The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: The Need for Real Self-Analysis

Our learning and our wisdom have not helped us very much. It is something we learn too late in our lives. When we are young, we are very enthusiastic and bubbling with feelings of hope and positivity of achievement, all of which begin to show a tendency to turn into dust when our hair becomes gray and the world begins to present a picture of disillusionment, as if we have lived for no purpose. This psychological state through which all have passed, right from prehistoric times, is very, very unfortunate; and it may appear that no one has escaped this predicament.

Our life is not physical or social, though it appears to be such. Our life is mainly psychological. We may be politically important persons, socially very busy people, and individuals of importance and respectability, all which are a camouflage of what we are inside because the outer activities and relationships, whatever be the name that we give to them, are the efforts of what we really are within ourselves.

Our search for whatever be the aim of our life, and our joys and sorrows, are neither physical features nor social or political phenomena. Our joys and sorrows and are not political and social; they are purely personal, inward, psychological. They are projected outside, and they become problems and matters for consideration—politically, socially, and so on.

We have heard it said, perhaps one thousand times, that it is essential to know one’s own self. This has become a sort of shibboleth which has lost all its meaning. Everyone knows this old, old saying, from the Oracle of Delphi right down to the present day: One has to know oneself. The number of times that we have heard it is such that, actually, this oracle has no sense for us. A thing with which we are too familiar loses its significance to some extent.

Thus, we seem to be aware as to what is our objective, but this awareness is not adequate to the purpose. We are in a muddle of thinking and, oftentimes, we find ourselves dashed by strong waves and currents of emotions, moods of depression and elation, like a person sinking into the ocean and rising up to show his head for a few moments only to sink down again in utter desperation. There is something very peculiar about all of us, and this peculiarity is what keeps us moving and getting on in life—and yet, we are terribly dislocated within ourselves. Do we not think that we all have so little time to be our own selves that we are practically not our own selves, that we are somebody else?

This is a peculiar trick the world is playing with us so that we may be defeated in our aims; and those who have left this world have been people who have been completely thrown out of gear. History stands as a great demonstration before us of human defeat and of the inscrutable circumstance into which one feels he is thrown at the last moment of time. Present-day life, especially, is an utter travesty—psychologically, and in every blessed way—because our minds are drawn outside and are urged externally to things which pull us with such vehemence that we live not in ourselves, but in something else.

We are terribly conscious of other things, and there is a total oblivion of the fact that we also exist in this world. This is a difficult thing to understand, notwithstanding the fact that we cannot forget our existence. It would be meaningless to say that one can forget one’s own self. We are all here, and we know that we are here; how can we forget that we are here? But, nevertheless, the objectivity of the mind and the impulse of the psyche towards external affairs is so uncontrollable, morbidly vehement and impetuous that we seem to be ashamed to be conscious of our own selves and feel proud of being conscious of other people and the affairs of life.

The more we are immersed in the affairs of life, the more important we appear to be. The greatest men in the world are those who are conscious, totally, of what is outside them, imbued in the affairs of political existence and social problems. We have social workers and political geniuses trying to attack each other with weapons of warfare, in order to make themselves very prominent. Our prominence increases, like the rise in a thermometer, in proportion to the extent that we are immersed in what is totally outside us.

This is the reason why it is said that this is a world of death. ‘Mrityurloka’ is a word that is common in India. This world is called Mrityurloka, the world of death, and not the world of life. Nobody lives in oneself; and what can be worse than not being able to live in one’s own self? The fact that we are forced by circumstances to live in that which is not our own selves is the proof of this world being a world of death, and not of life. Here is the foundation of our sorrows, the root of our difficulties, and the impossibility to get out of the clutches of this condition which refuses to be understood by anyone. The grip that the world has upon our minds is so strong, like a crocodile’s grip, that we are not permitted even to think. Even the mind is caught.

