The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: The Mystery of Moksha

God is Being; and the practice of yoga becomes relevant to God-being to the extent that it participates in Being, and does not continue to be merely a kind of activity on the part of the individual which is a process, a becoming rather than a being. This is a single sentence which explains the nature, as well as the difficulty, of yoga practice. All reality is being; and anything is real in proportion to its participation in being.

The human being is supposed to be, also, a being. We always say human being; we do not say human becoming. But, is man a being, or a becoming? The whole of the philosophy of Buddha, and of Heraclitus in Greece, and certain other thinkers of this kind has been that there is no being, anywhere; everything is becoming. “The whole world is fire,” said Heraclitus. “The whole universe is becoming,” said Buddha. If this is true, there is no human being. There is only a becoming, which looks like being.

It stands to reason, because we seem to be growing, moving, undergoing transformation—born, and then die. Every part of our body changes. There is metabolic activity in the system. What is being, here? There is no being; not one atom is existing, but acting. Every electron is moving, every molecule is moving, every cell is moving. Every planet is moving, and everything that constitutes an organism or a body moves with a tremendous velocity, for a purpose no one knows.

This is a world of becoming. “It is phenomenon, not noumenon,” said Immanuel Kant, Buddha, and others. We are living in phenomena, and not in noumena. The thing-in-itself is out of the reach of human perception, which means to say that human perception is not relevant to being as such. It is, also, involved in a process called becoming. This is something very strange indeed that there is nothing real anywhere if reality is to be defined as that which is, and not that which is yet to be.

We are reminded here of the old saying that man never is, but he is always to be. This is why no man can be happy. No man is contented, because if we are, and we are not to be, there cannot be a desire for anything. Every desire, ambition, expectation, restlessness, and sense of inadequacy and finitude is an acceptance of the fact that we are not being, but only becoming. Being is stability, rootedness, fixity, completeness, self-sufficiency; and no desire can be associated with such a thing. We are not characterised by these attributes. We are restless every moment, asking for something or other, and are never satisfied with all that the world gives us. Man is becoming. It is human becoming, not human being.

This is the reason why everything evolves or devolves. There is involution and evolution. Transiency is the character of the cosmos, which means to say it is the character of everything that is in the cosmos—including man, and even inanimate matter. Everything is a conflagration. This is the language of Heraclitus. The whole universe is a conflagration of fire, because fire is not a being, it is a movement. So, the universe is a movement, man is a movement. Everything is a movement; and nothing that is moving can be called a reality in itself, because movement is a tendency to restlessness and a lack of adequacy in oneself. Who among us can be said to be adequate? All our endeavours, projects, enterprises and adventures in life are indications of inadequacies in our lives. Everything that we think, feel and do is an expression of our lack, want, finitude, inadequacy. Yoga is the attempt, the art, of union with Reality—with Being as such.

There is such a thing called Supreme Being, a term we hear oftentimes. It is called Supreme in contradistinction with the apparent being that we also appear to be. We never regard ourselves as becomings; we are beings, only. I am, you are, this is, that is, the building is, the world is. We never say the building becomes, this becomes, that becomes, I become, you become. Such words are never uttered. We are somehow or other made to believe that we are living in a world of being rather than a world of becoming, notwithstanding the fact that there is no adequate proof to show that this is a world of being. There is an irrational conviction within ourselves that it is being, though rationality shows that it is becoming. Again I come to the old, old point that we do not seem to be as rational as we appear to be on the surface. There is a basic irrationality within us which argues in its own way, refuting every rational argument, because we cannot prove rationally that we are being, for reasons already mentioned.

But rationality goes to the dogs where instinct is supreme. Where desire is rampant, passion is strong and instinct preponderates, the intellect does not operate and philosophy goes into a limbo. Hence, we are not living philosophy; rather, we are living instinct, a type of irrationality which looks like rationality on account of a peculiar phenomenon operating within ourselves.

The language of Vedanta calls this phenomenon adhyasa, or superimposition—the foisting of characteristics on something which actually do not belong to it. When we begin to see characteristics in a thing which are really not there, we call this circumstance a superimposition—a rope looking like a snake, a post looking like a man, a cloud looking like a city, a mirage looking like water, the horizon appearing as if it is touching the earth. These are all illusions, but they do not look like illusions. When they are seen, they appear real.

