The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
Part III: The Vibhuti Pada
Chapter 98: The Transformation from Human to Divine
That one has to pass through various stages of self-communion before the great aim of yoga is reached is a point which has been emphasised, again and again, in various ways and at different places in the system of Patanjali. We do not suddenly jump to the skies in one stroke. There is a very slow process of growth inwardly, like the maturing of a large tree, stage by stage. And, every stage is supposed to be an occasion for a novel experience every time new experiences present themselves, inasmuch as every experience is one of communion. It is very important to remember that yoga is not a process of thinking through the mind, understanding through the intellect, or ratiocinating. Yoga is communion. This is the main feature of yoga which can miss one’s attention, and one can be under the complacent mood that there is a progress gradually taking place while one is merely thinking – as one thinks of a cow, or a tree – an object which is totally outside oneself.
Every progress is a progress in communion. It is not a progress merely in thought and clarity of understanding – which are all very great things, no doubt, in the world, but they are nothing before yoga. We are not here for intensifying our analytic understanding or logical deductive knowledge of things, or for any kind of worldly genius. All that we regard as great in this world becomes nothing before this master technique of yoga, which is the precise reason why some cannot grasp even the first stage of yoga properly, because the very first step itself is a complete turning upside-down of the way of thinking. It is not continuing our present way of thinking that is called yoga. It is a complete transformation, a right-about turn of the entire attitude. This has to be grasped at the very outset. We are not becoming better and better human beings in yoga; we are becoming transformed and transfigured into a newer quality of being. It is not that the human nature continues, the human valuation continues and the human assessment of things continues – nothing of the kind. There is a transfiguration of the human character altogether into a newer type of perception and experience. This is what is effected by communion.
Hence, the usual mistaken idea people may carry with them into the field of yoga – that what they achieve in the higher stages of yoga is only an expanded, or perhaps a more intensified form of worldly happiness, worldly authority, worldly power or worldly acquisition – is a great mistake, and nothing can be worse than that. We are not going to have enjoyments of a worldly kind in the progress of yoga, nor are we going to exercise power as we exercise it in the world of sense and ego. There is such a change as can be compared with the change from an animal to a human being, which cannot be regarded as merely a continuation of the animal species. When we rise from the animal kingdom of consciousness to the human level, we have not simply become better animals; that is not what has happened to us. We have become something quite different from animals. Are we only advanced animals just because we have evolved from the animal state? No. There is a change in intrinsic character. There is a transformation of quality. The human is different from the animal in the intrinsic structure itself, and not merely in the extrinsic expansion of sensory perception or egoistic affirmation.
Likewise is the transformation from the human to the higher levels of yoga, which are the stages of the ascent to the divine. We are becoming – we are going to become – divine, in different stages. So, we may say that every stage is a new encounter with a qualitative transformation of the personality, a condition with which we cannot compare anything in this world. There is nothing here with which we can compare that state of experience.
If we start comparing, we will be speaking like the frog in the well which had a talk with the frog that came from the ocean. “The ocean is so big! Much bigger than the well,” said the frog from the ocean. The frog that was in the well, which had never seen anything wider than the well, asked, “How big is this ocean?” “Oh, very big!” “Is it so big?” asked the frog in the well, expanding its body, swelling it. “Is this how big the ocean is?” “Now, what is this that we are talking about? It is not like that,” said the ocean frog. “It is very big!” The well frog swelled still further. Stouter it became, expanded its muscles and said, “So big? The ocean is so big?” “No, no! It is not like that,” said the frog from the ocean. “It is much bigger than what we are thinking!” “Is it as big as this well, at least?” asked the well frog. “Oh, much bigger!” said the ocean frog. The well frog was confused and said, “What is this? What are we talking about? I cannot understand!” The frog in the well could not appreciate anything bigger than the well. What is the ocean? It could not imagine it.
