In the Light of Wisdom
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: Attunement with Reality

The studies that we are going to make under this particular scheme may be grouped into three stages: the philosophical, the psychological and the practical. I shall try to take your thoughts stage by stage from the most initial concepts and ideals, which will culminate in the practice of meditation—which is true yoga, finally. This is a very detailed technique of the development of the mind, manoeuvring through various processes which are all very, very important. So, I will request you to attend to each description of the steps with attention because, as has been mentioned already, nothing can be regarded as totally unimportant. Every aspect will contribute finally to the superstructure of yoga, which is a completeness in itself. Yoga is not merely the last stage. It is the name given to the completeness or the total picture, which is present in the whole process from the beginning to the end, just as a human being is not merely the head, nor the limbs, nor the totality of all the limbs. We are not merely the mathematical total—we are the vital total. Likewise, not merely the last step that we take, but every step that we take is included in yoga. It is not the mathematical total of these steps that constitutes yoga, but something vital that is present in these combinations of parts. We are not merely a total of the limbs; we are something more than these combinations. Many parts put together do not make a human being. Likewise, the many stages of yoga put together do not make yoga, though they are essential in the beginning. Therefore, I will try to introduce the basic concepts that are presupposed by the progressive stages of yoga.

The question that, in the very beginning, arises in one’s mind is, “Where is the need for it?” The need, the purpose and the goal are the incentives behind every action. There should be a necessity. And in certain experiences that we undergo in life, we begin to feel that in every one of our experiences, and in our every activity, we seem to be lacking something. Due to this lack, there is a total dissatisfaction in life. We are not satisfied with the daily eating of our meals; we feel that there is something more than merely sustaining ourselves with food. We are not satisfied with mere dressing; we feel there is something more than the clothes. We are not satisfied with our mere office-going or mere factory work; we begin to feel that there is something more than all this. We are not satisfied with anything. We have an inexplicable feeling within that in everything we do there is something lacking. We may not be able to explain ourselves properly, but our hearts speak a language which ordinarily we cannot explain or understand. In everything that we do, there is a want. Something is left out in everything that we do, on account of which we feel a kind of lacuna.

This is the beginning of the higher life. While this kind of discontent is present in every person, literate or illiterate, it becomes consciously developed in the literate, the understanding, and the truly educated. In Sanskrit we have a beautiful term to designate this condition of consciously feeling this peculiar lack or want in one’s life. This term is viveka—literally it means discrimination. The capacity to distinguish between the necessary and the unnecessary, the true and the false, the real and the unreal are all the various translations of this term viveka. We begin to realise intelligently and consciously that in everything that we do there is something left out. We never feel that we are complete in our life.

This condition of conscious apprehension of a want in one’s life arises only in the higher stages of development of the human mind. Evolution rises, stage by stage, from matter to the organic condition. It slowly steps up to the plant or the vegetable kingdom, where inorganic existence shows signs of life. And it rises further to the level of the instinctive thinking of the animal, and then rises further to the level of the human being with the capacity to understand and logically decide. While we have all the characteristics of the lower levels—we have a body which is made up of inanimate matter, we subsist like plants and instinctively react like animals—all these features may be regarded as being in common with the lower states of life. We, as human beings, have a special characteristic of our own—the capacity of logical judgement—which cannot be found in the vegetable kingdom or even in the animal world. It is man, the human unit, that tries to think in terms of the higher. To judge the lower in terms of the higher is the speciality of the human way of thinking. The animals, for example, cannot connect the cause with the effect, and vice versa. That is why we say that their reactions are instinctive. They react only to external stimuli and then forget the whole thing afterwards, as if it had never happened. They cannot remember as we human beings can.

When the higher begins to determine the lower in any stage of life, law comes into play. We have various kinds of laws—laws of health, laws of family, laws of society, laws of the nation, and so on. The laws are for determining the lower from the higher. The law is only a symbol of the higher principle, which we regard as more real than the social level in which we actually find ourselves. Social living, which is one level or one condition, is to be determined by a higher level of existence. This is why we have laws. If such a determination of the lower by the higher were not necessary, no laws would be necessary, and there would be no need for governments, no need of plans, etc. Any plan, scheme, system, proposal or law is only symbolic of our aspiration to determine a lower existence by a higher ideal which we have not yet been realised, but which is implanted in our minds.

