by Swami Krishnananda
Yoga amounts, finally, to a study of the Self, which has been defined as Consciousness. It is a study of the Self; it is a study of Consciousness. That yoga is union is a definition well known. Therefore, it means that yoga is an art of communion or union with Consciousness itself, which is another way of saying it is union with the Self.
In our considerations of the nature of the Self, we observed that there are three phases of the Self. It does not mean that there are three selves. There are three presentations of the Self. The external self is all things in the world with which we are connected by any means whatsoever—like or dislike, etc. We called this self the secondary self, or gaunatman. We have been going into some detail as to the nature of this external self, from which a gradual extrication has to be attempted. We spent the entire previous session considering this matter: What is this external self in which we are involved—the whole of society, people, things, and so on?
To repeat, the involvement of consciousness is in the order of the creation of things, right from the beginning. There is a gradual involvement from the higher to the lower until it condenses into solid attachments, physical associations, and clings to visible objects. By proper analytical methods, we realise that too much involvement in external affairs is not a beneficial thing.
Kings become beggars, possessions leave us, friends desert us; nobody can be fully trusted in this world. We realise this when our hair becomes grey—sometimes when it is too late to mend. We realise that all those who we thought were friends were not really friends; they were only matalab friends—friends for a purpose. And there is no security even in respect of property, money and land. Varieties of circumstances can make one lose all one’s property; these circumstances may be legal, political, social, and so on. Conditions which are historical in their nature are so eluding and unintelligible that no one can trust anything. Tomorrow’s fate, no one knows.
This is a kind of application of viveka, or discriminative faculty, by which we guard ourselves before we find that it is too late. Viveka is a process of guarding ourselves from untoward conditions that may befall us. Any condition can befall any person in the world. No one is exempted from the process of evolution.
When we are youthful, our blood is warm and we are enthusiastic, and we do not realise this matter. We think we can become kings or amass a lot of wealth; we can occupy a high position in society; we can have the whole world as our associate and friend. As we become more mature in life, we see through the realities of things and we begin to feel uncomfortable even with our own brother. All associations seem to be flimsy in their nature and we are likely to stand alone one day, dissociated from everything.
The lives of saints and the history of the world—these are the two things that you must read to know the fate of mankind and the types of experience through which one has to pass in life. Do not say that you are exempt. “Somebody’s plane crashed, not my plane.” You should not say that. Anybody’s is everybody’s.
The political and social history of the world and the lives of saints tell you how people have passed through varieties of experiences, all which lead to the conclusion that this world is not yours. Nothing in the world is yours. Nobody is yours. Nobody belongs to you. Nobody is your servant, your property, your friend. This is viveka, discrimination; this is understanding.
Then, what happens? This secondary self gradually drops off, like an old shirt. This discrimination is a panacea to cure the illness of attachment to external things, which constitute the secondary self. You will never feel comfortable with anything in the world. Everything is a very difficult situation. You are always guarded.
There is a homely illustration given by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of how spiritual seekers have to be guarded in this world. You cannot be simply sleeping, as if everything is milk and honey. It is not so. The illustration is of a person who is caught up in heavy rain at night. He has travelled a long distance, and he is exhausted. He has not eaten. Finally he finds a little hut, a deserted place, and he enters it. He finds it a very comfortable shelter from the heavy rain that is lashing. He is tired; he would like to sleep. When he is trying to recline and doze off, he looks around and sees that a snake’s head is slowly protruding from a little hole. He is not comfortable. He looks at the other side, and another snake is slowly coming out of another hole. He finds that there are also two or three scorpions moving behind him. Will he sleep, even if he is tired? He cannot go out; it is raining. He will be watching all around. Like this, you have to live in this world. Do not be too comfortable.
Read the lives of all the great kings who came to this world—all the dictators, all the Caesars. They wanted to possess the whole earth; see what happened to them. Never be attached to things. Do not say, “It is mine.” Do not say, “Without this, I cannot exist.” You can exist, and one day you have to exist independently. All these are illustrations of how you can free yourself from this entanglement in the false externality of selfhood, from the entire world of association of any kind.
Then what happens if you succeed in this attempt? You go to Uttarkashi, you go to Gangotri. What is there? There is nothing. “I have seen the world,” you say, and go to some ashram, some dharmashala, and stay alone, alone, alone. “Nobody is there; I am alone.” What is alone is only this body, which is also a kind of self. So from one self, you have now come to another self.
Your attachment to involvement in a social household and political desire has gone. Finally you have understood things correctly and, therefore, you do not want to have any further association; or you have become so old that you do not want to have and cannot have any connection with anything.
The external self has gone; you have dropped it. But your false self—this mithyatman, this body—clings to you. You cannot get rid of it as easily as you can get rid of associations with the world. You can leave everything and sit somewhere without having any association with things, but you cannot leave this body and sit somewhere. That is not possible. So here is a greater difficulty for you.
Yoga is union with the Self. Now, what kind of self? It is union with the real Self, which is something well known to you. You cannot say that this body is the real Self. It is a false self. We have seen through our analyses of the three states of consciousness—waking, dream and sleep—that our real Self is indicated in our condition of sleep. It is not this physical body, which has to be cast off one day. Our physical body will die, and we will still continue to exist.
