What is Knowledge
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 7: Yoga Discipline

While ‘the stabilising of oneself’ is what is meant by asana, or the assuming of a posture in yoga, it is often found by work-a-day people of the world that this maintaining of a posture, in any sense of the term, is not as easy as it may appear on the surface. Many a difficulty is felt by seekers and students of yoga even in this elementary requisite of the asana or the posture which has to be maintained. Many of you might have felt different types of difficulty in this simple exercise. Common causes of this difficulty are sometimes attributed to one's non-habituation to maintaining a single posture or attitude in daily life, because most people have no single attitude throughout the day.

Remember that the mind and the body are not two different things. The mind is not contained inside the body as something is placed inside a vessel. When we use terms like ‘mind’ and ‘body’ we are likely to misconstrue their meaning and significance, as if they are two different worlds altogether with no inner relationship. It is due to the difficulty of language that we are made to use two terms, ‘mind’ and ‘body’. Actually, there is no ‘and’ between the two, because the body and the mind are not a plural existence, but a unitary existence operating in two facets.

Some thinkers have given a peculiar analogy as to how the mind and the body collaborate with each other in their action. The analogy comes from the West, from the philosophers of the renaissance, and it is that the mind and the body are like two faces of a clock with two dials facing opposite each other, but with a single mechanism operating inside. This is a possibility, as you can well imagine. You can have a single clock with one machine, with two faces opposite to each other or different from each other in some way, so that you can see the working of the machine and the pointers showing the time from two sides. This is an analogy which tries to make out that the body seems to operate in one way, and the mind also seems to operate in collaboration with it, because of the fact they are controlled by a single operating principle. Thus, mind and body are two faces of action of a single requirement of our personality.

Thus, in the posture that we are to maintain in yoga, known as asana, we should not think that it is merely an action of the body, that whatever the mind is doing is immaterial because the body is the only thing concerned in the yoga asana. I mentioned a few points last time, which would have made it clear that the yoga asana is not a physical exercise like the games played in the fields outside. This is not a game, and it is not a physical exercise. It is an exercise of the human personality, which cannot be identified merely with the physical body. Thus, no benefit worth the while or worth the name can be expected from the performance of yoga asanas if the mind, and the emotions especially, do not cooperate with this performance. There would be no benefit even in the intake of a medical prescription for the health of the body, if the mind is totally opposed to it for some reason or the other. You cannot cure a disease by swallowing a drug if the mind wholeheartedly resents the treatment due to its occupation with something which is totally contrary to the process of the treatment indicated.

The mind of the human being is mostly in a distracted condition. It is never concentrated for even five minutes continuously on any particular thing. It is a veritable grasshopper that jumps from thing to thing, for reasons which need not detain us here at the present moment. The fickleness of the mind has some impact upon the activity of the body. Thus, the pain that you feel in your attempt to be seated in a particular posture, even physically, is not totally unconnected with the condition of your mind. It has some relationship with the way in which you are thinking, your aspiration – and pre-eminently, your feelings and your emotional condition.

You begin to feel a lot of pain when you are seated in a physical posture for the purpose of yoga meditation; and you will start feeling this pain the moment you sit, because the mind has decided that it has to feel the pain. It knows very well that it is being compelled to do something which it normally would not like to do. Pain is a necessary and immediate consequence instantaneously arising, a consequence of what you do against your voluntary expectations, because the observing of any kind of discipline – whether it is in the form of a yoga asana, or any other thing for the matter of that – is invariably considered as something which is basically not desirable. Discipline is not desirable. Intellectually and superficially, everyone may accept that discipline is necessary, but in the heart of hearts there is some peculiar feeling that discipline is contrary to the freedom of will – that discipline is a restriction of freedom, whether in thinking, feeling, or acting. It requires a herculean effort in the form of adequate training to become convinced that freedom and discipline are not opposed to each other, because freedom is always equated with a sort of license to do whatever one likes, irrespective of its consequences on the atmosphere or people outside. “I can do whatever I like, in any manner, at any time, at any place; this is my idea of freedom.” But this is not a proper attitude of even a rational mind, because the freedom of one person is not supposed to limit the freedom of another; otherwise, there would be a cry and clamour on the part of everyone to be one hundred percent free, because who would not like to be free? And why should the freedom be ninety-nine percent? It should be one hundred percent, or even two hundred percent.

Now, if everyone wishes to be two hundred percent free, it would mean a total disregard for what may happen to another, because regard for the presence or requirement of another would be a kind of discipline, which you do not want. So you can imagine the consequence that may follow from the erroneous thinking that discipline is opposed to freedom. Freedom is impossible without discipline, because if an undisciplined freedom is conceded to any particular person, the very purpose of the asking of this freedom would be defeated because there would be no freedom, for reasons well known to everybody.

