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An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: The Preparations for Yoga

We have heard it said that there are many kinds or types of yoga. This idea of a variety in yoga arises on account of a sectional thinking, into which we perforce have introduced ourselves as the result of our mental structure. Really, the Yogas are not many, just as we cannot say that the rays of the sun are many, though they appear to be so due to a peculiar projectional structure of the mechanism of this emanation.

We have observed that there is an objective way of thinking and also a subjective way, the connection between which is what we call knowledge, or perception. Our knowledge of the world, or the knowledge of anything, is a reaction set up between the subject and the object. Unless these two are there in juxtaposition, there will not be knowledge; there will not be any kind of experience. Every experience is a reaction between the percipient subject and the perceived object, whatever be the nature of that object, physical or otherwise.

Now, we can think in three ways and so there are supposed to be three Yogas, the well-known systems of karma (action), bhakti (devotion) and jnana (knowledge), in which schools like that of kundalini yoga, tantra yoga, japa yoga, and even Patanjali's system of yoga, and various methods of self-analysis, get subsumed.

We have to recall to our memories that when we go deep into ourselves, we find the very same things that we discover when we go deep into anything outside. That which is deeply within us is also deeply within everything in the world. Even as, at the bottom of the crests of the ocean, we find the same base of the ocean, which is at the back of every other crest also, likewise, we will discover a common reality underlying every individuality. There is a substance which is equanimously present as the background of particulars, and yoga is the process of the gradual withdrawal of consciousness from particulars to the generals, until the highest common factor is reached. The particularised attention paid by consciousness in respect of any thing is to be withdrawn into the more general background of it, and the more it goes near to the general background, the more does it approximate to the ideal of yoga. This withdrawal, to repeat again what was noticed earlier, can be either inward, outward, or transcendent.

There are three kinds of withdrawal. But how is it possible to withdraw oneself in three ways? We are generally accustomed to the idea that withdrawal means going into one's own self in an individual sense, but it need not necessarily mean that. One can withdraw oneself even into an object by a peculiar adjustment of consciousness and in that technique of objective withdrawal, the object ceases to be an object any more. Here consciousness assumes a different position by an adjustment of itself with the object in a novel way. In fact, yoga is a gradual attempt of consciousness to convert every object into a subject; and the more do we succeed in transforming the object into the subject, the more are we said to be advancing in yoga.

The greatest problem in life is involvement in objectivity, externality, the conditioned attitude of the mind by which it segregates itself from all things which it thinks, or visualises. The world of objects is a connected whole; this is the doctrine of yoga. The world is not constituted of isolated parts as it appears to the outward senses of perception. The recognition of this inward connectedness of things in the form of the universe is the endeavour of yoga. Inasmuch as we are accustomed to think only in terms of objects and we cannot think in any other manner, we have to take the stand of the object first, and that method is the way of karma yoga and bhakti yoga, and partly of the yoga of Patanjali, and the initial stages of even jnana yoga. Everything starts with the concept of the object; only the notion of the object varies according to the different systems of practice, the notion getting widened gradually, in an ascending degree.

Before we start seriously any kind of practice in the direction of yoga, we must be well up with the requisite preparations. The achievements in yoga are a gradual evolution, a systematic advance and not a sudden jump. It is not a revolution that we are setting up. There is no revolutionary process in Nature. Everything grows slowly, stage by stage, without missing even one link in the process of development, as we have grown from babyhood to the adult stage. How beautifully does a tree grow from the seed! How many years does it take? There is no abrupt skipping from the seed to the fruit.

So is yoga a gradual developmental process of the 'wholeness' of our personality towards an achievement of All-Being. We have, therefore, to be cautious that the necessary preparations are made. We cannot suddenly conceive of the goal without being aware of the preparatory stages. Apart from the techniques to which we shall refer a little later, five of the requisites may be noted with advantage among many others: 1. Place, 2. Time, 3. Method, 4. Regularity, and 5. Whole-souled devotion to the Ideal.

You must have a place which is suited to the practice. You must also have a time chosen for the practice. You should have a method which has to be adopted continuously, without changing it every now and then. Then the practice must be regular and there should be no break in it. And, lastly which is perhaps the most important aspect of it, you must have a whole-souled love for the practice. It is said in the yoga scriptures that one loves yoga as the mother loves the child and thinks of it the whole day and night, and there is no other thought in the mind except that. "How shall I get it?" This ardent longing from the heart is itself half of the success in the practice, and everything else comes afterwards.

The co-operation from your deepest feelings is the affection that you have for yoga. You do not approach it with suspicions or doubts in the mind. It is absolutely certain that you are going to achieve the goal. This conviction should be there at all times. If the calculations are correct, the mathematical problem should yield the required result. You cannot doubt whether the calculations will give the result or not. The system of mathematics is so exact that there cannot be any suspicion about it.

