True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 20: Unfolding the Psychology of Yoga

The Yoga System is described as the process of controlling the mind. A doubt may arise: What is this peculiar thing that we call control of the mind, and what do we gain by controlling the mind? This doubt arises because our problems are not apparently in our minds; they are outside in the world. We have economic problems, social problems, political problems, family problems. Since there are all these terrifying features in the world outside, what is the point in ignoring these realities of life, closing one’s eyes in a room and thinking something under the notion that the mind is being controlled and everything will be all right? How can everything be all right by merely controlling the mind? This is a doubt that can occasionally arise even in an advanced seeker, a well-equipped student of yoga.

What is the connection between our thinking process and the realities of the world outside? If there is no connection, this yoga process is useless, it is a waste of time, because no one thinks for a moment that the troubles of life are inside the mind. If that is the case, then we can keep quiet and worry about ourselves privately in our rooms, and not concern ourselves with the world outside. But the entire problem is outside. Our fears are from the external world. We do not fear anything from inside us; the fears that somebody may attack us, somebody may rob us of our property, something that we need from the world may not come, something unwanted may pounce upon us, and so on, come from outside. If that is the case, what is this great principle yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ (Y.S. 1.2) that Sage Patanjali lays down?

The crucial question is this: What is the connection between thought and reality? As far as we are concerned, reality is the whole universe, the world outside. If yoga is a discipline of the mental processes and is the ultimate duty that one may be called upon to do, there must be some secret relevance of this internal process called yoga to the vast reality of the external cosmos.

Previously, we were trying to discover indications that there is some such connection between us and the world. We were trying to observe that the vast stretches of the cosmos, with all their intricacies and internal complicated structure—the variety of grandeur and magnificence of all this vast universe outside—is subtly connected with all that we are made of in our own personalities. Whatever be the extent of the world or the largeness of creation, this mystifying universe before us has its roots in ourselves. The strings of the cosmos appear to be operated from within, and a proper adjustment of the various constituents of one’s personality would be tantamount to establishing a harmony with everything in the world, in all creation. Inasmuch as we are intimately related to the remotest parts of the world, and there is nothing anywhere with which we are not related, it would be wisdom on our part to find everything in our own selves—to discover the secrets of nature within our own bodies, as it were. This is a masterstroke of the yoga genius.

Ordinarily, man is prone to run about in search of the secrets of nature, as scientists generally do. They have long telescopes and powerful microscopes through which they want to probe into the mysteries of nature by observing things through their eyes and other senses. That means to say, there is a feeling in the mind of man that the secrets of nature are outside, and to discover these secrets we require external instruments such as a microscope or a telescope, etc. No one has the least idea that these secrets are hidden in our own selves. This is a discovery of yoga psychology.

We can be silently seated in an apparently isolated corner of the world and yet be connected with everything in creation without moving about in motorcars or airplanes. To be connected with things of the world, we need not fly in airplanes. We can be seated even in a bathroom in our house and be connected with everything in the world. This is a great secret which no one knows, and this secret is the secret of yoga. Otherwise, what is the point in merely restraining the processes of the mind—the vrittis, as they are called? Why are we bothered about these vrittis? We can let them do whatever they like, as if they are not our problems. Our problems are hunger and thirst, poverty, backwardness, illiteracy, tension, warfare, and whatnot—and if these are our problems, where comes the need for having to do anything with our mental processes? So, there is a necessity to entirely reverse the attitude we have towards things in general. We have to bring about what may be called a Copernican revolution.

Copernicus discovered that the earth moves around the sun, instead of the old idea that the sun is moving around the earth. The tables were turned completely. This sort of revolution—Copernican, we may call it—is brought about by yoga. We were under the notion that all the troubles come from people outside, from the world external to us—just as, once upon a time people thought that the sun is moving around the earth. Now, a revolution has taken place. We find out that the sun is not moving around the earth, the earth is moving around the sun. This we are not able to understand because we are on the earth and we are moving with the earth, so we cannot know that there is any motion at all. Likewise, we cannot know that the problems are inside us, because we are moving with the problems—even as we are moving with the earth on which we are seated.

There are no such things as problems, because problems are not things by themselves. It is not a material substance that we call a problem. We cannot see it with our eyes. It is a state of affairs, we may say, brought about by a misjudgment of things in our minds and a maladjustment of values, a disharmonious arrangement of ourselves with things external. These are the problems, the difficulties, the pains, the sorrows of life.

Yoga, therefore, tries to go to the root of the matter to dig out the very base of the disease within us. The problems of life are not going to be solved unless we go deep into the problems to discover the ultimate cause thereof, and not merely the immediate cause. The ultimate cause discovered by yoga is a peculiar maladjustment of the subject with the object—the drashta with the drisya, to put it in Sanskrit: the seer with the seen. “I, as the seer, the observer, the subject, find it difficult to suitably adjust myself with what I see outside—the drisya, the object world, including every thing and every person. I cannot properly adjust myself with people around me, with the things outside me, with the whole world external to me. What is my problem? What is my difficulty?” This is a question we may put to our own self. “Why am I not able to adjust myself with people outside? I speak so nicely to people, I take tea with people with great joy, with a smiling face, and I have a friendly attitude towards all things. What is wrong with me? How am I the source of my own problems?”

