The Secret of All Life is Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on April 28, 1985)

In the scriptures of devotion, an appreciation of the nature of God precedes devotion to God. Great theologians like Acharya Ramanuja, Madhva, and others have held that devotion is the climax, and devotion to God cannot arise unless we already know what it is that we are loving, or what it is to which we are devoting ourselves.

The more we understand and appreciate a thing, the more we like it, so there is some point in their argument justifying that knowledge precedes devotion. Devotion is the flower and the fruit which matures out of the growth of knowledge. The greatness of God has to be appreciated, first of all. The majesty and the beauty and the value and the importance of God’s existence is to be adequately comprehended, appreciated and admired before a genuine love can be evinced for that Being.

Anyone who is of a doubtful nature cannot attract attention, much less love and affection. We cannot have a doubtful and niggardly acquiescence in the existence of God, and then expect true concentration of mind with the requisite affection for it. If God may be or may not be, then devotion also may or may not be. We cannot have the one without the other, and the question of meditation, concentration, cannot arise in the case of that which has not been properly appreciated because its value has not been recognised.

Many a time we feel that we are also sufficiently important persons and we cannot sell out all our value and foist it on another thing which is considered as all value, all importance and all glory, because this would imply we have no glory, no importance, no value, and that evidently we are nothing.

The association of importance to oneself is the artful activity of egoism, and the ego is the opponent of God. We say Satan opposed God; Lucifer stood against the absoluteness of the Creator, and because of his opposition to God Almighty he fell headlong into hell and was Satan. This Satan is the ego which would not believe, much less accept, that all glory, all importance, all value is in God only, to the extent of the negation of every significance to one’s own self.

It is sometimes said that it is through the act of self-surrender this annihilation of one’s personality is achieved, but it is easier said than done. No ego will permit such a kind of submission. Even the celestials, the angels, have their sense of self-importance. A creeping sense of self-respect and self-recognition diminishes to that extent the value that we attribute to God. To the extent of our own self-importance, to that extent God’s importance is deducted.

There are some anecdotes in our scriptures which by description, epic imagery and story illustrate the strength of God and the power which is all-mighty, transcending all the strength, power, value, and glory known on Earth. We have, for instance, an illustration of this type in the Kenopanishad. It is said there was a war between the angels and the demons, the gods and the non-gods, the suras and the asuras. The demons were vanquished in war, and the celestials were exulting in their victory. All the gods – Indra, Vayu, Agni – were jubilant by their achieving of victory over the vanquished asuras. They were rejoicing over this wondrous victory by having a banquet. But God, the Supreme Being, knew this. All the power, even the strength with which we vanquish our enemies in battle, comes from a source other than the strength of our arms, of the muscles and the sinews. The Almighty knew, “Oh, these angels, these celestials, are rejoicing over their victory. Let me teach them a lesson.” So suddenly the Great Being assumed a mystifying form, and immediately appeared before the gods in heaven, staggering their feelings because they could not know what it was that was appearing before them.

The story in the Kenopanishad goes thus. Indra, the lord, the god of the angels,  commanded his co-celestials, the gods, “Go and find out what this mystery is, what this terrific appearance before us is. Enquire.”

First the fire god was sent. Agni, the fire god, the master who could burn anything into ashes, went and accosted Him, and that Great Being asked, “Who are you?”

Agni said, “I am Agni, the fire god.”

“You are the fire god? What can you do?”

“I can burn the whole Earth. I can reduce anything to ashes in one instant.”

“Is it so? Burn this.” Saying thus, this Being placed before Agni a piece of straw. It was an insult to this mighty person. One who can burn the whole Earth to ashes is asked to burn a piece of straw. Anyway, Agni laughed at this impertinence, and rushed at the straw to burn it and reduce it to ashes. But the wonder of wonders was that, leave alone the question of burning it, Agni, the powerful deity, could not even shake it. That little piece of straw would not move. Agni could not understand what had happened. He rushed again and again with great force, but nothing happened. Defeated, Agni turned back without understanding this mystery of how he could not burn a piece of straw, though he was powerful enough to reduce the whole creation to ashes. He went back to Indra, the Lord, and said, “I cannot understand what it is. You can send somebody else.”

