The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART I: THE SAMADHI PADA
Chapter 42: How Feelings and Sensation Work
A reason for many of our difficulties in life, which is not well thought out, is the unnecessary contact with persons. This could be avoided if some discretion were to be exercised. For the most part, we are not in a position to judge people correctly, and we often err in our judgements of persons and circumstances. Patanjali's advice is to be cautious about our associations with people, because any kind of injudicious relationship with people may lead to complications of an unforeseen character, and later on it may become very painful for us when we try to extricate ourselves from the clutches of these conditions.
'Good things' and 'bad things' are relative terms, and our judgements in these respects, when they are mistaken to be absolute, are likely to lead us in erroneous directions. It is not easy to determine who is our friend and who is our enemy, and our judgements in this regard, being shallow for obvious reasons, will certainly lead to consequences which are unexpected. Therefore, contacts should be at a minimum in the sense that they should be entertained or allowed only when they are directly, or at least indirectly, connected with the purpose at hand. Absolutely irrelevant relationships with people must be avoided.
A very well-known verse from the Vishnu Purana says that every relationship that one establishes with anything in this world is an additional arrow that one has struck to one's heart that will cause unending pain one day or the other. There is no contact or relationship that is going to end in joy, because every contact will end in separation. This is the law of nature. There is no such thing as permanent contact; and when that contact ceases, there is bereavement, which is the great sorrow for the heart which has been used to this contact all along.
Certain instructions on discretionary attitudes in life are given in this sutra of Patanjali:maitrī karuṇā muditā upekṣāṇāṁ sukha duḥkha puṇya apuṇya viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaḥ cittaprasādanam(I.33). Cittaprasada is serenity of mind, and this serenity or peace of mind can be attained by a harmonious social attitude which we may adopt in respect of people outside, without causing any sensation of repulsion. In advanced conditions, it is also pointed out that we should live in the world in such a way that neither should we hate anyone, nor should others hate us. There should be no repulsion from either side. We should not be an object of disgust or repulsion to others – nor should we regard anyone with repulsion or disgust. Yasmān nodvijate loko lokān nodvijate ca yaḥ (B.G. XII.15), says the Bhagavadgita. There should be no kind of shunning, either from this side or from that side.
This is a very highly advanced condition of the spirit. But before we attain this condition, we can have a lesser mode of harmonious attitude such as friendliness, as we have mentioned. When we see someone in a state of happiness, we should not be jealous of that person's happiness. When we observe sukha, or the happiness of someone, our attitude should be one of friendliness or maitri. "If I see that you are happy, very good – I am also happy. I am glad that God has blessed you with prosperity." We should not say, "Why has God blessed this person?.
Many of us have peculiar inhuman traits which should be very carefully avoided. I will tell you a very interesting story of two great men who did tapasya for darshan of Lord Siva. They were brothers, or intimately related in some way. They were sitting together and meditating for the vision of Lord Siva, and Lord Siva appeared. "What do you want? Now, you both are meditating upon me, and both perhaps want to ask something from me." Then Siva said, "You see, whoever asks for a boon first will get only half of what the other man will get – so be cautious in asking. If you ask for anything, the other man will get double." Then one of the men thought, "What should I ask? Very strange. Whatever I ask, he will get double." So, nobody wanted to ask. Both of them kept quiet. "If I say anything, the other man will get double." Then one person thought of a very shrewd way to overcome the difficulty. "Let one of my eyes become blind," he said, "then both the other man's eyes will became blind. So, are you happy now? Your tapasya has yielded this fruit." He did not want the other person to get double, and that was why he thought, "If it is double, let it be blindness. I have got at least one eye; the other man has lost both eyes." Lord Siva said, "May it be so," and vanished. Thus the poor man sitting there lost both his eyes, and the man who asked for the boon had at least one eye. One can imagine human nature, how interesting it is.