If the higher would already be realised, there would be no need of determining the lower by it—the one need not be connected with the other. The ideal is there, weakly before the mind’s eye, but has not been materialised into the reality of experience. There is a kind of tension between the ideal and the real. So, we live a life of tension of various kinds, all of which boil down finally to the ultimate tension or conflict between the ideal and the real—the ‘ought’ and the ‘is’. Something ought to be, but something else is. The ‘ought’ is the ethical and moral value that we have introduced in our life. This is also the philosophical, the metaphysical and the scientific objective in life. Things ought to be this, but they are not. They are something else.

The Conflicts in Life

The real before us is in conflict with the ideal that is in our minds. Here we actually begin the true life of a human being, which is the reconciliation of the real with the ideal—a business which is out of the range of animals. They have no ideal, because they cannot think as human beings think. This is why we call them instinctive beings. This is also one of the reasons of our sorrow in life. “Oh, it ought to have been like this, but it is something else. What can I do about this?” People try to materialise ideals in many different fields of life. Politicians, social workers, humanitarians, philanthropists, even saints and sages aim to materialise into reality what has remains now as an ideal. Or, the future has to become the present. The ideal is a kind of future before us. It is not yet in front of us, but is somewhere in the future—in the remote, distant future. We do not know how far ahead of us it is, but we feel that it is so necessary in our lives that we cannot exist without it.

The ideal is not a mere concept in our minds. It is not just a dream which we can brush aside. If the ideal is just a concept in our minds, we can throw out that concept. This ideal which remains now as a concept in our minds has taken possession of us so vehemently that our lives have become a misery without its implementation. All of us are unhappy merely because of the simple reason that the ideal has not become the real, and we cannot live that ideal. If it would be possible to give up the ideal entirely, we would have done it, but we are finding that it is as dear to us as our own hearts or our own breath, and this haunts us day and night.

When I say there is a conflict between the ideal and the real, I mean that this conflict occurs in every type of life that one leads and in every stage of life in which one finds oneself. In our personal life we have this conflict, in our social life we have this very same conflict, in our political and national life we have this conflict, and in international life we have this conflict between the ideal and the real—what ought to be and what really is. This is also the theme of a subject in the West which one may be familiar with, what is called analytic psychology. We need not go into the details of its techniques as practised in the West, but I am just mentioning the basic principles implied in this science. If conflict is visible everywhere in life, and if this conflict must be resolved if man is to be happy, what is the way to resolve this conflict? This was a question that posed itself before the analytic psychologist. The ideal conflicts with the real—here we are confronted in life with the devil, as it were, and we cannot be happy in this condition. We may pose the question, “Why not resolve this conflict?”

We have some difficulties in this effort. To cite some small instances of this conflict between the ideal and the real, we could take our social life. We have secret ideals in our hearts which society may object to under its own laws and rules. If in public life we were to express every idea of our minds, we know that what we call society would not wholly accept it, because each person has a set of ideas not necessarily concurring with society, and if everybody brings their ideas and concepts into public life, it may not be desirable. So society has laws that certain ideals should not be expressed in public life. The society in which we are living is our reality, and we have to adjust ourselves to it—otherwise we cannot live in the world.

But what about our internal desires? Our wish to achieve something privately, and to achieve an ideal, is to naturally express it in public life, and society says, “No!” There is the conflict. Society, which is part of our reality, objects to the ideal that is secretly cherished by us in our hearts. What are we going to do about this ideal in our hearts? Are we going to cast it away? We cannot do it, as it is our hearts that are speaking, and we do not regard it as objectionable. Unfortunately, society is going to regard it as objectionable. If we thought it is objectionable, we would not keep it in our hearts. What the private individual feels is necessary, society thinks is unnecessary. Therefore there is a conflict between the individual and the social ideal.

This was the beginning of the psychoanalytic technique. Some people went crazy, not being able to realise their ideals in life due to the taboos of society. “Don’t do this, don’t do that.” We have ‘don’ts’ everywhere! Well, if we go on multiplying the list of ‘don’ts’ like this, what are we going to do with our cherished ideal? The theory in analytical psychology was that these ideals must be realised somehow or the other, or otherwise the mind could not be happy, and it might become sick. There are mental sicknesses of various kinds, more serious than physical sickness, all caused by this conflict between the individual ideal and the social ideal. Society says something and we say something else—we say this, society says that—and, unfortunately, we are not independent of society. As a part of society, we seem to be incapable of living without it.

