An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 8: The Conflicts and the Aims of Life

The whole of life is permeated with various conflicts and irreconcilabilities varying in nature from person to person. The aim of yoga is to resolve all such conflicts and make us perfectly normal in the absolute sense of the term. Whenever there is an inward feeling of irreconcilability in a family, there is a conflict, and when it gets deepened, it can become a malady, a disease by itself.

We have a rough idea of what these conflicts are, and they are the common difficulties that we face in our day-to-day life. We cannot bear too much heat or too much cold, we cannot bear hunger and thirst, we cannot tolerate the presence of certain persons, and so on; of an unending nature are our pin-pricks. But all these diversified conflicts of life can be boiled down to four conflicts finally, in the philosophy of yoga, or, we may say, the philosophy of the Vedanta. All problems are reduced to four fundamental conflicts.

The lowest or the immediately cognisable conflict is the social one, where people cannot get on with one another for one reason or the other, i.e., the immediately visible external conflicts. We are unable to face situations created by people outside; and others, too, cannot strike a reconcilability with our own conducts and activities. There is a mutual difficulty, one hanging on the other, each one attributing its cause to the other, thus making life a scene of sorrow. Everyone is unhappy, saying that the cause is somebody else.

Now, apart from this ostensible external conflict of a social character, we have internal conflicts in our own selves. We are not aligned in the layers of our own personality. We have the physical body, we have the pranas, we have the sense-organs, we have the mind with all its various functions, we have our reasoning capacity; we have so many things in us, which we study in psychology. These facts or aspects or layers of our personality are not in harmony, so there is an internal conflict apart from the outer social conflict. There is a psychological conflict in addition to social frictions.

There is a third type of conflict which is of a more serious nature. We cannot get on with the world itself. There is something seriously wrong with the very structure of things, and nothing does attract us. We cannot see any perfection or beauty in this creation of the physical Nature. The seasons, even the five elements, appear to be very defective to us. We are not happy somehow, and we have a feeling that we are harassed by the very make-up of Nature. The elements create a torturous irreconcilability with ourselves; we are grief-stricken.

And, finally, as the last but not the least, we have a tension with God Himself. There is no harmony between us and the Ultimate Reality. The truth seems to be made of characters which do not appear to be the characters which we exhibit in our life. We are at loggerheads with God, Nature and human society.

These four conflicts can be called the social, personal, natural and spiritual irreconcilabilities. In India we have a great scripture called the Bhagavad Gita which has devoted itself entirely to the resolution of these conflicts.

While the Bhagavad Gita is openly dedicated to the resolution of these problems, every other text on yoga also is devoted to the very same subject, including the Sutras of Patanjali, the Upanishads, or the scriptures of any nation, for the matter of that.

Before we go into the details of these peculiar conflicts which are to be resolved in yoga, so that we may become universally healthy and perfect, we have to consider another aspect which we observe in our life, viz., the aims and objectives that we are pursuing – the intention behind activities, which has something to do with the joys and the sorrows that we pass through in our life. We are here for some purposes and these may be called our desires, broadly speaking. We have certain basic desires, longings, and if they are not fulfilled, they create problems in our own selves.

Ancient adepts have classified these desires also in the same way as they have categorised the conflicts. The aims of existence, or the aims of human life with which we are concerned now, appear to be manifold on the surface, even as conflicts. Just as conflicts appear to be a hundredfold, or a thousandfold, but really they are only fourfold, likewise, our aims, too, are fourfold. They are not many as they appear on the surface. It is not that we have some millions of desires. We have four desires, to which every desire can be reduced finally.

The first one is the physical or the economic need of our personality. We have hunger and thirst, and we require clothing and shelter. To fulfil these requirements we have today what we call money or wealth. In ancient times, this money idea was not there. There was only the barter system. If you have some commodity which I need, I take it from you in return for some other commodity which I have but which you need. But as it was a very inconvenient system, we have created a new policy of currency, which is very helpful because we cannot carry commodities from place to place for purpose of exchange. This is the principle of wealth or the economic system of life. But wealth has only an instrumental value. Money is a means to the fulfilment of our needs which are primary. We do not require money as such. Nobody wants money only. It is a tool to the fulfilment of our desires. So, when we ask for economic fulfilment, what we actually ask for is the fulfilment of the bodily or physical needs, with all their social relations. However, it is not actually currency note, or money; that is not the requirement. Money is an instrument which is utilised as a necessary means to the fulfilment of the longings of man. All the material requirements of human life come under this particular category. This is one desire.

