by Swami Krishnananda
It is very difficult to have a clear conception of one’s purpose in life; and this precisely is the factor that goes to make for success in yoga. A hotchpotch mind is unfit for yoga, particularly. We are not dabbling in some confused activity when we take to spiritual life. There cannot be a more serious enterprise than one’s taking to the spiritual path; and while it is difficult to understand what it actually means, it is very easy to misunderstand it, misapply it, misconstrue it, and go headlong in a direction which one can mistake for the right move that one has to make.
A sincere disciple, a seeker, one day put a question to me: “If I have to enter the Absolute today, what sadhana should I practice?” While I appreciated the question very much, I also felt the seriousness that is involved in not only the question itself, but the background of the entire thought process in this connection. My answer to this question was at once: “You have to melt into liquid and become one with everything. This is the sadhana that you have to do if you want to enter the Absolute today.” But who is prepared to melt into liquid? We are hard as flint. Even flint is not as hard as we are. Our attachments are very severe; even iron chains are not as strong as our attachments. But we are self-deluded people, under the notion that we have no attachments. We are immersed in a quagmire, but are under the notion that we are walking along a beaten track which takes us straight to God.
The main sadhana to enter the Kingdom of God is detachment – freedom from attachments. Nothing else is necessary. But freedom from attachment is something unknown to us. The great Patanjali propounds, in his yoga aphorisms, a gradual process of detachment from externals. Attachment is nothing but connection with externals; and we are connected in a thousand ways with externals. Our attachments are not in respect of one thing or two things, or a few things only. We are tethered with a network of multifarious relationships. A few of these are known to us consciously in our minds every day, but many of these are not known to us.
One of the essential conditions the seeker of yoga is called upon to bear in mind is ekantavasa – sequestration, solitude. These days, wrong notions are driven into people’s minds by inexperienced teachers who say that we can be in the midst of a city and yet practice sadhana. Though this goes on very well and sounds fine as a theory and a doctrine, it is a total impossibility when we actually come into practice. The ancient masters who said that solitude is necessary were not fools. Though in the end, in the consummation, it may be possible for us to find a solitary forest in the thick of New York City, consummation should not be identified with the beginning. That would be like putting the cart before the horse.
In this connection, I am reminded of a very homely analogy of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Fire consumes ghee. Any amount of ghee that we pour on fire will be burnt by the fire. Yes, this is a great truth, a fact known to everyone. But suppose we pour a mound of ghee over a spark of fire; will it burn the ghee? The fire itself will be extinguished. The fire first should become a huge conflagration. Then we can pour the entire fuel of the world into it, and it shall burn it to ashes. Our fire of aspiration will be capable then – only then, not before – to burn all the dirt and dust of this world even if it is thrown upon it in huge heaps. But when we are only a struggling spark who has not been able to take even the first step in yoga, if the whole weight of the world is to sit upon us, what will happen? We cannot face it. We will be crushed to dust, finished.
Hence, we should not, at the very outset, at the beginning itself, make the mistake of thinking that we are masters – that we can face the world. Even an Arjuna could not face the Kaurava forces. They were terrible powers. And the world is not so simple as it appears to be. It is a fierce opponent before us, capable of turning us upside down at once if we are not careful about it.
Sri Aurobindo, the great yogi, was fond of saying that there are three processes in the practice of yoga: withdrawal, immersion, and rising up. These were his concepts of the three processes in the practice of yoga. In the beginning, we cannot immerse ourselves in God, though that is our intention, finally. So we should not think, “I shall be in the middle of a centre of attractions, oppositions, etc., and then immerse myself in my spiritual objective.” In the beginning, abstraction, withdrawal, renunciation is necessary. Though withdrawal is not the ultimate aim of yoga, it is a very necessary part of yoga. Isolation is done even in medical treatment, though it does not mean that we have to be isolated forever, throughout our life. The purpose of isolation is to cure us of our illness, and when we are healthy, well, we can move among others.
