The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART II: THE SADHANA PADA
Chapter 79: The Inclination of the Mind for Concentration
The four kinds of retention of breath have been explained in two sutras, as we noted previously: that which follows an exhalation, that which follows an inhalation, that which is suddenly brought about without reference either to exhalation or inhalation, and a fourth one which is supposed to follow, gradually, as a result of continuous alternate breathing and retention. These methods of breathing exercise are called pranayama – the subdual of the energy known as prana, which is the most uncontrollable force that one can contemplate or think, because it is very tempestuous and not so simple a thing as one would, in an untutored condition, conceive. In fact, there is nothing to be achieved after the prana is controlled – everything comes automatically as a consequence. All those things which yoga speaks of that follow this stage of pranayama become something natural, not requiring much effort, if this stage is properly grasped and brought under control, because the difficulty experienced here will also be felt elsewhere. The other stages, which are supposed to be higher, cannot be easily brought within the control of one’s consciousness as long as there are impediments – hindrances which detract its attention. These impediments are nothing but the movements of the pranas.
When one comes to a level of experience where this pranic energy is sufficiently brought under control, there is an equivalent control of the mind, because the force that impels the mind to work in terms of objects – the fuel required for the operation of the mind in terms of its desires – is supplied by the prana. We may say, by an analogy, that this pranic energy is something like the petrol that we put into the vehicle which is this psychophysical organism, and its extent and potency also determines the extent and the potency of the activity of the organism.
It is this distracting medium that prevents restful thought and an insight into the essential nature of things, within as well as without, like turbid waters which prevent a correct and clear reflection of things. The turbidity of one’s system, which is indicated by the activity of the prana, prevents insight into the deeper nature, or the reality of things. This reality is called prakasha, or light, in the sutra that follows. The covering over of this light is called avarana – prakasha avarana. Like clouds that may cover the brilliance of the sun in the vast sky, these turbid movements within prevent a reflection of the light within, and naturally an insight into the depths is prevented.
Tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśa āvaraṇam (II.52), says the sutra. Prakasha avarana is the veil that is cast over the light of consciousness. This veil is not something made of matter or a substance that comes from outside. It is a peculiar restlessness within – a kind of tempestuous wind that blows inside us, so that we cannot even open our eyes and see things properly when there is a cyclone. And we are perpetually in a cyclonic condition, so that there is not a moment’s rest for any part of the body or the mind. We cannot know rest because there cannot be rest as long as the prana functions. Like gadflies that move from place to place without any proper aim or objective, the pranic energy is directed hither and thither, in various ways, and we are tossed about in the direction in which the prana moves. This is the most difficult thing to understand, because the direction of the prana is determined by the direction of the subconscious desires. This is another psychology that is behind even the activity of the prana. They are not just mad movements or meaningless activities.
As it is not possible to determine the movement of an electron which is hovering around a proton, on account of our inability to determine its movement, people have come to a very peculiar conclusion these days – that there is what is known as the law of indeterminism. This is a peculiar law in physics that everything is undetermined and anything can happen at any time, and nobody can foresee the future. This conclusion is arrived at by an observation of the movement and the velocity of the electrons around the nucleus, which they say is indeterminable. The electrons run about in any manner whatsoever, and we cannot predict the future location or position of a particular electron by any amount of mathematical calculation. This has led people to believe that the impossibility to determine the position or future location of an electron should be really the revelation of the ultimate nature of things – that everything is indeterminable. But the reason why these things are undetermined in their movements is something quite different from what people think. It is not true that the movement of electrons is indeterminate. The hectic movement of these electrons, in an apparently chaotic manner, is due to the disturbance caused by the instrument used for observing them. A peculiar instrument, whatever be the subtlety of it, is used to observe the movement of these energies. The moment the instrument is brought near, it disturbs the movement of these particles and they run hither and thither like frightened bees. So, naturally, there is no way of knowing them. In order for us to know, we have to use an instrument; and the instrument, the very presence of which disturbs the normal motion of these particles, becomes itself a hindrance.
Likewise, we may come to the wrong conclusions by not knowing the reason behind the movement of the pranas. They look very hectic – very undetermined, very chaotic, and having a freedom of their own so that they can drive us anywhere they like. But, it is not so. They are all controlled by a very systematic law, though they look very undetermined, uncertain and unpredictable in every manner. Though it is true that we cannot know when an eclipse will occur – in that sense it is undetermined – mathematically we can determine when it will occur because even this undetermined future has a determining factor behind it. These determining factors behind the so-called undetermined movements of the pranas are the psychological conditions of oneself, by which we do not mean merely the mental processes in the conscious level, but the whole personality itself which is the vehicle that the pranas move. They are integrally related to the vehicle, not separate.
