The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART I: THE SAMADHI PADA
Chapter 40: Re-Educating the Mind
The removal of the impediments to the practice of yoga is said to be possible by meditation on reality, to give an ultimate solution to the problem. This is finally the only solution to all difficulties. There can be tentative solutions, but a final solution is not possible unless one resorts to the ultimate cause of all things, from which everything proceeds and of which everything is an effect. But, as we observed, the generals that are behind particulars – the universals that are at the back of all visible objects – are incapable of human comprehension. And, inasmuch as it is these universals that are the realities, a proper attention to the nature of these mysterious principles would be not an easy matter for the mind, which is used to perception of external things.
The one reality which Patanjali speaks of in his sutra – ekatattva abhyasah (I.32) – can be interpreted to be any kind of object, for the matter of that, provided that there is no other object attracting our attention. Though, in a way, the universal is that which is inclusive of all particulars and, therefore, it may appear that to concentrate on the universal would be equivalent to concentrating on the background of every particular conceivable, nevertheless, the characteristic of the universal can be visualised even in a particular object. This is the significance of idol worship or the ritualistic adorations that we perform in temples and in religious fields, generally speaking.
The universal is anything which is free from externality; and it is the presence of the consciousness of an external that becomes the cause of distraction in the mind. We have always a sense of fear and insecurity if there is something else, external to us, whatever it be. It may be a person, or it may even be an inanimate object. The existence of something outside us is the cause of anxiety of some kind or the other; and that is distraction. The very consciousness of anything external or outside oneself is identical with distraction, which is the opposite of concentration of mind. The preventing of this distraction implies the absence of a consciousness of anything outside it.
In the beginning stages, for the purpose of novitiates absolutely unfamiliar with this subject, what is prescribed is a conceptual form of the ideal that one would regard as the highest possible, and this is the philosophy behind the worship of the gods of religions. It is not the worship of many gods, but the worship of any aspect of the one God, which can be taken as the means to the realisation of that all-inclusive background of these various manifestations called 'gods'. Sometimes, especially in the field of pure psychic science and occultism, any object is taken for the purpose of concentration, provided the will is strong enough. The object of meditation or concentration need not necessarily be a deity in the sense of a divine being – it can be anything. It can be even a candlestick, or even a fountain pen or a pencil; the only condition is that we should not think of anything else except that pencil in front of us.
But the nature of the mind is such, the mind is made in such a way, that it cannot go on thinking continuously of any absurd object. A leaf from a tree cannot become the object of attraction for the mind, because the mind cannot see any value or significance in a leaf, or a pen or a pencil, though a very scientific attitude would find significance in anything. Even a pencil is as important as a deity if we understand the background of it and the way in which it is constituted. But the ordinary mind cannot understand it. It requires the foisting of certain characteristics which are regarded as beautiful, magnificent and capable of fulfilling the wishes of the person concentrating. No one concentrates without a purpose.
It is very well known why we practise yoga, or for the matter of that, why we engage ourselves in any activity at all. The purpose is to fulfil a wish, whether it is a particularised one or a larger one. This wish is supposed to be fulfilled by the practice of concentration of mind. Here, it would be advantageous to note how a wish can be fulfilled by mere concentration of mind. If that had not been the case, why should be there any attempt at all at concentration? Is it possible to fulfil a desire, or come to the attainment of any wish, for the matter of that, by concentration of mind? The answer is yes, as given by the science of yoga. Any wish can be fulfilled, whatever it be, on earth or in heaven, provided we can adjust our thoughts properly, in a prescribed manner. The absence of success in the pursuit of any objective is due to absence of sufficient concentration on the objective. We are not fully interested in anything, as I mentioned sometime back. That is the reason why we cannot achieve anything fully. There is nothing in this world which can draw our attention wholly, and that is why nothing comes to us as we expect it. A half-hearted friendship with anything in this world cannot lead to a permanent success in the matter of union with that object, or utilisation of that object for one's purpose.
