The Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: A Synthesis of Yoga

The practice of yoga is very conscious of the seeker being a human being first and, therefore, involved in human relations. It is not an angel that is entering on the path of yoga; it is the ordinary man, the ordinary mortal with all the foibles and idiosyncrasies of human nature who is in quest of a life of perfection through the practice of yoga.

In every methodology of handling affairs or treatment of conditions, the more stringent and important aspect is taken into consideration first. The acute forms, either of relations or of conditions, are more significant, since they press upon us acutely, immediately and more concretely than possibly more chronic forms of relation and condition, which are burned deep within. The reason why we are hungry every day is more important than the fact that we are hungry, but we are not bothered about the reason behind the hunger so much as the fact; and we take the fact first, though we cannot ignore the necessity to also know, at the same time, the reason behind this phenomenon.

Our approach to yoga practice should be most practical in its literal sense and there should not be any misgiving or misreading of value, especially when it is a matter concerning one’s own self. While we may be very cautious in our dealings with others, we may not be so very careful with regard to our own selves because the self cannot judge itself in an objective manner, as it would deal with things and persons which are external to it.

Though human relations may appear to be the considerations at the very outset of the practice of yoga, they also include every kind of relation. It is true that we are human beings and are, therefore, more concerned with human relations. However, on the path of yoga we are not going to concern ourselves merely with human beings but with a larger world whose contents are more than human, wider than what the human mind can comprehend. When we speak of the alignment of human relations in the light of yoga, all living beings may be considered as necessary items to be set in coordination with oneself. Most of, or perhaps all, of our inner agitations, annoyances and disturbances can be attributed to a maladjustment of this peculiar necessity which we call relation – or more properly, human relation. The streamlining of human relation is the initial step in the loftier aspiration of the seeker to set himself in alignment with higher forces and larger or wider dimensions of reality.

There is no place where reality is not present. Even in the least of things and the lowest of relations, one can discover the presence of a transcendent reality. A super-relational meaning can be seen in every type of relation. The necessity to undergo a sort of training in this art of establishing proper relation with others arises on account of the intensity of human egoism in general. The pre-eminent purpose of yoga is the abolition of this ego, the rooting out of this instinct of self-affirmation in a psychophysical form. While we very well know what it means to have a relation with another, we may not be entirely clear about the purpose of the relation itself.

Why should we have any kind of relation with anybody? We do not go deep into this matter; we take things generally for granted on their outer surface. When we condescend to understand the necessity to have relations with other people, it is possible for us, who are egos essentially, to unwittingly expect everyone else to set themselves in alignment with ourselves. "The whole world should go with me" may be the feeling of everyone. Perhaps, basically, this is the feeling. I would wish that the world thinks as I think, but why should it think as I think? This is a question which the ego will not put to itself.

The very meaning of egoism is the refusal to consider one’s need to exhibit a conduct which one expects from others. We expect too much from others and nothing from our own selves. This is the state when the ego reaches its climax, and such a climax of ego is present in root form, latently, in every person. Every insect wriggles and writhes to maintain itself, and it does not care what happens to others as long as it survives. The survival of the ego is the internal meaning that we can read in the vicissitudes of human history.

The purpose and great aim of the great, novel adventure called yoga is the discovery of Ultimate Reality and a communion with it. Therefore, it becomes imperative on the part of every seeker to convert oneself into a means to this approach; and the means becomes significant, meaningful and worthwhile only when it embodies and enshrines within itself some characteristic of the goal or the end which it conceives. If we are seeking something, asking for something or aiming at something whose nature is totally different from the characteristics exhibited in our personality, we would be pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp, asking for the moon.

This is what most people do in the world. Therefore, they do not succeed in life because there is a basic gulf between their nature and the character of that which they ask. But the seeker in yoga has to be made of a different stuff. The world cannot change itself into our personal pattern because ‘the world’ is a term we use for an area of operation of which we are a part. We cannot expect the whole to participate in the whimsical functional idiosyncrasies of a part. The part has to cooperate with the whole.

Hence, self-sacrifice is what is expected in the form of discipline called ethical behaviour or moral conduct. Yoga systems, whatever be the shape they take, all emphasise the need for a disciplined behaviour of the seeker on the path of yoga, and what we call ethical or moral conduct is only an outcome naturally following this disciplined carrier of oneself. Here, by ‘discipline’ we mean that technique, that science, that art by which even at the first step or the initial stage we implant in our own selves, as a means of approach, the characteristics of that which is the end or the goal of our quest.

