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Your Questions Answered
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 36: On Patanjali's Yoga

Visitor: About Patanjali?

Swamiji: There is a system of Yoga called the Yoga of Patanjali. I do not know if you have heard of it. Have you heard of such a thing?

Visitor: I have heard a little bit about Patanjali, yes.

Swamiji: He describes eight stages of Yoga. They are called in Sanskrit yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Samadhi is the last stage, and yama is the first. You are asking me what is the first. That is what you are asking?

Visitor: Yes.

Swamiji: Yama consists of five principles – the initial steps that you may take. Never hurt or injure any living being in any manner whatsoever, by your thought or by your word or by your deed. You may call it ahimsa. Neither by thought, nor by word, nor by deed should you hurt another living being, not merely human beings, but any living beings.

Secondly, never deceive anybody by untruth of any kind. Never appropriate any belonging or property which does not rightfully belong to you. Then comes another thing: do not keep with you anything which is really not essential for your existence; that is, do not be luxurious. Do not have five motor cars, ten wrist watches, and ten-story buildings. You do not require all this for your existence. Else, it is a kind of exploitation. You are exploiting people by living such a kind of over-luxurious life. Do not grab what belongs to others.

Then, there is self-restraint, the control of the sense organs. The eyes want to indulge, the tongue wants to indulge, the ears want to indulge. Every organ of sense wants to indulge. These sense organs should be restrained as much as possible by daily effort on your part. These things that I have mentioned are considered as the first steps in Yoga. We do not talk of meditation and all that in the beginning. A little bit of self-restraint is necessary, along these lines mentioned. They are called yamas, the processes of self-sublimation.

You asked me how to begin. This is how you have to begin. I am not telling you much more than that. Then, other things start – more difficult things.

First of all, be a good person. Before you become a godly person, you must be a good person – a really good person. And that is your first step.

Visitor: You said, "Don't hurt anybody by thought." Could you explain this?

Swamiji: You mentally curse somebody: "Let this person die; this idiot should not exist. He is the very devil incarnate." Like that if you think, you are hurting by thought. And, it can work also. Though it is only a thought, it will have an impact upon that person whom you are cursing in this manner. You are not supposed to do that – at least, as a Yoga student.

Visitor: Is it not possible just to not believe the thought that goes through your head – just to laugh at it – to not believe the thought? If you think a bad thought about someone else, a thought enters your head – is it just that the thought is there, or can you just not believe it?

Swamiji: No, you should not entertain such a thought. The question of leaving comes once it has entered. Then only the question of leaving arises. Let it not enter at all.

Visitor: It means that one cannot control one's mind, and a thought might pass that occurs in it.

Swamiji: I understand. If the thought passes like that, you must tell yourself, "These thoughts should not arise in my mind. I shall not think like that in the future." The next day you think: "I made a mistake in thinking like this; it should not be like that. I am sorry. I shall not think it in the future." And you tell your mind not to think like that; then, it will not think. Past is past; let it go, but in the future, at least, you will not do it. You have made a mistake; OK, all right, you repent for it. But at least take a resolve that in the future you will not do it.

Visitor: So, even if you have a bad thought about somebody, and even if you do not believe in what you are thinking, it still could create karma.

Swamiji: If you think something, it creates karma. Any thought creates karma. Unless your thought is organised in a universal manner, unless your thought is in harmony with the Universal Existence, thought will produce karma. Karma is nothing but the reaction produced by action. Thought also is an action, so every thought may produce a reaction; but reaction, or karma, will not be produced if your thought is in harmony with the universal structure of things; but if you think like an ordinary individual, then a reaction will be produced.

Visitor: Swamiji, I want to ask you about what you said about the beginning of the path. From our experience, this behaviour that you described is a natural result of the realisation of the Absolute, but without the realisation, it is impossible to think this way.

Swamiji: Even now, when you are not realised, you will be able to appreciate that this is good behaviour. Don't you believe it? Do you want to become a good man only after reaching God, and before that, you will be bad? Is it possible? You have to try to be good even now itself. You must put forth some effort. You may not be perfect, but at least some achievement is as good as a great success. Even one step that you take in the direction of God is an achievement, though it is only one step.

In the spiritual path, there is no loss of effort. Every single effort that you put forth in that direction, even if it is minimal, will be a credit balance in your spiritual bank account. Even one penny, if you put it in the bank, it is a credit for you, though it is only a penny. And many pennies will make pounds. So, go slowly, little by little. Many drops make the ocean; effort is necessary.

Visitor: In your own experience, to realise God, is it necessary to follow all the stages that Patanjali is speaking about?

Swamiji: What are you following, then? You must be following something. What are the things that you are following?

Visitor: Well, when I met my teacher, I just stopped doing all the practices that I was doing, like doing Yoga and meditation, and I just felt that I didn't need them anymore.

Swamiji: What do you need, then?

Visitor: Nothing.

Swamiji: Then, you do not need a Guru, also, if that is the case. What do you say? Be careful in your thoughts when you make decisions. You should not come to hurried conclusions. You cannot say that you need nothing. You certainly need many things.

Visitor: Right, of course, I needed my guru. That is for sure.

Swamiji: Not only that – you have got many other needs in the world. There are varieties of requirements for the very existence of the body. How can you say that you have no needs? You have to protect yourself by various measures. They are the needs of the person. You want clothing, food to eat, a house in which to stay; are they not needs?

Visitor: Yes.

Swamiji: So, why do you say that you have no needs?

Visitor: No, I was referring to the practices. I was just wondering if...

Swamiji: When you have got such gross physical needs also, why are you so very uncharitable to the higher needs?

Visitor: I am sorry – I didn't understand...

Swamiji: Finally, what are you telling me?

Visitor: I was just asking you if in your own experience to realise God you went through all these stages that Patanjali was talking about.

Swamiji: You need not follow Patanjali necessarily. These technological terminologies are not necessary, but these principles you have to follow. Patanjali says, "Be a good person." Now, when you do not follow Patanjali, does it mean that you can be a bad person?

Visitor: No.

Swamiji: "I am not following Patanjali, so I will be bad." It does not mean that. The principles are applicable to everybody – Patanjali or anybody else. The stages are applicable to all people. Who would not like to be a good person? Who would not like to have self-control? Who would not like to be unselfish? These are principles for everybody, so you cannot be without them. They are the preliminary stages.

Visitor: Sure. I was referring more to the practice of Yoga, pranayama, pratyahara...

Swamiji: You see, for you personally, Yoga physical exercises and pranayama may not be necessary. But for somebody else, it may be of some utility. So, how can you universalise any principle? You may be in one stage where they are not necessary. I agree. But for some others who are in another stage, it may be an essential. So, let it be.

Visitor: Thank you.

Swamiji: I am glad to see all of you are very good aspiring souls. This is what I find, because your questions are all very intelligent and practical. You have not put any nonsensical questions. That means you are on the right path. Very good. I am glad to see you.