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The Epistemology of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 11: The Importance of Self-control

Whatever be the form of yoga that we may practise, the basic methodology is practically the same, especially when we go straight and deep into the subject. This is so because the world is the same for all; there are not different worlds for different persons. The structure of things is the same for everyone and, therefore, everyone has to pass through the same pleasures and pains of life, even as a pedestrian moving towards a destination along a particular road has to cross the same landmarks and visualise the same vistas as anyone else who treads that same path towards the same destination.

This path that leads to the destination of life is not a linear movement—like a road from Rishikesh to Delhi, for instance. Here is the difficult and, also, the interesting part of yoga meditation. In yoga, we do not move in any particular direction, though it is a movement in a direction. It is not in any particular direction because in yoga we are confronting God's creation. We are confronting God Himself. The Supreme Reality is that which is envisaged in the consciousness when we seriously undertake what is known as meditation.

There is no movement in the sense that we understand movement, though there is a total movement and a complete transformation. Since the world, the whole of creation, is connected to us in every fibre of our being, our movement towards the great destiny of the cosmos is connected to every fibre of our being. We are moving in entirety towards the great destination of the universe—not moving partially or fractionally. Neither are we able to understand this entirety of ours, nor are we able to understand the entirety of the world, as long as we are subjected to the vision of things through the senses. We live in a sense world and, therefore, our idea of our own selves, as well as our idea of the world outside, is not adequate.

When it is said that we move towards the great destination of the universe, we may not be able to clearly grasp what this statement means. Who are we? What kind of 'we' is it that moves towards what kind of universe—and, what sort of destination is situated where? Questions of this kind may arise, and these questions cannot be answered abruptly, because we have never been educated in the cosmology of things. Our education is empirical, wholly—economic, sociological, political, and so on. A cosmological educational system has been ever unknown to us. But, it is necessary to have a sufficient knowledge of our placement in this environment called the universe, inasmuch as one cannot do anything unless one knows where one is standing.

This knowledge of where we are standing is called philosophy. We may call it cosmology, we may call it ontology, or anything we like. The knowledge of our exact position in the structure of things is the subject of all philosophical studies. Where are we sitting, just now? The answer to this question is philosophy. After having known our placement in the structure of things, we have to know what we are supposed to do under the circumstances in which we are placed. This is yoga.

So, samkhya and yoga represent theory and practice —knowledge, and the duty that is incumbent upon a person in the light of this knowledge. We have discussed the theoretical side sufficiently. How this world is made, what our relationship is to the cosmos, and where we are finally moving—this we have studied, to some extent, in a rationalistic fashion. The practical side is summed up in one word, meditation, but it has many facets and, also, several stages of its evolution.

Just as there is a series in the evolutionary process of the religious consciousness in the human individual, there is also an evolutionary process of the meditation technique. One does not suddenly jump from 'A' to 'B' in meditation. It is a growth and a progressive movement organically taking place, within as well as without at the same time. The growth of an organism is inward as well as outward. There is an internal transmutation simultaneously taking place in the growth or the maturity of an organism in relation to its connection with the atmosphere in which it is born. It adjusts itself to the atmosphere.

The adaptation of an organism to the environment in which it is placed is a part of its life. One does not live on an island. No man is an island, it is well said. So, when we grow, when we become mature, when we become adults, we are not individually, isolatedly, physically growing. We grow in every respect of the term. The adaptation of oneself to the environment is a part of the growth of the personality of the individual, whatever that individual be. We are not growing isolatedly, in a corner of our own house. We are also growing simultaneously with our environment, because the environment is not cut off from us, and we are not cut off from the environment. If yoga is a growth of the stuff of individuality called consciousness in its movement towards yoga in meditation, it undergoes a transmutation together with every kind of relationship that subsists between itself and its environment.

What is the environment in which we are placed? During your lessons on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, you must have heard something about the limbs, as they are called—the steps or the progressive stages of the ascent of the meditative consciousness from the lower stages to the higher. If you try to properly understand their significance, you will realise it is a cosmological ascent. It is not an ascent from one rung of the ladder to another rung of the ladder, as is seen when a mason climbs to the top of a house. It is not a bifurcated rung. It is an interrelated rung, as every day is a rung in the ladder of the development of our person. Every day we grow, and when we grow we naturally move from one rung to another rung, but we cannot see the distinction between one and the other. It is a flow, like a river moving, and we cannot make a distinction between one part of this movement of the river and another part. That is the very meaning of movement as a flow.

Thus, the movement of consciousness in yoga meditation is a flow, and not a jump. It is not a sudden eruption from one state to another state. It is a very healthy, powerful, constructive, happy, integral movement in an all-around manner. It is not from a spatially lower position to a spatially higher state, because consciousness is not in space but is a mystical, adventurous movement. The mystical movement is different from the spatial movement.

