The Nature of the True Religious Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 14: The Centripetal Cohesive Pressure of the Self

All study in institutions is an art, by which knowledge we equip ourselves with the necessities to live in this world in the way the world would require us to live. We do not go on studying throughout our lives and spend all our days in schools and colleges, just as we do not go on cooking throughout our life. The cooking ends in eating. So is study and training of any kind.

We are not to be under a teacher throughout our life till we pass away from here. An apprenticeship under a teacher, a study under a Guru or a training in an institution is a preparation, and not and end in itself. So it is not that we spend all our days throughout our lives in reading and moving from place to place in search of teachers, as if that is the only thing we are expected to do. Simultaneously with our reading and studying and undergoing of training, we also live in the world.

What we call the duty of man is nothing but the art of living. We may call it the performance of a particular executive function expected of oneself, or it may be considered in any other manner from a social, political or personal angle of vision. It is essentially a friendly way of conducting oneself in the world. Yoga is friendship with things, to put it in popular language. The whole gamut of the ascent in the rungs of yoga is a graduated adjustment of oneself with the friends that occupy this world as its inhabitants.

The world is populated by friends. The world has no enemies, just as we have no enemies within our own selves. But sometimes it is said that there are enemies even in one’s own self in such difficult sayings as we have, for instance, in the Bhagavadgita where it is said the higher Self can be the friend of the lower self, and it can also be the enemy of the lower self. Ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmana (Gita 6.5): The Self is the friend of the self. The Self can also be the enemy of the self. These are difficult things to understand, how we can be friends and enemies to our own selves. We cannot understand how this could be possible. How could I be my own friend, and how could I have an enemy within myself?

These are secret teachings, not popular instructions. Such analogical statements apply also to everything in the world. The world is a friend and also an enemy. Though basically one cannot be either a friend or an enemy of one’s own self, even so, one cannot regard the world as a friend or an enemy, due to the peculiar placement of oneself in the constitution of things. The structure of the human personality is such, or at least expected to be such, that friendship and enmity within the organism is unthinkable and, therefore, unwarranted. Likewise, the structure of things, the makeup of the world, is such that a friendly or an inimical attitude towards it is an unthinkable hypothesis.

Often religions tell us that the world is the body of God to teach us the lesson that here, within this body which ensouls the intelligence of the universe, there is no chance of any repercussion or jostling of parts within the whole. There is a grand measureless expanse in what we call the world. All study, whether it is secular or religious, scientific or aesthetic, is finally directed to the awakening of man’s consciousness to that relation that exists perpetually between himself and the world. Whatever be your study, whatever be your occupation, it matters not in the end insofar as it has its vital connection with the great objective of every man, which is life itself.

The dearest thing is life, and anything that is connected with life also appears to be dear and beloved. The most beloved of objectives is one’s own life. There is a struggle for protecting one’s life, and every appurtenance that we seem to be gathering around ourselves is an accessory regarded as helpful in guarding one’s own life and perpetuating it to the extent practicable. Life is the greatest objective. Life is an end in itself; it is not a means to another end. We do not live for something else. Everything else lives for life. All our relationships, social or otherwise, are contributory energies which sustain life, and the greatest love is the love of life. But what kind of life is it that becomes the object of love?

Many times it has been said, almost endlessly, that the greatest of loves is love of one’s own self, and all other loves are conditional relations established with this unconditional love of one’s own self. This is again a hard matter, a difficult thing to grasp, because we have what are called altruistic activities, unselfish deeds, and impersonal affections, which would not permit us to accept literally that love of the self is the greatest of all loves. But this inability on our part to understand this great teaching is not a sanction to rebut it. The love of the self is certainly the greatest of loves, in spite of there being such a thing called unselfish activity. The so-called unselfishness that people parade in this world is a secret action of the self towards its own stability – a secret intelligent operation which the self manoeuvres which goes socially and politically in the name of unselfishness and public works and so on, because the greatest of public existences is the self itself. The self is not a private existence; it is a public existence. Therefore, we are impelled towards public activities.

Unselfish activities, service to the neighbour, to the friend, to the poor, to the downtrodden, to the sick, to the needy, to another, is only an impulsion from this great self which is not a private self scintillating within this little body of ours but a large public expansion which operates even behind the public works department, the social organisations, the United Nations organisations, and cosmical humanitarian activities. All these wondrous breathtaking enterprises of man which go by the name of service for the liberation of the helpless, the ignorant and the poor are within this secret brilliance called the Self.