The wind god Vayu was sent, and he stood before this Mighty Being. The Being asked, “Who are you?”

“I am the wind god.”

“What can you do?”

“I can blow up the whole Earth. Nothing can stand before me.”

“Blow this,” said the Being, and kept a piece of straw, to the chagrin of this mighty being. Wind rushed to the straw, but it did not move. The gale, the cyclone, the tempest that can blow up mountains and crash everything to pieces, such a mighty wind god could not move a piece of straw.

Shamefaced, Vayu returned. “I do not know what has happened,” said the wind god to Indra.

Similarly there is a very humorous instance of the warrior Arjuna, the hero of the Mahabharata, facing Lord Siva. The Pandavas were suffering in the forest. It was decided that the only solution to this problem was a war with the Kauravas, but who could do this? There were mighty generalissimos like Bhishma, Drona, Karna, and it was not wise to confront them in battle. There was none who could face Bhishma and others. Vyasa and Narada, the great seers, came and told the Pandavas, “We have to employ a different means altogether. We have to invoke the blessings of the gods. Go and do tapas, austerity, and beg of them divine weapons.”

Arjuna was selected as the chief hero for the purpose. He took his bow and arrow, dressed himself in ascetic attire, and went to the hills and mountains. On the way, he saw a Brahmin seated under a tree, who was meditating with closed eyes. The Brahmin opened his eyes and asked Arjuna, “Where are you going? You are coming here with bow and arrow in your hand. This is a place of meditation. This is a place of tapas. Why bows and arrows? Warriors should not come here.”

“No,” Arjuna said. “I am here doing tapas for acquiring divine weapons.” It was a test to which Arjuna was put by the Brahmin, who was nothing but Indra himself in disguise. Indra said, “Anyhow, I understand your mind. You have only one alternative. You have to pray to the almighty Lord Siva and receive his blessings. He alone can help you. After his blessing is received, you may come to us. We shall also assist you.”

Arjuna said, “Thank you,” and did intense rigorous tapas, eating little, sleeping less and, seated in the posture of meditation, prayed to the great Lord Siva.

Days passed, months passed in this austere meditation of Arjuna. Suddenly one day he heard a wild roar around him. An oddly dressed hunter rushed at him with some of his retinue, making a big noise. At that time it so happened a wild boar harassed Arjuna, attacked him, and was about to kill him. Arjuna took his arrow and struck the boar. Simultaneously the hunter also struck the boar.

The hunter said, “Foolish fellow, it is my target. You have no business to interfere with me. How do you come here into this forest? This is the place for us wild tribes, hunters. This is not the place for you. Do not interfere with me.”

Arjuna was a Kshatriya, a hero, and he could not tolerate any kind of affront. He said, “You should not speak to me like this as if I am a nobody. It is my target, and I have hit it.”

The hunter said, “It is my target. You should not speak.” There was a battle of words for a few minutes. Arjuna could not tolerate the strong words of confrontation used by this hunter, as if he were nothing. “Do not show your strength before me,” said the hunter.

That was enough for Arjuna. “You would speak to me like this?” he said.

Arjuna was proud of his strength, and a poor hunter in the forest was telling him that he should not show his strength before him. Arjuna took up his arrows. He had a mighty bow and invincible weapons which he took from his quiver and shot at the hunter, and the arrow struck the body of the hunter as a broomstick would hit an iron hill. It made a twang sound and fell back, as if the body of the hunter was made of steel. Arjuna exhausted all his arrows. The arrows got broken, blunted, and fell down, hitting the body of that hunter as if it was reinforced steel. He could not believe his eyes. He took up his sword and struck mightily the shoulder of the hunter, and the sword broke into pieces, making a twang sound as if it was hitting a rock.

“What is this?” Arjuna said. “Am I dreaming? Who is this hunter?”

Then there was a duel, a hand to-hand-fight. The hunter gripped Arjuna with his iron fist, and threw him down with such force that Arjuna fell unconscious.