Yoga is a highly technical and systematic subject, and if the methods adopted are correct, there should be no doubt, whatsoever, as to the possibility of the achievement of the end. The time that you take in reaching the goal depends upon the extent of the intensity of the practice and the emphasis that your feelings lay upon it, the extent to which you are in communion with the ideal which you are trying to contemplate.

We take into consideration, first of all, the place. Everyone knows what this actually means. One has to be located in a place which is conducive to the practice. Now, what do you mean by saying 'conducive to the practice'? There are certain necessities: geographical, climatic, social, political, physical and the like, which are associated with the selection of a place. Beautiful suggestions are given to us in such scriptures as the Svetasvatara Upanishad, for instance, as also in the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Vasishtha. The place should be pleasing to the inward sense of spiritual quest. You should be lifted up by the very atmosphere in which you are. That is why people go to sequestered places. The more are you away from centres which have an atmosphere of clash of personalities and egos, the more can you be in tune with Nature.

When you go for a walk, you go alone and not with another person. You will feel happier when you walk alone than when you go with another person; else, there would be two egos walking. And one ego never wholly agrees with another ego. You may be thick friends, but notwithstanding it, you are still two persons and not one person. The very fact that you are two persons shows that there are two egos and one has to adjust oneself in an artificial manner to the presence of the other. You cannot be natural when you are in the presence of another person. You cannot utter a word which will not be pleasing to the other. You cannot have a gesture made which is not to the taste of the other, and so on. But if you are under a tree you can do anything there, because the tree has no ego like the human being. The birds, the animals, have no egos like men and they do not bother about what you do, what you say, what you think, etc. Choose a place which is free from tensions arising from the presence of egos. This is the reason why we go to monasteries, temples, convents, and such other sanctified localities. Also it is said that elevated places are more convenient than others, because of the electro-magnetic influences which high altitudes are supposed to produce. The tops of mountains are regarded as very conducive. Places which are near vast areas of water, or near the ocean, are electro-magnetically more suggestive. This is the discovery of ancient sages. There is also a discovery that cloudy weather is more conducive to meditation than clear sky because of the presence of electric forces that are generated in the sky during the movement of clouds. These are minor matters, not very important things, but they are things to be remembered, as they are helpful.

Times which are suggestive of an automatic withdrawal of the mind from external activities are to be preferred. Night time is generally, and obviously, helpful because of an automatic tendency of the mind at that time to withdraw itself into subjectivity. When we speak of time for the practice of yoga, or meditation, what we actually mean is not merely the hour of the day, such as eight o'clock, etc., but a fixed time. There is a cyclic movement of everything in Nature. This system of cyclic movement applies not only to the external world of astronomy but also to the internal world of the psyche. If we start taking our meal at a particular hour and we continue taking it at the same hour, we will start feeling hungry at the same time and not at other times, because of a cyclic effect in Nature which generally gets associated with the way of thinking, and affects sympathetically the physiological functions.

Hence it is necessary that one should fix a specific time for contemplation, studies, etc., whatever the nature of the practice – not that one starts meditating today in the morning and tomorrow in the evening and the day after at midnight, etc. Such anomalies will create a kind of jarring effect and not yield a harmonious contribution to the practice. The time should be fixed, whatever the chosen hour be. There are some people who are anxious to get up very early in the morning. They force themselves into waking up into a consciousness of meditation imagined at a particular time which is suggested by scriptures, etc. This may not have the desired result following. No kind of force should be exerted upon the mind. It may be that early morning is good for certain reasons, but in the beginning one will not be able to adjust oneself to that hour, because one is not used to that life. It is better to take things easily as an art and not as a sort of labour or an imposition that has been inflicted upon the mind. Joy should be the touchstone of the practice and not uneasiness, pain or regret.

Yoga is a process of rejoicing. It is not a suffering. It is a movement through happiness. From one state of joy, we move to another state of joy. It is not that yoga starts with sorrow, or that it is a kind of prison-house into which we are thrown. We have sometimes a feeling that yoga is a torture, a suffering, to the normal life of man. Sadhana means a fear, and indicates an unnatural seriousness. This is so, often because people have created a picture of awe and sternness about yoga, an other-worldliness about it, dissociated from the natural likings of the human being. Our desires are, no doubt, obstacles to yoga. But they are 'our' desires; this much we must remember, and they are not somebody's. So, we have to wean ourselves from these desires gradually and not make it appear that we are peeling our own skin. Such a drastic step should not be taken, and it is not the intention of yoga.

You have to draw up a systematised programme: what is the thing to be done first, what is the thing to come next, what is the third item to be taken up, etc. The thing that is to be done after three days should not be done today, and so on. Have a graduated programme of the practice according to your own capacity. This suggestion is general and is not intended as a particular instruction to each and every person without distinction, because interests vary. You have to maintain your own spiritual diary, to put it in the way of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. You can have a diary of your own according to your need and capacity, the stage of your mental evolution, the studies that you have made, the aptitude of your mind, the technique that you are going to adopt, etc. Have a positive attitude towards the practice.

