The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART I: THE SAMADHI PADA
Chapter 28: Bringing About Whole-Souled Dedication
We were discussing the relationship between abhyasa and vairagya in the system of yoga. The practice of yoga becomes effective when it is charged with the power of vairagya or the spirit of renunciation because, while practice is the endeavour to fix oneself in a particular attitude of consciousness, vairagya is a sympathetic attitude which simultaneously frees consciousness from attention to contrary objectives, or objectives which are irrelevant to the one that is taken up for the purpose of concentration and meditation. We cannot have a double attitude in yoga. That is, our attention cannot be diverted into two channels. Else, there would be split devotion, as they call it – vyabhicharini bhakti – not whole-souled devotion.
What is called for in this practice is wholeheartedness, and perhaps every other qualification is included in this. When we are wholehearted in anything, we shall succeed, whatever be the direction. But our difficulty seems to be that we can never be wholehearted in anything. It is merely a peculiar trait of the mind that it cannot give itself up entirely to any kind of effort, thought, feeling, or volition. There is an inherent inadequacy in the structural character of the mind, which makes it sometimes look like a double-edged sword, cutting both ways – sometimes like a naughty child asking for what is impossible, and at other times trying to upset, every moment, what it is trying to achieve by its effort.
I am reminded of a small child who was very eager to plant a mango tree. He brought a small mango plant and planted it in the ground, and every day he wanted to know how much it had grown. So he would pull it up to see how much it had grown, and then he would replant it. The following day he would again remove it to see how far down the roots had gone, and then replant it. We know that if every day we pull the plant up to see how far down the roots have gone, it will wither away and there will be no mango. This is a very foolish child's attitude which does not know what is to be done. While the intention is to have a mango from the tree, and it is a very good intention indeed, what is the use of the intention when the technique is not known? The child pulls out the plant every day to see how far down the roots have gone.
Similarly, the minds of 99.9% of the people in the world are made in such a way that while it looks as if there is a good and pious intention on one side, there is also a stultifying effect immediately following from it, due to a lack of understanding. While we are doing some good things, we are also doing correspondingly counteracting actions every day, so that the good things do not bring any result. We then complain, "I am doing so much good, but nothing comes of it." How can anything come? We are pulling up the plant every day to see the depth of the root.
It is impossible to do anything wholly good on account of it being impossible for us to wholly understand the total pattern involved in the movement of any successful action. No human being can wholly succeed in life, because a wholly correct action cannot be performed. The reason is that all the contributory factors tending towards the success of an action cannot become the object of knowledge of any individual, because that would call for omniscience, almost, and no one can be omniscient; therefore, no one can be wholly successful. Entire success is possible only when there is omniscience, and not before. So, we have to swallow the bitter pill and then try to be satisfied with whatever we get. Nevertheless, it is up to us to see that we put forth the best of our abilities, commensurate with the extent of knowledge with which we are endowed in our life.
Practice, or abhyasa, is always strengthened, and has to be strengthened, by a corresponding practice that goes on simultaneously with abhyasa, and that parallel practice is the automatic withdrawal of the mind from all distracting factors. If we are pulled in two directions with equal force, we will not be able to move even a little bit. We have had occasion to contemplate to some extent on the details of what renunciation is, and what are the various stages of vairagya which Patanjali regards as indispensable to the practice of yoga. He tells us that the practice consists in an insistent attempt on our part to fix ourselves in a single or given attitude. Tatra sthitau yatnaḥ abhyāsaḥ (I.13): Abhyasa or practice is the effort to fix one's own self in a given attitude. What is this given attitude? We have to choose a particular attitude in which to fix ourselves for a protracted period; this is called practice. The attitude in which we have to fix ourselves should be such that we would tend to greater and greater stages of freedom of the soul, and a lessening and decreasing of the intensity of bondage.
