation. Now, the operating of the various centres of the switchboard is the work of the whole practice. The physical body, the pranas inside, the senses, the mind, the intellect and the spirit – these are the levels actually to be transcended one after the other by self-restraint and harmonisation of forces: asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi. These are the stages connected with the body, the prana, the senses, the mind, the intellect, the spirit. The harmonisation of the physical system is asana. The harmonisation of the vital breath inside is pranayama, the harmonisation of the senses in their connection with the objects outside is pratyahara, the harmonisation of the functions of the mind is dharana, the harmonisation of the functions of the intellect is dhyana, and the equilibrium of consciousness established in oneself is samadhi. So these are the stages described in Patanjali’s system corresponding to the layers of existence in our own selves.

These layers within us have a corresponding existence also in the world. That is why the individual is called a microcosm, a pindanda, while the world outside or universe outside is called brahmanda or the macrocosm. Like circular rings placed one above the other, the layers of consciousness may be said to be placed one over the other. The analogy is not complete because one ring is different from another ring in the analogy mentioned, but here one ring of consciousness is not isolated from another ring. One enters into another automatically and we cannot make a distinction, as between water and ice when part of the ocean is solidified in winter in certain parts of the world, for instance. Similar are the five elements earth, water, fire, air and ether. We are told in textbooks of philosophy and physics, etc., there are five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether. They are not actually five elements. They are five gradations of density of a single material substance. You cannot say where one begins and where one ends. So are the layers of consciousness – the physical, the vital, the sensory, the mental, the intellectual and the spiritual, which are represented by the practices of yoga. Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi are not watertight or airtight compartments, but processes which act like confluences of one with another, as it were, and there is a gradual evolutionary ascent of consciousness when the practice becomes deeper and deeper.

The practice of yoga in these stages has a double aspect: self-control, as far as one’s own individuality is concerned, and a harmonisation of oneself with the atmosphere or environment as far as the world externally is concerned. You have to practice two things at the same time at every stage of yoga.

The forces or impulses within you which tend to move towards the outside world have to be withdrawn. That is called self-control. This is done in various stages, right from the body up to the spirit. Why is there a necessity for this self-restraint? The necessity arises on account of the difficulty that is created by the impulses moving towards objects of sense. What is the difficulty? They create a partition between the individual and the world, whereas such a partition really is not. The necessity for self-control is, therefore, here in the fact that but for the self-control becoming complete in itself, the externality-consciousness of the world will not cease. As long as there is externality-consciousness, the senses will certainly run after the objects of sense. The desire of the mind or the senses to move towards the objects of sense is on account of the externality already ingrained in them, which is intensified by the presence of space and time. Space, time, causality, senses, and mind all act together in a group, so the practice of yoga becomes very difficult. You have to tackle many forces at the same time, from all sides, as in a battlefield where there is bombardment from all sides and it is hard to escape the attack. But once you know the technique of an all-round manoeuvring of your forces and the intense concentration of mind on various aspects concerned with your life, it becomes a joyous process rather than a turbulent and painful one.

The practice of meditation ultimately is the aim of yoga because that is the highest form of self-control and also the highest form of harmonisation of forces. In meditation all the senses and the mind are subdued. The externalisation is put an end to, and the consciousness is set in harmony with the external atmosphere. Thus, the greatest duty of the human being may be said to be meditation. It is the ripe and sweet fruit of the tree of the effort of the practicant in yoga.

But towards the achievement of this highest fruit, great effort has to be put forth in the earlier stages. We have first of all to disabuse ourselves of the misconception that we are isolated from the world outside. Attachments and hatreds of various types, likes and dislikes, resentment, anger, etc., are due to a misconception in the mind that the world is outside. We are spitting at our own face, as it were, when we are encountering the world as an enemy outside us. It is foolishness. The world is something like your own face seen in a mirror, to give another example. If you smile at it, it smiles. If you frown at it, it frowns. If you show teeth, it shows teeth. If you say “my dear friend”, it says “my dear friend”. If you say “you idiot”, it says “you idiot”. That is what the mirror does before you, because you are there. You are seeing your own self, and whatever you say will be reverberated and reflected back upon you. The world is such a vast mirror, a reflection of your own face in one sense, so that the world does to you whatever you do to it. It is thus simply doing tit for tat; that is all. It does not do tit for tat in enmity or anger, but because it is an inseparable appendage of your own universal existence. It is a scientific law that is operating when the world reacts upon you as a consequence of your actions. Therefore, dharma is a scientific principle; it is not a hotchpotch or a concoction of somebody’s mind.

To avoid the reactions of the world, there is only one way out: not to regard the world as an outside person or thing. The moment you regard anything as outside you, reaction is unavoidable. Reaction is only another name given to the attitude of another outside you in respect of your attitude towards him. But when you have no attitude at all because of your transcending the consciousness of personality, there will be no reaction attitude also.

This is the philosophy behind the practice of the yamas, for instance, in the system of Patanjali. Yamas and niyamas represent the basic social harmony and social hygiene that is before the ascent of the seeker in the higher stages. Then comes the harmonisation of the physical muscular nervous system so that the onslaught of physical nature may not be felt by you. Even hunger and thirst may not attack you so much as they do usually if the nervous system is harmonised and kept in control.

But the worst things that trouble us are the senses and the mind, so the practice of yoga from pratyhara onwards is more difficult than the earlier ones – asana, pranayama, etc. You may be a great expert in asana and pranayama but a great failure in higher stages because they are psychological stages. They are set towards control of your own self, with which you are so identified and cannot stand outside.

Hence, a herculean effort has to be put forth day and night. How does a businessman try to become rich? Every day he calculates and sees the accounts and finds out ways and means of improving his business, making a profit. He does not sleep. A thief does not sleep. He always wants to see and find ways of getting into somebody’s house and commit burglary, etc. So is the yogi; he also does not sleep. He always tries to find new ways and means of entering the higher levels of consciousness by overcoming the barriers of the lower stages. The yogi has no sleep, the yogi has no rest, and the yogi is never happy until he reaches his aim. How can he be happy when he has not got what he wants? How can he rest when he has not achieved the purpose?

Thus, adamantly through hata, a kind of adamance and approach, one girds up one’s loins to achieve one’s end by the manipulation of all available methods and forces in oneself. One concentrates one’s whole personality – mind, body, intellect, spirit and senses all focussed in unison. It is as if a nation is in danger of attack from an enemy, at which time the whole nation girds up its loins and becomes a single force, forgetting all the internal schisms, etc. So all the individual desires of the senses, the mind, the intellect, etc., are dropped altogether in this emergency that arises within at the time of the practice of yoga, where the whole force of the system is totalled up, mustered in and focussed in the direction of that one infinite aim that is before us. This focussing of consciousness in this totality of effort towards the wholeness of being, which is God, is the aim of meditation, the goal of yoga. God bless you.