What is Knowledge
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: Maintaining One's Position

It is a well known fact that in the practice of yoga, maintaining oneself in a position is pre-eminently important. The maintaining of a required position is sometimes called asana. You all perform asanas, or yoga exercises. These exercises are positions maintained by you and, in a very significant sense, the whole of yoga may be said to be the maintenance of a specific position.

This word 'position' has to be understood in a very comprehensive sense. It has a vast implication, and it covers practically everything that is required of you – though, in common parlance, people understand by 'position' only a particular posture of the physical body. Though the posture of the physical body is a requisite position and it is essential in yoga, yet this understanding of the posture or position in yoga as a physical exercise does not include all its suggestions and meanings because you will certainly agree that your life consists of more than just what happens to your body. The incidents concurrent with the bodily position and the occurrences commensurate with bodily activity – or, for the matter of that, anything related merely to the physical body bereft of any other relation – cannot be said to include everything that you are. Nobody believes: 'I am only the body; there is nothing else in me'. If there is something in you other than the body, then yoga posture is not exhausted merely by physical exercise; but it could be said to be a complete system of yoga if you are only the body, and there is nothing else in you.

Now, what is it that you are made of? That substance, that stuff, that peculiar something that you are or you are made of is what is to be kept in position, in a state of balance. You have heard it said that yoga is a state of balance – but what sort of balance? With what are you setting yourself in balance? Though this is not difficult to understand, it is not easy to grasp at one stroke.

One may imagine that to know one's own self is the easiest thing, because one's own self is the nearest thing to oneself, one's own self is completely under one's control, and nothing in the world can be easier than to know one's own self. But, nothing can be more difficult. As I pointed out the other day, the nearer an object comes to you, the more difficult it becomes to understand it. You hold opinions of a particular type in an external relation you maintain with things outside, but you find that such a relation cannot be maintained when the object becomes a proximate something, such that at a particular moment, you may not find it possible to see any difference or any distinction between yourself and that which you try to know or understand; and you are trying to know your own self, to understand what you yourself are.

The understanding has the necessity to keep an object before its eye in order to understand, and you cannot understand unless there is something which is to be understood. If there is nothing that you can understand or nothing is there to be understood, the very meaning of understanding is ruled out. What are you going to understand when you are trying to understand yourself? Where is the object? And which is the subject there? When I see an object, I say, "I see this. I know this table, this desk, this person, this something that is in front of me"; but I am not in front of me, so I cannot make such statements in regard to my own self. I cannot say, "I am seeing myself"; nor can I say, "I am touching myself". These statements, which usually apply to persons and things outside, do not apply to our own self.

Hence, this understanding may not be adequate for the purpose of understanding your own self. All knowledge fails when it becomes a means to the knowledge of one's own self, though it becomes a great success when it is a weapon to know what is not itself. There is this peculiar difficulty which is easy to miss, because of the fact that the only thing that we miss in our daily occupations is our own self. We have everything in the world except ourselves. We lose ourselves first in order that we may gain others. The gaining of another is not possible unless you lose yourself first, and it is up to you to know whether it is worthwhile to lose your own self in order that you may gain something. If you have already lost yourself, who are you to gain something else? What sort of 'you' can possess another thing, inasmuch as you have already lost yourself? The object that you possess will also be a substanceless, balloon-like emptiness, because the possessor thereof himself has become empty due to the loss of personality. This was a great question which Draupadi posed in the court of the Kauravas: "How can Yudhishthira lose me, inasmuch as he has already lost himself?" To this question no answer can be given, and nobody gave an answer. Likewise, how is it possible for anyone to possess anything in the world after having lost oneself totally? The object that is possessed also will be an ephemeral appearance which has no content or substance.

These ideas will make you cogitate a little bit on the difficulty that you are facing in this great adventure you call "acquiring knowledge". It is not an easy thing. You may stand on your head for years, but you will not succeed because there is a basic problem that is ingrained in our own existence. Existence itself is a kind of evil, in a very highly philosophical sense, and this is perhaps the quintessence of Buddha's message: "Existence itself is an evil. You have to be rid of existence." In a different way, Schopenhauer said the same thing: "Existence is evil. Be rid of it."

