(Spoken on September 19, 1974.)
It is with immense satisfaction that we have witnessed just now the very exquisitely performed yogic exercises of this esteemed institution. We call them yoga exercises, and often a question may arise as to how these exercises came to be known as yoga. What is the connection between yoga and these exercises, and is yoga an exercise at all?
In earlier days there was a feeling that yoga is some sort of a mystical technique of spiritual introversion practised by certain specialists living in the Himalayas, for instance. Yoga was very much associated with the Himalayas, the sylvan atmosphere of the far-off regions and corners of India. Yoga was also, rightly or wrongly, associated with the attempt of the human being to contact supernatural powers, whether or not people had any notion of what a supernatural power is.
However, the very word ‘yoga’ was looked upon with a sort of suspicion because of the difficulty in knowing what exactly it meant. Anything that we cannot properly understand becomes not only an object of suspicion but a source of anxiety, fear and insecurity. Now, is yoga such a thing?
Within these few minutes I shall endeavour to place before you a bare outline of what yoga really is and what it is not. Yoga is not any kind of otherworldly mystical technique. Yoga is not any kind of practice unconnected with personal or social life. Yoga is not any secret doctrine of specialists living in the Himalayas. It is also not anything which one has to be afraid of. And yoga is not what people ordinarily take it to be.
These days, while yoga has not been properly understood from one side, it has been misinterpreted on the other side. The right meaning of yoga has not been brought home to the minds of people on account of an inadequacy in the number of yoga teachers in our country, and also, and side-by-side, it has been abused. Physical exercises are a necessary part of yoga, but yoga has wholly and entirely been associated with physical exercises.
The practice of yoga is the art and technique of coming into friendly communion with the forces of nature. Nobody would gainsay that we are sustained by the powers of nature. The earth upon which we live and the other elements – water, fire, air, ether – are the sources of our physical sustenance. We are, physically speaking at least, a part of nature and controlled by the vicissitudes of nature. Even the seasons affect us in some way. And nature is not merely the five gross physical elements. The solar energy which sustains us and controls the operation of many of the faculties of our personality is also a part of nature. All the wonderful electromagnetic rays which come from far-off space and impinge on our personality without our knowing what is happening to us also come within the purview of nature. So nature is a very comprehensive term which includes everything and all things.
The yoga system is a natural technique, not an unnatural exercise, adopted in an intelligent manner by experts in this line so that we may become so friendly with the forces of nature that we can summon them for our benefit at any moment of time. The forces of nature can be at our beck and call. Nature becomes so friendly with us that it becomes inseparable from our personal life. We need not be afraid of nature. This is what yoga will do for us.
One of the scientific techniques expounded is the system of Patanjali, a great name with which you must all be familiar. There was a great sage called Patanjali who lived during the time of Usha Mitra Sunda, after the time of the Maurya emperors. This great sage Patanjali was a master in every branch of learning. He was an expert physician who was responsible for the compilation of what is known as the Sushruta Samhita, a very great Ayurveda text. He was a masterly expounder of Sanskrit grammar who wrote an immortal commentary on Sanskrit’s grammatical sutras of Panini, known as the Mahabhasya, and he also wrote aphorisms on yoga which are known as the Yoga Sutras. Tradition regards Patanjali to be an incarnation of Mahasesha, the great serpent on which Mahavishnu is said to to be reclining, but here I am not going to divert attention to this subject.
What I mean to say is that the system of yoga propounded by this great master Patanjali considers physical exercises as a part of yoga and a necessary limb of this technique of becoming friendly with the forces of nature. What is the connection between yoga exercises and the forces of nature? Why should we do these exercises at all? What is the benefit? Some of the benefits of the practice of these exercises were already mentioned just now: they are very helpful in maintaining sound health, in toning up the muscles, in keeping the nerves in balance, and in allowing the pranas to flow very harmoniously – in short, to be perfect physically, vitally and in the operation of our sense organs. It is a very good method of keeping perfect health, but it is something more than all this.
