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Controlling Universal Forces
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on November 25, 1972)

Human history is a history of human psychology, ultimately speaking. The political and social struggles recorded in human history are really the struggles of the human mind. The human struggle is not a struggle of hands and feet, or of weapons. It is the struggle of intellects, of emotions, of feelings, of thoughts, of determinations.

All activity is an effort of the mind. When minds collide we have a battle of personalities. The collision of forces, the collision of individuals, the conflict of personalities, the tension among nations are all a subtle, covert expression of the internal human tension, whereby minds cannot agree with one another. Wars take place first in the mind, just as unions also take place first in the mind. They become manifest outside in the physical world like diseases coming to the surface. We fall sick inside first, and then we become sick outside.

But the inner phenomenon is not always perceived. We begin to perceive the expression of the internal forces when they appear outwardly in the physical world of space and time. Unfortunately for us, we cannot believe what we cannot see with our eyes. As we cannot see illness outside, we cannot say that we are ill. But it is there.

Our ambitions, hopes, struggles and conflicts are, therefore, psychologically based in the bottom of our personality, which is not visible to the physical eye for obvious reasons, and they become manifest when they are intensely confronted by opposing forces. The human personality is not only the physical body, as it was pointed out; there is also a mind within us. The world is not merely the geographical realm of mountains and rivers, but is constituted of more important powers than we can see with our eyes. The mountains and rivers, the sun and the moon and the stars do not constitute the whole world, just as the nose and the ears and the hands and the feet do not form the whole personality. We have within us determining forces, psychological and intellectual. Similarly, we have determining forces in the outer world. They cannot be seen with our eyes, just as we cannot see our own mind. What we are within us cannot be seen by us, and in the same way, we cannot see what is within the world.

We see dissention and conflict outwardly, and are helpless in finding the cause of these conflicts. Oftentimes we cannot know why we have fallen ill. We try to treat only the symptoms of the illness without actually knowing the causes. Likewise, to stop the woes and maladies of humanity, to put an end to the struggles, wars, battles and conflicts of mankind outwardly by human effort alone would be to treat a symptom without knowing the cause thereof. Inasmuch as we have been trying to rectify the symptoms rather than find the cause even after twenty centuries of recorded history, we are no better today. We are the same sufferers and the same ignorant persons that we were centuries back. To treat a symptom is like taking cognisance only of a signal, and not that which has put up the signal. Suppose we have a red flag on the road which shows danger, and we try to avert danger by breaking that flag. This is what is called treating a symptom: “Oh, this red flag shows danger, so break the flag, remove the flag, and then the danger goes.” The danger is not in the flag, unfortunately; it is only a symptom, an indication that there is a danger. What do we gain by breaking or removing the flag? Likewise, we try to treat human illness and suffering by treating outward symptoms. This is the cure that we are contemplating in our mind, whatever be our understanding of the causes. Whatever be the education that we have received, and whatever be the good intentions behind us, we are totally ignorant of the ultimate causes of human suffering.

We come to the essence of the whole matter, namely, that to rid the causes of the effects that we see would be a wiser attitude on our part than merely to take cognisance of the effects, because effects are only signals, unfortunate and helpless in their structure. Just as when a flood rises in a river on account of rainfall, the rainfall is the cause and the flood is the effect, likewise, all the present experiences of humanity are effects of invisible, unknown causes. Unless we discover these causes, we are no better than we were, and we shall only be toiling for no ultimate good because knowledge is power. Wherever knowledge is insufficient, our power also is inadequate. Thus, we have to gain knowledge of the mysteries of life, the secrets of existence, before we can try to find out the reasons behind our sufferings and our present experiences.

Now, what are these causes? The causes of our experiences are the manifestations of our own mind. We do not have experiences merely because of a physical body.  Experience is a state of mind and consciousness. We are endowed with experience in the sense that we are also endowed with a mind and consciousness. We say that a stone has no experience. A stone has no experience because we do not attribute a mind and consciousness to it. We have experience because we have a mind and consciousness, so experience is identical with mentation, and is an endowment of consciousness. Therefore, whatever be our experience, pleasurable or otherwise, it is an experience by the mind and consciousness. If we suffer, it is the consciousness and the mind that suffers, and if we are happy, that is also due to an operation of our mind and our consciousness.

