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In the Light of Wisdom

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Chapter 11: Skilled Preparation

Earlier I spoke about a very essential part of yoga practice which is mostly ignored. It is a mistake which people usually make, which should explain failures in the practice of yoga and an apparent defeat which people suffer in spite of arduous efforts undergone for years together. Yoga is a matter concerned with ourselves and not with our relations outside, and unless we are all right, yoga is not going to be all right with us. What we are in terms of human society is not going to be of importance here, because it is not society that will do yoga for us. It is we ourselves who have to do it. It is inaccurate to judge ourselves in terms of people’s considerations about us. These outer considerations have absolutely nothing to do with our internal relations in the practice of yoga.

We as individuals, independent units of consciousness having a status of our own, are concerned with the practice and not with our external associations of any kind. We have to give up that old habit of judging ourselves in terms of others’ vision of us and to not look at ourselves through the world outside, but directly in an apprehension that is immediate and non-relational. The practise of the moral law was what I tried to explain previously, but it is easy to think that the moral canon is not an essential part of yoga. Yet nothing can be more important and more concerned with yoga, because morality is what gives health to our personalities.

We can understand how essential health is to us. Whatever be our position in the world, if there is no health, we will find it hard to make our way in the world. All other things would become meaningless to us, if we are not healthy in our bodies and in our whole system. The moral sense, the moral feeling and the moral consciousness are the health of our personality—like physical health. If these are not present, everything will be “at sixes and sevens”, and there will be no yoga practice. It is necessary therefore to keep our system in order before we try to do anything with it or through it. Yoga is something which we are going to do with this personality of ours, and so it has to be kept in order, in balance and in tune with itself.

The personality often gets out of tune, and this is because of the immoral and unsociable attitude that many a time we adopt. The health of the personality is a little different from the health of the body. The health of the personality is the establishment of oneself in the moral consciousness. Just as health brings us strength in the physical sense, health also brings us strength in a wider sense. The moral strength is more than the physical strength. The stronger we feel morally, the more competent also we become in the practice of yoga, and then half the work is already done. “Well begun is half won,” as it is said.

If this is borne in mind carefully at the very outset, the practise of yoga is not a difficult thing. It is the preparation that is a difficult thing. To get ready is more difficult than to actually do, and all the time mostly goes in getting ready. To strike a match takes less than a second, but to make the match will take a lot of time. Many days will have to be spent in manufacturing a matchstick, but to strike it is a question of only an instant. The practise of yoga truly speaking is like the striking of a match. We need not be very much worried about striking the match, but to make this match is a little more of a difficult affair, as it cannot be done in a day. To make ourselves fit instruments for the practise should be a greater concern than what we are going to achieve through yoga, or how we are to sit for meditation, or any of the other routines. These things will take care of themselves of their own accord and need not cause us too much anxiety. We will find that the later stages become very simple and clear if the foundation has been well laid.

Obstacles on the Path

Many obstacles naturally present themselves in this attempt at the practice of yoga. However, even the attempt is something very sublime and praiseworthy. This is one of the great things we have to learn from the Bhagavadgita. Even an attempt at the practice of yoga is something superb, let alone its actual practice. But this attempt is beset with difficulties of various kinds and sometimes even dangers which frighten us and make us want to retreat. There is initially an unpreparedness of the whole personality, and when we take to the practice of yoga, the personality may manifest certain characteristics which exhibit its unpreparedness. In the beginning this unpreparedness may come in the form of a sense of diffidence and a doubt as to whether the practice is meant for oneself. “Can I actually do it?” and then later, “Is it worthwhile?” and further, “I hope that I am not under an illusion.” These are the ways, to mention only a few, by which a retardation of progress even in the initial stages may set in and we will not be allowed to take even the first step.

Often the first step is the most difficult step, but once we take the first step then it may become a little easier. Still though, we may not take the first step, but we will be brooding and contemplating even before taking the first step. All these are symptoms of the impurity of the personality which resents any kind of cleansing. This impurity lies dormant as a sort of psychological dirt and resists being cleansed thoroughly in the sunlight of the understanding. Many people are too conservative and would not allow any kind of innovation in life. “Everything is all right. What I am is perfectly okay. Don’t meddle with me,” is the retort of the mind to any kind of educational process that one may try to introduce into it.