This is the predicament of human nature. We seem to be satisfied, somehow, with our lives, though there is every proof that we are never satisfied with anything in this world. Yet, we wish to live a long life, as many years as possible. In this world of death and transformation, we live a long, long life, only to suffer for years and years. No one would like to live a long, long life in a world of becoming, destruction, transformation and sorrow; but, we have a desire to live in this world. It is a shock to hear that we have to leave this world in spite of the fact that no one can be happy in this world. What a mystery! Have you seen one person in this world who is one hundred percent contented with everything in the world—anyone ever, since the beginning of human history? Yet, how is it that we are forced to long for an endless life in this very world of inscrutable mysteries? This is adhyasa, superimposition of characteristics upon ourselves and the world which really do not belong to the world.

There is a being which is other than becoming. The fact that everything is becoming is, also, a demonstration that there is something other than becoming. If everything is phenomenon, there has to be a noumenon. The changeful character of the world is an indication that it is not all change. There must be something other than change, otherwise no one would know that there is change. If the knowledge of the fact of everything being changeful is also changeful, then the person who makes this statement is cutting the ground from under his own feet. He has no place to stand. Hence, there is a Being which is other than the apparent ‘being’ of things which have a borrowed being—borrowed, because of the fact that the becoming process of the world itself appears to be a ‘being’ on account of the characteristics of Being transferred to it, as characteristics of a snake are transferred to a rope and vice versa.

The art of yoga, the science of meditation, is the endeavour on the part of that peculiarity in human nature which participates in true being and can dissociate itself from becoming, so that this apparent being that man is can enter into true being, which is Supreme Being. It is called God-realisation, attainment of moksha, salvation, Nirvana, Brahman, entering into the bosom of the Absolute, salvation of the spirit, reaching God—all these things mean our entering into the state of true Being, where becoming is naught. For this purpose, that which participates in the true Being within us has to work actively. And, our human phenomenal nature is not adequate for this purpose.

Again we come to that old, old point that meditation does not mean thinking through the mind or doing anything through the body, because both the body and the mind are parts of phenomenon, and phenomenon cannot reach noumenon. Only the noumenon can know the noumenon; God knows God. It is being that participates in being, not becoming one with being. The empirical characteristics in us have to be transcended by the effort of a non-empirical substance within us—the presence of which is the reason why we are conscious that we are finite and restless, and the longing for this thing and that thing.

The longings of man are indications enough of the fact that he is Being, essentially, though he appears to be becoming, outwardly. We belong to two worlds at the same time—the world of phenomena and the world of noumena. We are empirical; we are, also, transcendent. We are in this world; also, we are not in this world. Because of the fact that a part of our being, or nature, is in this world, we are subject to the transformations and the griefs that are concomitant with this phenomenal existence. But, inasmuch as we are not entirely engulfed in phenomenal becoming, there is, also, a transcendent spark within ourselves. We think of such things as infinitude, eternity, immortality, salvation, and perfection.

The root within us is Being; the crust of us is becoming. We have the five koshas: annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya—the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the causal sheaths—the gross body, the subtle body, the causal body. All these investitures belong to the phenomenal realm because they are subject to change and destruction. Birth and death are not of Being, but of becoming. Actually, there is no birth and death. It is only a name that we give to certain events that take place in the series of becomings. Just as we say that we are going to sleep and we are waking up from sleep, yet we maintain a continuity of personality in spite of our having lost the consciousness of existence itself in the state of deep sleep, there is no birth and death, finally. It is a continuous movement. The cessation of the existence of the individual, which we regard as death, and the coming into being of the individual, which we call birth, is an interpretation on the part of the phenomenal intelligence of man of certain abstracted forms or features of this becoming, not being conscious of the whole process.

Look at the Ganga River flowing in front of us. We cannot see the Ganga beyond Luxman Jhula, nor can we see the Ganga after Rishikesh. We do not know from where it is coming and, also, we do not know where it is going. Only a little bit of Ganga is visible here in Muni-ki-reti. This is our little life. Similarly, we do not know from where we came and, also, we do not know where we go, because our perceptions are not profound enough to fathom the depths of the beginnings of things and the ends of things. We see only the little bit that is in front of us. The whole process is a universal cycle. We are involved in a cosmic movement, and it is not that only I die and I am born, and you die and you are born, individually, independently, isolatedly, without any connection with others. It is a total transformation taking place everywhere, like the growth of the human body, where it is not that only one cell is being born and one cell is dying. The entire growth is there, like the growth of a tree into hard timber. But, human beings are individually localised, tied up to body-consciousness and, therefore, are conscious only of the little phenomenon that is going to take place within the body. The entire linkage of this body, or personality, with other personalities is not the object of individual consciousness.