We want the other man to perish, somehow or the other. The reason why we wish the destruction of others, and our own prosperity, goes deeper than a psychological truth. Humanly it is not possible to understand why we have such attitudes. If one person dies, there is a great sorrow. "My relative has died in a car accident. My brother, my sister." It may be anyone – there is great sorrow. But suppose fifteen have gone together – then there is some satisfaction. "It is not only my brother that has gone. Somebody else's brother has also gone. It doesn't matter so much now. So far, so good." Don't you think there is some truth to this feeling? He has some satisfaction that fifteen have died along with his brother. If only one person had died, he wouldn't have been able to tolerate the sorrow. "It's only my brother who went, and the others are happy." Suppose everybody has been saved except his brother, he would not like God. He would think, "God is very unkind." But if everybody has gone, as the saying in the Kannada language goes, "Everybody's death is as happy as a marriage." Let everybody go, then it is all right. But if one man goes, it is a great sorrow.
Many, many years back, when I had more physical strength, I used to take bath in the Ganges, even in the worst winter. I never took a hot water bath, for years together. The wind was blowing, biting, stinging – piercing like needles. So I used to take another person with me to bathe, in order that he might share my pain as well. Both of us dipped, so that there was some satisfaction. "He also is dipping. Why should only one man dip and suffer this cold?" We were great friends. He would not go alone, because who would dip if he went alone? So he would call me and we'd go together. Both of us dipped, and both of us shivered. The satisfaction is there – the other man is shivering; it is okay. This is a strange thing.
In respect of my own readings and studies, it is only the German philosopher Hegel who has gone to extensive lengths, in his great work called Phenomenology of Mind, to very logically explain the peculiar nature of the human mind, which consoles itself with the misfortune of others. The reason, he says, is the pressure of the Absolute that is urging forward to assert itself as the sole reality. This is a very strange explanation – that we want the death of other people because of the working of the Absolute within us. We cannot understand this. How can the Absolute expect the death of other people? His explanation is that consciousness cannot tolerate anything in front of it, because it has no object, and it will persist in maintaining this nature even in the lowest condition. In the uttermost form of ego, this Absolute character of consciousness will assert itself; and love and hatred are both expressions of this presence of the Absolute in the individual, though in a very distorted manner. We love things in order that we may exist independently of everything else. Love is the manner by which we absorb the independence of another object into our own self so that it becomes subservient to us – the intention being that it should become a part of us, or become us. Though this cannot be achieved for various reasons, the intention is that the object should get absorbed into the subject so that the subject alone will survive, because the Ultimate Reality is the subject. And also in hatred and destruction, the reason is the same. Hegel says that in the abolition of all objects there is the satisfaction of one's being alone, independent of any kind of external competition. This may be the crudest form of attitude which consciousness may take; and yet its intention is something quite different, though it has taken this atrocious form. The nature of the Absolute will not keep quiet. It shall persist and insist in manifesting itself in some way or the other, and that is why egoism is so hard to overcome. Egoism is nothing but the affirmation of consciousness to be independent and supreme over everything else, and it cannot tolerate the existence of any other ego, because consciousness has no opposite. Well, this is a highly metaphysical explanation given by Hegel.
Patanjali's point is more ethical and social. He mentions that considering the various aspects of the working of karma in people, and also taking into consideration the necessity to have peace of mind, knowing also that we cannot change the order of nature or the conditions of things by our single effort, we should be friendly with those who are likely to evoke jealousy in our minds for some reason or the other. Where there is happiness, let there be friendliness. Where there is sukha, let there be maitri. Where we see sorrow, let there be pity. Where there is dukha, we must show karuna. We should not say, "This wretched fellow deserves this. Let him go to hell." This is not going to be our attitude towards people. "Oh, poor man, he is placed in this awful condition. If I had been in this state, what would have happened to me? I am much better off. There are people rolling in the streets in rags - without food, in the cold and heat. Am I not like a king compared to them? What a pitiable state of affairs. If possible, let me work to ameliorate his condition, to improve his condition." This is so that we do not feel a sense of contempt in respect of others, and we do not regard ourselves as superior. We feel pity – karuna. We have a sense of compassion in regard to others who are inferior to us socially, economically, or even physically.
