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The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Chapter 21: Returning to Our True Nature

Ātmanā vindate vīryaṁ (Kena II.4), says the Kena Upanishad: Energy comes through the Self. This is a very significant saying of the Upanishad. We gain strength through the Self. Energy does not come merely by eating food, but it comes through the Self. The Self is the source of energy, and all energy is identical with the extent of 'being' that we occupy in our consciousness. The amount of 'being' involved in our consciousness is the thermometer with which we can read the energy that we have. What amount of 'being' is identified with our consciousness? That is the amount of strength that we have within ourselves. But, at present, the amount of 'being' that is identified with our consciousness is only about one foot in width and six feet in height – the bodily prison. Within that limit consciousness moves, identified with that amount of being only. So we have only as much energy as the body has, and no more than that.

We have managed to limit our consciousness to the being of the body. Anything external to the body is not us, and so anything outside the body does not belong to us. Therefore, the mind runs after the objects saying, "Because it is not mine, I want it." To want what does not belong to us is not a justifiable attitude. How can we ask for a thing which does not belong to us? And if it really belongs to us, we need not ask for it. The thing outside either belongs to us, or does not belong to us. If it does not belong to us, we have no business to ask for it. How can anyone ask for a thing that does not belong to him? Are we thieves? If it is ours, why do we go on asking, "I want it. I want it. I want it"? What is the meaning of 'wanting'? What is the significance of desire, or the asking for things? It has no significance. It is a hybrid which does not belong either to this side or that side – somehow or the other it seems to be hanging in the middle, like an apparition.

Energy becomes diminished due to object- consciousness. The more we become object-conscious, the weaker we become in body, in mind, and in every sense. The reason is that even the little energy that we have gets depleted by the activity of the mind in terms of the objects outside. The energy that is with us is very little; it is not much. Our energy is only as much as the body is in its quantitative measurement, and even that is depleted through the rays of cognitive action by the mind. Cognition is something like the projection of rays of light, just as the rays of the sun proceed from the sun. In an act of perception, as it was pointed out, the mind envelopes the object, and in this act of enveloping the object, it also manages to draw the attention of our consciousness and drags it towards the object. Thus, a part of what we ourselves are – or sometimes the whole of what we are - gets transferred to the object of perception, and it is quite obvious how our strength gets transferred to the object. In any act of external love, energy diminishes because of its getting transferred to the object of love, so that one who thinks of an object intensely, particularly with an emotional attitude, does a great harm to himself or herself. It is not a simple or an innocuous action that is taking place when we emotionally cast a glance on an object, even with hatred or dislike for the object. In any intense consciousness of an object outside, the indivisible structure of our true being gets artificially divided into parts, gets dismembered, and we become an artificial personality.

Knowledge, in the true sense of the term, is regarded as identical with power, identical with virtue, and identical with happiness. Wherever there is knowledge, there is power; wherever there is knowledge, there is righteousness; wherever there is knowledge, there is happiness. But, in ordinary parlance, we find that a so-called man of knowledge, these days, is not a man of power. He is a simple man, in his own house, with a little family, though he may be a highly qualified academic man with all knowledge that we value in this world. However, he may not be a righteous man merely because of that knowledge, and he need not be a happy man, either. In this context, knowledge is not found to be identical with either power or virtue or happiness, because knowledge is not 'being', and that is why this entire catastrophe has taken place. Knowledge is power and virtue and happiness only when knowledge is 'being', and not otherwise. The condition of 'being' must be fulfilled – this proviso is very important.

So professorial knowledge is neither happiness nor power, and it is not virtue, because it is external to the being of the one who professes that knowledge. It is like an attribute, or even like a load, as we may call it, which does not actually become a part of one's own existence. The value of a person increases to the extent of the increase in the dimension of his being. This is something inscrutable, a thing which people do not bother about very much. It is a secret into which people are not initiated by anyone, at any time. We do not understand what it means when we talk about 'being' and its commensurability with consciousness, etc; it all sounds like Greek and Latin, which make no sense at all. But really it makes all sense, because that is the secret of success, of happiness, of energy, of even the attitude of justice and righteousness.