Likewise is our puny understanding of the higher achievements of which yoga speaks. We have subtle peculiarities in our nature, and that particular weakness is what is to be subjugated and sublimated in yoga. This has been mentioned again and again in the sutras of Patanjali, in various manners, various ways, at different stages. Though there are many stages which each individual has to experience, each for oneself, adepts have classified them into certain groups. The language of the system of Patanjali tells us that there are four important conditions of utter transformation; and these are given specific names in the Yoga Shastras.
When one steps over the ordinary human level and places one’s feet on the next higher level, that condition is called prathama kalpita. It is a peculiar term which implies an experience of a first form of enlightenment. The first enlightenment that comes through yoga is called prathama kalpita. The next stage of enlightenment is called madhu bhumika, which literally means ‘very sweet, like honey’. Very exquisite is the experience, very delicious; that is what the word ‘madhu’ actually means here – madhu bhumika. The third transformation is called prajna jyotis. There is a flash of the supernal light of the purusha, or the Absolute. We begin to enter into the daylight of the Eternal. And the last stage is supposed to be the borderland of the communion of the individual with the Absolute, the Universal. That is called atikranta bhavaniya, which surpasses all comprehension. No thought can understand or imagine what it is. Even the highest stretch of imagination cannot conceive what it is. Therefore, it is designated as atikranta bhavaniya.
Now, the teachers of yoga tell us that there are very great dangers which one has to face at certain stages of this ascent. These dangers come from the activity of the senses and the ego. Where do these dangers come from? They come from certain encounters of the meditative individual. What does it encounter? It encounters certain forces which present themselves as personalities, forms, shapes, objects, etc. These forms, which present themselves before one’s experience, are the very counterparts of the desires of the senses and the ego. It is to be noted here that everything that is in our individual personality has a cosmical counterpart. Whether it is good or bad, whether it is of this nature or that nature, everything that is inside has a counterpart in the outer world. So, the pressure exerted by any particular aspect in the individual personality stirs up the corresponding counterpart in the outer world, and we encounter that. It is something like the operations of a puppet show. A person operating the movement of puppets with strings is the power that conditions these movements outside. The operator behind moves the fingers in a particular way and accordingly, correspondingly, there is the movement of the puppets outside.
The objects – whatever be their nature outside in the world – with which we come in contact, are what are invoked and evoked by our inner potentialities. We cannot see anything which we do not deserve, or which is not intended to be a teacher for us or a means of passing through experience. Here, in ordinary life, the life that we are living today, many of these tendencies are pressed down, repressed by the power of a particular form of desire which we are fulfilling in our daily life and a particular form of ego-affirmation, which sets aside every other affirmation. Every time one particular aspect comes to the surface, it pushes the other aspects to the background, so that we appear to be only one thing at a time, and not two things. We do not have two moods at one moment; there is always one mood only, though these moods may go on changing every day, or even in the same day at different times. The different experiences we pass through and the different objects we face in life are the activities of these predominant aspects in our inner personality which work gradually, stage by stage, according to the convenience of the time or when circumstances become favourable.
But in yoga, something different happens. We are not pushing aside certain aspects of our personality and presenting only certain predominant features for the purpose of objective experience. The entire thing is stirred up into action, because the purpose of yoga is to liberate the soul from the total bondage to which it is subject in the form of phenomenal experience. Therefore, we have to face everything, every day, at one stroke. This happens, says the Yoga Shastra, at a particular stage – not in the very advanced stage of prajna jyotis or atikranta bhavaniya, where we have completely mastered everything and we know things very well, nor when nothing has happened and we are just at the rudimentary, beginning stage of practice. These difficulties start when we are about to transcend the first level – this is what the Yoga Shastra tells us. When we have entered the stage called prathama kalpita and we are about to rise to the next one, namely, the madhu bhumika, then there is this dramatic encounter of the meditating consciousness with everything blessed on earth or in heaven.