What sort of existence is evil? This is not clear to us. The enigmatic term 'existence' can cut like a double-edged sword; it can take us both this way and that way. And the existence that we attribute to our own selves in our operations in daily life is mostly an artificially concocted related existence, not a substantive in the proper sense of the term. A thing that stands merely because it is related to something else, really does not stand by itself. Most of our relationships are the very values of our life. What we consider as worthwhile and valuable in life is that which has been produced out of a kind of relationship that we establish with something else – a contact that there is between ourselves and others. There is, for instance, political importance, economic importance, social importance, or any kind of value that you attribute to your own self in relation to something else – which means to say, inasmuch as you are subservient to something else by means of your hanging on to it by relation, the values that you obtain in this world are also hollow. They are not substantives; they cannot stand on themselves. Thus, mankind today may be said to be living a totally artificial life which is bereft of any significance – bereft of significance because of the fact that it seems to be hanging on something else for its substance. Therefore, we say the world is relative, and not absolute.

Inasmuch as one thing is hanging on the other, and 'that' thing is influencing 'this' – things seem to be standing in a position by mutual relationship. We cannot say that things are standing by themselves. The planets and the other heavenly bodies that seem to be hanging in space are maintaining their position due to the orbit which they have been forced to chalk out by means of a mutual cohesive influence maintained by what is called a cosmic gravitational pull. As I mentioned the other day, the bicycle maintains a position only when it is moving; if it is not moving, it will fall down. In this way, it appears that our satisfaction with any kind of stability in our life here is based on a kind of relationship which itself is relative. Thus, an absolute value is non-existent in this world, and we cannot know things as they really are by any amount of outward relation.

It has been felt that we have no relation to our own selves, and we must, at least, be supposed to exist in a relationless manner: "I have no relation to my own self." In this sense one may say that one's own self is a non-relational substantive. This is a point that is made out by deep thinkers and philosophers, and due to this feeling of theirs, they concluded that nothing in the world can be known as it is in itself unless one knows one's own self – because to try to know anything else first without a knowledge of one's own self would be to be contented merely with what is relative and not absolute. By 'relative', we mean that which is not at all valuable in itself – it is valuable only because it is connected to something else. The father is important because the son is a big judge or a collector; the son is important because of a relation with a vaster organisation to which he belongs; a person is important because he has some money in the treasury. Something or other is there which keeps the person in a state of imbalance with his own self. Imbalance is that condition where we do not stand by our own selves, and hang on something else for our existence. This is not possible, because while on the one hand we are asking for permanent satisfaction, we seek this permanent satisfaction by means of an impermanent relationship that is the only thing possible in this world.

All relations are impermanent. Why they are impermanent is a very difficult theme, into which we need not enter just now. It is enough for the time being to know that it is impossible for anyone to know things as they really are unless there is a means of knowing things as they really are. Nothing that is perceptible or cognitional – nothing that is related to mere sensory activity or even mental operation – can be considered as a proper means here in this objective, because all these instruments of knowledge that we have, the mind included, maintain a sort of knowledge position in respect of things by a mediate connection that they establish between themselves and the object. It is not an immediate relationship; it is a mediate relationship. An outward link is created in order that an object may be known in terms of this link, so that what is known is not the object as it is in itself, but only a feature that is coloured by the character or the nature of the means or the link that is between oneself and the object.

What is the solution, finally? Know yourself first, and then you will know how to know other things. But, as I mentioned at the outset, how would you know yourself? To know anything, the knowledge has to stand as the subject of another object. You are not the object of knowledge of yourself, because you are the subject of knowledge. You are the knower. If you are the knower, how will you know yourself? If you can grasp some sense out of this peculiar position – that you have to know yourself, in spite of your not being an object of yourself – you would know what yoga is.

