True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 18: The Power of Yoga

Continued practice of even asana, and a systemised effort at methodical breathing, creates in oneself a new kind of power and energy which otherwise gets dissipated on account of the natural distracted condition of the body. A regularised practice even of simple physical posture – the meditative pose – and a normal healthy practice of breathing, will create a tendency in the powers of the body to unite themselves together into a new kind of force which attracts things towards itself. A gradual capacity to exert influence on one's atmosphere rises automatically in oneself. Our personality becomes a centre of attraction. It is not that we dress ourselves, groom ourselves or have any kind of make-up of the body for the sake of attraction, but certain changes that take place within the body create an internal atmosphere of attraction of everything that is around oneself.

The capacity has various other aspects also, namely, the ability to withstand the pairs of opposites – such things as even heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and psychological opposites as joy and sorrow. We will not be suddenly roused to happiness on account of anything, nor will we sink into grief even if the worst thing happens. The body, in collaboration with the mind, will be able to bear everything in the world. That fortitude is a kind of strength which gets newly generated in oneself. Even if we fall sick, by chance, we will recover quickly and not be incapacitated for years in a hospital. A new kind of capacity to rejuvenate oneself also arises in the system, though there may be a sudden fall of health for various reasons and we may have fever, headache, and so on.

This strength is not ordinary strength. It is the strength of the tendency to unity of powers. It is not the power that we think of ordinarily in the world – such as social strength, political strength, or the strength of status in the public, the temporary strength that we gain by eating a good meal, and so on. This is another kind of strength altogether, which will keep us sane and stable even in an atmosphere of conflict, dissention, and tension. Even if we are placed in an atmosphere of severe conflict, we will not be affected by these conflicts. We will be able to understand, rather than react. The capacity to withstand the impulse to reaction is one of the consequences, one of the results that follow from the continuous practice of asana and pranayama. We become a little different from other people, and the difference is precisely in our being able to turn to a centrality of our being, rather than towards objects of sense.

The greater is the tendency to the acquisition of this knowledge, the greater also is the power, because real power is the same as knowledge. Knowledge is power. Where there is knowledge, power has to be. But, this knowledge is not book-learning. It is not a qualification of the academies. It is a knowledge which is identical with 'being', about which we were discussing a few aspects the other day. Knowledge associated with 'being' is also power, because power is only another name for the expression of 'being', while the common man's notion is one of artificial contact with the facilities and instruments of action. The power to wield instruments of action is not real power, because when the instruments are withdrawn, the power also goes. Suppose we have a gun; we seem to have a power with us. When the gun is not there, we have no power. But the power of yoga is not of that kind. We we do not require a gun or a knife or a sword in our hand. It is power that is manifest by our own 'being', and that power cannot be snatched away from us.

The manifestation of this power can also be felt personally in one's own self and not merely by others, though others may also feel it on occasions. In a beautiful aphorism, Patanjali mentions the consequences of self-control. Rupa lavanya bala vajra samhananatvani kayasampat (YS 3.47): The personality assumes a lustre. There is a new kind of light emanating from our eyes, which can influence the atmosphere outside. Even a violent person may become calm in our presence because of a new kind of vibration that we spread around us. Any kind of doubt or conflict may get cleared up in our presence because doubts and conflicts are the children of the weddedness to diversity, and wherever there is a power that is born of unity or the sense of unity, there cannot be doubt, there cannot be conflict or tension.

There is a peculiar kind of beauty – not the beauty which the senses see occasionally, when they are excited due to their selfishness, but a real beauty which is capable of acting like a magnet around its atmosphere. We will be beautiful even if we have no clothes to wear. Even if we have not taken a bath, that beauty will not vanish, whereas we are under the impression that beauty increases by dress and appearance, etc., brought about by artificial appurtenances. The beauty that is injected into the personality by the practice of yoga is a natural concomitance of the essential nature of our being, and it will be there always. Some of the yoga scriptures go to the extent of saying that even the celestials are drawn towards us due to the grandeur of our personality – celestials, not merely the people of the world!

Lavanya is another word which Patanjali uses. There is a tenderness of our personality, together with that strength our being. There is a beautiful combination of strength and tenderness combined in our personality. We are an unshakeable being. The logic of the world and the treasures of the earth cannot shake us easily, and the power of fortitude sustains us at all times. We become an indomitable figure in our thinking and in our actions. Our decisions become firm, and we need not go on scratching our head to come to a conclusion about important issues. Things become clear at once, on the very face of these appearances. But, at the same time, we become a very tender personality, with the ability to feel the feelings of others – a great virtue indeed – on account of which we do not react to atmospheres.

