The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART IV: THE KAIVALYA PADA
Chapter 107: The Bestowal of a Divine Gift
A very important aphorism now comes before us which points out that even at an advanced stage, one cannot be too confident that obstacles may not recur. This is the meaning of the sutra, tat cchidreṣu pratyayāntarāṇi saṁskārebhyaḥ (IV.27), which is a very small statement with a very large significance and meaning. The movement on the path of yoga is not a smooth and unobstructed, unimpeded progress. Sometimes there are retrogressions, and even in highly advanced conditions of yoga the previously existent samskaras in the mind may come up to the surface and prevent the continuous flow of consciousness. This is the reason why we find, many a time, in the lives of saints, sages and yogis, that novel features and behaviours manifest themselves which cannot be understood by the public eye. It is not that they have turned back from the path of yoga; it is because they have to face that which was already inside but had been kept controlled by hard thinking and strenuous meditation.
Very powerful acts of concentration of mind keep the vrittis in respect of objects under subjection. If the practice is continuous, done daily without any break, and the meditation becomes a habit with us, these vrittis in respect of objects of sense will never be allowed to come to the surface, so that it may appear that there is a continuous flow of consciousness in the direction of the aim of yoga. That may be so for a time – for such time as opportunities do not arise for those subjected vrittis to rise to the surface. It is impossible for even a Hercules in yoga to keep up this continuity of consciousness in meditation, because it is a labour and an effort of the mind which has to be exerted against the normal tendencies in respect of physical objects.
When we do it for years, naturally it has a fatiguing effect upon the mind. The power of the will may overcome this fatigue, due to which the meditation may be kept up for years together, even towards the fag end of one’s life if the power of the will is strong enough. But even Homer nods, as they say. The will, which has been exerting such a pressure upon the vrittis of the mind, may have to take a little leisurely rest due to the exhaustion caused by the effort which it has been putting forth for years together. And a little chidra, as the sutra puts it, a little hole that has been made, is enough for the vrittis to come up. A moment’s cessation of the vigilance of the will is enough for the hornets of vrittis to come up, buzzing and violent, and they will dart upon the very object from which they have been weaned by the force of the will.
This is something which cannot be avoided, because no man is omniscient; no man is omnipotent; no man can be called God. And so, it is impossible to avoid these encounters entirely. One day or the other they have to come, and they may come in various forms, various degrees, at different times in one’s life. When such a thing happens, what is to be done? When we face the enemy in front of us, what do we do? That is the very same thing that we have to do with these vrittis. Hānam eṣāṁ kleśavat uktam (IV.28) is the recipe for this problem. Just as we deal with the klesas which were described in the earlier sutra, so we deal with these encounters. How do we deal with them?
The process of recession of the effect into the cause is one of the methods prescribed in the earlier sutras. It is a discriminative analysis of the causes of the activity of these vrittis which have come to the surface of consciousness at the present moment, and is a very difficult thing to practice because we cannot find out the causes when they are actually operating. Nevertheless, this is one of the methods prescribed in the sutra. When we are overwhelmed from all sides by the vrittis, we will not be allowed even to think of the causes which have given rise to this circumstance. But this overwhelming will not continue for a long time. There is an ebb and a flow of these vrittis; they are not always in the same condition. The force of the samskaras, the impressions of past experience which have been held in check for a long time by the practice of yoga, gains entry into the realm of consciousness and acts in respect of its own desired object.
The exhaustion of a karma is effected by various ways, and these samskaras or vrittis that come up confronting the yogin are nothing but the powers of karma, forces of karma – the potencies, or apurvas, of previous karmas which have not yet been undergone by experience. Some of the karmas have to be undergone by direct experience, as they cannot be opposed. It is not that everything must be opposed; that cannot succeed. Certain things have to be undergone by direct experience, whether they are pleasurable or miserable. They can be either way. When they are very powerful there is no other go than to bear the brunt of the onslaught, and then they diminish in their intensity. It is at that time that we have to practise this method of the recession of the effect into the cause – not when the flood is upon the head. Only when it subsides can we can try to exercise our discrimination as to what has happened.
The bringing of the effect into the cause means the diverting of the mind from the gross to the subtler phases of this situation that has arisen in the form of the vrittis coming up to the consciousness. It is ultimately a lack of grasp of the idea of the goal of yoga that brings about this unfortunate circumstance. One cannot keep this grasp always, because who can be in a meditative mood all twenty-four hours? No human being can. That which will save us at the times when we are not meditating is the impression created in the mind by the power of the meditation which we have been practising at other times. If the meditation has been strong, protracted, practised for a long period, the atmosphere that this practice creates in the mind will ward off, to a large extent, the invasion of these vrittis in terms of their satisfaction. Otherwise, who will help us when we are not in a state of meditation? Nobody can guard us all twenty-four hours. How can we keep the police with us wherever we go? Such a thing is impossible. And it is at that time when we are unguarded, which is of course common in anyone’s life, that these samskaras will come up.
