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The Philosophy of Religion


Chapter 12: The System of Yoga

Patanjali's Prescriptions for Meditation in Life

Meditations which are more occult in nature consist mainly in the exercise of the will, charged with a determined understanding. This system, too, has a philosophical basis, though it takes an intensely practical turn when the exercise commences. This type of meditation is psychic in the beginning though spiritual in the end, a process by which one places oneself in a closer affinity with the objects of the world. By continued habituation to the subsisting relationship between oneself and the things of the world one gets into their substance and, in a sense, embraces the very roots of objectivity. The meditational techniques prescribed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali border upon a cosmic association of oneself with objects, stage by stage, commencing with particular things chosen for the purpose of meditation, and gradually expanding the area of action into other objects, culminating in the concentration of consciousness on that great reservoir of all things, the universe of elements and forces.

The object of meditation is generally regarded by novitiates as some isolated, individual, localised unit with no connection with other units, or other locations. That it is mostly taken to be so has been observed often in our earlier studies. This is the normal way of human appreciation. The segmentation of object is caused by a notion in the mind, according to which the object is a point of definition, by which set of characterisation, definitions which apply to other objects do not apply to this particular concerned object. The mind associates name and form with objects. It cannot think, conceive, or visualise an object as it is in itself. The objects, when they are presented to human perception and cognition, are already conditioned by these associations, viz., name and form.

There is a form given to the object of concentration. The form is a peculiar nexus of composition which distinguishes it from other forms. In fact, the differentia which isolates from other objects the particular point of concentration is the complex of formation – Rupa, the network of definition. But the mistake lies in the position that the form itself is taken to be the object. The metaphysical essence of the object is identified with the phenomenal form with which it is invested, and this identification is made worse by another imagination that it exists in its own status and bears no relation with others.

It was observed that the universe is an organism and not a society of isolated fragments. As it does not constitute an assemblage of differentiated parts but stands unified within itself, the empirical notion of the object cannot bear the test of deeper investigation. There is a basic error in the very act of sensory perception. The inward organic relationship which obtains between things at their back does not become the object of perception. What is cognised is only the form. It is difficult to explain the intricate involvements which contribute to the very subsistence of this name-form complex of the object. The form of the object is a temporary abstraction from a larger possibility of which also it is capable, but of which it is divested due to the particular intentions and abilities of the observing principle, observer, the percipient, or, rather, the desires of the individual. There are researches which have concluded that the constitution of a particular object does not merely depend on the nature of the relationship to a percipient, but it also depends much on its own individual appetitions. The status which an object occupies, the form which it assumes and even the relationship it bears to others are all determined by the basic affirmative force which maintains its given complex-form. The object is just this much, viz., the name-form nexus. One has to stretch the imagination somewhat to understand what all this means.

The secret of this way of interpreting the structure of objects is in the foundations of the Samkhya system of analysis, which, with some modifications, is now being propounded in the fields of present-day science. The pioneers in modern physics have come to the conclusion that the object so-called is not an existent something, but an abstraction, and the meaning of this word has to be clear to us. An abstraction is a philosophical concept by which what is intended is the segregation of a specific group of characters from the infinite possibilities of the universe by shutting out all such possibilities for the sake of a tentative convenience or a necessity arising out of a type of affirmation of individuality, which is what is called the 'object'. While there is an infinitude of resources at the background, there is a vast sea of potentials, one does not wish to present oneself as a sea, but would like to be projected as a percentage of the possibilities of this vastness, and become, for all practical purposes, one among the many and not the only one that is at the source. The analogy of the waves in the ocean is well known, but it does not explain the matter fully, because every wave is like every other wave in its essence. Though the size, the force, or the shape of a wave may differ from those of other waves, the quintessential base of one wave is the same as that of other waves. But, here, in the case of the objects that are being contemplated in this fashion, the case is different. One object is not like another object. There is an essential difference in the very structure of the objects, which arises on account of the difference in the nature of the self-affirmation, the central force, or the nucleus of the individuality, which is in every object, and which isolates itself, and has to isolate itself, from other such centres of affirmation, for its most surprising non-altruistic satisfaction.