We have a wrong notion that our secret feelings are not known to others, and that we can dupe people by showing an external form of friendship, though inwardly there may not be that friendship. It is not true that we love all people, but yet we show that we are fraternal in our attitude. This is called political relationship, or social etiquette, etc., which will not succeed always, because things of the world have a peculiar sense, and this sense is ingrained even in inanimate objects. There is nothing absolutely senseless in this world. Everything has a sense, and that sense is peculiar to its own structure. The vibrations produced by things are the senses which these things possess, and any kind of disharmonious vibration that emanates from ourselves, in respect of those things or persons outside, would be an expression of an unfriendly attitude. This has nothing to do with what we speak with our mouths or the gestures that we make with our hands. We may shake hands or we may have tea on a common table, and yet all people sitting there may be enemies. It has nothing to do with common tea, etc., because the sense of internal structure and relationship with others is something deep-rooted – more deep-rooted than is visible outside. Sometimes we get repelled by certain things even when nothing is happening, and sometimes we are pulled or attracted even if there is no obvious cause behind it. That is because of something else happening inside. Some people use the term 'prehension' for this peculiar sensibility present in things, to distinguish it from 'apprehension', or conscious understanding of the nature of things by means of sensation and mental cognition. Everything reacts to everything else in a subtle manner, notwithstanding the fact that it cannot be detected by ordinary observation through the waking mind or the active senses of the waking life.
It is this subtle disharmony we have in ourselves, and an irreconcilability of our nature with the nature of other persons and things, that is the cause of failure in our life. We do not succeed, because we do not want to be friendly with anyone. We are always opposed to something or the other, and this sense of opposition within us can be felt by everybody, though we do not express it openly with our mouths. In this world, an open expression through words is not necessary. The vibrations of our very being will be felt by the vibrations of other things and other persons in life through a peculiar sensation that they have got, and which will act or react according to the circumstance on hand. Therefore truthfulness of attitude, or openness in one's dealing with others, does not constitute merely a question of speaking with people or gesticulating in society, but an inward harmonious feeling which is deeper than the conscious relationships that we deliberately put on, sometimes contrary to what we are inside, deeply, at the core.
It is not true that our inward life is the same as our outward life. They are two different things altogether, and this is perhaps the case in 99.9% of people. For various reasons, psychological as well as social, it becomes difficult for the individual to express his real nature outwardly. Whatever the reason behind it, the fact is there – the outward relationships and inward characters do not coincide with each other; therefore there is irreconcilability, obviously. So, there is no friendship. Friendship is not a matter of writing a letter or speaking a word, but a matter of feeling. This feeling is impossible unless there is the capacity to appreciate the condition or circumstance of the person or the object with whom we are related, or with which we are related, and finally, to enter into the very feeling of that very person and the being of that object – which is alone, ultimately speaking, real fraternity of feeling or friendship.
We have a subtle distractedness in our mind on account of the presence of an absence of friendliness with things. This will cut at the root of all the yogic practice, because yoga is the attempt to contact Ultimate Reality. It is not a mere social contact that we are trying here, but a contact of utter being – the basic reality that is in everything. So there is a requisition for a complete transformation of our personality, inwardly as well as outwardly, even on the unconscious level – not merely outwardly – so that we get attuned to the structure of anything and everything in the world, under every condition.
There is nothing personal in us, if we become genuine seekers of Truth. We become like crystal, as the Samkhya philosophers would say, which has no colour of its own and appears to have a colour of everything that comes near it. Everything is okay. There is nothing wrong, erroneous, ugly or unwanted in this world from the point of view of the strange harmony that exists among things at the core. Ultimately, everything is harmonious. That is the meaning of the universe or cosmos. The moment we touch this secret of things by the practice of concentration of mind, we invoke the harmony that is at the back of all things. And harmony is nothing but the attunement of things with one another and the basic relatedness of things, rather than the so-called irreconcilability that is visible outside. The moment the mind concentrates on this fact, bereft of all inward distractions and tensions, there is an automatic summoning of the essential nature of things outside, and they come to us instead of getting repelled.
It is possible to concentrate the mind on an object merely on the surface level, though at the bottom there may be a feeling of irreconcilability. That will not lead to success. We may be praying to God through an image in a temple, and yet have a suspicion in the mind that we are praying only to an idol made of stone. This suspicion will spoil all our devotion. "After all, I am praying to a small wooden image. How will this bring fulfilment of my wish or the satisfaction of my desires? I want to be a king, an emperor, and for that purpose I am praying to an idol which is unconscious, which cannot listen to anything that I say." This suspicion will shake the very foundation of devotion, and religion will become merely a pharisaical ritual.
