The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: The Difficulty of the Mind

Yoga is a practical science, and it has a very rational foundation as its philosophy. I have touched upon practically all the important theoretical or foundational aspects of yoga. From now onwards, I propose to enter into the practical side of it in more detail.

People tell us, oftentimes, that there are different kinds of yoga. It is not exactly true that there are many yogas. They are different colours or shades of meaning given to a central approach which yoga really is. The foundations of yoga are deeply philosophical in the sense that they are related to the ultimate structure of things—the very nature of the universe and all creation taken together.

The art of yoga is a universal process. It is not an activity undertaken by any person. Actually, when one enters into the field of yoga, one starts shedding this individuality gradually, little by little, and begins to expand one’s being into wider and wider areas until it becomes impossible to think except in terms of the whole of creation.

That we are now able to think absolutely individually, almost in terms of this body, is the travesty of the whole matter. We are sunk so deep in utter ignorance which beggars description that we cannot understand how our aim of life can be super-individual—not concerned with this so-called ‘me’ and, much less, this body.

“I wish to attain salvation. I wish to have a vision of God. I shall contact the Creator.” These ideas are puerile, child-like notions whose meaning is not clear even to the person who makes such statements. No one can contact God as someone contacts an official in the government. This is quite a different matter altogether. But, we are human beings thinking like children, practically, and are totally bereft of the inner relationships that exist between ourselves and God’s creation. We think in terms of family relations and our little nationality, our gender differences, political feelings, and so on. All of these have gone so deep into our blood and veins that we cannot actually think in an impersonal manner. It is practically impossible to be impersonal in the interpretation of experience since we are hard-boiled individuals, and it is difficult to melt this individuality.

If we read the lives of great saints and sages, whether of the West or of the East, we will find that it is not an ordinary task to transform oneself into a spiritual seeker, a truly religious aspiring soul, a seeker on the path of yoga. The austerities to which I made some reference previously, which one is called upon to practise for the purpose of this spiritual transmutation, are unimaginably difficult, because nothing can be more difficult than self-control.

We are always trying to control other people—controlling servants, controlling subordinates, controlling other nations. Everything is externally motivated. No one knows, no one can even imagine, that there is such a thing as self-control. One does not know whether it exists at all. Even to be told about it is a great marvel. Ascharyavat pasyati kascit enam: A wonder is this teaching! Wonderful is the teacher, wonderful is the recipient of this knowledge, wonderful is the theme that is discussed. Everything is a wonder when we enter into this field.

Yoga, in one sentence, is self-control, self-restraint—the inhibition of the outward movement of consciousness—which follows, as a consequence, in the wake of this entry of consciousness into this body. We cannot understand what all this means when we are told that self-control is the withdrawal of the connection of consciousness with external objects consequent upon its entry into this body, or individuality.

This is all hard metaphysics for the layman, because this position that is stated implies a knowledge of everything that has happened to the individual before the individuality took place at all. If you can recollect what I told you in some of the earlier lessons, you would have noticed that the essence of our being is intelligence, a luminosity, a radiance, a light which does not shed its radiance on something else but is itself radiance—light shedding light on its own self. It is not a light emanating from some substance, like the light emanating from a candle, but it is the substance itself.

This, again, is a little difficult for us to understand. We are accustomed to think in terms of substances and attributes, as one distinguished from the other; the quality of a thing is different from the substance in which the quality inheres. So, when we speak of light, radiance, luminosity and such things, we imagine that something is there which sheds this light. Even when we say that consciousness is light, there is a subtle feeling that there is a substance at the back of consciousness, of which this consciousness is a light or radiance, because this is the way we are made to think and to believe. But, here, the substance and the quality are identical.

Consciousness is not a quality of something which has consciousness. This problem arises in us because we are prone to think that we are individuals from whom consciousness emanates. We are the substance, and our intelligence is our attribute. “I am intelligent. I am conscious.” Such statements imply that I is the substance and consciousness is the attribute. “I am conscious. I am endowed with consciousness.” There is no substance which is at the back of consciousness. We have to try to reorient our thinking totally in order to enter into a new realm of understanding. The old habits of the linear logic of the mind and three-dimensional geometry have to be shed.

