by Swami Krishnananda
The asanas are often combined with certain other exercises, called bandhas and mudras. These accessory exercises are supposed to help to fix oneself in the practice of asana. All these are physical exercises no doubt, but they have the power to exert an influence over the nerves and the prana. By ‘nerves’ we are not to understand merely the visible passageways of the physical system. They are subtle channels of force, and these are said to also have a counterpart in the subtle body of our personality. It is difficult to say where the physical body ends and the subtle body begins. This physical body seems to fade away in a very indistinct manner into the subtle body, and in turn the subtle body solidifies itself gradually into the physical body. There is no sudden jump from the physical to the subtle, or the subtle to the physical. It is a gradual or ethereal transition that cannot be seen with physical eyes. The asanas, bandhas and mudras are certain postures of the body by which the subtle nerves, called the nadis (through which the prana moves), are kept in a particular position.
I have mentioned the way in which the body may be kept in position, but I mentioned only the general characteristics of poses that are to be maintained in asana. Again, the concept of asana infers a maintenance of a balance of the nervous system; but something else also can be accomplished with these postures. The energy may be kept in balance, it is true, but it also can be directed or channelled in certain ways if the necessity arises. This can be done internally as well as externally. When it is directed externally, it is coupled with concentration. The mind, the prana and the vital force all act together in the focusing of energy to any particular spot external to the body. We shall not concern ourselves so much with externalisation of energy, because that is outside the pale of the practice of yoga, although it is also done for certain purposes. The more important thing is internalisation of the energy rather than allowing it to go outward—to centralise it in particular parts of the body, especially in the astral system.
This art of the centralisation of energy in particular parts of the body has led to the science of what is called tantra yoga, and sometimes called kundalini yoga as well. It is also concerned with mantra yoga or the chanting of religious formulas. The whole technique is one of internalisation of force. Just as energy may be dissipated by the fixing of the mind on objects of sense, it can also get stagnated in the body by disuse. There are people who are not constantly thinking of sense objects, and though we cannot call them sensuous people, their minds are nevertheless stagnant and they are not active in their mental process. The mind is bad enough, whether it is in an act of fixation on the objects of sense or if it is doing nothing.
The purpose of yoga is to so adjust the mind so that it neither fixes on a sense object, nor does it gets stagnant or lodged up in the body because of a lack of action. To be stagnant would be tamas, to be thinking of a sense object would be rajas—but both are equally bad for yoga. What we need is sattva, not rajas or tamas. To think of an object is rajas, and not to think anything is tamas. Sattva is a third condition altogether, which is different from thinking and non-thinking. It is a transparent mood of consciousness, and it is the purpose of yoga to awaken more sattva. The particular systems of yoga called tantra yoga, kriya yoga or kundalini yoga engage themselves in the channelisation of energy. This is a very important aspect of these yogas.
While in all forms of meditation there is channelisation of mental force, in these yogas there is a particular type of channelisation which distinguishes itself from other types of yoga in the following ways. One, these forms of meditation are internalised rather than externalised. Two, this internalisation is restricted to the bodily organism rather than focused on the universal whole. The belief of these techniques is that the knowledge of the microcosm is as good as the knowledge of the macrocosm. If we have a knowledge of ourselves, there is no need to worry about the world. Let the world be made of anything, it makes no difference—provided we know what we are made of.
These yogas concern themselves with the individual rather than with the cosmic, because of their notion that it is pointless to worry about the cosmic when it is enough to concentrate one’s attention on the individual—which is a copy of the cosmic. The body is a specimen of the universal, and within it the whole universe is hidden, just as a tree is hidden in a seed. If we can know what is contained in the seed of a banyan tree, we can know what the tree is made of. Though the tree is so large, its essence is hidden in a small seed. So tiny is the seed, but it can contain within itself the large expanse of the banyan tree. In the same way, this microcosmic individual is identical to this wondrous cosmos. This is the philosophical foundation of kundalini yoga and tantra yoga, and many other yogas are akin to it. They start with certain positions of the body, and they lay much emphasis on asana, bandha and mudra. Emphasis is laid on these because in these specific techniques of yoga the individual is believed to commence with the physical body. Everything that extends from the physical on up to the spiritual is taken into consideration.
