by Swami Krishnananda
When we are walking in a thick jungle, it is possible that our clothes may get caught in a thorny bush, and many thorns may be pulling us from different directions. What do we do then? We stop and very slowly try to remove the thorns, one by one. We do not pull our clothes by force, lest they should tear. Perhaps we will remove the smaller thorns first, because their prick is mild; and we will try to remove the bigger thorns that have gone deep later on, gradually, stage by stage. This is exactly what to do in the practice of yoga.
Our entanglements are manifold. Our consciousness that has lodged itself in this body is entangled in many types of relationship – some mild, some intense, some proximate, some remote, some visible, some invisible, and so on. The entanglements are umpteen, inconceivable to the ordinary mind of the human being. The disentanglement of personal consciousness from its involvements and multifarious connections with the external atmosphere is done with great caution – not in a hurry. Every step that we take in yoga is a very cautious step, and the step should be taken in such a way that it need not be retraced.
In the practice of yoga, there is no point in being in a hurry. God is not going to run away. He is always there, though we may see Him tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and not necessarily just now. Also, we will not be successful if we are in a great hurry, because hurry is caused by a lack of proper understanding of the prevailing conditions.
I mentioned sometime earlier that correct understanding is the initial prerequisite of the practice of yoga. Viveka is proper knowledge of the entire conditions and circumstances of the case. Just as in a medical examination or a legal procedure all the circumstances of the case have to be known thoroughly before any step is taken in rectifying the issue, so is the case with yoga. Perhaps the rule applies more to yoga than to any other issue.
The entanglements of consciousness are such that they cannot easily be made objects of investigation because, as I pointed out several times, the involvement is not an object of consciousness; it is a part of consciousness itself. The involvement becomes a part of us. We are ourselves an embodiment of the involvements and, therefore, we cannot investigate into the nature of these involvements. When a person is angry, he becomes an embodiment of anger. Therefore, there is no question of investigating into the causes of anger when we are already in a fit of rage. We do not examine the conditions of anger, and then get angry. We are already possessed by a devil, and when we are in such a state of possession, our whole personality is lodged, sunk in that condition, and there is nobody to find out the causes thereof. Whatever be the condition we are in, that becomes a part of our nature. Therefore, disentanglement of ourselves from that condition becomes a practical impossibility. That is why the practice of yoga is so difficult.
Whether it is an intense passion or a desire, an ambition, an anger – any sort of intense form of relationship, whatever be its character – it becomes a difficult problem. Everything is a difficult problem for us when it becomes deep, intense, and very involved; and all the questions of life, when they are pushed to their logical limits, become unanswerable. Such is the hardship in the practice of yoga that ancient students, disciples, seekers, had to undergo a very severe process of discipline under a master. Such severity is associated with the discipline that most people would be regarded as unfit for the practice of yoga. The severity is intolerable. It comes as a great pain in the beginning, though its result later on is a great joy. We have only to read the lives of great saints and seekers of the past, whether of the East or the West, to know the difficulties involved in spiritual practice. It is like peeling our own skin, as I mentioned. It is like removing our own flesh, as it were, or breaking our bones. Who would be prepared to do that? It is not a diversion or a hobby that we are embarking upon when we take to the life spiritual or the practice of yoga. We cannot expect pleasure, satisfaction, joy or delight at the very outset. What we get in the beginning is a poisonous reaction, a painful repercussion, something very difficult to understand – something that will give us a kick and throw us out, and tell us, “Don’t come near me again.” This is yoga.
But our modern disciples are made of a peculiar texture. They are accustomed to a push button life. Everything has to happen immediately, instantaneously – now or never. “God must be seen just now, or I don’t want Him.” Everything has to be subjected to scientific observation, logical deduction and scrutiny in the empirical sense of the term. This is a tremendous prejudice into which we are born, which we are unable to get rid of.
All our learning, all our prejudice, may have to be cast out to the winds when we become students of true spiritual life. All our qualifications become dust or dirt, a meaningless accretion grown on our personality, because our learning becomes a part of our pride, a part of our egoism which has given us a social status – which itself is an unwanted growth like a mushroom on our personality. That which has given us status in social life is anti-spiritual because our importance, if it has come from external relationship with human society, cannot be regarded as importance. And if our education has a value only in human society, and if it is useless when we are absolutely alone, it cannot be regarded as learning, knowledge, or as important.
