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The Essence of the Aitareya and Taittiriya Upanishads
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: Some Light on Yoga Practice

Why are we so far away from the Absolute, is also a question. The Supreme Being, or Absolute, is transcendent to our level. This transcendence, which we call Brahman or the Absolute, is manifest through space and time by way of externalisation; and in the process of externalisation, the selfhood of experience is gradually lost. The greater the externalisation, diversification, expression, manifestation outwardly towards objects in space and time, the greater is the loss of selfhood. The more we are conscious of an external object, the greater is the loss of self-consciousness. As we noted earlier, in all attachments to objects of sense there is a transference of self to the object, so that we lose ourselves first in order that we may love the object. So self-loss takes place on account of a complete transference of character of selfhood to the object outside. The more we move outwardly, the less is the selfhood of experience; and the greater is the loss of the selfhood, the greater also is the loss in the quality of happiness. So it is the Self that is the source of bliss, not any object or any kind of external movement towards an object. But the more we gravitate towards externality, the more is the extent or the measure of the loss of selfhood in us. Thus, we have descended too far.

According to Vedanta terminology, there is a gradual descent from Brahman to Isvara, from Isvara to Hiranyagarbha, from Hiranyagarbha to Virat, and from Virat there is a further triplication taking place. On one side is the objective world, on the other side the individuals, and in the centre we have got the controlling divinities called Devatas, so that we, the subjects, look upon the object outside through space and time as if it is bifurcated from us, with no connection at all between one and the other.

Not only that, something worse has taken place. From the causal condition we have come to the intellectual, from the intellectual to the mental, from the mental to the vital, and from the vital we have come to the physical level. These are the five koshas mentioned earlier. We can imagine how far we have descended. So there is no wonder that we are unhappy, and that the so-called happiness of sense contact is not divine happiness—though, by means of psychological analysis, we are able to conclude that even that little fraction of so-called happiness of sense contact is due to the presence of the Absolute, by way of reflection and distortion. This is the reason why we are unhappy. This is also the nature of happiness, and this also gives a clue as to how we can reach the Absolute. This method is called yoga.

The practice of yoga is the art of contacting the Absolute. There is no such thing as contacting the Absolute in a literal sense. We know we contact an object, but the Absolute is not an object at all. It is the Self, it is the internal being of everything. How can we contact it? How can we contact our own consciousness? But this is what is meant by yoga. Yoga means union—union of the individual with the Absolute. But what is this union? How can we unite ourself with our own inner being? This is the difficulty. We cannot even imagine what it is. But this union is a metaphorical one; it is not a physical contact. It is metaphorical in the sense that in yoga there is the union of our consciousness in the present context with the supreme essence that we are. In this practice of yoga, we gradually lessen the degree and the intensity of externality of consciousness and move inward gradually. It is self-control, ultimately, which is called yoga—self-restraint which includes the restraint of the operation of the sense organs, the restraint of the mind, the restraint of the intellect, and the restraint of the impulse to externalise consciousness in any manner whatsoever. The urge of the consciousness to manifest itself in an external form is contrary to yoga.

In the Kathopanishad there is a hint given to us as to how we can practise yoga. There are one or two verses in the Kathopanishad which give the sum and substance of the practice of yoga, which is also the same yoga explained in greater detail in the system of Patanjali. The Kathopanishad says in these verses that the subtle essences of objects are superior to the sensory powers; they are higher in their degree and in quality. Higher than these essences of objects is the mind; higher than the mind is the intellect; higher than the intellect is the cosmic intellect called Mahat, also called Hiranyagarbha. Higher than that is the peaceful undifferentiated causal state called Avyakta. Higher than that is supreme Absolute, Purusha. The same Upanishad mentions the system of practice in another verse. The senses have to be rooted in the mind. The mind has to be centred in the intellect. The intellect has to be fixed in the Cosmic Intellect, and the Cosmic Intellect has to be united with the Peaceful Being. Sometimes this Peaceful Being, Shanta Atman, is identified with the Isvara of the Vedanta. This is how we have to control the mind.