This is the condition of tamas where the mind will not allow any kind of interference with its old habits. The second is the work of rajas—the desires getting activated. The very frightened state of the mind itself may activate its desires. For instance, if we find out that we will be fasting tomorrow, we will feel hungry today. The very thought of tomorrow starts some work in the mind today. It is purely psychological. The thought of having a trouble tomorrow is enough to have a trouble today itself. Through this example we can know how mysteriously the mind works. Through its projection of ignorance, the instinct of tamas prevents our intervention in the mind’s old ways of thinking. Rajas tries to stimulate desire in a slightly intensified manner and would not allow us to take any positive step in yoga. Tamas and rajas are obstacles in yoga, and all the obstacles in yoga are forms of tamas and rajas. We may have a thousand obstacles in yoga, but all these are ramifications of the functions of tamas and rajas. Tamas works negatively while rajas works positively. Tamas prevents us from doing anything, and rajas sidetracks us into erroneous channels of action.

This activity of tamas and rajas starts even at the very outset in the moral preparations that we try to make as a limb of the practice of yoga. Self-complacency, a sense of self-perfection and an honest feeling of one’s being complete and all right—though it may be wrong—are the ways in which tamas works. “I need no teaching, I know everything very well, and there is nothing more to learn,” is a conscious manifestation of the tamasic instinct of self-complacency coupled with wrong living. Because no person with any sense will say, “I need no teaching. I am all right, I know everything.” This is the work of tamas. Rajas makes matters worse by adding desires to these ways of the mind’s thinking. Small desires are projected outwards by the rajasic nature, and though these may be relatively small in scope and actually quite silly to outward observation, they may take such proportions that the mind may be entirely absorbed in them.

The mind can get totally absorbed in an engagement even if it is silly and small, if it is not allowed to engage itself in anything else. If we block out all the activities of the mind, it will engage itself in foolish things, and they can absorb the mind totally and wholly. The mind follows what is called the method of regression. It is a regressing of steps by the mind to lower and lower levels of satisfaction when the higher levels are unavailable. “If I can get five apples it is all right, but if I cannot get five, I will take at least four, and then if not four then three, or two or even one. If not even one is available, then at least let me have the remnants.” This would be the attitude of the mind in regard to every kind of satisfaction. It may get attached to things which are so small that it would be difficult for a normal mind even to understand.

These are the regressive processes of the mind, and these obstacles occur in the very beginning despite attempts at a proper recourse to yoga. There are various odd types of obstacles which prevent us from going in the proper direction. Doubts of various kinds harass the mind, and we become so sceptical about things that we do not know where we actually are. There are suspicions about people around us, suspicions about the teacher whom we have chosen, suspicions in regard to the atmosphere in which we are staying, and suspicions in regard to our own competency of practise. Everything seems to be mired in suspicion, doubt and vacillation.

The mind will not fix itself on anything. Later, the mind tries methods of substitution by changing the poles of action and approaching things in a way quite at variance to the earlier intention. The mind would then be lost in rationalisations and specious arguments, not knowing that it has gone astray, and only realising the true situation after many years when it is too late. This process may end in a condemnation of human society and finally questioning the very justice of God’s creation.

These are not exaggerated circumstances; they often become the fate of sincere seekers—sincere, but not discriminating and understanding. In the practise of yoga it is not enough that we are merely sincere. We also have to be understanding, discriminating and capable of proper judgement. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used to say that the devotee of God need not be a fool. He must also be a person of understanding. Devotion does not mean mere sentimentalism, emotional outbursts and a loss of control of oneself. Yoga is an all-round discipline of oneself and especially of the psychic mechanism of which emotion is only one aspect.

The Head and the Heart Together

Equally important is understanding. The head and the heart, which are usually supposed to be the principal limbs of our system, represent understanding and feeling. These two have to be combined in any approach in yoga. We have to be careful that we do not go to an extreme either in too much rationalism or too much sentimentalism. Too much logic is bad, but too much emotion is equally bad. We will have to combine a logical approach with feeling, and then our practice becomes a proper instrument. It is easy to accept that reason and feeling should go together, but in practise it is difficult. We always go either to this extreme or the other. We are either too much critical about things or too submissive. It is rare that we find a proper proportion of these two elements in our personality. We either start weeping as if there were nobody to help us, or we twist our lips in a critical attitude, as if everything in the world is wrong and we alone are right.

The humility of the student of yoga is not weakness of any kind but is a flower that blossoms due to a great understanding which is rare to find in this world. The student of yoga is always in a state of understanding which is combined with an appreciation of things. It is not merely understanding; it is reinforced with appreciation of things, and when appreciation goes with understanding, we become firm in our personality and nobody can do anything to us. It is not the toughness of obstinacy but the toughness of confidence, understanding and the capacity to adjust oneself with the realities of life.

