The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 9: The Meaning of True Knowledge

God loves only Himself; He cannot love anybody else. This is the intriguing feature of God, the mystery of God, the greatness of God, and the glory of God—which is also, simultaneously, a message to us as to how we have to conduct ourselves in this world. How can we please God if He can be pleased only with Himself, and nobody else? We can please a person by raising his salary, giving him a cup of tea, asking him, “Hello, how are you?” There are also many other ways in which we can please a person. But, how can we please God if nothing can please Him, and He can be pleased only with Himself? “I am that I am.”

Here is the foundation of yoga practice—the rock bottom of religion and spiritual endeavour. All that we have been studying up to this time is a preparation for a great ordeal on our part—the ordeal of preparing ourselves for this final onslaught into this great, grand mystery which is called by various names as the goal, as salvation, as Nirvana, as beatitude, as God, as Ishvara, and such other epithets. “God pulls the world,” said Aristotle, “as the beloved pulls the lover.” The way in which this pull is exerted is not mechanical. It is not calculable like a gravitational force. It is soul pulling soul. Only those who have had experience of the soul’s activity in the world will know what the pull of the soul can be. And, religion commences only when the soul begins to wake up into the consciousness of its destiny —not by making merry with the body and the senses.

In Hindu literature there is an old story. There was a pilgrim who was on a long journey, and in order to take rest he went to an inn, a dharmshala, which was managed by a panchayat, a body of five people. This pilgrim asked for a little place to rest during the night and was provided with the inn’s hospitality, and he comfortably laid himself down. After taking rest and enjoying hospitality and when everything was fine, he began to exercise authority over that inn. He began to say that all the property was his and the whole building belonged to him. This was an appropriation of property which did not belong to him, an authority which he unwarrantedly began to exercise over things with which he had no concern, which belonged to a body of people. And, when he thus exercised such an unwarrented authority, he was turned out.

This story indicates the predicament of the soul which, on its journey to its destination, takes a little rest in this body on this Earth. This body is owned by a group; it is superintended by deities who manage it through the senses. The body moves, acts and performs its functions by the operation of the senses which are, again, motivated by deities, divinities. The senses are agents, as it were, of certain authorities. The Sun rules the eyes; the Ashvinis rule the sense of smell; Varuna rules the sense of taste; Vayu rules the sense of touch; the Digdevatas rule the sense of hearing. There is nothing in this body which is owned by any particular person. It is a public trust, as it were; and a pilgrim who is allowed to take rest there cannot occupy it as his property—which, unfortunately, is what has happened.

One becomes conscious of a large democratic relationship that operates in the world, where property does not belong to anyone yet everyone has a right to everything in some measure, in proportion to the percentage of cooperation expected from each part of this large body of organisation. But the soul of man, due to some mysterious occurrence, gets entangled in possessorship, ownership, doership and, consequently, enjoyership. Whoever owns has to enjoy the fruits thereof.

In a railway train there was a passenger carrying a large quantity of sugarcane. He tossed several quintals of sugarcane into the carriage without any permission from the authorities —without any ticket for the sugarcane. He sat there, and it occupied practically half of the carriage. When the inspector came, he asked, “Whose is this?” The gentleman who actually kept the sugarcane there was afraid of saying that it was his, because he knew the consequences. He said it was not his. Everybody said it was not theirs. Everyone was afraid to say that it was theirs, because they would be hauled off immediately. But another passenger sitting there thought that because nobody said it was theirs, he would take it. So he said that the sugarcane was his, and immediately he was arrested. Then he said, “No, it is not mine! I merely said it is mine because if nobody owns it, I thought I can use it. But I didn’t know you would trouble me like this. No, it is not mine.”

These are all humorous stories which illustrate our own position in this world. Due to the imagined joy that seems to accrue from association with this body and its relations, we have become owners of this body and the proprietors of this world. But when troubles arise, we disown everything and, finally, we are cast out by the owners thereof. The divinities take possession of the real property—the five elements which constitute this body—and exercise their true authority. The body belongs to the five elements, and it does not belong to us, who tentatively remain there as tenants.

The soul awakens after many, many years of experience, ages of coming and going, receiving kicks and blows from all sides; and even after passing through hardships of every kind, one rarely learns the lesson of life. There is always a desire for pleasure and a hope that pleasure will come, whether it really comes or not. Human birth is very rare. Tradition holds that several million species have to be experienced, passed through, undergone, in order that the soul will awaken itself into human consciousness. But when one enters into the human level, he experiences a kind of itching. He scratches his body for a little pleasure.

