by Swami Krishnananda
When the loss of something disturbs our minds, we may be said to be emotionally connected with it. This is the test of emotional attachment. When possessions or objects with which we are associated are taken away from us and it does not seriously affect our minds, it may be said that the emotions are not primarily connected with those things or objects.
The practice of yoga consists primarily of two stages, known as vairagya and abhyasa. Vairagya is the emotional detachment of the personality from objects with which one is related in that manner, while abhyasa is a higher process still, which we shall consider in outline shortly.
As I pointed out previously, most of our experiences are emotional, which means that the gain or the loss of those things affects us seriously. We feel exhilarated on the possession of them and depressed at the loss of them. Thus, most of the experiences of humanity may be regarded as emotional, and not impersonal or psychological in the general sense of the term. Yoga psychology deals effectively with these two aspects of human experience – emotion and pure psychological observations of objects. These two processes are known as vairagya and abhyasa.
In the emotional context, we are also subject simultaneously to loves and hatreds. Raga and dvesha, affection and the opposite of it, are inseparable from our emotional relationship with objects. It is when the emotions are connected with things that we get excited over them. A thing that is seen or something that is heard may disturb us to such an extent that we may lose intellectual comprehension of the situation and become upset in our entire personality, during which occasion it is that we lose consciousness of our personal decorum, even our ethical principles, and above all, our logical understanding. When we are possessed of emotion, we lose the capacity to argue logically. Everything seems to be an expression of the object of that emotion in which state of excitement we lose control over ourselves and also lose control over the principles of ethics, morality, and understanding.
The first process of yoga is, therefore, to free ourselves from emotional entanglements of every kind. Our observation of objects should not be tinged with affection or hatred. This is easy to analyse in principle, but very difficult to practise, because emotions cannot be analysed when one is under the grip of emotions. Anything that has become a part and parcel of our own life cannot become an object of observation or study. This is why we cannot study our own minds, because we and our minds are one and the same thing.
All observation is of external objects, but not of one’s own self. There is no such thing as observation of one’s own self. That is not possible in practical life. And as emotion is nothing but one of the aspects of the function of the mind, the study of one's own emotions is equally difficult. But, by gradual dissociation of ourselves from situations which are emotionally related to us, we can free ourselves from these illnesses of the mind.
The disciplines of yoga ask us to detach ourselves from emotional relationships gradually, by systematic stages. Gross entanglements are to be dealt with first, and subtler relationships may be dealt with a little later. The visible and the grosser manifestations of emotional attachment have to be remedied by physical dissociation of oneself from objects which cause emotional disturbances.
There are certain things, objects in the world, the sight of which emotionally disturb us. You should be physically away from them for a part of the day at least, to commence the practice. For a few hours of the day you should try to be away from the physical proximity of those persons and things who may be the causes of emotional tension in your mind. They may be objects of your affection or objects of your dislike; both are equally emotions. It may be your son, daughter, husband, wife; it makes no difference. These are all objects of emotional attachment.
In the earlier stages, you should dissociate yourself for only a few hours. For at least one or two hours of the day you should not look at them, speak to them or have any relationship with them. You should confine yourself to a room, or you may even go for a walk for two hours so that you will not see them. Various methods suitable to your circumstances of life can be adopted to physically wean yourself from these objects of attachment for one or two hours of the day.
Then you must be away from them for at least one day a week. On Sunday, do not be at home at all. Go away somewhere. Do not speak to your wife or husband, and have nothing to do with your children for at least this one day. Go wherever you like, such as to some distant shrine or temple. You may adopt whatever is possible in your social circumstances to wean yourself from them for one day in a week. Thus, you may gradually increase the time of physical separation from your objects of attachment.
The fulfilment of this process is called the vanaprastha stage. When this detachment becomes complete socially, you are supposed to be in a state of vanaprastha. You are not householders anymore. But this stage cannot be reached quickly. That is why the suggestion is made that you wean yourself gradually from one or two hours to days, weeks and months. If it is perpetual detachment, it is vanaprastha.
This would be the first stage of vairagya. It is the first stage because you are dealing now with physical relationships, and not their subtler aspects. Just because you do not look at an object of your affection, it does not mean that you have no affection for it. Your mind will be contemplating those very things which are physically out of sight and with which you are not physically in contact due to the discipline which you have imposed upon yourself.
Though physical detachment is not sufficient, and the mental cessation of emotions is what we are aiming at, this aim cannot be realised at once. Hence, in the beginning try to be physically away from the objects of love and hatred. It is not merely objects of affection with which you are concerned, but also objects of dislike, whatever they be. These objects vary from person to person according to one’s social condition.
