The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART III: THE VIBHUTI PADA
Chapter 87: Absorbing Space and Time Into Consciousness
We were considering the conditions which tend towards the communion of the self with the object of meditation, and also the factors which prevent this communion. On a deep probing into the matter, we concluded that there is nothing impeding the communion of consciousness with the object except a peculiar feature of its own self. It is consciousness itself tying itself into a knot, and standing before itself, as it were, as an obstacle preventing this communion which is called samadhi. This peculiar kink which arises in consciousness – this knot, this granthi – is the obstacle. This has been designated in the language of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as asmita. It is this asmita, which can be popularly translated as egoism, which acts as the obstacle. It is very difficult to translate this word ‘asmita’ because it is not simply egoism, as common language makes it appear. It is a peculiar sense of being, which does not allow the entry of consciousness into the nature of the object – which is precisely the point in samadhi. The object of meditation stands outside oneself usually – just as you all are outside me and I am outside you. You see me and I see you. And even if you think of me deeply, or when I think of you with great concentration, we remain outside each other. There is an exclusive, and not an inclusive, relationship between us. We always separate each other by a peculiar thing which is not cognisable even by the most analytic of minds. What is it that excludes one from the other? The peculiar feature, we may call it, which separates me from you and separates you from me is not space, not time, not distance – neither spatial or temporal – but a consciousness. This is what we will begin to realise when we go deep into the subject.
The isolating or separating factor is nothing objective or external. It is something arising from one’s own self. That which has germinated from your own consciousness becomes the obstacle or impediment in your identification of yourself with me. Previously we noted an interesting feature behind this peculiar activity of consciousness in obstructing its own endeavour in the communion of itself with the object. The whole purpose – the be-all and end-all of yoga – is nothing but communion. Technically, in Sanskrit, we call it samadhi. This communion is the aim of yoga. All this effort, right from yama, niyama, asana, etc., is a preparation for bringing about this communion. But when we come to the verge of this communion – when the bell rings, as it were, to announce that the communion is to be effected – we turn back and say, “No, goodbye” to the object. There is a peculiar fear, a suspicion and an adamantine self-affirmative attitude which recoils upon itself and puts upside down, as it were, all the effort that has been put forth up to this time.
There are many good friends who go on talking with us as very intimate comrades, agreeing with every opinion that we express, and are amenable to us in every respect. But when we come to a very crucial point, they refuse to accept it. At the last moment they say “no”, so all this preparatory friendship is not of any avail when the crucial hour comes. “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” as the old adage goes. What comes to our aid at the hour of doom is a real friend; and what idea strikes our mind at the crucial hour, that is our real idea; and what step we want to take at a moment when it looks that it is the last step that we take in life and nothing more remains, that will be a most considered step. Hence, there can be nothing more crucial than the entry of consciousness into the object of meditation, which is called samadhi.
When this hour comes, there is a complete reorientation of attitude and the ego stands adamant, as a very hard object, impenetrable and impregnable. The self-consciousness refuses to allow the entry of the characteristics of the object into its own consciousness. That means to say, “I want to maintain my own individuality, my status and my peculiar independence of attitude, even in ‘being’,” is asserted at the time when it has to be abolished. This is the point which Patanjali would like to bring to the forefront in his definition of samadhi: tadeva arthamātranirbhāsaṁ svarūpaśūnyam iva samādhiḥ (III.3). He has made it very clear that in this absorption of consciousness in the object, you cannot know whether you are meditating on the object, or the object is meditating on you, because there is a parallel movement of the two, on an equal footing; that that which appeared as the object does not any more appear as an object, as a concrete substance, but it becomes a feature of consciousness itself. Or we may say, to use the language of Vedantic epistemology, the pramatra chaitanya becomes one with the vishaya chaitanya, prameya chaitanya.
