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The Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga Practice

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Chapter 15: Stepping into the Realm of Universality

At the commencement of meditation, a necessity is felt to set aside all thoughts which are irrelevant to the point of concentration. Here again we have a usual difficulty: we cannot easily set aside things when those things have some value and strength of their own. But, the task becomes easier if the intensity of the strength generated by the concentration process exceeds whatever value may be seen in items that are considered not relevant. To the novitiate at least, it will not be easy to consider irrelevant thoughts as totally meaningless. They have their own meanings. Things which are not necessary for us need not necessarily be unreal; they may be real in their own way. The difficulty then arises due to the association of reality, meaning and value even to those items of thought which, for some important reason, are considered as not reconcilable with the task for the process of meditation.

We develop a sort of holiness of attitude in our meditations, and we have our own notions of unholy, unimportant, obstructive, and so on. Here, the mind assumes a dual role: on the one hand, of attaching itself to the spirit of aspiration in the direction of the chosen object of meditation; and, on the other hand, it cannot forget that there are things and values in the world which do exist in their own status and yet attempts at discipline have been considered to be obstructive or harmful. We cannot avoid this feeling in the mind, at least at the commencement, because we have always been brought up in a world of duality where there are good things and also bad things. The good and the evil are the two opposing forces in life, and in our pursuit of the good we naturally try to avoid the evil. And, for the spiritual aspirant, all things are naturally considered to be in the category of evil either according to the tradition in which he has been brought up or the type of initiation that he has received, and are dubbed as irreconcilables.

In the beginning, there is a struggle because of the tug of war that goes on between the will that is applied in the direction of the understanding, and a subtle feeling that there is also evil and its entry should be barred completely. Though this is a problem felt in certain types of meditation, it is not to be found in every system or every school of the practice of yoga. In the system of Patanjali particularly, and certain other systems which are different from the well-known technique called jnana yoga, this necessity is emphasised to differentiate between the right and the wrong, the good and the bad, the necessary and the unnecessary, and so on. Only in certain advanced types of thinking, which usually go by the name of jnana yoga, an intellectual effort is exercised to bring into the fold of the area of meditation all items that become the content of thought as contributory rather than obstructive.

We are unable to adapt ourselves to certain circumstances in life. Our body and mind and social conditions are not suited to such an adjustment, and therefore this dualism becomes an unavoidable necessity. But where the higher understanding can be applied in gaining an insight into the inward coordination of all things – rather, an inter-relatedness of everything – we will find there are no enemies in this world; there are no evil ones. They appear to be such on account of our present psychophysical state of life, existence, being structured in a manner which cannot go hand in hand with the structure of other things in the world.

Fire is very hot, and it can burn us to ashes. Fire burns us because the velocity of its inner constituents is far in excess of the powers that constitute our own body. Fish do not feel the intense cold of the Ganges. Individuals who live in different parts of the country, under different climes, are able to adjust themselves to the atmosphere due to the pattern of their body. The whole of creation is strewn over with such a variety of the different intensities of manifestation that each one, each part, each segregated item, feels isolated due to the affirmation of this isolatedness and the inability it feels to adjust itself to the conditions and the structural intensities of other persons, other things, etc. Heat and cold, good and bad, and all such differences are occasioned by either physical irreconcilability or psychic irreconcilability with conditions other than those into which we are born or with which we can accommodate ourselves under given conditions.

This is why in meditation these natural circumstances of our psychophysical existence insist on having their own say, and the ethical mandates generally considered as unavoidable in a life of yoga require that we have to be holy and good and our thoughts should be such that they are in harmony with the nature or the character of the object or the aim of our meditation. For instance, we have some notion of God, some idea of utter perfection,which may not always go hand in hand with the ideas of those things and conditions in life whose outer form and reaction do not coincide with this notion or idea. But this arises on account of the limitations of our own personality, and their intensity will be felt only to the extent we are limited in that manner. When we grow in the intensity of our meditation, the pressure of these limitations will become less and less, so that after years of practice one may not feel the need to set aside thoughts. There will be no need to think of the existence of irreconcilable thoughts, or those apparently irreconcilable thoughts will be fused into the positive thoughts which are the thoughts of the object of meditation.