Thus, on a careful analysis of our own personality, we come to a study of our mind. Just as we have slowly come from the visible perception of physical bodies and an erroneous feeling that the bodies are the causes of our pleasures and pains, and have come back inwardly to our mental causes, we also have to expand our vision a little more and recognise that minds ultimately are made up of a uniform substance. It is not only the minds, but also the bodies that enjoy this uniformity of substance. We know very well, as students of physiology, anatomy, biology and chemistry, that our physical body is constituted of certain chemical complexes and compounds which are indistinguishable from these substances present in other bodies. These compounds and complexes of elements are modifications of the elements known as earth, water, fire, air and ether. Our physical bodies, whether male or female, whether Western or Eastern, are all constituted of a single substance chemically constituted out of the five gross elements earth, water, fire, air and ether. So even from the physical point of view, the differences that we adopt in our practical life go to the wind if we look a little deeper into the structure of our bodies. We make a lot of fuss about our physical bodies, so much fuss that a lot of our suffering can be attributed only to this distinction that we falsely draw between the various body types. These are all human illusions which are a debit to the culture of man and the so-called education that he is boasting of. It is very unfortunate indeed that we seem to be cultured and educated and yet we do not know these simple elements of human structure. With this ignorance it is that we fight battles like animals in the jungle. So even from the physical point of view, taking into consideration only the body, so to speak, we are not as diversified as we appear on the surface.

Now I am going to tell you something even more surprising, and that is the constitution or the structure of the minds of human beings. On a residual analysis, minds are also not ultimately different. Just as, as I mentioned, the physical bodies of human beings are chemically constituted of the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether present everywhere in the cosmos, the mind also is constituted of a subtle, ethereal substance called the psychological stuff, which apparently differs from person to person on account of its function and not on account of its substance. The function differs, and therefore, we appear to have different minds. We seem to have different personalities on account of the differences in the activity of the mind. If we thought alike, there would be only a single mind and not many minds. Minds differ from one another on account of the difference in their thinking, the whirling of the energy of the psychological stuff.

The mind is uniformly constituted of a subtle principle called rudimentary matter. This is also something invisible to the physical eyes. The physical universe of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – are constituted of subtle forces. To give an example, we know very well that earth, the material substance called stone, etc., is not really a stone. It may be stone, it may be gold, it may be silver, it may be iron, it may be carbon, but all these are ultimately reducible to certain chemical molecules. The physical substances are reducible to chemical molecules, and molecules are reducible to atomic structures, and atoms are reducible and breakable into subtle electromagnetic forces which establish a uniformity of structure even among the five elements. Here is something more wonderful to contemplate than even the conception of the five elements. I mentioned that there are only five elements constituting the physical body, but even those five elements do not really exist. They are only five appearances, a fivefold manifestation of a uniform energy continuum which seems to be the stuff of the whole cosmos.

Now, just as there is an energy continuum behind the five elements, there is an energy continuum behind our thoughts and feelings. This invisible, unknown something – I called it an ethereal stuff for want of a better term – is the psychological medium through which our consciousness works. Just as there is a uniform continuum of matter outside, there is a continuum of a uniform substance called mind within us. Thus, even as bodies are ultimately of a uniform constitution, minds also are of a uniform constitution.

Inasmuch as our pleasures and pains are the workings of the mind, to study the mind would be to study our life. There is no use going into the physical sciences of human nature because they are only the study of the appearances of matter, not matter as such; likewise, to study psychology in the modern empirical sense would be an attempt at studying only the forms of human thinking, and not thoughts as such. As I mentioned, we have to go deep into the causes of human experience if we are to know what life is.

When we come to this analysis, going further deep into the problem, we realise that the study of the mind is the study of one mind, really speaking. To study mind, we need not study many minds or many personalities. If we study the atomic structure or the electromagnetic constitution of a single physical element, we would know the structure of the whole world because this unit is the ultimate building brick of the whole world. Likewise, to study a single mind thoroughly to its depth would be to study every mind, and we come, therefore, to the crux of the whole matter: To study the mind is to study life.