The virtue of the yogi is understanding, rather than retaliation or wreaking vengeance or reaction of any kind. He does not get stirred up by stimuli from the outside world. He is not a slave; he is a master. A peculiar softness of nature gets combined with the hardness of power. Vajradapi kathorani mrduni kusumadapi: Yogis are described as harder than diamond and softer than a petal of lotus. We cannot do anything to them, such strong people they are; but nobody can be as soft as they are. That is lavanya combined with bala. Rupa lavanya bala: Beauty, magnificence, a magnetic personality, strength – all these follow gradually as a necessary result of our sustained effort at bringing together the powers of our personality, which are dissipated by sensory activity, egoistic affirmation and desires of various kinds. To put them down it is that we take to the practice of yoga.

We have not come to that stage of yoga where our consciousness gets identified with the powers of the world. We are still in a very, very low stage, in the bare stage of the attempt at sitting in a single posture and breathing normally in a sustained, harmonious manner. But even these simple practices, continued for a protracted period, will bring about their own result because even the first step in yoga is yoga itself. Jijnasur api yogasya sabda-brahmativartate (Gita 6.44): Even an aspiration to know God is such a virtue that it surpasses all other charitable deeds of the world, because the desire to know God is to be regarded as the fruit of immense virtues accumulated in previous lives. Nobody can desire God, unless it is a flowering of immense past effort of many lives through which one has lived.

Thus, we are enthused by this great solacing feature that is in our life called yoga, which many of the scriptures refer to as more compassionate than a mother and dearer than a mother. The most loving person in the world is one's own mother; and this yoga is supposed to be dearer than mother herself because it will take care of us more than a mother. Wherever we are and whenever we are in trouble, the mother keeps a kind eye upon us, but yoga will keep a kinder eye, and it will see that we do not come to a difficulty of any kind. This yoga is not a person that is taking care of us like an outside being as a mother; it is something that is happening within us, ourselves. Na deva dandam udyamya rakshanti pasupalavat: When the higher powers make up their minds to take care of us, they do not protect us like a shepherd with a stick in his hand, going after his sheep. This is because these divine powers are not persons who are wandering outside in the world, like soldiers. They are powers within ourselves, which, when they are awakened, begin to guard us because we have bestowed thought upon them.

These powers – whatever we seek, in fact – is in ourselves. One of the greatest miraculous discoveries of the philosophy of yoga is that whatever we seek is in ourselves. It is not outside, because there is no such thing as ‘outside’. The concept of ‘outside’ is an illusion that is created by a peculiar structural defect in the activity of the mind. Just as there is a false outsidedness in dream, while there is no such thing as that, there is no such thing as externality even in the waking world. Don’t we see a vast external world in dream, something disconnected from us? But is it really disconnected? We know very well how even the vast world that we see in dream is connected with us and the externality of that so-called world there is a falsity created by a peculiar movement of the mind. So is this externality that keeps us cut off from the world of nature.

The world is not outside us, because the very idea or the notion of 'outside' is an erroneous effect produced by a kink in the mind; and, therefore, yoga again and again points out that the only thing that we have to do is to set right the mind – yogah chittavritti nirodhah (YS 1.2). There is nothing else that is to be done, except to set right the mind. We are trying to set right the world instead of setting right the mind, as if something is wrong with the world. What is wrong is in the head, in the mind, in the way of thinking, in the movement of what we call the psychological apparatus in ourselves. That which has made us feel that we are in a world of externalised space and time – that has to be set right. Yoga does not, therefore, concern itself with setting right the world or covering the whole earth with gold sheets etc., because all these things are not necessary. What is necessary is to remove that disharmony between ourselves and the world or the universe, on account of which we are not only miserable in our own selves in our personal lives, but also we have wrong notions about other people and the other things in the world.

This mind, which is a mischief-maker, has created such havoc that it has created in us a perpetual wrong notion about our own selves and a consequent wrong notion about everything else. We think something is wrong with us and something is wrong with everybody else in the world. All this is due to the absorption of our mind in a peculiar un-understandable feature called the notion of diversity. It is very difficult to understand what it means. The mind survives only by creating this confusion. If everything becomes clear, the mind cannot exist. There are many people in this world who somehow or other get on by creating a state of confusion. They create such confusion that it becomes a source of strength for them. They do not allow others to think correctly by either shouting loudly or bringing about such a state of affairs that people's minds are sidetracked and they cannot think about the actual problem on hand. That is the source of their strength. Many politicians do that. And this mind is the master politician. It has simply thrown everything in a state of confusion.