They come up because they have not been given their needs. We have simply told them ‘no’ for anything that they said. In the beginning, it worked very well because our will was so strong and we were bent upon seeing that they were put down. We did it and we succeeded by the power that we exerted upon them, as a boss would do in respect of a subordinate. But how long will this be tolerated? We have not sublimated them. They cannot be melted. They are sitting there, not dead. They may look like corpses, but they are not corpses; they have life. They are defeated, frustrated and unhappy vrittis which have been struck down by the will of the meditative consciousness.
When there is a chidra, or a little loophole in the meditative effort – which means when we are not meditating – these vrittis will come up. “Now we are ready,” they will say. “You have forgotten us, so we are up.” And nobody can do anything at that time, because the starved emotions and the frustrated desires have a strength of their own. They are not weaklings. To avoid this problem of having to confront unforeseen vrittis at a later stage, the Yoga Shastras prescribe very graduated ascents, even in the earlier stages of yoga. We are not supposed to jump up in great enthusiasm, as if we are going to catch God in a few days. It is this kind of enthusiasm that leads to such problems.
We have to move gradually, with a tremendous caution with regard to our strengths and weaknesses. It is something like striking a balance sheet. The profit and loss account is struck with great care, and we know where we stand financially at the end of any particular year. Likewise, it is necessary to strike a psychological balance sheet of our life almost every day, towards the end of the day, we may say, and find out where we stand in spiritual life. It is no use imagining that we are seekers and yogins – everyone can imagine that. Our actual condition will be known only to us. Many a time there are very difficult situations inwardly which cannot be explained, nor can they be observed by other people; only we can know. But, due to being busy in extraneous activities, and sometimes due to an incorrect idea of one’s own strength, which may not be a real strength – a kind of wrong estimation of oneself – one may be led into erroneous corners and slacken the effort at concentration.
Apart from the prescription of the recession of the effect into the cause, the great method prescribed by Patanjali as the remedy for this problem of the vrittis is the sutra: dhyānaheyāḥ tadvṛttayaḥ (II.11). We cannot do anything with them, except do meditation once again. Meditation is the only remedy for the difficulty that has arisen due to lack of meditation. There is no other remedy. Then we have to set ourselves up once again and gird up our loins, and know where we stand without any complacency in respect of our achievements. It is not possible to face the powers of nature. Always it is wisdom on the part of every individual to be friendly with nature and never oppose the forces of nature. Even in the name of God, we should not directly face and confront the powers of nature. That is no use because, after all, nature is the face of God. The forces of nature are the laws of God operating in a particular manner.
Thus, it would be appropriate on the part of everyone to move harmoniously with the requirements of the forces of nature, which is a great judicious act, no doubt, and it requires guidance from inside as well as outside – inwardly from our own conscience, outwardly from the Guru. Otherwise, there will be tremendous opposition, and we may have to cut off all our practices. We may be bedridden by the psychological onslaughts of those little children whom we ignored earlier when we were very young, and they will come up when we are old.
The sadhanas which are prescribed in the different schools of yoga always give a warning that no stage or step in the progress should be ignored. We should not try to have a double promotion at any time. We must always see that we have passed through every stage. Otherwise, that particular step which we have not taken and jumped over will be a problem one day or the other. These are all cautions and private problems rather than social ones. Each problem is individualistic. This is a general statement of the difficulty that may arise in the case of students or seekers, but how they will come, in what manner, is peculiar to each individual and cannot be explained generally. My problem will be different from yours, and so on, according to the nature of the vrittis and the type of emotion which is prevalent or predominant in the mind of a person. That is the statement of warning in this sutra, tat cchidreṣu pratyayāntarāṇi saṁskārebhyaḥ (IV.27). Hānam eṣāṁ kleśavat uktam (IV.28): As we have dealt with the vrittis – avidya, asmita, raga, dvesa, abhinivesa – we deal with them. That is the way we have to face them and sublimate them.
When we succeed in this noble attempt, we will be led to the higher realm of yoga. The lives of saints, when they are read with a critical, observant eye, provide ample food for thought in respect of the various tense situations one has to pass through in the practices. There will be onward and backward movements, and we will not know where we are; and we have to meet these situations. But when they are known and overcome, the clouds disperse.
The last stroke dealt by these vrittis – we may call it the stroke of Satan or of Mara, or whatever it is – is the strongest stroke. The last blow is the most powerful blow that we are dealt, and that is the time when our backs will break if we are not cautious. There, everything will be decided once and for all. In the beginning the strokes are very mild – not very powerful. But when everything fails, when it appears that we are not going to listen to any advice which is given by these vrittis or emotions, when they are sure that whatever they ask is going to be denied when we are adamant in respect of their demands, then they revolt in all their might and main.
At that time it is that we have to keep up the strength of our will, which is impossible on the face of the earth. Nobody has kept up that strength of will because nobody imagines that such a thing will happen. This is the whole difficulty. Everybody thinks, “I have passed through it; it is over. Now I am face to face with God.” This is not true. We have got many things to pass through before we have even an inkling of the presence of that Almighty. The seven gates, and many other gates of the fortress of mystical experience which great masters have spoken of, are nothing but these hurdles we have to pass through in the practice of yoga. They are all epic descriptions of these obstacles we have to face and the difficulties we have to overcome.