It requires a little training of the mind to think in this fashion. That is why teachers of yoga have always insisted on the purification of the mind before one enters into meditation and the advanced stages of yoga. One cannot even understand what all this means if the mind is impure and is filled with the dross of the usual associations of love, hatred, and the like. Nothing will enter the head, whatever be the thing that is told. We will get confused, that is all.

But, it is possible to succeed in this superhuman adventure of the human spirit when it is cleared of the obstacles and the impediments that come in its way in the form of obsessions, which are psychological in nature. All human beings, everything in the world, has an obsession of his own, her own, or its own, and it is very difficult to free oneself from these obsessions. An obsession is a peculiar kink, a kind of trait of the outlook of the mind which becomes vitally connected with it as a part and parcel thereof, so that our very way of thinking is that obsession.

The service rendered for years together under a Guru is supposed to work a miracle by itself. All training spiritually, and on the path of yoga, is supposed to be always under the direct supervision of a Guru. It is not a matter concerning books and libraries. Any amount of reading will not keep the brain clear, because books do not speak.

We have peculiar difficulties within us. Sometimes we, ourselves, may not know what the difficulties are that we have to face tomorrow, just as illnesses sometimes take different turns and a panel of physicians may be required to understand the peculiar turns that the disease takes, and it may be difficult to know what can be expected. We are accustomed, right from our birth, to think in one particular manner. This manner has to change, root and branch. The initial thing is a transformation in the very theoretical outlook of things. Hence, theory is essential, though practice is more important.

Every doctrine has a theory behind its practice, whether it is physics, biology, or even engineering. The technology behind a thing is the theory; the actual implementation of it is the practice. We cannot suddenly jump into the practice without knowing the method behind it. The methodology, which is the foundation of the practice of yoga, is the whole educational process, which, in a few words, I have been trying to detail during the last sessions. We are connected to the world, we are connected to people, and we are connected to the whole purpose of this creation. First and foremost, we have to shed the idea that we are contained inside the universe.

When we open our eyes and look at things, we are not looking at the universe. We are looking at our own selves, as a spread-out body. In a way, when we look at things, when we see the world outside, it is something like a finger of the body looking at the whole body. I am giving you one illustration as to what the world is made of in relation to ourselves. Place yourself in the position of a single finger in your hand, and if that finger is to see the whole body, what will it think—or rather, what is it supposed to think? The idea, the notion, the outlook and interpretation entertained by this finger in respect of the whole body is an illustration of the manner in which we have to envisage things, because the finger does not see the body; it sees its own self, inasmuch as it is the body. It is not a finger; 'finger' is only a name that we give to a part of the body. There is no such thing as finger; it does not exist. It is all just body. The legs, the hands and the other limbs of the body are the body. So, when we look at the world, the world is looking at itself.

I am not looking at things; you are not looking at things; the world is seeing itself. Here is a fundamental change in our very outlook of things. This will inject a shock into us, if we start thinking like this. The world is seeing itself. It is not somebody meditating on the universe. The universe is, itself, attempting to contemplate its own internal pattern. In a few words, I have summed up the principal position.

Now, this position wherein we are placed—this position which we cannot easily think in our minds, this position which is not the usual way of our thinking, this position which may give a shock to us if we go on thinking like this for a long time—is the real position of things. This is why life sometimes gives shocks. When reality enters into us, we get shocks because we are accustomed to living only in a web of unrealities, which seems to be very pleasant. But, we cannot always set aside the realities of things, though sometimes they give us a long rope to go astray. Occasionally, the truths of life enter into us and give us such a kick that we do not know what is happening to us. We seem to be shattered into pieces.

Why should we get a kick unconsciously and be shattered to our bones? Why don't we consciously enter into this educational process of knowing the true relation that is between us and the world, and avoid this kick? Why don't we honourably and respectfully understand things as they are, rather than be forced to understand things as they are? If we are not going to learn the lessons of life honourably, we have to learn them by pain. These are the pains of life.

People learn lessons by pain because they do not want to understand them by education. They want the pleasantness of life and not the realities of life because, somehow, they have been given to understand that truth is not pleasant. This is very unfortunate. Truth need not be unpleasant. If truth is not going to be accepted by us under the impression that it is unpleasant, this unpleasantness will flood us one day and we will drown under it. Of this, history is a demonstration before us.

The world is not made in the way in which we think about it; and, our friends, relations, family and society are not related to us in the way in which we think. We are neither friends nor enemies. We are not in any way connected in a social fashion. We are connected in a cosmological fashion. Truth should speak, and one day it has to speak—if not today, tomorrow. But we are always thinking that we are human beings, socially connected in an organisational fashion. This is not true.