There was a blind man caught up in a fort which had only one exit. He could not see where the exit was in order to get out, so he would feel all around the walls of the fort with his hands. As the story goes, there were eighty-four facets—to illustrate the eighty-four lakhs of yonis—and the blind man would touch these facets with his hands and grope to find the exit. But by chance it so happened that every time he was nearing the place where the exit was, he would experience an itching sensation on his head. When his hands were busy scratching his head, he missed the exit; and again he would go round and round the fort looking for the exit. Every time he reached the exit he would again have to scratch his head, so that he would miss it and never come out.

This is the blind soul’s struggle to gain an exit out of this bondage of mortal life; but when it is provided with a little, narrow, straight gate through which it can pass, which is the purpose of attaining this human life, there is an itching for pleasure and we go on scratching the body and the senses. The whole personality seems to be yielding to some sort of pleasure by scratching, itching, irritation, titillation of the nerves and, thus, we miss the exit.

Yah prapya manusham lokam mukti-dvaram apavritam griheshu khaga-vat saktas tam arudha-cyutam viduh, says Bhagavan Sri Krishna in his message to Udhava, as it is recorded in the Eleventh Skanda of the Srimad Bhagavata. Having attained this great blessedness of a higher reason with which the human being is endowed, by which we can have an inkling of the higher existence beyond the human level—having been endowed with this opportunity, one misses that opportunity. Such a person is a fallen one. Having ascended, he falls.

The discussions, the studies we have conducted up to this time seem to point to a very, very important, matter-of-fact duty that is ahead of us—the actual living of the knowledge. The lectures that you hear, the instructions that you receive, the information that you gather from books in the library, and other types of enlightenment that you gain by mutual conversation and discussion among friends and colleagues, is a kind of light which points the way that you have to tread towards the destination. But, it is only a pointer to the way; it is not itself the end or the finale of your efforts. All knowledge in this world today is a type of information, a guidance, a torchlight. The torchlight does not walk for you; the walking has to be done by you alone, but the torchlight helps you in walking.

The knowledge that we gain in this world in the manner mentioned is called paroksha jnana, or indirect knowledge —not direct experience. But it is an indicator or a pointer to the nature of aparoksha jnana, or direct experience. All knowledge is futile if it is divested of the life principal, the Being, behind it.

Knowledge is not an awareness of something which is outside us. We already have that knowledge in plenty. We have scientific knowledge, artistic knowledge, and the types of knowledge we gain in our educational institutions. But, this is not knowledge which is identical with life. We are not happy with this knowledge. There is one touchstone by which we can have some idea as to the worth of our knowledge: To what extent are we better today than we were earlier, when we did not have this knowledge?

There are certain characteristics of real knowledge, an inquiry into whose nature will give us an idea as to what sort of knowledge we have, or whether we have any knowledge at all. A person endowed with real knowledge is happy inside —happy not because of possessing any external object, but merely because of the fact that there is knowledge. The very fact of knowledge itself is the source of happiness.

Knowledge is satisfaction. We are able to remain satisfied, contented, happy and delighted within ourselves merely because of the fact that we are. This happiness of knowledge, the knowledge that I am referring to here in this context, does not arise from our relationship to other people or from contact with the objects of sense. We can merely be seated somewhere and we can be happy for reasons that only we know. This is the special feature of knowledge which is organically related to our being. Knowledge is not only happiness, it is also goodness, virtue and righteousness. A person with true knowledge will not do unrighteous deeds. He will not harm any person or do anything detrimental to the welfare of somebody else. No danger will come from that person to anyone else. Fearlessness is what emanates from that source of true knowledge. No one will be afraid of that person, and that person will not be afraid of anybody. True knowledge is, also, power.

When true knowledge arises, we are happy. When true knowledge arises, we give fearlessness to all; and when true knowledge arises, we, too, are fearless, and no one can frighten us. Knowledge is, therefore, happiness; knowledge is virtue; knowledge is power. Each one may touch one’s own heart and feel the extent to which one has attained this knowledge. Are we happy because we have some knowledge? Are we endowed with some confidence in ourselves? Are we unadulteratedly good in our heart, or have we any tendency within us even to wreak vengeance or see the ill of others? These special features of true knowledge distinguish it from academic knowledge or learning, which is quite different from the vital knowledge that is Self-illumination.

