The Path to God-Realisation Part 1: Preparing for the Practice of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on July 12, 1990)

In our perceptions of the world of persons and things, there is a continuous negation taking place of the indivisibility of the Self. It is so because of the fact that perceptions are based on a divided consciousness. There has to be a division between the subjective side and the objective side, between the perceiver and the perceived, in order that there may be perception at all.

This dichotomy between the location of the seer and the seen is precisely the contradiction of the indivisible nature of the Self. Thus, we may say that we are perpetually negating the existence of the Self in everything that we do and in everything that we see, cognise, or perceive through our sense organs.

The moment the Self is negated, the consequence thereof follows automatically: the character of non-Self inundates us. We become at once other than what we are. We become fear-struck from every side because of the fact that we have lost our Self. The greatest fear is the loss of one’s own Self, and that fear is perpetually on our head like a Damocles Sword – because of the fact that there is a continuous negation of the Self taking place in our perceptions through the sense organs.

It is, therefore, no wonder that we are unhappy throughout our life. We have fears from all sides – tapa, as we call it; adhyatmika, adhibhautika, adhidaivika tapa harass us. We have fear from our own psychophysical constitution also: It may fall ill, or it may even die. That is a fear that we have in regard to our own self. We also have fear of the people around us; very little can be said about their behaviour because it is very whimsical, conditioned by changing factors and circumstances of life. And above all, there is fear of nature, whose wish and will are not known to us even a little. From every side there is insecurity, as it were, and, therefore, there is not a moment of peace for anyone in the world.

Perceptions are of two kinds. These categories may be designated as general and abnormal perceptions. We see things in two ways – mostly in a general fashion, but sometimes in an abnormal fashion. We see one another – for instance, in this audience hall – and this perception of people around and things in general may be regarded as a normal perception because our emotions are not involved in a perception of this kind. We see anybody sitting here. Our feelings are not affected; the emotions are not stirred. We have no trouble from inside by merely seeing somebody sitting in front of us. But if a perception disturbs our feelings either by attraction or repulsion – our feelings are stimulated in a positive way or a negative way – then that perception cannot be regarded as normal. That is a different school of thought, called abnormal psychology.

If we can see a thing, be conscious of its existence but not be emotionally disturbed about it, we may consider it as general perception. But if any perception disturbs our feelings, this is certainly not a normal perception. It is not normal because we seem to be dualistically involved in the knowledge of the existence of some person or thing in front of us, and not indivisibly involved or, more properly, normally involved. Very rarely do we get disturbed in this manner. If we have a fear from some source, there is an emotional disturbance. If we dislike a thing because of certain natures characterising that particular object, our emotions are disturbed. Or, if we like a thing immensely, then also emotions well up to the surface of our consciousness. People can shed tears, either in intense joy or in intense sorrow; that is the indication of stimulation taking place inside.

All this, briefly stated about the nature of our perception of things, indicates finally that none of our perceptions are commensurate with what we may call spiritual perception. The world perception is not spiritual, as it usually goes in our day-to-day life. It is so because the character of Selfhood cannot be recognised in any object, in spite of the fact that every object has a Self of its own.

In the same way as in every pool of water, multiple though the pools be, the same sun is reflected, the Universal Self is reflected in every individual person as the Self of that particular person or thing. Therefore, everyone has a Self – not a Self, the very Self Itself. Yet, in perceptions, the Self is not recognised. Neither can you see my Self, nor can I see your Self. You see me as a personality seated here, and I also do the same thing in regard to you. If this is the way in which the world goes on, world experience cannot be regarded as spiritual experience. Therefore, we call life in the world as samsara, which means an aberration from the nature of Selfhood. A deviation from truth is called samsara. We move away from the centre of our personality, away from the root of the Self, to that which is other than Itself.