When I say that the person is involved in the affairs of that which he is not, I do not mean that only our bodies are involved. Everything that we are is totally caught hold of—our reason, our will, our feeling, our emotion, even our values of life—so that we value life in terms of what we are conscious of outwardly, and not in terms of what we are inwardly. A rich man is a valuable man, a powerful person is a valuable person, and a name that appears in the headlines of newspapers is very prominent. An unknown person, living in a corner of the world, is not so worthwhile. Hence, the quantum of external involvement has become the thermometer for reading the greatness and value of a person, and of anything else in this world.

This is a serious subject in psychological studies. I began by saying that we are minds more than bodies, and all our involvements are inwardly oriented though the involvement appears to be wholly external. It is essential for each one of us to find a little time to discover the manner in which the mind is operating. This is not an easy affair, because we are not separable from the mind. A policeman who has become involved with a gang of dacoits becomes a dacoit himself and, therefore, there is no question of discovering the dacoity or the activities of these people.

How can we observe the method, the modus operandi of our minds when we, ourselves, are the mind? Who is going to study the mind, as if we are standing outside the mind and looking at it through a microscope? We can imagine where we are standing. To some extent, we can know why it is that we are so very grieved inwardly in a manner we ourselves cannot express outwardly in any language. Our sorrows are our private property which nobody can look into, and which we cannot explain, express or state in any adequate language. The privacy of our sorrows and problems is so intense that it defies illustration, explanation and description—logically, or in any language. Anything that is purely personal defies description, and we are, therefore, in an indescribable predicament of involvement. It is like an awfully sick person not knowing what sort of sickness he is involved in.

Swami Sivananda, the great saint and sage who was the seed of The Divine Life Society, was one of the many stalwarts who became conscious of this peculiar structure of the world. I do not say he was the only person to achieve this consciousness; there were many like him, but he was one among the many incomparable geniuses who plumbed the depths of this problem of man: Who is man himself? The problem of man is man; it is not somebody else. So, we are our own problem, not anybody else.

This requires tremendous patience, as would be required by a physician who is treating a very complicated illness. It may require days and days of diagnosis. Complicated diseases require an all-round consideration, and cannot just suddenly become objects of prescription, of treatment. We are not involved in a linear fashion. We are involved in a circular, zigzag and abysmal way, so that a straight-line approach is not the way of studying the human mind. It is clear like a mirror that is shining before us.

There has not been one person who could give a universal prescription for this difficulty because, while the difficulty is common in its generality, it is personal and has its own details specific to an individual. We all have a common problem as human beings in this world; this, of course, is true. But each one of us has, also, a peculiar personal problem which is not common to all of us. So we have to be treated from two different angles of vision, two standpoints altogether: the general aspect of it, and also the special aspect of it. Our condition is really awful because we are attacked from two sides: on one side by problems which are generally common to all human beings, and on the other side by problems which are privately inherited by us through our race, through our species—one may say, by our karmas.

There is, according to modern psychoanalysts, a personal unconscious and, also, a species unconscious. This is the reason why we think only as human beings; we cannot think like snakes, scorpions, or in any fashion other than human. Is it a great wisdom to be able to think only in terms of human beings, to evaluate things only from a human point of view, and to be overly anxious about the welfare of human beings while not bothering at all about anything else in the world, though we know very well that our life is decided by factors most of which are superhuman?

The breath that we breathe, for instance, to take a very gross example, is not under our control. It is not a purely human affair. Even our heartbeat is not under our control. These are things which are important enough, and yet, of which we are totally ignorant and about which we wish to think nothing. We will be terrified out of our wits if we begin to probe into the mystery of even the heartbeat—which is our master, and not our servant. We take for granted things which are most important, and busy ourselves with things which are silly and secondary.

The outlook of life with which we, as human beings, are concerned at present is the projection of our secondary characters, whereas the primary characters are deeply rooted within us and do not actually come to the surface. This is to explain in another way what psychology has spoken of as the conscious level—as distinguished from the very depth of humanity and human nature, which will not come to the surface as it is not necessary for it to come to the surface.