When everything is done, and we are in the hall of the divine Absolute, then the glory dawns, which is the experience designated in the sutra of Patanjali as dharma-megha samadhi. This is a grand experience, very majestic. Once we reach that state, there is no fear. We are real masters. Prasaṁkhyāne api akusīdasya sarvathā vivekakhyāteḥ dharmameghaḥ samādhiḥ (IV.29). We do not know why he has given this name to it. It is a peculiar novelty of Patanjali. Many people interpret it in many ways. What is ‘dharma’, and what is ‘megha’? If we look at the dictionary, we will see that a very simple meaning is given. Dharma is virtue, righteousness; megha is cloud. So what does dharma-megha – the cloud of righteousness, the cloud of virtue – mean?
The meaning of this epithet in respect of this spiritual experience seems to be that there will be a shower of virtue – not a virtue that we deliberately practise as a sadhana, but a spontaneous rain of divine grace which will come like a flood of showers from all sides. The virtues which we practise as a sadhana are different from the virtues which automatically proceed as a spontaneous character of one’s enlightened being. In the beginning they are efforts, but in the later stages they become our own nature. We need not put on a switch to have the light; the light is there, as is the case with the self-luminous sun. The dharma-megha is, therefore, an indication that we are in the vicinity of the great goal. Though it has not been reached yet, we have inklings of its presence. There are indications that we are approaching it. Prasaṁkhyāne api akusīdasya sarvathā vivekakhyāteḥ dharmameghaḥ samādhiḥ (IV.29) is the condition that precedes this experience of dharma-megha.
We should not have a desire even for such enlightenments as all-knowingness. “Let me be all-knowing, all-powerful” – even such desires should not be there. Only then, this dharma-megha comes. We are asked not to allow even the finest and subtlest form of the ego to work even in this high or lofty plane because the ego, when it starts working, can take a very fine ethereal shape. The desire to know all things has a subtle background of the presence of one’s individuality, though it is a far, far advanced form of individuality. And the power which follows, which is called omnipotence, is also of a similar character. Of course, we do not know what actually happens when there is omniscience or omnipotence. We have to have it, and only then can we know what it is. But before it comes, it looks like a possession or an endowment which would exalt a person to a lofty degree of status in the universe; and all ideas of status must be shut down.
Even the enlightenment in respect of objects such as insight – the siddhis mentioned in the Vibhuti Pada, the powers of different types, and the insights and intuitions which may flash forth in respect of the different things of the universe – should not enchant the mind even in the least, even in the minimum, because as we go higher and higher, the delights are also subtler and subtler. The joys that we have in this world are gross and crude, but even they are enough to catch us and entangle us. But when we go higher, the joys are subtler. They can catch us more powerfully than the joys of this earth, which are crude and impeded by the physical tabernacle.
There are no physical obstacles in the higher realms. The obstacle in the physical world is the physical body. That is the object and, therefore, we cannot enjoy it properly. The presence of the physical body obstructs the union that we seek with the object, which is the reason for this search for enjoyment through the senses. But there are no physical bodies in the higher realms; therefore, the temptations are more powerful, and it is a greater difficulty there than here on earth. It is possible that one can get stuck in the higher realms more easily than on earth. All these have to be watched with great care, and the sutra tells us: “What to talk of these enjoyments; you have to be free even from the desire to have omniscience, and you should ask for pure Being-consciousness only.” Sarvatha vivekakhyateh – it is not knowledge of things that we are asking for; it is knowledge as such, which is knowledge of being alone. This is the purusha. Then comes dharma-megha samadhi. At that time, what happens?
Nobody can say what happens. No one can go there and see what happens. Dharma-megha samadhi is only a term which is defined in various ways, but it is said to be a divine gift which is bestowed upon the seeker by the powers that be – the divine forces that guard the cosmos. Rapturous descriptions of this condition can be found in such scriptures as the Yoga Vasishtha where we are told that even the divine beings, the guardians of the cosmos, become our servants. “The guardians of the cosmos become the servants of this man.” Such things are told in the Yoga Vasishtha and other scriptures of that kind.
We will become the master. There is the shadowy persistence of the ego which has taken a cosmic form, a kind of vritti which sometimes is called, in the language of the Vedanta, as brahmakara-vritti. It is only a theoretical description of the forms that the mind has taken, and is really not a vritti at all. Merely because it has to subside afterwards, we also call it a vritti. It is a vritti which the mind puts on with a single object in front of it that is called brahmakara-vritti. The other vrittis, which are called vishayakara-vrittis,are those which have many objects in front of them – the usual vrittis of the mind which are in respect of various objects of sense, as is the case with people like us at present.
We have many things in front of us. The mind thinks of many objects; that is vishayakara-vritti. But in the brahmakara-vritti, there is only one object in front of the mind, and that is the Cosmic Being. It has no other vritti. There is a total awakening of the mind into the content of the whole universe, and the total universe becomes its object. There is no multitude or variety of content in the vritti. It is a single universal content. When the mind assumes that form, it is called the brahmakara-vritti. Such sort of experience is perhaps comparable with what the sutra calls dharma-megha samadhi.