The yoga exercises, when they are rightly, scientifically and regularly performed, keep us in health no doubt, but they do something more. They harmonise the constituents of our physical personality in such a way that the forces of nature from outside gradually begin to enter into our personality. At present what happens is the structure of our personality repels the forces of nature. We are ego-centred beings. We have a very powerful self-affirmative urge within us. That so-called “I am, I am such-and-such or so-and-so” feels so strong in every one of us that nature has begun to regard us as foreigners. We do not seem to belong to nature at all because we have asserted a sort of false independence in the regime of nature. It is false because we are a part of nature. The very body that we see with our physical eyes is made up of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether. As these five elements outside are the building bricks of this very physical body, in what way are we independent? And yet we say, “I am so-and-so, you are such-and-such, and I have nothing to do with you,” so that everything is regarded as different from everything else. We have created a division where division is really not.
This is to live an unscientific life, the source of ill health, moral despondency, intellectual torpidity and spiritual fall. This is what is called samsara in Sanskrit. We are caught up in samsara, they say. What is meant by ‘caught up in samsara’? It means you live an artificial life, throughout. You have created a shell for your own self constituted of your ego which is a nothing by itself. What is the ego made of? It is made up of nothing but vanity. Vanity is another name for ego. And what is vanity? It is a peculiar twist that is given to your mind or consciousness, an unwanted, unwarranted twist of consciousness in its association with the body, on account of which it localises itself in the body and asserts its presence only in this body and nowhere else. This is called egoism.
The truth of the whole matter is that nature is spread out everywhere and you are harmoniously connected with it, so what makes you think that you are absolutely independent in every respect and you have nothing to do with anybody or anything else in this world of vast nature before you? If this is your attitude, nature says, “Tit for tat. You regard me as outside you, I shall also regard you as outside me.” As we have asserted independence from nature, nature seems to be asserting an independence from us. What is the consequence? We are the losers because the resources of nature, the bounties and the abundance of nature which are really our own wealth and treasure are not given to us for our use. We are living like beggars, though we are really children of emperors. If a person who is heir apparent to the throne of an emperor forgets his heritage and lives among shepherds or beggars imagining that he is one of them, losing consciousness of his connection with his glorious heritage, what would be his fate? That seems to have been what has happened to us. Yoga rectifies this error of personality.
According to the system of Patanjali, the yoga exercise necessitated by this technique of the art of harmonising oneself with the natural forces is not complicated. The various poses or postures are only preparatory performances in order to establish yourself in a particular posture. It does not mean that you should go on doing all the postures throughout your life if it is possible for you to be settled in a particular posture. Patanjali defines yogic posture in a single aphorism: sthira sukham āsanam (Y.S. 2.46). Asana means yogic physical posture. And how does he define it? Sthira sukham, a very simple definition: That which is easy and comfortable is the yogic posture.
Now, what does Patanjali mean by easy and comfortable? It should be a posture which you need not have to change constantly. If you assume a very complicated and artificial posture, you may not be able to maintain that posture for a long time. You may have to change it. Patanjali does not want you to change it constantly because the purpose of the yoga asana is something else. He expects you to be settled in a posture for a protected period. When you can maintain a particular posture for three hours continuously without changing it, you are said to be established in yoga.
Generally, the yoga practicants assume a seated posture, towards which the other postures are contributory factors. Padmasana, sukhasana, swastikasana, siddhasana, etc., are the usually practised seating postures in yoga. The purpose behind the settled posture is to give such a state of stability and balance of personality that the distraction and disturbance caused by the operation of the ego within is mitigated to a large extent. We are very distracted persons. We think a hundred things in our mind every minute. Our eyes are distracted and want to see so many things. We cannot look at anything continuously for a long time. This is distraction, the incapacity to concentrate the mind. The mind also cannot think one thought continuously due to the distractedness of the personality. Every part of the body is distracted. We are agitated beings, so to say. We live a very artificial life physically, vitally, morally, intellectually – and, of course, spiritually.