The practice of yoga is a master key to open the portals of an experience of all these supreme advantages mentioned, for which the dimension of one's being should be expanded. That is all that has to be done, and there is nothing else to be done. If we think of it very deeply, we will find that it is a very, very simple matter. It is not a very complex or complicated mechanism. Yoga is not as difficult as it is made to appear. It is the simplest of things conceivable because it is nothing but the character of Truth. But it is also difficult, merely because of this reason – it is the character of Truth; and it becomes more difficult because this character of Truth is inseparable from what our own Self is. So, Truth and Self are one. As a consequence of the meaning of the great aphorism of yoga, yogaḥ citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ (I.2), we are also told, tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe avasthānam (I.3). Perhaps these two sutras sum up yoga entirely. Yoga is the control of the modifications of the mind whereby one establishes oneself in oneself. This is the sum total of yoga, and there is nothing else.

We are not established in our own self on account of our transference of our self to objects by means of perception, cognition, attachment, etc. We are not our own self – we are somewhere else. We are not where we are physically seated; we are where our mind is. This is important to remember. We should not say "I am here", merely because the body is here. Tell me where your mind is; there you are, really. The physical location of a person is not the locality of the real being of the person; the locality of the real being is the 'being' of one's consciousness. Where is our consciousness? There our being is. Why do we say "I am here", when our mind is somewhere else? So, this aspect is more important than our physical presence or a mere arithmetical assertion of our being somewhere from the point of view of the body only. Wherever the mind is, there we are. Wherever the consciousness is, there we are, because where the mind is, consciousness also is there. As mentioned, where vritti-vyapti takes place, phala-vyapti also takes place. So where our mind is, there our consciousness is; and where our consciousness is, there we are – the matter is clear. Though I am sitting here physically, I may be in Swargashram, really speaking, if my mind is thinking of an object there. It may be anywhere, even in a very distant place. Our consciousness gets transferred to some other location, by which we mean the object we are thinking of, the selfhood, which is ordinarily identified with the physical body, gets lifted up artificially from the body and is psychologically transferred to the physical location of the object outside. So we are restless whenever we are conscious of objects.

The restlessness arises on account of our rising up out of our own selves and becoming artificially one with something else, in an act of love or hatred. So a person who loves or hates is restless and cannot have peace of mind. How can there be peace of mind when it has gone out of itself and is moving here and there in a region which does not really belong to it, which is not its jurisdiction? In this act of transference of selfhood into the object outside, many things happen simultaneously. When the self goes, everything goes – there is nothing left in us afterwards. Just as when the king goes, the whole palace goes – the retinue goes, the army goes, the police go, friends go – everything goes. Nothing remains behind when the king goes. Likewise, when the self goes to the object, there is nothing left in us afterwards. We have become paupers, bankrupt utterly. We have lost virtue, we have lost power, we have lost happiness, and we are on the verge of death. Death is gripping us, because death is only a name that we give to the utter subjection of self to objects. That is also called suicide, the destruction of one's own self. Atmahatya, or one who kills his own self, is not merely he who cuts his throat physically, but one who does something worse than that.

Physical destruction, or annihilation of the physical personality, is not as harmful as the annihilation of one's real being, which is the being of our mind and consciousness. All values in life are centred in consciousness. Whatever worth we see, or meaning we see, or significance we see in the world, is in consciousness. Where consciousness is absent, life loses its meaning. Inasmuch as every meaning is in consciousness, we have to study its functions and try to do what is necessary to keep it in proper order. To keep consciousness in proper order would be to see that it does not become alien to its own self, which is what happens when it is intensely conscious of an object. We become foreigners to our own self when we are too much engrossed in a consciousness of objectivity, which is the cause of a peculiar psychological tension in which we perpetually find ourselves. When the mind is withdrawn from the object, consciousness also gets withdrawn because, together with the action of the mind in respect of the object, consciousness has moved towards the object.

In the reverse action that we are attempting – namely the withdrawal of the mind from the object – a simultaneous withdrawal of consciousness from the object is also effected. As consciousness of an object is a loss of energy, the withdrawal of consciousness from the object should effect an increase of energy. When the river flows in various directions by multiplying itself into small streams or channels, its velocity, energy and force gets diminished, but when it is channelised in one direction, its energy increases. When we block it completely by building a bund across it, it rises and swells up, manifesting a capacity, a force and an energy which is larger and greater in extent than what we could see when it was moving ordinarily like shallow water. So the more we withdraw our minds from objects, the more we become strong in ourselves, like the river which wells up on account of the bund that is raised against it. If all the ramified channels of the river are blocked, if it is not allowed to move at all in any direction, if the movement of the waters of the river has been prevented completely, it then becomes a heightened profundity of a vast mass of water which can be harnessed for any purpose that would be regarded as useful.

