Chapter 19: Having a Systemised Daily Routine
In Patanjali’s Yoga System the stages of physical posture, or asana, and of pranayama go together with a system of personal discipline called the niyamas. In our personal conduct and daily activity, there should be a method and a procedure—which means to say, everything should have its own time. One of the essentials contributing to success is the method of working and the procedure of behaviour and conduct. One must know what to say at what time, in what manner, what to eat when, in what quantity and quality, and so on—which applies to the body, the speech and the thoughts. This is the discipline of the three essential factors which are employed in our daily life: our body, our speech, and our thoughts. Everything should have its own time, its own quantity and quality.
The daily procedure should not vary, because the system, whatever be the nature of that system, is a reflection of perfection. Perfection is the greatest of systems, and inasmuch as yoga is a movement towards the highest perfection that is available anywhere, the practice, even in the lower stages, should also reflect this character. Even our time for going for a walk, such a simple thing as it is, may be a disciplined process. It is said that this was the case with the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He used to go for a walk at six o’clock, and everybody used to set their watch to it because it was exactly at the stroke of six. He never went five minutes earlier or five minutes later. Six o’clock meant six o’clock, and he went out for a walk.
This is only one of the features of systematisation in one’s life, because a system also reduces the burden of work and the feeling that there are a lot of things to do. The feeling that we have a lot to do is mostly due to chaotic behaviour because of no system in working. We do anything at any time. We meet any person at any time, and say anything that comes to mind. This is the reason why we often feel that there is some strain in our head. The strain is due to the fact that the mind is unable to adjust itself to sudden changes of circumstance. But, if we are already prepared because we know what is to be done at what time, the strain will not be felt. The stresses and strains that we feel in our life—which have to be avoided in yoga, of course—are mostly due to unmethodical speaking, thinking and working. This systematic method is called niyama, which has to be coupled with asana and pranayama, the initial stages of yoga.
The body and the environment should be kept in such a condition that one feels spirited within oneself, uplifted in feelings, and light in one’s personality. What is to be done to achieve this is an individual choice, each for oneself. The strain that we feel in life is a combined effect of thought, speech and action. The three go together, and work simultaneously. We cannot say which one preponderates at what time. The mind feels the strain of life when it is discontented for any reason whatsoever. Contentment is something which most people do not know, because it is often dissatisfaction which goads us into action. We are dissatisfied and, therefore, we work, but that should not be the motivating force for work. Are we working because we are dissatisfied? On the other hand, the reverse should be the case. We should work because we are satisfied. As a matter of fact, that work alone can be called healthy which is motivated by satisfaction.
His Holiness Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj said that we should be satisfied with what we have and dissatisfied with what we are. Generally, we are satisfied with what we are and dissatisfied with what we have, which should not be the case. We should be grieving because we have not achieved perfection. We are little bodies, small personalities, almost nobodies before the might of the universe, and our effort should be to gradually approximate ourselves inwardly and outwardly to the extent possible towards the perfection that we are seeking; and that has nothing to do with what we have in the form of material possession, etc. The internal feeling of satisfaction and contentment comes on account of an understanding. It cannot come by mere force of will.
The nature or the trait which always complains against circumstances outside is that which brings about discontentment. Is there anyone who has no complaint? There is no one. Everyone has a complaint. But, this is not a virtue. It is a defect in our makeup. We have always to remember a wise old adage that much of what we complain about will diminish in quantity and quality if we think of our capacities and our correct relationship with things. We want certain things to be a certain way, and they are not like that—so, we complain. But why should we expect something to be the way in which we think it should be? We think that our way of thinking is correct, which need not necessarily be so. Or, even supposing that our way of thinking is correct but something is not in consonance with our way of thinking and, therefore, there is a source for complaint, our duty is to change it, if we can. Then, there is no complaint. But if we cannot change it, well, the matter is clear; then also there is no complaint. Either we change it or we cannot change it. If we cannot change it, there is no complaint. If we change it, there is no complaint. Then why are we complaining? This is a confused way of thinking. The old philosopher’s saying which I was referring to is: “Give me the will to change what I can, the courage to bear what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.” But we have no wisdom to know the difference, and that is why we are suffering.