It is not true that only one person is born and one person dies, to the dissociation of oneself from everybody else. Everything changes every time, and everything is known to everything else. There is an interrelatedness of things. Every event, when it is born, is known to every other event in the world. The birth of every event is an impact communicated to every other event in the whole cosmos. Therefore, there is no such thing as individual birth. All birth is cosmic, and all death, also, is cosmic, but it appears as an individual coming and an individual going on account of the intense egoism of personality which abstracts certain features of experience into its own localised existence called the body, and segregates everything else —like the colour that we see in objects. Objects have no colour, really speaking. The leaf is not green; the rose is not red. The colour of things is only that particular feature which that particular structure of the object is able to abstract from sunlight; and, it is the abstracting character of the object that is responsible for the particular reflection of the colour. Otherwise, no one knows the colour of any object.

So is everything in this world. The locality of an object, or the stability of a thing, is an abstracted perception on the part of the individualised consciousness wrenched out of the whole; and so, it appears as if everyone has an individual existence of one’s own, while that is not true. There is a total movement—a total coming, and a total going. Everybody is in the same boat in the cosmos. We are participants in a single family of the universe, and no one is independent. Hence, there is no single suffering, no single enjoying, no single birth, no single salvation —no individual matter, whatsoever. But our minds are not able to understand this because the mind is only a handmade tool. The operation of this body is tied up to the ego-consciousness so intensely that we cannot see anything outside the body. We have to free ourselves from this entanglement by great effort, if our yoga is to be successful.

Yoga is a cosmic outlook. It is a universal activity. It is not my thinking something or your thinking something. Meditation is not some little, private adventure of ours in a corner of the room, but it is a cosmic endeavour in which we begin to connect ourselves with the forces that are in the universal environment. That is why oppositions and difficulties rise up, as if we are waking up sleeping dogs. The whole world begins to be aware that we are meditating.

The lower nature, which has a centrifugal tendency, resents any kind of attempt on the part of anyone to meditate in a centripetal fashion. This is a mystery, again. We cannot understand how things work and why things should work in this manner. There seems to be two types of nature, the higher and the lower. The Bhagavadgita makes reference to para prakriti and apara prakriti,the higher nature and the lower nature—the higher one pulling us to the centre and the lower one repelling us from the centre.

Meditation is the effort of our consciousness to move toward the centre of the universe, while there is something in us vehemently working to move away from the centre to the periphery. All desire, ambition, passion, anger, greed is the centrifugal tendency in us operating as a counterbolt against the tendency to move centripetally to the centre. In yoga, we are moving against the current of the lower nature.

All forces are impersonal, finally; they are neither good nor bad—like electric energy. We cannot say whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. Fire, water—the five elements—have no ethical or moral characteristics; likewise is universal nature; likewise is anything. But, there is some inscrutable manner in which nature works. Man has never understood this mystery, up to this time.

It is recorded in the Yoga Vasishtha that when Rama put the question to Vasishtha: “Why should things be as they are; why should nature work in this way?” Vasishtha replied, “Rama, ask not this question. Ask me how you can get out of this difficulty. I shall tell you the way. Don’t ask me why it is like this; ask me how you can be free from this.” Kuto jnateya vidite rama nastu vicharana. Katham imam aham hanyet evam testu vicharana,says the great master Vasishtha in the Yoga Vasishtha: “‘How can I transcend this bondage of involvement in phenomenon?’ Ask this question; I shall answer you. But ask not, ‘Why have I entered into it.’”

Why should nature have two facets, the higher and the lower? We do not know. We do not know, because we are in it. Perhaps we may know it when we go beyond it—possibly. At present, it is not possible. The lower nature is a tendency towards diversity and the higher nature is a tendency towards unity. We have a tendency toward diversity in our daily behaviour. The impulses of self-preservation and self-reproduction are standing demonstrations of the strength of this diversifying energy, the centrifugal force, which insists on multiplicity rather than unity.

Hunger and thirst are indications that we have to exist in this body. We should not die. We have to go on plastering this body, which is of mortar and cement, with food and drink, so that it may not perish. And, there is the fear of the ego that even with all this plastering, the body will perish. This subtle suspicion is present in everyone. Whatever be the attempt made to perpetuate our body with food and drink, with tonics and medicines, it shall end one day. But the diversifying tendency of the lower nature warns that it shall not end, so it tries to perpetuate itself by the reproduction of personality. That is why hunger and sex are the greatest urges in man. Nobody can resist them. This is the impulse of the diversifying activity of the lower nature, which cannot be easily faced by mere human effort.