The mind has a peculiar, childish attitude of wrongly thinking that sitting in a particular posture is somehow a discipline; therefore, it is a limitation on its freedom, so you do not want to do it. But somehow you are told it is good for you, and your psyche in one department of its activity compels itself to this exercise called the physical posture; though inwardly, it cannot be ruled out that you would like to be free from this exercise: “I would rather go somewhere – either shopping or to the mountain peak – than be seated in a posture. What good does it do to me?” There is a double attitude on your part, due to which on the one hand you feel it may do you good by performing this exercise of yoga postures, but on the other hand there is resentment to it, because somehow it is not a total freedom that is granted to you. This psychological difficulty which finds that it is not easy to go hand-in-hand with this discipline of exercise, is one of the causes why immediate displeasure is expressed by the muscles, nerves and the body as a whole – even when you start sitting.

Be honest to your own self, and analyse the working of your mind when you are seated in a meditation hall, for instance. Do you not feel that it would be good to get up as early as possible? You may even be looking at your watch – whether there is ten minutes left, five minutes left. “What a boredom! Great stupidity!” “Oh! Five minutes left.” Then the muscles become relaxed, because they know there is only five minutes left. But if another half hour is remaining: “Oh, good God, I am tired! How long, how long will I sit like this?” These feelings are not an infrequent occurrence in our own psychic world. We do not have a real interest in anything – not even in God Himself – though it may appear, or rather we make it appear to our own selves, that such an interest is present. A sort of self-deception is always there in everyone.

But this is the crucial point that we have to probe into and investigate carefully. There is a misconception of the goal of one’s life or the aim that one is pursuing – or finally, a concept of what is really good for oneself. We have a perfunctory understanding of what is proper, good and necessary for our own selves. Even the idea of what is good for us changes from moment to moment. What I think is good for me today may not be my idea about my good tomorrow. This is a very interesting feature indeed.

Coming to the point, the difficulty that you mostly feel in being seated in a particular posture is not merely the difficulty of the body, though a part of the difficulty may be attributed to the body not being accustomed to be seated like that. Especially people who are used to sitting on chairs with their legs extended – office-goers, clerks, secretaries – find it difficult to sit with crossed legs because they are physically not used to such kind of sitting. That is, of course, a part of the problem; but the major problem, which is of a greater crucial significance, is the non-cooperation of the mind itself.

Now, this much may give you some idea of not only the necessity to be poised in a particular posture for the purpose of yoga meditation, but also the reason why this is ultimately essential.

Last time, I tried to explain how we are connected to the vast environment of the universe itself. The universe is a state of balance – it is not a chaotic imbalance of movement – and any kind of imbalance that may sometimes be observed in the activity of universal forces or natural forces can be attributed to the attempt on the part of the universe to maintain its balance. The scale should not weigh heavy on any particular side. If such an indication is seen that there is an imbalance in any particular direction, the universe immediately gives a kick in the opposite direction, and this kick is felt in various ways throughout the processes of all existence. It can be a kick that is felt in the very historical process of humanity, which are called the catastrophes which human history faces, whether politically or socially. It can be a kick even physically, such as when we fall sick, there is ache in the body, and there is some imbalance in the function of the alimentary canal, etc. There can be any kind of indication by the equilibrating activity of natural forces outside, or their impact on social forces or on our own personality. Thus, the fact that the universe is finally a balance, and also the fact that we are not really outside the universe in a mechanised fashion, makes it incumbent on the part of everything in the universe to be in a state of harmony with the balance maintained by the universe. Thus, the yoga posture is one gesture that you are exercising or extending in the direction of your cooperation with the universe – at least in one level of your being.

But yoga is not merely a physical posture, though it is so important, and you know how important it is. I mentioned during the end of the previous session that the internal structure of our personality is mostly psychic and psychological. There is the mind that thinks, the intellect that understands, the will that cogitates and determines, the memory factor, and the egoism. The last thing that I mentioned was the factor that goes by the name of ego. An ego is the particular posture that consciousness maintains in affirming its located existence in a particular area of its relationship.

This phrase ‘particular area of relationship’ is to be underlined, because this is something very important. The ego is a kind of affirmation of consciousness within the limit of the area of its operation. It can be the whole country or the nation with which the consciousness can identify itself, and affirm the validity, the truthfulness, naturalness, justifiableness, legality, etc., of the position that its association with this area maintains. We can go wrong even in extreme patriotism if it is a position contrary to the welfare of other nations also – irrespective of the fact that it may tend to make one believe that it is in the direction of the welfare of one’s own country – because the existence, the welfare, the security, and the durability of the position maintained by a particular national attitude, at least these days, is well known to be organically related to such positions that other nations also can maintain. Here again we are coming to the same point of what freedom is, and how it is not in any way opposed to discipline that is required even in an international relationship. Just as there is social discipline, moral discipline, personal discipline, there is also an international discipline which has to be maintained by the comity of nations if they are to survive, or even to exist.