One ego differs from another ego in the intensity of its assertion and also in the form of its assertion. An object is a centre of egoism, and this egoism, again, must be understood in its philosophical connotation, rather than in the social form which is generally associated with it. The ego as the subject of philosophical analysis is not the pride that is normally thought to be its feature. It is not the arrogance of social authority. The ego is an urge to maintain oneself as distinct from others. In the Yoga texts the term used is Asmita, the sense of 'I am'-ness. This affirmation of the 'I am', or the 'me', is the basis of one being different from another.

In the act of meditation, what is attempted is to break this barrier of the object by removing its affirmative demarcation characterising it as a form, or object, and entering into the essential presupposition of the very affirmation causing the presentation of objectness. Thus, in an act of single concentration, the meditative consciousness probes into the root of the object and thereby also comprehends the essence of every other object in the world.

In the system of Patanjali, there is a type of concentration that he prescribes among many others, – viz., the breaking of the knot of objectivity by means of separating the essence of the object from the form which it has assumed and also the name which designates it, or defines it. Nama, Rupa and Tattva, name, form and reality are the temporal and metempirical phases of everything in creation.

Name: The Designation of the Object

Every object is defined by certain characterisations. The definitions form the name of the object. The name is a verbal or conceptual symbol of the features which constitute the object. In the Indian tradition, the naming of a person is regarded as an important ritual in the career of life. Any and every name cannot be given to a person. The name of the person indicates the character of that person, the pattern of the individuality of that person, and it almost describes the person. The description of the behaviour of the individuality of the object is the name of that object. The name or the description has become a necessity in the case of the object because of the form that it has assumed either in relation to the percipient or on account of the special affirmative character of its own basic root, the ego.

The preliminary stage of meditation is a contemplation on the object associated with name and form – the designation, the description or the characterisation of the object, even if it be a conceptual object, plus the idea of its form. It will be found that a thing is invariably associated with an idea about it proceeding from the subject of cognition, and a description of it by which it is separated from other objects. An inward characterisation of the object isolates the particular object from other objects. This is what is called the naming of the object. And there is at the same time a concept of the object which is a more subtle and deeper isolation of the very existence of the object from the existence of other objects. Even if the whole universe is to be regarded as a total object of meditation, it will be conditioned by these invariable concomitants of cognition. Nothing can be imagined without being described in some such way. The name that is associated with the universe is, however, a purely psychological convenience and not necessarily a proper picturing of its nature. No word need be uttered in language in respect of an object, and yet it gets characterised in the minds of observers. This is the strange predicament in which one gets involved in the very act of perception of anything, from which extrication is hardly achieved.

The focussing of the attention of consciousness on the chosen object, whether it is an isolated thing or the whole universe, associating it with name and form, is an invariable step in meditation. This is regarded as the first step, though it is hard enough for a novitiate even to conceive it.

What does concentration do? The thing-in-itself, the object as it is, is attempted to be separated from the complexities in which it is involved, the form and the name. There is no necessity to go into the more philosophical meaning of all these issues. Simple examples may be taken to make the matter a little clear. Truly, no one has a name. One is Rama, another is Krishna; one is Jack and another is John. But these are only conventions and not realities in themselves. The particular name by which an individual is defined is not actually necessary for the existence of that individual. One can live even without that name. If a man were to live alone somewhere, the name would have no meaning for him. Nobody is going to call him, and it is not necessary that he should look upon himself or think of himself as a particular name. The name of an individual loses significance when there is no need to establish a social relationship with others. The need for social contact may be regarded as one of the reasons behind the naming of things. In fact, man stands alone in the world and, therefore, he can stand without a name. Imagine yourself as seated in an isolated place, with no one to see you and with no one to contact; what is there in your name then? And also, when you were born into this world, you did not bring with you any name. You have no name in actuality. It should, then, be easy to give up thinking in terms of names.

Thus, one should achieve a state of matter-of fact understanding as far as the name is concerned. Even as man need not have a name, anything in the world also need have no name. Things can be without name, though a necessity is felt for naming them in order to recognise them, describe them and associate them with other such objects, and for distinguishing them. But, as such, there is not always such an emergency to describe things and associate them or differentiate them.