Yoga tells us to be contented and not make complaints since we are not going to be the gainer by complaining; we are only going to be the loser thereby. We should not embark upon anything which is not going to bring any benefit either to ourselves or to others. It is this psychologically, verbally and physically disciplined purified nature that can actually practise the austerity of yoga. A muddled head cannot practise yoga, and a busybody cannot practise yoga, because all distractions are contrary to the requirements of yoga.
These peculiar traits to which we have been making reference are the outcome of what is called rajas, or an unduly activated personality that is beyond limit. There is no composure in ourselves because there is no belief or trust in the truth that there is in our own selves the seed of what we are ultimately seeking. The seed is in ourselves, and the vast universe of objects through which we seek satisfaction is only a ramification of this seed that is within us. We are a centre in which the universal values are rooted, and everyone is such a centre. Therefore, it is said that Reality is that which has its centre everywhere but its circumference nowhere. It has no limitation; therefore, it has no circumference. But every point is a centre of the universe, and therefore, the centre of the universe is everywhere. Every atom of the world is a centre of the universe and has as much capacity to reveal Truth as any other point in the world.
It is an absence of this knowledge that makes us discontented and distracted, and makes it impossible for us to compose ourselves. All things are finally to converge upon oneself, instead of one’s being a centre of centrifugal forces from which energies shoot off in diverse directions like rays of the sun. The purpose is to withdraw these rays and make them converge upon the centre, so that a time will come when the powers of nature will begin to vibrate through our body. The world, which is so vast and unimaginable and frightening, is not really as vast and frightening as it appears to be, because its tentacles are rooted in our own bodily selves. In one sense, we may say, the strings which operate the movements of the objects outside like puppets are connected to the various centres in our own body. This is why yoga scriptures and masters tell us that the brahmanda is in the pindanda—the macrocosm is in the microcosm. To give an analogy of how the macrocosm can be in the microcosm, the whole banyan tree, which is very big, vast and expansive, is in a tiny seed. Such an enormous tree, so weighty and expansive, is in that tiny seed. How is it possible? This wondrous universe is within us; this is what yoga tells us. That which strikes us with awe and astonishment, that which we regard as most miraculous and unimaginable in might and magnificence, all that is within us. The Chhandogya Upanishad says that all the vast space, with all the raining clouds and the shining suns, is within us.
The yogi, therefore, is not concerned with the world outside, because all the worlds are inside him. He does not run about here and there like a busybody, setting things right and putting things in order. There is no need to do any such thing. He can put everything in order within himself and, correspondingly, everything outside will also be set in order. This is a very essential point to remember in yoga practice. The yogi is not concerned with the outside world, because the outside world can be operated from within, and it is connected with him even in the minutest of details. The world is not connected with him merely in a general way, but it is connected even in the details. Every atom of the universe is connected with the cells of the body. We can imagine what powers we have, what capacities are hidden within us, and what our potentialities are.
Einstein’s equation E=mc2 says that an enormous amount of energy is contained in even the smallest quantity of matter. We know the power of the atom bomb—how it can devastate large areas, though it is so small. If one atom can contain so much energy, what is the energy of all the atoms in our body? So why do we look like small monkeys when there is so much strength within us? We can simply blow away the mountains, if we want; but we cannot digest even one glass of milk, so much is our weakness. This is because we have become exiles from our own realm. We have been banished like culprits from our own kingdom, and we have lost our heritage. We are not citizens of the very land to which we belong. This is really a wonder. We regard the world, which is our mother, as a stranger and, therefore, our mother feels sorry for our state of affairs. The energy that is to come to us from the whole creation outside is cut off from the energy of our body on account of the egoistic affirmations with which we have identified ourselves.
The Yoga System is the final blow that is dealt at the root of this egocentric personality. To lay this final stroke upon the centre of the problem, so much of preparation is made—like a huge ceremony, celebration or function which may take place for one hour, but for which we go on making preparations for a month. For one month we work for a celebration that will take place for only one hour. Likewise, some great function is to take place in the form of yoga meditation, and for that so much preparation is being made. It is the glorious consummation that is called meditation, towards which we are moving; and the beauty of the function, and the perfection thereof, depend upon the meticulous care that we take in the preparations we make for it. There is no use laying too much stress merely on the achievement—only the function, only the dinner or the lunch that is to be given that day. Well, that is important enough, but how much effort is to be put forth for it!