Now, which mind should we study if there is only one mind? Is it possible to study many minds? When we objectify minds as external units, such as the minds of other people, it becomes difficult to understand their structure because externalised minds elude the grasp of our understanding. Anything that is externalised is conditioned; it is not its essential nature. Externalisation is a term that we apply to the conditioning of factors, the limitation of objects, and the superimposition of values which do not really belong to the object.

When we study the mind of our daughter or son, we study it in a different fashion altogether from the way in which we study the mind of our deadly enemy. As we condition objects by the attitudes and values that we see in other persons, it is a hopeless affair to study the minds of other people objectively and empirically because we are already prejudiced in respect of people outside. We may like or dislike the people, or they may be incapable of being thought by our own mind due to the operation of space, time and causal factors.

It is, therefore, decided that if we want to study the mind in its fundamental essence, we will have to study our own mind first because we will not have so much difficulty in grasping our own mind as we have in studying other minds. Our mind is less conditioned by our own self than other minds. The study of our own mind is ultimately the study of life.

Thus, from physical matter we have come to mind, and from mind we have come to a single mind, and the single mind ultimately is our mind. So where have we come, from where to where? We have come back to our own self like a boomerang moving from object to object and turning back to its own source. This is the study of life. This is also the psychology of yoga. The psychological factors involved in the study and practice of yoga are those factors involved in the study of the human mind in its subjectivity.

Now, it is very important to understand this word 'subjectivity'. The mind is subjective in the sense that it is the perceiver and the cogniser of objects. It is subjective in the sense that it is incapable of being externalised. We cannot objectify our own mind. We cannot take it out of us and then study it as we study an object outside. It is incapable of externalisation. It is within us, it is in us, and it is us. In this sense it is subjective, but this subjectivity of the mind has a very peculiar connotation which does not ordinarily come to our understanding. It is subjective in the sense that it cannot be known as an object in space and time, but it is not subjective in another sense, namely, that it is present in other people also. The mind stuff is in everyone. Though the functional differentiation of the mind is different from person to person, the substantiality of the chitta, as it is called in yoga parlance, it is common to all. So inasmuch as it is also present in all people everywhere in the world, mind is objective, but inasmuch as it cannot be externalised, it is subjective. What do we call something which is subjective and yet objective? We call it universal. This is the structure of the mind ultimately. That which is subjective and objective at the same time is called the universality of a particular feature.

So the mind is universal. Now we have come to a very important truth in the study of life: namely, that from the futile attempt at studying objects outside for the sake of studying human life, we have come to the ultimate rudimentary constitution of matter, electromagnetic force; next, we have come subjectively to the study of minds, which are ultimately capable of getting boiled down to a single mind; then we began to realise that the mind is incapable of being known externally on account of its being conditioned and, therefore, the mind has to be studied only subjectively as our own mind; finally, we have come to the conclusion that though the mind is subjective, it is also objective because it is present in all people. Thus, the mind is universal, and the study of the mind is a study of universal truth. Therefore, yoga is a universal science. This is what we are driving at. Yoga is a universal science because it is a study of the universal mind, and so to study life is to study the universal operations of a single chitta, or mind stuff.

Now, how do we proceed further? The further progression of this analytical process of yoga would be to contemplate. Yoga is meditation. Why contemplation rather than action? To act or to do is to express the mind externally in space and time, to condition the mind. This is a very undesirable attempt on our part in studying the mind because we cannot study conditioned objects. So the study of the mind is a kind of contemplation on the mind. It is self-analysis, as we call it, self-enquiry, self-study, and self-transcendence in consequence.

The purpose of the study of the universality of the operation of the human mind is to allow the mind to transcend itself, to outgrow its limitations and to know what it is. Now, here we come to a very essential point in the yoga practice. Inasmuch as the mind is essentially universal, the study of the mind is a universal study and not a study of this aspect or that aspect; thus, we come to the philosophy of the mind rather than merely psychology. The philosophy of the mind is the ultimate study of mental phenomena. We go to the ultimate causes of things and study things. That is philosophical or, as we say, metaphysical investigation.