The student of yoga does not react to surroundings but rather absorbs circumstances into him or herself, and the capacity to absorb circumstances is itself a proper reaction. It is not an ordinary reaction that we will find in a sincere yoga student. It is difficult to explain what it is actually. It is an all-encompassing confidence in one’s position. Understanding and appreciation are the supreme virtues of the world. Sometimes we understand but cannot appreciate, and sometimes we appreciate but cannot understand. To bring these two together is difficult enough, but this is true goodness—it is the crown of all virtues. All virtues are like attendants of the simple virtue of the capacity to blend understanding with the appreciation of things.

Here it is that we become a super-person and not an ordinary human being. We cannot be ordinary human beings in this condition, because we combine the qualities of all humanity, which is summed up in appreciation or feeling and understanding. There is nothing in a human being except these two factors—the feeling for a thing and understanding of a thing. We as persons are nothing else but this, and all other things follow these two. In the judgement of our own selves, as well as the judgement of the world, these two principal elements of our psychological make-up have to get blended properly.

This would at the same be a caution that one has to exercise in yoga. The caution has to do not with danger impending from outside, but rather the caution that must be exercised because we may forget to blend these factors in proper proportion, and therefore lean in one direction alone. It is this blend of factors of understanding and appreciation that makes us feel happy within ourselves. Nothing can make us as happy as confidence, and no happiness can be present if these factors are not properly blended in our personality. We then become independent, and we feel a strength of an unusual kind. Only through this can we step into the true realms of the practice of yoga. It is in this sense that the Upanishads say, “Weaklings cannot practise yoga.” It is this strength that we are called upon to have in yoga practice. So this is, by way of a recapitulation of the ideas that I tried to present earlier, the preparation for the practise of yoga. For all purposes we should regard the preparation as more important than the very practise itself, because everything that we are going to do in the future depends on this fundamental groundwork.

Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has prescribed three methods of self-discipline, which I always advise to be followed in daily routines as a kind of a personal check-up. The first is the spiritual diary, the second is the resolve form and the third is the daily routine. Sometimes people used to call this the “trisul” of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. Trisul is a trident with three prongs, and Lord Siva is supposed to be holding this Siva’s trisul. We may call it Swami Sivananda’s trisul—the spiritual diary, the resolve form and the daily routine. The spiritual diary is a series of guidelines which can be modified according to our own needs, temperament and particular practice. One should consult these guidelines and question oneself as to how able one has been in following them. One queries one’s own self and by answering the queries in the spiritual diary. Through the maintenance of this diary, we will be able to check our progress every day and also know where we have gone wrong or failed. “How many times have I done this, and how many times have I not done this,” and so many other questions are there. From this we can have a good review of what we have been yesterday and previously, and what we ought to be in the future. A good stocktaking of our conduct, our strengths and weaknesses, etc. is the regimen of the spiritual diary.

The other part of the spiritual trident is the resolve form. There is a form available of the resolves that we ought to make: “I shall do that this year, and I shall definitely do it. I shall not do these things this year, and under no circumstance shall I do them. There are small weaknesses which should be avoided this year. I am not going to do these things.” It is a vow similar to those that we might take on New Year’s Day or some other auspicious occasion.

In order that we do not forget our own vows and break them in the middle, and also to instil some fear in our hearts, we can take these vows in the presence of Mother Ganga or before the rising sun or in a temple. We would be frightened to break them afterwards, if we have promised in the presence of these “witnesses”. “I cannot break this, because in the presence of Ganga I have said this, before the rising sun I have said this, or before the deity in the temple I said this.” We cannot break these vows because we will naturally be frightened. This is the way of ensuring that the vows are adhered to. The observance of these resolves is implied in filling in the resolve form.

Then we have the daily routine which is the third item. One should not just be hazardous in one’s practice on different days. Today we do a thing, tomorrow another thing, the third day another thing—all unconnected. This will not ensure our success. In yoga practice, a kind of tenacity to routine is very essential. The time of our getting up in the morning and going to bed, and also the time for such simple routines as our breakfast, tea, milk, lunch, walk, study, etc. should be fixed. We will do these things at a specific time. It should not be like today having our breakfast at eight, and tomorrow at ten. Every day we should have these routines at a fixed time. The time for our prayers, for our asanas and pranayama, the time for study, the time for meditation, the time for going to or returning from our jobs, the time for our other kinds of work—whatever be the system that we have been following in our day should be connected with certain specific hours of function.

When these items of the daily routine repeat themselves at specific hours of the day every day, they retain a kind of strength. When we have a habit of making the mind do specific things at certain times, it will do them and it will do them automatically. Like the two legs that walk—when we go for a walk, we do not have to think of the legs. We walk miles and miles without thinking that we have got legs. That is because it has become a habit. Likewise, the mind may make it a habit to follow this routine merely because of the discipline and the system of timings that we follow. If we have different times for things on different days, then we will not be able to stick to them. The daily routine has to be chalked out first: what is going to be our daily routine, and then when are the items to be fulfilled? These are two aspects of the daily routine.

