by Swami Krishnananda
The stages of physical posture, or asana, and of pranayama go together with a system of personal discipline which is generally called the niyamas in the yoga system. 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 method in working and 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 body, speech, and thought. This is the discipline of the three essential factors which are employed in our daily life – the body, the speech, and our thoughts. Everything should have its own time, its quantity, and quality.
It should not be that the procedure goes on varying every day, because 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 also – even in the lower stages – should reflect this character. Even our time for going for walk, such a simple and silly 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 6 o’clock, and everybody used to set their watch to it because it was exactly at the stroke of six, and he never said "five minutes earlier" or "‘five minutes later, I am very busy, I have this work, this engagement" – nothing of the kind. Six meant six, he went out for a walk.
Well, this is only one of the features of systematisation in one’s life, because 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 and 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 on our heads. The strain is due to the fact that the mind is unable to adjust itself to sudden changes of circumstance. But, if it is already prepared because it knows what is to be done at what time, the strain will not be felt. The strain and the stress that we feel in our life – which has to be avoided, of course, in the way of yoga – is mostly due to unmethodical speaking, thinking and working. This method is called niyama, which has to be coupled with the initial stages of yoga – asana and pranayama.
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 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 dissatisfaction is often that which goads us into action. We are dissatisfied and therefore we work, but that should not be the motive force for work. Are we working because we are dissatisfied? On the other hand, the reverse should be the case: because we are satisfied, therefore we work. As a matter of fact, that work alone can be called healthy which is motivated by satisfaction.
In one of the writings of His Holiness Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, he says that we should be satisfied with what we have but dissatisfied with what we are. But generally we are satisfied with what we are, but dissatisfied with what we have. This 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 approximate ourselves inwardly and outwardly to the extent possible, gradually, 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? No one. Everyone has a complaint. But, this is not a virtue. It is a defect in one’s own makeup. We have always to remember the wise old man’s saying and adage that much of what we complain about will diminish in quantity and quality if we remember our capacities and our correct relationship with things. We want certain things to be in a certain way, and they are not like that – so, we make a complaint. But why should we expect something to be in the way in which we think? 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 things are 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 we are 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: “Be contented, don’t make complaints” because we are not going to be the gainer, we are only going to be the loser thereby, because we should not embark upon anything which is not going to bring any benefit either to ourselves or to others. It is this purified nature which is psychologically, verbally and physically disciplined that can actually practice the austerity of yoga. A muddled head cannot practice yoga, and a busybody cannot practice 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, 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 centre everywhere but circumference nowhere. It has no limitation, therefore it has no circumference; but every point is a centre of the universe, and therefore it has centre everywhere. Every atom of the world is a centre of the universe. It 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, 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 so 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 with which are operated the movements of the puppets of objects outside 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 a microcosm, the whole banyan tree, which is very big and vast and expansive, is in a tiny seed. Such a terrible tree, so weighty and expansive, is in that tiny seed. How is it possible? And this wondrous universe is within us; this is what the 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 tells that all the vast space, with all the rainy 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. This is a very essential point to remember. He does not run about like a busy body here and there, 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 else outside will also be set in order. This is an important thing 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 is connected even in 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 are our potentialities.
Einstein's equation E=mc2 says that an enormous amount of energy is contained in even the smallest quantity of matter; and, analogically, it is said that two pounds of ordinary coal, when converted into energy, would be equal to all the energy that is continuously produced by all the dynamos in the United States for two months. We know the power of the atom bomb – how small it is, though it can devastate half the earth. If one atom can contain so much energy, what will be 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 pav [1/4 litre] of milk, so much is our weakness. This is because we have become exiles from our own realm. We have been banished from our own kingdom, like culprits, and we have lost our heritage. We are not citizens of the very land to which we belong. Wonder! This is really a wonder! The world, which is our mother, is regarded by us as a stranger and, therefore, the mother feels sorry for the state of affairs that we are in. The energy that is to come to us from the whole creation outside is cut off from its entry into 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 one hour only. 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, depends upon the meticulous care that we take in the preparations we make for it. There is no use laying too much stress on merely 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 civilization, 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 – 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 has 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 adventitious practices like 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. Sa hanisthan maha chidhram sa ch antha jada moodatha, yan muhurtham kshanam vapi vasudevam na chinthayeth(70) says the Pandava Gita, which means that all sorrows befall us, calamities come upon us, everything becomes difficult and the whole horizon looks dark before us as if there is no hope at all, the moment we forget the existence of God. And 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 a physical location of our body in the world of this astronomical wonder.
All these are regarded by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras as a combined necessity to bring about an order in our life – saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya, isvara pranidhana, as he calls it – which can be interpreted with the necessary intensity, each one for oneself, according to our 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 to seek 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 bath, walking, food, the time of going to sleep, what we do before going to sleep, what will be around us and what should not be there. All this should be at the tips of our fingers. 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.
We are again 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 pure understanding of a dispassionate character, by which we know 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.