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.