When we are faced by a ferocious tiger in a jungle, how is our learning going to help us? We may be an Oxford PhD, but what is the use when a lion is standing before us with a yawning mouth? Can we tell the lion, “I am a PhD, sir. Don’t come near me!” He will care a hoot for our PhD; he will swallow us immediately. In any catastrophic condition, our learning will not help us out. The wrath of nature cares not for our education. Even social anger, which sometimes comes to the surface, does not care for our education. Hunger and thirst, sleep, passion and anger – all these care not for our education, whatever be our learning.
We have got small weaknesses which loom large in our life, and which control the entire activity of our social existence. Here we will find that whatever we have learnt is meaningless. What have we learnt? We have learnt nothing. We have only counted the items of the different material presentations in our physical life. We have only acquainted ourselves with the outer connections and relationship of things, which we call scientific knowledge; but that is not the wisdom of life.
That which can help us when we are absolutely alone and when we are in utter danger is real learning. We are in utter danger, danger of life itself perhaps, and we are absolutely alone. There is nobody around us; at that time what will help us? That is our knowledge and our learning; and anything else cannot be regarded as learning. In the practice of yoga, the usual learning of the world will be of no use, because whatever we have studied has a utilitarian value in the sense of physical and social relationship, but it has no spiritual significance. That which is spiritually significant is that which is connected with our soul, and not with our body or its social connections.
The practice of yoga is an endeavour of the soul, and not merely of the sense organs or even our psychological constitution. It has nothing to do with what we regard as meaningful and valuable in the ordinary walk of life. So when we step into the realm of yoga, we are new persons altogether. We are reborn, as it were, into a new setup of things, and we cast out our old, outdated, worn-out knowledge and learning, prejudice, ego, importance, status, etc., and become humble in the presence of the master who is going to initiate us into the technique of yoga.
The disciple is no more an independent individual. The first condition of discipleship is surrender to the Guru, which means to say he has abolished his individuality, cast out his learning and intellectual curiosity, and becomes a receptacle for the entry of the wisdom of the Guru. For this purpose, one has to be prepared to undergo the necessary disciplines in the practice of yoga. While the whole of the practice of yoga may be regarded as a discipline by itself, there are certain preliminary disciplines which have to be regarded as equally important – as important as even samadhi – for God-realisation. No step in the practice of yoga can be regarded as unimportant, just as in a ladder no rung can be regarded as unnecessary. The lowest rung in a ladder is as important as the highest, because we have to climb on every rung of the ladder. We cannot say, “It is so low. I am concerned only with the top.” That would be a foolish argument. In every step, at every stage, we will find that this step or stage is very important – even the most initial and beginning step.
So, it is necessary to start with the outermost entanglement of our nature, and gradually go into the internal steps – as has been suggested by masters like Sage Patanjali in their aphorisms and sutras, to which I made reference yesterday. Our outermost entanglement is social, and then comes the personal entanglements; higher than that is entanglement with the physical nature; lastly, there are inscrutable entanglements which are transempirical, which are supernatural, to which we have to stretch our arms later on. We should not suddenly try to jump to the skies, as if everything could be achieved in a single moment. Though the aspiration might be regarded as very pious and holy, that cannot be regarded as a part of wisdom. Everything in nature grows gradually. The child grows slowly and gradually in the womb of the mother. The tree grows gradually from a seed. Food is digested in the stomach gradually, slowly, systematically, methodically. Everything takes its own time, and there is a meaning in the time anything takes for working out its purpose.
So, the outermost of our entanglements is the first consideration. Many a time, as I mentioned, we cannot know what our entanglements are. We are so very complacent, generally speaking, that we regard ourselves as spotless in our character and perfectly okay in every sense of the term. This is one of the weaknesses of our personality. We regard ourselves as free from all blemish, fault, and defect – morally, intellectually, and spiritually. We have to be very dispassionate in our analysis. We have to be thoroughgoing, and we have to be true to our own conscience; that is very important.