As we had occasion to observe, the practice commences with being seated in a particular posture; and sitting in a particular posture is itself a practice. Often we may be under the wrong notion that 'sitting' is not a very important part of yoga, because yoga is mental concentration. Yes, it is true, but the concentration of the mind will not be possible when we are seated in an awkward posture. We must remember that there is a vital connection obtaining among every part of our psychophysical organism. Right from the skin, which is the outermost part of our body, to the deepest level of our psychological being, there is an internal relationship. Any kind of disturbance that is felt in any part of this organic structure will be sympathetically felt to a particular degree in other parts or levels of this organic structure. The posture or asana, the steady seatedness in a particular mood – not only of the mind, but also of the body, the nerves and the pranas – is essential for the concentration of the mind on the objective.
This practice becomes fixed and successful when it is continued under certain conditions. It has to be continued every day – this is one thing to remember. Every day the practice should be taken up in right earnest, and it has to be done at a given time, if possible – at a fixed time, at the same time, and not changing the hours of the day – because this practice is not a hobby. We are not merely engaging ourselves in a sort of diversion for the sake of freedom from boredom in life. The practice of yoga is a serious undertaking and, therefore, it has to be taken up with the earnestness of a scientist who is bent upon achieving his objective by the adoption of all technical devices available.
Inasmuch as the goal that is before us is the very purpose of life, it would be futile on our part to think that we can devote only half an hour of the day for this practice, and during all the rest of the twenty-three and one half hours of the day we can do other things which will throw dust on this little practice which has been done for half an hour. The major part of the day is spent in activities which are not only not contributory to success in the practice, but are contradictory, as well, and which completely disturb and upset the little result that we seem to be achieving through this little practice. So what is essential is that, in the beginning, taking for granted that we can be engaged in other activities for the major part of the day for obvious reasons, we should see that though the activities are a different type, they need not be contradictory, because distinction is not necessarily opposition. We can have a distinct type of engagement because we cannot practise meditation throughout the day; but this distinct type of attitude, profession or function that we engage in should be such that it will at least not directly disturb the mood that we have generated in the practice called meditation, to which we have devoted ourselves for half an hour, one hour or two hours.
The other point is that this practice will not bring results in only a few days. Sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra āsevitaḥ dṛḍhabhūmiḥ (I.14), says Patanjali. In many cases the result will not follow at all, due to obstructing prarabdhas. There were great seekers, sadhakas, who used to perform japa purascharana, the chanting of a mantra, for years and years together, with the hope of having the vision of the deity. But they had no vision of the deity. We hear of the story of the purascharanas performed by Sage Vidyaranya of yore, Yogi Sri Madhusudana Saraswati and others, but they had no vision. The reason mentioned is that they had obstructing prarabdhas.
We have three kinds of prarabdha – the tamasica, the rajasica and the sattvica. The tamasica and rajasica prarabdhas will not allow even the rise of aspiration for God. The tamasica prarabdha will always bring the most intense form of obstacles, including a mood of lethargy, indolence, sleepiness, and even doubt of the possibility of gaining any such realisation at all, as yoga promises. Atheism, materialism and lack of faith are due to the working of tamasica prarabdhas. As long as these types of prarabdha function, as long as the tamasica prarabdhas are active, there is no question of the practice of yoga – we can do nothing.
Even the rajasic prarabdha, which is a little better than that which is tamasica, does not allow us to do any practice, because it fills us with desires and distracting characteristics and does not allow us to sit in one place. We cannot sit continuously in one posture, even for a few minutes, if the rajasic prarabdha is working very actively.
It is only the sattvic prarabdha that permits spiritual practice. Sometimes there is a mix-up of these prarabdhas – we have a little of tamas, a little of rajas and a little of sattva. So due to the action of the sattvic prarabdha in us, we seem to have aspiration for God, love for the practice of yoga, etc. But we also have the rajasica and the tamasica prarabdha within us and, therefore, this aspiration does not get fulfilled or materialised with the intensity expected, so we are always kept in a state of tension and anxiety, inasmuch as there is a tug of war going on among these kinds of prarabdha. But the subtler is always more powerful than the grosser – the sattva overcomes the grosser prarabdhas in the long run, and the aspiration for higher types of living becomes more and more tangible in one's practical life.