Therefore, a selfishness of any kind – a desire to appropriate everything for one’s own self and an intolerance of others’ opinions or even existence – cannot be regarded as compatible with the requirements of the ethical mandates of yoga discipline. A good person, generally so-called, is believed to be one who can accommodate others’ circumstances into one’s own opinions and into the way in which one lives. If participation in the structure of creation is the duty of man, then what we call ethical behaviour need not form a separate teaching or instruction. We need not be told what to do, because as things become clear to us – if we know that our duty is principally participation rather than acquisition or demanding – we will know how we have to behave and conduct ourselves. Thus yoga morality, the science of ethics according to the system of yoga, is a personal and social outcome of the inner attunement of one’s personality with the characteristics of that Great Being or Goal which is one’s object of quest.

Together with ethical behaviour, a holiness of attitude also forms a natural consequence of this internal discipline which one imposes upon oneself. We are not merely good persons, but also holy persons. These two go together, especially when we honestly tread the path of yoga. 'Holiness' is that atmosphere that we create around ourselves due to the planting of a sort of divine element in our own personality. It does not mean that God has immediately descended into us, but there is the 'wind of God', as it were, blowing in our direction. Our ardour and our sincere longing from the recesses of our hearts for that which we consider as the only worthwhile thing in life will be enough to create an aura of holiness in us. So, together with the personal and social requirement of ethical and moral behaviour, there is an incidental result that automatically follows from this discipline – namely, a holiness of behaviour, a holiness of spirit.

People often regard these considerations in yoga as not very important, since no one believes that he or she is bad. Most students of yoga feel: "I am a good person. What is wrong with me? Why should there be so much instruction on behaviour, ethicality, morality, etc.? Am I wicked? This kind of instruction is redundant in my case. Why would I take to yoga if I was a bad person?” We feel we have given up all instinct of unethicality or immorality and evil nature; we are treading the path of goodness, servicefulness, love and affection; therefore, these teachings on what is called self-discipline, in the light of ethics and morality, social conduct, etc., are already outgrown by us, and we now stand in need of a higher teaching. This may be our feeling, but this is not entirely true.

No one should imagine oneself to be so advanced as not to be in need of a careful guard to be placed around one’s own self, because human nature is a medley and a mix-up of every type of element. It is a huge cosmopolitan setup where every blessed thing can be found. That certain features are not manifest in our life and we appear to be always polished and chastened in our behaviour need not necessarily mean that we are incapable of any other kind of behaviour. Man has the potentiality for any kind of action and conduct, and that he behaves only in a particular way during the generality of his outer life need not mean that he is only that. That he is not only that, and he can be anything else also, will be brought to the surface of one’s experience when the world confronts the seeker. This was the great dramatic picture painted before us in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita. A noble hero, a robust polished personality like Arjuna, could find himself at sixes and sevens and almost lost his soul because he was confronted by the world and was not merely in the midst of sycophants or people who regarded him as great and wonderful.

While we are in conducive circumstances, the elements which are incompatible with a higher life do not manifest themselves; but when we are in conditions or circumstances of life where we are totally thrown off our guard, the very ground under our feet is cut off and we have no place to stand, at that time all the elements that are within us will come forward like children clamouring for satisfaction. It is this possibility that makes it necessary for us to keep a watch on our own selves; and until a certain state is reached, we are always expected to be in the atmosphere of a Guru. There is a gravitational barrier which, when it is crossed, will permit us to stand on our own legs. There is a stage when we can fully guard ourselves and understand ourselves and know how to place ourselves in a given condition.

But in the lower stages this may be difficult because, as I mentioned, there are elements in our personality which have not been consulted or even taken notice of in our enthusiasm for a different kind of life. They are there in our nature; but because of the pressure exerted by circumstances of conscious life, the other layers of our personality, which are not conscious, have not been given a chance to speak. They are like opposition members in a parliament; when they have no strength, naturally they have nothing to say. Sometimes they shout, but often the ruling force, which is the conscious mind, presses this opposition so powerfully that it has no occasion to speak. But it cannot be kept silenced for a long time because in our higher reaches on the path of yoga, we are not to go as a fraction of personality but as a whole personality, burnished. It is the whole of us that goes to God, and not only a part of us. We cannot say, "Here is my good part. I am here." Before the Almighty, both sides are taken into consideration. The two sides of our personality are like the Pandavas and the Kauravas; they are within us. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as they are called, are within us, and either one can come up and greet us.

Though yoga principally, mainly and generally is considered an art of meditation – seated in a posture with a concentrated focussing consciousness – it should not be forgotten that our desires, our longings, our idiosyncrasies and our prejudices are imperatively to be transmuted into a force which will contribute to this pose of concentration and meditation. These elements in our nature, we may call them good or bad, are like forces of electric energy. They may be in a position to pull us or kick us, like AC and DC currents, but nevertheless they are forms of a general energy. They can be transformed and transmuted into the necessary force, but they should not be within us as antagonistic elements.