As a little digression I might mention the distinction between hatha, kundalini, jnana and bhakti yoga. The difference lies in the fact that the jnanayogins or the philosophically minded people believe that consciousness can transcend everything that is below it, and the proper manipulation of consciousness is all that is necessary. From this philosophical point of view, if consciousness were to properly adjust itself, it could then adjust everything in the world. Intelligence directs everything in the world—thought precedes action. The bodily organism, the nervous system, the sensory powers, the prana—all these are slaves of consciousness, and they will just do what consciousness says. Where the consciousness is, there the senses are, there the prana is, and that will determine the state of the nerves and the body. Our health, our position, our mental state, whatever we are and whatever we have is entirely dependent on the state of consciousness in which we are lodged.
Consciousness is everything to the philosopher and the Vedantin. It is consciousness that has become everything by a sort of gradual condensation of itself. The body, the nerves and the senses are not independent of consciousness. Therefore, when we touch consciousness, we have touched the whole world. When we understand consciousness, we have understood not only our own selves in our integrality, but the whole universe outside. Therefore there is nothing to think and nothing to learn in this world except consciousness, and when we know it, we have known everything. It is a rationalistic approach of the intelligence, analytically and synthetically. This is the essence of the jnana yoga process.
Bhakti yoga differs from jnana in the way that it emphasises feeling rather than understanding. Wherever our feeling is, there our power also lies. Whatever we say or do with feeling has effect. There is no use merely having understanding with no feeling, and we can transform anything in this world by intense feeling about it. Our blessing or curses come through a channelisation of our feeling, and not from our thinking. To contact God, what is necessary is to feel the presence of God. There is no use in our being told that God is so big, so large, and so wonderful—it makes no difference to us. The question is, do we feel His presence? Can we love Him? Can our hearts go to Him?
If our hearts are elsewhere, our yoga is nothing, says bhakti yoga. Where our love is, there our hearts are, and there our whole being is. Whatever be our rationality, it will not help us if our hearts are elsewhere. There are people who are very learned, but their understanding or learning is not in the position to go hand-in-hand with their hearts, because their hearts are different from their understanding. The bhakti marga feels that where feeling is absent, everything is null and void. There is no means except affection to contact God, because in this world affection succeeds where nothing else will succeed. We cannot control anything in this world when our love is absent. Nothing whatsoever can come under our control if our love is diverted from the object of our supposed control. This is the psychology of human living, and this can be applied also to our relations to God. Whatever applies to the world applies to God also. If love succeeds in the world, love will also succeed with God. God sees our hearts rather than our brains.
But the hatha, kundalini, kriya, mantra and tantra yogins emphasise something different, though they do not deny the validity of the points stressed in jnana or bhakti yoga. The shakti yoga philosophy, called tantra in India, is a very vast subject, which even today is not well known to the West. One learned man named Sir John Woodruff has done great research in tantra, but he has been the only Westerner who has taken interest in this subject, and for the most part tantra is a completely closed book to the West. However, not just to Westerners but to almost everyone, tantra has been something unintelligible. People do not know what this tantra or yantra means. They think it is all rubbish and nonsense—but it is not so. Tantra has assumed a bad name due to its not being understood by people and by its being propagated by untutored people. The people who have been talking about it are those who have understood little about it.
It was the intention of Sir John Woodruffe to unveil this mystery to the extent possible, though I don’t say in its entirety, and it has done much good. The whole difficulty was that the tantric texts were all in Sanskrit and were not to be found in any other language. What is more, the Sanskrit in these texts is so enigmatic and couched in such symbolic and metaphorical language that one cannot actually understand what is meant there by a mere reading. Such was the secret of the tantras. The philosophy is akin to the Vedanta, with both placing an emphasis on the organic relation between the body and the world.