We are not an organisation. Human beings are not connected to one another as brothers and sisters, as fathers and mothers, as we are presently contemplating them. We are related in a different fashion altogether, which can be precisely stated as an impersonal relationship. We are not social units; we are cosmical pressure points. We are not men and women. Such things do not exist in the eyes of God, perhaps—or, at least, in the eyes of nature.

Here, yoga speaks now, and it speaks in a different language. That language is to be understood by us, and we should shed our ordinary social language. Here is a highly metaphysical, cosmological, spiritual, mystical language which speaks in terms of the basic realities of life that we are going to confront in meditation and, therefore, meditation is not some social being thinking. It is not a brother meditating, or a father contemplating—nothing of the kind. It is a very serious event that is taking place in the whole environment in which one is placed. No event is a local event. Nothing happens in one place only. Everything happens everywhere.

But, we cannot understand that a thing happens everywhere. We see things happening only in one place, and because we cannot understand the relationship of an event with other events in the world, we are shocked when such news reaches us. There is a reverberation taking place in the entire cosmical atmosphere when any event takes place anywhere. All things belong to all things. Everybody belongs to One Being; nobody belongs to anybody else here. There is no personal possession, no property. No attachment is possible. Likes and dislikes have no sense.

What we call love or hatred is a meaningless thing. It cannot obtain in this world. They are laughingstocks, yet they are hard realities for us. We are very affectionate, and very hateful, but this has no sense in the structure of things. Neither can we affectionately hug anything, nor can we kick anything. We have no right to do anything, because nothing belongs to us, and we do not belong to anybody. Our duty in this world is not in respect of one person, two persons, three persons, or this thing or that thing. It is a total duty.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, in the description of the stages of the practice, tell us that we have to learn the art of meeting, facing, encountering this world gradually, stage by stage—as we may face a tiger which we want to subdue or a lion which has to be brought under control. This should not be done at one stroke. We should not go and sit on the neck of the lion, thinking that we are going to control it and be the ring master. That is not the way. A long duration of time may have to be taken for the purpose of dextrously manoeuvring this art of controlling a wild relationship, which seems to be the thing between us and the world at present.

Everything seems to be wild, everywhere. Nothing seems to be under our control. We are totally unhappy. But, it can be brought under control. The very first step in the last stage of meditation, called samyama in yoga—I am not touching upon this subject because it belongs to another section altogether—is the control of the elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether, which are the substances which form our physical bodies and everything else. As I mentioned, this is the first step in the last stage, not of the first stage. There are other stages —yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, etc. You may know something about all these things. In spite of knowing all these things, and in spite of living for years practising yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, you would not have touched even the fringe of Reality, which begins with samyama—the control of the forces of nature.

The control of the forces of nature also implies the control of the forces of our own individuality and personality. Therefore, world-control is self-control, and self-control is world-control. They mean one and the same thing because what we are made of is the thing out of which the world is made, and vice versa. Hence, natural forces cannot be controlled unless there is self-control first, because we are miniature universes. The whole world is contained within us. We can operate upon all things by operating on the parts of the body itself. The chakras, as tantrics and hatha yogins sometimes tell us, constitute the points, by operating upon which, we can operate on the cosmos.

So, we are little universes moving here. Therefore, there is no point in trying to control anything without controlling one's own self. A restraint of the senses, the mind and everything of which we are made is the essential thing that we are called upon to perform before we try to control the world, before we try to see the gods and the angels in heaven, and meet the Creator Himself.

Self-control is the subject with which I started last time, and I am once again coming to the very same point. Yoga is self-control. What kind of self is it that we are going to control is a matter upon which we have to bestow some thought. What do we mean by self-control? Which self? “I am the self.” This statement sometimes refers to the body. “I have come; I am here.” When we say this, we mean the body has come and the body is seated here. “I am hungry.” When we say this, we are referring to the pranas. “I am upset.” When we say this, we are referring to the mind. “I don't understand.” When we say this, we are referring to the reason. And when we are asleep or we are unconscious, we are not referring either to the body, or to the senses, or to the mind, or to the intellect, but to something else—which is the residuum of our unconscious.

Therefore, when we speak of self-control, we have to understand what types of self are involved in what we call 'ourself'. “I am very unhappy because my son is sick.” When you make this statement, you are referring to a peculiar kind of self. Why should you be unhappy if your son is sick? In what way are you connected? That means to say that the son, also, is some kind of self. “I have lost all my property; I am very unhappy.” So this property, also, is a kind of self; otherwise, how can the loss of property bring unhappiness to you? Something happens somewhere outside yourself, and you are disturbed by it. Either you are disturbed, or you feel happy or elated. Your son is occupying a very high position in society: you are very happy. Your son is dead: oh, very sorry, indeed! So, look at this; you are somehow connecting yourself with your son, and his happiness or unhappiness is your happiness or unhappiness.