Our conscience is our master. Our deepest conscience will tell us what we are. Can we not know to some extent what we are, what our weaknesses are, what we are thinking in our mind subtly, covertly, without the knowledge of other people? These are our entanglements, which connect us with society in an artificial manner.
Our adjustments, makeshifts and behaviours in society are not our true nature, because our true nature cannot be exposed on account of the laws operating in human society – rightly or wrongly. This is what psychoanalysts call the superego curbing the ego of the individual and creating a tension. The pressure of society upon us becomes the cause of our disease, psychologically; and if the pressure continues for a long time, we will be sick mentally. We have got urges within us, and the society would not tolerate these urges, for its own reasons. As I mentioned, sometimes it is right and sometimes it is wrong in curbing our urges. Whatever it is, we have to be very wise in dealing with human society.
We cannot say, “I have nothing to do with human society because I am a seeker of yoga. I have nothing to do with this world because I am a student of yoga.” This, again, is not a correct position or a true state of affairs. We are dependent on human society to some extent. Sometimes the dependence is very intense, very wide, and very deep. Sometimes it is not so, but it is there. Our connection with other people can be political, social, communal, or something similar with different shades of meaning, but these relationships or connections have to be thoroughly investigated.
That we cannot bear a word of insult shows that we are dependent on human society. If an ass brays before us, we are not bothered. We do not know why it is braying. It may be calling us an idiot, but we are not bothered, because we do not understand what it says. Even if it really calls us an idiot and we know it, we are not bothered. These are very interesting features of our psychological nature. If we are walking on the street and an unknown stranger calls us an idiot, we would not bother so much. Suppose Prof. Jack is walking through the streets of Rishikesh, and some unknown person from a village says, “You are an idiot.” Well, he won’t bother with, “Who is saying this? Who is this gentleman? Why is he calling me an idiot?” Because he does not know who we are, and we do not know who he is, we would not take it very seriously. But if a known person calls us an idiot in the midst of people who are known to us, that will make a greater difference to us, because we are dependent upon the opinion that other people have about us. This is social dependence – a serious matter indeed.
A major part of our life is constituted of this nature. Though we look independent, we are not independent. We are dependent on silly features of life; otherwise, we would not be craving for name and fame. Now, by name and fame, we need not necessarily mean worldwide renown. It can be even a desire to be called a good person or known as a good person, even in the smallest vicinity of our village or mohalla, etc. Not only that, we are dependent on society for other reasons also, all which are mostly known to everyone. My dependence on society may not be of the same nature as your dependence on it, because individual characteristics differ. Therefore, each person has to make a personal investigation into his or her own nature and its relationship with human society.
Love and hatred are the essential social features of personal relationship with the outer world. As I mentioned, the canons of yoga, known as the principles of yama – ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha, which are very important things to remember – prescribe recipes for attaining gradual independence from human society. Very gradually this has to be done, and then it is that it is possible for us to sit alone for meditation, do japa, do svadhyaya, etc., because what we are trying to do generally is to assume this independence that we have already attained over the external world and human society. We close ourselves in a room, sit in a meditation hall, a temple, a church or a cloister, and begin to meditate on the Supreme Being, do japa, etc., under the impression that this is the only thing that is left to be done because everything else has already been done. But that is not so. If that were the case, there would be no chance for a fall. The initial stages have not been transcended; they have only been forgotten. They have been kicked out with force, and that is not a proper thing to do.
“Are we susceptible to anger?” is a question that we have to put to our own self. That we have not got angry for several days does not mean that we are not susceptible. That we have not been subject to any kind of intense desire, passion or ambition for months together does not mean that we are not vulnerable in these spots. It is necessary to make a thorough diagnosis of the inner seeds of these possibilities. “Am I susceptible? If I am placed under favourable conditions, would these passions manifest themselves or not?”