The restraint of the mind and the senses is not an easy affair because, first of all, it is difficult even to understand how this can be done at all. We practise the traditional routines of stopping the breath, not thinking of objects, sometimes not thinking anything at all, and then keeping quiet in a blank state of mind, under the impression that we are practising yoga. These are all like sweeping the ground, but that is not the entire function in a house, though they are important enough from their own points of view. The mind is not such a simple thing as to come under our control in a few days. For this purpose, intense philosophical analysis is necessary together with other accessories such as living in an atmosphere which is conducive to this practice, and study of scriptures and books which will fill the mind with ideas that are elevating in their nature and of the nature of the practice of yoga. Living in the service of a Guru is a great help in this direction. Finally, a very correct grasp of the meaning of self-control is necessary. Since the Absolute is everywhere and all pervading, and its realisation in our own experience is the aim of this practice, withdrawal of the mind from objects implies some subtle technique which is commensurate with, or not in contradistinction with, the presence of the omnipresent Absolute.

Sometimes doubts arise in the mind. “From what am I withdrawing the mind? If Brahman is everywhere, if the Absolute is everything, whatever I think in the mind is the Absolute only. So what is it that I am withdrawing myself from? If I think of some object, it is a shape of the Absolute. It is a form taken by Brahman. So am I withdrawing the mind from Brahman itself, while my intention is the realisation of Brahman? What is self-control?” These doubts may come to the mind of even experienced sadhakas or seekers.

It is true that the Absolute is everything. The Supreme Being is manifest as all these things. Even the wall that we see in front is the Absolute manifest. But, and a terrible 'but' indeed, there is some great mistake in our notion about this wall. We have again to bring to our memory the selfhood character of the Absolute. The Absolute, or Brahman, is the Atman; it is not a vishaya, or an object of sense. So when we look upon this wall as an object outside, it has ceased to be the Absolute, though it is true that ultimately, in its essence, it is that. The mistake is not in the substance of the object as such, or the astitva or existence of the object, but in the nama and the rupa, the name and the form of the object, which is the effect of the externalisation or the separation of the object from our consciousness. Name and form have to be distinguished from the existence, or pure being, of the object.

When we say there is an object outside, we make a confusion of characters. There is the object that exists as anything else also exists. This character of existence, or being, is general. I exist, you exist, this exists, that exists. But the name and the form, the shape and the contour, etc., are different. This shape of mine has risen on account of the space and time factors interfering with the being that I am. There is a ball of clay or mud, which is the substance. It takes the shape as a pot or a vessel. A vessel can be many shapes: it can be round, it can be oblong, it can be square, it can be anything. The substance of every type of pot is the same, the clay. This is the way in which Brahman exists in everything. The clay exists in every form of the pot, but the form of the pot cannot be identified with the substance. What we call the form is a peculiar indeterminable something which is not identical with clay, and yet not different from clay. The shape of the pot is what we call the pot, not the clay itself. When I say there is a vessel or a pot, what I actually speak of is the shape which the substance has taken; it is not the substance itself that I am referring to, because that substance is elsewhere also, not only here. This particular shape is the space-time factor involved in that substance we call clay. So the entire problem is due to space-time. It is not due to the substance as such.

Thus, the interference of the so-called factors of space-time in the substance of the Absolute is the cause of the manifestation we call this vast universe. Therefore, self-control, control of the senses, mind control, yoga practice, whatever it is, is not a withdrawal of the mind from the substance of the object, which is the selfhood of things, but from the name and the form which are the external characters of the object. The selfhood of the object is the same as the selfhood of ours. That is not the problem. The problem is the externality of it. Who told us that it is out there? The space makes us feel so. There is something called space. We do not know what space is, what time is. These are only some words that we are using to describe a thing which is ultimately unintelligible.

The space-time factor is nothing but a force of externality; that is all we can say about it. We cannot say anything more than that because it is involved in our experience. Space and time are part and parcel of our experience itself and, therefore, we cannot say anything about them. Yet, this much can be understood of them: They are expressional habits of the mind, they are the factors which pull consciousness in a particular direction called externality, and yoga practice is nothing but the subdual of the character of the mind from its movement in terms of space and time.

So the control of the mind, or withdrawal of the senses, is a very difficult task. It involves a herculean effort indeed, because it involves a very subtle understanding of what is expected to be done. There are many people who have a wrong notion of the nature of things. They think that to become a yogi or a seeker of Truth, one has to renounce things. We are always told by religions that we have to renounce things and the world in order to reach God. But we renounce the substance itself, together with the name and the form. This is a mistake arising on account of the incapacity of the mind to distinguish between the name and form, and the existence as such.