This is the reason why yoga is very difficult. The very purification process itself goes on for the whole life of the person. Why is it said that one has to live with a Guru for years and years? The reason is that this so-called living with a Guru, or a master, is the process of purification of the very outlook of life and the very way of thinking itself. We are accustomed to totally wrong thinking, right from the beginning, and this topsy-turvy thinking can be straightened in no other way than by the impact of a living being who is the superior, the guide, the master—the Guru.

A person who sees everything topsy-turvy due to some defect in the organic structure of his body cannot be taught anything, even by any amount of lecturing or teaching. It requires an organic approach, a medical treatment which is not merely a theoretical administration. We can never imagine how our basic substance is consciousness. Consciousness is being; being is consciousness. We have been told this again and again—Sat is Chit, Chit is Sat. This consciousness that our being is, is infinite, essentially. Here again is a shock injected into us. How could we be infinite? How could any person have an infinitude at the root of his being? We are little bodies, almost nothings, insignificant before the magnitude of the physical universe.

Again, a deep analytical process has to be undergone in order to convince ourselves that our root is infinite. The study of the three states of consciousness—waking, dream and deep sleep—has adequately revealed to us that it is impossible to divide consciousness into parts, into bits of individualities or localised existences. Here, we have to exercise a little bit of our purified reason to understand how consciousness cannot be tied to a body and it cannot be partitioned into bits of process. Consciousness cannot be divided. It has to be undivided, and an undivided thing is, also, an unlimited thing.

This unlimitedness that is at our back is the reason for our asking for unlimited things in the world. We are, basically, unlimited existences—not ‘existences’ in plural, but one single existence into which we all converge at the root. The asking for an eternity of living and an infinitude of possession, which is the characteristic of every human being, is an outer expression of what we really are at our base. There is an endlessness behind us, both in space and in time. This endlessness, spatially within us in terms of magnitude, is the reason why we cannot be satisfied by any amount of possession in this world. Even if we are the rulers of the whole earth, we cannot be satisfied. There is nothing that can satisfy us, because we ask for more and more things until the limit of possession is reached, which is nothing but the unlimitedness of possession.

At the same time, we ask for endless existence. We do not want to die, to perish in one moment. We do not want to exhaust our life, even after three thousand years. There is no limit to our asking for time, and there is no limit to our asking for space. Therefore, there is a mystery of an eternal asking, and an infinite asking, within us. And, if that had not been the root of our being, we would not have been kept restless here—asking, and getting nothing. We keep on asking for endless things in space and in time; yet, we can get nothing in this world. No one has purchased infinity or eternity by any amount of struggle or wielding authority or power as an emperor. Everybody has turned to dust and gone to the wind.

What is this mystery? Why does this happen? How is it that on one side we ask for that which is endless, and on the other side we seem to turn to dust? This is because the phenomenal and the noumenal pull us in two different directions. Because of the phenomenality of our body, our egoism, our individuality and our social relations, we can get nothing that we ask for. That which we ask for pertains to the noumenal existence at the back of our being; but the manner in which we conduct ourselves, or the method that we employ to fulfil these askings, is phenomenal. There is a contradiction between the methodology and the nature of the asking. While we ask for that which is permanent, we employ impermanent means to fulfil this wish. That is why we go on asking, and get nothing, finally. Everybody asks till the end of life, and departs with open hands.

This is a philosophical argument proving that man is infinity and eternity, though, unfortunately, caught up in phenomenality. Yoga is self-restraint. It is a restraint of the phenomenal nature and a reverting to the noumenality within us, which is sometimes called the Self in man, the Atman, the Brahman, the Absolute, the Supreme Being. The noumenal existence is commonly present, uniformly spread out everywhere, so that when we enter into the Atman, or the Self of ours, we are not entering into any particular person’s Atman, but the Atman which is the soul of the cosmos—as, when a ripple or a wave in the ocean subsides into its base, it is entering into the base of all the waves in the entire ocean and not merely into its own little root. The little root of this one wave is the root of all the waves because the single ocean is spread out at the back of all the waves.

The limitations of language and the poverty of the meanings attached to the words we utter make it difficult for us to explain the significance of words like ‘Atman’, ‘Brahman’, etc. We are hypnotised into a feeling that the Atman is a candle flame that is inside our body. This is unfortunate.

This substance of ours is the Atman. This hard thing that we feel as we are seated here—this solid, rock-like existence of ours—is the Atman which has solidified, concretised itself into this phenomenal body. It is more real than this phenomenal body, but due to our involvement in sensory contacts and in this body’s operations, we may imagine that this Atman is an abstract concept. We are unable to believe that it is a substance.