This question takes us further, deep into what we are made of. In our apparent external life of waking consciousness we appear to be in harmony with others, but this is not the truth of the matter. We are seated here, a group of people in this room, and apparently there is no conflict among ourselves. No one can imagine that one is in conflict with another in this small group seated here. But there is a conflict, if we go deep into the matter. Everyone is in a state of tension even now, at this very moment, which has been suppressed by your conscious effort to listen what I am saying just now. Your conscious activity at this present moment represses the major part of your personality and makes it appear that everything is well adjusted with the environment. What you have adjusted with the environment at present is merely a fraction of your conscious mind. Yoga psychology endeavours to study the whole personality of man, not merely the conscious mind or, much worse, a fraction of it.

What is maladjusted with the world outside is not merely our conscious mind, but our total personality. Our whole personality is out of order. It is not in a state of balance; and this has to be set right, which is the purpose of yoga. Now, this aim cannot be achieved merely by scratching the surface of the mind, which is mostly what we do even in our efforts to do very good deeds and virtuous acts in life. Most of our valuable and praiseworthy deeds in life are only surface acts on a conscious level, and this level cannot be regarded as a major part of what we are. The larger portion of our personality is hidden beneath the operation of the conscious level with which we are mostly engaged.

You cannot know your own self, I cannot know my own self, and no one can know one’s own self, because we mistake knowing for merely a conscious activity of the mind. The knowledge process is identified with what we call a conscious activity of the mind. When I am aware of an object, I am under the impression, wrongly, that my entire personality is tuned to that object in this act of knowing; but what is tuned is merely a part of the conscious mind, working through the sense organs. You may ask me, “Why is it that aways only a part of the mind is working, and not the whole mind?” It is because the mind is a very shrewd politician, as it were, which knows how to work its ways. It will not bring out its deeper motives always, lest they be defeated. We know very well that we cannot go on shouting our motives in the streets, because if we expose all our deep-seated feelings and motives, intentions, etc., we cannot live in this world of human society. So, even in the conscious level, there are many repressive activities going on voluntarily. We consciously repress many of our feelings and motives. There may be certain things of which you are quite aware which you may not like to tell me, what to speak of the other layers of which you are not aware at all.

When the mind is conscious of an object or deals with a particular object, it takes out from its resources only those aspects and features of its structure which are necessary for the fulfilment of the chosen purpose at that given moment of time. What is my present purpose? I will take out only that much as is necessary for this particular purpose. We may have a large storeroom containing many things, and we will not take out everything every day. We will take out only half a kilo of pulse or one kilo of rice, etc., because that is what is needed for the day. There may be many other things in the storeroom, but we are not worried about them because there is no purpose in looking into those things, the purpose being something else. Likewise, the mind, in being conscious of an object and in dealing with that object, lays emphasis only on the specific character of the particular purpose or aim in view at that given moment of time, and everything else is shoved into limbo. It is not bothered about the other things that are there, because they are not necessary. This is what we are doing every day—or rather, every hour, every moment of time. Our whole personality will not show itself, because it should not show itself for its own welfare. The mind knows this very well.

This is the main illness of man. A peculiar reservoir of maladjustments is inside, and that is covered over with a camouflage of apparent adjustment and harmony outside. So, while we are deep-seatedly disharmonious with everything, we openly and overtly appear to be harmonious with all things. Therefore, there seems to be a sort of satisfaction and success in outward life, while there is dissatisfaction and disharmony inside. And life being short, we may die in this very condition of a tremendous potentiality for disharmony within us, without having achieved anything substantial in life.

This latency for disharmony that is within us pursues us even after death. This is the cause of rebirth. We are reborn into embodiment in successive lives because we carry with us, in spite of shedding the physical body, the potentialities of which we are made—the psychological stuff which we really are. As long as our deep-rooted, deep-seated potentialities are not brought to the conscious level and made a part of our conscious nature, our transmigratoryprocess of rebirth cannot end.

Hence, yoga psychology works to some extent, though not entirely, along the lines of modern psychoanalysis. Whatever is inside should be brought out; otherwise, we cannot be free from tension. But, for various reasons, no one would like to bring out everything that is inside; therefore, no one can be psychologically healthy in a perfect manner. Then, what is the solution? Like psychoanalysis, yoga prescribes various methods of sublimating these deeper impulses, not by repressing or suppressing them, or even by substituting something else for them, but by a very slow process of growth. This done, what happens is that the stuff out of which we are made—the personality of ours that we are speaking of—gets decentralised, as it were, into its components, and gets adjusted with the pattern of facts outside in the world. That is what we mean by harmony with nature.