The mind is accustomed to enjoyments through the senses. Enjoyment is what we are asking for and seeking every moment of our lives. We want pleasure, satisfaction, and we do not want any kind of pain or opposition. Our senses and our mind are used to an easygoing life, where we always yield to even the least pressure from the lower instincts within us. We take advantage of even the first opportunity that is given to us for an enjoyment. If there is an opportunity for indulgence, we shall be the first to take advantage of that situation. We shall not stop to think, “Is it necessary for me? Why should I go to it? Is it necessary, or unnecessary?” We think pleasures are never unnecessary; they are always necessary, and any amount of pleasure would be welcome. We will never say there is a surfeit of pleasure; such a thing can never happen. There has never been a time when we felt that satisfactions have gone beyond limit, because they can never go beyond limit. We have been brought up in such an atmosphere. We are born in such a condition, and we live through it.
How will it be possible for us to be renunciates, to withdraw ourselves from externals, when externals themselves are a part of our life? We live in a world of externals. We are externalised bodies, busybodies. Externality is the texture of our life. Paranci khani vyatrinat svayambhus (Katha 2.1.1), says the Kathopanishad. The Creator Himself projected the senses outwardly, as it were, so that they can never think anything except in external terms. Our thoughts are externalised, perceptions are externalised, judgements are externalised, enjoyments are externalised. There is nothing else in this world except externality. The whole world of creation is a scene of externalisation, becoming more and more intense, and more and more complicated and involved; this is called samsara. But yoga is the reverse process – movement along a return current.
The first thing that we have to do, therefore, is to find time to be alone. We were not born into this world with friends, with husbands, wives and children, with bank balances or relations of any kind. We were born naked, without a strip of cloth on our body, and with none to call our own; and this is also the very condition in which we leave the world. It is only in the middle that we make a lot of fuss under the notion that the whole world is ours. As we came, so we go. The truth is revealed when we are born, and also when we go. The untruth is in the middle, when we are completely muddled in our heads.
A great thinker and mystic once put it in a beautiful style: The path spiritual is the flight of the alone to the Alone. It is not a multitude going to God. Such a thing is unthinkable. Very important it is to remember that we are alone in this world even now. Even today, even at this very moment, we are alone.
We should not be under the impression we have got many friends around us. This is a false notion. The so-called friends and relations that we have around us in the form of human beings and possessions of various kinds are a false environment created around us to delude us and dupe us into the wrong path. These possessions, friends, relations, etc., are not going to help us when we are in a critical moment or in time of danger, because our relationship to people is artificial. Anything that is artificial will not last long. Our connection with other people in this world is not genuine, not natural, not organic; and, therefore, it cannot work when the time for it comes. Why is it so? It is because, to put it in a very philosophical jargon, the connection of a subject with an object is makeshift. It is a contrivance brought about for sensory perception and a false feeling of fulfilment, and bringing about of a sense of satisfaction to the ego-ridden individuality.
A subject cannot be connected to an object, because there is no means of connection. We have heard in logic that ‘A’ cannot be ‘B’, and ‘A’ cannot be connected to ‘B’ in any manner whatsoever; and if there is a means of connecting ‘A ’to ‘B’, ‘B’ ceases to be ‘B’; it will be a part of ‘A’. The very fact that we regard other people as ‘others’ shows that they are unrelated to us essentially. Otherwise, why do we regard them as others? Otherness is the feature which disconnects everything from everything else, and yet we are under the impression that we are all one total of friendliness, brotherhood, etc.
There are peculiar features in us, in every one of us, which can be manifest at any moment of time, and which can upset and destroy even the best friendship and relationship. I can behave with you, just now, in such an ugly manner that you would not like to see my face from tomorrow onwards. With all the regard that you have for me, I can behave with you in such an unwanted manner that you would not see me again. But, these things are not known to people; and even if they are known, they do not want to reveal them outside, for the purpose of what they call ‘getting on in the world’. There is no such thing as real friendship in this world. It is a misnomer. But we are caught into this net of a wrong notion, a foolish belief that the world will support us, help us, and we have many things at our beck and call. Yoga wants to put an end to this false belief, and call a spade a spade, as they say.