This agitation should be put an end to because nature is harmony, not disturbance. Though to our limited vision the performances of nature may appear to be quixotic and unsettled, nature is very scientific and systematic in its operations. You may say, “Where is harmony in nature? Today it rains, tomorrow we do not know whether it will rain or not. Tomorrow there may be a flood, or there may be a drought. One day there is sun, one day there is a wind, and sometimes it rains. How do you call it harmony and system?”
If the government, the central system of administration, transfers an official from one place to another place, keeps that official there for three years, then transfers that official to some other place for five years, then immediately after three days transfers that person to some other place, you cannot say that government is quixotic. It is done with a purpose, a motive, a system, and a central controlling aim which is the harmony of the whole nation. Though to outward vision and perception all this can look very unintelligible and perhaps unsystematic, from the point of view of the whole, or the entire setup of things, you will find that there is a meaning behind it.
You will know the harmony of nature only when you are attuned to nature, not when you are outside nature. When you are outside the purview of a particular setup or external to the field of a particular operation, you cannot know the meaning of that setup or operation. You will know the meaning or significance of a thing only when you are attuned to that thing. As a matter of fact, you cannot understand anything in this world unless you are attuned to that particular thing. When you are an external observer, you will be an inadequate observer. We cannot understand each other if I gaze at you as an outward object, and you look upon me also in the same way.
So, in the settled posture of yoga which Patanjali prescribes as a necessary limb in his technique, what is attempted is that the energies of nature are allowed to flow into the personality, which is possible only when you are not distracted. If you are agitated in any part of your system, nature will not enter your personality because harmony is nature and distraction is your personality. There is no connection between the two.
Harmonisation is the purpose of the asanas. In the Bhagavadgita there is a very beautiful definition of yoga. Samatvaṁ yoga ucyate (Gita 2.48). Bhagavan Sri Krishna says yoga is balance. That is all. He does not say anything else. Harmony is yoga, balance is yoga: samatvaṁ yoga ucyate. Now you can understand what this samatvam or balance is: attunement of personality with the external atmosphere, which includes everything. You must be tuned into whatever you see and everything that you come in contact with in such a way that it ceases to be an external object to you. It becomes a part and parcel of your own functioning atmosphere.
We are not merely physical bodies. We are a field of force. People who have studied advanced physics will know that the body is not exhausted within the walls of this setup that we see physically with our eyes. Also, the body extends a little further from its visible location. There is a radiation of personality, and that radiation is due to the force that is emanating from the cells of the body. Everything in the universe is a field of force. The whole universe may be regarded as a magnetic force centrally situated – a magnetic field, we may say. It is not made up of objects or substances, as you think they are. The universe is not made up of physical objects. It is made up of configurations of force or centres of energy which can be bombarded, broken into pieces, and made one with the cosmic whole.
The physical body, or for the matter of that, any physical object in this world, is a shape or a form taken by a concretised energy centre, like a ripple in the ocean, a wave in the ocean, a drop of the ocean. A particular frequency, a wavelength, we may say, of the force of nature is what is called an object. There are no objects in this world, really speaking. That there are objects in this world is a misnomer. If there are waves in the ocean, there can be objects in the universe, but are there waves in the ocean? Yes and no. There are waves in the ocean because you can see them, but there are no waves in the ocean because the waves are only the ocean. You are only giving names to a certain part of the ocean as waves, ripples, eddies, and so on.
The objects that you see as apparently isolated from one another are not really isolated. They look isolated on account of the incapacity of our mind to gauge the depth of the frequency that is the determining factor of the different objects of the world. If you can set your personality in tune with the frequency of the force of any object in this world, you will become one with that object. That is called intuition – sakshatkara, as it is called. Intuition is that faculty by which we attune ourselves with anything in this world and we know it thoroughly. Knowledge is power. Wherever you have a complete knowledge of things, you also have a complete control over that thing, so all knowledge is all power. If knowledge is power, all knowledge becomes all power. Nobody can be said to have all knowledge unless one is in tune with all nature.