I began by saying that God loves only Himself—a strange statement, but a statement with a profound meaning. When Moses asked God, “What shall I say that I have seen?” God said, “Say that you have seen that I am what I am.” The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says that aham asmi was the consciousness of God at the time of the creative will He manifested at the time of creation. With all our effort, we cannot understand what all this means, because the senses of the human being are so very powerful and rush outward, like a flood, with such force that we are always carried beyond ourselves, outward in movement. We can never be aware of the condition where it is just Awareness, free from awareness of something or related to something outside. This “I am that I am”, or aham asmi, is a consciousness which does not stand in need of being conscious of something else. Not that it is unconscious of the existence of others, but the very question does not arise, on account of the coming together of the great I in an inclusion of all the little I’s, so that this affirmation of God is an affirmation of the whole world at once.

I am. You are. Everybody says “I am”. Even an ant feels that it is. There is a self-affirming attitude even in an atom and a molecule. It struggles to maintain itself by an adjustment of its organisation. The survival instinct, the impulse to exist somehow or other, visible even in the minutest forms of creation, is a feeble indication of the final structure of the universe and the aim towards which everything is moving—the direction of evolution and the goal of life itself.

Yoga is the union of the I of the seeker with the I of that which he seeks—the latter I being the total I, or the I which includes every other I. When we confront the object by yoga, in our deep meditation, we confront everybody else in the world. But this step is taken only towards the end and is a cumulative completion of the earlier stages of a similar type, where a gathering up of consciousness in this manner is effected by concentration on lesser forms of this total.

The universe is constituted of levels of wholes, or completions. Everything in the world is a whole, complete in itself; and all levels of existence may be said to be levels of wholes, or completions. Take the gross example of us being seated here in this hall. We are many persons here, but each person is a whole by himself or herself. We are not fractions of individuals. Even when we become members of a society or a parliament, and in that sense we may be fractions of that body called the society, the parliament or the organisation, nevertheless we maintain a wholeness in ourselves. Each member himself is a completion. No member feels that he is only a part or a fraction. Nevertheless, that wholeness which each individual member feels is a fraction of a larger organisation which is the thing to which he integrally belongs. Each cell in the body is a whole by itself, and the body is, also, a whole by itself. So, the little cell which is the whole belongs to another whole, which is the whole body. One whole begins to feel its association with another whole to form a larger whole; it is not a fraction.

Perhaps there are no fractions in this world. Everything is complete. Even a molecule is complete. Our little attachments to things of this world, to family, relations, etc., indicate the impulse from within us to enter into larger wholes from the lower wholes that we are. We are not satisfied to be in a corner, alone to ourselves. We feel restless. We like to go about, talk to friends, shake hands and meet people in order that we may become larger wholes than we were earlier when we were little wholes sitting in a corner—though we were also wholes even earlier.

We want to become larger and larger wholes, to become rulers of a country, emperors of an empire, owners of the whole world or, if possible, of the whole of creation itself. Now, when we are striving for larger and larger completions of perfection, we are not actually moving from a part to the whole in a literal sense, but only in an indicative sense. Even the part which belongs to the whole is, also, a whole by itself. That is the reason why there is so much selfishness in individuals. If everyone recognised that he or she is only a part, selfishness would not work. But, there is somehow or other a wholeness felt even in the apparent whole that belongs to a larger whole. This is an impediment within us that we call egoism, selfishness. It is only the self-complacency felt by a part belonging to a whole, as if it is a whole in itself.

Why should this happen? Why is it that even a part begins to feel that it is a whole in itself? How is it that we are so vehement in our affirmation that we are completions, and we tend to become utterly selfish? The reason is that the great Whole is reverberating in every part, and it is indivisible in its nature. The indivisible character of the original Whole makes itself felt as a sort of indivisibility in the little wholes, and so each one of us feels that he is an indivisible completeness. There is a satisfaction in feeling that one is complete, and this sense of completeness arises on account of a reflection of the original Whole.

But, together with this satisfaction arising out of a blatant selfishness or egoism, there is, at the same time, a restlessness attending upon every form of selfishness or egoism. There is an audacious satisfaction in a selfish man, an arrogance which speaks in the language of satisfaction; but, at the same time, it is utterly miserable because it is an assumed, artificial wholeness—a reflected wholeness, and not a final wholeness. God is the finality of wholeness, and that is why God can assert an I which does not have to undergo further transcendence to another I.