The difference between the Vedanta and the Saiva as well as the Shakta Vedanta (tantra) is that, while they both accept the unitary existence of God which is a common point both for the Vedanta of Shankaracharya and the Vedanta of Saivism and Shaktism, the difference between them is that some sort of necessary is laid by the Saiva-Sidhanta (these are terms referring to certain schools of philosophy) and the Shakti doctrine on the vital relationship between the human organism and the organism of the world outside. Tantra believes that consciousness (chit) is everything, but that there is something in the world also, and one has to rise up to the level of universal consciousness called Siva by a graduated evolution from matter to Spirit. Therefore, in this philosophy one cannot ignore matter—it goes without saying. We cannot set aside matter as long as matter is one of the stages of the evolutionary process. There is nothing unintelligible, unimportant or ugly in the world, according to tantra. Everything can be converted into something beautiful, a significant and necessary means in the practice of this art of contact with God, provided we have a purified understanding.
Matter is not dirt; it becomes dirt only when it is out of place. Matter is not ugly; it looks ugly only when only a part of it is seen, and not the whole of it. Any part of our bodies may look ugly if seen only in part, but not when seen as a whole. We may be very beautiful persons, but if we look at ourselves with a microscope, we will not look so beautiful. In the microscope we will see only partially and not wholly, and therefore all the beauty vanishes. It is the case with all things in the world. It is our way of looking at things that is mostly responsible for our evaluations about things.
So we should not say anything negative about the nature of things—they are all right. Tantra and kundalini yoga believe that there is nothing ultimately wrong with things. That which is wrong seems to be the way of looking at things. In homeopathy a similar thing occurs. The belief is that like attacks like, like cures like. This is the difference between allopathic medicine and homeopathy. The opposite factor is used in allopathic, but the same thing is used in homeopathy. “That which can harm can also cure,” is not only the philosophy of homeopathy but also the philosophy of tantra and the scriptures and the arts akin to this line. The world is neither good nor bad to us—it can be good or bad according to our relation to it.
The philosophy of tantra, hatha yoga and kundalini yoga assumes the necessity for a proper utilisation of the energies and materials available in the world for a higher good, rather than despising it with a kind of renunciation. We do not condemn it by renunciation, because the world is not so bad as we think it to be. The world appears to be bad on account of our not properly appreciating it and our not being able to understand it or put it to use. The world is like a flood. We can harness the waters for hydroelectric purposes, or the waters may flood a village if they are not properly channelled. So are the universal forces—they can inundate us and devastate us if they are not properly directed. If however they are harnessed properly, they can be used for great good.
The tantra shastra, which emphasises these techniques of asana, bandha, mudra and pranayama together with concentration, has been regarded as a dangerous technique—especially these days, because of man’s being what he is. We know human nature—it is easily susceptible to temptation. To the sensuous mind, the philosophy of the omnipresence of God is of no use. The mind can use this philosophy for the effacement of all values and the ultimate destruction and self-inundation of the practitioner. These techniques of tantra and hatha also lay stress on moral equipment, and we will find yama and niyama mentioned first. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika we will find yama-niyama mentioned first. In the raja yoga of Patanjali, yama-niyama is mentioned first. When we read the philosophy of Sankara, we will find the sadhana-chatushtaya mentioned first. We will read the bhakti yoga shastras, the Narada Bhakti Sutras or the Srimad Bhagavatam, we will find the moral equipment mentioned as very, very essential.
There is no yoga worth the name without moral purification, and the dread of tantra, hatha and other yogas will come to a person who is morally impure. Otherwise there is nothing dreadful or fearful about them. People handle fire, dynamite and machine equipment that are so dangerous to a child, but are safe if they are scientifically organised and operated. A person who does not know how to use dynamite may be afraid even to touch it. These tantra shastras are like powerful dynamite that can explode at any time, but it can explode for good as well as for bad. It is like atomic energy, which can be made into a bomb to destroy people or be used to provide incredible power.
