The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 75: Self-Control, Study and Devotion to God

The purification of the mind that gradually takes place brings a natural satisfaction which will become a permanent asset – a satisfaction which one will not be dispossessed of at any time, inasmuch as it has not been caused by temporary factors. A satisfaction that comes by causes that can cease to exist one day or the other will also cease to exist when the causes thereof cease. But here is a spontaneous joy on account of sattva suddhi, which is the basic reason behind one’s being happy at all. It has been reiterated that happiness is not due to any kind of movement of causes from outside. It arises on account of a condition that manifests inside; and if this condition is perpetuated, and if it does not stand in need of being stimulated by external causes, then this satisfaction will be permanent. But if we need a goad at every time so that the mind may stir itself up into a condition of sattva for satisfaction, then when the goad is withdrawn, the joy also goes. Sattva suddhi is a purification of the mind that brings about saumanasya, or serenity, which is a perpetual, permanent, unceasing character of one’s total being. There will be serenity in the face, contentment in the expression of the person, which will be part and parcel of one’s permanent behaviour and conduct. Here, the conduct or the behaviour is an expression of a permanent mood that has arisen inside. Therefore, the expression will be permanent.

When this contentment arises and serenity of mind is attained, it is understood that distractions are not there; and the absence of distractions is the same as concentration of mind. Thus, the power of concentrating the mind arises automatically on account of this rise of sattva within oneself. In the Chhandogya Upanishad we have a similar proclamation regarding the results that follow from the development of sattva. Āhāra-śuddhau sattva-śuddhiḥ, sattva-śuddhau dhruvā smṛtiḥ, smṛitilambhe sarva-granthīnaṁ vipramokṣaḥ (C.U. VII.26.2), says Sanatkumara to Narada in the Chhandogya Upanishad. Āhāra-śuddhau sattva-śuddhiḥ: When there is a purification of the modes of intake by the senses – when what the senses grasp by way of knowledge is pure – purity of mind is automatically generated within because the mind is made up of nothing but the impressions of the senses. So, whatever the senses convey, that the mind also is, and does.

The message that is conveyed through the senses is the character that is imbedded in the mind. Hence, when the senses receive pure food, the message that they convey, being pure, makes the mind also pure because the mind has nothing to say and nothing to do except what the senses direct. The intake of the senses means the perceptions of the senses – the objects that they perceive or contact, the way in which they evaluate things, and the reactions they set up in respect of their perceptions. All this is what is known as ahara, or the diet of the senses.

This diet of the senses should be pure, which means the feeling that arises in the mind immediately after a sense perception should be in consonance with the nature of Truth; it should not be dissonant. It means that we should not be stirred into an anxiety, a mood of unhappiness, dissatisfaction or fear as a consequence of sense perception, as that would be incommensurate with the nature of Truth, because the perception of Truth will not cause fear.

When we grasp things by the senses, our perceptions go deep into the universals that are present behind the particulars which are the sense objects. Then it is that this diet of the senses is supposed to be pure. Then perceptions make no sense; they carry no impression. Whether we look at an object or not, it will make no difference, because the perception of an object will be the same as the harmony of oneself with the object. Then it is that sattva arises in the mind and there is concentration of mind, which is what is known as smriti lambha in this passage from the Chhandogya Upanishad. Then, there is a breaking of the knots of the heart. Sarva-granthīnaṁ vipramokṣaḥ – there is freedom.

Sattvaśuddhi saumanasya aikāgrye indriyajaya ātmadarśana yogyatvāni ca (II.41) is the sutra of Patanjali which tells us that luminosity – lustre of the mind, tranquillity, a serenity of mood, concentration, or the power to focus the mind, and control over the senses, indriyajaya – all these are spontaneously the results of purity, which finally ends in fitness of oneself to receive the light of the Self.

Kāya indriya siddhiḥ aśuddhikṣayāt tapasaḥ (II.43): Austerity purifies the body, purifies the senses, purifies the mind, and endows a person with certain peculiar powers which cannot usually be seen in people. Kāya indriya siddhiḥ are the words used. Siddhi is a perfection, an endowment, a power or a capacity, an energy; all these meanings are implied in the term ‘siddhi’. These three perfections in respect of the body and the senses arise by the practice of tapas, or austerity. Any attempt which subdues the senses is tapas – which, impliedly, involves, of course, the control of the mind, because one depends on the other and one works in connection with the other.

Every act of self-control – even if it be only a modicum, only a jot of practice – generates new strength in the system, just as even a drop of honey will taste sweet though it is only a drop. It is not much; it is not even half a spoon. Notwithstanding the limitation in the quantity of the practice, the effect of it will be felt. Even the least step that is taken in right directions will produce those advantages mentioned here, and one will feel their presence in the intensity equivalent to the intensity of the self-control.