There is a fourfold level of our being, says the Mandukya Upanishad. This declaration was made years and years before the first psychologist was born. Modern psychology classifies our personality into what is called the conscious and the preconscious—or, sometimes, the subconscious and the unconscious. The Mandukya Upanishad tells us that there is a super-conscious condition—which should not be regarded as a condition, but as the True Being of ours—which billows up into the personality that we are, passing through a thick cloud of darkness which is called the unconscious, and conditioning our present conscious activities. There is a depth within us which is all light, brilliance and perfection. But, when it becomes the conscious personality that we are now, it has to pass through a cloud—the cloud of unknowing, as mystics sometimes call it.

When the great perfection that we are at the root of our being passes through this distracted thick cloud of unknowing, we can imagine what sort of consciousness we are able to operate with in our waking life. It is a totally distorted consciousness. It is not even like the rays of the sun trying to peek through the thick clouds. It is something worse than that, because this cloud which covers the unconscious totally miscalculates, misinterprets, misconstrues and wrongly projects the direction of this rootedness of our being in our conscious level, so that we are now behaving in a way totally contrary to what we really are at our base. We are our own enemies, in a literal sense.

How is this possible? How could it have happened? The loss of self and the gaining of the world has been referred to in a pithy passage by Jesus Christ in his great statement: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul?” This is not merely a gospel; this is exactly the condition in which we are today. We have the whole world with us. All the dollars and the pounds are under our control. Yes, this is very grand indeed. It may be that the whole earth is our property. We have gained the whole world, but we have lost ourselves.

This immersion of what we really are in what we are not is what is called the affairs of the world. The whole panorama of the drama of existence in this world—the whole history of mankind—is the story of the antics which human nature plays by running out of itself and becoming what it is not. Only a very careful, investigative mind will be able to understand what it means to get involved in what one is not; a lay mind will not know the implications of it. This is called death. Though physically we are not dead, psychologically we are corpses; and, literally, it is so. We are living a life of psychological death and spiritual annihilation while physically we are alive. Thus, death masquerades as life.

Those who have read the pronouncements of great thinkers made under the pressure of a lofty desperation of life due to their insight into the nature of things will be able to appreciate the meaning of what I am trying to place before you. The joys of life are the projections of human ignorance. As Patanjali, a great sage in India, told us, to the truly discerning individual, all the pleasures of life are forms of utter pain and sorrow. We are mistaking sorrow for delight. This is what Buddha said in the East and Schopenhauer said in the West. They all say the same thing, but these things will not enter our brains because in a very, very specialised sense, we are abnormal individuals. Though we may not be maniacs in the sense of patients intended for a mental hospital, in a highly metaphysical sense we are all abnormal. Pitva mohamayim pramadamadiram unmatte bhutam jagat: Having drunk the liquor of delusion, the whole world has gone mad. This is what Bhartrihari, a great genius not only of poetry but of philosophy, declared centuries back.

It is sometimes said that philosophy begins with the discovery of the sorrows of life. Dissatisfaction with the surface view of things is regarded as the mother of philosophy. If we are satisfied with the world, there is nothing for us to learn. [Addressed to the students.] Every one of you has a dissatisfaction—else, you would not have taken the trouble of purchasing a ticket and coming here to this jungle where you will see practically nothing which is satisfying or delighting to you.

We are seated here, therefore, to conduct a sort of self-analysis—which is a very intriguing term—because there is a need for self-analysis in medical parlance, in statesmanship and political governance, and in every walk of life. Even in conducting a good business, we may have to know what real self-analysis means.