Can we ever believe that the whole universe is constituted only of mathematical point events, as scientists tell us? We feel that they are talking through their hats. It makes no sense. How can this hard world be made of mathematical point events? But, this is what the world is made of. It is an ethereal emptiness, finally—shunya, a void. There is some substance in this Shunya-vada, a doctrine which says that, finally, there is nothing in this world. There is some truth in it.

The world is made up of nothing. God created the world out of nothing, because there was no substance out of which God could have created the world. Again, we revert to a little philosophical background. “If this world has been created by God, out of what wood, bricks, mortar and cement did He create it?” asks the Veda. Where are the beams and the structural patterns of the world, out of which the world was fashioned? Where was the material for the world to be created at all when God alone was? So, He must have created it out of nothing, like a magician conjuring up a large show before a huge audience and flabbergasting them. God has, like a tremendous magician, mayavi, projected this great panorama of the beautiful universe out of nothing, emptiness. Like a balloon, hollow inside, so is this world. This hard substance, this strong body, iron-like body, is an empty balloon. There is nothing inside.

But, the apparent substantiality that we feel in our existence is the characteristic of the Atman, which is not an abstraction. The reverse is the case. The idea of the good, the notion of God, and the consciousness of the Atman are not abstractions. They are the substances. They are the realities whose being is the reason behind our apparent feeling that the body is real, concrete, hard.

Hence, when we attempt self-control, restraint of the senses, we are faced with a terrible difficulty. What are we restraining, and what are we attempting to enter into after this practice of so-called self-restraint? We have a fear that we are entering into a nobody, a nothing, a void, a darkness, an annihilation of personality. Nobody can be happy by a long procedure of meditational practice. We get frightened. We want to get up and run away due to the fear that something wrong is taking place. Perhaps we are going crazy: “From this hard reality of the world, I am withdrawing into a void in meditation. What is the purpose? What do I gain out of it? What is this meditation, going on thinking some abstract idea, rejecting the hard realities of life? Oh God!”

Meditation seems to be a running away from realities into an unreal, ideal kingdom which is within the hat of a person. These difficulties will pursue us wherever we go because, after all, we are what we are. We cannot be anything other than what we are. We are the sons and daughters of fathers and mothers —and we are just that, even now. We cannot be somebody else. Just because we call ourselves yoga students, we do not cease to be sons and daughters of fathers and mothers. We think only in this way. And, we are commercial people. We think in terms of give and take. What comes, and what for? What is the purpose?

These questions are out of point when we are struggling to enter into a non-mathematical, non-commercial, non-give-and-take region of Pure Being, where Being alone is the value, and not possessing, enjoying, etc., as we are accustomed to. Why is self-control, meditation, so difficult? It is because there is fear, suspicion, and doubt. We may not accept that we have any doubts, because we do not want to say that we are Doubting Thomases. We wish to regard ourselves as yoga students and lovers of God. Very good! Still, the doubt is there: “Where am I going? What is the outcome of it all, finally?”

The greatest problem before us is that the world seems to be a hard reality, and it cannot be brushed aside as if it is nothing. It is impossible to do so. And this body is there, terribly hanging on us like a hard rock on our necks; and we want to withdraw ourselves from that? Who can withdraw oneself from this granite-like body, so hard, like flint? Like iron, like steel is this body, and we withdraw ourselves from that—into what? What is there, into which we will withdraw ourselves? There is nothing, an emptiness. And the so-called ideal which we seem to be entering into by self-control does not promise any satisfaction. It eludes us, it tantalises us; and, sometimes, it appears as if it is deceiving us. And when we come back, we are the same hungry, thirsty, angry, fatigued souls, not the illumined, blissful, blooming, flower-like yogis who come out of meditation. We are exhausted, tired, perspiring, and aching all over the body.

We have somehow been forced into this conduct of yoga, but the inner being that we are is not permitting it. Hence, self-control, self-restraint—control of the senses, the mind and the intellect, which yoga is—is not an easy thing, because we know very well how valuable physical life is, earthly life is, and the joys of life are. To convince ourselves that there are greater joys than the joys of the world and the joys of the senses and the body, what an amount of training is necessary! How beautiful things are in this world! How tasty are the delicious dishes, and what a majesty and grandeur we have in the various parts of the world! Can anyone gainsay that things of this kind exist?