The body and the senses get adjusted between themselves. The body will not any more be a servant of the senses. There will be an agreement between them so that they become a compact whole. Then, there will be no dissipation of energy due to the impetuosity of the senses and the subjection of the body to the senses. Also, there will gradually come about a cessation of the cravings of the senses – naturally, by gradual practice. Further, the satisfactions that follow from the restraint of the senses and the mind and the disciplines of the body will give a conviction and bring about a new type of joy in oneself, because they indicate that one is progressing correctly. The powers that we acquire and the energies that are generated within will indicate the righteousness of one’s procedure. They will, in return, bring greater and greater joy because when joy is increased in quantity and quality, there is less inclination of the senses to go to objects.

It is dissatisfaction within that makes us run to things of the world – a kind of vacuousness in our system and an emptiness in the senses and the mind. We feel a bankruptcy in every sense and, therefore, there is felt a necessity to go to objects outside. But, this vacuum will be filled up by the joy that arises within, and then the senses will feel less necessity to go out of their seats.

Due to the destruction of impurity, asuddhi ksayat, there will be the realisation of one’s powers. We are unconscious of what we are, what we are endowed with and what our capacities are, due to a certain dross that is covering the mind and, consequently, covering everything that we are. The powers that we seek, the joys that we expect, do not come from anywhere other than our own selves. All the powers are inside us, just as tremendous energy is hidden in an atom. It does not come from outside, from somewhere else. It is there inside and has only to be released by adopting certain procedures. If it is not released, it will seem like nothing; it is a meaningless particle of matter about which nobody will bother, in spite of the fact that it is charged with such power and impregnated with incredible energy.

Likewise is the human being and anything in this world – everything is inside it. All powers and all perfections are potentials and, therefore, what is required is not an externalised effort in the direction of contact with the objects of sense, but an inward research which will find out ways and means of releasing this energy that is latent inside. It is a great foolishness on the part of anyone not to know this fact and to pursue ideals which are different from, or even contrary to, what is really good for oneself. The whole practice of yoga is an inwardisation of effort for the purpose of the release of the potentialities that are inside, and the realisation of their presence and capacities, which will put an end to all cravings of the senses, the mind and the ego. This removal of the dross, or the impurity of the mind, is what is known as asuddhi ksayat. When this takes place, when the impurities of the mind are removed, there is perfection of the body, the senses and the mind – all of which is the effect of tapas: kāya indriya siddhiḥ aśuddhikṣayāt tapasaḥ (II.43).

Svādhyāyāt iṣṭadevatā saṁprayogaḥ (II.44): By daily holy study, we set ourselves in tune with the masters who have been responsible for the writing of the scriptures and whose great ideals and ideas are sung in the scriptures. The study of great scriptures like the Bhagavadgita, the Mahabharata or the Ramayana puts us in tune with the great thoughts, brains and minds of Vyasa, Valmiki and such other great men. Then, there is a stimulation of a corresponding idea and ideal in our own selves so that we become fit to receive their grace. Not merely receive their grace, we can even contact them, says the sutra. The idea, or the content of the scripture which is the object of our daily study, or svadhyaya, is the medium of contact between ourselves and the ideal of the scripture – the deity. It may be the rishi, or it may be a divinity that is the ishta devata. The desired object is the ishta devata, and we will come in contact with it because of the daily contemplation on it through svadhyaya.

These three methods – tapas, svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana – are really the training of the will, the intellect and the emotion. It requires tremendous will to practise tapas, great understanding or intellectual capacity to probe into the meaning of the scriptures, and emotional purity to love God. These three are emphasised in the canons of tapas, svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana. By svadhyaya there is ishtadevata samprayogah,says the sutra; there is union of oneself with the deity of one’s worship and adoration by a daily brooding over its characters.

Whatever we think in our mind, that we will become, and that we will get. But, this thinking should not be a shallow thinking; it should be a very deep absorption of oneself in what one expects. The whole of us should be saturated with our longing for the ideal which is in our mind. There should be no other thought except of the qualities, characters and nature of the ideal which is in our mind. Anything and everything can be obtained in this world if only there is a will behind it. If the force of thought is intense enough, there is nothing which is impossible. This is the point made out in this sutra.

The svadhyaya that is referred to here is not reading in a library. It is not going to the library and reading any book that is there on the shelf. It is a holy resort to a concentrated form of study of a chosen scripture. It may be even two or three texts – it does not matter – which will become the object of one’s daily concentration and meditation, because what is known as svadhyaya,or Self-study, or holy study, or sacred study is a form of meditation itself in a little diffused form.

The scriptures are supposed to contain all the knowledge that is necessary for the realisation of the Self. It is a spiritual text that we are supposed to study, which is meant by the word ‘svadhyaya. It is not any kind of book. A holy scripture is supposed to be a moksha shastra. A scripture which expounds the nature of, as well as the means to, the liberation of the soul is called a moksha shastra. This is to be studied. All the ways and means to the liberation of the Self should be expounded in the scripture; and the glorious nature of the ideal of perfection, God-realisation – that also is to be expounded in it. The means and the end should be delineated in great detail. Such is the text to be resorted to in svadhyaya. By a gradual and daily habituation of oneself to such a study, there is a purification brought about automatically. Inasmuch as it is nothing but meditation that we are practising in a different way, it is supposed to bring us in contact with the ideal.