After a while he got up, regained his senses, and could not understand how this could be. “I am Arjuna who could face millions of warriors singlehanded, and a little tribesman has humiliated me! Let it be. It is my fate. I shall offer my prayers to the great Lord to bless me that I have been humiliated in this way, which has never happened before.”

He made a little image of Lord Siva and a lingam, and offered a garland of flowers to that little deity which he fixed in front of himself. The moment he placed a garland on the image of the deity, that garland rushed from that image and fell on the neck of the hunter. The flowers that Arjuna offered to this deity rushed to the feet of the hunter because it was Lord Siva himself come to play a game, a joke. Why he played this joke, nobody knew. He could have directly come and blessed him.

It was necessary for God to make Himself felt, as is the case with that unknown, mysterious being in the Kenopanishad which humbled the mighty gods with a little piece of straw. So is here an illustration of the mightiest of mighty warriors being humbled by a little, unknown person who was the embodiment of that great creator-preserver-destroyer force of Lord Siva. All these epic and Purana stories are before us.

Students of yoga, seekers on the path of truth, complain of difficulties in practice, inability of the mind to concentrate, fatigue of the body, ache of the limbs, and a sense of enough with everything. These associated problems in spiritual life arise due to many causes, of course, but the principle cause is insufficient acceptance of the glory of that which we are meditating upon, an inadequate value attached to God, and a maintaining of oneself also in addition to that Almighty: Well, God may be almighty, but I am also mighty to some extent.

This little might of ours which is also contending with the Almighty God is our main problem. The sharanagati, or the surrender of the self spoken of in the Bhakti Shastras and the Yoga Shastras, is just this complete form of the adoration of God, which cannot be complete as long as we are also there to make that surrender incomplete. When we are there, God becomes incomplete. When God becomes complete, we cannot be there because the finitude of our existence at once converts the God being also into a finite being. Whatever has an external, or an other-than-itself, is a finite. We convert God into a finite substance by assuming a finitude of our own and having a little importance.

In our meditations, in our prayers, in our surrenders, in our devotions in this manner prior to the manifesting of our devotion to God, before we try to love God truly speaking, we may know who God is. When we say, “He is,” then we have said everything. “Thou art all.” With that, the description of God is complete. He is all in all, and, therefore, our actions are His actions. It is in this simple sense that the Bhagavadgita dins into our ears that there cannot be any individual agent of action because personal agency in the performance of any action would be the factor that delimits the importance of the real source of all motivation in action. The All-being is also all power because it is all existence.

Hence, it is not merely that all actions are its actions; even all thoughts are its thoughts. Our little ideas are reflections, mini-manifestations of its grand, glorious all-idea. The little ideas of ours are droplets of the sea of that total idea. Not only this much – even our existence is a facet of that all-existence. We exist only by participation, and not by affirmation. Our existence, which includes our understanding, intelligence, activity, power and so on, is not an existence by itself; it is an existence by sufferance, by participation, and by association, which means to say that it is the pervasion of that existence in this formation of our personality, the pervasion of that intelligence in our intelligence, the pervasion of that action in our actions, the power of that in these powers we seem to have, that makes us feel that we exist. In fact, we have no right to affirm even our existence if it is true that God is all-existence.

In the same way as surrender in this sense is difficult, meditation also is difficult, because what is meditation but a flooding of the existence-consciousness of the meditator in respect of that which is the object of meditation. It is a commingling of all that is existence, intelligence and value in the personality, and the very existence of the meditator, with that on which the meditation is practised. Are we not told in the Yoga Shastras that the artha, or the object of meditation, consumes the meditator, and a time arises when in the fine, exalted forms of meditation the object alone supervenes and there is no one who contemplates it? The object withdraws into itself, absorbs into its own being all that was appearing as a centre of awareness, meditation, contemplation. The subjective awareness of the meditator infuses itself into the objective frame on which the contemplation is being conducted; and, vice versa, there is a reaction from the object, and it enters into the being of the meditating subject so that a transcendent subject emerges out of the coming together of these two parents, the parents being the meditating subject and the object meditated upon. A child, which is the father of man, superior to the father and the mother, emerges out of this coming together of them both, namely, the consciousness that meditates and the object which is there.