The study of man is regarded as the highest of the sciences of life because, as I mentioned at the very outset, all the wide world that we see in front of us is a fabric or a web that we have cast around ourselves, and we are moving in an atmosphere created by our own selves, calling it the world of experience. The world of joys and sorrows is not the physical world of mountains and rivers. The mountains were there, and the sun and the moon were shining even before we were born into this world. They do not cause us any trouble. There is another kind of world in which we are living, which is invisible to the eyes —and the invisible man is the dangerous man. The visible man is perfectly all right. He is a geographical individual. We do not differ much among ourselves anatomically and physiologically, but each one is a world by himself or herself; that is the invisible definition of what we are.

We are engaged in a very serious theme, of which even the world may be afraid; and it is not for nothing that adepts on the path of yoga have warned us that when we probe into these mysteries, the sleeping dogs of life will wake up and will start barking at us, and then it is that we will find ourselves in hot water. The forces of nature get awakened when we begin to investigate into them—like the roots of a disease which are dug up and brought to the surface—especially by systems which study man as a whole and not as a part.

In the beginning, when we move in the direction of these studies, it may appear to be frightening because all discipline is unpleasant in the beginning. The word ‘discipline’ is frightening; nobody likes it, because we have a feeling that discipline is a force exerted upon us by that which is not pleasant to us. We cannot be happy with the presence of others. We love ourselves more than we love anything else, though from another point of view we are totally involved only in other people. We are broken individuals, not wholes as we appear—broken because on one side we cannot honestly love anything except our own selves and, on the other side, we seem to be conscious only of other people and other things and are thus totally involved in the affairs of what we are not, as I have mentioned already.

This is a double game that we are playing. Due to the split of our personalities we are, therefore, half ourselves and half somebody else. This is perhaps the reason why the novelist had a good theme to write on—what he called the personalities of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both are present within us. We are only half in ourselves; the other half has gone to the other world. Sometimes a major part of us goes to the other world and very little is left in our own selves. Then it is that we become delinquents, atrocious individuals, criminals and tyrants whose only intention is to destroy rather than to construct. It depends upon the extent to which we are psychologically alienated.

The percentage of this alienation differs from individual to individual, but whatever be the percentage of this alienation, it is there in everyone. And the purpose of yoga is to bring a right-about turn of these alienating forces in us, to turn them towards their centre which we are, so that we become whole beings. Yoga is, therefore, a science of health in a very, very real sense of the term.

Health does not mean merely a perfect working of the physiological organs, because we know very well that human nature is not merely flesh and bones or the anatomical system. The health of the individual is not the health of muscles, bones and nerves; it is the total integration. This theme will take us into deep waters because the art of the integration of the self—which is yoga precisely—is, at the same time, the necessity to take into consideration all the things in which our personality is involved. The whole world, itself, becomes an object of study when we begin to study ourselves. Such complicated persons we are. We are not individuals seated in a room here; we are little switch-bolts of activities that are taking place in the whole of creation. This is why we are indefinitely striving for the infinite possession of inscrutable perfection in our life. Though we look like small boys and girls here, almost like nothings in the eyes of the public, such a mystery is before us; and we have to clean our minds of all the cobwebs of involvements and entanglements, for the time being at least, and keep ourselves thoroughly de-conditioned.

Do not have prejudiced ideas and conditioned ideologies. Do not come with the idea that you already know certain things and therefore there is very little to learn. Let there be a clean approach to the studies that you are about to undertake, as if you are born just now, like small babies, into this new world, and you have completely brushed aside your past lives. Otherwise, the old memories will come and harass you again and again, and they will be impediments to an impartial study of your own selves.

You should not enter into discussion of this theme with prejudice in your minds. You should not take for granted certain conclusions in regard to what you are going to study. It should be totally dispassionate. Hence, great leisure is essential. Your whole being has to be dedicated to this study, without tentacles connecting you with problems which are extraneous to the task on hand.

So, let your whole being be here. You know very well, success in any adventurous project in life is proportional to the percentage of the wholeness of your being involved in it. If you are wholly engaged in some task, there is a greater chance of your succeeding in the fulfilment of the task than when you are partially involved in it. Your interest in it should be whole, and then there is certainly a bright future for every one of you. God bless you!