Then we have certain other stronger desires, at least as strong as the urges for material requirements. And they are our vital urges. These are the emotional needs of the human personality. It is not that we require only bread and jam and a house to live in and clothes to put on. We have also emotional necessities. With all the material needs we can be unhappy if our emotions are not satisfied. So this is another aspect of human longing or desire – the loves, the affections, the aesthetic promptings of human nature.

Now, in Sanskrit, there are certain technical names given to these desires. The whole of economic or material requirement comes under what is called artha. Anything that is material or economic comes under this head. In short, it means all material values. And the vital longings come under what is known as kama (not karma). kama as a desire of an emotional or instinctive type is different from the grosser ones that are material.

But there is a need for another regulative principle to assist in the fulfilment of these longings which are material and vital. These desires, when they arise from within an individual, come with a tremendous vehemence. They have a power of their own. They insist on satisfaction, and everyone has this urge from within. The peculiarity of these desires is that they are never satiable. They have an endless requirement. However much we may feed them, they do not appear to be satisfied, and this for certain other reasons which we shall not touch upon just now. It is well known that a person cannot be satisfied with any amount of material property. One wants more and more of everything. Similar is the case with the desire for emotional satisfactions.

One requires more and more, and as much as possible, and this strange devilish implication behind these desires bordering upon an endlessness of their longings affects the similar longings of other people. If each one wants things endlessly, what will happen to human society and life as a whole? One cannot have endlessness everywhere. If one wants endless things and another also wants endless things – and two endless things cannot exist – there would be a clash of desires and personalities. There would be battles and wars.

It is not possible to give a long rope, in an indefinite sense, to the desires of people. There should be a restriction, not in the manner of a pressure or subjugation by force, but a rational acceptance of the presence of similar needs in all people, everywhere. If I am hungry and I want food, a fact that has to be accepted, it is also to be accepted that another will also be equally hungry and he needs food. It does not mean that I am the only person who requires food. But the selfishness of a person can go to an inordinate extent and can violate the rationality of the presence of similar needs in others. Selfishness is a devil. If there is a Satan, here is he, violating law and asserting isolation. Such an impetuousness of the will conflicts with everybody else, because it wants everything for itself. And if each one is to project a similar attitude, there will be a complete chaos and an imminent destruction of human existence itself. Each one will fly at the throat of the other and no life will be there in a few days. This is not a happy state of affairs, and human beings who are selfish are also intelligent.

Intelligence is used even to fulfil the demands of selfishness, and when selfishness realises that its own purposes are going to be defeated by an excessive asking or an overdosed projection of itself, it accepts the necessity to collaborate itself with the similar needs of other people. This is the social side of the law or dharma that people generally speak of. We should be righteous. We must be virtuous. Righteousness, goodness, justice, rationality are essentials. These are only various terminologies indicating the need on the part of every individual to accept similar needs in other persons also. Only then, there can be social peace and human solidarity. We cannot get on in life, or even exist in this world, if we insist on an infinite satisfaction for our own selves, individually, personally. The law of mutual respect and co-operation is called dharma, or the righteousness of the law.

And our artha and kama are not going to succeed if dharma is not to be there. Their very purposes may be defeated without it. They defeat themselves by a wrong notion of their own good. Dharma has many other implications, but we are here concerned with the basic notion of it – namely that the longing of the human personality, material, vital, or psychological, cannot succeed unless there is a collaboration and co-operation with the vast creation called humanity. Dharma may extend even beyond humanity to other regions also, with which we have a secret connection. Dharma is the regulative principle of life which conditions or puts a limit upon the extent of satisfaction that one can have without detriment to the similar requirements of other persons.