This satisfaction would be to take one step as an advance in the way of meditation on the chosen ideal. Objects must be dissociated from their names and looked upon as they would be without characterisation by name. Do not call the tree as a tree. De-condition your mind by entering into the concept of the form of the tree without bringing in the name, or the word, 'tree'. We are so much familiar with names, and so much engrossed in their reality that we would not find this an easy affair. We cannot think of a tree without imagining that it is a tree, verbally also. It requires a little bit of the power of the will backed up with a sustained understanding, the understanding that there is no need to name an object. Objects have really no name. This is a clear understanding, and there should be no difficulty about it. If the understanding is stable, the will would take care of itself.

The concentration on an object, a tree, or any such thing, should be a mutual contact of the pure subject with the pure objectivity of that on which one concentrates. As the object need not have a name, we human beings, too, have no name. It is not a Mr. So-and-so concentrating on something called by such-and-such a name. The first step in this meditation is to dissociate oneself from one's own name and also the object from its appended name. This initial step would be a difficult thing, since no one can normally dissociate oneself from one's name and station. It is known that when we are fast asleep, we would not wake up if we are called by another person's name. Even in sleep the name manages to become an organic part of one's individuality. Such is one's attachment to name. If Rama is sleeping, he must be called as Rama only. If you call him Gopal, he would not awake. Even in sleep the person is Rama, the name. Look at the force of attachment! We are bundles of such entanglements, and Yoga is all detachment. We cannot believe ourselves to be anything other than what the name indicates.

Form: The Nexus of Objective Centralisation

But this is not enough, says Patanjali, the master of Yoga. Though the dissociation of the object from its name and the dissociation of one's own self from one's own name is essential and is difficult enough, there is something more difficult ahead, viz., the dissociation of the object from its form. The form is not the essence of the object, just as the body is not man's soul. When we see ourselves we look upon this body that is six feet in height. This physical frame is not our essentiality. Likewise, the form is not the essence of the object. The second step is more difficult than the earlier one. While the de-naming of a thing is hard indeed, the de-forming of it is still more difficult, because everyone lives in a world of forms. We see nothing but forms in the world. How could one go above the normal?

Here, one can be a little philosophical, again. As there is an interrelatedness of everything with everything else in this organic structure of the universe, it would be futile to imagine that any object has an independent form of its own. This is a more mature way in which one can convince oneself that objects have no form of their own. Hence, they cannot also have a name. When there is no form, how can there be a name? Profounder studies would convince us that the universe is made in such a way that everything is related to everything else, internally. Thus, there cannot be an isolated form for any part of the structure. There cannot also be a name to any such abstracted part. Name and form drop out altogether. The idea of the object and the description of the object are phenomenal associations from which the essence of the object has to be freed entirely. The pure object, or the artha, as it is called, has to shine in its own pristine purity. The subject has to behold the object as it is in its own status, not as it appears to the complex of the perceptual faculties. Objects are involved in space, time and the relativity of things. The space-time-cause complex is what is called the form of the object. Hence the form is a metaphysical entity, and it cannot be pierced through by any phenomenal faculty of man, such as the sense-oriented mind or the logic-ridden intellect. One has to sink down into one's metaphysical root in order to be able to encounter, befriend and break through the form. The subject and the object are on a parallel level of reality at every degree of their formation, depth or constituency. Yoga is not for the careless and the non-vigilant.

Difficulties in the Meditational Technique

The object is a knot of individualisation in the infinite net of the universe. The knot, which is the object, has to break, because the object is nothing but a tied-up force. It is a tie, a granthi, as the occult Yoga scriptures sometimes define the object. These granthis, or knots, are again of a complicated nature. The object is not merely one knot, but a heaped-up pile of several knots. The difficulty can well be imagined when one has to try to untie a heap of knots into which a rope is hardened at a point. One has to untie one, then another, and then a third one, and so on, one after another, slowly, the outermost having to be tackled first in the attempt.

In a mysterious way, adepts in Yoga have held that there are mainly three Granthis, or knots, by which a particular formation is driven into the context of what is called an object - Brahma-granthi, Vishnu-granthi and Rudra-granthi. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are supposed to be the presiding deities of these knots, by which what is intended seems to be that the creative, preservative and transforming forces are involved in the presence of any object. Every moment the object is created, every moment it is sustained, and every moment it is destroyed. This is what is meant by saying that Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are ruling the universe, which is just a flood-tide of forms.