However, here comes the meaning of what I started saying: yoga is the maintenance of a position. And all that I told you now in a few words is a preparatory introduction to what 'position' can mean in yoga. It is the position that you maintain, and you have to know what 'you' are in order that you may maintain the requisite position in yoga.

You may be content with saying, "I am only what the photographic camera can see in me"; and you know what it sees. But, on a little analysis of your own position during leisure hours, you will realise that you have values in your own self; and your physical features, which alone are seen in a photograph, cannot be regarded as exhausting the characters of yourself. Do you know that even if the body is robust, healthy, and perhaps happy, you can be unhappy for other reasons? When you say "I am unhappy", you do not mean the body is unhappy. It may be strong like an elephant, and yet the person may be unhappy for a reason which is not easy to know because if one could know why one is unhappy, one need not be unhappy at all. One would throw out all the factors that cause unhappiness if this could be possible. But this is not easily available. The causative factors of unhappiness are not easily available to anyone because they sit on the very brain of the person and, therefore, the very thinking process is conditioned by these factors that cause unhappiness. Thus, you find that the maintenance of yoga posture, finally, in the sense of the yoga system, is a hard thing to do. This is why people had to work through the sweat of their brow for years and years to understand what all this finally means.

The thing that you are cannot be merely the body. Even a person with a little common sense will know this. I just mentioned casually, through the analogy of happiness and unhappiness, that the bodily happiness need not be your happiness, and the bodily unhappiness need not be your unhappiness. Even if surgeons cut off limbs of the body, which cannot be regarded as happiness of the body, a person can still be happy; and a person can be in a condition of a total ruin, for other internal reasons, even if the body is perfectly healthy.

Thus, our life is more internal than external. Our external life appears to be a very great thing for us because of the fact that the internal factors do not intrude much. It is something like our feeling very happy and satisfied merely because our creditors do not show their faces. A debtor may be happy as long as the creditor does not show his face, but when he shows his face, immediately the debtor's face falls, and the reason for his unhappiness is very clear. The outward show of joy vanishes in a moment when internal factors displace themselves and create an imbalance in the system.

Now, you may wonder: "Am I happy only when the mind is happy, and is this all that I expect in this world? Or is there anything else in me?" Many people imagine that mental peace is very important, and they seem to be very clear in their minds when they say this – but really, they are clear about nothing. The words "I want peace of mind" are merely words; the meaning of these words is not very clear, and cannot be very clear, because you cannot know what you mean by 'peace', or 'happiness', or 'unhappiness'. You cannot easily know what happiness and unhappiness mean, if you attribute your happiness and unhappiness to factors other than yourself: "If I get something, I am happy. If I do not get it, I am unhappy." So, you feel that you are a slave of that which is supposed to make you happy or unhappy. Are you a slave? Would anyone like to be a slave of anybody? But, all those who imagine that they will be happy only due to the possession of objects are utter slaves, and this also applies to the causes of unhappiness. On the one hand, you cry for freedom and say you are very independent, but your 'independence' is a name that you give to a total dependence on factors other than yourself, which you think is the cause of happiness or unhappiness, whereas nothing of the kind is the truth. You make your own destiny. Your own fate is in your hands; nobody else is the cause. It is futile to argue that other people are the cause of what you are, because nobody will interfere with you, and nobody has any business with you.

But we seem to be imagining a different world before us – a world that is totally different from the world as�it really is. The conditions of our internal existence, though they may appear to be mental for the time being, are something more. Ordinary lay thinking will not be able to know what is actually meant either by peace, happiness or unhappiness, because the lay mind has a simple answer: "I want this. I do not have it. Therefore, I am unhappy," and: "I wanted it. I got it. Therefore, I am happy." These are simple statements that people glibly make, as if everything is clear when these statements are made.