This attitude of charity and regard is called goodness. If I can accept that you are in as much need of things as I am, I can be called a good person. "Yes, he is good, he knows my difficulties," say people. But if I refuse to accept your difficulties and insist on my own, then I would be called a selfish person. Thus, dharma is there as inviolable, inexorable insistent law, which is to be accepted on the very nature of things. Human rules, political laws, social customs, etc., are based on this natural law of the necessity for mutual collaboration and co-operation in life.

But what are all those for? Why should we fulfil all these desires? We have to observe the principles of dharma because our longings can receive a logical listening only if dharma is followed. Our material needs and our vital longings can have justifiable satisfaction only on the basis of dharma. Yes, dharma, artha and kama are the three absolute, categorical imperatives of life, without which we cannot live. But what are we living for? Why should we live at all? Let nobody live. What is the harm? Why should there be a law? Why should there be regulation and system? Why should we eat and drink? Why should we fulfil our emotional needs and have satisfactions? What is the matter? What is the point in all these? What is this great drama of life? Why stress? Why run about? Why work? These are more difficult questions to answer than anything else. We may with some acumen of our learning and education be in a position to answer the lower questions of immediate existence. But these latter poses take us beyond the human and even the natural realm of things. Here is a metaphysical question, if you would like to call it so. It is to enter the realm of philosophy. It is a bordering upon spiritual life, to put it in another way.

These questions concerning the very existence of a person go beyond the ordinary understanding of the intellect. I have to live, but why should I live? There is no answer to this question. It is an answer to its own self. It answers without raising a question. It is taken for granted that one should exist, one should live. Why should we live? "Do not put such a question," says the conscience. It is a foolish question and one would laugh at this very point itself. Why should I exist? Because, that is the base of everything else. One cannot put a question about the basis itself. But what is the base? The base is the love for existence, love for life, love for one's own self, for as long a period as possible, a struggle for existence, or a survival of the fittest, as our present-day men put it.

These doctrines arise from a fundamental trait of the human personality, which is present in everything, and not merely in the human being. It exists in a measure which can be as large as possible. We do not wish to merely exist like a tree or a stone. Accepting the fact that our final aim is existence, what sort of existence is it that we are longing for? We qualify this existence with certain characteristics. We do not like to exist merely, like a nobody, just vegetating. This is not our intention. We wish to enhance this existence by a qualitative improvement of understanding and satisfaction.

The characteristic of existence in its desire to enhance itself is intelligence and joy. We wish to know more and more, become wiser and wiser, have greater and greater intelligence for the purpose of greater and greater satisfaction. Why should not we exist like a tree or a stone? We feel there is no sense; there is no joy in it. If a human being is happier than a tree or a stone, we can imagine that an animal is not happier than a human being. Even if you are a beggar, you are happier than a pig because of the increase in the intensity of knowledge in the human being. The capacity to appreciate is more in man than in swine or an ass. We seek an existence which is to be qualified with higher knowledge and which goes simultaneously with greater joy.

So, what is the kind of existence that we long for through artha, kama, dharma? It is an existence which is to be coupled with intelligence, consciousness of an intensified type. "How much intelligence?" may be another question. "Endless" is the answer. And if we are asked how much knowledge we want, we will not say, "It is one kilogram or two quintals." We want to know everything. We desire to know all things, as much as possible, in as intense a manner as possible. The largest amount of knowledge in the greatest intensity and quality is what we would like to have. People are never satisfied with knowledge and learning and education. Man wants to know the whole universe.

Our asking for knowledge is a kind of infinite asking. It is not that we want only a limited knowledge and want to remain ignorant of something else. We would never like ignorance; one dislikes the very word 'ignorance'. "I do not want to be unaware of certain things; I want to know that also." There is a curiosity to know everything. It can be said to be a desire for omniscience itself. We wish to be all-knowing. Our existence has to be qualified with all-knowingness; otherwise, it is an inadequate existence. Why do we want all-knowingness? Because it gives us infinite joy.

