Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: Sannyasa is Identical with Yoga Meditation

In one place, the Bhagavadgita seems to be identifying yoga with Sannyasa when it says, yam sannyāsam iti prāhuḥ yogam tam viddhi pāṇḍava, na hi asannyasta saṁkalpaḥ yogī bhavati kaścana (Gita 6.2): Whatever one knows as yoga is also the same as what is known as sannyasa. This definition may lead to the obvious conclusion that every Sannyasin is also a yogi, but here the term sannyasa has to be taken in a different sense altogether, and not as the well-known fourth order of life. The fourth order of life is a necessary consequence of the social developmental process, from Brahmacharya, Grihastha and Vanaprastha onwards, but yoga is not a social phenomenon. It has nothing to do with society at all.

So, what does the great Lord Bhagavan Sri Krishna mean by saying that yoga is the same as sannyasa, and vice versa, sannyasa is the same as yoga? In order that we may not be left in a state of confusion, He has given a clue to the understanding of the meaning of the word sannyasa in the second half of the verse, na hi asannyasta saṁkalpaḥ yogī bhavati kaścana: No one can be a yogi who has not renounced. This the meaning of the second half; but what is one to renounce?

If you ask any Sannyasin to define renunciation in common parlance, the reply will be, “I have renounced my property, my family relations, my social status, and I do not physically own anything, so I am a Sannyasin.” But, this second half of the verse makes it clear that this notion of Sannyasa is not to be identified with yoga. Though renunciation is implied in the word sannyasa, this word does not suggest what is to be renounced. Usually, the idea of renunciation in the context of Sannyasa is associated with physical, material, social belongings, but the renunciation that is required for the purpose of the practice of yoga is nothing connected with material, social, or economic belongings. What is it that is to be renounced for the purpose of becoming a yogi?

Sankalpa-sannyasa is the word used here. That person who has not renounced creative volition cannot become a yogi. Sankalpa is willing, or creative volition—asserting some circumstance in life as associated with one’s own self. If this will is to continue to operate as it has been doing earlier, one cannot become a yogi.

As yoga is defined elsewhere as a kind of union that is to be established, it follows as a corollary from this definition of sannyasa that sannyasa also is a kind of union established inwardly by oneself. Though abandoning something is a connotation already associated with the word sannyasa, that is not the only thing that Sannyasa means, because yoga is not a process of abandoning, but is identification and union. So, the word sannyasa seems to have two connotations: renunciation on one side, and identification on another side. The point made out in this verse is that one cannot practise this identification unless one has effectively practised renunciation also.

Now, as creative volition is supposed to be that which is to be renounced in adopting the life of Sannyasa, physical dissociation from an object of desire need not necessarily mean this achievement of sannyasa. For instance, a person might have taken to the social order of Sannyasa in the fourth sense of the term and have maintained no connection with the family, relations or property, but the consciousness that one had that property, and that the property does exist, relations are still there somewhere, is not renounced. That is the significance of the word sankalpa-sannyasa. “I had a lot of property, and I do not have any connection with it now.” This statement is an inadvertent acceptance of there still being a subconscious relationship with that property; else, one would say, “I have no connection with the world,” instead of saying, “I have no connection with those people who are my relatives.”

Who are our relatives? A group of people are chosen out of the large mass of humanity and they are regarded as belonging to us. The consciousness is effectively aware of this fact, and so sankalpa, the creative link in respect of the preceding condition of ownership of property and relations, continues, even if physically they are totally dissociated one from the other.

Therefore, the word ‘renunciation’ has to be deeply understood in its spiritual meaning. The consciousness of belonging has to go. The bondage of a person consists not in the existence of things, but in the relation of consciousness to those things. The trees in the forest do not bind us because our consciousness is not related to those trees, which obviously have nothing to do with us. But our consciousness is connected intimately with a tree in our garden. Suppose there is a fruit-yielding tree in our own garden; our consciousness will be related to it. A tree is here, and there are also trees in the forest. In one case the consciousness is dissociated spontaneously; in the other case, it is automatically connected.

Thus, a profound subtlety is involved in the very understanding of the word sannyasa, and only then can it be identified with yoga: na hi asannyasta saṁkalpaḥ yogī bhavati kaścana. The renunciation is, therefore, actually the abandonment of the consciousness of a belonging in the form of something standing in front of oneself as an object of some sort. What is an object? It is in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that we have a very clear-cut psychological definition of the nature of the object to which consciousness can be related. There are two types of objects: perceptionally related, and emotionally connected.