What is it that we are going to encounter? It is not easy for anyone to detail these before they come. But, generally speaking, they are supposed to be the forms taken by one’s own weaknesses. Every person has some weakness, which is smothered and stifled by the apparent personality that one puts forth in human society. But that weakness still persists. It is kept there in ambush, waiting for favourable conditions to manifest. These weaknesses are those which pertain to the senses and the ego. The senses vehemently assert the reality of an external object. This is the peculiar weakness of the senses, and whatever arguments we put forth before them, they are of no avail. And the ego has a peculiar feature of affirming itself as an isolated individual. It will oppose any attempt at communion, which is the thing that we want to achieve in yoga, because communion is losing of personality, which is what is very painful to the ego.
Thus, there are two oppositions to the progress in yoga – the one that comes from the ego, and the other that comes from the senses. All the obstacles or impediments that we may have to face in future are only these – the desires of the senses, and the affirmations of the ego. For this purpose Patanjali has been warning us, again and again, that a thorough grasp of the conditions for the practice are essential before the practice is commenced.
The two terms, vairagya and abhyasa, sum up the requisites for yoga practice. Is there a taste lingering in the senses and a subtle longing of the personality or the ego? No one can openly admit that there are lingering desires of the senses; nor would the ego permit such an analysis, because any such analysis is the death of the ego and a frustration of the senses. So one cannot, for oneself, know where one stands, inasmuch as one always stands only on the level of a predominant manifested feature of one’s personality, and not the total features. One cannot know oneself wholly, because the whole of the personality does not manifest in conscious life. That is the difficulty.
Thus, we cannot be prepared for things now itself, inasmuch as we do not know what it is that is there inside of us. But if we are persistent enough in our practice, these weaknesses will show their heads gradually, like snakes coming out from the hole. They will not come out if the practice is very mild. The practice has to be very intense, continuous, and for hours together – daily practice, without remission of effort. If this is not possible, the only other alternative is the knowledge that we have to gain of ourselves through our Guru, as our Guru is likely to know more about us than we know about ourselves because of his experience, and because of the insight that he has into human nature. But without these preparations, neither can we do anything for ourselves, nor will we accept the advice of others. If this is the situation, then danger is there, ahead.
Patanjali simply mentions, in a very precise statement: sthānyupanimantraṇe saṅgasmayākaraṇaṁ punaraniṣṭa prasaṅgāt (III.52). The sutra tells that we will be invited as a guest by the realms of being when we advance in the stages of yoga. There are various realms of existence which we have to pierce and pass through. And, every realm is inhabited by certain denizens. Just as when we go to a new country, the citizens there may welcome us as a friend “Come, dear friend, be seated,” and so on – the citizens, or the inhabitants of the different realms, says the Yoga Shastra, will welcome us, and we are likely to mistake this for an achievement of yoga – which it is not. We are likely to get caught up in the atmosphere of that particular realm, because that atmosphere is nothing but what the senses seek and what the ego would like. They become very intense in their presentations, according to the intensity of the practice. Therefore, the sutra tells us that we should not accept these invitations. Otherwise, we will be once again in the same trouble from which we wanted to escape through the practice of yoga. Whatever be the perceptions, whatever be the delights that may present themselves, they have to be ignored by the practicant.
Here, there is another interesting feature which one can notice. These experiences of encounter, or the presentations of delight or invitations, etc., which the sutra mentions, are not necessarily super-physical. They can also be physical. That is, even in this very physical world we may have such experiences, if our practice is intense enough. We will not be able to discover the secret behind the experiences in our life, and may like to pass them over as casual occurrences of the social life of a person. The experiences that we pass through in life – even in this physical life, in this very life itself – may be the reactions of our practice. The denizens which the sutra speaks of may press themselves forward through the physical counterparts of this very existence itself. They need not necessarily be ethereal beings as the Puranas speak of, such as Indra, etc.
These personalities which the Puranas speak of do not necessarily come when we jump from the physical level to the higher level. They can press themselves into action even in this very level, so that we may not go to the higher realm at all. As a result, there can be very convenient situations and comfortable experiences of the senses as well as the ego, whose essential nature cannot easily be discovered. We will not know what is happening to us. We will only take it as a common presentation or an unusual experience of life. There is nothing usual in this world; everything is very peculiar. Everything has a novel character. Even these so-called usual experiences of our life – even my sitting here and your listening to me – is a very strange coordination of factors which are universal in their nature. They are not simply to be taken for an ordinary, simple social experience of human beings.