Your position is not merely the physical body's position. Of course it is also, at the same time, the position that the mind maintains, but there is something more than even this. The necessity for the body to maintain a particular position in yoga – or at any time, for the matter of that – arises because the mind has to maintain a particular position in order that you may be psychically happy and healthy. A psychically unhealthy person cannot be regarded as healthy, though it may appear that the body is well fed and is maintained properly. The need for a balance in the physical system arises because of its association with the mind; and vice versa, the mind is associated with the body. But the conditions that the mind expects in order that it may be healthy, happy, or peaceful – for its wholesome existence and satisfaction – are determined by factors which are supermental. These are conditions which go beyond the mind itself. We cannot know why we wish to have peace of mind at all. Why do you cry for peace of mind? Let it not be there; what does it matter? You cannot answer this question. You very stubbornly and arrogantly assert: "I want peace of mind" – as if you know all the things in the world when you have said this, and there is nothing more to say.

The requirements of the mind in association with the body that make you a psychophysical organism – the requirements of this situation of yours – depend upon the very structure of the universe. You are not such a free person as you imagine, though there is nothing to prevent you from being ultimately free if you are going to be in a proper position and harmony with that which is the only cause of real freedom; and if you accept that you are inseparable from the inner constituents of the universe – being yourself a constituent factor in the very make-up of the universe – the position that the universe would expect you to maintain is the position that it itself maintains.

We are now slowly moving beyond the limits of ordinary human understanding, which satisfies itself merely with the knowledge that everything is fine if the body is well fed and the itching mind is provided with the tentative joys which it seeks from fleeting objects. But even these fleeting objects appearing to give a temporary satisfaction to the psychophysical organism – even this appearance – is due to something that is happening in the universe as a whole. The causes are something else. But we are blissfully ignorant of the causes, not only of our happiness and unhappiness, but even of our very existence here in this world for this short span of life. What makes it possible for us to be alive in this world and be breathing? Is it under our control entirely? You know very well that you do not breathe because of your power over the breath, that it has something to say independently. The heart does not function because you are working very hard for it; you have nothing to say about it, and it is your master entirely, as is the breath. There are things which keep us alive, and yet remain totally independent of what we imagine we are. Likewise, there are umpteen factors which range beyond our sense perception and mental understanding, which decide what is expected of us. But we decide ourselves what is expected of us, as if we are omniscient: "I know what is required of me, and you are nobody to tell me." "I cannot accept anybody's advice because I know all things." "I am not prepared to listen to anybody's advice because I think for myself and do not wish to listen to anybody." If these are the outlooks generally maintained in your life, then you naturally pay the price for it, and you cannot excuse yourself merely because you do not know the law of the universe.

Law is impartial in every sense of the term; it has neither friend nor enemy. When I speak of law, I actually refer to the manner in which the universe operates. The system that is maintained by the universe throughout the stages of what we call its evolutionary process is the law that it maintains simultaneously; and if we are also subject to a sort of evolutionary process because of the fact that we are inseparably contents of this process, it is incumbent upon us to follow this law of the evolutionary process. The universe evolves as a total whole, and not by bits or parts – even as, when we grow from the state of a child to a more adult condition, it is the whole of the personality that grows, evolves. Here you have an example of what evolution means. Nothing independently, as an extraneous part, maintains a say of its own. We grow entirely. Every cell of the body participates in this process of growth, and it is not that the nose grows today, and the ears grow tomorrow, and the legs grow the day after tomorrow. There is a perpetual total action taking place in the whole organism when it grows. This is evolution as we see it daily, with our own eyes.

Likewise, evolution in a cosmical, natural, physical, or astronomical sense is also a total movement of the universe. Remember what I told you a second before: Inasmuch as the evolution you have observed in the growth of your own personality is total, and the universal evolution is total, and also at the same time because you are inseparably related to the universe in every way, your evolution and the universal evolution are one and the same. Your evolution cannot be independent of the universal evolution.