The ego of the human being can crudely operate within the body only, as it operates in an animal – a dog, a cat, or a wild beast. That is a peculiar animal sort of egoism, which asserts only its body and justifies every impulse that may arise through the instrumentality or the means of its bodily organism. Sometimes the human mind can also work in this way; there can be human beings or human attitudes which are totally self-centred even in a physical sense. The physical well-being and physical comfort of a particular individual may overwhelm that individual so profusely and profoundly that the requirement which one feels at that time in terms of one’s own physical body may be considered as the total reality. For an animal, the body is the total reality.

But, all human beings are not so crude in the affirmations of their egoism. This is only a rare occurrence that can be seen with difficulty in certain corners of human behaviour. There are polished forms of egoism, which sometimes take the form and the shape of even what sometimes goes by the name of altruism. Merely because the affirmation of consciousness has gone outside the boundary of the physical body, it need not cease to be egoism. One can be highly egoistic merely in one’s relationship with one’s family. There are people who are terribly attached to their family, and their concern is only what they consider as a sort of well-being and security of their family, even if another family goes to the dogs. They can hang another, if only it would conduce to the secure existence of their family and the relations with whom they are connected.

There can be egoism of various types. We are well acquainted with what is known as communal tension arising in human circles; and what can be this tension except a result following from a clash of interests among communities? A clash of egos is what we call war or battle, and a war can take any shape and can cover any area of operation. Sometimes war takes place even within our own selves. A little battle continuously goes on in most of us, so that we do not know what to do with our own selves. Psychologists call this a non-alignment of the inner layers of personality, which may sometimes require psycho-pathological treatment; or it may be a very serious mental case requiring hospitalisation – a clash of the inner layers.

Now, this is nothing but a war that is taking place within oneself; and every illness may sometimes, or often, be considered as a kind of battle that is taking place. It is a serious condition, an emergency-like situation, arising in one’s own self, such as when one’s temperature rises to 104-105 degrees F and every activity is stopped at that time. The concern of the physical and psychophysical organism is only to see that the temperature comes down, and every other activity is stopped because of this emergency situation arisen in the body. Likewise, there can be a moral condition of emergency, there can be an emotional condition, and such other peculiarities to which psychologists and psychoanalysts are well accustomed. There are various types of defence mechanisms which the mind manufactures within its own self to counteract the eventuality or the possible occurrence of this emergency situation. But an emergency situation is not a natural condition. It is also a kind of disease that you are trying to rouse up to counteract some other disease that has somehow manifested itself – as you vaccinate yourself against smallpox. However, it is nevertheless a kind of illness that you are introducing; and an emergency is nothing but that. It may be necessary, but it is not a natural condition.

Thus, the egoism of the human personality, which is the principal opposing force in any spiritual effort, is something to be understood with great caution, clarity, and patience. You may feel that you are not at all an egoistic person. “What sort of egoism do I have? I want practically nothing.” Many people honestly feel that they have no desires at all. “What desire do I have? I want nothing.” But this is not true, because conditions which make us feel that we are comfortable and secure in any way, whether outwardly or inwardly, may tentatively create a feeling within us that neither do we want anything, nor do we have any desires, nor are we as bad as people may imagine us to be. Nobody would accept that one is a bad person. “What sort of definition do you have about me? What is wrong with me?” We resent any kind of attitude on the part of another which may find fault with us. We are always perfect; there is no defect in any one of us. The detection of a defect in one’s own self is the interference with the egoism of the human being.

I began to tell you that egoism is mostly associated with the function of consciousness within the physical frame of the individual. It is a self-affirmation of the physical individuality, coupled with mental action. It can be a family affirmation, a communal affirmation, a social type of affirmation, or any kind of attachment, for the matter of that. Egoism is that vehemence of conscious behaviour which attaches itself to a particular area only, as if outside it nothing is and nothing can be.

But, what is spirituality? What is religion? What do we mean by the practice of yoga? It is the inner aspiration deeply felt within everyone to be set in a state of union with Reality as such – being qua being. This aspiration to be in a state of harmony with Reality may be considered by everyone as a source of happiness, satisfaction and well being, but it may limit itself to a finite form or a totally distorted shape of reality that is conceived by oneself. For the purpose of pure psychoanalytic studies, reality is nothing but social existence. This may be a sort of reality, and we all know how far we are hanging on the opinions of others, and how difficult it would be for us to exist in the world if society were not to cooperate with us. This is something we can accept, and we have to accept. But this is not the whole reality. We can be unhappy for other reasons, even if the whole of human society is friend. Even if all humanity adores you as a genius, a master and a great hero, and considers you as its well-wisher and is your friend, you can be unhappy for reasons other than those which you thought were the cause of your unhappiness.