The prameya, or the vishaya, is the object – though there is a consciousness hidden behind it – and pramatra is the subject. Normally, the undercurrent of consciousness that obtains between the subject and the object is not known, and a kind of difference is struck between the subject and the object in all types of perception. But when the subject that meditates sinks into itself, which is the purpose of this practice towards communion, it recognises at once the consubstantiality of its own nature with the nature of the object, just as if a wave in the ocean sinks to the bottom, it will recognise the common substratum that is connecting it with every other wave, even if it be a thousand miles away. But if this sinking is not done, every wave is different from every other wave. The wave that is dashing against the shores of New York is far, far away from the wave that is near Bombay; that is very clear. But this distance is maintained only if the wave looks at the other wave as a crest, distinguished from itself by spatial distance. But when it sinks down it becomes one with the wave which is thousands of miles away – just as distance is abolished in the organism of the body though there is a peculiar distance between the head and the toes. Though there is a distance of five feet or six feet, as the case may be, there is no distance for the organism itself. There is a continuity of feeling which at once abolishes the very sense of distance. Though mathematically and spatially there is a distance between the head and the toes, we do not feel the distance, as we are a complete organism.
Likewise, in this condition of spiritual communion which is the goal of samadhi, there is a sinking of oneself into the bottom of one’s own being. This is what they call entering into the nature of the atman. And you will be surprised that the knowledge of the atman is the knowledge of the universe. It will be surprising indeed how it is possible for you to know the whole cosmos when you merely sink into your own self. I have made it clear by an analogy. How is it possible for the waters of a particular wave near Bombay to recognise its identity with all things that lie between itself and the wave near New York? That distance has been abolished on account of the organic connection of the whole ocean, which connects the wave near Bombay with the wave near New York. Otherwise, there is a lot of distance – thousands of miles of distance. Hence, entering into one’s own being is identical with entering into everybody’s being. When I know myself, I know everybody. It is very strange indeed how such a thing is possible. Knowledge of the bottom of one’s own being can be equated with the existence of everything else. That is the reason why it is said that the highest of philosophical endeavours is the knowledge of one’s own self. Atmanam viddhi is the oriental dictum. “Know thyself” is the occidental one. Know thyself and be free.
How can you be free when you know yourself? You will be putting this question to yourself. “I can know myself, and yet I can be bound,” may be the doubt. You cannot be bound, because all the factors that can bind anyone become an embodiment of that being which is realised, in communion, when you enter into the bottom of your own being. According to the Sata Sloki of Acharya Shankara, we realise that we are one with all; that is the first experience. Then we realise that we are the All. There is a slight distinction, it appears, as the great Acharya mentions. What distinction it is, we cannot explain in language. Perhaps it is a feeling of the wave in the ocean, when it sinks down and then suddenly becomes aware that it is the All. But this sinking is not possible, ordinarily speaking, inasmuch as after a particular stage we are prevented from going further. We may cross the first gate, second gate, third gate; some mystics say there are seven gates. When we touch the border of the last gate, we are told, “No! No entry!” This is the crucial point. The one who tells us “No entry” is ourself only – our own ego. Somehow, we cannot reconcile ourselves with the idea of getting united with everybody. This is a very peculiar thing in us. Theoretically, philosophically, metaphysically it may be very pleasant. “Why should I not become one with all? It is a wonderful thing!”
But that is not really what our heart wants, because in our daily life, in our activities, we proclaim the opposite of it. We maintain a status of our own, which will refute the status of other people. That is why there is conflict, warfare, dislike, and what not. If our real aspiration is a tendency towards communion with the All, that thing called warfare, or dislike, or animosity, or subtle irritation, or anger, will be unknown. Why is it that we come in conflict with everything, every day? It is because we do not like to become one with the All. Therefore, this prejudiced feeling, which is philosophically and intellectually or rationally suppressed by a kind of analysis, rises to the surface of consciousness and tells us lastly: “I am here. I am not going to leave you.” What is our essential nature, which rises at the last moment? During the earlier stages, we manage to suppress this feeling. We do a lot of japa, we loudly chant kirtans and bhajans; at that time our ego is suppressed. It is suppressed, but it is not abolished. Even during the more advanced stages of pranayama and pratyahara, we may be able to subjugate the ego to a certain extent, put it down with the thumb of our force. But how long will we keep it down like this?
A time comes when we have to give a reply to it. It is a point which we reach, where a final settlement has to be made with this ego. Either we want it, or we do not want it. We cannot have a half-way deal with this ego. When we came to this point of requiring the ego to eliminate itself totally from the very root, we are facing our best friend. What can be a worse thing to conceive than to encounter and to face our own dearest friend? Up to this time we were going hand in hand, walking and speaking very pleasantly with him, and today we say, “My dear friend, I’ll cut your throat.” Our friend will say, “What has happened to you?” This is what happens lastly, and this is what we cannot do! The dearest object of our mind and emotions – that which we regard as most inseparable from us – will stand before us as the greatest impediment.