The niyamas mentioned by Patanjali are, generally speaking, the necessary disciplines of body, speech and mind. We are averse to discipline because we have been brought up in an atmosphere of enjoyment of the senses and too much social contact. This is how we have been brought up by our parents, by our teachers, by our friends; and this education, this culture, this civilisation, which has gone into our blood, makes it impossible for us to follow any system or any kind of discipline. It is, therefore, necessary to awaken ourselves into the seriousness of the matter. We should forget the past as it is never too late to mend, and earnestly take to this practice.
Purity of body, speech and mind is emphasised by Patanjali, which he refers to in a single word, saucha, which includes pure thoughts, pure words, pure diet, pure physical contact, and pure sensory activity. We should not see anything that is disturbing, we should not hear anything that is disturbing, and so on. Nothing that is going to defeat our purpose should become the object of the senses, the body should not come in contact with things which are going to stir up passions within us, and we should not speak what is not going to affect either ourselves or others in a positive manner; and the mind, of course, the supreme factor of all, is to be kept in perfect control. The Bhagavadgita gives a beautiful description of this discipline, called manasika, vachika and kayika tapas, which will bring us the needed satisfaction, contentment, santosha, without which tapas, or austerity, is not possible—all which are brought together in what is called kriya yoga. Kriya yoga, according to Patanjali, is this combination of some of the principles of the niyamas.
To make it possible and easy for us, the system also prescribes certain advantageous practices such as the study of holy scriptures, and a perpetual remembrance of the presence of God. The practice of the presence of God is ultimately the key to success. Sā hānistanmahacchidra sā cāndhajaḍamūḍhatā, yanmuhūrtaṁ kṣaṇaṁ vāpi vāsudevaṁ na cintayet. (Pandava Gita 70) says the Pandava Gita, which means that all sorrows befall us, calamities come upon us, everything becomes difficult and the entire horizon looks dark before us as if there is no hope at all, the moment we forget the existence of God. One of the main teachings of the Sufi school of mysticism is that what we call samsara, or the life of earthly bondage, is not merely the world that we see outside. Samsara is not merely this world in which we are living, samsara is a name given to the forgetfulness of God. The moment we forget the existence of God, we are in samsara. Merely because we are living in a world of trees and mountains, it does not mean that we are in samsara. Samsara is an entanglement of consciousness, and it is not merely the physical location of our body in the astronomical wonder of this world.
In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali regards saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana, as he calls it, as a combined necessity to bring about an order in our life. This can be applied with the necessary intensity, each one for oneself, according to one’s own conditions of living, strength of mind, and so on. But what it finally means in essence is that there should be a stipulated method of thinking, speaking and acting. We must know what we will do at what time, and then we will see that success is not far off even in the ordinary life of this world, not merely in the spiritual field, because method or system is the way by which we focus our energies, and wherever there is a focusing of energy, there is strength—just as a focused beam of the sun’s rays can burn things, while the sun’s dissipated rays cannot.
It is, therefore, necessary to have a systematised daily routine. We must know when we will get up in the morning, what we will do after getting up, whom we will see, how much work we will do and in what manner, at what time—including even such minute details as bathing, walking, meals, the time of going to sleep, what we do before going to sleep, what should be around us and what should not be there. All this should be at our fingertips. This is method, this is system, this is niyama; and when this system is introduced into our life, we become ready for the higher practice. Each succeeding step becomes easy of approach and practice when the preceding step is firmly placed.
Again, we are to remember that we should not take an advanced step unless the earlier step is well placed. Hurry and too much enthusiasm are not called for. What is required is a pure, dispassionate understanding of our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Whatever our weaknesses are, they must be overcome by the strengths that we have. One has to be very dispassionate about this because we are going to open our hearts before the Truth of all truths—the Great Reality before us—and nothing can be hidden from its eyes. Thus is the preliminary introductory remark which the great Sage Patanjali makes for the glorious destination ahead of us.