Thus, at the outset, we have a fourfold area of action: the area of thoughts which are irreconcilable, the area of thoughts which are undesirable, the area of that thought or series of thoughts which are conducive and are in harmony with the object chosen, and the thought of the process of meditation itself going on and the thought that oneself exists as a meditating individual: I am conscious that I am meditating. There is also the consciousness that I am undergoing a mental modification within myself in the form of contemplation, meditation. There is the thought of the object which is perceived before me by the eyes or conceived by the mind. Then there is the fourth thought of those things which are not desirable. In the state of what is usually called pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses from objects, there is this necessity to psychologically create for oneself a conducive atmosphere by freeing oneself from the necessity to think those things which are not desirable, or are perhaps harmful.

Every religious system describes a holy way of conducting oneself, principles of what are called a sacred living. We are always kept in a state of a subtle awareness of the evil one when we are tuned up in our minds to a life of holiness, sanctity, discipline, and the like. It is this subtle feeling of the presence of the evil one as a dangerous force existing outside that creates anxiety in the mind of the meditating consciousness of the individual, but this can be gradually overcome by protracted practice. The only remedy is continued practice; we cannot find any other solution. We may fall down several times and the mind may slip from its point, but it will gain its grasp, the grip over the object, when we persist in this act of concentration for hours, days, months and years. Finally, the intense clarity in regard to the very purpose of meditation will solve our difficulties.

In most cases there is a peculiar difficulty caused by the absence of clarity as to the very purpose of meditation itself, and we can safely say that this is the main obstacle and every other difficulty is consequent upon this thought. Different people have different notions, and there may not be a uniform notion about this purpose. Some difficulty in life has driven us along this line of what we call the pursuit of yoga, but there may not be a clear conception of what we are actually driving at.

What is it that you need in meditation? Or, why are you making this effort? Here, answers will vary from person to person because a complete grasp of the aim of life is not easy for untutored minds. But if you can bring back to your memories some of the points we discussed in our earlier sessions, perhaps you will remember that the aim of spiritual practice, the very purpose of yoga meditation, is union with Reality. It is not intended to bring you temporal acquisitions or gains that are going to satisfy you in this world. But you generally judge your success in yoga by the visible effects that you are expecting therefrom, and often visible effects may not follow at all if your intent is entirely spiritual because while results will naturally follow as a consequence of your meditation, and they must follow if the meditation is carried on properly, they may not be visible on the surface. As a fruit ripens from the internal core and this internal ripening is not visible until it reaches the outer surface, you should not be too enthusiastic or anxious about the results of your meditation. Actually, the great principle of what is known as karma yoga is only this much: the results should not be expected.

But you must be very careful about the manner you adopt in your activity. If you are sure that you are adopting a clear-cut and subtle, sincere and correct method in meditation – that this is the way, and there is no other way – you need not be anxious about the consequences or the results. If a farmer is sure that he has done well in tilling the soil, sowing the seeds, and tending the plants, etc. – he is sure that he has done the best, and everything that is necessary has been executed very precisely – there should be no anxiety afterwards. But anxiety may come if you have not done it properly.

So, duty does not involve expectation of result. As a matter of fact, the expectation of a temporal, ulterior result is an extraneous thought, which is to be set aside. We have already talked of extraneous thoughts, and one of these extraneous thoughts is the thought of the result that is to follow. That should not be there. You are subtly expecting a reward from God Himself for having worshipped Him for years, and this is unbecoming on the part of a sincere seeker because if you are a religious person, naturally your aim is the Realisation of God, not the realisation of a present from God. Even if you are not religiously oriented and have no concept of God the Almighty as Creator, etc., but you have some sense of a perfection or ultimate reality, naturally you would not expect something other than the ultimately Real from that which you call ultimately Real. But we always have a tendency to expect something from the work that we do. We will not do anything unless something follows from it.

Thus, spiritual living differs from the ordinary way of living. In every way of conducting oneself in temporal life, there is a result expected out of the actions performed – why should you work if nothing is to come out of it? Here, the truly religious or spiritual life differs. The religious or spiritual life is itself the goal, and not a means to some acquisition which is other than itself, because what is called spiritual living is the way that we tread in the direction of the transcendent or the eternal. Naturally, we cannot expect a temporal result to follow from living a life eternal. That would be a travesty, putting the cart before the horse and upsetting everything. We are still aspiring subtly in our minds for that which we are trying to avoid. We are clinging, with an ambivalent attitude of emotion and feeling, to that which we are, at the same time, trying to run away from. On the one hand, we say we do not want it; but, on the other hand, we really want it, and these two difficulties catch us emotionally.