The affirmation of the ego is the centralising principle within us, on account of which particles of matter are brought into a particular form or shape by a centripetal force, and hardened into an instrument of action. That instrument is called this body. For example, the nucleus of an atom—the proton or the neutron, or whatever we may call it—pulls the electrons around it towards itself by its central electric action, and compels them to move around it in a particular pattern so that it looks like an atom. Similarly, this proton called the ego within us, this centralising principle, draws sustenance from the constituents of nature outside, pulls particles of matter from the five elements towards itself, and arranges them in a particular pattern of what is called this body; and this process will continue endlessly as long as this centralising principle, the ego, continues to exist. Therefore, the purpose of yoga is to break this fortress of the ego—asmita, as it is called in Sanskrit.

The ego is a very subtle principle which is the ruling power of what we call the psychological process within us. It is the king, the emperor, the chief directive force. Asmita, which is translated as the ego, is not merely the vanity or the vainglorious attitude that we put forth in public life. That is only a cruder form of it. In the sense of yoga psychology, the asmita, or the ego, is a subtle feeling of ‘I-ness’, or ‘I am-ness’, as we may call it. The very sensation or feeling ‘I am’ is called the ego. ‘I am an officer’, ‘I am an emperor’, ‘I am a king’, ‘I am Julius Caesar’ are cruder forms of it. Yoga is concerned with even the subtlest aspect of it, the mere feeling ‘I am’. This ‘I am-ness’, the sense of individual ‘be-ness’, is called ego. That is asmita in yoga psychology. In Sanskrit, asmi means ‘I am’, and asmita means ‘I am-ness’. How subtle it is!

This asmita is the cause, ultimately, of isolating us from all creation outside, making it falsely appear that we are disconnected from things outside, and that all the problems and difficulties are in the outside world and not in us. Asmita is the cause of the problems. Ahaṃkāra vaśād āpad ahaṃkārād durādhayaḥ, says the Yoga Vasishtha. The great sage speaks to Rama: “All your apat—all your calamity or catastrophe in this life—is due to asmita, this feeling of ‘I am’.” Because I am, it follows that others also are. Well, now the trouble has started; the fire has been set ablaze. If ‘you’ are, ‘others’ also must be, and therefore, the need arises to establish a connection with others. This is society, this is samsara. Because you are, it follows that others must be; and if others are, it also follows that you have a connection with them in some way. You cannot understand this connection with others because the connection is internal rather than external, and the internal connection cannot be known because the asmita, the ego, works through the senses, which can act only externally. So our idea of relationship or connection is external, spatio-temporal, causally related, and nothing of the internal relations is known to us. But relations are really internal, and the external relationship is only a temporary shape or form taken by this internal set of relations. To solve the problems of life, therefore, we have to deal with the internal relations, and not merely their outer aspects.

Thus, coming to the point with which we started, the need for control of the mind, or cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ, arises because of our entire personality being involved with everything in the world, and because of this ego principle within us being the seed form of all the activities that will be projected in the future, including all thought processes, etc. Whatever we think and feel, whatever we propose to do in the form of our daily activities, whatever our aspirations are, whatever we were in the past and are in the present and shall be in the future, everything is in this ego in a miniature form. Therefore, the old saying once again comes to our memory: Know thyself. When we know ourselves, we have known everything because the entire past, present and future is hidden inside us. Even the unimaginable past and the remotest future possibilities are all potentially present in ourselves. Hence, to know one’s own self is, in other words, to become omniscient, to know one’s own self is to know the whole creation, and to know one’s own real difficulties is to know everyone’s difficulties.

Thus comes about the need for controlling the mind. As we have already observed, this psychological process of controlling ourselves, harmonising ourselves through yoga techniques, is not merely a so-called internal activity of ours because, though for the purpose of expressing ourselves, for the sake of convenience in language we may speak of yoga as an internal process, it is really a cosmic process. It is so because our so-called internality, our apparent individuality, is really connected with all things everywhere. Therefore, to touch anything anywhere is to touch everything everywhere.

The world ‘outside’ and we ‘within’ are only ways of expression. There is neither a within nor a without. And so, when we speak of a subject in relation to an object outside, we are speaking in the language of the ego; otherwise, there is no subject and there is no object in the language of our own usual day-to-day customs, manners, etc. To think a thought is to simultaneously think an object, and to think an object is at once to imply all the relations of this object with everything anywhere. Thus, we can imagine the importance of a thought because it immediately stirs up powers and forces which are everywhere in the world. Therefore, while rightly directed thoughts can bring about immediate miraculous success, wrongly directly thoughts can bring about a reverse consequence. We can create a heaven or a hell at once, with the power of our thinking. This capacity, this potentiality, this power, this latency hidden within an individual is discovered by the psychology of yoga; and this has to be unfolded, brought to the surface of consciousness, and made a reality of our day-to-day experience.