by Swami Krishnananda
The purpose of yoga is attunement of the individual with the cosmic, and inasmuch as in this effort the cosmic has to be approached as it is and not as it appears to us, a difficulty presents itself. We can only know it to some extent as it appears before our eyes, but any kind of approach to it in the manner it appears rather than as it truly is would be a mishandling of its laws. These laws will naturally set up a reaction when they are not properly handled. We cannot know what is in the world outside, inasmuch as our ways of knowing are the eyes, the ears and the different senses. These are incompetent to know nature, the world or the universe for two reasons. One, they are a part of the world, a part of nature and a part of the universe, and so we cannot know that which is their very cause. The second reason is that the world stands before the senses as an object opposed in structure to the senses and the mind on account of the operation of the law of space, time and causation. However, there is one way by which we can have some idea as to what nature contains within itself. It is this clue that yoga takes in its analysis as well as its practice.
That which is in us should naturally be that which is in nature, because we cannot have anything within ourselves which is outside nature’s purview. By an entry into our own personality, by a study of what we are, we can know what the world is, because we are specimens of what the world is made of. The study of the subject by the subject, the study of oneself by oneself, may give an indication as to the way the world outside has to be approached. What we are the world also is, and therefore the way we have to approach ourselves should be the way we have to approach the world. There is no other way, and any other way would be an erroneous path which will not lead to success. We already tried to make an analysis of the layers of the cosmic existence outside. What is within is without, and vice versa.
Inasmuch as yoga is an attempt at the integration of forces within in relation to the corresponding forces without, yoga has taken many forms. Some have emphasised only the subjective approach, some the objective approach, and some have tried to bring the two together. The purely subjective approach led to such techniques as hatha yoga, kundalini yoga and certain aspects of raja yoga of Patanjali, and sometimes to the extreme views of certain idealists.
The mentalists and a few proponents of the Vedanta philosophy took a very subjective turn in their ways of analysis and practice. The special emphasis on the subjectivity of truth took such extreme turns that the world was seen as being only in our heads, and that every head has a world of its own within. It looked as if our minds were making this world. We have heard it said that the world is a mental creation, though we might not have understood properly in what sense it is a mental creation. There are numerous people who go on harping on this notion that the world is made up of mind stuff. This is a purely subjective approach made by certain schools of thought which confine themselves to the discoveries made within the human personality. However, these schools did not pay sufficient attention to the outer counterpart of the human personality, namely, the universe or the macrocosm.
On the other hand, another section of people did not pay sufficient attention to the subjectivity of truth, and contended that truth is purely objective. This was the bhaktimarga or the devotional path in which God is objectivity rather than subjectivity. Contrary to the hathayogins, the kundaliniyogins or some of the Vedantins, the bhaktas (devotees) began to affirm the pure objectivity of God and sometimes even, in Christian theology especially, His utter transcendence rather than immanence. Also in the Muslim school of thought we have the transcendence of God emphasised rather than immanence. “God is above, not here,” they would contend.
All devotional schools of thought emphasise the transcendental aspect of God rather than His immanence. Though they do not deny His immanence, they are not very much concerned with it. God is above rather than within; God is difficult of approach, rather than an immediacy within us; God is a Father, the Supreme Parent, rather than the Atman within—these are all the emphasis of the bhakti cults both in the East and the West. God is the universal rather than the individual. He is the omnipresent and omniscient Creator of this vast universe, and it is in this attitude that we have to approach Him, the most magnificent, all-encompassing and transcendent Reality. This is how God is approached in the devotional schools or the bhaktimarga, in which the subjectivity of the devotee becomes insignificant to a large extent. The seeker is a small insignificant individual before this tremendous Maker of the cosmos.
Who is this small, puny man before this tremendous and magnificent Creator of this universe? So the path of surrender or bhakti emphasised that the small man is nothing before this Supreme Master of the cosmos. The only way to approach God in this way would be to annihilate the personality, which is really a nothing in its essentiality before God, who is the Maker of all things. How large is God, how huge is this cosmos, how enthralling is this universe, and what is this small man in regard to this frightening universe? How powerful should God be, Who is the Creator of this magnificent universe? How can such a powerful being like God, the Sovereign of the universe, be approached by a puny and mortal individual encased in a body? Hence, the importance of the subject is abolished in bhakti yoga, and the importance of the object is emphasised.
The Vedanta takes the opposite point of view. The Vedanta has many schools, and not all the schools agree with one another. One of the schools, which is the most extreme in its subjectivity of approach, abolishes the value of the object and emphasises the pure subject only, saying that the whole universe is a creation of our minds. In the West there was a philosopher of this kind named George Berkeley, who is reputed to have propounded the curious philosophy that even the mountains, rivers and trees in front of us are dancing just because our mind is dancing—otherwise they wouldn’t be there. If we do not think of them, they will not be there. This is the Berkeleyan subjectivity of the West, which is not a new thing for India, because in India we also had thinkers of that kind.
Extreme emphasis on one side, namely the subjectivity of reality, led to the conclusion that the whole world is in the mind of man—your mind, my mind and so on. We ourselves make the whole cosmos. It went to such an extreme that certain Vedantins began to affirm that even the idea of God is only in our minds. “There is no God except what we contain in our own thoughts. Even the idea of Ishvara is a concept of our minds. Even the idea of the Creator is an idea, after all.” This was a tremendous move to one extreme side which was taken in the idealism of the subjective Vedantin.