There is a humorous story. There was a small boy whose mother was very ill. She was an old lady. She was lying in bed, almost in a dying condition. Flies were sitting on her body, and one fly was sitting on her nose again and again, troubling her so much that people told the boy: “Please drive the fly away. Don't allow the fly to trouble the old lady. She is in a very bad condition.” “Oh! Yes,” he said. “I will drive this fly away.” But the fly would not go easily like that. Again and again he tried to fan it off, but again and again it sat on her nose. So he took a huge stick and gave a blow so forcefully that it broke the nose of the mother. The fly went off! The poor boy did not know that he was hitting his mother, and instead of driving away the fly, he broke the head and face of that poor lady.

Similarly, this sort of mistake we may commit in rejecting the world. It is not the world that we have to reject. The worldness in the object, the externality in the object, and the non-selfhood, anatmatva, in things have to be thrown off. Here is the crux of the whole matter. Here it is that we always become a miserable failure. When we come to this point, it is hard for us to grasp what this actually means. We think that to leave the house and to go to a forest is renunciation. But it is not, because we are still in the world only. Even in the forest, we are in the world; the world has not gone out of us. The idea that there is a world outside us is to be abrogated. Otherwise, if yoga had been so simple, everybody would have become yogis. A little closing of the eyes, a little japa and a little breathing will not make us a yogi. The intellect is a terrible hindrance; it will never allow us to grasp the truth of things. It always misleads us; it always takes us in the wrong direction. We then say, “I reject this, I fast, I don't sleep, I don't talk.” All these techniques that we adopt in yoga do not even touch the fringe of the actual problem. They are all very necessary things, as fasting before treatment of a disease. But fasting itself is not the treatment; we have to give the proper medicament and take care of the body by positive treatment, etc. So, likewise is the case with yoga.

It is not enough if we merely practise the preliminaries of external detachment, which are important enough, no doubt. But they are preliminaries only, and not yoga proper. Yoga proper is an internal psychological technique. It is the most difficult of things to conceive because the mind thinks of an object even in the act of rejecting the object. This is the difficulty. Even when we try to remove the idea of an object from our mind, we have some object in our mind. The objectness does not leave us, just as when we love a person or thing, we think of that person; and when we hate that person also we think of him. Merely because we hate a thing, it does not mean that it has gone out of our mind. So, even renunciation may be a bondage. We may go to a worse condition, if it is not properly conceived. We should not think that hatred is the opposite of love. It is not true; it is the same as love, in a different form. So it is not so simple an affair to practise yoga. It requires a very careful analysis of what is happening inside. The problems are not outside. They are not in the world; they are not caused by people. People are not troubling us, and nobody is giving us any problem; we are our problems.

Therefore, the whole problem is in the incapacity of the mind to grasp the peculiar relationship that it has established with objects outside. Now when we say outside, it means again the peculiar concept of outsideness that has arisen in the mind. This habit of thinking in terms of non-self, anatman, externality, space and time has to be removed. Then the world becomes something not intended to be rejected but absorbed into our Self, because the astitva, or the being of the world, is the Atman of the Absolute, which is the same as ours.

So here we have got a little clue to the inner significance of these two verses I quoted from the Kathopanishad, where the ultimate Purusha is supposed to be realised by an internal movement, which is not a movement towards a town or a village or city or some object. The great commentator Acharya Sankara is never tired of telling us in such contexts that movement to God does not mean movement in space; it is not actually moving in a motorcar or an airplane. It is a conscious transfiguration that is taking place inwardly. Even the word 'inward' may be misconstrued. It is a universalisation that is taking place gradually, which looks like an inwardness on account of the Atmanhood present there. This is yoga.

These are very difficult things indeed, and it is really unfortunate if we should think ourselves well placed, very happy, and that we are great seekers of yoga. We are really very far, and so we should be very careful. We are in a difficult situation; we are in a world of great complexities, diversities and misconceptions which sidetrack us every moment of time. Every thought that arises in our mind is a wrong thought. Correct thought very rarely comes to us, because we have no time to think correctly, as we are always moving in the same old groove of traditional thinking. The actual reoriented thinking is unknown to us. We have no time; we are always busy—busy in doing some nonsense, and that has engulfed us in such an intensity and to such an extent that we are immersed in it. And in that immersed condition we are crying for God, and He does not come. So it requires ultimately the grace of God Himself.

After all this, we come to the conclusion that this terrible mess cannot be crossed over unless some miracle takes place. By some mystery of the workings of nature, as it were, divine hands begin to operate and grace descends, and we are brought in contact with a proper Guru or a teacher. That itself is a great blessing. Contact with a proper Guru is really coming in contact with God Himself. To get a Guru is as difficult as getting God. And once you get a proper teacher, then you are on the path. This is a great achievement, and again this is the work of God.