This energy should not produce two contrary types of conduct within us. They have to be blended into a single force. We have to be a single person; we should not be a double person. But most of us are double persons. We have one life inwardly and one life outwardly, and we know that; we are not unaware of it, but the circumstances of our psychic and social lives clash with each other. This is unfortunate, and we cannot say anything more about it except that it is unfortunate. These conditions are brought about by various factors such as the illiteracy, ignorance and cussedness of human society which cannot properly understand human individuals; or, it is due to the selfishness of the individual himself. It can be either way, or it can be both ways in some percentage or proportion.

How to tackle this problem is like another question: How to give a proper education. We cannot easily answer how a correct system of education can be introduced into a country, a nation or a society because the causes behind the difficulty in introducing such a system are multifaceted. Though it is not impossible to solve, it is almost on the borderland of a difficulty that cannot easily be crossed over, but is a necessity. When we take a step in the practice of yoga, we should not place ourselves in a circumstance in which we may have to retrace our steps. We expect to be welcomed, but we will be welcomed by the higher step only if we have fulfilled the law of the lower because we cannot step over into the higher level of yoga when we owe a debt to the lower level.

Here again, we have to be very intelligent and cautious. Do we owe any debt to our nature? Do we owe some debt to our own emotions, feelings, cravings, desires, prejudices, loves, hatreds? If we owe some debt to these, the devil has to be paid its due. He may be a devil, but he has to be paid what he asks for; and he has to be paid in a proper way – in such a way that it does not create further conflicts – because we are aiming at a solution of a problem, a treatment of an illness, and not to create a further difficulty or manufacture a new disease. Hence, great vigilance has to be exercised in our attitude towards our own selves which, when streamlined properly, enables us to become streamlined in our relations with other people also.

These are great systems of teaching and discipline which go by the name of yamas and niyamas. In fact, certain schools of thought are nothing but human relations purified into a diviner requirement. Animals cannot suddenly reach God. We cannot jump to God if we are at the beastly level. It is only human nature that can be prepared for the next higher stage, a more purified or diviner stage. The subhuman elements, or those below the normal level of human beings, may have to be brought to the surface of human consciousness. This is the art of psychoanalysis, where the baser elements are supposed to be brought to the surface of consciousness. They should not behave wildly, like animals in the jungle, but have to be transmuted into a finer force of better relations with people and also with one’s own levels of being. These are not unimportant requirements or duties for a seeker, because otherwise they will stand before us like a huge iron hill one day or the other.

Whether or not we rush forward with a tremendous enthusiastic speed is not important. The important thing is that we have considered practically every pro and con of the step, and then we have taken the further step. Different schools of thought, various systems of yoga, have methods of practice which vary one from the other. In these series of lessons we are not referring to any particular system of yoga but to the general requirement of every system of yoga, whatever be our chosen path, because all paths of yoga, whatever be their nomenclature or label, finally find themselves meeting at one point, a common place which is the ultimate aim – namely, meditation, dhyana, sometimes called upasana.

We have heard that there are many kinds of yoga, and often we are pulled in different directions in our choice of the system of yoga that will be suitable to us, such as karma, bhakti, jnana, hatha, tantra, nada, japa, mantra, yantra yogas, etc. Though it would be good to be acquainted with these disciplines referred to by these various names, we cannot walk along two roads at the same time. We have to choose one path. Teachers such as Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj advocated the adoption of a synthesis of the various systems. Most people who are highly educated in this art advocate a combining of the essential features of the different methods and not merely being streamlined along a segregated path, especially when this so-called segregation may involve a neglect or ignorance of certain essential parts of one’s own nature.

These so-called yogas of various names are only different methods or types of discipline introduced into different parts of our personality. As we are made up of very strange elements, most of which are not yet known even to our own selves, it becomes necessary to synthesise. Just as we have a balanced diet and do not eat the same food every day because a balanced diet is necessary for maintaining a balance of health, so it may be necessary for us to get acquainted with the aims of these systems of yoga so that we may be well informed and not kept in ignorance of any value of life – or, especially, of any part of our own nature.

No system of yoga can be watertight or airtight. Though in the earlier stages each system can be taken independently for the purpose of individual discipline, at a slightly higher stage it is impossible to go along a segregated path. We find that advance or movement forward along any path of yoga involves a simultaneous parallel movement along other paths also. We cannot be perfect in one and imperfect in another. Perfection is an all-round achievement, so one who is perfect in one path automatically becomes tuned in to the perfections of other paths also, if he has guarded himself properly in these disciplines.

Hence, a synthesis of yoga is what is generally advised as a cautious discipline on our part so that we may not overemphasise or become prejudiced in our practices. We should also be vigilant about the wholesome progress that we are making in our own life because when we move towards that which we call Ultimate Perfection, the goal of life, we move the entirety of our nature and, therefore, the synthesis or a blend of the various facets of our personality becomes absolutely essential.