The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART I: THE SAMADHI PADA
Chapter 43: Harmonising Subject and Object
The point that was made in the sutra that we were last studying was that no object can cause pleasure unless the corresponding centre in the subject is stimulated. If this centre could be stimulated by concentration of mind, a similar pleasure can be experienced. And inasmuch as the mind cannot go to any place where pleasure is not – it sees only pleasure and nothing else – the internal centres of satisfaction, thus stimulated by concentration, can become sources of further attraction for the mind so that it ceases from moving outwardly to external objects. Viśayavatī vā pravṛttiḥ utpannā manasaḥ sthiti nibandhanī (I.35), is the sutra.Viśayavatī vā pravṛttiḥ is a peculiar state of mind which has reference to an object. But really, there is no object. When there is thought of an object, a particular nerve centre in oneself can be stirred up into action, and that activity of the centre can create a feeling, a sensation. This centre of sensation may be made the object of concentration, says Patanjali.
The doctrine of yoga is that the different parts of the palate contain certain locations, which correspond to the five types of sensation, which constitute the entire world of experience – shabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha. There is nothing in this world anywhere except the experience of the sensations of sound, or touch, or colour, or taste, or smell, and the world is nothing but these put together in some permutation or combination. But this experience can be had even internally by mere thought process, by concentration of will on different centres which sympathetically correspond to the cosmos outside.
Though nowhere does Patanjali refer to kundalini yoga or the chakras, etc., we can infer that he is acquainted with the theory that internal centres are connected with external objects of sense, and the whole individual bodily organism is a microscopic representation of whatever there is in the universe. The thought of objects stirs internal centres, and concentration on internal centres can invoke the presence of corresponding objects, and vice versa. This is the principle behind the meditation practiced by certain schools on what are known as the chakras or whirls of energy in one's own psychic and bodily system. These centres are nothing but movements of the mind in certain degrees of intensity, and they correspond to the various layers of the cosmos outside. By deep concentration on these centres, the external levels of being which correspond to these centres are also set to action, and what is microcosmically experienced can be macrocosmically experienced simultaneously. Ultimately, there is no such thing as the internal and the external for nature as a whole; it is one single continuum and uniformity. We make a distinction between the internal and the external, though there is really no such thing. Everything is anywhere, at all places, in every condition, eternally. And so anything can be invoked at any place, provided the proper conditions are fulfilled.
This is a very difficult technique for beginners, no doubt – nobody will understand what it means. There is also the possibility of some difficulty arising by the practice of these methods, because two consequences may follow if the method is not properly understood. Firstly, there can be an over-activation of the senses, which, of course, is not a desirable thing. The senses may then become unruly and difficult to control because we have deliberately stirred them into action, though for a good purpose, but without understanding, and therefore they have gone out of control. Secondly, these centres may create certain morbid phenomena inside the body, and illnesses may creep in due to lack of control over these centres. Hence, these methods of meditation should not be practised unless there is a proper personal guide.
Viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī (I.36) is another prescription of Patanjali. We can concentrate the mind on the centre of the heart, on a light that is golden in colour, rising from a lotus, as it were – limpid, pure and most attractive. This effulgent, lustrous condition may be the object of meditation. This is the meaning of the sutra viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī. A light is supposed to flash out from the centre of the heart when concentration on it is deepened.
Here, again, we are in the middle of a mystical doctrine which makes out that the heart is the centre of the mind – or rather, primarily the seat of the mind. The mind moves about externally for the purpose of contact with things outside by shifting its centre from the heart upward to the throat, and then to the brain, where it acts forcefully in the waking condition. It is believed that the mind functions actively in the brain in the waking state. Some people think that it is the point between the two eyebrows. In the dream condition it is supposed to descend from the brain so that our will is not active, when it supposedly locates itself in the throat region. In the deep sleep state it goes to the heart. It goes to the heart in death, in samadhi, and in deep sleep. The idea is that it goes to the heart only when there is no object-consciousness. Even when there is the slightest inkling of the presence of an object, it will rise up from the heart and then activate itself in an externalised manner.
It is easier to concentrate on the heart than on any other centre in the body because of the fact that the heart is the seat of the mind. One is happier in one's own house than in somebody else's house. So the mind feels itself at home when it is placed in the heart and concentrated upon, and it is believed that a peculiar resplendence or radiance will manifest itself after a long time in the lotus of the heart.