In a similar manner, we may say that when the channels through which consciousness gets ramified, on account of various types of objective perception, are withdrawn by an act of bund that is built against it through self-control, energy wells up within us. Instead of the tendency of water to move forward to where it is not, it may be said to return to itself when its passage of action has been blocked externally. In a similar manner, the mind or consciousness which exhibits a tendency to move to a place where it is not, is made to return to its own true nature by an act of self-control, by the process of mind-withdrawal, and its energy gets doubled, tripled, etc.

This withdrawal of the mind from the object does not mean unconsciousness of the presence of the object. This is also an important thing to remember. When we are not conscious of the presence of an object, it does not follow that we have withdrawn the mind from that object. Yoga is not any kind of unconscious state. If someone is unconscious that he is a king, he cannot be called a king. He may be a king, but he is unconscious of it. If he is in a coma, what is the use of being a king? Therefore an unconscious act is no act at all worth the while, and so any act of self-control, or withdrawal of the mind from objects, is not an absence of the awareness of the presence of the object, but a conscious condition by itself.

In every stage of yoga, consciousness is awake; it is not sleeping. We should not allow consciousness to sleep at any time. Sometimes it can sleep when we occasionally force it to withdraw itself from objects, and then it gets into a mood of grief. The mind gets into a condition of unhappiness because we have compelled it to withdraw itself from its object of love. Then it plays a trick like a small schoolboy who will not do what we want him to do. If we ask him to go to school, he will not go to school – he will not do anything that we ask him to. He will revolt. Similarly, consciousness can play the very same role as a truant boy, and not do what we expect it to do. "You don't want me to contemplate the object, so I will not do anything else either." This is the language of the mind. "All right, I will not think of the object. You are not allowing me to do that, so I will not do anything else either." Like a very naughty servant who recoils upon the master, the consciousness will recoil upon us and we will be none the better – perhaps we will be worse.

So sometimes a deliberate withdrawal of consciousness from the objects by an act of will-force may not be equivalent to what we are expecting through the practice of yoga – the cittavritti nirodhah – because we should not allow the consciousness to enter into any mood of negativity on account of its withdrawal. Let us suppose that today we have to fast. If we do not get food, we are unhappy. To some extent the mind is not joyful; somehow or other it tolerates the idea of fasting and hopes that it passes as quickly as possible. This is the attitude that the mind will adopt. "Oh, I am caught up in this stupid technique called yoga which is harassing me from all sides and not allowing me to enjoy the values of life. What shall I do?" What the mind generally does when it is forcefully withdrawn from the object is that it enters into a tamasic condition, a torpid state where it does not think anything at all. This can be mistaken for a condition of yoga, and sometimes even for a condition of samadhi.

A mind which does not think about anything is not in a state of yoga. It might be better to think of an object than to be in that tamasic condition, because a person who neither thinks nor speaks, who does not say anything at all for days together, is a dangerous person. One must be afraid of him. He is not in a state of yoga. He can suddenly erupt, just as an atmosphere which is cloudy and dark can suddenly erupt into flashes of lightening, thunder and hailstorms. This moodiness of the mind is a dangerous condition, and it is very easy for the mind to enter into that state. And generally, this is what happens – a subtle unhappiness suddenly arises in the mind due to its withdrawal from objects.

Why it is unhappy? It is unhappy simply because we have cut off the centre of its joy. The joy of the mind is the object, and we have severed its connection with the object that is the centre of its happiness. Naturally, it is unhappy and very grief-stricken, and it has no chances of fulfilling its desires. We have very carefully cut off its connection with the source of its happiness. It then becomes a maniac – a kind of neurotic with suppressed feelings. It can become a glutton; it can oversleep; it can fly into a passion of rage; it can attack; it can become anti-social; it can even condemn God, creation, and all of human society. The mind can do anything when it is in a mood of desperate defeatism due to a forced withdrawal compelled upon it in the name of self-control or yoga practice.

