by Swami Krishnananda
Tapas which is an adoration of God is different from austerities which merely subjugate the senses or restrain the mind from its normal operations. In an honest presenting of oneself before the Almighty, which is the greatest tapas, these operations automatically take place. The life which is saintly, austere and devout is, in a way, a great enigma—a difficult enterprise which has many sides that look like many different features of approach, yet form a single endeavour for a concentrated purpose. The way in which one looks at things through the eye of the mind is the portrait of one’s true personality. The personality of a saintly figure is thus pictured by the inward operation of the psychological perceptive faculty which sees things with the mind and not merely with the physical instruments with which one looks at the world of persons and things.
The aim of austerities and performances of tapas in yoga sadhana is a collecting of oneself—a gathering up of oneself—into what one has to be. Does it mean that we are not ourselves normally, so that in a religious mood or while performing a spiritual exercise we have to collect ourselves as if we have been scattered? We are indeed dismembered personalities—a thing which is not noticed by us in our busy hours. We may be physically sitting in one place, but we are really in many places at the same time. Wherever our interest is, there we are, and it is not necessarily on the physical chair or the seat on which the body may be perched. The human person is basically a psychic entity, not a physical body. What happens to the psyche happens to the person, and it is not that all occurrences to the body are really occurrences to the person. Even if the body is affected in some way, a person may be unaffected. Do we not see physical operations taking place—medical treatment being administered that causes changes and transformations of various kinds in the physical system? Yet, the person is intact and unaffected even though changes take place in the physical system, in the organism, in the limbs of the body. Sometimes the body may be put to hard work, yet the mind may be very happy if this work is a means to the satisfaction of the mind—all which show that we are not exactly what the body is. We may even put ourselves to the condition of physical starvation for the sake of mental happiness. We may walk long distances in order that we may be mentally secure and psychologically happier. We may not eat for days and not sleep at all—which is a great discomfort to the body—if it would enhance the satisfactions of the mind. There are ardent longings of the inner man which will not mind any kind of physical hardship. Thus, we may try to understand the difference that seems to be there between what we really are and what our physical framework appears to be.
Hence, it is not necessary that we should be regarded as located in just one spot merely because the body is in one place. What the body does is not what the person does; and where the body is need not necessarily be where the person is. The person is a different subtle mystery inside, which cannot be intelligently identified or equated with the body. This is all the more true in the case of a religious exercise. Bodily exercises are not necessarily the exercises we perform. We cannot say that we are doing what the body is doing. We may simultaneously be doing something quite different from what the body’s actions and operations, and whatever the body may be doing would be immaterial to the man inside. The body may be comfortably seated, well-fed physically, but the mind may be tormented inside; or the body may be put to hard work which is voluntarily undertaken for the sake of satisfaction of the mind. These are interesting principles of psychology. If this is the case, anything that we do is not to be mixed up with what the body does, because what we do need not necessarily be the same thing as what the body does; and, alternately, the body’s actions need not necessarily be our actions.
Thus, our bondage and our freedom may be said to consist in what we do and how we are related—not in what the body does or the manner in which the physical body is related. A physical body may be placed on the throne of an emperor. It does not mean that the person has become a king—because the king is not the body. Therefore, the enthroning of the physical body does not make that person a king. If the body is not the king, what else is the king? Here is the mystery of man. The rich man is not the physical body; the poor man is not the physical body. He who cannot get what he wants is poor. He who feels that he has everything that he needs is rich. These are all interesting pictures of our inner subtleties, giving an insight into what we really are and what is expected of us when we place ourselves in the exalted position of what is expected of a spiritual seeker—or a yogin, so to say.
Yoga is self-control. It is the control of ourselves. Now, who are we that have to be restrained? Self-control is the restraining of the various relations in which we have been placed and severing the relations which we have established—mark the word ‘we’, the real we, the real me—and the maintaining of our own real status so that all the energies that have been channelised in relations are brought back, as forces in an administrative organisation are summoned back to the centre under conditions of necessity. When a frontal confrontation for a specified purpose is requisitioned, all energies are centralised. And the greatest confrontation is the practice of yoga. Here all the forces are centralised in oneself, and no permission is given to any part of the personality to move outward for any other purpose than the chosen one—the great religious engagement we call austerity, tapas.