So yoga attempts the difficult art and technique of knowing all of nature so that one can be master of all nature. How can you have knowledge of the entirety of nature? By tuning yourself with it. The first step is yoga exercise. There are 84 posture of hatha yoga, and some people say there are thousands. All these postures, sirsasana, sarvangasana, matsyasana, and so on, are preparatory performances, as I mentioned already, toward settling yourself in a particular posture for the higher purpose of attuning yourself to the entire atmosphere, which means to people as well as to inorganic nature. In this posture of settledness – sthira sukham āsanam, as Patanjali puts it – you become almost insensible to the very presence of your body. You can do this yourself and see. I do not expect you to sit for three hours continuously, as it is very difficult. Sit in one posture, whichever posture is convenient to you, for half an hour continuously. Close your eyes. You may not be able to think anything or meditate upon anything. Well, don’t bother about it. Merely sit for half an hour continuously without moving your limbs. Lock your fingers, and see the difference it makes. You will not even know that the body exists. It will feel as if the body is slowly evaporating, melting. It is not really melting, but it will feel as if it is evaporating and becoming one with the ether outside.
Then what happens? The internal constituents of our personality also get settled in a stabilised state. The pranas begin to move very harmoniously. Pranayama is the system by which you harmonise the flow of the breath because everything in the body is connected with everything else. The cells of the body are connected to the muscles, the muscles are connected to the nerves, the nerves are connected to the pranas, the pranas are connected to the mind, the mind is connected to the intellect, and the intellect, of course, is everything. Without intellect, what is a human being? So if all these faculties are harmonised, you become powerful. You assume a strength, an indefatigability by which you can turn out more work than an ordinary person would be able to do.
So Bhagavan Sri Krishna adds another definition in the Bhagavadgita. He does not merely say samatvaṁ yoga ucyate. He also says yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam (Gita 2.50): Adroitness or expertness in action is called yoga. That follows from the balance which is yoga. When you are balanced or harmonised, you also become expert in action, and expert in every kind of action, not merely a particular given type of action. A yogi is an expert in every line of activity. Our Master Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was very fond of saying that a yogi is the best sweeper. If you give him the work of sweeping, he will sweep better than any other sweeper. If he washes a vessel, he will clean it better than any cook or servant. If he is a clerk, he will be a better clerk than anybody else because whatever he does will be done with the wholeness of his being. That is the secret why he is so expert. Nobody can work by dedicating the entirety of one’s being to that work. There is only a partial dedication in every one of our functions, and a part of our personality is somewhere else. We are thinking of the home, or parents, or professions, or bank balance, or illness, and so on. The entire personality cannot be dedicated in any line. Only a yogi can do that. When he sees something, the whole being is seeing it. When he is thinking something, the total being is thinking that. Even the smallest work of a yogi is a total work, and therefore, it is a perfect work. So perfection is yoga, expertness in action is yoga, balance is yoga.
Now I am telling you what yoga is. It is quite different from what the immatures in yoga appear to make it in the eyes of people. It is not anything mystical, secret or otherworldly; it is a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact technique. It is the art of living life. It is the art of living your life just here and now. In your kitchen, yoga will tell you how to cook food in a beautiful manner. Yoga will tell you how to keep your bathroom very clean. You will be wondering what this yoga is. Everything is yoga. Whatever you do is yoga, provided it is done in a perfect manner. And perfection is something unthinkable for ordinary human beings because no human being can be perfect because of the egoism, because of the dissociation of personality from nature. As only the totality of nature can be perfect, so only one who is in tune with nature can be perfect; therefore, no human being can be perfect. But yoga is perfection.
From the position of settledness in posture the yoga technique takes you higher up to settledness in the pranas, the senses and the mind. It is not enough if you are merely seated in one posture and the mind is wandering in a hundred directions. That will not do you much good. Though to sit in one posture is good enough, that is not all that is expected of you. Everything that you are should be settled, and you are not merely the body. You are the body, you are the muscles, you are the nerves, you are the senses, you are the mind, you are the intellect, you are the spirit, and all these have to be settled. That is yoga, and it can be done by gradual stages.