“The non-cooperation of people with me is the source of my unhappiness.” This is what most people may feel in themselves. But you will certainly find time to think a little more philosophically when you discover that you can be unhappy even when the whole world of humanity is your friend, because the world is not exhausted by the existence of humanity. The world does not contain only human beings. It would be very poor philosophy, poor science, and poor commonsense that go headlong with the conviction that “in the whole creation, the only reality is the existence of human beings like me”. In fact, you will realise that the more consequent determining factors of even the possibility of one’s life are not human, that they are outside the very purview of human thought. The forces of the world are not necessarily human forces. Even history, which mostly is identified with the movement of human thought and human behaviour, is conditioned by factors which are not human. Students, or even philosophers of history, know that history is not merely the movement of the whims and fancies of thinking people, but it is a superhuman operation of forces which compel humanity to operate and work in a particular manner.

Thus, reality is not merely social existence, as psychoanalysis may say. Yoga considers reality as something which is superior to what is merely visible to the eyes. Therefore, in our advance in the pursuit of yoga, we do not merely content ourselves with being a little good with people in the form of what is called yama and niyama, or even being contented with maintaining the positions or yoga asanas. There is something more about yoga than all these things told to us. The qualities of being a very good person, a very helpful person, a very serviceful person, a well-respected person, and a very great master of physical yoga exercises – with all this, yoga is not complete. Perhaps, it has not even started.

It starts with a deeper understanding of the profounder implications of one’s relationship with the universe. The egoism of the human being apart, there is a common difficulty felt by every one of us in exercising even proper understanding in regard to anything. We are egoistic, no doubt, in one sense or the other; that is one picture, one side of the matter. But is our understanding adequate to the purpose of what yoga would expect of us? What is our understanding? What sort of understanding do we have about anything? Again, we are conditioned even in our understanding by social environments, family upbringing, political motivations, and the type of education that has been imparted to us. This is again a conditioning and a limiting of the concept of reality, even from the point of view of our intellectual understanding. While egoism mostly goes wrong in its notion of what is good for it and what is reality, our understanding – which is mostly associated with our egoistic affirmations – is in a very, very inadequate position, at least from the point of view of the requirements in yoga.

There is a deeper and higher requirement on our part in the light of yoga – which is the restraint of the senses, the disciplining of the way in which our mind or our consciousness works in terms of sense organs. Again I am coming to the point of discipline, which generally no one likes. The world ‘discipline’ is always very unpalatable because we have an inveterate habit of convincing ourselves that discipline is something which we do not voluntarily take upon ourselves but is imposed from outside. This is a thorough misunderstanding of the meaning of discipline. Discipline is not what you are asked to do by somebody else. It is a need felt by you yourself to maintain an inner relationship with the larger dimension of reality – from which you are not different, and outside which you do not exist. Discipline is a voluntary acceptance of the existence and operation of a law of your own higher being.

Remember that discipline is something that you voluntarily accept upon yourself, and even when a law seems to be operating outside and you may mistake it for an action imposed upon you by people around you, it is not something that is acting from outside; it is a pressure that is exerted upon you by your own larger reality. And your reality extends beyond your physical reality. Reality is more profound and active in its operation and insistence upon you as it expands more and more, even externally. You cannot consider the discipline that you have to maintain as a member of the family to be a pain that is inflicted upon you, because you know the well-being of your family is your well-being, and vice versa. Likewise is the discipline that you are expected to maintain in the society in which you are living, in the country of which you are citizen – or rather, as a unit of humanity itself. But as long as you limit your concept of reality to family, to community, or even to humanity, you are likely to feel that this discipline comes from factors which are outside you, because you cannot feel that other people are the same as you. But, to repeat what I said earlier, reality is not exhausted by humanity. It is larger. That which is finally real, in which every other lower reality is included, is the whole universe, and there is nothing outside the universe.

Hence, the law of the universe which expects you to behave in a particular manner is not an imposition from outside, because the universe is not outside you. So do not be under the impression that discipline is something that is imposed upon you by others – because there are no ‘others’ in this world. The others are only a content of the universe with which you are organically connected. Thus, yoga discipline, which will take deeper and deeper significances as we proceed further, will make you more and more happy, rather than make you feel constrained to believe that you are undergoing a painful exercise. Yoga is a great satisfaction, which you will realise shortly.