The practice should be continued for a very, very long time, and we should not expect results. We should not expect results because we do not know the conditions to be fulfilled for the materialisation of a result. The result expected is cosmic and infinite, and a little finite effort cannot be expected to bring such a result. All of our practices are finite in their nature. Whatever effort we put forth is limited in its character, and all of our aspiration is completely circumscribed by certain notions that are characteristic of human individuality. How can we expect infinite results to follow from such finite attitudes, which are ingrained in our very structural existence? But our finite effort will give an impetus for us to move onward, so that the push that it gives will enable the next door to be opened before us and we can see a vista that is just ahead of us, though we will not be able to see many miles ahead.
Only one step ahead can be seen at a time, and not one hundred steps. This, of course, is an advantage as well as a disadvantage. It is a disadvantage because we do not know what is before us. We are not quite sure as to where we are standing, how much progress we have made, and the things that we may have to encounter in our future; so this is a type of disadvantage. But it also has an advantage that is similar to the advantage of not having any memory of our previous lives. What would happen to us if we knew everything that has happened in all of our previous lives? We would not be able to live in this world. We would perish in a few minutes by the shock of the memories of previous lives. But the abolition of all this memory keeps us constrained to a limited vision of things, and makes us feel that this world is the entire world, and that the people around us are the only realities, and that there is nothing in the past and nothing in the future. This ignorance keeps us happy, somehow or the other. But if the whole universe is opened up before us like Pandora's box, then the entire world would perish in a few days – it could not exist.
Likewise, to know everything that will happen in the future also cannot be regarded as a happy state of affairs for minds that are incapable of understanding all aspects of things. Inasmuch as the prarabdhas in us have a restraining force upon us, all the gates will not open at one stroke. There is a gradual opening of the personality, like the blossoming of a flower from the state of a bud. Just as we grow from childhood to youth, etc., and do not suddenly jump into the skies, there is a gradual opening up of consciousness into higher and higher levels by the intensity of the daily practice. Each day we will find that there is a little progress, though it may not be all that we expect. All that we expect cannot come in one day, for reasons that we know very well. But there is bound to be progress, even if the practice is very little, provided that it is done with ardour and with great affection, intensity and wholeheartedness.
The condition mentioned in the sutra of Patanjali is: sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra āsevitaḥ dṛḍhabhūmiūḥ (I.14). A very, very affectionate attitude towards this practice is one condition. We cannot have a greater love for anything in this world than we have for this practice. In fact, this practice is like a parent to us – it will take care of us, protect us and provide us with everything that we need. This practice of yoga should be continued until the point of realisation, without asking for immediate results. Karmanyevādhikāraste mā phaleṣu kadācana(B.G. II.47), says Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. Our duty is to act according to the discipline prescribed, and not to expect results. The results will follow in the long run, in due course of time.
The practice should not only be continued for a protracted period, but it also should be unremitting. There should be no break in the practice – this is another condition. Some people say, "For twenty-five years I have been meditating." But we have not been meditating continuously, without break, throughout all the twenty-five years. We have been missing link after link every now and then, so there has been a disconnection in the practice. It is something like having our lunch today, and missing it for two days, and then having it again on the third or fourth day, and then not having it for five or six days. Then, naturally, the intake of the diet will not have any kind of salutary effect upon the body. So the practice should be not only continuing for years and years until realisation ensues, but also it should be unremitting – ceaseless. Every day it should be taken up, and at the same time each day.
Our love for the practice should be such that the moment we sit, our hair should stand on end that we are, after all, blessed with this glorious opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the supreme cause of our very existence. As if we are floating in an ocean of honey – such should be the joy when we sit for meditation. We should not be worried, "Oh, how long have I to sit?" Some people go on looking at the timepiece, "How far it is over? Half an hour over? Not over? It is a great boredom, indeed. The bell is not ringing." Sometimes we do japa and look at the mala: "How far is it? Has it not finished?" This sort of practice is a mockery, and we should not play jokes with that which we have undertaken of our own accord. We cannot count the beads, and look at the watch; it is stupid to do so. It is a practice for the regeneration of our entire soul, of everything that we are. It is a process of rebirth in every sense of the term, and so it is a tremendously hard job – very bitter, very awful, full of difficulties, and we have to encounter much opposition. All sorts of difficulties will be expected, and must be expected. But we will see the result almost every day if the practice is wholehearted, which means to say, our whole being is present in the practice.
