by Swami Krishnananda
While people, the world over, are generally acquainted with the word 'Yoga', there are perhaps as many ideas and definitions of Yoga as there are minds in the world. It is often said that there is a world under every hat. Each person has his own conception of what Yoga is, sometimes overemphasised, sometimes under-estimated, sometimes misconstrued, and oftentimes deliberately misrepresented for reasons or motives of one's own. But, seekers of what they call 'Perfection' would do well to take things seriously, and not dabble with the subject as a sociological problem, or something that will win wealth, name and fame. Yoga is something which is dear to all. Nothing can be dearer to man than Yoga, if one can know what it really means. It is not merely a subject that one may choose for one's studies, as in a college, for the purpose of a pass or a degree. It is a system which we are to accommodate into our own personal and practical day-to-day life as an art, by which we shall place ourselves in a greater proximity to that great ideal of all life than is the circumstance or situation of ours today, at this hour.
There is a glib definition of Yoga as 'union', an offhand description of it with which we are all familiar. But it is not easily known as to what this union is about, and who is going to be united with what. And what for is this union, is also a kind of doubt that will occur to our minds. Firstly, it may not be clear as to what are the items that are to be united in this union called Yoga. The second thing: Why should one struggle to have this union? What does one gain out of this? What is the purpose and what is the mystery behind it? These difficulties, psychologically, may present themselves, all of which have to be cleared at the very outset.
The system of Yoga is a practice, and this practice is nothing but the conduct of our life in our day-to-day manoeuvring of facts, in the light of the nature of things, or we may say, in the light of the structure of the universe. We cannot behave in a way which is irrelevant to the nature of things, because we are in the world, and not outside the world. Hence, the system or principle that is operating behind the world, or the universe, will expect us to respect the law which is reigning supreme in the world, or the universe, and anyone who is adamant enough to turn a deaf ear to the cause of the law of life would be penalised by the law, by an automatic working of the rule of the universe. The system of the universe is so automatic and spontaneous that it does not require an operator independent of it. In a way, we may say that the universe works like a large computer system. It works of its own accord. Reaction is set to action automatically, without any person operating this machine. Action and reaction are equal and opposite. This is something known to everyone in the physical and mathematical realms. This is so, because of the arrangement of things which we call the universe. And we should not forget that we are not outside this universe. Neither are we outside human society, nor are we outside the world or this planet earth or this astronomical cosmos. Inasmuch as we are inseparably related to this large atmosphere called human society, the world, and the universe, our conduct should be in consonance with the way in which this atmosphere works. Thus, it may be said that Yoga is that necessary conduct of the personality or the individuality of anyone which abides by the requisition of the law of the universe. Many a time we go wrong in our outlook of life, in our judgement of things, and in our behaviour in society, due to the fact that we have no knowledge adequately of the way in which the universe is working, and therefore we do not know what is our precise relation to the universe. It follows naturally from this ignorance of ours that our conduct in life can be an aberration from the requirements of the laws or rules of the universe.
The first and foremost thing that would be required of us, as students of Yoga, would be not to jump suddenly into certain techniques of practice, because the practice is only a necessary consequence of the knowledge of, or insight into, the structure of things. If knowledge is lacking, the practice can go wrong. Hence, it is often emphasised in philosophical circles that ethics is based on metaphysics. Ethics, here, means anything that is practical, not necessarily what is called social morality or personal behaviour in the usual sense of the term. Philosophically speaking, ethics is any kind of practical requirement on the part of the individual in the light of the structure of the cosmos. And the knowledge of the structure of the cosmos can be said to be metaphysics. And what follows from it automatically as a demand on our natural behaviour is the ethics thereof. Yoga, therefore, is a part of ethics in this generalised sense. So, before we know what this practical aspect of Yoga is, we would like to know with advantage how this practice comes about at all under the nature of things. We have heard it said many a time that Yoga is based on the Samkhya, which means to say, in another language, that ethics is based on metaphysics, that action is based on knowledge. We cannot move an inch unless we know how to move, where to move, and also why to move. These questions have to be clarified in our consciousness before we take any step in any direction, whether it be Yoga, or otherwise.
'Samkhya' is a general term technically employed in the ancient language of the philosophies of India, to represent knowledge of Reality, acquaintance with the make-up or structure of things in general. What is this world made of? What do we mean by the universe, and what is our position here? If we know the placement of ours in the atmosphere of things, we would know what to do under a given condition. We need not be told that we should practise Yoga. We ourselves will know that it is necessary, because of the very nature of the circumstances. We need not be told that we should eat food; hunger will tell us that we should eat. A particular circumstance which is clear to our mind will also tell us at the same time what we should do under the circumstance. So, to go on dinning into the ears of people that they should do Yoga is not necessary. What is necessary is to enlighten them on the nature of the circumstance under which they are living.