Where can we run away to in this world? Wherever we go, we will still be in human society, and society has its own peculiar notions or etiquette. It may be right, it may not be right—that is a different matter. Society is there, and we cannot escape it. We find it impossible to adjust ourselves to these laws and rules for a long time. So, the individual ideal rebels against the social etiquette and law. Society has its own strength, and it will put us down with its own powers. The fight between the individual ideal and the social ideal is social tension, and nobody can be happy.

The Individual in Society

One may wonder what this peculiar society is; after all, it is itself made up of many individuals. What is society, if not all of us put together? Why not permit the individual ideal, inasmuch as society is only all of us put together? There is no society independent of individuals. But there is another peculiar trait of the human mind, which is studied in the field of group psychology, different from individual psychology. Each one of us may individually agree to one thing, but when we are all put together, we may not agree with it. This is what happens in parliaments, for example. If we would approach each parliamentarian individually, they would say, “Yes, it is supposed to be so,” but if they are all put together in the parliament, they may not agree with it. Strange! Individually, each person seems to be something, but when brought together they think altogether differently.

We can tackle a problem by approaching people individually, but not by approaching them as a group. Each parliamentarian can be satisfied individually, but not the total parliament. This is the peculiar mystery which lies as a distinction between the truth behind individual psychology and group psychology. There is something present in the group which is not in the individual, though, as I mentioned earlier, we may say that society is truly a total of individuals. It is not merely the total—there is something else in it. Many bodies put together do not make a society. The mental element is involved in society, and the total of individual minds assumes a peculiar emphasis when it becomes what we call a society.

This difficulty sets a barrier between society and individuals. On account of the existence of a peculiar mysterious principle called the social mind, as differentiated from the individual mind, it becomes difficult to resolve this conflict between the individual ideal and social law. So, individuals start to become unhappy, and where it is not possible to resolve this conflict they may even rebel and become antisocial. They become antisocial beings because they rebel so much, and are undoubtly antisocial elements. Society does not want them, and it is these persons who later become criminals. They become mentally sick and do not know what to do. Well, this is not possible always—we cannot always be a rebel. We find that it is a monstrous world that is before us, a world that is not able to understand us. We start cursing the world, “What a pity! Where am I standing in this world?” Nobody seems to understand us, and so we go on murmuring and complaining against the realities of life which do not seem to appreciate our ideals. So we surpress our ideals, bury them in ourselves. We go to bed earlier, that is all; we cannot tolerate this any more. We go on sleeping with these ideals, as if they are our children. But they will not sleep. The children will not sleep; only the parents are asleep. The children will go on crying, “What about us? What have you done with us, my dear friend?” We say, “Please, go back, do not talk, do not talk.” But how long will they listen to us? They will not sleep. These ideals of ours are our children. They are born of us, and we have to do something with them. Psychoanalysis thought that these naughty children, whether they be right or wrong, have to be dealt with in some way—otherwise they would make their parents crazy, that is all. We will go mad with these ideals. There are mental disorders detailed in psychoanalysis which they also try to treat by various methods, but that is a different subject altogether, with which we are not concerned.

These ideals, which have not been materialised but are cherished in the heart, should be brought out into reality. Only then can we be free. We cannot keep these peacefully inside us; we must do something with them. Either we satisfy them, or we see that they should somehow be eliminated. Some people try to kill them. “Oh, I cannot tolerate this! I must either destroy them or satisfy them.” They then do one of the two. One will find that both these things are difficult. We cannot destroy them like that. They are so intimately connected with our lives, and to kill them would be killing ourselves.

These ideals of ours are not outside us, and therefore we cannot throw them away. They are with us; they move with us, and they sleep with us. There are some peculiar conditions of mind, when people start hearing sounds in their ears, and they conclude that somebody is speaking. There is nobody there and yet some sounds are heard in their ears. Sometimes they begin to see visions and are highly disturbed. The person is so nervous because of someone talking and talking in their ears, though nobody is there, and no one is speaking. These ideals that are buried, these desires that have been suppressed and could not be expressed in life take shapes or forms, and they become visible difficulties in front of us. We are afraid of them. These are all psychopathic conditions, and this is not a healthy state of mind.

Now, according to the psychoanalytic technique, the solution was to bring out these ideals so that there may be harmony between the ideal and the real. One satisfies these desires, not materially, but psychologically at least. What is psychological satisfaction? These ideals get acted out through dreams. One may become in dream what one wants to become in waking life. Dreams, fantasies, and building castles in the air are some of the ways in which these ideals are expressed. Many a time one tries to substitute for these ideals. “When I cannot get this, I shall get something else, so that I’ll forget this completely for the time being.” But these ideas and ideals cannot be easily forgotten. Forgetting a devil is not the same as exorcising it. The devil is there, but we close our eyes and pretend it is not there—that is not a solution. We don’t see it, but it sees us.