It is true that we do not like to be harassed by the circumstances of temporal living, including the difficulty of birth and death, transmigration, etc. We would like to live eternal life in God – life in perfection, life in the Absolute – but we have a tremendous condition: this life in the Absolute should not cut us off from all the joys of life, and these joys must be present there. We know what these joys are. We have comforts, facilities and values which we do not like to be bereaved from, and so they all have to be present there. We require temporal values to be literally present in eternal life. These are the difficulties.

What are generally spoken of as the obstacles in meditation are only these. They are created by our own minds. In scriptures on yoga we sometimes hear of obstructing spirits, angels and powers of nature descending, obstructing us, preventing us from advancing. These powers which are considered as tempters or obstructers are the external visualisations of our own longings, our loves and hatreds. Both that which we love intensely and that which we hate intensely will present themselves before us as concrete objects because the world contains every material for the manufacture of any form. We have only to dig out that particular aspect, as we can dig out any a statue from a block of stone. This impersonal structure called the world is a vast resource for any kind of form and presentation. We can get anything from it. Our desires, our longings, our hatreds become the instruments or the tools to dig out those forms which are the counterparts of our subtle longings – positively as love or negatively as hatred. Thus, loves and hatreds are the obstacles, and the immense necessity to free ourselves from these emotional tensions will be clear to us if we know well that these psychic actions in the forms of loves and hatreds are reactions of the individual to temporal circumstances and they have no real relevance to the life of the true spirit, or true religious life.

The fourfold area of psychic action l mentioned with which the meditator or the meditating consciousness is concerned becomes limited in its ambit as one advances, and we will have only the thought of the chosen object. There will be a free flow of the mind, unobstructed by the winds of desire, moving in the direction of the chosen object or deity – the goal that we have chosen. Finally, inasmuch as one uniform substance exists at the back of ourselves and the back of the object which we have chosen for our meditation, we will find that when we enter into the object by communion of thought, we have entered into our own self also, at the same time. So, in the union which is the culmination of yoga, there is the coming together of the reality within us and the reality in the cosmos.

What is the aim of yoga, then? What is the final purpose? It is communion with Reality, yes; but what is Reality? Reality is that which is free from the limitations of the process of time – past, present and future – and which is free from the limitations caused by location in space – the limitation of existing in only one place at a time – and also the limitation of being related to something else. That only can be called ultimately real which does not stand in need of relating itself to another thing, which is not limited to the necessity of being at only one place at a time, and which is also not limited by the division of time as past, present and future – that is, free from the action of space, time and causality. As every object in this world, everything that we can know, is limited to these operations of space, time and causality, nothing in the world satisfies us. We are not satisfied even with our own selves because we, as persons, are also equally limited to the operations of space, time and causation.

Therefore, neither our own body nor anything else in the world can be adequate for the purpose of fulfilling our longings. Our desires, our longings cannot be fulfilled by anyone or anything in this world. Even the highest achievements in life cannot suffice because the largest dimension of acquisition in this world – whatever be the glory of the Earth that we can conceive of in our minds – is only a shadow cast by that which is transcendent in terms of these limiting factors called space, time and causal relation. We can never be satisfied until we break through the limitation of space and overcome the limitations of time. Until we stand independent of being related to things, we are shackled by these factors.

Yoga is the way of entering into the bosom of that Supreme Substance which is ubiquitously present everywhere because it is not in space, not in time; it is not an individual observing another, or related to any ‘other’. We can only give a negative description of Reality; we cannot positively say what it is because any positive description we attempt will also be a limitation. Any qualification that we associate with what we conceive as Reality will limit it only to that particular quality; therefore, most definitions of Reality are negatives. We can say it is not this and it is not that, but we cannot say what it IS. However, certain notions which we entertain in our minds in regard to the Ultimate Reality give us positive suggestions – such as omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence, and the inward feeling that one is approximating oneself to this condition of omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence, a conviction that, after all, one is moving along this path.