This is what is happening, mostly – our religion, our practice, our devotion becomes a kind of dead routine which has no life in it, and all the efforts of life seem then to bring nothing fruitful. We are neither scientific in our attitude, nor logical, nor really religious. There is, basically, a kind of hypocritical attitude which is covered under a camouflage of a necessity of practical life, which takes all our time, and we may spend our entire life in this attitude to things, ending in nothing, finally. But the inward tendency to repel things, on account of an intense egoism of nature, subsides by a proper understanding of the nature of things and by a forced imposition of universality upon the particular object upon which we are concentrating. In the beginning, it may be merely by power of will; later on, understanding will come and make it more alive. It is better to always couple understanding with the power of will, so that it may be a pleasant process rather than a hard discipline of an unpleasant character. Whatever it be, we cannot say which is more important and which comes first. Understanding and will should go together, and do go together.
Any particular object can be taken for the purpose of concentration, because any particular has the elements of the universal present in it. For instance, we can approach the government through any officer. He may be an officer from Madras, or from Punjab, it makes no difference. He is an officer of the government of India. So to touch the government we need not run about from place to place in search of it, because a government is like the universal – it is pervading everything, and it is everywhere. We can contact this universal, called the government, through an individual or a particular that is the officer – he may be any officer. Through him we can find our way to that universal principle called the government. When that officer expresses a view, is it the officer's view or is it the government's view? It is not his individual view, but it is the expression of the universal that is behind him. It is the force of the government that works through the individual, and at that time he is not an individual – he is a representation of the universal. Likewise, even an idol, or an image, or a picture, or a concept can become a representation of the universal characters behind it, provided we are able to visualise these characters with sincerity of purpose.
As I mentioned, the main point to be remembered here is that while concentrating on any object, no external thought should be allowed, because the thought of an external object is the distraction which prevents concentration. The mind cannot be wholly present in the given object if there is another thing side by side or along with it. This is then vyabhicharini bhakti or divided devotion, as they call it. When we think of two things at the same time because of the presence of another thing outside that given object, the devotion is split. The force of the mind gets diminished on account of a channelisation of the mental energy in two directions. In the beginning, the mind will refuse to concentrate like this because it is fed by diverse food. So what is essential in the beginning is to diminish the directions in which the mind moves to the minimum possible. Though it is not possible to bring the mind to a single point, we can bring it to the minimum possible or conceivable number of items of concentration.
This is the purpose of satsanga, listening to discourses of a spiritual and philosophical nature, study of sacred scriptures, svadhyaya, etc. Direct meditation is impossible, for reasons well known; therefore, we go to satsangas and listen to discourses touching upon various subjects, though within a limited circle. The subjects are variegated and yet limited to certain features. Similar is the case with study. If we study the Srimad Bhagavata, or the Ramayana, or the Bhagavadgita, the mind is given a large scope to think of many ideas and to bring into it notions of various features of reality. Though there is a variety presented in the study of a scripture of this kind, this variety is ultimately limited to a particular pattern of thinking.
The whole of the Srimad Bhagavata, to give only one concrete example, is filled with thousands of ideas expressed in various ways. Though these ideas are many, they are kindred, essentially. Therefore, the chaotic movement of the mind is brought to an end, and the first step is taken in bringing the mind under control by allowing it to think of sympathetic thoughts, though they may be variegated in their structure. There are several members in a family. Each person is different from the other – one is tall, one is short, one is very active, another is idle, one is working outside, one is working inside, one is a man, and another is a woman. There are all sorts of persons in a family, but yet they are kindred spirits – there is a sympathy of character among them. This is the reason why we call them a family, though they are individuals of different natures altogether. Likewise is any type of organisation – it may be an institution; it may be a parliament; it may be a government or it may even be an army – it may be anything. In the army we have thousands of people of different natures, yet they are brought together by a single ideal.
Likewise, by introducing a common background of a type of organisation in the midst of variegated ideas, the mind can be brought within the circumference of a given purpose. This practice should be continued for long time, until it becomes possible to reduce the size of the circumference. The ideas become less and less in number, so that we will be able to get on with only a few thoughts throughout our day. There is no need to think a hundred thoughts, because it is not the number of thoughts that is important, but their quality. We may be thinking of a million things in a shallow manner, which may not lead to success; but we may be thinking of only a few things in a very deep and profound way, and that type of thinking will be more beneficial in the long run, as we know very well.