What satisfactions the world can provide us with! Are we not running after satisfactions, whether they are of the senses, or of social relations, or aesthetic and romantic satisfactions? Are they non-existent things? Who can say they are non-existent? And whoever, against one’s own will, tries to hit upon the valuelessness of these great values of the world gets defeated, and does not attain to yoga.

Sri Krishna is posed this question by Arjuna: “Is this possible? Whatever you say, I understand, of course; but, is this possible? This mind is like the wind, like a gale, like a tornado. Who will tie it up in self-control?” “Yes,” says the great Lord. The mighty teacher accepts that it is so. The mind cannot be controlled.

Why can it not be controlled? Because the mind is not inside our body. Here, again, there is a little misconception in us. The mind is not a thing that we can tie with a rope, as we tie up a cow or a horse. It is a power, a force, an energy—a permeating, ethereal movement of nature itself. So, the control of the mind is almost an attempt to control natural forces; and, inasmuch as we have already accepted that nature is stronger than we are because it is outside us—it is very powerful, and it is larger than our body—we cannot imagine how natural forces can be controlled by a single individual. How can one person control all of nature? Again, doubt comes in the mind.

But, to come to the point again, yoga is not an individual affair. It is not you or me that practises yoga. It is not one person trying to control the powers of nature. Nothing of the kind is yoga. What we call mind is the mode in which nature operates. And, we participate in this mode. Thus it is that we seem to be working in accordance with natural purposes, instincts, desires, etc. Our desires are uncontrollable because nature is vast, and not limited only to our body. The whole world is working behind us when a desire operates—as, to give an example, the whole ocean is pushing a single wave. All the bubbles of the ocean push the waters up to form a single wave on the surface. This is the reason why our desires are, on the one hand, infinite in number and, on the other hand, incapable of control. Infinite are the desires because endless is nature. Uncontrollable is desire because we have made a mistake in imagining that nature is outside us.

It is these intriguing facets at the back of the practice of yoga that give meaning to the hard austerities that were, in ancient times, imposed upon disciples by great masters. Why should there be so much tapas, and hardship, and serving the master for years and years? We can imagine why it is so, and why it is necessary. We can never trust our own minds, because our minds are nothing but a name that we give to erroneous thinking. Who can rely on this way of thinking? Who can try to streamline themselves in an altogether new direction, unless a higher power operates?

Often it is said that yoga is a matter of grace coming from God. It is not an effort of a single individual, because the effort towards overcoming individuality proceeds from the individuality itself. This is another thing which is very interesting about yoga. How can the feeble individual project a kind of effort which is equivalent to the powers of all of nature? Hence, individual effort is not adequate. Guru’s grace is necessary—which means a higher, divine grace has to operate.

This is a mystery. All yoga is a mystery, in the end. It cannot be logically dissected into precise terms. How knowledge arises in us, how we are able to succeed in controlling ourselves, and how we step out of this phenomenal realm to the higher one is a miracle which automatically takes place. We do not even know how we wake up from sleep. Who wakes us up from sleep? Somehow, we wake up; something happens, and we are awake.

How did the idea of the existence of a higher life arise in our mind if not by a miracle, a wonder? We never created this idea in our mind. It occurred to us. The ignorant individual cannot manufacture a knowledge which is superior to that ignorance. No philosopher has been able to give an adequate and satisfactory answer to the question of how knowledge arises in a person. An ignorant person cannot create knowledge, because already we have accepted that the individual is ignorant. So, from where does knowledge come? No one knows. It happens.

Everything in the world is a happening, and not a doing of anything, Hence, humility on the part of the seeker is called for—utter effacement of egoism and an acceptance of one’s limitations. Pride has to be ruled out, totally—every kind of pride, even the so-called religious and spiritual pride which may insinuate itself into us without our knowing it. The smaller we become, the better for us.

When we reduce ourselves and subjugate our egoistic affirmations, the higher powers gradually enter into us as sunlight enters the room when the windows are opened and the breeze blows freshly; otherwise, there is stinking air. We need not have to create the air and sunlight; we have only to open the doors and windows. Such seems to be the requirement on our side. Mostly, it is a humble and simple attitude that is required of us, a goodness that is the characteristic of the exact position in which we are placed in this world.

With this little introduction, I shall try to touch upon certain further details of the way in which we can overcome this pressure exerted upon us by the phenomenal nature and receive the light of the higher Self—the noumenal existence which we really are within ourselves.