On the other hand we have the extreme step of the bhaktas or devotees, who denied the importance of the individual and emphasised only the supremacy of the Creator of the outside world. We therefore have a gulf between the Vedanta and bhakti yoga, the one saying that we make the world, and the other saying that we are made rather than being the maker. Both these approaches are good so far as they go, but they present certain difficulties of their own, because whenever we take a step in one direction, we are going away from another direction. This is a very simple principle which we can easily understand. When we move in one direction, we are going away from another direction, and we cannot pay sufficient attention to all directions at the same time. If we move towards Badrinath, we are going away from Rishikesh. If we move towards Rishikesh, we are going away from Badrinath. How can we move in two directions at the same time? What happened to us then is that these theories which were originally meant as solutions to human problems ended only as theories. They were only doctrines and philosophies, but were not solutions for human problems. There were many such schools of these thinkers holding endless discussions, and controversies increased both in the bhakti school as well as in the Vedanta school.
If we study the history and philosophy of religion, especially in India, we will find how interesting the nature of the controversy was and how it would eventually lead to a more practical approach. However, at the time people became merely meaningless puppets in ideological discussions which had no bearing on practical life. Philosophy, which originally was intended to be a furtherance of wise and practical living, became the object of extreme analysis and study which led the mind astray. The difficulties of the merely logical approach had such an impact on the practical attitude to things that life became a bundle of difficulties, in spite of these schools of thought which abounded in the country. Even today these people persist, and even today we have people who follow the different schools, and the emphasis is only on the differences of the schools rather than on the aim or the objective of the path that is to be taught. The Vaishnava does not like the Saiva, the Saiva does not like the Vaishnava, the Advaitin does not like the Dvaitin, the North does not like the South, the West does not like the East, the white does not like the black, the top does not like the bottom—this is what we find in the world. All this will naturally lead to dissension among human beings, landing them in an abyss on account of having gone astray from the original intention of the practice of philosophy and religion.
Religion gets despised when it loses its purpose and when it becomes merely a foolishness of the priests, the churchgoers or the temple-worshippers. Today most unfortunately, religion has become both in the East and the West a doctrine rather than a way of life, a theory rather than a technique of practice, and a kind of psychological accretion that has grown over the personalities of people which can be shed if we wear our religion as we wear our coat on our bodies—we can put it on or throw it off. “If I want religion, I shall have it; if I don’t want it, I shall cast it away like an unneeded coat.” This is the reason why we have certain governments, for example, which do not want religion, because religion has nothing to do with life. If religion has nothing to do with life, how can it have anything to do with the hard practical ways of living of the government? It is impossible to reconcile religion and the spiritual approach with the governmental administration and the sociological way of thinking, when religion becomes merely a kind of balm that we apply to ourselves, but which can be washed off.
This ‘balm’ is the theoretical extremism of the priests and the dogmatists of religion rather than the participants in it. We are facing forces today which threaten the very existence of religion—atheism, materialism and many other ‘isms’. The threat is due to this armchair philosophy of religion which the propounders of organised religion began to teach without concern for the practical problems of life. Religion is not going to survive if it has nothing to do with practical living, because we cannot live merely with theories. What are theories? They are only formulas that we make, like formulas in arithmetic or algebra. We cannot live merely with formulas. They are meant to be applied in the technological field, the practical field and also in the field of living, but we cannot live merely with diagrams, formulas, techniques and scientific theories. These are only symbols that represent a fact, and if the fact is not there and if we have only symbols before us, life becomes empty. There is then this apparent gulf between life and religion today.
There is a difference today between the rulers and the pope, the bishops and the teachers of religion. We have the common schism between religion and administration—they have nothing to do with each other. We call a country a “secular state” or a “secular society”. This implies that religion is only a fancy and a whim of our minds which is better kept aside rather than connected to our practical lives. This attitude is deleterious to the health of the personality. Today we know this attitude and this understanding of religion, philosophy and spirituality have been the cause not merely of a doctrinal difference between practical living and religious aspiration, but it has led to certain more serious problems in life, such as revolts of people in different sections of society. Revolts are the things which we read about in newspapers nowadays: revolting factories, revolting schools, revolting universities, revolts in the family, revolts of the son against the father, and revolts of the subordinates against the bosses in the office. The whole life of the world today can be summed up in the word ‘revolt’. No cooperation, but only revolt. I revolt against you, you revolt against me—this is life.
This is the point people have reached today after the advance of civilisation. The reason should be simple and easy to understand—there has been no connection between what our heart feels and what our life demands. The needs of society, the needs of the body and the needs of our personality have nothing to do with our inner aspirations. They seem to belong to different worlds altogether. This erroneous approach to the ideology of the heart of man and the needs of the personality outside have their effects in every level of society, and they also affect seekers of truth. The ideas and ideologies enshrined in churches and monasteries and even in yoga practice, the gulf between the inner and the outer, and the differences between the subjective and the objective have been the “original sin”, if we could call it that.