This is a very serious suggestion in the practice of yoga, because no progress can be made when you are in the midst of these emotional entanglements. Whatever be your japa and meditation, you will achieve nothing because you are still in an atmosphere of emotional disturbance. Most of the obstacles in yoga practice are effects of emotional activities taking place within. Emotional disturbances should be removed first, and later on we shall think of higher practices in yoga. So, as I said, the first practice is to be physically away from emotional objects.
The next step is to deal with the subtler causative factors of emotion, which are responsible for their physical activities. If you are away from your house for a month – say you are in the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh or you have gone to Badrinath for tapasya or you are in a shrine undergoing some spiritual discipline – watch your mind. Watch what your mind thinks for one month at least. Your mind will think of many things that are likely to be taking place at your house, such as commitments, something to be done, some needs, some problems or difficulties. All these that are associated with your family life will come to your memory even in Badrinath. These are the causative factors of emotional entanglements, and they cannot be observed when you are in the midst of physical relationships with objects.
Often, if you are away from physical relationships you will be able to observe the mental operation of emotion. Here it is proper and necessary to keep a very strict watch over the rise of these emotions subtly taking place in a lonely atmosphere. What are the emotions that arise in your mind when you are alone? Tabulate them. List them in your diary. You may have a desire to eat, a desire to drink, a desire to speak with certain persons, and you may have a desire for certain kinds of pleasure or enjoyment. Make note of these aspects of the rise of emotion. This is the second stage of an observation that you can make about your mind.
In this second stage of mental observation you should be like physicians, judges in a court, or scientists in a laboratory – very impersonal and dispassionate. You should not give a long rope to your emotions and start weeping and feeling sorry for having been away from the objects of affection. The nature of the observation should be to find out the causes of the rise of these emotions. Why is it that you are thinking of these objects? What do you get from them?
There are two arguments which the mind may put forth. One is, it is your duty to be with them. It is your obligation to educate your children, to take care of your family and to perform certain services in the society in which you are placed, and so you must go back. This is the argument of duty. The other argument is that you are not yet ready for it, you are just a beginner on the path, and you have to fulfil your desires first and then see whether it possible for you to be away in Godly contemplation. But a third vehement argument of the mind can also come – that it is impossible to be entirely starved of all these pleasures of life. They are rebellious in their nature. Then your one month stay in Badrinath may be cut short. You may return in a few days. It will actually happen to you if you do it. You will have your own arguments for it, which look very logical and satisfactory. Every argument is satisfactory when it proceeds from you.
This is a setback in sadhana. This is why we say we should take the guidance of a Guru and be under the observation of the Guru. If the Guru has asked you to be away for one month, you will not have the courage to return earlier, lest you should displease or disobey the orders of the Guru. Even if you are not in a position to obey these instructions quickly, you will have the opportunity to approach the Guru again and ask what is wrong with you that you have not been able to stick to this discipline for even one month.
The reason is that the mind has been trained to be in an atmosphere of pleasure and leniency right from the very beginning. It has never been taught any kind of strictness or discipline. The power of the will is very weak. You know how children are brought up in a family. They are given a long rope for everything. Discipline is totally unknown in families these days. Children are given whatever they ask for, whether it is good or bad, necessary or otherwise. And the example is set by the parents themselves. The parents are the most undisciplined of all, so naturally their children will be of the same sort because they have been brought up right from the beginning in such an atmosphere.
We have become very soft in the texture of our personality. Hardship is unknown to us. Difficulties cannot be faced, and even the first kick that we receive from nature is taken as hell falling on our heads. The spiritual path is a path of hardship in the sense that it is one of discipline, because it is a voluntary submission of oneself to the demands of the soul rather than the desires of the mind.
The desires of the mind are different from the demand of our soul. We have completely closed our eyes to the latter and are fully engaged in the former. We sometimes mistake the call of the soul for the askings of the mind. The mind is always connected with the objects of sense, while the soul always aspires to be absolutely independent. It asks for freedom. The mind is in bondage always, while the spirit is always free. We always make a mistake of connecting the mind with the spirit, and vice versa, and the freedom of the mind is mistaken for the freedom of the spirit. As a matter of fact, what we have is only a licence given to the mind, and not freedom.
The vairagya required of a spiritual aspirant is, therefore, an emotional sublimation of oneself by gradual detachment from gross relationships as well as from subtler contemplations of enjoyments. This is the first stage in the practice of yoga. But this will take perhaps all one’s life, though it is the first stage. According to the teachings of Patanjali, at least, it is a detachment of the emotions from objects both seen and heard. It is very hard indeed even to conceive. Dṛṣṭa ānuśravika viṣaya vitṛṣṇasya vaśīkārasaṁjñā vairāgyam (1.15) is the definition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Vairagya is the mastery that we gain over our emotions by detachment from or dispassion for objects that are seen with the eyes or sensed with the senses, as well as those which we have merely heard of though we have not seen them. This is regarded as the lower vairagya, though it is so difficult, so hard even to think, and much worse to practice. But when we actually enter the field of graduated discipline, it will not be so difficult.