These granthis are, actually, not three different knots. Hence this knot is more difficult to handle than the ordinary rope-knots that one can see with one's eyes. One may untie the rope from its knots, because they seem to be one over the other in layers. But the processes of creation, preservation and destruction are not heaped one over the other. They are involved, one in the other. Here is all the difficulty. The one is not outside the other, nor does one follow the other in succession. It does not mean that today there is creation, tomorrow preservation, the day after, destruction. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva act simultaneously. There is a kind of mutual dependence in the acts of creation, preservation and transformation. The objects of the world are intricate networks, asserting their centre of isolation on the one hand, and consisting of nothing more than the shape taken by pressurised points of cosmical relativity and dependence, on the other. Subjects and objects are of the visible world and also of realms which touch the infinitude of existence. The temporal and the eternal are both present in all things. Yoga is concerned with this dual encounter with the object of meditation.

Intense Aspiration and Tenacity in Practice Are Necessary

While it is practically impossible for the uninitiated student to visualise the whole object of meditation, it is equally difficult to engage oneself wholly, even in any occupation in life. Here is an insight into how life can be a Yoga. The difficulty is that one cannot concentrate on anything for a continued duration, and it matters not whether it is a limited centre or a large object. The problem is purely inward, psychological and an incapacity to attend to anything with the soul in it. Man requires change. The mind asks for variety, and to feed it with a single thing always would be a futile exercise. Let one try to contemplate any form or concept continuously for several minutes; one will find that it is not possible. At the time of this attempt for the fixing of attention, it will be found that the mind subtly contemplates other characters also. The finite has been accustomed to seek joy in finite presentations alone. Education is not always pleasant.

The effort that is necessary in this direction is rightly described as superhuman. The involvements of the human personalities are so intricate and almost beyond imagination that, ordinarily, success may not show its head even after years of practice. But persistent effort will have its own results. Says Patanjali: "Success is imminent in the case of those whose ardour and tenacity are supernormal (Tivrasamveganamasannah)." Everyone has some sort of an aspiration. 'I wish to be liberated'; so does everybody feel at heart. Well, one may like to be liberated, but who bothers about a mere statement? Where is the effort for its fulfilment?

Due to the complexity of the nature of 'objectivity' in which everything is involved, including our own selves, we have to take sufficient time to tackle the situation. It may require some guidance from a competent teacher; else, who can understand all these hard things? Our minds are poor, our intelligence is turbid, our will is weak, and our flesh has its own say even though the spirit may be willing.

A great tenacity is called for in meditation. In the beginning the problems are common with any student. But they get obviated stage by stage by continued practice. The essence of Yoga is practice (Abhyasa). There is not much use in reading a lot or gathering information in an academic sense. What is required is application of will and a protracted, persistent effort with daily sessions of meditation, and prolonging the duration of meditation as days pass. There should be a systematised intensity of practice for years, and not merely for a few months or days. While for some years one's whole life may have to be spent in this discipline, one will slowly realise that one has no other duty in this world. All our well-intentioned occupations in life are the little cries of the central longing of the soul for freedom untrammelled. The world's usual ways have to be brought together into the pivotal enterprise of the wholeness of personality for an utter liberation by a sinking of oneself in the Absolute. We may have to harmonise our other occupations with this cosmical aspiration of all life. There should be no conflict between the calls of daily life and the centrality of the world's main purpose. Man is his best teacher, finally. No external guide can help him in the end. It is he that has to tread the path, and somebody else cannot walk for him. But, one is never alone, for the world is an eternal associate, and all creation rises in joy at the prospects of participating in the blessed attainment.

The Yoga Way of Life

Yoga is the science of life. In the practice of Yoga, as it is in the process of general education, five elements are necessarily involved, – the teacher, the taught (student), the aim, the subject, and the method. The study of Yoga being an important process in the education of the human being, these factors invariably come into play in one's attempt at its practice. In the field of this important endeavour on the part of the human being, there is oftentimes no success because of a lack of clarity among these essentials of study. Most persons forget these elementals of educational psychology and do not achieve anything substantial.