Thus, we come to the causal factor of mind, or the universal structure of mind as a contemplative process. This contemplative process of the universal mind is called dhyana, meditation. What do we meditate upon ultimately? We meditate on our own mind. In a very interesting technique of Buddhist psychology called Zen meditation, this is precisely what they do. They study the mind by contemplating the mind by the mind. They have no other object. The thought thinks itself, and this process is the ultimate step that one can take in the practice of yoga. To study the mind by the mind is to contemplate the mind through the mind. This is self-contemplation. I have mentioned that contemplation of the mind by the mind is also a process of self-transcendence. It is self-transcendence in the sense that we grow beyond our limited personality.

Where is the necessity for outgrowing the mind? The mind is conditioned to the physical body. We think that we are a small person sitting in a corner, while we are really universal in our activity. We think that we are individuals because the mind has been identified with our particular body. The identification is such that it is indistinguishable from the physical body. Inasmuch as the mind has got identified with the body, we say we are Mr. So-and-so, Mrs. So-and-so, that we belong to such and such a place, that we are a daughter, a son, a father, a mother, and so on. All these are appellations that we falsely attribute to ourselves due to our identification with the mind, which is really universal with a limited body, unfortunately for us. This is our earthly existence of bondage that we have deliberately entered into. The reverse of this process is yoga, the path of salvation of the soul.

This path of salvation is, therefore, a reversal of the thinking process of the mind – self-contemplation for self-transcendence. What do we transcend for self-contemplation? We transcend bodily individuality first, and then we come to the realisation of a mental structure as the background of our personality. Beyond the mental structure is the mind-stuff. The mental operation is different from the stuff of the mind. In Sanskrit there are two different terms for the function versus the stuff. The function is called manas, whereas the stuff is called chitta, and in yoga we call this process as chitta vritti nirodha: the control of the modifications of the stuff of the mind. That is called yoga.

So from the operations of the mind we go to the stuff of the mind. We catch the root of the tree, as it were, instead of merely counting the branches, leaves, fruits, etc. This catching hold of and grasping the very root of our personality is the focus of the higher reaches of the process of yoga. This is dhyana, or meditation, as I pointed out. In this dhyana, what does the mind do? What does it contemplate? It does not contemplate an object outside, because all objects are conditioned. To think of a conditioned object would not be an advantageous adventure because yoga is a process of the recession of the activities of the mind into its own self – Self-contemplation, atma dhyana, Self-meditation, the contemplation of the Atman or the Self of things, which is non-externality. So in this process, the mind ceases to think of objects, and when it ceases to think objects, it also ceases to have conditioned operations. It gradually gets unconditioned. From the conditioned operation of the mind, we go to the unconditioned stuff of the mind. Here we reach the universality of the mind.

There are various processes of this practice, which are very difficult to explain in a short compass, in a few minutes. It is a very large subject before us to study. We may have to study it for years, and when we go to the stuff of our mind as the background of things in its universal operation, we begin to catch the root of the world, as it were, and we study life in its essentiality and substantiality. We study yoga and practise yoga because we want to know life. And what is life? It is the universal operation of a single mind, not many minds – the cosmic mind, as we call it – and this single mind works as operative distinctions in the individual mind, which again gets identified with the individual body, which gets connected with other bodies, and this externally related bodily experience is called earthly pleasure or earthly suffering.

Therefore, we know how far we are from Truth when we contemplate merely pleasures and pains of life. We cannot remove the pleasures and pains of life merely by observing them because they are conditioned, and also we cannot remove them as long as we do not know their causes. The ultimate cause is the bottom of the structure of life itself. So to rectify the defects of the world, to remove the ugliness and make it beautiful and make man happy perennially and perpetually, there is no other alternative than to go to the psychology, the philosophy and the practice of yoga proper.

I have given an outline of the introduction to the practice of yoga in order to also give an idea as to what yoga is at it is properly understood, as distinguished from the misunderstood and abused aspects of yoga these days. Yoga is not meant for bodily pleasure or social approbation. Nothing of the kind. It is meant to study life so that you may master life. You become a master of yourself and you become the controller of world forces, universal forces, because you have gone to the depths of the structure of life as a whole. Yoga is thus a wonderful science, and it is an indispensible panacea for all human ills.