We want to exist, and towards this end it is that we want to fulfil all our longings. And this existence is not merely a stony existence, but an existence with knowledge, which is again inseparable from infinite satisfaction and joy. These three features – existence, consciousness, and joy – are known as sat-chit-ananda. We must have heard this term repeated so many times at so many places in various scriptures and satsangas. People speak of sat-chit-ananda. It is the name of God. Well, it is the name of the ultimate perfection. We call it God, the Absolute.

This is what we want, and we eat our breakfast only for this purpose. We do not know what connection things have with the ultimate aim of ours. Even if we take a cup of tea, it is for this supreme reason. It is not merely a joke that we are making when we take our meals. Wonderful! We will be surprised that our aim is something much vaster and grander even in the littlest acts of our life. This realisation of the infinitude of our existence and the infinitude of our knowledge and happiness is called 'moksha', or the liberation of the spirit. Thus, the aim of life is fourfold: artha, kama, dharma, moksha.

All the aims of the so-called diversified human life are boiled down to these four types of aim. One can put these in any order, according to convenience. The foundation behind the practice of yoga, or meditation proper, is the resolution of conflicts and fulfilment of all longings to the utmost extent until one reaches infinity itself. What a grand thing is yoga! Now we realise! We will be surprised that our very life is there only for that goal. Now we will be able to appreciate that yoga is not a religion. It is not Hinduism. It is not Buddhism. It is not Christian mysticism. It is not anything of that sort.

Yoga is the science of life. It does not belong to the East or the West. It is not even a prerogative of the human being. It is the great process through which all creation has to pass, right from the lowest electron till the solar system and the whole astronomical universe. The evolution of the cosmos is the greatest yoga, and our participation in it, consciously, is properly called yoga.

All these things, the resolution of the conflicts and the purpose of our life, imply a kind of adjustment of ourselves with the existing nature of things, and it roots out selfishness totally. Selfishness is a misnomer under the law that operates in the cosmos; it has no sense and is an utter stupidity. It is a meaningless apparition – what is called selfishness. A person who is selfish knows nothing of the law of Nature. He cannot succeed because selfishness is contrary to the existing law of the universe. And what is the existing law? It is a gradual ascent of all things from the lowest stage of mutual co-operation to the highest peak of attainment where things merge into one another, ultimately. There they do not merely co-operate. They all exist as one being.

In the beginning our aim looks like the coveted one-humanity. Why do we have a United Nations Organisation and all the enterprises for commonwealth? All this is because there is an urge within man to recognise a basic universality which is at the root of humanity. Otherwise, why are these efforts at organisations and institutions, etc? What is the intention behind? But this is not the end of it. Our goal is still higher. It is greater than 'The United Nations.' It consists in the desire to comprehend the whole cosmos within one grasp, if it could be possible, and it is not merely a grasp in the physical sense; rather it is a union, until the state is reached where that which one loves is inseparable from oneself.

The object of our loves, affections and desires becomes inseparable from our being. The world becomes ourselves and our reason communes with the Universal Intelligence. We become united with the All-Being. Towards this purpose is the practice of yoga, whose culmination is meditation – dhyana. Now, this is a very important introduction to the actual practice. Unless we have clear thoughts before us, we cannot sit for meditation. We would be bored with meditation itself if the ideas are not clear and our emotions not happy. We must be relieved even when we think of meditation. Meditation is such a glorious thing. It is so wonderful. It is our bread and life. We cannot exist for a minute without it. We are here only for that. Anyone would jump into it when the love for the practice of yoga spontaneously rises within on account of the understanding which one has developed of the nature of all life. yoga comes of its own accord even without our asking for it. We would be perpetually in a mood to meditate. We would not be resenting it, we would not be unhappy about it, we would not take it as an imposition of external discipline. Our life itself is a yoga. We would become aware of this great truth.

To prepare ourselves for the gradual stages of the ascent to the largest dimensions of moksha, we have to practise certain techniques. We require a certain atmosphere which is conducive to the practice. That is why people go to Ashramas and monasteries, to the Himalayas, and so on. In the beginning, one has to be a little away from the din and bustle of life and from too much distraction, whether social or personal. One craves for some isolation.