People are ignorant; that is the main disease of humanity. Ignorance has been a sort of bliss, because it has been bringing a wrong type of satisfaction by which one is ruled by the conviction that everything is fine and nothing is wrong anywhere. Education is the primary requirement of humanity. What we lack is not money or buildings or lands so much as education. We may think that we are educated people, but ours is an education which helps in getting on with things, somehow, by a kind of adjustment from day to day. A knowledge of getting-on is not the same as the wisdom of life. The wisdom of life is designated as the Samkhya. We may be under the impression that Samkhya is some sort of a doctrine propounded by an ancient sage, called Kapila, in a series of aphorisms, called Sutras, collectively forming one of the systems of philosophy well known in India. This may be so. The Samkhya is this, of course. But, it is not necessary to take Samkhya in this restricted sense only, though Samkhya is also the system propounded by the sage Kapila. For instance, the word Samkhya occurs in scriptures other than the one pertaining to the traditional system going by that name. It finds a place in texts which may be said to be anterior to the system promulgated by Kapila. The word occurs in the Manu Smriti, in the Mahabharata and in the Bhagavad Gita where the term Samkhya is used in a broader sense, and not merely in the restricted meaning that may be associated with the classical system of Kapila. The Samkhya of Kapila is a clear-cut mathematical procedure of defining things according to the vision which must have propelled the sage under the conditions of his times.
However, our interest is practical, and not merely theoretical. We are more concerned with living a good life, a better life, than with knowing many things. We need not go much into the abyss of the technicalities of the metaphysical Samkhya at present. We may do well to understand that it generally means a knowledge of things as they are, and as they ought to be, as a logical consequence that must follow from the implications of our own experiences. What we know as philosophy is only an implication that follows spontaneously from an observation of the facts of experience. If we have enough time and patience to go deep into our daily experiences, we will realise that there is something beneath the surface movements of life that we call experience. Generally, we are dashed hither and thither by the waves of our daily activities, due to which we are left with neither the time nor the capacity to read between the lines in respect of our daily life. The general pattern of the universe presented to us by the ancient adepts is such that it seems to be a large family of integrated contents. The universe is full of citizens or inhabitants; not necessarily living beings like us, but even other elements which we may regard from our own point of view as non-living and inanimate. The great scriptures of Yoga envisage a universe which is larger than what we see with our naked eyes. The universe is not merely what we see, though it includes this also. We look up to the skies, and all around and we see something. This is our physical universe, where we have the solar system, the sun and the moon and the stars, and the vast sky, inaccessible to ordinary sensory perception. We see all around us many things – people, animals, plants, hills and so on.
The vision of India has gone deeper than what is available to the naked eyes and has proclaimed the truth that there are planes, or levels of manifestation, of what is known as the universe. This physical structure around us is one plane, a particular density, we may say. It does not, however, mean that there are many universes, but only that there are many levels or degrees of density through which the universe reveals itself to experience by a graduated arrangement of itself. These levels, these degrees or planes of density, are called Lokas: Bhu-Loka, Bhuvar-Loka, Svar-Loka, Mahar-Loka, Jana-Loka, Tapo-Loka and Satya-Loka. These are supposed to be levels above the physical plane we are accustomed to, ranging beyond the ken of ordinary perception, invisible to the eye, such that we cannot even think what they could be. We are also told that there are levels below the earth or the physical level, and they are known as Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala. There are about fourteen planes. Well, there can be more than fourteen, also. These are roughly calculated stages, visualised by the ancient seers, of the degrees of experience through which one has to pass in the evolution of oneself. These planes of existence, or Lokas, are stages through which everyone has to pass. It is possible that we have already passed through some of the lower levels. We have taken for granted that we have come to the physical level by rising above the lower levels through ages of experience, by transformation. The biological and physical sciences today are fond of insisting on what is called the evolution of life, a movement from matter to life and mind, and from mind to intellect or the human reason, in which state we are today. This is something akin, in a way, to the doctrine of a series in the levels of experience. We are on the human level. It does not mean that the human universe is the entire universe, because there are lower levels and there are also levels above. There is a necessity, therefore, for us to evolve further from the state of man; and many have held that we have to become supermen.
The term 'superman' is a description associated with the possibilities ahead of us, superior to our present state of experience. It is not possible for us to rest content here. We are thoroughly dissatisfied with everything, because this is not our permanent home. The earth is not our permanent habitat, because we are in a process of rising up. We are moving further and further ahead. As we have already come from lower levels to the human level, we have to go further on to the more advanced, subtler and more pervasive levels – the levels of the angels, gods, celestials and so on. We hear of them in the scriptures. An indication of these experiences is given to us in the Taittiriya Upanishad, for instance, where we are told that above men are the Pitris, above the Pitris are the Gandharvas. Then we have the Devas, or the gods, or the angels, then the ruler of the angels called Indra, then the Guru or the preceptor of the gods, called Brihaspati, the great repository of wisdom. Beyond that stage is the Creator. Such details of the existence of higher realms of experience are available in scriptures of this kind not only in India, but also in other countries. So, we can imagine what our position here is. We cannot be happy in this world. This is certain, because happiness is nothing but an automatic consequence of the attainment of perfection. The more we move towards perfection, the more are we happy. And perfection seems to be far away from us in the light of this little analysis that we have in the Upanishad. If we have to advance through various planes that are above this physical human level, we cannot be happy here forever. Nothing can satisfy us. Not the possession of the whole world, the emperorship of this whole earth, can satisfy us, for reasons quite obvious and clear to everyone. We cannot have satisfaction here, because we cannot be perfect here. We cannot be perfect here, because we have not completed the stages of our evolution. We are on a lower level, yet.