So we can take any object for our concentration, but be we should be sure that the thoughts are not distracting, and that they are not so many in number as to diminish the power of thought. If we think of many things at the same time, the force of thought gets diminished due to the diversification of the channel of the movement of mental force. In dharana or concentration there is a twofold activity taking place – the idea that certain notions should be entertained in the mind, and also a simultaneous idea that certain notions should not be allowed into the mind. There is a double activity going on in our minds at this time. We have a feeling inside that, "I should not allow certain thoughts inside the mind." And yet, the very idea that we should not allow certain thoughts inside the mind is itself an idea of those objects. "I should not think of my enemy," but the moment we have that idea, we have already thought of the enemy. So even the idea to repel an extraneous thought is an idea of that thought, the particular object.
It is a peculiar repulsive feature that makes itself felt in the mind at the time of concentration of mind, which is what I mean by saying the double activity that is going on in the mind. We have resentment towards certain features which we regard as irrelevant for the purpose, and so there is a tension in the beginning. It is not an easy thing; we struggle hard, we sweat and then feel fatigue, exhaustion. The reason for feeling exhaustion in meditation is that there is a kind of struggle going on inside, and there is not a spontaneous movement of the mind towards the given object. That is not possible, because the very attempt to concentrate the mind on a given concept is a simultaneous attempt to get rid of certain other thoughts which are unsympathetic with this ideal; and this is the tension. There is always a simultaneous activity going on in the mind – one pulling the other in this direction and that direction. This subtle tension is the cause of exhaustion, and we tire of meditation.
We may not be openly conscious of this activity going on in the mind, but subtly it will be going on. We know very well that the very idea of sitting for meditation implies that we should not think certain things. Otherwise, we can be thinking anything in our minds and call that meditation – but it is not so. We have an idea that what we are doing through the mind at present is not meditation. The idea of meditation present in the minds of people is such that it calls for a rejection of certain thoughts. Otherwise, why should we sit somewhere? We can be anywhere and do anything we like. The idea of rejection of certain thoughts becomes a difficulty for many people to implement, because the mind feels pain whenever it is asked to give up something with which it has been friendly up to this time, and which it has been regarding as valuable. The mind will say, "Why should I reject these things?" We will have a simple answer, "Because they are unspiritual, unreligious and anti-divine, unsuited to meditation, etc." But these glib answers will not be accepted by the mind easily, because the mind is shrewd and requires a very satisfactory answer.
Most people cannot succeed in meditation because a satisfactory answer cannot be given to this question. Why should we reject something when the mind feels that there is a great point in thinking about it? Unless there is some meaning in it, why should we think of it? It sees something; some meaning, some significance, some purpose, some wish-fulfilment is practicable, and we are doing contrary work by saying, "It should not be thought. It is not good. It is untraditional, unreligious." Merely making a statement of this kind is not going to be acceptable to the mind, because the mind cannot be terrified by orders of this nature. It is a very terrible thing by itself, and so it requires a gradual training from inside, rather than an order issued from outside.
The mind is intelligent; it is not a corpse which can be dragged as we like, in the direction we please. As it is difficult to control anything that is intelligent, merely because it is intelligent, we have to apply intelligence itself to control intelligence. An intelligent person can be subdued only by intelligence, and not by force, because intelligence will not yield to any kind of external pressure. So mere pressure will not succeed here in this context of meditation, because the mind is intelligent, it is capable of understanding, and it knows where to find its wish fulfilment. Therefore, any kind of whipping which is meted out to it in an illogical manner will bring about a resentment in the mind in such a way that it may completely upset the whole practice after sometime.
An intelligent technique has to be adopted in the very beginning itself. The mind should be made to understand the necessity of avoiding certain ways of thinking for the purpose of a larger objective that it has placed before itself, because the reason behind the necessity to give up certain other methods of thinking is that these methods of thinking which are supposed to be given up are irreconcilable with the nature of truth. And as truth alone succeeds, thoughts which are not consonant with the nature of truth should be given up.
For this, the mind has to know what are the characteristics of truth. When it knows that truth is this, and the nature of truth is like this, and 'my way of thinking is not in consonance with the nature of truth, and therefore I will not succeed by the pursuit of this method', it may gradually withdraw itself from its erroneous tracks and pursue the right path of spiritual meditation.