A suggestion from within one’s own self that at least one step has been taken in the direction of this great achievement will be adequate to certify that you are progressing on the spiritual path. Nobody else can certify this; you have to know it for yourself. You will have a feeling within that things are alright, and this supreme value that you are seeking will speak for itself. It will guide you. Inward guidance will reveal itself in forms which are not necessarily describable in terms or visible to the senses.

As I mentioned, in these sessions of our studies we are not concentrating on any particular system of yoga practice but are trying to know the general background that is at the root of all spiritual aspiration and religion in general. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali provide information about the experiences one may have to pass through in the higher forms of meditation and a loftier essence, into which details I do not propose to enter. Suffice it to say that when you cross the barrier of the process of perceiving things, you are pulled by a gravitation which belongs to the other world. There is a particular line of demarcation between the temporal world and the transcendent realm; that demarcating line is the content of your very perception of things, namely, the consciousness that there is a world outside. It is a demarcating line because once you cross this barrier, you will not feel the need to look upon things as objects outside. In the beginning they will gravitate around you as your own friends, and perhaps later on as collaborators in your higher pursuits, and further still as inseparable attendants of your own practice, landing in the end in the consciousness that they are limbs of your own cosmic existence.

I have to make this a little more clear, in case you have not understood what I mean by saying that there is a demarcating line. Once we descend from the ultimate Universal comprehensive existence – call it by any name such as mahat or ahamkara in the language of the Sankhya, or Hiranyagarbha or the Virat according to the Vedanta philosophy – and get cut off from the sense of Universality into a sense of individuality, we have been thrown out of the gravitational field of the transcendent and we are pulled by the earthly gravitation, due to which our senses move outward. There is no outward perception in Virat. There is an integrated perception of the total existence that is severed from our vision when we enter the field of this demarcating line I mentioned, where we begin to perceive through the senses rather than be merely aware through an intuitive act of our association with the Universal whole. Once we enter into this field of perception of the world as an object outside, we are drawn outwardly to things, rather than inwardly to the Universal. Then many things follow one after the other, just as when we let a ball roll down a staircase. Once it has gone out of our hand, it will go on rolling down until it reaches the lowermost level. Similarly, once we are severed from this relatedness to the Universal omnipresence and enter into this peculiar borderland of perception of things outside, we are hurled down further into the need to establish contact with things. We cannot simply be aware of things; we then have to establish contact. In the beginning it is merely a compulsion to be aware that things are outside, and then a compulsion follows from this, namely, the desire to establish some sort of contact; and that is what we call like and dislike. Then all sorts of social relationships arise, and desires go on piling one over the other which lead, due to the frustration of their non-fulfilment, to rebirth – reincarnation in other forms of living beings.

In yoga we reverse the process, and come to this point where we do not have the need to love or hate, to like and dislike; we are perceptionally aware. There is a general consciousness of the existence of the world and the pull of objects, as love and hatred is no longer there. This is also a point discussed in detail in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. I have mentioned that psychology is mostly divided into two sections, abnormal and general. What is studied in abnormal psychology is the action of the mind in a manner which is charged more with emotions than by reason or understanding. The difference will be known to us when we can distinguish between mere awareness of an object as a content of general thinking and awareness of an object which we intensely love or intensely hate. The psychic situation created by the cognition of an object which is liked or disliked is a subject of studies that comes under abnormal psychology. When we look at a tree in the jungle, there may not be much of an emotion evoked in us. That is one kind of perception. But when emotions are connected with perceptions, we get bound to the objects more tightly than in the act of mere knowledge or awareness of an object. We are connected to objects even when we are merely aware of their presence; that is also bondage, but a greater bondage is to be tied to them by way of like and dislike.

Therefore, in the beginning we have to be free from the emotional interpretation of things, and then we have to free ourselves from even the rational interpretation that the world is outside. I like this and I do not like this – these ideas must drop from our minds first. Then we will have merely an idea that the world is there, objects are there, people are there, everything is there. But even these ideas must drop out so that things will not be there – people are not there outside us to look at. We will have a different transmuted awareness of an inner fraternity of these persons and things, which is stepping into the realm of Universality by taking our steps away from our immersion in the world of temporality, or the descending act of the mind in terms of emotions, feelings, etc. When thoughts rise from even the mere awareness of the presence of things, we reach the height of meditation and the powers of the world will take care of us. Human effort is no more necessary thereafter.