That means to say that you have got a vital connection with this person called the son, which is a conscious connection. Your consciousness has moved away from your centre and enveloped that person. This self is called a secondary self. In Sanskrit, it is called a gaunatman. It is not the real Atman because, really, the son is not you; if he dies, you need not die. Your connecting yourself with him is artificial. Hence, the relationship of oneself with the son, wife, husband, property etc., is secondary. It is called gaunatman—not the real Atman, or the true Self.

There are three categorisations of the conception of self—the secondary, the false and the primary. All this is described in some detail in a very important text called the Panchadasi, which is a philosophical treatise. The secondary self, called the gaunatman (gauna means secondary) is that with which we externally connect ourselves, as with the children, property, etc., due to which connection we are either happy or unhappy. The false self is what I have already referred to—the body, the senses, the pranas, the mind, the intellect, and this unconscious base into which we sink when we fall into deep sleep. These are called the five sheaths, five koshas: annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya.

Neither the son is yourself, nor the body, mind, intellect, are yourself. Yet, there is some point on which we have to bestow thought in regard to these things also. Though these selves are not the real Self, they are some kind of self. Otherwise, we would not bother about these things. So, every kind of self has to be taken into consideration when we practise self-control. Though the son and the daughter are not the true Self, and money in the bank is not the Self, and the body is not the Self—yet, they are some kind of self, though falsely imagined. Just as a person who imagines that he has swallowed a lizard vomits the entire contents of his stomach even though he has swallowed nothing, in the same way an imaginary difficulty can create a real disease.

There was a small boy who was having his dinner. He saw a lizard crawling on the wall. He was looking at it, and eating his food. He went on looking at the lizard, and after a few minutes he looked away. When he looked again, he could not find the lizard. He looked around in alarm. “Where has it gone, where has it gone? Oh, I have eaten it!” he exclaimed. He started vomiting everything that he ate, and doctors were called. No doctor could find any lizard in his stomach, and no medicine worked. The boy wept and cried, “Oh, the lizard is moving inside! It is moving!” He could feel the sensation, and it was awful. No physician could cure this boy of the lizard that was 'inside'. After a few minutes, he again saw the lizard crawling on the wall. “Oh, there it is! I am okay. I am all right. Oh, Mummy, Daddy, I don't want any medicine. The lizard is there. I have not swallowed it. I am alright!” How is this? He was so sick that he was vomiting, and he could feel the sensation of the movement of the lizard in the stomach; but it was not really there.

Similarly, we can get terribly upset and be overjoyed over things with which we are falsely connected. As I told you, though they are false relationships, they are important as far as the problems of life are concerned. Finally, the problems of life may be falsely grounded; but, nevertheless, they are there, and we have to pay attention to them. Therefore, the yoga technique takes into consideration every kind of self in the practice of self-control—the gaunatman, or the secondary self, the social self, the physical self, the sensory self, the pranic self, the mental self, the intellectual self, and the causal self, before we go to the Absolute Self.

We should not say that we are concerned with only the Absolute Self, only with God, and we do not care for anything else. This is not a proper way of looking at things, because we know very well that we experience hunger, we experience thirst, and anything happening anywhere can upset our mind. So, how can we say that we are concerned only with the Almighty? It is not true. Hence, we have to be very, very honest to our own selves, and we should call a spade a spade, as they say. The reality as it is experienced by us in the present condition in which we are now placed should be taken into consideration. Whether it is false or not false, that is a different matter. Whatever we consider as real is real for us—though, later, we may get out of this impression.

Hence, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali very, very intelligently and dextrously consider every kind of self, every stage of self, which has to be subdued in the process called self-control —reaching, finally, the control of the whole Self, which is universally spread out. This control of the last Self is also the attainment of the final Self. So, self-control is also Self-realisation, at one stage; and at every stage, also, it is a kind of Self-realisation. From the stage of the lower conception of the self which is to be restrained in self-control, we reach a higher Self which is realised simultaneously.

Thus, self-control is also Self-realisation at the same time, in the sense that the lower self—or the lower notion of the self—is subdued, overcome or transcended, and at once the higher stage of Self is realised. Therefore, self-restraint and Self-realisation are simultaneous things; perhaps, they mean one and the same thing. The going out of the disease is the same as the gaining of health. They are not two different things. When sleep goes, waking comes. Finally, total self-restraint is total Self-realisation. Thus, yoga is a graduated process of self-control.