These practices are becoming more and more unintelligible to people these days on account of people’s asking for quick results without doing anything. Well, we can have a quick result even by invoking the devil—there is no doubt about it. But we know what will happen to us, and we will repent later on. So do not ask for quick results. There is no use in anything happening immediately—let it happen properly. What is important is not the quickness of the result but the efficacy and the rectitude involved in it. All the yogas are wonderful systems. There is no comparison among them. We cannot say that one yoga is superior and another is inferior. They are all wondrous techniques of self-adjustment with the cosmic. Whether it is tantra, hatha, kriya, jnana, bhakti or whatever it is, it makes no difference. We can reach God, the Absolute, through any of these methods; but we are likely to mistake the fundamental insistence on proper understanding of the technique and the moral purification necessary. These two are very important in all the yogas. A very correct understanding of the techniques along with a moral purification is very, very important.
If we go on meditating for years together without knowledge of the technique, we will not succeed. Our technique of meditation may be wrong, and then we will complain that there is no result. The knowledge of the technique is as important as moral purification, and vice versa. These yogas, as I mentioned, take account of the physical body, the nervous system and its counterpart, the macrocosmic. The raja yoga system of Patanjali does not go into the details of these various implications of asanas, bandhas and mudras. Patanjali rather is particularly concerned only with one pose of the body, suitable for a particular kind of meditation. But for your benefit I am mentioning something which is not in the raja yoga system. Those physical postures are to be combined with bandhas and mudras, together with a direction of the prana, combined with concentration of mind.
All these go together—asana, bandha, mudra, pranayama dharana, meditation and concentration—and all get combined in a single act in any limb of this yoga. The physical body is the emphasis in hatha yoga and all the yogas except for bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. This emphasis is to be regarded as a necessary one for obvious reasons. We cannot get over this body-consciousness easily. There is no use saying, “I am not the body, and I have no body.” We know that we have one, and our catch phrases do not necessarily help us. It is not verbal affirmation that is necessary; rather it is an affirmation of the feeling that is necessary.
We always feel that we have a body, though we may go on saying that we do not have one. This is a handicap to our progress. Hatha yoga techniques take account of the bodily organism. Concentration, though it is necessary and is the pinnacle of yoga, can be done together with certain bodily adjustments. Asanas, bandhas and mudras are nothing but bodily adjustments to facilitate the higher purpose of concentration. I may mention a few of these techniques of hatha yoga. I said earlier that we should be seated in one asana for the purpose of meditation. Together with that, one or two of the bandhas or mudras may be practised. The well-known combination of asana, bandha and mudra is that blend of poses called dhyana asana, meaning any pose in which we may be seated for meditation; and a bandha called mula bandha, together with another called the jalandhara bandha, a third one called uddhiana bandha, along with a simultaneous concentration of the prana—all these are recommended.
However, these processes will not yield much result if two qualifications are not fulfilled: one, if we have not sublimated our sensual desires, at least to an appreciable extent, if not wholly; and two, if we have an ulterior motive behind these practices. This ulterior motive would be where we want something through this practice—something in the sense of a power to be harnessed for our personal selfish good or in order to harm someone. This sort of motive implies that the mind is not wholly pure. The second qualification is implied in the earlier one, namely, purification of mind.
It is just like education, as I mentioned earlier. Education is not the art of earning a livelihood. There are some villagers who think that if they have enough land and property that there is no reason for their children to be educated. “When there is plenty of land, property and money, why should there be education?” they ask. They may feel that education is only needed in order for someone to earn money, and in their case there is no need for their children to get an education in order to earn. But education is different from learning how to earn. Education is the art of broadening the outlook of life and not just learning how to get more money.
Unfortunately, most people think that the education one gets is only for the purpose of getting a job, and otherwise there is no use of education. Through education one is getting “fixed” in life, they would say. “Are you fixed?” people ask. By “fixing” they mean that one is able to earn. That is the reason why people think that education is not necessary if one has plenty of wealth. Big businessmen may train their children in only keeping accounts, making leases and running the business. Landholders may teach their children only to cultivate their fields and for reaping and harvesting, which is good no doubt—but it is not education. The mind will not be broadened, polished or regenerated. Education, as we know, is a process of the regeneration of the attitude in life rather than a way of getting on with things in the world.