So substitution is, therefore, not a good psychological method for clearing these avenues of the mind. Suppression is also not a good method. Suppression and repression are the causes of our illness and destruction. Substitution, again, is obviously not a solution. The desires will have to be vaporised completely, like the camphor that burns up without leaving any residue, or like the mist that melts before the rising sun. These ideals should sublimate themselves into either the reality that is in front of us, or disappear into nothingness. There is no other way left to deal with these cherished ideals.

The Deeper Causes of Conflict

We should attune ourselves with reality, and then we are all right. Yet, instead we to conform to society and the circumstances of the times. Whatever society says is okay with us. If we do not have ideals that differ from the rules and regulations of society, we are all right and have no tension. As time marches, we also march with it. When striding with the same speed and time as society, there is no tension. But if we are conservative, we will not change at the same pace as society; and then we will have to suffer. If we do not have the strength to change society, society will try to change us. We should either change society with our power, or adjust ourselves with it. If we cannot do either, then we become neurotic—we are going to suffer. People who want to change circumstances, but cannot, are the sufferers in the world. They say that society should not be as it is, and that it must change. But who is going to change it? Not us; we cannot do it. Then we go on complaining and suffering. Here I am reminded of a famous saying of a philosopher. “Give me the will to change what I can, the courage to bear what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Very interesting! We do not have the wisdom to know the difference—that is our difficulty. We do not know what can be changed and what cannot be changed. We mistake the ‘cannot’ for the ‘can’. We try the impossible and then suffer—the sufferers are those who try the impossible. If it is possible, we can change it, but if we cannot change it and yet we want to, then we suffer in society. These are the simple forms of mental tension which philosophy studies in its superficial levels, and which has to lead to psychoanalytic techniques, especially today in the West.

But these conflicts do not end with merely social tension. They have deeper aspects, and these have not been studied by modern psychologists. We are not going to be happy even if society agrees with us. There will still be something in us which will remain dissatisfied. If the whole world says you are a wonderful man, you will not be happy. There are many people in the world who are placed in a good position, who are not criticised by society, but they cannot be said to be happy. We can query any one of them. A big person whom we generally regard as very important and well-placed—socially, politically and economically—if we ask him, “My dear friend, is everything all right? Are you happy?” we will see that no, he is not. What is lacking? He is perfectly in union with the existent form of society. He is well-regarded and respected, and yet something is wrong with him.

He himself may not be able to answer this question properly, because mostly people float on the surface of the mind. They cannot go deep into their minds, because their minds are merely extrovert. They think only outwardly, and cannot move the mind inward. The mind cannot think of itself. This is the difficulty with the mind. It can only think of others. The mind has become a subject of the judgement of other persons and things. It has never been able to subject itself to that self-same analysis to which it wants to subject other people and things in the world. The mind is not honest and dispassionate in its habits—it wants to judge others but not itself. Because it sees itself as the judge, why should it judge itself? The judge judges only the defendants, but not himself.

This is the fundamental difficulty of the mind. It seems to be well off with human society, but it is not yet all right. Here begins yoga, yoga philosophy and yoga psychology. Psychoanalysis is not sufficient, though mental illnesses may appear temporarily cured by the analytic techniques. People have fundamental difficulties which are not quite abnormal. A person may be normal and yet have difficulties. It is not only abnormal people that suffer in the world—normal people also suffer. The psychology of yoga starts with normalcy and not with abnormality. Abnormal people cannot become yoga students. When the mind becomes thoroughly normal, then yoga analysis starts. When there is abnormal thinking, there is no yoga. This is very important to remember. What is abnormality? According to psychoanalysis, abnormality is the tension created between individual ideals and social law. Yoga psychology, though, tells us that even if the attunement between society and the individual is achieved, the human being is not going to be happy. There is still something lacking. This lacuna, with which I began speaking, will persist in spite of our having so many things in the world. We may have perfect health and a lot of money, and we may be well-placed in society, yet we are not going to be happy with all this.