Therefore, to grow into a state of perfection, towards which is the movement of the universe by way of evolution, you have to participate as an entire personality, and not as a partial individual, with this requirement of the universe. All the layers of the universe are inside you. The human being is a cross-section of the cosmic structure. Thus, whatever is in you, is in the universe; whatever is in the universe, is also in you. It is a mutual cooperation that is taking place in an organic manner, and not merely as a cooperation of two friends. There are no two individuals here. To the system of yoga, at least, the human individual and the universe are not two things. And again, to bring in the analogy of the human organism, your fingers and toes, and your own body, are not two things. It is one thing only that we refer to by two different terms.

If the world and you are not two different things, your growth is conditioned entirely by the system that the world maintains. Thus, the position maintained in yoga – the so-called asana – is, of course, a physical position, because the physical world and the physical body are both there; but remember that the physical position is not the entire position of yours because – to repeat again – the body may be maintaining a so-called balance but, at the same time, the mind may be imbalanced.

It may look that the imbalanced mind is maintaining a physical balance, but this is not yoga exercise because the exercise called yoga asana is the posture that 'you' maintain, and not merely the posture that the body maintains. And what are 'you'? Think a little bit about what you are. It is of course true that whatever you are is associated with this little physical body, but you are inseparably related to many other things also as a citizen of the universe. You belong to a larger government presided over by a power which has its own principles, rules, regulations and laws, operating inexorably and impartially in such a way that you cannot have a worthwhile rest even for a moment if you are not in a position of harmony with this system that operates. Any pain felt in any part of the body is a pain felt by the whole body. Any imbalance anywhere is the imbalance that is communicated to the internal core of the universe.

Thus, the yoga system takes you beyond the ordinary limits of mere social thinking, political thinking and economic thinking, to cosmical thinking. If this is not possible, yoga is also not possible. It begins with little performances, but these little performances have inside themselves, immanently and hiddenly present, the requirement of the largest and the greatest. The highest principle of universality is operating even in the littlest of our actions. This makes every action a yoga.

You have heard that there is a system of yoga called karma – karma yoga. Karma yoga means yoga of action. Your performances, your deeds, your operations, and whatever you seem to be busy with, become a yoga if these performances are the emanations of the balanced position that you are maintaining because, as you know, what you are doing is actually an expression of what you really are inside. It is not possible to be honest to one's own self by doing what is not one's own essential nature. Your action and speech are an expression of the contents of your own inner personality. Thus, the yoga exercise as a sort of activity that is visible to the eyes is a yoga, no doubt, because it is, at once, an internal position that is maintained simultaneously together with this external performance, by simultaneously maintaining a consciousness of your requirements in the light of the law of the universe.

Yoga is a universal science. It is not a science of the laboratory or the classroom. It is not something that you do invisibly, unknown to people. There is no such thing as secret yoga. It is a public performance, in the sense that every inch in the universe will know what you are doing, just as the whole body will know what is happening to any part of the body. The consciousness of your being inseparably related to a larger operation of forces in the universe is important if your yoga exercises are to become meaningful and fruitful. You must know, therefore, that yoga exercises are not like outdoor games. They are not a public performance of any kind of known exercises. It is an internal dedication that you are performing. There is a total difference between yoga physical exercises and exercises in the form of games in the field outside.

Thus, even a yoga asana is a worship of God. It becomes a divine activity on your part because your physical body is not outside you, and you are not outside that which the universe is and that which is the ultimate controlling principle of the universe. Yoga is all life put together, and not merely one part of your life.

Hence, through the media of the performance of yoga exercises, and other systems known as pranayama, pratyahara, etc., you are gradually tuning your internal layers – together with the body, of course – with the corresponding internal layers of the universe. In every level of your attunement, you are one with the law of the universe, so there cannot be a moment's unhappiness for you. Unhappiness is a chimera; it cannot be. The world exists as an embodiment of great joy. As the Upanishads are never tired of telling us, ananda, bliss, is the root of this universe and, therefore, the outcome of this ananda cannot be duhkha. Duhka appears to be present as a sort of evil due to a maladjustment of our personality with the requirements of the cosmos.