That which we love the most is our greatest enemy. This is what we will realise at the last moment, when we come face to face with the crucial point in yoga. It is very strange – our own beloved thing is the opposite of what we think it is. That which we love the most is our greatest enemy. How can we reconcile this idea? The very fact that we love it is the indication that it is going to stand against us, because no bondage can be greater than love. Though it is regarded by people as a very pleasant thing which liberates people from the thraldom of social tension, it is far from it. Love or affection is a bondage of consciousness in respect of an object which is other than itself. It is this otherness of the object that we want to sever at the time of our communion with the object. And as long as this otherness is not maintained, love cannot be there; and, as long as this otherness is maintained, samadhi cannot be there. So, which do we want now? Here is, therefore, a great battle, a struggle – and it is an arduous struggle indeed. Patanjali does not go into the details of this psychological struggle which a seeker has to pass through.
This has to be known. These things have to be studied by recourse to the lives of saints. I would like you to read, if you have access to it, the life of Saint Theresa of Avila, a great mastermind who passed through the seven gates of mystic experience, as she calls it. She has written a book, The Interior Castle. The whole of mystical experience is compared to a castle which she had a vision of at one moment, and she compares the stages of the ascent as entry into the castle through seven gates. At each step we have some experience; we will start seeing varieties of things. It is only at the last moment that we can have a glimpse of God. It is only at the seventh gate that we can see the rays emanating from the Eternal. So, what I mean to say is, these are all very subtle things, difficult to explain, and more difficult to understand. But some inclination towards this can be aroused in our mind, and the difficulty about it can be mitigated to a large extent if we read the lives of saints who have led this path, who have trodden this way and had these experiences.
How can one explain everything in a book? It is difficult, just as we cannot explain the taste of a nice meal to a friend who asks us how the meal was. We can only reply, “You yourself have to have the lunch, and you will see what the taste is.” Or, we cannot explain the tortures we underwent when there was a harrowing experience. We cannot explain it to others; they have to undergo it themselves. Extreme joy and extreme sorrow cannot be explained in any language. So also is this extreme difficulty we have to face, which cannot be explained through any language. Hence, the point that we come to is that our sense of being, or asmita, or egoism, or self-affirmative attitude is not such a simple thing as we may take it to be. It is a devil of the first water; and we ourselves are that, not somebody else. It is very strange. We will find that we have to face our own selves. Whom are we facing and encountering there? We are facing and encountering and fighting with our own selves. Therefore, it is an arduous struggle indeed. Who can sever one’s own throat and commit suicide, if at all we can call it suicide? It is a suicide of consciousness. It is a complete uprooting of the very bottom of the ego, which was there like a hard, concrete, substantial something, swallowing up all the realities of life, appropriating all value to itself, and appearing as the most important thing in all life. Such a thing is now regarded as nothing. That which once paraded itself as the most magnificent of things in life is now regarded as a worthless thing – the most worthless of things. So we can imagine, with the stretch of our analytical mind, what we are up against, and how it is hard for even a well-boiled, trained seeker to pass through this crucial gate of communion with the object of meditation.
Here, we have only one sutra. Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, does not give much detail. Though he gives details of certain other mental transformations which we have to undergo later on, he does not touch upon further details about the actual difficulties of a seeker in entering into this state of communion. He simply says, tadeva arthamātranirbhāsaṁ (III.3). There the meditating consciousness does not exist at all; it has become the object of meditation. This is what he tells us. It is the object which is contemplating itself as being. Previously, the being was of consciousness of the mind, of oneself, of the subject that meditates. Now the being of consciousness is shifted to the object, and the object assumes the character of the subject, so that the object has become the subject. It is here that we have intuition of the object. Just as we have a direct knowledge of our own selves, much more than any knowledge that we can have of other people, we will have a direct knowledge of anything in this world, of any object, because the subjectivity that we appropriated to ourselves alone, exclusively, up to this time, and would never allow this subjectivity to anybody else, has now became a common property. Previously, we were the only subject; everybody was an object for us. Now the tables have turned; we are now so generous that we allow everyone else in the whole universe to also enjoy this prerogative of being a subject.