Here we enter into the field of true philosophical analysis. Yoga has a philosophical aspect and a psychological aspect and also a practical aspect, as I mentioned before. The practice and the psychology of yoga are both based on its philosophy. By ‘philosophy’ I do not mean a theory that just occurred to someone’s mind. It is not merely a viewpoint that we call ‘philosophy’. Everyone has a philosophy in that sense. Our idea of the world is our philosophy, but there is a genuine philosophy in the true sense of the term—the wisdom of life, as we may call it. Philosophy is the wisdom of life; it is not a theory. The theories may be many, but wisdom is only one. We cannot have many kinds of wisdom. Great philosophers who were genuine thinkers along these lines defined philosophy as the wisdom of life, the love of this wisdom, and, more than that, the practice of this wisdom.

To understand life in its true perspective would be true philosophy. We must understand life as it is. We should not have a wrong idea about it. When we go to a place, we must understand where we are staying and what kind of people are around us. We should not go just like a fool, without knowing anything about the circumstances prevailing outside. “Where am I, what is this country, what kind of people are living around me, and what are the conditions in which I am going to be there?” All these are the thoughts that might occur to our minds when we go to a new place. When we are in life, when we are living in this world, it must be our duty to understand what it is in which we find ourselves. “What is it that I am seeing in front of me, how am I related to these things, and what am I to do with these things? I have got to do something with them. I cannot just ignore them. Because they look at me, gaze at me, stare at me, they seem to be wanting something from me. How am I going to deal with these things that I call the world in front of me?”

Yogic Analysis

Here commences philosophical analysis—the perception of the world, and our having something to do with it. We cannot simply say, “Let it be there, why should I worry?” We cannot say that about the world, as it will not tolerate that type of attitude. It will say in return, “You have something to do with me, and I shall also have dealings with you!” There is a mutual concord between the world and the individual, and here commences what we call life. Life is nothing but this relationship between the individual and the world. Our attitude in respect to the world is our life. Life is not only breathing—that is life in the purely biological sense. In the sense of values, life is more than mere breathing. This methodology of our relationship with the world is the practical business of our lives. Each one has one’s own methodology, and many of these methodologies do not succeed because they are unconnected with the facts of life. Our living should be connected with the facts of life.

When we employ wrong techniques in life—wrong in the sense that there was no proper relation to the facts of life—then we get rebuffed and receive a kick from nature. Nature responds like a policeman who tells a cabdriver, “Go back, this is not the proper road; you do not know the method of proper driving. Turn that way.” Just as we get a rebuff from a policeman on the road, nature gives us a kick. “What is the matter,” we think. ‘Why should we get a kick like this from all sides?” If we have an electric wire and we do not know how to handle it or how to touch it, it will say, “Watch out, you do not know how to handle me.” So the handling of what we call life is the practical business that seems to be there in front of us, just as in scientific or technological dealings there is a theory behind every invention, and a doctrine or a principle to be followed in every approach of life—scientific, technological, sociological or political.

The actions that the human being performs have a principle underlying them. We should not just act—there must be a method to our working. We do not go about randomly without an idea in our minds of where we are going. We should go with a definite principle in our minds. Likewise, there is a way in which we ought to conduct ourselves in life. This conduct of life, if it is going to be a success, should be based on a principle connected with the reality of life. If our ways of living are unconnected with the realities of life, one may say that life becomes a failure, and one becomes a grieved person, cursing nature. But nature is not going to listen to our curses. We can go on cursing and belabouring, but what does it care? We do not know nature, and therefore we do not understand it. The situation is like an ignorant man’s complaining against the laws of his state. He does not know the laws, and he goes on cursing everybody. “Why is it like this; why like that?”‘ A person who does not know the laws of the state may suffer due to ignorance, but ignorance of the law is no excuse—we know that very well. We cannot say, “I didn’t know.” Do not say, “I don’t know.” All people in the world seem to be in this position of, “I didn’t know, I am sorry, please excuse me.” We say this to nature also. “Excuse me, I don’t understand you properly.” But it excuses us with a kick, not with a smile—that is a peculiar law of nature.

The wisdom of life, which is philosophy, is an understanding of life. Yoga, therefore, is a philosophy upon which is constructed the most beautiful edifice of its psychology. And then there is the actual implementation of it, which one thinks is yoga and wants to study. Yoga is not merely practise without understanding. It is a practice with a tremendous understanding behind it, and when this understanding becomes complete, one becomes a perfect human being attuned not merely to sociological reality but to reality in its completeness. Yoga has many stages which I shall try to explain. Reality also has many stages, and not merely the sociological reality which psychoanalysts are concerned with. There is something deeper than the sociological and the outer reality, through all of which we have to attune ourselves systematically, stage by stage. When we attune ourselves and harmonise ourselves through all the levels of reality, we are one with nature, one with truth, and ultimately one with God. This is yoga.