by Swami Krishnananda
The discipline of dispassion, about which we were discussing, is a part of the education of the mind, by which it is purified and enabled to return to its essential nature. The vairagya, or the spirit of renunciation that yoga speaks of, is a very subtle attitude of consciousness, and it is not merely any kind of outward conduct or behaviour. It is not an abandonment of things in the pure physical sense, though a safe distance from attractive physical objects may be conducive to this internal discipline of dispassion. But mere physical distance from objects of sense is not what is meant here, because the desire of the mind can connect it with its objects even under conditions in which they are physically very remote and out of reach. Physical distance does not prevent the mind from desiring and, therefore, a mere physical isolation is not the entire meaning of renunciation. It is an inward transformation that has to take place, by which consciousness or in its more pronounced form, mind does not relate it to its objects.
The object of sense can be physical or conceptual, and one can be attached to a conceptual object even though there may be no physical object. As far as attachment is concerned, it makes not much difference whether its object is physical or purely psychological, because inward reveries of the mind are as dangerous as outward possessive attitudes. But most students of yoga do not go deep into this peculiar feature of dispassion; they go by a traditional attitude of renunciation by which they simply mean a monastic life life in a nunnery or a convent, etc. That is not what is ultimately required of us. We may live in a convent, we may live in a monastery, but it is no use if the mind is hankering for enjoyment. The mind can be in the thick of enjoyment even inside a monastery or a nunnery, and what binds us is this craving of the mind, and what makes us take rebirth is this craving of the mind. Merely because we are in a monastery or a church, it does not mean that we are renunciates, because the conditions of bondage are still present in the mind, and those factors that will bring about a rebirth also are present in the mind. It is not the physical object of sense that causes rebirth. It is a mental potentiality, a predisposition of the mind towards something, that causes rebirth.
The mind can inwardly harbour an abundance of pleasurable feelings, and feel happy. We can be inwardly happy by enjoying a psychological object. There is no need for a physical object always. The senses can get excited by even a thought of the object of sense; and it is this excitement that causes pleasure, and not the object. So, whenever the nerves or the senses are stimulated, there is a sensation of pleasure. It may be that the physical proximity of an external object stirs the nerves and the senses in this manner, and we hanker after a physical object of sense merely because it acts as an instrument in stirring up the nerves and the senses. The pleasure is not caused by the object; it is the stirring of the feelings, the sensations and the nerves that is the source of pleasure. This is very important to remember. We are happy because of a stimulation of the bodily organism, not because of the presence or the absence of the object.
We make a mix-up of things, and in a confused attitude imagine that the joy comes from the object which we are thinking of, loving, or are attached to. What actually happens is that an inward stimulation takes place, and this stimulation can be brought about merely by thought even if the object is a thousand miles away. We can merely think that object, and a stimulation of the corresponding sense will be felt, and a similar type of joy and pleasure will be felt within us. Deep psychologists and psychoanalysts will tell us the details of this peculiar character of the mind. It is the mind that creates an atmosphere of satisfaction and joy by a rearrangement of its own constituents, and merely because an external circumstance helps in the arrangement of its psychological constitution it does not mean that the joy comes from the object only.
The point that we are trying to drive home to our mind is that merely because we are away from physical objects of sense, it does not mean that we are in a state of renunciation. And yoga is not prescribing this sort of renunciation. What it expects of us is a healthy attitude of our consciousness towards things. It does not expect us to brood over objects of sense.
Mostly, our renunciation is compelled it is forced upon us by outward conditions and this is a dangerous type of life that one can live, at least from the point of view of psychological health. Any kind of undue pressure exerted upon us is contrary to the requirement of yoga, because every stage of yoga is a spontaneity and a voluntary enterprise on the part of the seeker. Wherever there is an absence of spontaneity of action, there is a drudgery felt within. We enjoy a work when we do it of our own accord. We dislike a work when it is forced upon us by our boss. We can walk ten miles if it is our wish to go as a sort of diversion or a play, but we will not walk even one furlong if we are sent on a duty. We will say we cannot walk so much, and go by car or scooter; but we can walk ten miles if it is our wish. Therefore, voluntary and spontaneous aspiration is called for in yoga.
When Patanjali, the teacher, lays great emphasis on the requisite of vairagya, or renunciation, he intends to convey to us the message that bondage from which yoga tries to free us is not merely in a physical location of objects of sense, but in a connection of consciousness with these locations of objects and an appreciation by the mind of the characters of these objects. We cannot enjoy an object unless we appreciate it, and this appreciation is the recognition by the mind of certain characters or values in the object which itself is lacking.
The love that we feel towards an object is an indication that those features which we see in the object of our attraction are absent in us, and we try to make good the lack by a connection that we establish inwardly, psychologically, between ourselves and the object. It looks as if we become whole when the counterpart that we lack is provided to us; but this is a mistake that the mind is making, because what we lack is something unintelligible to us. The love of objects of sense is an experiment that the mind makes in trying to find out what it is lacking, and the short life that we have in this world is spent in mere experimentation. Can we love an object eternally, for all times from birth to death? That is not possible. We jump from one thing to another thing. Today this is desirable, tomorrow another thing is desirable; and what was desirable yesterday does not look desirable today because, by experiment, the mind has found that the object which attracted it yesterday is inadequate today. So, it tries to experiment with another object, and it fails there also. It goes to a third object. And with all its experiments, it finds that it cannot find or acquire what it lacks, because the mind is incapable of knowing what it really lacks.
What we lack, what the mind is in need of, is not a temporary stimulation of the senses or the nerves. What it is in need of is not any kind of physical object. It is in need of something else, which it is trying to discover in the objects of the world. But, no one has found ones object of ultimate quest in anything of sense, because the shortcoming of the mind is of such a nature that it cannot be made good by anything that is finite. There is an infinite shortcoming in the mind and, therefore, finite objects cannot bring it satisfaction. When there is an awakening into this fact, it tries to discover the causes of its failure and take to right methods, by which it can gain what it has really lost and what it really seeks. But the mind is wedded to the senses. It always plays second fiddle to the tune of the senses, and so, even in its investigations into the causes of its failure, it takes the advice of the senses only because it has no other ministers except the senses.
And so, in a life of renunciation, in a life of monastic discipline etc., what the mind is trying to do is to act independently for its own self and discover the remedies for its sorrows. But in the act of this discovery of the causes of its sorrow, it takes once again the aid of the senses and, therefore, it comes a cropper. The senses begin to tell it once again the very same thing that they conveyed to it earlier, and we once again begin to interpret the causes of our suffering in this world in terms of the objects of the world; and there is a possibility, then, of our entering into a muddle, which is the state of mental confusion.
This is what is described in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita, in which condition, on one side we feel that we are in need of light, advice and guidance from a higher power, a greater source of wisdom; but on the other side we cling to our own views, and stick to our guns, as Arjuna did. He was seeking advice from Bhagavan Sri Krishna, but he was also arguing on behalf of his own feelings and opinions, as if they were right. In this confused state, the mind can get into an entangled situation where partly, or outwardly, it may appear to be engaging itself in a pious adventure of even the practice of yoga, devotion to God, etc., but it can become, unfortunately for it, a totally sidetracked movement, a direction which it takes by the guidance of the senses, and it can imagine that it is moving in the right direction though it is moving in the opposite direction.