Therefore, the love of the Self is not in any way opposed to, rather it is equivalent to, the greatest of unselfish activities conceivable because the largest unselfishness is the Self itself, contradictory as it appears. How could the Self be unselfish? The–form of the Self is selfish, but you are saying the Self is unselfish? It seems to be a sentence whose meaning cannot be grasped. The Self is the greatest of unselfish existences because it occupies everything that we call the unselfish projects of mankind.

The Self is the rudimentary status which occupies the principle objective of all living entities, perhaps even non-living ones. I have to mention again and again on other occasions that there is a tendency to maintain oneself. There is an urge within every atomic unit to maintain itself integrally, uninterrupted by external interference. This tendency, this impulse, this urge within the minutest unit conceivable in the world is the Self of that particular thing.

What is the Self? Someone put a question the other day. Where is it located, and where does it exist? It is not a substance. It is not existing anywhere. It is only the cohesive pressure that a particular point in space feels. For want of sufficient words in human language we have to go to analogies, comparisons, images and descriptive words to tell what the Self is. It is that centripetal cohesive pressure that each one feels even in an atom, by which one maintains oneself and struggles to maintain oneself. There is the struggle for existence, as scientists and biologists tell us. This struggle for existence is nothing but the struggle to maintain the selfhood of every bifurcated unit in the world.

But why is there simultaneously an urge to serve people and to be good to other people? Why this contradiction in the attitude of anyone in the world? On the one hand, we struggle up to our teeth and nails to survive somehow or other, even if the world goes to dogs. There is sometimes an impulse of that nature for self-preservation. Somehow we have to escape, even though others may be drowning. We are not aware that others are drowning; we are struggling for a breath, and at that time we are not thinking of another’s breath. This instinct of self-preservation is relentlessly operating even in the most miserable of individuals.

At the same time, there is a feeling for another. We have often a sort of impulse within us to save the other from drowning. The mother jumps into the well to save the child even if she herself is going to be destroyed. And “love thy neighbour” is a very great dictum before us. What is this loving of the neighbour? How is it practicable and meaningful at all in this relentless, devilish urge, as it were, which compels everyone to maintain oneself in an utterly selfish manner? Man is a wolf, said Thomas Hobbes, and he is a wolf who is interested only in swallowing other wolves.

This serving or loving a neighbour has no sense, but it seems to have a sense due to an equally irresistible urge within us which speaks in a different language altogether in a form of national spirit, family organisation, love of father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister. Where comes this feeling of my brother, my sister, my father, my mother, my son, my husband, my wife, my nation, my country, my brethren? Where comes this need, or even the meaning behind such urges?

The meaning arises on account of a double or a dual role which the Self plays in the context of existence. The Self is inside us as an individualised pressure towards a certainty of existence. Therefore, we are struggling for a little breath when we are inside the water, or when we are hunger-stricken we are ready even to steal a piece of bread from anyone, as we feel that we are passing away due to intense hunger. Such an immense urge within us to maintain our body, mind and spirit in unison is one side of the matter. This happens because there is an utter involvement of what we call the Self in this bodily limitation.

‘Utter’ is the only word I can use. It has gone to the extreme of involving itself in this processional concrescence of physical forces called the body, even if one knows and is certain that one day death is to come and swallow this body. Everyone knows this. It may happen tomorrow, it may happen today. No one is ignorant of this fact. In spite of this ostensible truth of the possibility of the quitting of this body any moment of time, an irresistible love for this body persists simultaneously. ‘Wonder’ is the only word that can explain this phenomenon. Such is the involvement of this Self in every cell of this body.

Every cell of your body is a dear thing for you. You will die for it. But at the same time, your heart melts at the poverty of others and the suffering of a beggar, and you cannot rebut so easily the meaning behind the great masters’ proclamations that unselfishness supersedes selfishness and that unselfishness succeeds, while selfishness does not.

This is the other side of the matter. It persists simultaneously together with the love for one’s own bodily existence because the Self which appears to be relentlessly, mercilessly, cruelly confined to this body is also relentlessly present everywhere in the universe, and this urge is equally great. There is a double pull from two different directions.