The most important factor in the process is the teacher, more than even the study. The nature and competency of the teacher plays the primary role in the Yoga system, and what we need today is a proper teacher of the subject. Teachers have either no interest in the students, or their knowledge is inadequate and does not fit into the context of the student. One of the main characteristics of a teacher is that he has really to feel what he speaks, and live, to a large extent, what he teaches. Only then does the teaching become effective. Good teachers speak not merely by words but by their lives. Due to a disharmony between the inner and outer life of the teacher, there may come about a failure of his efforts. The second qualification of a good teacher is that he should be able to understand the student even more than the subject. He should teach what the student needs. The speaking is done to a person or persons and not to walls or to the hall. He should not say either more or less than what the student would expect in his present state of mind. Thirdly, there must be a force in the teaching, and the force has naturally to come from the teacher himself and not from his studies, or even the nature of the subject. The teacher is a living being and his presence itself has an effect of its own on the student. One is inspired more by listening than by reading. The teacher's role is indeed primary.

But, what about the student? The student does not play any less important role. Unless there is reception, the teaching will vanish into the air. Whatever has been imparted should not be conducted into the earth but absorbed into the proper medium. The competent student is one who has no other interest than the subject of study. Due to diffusion of energy on account of extraneous interests, putting one's nose in such distractions as communal or political affairs, etc., and also due to personal problems, the teaching may not be received properly. If the student is worried, vexed, etc., the teaching cannot be received. The teacher and the taught are like the right and left hand of a person, and the two form a harmonious movement in which knowledge is revealed. The student, therefore, should be competent enough to receive knowledge by freeing himself from complexities and problems and fixing his heart in the subject. With these conditions fulfilled, the aim of study becomes clear.

The aim of Yoga is not always easy to understand. Many entertain a wrong notion of it and misunderstand it. What is the purpose behind the practice of Yoga? It is accepted to be the achievement of perfection. Yoga is a process not merely of reaching the highest, but also of bringing a sense of perfection even in small things such as one's office work or profession. Perfection is Yoga in any field of life, or in any vocation. Yoga makes one a perfect person. But it is only a few who want perfection in anything. While many would like to fulfil their desires, perfection is something they cannot understand. The attempt to fulfil desires is the opposite of perfection. Perfection is balance and harmony in life, while desire is an imbalance of thought. Yoga is a system of striking a balance, firstly with persons and things outside, and later in one's own being, – in the physical, vital, psychological, intellectual and spiritual levels. The basic instruction of Patanjali in this regard is Yama and Niyama. These fundamentals are attempts to establish harmony between the society and in the layers of one's own being. If you are discordant in yourself, you cannot be at peace with yourself, much less with others. You will only create an atmosphere of unhappiness wherever you go, for, in yourself, you are unwell. The reason behind the requirement of striking a harmony in the practice of Yoga is that the world is a harmony, the universe is harmony, God is harmony, the Absolute is harmony; and to be in tune with it in every respect would be Yoga. Nature does not fight with itself; it is man who does the fighting. When man learns to be in harmony with Nature, it is the first stage of Yoga.

Why does man fret and fume and struggle and oppose? Because he is selfish, he has a craving for satisfying his senses and he is anxious about it, while in fact, happiness is of Nature in its simplicity. Harmony is the name for happiness, and known as Sattva. Agitation is Rajas and absence of initiative is Tamas. The more you approximate yourself to a balance of forces, the more are you near to Yoga. If you are able to understand others, if you can enter into the feelings of those around you, you are going to be a socially successful person. The world, in a way, is a reflection of what you are, in the mirror of your mind. What you think about the world, the world thinks about you; what you do to the world, the world does to you. The reaction from the world is exactly what you do to it. This is a psychological secret which a student of Yoga fully understands. He does not react, but understands, with great patience. As a matter of fact, there would be no reaction from a student of Yoga, because understanding absorbs everything into itself, and so the question of reaction does not arise. If you throw a ball against a wall, it will bump back, but space will absorb it. The student of Yoga is capable of receiving all the buffets of the world, because these do not come to him as reactions in respect of him. When you change yourself within, the world will correspondingly change itself in respect of you. This is the basic requisite understanding in Yoga. Yoga is not mere exercises, though it is also exercises; it is not a mechanical repetition of some routine, but a spirit evolved into life. All this has to be learnt from a teacher, and it calls for an intimate touch between teaching and learning. The system of Gurukulavasa, which is the system of learning from the teacher by living with him, was followed in ancient India. Here the Guru guides the student like a parent. The aim of Yoga can fructify only in such an atmosphere.