Now, this isolation cannot be taken in any extreme sense, in the earlier stages. We must know where we stand, first of all. One may be a student. One may be a teacher. One may be a professor. One may be a householder. One may be a businessman. One may be anything. But, from the point of view of the occupation or the performance of one's life, one must rise gradually. If you are a shopkeeper, what would be the yoga that you are to practise? What would be one's yoga in the circumstance of any vocation?

The whole of yoga is a graduated practice. It is a systematized attempt at self-transcendence, not rejection of things. We have heard of religious renunciation. The spirit of renunciation is inculcated in all the religions of the world. But many a time renunciation is misconstrued as rejection of objects, the throwing away of homestead and chattel, a cutting of connections with family and relations and segregating oneself, somewhere, far off physically, geographically. This is the usually accepted austere sense of renunciation to which people betake themselves. But this attitude does not always succeed, because one cannot wrench oneself from the atmosphere in which one is placed, unless one has outgrown that atmosphere by experience. Yoga is a growth and not a plucking of the bud before it blossoms.

We have to educate ourselves in a systematic manner. There is a need first of all to appreciate the principle to dissociate ourselves from entanglements and attachments. If the mind is not accepting the principle of detachment, our cutting away of physical connection with family, etc., will be of no avail. If the mind accepts it, if it feels that it is prepared for it, that it has had enough of all things, it has seen things to the core, had a surfeit of everything, then, detachment follows naturally like the dawn of the day.

Renunciation, detachment, the spirit of sequestration or isolation, should be an educational career and not an austerity that we thrust into ourselves by the power of the will without the understanding backing it up. Understanding is the soul behind the force called will or volition. If the soul is absent, the practice becomes a corpse. The student should not be too anxious to become a Yogi unless he is emotionally prepared and the basic longings are fulfilled, at least to an appreciable extent. You have seen the world and therefore you have no desire for the world. Why is it that you have no desire? Not because you hate things, but because you have seen through everything. You know what the world is made of, and your understanding is the reason for your non-attachment to things.

One does not drink poison, not because of a special religious renunciation of poison, but because it is known very well that poison is detrimental to life, and one renounces a thing because it is harmful, a fact accepted by the power of intelligence or understanding. You do not renounce venom because somebody told you to do so. But, normally it is not possible to reject anything unless one understands its nature. Things we cannot understand are a source of fear. When we do not know what a thing is made up of, we are very insecure about it. When we have understood threadbare the structure of a thing, we, automatically, feel a detachment for it. Knowledge removes desire.

The detachment comes because we cannot desire the thing any more. We cannot desire it any more because we know that it cannot fulfil our longing. We have a wrong notion of things and then cling to them. When the notion gets clarified about things, there is a spontaneous rising from the level of attachment to them. We rise up rather than cut ourselves from that particular circumstance. There is a wholesome overcoming of attachment by an emotional and intelligent preparation of oneself. This is the basic spirit of Patanjali's admonition on what he calls yamas and niyamas, the canons of self-discipline in yoga.

We have firstly to be friendly with society. We cannot be inimical to it. This friendliness is not a make-shift, and we are not to convert ourselves into hypocrites by appearing to be friendly with people. The basic requirements of natural law demand a spirit of friendliness with all things, and friendliness is a part of the fulfilment of the law. Any kind of resentment would border upon selfishness. It is the selfish centre that resents things. The more we become unselfish the more are we able to love and appreciate, and friendliness is nothing but a spirit of cordial recognition of human life and life in general. We cannot have enemies in the world and then be friendly with God, because that would be an unholy attitude repugnant to the wholeness of life.

The friendliness that we establish in creation, again, is a practice stage by stage. From the level in which we are, we rise to a higher stage of friendliness. The whole of yoga is an attitude of friendliness at different levels of being. Friendliness is a system of harmonisation of oneself with the existing system of things. The more are we friendly, the more also are we in harmony, the more is the spirit of appreciation and the feeling of oneness with things. Friendliness is an attitude developed by consciousness in the direction of union with creation. The intention of friendliness is at-one-ment with reality. The eight stages of yoga propounded by Patanjali are the different degrees of harmony and unity realised in one's life, from the down-most form of social amity and love to the highest absorption in All-Being.