There is nothing which is not universal in life. Everything is a universal expression. Even a leaf that moves in a tree has a universal background behind it. Even the littlest of our experiences and the smallest of the deeds that we perform – everything, for the matter of that – is a symbol or an index of a universal pressure that is exerted from behind, which is invisible to the senses and incomprehensible to the ego. The yoga philosophy and psychology opens up before our mind a new world of perception and a new interpretation of values – a system of an entirely new type of appreciation of things – so that we will be able to discover new meaning even in the common and ordinary experiences of life. Even if we see a dog on the road, it is not an ordinary experience that is happening; we will begin to see a new meaning behind it. A cat crossing in front of us is not an ordinary experience. A wisp of breeze is not ordinary. Everything is extraordinary in this life. This meaning of an extraordinary significance present behind even ordinary experiences in life will be opened up only to a discriminative understanding.
This is a great blessing if it comes; and unless this understanding arises in us, we will not be able to progress in yoga. We should not be muffs when we begin to seek the fruits of yoga earnestly. We must understand that we are going to face problems of a cosmic character. They are not problems of our country, or problems of human nature, merely. They are problems of the universal situation on every level, for the matter of that. Everything will be stirred into action. And, as it was mentioned, the way in which it will be stirred, and the extent to which it will be stirred into action, will depend upon the intensity of our practice.
Thus, great caution is given by Patanjali himself that one who is not sufficiently equipped with the requisites of vairagya will not be able to go even one step in yoga. When we open the eyes of yogic perception – even as a student of yoga, and not necessarily as an adept – we will begin to see new meanings in things. When we talk to our friends, they will not be friends with whom we are talking. They will be some ‘significances’ which we are encountering and facing. We will begin to see the meaning within the forms of the world, which we missed in the forms commonly encountered by the senses in ordinary life. There are no such things as friends and enemies in this world. They do not exist. For yogic vision, there are no such things as humans, animals, trees, stones, etc. They do not exist. They are something extraordinary in this world. Even the things that we see with our eyes, even just now, are extraordinary things. We miss their meaning due to a habituation of the mind through this gross perception of personalities.
The personalities are not personalities at all for yogic vision. They are not ‘persons’. They are only configurations of a cosmical significance, which has to be grasped very well before we are able to face anything. We have to guard ourselves well in every respect. The beginning of yogic perception is the recognition of the fact that we are citizens of the universe, not citizens of India or America or any country – nothing of the kind. We are not even inhabitants of this earth; we are something more than that. We are denizens of the whole cosmos, and the laws of the universe will act upon us, and they will subject us to obedience. They are the forces that we are facing.
In yoga, we are not facing crows and cows and trees and persons. We are facing the whole cosmos in front of us. One has to be prepared for the consequences before one actually enters into this arduous enterprise; this is a great caution meted out to us by the Yoga Shastra. When this vision is kept up clearly, continuously, without break, we will be able to understand even the meaning of the oppositions and impediments that come before us. And when they are detected, they cease to be impediments – they become friends. The dismal look that may appear to be there at the beginning will put on a new face altogether, and a new contour. The darkness will be dispelled, and light will manifest itself. These are hard things for the mind to grasp.
At a stage where we are about to transfer ourselves from the first level to the second level, direct guidance of a competent master is necessary. This is the usual tradition of the Yoga Shastra. When we are highly advanced and can grasp all the meanings for ourselves, we may be able to stand on our own feet; that is true. But there is a particular stage we reach when we have not been endowed with that perception of the meaning behind things, when we have lifted our feet from the ground of the earth and we have not yet reached the summits of the heavens. In the middle of the atmosphere where we are hanging, we will find ourselves helpless. There, the need of a Guru is necessary.