You may ask me, “Is there anything other than the Self?” There is certainly nothing other than the Self. Then what is the meaning of the deviation of consciousness from the Self to the not-Self? The not-Self actually is not a person or a thing. It is the manner in which consciousness adapts itself to persons and things outside. Your judgment of values is what will determine the spirituality or the unspirituality of things. The things in the world are neither spiritual nor unspiritual; they just are, as they ought to be. But the perceptions differ on account of the non-recognition of the Selfhood, or the character of subjectivity in things.

When I look at you, I see you as an object outside – a person who is not me. The whole point is that: Here is a person who is not me, and how will I deal with that person who is not me? If it is not me, I cannot deal with that person in the way I deal with myself. So immediately there is a conflict arising between the seer and the seen. The not-me is the whole problem. When we say ‘mine’ or ‘not mine’, we make a distinction in our judgments of values.

I mentioned that in our perceptions there are two modalities, the general and the abnormal, and we are prone to both these types of perception every day. Unless we are free from it, we cannot actually even commence the practice of yoga.

Towards the end of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad there is an occasion where Prajapati gives instruction to three types of individuals: the divine, the undivine, and the human. The human character is a mix-up of both the divine and the undivine. We do not always behave like gods; it is very clear. Nor do we always behave like Rakshasas, or demons. Though it is possible for us to sometimes behave like gods – that character also is present in us, potentially – often we can behave like demons also. It depends upon the circumstances that are around us. The way in which we react to circumstances makes us either gods, demons, or humans. A human is one who sees the same nature as one’s own personality in other personalities. The demon is one who sees worse things in others and better things in one’s own self. But a god is one who sees divinity in all things.

The celestials in heaven are said to be specially characterised by the quality of enjoyment. Persons who do good deeds in this world are said to go to heaven, where Indra rules – the blessed region of immense felicity and perpetual delight. They are said to be prone to excessive enjoyment. The demons are said to be prone to excessive cruelty; and human beings are said to be prone to excessive greed, possessiveness: let me have this, let me have that, let me have more and more of everything. This is the nature of the human being.

So Prajapati, the great creator, gave three instructions to three types of individuals: gods, demons, and human beings. He called the gods.

They said, “Please instruct us.”

He said, “Da. Do you understand what I say?”

“Yes Master, we understand.”

“What did you understand?”

“By the word ‘da’ you meant ‘damyata, be self-restrained’ because we are excessively prone to enjoyments of the senses. So you told us ‘da, damyata: be self-restrained.’“

Then he called the demons. “Give us the instructions, Master,” they said.

He told them, “Da. Do you understand what I say?”

“Yes, we understand.”

“What do you understand?”

Dayadhvam. You said, ‘be compassionate to others,’ because we are cruel in our nature. The ‘da’ that you uttered to us means ‘be compassionate and merciful to others’. We understand your instructions.”

He called the human beings. He told them, “Da. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” they said.

“What do you understand?”

“You told us datta – give in charity – because we are greedy people.” The same ‘da’ was interpreted by each of the three according to its own predisposition of sense enjoyment, cruelty, or greed.

Now, human beings are a cross-section of the higher and the lower worlds. We are supposed to be a microcosm, a pindanda as it is called, a small universe. Everything that we find in the universe is found in a human being also. Though we are predominantly greedy, it does not mean that we do not go to extremes of enjoyment and of cruelty. A human being can be excessively indulgent in the sense organs, and he can be very cruel, very merciless. He can be a tyrant, and he can be intensely possessive. He would like to swallow the whole world.

Therefore, in the practice of yoga, which is actually the endeavour on our part to recognise the ultimate nature of reality, these impediments which are psychological, ethical, moral and behavioural have to be taken care of. When there is a turmoil of the feelings inside, intense distraction taking place in our mind for some reason or the other – we are either hungry or angry, or whatever it is – that would not be the time for sitting for the practice of yoga meditation.