What is it that emerges? It is a super subject. Some of the modern philosophers call this kind of emergence as superject. It is not subject but superject. These words are coined in order to make unusual phenomenon, with which we are unacquainted, more clear. A super subject arises out of the blending of the subject and the object. And who is this super subject? Is it you, the person who meditates, or is it the object on which you are meditating? It is neither, and yet both. It is neither because it is above both. It is both because it is not merely the total of both the sides, but it is a qualitatively enhanced transfiguration, an angel emerging from a mortal commingling. Such is what is called samadhi in the Yoga Shastra. Yoga samadhi, the great longing and admiration and desire of all yogis, the love of all yogis, the affection of all yogis, for which all yogis cry and weep day in and day out, that which is called samadhi is that transcendent emergence of a meaning, an existence, an intelligence, a power, a comprehension, a dimension above both the meditating centre and the centre upon which meditation was carried on.

We have an inveterate habit of limiting ourselves to our physical body: I am meditating. Hard it is to get out of this shackle, this bodily limitation which we consider as a joy. We are happy with this little limited body of ours, and in this misconceived condition of the mind of this little shackled body, how could a true knowledge arise? There would be, therefore, an unsuccessful meditation – unsuccessful because the object of meditation is always considered as some person or thing, as is usually in our common perceptions.

I have mentioned several times in sessions of this kind that the object on which we meditate in yoga sadhana is an engulfing subject, and at the same time is an object, because that so-called object is the god whom we are worshipping. It is the deity whom we adore. It is Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. It is Rudra. It is all. It is the beloved. The beloved is not an object of the lover. The beloved is included in the lover’s location in such an encompassing manner that the lover no more exists in the fact of loving the beloved. A larger sea of affection drowns the figures of both the lover and the beloved in the manifestation of what is called love, whatever that love be.

Much more intense is the transfiguration that takes place in divine love. We do not love an object. Why do we want an object? It cannot give us anything, because it is outside us. Why do we meditate on anything at all, if it is totally outside us? It is an outsideness which creeps into our inwardness in such a manner that it becomes a samadhi, or a union with ourselves – it becoming one with our own selves, and our own selves becoming one with it.

In samadhi, what happens? Do we enter the object, or does the object enter us? Does God enter us, or do we enter God? What happens? Yes, we enter the object, we move it into action, we behold the object, we become the object; it is true. At the same time, the other alternative also is true. The object enters us in such a sense that the objectivity of the object becomes the subjectivity of our consciousness, so that what we love becomes identified with our consciousness. The existence of what we want is the same as the consciousness of that object. Remember that existence and consciousness have to become one in order that any value may be attached to that consciousness, or the existence thereof. If our consciousness of the object is outside the object, it cannot be possessed. The lover cannot possess the beloved if it is outside. The existence of the beloved has to get infused into the consciousness of the lover, and vice versa, the consciousness has to become one with the object that is the beloved.

That which you meditate upon in yoga – that object, whatever that object be, God or anything else – has to be inundated, flooded with our consciousness, which means to say, the subject has to enter the object because the nature of consciousness is pure subjectivity. Thus, the object assumes the nature of the subject. But what kind of subject? It is a subject that is larger in its encompassing capacity than the location either of the original subject or the object meditated upon. That is the reason why there is such a joy in meditation. From where does the joy come? From where does the power come? Why do we feel stronger, healthier, more powerful, elated and jubilant after we meditate? The reason is that we do not wake up from meditation as the same person that we were before. It is not A going for meditation and A getting up as A only. That would be a poor meditation indeed. The B that is the object of meditation of A enters into A so that the A that meditated earlier rises from meditation not as the little A dissociated from the object B, but as a super A, super B, a superject, absorbing the value of all that is in B into oneself so that we are larger when we wake up from meditation, not the same person. If we feel that we are the same old person, and perhaps a worse person, then the understanding has been deficient.