Hence, the art of yoga has been defined very wisely in two pithy statements of the Bhagavadgita as harmony and dexterity in action. Samatvaṁ yoga ucyate (Gita 2.48); yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam (Gita 2.50). Both things are said there. Harmony – the word ‘harmony’ is used without explaining what harmony means, though in an indirect way it has been explained in other passages in the Bhagavadgita. And it has also not been explained as to what is expertness in action. What is meant by saying that we have to be an expert in doing things? And what is meant by saying that we have to maintain balance? Neither of these things are clear to us. But this is yoga.

On the one hand it is samatva, a balancing of these two urges. Drakṣyasy ātmany atho mayi (Gita 4.35). “Having been established in this yoga that I am expounding to you,” says Bhagavan Sri Krishna, “you will see the whole universe within Myself and in Me also.” Atmany atho mayi: In God you will see the whole universe contained, and you will see the whole universe contained in yourself also. This is the enigma of the relationship of the world to you and to God. Sometimes it appears as if it is hanging between the two, and at other times it appears that there is no such extraneous relationship possible.

The balance that yoga expects of us is variegated in nature. It is not of one kind only, it is of every type; every moment of time is a conflict in life. Every moment of your life you are facing a problem. If you sit, there is a problem; if you stand, there is a problem. If you look at a person, there is a problem; if you don’t look, also there is a problem. If you speak there is a problem, and if you don’t speak there is a problem. What a difficult thing life is! The whole of your history in this world is a history of conflicts. That is the reason why perhaps the Bhagavadgita hangs in the context of the great war of the Mahabharata, the battlefield of life. The universe is a battlefield in the sense that it is a confrontation of difficulties and a facing of problems.

But problems are meant to be solved. They are not intended to be escaped from. No one can run away from a problem. The problem is going to pursue us like the skin that is attached to our body. We cannot run away from our own skins. The difficulties of life are a part of our existence itself and, therefore, one cannot run away from existence. And even if you are going to reach the heavens, the difficulties will pursue you from the Earth. As if by a rocket, they will follow you.

Hence, yoga is a moment-to-moment action. It is not something that is done in a meditation hall or a vihara of the Buddhists or a temple of the Hindus or a church of the Christians. Yoga is a moment-to-moment adjustment of yourself. Every moment you are in a different type of adjustment and samatva. Every moment it is a new type of adjustment because every moment you are confronting a new phase of the problem. It may not be a new problem and may not be considered as an entirely new thing that is confronting you, but it is a new colour that it takes, a new picture that is presented of the very same object, a new side of it; therefore, like a disease that may take various shapes in the course of the treatment, your problems and difficulties take different shapes as you proceed through life.

So yoga is not a stereotyped movement of a single act which has to be persisted on in a uniform manner from birth to death. It is a living process, not a mechanical adjustment, how the body livingly, organically and vitally adjusts itself from birth onwards. It is not a machine. It is a living being. You are not a mechanical complex. You are different from it in the sense that you are able to adjust yourself automatically. Your psychophysical organism is an automatic system. It does not require another operator from outside. Whenever the balance is disturbed, there is a peculiar secret apparatus kept within the organism to maintain the balance automatically. Otherwise, we will die in one second by the confrontations in life. We are able to adjust ourselves to any difficulty.

The temperature of the world goes on changing due to the climatic conditions, but our temperature is 98.4. If you go to the North Pole or to the equator, it is 98.4 only. Though the outside temperature varies, you will find you are 98.4 only. How is it? Look at the mechanism of the body, how it adjusts itself to a problem of heat and cold that is facing it. This is an automatic action of the body.

Sometimes the mind also adjusts itself in this way by a secret apparatus of its own called defence mechanisms, known to psychological studies. If this defence mechanism is not to be there in our mind, we will die in three days by the buffets that we get and the kicks that we receive from the world. If the body were not to adjust itself to the temperature in this manner, we would have died by the temperature differences in the world. Simultaneously there is a psychological adjustment we are making. Sometimes we brush aside a problem. If we go on remembering everything – my father died, my brother died, my sister died, I have debt, what a loss, what a loss, what a loss – if we go on thinking this, then we will not live in this world.

So there is a mechanism of forgetting. The mind has a secret computer system, as it were, by which it adjusts to maintain itself. Whether we have a desire or no desire, whether we have a desire fulfilled or desire unfulfilled, whether we have an unpleasant circumstance outside us or a pleasant one, whatever it is, the mind is able to adjust itself with this condition by this defence mechanism which is comparable to the capacity of the body to adjust itself to the temperature of the world outside.