When we are in a mood of meditation, we should not have any kind of impending occupation in the near future – for the next hour or two, at least. Suppose in fifteen minutes we have to catch a railway train. That is not the time to sit and deeply concentrate on this objective of our life because part of the mind will be thinking of reaching the train station on time. Or, if we have got some other occupation, something intensely engaging our attention, that should be taken care of first.

When there are many knots on a rope, one over the other, that we wish to untie, we do not start with the innermost, but with the outermost first. The uppermost knot has to be untied, and then the next one, etc. The cause cannot be handled first. The effect has to be handled first.

If we have any abnormal reactions in our behaviour in regard to the world outside, they have to be considered very, very cautiously at the outset. Mostly people cannot recognise that there is anything abnormal about themselves. They will think they are all very normal persons. The abnormality is seen in other people only. This requires instruction and direct teaching from a spiritual Master who can see what kind of person the disciple is.

The idea is that any kind of abnormality of behaviour, whether psychologically or ethically, will prevent the general perception of things. We cannot see things as they are. We always see things as they are not. If we see any person, we will see some defect in that person. We will not see entire goodness, because of the peculiarity of the abnormal way in which our mind is operating. The well-known dicta of the principles of yama – ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha – may be considered as the first principles of ethical and moral practice, which is an endeavour on our part to restrain ourselves in many a manner.

The instinct to harm, to subjugate, to cause injury to or exploit others, to be often even sadistic, is something that is not always absent in human nature. Though we do not behave in a cruel and impertinent manner with people and things outside, the possibility in us to behave in such a manner is also to be considered. We may not be angry, but are we capable of being angry and behaving in a manner which is contrary to the spiritual perception of things? Anger is not actually a mood that we manifest on our face; it is an intention to harm somebody else.

Sometimes a mother gets angry with her little child. That is not real anger, because her intention is not to harm the child. Intention is the deciding factor in the character of our behaviour. If we judge a person, we have to judge from the intention that is behind the person, and not merely the action. Outward actions do not always indicate what kind of actions the person has performed, rightly or wrongly. If we unconsciously, by mistake, do some good to other people, that cannot be regarded as a good action. The good deed has to be done consciously. As it is generally said, if we become violent with a person and kick him, and he falls on a huge reservoir of honey, we cannot say that we have given him honey. Our intention was different.

Hence, we have to judge our intentions before we take recourse to the practice of yoga – our intentions in regard to our own selves, our intentions in regard to people outside, and also our intention in practicing yoga: What it is that we are expecting from God? If there is any mistake in our calculation of these issues, either in regard to ourselves or to people outside, or in regard to our concept of the Ultimate Reality – even if we make a mistake in our concept of reality – there would not be the requisite success in the practice.

We have peculiar traits in us which are common to every human being. Firstly, there is the capacity to harm. This is very important, a matter which we have to underline again and again. Have we the capacity to harm, or can we say it will never happen?

There was a great saint, a very good-natured and humble soul. Someone who had a peculiar idiosyncrasy in the mind instigated some youngster. He said, “Let us test this person and see what kind of saint he is. When he takes a bath in the river and comes back, spit on him. Let us see what he says.”

So this youngster, who was paid to do it, sat there watching the saint, and spat on him after he came from bathing. The saint went back to the river and took another bath, changed his clothes, and came up. When he came, the boy spat a second time. A second time the saint went to the river, took a bath and came. A third time the boy spat on him. This went on, they say, a hundred times. A hundred times the boy spat, and a hundred times the saint went to the river, took a bath and came.

Fear entered the heart of this boy: There is something mysterious about this person, because no human being will behave like this! He has not uttered one word against me. He has not shown any sign of anger or dislike towards me. He did not say, “Hey! What are you doing to me?” He just coolly went and took another bath.

That is the capacity not to react in a harmful manner, or an incapacity to harm anybody. The saint was not merely not angry; he demonstrated that he was not even capable of getting angry. The potentiality itself was rooted out. If the potentiality to anger, the potentiality to possessiveness and the potentiality to sense indulgence have gone, we are clean indeed. The world has to obey our wishes and orders.