Likewise is yoga an art and an educative process. Getting something in yoga practice is not the purpose. What is it that we want to get, after all? What is this that we are hankering after through yoga? What is it that we want, and what do we need? What do we lack in life? It is a thorough misunderstanding with which many people approach the art of yoga, and so they do not succeed. We approach yoga like children or fools, having no idea as to what it actually means. Many people take it as a hobby. Others are brought into the practice by an emergency they cannot cope with. “Oh God, if You are there, please come and help!” This kind of prayer may be good in some way, but it will bring nothing. How difficult is it to understand the implications of the approach to yoga. It is just like undergoing a process of impersonal education, which itself is an end and not a means.
A broadening of the outlook of life is an end in itself—it is not a means to some end. Our knowing what life is, is itself a great achievement. As a matter of fact, this itself is God-realisation. Whatever people say of God and the Absolute is nothing but the fundamental spiritual implications of life, and there is no God outside life. This is what yoga really means. Yoga is God-realisation. Yoga is the realisation of the values of life, and therefore yoga is an end in itself. We cannot get something for ourselves through yoga; we must let this idea go.
Without understanding this, people with certain submerged desires practise asanas, pranayama, bandhas and mudras, and as a result they get into complications and become tied into knots. There are various kinds of psychological knots in which we get entangled. Thus, there are people who get lost. I will mention some of the dangers of hatha yoga when it is practised at the higher kundalini and tantra yoga levels if the practitioners are not properly fit for undergoing it. If we meet people who have been studying and practising yoga for years, we may come to know their difficulties. If we have a private talk with them, and if they are ready to tell us the truth, we will be taken aback by the problems and difficulties that one has to meet in the practice of yoga. Yoga is not just a matter of coming and going somewhere. A person once visited here from San Francisco and said, “I’ll just get liberation and go back home!” He thought liberation was something one can purchase from somewhere, and that he could go back to San Francisco afterwards. I said, “Very good. You can have mukti (liberation) and then you can go to San Francisco and show it to others!”
Well, this is an example of how people remain simpletons in these very serious matters, and essentially learn nothing. Finally they begin to feel that there is no God, no religion and nothing of this kind, because they cannot get it so easily. We need not only good students of yoga these days, but we also need good teachers to tell us what it all actually means. There are many teachers who merely say, “Yes, come, come, I will tell you,” but they do not teach anything. A good teacher may not talk to us at first, and we must be prepared for that. To come into relationship with him may be a hard job, because goodness and appropriateness of understanding in matters of yoga is at the same time a great achievement in the stage of dispassion, and the dispassion of a yogin is something difficult to understand.
If we read the lives of great saints and yogins, we will know how difficult it was for them to get knowledge from their Gurus and what tests and periods of training, hardships and untold difficulties these students had to undergo. Many times they became discouraged, gave up and went away. This happened to many; it can happen to anyone, and it continues to happen. We are frightened by the very enormity of the difficulties and the complexities of the practice. We begin with an initial enthusiasm in yoga, thinking that it is just a matter of making a good attempt, and then it becomes difficult—like a child studying physics or chemistry, for example. It is a very difficult science, and one cannot just commit everything to memory. Then the study goes on with more and more complicated fields like relativity, quantum physics and so on. The student doesn’t know what these are, and would rather leave the study than try to go on to learn more. So it is with yoga. Goodness and appropriateness of understanding in matters of yoga are great virtues in the practice and are achieved through calm dispassion. The dispassion of a yogin is something difficult to understand, but must be learned in order to progress.
Given the nature of these difficulties and the fact that we are likely to be led astray, having a Guru is emphasised very much. If a Guru is nearby, like a physician is near to a patient, one sees that the patient is eventually mended somehow and then cured. The patient cannot understand himself. A Guru is like a physician for the student, and for some period at least the student has to be under the supervision of a Guru who is physically present. Some imaginary or mental Guru may be all right for some time later on, but not in the beginning. As long as we have a physical body, we are physically conscious, and we have physical difficulties, a physically visible Guru is necessary for some time. We may think it is a superfluous thing, but it is not so.
