An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 2: The Human Predicament

Make three columns: 1, 2, 3. In the first column, write the Heading: "What do you want?" In the second column, "Can you achieve it?" In the third column, "What is the way to it?"

Now, take the first item. "What do you want?" What are you in search of? What do you wish to know? All these questions imply almost one and the same thing, and are attempted and answered in the system of studies usually known as "Philosophy". So put this under column No. l, which comes under philosophy.

Then, comes the second column. "Can you achieve this goal or knowledge, of search, of aspiration, of asking?" The analysis of your own capacities in this great search of that which you seek or want, comes under what is known as "Psychology". This is under No. 2.

Then, is the third section. "What is the way?" Taking for granted that you have the capacity, the equipment, the endowment, which is requisite, what is the methodology that is to be adopted? This is the "practical" aspect of your search. Thus, there is a "philosophical" aspect, a "psychological" aspect and a "practical" aspect of the whole subject. This is to make a broad division of our approach to the entire question of life in its completeness.

Properly speaking, the subject of philosophy is concerned with the nature of Truth, or Reality. It is quite obvious that we are not after unrealities, phantoms or things that pass away; we are not in search of these things. We require something substantial, permanent. And what is this? What do you mean by the thing that is permanent, which is the same as what you call the Real? The search for Reality is the subject of philosophy.

Then we come to the second issue, the individual nature, the structure of our personality, the nature of our endowments. An analysis of the entire internal structure of ourselves as individuals in search of anything is comprehended under the various branches of psychology and even what we call "psycho-analysis". They all are subsumed under this single head of an internal analysis of the individual.

Now, we have the third thing, under the third column – the way to the achievement of this ideal, the Reality; the methodology, the practice of it, is what we are concerned with essentially. This is what we generally hear of as "yoga". Yoga is practice, though it is preceded by certain philosophical and psychological studies and discussions.

What is this Reality which we are in search of? What do we mean by the Real? Well, if we put a question generally to a layman, there will be an immediate answer, "What I see with my eyes, is the real." And what do "I see with my eyes"? "The World." This is the reality. The world in which we live is the real thing; that is the object which we regard as real. It is permanent. "It was there even before I was born; it is now, and it may be there, even when I shall pass away. The world is my reality and I cannot conceive of any other reality."

In the section on psychology, I may ask you a question, "What are you?" A simple answer will come forth, viz. "I am such and such," "so and so," "a person," a usual reply. If you are asked, "Who are you", you know what sort of answer you will give. It is quite clear. Perhaps you will imply as an underlying current of your answer that you have a mind, an intellect, a reason, a thinking power – that is all. One cannot go beyond these simple definitions of oneself. And if you are asked, "What are you supposed to do? What is the practical aspect of your life?"- here too, you have a very simple, off-hand answer. "We have to work, for the maintenance of ourselves, in relationship to this world, in the context of the atmosphere of human society, and various other factors."

This is a prosaic and naive approach of the common person in regard to the problems of life, the duties of life and the values of life, but these are to touch the subject only on the surface, even as we can have a very inadequate and unscientific diagnosis of the illness of a person by merely looking at the body of the person, or by just passing the hand over the body of the individual, without investigating into the internal complications which give rise to the discomfort of disease. We are impelled to search for things on account of a discomfort we feel in life. Otherwise, there would be no impulsion for search in respect of anything.

Dissatisfaction is regarded as the mother of all philosophy. Philosophy is the child of a recognition of the inadequacies in life. There are many kinds of dissatisfaction. We can write a book on what dissatisfaction means, because we are dissatisfied with everything, practically. It is difficult to imagine that we can be satisfied with anything permanently, or even for an elongated period. We cannot be satisfied with summer for a long time. We cannot be satisfied with winter for a long time. We cannot be satisfied with any atmosphere for a long time, and so on are our grievances. There is an ingredient of dissatisfaction in the very structure of our existence in this world. This is something very strange. How is it that we should be kept restless and longing throughout our life? Each one of you, just for a few seconds, withdraw your minds and contemplate your lives from the time of your birth, or at least from the time you can recollect yourselves. Were you satisfied at any time? You were always asking for something, and if you obtained that thing, you would ask for another thing. If you get the second thing, you ask for a third thing.

Now, where is this quest going to end? Is a person going to be satisfied with anything at all? How is it that we are under the grip of the demon, as it were, of endless asking, an asking for that of which we have no clear knowledge in our minds? We are demanding endless things, in a variety of ways, constantly, throughout our lives, because it has not yet become clear to our minds as to what we want finally. We are only experimenting with situations: "Perhaps this is what I want, perhaps that is what I want"; and when we go to these things, we realise that these were not the things that we sought to have.

It is like experimenting with various medicines and finding that none of them will suit our illness. We have been experimenting with persons, with things, with professions and the various other facets of our longings. They have not satisfied us. Even today, we are not satisfied – neither you, nor I, nor anybody else. It is impossible to imagine a condition of complete satisfaction, where we will have to say nothing, where, perhaps, we have to think also of nothing, where everything is obtained for ever. The state of obtaining all things is, indeed, beyond even the stretch of imagination. We cannot imagine whether such a state is possible, that is, to have all things that we need.