As mentioned earlier, it is difficult for us to place our whole being in anything. We are always distracted by certain other things which continue to be present in the conscious level of our mind. We are conscious of many things – the work that we have not done or the things that we have yet to do in the immediate future, heat and cold, hunger and thirst, sleepiness, exhaustion and fatigue, annoyance, the unfriendly attitude of people around us – umpteen such things will come and make themselves heard, so that the wholehearted attention that is expected in the practice will not come. But once it comes, once we are able to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly even for a few minutes – not for hours, even for a few minutes – we will see the result following. It is something like touching a live wire. It does not take hours to see the result of having touched a live wire. We have only to touch an open wire that is not covered or insulated, and the moment we touch it, the result is instantaneous.
But here, we are not touching it at all. It is completely insulated by other factors which are preventing its being visible and, therefore, whatever the practice is, the result does not seem to follow. When we have never been wholehearted for even a moment, how can the result come? Half of the mind is somewhere else, so how can there be a result? We always complain, "Nothing comes, nothing comes, nothing comes." How can anything come when the mind is only fifty percent present in the practice, and sometimes not even fifty percent? So, the mistake is in us. It is not in the yoga; it is not in God; it is not in anybody else.
It is necessary to reiterate that the only obstacle in the achievement of success in the practice of yoga is the absence of wholeheartedness. We are never whole-souled in our dedication, because of our subtly feeling the presence of other desirable things in the world which we consider as equally good, or at least to some extent. We never feel that things are useless, and that this is the only useful thing. Unless the feeling that everything else has no meaning whatsoever for our personal life, that everything except this wonderful undertaking called yoga has no meaning in our life – unless this attitude of complete distaste towards everything extraneous arises in the mind, there cannot be whole-souled attention of the mind on the objective. That is why Patanjali has been crying that vairagya should be coupled with practice or abhyasa. We have practice or abhyasa without vairagya and, therefore, no result comes. Practice without vairagya is the attempt at fixing a portion of the mind, a fraction of the mind, on this objective called meditation, and sometimes allowing a major part of the mind to engage itself in other things, which also look equally good to this unfortunate attitude of the mind.
Whole-souled dedication to the practice is possible only when there is perfect understanding. Why is it that our mind is not entirely dedicated to this practice, and part of it is thinking of something else? The reason is that our understanding of the efficacy and the value and the worthwhileness of the practice is inadequate. Our faith in God, our trust in God, and our feeling that God is everything is half-baked – it is not perfect. We do not have, even today, full faith that God is everything. "There is something else which is also good." Such thinking is lurking in the mind. "Though God is all – alright, the scriptures say that – but my subtle conscience says that there is something else also, something else that is also sweet. God is sweet, but there is something else also, equally sweet. Why should I not go there?.
So the subconscious mind goes there, and that outlet which the mind allows for at the bottom lets all the energy leak out in the wrong direction. The so-called concentration of mind in the practice of yoga that is undertaken every day becomes a kind of futile effort on account of not knowing that some underground activity is going on in the mind which is completely upsetting all of our conscious activities called daily meditation. We have certain underground activities which we are not aware of always, and these activities completely disturb and turn upside-down all of the so-called practice of yoga that is done only at the conscious level.
I have always been saying that our personality is not merely at the conscious level. The larger part of our personality is in levels which are deeper than the conscious one. Until all of the levels come up and merge into a focused attention in the practice of yoga, we cannot expect the desired result. But once this whole-souled dedication is achieved, once it becomes part of our conscious life, it immediately speaks in the language of ultimate success.