This principle of ahimsa actually indicates not merely our outward behaviour, but our psychological constitution itself. What is your attitude towards other people? What do you think of them? Do you feel that everybody is bad, wretched, stupid? Or do you have a rational outlook of things? Do you behold things with reason and judgment of universal values, or do you have an inborn trait of condemning everything that you perceive? If this trait has gone, you are an ahimsa-vadin indeed.

That you have not done harm is not enough. You should not be even capable of doing harm – not because you are incapable physically or that you lack strength. Having strength to do harm, you will not do it. If a person has immense power but does not misuse it, he is a great individual. If you do not use power because you do not have it, there is no great virtue in it. You have intense authority, great power and capacity in you, but you are not misguided by its operation: such is the principle of ahimsa, which is an inward character in us – a manifestation of the soul itself in some way, we should say.

Never be deceptive in your behaviour in regard to others, because deception is another way of exploitation. Satya vachana is not merely the words that we speak, because we may speak a truth and yet be intentionally misguiding that person. Our outward behaviour is not the ethical mandate required; it is the internal intention that is insisted upon again and again.

The other trait in us is the desire to have more and more things for ourselves, to have as much as possible and, if possible, to have all things. We would like to be the king of the whole Earth. The possessive character in human nature forgets the fact that all things shall leave a person one day or the other. It is intellectually, rationally, educationally, and culturally – let alone spiritually – bad to be too greedy and possessive in one’s nature. And never be demanding. If something comes, wonderful. Be happy that something has come. But if nothing comes, “Well, if it doesn’t come, all right. We shall get along even in that condition.”

These are the principles of yama, which means to say, self-restraint. The art of self-restraint, which is practically the whole of yoga, right from the beginning to the end, is constituted of a systematic extrication of consciousness from its connection with the layers of involvement in its perceptions – to repeat, general as well as abnormal.

It is not at all good to be emotionally disturbed, of course, in our perceptions of things. That is very clear. We should not be too much desirous or resentful in our behaviour. But that is not enough; there is something more expected of us. It is not enough if we are merely a good person. We have to be a spiritual person, because goodness is generally counterbalanced by badness. The extent of goodness in us will be measured by the extent of badness that is existing outside in the world. But spirituality transcends the ordinarily known ethical concepts of goodness and badness.

That spiritual nature in us is achieved by the introduction of the nature of the Self. Spirituality is the character of the Self, introducing this nature in our life through the various levels of our personal involvement. There are various degrees of involvement of human personality, and in all these levels we should seek the presence of the Self and extricate consciousness from its externally conceived involvement.

One of the levels which is preposterously hard upon us every day is the love of things as related to ourselves – land, property, money, relation, etc. – which normally gets diminished in old age on account of the inability to have access to these facilities. But inability should not be the cause of our abandonment of these facilities. We should have the ability to have every kind of facility, and we should be minimal in our requirements in spite of that.

These things are well said, but difficult to practice. The difficulty arises on account of a subtle feeling in us that the Self is away from us; God is not near us. There is a tremendous spatial distance and durational disparity between us and God-consciousness. And when we are many a time told in the scriptures that we have to take hundreds of births in order to be blessed with even an aspiration for God, we are likely to identify this difficulty with the duration of the time process involved in our endeavours and the distance between ourselves and the nature of reality. We always think that God is in the future: we shall attain God tomorrow. Whether it is after a hundred years or tomorrow, it is a kind of futurity that we attribute to God. “I shall attain perfection some day or the other.” This concept of ‘some day or the other’ is also a concept of the future, and the concept of the future is also the concept of time. Neither God nor Self, whatever we call it, is involved in time.