Not only it has done that, but it has also created a feeling in everybody that what it has done is right and that is the only correct state of affairs. So, there is no chance of our even retracing our steps from this confused condition, because we have already assumed that what steps we are taking and the condition in which we are is perfectly okay. If there is a state of confusion and we are convinced that this state of confusion is the right thing and the proper state of affairs, this is what is called 'confusion worse confounded' and, therefore, there is no remedy for this illness of the mind except an internal rearrangement of the pattern of thinking itself.
We have heard this sutra yogah chittavritti nirodhah: Yoga is the procedure adopted in restraining the modifications of the mind. All this is only a kind of slogan for us. We go on reading it a thousand times, but it makes no sense because neither can we know what mind is, what vrittis are, what modifications of the mind mean, or how they can be controlled. All these things are beyond ordinary people's approach. And when we come to the actual serious practice of it, we will be repelled by it because it looks terrifying.

In the beginning, yoga is a terrifying something. It is a fearful object, very painful. But that pain and the terror is on account of our inability to adjust ourselves with it. Yat tad agre visam iva pariname'mritopamam, tat sukham sattvikam proktam atma-buddhi-prasada-jam (Gita 18.37): The happiness or the bliss that yoga brings is that which brings ultimate satisfaction to the reason and the soul, but which looks bitter in the beginning though nectar-like in the end. This is real, pure, and unmixed happiness. It is very unpalatable in the beginning – otherwise everybody would have taken to a serious practice of it. It is unpalatable because it is repulsive to the desires of the senses. And we live in a world of the senses. We are slaves of the senses. There is nothing before us except a sensory world. So, anything that is a little different from what the senses regard as valuable or pleasurable for them is bitter, unfavourable, not desirable. Therefore, very few people can take to this. Manushyanam sahasreshu kaschityatati siddhaye (Gita 7.3): Among thousands of people, one may take to this path; and even among those who have taken to the practice of it, very few alone succeed in it. Merely because we have filed a petition for election, it does not mean that we will be elected. Very difficult it is! It requires hard effort.

And hard effort is precisely, for the time being, regularity of practice. Whatever be the extent of our understanding of the practice, let it be regular. In all successful endeavours, regularity is to be made an essential – or the essential, the most essential – feature. Even if nothing else is possible, at least sitting alone in a fixed posture or asana must be possible. If nothing else is possible, will this at least not be possible? The mind and the body will both get adjusted to this discipline that we are imposing upon them. Seatedness in a posture for a period of time is a great discipline, because the mind is averse to every kind of discipline. Any kind of system is disliked by the mind. It always likes confusion, and the least discipline that we introduce into it produces in the mind a reaction and resentment. Even for ten minutes it won't allow us to sit in one posture. We will change our posture, and look this way or that way. Even when we walk on the road, we want to see all the shops. We have nothing to purchase from the shops, but we look this way and that way. This is a distraction of the mind.

It has already been mentioned that for this aim of success that we are seeking through practice, a conducive atmosphere is necessary; and we already assume that we are in such an atmosphere, where factors which are too distracting are absent, and facilities for the practice are available. An ashram is of such a nature because distractive forces are absent and facilities for practice are available. We are in such an atmosphere. Now the will is necessary. What is required now is a determination, a power of thinking, and a decision that has to be made by one's own self.

But, as the making of this decision is not an easy affair by a mind which has been used to pleasures and comforts and distractions, diversions etc., easier methods of practice should be taken resort to in the beginning, rather than severe practice. We must be able to find out what is the kind of practice or what aspect of yoga will be suitable to the present condition of our body and mind, and be firm in that for a considerable period of time. And then we will find that, like the gradual ripening of a fruit from inside, there will be a strengthening of the personality from within and a maturity of the whole being from inside, gradually expressing itself, manifesting itself outside. The ripening of the fruits commences from inside; it is not always seen outside. It takes a lot of time to be seen outside, and many seekers may be dejected or feel a sense of melancholy because the ripening is not visible outside. They will say, "I have been doing so many things for so many days and months and years, but nothing is coming out." We cannot always know if anything is coming out at all, because even when success is apparent, it will not be strongly visible outside. It will not be visible outside always – until, of course, it comes to the highest.

Therefore, patience is one of the watchwords in yoga. We should not go on feeling a sense of diffidence in ourselves. We may remember the great advice of the Bhagavadgita – karmany evadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachana (Gita 2.47): Don't go on looking at whether the fruit is coming or not. The fruit will be taken care of automatically. We do our duty of practice from the bottom of our heart, with the best of our knowledge, with the greatest discipline possible, and the fruit will come in due time.