One’s own property, so-called, one’s father and mother, husband or wife, one’s money and social position are things with which emotion is connected. They are not merely perceived objects, they are also emotionally felt by oneself. These are directly binding cords. Emotions bind more powerfully and effectively than objects which are only perceived, minus the connection with emotions. Objects which are only perceived are such things as a mountain, the sun, the moon and the stars in the sky, the rivers, and the ocean. These are objects that are perceived, but our emotion is not connected. Both these types of objects, whether they are perceptionally related or emotionally connected, are a matter of concern in the practice of yoga. One is an immediate concern, like an acute disease, and the other is a remote concern, like a chronic disease, but both are matters of concern, either today or tomorrow. When there are two difficulties, we try to solve the most acute one first, and the general problem afterwards.

Avidyā-asmitā-rāga-dveṣa-abhiniveśaḥ kleśāḥ (Yoga Sutras 2.3) is a sutra of Patanjali which delineates emotionally connected situations. A total ignorance of the fact of there being no such thing as real relation with anything is called avidya, or ignorance. No one is related to us really, in an emotionally conceived fashion. Everybody stands alone from a scientific point of view, but a peculiar operation in the mind known as ignorance sets aside this general view of the impersonality of perception, and creates an attachment to certain chosen things and persons who are considered as one’s belongings. This is avidya.

This notion of certain things belonging to oneself, arisen out of ignorance of the true fact, becomes a cause of intense affirmation of one’s ownership of these belongings, which is called asmita, also known as ahamkara, a type of intense self-assertiveness.

The third consequence that follows from this ignorance-oriented self-affirmation is clinging to those chosen persons and things which are considered as one’s own, and hatred towards those which are not considered as belonging to oneself. When something is mine, that other things are not mine is well implied. Love for what is related to me suggests also a hatred for that which is not related to me. So, raga and dvesha, as they are called, manifest themselves simultaneously from this stupid self-affirmation arisen on account of the ignorance of the fact that things do not really belong to anyone.

Then, there is a fear of death, abhinivesha: This belonging of mine should last long. Neither should I die, nor should my relatives die; everybody should live for the longest period of time. But people see death taking place everywhere, and so there is an inward uneasiness that this phenomenon of self-abolition may take place in respect of oneself, also. Agony arises on account of anxiety to protect oneself, as well as one’s own relations and belongings, from this clutch called death which will descend on anyone at any moment of time.

Hence, the whole thing is a misery, right from the beginning until the end. This is emotionally oriented life, and no one is free from this kind of situation. When this grossest of associations is so hard to overcome, where comes the question of one’s freedom from the subtler associations which are only perceptionally oriented, such as the sun, the moon and the stars, or the mountains and the rivers?

While emotionally oriented attachment is bad, it does not mean that the non-emotional, perceptionally oriented objects are good. Bondage is possible either through iron chains or golden chains; even diamond chains can bind us. Bondage is just confinement, whatever be the means adopted for that confinement. There can be a prison with golden walls. Just because the walls are plated with gold, it does not follow that it is not a prison; nor is merely a brick structure a prison, because it can be a temple. Thus, the structure or the pattern of the environment is not the cause of bondage or happiness. It is one’s conscious association with it, or the interpretation of it from one’s own point of view.

After long practice, one succeeds in emotionally relieving oneself from attachments to belongings, so-called. This may take one’s whole life, or it may take several lives. Even those who have lived a long life of experience in this world, at the time of passing at a ripe old age, often weep for their relations: what will happen to my daughter, my daughter-in-law, my son, my land? These ideas harass even the mind of a mature, aged person.

Such a hard thing is before us, even before we take the first step in the practice of yoga. Supposing that we have succeeded in overcoming this entanglement and emotionally we are not connected to anybody or anything, even then we cannot imagine that we are yogis. “I neither love anybody, nor do I hate anybody; therefore, I am a yogi.” This statement is not true. Merely because there is no love and hatred psychologically, it does not follow that one has been established in yoga, because the definition of true yoga is—‘union with reality as such’. Perceived objects are camouflages of true objects that are behind the appearances of what are known to us as objects. There is a real tree behind an apparent tree, or a perceived contour or shape of a tree.

Again we go to the definition of Patanjali Maharishi’s yoga, where he tells us what an object is: A tree is something which it is in itself, plus an idea that we have about it and the definition that we impose upon it through our ideas. We associate the name ‘tree’ to certain things by habit and common usage, and it cannot be applied to certain other things. Apart from that, we have a notion about it, an idea of what a tree is, but a tree is something more than both these things. It is something by itself, as we can illustrate in the case of a person.