The coming down of the force of the pranas in an extrovert nature brings down also, correspondingly, the force of the mind in that direction, and so there is a gradual elimination of the rajasic property of prakriti inside; when it subsides, it gives way to the other property – namely, sattva. The revelation of sattva is the lifting of the veil, or the prakasha avarana. By the subdual of the pranas, says the sutra, there will be a gateway opened for the revelation of the inner light. The avaranas, or the obstacles to the revelation of consciousness, are the potencies of the karmas which are the causes behind the activity of the pranas. The pranas are working only to exhaust the karmas; their purpose is simple. They are nothing but the instruments of these karmic forces. They are agents employed by the desireful actions which we performed in the past, leaving behind a residuum that has come down upon us now as the impulsion for further action. Gradual and systematic protracted practice in the retention of the breath, as prescribed, will bring oneself under control; we will subdue ourselves. Then, there will be an understanding attitude in ourselves, rather than an unpredictable nature. There will be a satisfaction that follows as a result of having gained mastery over oneself. The mastery which we refer to here is really the control that one can exert over oneself by means of the cessation of extroverted movement of the mind as well as the pranas. It is this condition that becomes an immediate preparation for concentration of mind and meditation, which are the stages to follow.
Dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā manasaḥ (II.53). The mind becomes inclined to meditation after the cessation of the intensity of the rajas that is present in the pranas. Otherwise, there will not be even an inclination to meditation. There will be a kind of displeasure expressed by the mind at the very thought of meditation, because we know very well what causes pleasure and what causes displeasure. That which is contrary to the intentions of the mind is naturally the source of its displeasure. Meditation cannot be regarded as something which is the intention of the mind. The mind’s intention is something different – namely, contact with objects and activity in terms of the fulfilment of its wishes. So, this dharana and dhyana, the concentration-meditation process, may come like a deathblow – a fatal blow that is dealt at the very intention of the mind – and therefore there is a disinclination towards it, a kind of sorrow which will work from within and prevent progress.
The inclination of the mind towards meditation is important. We cannot compel even a servant to work against his inclination. It is a very undesirable attitude if such a pressure is to be exerted where inclination is not present, because it will produce a reaction which is most disadvantageous. We cannot have concentration of mind against the wishes of the mind. This is a very important thing to remember. The practice of yoga, which is a gradual movement towards the aim of meditation, is not merely a forceful exercise of the will against the emotional attitudes or the feelings of the mind, but something different – namely, a healthful bringing into alignment of the very forces of emotion and feeling which otherwise have their own directions chosen. There is no parallel movement between the aims of yoga and the emotions of the mind. That is the reason why there is mostly a difficulty in bringing the mind round to the point of concentration. If we carefully probe into ourselves – very rarely do we find time to do that, but if we could succeed in doing it – we can discover the little foibles that are in our nature which will make us unfit for this endeavour known as dharana or dhyana, concentration or meditation, because the little weaknesses that may come later on as large mountains in front of us have become a part of what we are. This is something very important to remember and most difficult to understand, because what is a part of our nature cannot become an object of observation, so nobody can study it, much less study one’s own self, and the little mistakes in the attitudes of thought are going to be the terrible impediments that we have to encounter in the future.
We have been trying to conduct a little bit of analysis in this direction since some time, and what we have discovered is that it is very easy to be complacent in one’s attitude under the impression that one is ready for yoga – which is not at all the case. A simple question may be put to one’s own self which will give a peculiar answer, to our own surprise and astonishment. Our attitudes and judgements about things around us, human as well as non-human, will give us an idea of the purification of mind that we have arrived at and the extent of understanding we have about the things around us. A person who is prone to sudden reaction to a stimulus from outside cannot be regarded as fit for yoga – whatever that stimulus be, whatever that reaction be, whatever be the extent of the justification behind it or the rationalisation that can try to substantiate this reaction. All these tricks will not work here, because these are the peculiar circumventing attitudes of the mind which will somehow or the other, by hook or by crook, see to it that our objective is not reached.