It looks, many a time, that we have to pass away from this world in despair with everything. If we read the history of the minds of human beings, if there is any such thing as a history of psychology of human nature as such, we will be surprised to observe that it is impossible to pin-point even one individual who has left this world with genuine satisfaction, save those few who are the salt of the earth. There has always been a gap, an unfinished something with which the person had to quit. Everyone goes with something left incomplete. It will never be finished. This is the seamy side of things, the unhappy facet of life, which seems to be the outer picture of this world painted before us.

But we have also a peculiar solacing and satisfying inner core, which always eludes our grasp. There is something in us, in each one of us, which escapes our notice every moment. We can never visualise it with all our effort, and yet there is that mysterious and tremendous something which keeps us somehow hoping for the possibility of success in the end. This peculiar something in us, which keeps us positively hoping for the practicability of our enterprises in life, and expecting a victory at last – that is the glory of our personality.

Man has remained a wretched suffering individual in this world, it is true, but he is also a glorious something, a majestic and incomprehensible mystery, a combination of two contraries, as it were, which is just the miracle of man. Every human being is a miracle by himself. It is not possible for us to know ourselves wholly. If it had been possible, we would not be in search of things and running about here and there. There is a peculiar eluding difficulty on account of which we are in search of things and yet are not able to get anything; with all the search, we seem to be receiving nothing in the end. Yet, we cannot withhold this quest. This is another peculiarity. On the one hand, it appears that we are going to get nothing, because we have got nothing up to this time, after so many years of suffering. If, for the last twenty-five, thirty or forty years of search and effort we seem to have achieved nothing, what is the guarantee that we are going to gain anything satisfying in another ten years? Perhaps they will also pass in the same way as the last twenty-five or thirty years have gone. "Impermanent and joyless, verily, is this world (anityam, asukham)."

This is a very depressing picture before us, indeed. But that it is not to be the all, is a voice that we hear from within ourselves; otherwise, we would not be here, listening to people speaking in a weird language, in search of longed-for things, in forests, in hills and dales, in monasteries, in temples, in libraries, etc. We have something in us, definitely, different from what we see with our eyes. This is our mystery, our glory, our reality and our solace. This mystery in us keeps us happy somehow, in spite of all the unhappiness in life. On the one side, we are terribly unhappy; on the other hand, there is an undercurrent of a possibility of permanent success and happiness beckoning us from a remote distance. This intriguing picture, which is the shape that we see of life before us, is the object that is investigated into and studied in philosophy. If the subject had been so simple as an apple dropping from above, there would have been no need for researches, studies and investigations. It is an intermixture of contrary elements and enigmatic factors and, therefore, an intense training is necessary, in a technical manner, in order to fathom the depths of these mysteries.

Well, we have another mystery simultaneously with it. Are we having in us the capacity, are we endowed with the equipments necessary to make these investigations? Or, are we just hopeless specimens with an utter impossibility behind this very quest? The magnitude of the problem seems to be so large, and our individuality appears to be so puny, that oftentimes it may look that it is a fruitless task.

There was a great philosopher who produced a revolutionising system of thinking, who placed before himself three questions, in which he summed up every question of life:

What can we know? What is it that we are in a position to know at all, under the circumstances in which we are placed?

Second Q. Under the circumstances given, what ought we to do?

Third Q. Given the answers to the first two questions, what may we hope for, finally? What is going to be our fate, our destiny, our future?

These questions include every question that we can ask in this world. What can we know? What ought we to do? What may we hope for? Three great volumes were written by this philosopher, in answer to these three questions. Have we the endowment to investigate the problem of existence? Then, what are the methods that we have to adopt? This would be the technical or technological aspect of the practice.

So, just as before starting the construction of a huge edifice, a temple, a chapel, or a palace, one has a plan laid out before oneself – one does not start suddenly accumulating material in some place – there is, first of all, a consideration and study of the nature of the ground, the earth, what sort of earth it is, what its inclination is, and so on, the area that has to be covered, the depth that has to be dug, the material that is required, the personnel that may be requisite for the purpose, the time that it will take to complete the work, etc., so is the method of philosophical study constituted of many relevant themes of study. All this discussion implies at the same time, behind all these processes, the aim of the enterprise, viz, why does one build the edifice at all. That is at the back of one's mind throughout this process of the activity called building construction. Likewise, we have behind our minds an aim, whether we are tourists, travelling from place to place in the world, or we are students, or whatever we are. We do things because we have an aim or purpose; we are in search of it and work for its fulfilment.

I met one student from the West, and he told me that these questions are never asked in the West, "We never contemplate as to what is our 'aim'. We get on every day. We have got some daily routines and we run up with these routines, duties, functions, vocations. But what is the 'aim', finally? We do not ask such questions. They never arise in the minds of people." I said, "They may not arise, consciously, but they are there as the ingredients of the basic root of your personality. Otherwise, the conscious level will not operate in a systematic manner." What is system, what is logic, what is scientific approach, if not the congruence of our conscious activity with some deeper aims? When there is an incongruence between our conscious activities and our inner aims, we are supposed to be unscientific, illogical and unsystematic. When there is harmony between the aim and the actual approach, we call that process science, logic and system.