Each person in the world is struggling to maintain himself due to the love for this wholeness, which this little I is. The love that we feel—any kind of love in this world, whatever it be—is a love for the wholeness of experience. There are utterly selfish people—rare, of course, are such ones—who wish not to look at anybody’s face. The tiger, the lion, the beast in the jungle is generally regarded as an example of utter selfishness, where it struggles only to maintain its own body, at the cost of everybody else. Yet, there is a tendency even in the beast to outgrow its little wholeness when it lives in a brood, in a community of its own species, and shows affection to its own child. Utter selfishness is a theory; practically, it does not seem to work anywhere. Even in the beast it cannot be seen wholly, yet it is strong enough. The tyrants and dictators of the world manifest in themselves a little of the beast, which on the one side is utter weakness and on the other side is arrogance. The great impediment in the practice of yoga is the affirmation of the ego, which shows its head in various ways—thoughts, feelings, words that we utter, and our deeds.

The pratyahara—or the abstraction, the withdrawal, the renunciation, the sannyasa that yoga speaks of—is a difficult thing to conceive unless we are careful in the understanding of this mysterious process. There is a detachment and an attachment going on simultaneously in the practice of yoga. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to quote a passage from Saint Kabir, who always replied: “I am attaching and detaching” when asked what he was doing. Kabir was a weaver who moved the shuttle back and forth, detaching it from one part and attaching it to another.

Detaching oneself from the world and attaching oneself to God—this is very easily said but cannot be very easily understood. We are not detaching ourselves from the world and attaching ourselves to God, if by that we mean that we are severing our relationship from one existent thing and associating ourselves with another existent thing. We are not moving away from ‘A’ to ‘B’ when we move from the world to God. Here is the vital aspect or part of yoga which is not quantitatively measurable, but qualitatively intelligible.

The abstraction, the pratyahara, the isolation, the aloneness that is required in the practice of yoga is an inward transmutation of a conscious outlook. It is not at all a severance from existent objects. The moment the soul begins to feel an aspiration for its larger dimension, which is God, renunciation is effected automatically. The renunciation spoken of so much in religions and in yoga circles is the abandonment of the self-assertive character of the false whole, called the ego, and acquiescing in its true belonging to a larger whole, which is its higher Self.

Therefore when we move from the world to God, when we renounce the world and aspire for God, we are moving from the lower self to the higher Self, not walking horizontally from west to east or vertically from north to south. God is a higher Self within our own self, so that we are searching for our own self when we are seeking God. So, what is sannyasa? What is renunciation? It is a renunciation of the lower completeness, falsely assumed by the ego, in the interest of a higher completeness, which is the larger Self.

There are two selves, the higher and the lower, which are spoken of in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Bandhur atmatmanas tasya yenatmaivatmana jitah: Friend is the self of him who has conquered the lower self for the sake of the higher Self. Enemy is that self for whom one has subjected himself to the lower self and ignored the law of the higher Self. We are our own friends, and we are our own enemies. In renunciation, in sannyasa, we renounce our own self, and not anybody else or anything else. When we aspire for God, we are aspiring for our own Self, and not for somebody outside us. Thus, both renunciation and aspiration, vairagya and abhyasa, are concerned with our own Self where we renounce our self in one way and aspire for our Self in another way.

It is finally a Self-discovery that is the art of yoga. It is a renunciation of the self for the sake of the realisation of the Self. Very enigmatic is this mystery, of course. We are saying that we have to renounce the self for the sake of union with the Self. How is this possible? How could we renounce a thing and also attain the same thing, at the same time? The connotation changes, though the words that we use are the same.

Tyajet ekam kulasyarthe, gramasyarthe kulam tyajet, gramam janapadasyarthe, atmarthe prithvim tyajet, says the Mahabharata. For the sake of the family’s welfare, one intractable individual may have to be renounced. For the welfare of a larger community, an intractable, unyielding family may have to be renounced. For the welfare of the whole of humanity—the welfare of the world, a whole country may be renounced. For the sake of the Self, the whole universe may have to be renounced: atmarthe prithvim tyajet.

Here is the crux of the whole matter. What is it that we are going to renounce? Are we going to get angry with the world? Is it a type of hatred that we are going to develop? Are we going to hate the world when we love God? Love and hatred are two aspects of the same attitude, so we cannot have hatred without love, or love without hatred.

The aspiration for God, the union with the great ideal of yoga, is love, no doubt, but it is not love which is the other side of hatred. We cannot love a thing unless we hate something else, because love is a concentration of consciousness by the exclusion of factors which are not connected with this concentration; so, that exclusion is hatred. But in the movement of consciousness towards the destination of yoga, there is no exclusion; there is only inclusion. Nevertheless, in all practices of yoga and forms of religion there is an insistence on excluding something.