There is no such thing as a lotus, really speaking. These are only symbolic expressions of certain conditions which are psychic in nature. All of these chakras are nothing but psychic centres; they are not physical. They cannot be touched with the hand, as they are not made of muscles, nerves, bones or marrow. They are energy centres whirling in a particular direction. The purpose of concentration on these centres is to make them whirl in a particularly given direction, and not in the direction they take. While it is all right to concentrate on any centre which may correspond to the sensations mentioned in the earlier sutra, we are now told that we can concentrate specifically on the heart so that it will become easier for the mind to withdraw itself from objects of sense, and to confine itself to its own abode.
Here, again, a word of caution has to be exercised, because the concentration of the mind on any centre in the body has its own repercussions when it is not properly done with the basic ethical foundations and the requisite understanding. It is always dangerous to meddle with any part of the body, because the part of the body which we are thinking of continuously is roused up into an unnatural action – unnatural in the sense that it becomes overactive on account of concentration. While an excessive activity of a particular centre may be advantageous if it is utilised for an intelligible purpose, it can also be disadvantageous if it goes out of control, because no part of the body can be said to be in a happy state when it goes out of control. If the legs start moving of their own accord wherever they want and we have no control over them, then we know what will happen to us - they will take us wherever they want. Likewise, the other senses may also take up the reins in their own hands and drive us in the direction they want, rather than in the direction that we have chosen for our purpose and the purpose for which we have started this meditation.
Any centre in the body is incapable of mastery unless the mind is desireless. Any kind of frustrated feeling should not be at the background of this practice. It is difficult to find people who do not have any desire, because the presence of desires, even in a subtle form, will create a peculiar situation which will be the weak point in one's mind, and that will be the aperture through which the mind will try to get out. The little hole that we have left in the form of an unfulfilled desire will be the avenue of the escape of the mind in the direction of a sense object, notwithstanding the fact that our intention in the practice of yoga is altogether different. The mind will refuse to move in the direction of the practice of yoga. It will always try to go in the direction of the aperture that is left there unplugged, and that is the unfulfilled desire. So what will happen is that the more we concentrate, the more will be the intensity of the desire. That desire which has been left unfulfilled will get activated more and more, just as a little hole in an earthen pot, through which the water can leak out, may become the cause of even the bursting of the pot if the vehemence of the pouring of water from the top is very great. The water will try to leak out in its entirety through that hole, and if the pressure is enough, it will completely break the walls of the vessel. Otherwise, if there is no hole at all, the water will rise up to the surface and overflow.
Likewise, in every act of concentration of the mind, energy gets conserved. It is accumulated in a greater intensity. It is charged with a greater force, and our capacity to execute any action at that time is much more than ordinarily. But there is the danger that if we have left any aperture open, if it has not been closed properly, the energy that we are trying to rouse in our system by the concentration of the mind may start coming out through that hole. And, because of the force of the energy that we have accumulated in our system, there is the danger of some catastrophe taking place. People can even go crazy. They completely lose their direction of thought; and something unprecedented, unthought of, unexpected and unforeseen can take place if such concentrations are practised by initiates who have just started the practice without proper toughness of mind and adequate understanding of the objective that is before them. Here again we come to the need of a Guru, a subject which we need not reiterate.
Vītarāga viṣayaṁ vā cittam (I.37). A less dangerous and more pleasant method would be the meditation on great masters who have attained to the heights of yoga and are examples before us of divine magnificence and spiritual force . Vītarāga viṣayaṁ means that condition of the mind wherein desires are totally absent, and divinity is abundantly present. Such a condition of the mind cannot be seen in ordinary persons; and if it is present, they are the masters. Nara-Narayana, Krishna, Vasishtha, Vyasa, Suka, Jadabharata, Dattatreya, Vamadeva, Yajnavalkya, Uddalaka – these are all the great masters. We can concentrate our mind on these great ones – on Vyasa, for instance, or on our Guru if we have a belief that he is a superman. We should not have doubt in this matter, of course. If we say, "Oh, after all, my Guru is only an ordinary person," then we will not have any benefit. We must have full faith in the immense spiritual competency of the master on whom we are meditating.
