Chapter 18: The Power of Yoga is in Ourselves
Continued practice of asana, and a systemised effort at methodical breathing, create in oneself a new kind of power and energy which otherwise gets dissipated by the naturally distracted condition of the body. A regularised practice of even a 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 wear any kind of make-up, but certain changes that take place within the body create an internal atmosphere which attracts everything that is around oneself.
This capacity has various other aspects also, namely, the ability to withstand the pairs of opposites such as heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and psychological opposites such as joy and sorrow. We will not be suddenly roused into happiness, 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 by chance we fall sick, we will recover quickly and not be incapacitated for a long time. A new kind of capacity to rejuvenate oneself arises in the system, though there may be a sudden failing 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 the unity of powers. It is not the strength that we ordinarily think of in the world, such as social strength, political strength, the strength of one’s public status, the temporary strength gained 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 it. We will be able to understand, rather than react. The capacity to withstand the impulse to react 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 capacity 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 an academic qualification. It is a knowledge which is identical with being, about which we have discussed a few aspects previously. Knowledge associated with being is also power, because power is only another name for the expression of being, while the common man’s notion of power is that it is an 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. If we have a gun, we seem to have a power with us, and when the gun is not there, we have no power. But the power of yoga is not of that kind. We do not require a gun or a knife or a sword in our hand. Yoga 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. In a beautiful aphorism, Patanjali mentions the consequences of self-control. Rūpa lāvaṇya bala vajra saṁhananatvāni kāyasaṁpat (Y.S. 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 the sense of unity, there cannot be doubt, conflict or tension.
There is a peculiar kind of beauty, not the beauty which the senses see when they are excited due to their selfishness, but a real beauty which is capable of acting like a magnet. 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 our clothes and appearance, and is 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 people of the world.
The word lavanya which Patanjali uses means there is a tenderness of our personality, together with a strength of our being. There is a beautiful combination of strength and tenderness in our personality. We are unshakeable. 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 indomitable 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 their appearance. But, at the same time, we become very tender, with the ability to feel the feelings of others, which is a great virtue indeed, on account of which we do not react to various 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. Vajrādapi kaṭhorāṇi mṛduni kusumādapi (Uttaramacarita 3.23): Yogis are harder than a diamond and softer than a lotus petal. 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. Rūpa lāvaṇya bala: Beauty, magnificence, a magnetic personality, strength—all these gradually follow 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. It is to put them down 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 the lower stage of the attempt to sit in a single posture and breathe normally in a sustained, harmonious manner. But these simple practices, continued for a protracted period, will bring about their own result because even the first step in yoga is yoga itself. Jijñāsur api yogasya śabdabrahmātivartate (Gita 6.44): Even an aspiration to know God is such a virtue that it surpasses all other charitable deeds in 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 the flowering of immense past effort of many lives through which one has lived.
Thus, we are enthused by this great solacing feature in our life called yoga, which many of the scriptures refer to as more compassionate and dearer than a mother. The most loving person in the world is one’s own mother; and this yoga will take care of us more than a mother. Wherever we are and whenever we are in trouble, our mother keeps a kind eye upon us, but yoga will keep a kinder eye, and it will see that we do not come to difficulty of any kind. This yoga is not a person that is taking care of us from outside, such as a mother; it is something that is happening within ourselves. Na devā yaṣṭim ādāya rakṣanti paśupālavat (Mahabharata 5.35.33): 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—and whatever we seek, in fact—are 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 actually no such thing, there is no such thing as externality even in the waking world. Do we not see a vast external world in dream, something disconnected from us? But is it really disconnected? We know very well how the vast world that we see in dream is connected with us and the externality of that so-called world is a falsity created by a peculiar movement of the mind. In the same way, this externality keeps us cut off from the world of nature.
The world is not outside us, because the very idea or notion of outside is an erroneous effect produced by a kink in the mind; therefore, yoga again and again points out that the only thing that we have to do is to set right the mind—yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ (Y.S. 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 our head, in our mind, in our 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 has to be set right. Yoga does not, therefore, concern itself with setting right the world or covering the whole earth with gold sheets, and so on, 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 and in our personal lives, but we also 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 produced 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 the 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 side-tracked and they cannot think about the actual problem on hand. Many politicians do that, and the mind is a master politician. It has simply thrown everything into a state of confusion.
Not only has the mind done that, but it has also created a feeling in everybody that what it has done is right and that this 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 the steps that we are taking and the condition in which we are is perfectly all right. 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 yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ: 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 the mind is, what vrittis are, what ‘the modifications of the mind’ means, or how they can be controlled. All these things are beyond the grasp of ordinary people, 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 terrifying. It is a fearful object, very painful. But that pain and terror are on account of our inability to adjust ourselves with it. Yat tadagre viṣam iva pariṇāme’mṛtopamam, tat sukhaṁ sāttvikaṁ proktam ātmabuddhiprasādajam (Gita 18.37): The happiness or bliss that yoga brings is that which gives ultimate satisfaction to the reason and the soul, and which looks bitter in the beginning but 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; therefore, anything that is a little different from what the senses regard as valuable or pleasurable is bitter, unfavourable, and undesirable. This is why very few people can take to yoga practice. Manuṣyāṇāṁ sahasreṣu kaścid yatati siddhaye (Gita 7.3): Among thousands of people, one may take to this path; and even among those who have taken to the practice, very few succeed in it. Merely because we have filed a petition for an election, it does not mean that we will be elected. Very difficult it is! It requires hard effort.
The hard effort is precisely the regularity of practice. Whatever be the extent of our understanding of the practice, let it be regular. In all successful endeavours, regularity is the most essential feature. Even if nothing else is possible, at least sitting alone in a fixed posture or asana must be possible. Will at least this 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. The mind always likes confusion, and the even least discipline that we introduce into it produces a resentment and a reaction. It will not allow us to sit in one posture for even ten minutes. 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 at them. This is a distraction of the mind.
It has already been mentioned that for this aim of success that we are seeking through our practice, a conducive atmosphere is necessary. An ashram is of such a nature because distractive forces are absent and facilities for the practice are available; and here we are in such an atmosphere. 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 making this decision is not easy for a mind which is used to pleasures and comforts, distractions and diversions, etc., easier methods of practice should be taken resort to in the beginning, rather than severe methods. We must be able to find out what 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. Then we will find that, like the gradual ripening of a fruit, there will be a strengthening of the personality from within and a maturity of the whole being from inside, gradually expressing itself and manifesting itself outside. The ripening of the fruit commences from the inside and takes a lot of time to be seen from the outside, so many seekers may be dejected or feel a sense of melancholy because the ripening is not visible outside. They may say, “I have been doing so many things for so many months and years, but there are no results.” We cannot always know whether there are any results at all because even when success is apparent, it will not always or strongly be visible outside—until, of course, it reaches the highest level.
Therefore, patience is one of the watchwords in yoga. We should not have a sense of diffidence. We may remember the great advice of the Bhagavadgita. Karmaṇyevādhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana (Gita 2.47): Do not go on checking whether the fruit is coming or not. The fruit will be taken care of automatically. We do our duty of the practice from the bottom of our hearts, with the best of our knowledge, with the greatest discipline possible, and the fruit will come in due time.