We cannot love God, as I mentioned, and as pointed out by great acharyas, unless we understand God. If that is so, it applies equally to every object in this world. We cannot love anything unless we understand it, and the proportion of our understanding of it is also the extent of our love of it. Poor understanding means poor liking, which may also give rise to an infiltration of dislike after some time. All objects of love in this world also have the shade of dislike at the same time.

The love of the object in ordinary parlance is infested with a subtle dislike for it. Therefore, loves in the world end in frustration, bereavement, heart breaking, and even death. Why does it happen? It is because the object of love in the world of experience remains as an object only. There is no samadhi with the object. There is no true love. There is no real communion. No one can truly love another as long as one has not become another. Such a thing is not done in this world. It is not possible. Even the dearest and the nearest association of persons, most beloved of coming together cannot be really a coming together because they stand apart as two persons. This twofold existence of persons, even in the act of immense affection, stands in the way of their real love. Therefore, bereavement must follow this apparent chimera of so-called mortal love.

But in yoga samadhi, which is real love, which is exultation par excellence, supreme joy, ananda sagara, ocean of bliss, what happens? The object loved and meditated upon does not any more exist as an outside person. It is you, and you do not exist any more as yourself. You have become that. “Thou art that,” says the Upanishad in a very significant sense indeed. This “thou art that” is not merely a metaphysical statement of an ultimate fact; it is also a little instruction for us in our daily life. Unless we become one with that which we do, our doing ceases to be karma yoga. It will not bear any good result, and we will not be successful in any of our undertakings and projects when we are not in that work. The work is there, but we are not in it. There is no samadhi in the work.

Samadhi is not only for the yogin, it is also for every worker in this world. Every factory goer, every office worker, every person doing any kind of work worth doing will bring no good result, and it will be a meaningless activity, if they are not in that work. The work has to become you, and you have to become the work. You are the work. It is not you who does the work; the work is you, and you are that. Thou art that even here, even in cooking, sweeping, writing, even in speaking. And in your little workaday duties, in your own vocations, you have to practise samadhi. Otherwise, there is no success; there is only repulsion, suffering and heart breaking.

Therefore, yoga is not merely for the advanced seeker of the Absolute Eternal Transcendent Substance. Yoga is also for the cook in the kitchen, the sweeper on the road, the servant, the officer who does his duty, the soldier, the police. Whoever he is, he is a yogin in the sense that he cannot succeed in his work unless he has identified himself with the work, and he no more does the work; he has himself become the work. He moves as the work itself. This is samadhi.

Thus, yoga is for everybody. It is not a religion; it is a way of living, the science of existence, the art of successfully conducting oneself in any manner whatsoever, so that life loses all sense and significance when yoga is not there.

What is yoga? It is the union of yourself with that with which you are connected. And you should know with what it is that you are connected or related, empirically or otherwise. Positively or negatively, you are connected to that which you like. You are also connected to that which you do not like. It is also a factor which is to be known. When you do not like a thing, you are related to it. When you like a thing, you are equally related. Even when you are neutral, you are related in another sense altogether, so that there is no existence without a kind of relationship, but that relation should not stand as an outer atmosphere. It has to become a part and parcel of yourself.

This is to live an integrated life. This is the gospel of the Bhagavadgita. This is the scripture which tells the glory of that which transcends both you and that which you like, that which you meditate upon, the power of God, as it is called in religion; and only in that sense can you love yoga, love God, love your object of meditation, love your beloved. Otherwise, mortal is man, death is his heritage, and he shall reap destruction, and not success in this world.

Yoga is a great benefactor. It is called a father and mother, and it has to be understood carefully. You should not suddenly jump into it, making a mess of it, understanding very little of it, and then getting nothing out of it. In the beginning, before you take to it, you have to adjust your consciousness carefully to the requirement of the path so that you are in the state of meditation in your love for God, doing your duty in a state of union, which is yoga. Thus is the explanation of the mystery of all life. The secret of all life is yoga, and in this one word everything is included.