Many a time we are virtuous merely because we cannot help being virtuous. That is not virtue, because it is a condition of being pressurised. We can practice austerity when we cannot get anything because the conditions of enjoyment are not available and, therefore, we are in a state of compulsive austerity or tapas. If we cannot get a blanket for various reasons, we have to suffer the cold, and it is not called tapas. We cannot get a blanket and, therefore, we are tolerating the cold. Do we call it tapas? No, because it is not a concentration of mind or an endurance that we are voluntarily practicing of our own accord.
Yoga is the voluntary practice that we take upon ourselves. It is not something that is thrust upon us by anybody else. Many a time, when we live in monasteries we feel as if yoga is thrust upon us. Many people are unhappy when they go to convents or monasteries of any kind. In the beginning, they go there under the impression that they will be happy. Later on, the conditions of these institutions become a kind of harassment, the reason being that the people are not prepared for the disciplines. When we are not prepared for a condition of living and it is thrust upon us, it becomes a source of sorrow. Therefore, it is essential to know that our practice is voluntary, and we do it of our own accord.
Even the call of God may become a source of pain. A mostly unprepared individual may take it as the greatest sorrow that can befall him, because the call of God is a call of renunciation of all false values, and false values are the only values that we have in the world. So, when these values are to be renounced for the sake of That which we are seeking in the heart of our hearts, it looks as if we are about to die, that we are in the jaws of death.
Hence, to repeat again, there should be no haste in the practice of yoga. There should be a very cautious movement in the proper direction under the guidance of an expert. The involvements have to be gradually undone without forcing ourselves to do anything against our will, because anything that is done against one’s will may, one day or the other, become a source of revolt from one’s own self. We may revolt against our own self if we are in an unprepared condition and things have been done against our will or wish.
The principles of yama – ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha – may be regarded as universal prerequisites of yoga and of all religions, of all mystical approaches and of all sincere efforts of anyone towards a godly life, because the canons of the yamas mentioned are only prescriptions for rectifying the essential weaknesses of human nature. There are many weaknesses, but all these are ultimately connected with certain essential weaknesses, and these have to be set right. They have to be overcome. Many of our illnesses may be capable of being boiled down to a few fundamental illnesses, as homeopathic physicians tell us that all the diseases are born out of a single disease. They try to root out that single disease, in order that the manifestations thereof also are automatically removed. Likewise, in the practice of yoga, we will find that when we are able to discover or detect the sources of our trouble, the manifestations thereof also go spontaneously because the cause is removed. Patanjali, in a very wise aphorism, has stated that we have only very few weaknesses, but they are very serious weaknesses; and they are dealt with in a very scientific and effective manner by the practice of the yamas.
Of all these canons, five in number – ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha – ahimsa, satya and brahmacharya are more important than the others. These are words with which everyone is familiar, and because they are very familiar, we are likely to treat them with contempt. Too much familiarity breeds contempt. “Oh! I have seen him so many times.” Whatever be the importance of that person, the importance goes on diminishing if we see that person daily; and frequenting a person too much also has the same effect. We don’t care even for the sunrise, because we see it every day. “I have seen this sun so many times. He has come. Every day he is coming, unwanted.” This is what we would like to think of even these essentials like the virtues known as ahimsa, satya, brahmacharya.
Many a time we take for granted that these are simple shibboleths or slogans of yoga, not of much meaning to great seekers that we consider ourselves to be. “Not so!” is the answer. They are not mere slogans or shibboleths. They are scientific recipes for the illness of human nature; and unless this disease is removed, we cannot enter into the healthy path of yoga. Yoga is positive health; it is not merely a removal of the disease. And the yamas remove the disease first. Unless the disease is gone, how can we be healthy? What we can do in a state of perfect health, we cannot do in a condition of disease.
So before we try to do what we are supposed to do in a state of health, we try to diagnose our our illness and remove it. That is the ethical discipline of the yamas, or the moral culture that it involves. Very important, much abused, much misunderstood, and much neglected is this aspect of yoga; but it is the foundation of the entire edifice. The whole building is resting upon it, and we cannot have a beautiful structure on a shaky foundation. We are more concerned with the structure, the beauty and the grandeur of the building than with the foundation, even though we know the importance of the foundation. About this we have to think more deeply.