The spiritual diary, the resolves and the daily routine are the three prongs of the trident of Siva. We can remember important precepts of practice, and we will find out how beneficial and necessary they are for us as students of yoga. Discipline is yoga, and where there is no discipline there is not only no yoga, but also no success in any walk of life. All successful people in the world are people who practise self-discipline. We would find it difficult to even discipline our servant if we are ourselves not disciplined, because the world around us imitates us in our conduct and personality and not in the words that we speak. What we are is more important than what we say and sometimes what we do.

A Genuine Personality

Hence, it is necessary to build up the personality first. We have many a time seen that it is as if we had no true personality at all—we shine with borrowed feathers. But these plumes drop off and we end up with no true personality of our own. There are people in the world who appear important on account of an office that they hold, the power that they exert, or the authority they wield. However, when they have lost or given up these positions, they just look like nobodies in the world. Take for instance a senior politician who is thrown out of office. If he has no true personality of his own, once he has lost the power of his office, he will become a non-entity. Today we may be the president of our country, but if we have no genuine inherent personality, we will be nobody after we have left the office. No one will know that we exist at all. We should not become important merely because of the office that we hold or the authority that we wield. This is an artificial importance that we assume, which can be thrown out immediately and cast out into the wind when these positions are not there, and we revert to what we were originally.

The person with a genuine personality will be as important as a big man of the world, for different reasons of course, even if social status is not associated with him. A building up of the personality is to be something by oneself and for oneself. Are we something in ourselves apart from what we are to others? Have we substance to us? Do not tell me what others say about us and what we mean to others—that is a different matter. But what are we when nobody says anything about us, when nobody looks at us, and when nobody will have anything to do with us? What are we then? What we are at that time is our personality, our substance and our vitality. This is our strength and this is the real person.

This real ‘you’ it is that has to practise yoga, and not the politician’s personality or the businessman’s personality. These are not going to practise yoga. The real ‘you’ is something which is not seen in daily life. Mostly we live a public life rather than a private life. People who are very busy in the world and who are so engaged in things have no time to think as to what they really are in themselves. All the definitions of themselves are in terms of others. “Who are you?” one might ask them. “Well, I am the son of so-and-so.” We are nobody by ourselves; we are only a son of so-and-so or a daughter of so-and-so. We may mean something to somebody, and somebody means something to us, but I am asking who you are, not whether you are a son or a daughter of somebody.

We define ourselves in this manner, and we cannot define ourselves without relating ourselves to somebody else. This kind of personality is a false personality, and this is not going to help us in yoga. The social relationships and the possessions that seem to be ours are different from the elements that we have to foster in the practice of yoga. Plotinus, the great mystic, used to say, “Yoga (of course he never used the word ‘yoga’ and I am substituting the word ‘yoga’ for what he said) is a flight from the alone to the Alone.” The ‘Alone’ is the Absolute, and we as the alone have to fly to the Alone. We cannot carry our baggage with us in the practice of yoga. Alone we fly to the Alone in yoga practice without associations of any kind. This aloneness it is that ensures moral strength, as well as the power of will, understanding and feeling. The more we realise that we are alone, the more we gain strength in our personalities. The more we associate with others, the weaker we are in our personalities.

In our daily meditation, a few minutes may be dedicated to realising our true position in this world. What is our true position? Mature minds will be able to understand this quickly. We need not be taught what we are truly. We go by a friend’s smile and words of appreciation too much, but there comes a time in our lives when these smiles and appreciation don’t help us. We seem to be needing something more substantial. A few minutes daily we must spend in order to realise what we really are—not a son of so-and-so, not a prime minister, not an office-goer, etc. We should not define ourselves in this way. We should ask ourselves, “What am I when I am cast to the winds?” This is our true personality, and when we realise this honestly, we will gain a strength from within. “This is my true position. I never knew this.” We gird up our loins in a different way altogether, not depending on others and things outside us which can leave us at any time. The strength of the aloneness is a superior strength, a strength of moral perfection and a strength of our true relation to nature and finally to God. It is only in this sense of aloneness that people become truly devoted to the religious and spiritual ideals.