Suppose we hear that tomorrow we are going to have a saltless diet. Even to hear of it is a shock to most people because it is like ekadasi, or even worse. We have never been able to give up salt even for one day in our life because salt makes the food so tasty. It is the most essential item of diet. One day in a year, perhaps, we give it up when we are here, in an ashram. One day in a year, and even that is shocking. We feel morose today itself just by hearing it. But this is a very silly form of discipline, very small and insignificant from the point of view of the larger disciplines that we are called upon to impose upon ourselves.
If you cannot impose discipline upon yourself deliberately and voluntarily, it may have to be imposed upon you by your teacher or the Guru. The rules of the institution demand this kind of discipline from the student. So it is essential to be in an atmosphere of an ashram or an institution where you are deliberately compelled to be under an atmosphere of discipline for some time in your life. For example, in an ashram you cannot drink or smoke. While you are in your own house if you are asked to impose discipline upon yourself and not smoke for a day, you will say all right, but after a few hours you will have one because there is nobody to control you. But in an ashram you are afraid, so it is not possible.
There are certain disciplines which are obligatory, and you cannot escape them. So it is essential to be in a holy atmosphere at least for some period of your life – in a temple or it may be an ashram of monks or sadhaks where these disciplines are natural and spontaneous. And as I mentioned, the subtler aspects have to be made an object of your observation, and you should try to dissociate yourself from even contemplation of objects. While you are physically detached from the objects of your pleasure, you should not simultaneously be thinking of them.
Karmendriyāṇi saṁyama ya āste manasā smaran, indriyarthān vimūḍhātmā mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate (Gita 3.6). Failure is the result and folly is its name if you think of objects of satisfaction and enjoyment while you are physically away from them, because the real bondage is mental. Samsara is a mental phenomenon, not a physical connection. Birth and death are experiences of the mind, not of the body; therefore, the liberation that is achieved is also a mental phenomenon, not a physical phenomenon. The body is not connected with your pleasures and pains. It is the mind that enjoys and suffers, so what the mind does is more important; perhaps it is the only important factor. It is not the physical relationship that is of greater consequence. Hence, mental contemplation of objects of enjoyment is very reprehensible and should be controlled by methods which have to be dexterously employed.
There are three methods prescribed in Yoga Sastras, which can be employed. The first method that you can adopt when the mind thinks of an object of pleasure is to think of the opposite. It is called pratipakshabhavana, or the sudden opposite reaction that you set up in the mind when an emotion of enjoyment arises. You may simply think of an object of pleasure and your hair will stand on end. There will be creeping of the blood in the system, the nerves will be activated, and you may subtly have an enjoyment even if it is only in thought. This can be put an end to by thinking of the opposite. If an emotion of incontinence arises in the mind, suddenly think of a continent master like Hanuman or Bhishma.
Look at the power of Hanuman! What energy, what understanding, what knowledge, what strength he had! You cannot think of a power like Hanuman. What is the reason for that strength? From where did it come? It came by control of the senses – complete sublimation of the powers of sensory activity. What power and strength Bhishma had! The whole world of kings and an entire army of all these valiant princes could not face one person, Bhishma. If you go on thinking like this, the emotion of attachment and affection comes down. The titillation of the nerves that has been created by the contemplation of an object of pleasure ceases and a positive, virtuous emotion rises in the mind.
If you hate a person from the bottom of your heart and you start thinking of that person even when you are in a holy atmosphere, then think of Buddha’s compassion – how compassionate he was and how broad was his vision of things. Even insults poured upon him could not set up a reaction from him. Coolness, calmness, positivity, appreciation – this was the substance out of which the mind of Buddha was made. Then hatred ceases. Raga ceases by the thought of masters like Hanuman and Bhishma, and dvesha ceases by thinking of masters like Buddha.
Various other emotions of your mind can be counteracted by a pratipakshabhavana of a corresponding type. This is the method of substitution in psychoanalysis. We substitute one thing for another thing. If a child asks for a knife to play with, you give it a beautiful toy instead, and so on. The method of substitution, of replacing one emotion with another emotion, the vicious one with the virtuous one, the lower with the higher, is pratipakshabhavana, a very effective method which is prescribed by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.
The other method which you can adopt is to think of the consequences of the control of the senses. What result will follow by control of the senses? If you control the senses, what happens? You become a master of things. Some of these phenomena are described by Patanjali in some of his sutras in the Vibhuti Pada, the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras. Mastery over the self is mastery over the universe, because the controlling apparatus of all objects is in the subject. You may wonder how this could happen. It is because the subject, as I mentioned yesterday, is not merely the individual or a person. The subject that we are seeking is the universal background of the individual mental activity and the individual psychological structure. Behind the individual subject there is the universal subject, which pulsates through every mental activity of the individual subject.