Like that, a spiritual adjustment has to be made within the soul of man, which is the art of yoga. As the body adjusts itself and the mind also adjusts itself to some extent, though not always, the you or the I, the specific root of personality, has to adjust itself to the rootedness of everything else in the world.

Here, we find a necessity to, and a possibility of, making such adjustments – the coming together of the self within us and the self that is without, the coordination between the impulse to maintain oneself in an utterly selfish manner and an unselfish urge within us to be of service to others. The self within feels its presence in others as if by secret antennae that projects automatically by means and methods which are invisible to the eyes. So we have an intense love for ourselves, and also an intense love for other people. Simultaneously we are good people and bad people also, at the same time. We can be like chameleons, but we should not be like chameleons. We should have a harmonious outlook and a striking of the balance between the stages of the inward self and the stages of the universal Self.

Patanjali’s systems of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana are the inward adjustments that we are expected to make within the layers of our own personality, which are sometimes called annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, anandamaya – the physical, the subtle, the causal, etc. These stages, niyama, etc., mentioned by Patanjali are the inward harmonisations of the layers of personality which constitute a single encasement of the self. The body, the mind and the spirit, the koshas annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, anandamaya and the Atman within are not distinct substances: here is the body, here is the mind, here is the Atman. We cannot keep them separately in watertight compartments.

There is a gradual condensation of consciousness which is the self, together with an externalisation of it and also a simultaneous centralisation in a particular point in space and time which becomes the body-mind complex. The yoga process is a gradual melting away, as it were, of all this hard ice of bodily individuality and making it evaporate into the liquid of pure consciousness, which is attempted inwardly by yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, etc. But that is not enough. We have to commune these inwardly aligned layers of personality and selfhood with the layers of the cosmic Self.

Yoga is not over merely with these initial steps of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana. There are the stages of samadhi, about which you must have heard. The samadhis or samapattissavitarka, nirvitarka, savichara, nirvichara, sananda, nirbija, words which make no sense to an ordinary man – are indicative of the nature of the cosmical adjustments that are further on made in the stages called samadhi.

Yoga truly begins with samadhi. It does not end with samadhi. All other earlier stages are only an inward adjustment whose comparison we find in the first six chapters of the Bhagavadgita where we are told the different methods of a self-integrating process culminating in dhyana, as described in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita.

The Bhagavadgita does not end with the sixth chapter, and Patanjali’s yoga does not end with dhyana or meditation. A great further step and a leap into the beyond has to be taken wherein and whereby the inwardly adjusted layers of the self get adjusted simultaneously with the cosmical layers of selfhood. According to the Sankhya, these cosmical layers are the five elements, the tanmatras, the ahankara, the mahat, the prakriti and the purusha. And according to others it may be the Virat, Hiranyagarbha, Ishwara, Brahman. Whatever be the nomenclature, all yoga is universal and it is not Christian or Hindu or Muslim. There is no yoga of a sectarian type. It is a cosmical endeavour and a necessity of each created being. It is a science impersonal and not a religion, again to repeat the same thing that I told you many times.

These are very interesting things, very important things, and at the same time very difficult things to remember. You are students of the Academy, hearing something from somebody, writing a few words when someone speaks, but you will note that you will not be able to remember all these things when you open the door and go out. Seventy-five percent of it would have been out from your brain. You will suddenly see a new world outside this door which has nothing to do practically, as it were, with what you have heard from me.

Here is a trick of the mind. It does not want you to succeed here. It wants you to fail miserably. Satan weeps, they say, if you succeed in withstanding his temptations and his snares. There is an old story – biblical or otherwise, something like a grandmother’s story – that Satan asked, “Lord, when will be my salvation?” The Lord had hurled Satan into hell. Satan implores the Almighty, “When will I be relieved?”

The Lord replied, “When man will resist your temptations, you will be free.” A very hard thing! Man will not resist the temptations, so Satan will not be free.

And our temptations are not the usual stereotyped list that we find in scriptures. The inability to remember what you heard here is a temptation only, of a different type. “I cannot remember so many things you have told me. I am fed-up. It is too much for me.” Or, “Well, I am ill. I have got other things, this, that, so many problems.” We have endless excuses not to remember a good thing, endless excuses not to find time enough. The world is nothing but a bundle of excuses.

So friends of the Academy, God bless you for this day. This is sufficient for you.