So we know the advantages of yoga, as well as the dangers that follow when it is not properly understood. The control of the mind is a conscious activity willingly undertaken by the mind, and not any kind of unconscious recoiling of parts of the mind due to unwillingness. We are always concerned with consciousness. This is a very important aspect of the matter. In the practice of yoga we are attempting to increase the depth and the extent of our being by a widening of the purview of consciousness. So we are concerned with consciousness, with which 'being' is attached automatically. No type of unconsciousness is called for here – there is no automatic action taking place as in a mechanical movement, but a conscious, deliberate and well-thought-out condition in which we are very vigilant. We do not withdraw ourselves from objects because somebody asks us to do so, or even because the Bible or the Bhagavadgita says to do so. Such withdrawal cannot succeed; it will end in failure. There must be a flowering of consciousness from within itself in an acceptance of the logical necessity for self-withdrawal. If we do not feel a necessity for it, it cannot be done. Otherwise, it will be a pressure exerted upon us, resulting in failure of some sort or the other.

Self-control, which is the withdrawal of consciousness from objects, is meant for the good of our own selves. It is not a punishment that is meted out to us, though it looks very painful in the beginning. Yattadagre viṣamiva pariṇāme'mṛtopamam, tatsukhaṁ sāttvikaṁ proktam (B.G. XVIII.37), says the Bhagavadgita. In the beginning it very bitter to the taste, like a poison that is forced into one's mouth. In the end nectar will be showered upon us, but we are in a state of agony because we do not know when the end will come. In a state of helplessness, we do not know what is actually happening to us. The unhappiness or the venomous character of the initial stage of yoga is due to an apparent severing of oneself from centres of happiness. Therefore, we must be prepared for it, just as we subject ourselves to the treatment of a doctor.

When we go to a doctor for the treatment of an illness, we do not ask for immediate happiness. It is a kind of painful treatment that is meted out to us him with injections, bitter drugs, as well as by cutting us off from our usual diet. All kinds of unhappy things are told to us by the doctor, but we deliberately subject ourselves to hospitalisation and treatment because – pariname'mritopamam - afterwards, joy will come to us. We will be in a state of health because of this present subjection in the form of pain. The mind should, therefore, be educated in this fashion. In its thoughts of objects the mind is in an unhealthy condition, and its imagining that the thought of objects makes it happy is misconstrued.

Many people, even sincere aspirants, think that there is a justification in sense-contact because it brings release of tension. There is an erroneous feeling among many well-meaning people that sense-contact brings happiness as a result of release of tension. It is not true. Sense contact increases tension – it does not reduce tension. That it reduces tension is a wrong notion. As a matter of fact, it is a heightened tension that causes an apparent happiness in the perception of an object. When we are highly tuned-up, we are worked up into a peculiar nervous condition which makes us feel that we are happy, but it is a drunkard-like happiness. A person who has drunk a lot of liquor may find himself in a state of happiness, but we know how far removed he is from real happiness. His drunken happiness is due to a nervous condition which has been artificially introduced into him by a whipping-up of the nerves by striking them and hitting them with a rod so violently that the nerves have no other choice than to rise up in a state of irritation, which titillates the consciousness and makes him feel that he is happy – though he is not really happy. In every act of sense cognition, such a nervous condition is created temporarily, and the nerves are not in their natural state when there is sense-contact. As the mind moves towards the object, and as the consciousness follows it, the bodily conditions also get turned into a new state altogether. There is a change in the muscular movements, in the nerves, and even in the breathing process, and even digestion may get upset if one is intensely in affection or hatred.

So, this artificial condition of the psychological system of the nerves, the muscles, etc., brought about on account of intense attachment to objects through sense action, should not be mistaken for happiness, because there will be a sudden fall afterwards. We know the condition of a drunkard who suddenly reverts to the condition of non-drinking, only to find that he is in a worse condition than he would have been otherwise.

Because of a perpetual identification with artificial states, we have forgotten what a natural state is. We have been in artificial conditions right from our birth, and so it is natural that we mistake it for what is our true nature. Hence, when our true nature is introduced into our body and mind, we mistake it for something artificial, and so in the beginning it may all look very difficult, and quite awful for the mind to swallow. But it is advisable that a little bit of discipline be followed in the interest of the genuine health of the total personality that will ensue, together with an increase in power and happiness. This is our aim.