We will find later on how necessary a Guru is, because we will be led astray, we will suffer from illusions, we will see certain things and experience certain things which we will mistake for achievements, and we will get into difficult tangles. We may have physical complications, physiological disturbances and psychological entanglements, all of which may come upon us if we do not properly adjust ourselves morally and ethically under the guidance of a competent Guru. The pranas sometimes get locked up in certain centres of the body by a forced pressure exerted on the body by asanas, bandhas and mudras. When the prana is locked up in a particular way, we may feel pain and we may mistake this pain for the rising of the kundalini.
However, let it be remembered that the rising of the kundalini is never painful. Anything good cannot be equated with pain. The vision of God is not a pain, and the rousing of the powers within is not a pain. The pain comes only when the pranas are sidetracked and get centred in unwanted parts of the body. Kundalini yoga, which necessitates the practice of asanas, etc. also touches upon certain aspects of concentration on what are called the chakras. I would like for everyone to listen to me carefully, because all this is difficult to understand. The chakras are whirls of energy in the astral body. Remember that they are whirls of force and are not physical substances which we can touch. They are not merely anatomical parts in the physical body, though the physical anatomy has some connection with these whirls of energy within. These whirls of energy are nothing but the ways of the movement of thought. Finally, the energy which is called kundalini is nothing but mind lodged in a particular level.
Some people have the notion that the kundalini is something like a snake inside us. There is no snake inside us, and we cannot open a part of the body and see this kundalini. It is the mind itself locked up, coiled and whirling in a particular fashion in a specific centre of the body. As we are ourselves limited by the mind, we cannot see this centre with our eyes. The chakras are not physical objects—they are forms taken by the way of thinking itself. As we cannot see our own minds, we also cannot see the centres—but they can be experienced, and they can be realised. They can be contacted internally through feeling, empathy and realisation—but not through seeing as people generally see objects of perception.
While this is one aspect of the matter, another important aspect needs to be discussed. Through an incorrect understanding of the proper method of centring of the prana in concentration, a pranic centre may suddenly get stimulated through this misguided practice. The higher centres do not get stimulated in this sort of practice—the lower centres get touched. As a result, certain powers, one may call them lesser gods, are invoked. In the mantra shastra or the science of mantras, there are certain incantations with which one can invoke the lesser divinities. But these lesser divinities do not help us; they only cause us trouble. The lesser divinities, which are the presiding deities of the lower chakras, get invoked by the passions, desires and force of will through which the concentration is practised. Once these powers are evoked, our simple desires assume large proportions.
Only if we have seen sadhakas (spiritual aspirants) who have been practising for a long time will we know how they behave and what difficulties they have. One of the first things that one sees in the practice of sadhana is that small things can assume large proportions. What would ordinarily be of little consequence appears to be very important, and the sadhaka will go on thinking about it too much. This happens sometimes to sadhakas. One would be wondering, “What is happening to this person? Why is he worrying about these silly matters?” But it is not silly to that person; in fact, it has become very big. Hence, one of the important transformations in concentration, when it is done by an unprepared mind, is the magnified proportion assumed by small things or events. The person cannot be tolerant and becomes intolerant of everything in the world. He cannot tolerate a person near to him nor does he want a person to look at him. All these will happen in certain stages of practice.
They are not normal, healthy conditions. They are no doubt unnatural conditions which may supervene in the case of unprepared minds taking to yoga. The person will be restless, suspicious and will be looking down upon others and being critical of everything. “There is nothing good in this world. Everything is ‘at sixes and sevens’, everything is bad, and everything is nonsensical. This person is like this, that person is like that,” they will say. These things will loom so large in their eyes that they cannot bear to take one step. Once the centres of the lower level get stimulated, these sorts of unnatural conditions of attitude may occur. But another difficulty also gets created, namely, the intensification of desire. A small desire may become very intense—for example hunger. The person will become ravenous in eating food. While normal people will take only a little food, the sadhaka will eat much more, because the appetite has become intensified.