There are eight limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi. These eight limbs are graduated steps of harmonising, settling, balancing the different degrees of your personality. Through asana you harmonise the physical personality. Through pranayama you harmonise the vital energy or the vital force inside. Pranayama is not merely the breath; it is something subtler than that. Through pratyahara you harmonise the operation of the senses – the eyes, ears, nose, etc. The senses are very distracting faculties. They are not harmonised, they are not united. By the pratyahara technique you can unite the senses and bring them into a single focus. All the five senses can work together in yoga, but ordinarily when you are seeing something, the ear is not hearing, and when you are hearing something, the eye is not seeing. This is our fate.
But yoga is not that. All the five senses will work intensely, to perfection, and you will be seeing and hearing and smelling and touching and tasting everything simultaneously. A yogi can do many things at one time. He can be signing an important paper, he can be listening to a complaint from a person, he can be thinking of the aim of life, and also be aware of what is happening around him. It is all very difficult, but a good administrator should be like that. He must be aware of what is happening around him, he must be able to see what is in front of him, and he must be able to think what is ahead of him, and this can be achieved only by a powerful technique of self-control and self-discipline.
So while asanas perfect the physical system, the muscles and the nerves, pranayama disciplines the breath and the vital energy inside. The vital force is of such a great importance to us that we cannot afford to lose it, misuse it, or dissipate it in any manner. In yoga there is a particular discipline called brahmacharya, a word which everybody must have heard but about which everyone must be afraid because people have a very funny notion about these things. These wrong notions have to be removed. When you know what brahmacharya is and why it is necessary, then you will be surprised at the importance of it and the role it plays in your practical life.
The term brahmacharya is the vital spot in the practice of yoga in the initial stages because, as I mentioned, the mind, the nerves, the muscles, and the body are all internally connected. When the mind thinks of an object, it draws the energy of the system and throws it upon that object. This is the psychological or philosophical meaning behind telepathic communication and distant healing, etc., about which you must have heard. People can influence persons at a distance by thought, and heal a person who is sick merely by thinking deeply, even if the person is in London. How does it happen? How does it become possible for you to heal a person in London while you are seated here?
The reason is, when the mind is deeply thinking any object, the energy of the system is drawn out of the personality and forced upon that object. “What about the distance?” you may ask me. London is so many thousands of miles away from here. Can our energy travel so many thousands of miles? There is no distance in nature. This also is to be kept in mind. There is no such thing as distance for nature. Electrical force has no distance. There is a vital organic connection of all things in nature. There is some distance between our head and our foot, but how much time does a message take to reach our head of an event that is taking place in our toe? It is instantaneous. If a doctor gives an injection in the toe, the whole personality feels it. It does not take time to pervade the body. The organic connectedness of the system is such that distance is completely obviated.
Likewise, nature has no distance. There appears to be physical distance on account of our separation from nature. In yoga techniques, and meditations especially, the question of distance completely gets removed, and you become one with things the moment you begin to think of them. When the mind thinks of an object, as I mentioned, the energy of the body is directed towards that object. If that object happens to be outside you, then your energy goes from your body to that external object. Brahmacharya means the conservation of the energy of the body, not allowing it to move outside the body, and converting the energy into psychic energy. Physical energy gets converted into psychic force. Otherwise, psychic energy can get converted into physical force and then it gets depleted through physical activity, and so on. In yoga, energy is not lost, it is conserved.
Another definition of yoga is the conservation of energy by the practice of the physical postures. By pranayama, by pratyahara, control of the senses, and dharana, or concentration of mind, the energy of the system is conserved, and you become doubly powerful. You can get such physical strength that with one hit you may break this table. Our scriptures describe astonishing powers of yoga which are unthinkable. For ordinary human beings, they are simply marvels. What you now call miracles become natural events taking place when your personality is attuned to nature. There is no such thing as miracles. When you do not understand a thing, you call it a miracle. If you know it though, it is natural. How does a plane fly? It looks like a great miracle indeed, but when you know the science of it, you understand how it flies. We see any unintelligibility as a miracle. But nature is a systematic organised setup of function so that there is nothing erratic in it, nothing chaotic. As we sometimes say, we are in a universe, and not in a chaos. Chaos is different from universe. The universe is harmony. The very word ‘universe’ implies a harmonised, systematised organisation of functions, and we are in it, inseparably related to it. So every one of our activities, every thought, every function of ours, should be in harmony with everything that is outside. This is the way by which we become true citizens, not only of a single nation or a country but of the world as a whole.