Just as a sick person feels happy when he is in the process of moving towards health, yoga, as a process of one's growing towards healthier and healthier conditions of personality from states of illness, makes for a state of happiness. When one becomes healthier, one also becomes happier. Suppose you have high temperature, and the temperature comes down gradually; as it comes down, you feel greater relief, a satisfaction which arises from within, automatically and spontaneously. So is the case with yoga. It is your mother. She will not torture you. She takes care of you. Even one thousand mothers will not equal yoga in tending the child with affection. As is the affection that yoga has for you, so should be the affection that you must have for yoga.

Why is it that yoga has such love for you? You will be wondering what is this consideration that yoga has for you. Yoga is not a human being. Yes; but it is more than a human being. Yoga is not a word that we utter. It is a surprising revelation to us. The great thing that is called yoga is God Himself conceived in our minds, according to our own manner; and our love for yoga is nothing but our love for God, love for Reality, love for the Absolute, love for 'That which is'. If that Being has no love for us, what else can care for us? Not all the humans put together can have such concern over us as this great Reality has. It wants us more than we want It. All the worlds conceivable will not equal the positive affectionate reaction that this Mystery exerts upon us at every moment of time.

Feel happy: "I am in proper position with Reality. God is seeing me." This is a fact. That God sees you is not merely a doctrine; it is a truth and there cannot be a greater truth than this. Every atom is looking at you. The whole world is awake and is conscious as to what is happening. The world is made up of love and not enmity, hatred or dissociation; it is affection that the world is made of. It is made of love, and there is nothing else here.

Love is the essence of things. You want things, and everything wants you. Feel this, assert this. Chant mantras, recite slokas, read scriptures which awaken you to this consciousness of the presence of the divine love exuberant in everything, even in the air that you breathe, the sun that shines, the rain that falls, the atmosphere that is around you, the people that are in society. All are centres of affection, really. They appear to be otherwise sometimes on account of a misconstruing and miscalculation of fact that we make in our perceptions.

The world is, therefore, a yoga by itself; things are in a state of yoga even now, and they are going to be in a state of yoga always. One is only going to realise this truth. We are getting awakened to this presence which is already there and we are not going to manufacture yoga after some time. It is not that yoga is not here now and it is going to take place afterwards. It is not a product artificially to be concocted with the effort of the human being. Yoga is an eternal truth. The great central Absolute is perpetually there; it was not different, it is not different, and it will not be different in the future. We have only to wake up from sleep and see what is there.

So, yoga is not a creation of something which is not now and is to be there after some time. It is rather a consciousness into which we rise as we wake up from deep sleep and become aware of the world outside. When we wake from sleep, we are not creating the world outside; it is already there, but we become aware that it is there, a fact which was not known to us when we were in sleep. Yoga, when it is said to be a gradual developmental process, is really a development and enhancement of the consciousness of reality, an increase into a depth of the awareness of things and the lessening of the gap that appears to be between us and the world.

The point, then, is that you should have a fixed place, and it would be good that a person is in one place for a period of some years; in the initial stage it may be one year, two years or three years. Later on it can be even for a lifetime. Do not be drifting from place to place like a tourist; that is not the way of yoga. You must be in one place for a protracted period, as far as possible.

The time, also, should be selective. You have your own convenient time, not necessarily four o'clock in the morning. If it is four o'clock in the morning, and that is convenient, very good; if it is not, let it be six o'clock. Whatever the time be, you are to be comfortably woken up from your sleep, and have no other engagements.

What is the time that you have to fix for yoga? The time when you will not be distracted by attention to other activities in life. Suppose you have to catch a train after half an hour; that would not be the time for meditation, because there is a distraction. Or you have to meet some official in the government, or there is a case in the court, etc.; these would be unsuitable occasions.

At least for the next three hours after you commence yoga, there should be no engagements for the mind. Let the conscious mind and the subconscious mind tell you, "Yes, for the next three hours you are not going to be disturbed by anything." Well, then, sit up for yoga.

The early morning hours are supposed to be good for a peculiar reason. You are not much conscious of your subjectivity which has been in sleep, and you are also, then, not acutely aware of the world outside.

The time can also be the last hour of the night. An hour before you go to bed is a very useful one. The last few minutes that you spend before you sleep should be the time for the most noble thoughts. And who knows that one will get up in the morning tomorrow? This is a well-known fact. The last thought will determine one's next birth. What we shall be after this life is over is conditioned by our last thought. And why should we entertain distracting thoughts when we go to bed? It is always good to think of the most sublime things possible at the time of retiring. Read a passage from the Bhagavad Gita , the Sermon on the Mount, or the Dharmapada, or whatever is to your liking – something which will transport you, enrapture you, catch you by the spirit, and flood you with the joy of divinity. Let that be the thought at the time one goes to bed in the night.