Again we come to the need for a proper guide, especially now that we are approaching very dangerous realms, if we could put it that way, because of the fact that we are entering realms which are unknown, unseen, unheard of and unthinkable – indefinable in every respect. We do not know what sort of environment we are going to enter, what reactions will be produced by this environment, and how we will be able to face them or withstand them. All these things are hard for the mind at the present level to understand; and so, the requisition of a proper guide. There were many cases of yogis who were held up, stuck, and got involved in a whirlwind of confusion – even in advanced stages of concentration and meditation – and the Guru had to come to their aid. There was a case in this very ashram – many, many years back. I was not here at that time. A brahmachari started concentrating in a wrong manner. He got stuck in the middle of the eyebrows and he became cataleptic, unconscious, and people who did not know what was happening were under the impression that he was in a state of samadhi. This condition led to great catastrophic results – he passed away, and his body disintegrated. It was very unfortunate. But these things happen on account of an overenthusiastic estimation that one has about oneself, while not knowing the difficulties that one has kept buried within. Again, to come to the point, we should be able to scrub out those extraneous fungi that have grown over ourselves which have, unfortunately, become one with us. There are certain accretions to our personality which we mistake for our own self. These accretions are the prejudices, the notions, the emotions, the feelings, the desires, and what not. These things have become one with us. They are like our babies whom we are fondling constantly, and we cannot get away from them; they are with us – they are us – and these things are our obstacles. Thus, together with an attempt at these techniques, such as the retention of the breath and the concentration of the mind, there should be a daily self-analysis. We have to maintain what is called a spiritual diary, if we like, with queries commensurate with our own stage of evolution and our own peculiar difficulties. Also, one has to guard oneself. The more is the protection that is provided to us, the less is it that we must deal with.
When we progress further – either in the capacity to retain the breath or in the ability to concentrate the mind – we will find that buried treasures will come up, and these ‘treasures’ are the devils; they are not the nectar. This is very important to remember. When we churn the ocean, we do not first get the nectar; we get the poison, and the fumes, and the venom, and the suffocating noise, and the humdrum, and the clattering disturbance created by those silent ‘friends’ who have been keeping quiet up to this time, lying in ambush to attack when the opportunity arises. They are like coiled snakes sitting in a corner – and we have not observed them. Coiled snakes are nevertheless snakes, and these are the submerged and subjugated emotions which have not been sublimated. These things pertain to the natural desires and the biological needs of the human individual. Even our normal needs such as hunger and thirst – if they are pressed down too much, and if we violate them beyond a certain limit, they set up reactions. I am mentioning only the least of known problems, namely hunger and thirst. We cannot go on starving ourselves under the impression that we are yogis, because this will set up reactions of a peculiar nature, and then we know what will happen. Therefore, no need, no necessity, no emotion, no feeling and no inclination can be regarded as unimportant or non-essential, because these little straws which have no apparent weight will become heavy like an iron hill later on, and it is this little particle of dust sticking to our eyes that will prevent us from looking at that glorious light of the sun.
Hence, a daily self-analysis should accompany the actual positive practice of the retention of the breath and the concentration of the mind. This self-analysis is not an easy thing, because we can go to bed every day with the notion that we are well off and our balance sheet is clear, which will be quite the contrary. So it is necessary, until we are able to see the light of truth by ourselves, to take the guidance of a superior and find out if our diary is properly maintained and our balance sheet is properly cast, and there is no mistake in our calculations. Evidently, there are mistakes which will be indicated by the moods with which we get up in the morning, and the feelings that arise immediately when we encounter the world outside, and the way in which we pass the day. These things will tell us where we stand, irrespective of our concentrations and meditations, the retention of breath, etc. These are the guarding cautions that we have to keep in our pocket always as ready remedies for any kind of illnesses that may present themselves from within. The great Patanjali tells us that if everything is okay and all goes well, the mind will tend towards meditation automatically and we need not force it.
We must feel a great joy that we are in a state of meditation. We should not feel grieved that we are forced to meditate. Nobody forces us; we know it very well. Even though it is a voluntary undertaking in the beginning, later on it may become a kind of compulsion, just as the very government that we set up at our own discretion may afterwards become a harassing factor to us. We may cry over the very thing that we have created, due to a peculiar shift that it has taken and the way in which it has got out of our control. The mechanism that we produced may become our own trouble. This is what they call ‘Frankenstein’s monster’. All the machines that we create are our doom. Likewise, it could happen that our undertakings, which were once upon a time very deliberate and voluntary, and were happy processes, may become a deadweight upon us.