The Bhagavadgita is, no doubt, a very good companion to the system of Patanjali. Generally, the Bhagavadgita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are read together. They supplement each other. They give you the science of internal self-control and outward harmony, harmony in activity outside and harmony in thought and feelings within. Inwardly and outwardly you become so attuned to a single aim, which is the aim of the universe in the end, that you become perfectly normal beings. You are the same everywhere at all times, and in respect of all people. You do not have double personality or triple personality or various types of behaviour in respect of different persons and under different circumstances. You have a uniform nature, like electricity. Electricity works everywhere in the same way. Though it operates through different media in different manners, the system is the same, the law is the same, and the science is the same. Likewise, when you become a yogi, you do not become a sannyasin, as you may wrongly imagine. When you become a yogi, you do not become a recluse. When you become a yogi, you do not become a mystic or an out-of-the-world person. You become a thoroughgoing scientific person, logical in every respect, and capable of being subjected to the investigations of intelligence throughout.
Such is the magnificent science of yoga which begins with the asanas, of course, but it does not end with the asanas. As a matter of fact, the physical exercises called the asanas are only the kindergarten stage of yoga. They are only for babies. No doubt it is an essential stage, as kindergarten is also an essential stage, but that is not the entirety of education. Yoga education is far more comprehensive than one can imagine. It makes you a complete being, a perfected person, and happy wherever you are, under every circumstance. The purpose of yoga is to make you happy ultimately, to remove sorrow from your life. You will never grieve, you will never weep, you will never complain. You will not speak a word against anything in this world afterwards. Everything will look beautiful, everything will start smiling at you, and nature will be an object of beauty and attraction and worship and adoration, as the face of the Creator Himself. You will become a veritable representative of perfection, and yoga aims at this perfection. Yoga is not a religion, it is the art and science of perfection which is applicable to all humanity.
This is such a vast subject that it will take you years to study, understand and practice. Perhaps it takes the entire life of a person, or many lives. Manuṣyāṇāṁ sahasreṣu kaścid yatati siddhaye, yatatām api siddhānāṁ kaścin māṁ vetti tattvataḥ (Gita 7.3): The consciousness of their being such a thing as universal perfection arises in the mind of a human being after millions of births. Otherwise, we live like pigs, like animals with no consciousness of a higher purpose. They live from moment to moment. We have passed through various stages of evolution – from matter to plant, from plant to animal. It is said that we have passed through 84 lakhs of species of births before becoming human beings. And even among human beings, there are many varieties. Everyone is not the same. Some people walk with two legs but live like animals, like brutes, like cannibals. Above the animal man there is the selfish man. He is not a cannibal; he will not eat you, but he is highly selfish and is concerned only with his own physical satisfaction. Higher than that is the man who does good when he is done good but does bad when he is done bad, who does tit for tat. Then still higher is the good person who always does good. Even if a bad turn is done to him, he will do only good. Higher than that is the saintly person. Still higher is the God man, and it is very difficult to see such people. Thus, even among human beings there are varieties.
To come to an awareness of having such a great ideal before us is a great achievement indeed. Jijñāsur api yogasya śabda-brahmātivartate (Gita. 6.44) says the Bhagavadgita: Even to aspire to know yoga is a tremendous achievement. You need not practise it, or achieve anything. Even to aspire to know it, even to believe that there is such a thing as that, having that as your aim, is a tremendous achievement indeed. Therefore, there is a great solace and comfort given to us by Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgita that even when you honestly feel a necessity to become perfect, God’s grace has already descended upon you.