Thus, we have to lay the foundation of our searches and we are not to be too over-enthusiastic about it all without being confident that we have taken each step at the proper stage, very firmly, with clarity and completeness. As it was mentioned, our studies will be gradually tapering off from philosophy to psychology, from psychology to practice. We will not enter into the practical questions in the very beginning itself, just as we do not enter a house before it is built. We have to build it first, then we go in and lie down on our lounge.

One should not be too very eager to start breathing exercise or concentration, etc., without first laying the foundation of these well-known practices. They are very simple things, if their essentials are understood. We have heard so much about breathing and meditation and asanas, etc., that they may look odd things for a common person and very difficult at that; all because of the fact that their foundations have not been laid properly. We just rush into asanas or meditations or study of some lofty literature or go to seclusion, without preparing ourselves in an adequate manner for the purpose. If we are unprepared, we go back unsatisfied.

We have to go slow; there is no harm in going slow, provided that we are sure that we have succeeded in taking at least one step. Even if it be only one step that we have taken in this life, it does not matter, if we have taken it effectively and we are not going to retrace that step. There is no use jumping a hundred steps ahead and then having the chance of coming back by a push of retrogression on account of the unprepared adventure on our part. So let us move slowly and carefully, remembering each step in the mind with a firmness of confidence.

We began by saying that the foundation of thought is the clarity that we entertain about the nature of the reality which we are in search of. We are speaking of reality because we are naturally not interested in unreality. This is something commonplace, very easy to understand. But, while we have an immediate and easy answer to the question, "What is that which we call the Real?" we will find that our answers are erroneous when we go deep into the nature of that which we see with our eyes.

There are only two things that we see in this world: the world and ourselves. There is nothing else. If we look around, we see the vast world of astronomical phenomena and geographical extension, and we are there as small individuals in this mighty world. What else can we see? "I am here, and the world is there." The individual and the world are the realities. Perhaps we may say, in a general manner, that we conceive two realities. If this is our concept of what is real, and we are certainly in search of what is real, it would follow, from this answer or definition, that we are in search of the world, or we are in search of ourselves. Naturally, this should be so, because there are only two things as we said: We are there, and the world is there. If we are there as a reality, or the world is there as a reality, we are in search of either of these, or both of them. But, actually, we have not found either of these. Though we seem to be in search of the world, the world is not under our possession. We are not owners of this world. This is very clear. The world is not our property. So, in search of the world we have not obtained it; and in search of ourselves, we do not seem to have achieved a proprietary control even over our own personalities. Death is a standing example of our incapacity to hold ourselves as property. Nobody would willingly sacrifice one's own body to destruction. But a power overtakes us and we are dispossessed of this very body of ours, by the phenomenon called death. Though there are various other occasions also, which prove that we have no control over ourselves, this is the final proof which is there glaringly before us, telling that we have no right even over this body itself. And what to speak of rights over other things in this world?

So, in our search for either that or this, externally or internally, we have obtained nothing; neither the world nor ourselves. There has been a mistake, evidently, in the very search that we have been making. If our definition of reality is correct, and if it is also true that we are in search of realities only, it should be inexplicable as to how we should be defeated in this search, which is unfortunately what has happened. The outcome of this analysis is certainly this much, that we have gone the wrong way. Our ideas of reality are not correct and therefore our search for this so-called reality has been in the wrong direction. We have not been moving the right way, because we have not understood what reality is.

Our philosophical edifice crumbles. It falls down and breaks to pieces if our search for reality, which is philosophical investigation, is rooted in a basic misconception of reality itself. There are, on the basis of the kind of analysis we have made up to this time, two ways of approach to truth, the external and the internal, the objective and the subjective, as they are called. The objective approach is generally the approach of science, of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy etc. These are all examples of an external search for reality. The internal searches have been of the psychologists, the psychoanalysis and, in the end, the mystics of the world. These are the internal probers, quite removed from the external investigators of the scientific type.

Now, what have we found by these external analyses and internal approaches? What has science told us after its running here and there for the reality of the world, and what are the psychologists telling us? Today, we have only these two studies before us. The external approach which is scientific includes also the studies under what goes by the name of humanities, political science, history, sociology, aesthetics, ethics, economics and the like.

The latter are not external in the sense of physics or chemistry, but they are external in the sense of objective studies by experiment and observation. Wherever we employ the technique of observation and experiment, we are pursuing the method of external approach to reality.

Thus, we have to take notice of both these approaches. And have they been satisfying, or have they confronted a wall in front of them, beyond which they could not go? Have these approaches, whether external or internal, ended in a final answer to all the questions of life? Or, have they led us to a blind alley, and we are just in darkness after some stage has been reached? If that is the case, there has been some error even in these approaches, the external and the internal. We have to take time, therefore, to go into the bare outlines, at least, of these approaches to reality in order to be sure as to where we stand.