So the spiritual achievement is not a future possibility. It is a present imperative. It is what is generally called ‘here and now’. If we are able to convince ourselves that this achievement can be possible just now on account of the absence of past and future consciousness in the Selfhood of things, we may feel a sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction diminishes on account of the distance that appears to be there between ourselves and the ideal before us: “I do not know how far this ideal is, and how much time it will take for me to reach it.”

“It is very near to those whose aspiration is very intense,” says the great teacher of yoga, Patanjali. Tīvra saṁvegānām āsannaḥ (1.21). The Sanskrit word samvega used in this aphorism is untranslatable into any other language. It is not merely intensity of practice; it is an ardent exuberance of the impossibility of existing without it. ‘Ardour’ is the nearest English word for samvega. A tremendous rush of feeling in the direction of the ideal that we wish to achieve is samvega, which has to be very intense.

The ardour has to be like a rush, like a tremendously speeding movement, and that has to be again intensified. According to the interpretation of this sutra, we are told that samvega is to be intensely intense; three times intense, or ninefold intensity is required in us. This means to say there should not be any other desire in us which can be compared to this intensity of our longing for it. It is as if we are drinking milk and honey even by the very thought of the possibility of such an achievement. Don’t you feel happy when you are assured that you are going to be granted a great blessing? Something, some windfall is suddenly there in front of you – an unexpected joy. What do you feel at that time? You feel an ardour, a samvega, to grab it and possess it, and make it your own.

Such a feeling is not easily generated in us on account of the usual difficulty of feeling that the ideal is distant in space and time. And, much more than that, there is a peculiar feeling in us that we do not know what we will get at all, finally. We say God-realisation is very good; we will become immortal, we will be deathless, we will have all peace. But if we probe deeply and put a question to our own self, “What will actually happen to me when the Self is realised?” we will not have a real answer to it.

Many a time we may place ourselves in the presence of God, as some devotees conceive God to be. These are ideas which are not very clear. Does immortality mean being seated in the presence of God for a long time, just as you are seated in front of me and me in front of you? Is it looking at God perpetually that is called immortality? If you think of it, you will find, “No, this is not a satisfying position.”

What finally will happen to you? What exactly is the gain that will accrue to you after the realisation of the Self? What about all these wonders and beauties and grandeurs of the world? Where do they go? You may raise a question: “You have already told us they have to be rejected. This wondrous creation which is so beautiful and enchanting before us, you say we should reject. What else are you going to give us in place of this renunciation? We are told that we will realise the Self. What good is this? I am already aware of myself in some way, and I may be aware of it more intensely. Is this all you are giving me after I have thrown away the whole world of beauties and grandeurs?”

Though you may not raise such questions intellectually, the peculiar feeling, which has an argument of its own, will raise doubts of this fantastic nature and tell you to be cautious because you are going to lose something. All the wonderful things that you are considering as endearing in this world will go in one instant, and you will enter into a lion’s den of an unknown reality about which you have been talking so much, and about which the scriptures glorify. You cannot understand what it is.

These doubts will not arise in your mind just now. They will arise when you advance in the practice of yoga gradually, when the mind and the nature outside begin to feel that this person really means business. If you merely sit for meditation for a few minutes, nobody is bothered about it. It is said that gods will put obstacles in meditation. No god will put obstacles before you. They know that this meditation is going to bring nothing, so nature will not trouble you. Nothing will happen; everything will look fine. But be serious about it, and see the reactions taking place!

In one of the sutras of Patanjali, the reactions that are likely to take place from your own self, from the world outside, and from nature in general are described in some very picturesque detail, from which also we have to guard ourselves.

Thus, the practice of yoga, which is the art of the realisation of God or the Universal Self, is, on the one hand, a direct endeavour to concentrate the mind on a well-conceived ideal which is called abhyasa, and simultaneously on the other hand, it is a negation of anything which may intrude into this consciousness of the concentration on the Universal Ideal. With these two phases of our practice, known as abhyasa and vairagya, we should go ahead, driving the chariot of our personality to the abode of God Almighty.