Samādhisiddhiḥ Īśvarapraṇidhānāt (II.45): The mind gets inclined to samadhi by the love of God. There is an inclination of our entire being to self-absorption, due to the daily adoration of God. Inasmuch as God is universal – omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent – a surrender of oneself to God, a daily adoration of God, a worship of God, and a daily thought and feeling and will directed to God will naturally compel the mind to adopt characters which are of the nature of this ideal. There will be, therefore, a mood generated in the mind to sink into itself, rather than move out of itself. Distractions will cease. The contemplation on the nature of the All-pervading Being is supposed to be the best form of meditation, inclusive of every other means. All objects of meditation are comprehended here, included here. This is the ocean of all things.

If only we can direct the mind to All-Being, the supreme nature of the Almighty, there would be no need of searching for objects of meditation. Everything is here. The result that follows is a resting of the mind in itself, inasmuch as the omnipresence of God prevents the mind from going to objects of sense. That is the first stroke which the contemplation of universality deals to the cravings of sense. The deep feeling for God, Who is everywhere, is an antidote to the restlessness of the senses which ask for things outside. A daily hammering into the mind of the idea of all-existence, omnipresence, will not only withdraw the senses from their objects, energise them and bring joy to them, but will also turn the mind inward and make it visualise the cause of its activities, the purpose of its movements, and its ultimate intentions. Thus, the yoga sutra tells us that Isvara pranidhana, or surrender of oneself to God, is an ultimate method – and, finally, it must be regarded as the best of all methods of concentration, meditation and Self-absorption.

These practices are practically the be-all and end-all of the preliminaries of yoga. Though they are usually called preliminaries, they are such essentials that without them it would be impossible to imagine any success in yoga, because yoga is not merely sitting in a posture, restraining the breath, and so on, as one may imagine in one’s enthusiasm. Though it is true that meditation proper starts with the direct practices commencing from asana, etc., these higher stages will be impossible of approach, and success will be far from oneself, if there is a pull permanently exerted on oneself from behind. Whatever be our ardour for a movement forward, that will be prevented by the pull that is exerted by certain forces from behind us; and if this pull is not stopped by adoption of proper means, there will be no movement.

Even Garuda, who is the fastest of birds, cannot move if he is shackled with iron chains. What is the use of saying that he is a very fast bird? He cannot move, because he has been tied to a peg with strong ropes or chains. Likewise, whatever be our ardour, whatever be our longing or fervour, that would be set at naught by the calls of the earth – the demands of the senses, the feelings of the mind, and the loves of the emotions. These are terrific things, and the teacher of yoga has been cautious in laying the basic foundations in the very beginning itself so that these impediments may be obviated to a large extent. No one can be completely free from them, not even the best of sages. One day or the other they will come in some form, but at least they will be in a milder form – not in a violent, wind-like form.

The advice intended by these sutras propounding the yamas and the niyamas is that no one, not even the best of students of yoga, can be free from the possibility of a reversion. There is no such thing as the best of students – everyone is in some stage which is other than the best. And so, there is always a chance of it being possible for one to listen to the calls of the realms which one has attempted to transcend, inasmuch as the senses, or the means of perception belonging to the earlier stages, are still present.

It may look many a time that soaring high into the realms or empyreans of yoga in the higher stages would be like a bird flying into the sky, higher and higher, not knowing that its feet are tied with a thread to a peg at the bottom, on the surface of the earth, though the thread may be miles long. Imagine a kite which has been tied with a thread to a peg in the ground – a thread which is some five miles long, or ten miles long. The kite can go up and never know that it has been tied like that because it seems free. But, a stage will come when it will feel its limitations and know that it is not possible for it to go further because it is already restrained by certain conditions, which is the thread in this example.

Likewise, there are certain conditions to which we are subject, and if we are completely ignorant of the presence of these conditions and move idealistically, in an unrealistic manner, into the higher stages of yoga, there may be a satisfaction of having risen, or even of having had some visions – a conviction that something is coming – but, with all that, there would be a susceptibility to withdrawal into the earlier stages on account of not being cautious enough to probe into the possibilities of fall and the chances of self-limitation by the very make-up of one’s own personality. We are humans; and, as long as there is a feeling that we are human beings, we cannot escape the limitations of human beings. Though we may sometimes think we are gods, we are only human beings because we cannot forget that we are human beings. Our consciousness itself is our bondage.

This is a caution that is given as a timely warning. A warning of this kind has to be given at every step because one cannot say at what moment of time, at what stage, and under what conditions these subliminal impressions will sprout into a wild tree and then cast their shadow upon us so that the light of our aspirations may be blurred. Thus comes the necessity to maintain an unremitting awareness of the presence of God and a perpetual effort to keep oneself, or place oneself, in such ideal conditions which will not, to the extent possible, tempt one to the sensory activities and the mental functions or egoistic operations which are characteristic of the lower human nature.