Also, when we see virtuous people, righteous-minded people, and people who are highly honoured in society, we should be delighted in our hearts, "After all, virtue still exists." We should not feel, "Why are these people held in esteem? Now I must cow them down, pull them to the dust." This attitude should not be there. There should be satisfaction that virtue still persists. There are still good people in this world, and dharma is not, after all, totally dead. But, if we are around utterly intractable, wicked natures, whose transformation is beyond our hands, Patanjali's prescription is to be indifferent towards them – upeksa. We should not look for trouble by poking our nose into things that do not concern us. We should mind our own business. There are things which we cannot change and, therefore, it would be wisdom on our part not to interfere with those conditions, whether they are persons or things. So by adopting these tactics, we should be happy in our minds.
Now, this is not a solution to problems, as it can be seen very well. But to some extent it is effective in freeing us from unnecessary entanglements in the social atmosphere, because freedom from entanglements, in some measure, is necessary in order that we may direct our attention in the way prescribed or necessary. If we gain enough strength in the higher reaches of life, we may be able to do something positive in the direction of mitigating these evils and difficulties. However, that is a far-off matter; it cannot be achieved immediately. So, considering our present impotent condition where we cannot transform people or change the order of nature, it would be advisable to withdraw ourselves from those circumstances which are likely to disturb us in some way or the other, and confine ourselves to our duty, the function that we have taken up at hand. We should mind our own business. This is the essence of the whole sutra. We should not go about here and there, seeing things, contacting persons, all of which may not be necessary for our purposes; and we should not be too officious in our attitude.
Sometimes the emotions within become very active and turbulent, and passions of some sort or the other take possession of us in such a way that psychological treatments would not be immediately effective. For that, Patanjali's advice is that we take to a kind of breathing exercise, and hold the breath in a particular way for as long a period as possible. When the breath is held, the movement of the mind is checked to some extent, just as when we catch hold of the pendulum of a clock, the mechanism inside stops functioning for the time being. So, we check the movement of this pendulum, which is the movement of the prana, and then the mechanism inside, which is the mind, will not function. Then we will have a little peace of mind, though it may be for a few minutes; and if we persist in this practice, perhaps the turbulence may completely subside. If we go on holding the pendulum for days together, the mechanism may fail.
The method of breathing that Patanjali prescribes to bring peace to the mind when it is agitated, or angry, or emotionally upset for any reason, is to breathe out, exhale very deeply and hold the breath in the manner of an external kumbakha. Kumbhaka is retention of breath. When we hold our breath and do not breathe, it is called kumbakha. This retention of breath can be done either after inhalation, or after exhalation. When it is done after inhalation, it is called internal kumbakha; when it is done after exhalation it is called external kumbakha. Here, the sutra in this connection is: pracchardana vidhāraṇābhyāṁ vā prāṇasya (I.34). Pracchardana is expulsion – we expel the breath forcefully, as we do in bhastrika pranayama. After expelling with force, we do not breathe in; we hold the breath – breathe out, and hold the breath out. The heat that is generated inside will be thrown out by the forceful expulsion of the prana.
When we are agitated in some way or the other, there is a heat generated in the system which is the cause of the disturbance. This heat is cast out, exorcised by the expulsion of the breath. So, expel the breath with as much pressure as possible, without causing too much of discomfort, of course; then hold the breath out for as long as possible – it may be for a few seconds, or half a minute. When a sense of suffocation is felt, gradually draw in the breath; then again expel, and hold the breath. There is no need for retention after the inhalation, but there is a necessity to retain the breath after expulsion. So let this practice be done for some time – even for fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, or half an hour. The anger will subside, or any kind of agitated emotion will become calmer.
When some people are very angry, they go for a long walk because they do not know what to do. They cannot express their anger, for some reason, and they cannot sit in their room either – they are boiling. So they leave and go to an isolated place and do not see anyone's face for three days. Then after three days they are all right; they have reconciled themselves somehow or other. This is one way which Patanjali does not mention – to go to an isolated place if one is very angry. But the breathing-out method which Patanjali prescribes is very effective. Try it today. Anger can be created for the purpose of an experiment. Let someone insult you very vehemently, and then you will get angry and do this breathing technique and see how it works.
