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True Spiritual Living

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Chapter 16: Rising to the Mastery of the Soul (Continued)

The practice of yoga is a masterstroke which is dealt at the root of this problem, and no other educational technique will be able to solve this mystery. Not all the qualifications of the best educational institutions will be able to solve this mystery. We have in this dilemma for centuries, and even today we are in the same difficulty. We love a thing and hate a thing at the same time, because we have two aspects in us – the aspect of unity which calls for love, and the aspect of diversity which urges us to disregard that unity aspect. So, there is affirmation of egoism and expression of anger, wrath, and a tendency to battle when we lean too much upon the diversity aspect of things; and there is a great feeling for oneness of mankind, unity of things etc., when we listen to the other aspect in us. Are we to go on like this forever, drifting with the wind that blows as it pleases? Or have we a say in this matter?

The yoga technique is the method of gaining control over these various forces, which up to this time had sway over us and made us their subjects. The yogi is not a subject of anybody; he is a master. He does not wish to be a slave of forces, and he is awakened to the consciousness that his connection with things is such that he need not be a slave for all times. He has a place in the parliament of the cosmos, as it were, and he is not merely a subjected slave of this universal government. Or, we may say, he has a place, a voice, in the government of the universe. To this fact, he is awakened by the knowledge of yoga. He is not merely a puppet in the hands of forces over which he has no control.

These two aspects are brought together into focus even in the preliminary steps of yoga - not merely in the advanced stages - because unless this point is made the pivot of activity in the practice of yoga, we may miss our aim and go astray hither and thither. One of the most important factors to remember in this connection is that our aim is very clear. We know the direction in which we have to move, and there is no use or need in asking people which way to move. The direction has been pointed out already, and the aim also is clear before the mind.

We have a personality which is complicated in nature on account of this peculiar thing that I mentioned. We have what we call the soul or consciousness, which asserts its indivisibility of character; and we have a biological personality which seeks objective satisfaction in the world of space and time, and regards itself as a helpless tool in this world of diversity. We are slaves from the point of view of the body, but masters from the point of view of the soul.

So, are we masters or slaves? This is a very peculiar thing: we have got two aspects combined in us. There is, therefore, the necessity to rise from bodily subjectivity to the mastery of the soul, stage by stage, in the practice of yoga. Even the first step – the asana, the position of the posture - is a preparation for this mastery that we have to gain in the practice of yoga. The padmasana or sukhasana or some such posture that we assume in the practice of yoga is itself a very great step, and not an ordinary step that we have taken, because the stability of the body at once stabilises the biological forces of our personality.

Earlier I mentioned that we are not persons or bodies, we are centres of force. We are not Mr. So and so or Mrs. So and so, as we are imagining. These are wrong notion of things. We are only centres of force, energies circling, rotating and revolving in a particular manner, whirling in a particular direction for a purpose. We are like eddies in the ocean of power.

This is something our present state of mind cannot understand. “I think that I am Rama, Krishna, Gopala, Govinda, Jack or John, but you are saying that I am something else. You are calling me a centre of energy, a force?”

But we are precisely that. What we call chapatti is only a heap of particles of wheat flour spread in a particular manner; and we have given it the name chapatti because it has assumed that shape. There is no such thing as chapatti; it is only small grains of wheat flour stuck together by some means. The whole building is nothing but a conglomeration of small pieces called bricks, but we do not call it a heap of bricks; we call it a building. We have given it another name altogether, such as ‘palace’ or ‘mahal’, but really it is a heap of bricks or small stones kept one over the other. We can as well say, “Here is a pattern of small pieces of bricks,” instead of saying it is a palace. But we have given it another name, for a convenience of our own.

We are made up of such small elements – microbes, cells, atoms, centres of force and energy – and we are neither men nor women. All these are false notions into which we have been born and with which we are brought up; and due to this prejudiced thinking, we are caught up in what we call this samsara.

We are only particular centres of energy, and this asana practice, to come to the point, is a first step that we take to attune ourselves to the atmospheric condition of the forces outside, so that the condition of the forces which constitute this bodily personality is set in harmony with the very same forces which are external to us. It is as if a small drop or a wave in the ocean tries to tune itself with the vast ocean – the Pacific or the Atlantic – of which this little small wave is made. But if the wave is to concentrate itself on its own little localised individuality, it will forget that it belongs to the Pacific. It does not know that it is a child of the Pacific. It thinks, “I am a small, little particle of water.” But yoga is this little, small particle awakening itself to the consciousness: “Oh! I am the Atlantic Ocean; I am the Pacific.” It is really that! It is not gaining any new knowledge, or making a new discovery. It has forgotten that it itself is the Pacific, the Atlantic. Such a terrific thing it is, but it looks like a small drop because of self-affirmation.

Thus, yoga is a gradual, systematised technique of overcoming the prejudice of self-affirmation – the egoistic assertion of the bodily individuality – towards which, the first step is the asana. The confused movements of the body, the chaotic postures we assume, are put into a proper order, and we refuse to be chaotic anymore. We make a determination to be systematic from today onwards. The first system we considered earlier was that of the social harmony we establish by the practice of the yamas – ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha, etc. Now we come to the personal aspect of this discipline from the social aspect, by which we refuse to give undue credit to the affirmations of the body in its clamouring for satisfaction. With applied educational psychology, we bring down the pressure of the ego upon the body and allow ourselves to get harmonised with a larger and larger approach to things – which is, in other words, a growing into wider and wider forms of unselfishness.

The more we advance in the practice of yoga, the more we become unselfish – which means to say, we get into the realm of a wider self. It does not mean that we are losing our self. Unselfishness is not loss of self. It is a transcendence of the lower self in gaining mastery through the higher self. So, ‘unself’ means no self; or in the present context, it means the gaining of mastery over the lower self by the higher self. When we rise to the higher self, we need not think of the lower one, because the lower one is already included in the higher. All the values that we find in the lower self are found in the higher – in a transmuted and rarefied form. So, we come to the recognition of the importance of the practice of posture – asana – in the practice of yoga, whose spiritual connotation I have tried to place before you today.