Herculean effort is yoga. Api adhvipanan mahatah sumerun unmelanadapi api vanya sanat sadho vishamaschitta nigrah.This is, again, a verse from the Yoga Vasishtha. “You may drink the ocean, you may empty the whole sea with a blade of grass, you may uproot Mount Meru and swallow fire itself, but the mind cannot be controlled.”

What is mind? It is the symbol of outward activity, the tendency to perpetuate individuality and diversity and to enter into mortality as if it is heaven, and nectar and drink. As a moth enters into fire thinking that it will gain something, we enter into the mouth of death under the impression that the world is heaven, milk and honey. The yoga process, therefore, is a hard job. No amount of ordinary effort will suffice, because the lower nature is cosmic in its operation and is not merely working within ourselves.

Who can stand this cosmic nature? Which person has succeeded? Not one. Yet, it is a necessity. It appears that we are born with this bequeathed inheritance of attaining Nirvana in the end, attaining freedom from this mortal existence. There is something in us which is divine, though most of us feel that the divine element is totally extinct in us. The way in which we think, feel and act is more brutish than it is divine and celestial. There is very little of the divine quality manifest in our daily life. We never behave like godly beings. Terrible animals are we, mostly. Yet, and a very great and important yet, there is some good that is at the root. Behind this dark cloud there is a silver lining. There is an angel behind the devil that man is, speaking in a different language—on account of which, we are seated here. Otherwise, we would be going crazy, tearing out our hair and running in different directions. Therefore, yoga is a possibility and a must, whatever be the difficulty before us. He is a hero who is able to control this impetuosity and violence of the senses which, impelled by the lower nature, move in the direction of diversity. That is a hero, and not merely one who dies in the battlefield.

A gradual understanding of a widened form—an understanding that one is not merely a single person sitting for yoga or meditation, but that one is participating in a larger network of things, as threads are in the cloth—is what we have to initiate ourselves into before we enter into yoga. Yoga is not a personal action. It is not my work or your work; it is the work of the whole world.

Therefore, the notion that yoga is a personal endeavour is a misconception. No one does yoga for his own or her own good. That is not possible. Yoga is a universal adventure of the universal that is present in the particular that is man. It is the principle of universality that is in us that practises yoga, not the individuality that is in us. Therefore, yoga is not an individual affair. It is not my affair, not your affair; it is everybody’s affair. Hence, moksha, liberation, is not my salvation; it is an awakening of the whole cosmos. This, again, is a mystery, and we shall not be able to talk much about how it happens.

Previously I touched upon the common features that can be recognised in Western thought and Eastern thought, or any kind of thought when we go deep into its roots. The world does not appear to be the thing that it is to the senses. “There are more things in heaven and earth than philosophy dreams of,” as Shakespeare told us. We, also, are not exactly as we are; and, neither is anything else. “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will,” said the bard. However much we may play antics like monkeys, there is a divinity superintending over us who takes care of us. Maybe this divinity has opened its eyes in the hearts of many of us. Maybe the people who are seated here are blessed ones—few in number, in quantity, but in quality we seem to be blessed ones; otherwise, even ideas of this kind will not arise in our minds. Even the desire to liberate oneself from bondage will not arise unless some divine grace is operating.

God is thinking of us, perhaps. The Lord be blessed! If God does not think of us, we will not be able to think of Him. We think of Him only after He starts thinking of us. Hence, it is not a great credit to us that we are able to sit here and think a few good things. The credit goes to Him Who is compassionate and undeservingly merciful towards us. The grace of the great Master Swami Sivananda and the blessing of the Almighty operate in a mysterious way in the little people sitting here. So, let us be grateful to the Supreme Being Who is thinking of us. He is definitely thinking of us; I am not joking. Otherwise, we would not be breathing here at this moment. Thus, when the spirit awakens itself to this consciousness of the necessity to liberate itself from bondage, it enters into the practice of yoga.

You have heard much about yoga, you have studied about it in the scriptures, and much is already known to you. But, in spite of the fact that you know a lot about yoga, every one of you must be feeling some difficulty with it. You may be having some sort of discomfiture: “After all, very little has been achieved.” This feeling that nothing tangible has been attained after years of effort may affect you so seriously that you may even lose interest. But, you should gird up your loins and rouse yourselves into a new spirit.