The benefit accruing out of this meditation is twofold. Firstly, it is easier for the mind to concentrate on something in which it has real faith, which it believes to be true. We can easily accept the greatness of a master like Yajnavalkya, because we have heard much about him; or Dattatreya, as we know something about him; or Bhagavan Sri Krishna; or Nara-Narayana; or Jadabharata, because we have heard stories about these people. We know something about their lives and the miracles they performed, and the power they exercised. The mind is likely to have a special faith in the glorious existence of these masters. And so, because of this affection that we feel for them, due to the greatness we have discovered in them, we will find it easy to meditate upon them and to think of them continuously; this is one advantage. On the other side, there will also be a sympathetic reaction from those people, because when we think of an object intensely, whatever it be, that object is made to send a vibration towards us - sometimes unknowingly, and sometimes knowingly.
Great masters like Vasishtha are present even today – they are not dead people. These great adepts are not supposed to be destroyed by the passage of time. Many of them are supposed to be Chiranjivis. The great masters are eternally present, and whatever be the realm in which they be, their presence can evoke some spiritual reaction in our own self. Even when we read or do svadhyaya of the scriptures and discourses of these Masters, such as the Mahabharata or the Yoga Vasishtha that are ascribed to Vyasa, Vasishtha, etc., we are supposed to be in tune with the thoughts or the will of these great masters. Also, there will be a sympathetic purificatory process going on in ourselves in the course of these sacred studies. So Patanjali prescribes here, like a good friend, that we can meditate upon these great masters – any one of them, for the matter of that – as we would choose, according to our convenience and to our liking. This would enable the mind to concentrate on a given ideal. Because we like them so much, naturally it will be easy for us to concentrate on them. The psychology behind this prescription is that we cannot meditate on anything which we do not like, which we cannot understand, which we have not seen, of which we have heard nothing, and about which we have no idea at all. So, for the purpose of meditation, it is better to have something before us which is clear to us in some way, and about which we have no doubts whatsoever. This is the meaning of the sutra: vītarāga viṣayaṁ vā cittam(I.37).
But if we are more philosophically-minded or more analytical in our approach, we can meditate on conditions of the mind which sometimes reveal what the world is made of; and if we know the nature of the world in some measure approximating to reality, our attractions for things will be lessened. The objects of the world are related to us, in some sense at least, as the objects of dream are related to the dream subject. In dream, every object is external; in the waking state also, every object is external. In dream, every object is in space and in time. In the waking state also, every object is in space and in time. In dream, every object appears to be outside us, and in the waking state also, every object is outside us. In the waking state we cannot know that the object has any real connection with us. Similarly, in the dream state, we cannot know that there is any connection of the object with us. We have loves and hates in dream, as we have loves and hates in the waking state; but it is very well known that these objects of sense in the dreaming condition, which evoke likes and dislikes, are not really there, physically speaking, though they look physical. Though it is true that we can hit our head against a wall in dream and there can be even bleeding and intense pain therefrom, it is well known, on a later analysis, that the physical form of the wall against which we have hit our head is not really physical – it is a condition of the psyche.
If, in dream, we ran away in fear of having seen a tiger in a jungle, and climbed up a tree and then, due to fright, fell to the ground in agony and broke our leg – all this activity has taken place within the jurisdiction of the mind alone. The tiger was the mind, our running was the mind, the tree was the mind, our falling from the tree was the mind, and our feeling of pain was also the mind working in various ways. The mind was everything there. The mind was the space; it was the time; it was the distance; it was the fear; it was the action; it was the subject; it was the object. Such a kaleidoscopic shape the mind could take, though it is absolutely certain that there was nothing external to the mind in dream. There was nothing there – neither a tiger, nor a tree, nor our running – nothing happened. But all this mystery of dream experience cannot be known as long as one is in the condition of dream, as long as one is dreaming. It becomes known only when we wake up from dream.
Likewise, the philosophical mind may analyse the nature of the world. It is not true that there are objects outside. It is not true that there is space and time. It is not true that we have likes and dislikes in respect of external objects. All of our pleasures and pains, which are the outcome of these complexities of experience, are as much real, significant and meaningful as those we have experienced in dream. Just as we cannot know that our dream is unreal as long as we are dreaming, and can know it only after we are awake, in the same way we cannot know this secret about the nature of the world as long as we are in a world of relativity where everything is determined by everything else, so that nothing can be known absolutely. We are caught up in a peculiar difficulty in the understanding of the essential nature of any object in this world on account of the relatedness of this object to everything else in this world, so that we cannot know anything unless we know all things.