By controlling the mind through the exertion of force or the power of the will, its strength can be enhanced. As we know, a particular intensified action results in its opposite: hunger increases by starvation. The more we eat, the less we feel appetite; the less we eat, the more is the appetite. This is how things work. So here, the less we concern ourselves with what is not us, the greater is the strength that is generated within us, because if we distribute all our wealth in a thousand directions, we become poor. When we withdraw all this distributed wealth and concentrate it in ourselves, we have the satisfaction of having all the possessions. It is difficult to practise tapas because it is not easy to know what exactly is meant by the restraint of oneself.
Many a well-intentioned seeker can miss the mark here in this practice because the objective, the aim, the purpose of the practice may not be clearly placed before the mind. Once it is clear as to what is meant by these processes of restraint, we have to be in one place only, not in many places. We may say, “I am always in one place. I cannot be in two places at the same time.” But it has been pointed out that we can be in a thousand places even if we are physically in one place only; and perhaps every one of us is in many places, or at least in more than one place, because that which we think of is the place where we are. Now it is not difficult for anyone to appreciate where work is located at a particular time. We have distributed ourselves in a thousand ways by scattered interests and segregated occupations which pull us in many directions; and we place ourselves in the very condition of a man who has to dole out his wealth to many children, many relations and many enterprises, thus having practically nothing for himself. Why should we be in many places? How can we be spatialised?
Here is another difficulty, and it is very intriguing indeed. How can we become individuals, spatial entities—without being which, we cannot scatter ourselves in this manner? How can space cut us into pieces and locate us in one thousand centres unless we have become the non-we—or to put it more precisely, the Atman has become the anatman, the Self has become the non-Self? Such a situation cannot arise. It is impossible for us to have multitudes of psychic locations of interest unless we have divided ourselves spatially into bits so that we have become bits of psychic action rather than a single person. Certainly in this state of affairs we are poorer than the poorest, psychologically, because all the strength has gone out. It has gone out; it is not within us. The outwardness of the particular centre in which we are interested is the explanation for our being scattered in that manner. The isolation of our psychic components in this way can be accounted for only if we have become other than what we are, because if that has not taken place, we cannot have any interest outside ourselves. The outsideness of interest is the segration of the Self into the not-Self. This is the foundation of the very art of understanding mental operations, the very root of the study of psychology. A seeker of truth, a student of yoga, has to be a very good psychologist, at least in the sense of knowing one’s own mind and its operations. Psychologically, we are not actually as we appear.
Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was a master in the knowledge of the subtleties and the tricks of the mind. He was not concerned about the reputation he had during the days that he lived in the Swargashram. We can imagine how hard it is for a single person to live in one place for twelve years continuously, unbefriended by people, unspoken to, unattended by anyone, having no one and nothing to call his own. Any one of us may try this art of living alone, having nobody who will speak to us. The sadhus in Swargashram were independent persons. They would not speak to one another; they lived in their own worlds. They had their own problems and aspirations, and one had no occasion to speak to another. In that state of affairs it was a wilderness of humanity, literally. In that condition of human isolation, how could one expect a person to live with all the aspirations, emotions, impulses and propulsions characteristic of human nature? Yet it was done, and it was done with one single intention: the summoning of the divine spirit for the mission for which he appeared to have come to this world.
The miracle that Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj worked is its own explanation. That tapas which he performed is the seed and the tree of whose fruit we are tasting at this present time as this vast organisational work and wave of spiritual enlightenment. In our scriptures it is always said that concentrated practice should be carried on for a period of at least twelve years, and there should not be any other occupation during these years of self-discipline. In the case of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, the twelve years were practically years of his utter solitude. We have to struggle hard in our minds to understand, to appreciate and to discover any meaning in the way in which one could have lived for such a long period in such hardship. There was the terrific heat of the sun in summer, followed by the pouring rain during the monsoon season and the shivering cold in winter—when cold winds howl and one had to bathe in the freezing water of the Ganga, sometimes in the rain, for at least six months of the year—and with the diet that I described yesterday. All that is difficult was the legacy of these mahatmas, these sadhus in the Swargashram.
However, as it is said, intense forces become recognised and broadcast by their own powers, as the blazing sun cannot be hidden even by the thickest of clouds. Swami Sivanandaji’s presence was always felt; and the aura or the magnetism, we may say, of this personality must have reached some distance. Seekers began to gravitate to that centre of this austere personality, and there were some old, unknown disciples, swamis, who were the pioneers during the time of the construction of the very idea of The Divine Life Society.