Many a time a complete isolation from possessions has turned people to God. Everything has been lost and all the family has died—these circumstances occur to many people, and then they turn to God. “Oh, there is nothing in this world!” But we need not always be driven to these conditions, because we can consciously delve into these situations and not have them forced on us under duress. “What has happened to somebody else may happen to me also.” We need not wait for the time for things like that to happen to us. They need not happen, but they can happen. We should release ourselves from the false clutches of psychological associations and be prepared for the worst. Do not take anything to be unexpected—we should be able to expect anything in this world. It is ignorant to not have this degree of expectation. Never say, “I didn’t expect this.” We have to expect the worst, and then we will not be taken by surprise by anything in this world. Everything is expected, we are prepared for it, and we have the strength to bear it.

A recollection mentally of our true aloneness and unbefriendedness in this world, a recollection of our essential personality, of our social atmosphere, of the necessity to be alone and standing on our own legs, and a final realisation in our own minds of the need to look for the higher—these may give us strength enough to practise yoga. “The higher alone has to come to my aid; my present level is not going to help me. All people in the world are like me. Who is going to help me, and what help can they give? They are in the same situation as I am. So there is no point in expecting help from other people. They cannot give me any substantial help in times of need.” The lower can be helped only by the higher, and so to look for the higher is spiritual morality. This is a step higher than merely the moral consciousness to which I made reference previously, which again is higher than mere abidance by the moral code of society.

These are levels of morality. The outermost is mere conformity to the law of society. The inner one is a realisation of the need to practise the moral canon inwardly and voluntarily. The highest morality is the dependence on the higher levels of being. For success in all walks of life, these contemplations, these reviews and these analyses will make us so strong in our personalities that we will smile to the whole of nature. Nothing will be able to shake us up afterwards, because of our confidence in having resorted to this realisation of the higher backing us up at every point of our activity.

This, in a religious sense, is called devotion to God—whatever be our God or whatever our concept of God may be, it is immaterial. Surrender to God, dependence on God and devotion to God, etc. are religious ways of expressing a very scientific and psychological truth of the necessity to depend on the higher level for the sake of success in the lower. Thus, and by these and many other means which we are free to think of for ourselves, we can build up a true personality, and we can face the world confidently without diffidence of any kind. In this firmness of the personality that we have achieved by a gradual daily practice, we will be able to face the facts of life. Perfection, even to an approximate extent in our attempt to build a true personality, is itself a great achievement in yoga.

What I have explained up to this time is one step in the practice of yoga—a very essential limb of the practice of yoga. When we truly consider it, we will find it to be many more things than what it seems to be on the surface. To build up our personality and to be something in ourselves is very essential. Our happiness will rest merely in a contemplation of these values that constitute us, and will not anymore depend on our associations outside. Just to contemplate what we really are would itself be a great pleasure for us—rather than contemplating objects of sense, possessions or relationships.

Maintaining a Background of Thought

We must have a background of thought. We must be able to withdraw ourselves in times of necessity like a tortoise withdrawing its limbs. We should not ignore our background of thoughts. It is not that we may always be able to maintain a poise of mind, and sometimes we are disturbed by certain things of the world. At that time we must be able to withdraw ourselves into a background of thought that we should be able to maintain perpetually, and that would be our home. It may be like a tortoise withdrawing its limbs into its shell, or it may be like going back home. When there is nothing else to distract us, we retire into this profound place. That retirement into the background of thought, which is our permanent reality, will give us sufficient rest.

Everyone should be perpetually maintaining a background of thought to which we are able to retire occasionally in times of need, because the movements of our minds in the outer world are momentary associations and needs. They are not our perennial needs. When winds blow violently from different directions in the world and we cannot stand these winds, we must be able to withdraw ourselves into our home which is our true personality. When we contemplate these aspects properly and in their thoroughness, we will appreciate how important it is for us—not only in the practice of yoga, but also in the many small things that we have to do in our lives. There are many small things that we do, and they will become objects of enjoyment. Even such simple things as sweeping the floor, washing or cooking may become a beautiful art for us when we do them with this firmness of personality and a confidence in what we really are. All our activities will become a beautiful art, and art brings satisfaction and joy.

Work no more becomes a drudge to a person who builds up a strength of personality of this nature. Life becomes a manifestation of beauty, and there is no more such a thing as menial service or undignified labour for that person. Menial service does not exist in this world. There is no such thing as something lower, because it all assumes a beauty of its own when it is done by a beautiful person. The beauty lies in us and not in the work that we do. The work becomes beautiful if we are beautiful. We are so ugly in our personalities, and yet we expect beauty in things that are connected with us. When a beautiful person does the work, the work also becomes beautiful. Convert your personality into a work of art and beauty, an object of admiration and satisfaction, and then we’ll see if the world is beautiful or not. This is how we have to build up our personalities, and then we will realise that our joy knows no end.