Pracchardana vidhāraṇābhyāṁ vā prāṇasya: The mind has to be subdued by various methods. We cannot adopt only a single technique in controlling it; just as when we try to bring a naughty child under control, we adopt various means. Sometimes we threaten, sometimes we slap, sometimes we cajole, sometimes we pamper; we do all sorts of things. So Patanjali, as a good psychologist, suggests all these methods. We sometimes pamper the mind and we give it a sweet if it wants – okay, all right, be happy. But we should not go on doing this for a long time; we should also be able to exercise control. Together with these social and ethical attitudes which he has suggested for the purpose of subduing unnecessary emotions in the mind, and together with this prescription of expelling the breath and retention thereafter, Patanjali also suggests bestowing attention upon certain experiences which may be capable of bringing the mind to a point of concentration. Wherever there is pleasure, there the mind concentrates. It cannot concentrate on anything which cannot bring pleasure.
Certain psychophysical centres in our body, when they are stimulated, are supposed to cause certain experiences. There are certain nerves in the body which, when they are operated upon, can bring about certain physiological changes or even cause certain psychological feelings. The nerve centres are connected with the pranic movements, which in turn are connected with thoughts, feelings, etc. The sensations of sound, touch, colour, taste and smell, which we experience normally, are caused by certain nervous functions in the body, and Patanjali says that if we can concentrate our mind on certain nerve endings in the body, we will have a particular type of sensation which will draw our attention to such an extent that we will forget everything else. A very gross example of this would be 'itching'. If we go on scratching the itch, the mind will not think of anything else, especially when it is an intense itching. For a few seconds we cannot think of anything else except that particular phenomenon called itching.
We may be wondering how Patanjali prescribes such humorous methods of concentrating the mind. His intention is to prescribe every method, and finally he is going to tell us to take to any method we like, provided the mind can be concentrated. When we concentrate on the tip of the nose, which is a particular centre of nerve endings, we will have the sensation of peculiar odours if this practice is continued for a long time. The tip of the nose is the location of the ending of certain peculiar olfactory nerves, and if the concentration is fixed on these nerve endings, there will be a stimulation felt; but we cannot feel it for a few seconds or minutes, or for a long time. We will begin to smell something, though there are no objects in front of us. In higher practices we are supposed to smell even celestial aromas. We will begin to smell jasmine, for instance, where there is no jasmine in front of us – or perhaps sandalwood, and so on. The concentration of the mind on the tip of the tongue will produce tastes of various types. Because the tastebuds are at the tip of the tongue, if they are stimulated by concentration of mind, we will have an automatic sensation of taste, according to our wish. We may taste very delicious halvah even without eating it. This happens because this taste is nothing but a reaction of nerves in respect of certain stimulants or agents from the outside world.
The suggestion here is that we can create these sensations even without an external stimulant. We can have the same satisfaction of coming in contact with odoriferous objects or fragrant things even without actual physical contact, merely by the stimulation of the centres; and the mind will feel such a joy, such satisfaction, that it will not think of anything else. If we concentrate the mind on the middle of our tongue, there will be a new type of sensation altogether. There is even the possibility of visualising colours. And celestial music is supposed to be heard while there is nothing in front of us to make such a sound, and so on and so forth. According to this sutra of Patanjali, all the sensations can be had by operating upon certain parts of the mouth and the nerve centres in the tip of the nose. Right from the tip of the tongue up to the root of the palate, we have an area of all types of sensations, though it may appear strange that every sensation should be located only in the little area. This is a peculiar physiological truth which he reveals in this sutra: that it is possible to stir sensations of all five types – shabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha – merely by concentration on certain parts of the tongue, including the tip of the nose.
There is a science these days, a modern discovery, which has found out that every centre in the body finds its switchboard in the soles of the feet. If we operate upon certain parts of the soles of the feet, we operate upon every part of the body, including the brain itself – the brain and the heart. A beautiful book has been published on this subject under the title, The Story That Feet Can Tell. Our heart, our brain, our lungs, our abdomen, and every part of the body has its switchboard at the soles, and if we press any particular part of the sole, the corresponding centre is stimulated. This has been regarded as a method of healing parts of the body when they are aching or ill for any reason.
So, likewise, Patanjali prescribes methods of stirring sensations for the purpose of drawing the attention of the mind by concentrating on certain nerve endings, which ultimately aim at bringing about serenity of mind for the purpose of higher concentration and meditation.