This is very important: I would like you to read a very beautiful book by Sri Aurobindo known as The Psychology of Social Development, which goes by another title these days, The Human Cycle. He has given very interesting sidelights on how the very institutions that we create, socially and psychologically, can become a devil that is standing before us. We may have to face it and pierce through it. It may look as if we are attacking our own mother. Well, that may be the case, but that is what is to be done. Even Sri Ramakrishna had to attack his own mother afterwards, the Divine Mother, according to the advice of his Guru. Most painful it is! We cannot kill our own child. How is it possible? But everything that we created is our child. It may be a social institution; it may be psychological condition; it may be a feeling; it may be an emotion; it may be prejudice; it may be a love; it may be a kind of dislike – whatever it is. Everything becomes a painful factor which we cannot get over, which we cannot face and which we cannot attack. They become so intimately friendly with us, and these ‘friends’ are our deadly enemies. We will find later on that those persons and things which we regarded as our dearest friends are our obstacles, and that we have no other enemies. These are very horrifying observations, no doubt, and most painful encounters which one has to face, undaunted in vigour, at a time when we will have no help from anybody. Even the very earth on which we stand may lose contact with us, and we may be in the winds – literally. At that time it is that the Guru comes. Again, we come to that point of a guide who is necessary when we are completely off our feet.
The conditions that follow a proper restraint of the prana by way of retention and cessation of emotional reaction of the mind are what are known as the tendencies to concentration and meditation, which is what is indicated by the sutra, dhāraṇāsu ca yogyatā manasaḥ (II.53). The mind will get naturally inclined towards the processes of concentration, and it will concentrate on anything which we bring before it. It will become a crystal – pure in itself, capable of reflecting any object that is brought before it – and endowed with a capacity to set itself in tune with anything that is made the object of its observation and concentration. At a stage, we will realise that any object can be regarded as an object of concentration. The question of choice does not arise, though that is there in the beginning. The question of choice arises on account of the presence of likes and dislikes in our minds. We have certain attractions for certain conditions, for certain definitions, for certain features, for forms and circumstances. These ‘likes’ are the reasons why we have to choose the object of meditation; the ishta comes into play. But that is only in the beginning stage where the emotions are still predominant and we still have loves and likes – which are opposed to the dislikes which are present there, side by side.
Later on, the peculiar attractions felt for chosen objects cease and the feeling for the object of concentration gets more and more generalised, so that we will find in any object whatever we find in any other object, just as we find the very same teakwood or rosewood in a chair, or a table, or a door, or a shutter – whatever it be – which is made out of this wood. This is a generalised condition in which we will be able to be happy and at ease with ourselves at any place, under any condition. We will not complain, “Here is a lot of noise; I cannot meditate. This is not a suitable place; these people are disturbing,” because we will find that every condition is suitable. We have only to be inclined towards concentration. They say the best appetizer for lunch is the hunger that is present. If we have no hunger, no lunch will be delicious. But if we have intense hunger, everything is delicious. Likewise, when there is an intense yearning for this glorious aim that we are seeking through yoga, we get accustomed to everything, and we are in a friendly atmosphere wherever we are and whatever be the atmosphere around us.
The inclination of the mind towards concentration is important. We must find out, before we sit for meditation, whether the mind is inclined or not. This is the first investigation that is to be conducted. We should not suddenly say, “It is now six o’clock; I’ll sit for meditation.” The time is not the only thing that is to be noted. Are we prepared? Are we ready? Are we inclined, or we are disinclined? We are not in the mood; something has happened to us. Is it so? What has happened? This has to be properly found out. We might have received shocking news, and though it is six o’clock and time for meditation, we cannot sit for meditation at that time because there is harassing news which is disturbing us from within. Or, there may be something physically wrong, physiologically upsetting, psychologically very irritating or emotionally distracting. Is there any such factor? If these things are there, we must tackle them properly, put them down in a manner which is intelligent, with discretion, and then be seated for our concentration and meditation.
Let us remember that it is not the length of time for which we sit that is important, but the quality of concentration that is there. If there is a disturbed feeling or emotion within, even hours of sitting will bring no result. That will be like threshing old straw which will bring no harvest, and nothing will come out of it. But if there is a qualitative readiness of the mind – an inclination towards meditation – then only five minutes will be sufficient for us to charge ourselves with an energy that we would not have otherwise got even after hours of sitting. It is like turning on a switch – the wire should be a good conductor, and there should be proper contact – and immediately there is a flash. But if the conductor is bad – the switch is out of order and there is no working connection – we can go on turning on the switch for hours but nothing will come. Likewise is the necessity behind an investigation into the readiness of the mind for meditation, and also the finding of the causes of the non-readiness of the mind. With these preparations, we are asked to gird up our loins for the glorious task that is ahead of us – namely, concentration and meditation.