In a similar manner as you exercised discrimination and understanding in respect of the external self, you have also to do something with this bodily self. It has to be handled in a particular manner. With your detachment or non-attachment to things outside, the disharmony that existed earlier between you and the world outside has almost been eliminated. Now the disharmony that is between this body and the world of nature has also to be looked after. You felt that this external self is mainly a kind of psychological self. Friendship, love, hatred, wealth, position—these are all only ideas in the head. They do not exist physically outside, yet they harass you very much.
This body is of a different character. It is made up of the five elements. Earth, water, fire, air and ether constitute the building bricks, the substance of every formation in this world, including your own body. In a cosmic sense, you may say even this body is a kind of thought. But it is too much to think like that. You must go slowly. It is more difficult to handle the body than the world of relations outside. You can make adjustments with the world, but you cannot make any adjustment with this body. It has its own say.
The problem with this body is that it is considered as an independent entity, outside the world of nature—which is made up of the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether—notwithstanding the fact that it is not outside nature. The building is not outside the bricks. The bricks and the building are inseparable.
Why is it that you consider your body as independent of the external world of nature, though it is made up of the same substance as the world outside? It is due to the intense affirmation of consciousness in a particular location. Desires, which are the forces generated by a particular affirmation of consciousness, cause the gravitation of particles of matter around themselves, and the formation of the body ensues.
This body is a shape taken by particles of matter due to the attraction or the gravitational pull of the desireful affirmation of a centre of consciousness, which is called the ego or the jiva. Otherwise, there is no reason for believing that the body is existing totally outside nature. We cannot feel ourselves in harmony with the trends of nature. The seasons change, and we cannot accommodate ourselves to them. We feel very uncomfortable. If it is raining, we do not like it; if it is hot or cold, it is no good; if it blows, it is also no good. Nothing is good for us. The body cannot accustom itself to these conditions.
There are various laws of nature, which the body does not always follow. Persons who are acquainted with the system of natural healing, called naturopathy, know something about how natural laws operate in the world and how we live an unnatural life. We fall sick for various reasons—psychologically, as well as naturally.
The yoga technique prescribes certain methods of adjustment of the body with the world of nature. There are various methods. One of them is the well-known system of the practice of yoga exercises—yoga asanas. You all know yoga asanas. You do exercises every day, but you must do it as yoga, not as an exercise. It is not a game that you are performing.
Yoga exercises, these asanas, become yoga only under certain conditions; otherwise, they become mere exercises like football, cricket, and so on. How do physical exercises become yoga? I said that yoga is union with reality. What kind of union with reality is possible by the exercise of the limbs of the physical body? There are various answers to this question.
Firstly, you must realise that you are a psychophysical individual—a mind and body complex. The so-called person that you are is a very interesting blend of mind and body, thought and physicality, idea and form. You cannot be simply body without the mind, nor are you merely the mind without the body. You can very well appreciate the effect of the mind on the body when you consider that mental disturbances have an impact on the body. When you are grief-stricken, when you are bereaved, when you have lost all property, when life is at stake, see how thoughts affect the body. They can make you physically sick.
Intense thought, of whatever nature, can have such an effect upon the physiological system that it will look as if the body is crumbling. People who are grief-stricken do not eat for many days. Why should they not eat? The eating is done by the body. The mind is not eating, but the mind says that they should not eat. It has got a control, an authority over the body.
Suppose you have suddenly lost all your wealth in the stock market. What will you do? You will go and lie down, as if you are dead. Why should you physically lie down when the body is perfectly all right? The mind tells the body that you are finished, and so you do not eat; you lie down.
This is an example of how the mind can affect the body, showing how intimately the mind is connected with the body. Similarly, the other way around, the body can affect the mind. Suppose you inhale chloroform or some anaesthetic has been injected into your body. The mind ceases thinking; you become unconscious. Chemical changes in the system can bring about psychological changes.
Hence, the body can influence the mind, and the mind can influence the body. That is to say, you are a beautiful blend of physicality and mentality—form and idea.
So when you do yoga exercises, who is doing the exercise? It is very important to remember this point, especially as these exercises are supposed to be union with Reality. What Reality? In these earlier stages, it goes without saying that the body, being part and parcel of the physical world of nature, has to be set in tune with it.
There is mostly physical imbalance in people, and physiological functions do not take place in the manner they ought to really take place. You have some kind of complaint from some part of the body. There is no adjustment of the parts of the physiological system. Either you cannot breathe, or you cannot think, or you sneeze, or you get a stomach ache, or something. And in the same way as the mind has such a connection with the body, there is another thing which also has a connection with the body, which is called prana. Your breathing process has a tremendous influence on the physical condition and, incidentally, on the mental condition also.
The prana flows through the nerves of the body, the nadis or fine nerve currents, keeping you feeling alive as a whole person, because the prana pervades the whole body, right from the toe to the centre of the head. The body by itself is a corpse; it has no life. It is the prana that makes you feel that there is life in the body, just as an iron rod becomes hot due to the fire that passes through it, but the rod itself is not hot. When you touch a heated iron rod, you say you have burned your finger. What has burned you is not the iron rod, but the fire in it. Likewise, the prana pervading the entire body, up to the minute cells of the system, gives you a sensation of equality, wholeness, and a feeling of healthiness.
Therefore, three factors seem to be before us when we take a step in the practice of yoga. Now we are going carefully into the inner circle of yoga from the outer arrangements, about which we discussed enough. Yoga exercises actually commence yoga proper. Asana is the beginning of real yoga. When you do the asanas, three factors must be taken into consideration: your thought, your body, and the pranas.