Now, we come to the subject of Yoga. What do we study in Yoga? It is not a book that we have merely to read but a subject of which the books are only embodiments. Why do you go to, and what do you want from, Yoga? Just as you go to a shop to purchase what you need, you go to Yoga because you lack something which is not available in the world. You want Yoga because you have some difficulties which the world cannot solve. You may have plenty of wealth, and a good position in society, and yet you may not be peaceful. Something seems to be wrong somewhere. Something is stinking in some corner, though outwardly it is all wonderful to see with the eyes. Though the aim of Yoga is universal, its practice is an individual affair, and not a social one, because everyone's difficulty is peculiar to oneself alone. Everyone is equally hungry, but each one requires a different type of diet. Though the longing is the same, the way of fulfilment varies. So, the teaching differs in detail and in emphasis. Question yourself: 'What is wrong with me?' Those who do not understand what is wanting in them may approach and ask of their superiors. Though the reason for one's deficiency may be at variance with that of another, one thing seems to be in common: there is no true and lasting happiness in life. No one can always be happy. But, why? Yoga may be said to be the quest for permanent happiness. There is no peace, and we want peace. How does Yoga bring happiness and peace?

The aim of Yoga is the setting up of a balance or harmony and not judging another from one's own standpoint. Art brings joy, because it is beautiful, and it is beautiful because it is balance, rhythm, system, arrangement and because it gives us a proportion which our soul receives with a kinship of feeling. The soul is balance, and it feels happy in meeting balance from outside, like a friend meeting a friend. This is also why sensory satisfaction brings a temporary happiness, and why, though it is condemned by the wise, people run after it. When the senses come in contact with objects, they bring a sort of satisfaction caused by this harmony risen on account of a cessation of mental distraction in the form of desire. The harmony of feeling is the kinship represented to the soul within, and it is overjoyed. Also there is a correspondence of structure between a sense and its object. This correspondence, again, is harmony. The sense-satisfaction is not permanent because (I) you cannot have the object always – either it goes away or you yourself pass away; and (ii) the object has not really brought the harmony. The harmony was due to absence of desire, the balance being brought about within by the contact which acted only as a medium. Yoga teaches us how to attain eternal happiness by setting up a balance in us permanently, while the external object gives only a temporary delight. Yoga is an independent effort unconnected with transient objects. Yoga brings happiness even without persons or things around you, even when you are alone. The Yogin wants nothing because his happiness depends not on anything outside. A proper psychological adjustment of oneself with Reality is the great end of Yoga, and when this is achieved, a conscious happiness, identical with all existence, manifests itself. Perfect happiness is a perfect state of consciousness, and the subject of Yoga consists of all those concessions and adjustments, inclusions and exclusions, externally as well as internally, which are necessary to build up that mysterious and yet unavoidable wholeness in life – universal harmony.

The method is the actual process of practice, as explained herein. It is really the time now to act with wisdom and caution and do something positive rather than pursue the old habit of seeing just defect only in others. There are many causes of today's unhappy situation in the world of anxiety, partisanism, exploitation and violence of various kinds. An effort towards the moral and cultural regeneration of those who cannot even think rightly, and whose intellectual judgments and value-assessments are founded on the whims of emotions and the passions of the senses, is difficult of achievement without remedying the root of the illness. More than the lack of morals, etiquette and culture, which is in the form of an effect, there is the malady of wrong understanding and false judgment, which is the cause. The selfish individual is unconsciously working not only against others but more so against his own self under the clouded notion that it brings good. A standard of reference, which is cosmically applicable, has to act as the norm and the principle of a properly guided life.

On the basis of this impartial principle, all have to work in the different walks of life, without the untrue distinction of the superior and the inferior, in the mutually adjusted and adapted living machinery of human society. Language creed, cult, colour, power-politics and bigoted ideology should not come in the way of the implementation and realisation of this sublime aim of life in general. We have to gird up our loins and work hard for this goal, which is at once personal, social, national, international and universal.