And, well, if it is God's will that we are not going to wake up in the morning, let it be. But we shall get up in the very atmosphere which is in harmony with the last thoughts with which we went to sleep. Therefore, it is important that people should not spend the last hours of the day in clubs, hotels, cinemas, etc. It is a bad habit, highly distractive, very injurious to psychic health. One should never go out of one's room after sunset, as far as this is practicable. People have a habit of going to shops in the night. And you know what you see in the shops, the market place and the streets. It is all confusion, chaos, noise, distraction. The last hours of the day should be spent in such a way that you are alone to yourself studying elevating scriptures of yoga and thinking noble and lofty thoughts which are to the advantage of your own soul.

The place and the time are to be chosen according to your convenience, under the guidance of a Teacher. It is important that you should have a guide until you are able to stand on your own legs, till you are confident that you can do everything for yourself, when you have no doubts in your mind, when everything is clear and you are not going to have any kind of difficulty on the path. Until that time, you require a guide. You may call him a Guru, a friend, or a philosopher. Whatever be the way you regard the guide, such a one is necessary because the world is full of mysteries, and you do not know what it contains.

Every step is a new step, and it will take you to the unknown. The path of yoga is difficult to tread because the further steps cannot be visualised at the initial one. You can see only one step at a time and when you are taken by surprise by a phenomenon to which you are not accustomed, you will not know how to adjust yourself to that situation. That is why guidance from a competent master, or teacher, is necessary – help from one who has already trodden the path. He will help you even in these small matters like place, time, and the like.

Then comes the method. The method that you adopt should be uniform. You should not take to different Gurus. You should not go on changing your techniques of meditation. There should be only one system, even as you drive a nail into the wall at the same spot, and then it goes inside by hammering again and again, and you do not hit it at ten places, which will be of no avail. To find water, you dig in the same place, and not go three feet down in a hundred places. So also do you tap the source of reality at one spot and go deep into it, and you will find there what you seek. But if you merely scratch the surface at different places, you will not find anything; no treasure will come forth. You have dug the earth three feet down in one thousand places, and you have found nothing because you have gone to various places unnecessarily. Dig deep at one place. This is the uniformity that you have to adopt in the method of practice.

What is method? This touches the process called initiation. You might have heard that a disciple, a student, gets initiated into the mysteries of yoga. Initiation is the prescription of the technique or the method of meditation. You will not be able to choose it for yourself always, because you may have doubts as to whether 'this is good, or that is good', and so on. A competent teacher will tell you, considering your psychological make-up, what would be the proper method of practice for you. This is known as initiation into yoga. The prescription of the method is important. Just as a physician gives a prescription, and you go to the same doctor and follow the same prescription – you do not go on changing the doctors or the prescriptions every day, for that is not the way of curing the illness – so do you persist in the adoption of a single technique, the prescription given by your Teacher. The method is selected according to the nature of the student, the circumstances in which the student is placed in society, etc., and so it varies from person to person. You cannot have a general method for everyone.

Then there is regularity. You must be honest about things. You should not make a joke of yoga. It is a very serious matter. Just as you do not take lunch at different times on different days, for that would spoil the tummy, you must take to the practice at the same time every day, and that is regularity. You should not miss this concentration even on a single day. Suppose, you take your meal today, and tomorrow you do not have it, and the day after tomorrow you take it again, and the practice continues; you know how it affects your health. Even if you are in a moving train, the meditation should not cease. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to do sirshasana even in moving trains in order to teach it to the interested passengers. He had a system. Every day he used to do asanas. Likewise, even if you are in travels by some occupation of yours, you must be able to find a little time to withdraw yourself into concentration some time, because the cyclic order of Nature, and the cyclic method with which the mind works, have a connection with the effects of all processes and activities. At a particular point there is a connection of factors and they are ready to contribute to success. Just as the gastric juices begin to secrete themselves at a particular hour of the day and cause hunger in the stomach, so does the hunger of the spirit manifest itself under specific conditions. You must take advantage of this structure of the mind according to which it asks for a thing at a particular time. Hence, keep to regularity. If you start sitting for meditation at a particular time, sit at that time alone every day, unless something unavoidable intervenes. Normally, one must be able to stick to an appointed time.

Then, lastly, you should have a surging affection and love for the practice of yoga. You must have made a decision: "This is my goal. I have been born for this purpose only. I have nothing else desirable in life." When this conviction comes, everything shall come. This decision of yours is the great love that you evince to God. We do not merely shake hands with yoga. There is a real communion established with this great Reality, from the bottom of your soul. If this love is there, God will love you as His own, and there will be nothing that you lack in this world.