What is more, the affections may become abnormal, even morbid. If one starts loving a thing, one will love it inordinately. The love can be directed to simple things—like a walking stick, a cloth, a water pot, a small hut or a small, torn book. All these may become objects of affection, and the person will hug them without knowing why it is happening. Desires assume morbid proportions—morbid because they are no longer healthy reactions. Anything taken to excess has to be called morbid, for what else can we call it? Therefore, in love as well as in hatred one may become excessive. When one hates, it is to the extreme, and when one loves it is also to the extreme. These are due to the stimulation of the lower centres, especially the svadhishthana chakra. This is the centre of desires, especially sexual desire, and it is here that people often get stuck. They are always in the second chakra, and they do not go to the third. Though they think that kundalini has risen in them to the sahasrara, it has actually not happened. The kundalini has not gone beyond the second level, and yet they become inordinate persons—excessively critical and sentimental. Neither do they like others, nor do others like them. This is what one realises finally. This is very unfortunate, and everyone has to guard oneself against these excesses of central stimulation. We should therefore not try to stimulate the senses in this manner by force.
I have a reason for going so deeply into this. There are people who think that these techniques of stimulation of the chakras are one of the yogas, and they go on doing them intensely for hours together. There is nothing to be gained with that technique, but we must be ready and prepared so that we do not get led astray. Again, I suggest that we must have a Guru. We cannot rely on books and texts—they will not guide us, because they cannot speak to us. The difficulty with books is that books cannot speak to us. They will only tell one thing, just like a parrot that goes on repeating the same thing. That is what a book can do—it cannot tell anything other than what is written there. But a Guru can, because he is a living being, and the knowledge that comes from him is living knowledge. With the help of a Guru we can concentrate our minds on these practices, and they will help us. Asanas, pranayama, etc. are good, but they are good only when they are done with a purified mind, with no ulterior motive, and under the guidance of a preceptor.
There are many other restrictions also imposed, such as diet, atmosphere and environment, because all these influence the system. If we take stimulants and practise pranayama, there will be contrary results. The atmosphere and the climatic conditions should be suitable—neither too cold nor too hot. We must live in an atmosphere of calmness, tranquillity and non-disturbance. With these methods we may practise these techniques of bandhas and mudras, coupled with asana and pranayama. In practising this beautiful combination, the central nervous system gets stimulated. The central nervous system is controlled by a particular channel called the sushumna. The sushumna is supposed to be a vital energy moving through an astral tube in the spinal column. In Sanskrit this is called the meru danda. This has also a cosmic counterpart, called the Meru mountain in the Puranas.
If we read the Puranas of India, we will read wonderful descriptions of the seven worlds, the seven planes of existence, the seven oceans and many other things. These seven planes of existence are the cosmic counterparts of these seven chakras within. If we touch the inside chakras, we touch the outer world also. It is something like operating a switchboard. When we put on the switch, many other things also are connected. A particular chakra within is like a switch, a plug which we can use; and when we touch it, something corresponding to it is also stimulated.
We will find that when we undergo internal change, certain changes take place externally also. Very gradually we will find certain external transformations taking place in the atmosphere. People around us will start thinking about us differently, they may speak to us in a different way, and conditions will change. Something which we cannot understand will take place gradually when internal transformations take place, because of the connection of the microcosmic with the macrocosmic. Hence, there is no individual yoga, personal yoga or selfish yoga. All yoga is cosmic. When we touch our own higher selves, we have touched the whole world. We must give up this idea that yoga is yours or mine, or individual or unconnected with society—there is no such thing. There is no such thing as individual yoga—all yoga is universal. There is no such thing as the selfish yoga of some individual person. This being the case, the yoga of concentration on the individuality should proceed onwards to an understanding of the universal counterparts of individuality, and thereby also to a greater level of moral purification.