Thus it is that we are kept in a state of ignorance, and it is on account of the ignorance of the essential nature of the objects of perception that we are in this world of pleasures and pains. But, as it is the case with waking up from dream, so is the case with waking up from world-consciousness. The internal relationship of things gets revealed only after the awakening of oneself from the dream condition, so that we are not bothered even the least about what happened in dream. We are neither frightened of the tiger, nor are we happy about the emperorship which was perhaps bestowed upon us in dream. Neither of these has any significance for us, merely because of the fact that we have woken up into a higher degree of consciousness which is called waking.
So will be our condition when we wake up from world- consciousness. All these wonders, attractions and repulsions, these horrors, these forms of ugliness, these mysteries – all will be wiped out in a second when this relativity-consciousness gets sublimated in Absolute-consciousness, which is similar to the mind waking up from dream into this world- consciousness, as we say. Let the mind meditate in this manner. Svapna nidrā jñāna ālambanaṁ vā (I.38), says Patanjali. Can you meditate like this so that you may not be caught up by the snares of this world? Or, you can meditate on the condition of sleep – nidra – and ask yourself what you were in the state of deep sleep. "Was I a man? Was I a woman? Was I a child? Was I a minister? Was I a king? Was I a beggar? Was I a human being? Was I an ant?" Nothing was known when you were fast asleep. So what were you, my dear friend, when you were fast asleep? Were you a man, a woman, a king, a beggar, an elephant? No, nothing of the sort.
Now, can we say that the state in which we were in deep sleep was irrelevant to our real nature? Nobody can say that. That was, perhaps, our real nature. That condition of deep sleep made us so happy that the happiness of sleep cannot ordinarily be compared with the pleasures of the world in the waking condition. When we are overwhelmed with sleep, overpowered with sleepiness, we would not be attracted by any pleasure of the world. In the state of deep sleep we were possessed of nothing. We had no material or appurtenances with us; we had nothing to eat; we had no companions to talk to; we had no kingdom to rule; we had no friends; there was nothing to save us, guard us, protect us, or keep us secure. We were like total paupers, and yet we were the happiest people there. How is it possible.
How is it possible that one who is bereft of every relationship and possessed of nothing can be happier than one who is possessed of all the goods of this world? Meditate on this condition. Let there be an effort of the mind to concentrate on the implications of dream as well as of deep sleep. Then there will be some chance of the mind coming under control, because a mind that is busy contemplating external objects, on account of the perception of value in them, cannot be controlled absolutely. The reason why the mind contemplates objects of sense, and refuses to get concentrated on any other thing, has been studied by us adequately.
Such is this sutra: svapna nidrā jñāna ālambanaṁ vā (I.38). If other methods do not suit us, we can take to this method if it is convenient – the analysis of the implications of the dream experiences in the relation to waking condition, as mentioned, and our own state in deep sleep. Now Patanjali, as a good father, tells us, "If you are not agreeable to any of these things that I told you, do what you like." Yathābhimata dhyānāt vā (I.39): Go and hang yourself. This is what he is telling, finally.
We can meditate on anything whatsoever if we cannot take to any of these practices that have been already detailed. We can choose anything that we like, but – a great but – we should not think of anything else. We can choose any object according to our choice and liking, but the condition is that we should not think of any other thing. This is the great psychological and scientific principle behind the act of concentration of mind. Ananya chintana is the cause of any success. Real friendship is expressed only in wholehearted thought of the object with which we are really friendly. We cannot be really friendly when our mind is only half present; that is not real friendship. If we have friendship with twenty people, we have no friendship with anyone, wholly. But here, the friendship that is required is whole, entire, complete, overflowing – avyavicharani is the devotion that is called for.
If we want anything to be under our control, if we want anything to be really friendly with us in the real sense of the term, our relationship with it should be whole, and not partial. This is the secret of concentration. Where our entire being is present, there success is certain. The part that is played by the subject, and the part that is played by the object in an act of cognition or perception or experience, should be set in such harmony that they should stand together as if they are a single being – then there is success. Says Sanjaya in the last verse of the Bhagavadgita, "Where Sri Krishna and Arjuna stand together, there is bound to be success.
In one sense, it is a highly mystical teaching of the necessity of harmony being there between the object and the subject. If the object and the subject are dichotomous – one not connected with the other, one disharmonious with the other – then there is no success. We can succeed in anything, provided the object before us is one with us, and we are one with it. Such is the secret of this prescription of Patanjali.