Life in a cloister, in a monastery, a life of asceticism, sannyasa, or a life of a monk, a religious man, a spiritual recluse, implies a sort of dissociation or exclusion for the sake of a holy pursuit. Every holy man is a renounced person. But, what has he renounced? It is very easy to give a blunt answer to this question and entertain a glib notion of what renunciation is. We have, generally, a very simple and commonplace definition of dissociation, exclusion and austerity. They are things which are well known to everybody.

But the salvation of the spirit does not seem to consist of the dissociation of itself from factors with which it is, somehow or other, associated at the back. The spirit is associated with all things in one way—though, in another way, it is not so associated. The spirit is pure I, complete Self, and not an object. The factor which somehow introduces itself into the selfhood of consciousness as an object thereof is the thing that is to be renounced.

We renounce objects. We are told again and again that objects of sense have to be renounced for the sake of the pursuit of the spiritual ideal. We have to understand, first of all, what an object is, in order that we may renounce it. An object is not necessarily that which we touch with our hands or see with our eyes, but this is the general notion that we have about objects. House and property, father, mother, brothers, sisters and relations are all objects which have to be renounced in the interest of the spiritual goal. But the spirit, or the soul—the consciousness within us—is bound by something which is very peculiar. It is bound by a conviction that there is something outside it. As long as this conviction continues, it cannot renounce that which it regards as existent outside it. One cannot go against one’s own conviction. It is a very difficult, hard thing to do.

Let any renouncer dispassionately analyse his own mind. Is he convinced that there are things outside him, or not? To what extent is this conviction deeply rooted in his consciousness? And, if we are logically convinced and feel fully certain that things do exist outside our consciousness and, somehow, because of a religious admonition we are estranging ourselves from this object, we shall pay for it through the nose one day or the other.

Salvation is not such an easy thing. Moksha is hard to attain because, somehow or other, we get caught in a vicious circle by any amount of effort on our part, due to a subtle, small mistake that we commit—though it may be little, like a sand particle sticking to the eye. Whatever be the extent of our religious and spiritual aspiration, we are somehow convinced that there are things outside us. This conviction is our bondage, and not the things themselves. Therefore, bondage is an idea.

We have heard it said that mind is the cause of bondage —mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha mokshayoh— but do we realise why the mind alone is the cause of bondage, and not anybody else? It is because the mind is only a conviction; it is not a substance. A conscious affirmation in a particular point in space is called the mind; it may be within a body or outside a body. A conviction is bondage. A conviction is, also, freedom. So, from one conviction which is bondage, we have to release ourselves and enter into a larger conviction which shall be our freedom.

The world is mental; it is not physical. If the physical world is there, let it be there. We are not going to be concerned with it. We are not bound by it. We are bound by the fact of our conviction that it is there outside us; and, the conviction is a part of our very existence itself. As long as I am, you also are. But there is no ‘you are’ for God. Here is the distinction between the I of God and the I of man or the I of anybody else.

It is like peeling off our own skin when we try to practise real renunciation or austerity in the true spiritual sense. We are releasing ourselves from entanglement in the lower affirmation or conviction that there is a reality external to the self, because if the external is really there, attachment is unavoidable. As long as there is a conviction that the external is there, love and hatred cannot be avoided. How can we avoid being conscious of the existence of a thing which we are convinced exists? An attitude towards it has to be developed. We either like it, or we do not like it, or we are indifferent towards it.

Renunciation is neither liking it, nor not liking it, nor being indifferent towards it. All the three attitudes are out of point altogether. In true spiritual renunciation we are not liking, or disliking, or being indifferent towards things. We are rising above all three attitudes of sattva, rajas and tamas. But, what attitude can there be other than like, dislike and indifference? We are involved only with these three attitudes.

To like the world is bondage. To not like the world is bondage. To be indifferent towards its existence is also bondage. So, there is a fourth type of attitude, if at all we can call it an attitude, by which our self—our consciousness, we ourselves—attain to a freedom where we attain a different kind of conviction altogether in which these three attitudes get subsumed, included, melted into liquid, as it were, absorbed into its higher being, and we need not have any attitude at all.

Vairagya is not an attitude. It is an attainment which is deeply mystical, highly spiritual. That is why we are so happy when we attain this conviction. This is knowledge. When this knowledge arises, we are happy automatically, because happiness arises out of freedom from bondage.

We have tried our best to go a little deep into what the nature of bondage is, and what sort of thing it is that we are expected to renounce in spiritual life, and how we can execute this modus operandi in an inward attunement of ourselves to a thing which is our own self in a larger sense.