Vyadhi styana samsaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva anavasthitattvani chittavikshepaha te antarayah. In this sutra, Patanjali says that there are many obstacles in yoga. There are nine in the long list I mentioned just now. Physical disease will hamper us and confine us to bed. We will not be able to think; we will not sleep. When we take a positive step in the right direction, in the direction of true yoga, these difficulties will come. We will fall sick. Whether it is due to our mistake or due to the rousing of the impulses or vasanas of prarabdha karma which are sleeping inside, we do not know. In the beginning, there is a setback.

And, even if we are somehow able to recover from this melancholic mood caused by the repeated physical onslaught of illness, oftentimes a mood of dullness, torpidity and a lack of interest will come upon us, as told in one of Buddha’s stories: “I shall meditate tomorrow. After all, it is very cold winter. With very severely biting cold, I cannot sit anywhere. It is cloudy, and drizzling, and windy. When the sun comes, let us see how much meditation I do! Very good weather starts in April.” But when April comes, it is hot. “Oh God, I made a mistake! It is so hot that I cannot sit inside and I cannot sit outside. When the rain starts, the weather will be cooler. See what I will do when the rain starts! Then I will start meditation.” But when the rain starts, it blows horribly and rains like cats and dogs. “I made a mistake. When winter comes, see what I will do! In winter I will do deep meditation. I will confine myself only to meditation.” But when winter comes, again it is cold. “Oh, I made a mistake!” So goes life, says Buddha. Neither we do this, nor we do that.

We go on thinking and thinking, like the bee that was caught in the lotus flower. It is an interesting anecdote. It seems that a bee was sucking honey from a lotus. The lotus opens when the sun rises and closes when the sun sets. Mad with the honey liquor which it was sucking from the lotus, the bee forgot that the sun was about to set. It was so inebriated with the taste of the honey in the lotus that it was stuck inside. “Very beautiful honey, tasty; the world is grand!” When it was thinking like this and drinking honey, the lotus closed at sunset. Now it could not come out. It looked up and thought, “I am caught inside. I cannot go out. It does not matter. Night will pass, the sun will rise, the lotus will open and I will fly away happily. Day will come.” While the bee was thinking like this, a mad elephant came to drink water from the pond and damaged all the lotuses, crushed everything to pieces, and the bee went with it.

This is what happens to unnecessarily brooding sadhakas. “I will meditate in Uttarkashi. I will go to Kanyakumari. I will meditate in Kathmandu. Rishikesh is no good; I will go here or there. This Guru is no good; that Guru is no good. This scripture is no good; that scripture is no good. I shall go on experimenting with various things”—just like the bee that says the sun will rise; and, the mad elephant of death comes and crushes us to pieces and we are no longer there. We are only brooding and brooding, and nothing happens. We are neither in Kathmandu nor in Kanyakumari; death has overtaken us.

So, make the best of the opportunity provided to you just here, at this moment. The Sivananda Ashram lacks nothing. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was immensely kind. He used to tell us, many years back, “You boys lack nothing. If everything goes, the Vishvanath Mandir is there. We have enough funds to make kichari. You know what is kichari. It is a simple meal of boiled rice and lentils, which the kitchen gives to you in the evening. This much you can get every day. The funds of the Vishvanath Mandir are sufficient to maintain you on kichari. What else do you want? You have got a forest behind the Ashram, a beautiful temple, and kichari to eat. I have given you everything. Be happy! Ganga is in the front; Himalayas are there as your parents. You have got a library with the best books, books that cannot be found in ordinary libraries.”

So, we are not in any way in an unfortunate condition. We have no reason to complain. God has blessed us, the Guru has blessed us, the saints and sages have blessed us. We are most fortunate people, here in the Sivananda Ashram today. Complain not. Gird up your loins to adjust your daily program so that it is conducive to intense meditation and the transformation of your daily duties and occupations into a mode of yoga itself, in the style of the Bhagavadgita, knowing that you are living in God’s creation and not in the Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh, Muni-ki-reti, Uttar Pradesh, India, or even on Earth.

You are not living in this world. You are not on this planet. You are not living in any particular country. You are in a wide, wide creation of the Almighty Creator. You are a citizen of this kingdom of heaven which is controlled, ruled by the omnipresent, all-knowing God Himself; and, you can put your petition to Him at any moment of time, and you shall be answered. You lack nothing. You are immediately in the presence of God. Anything that you ask will be given, and when you knock the door shall be opened, and whatever you seek shall be found in this kingdom of heaven. Do practice. Enter into yoga. Be happy!