Hence, the universe is full of only subjects now; there are no objects. It is not merely a conception of the presence of subjectivity in others that we are speaking of, because here, in this advanced stage, there are no conceptions. There is no idea about something. It is a self-identical awareness, such as can be compared with the feeling of our own self, even when we close our senses. We close our eyes, close our ears, close all the gateways of sensory cognition, and yet we will feel a kind of self-identity of ourselves – ‘I am’. This consciousness of oneself being there is independent of any kind of sense activity. Such a kind of awareness will arise in us in respect of everything else in the world. We will not any more say ‘you’, ‘he’ or ‘she’, or ‘it’ – such a thing will not be there. ‘I am’ is the only experience. This ‘I am-ness’ is not an affirmation of our bodily individuality, as it had been the case earlier; it is a Universal ‘I’ asserting itself. There, everything that we once upon a time regarded as an object has become part and parcel of its own being. This is a very great problem indeed for the mind that is used to thinking in terms of the body and social relations. But this is the problem of yoga. If you properly understand the significance of the difficulty that I have placed before you at this point of meditation, you will also know how hard it is for a human being to practise yoga.
You first have to cease to be an ordinary human being. You have to be a little more than an ordinary human being to be able to fit yourself into this technique. I would say, rather, you must be a superhuman being. Otherwise, it is no use – you cannot go further than a mere attempt at the concentration of mind. The best and farthest reach of ordinary minds is only the point of concentration; beyond that you cannot go. But our aim is something more. It is always said, “God-realisation is the goal of life,” and you can know what it is. Realisation means identity of being. It is not looking at something, or accosting someone, or speaking a language. It is an absorption of being into Being that is called Realisation. God-realisation would mean the absorption of your being into God-being, which implies, again, the cessation of your personality completely. Otherwise, there is no absorption of being, which is what is meant by ‘communion’. All that contributes to the affirmation of individuality, anything that asserts the adamantine existence of personality and all those things which are pleasant to the ego in one way or the other become impediments there. In the beginning we have to abolish all those things which are pleasant to the ego. What are the things that please us? They are the obstacles. Then, later on, the ego itself is the obstacle.
Thus, we conclude our analysis of this important sutra in the Vibhuti Pada of Patanjali: tadeva arthamātranirbhāsaṁ svarūpaśūnyam iva samādhiḥ (III.3). He has very carefully introduced a peculiar term, ‘svarūpaśūnyam iva’: our svarupa has ceased to be. Up to this time we had a svarupa or a status of our own: “I am something physically, socially, psychologically, etc.” This ‘something’ that we regard ourselves to be, ceases completely. Whatever we regarded ourselves to be – socially, psychologically, rationally, intellectually, morally, physically, whatever it is – all this is not our essential nature. This svarupa, which grew around us as a kind of fungus, is completely scrubbed out because it was only an accretion that grew over our personality. It was not our real nature and, therefore, it looks as if our svarupa, or our personality itself, has gone.
When the individuality goes, the personality must go, because the personality is nothing but the outer contour of the inner stuff which is the individuality. And, we have found out what the core of this individuality is. It is the ego, the asmita. So, when the root is plucked out, everything else goes – it withers and shivers and falls down. ‘Arthamātranirbhāsaṁ’and‘svarūpaśūnyam iva’ are the two terms which define the character of samadhi. It is a consciousness of the object as the subject, which automatically implies the abolition of a separate subjectivity of the meditator, because there cannot be two subjects. The moment we begin to conceive two subjects, one of them becomes an object in respect of the other and so there is an identity of subjectivity. We may say, in this identity of subjectivity, that we assume a non-individual awareness. In this condition it is that we rise above the limitations which had up to this time restricted consciousness to certain feelings, in respect of itself.
Ultimately, the last restricting factor, namely space and time, also get absorbed into consciousness because they too stand as objects before consciousness. When subjectivity has entered into the object, it implies that this subjectivity has entered into space and time also, because that also is an object. When subjectivity enters into space, what happens? We cannot see anything in this world afterwards, because seeing anything, or experiencing anything as an outward object, is due to an externality of space – the objectivity of space. If space itself has become the subject, there is no externality at all. Hence, there is no seeing, and the senses cease to function. No seeing, no hearing, no touching, no tasting, nothing of the kind, because these operations of the senses are only in respect of the externality of objects. That was due to the presence of space and time – and that has become the subject now. So, there is immediately a flash of cosmicality arising in oneself. This is what they call God-realisation, or God-experience – amrita anubhavah or entry into the Absolute. It is this magnificent experience which is so hard to attain.