A human being may be a father of somebody, a husband of someone else, a brother of a third person, a nephew of a fourth, and a boss of a fifth; yet, that person may be totally different from all these things. When one is dissociated from all these connections mentioned, one stands as something which is the true nature of that person. If a person has no children, he cannot be called a father. If he has not married, he cannot be called a husband. If he does not hold an office, he cannot be called a boss, etc. These definitions are relative, but minus these relations, the person stands independently by himself. That is the artha jnana (Yoga Sutras 1.42), or the true substantiality of a person or a thing.

Contact with reality in terms of yoga actually means not contacting perceptionally through the eyes or the ears, etc., which is only a process of contacting external phenomenon. The true identity is the substance of the object itself. This is a clarification that comes to the surface of our understanding when we probe deeply into the meaning of yoga practice. On one hand, it is identified with Sannyasa, whose meaning is to be properly understood, as stated already. On the other hand, the meaning of yoga also has to be understood in order that they may stand on a par and be regarded as one and the same thing. Without the abandonment of conscious relationship, one cannot become a Sannyasin, and also one cannot become a yogi.

In our previous sessions we have gone into sufficient detail as to the problems that we may have to face. Briefly, what we tried to understand during the last session is that the practitioner of yoga is not an ordinary human being in the sense of a conscious operation of the mind, and meditation is not to be identified merely with the working of the conscious level of the mind. The whole being of the person is involved in meditation. For that purpose, we must know what that ‘whole being’ is.

What are we, by ourselves, totally? The psychological structure of the individual will reveal what components constitute our personality and how they have to be gathered together into a focus of attention in order that meditation may be practised and made possible.

What are these inner components? On the one hand we are told that we are not a solid entity, but a composite structure of different layers known in Sanskrit as kosas: annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, anandamaya. The physical sheath is the outermost vesture of the personality. Internally, there is the vibratory prana which is the force that connects the psychic individual with the physical body. Then, there is the mind that thinks, and the understanding that decides and concludes; and deeper than all these is an unconscious layer, which is the abode of all the impulses of our actions performed positively or negatively in the incarnations we have passed through earlier. It is like a large, thick cloud of unknowing, a mass of ignorance into which we enter in the state of deep sleep every day. Transcendent to all these is the Atman, the light of consciousness, the pure spirit. This is one way of understanding what we are really made of.

All these layers have to be gathered together simultaneously so that we may feel whole; that is to say, we will feel, decide, understand and concentrate simultaneously in all the layers of our being with the depth of ardour which is known as tivra samvega in the sutra of Patanjali. Intense eagerness has to well up from our total personality, and focus itself in meditation; otherwise, we may wrongly imagine that meditation is just thinking something. Instead of thinking one thing, we think another thing.

Meditation is not thinking anything. It is an attempt on the part of our whole being to identify with the whole being of that on which we are meditating. It is the wholeness of personality trying to contemplate on the wholeness of that which is chosen as the object of meditation. It is not a partial personality rising up to the occasion, nor is it a partial object that is the object of meditation. The whole thing comes up. Yoga is, therefore, an operation of wholeness in all levels of being, subjectively as well as objectively.

One cannot explain in words what actually this means. We have to eat the pudding to know the taste of it. However much it may be explained, it will pass over our heads because we generally do not feel whole at any time. We are torn individuals, distracted persons, with many things in the mind coming and going at different times, in various forms. And our opinion about things is also variegated; we have no consistent idea of anything in a permanent fashion. As we are living a slipshod, haphazard life throughout our existence in this world, this right-about turn that is required in the process of thinking appears to be something totally new to the initiate. It is next to impossible for the beginner. But, abhyāsena tu kaunteya vairāgyeṇa ca gṛhyate (Gita 4.35); abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tan nirodhaḥ (Yoga Sutras 1.12): By determined dissociation of the mind from all its distracted avenues of consciousness, and daily sitting and continued practice, one will achieve success.

One has to bear in mind this essential point before anything else is attempted. Have we a total interest in the object of meditation, or have we only a partial interest? Partial interest is that which is a concern for something, together with a concern for something else also at the same time. Today, at this moment, I am concerned with this thing; after some time, my concern will be shifted to another thing. This is not what is going to happen in meditation. It is a concern once and for all, and with no chance of change of consciousness or attention in regard to the chosen object. In all the yogas, whatever be the nomenclature thereof—karma, bhakti, jnana, etc.—an object is chosen forever and it is not changed. The mind does not move from one thing to another at different times. The reason for choosing the object once, forever, is because, as is the case with digging a well, we must dig deeply only at one point until the treasure is found. If we go on digging ten feet here, two feet there, and three feet somewhere else, we will not find the treasure of the water. It is like driving a nail into a wall. We must hit it several times in the same place; otherwise, if we hit it once here, once there, it will not go in. So, if we change our object, we will be driving a nail or digging a well in different places.

Meditation is a bombardment of the mind upon the nature of the object so that it splits, as an atom splits, and releases its energy. The energy of the object is released in meditation and it creates such a sustaining reaction upon oneself that one feels at that time that everything is obtained, and nothing else is to be gained afterwards.

Objects are generally not possessed by us because they stand outside us always. They appear to be connected; really, they are dissociated. But in this union of yoga practice, the object ceases to be an object. It reveals its pure subjectivity, a togetherness that it has with one’s own self. It is like the jivatman embracing the paramatman, we may say, in one sense—Krishna and Arjuna sitting in the same chariot, the truth of the object entering into the truth of the subject, the subjectivity in the object entering into the subjectivity of the so-called meditating subject—so that the object ceases to be an object. It is a vast sea of subjectivity that emerges in deep contemplation of anything which originally appeared as an object.

Even that thing which originally looked like an object of meditation will cease to be that, after deeper concentration; it will reveal its friendliness with us, as a true brother and an alter-ego, a real friend, inseparable from us. Things in the world stand apart from us and are isolated from us; therefore it is that we have the great suffering of grabbing them, running after them, and finally losing them and not getting them at all. But, there is a way of actually contacting them in their true spirit, which is the samyama spoken of in yoga practice, samapatti, as it is also called. The subjectivity in us should be contacted. The soul of the matter is to be brought to the surface of awareness, and not merely its outer aperture. That is the union of the soul of the meditator with the soul of the so-called object.

When we have dealt with one object effectively in this manner, we have practically dealt with the whole world at the same time. A sip of water in one place on the shore of the ocean is equal to the sip of the same water in any other place also, because the ocean is one mass of water. The universe is one mass of objectivity. It is not made up of different things. The differentiation of parts of nature, as one distinguished from the other, is due to the interference of space and time in the constitution of the objects. Actually, what we have in front of us is a mass of matter, which is what is called the world-stuff.

Similarly, any part of this matter which is the object thereof, whatever we call the object of meditation, is as good as any other part of it. When we touch one object in the world, we have touched the whole creation, just as when we touch one part of the body, we have touched the whole body because it is all vitally connected.

Thus, any object in the world is as good as any other object. There is no difficulty in choosing the object of meditation because all things are made of the same substance, sattva, rajas, tamas—the three properties of Prakriti—and wherever we go, we will find the same ocean of matter. Any part of it can be taken, and it is as good as any other part for the purpose of meditation. When we enter into the soul of this material stuff known as Prakriti in the form of this creation in one place, we have entered into the heart of the whole universe.

That is why the Upanishad says, “What is that, by knowing which, you know everything?” There is one thing that by knowing which, everything is known. One drop of water, when it is properly analysed and known, is equal to the whole mass of water being known by such an analysis.

Therefore, it is necessary to convince the mind that it is obligatory on its part to go ahead with one object only, one method of meditation and one technology and, if possible, at one place and one particular time of the day, with one objective, one aim, which also should not change. The purpose for which meditation starts in the beginning should be maintained until the end. It should not waiver, and we should not have different notions of aim or purpose at different stages of meditation. Here also, it is a kind of concentration. We concentrate on the purpose itself, apart from the nature of the object. Then the purpose manifests itself, reveals itself.

We bring back to our memories the definition of sannyasa which Bhagavan Sri Krishna identifies with yoga which, as I mentioned, involves renunciation of something. It is not easy to practise this renunciation as it is defined in the Bhagavadgita. It is not a spatial distance that one maintains from related objects. Spatial distance does not violate conscious contact. As consciousness can contact anything, even at a distant place, spatial distance does not in any way debar consciousness from contemplating an object of desire. Hence is the special point made out by Bhagavan Sri Krishna in defining sannyasa: it is identical with meditation.

From the point of view of the Bhagavadgita verse cited, sannyasa is identical with yoga meditation. It has nothing to do with the social order of the fourth category, as people usually imagine that to be. It is a preparation, but it is not itself an aim. To repeat once again, yoga is not a social phenomenon. We do not practise it for the sake of other people. There are no ‘other people’ for a yogi or the aspirant of yoga. It is, to mention again, a wholesome thing, conceived in one’s own self in a conscious relation with a wholesome thing, which is the chosen object.

All these are difficult things to keep in mind. Fifty percent of what I have told may not be retained in the mind, because of the width of the subject and the implications which are hard enough to grasp. But, abhyasa and vairagya, as it is mentioned, will bring to fructification the yielded result, and everything shall be fine.