What is Knowledge
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: Being in Balance with the World

Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana, which are stages in the yoga system of Patanjali, mean the posture that is maintained, the harmonised flowing of the breathing process, the adjustment of sense activity with mental operations, the concentration of the mind on that which it finally seeks, and its absorption in that object. These essentially are the directly practical aspects of yoga.

We are almost entering the inner court of yoga practice when we begin with the adjustment of our personality with not only human society, but with nature itself. The earlier stages, known as yama and niyama, are concerned mainly with performing a great feat of attuning ourselves to the laws which are called social or external in the human sense of the term. These earlier stages are difficult because one cannot adjust oneself with another always and in every way. That is a great hardship. But a greater difficulty arises now, when you have to face nature itself and the constituents of your own personality, finally leading up to the total attunement of the world and yourself with the Ultimate Reality.

The point behind the practice of yoga exercises, which I tried to dilate upon in some way previously, is actually intensely practical. You may be wondering why you should be seated in a particular posture, why there should be a prescription for a pose of the body in yoga, and why it matters what pose you are in. This question arises on account of not properly grasping the relationship between the physical and physiological components of our personality with physical nature outside. We have an ingrained and inveterate habit of convincing ourselves that we have practically nothing to do with the world of nature outside. “What on Earth have I to do with the Sun, Moon and stars? What does it mean to me if the mountain is there outside, if the river is flowing or the Earth is under my feet? I am in no way concerned with these things.” This may be the feeling of the untutored individual. But nature – the physical universe – is not so very unrelated to us as we may imagine.

Usually, with the equipment of ordinary academic understanding, this knowledge of the inner relationship of ours with the physical universe would not be practicable. Any amount of theoretical learning will not tell us what sort of connection we have with the world of nature, because this relationship is not visible to the eyes. Those who believe only in what they see with their eyes are thoroughly mistaken in their judgment of things, because the greatest principles governing existence are invisible to the eyes. The visible forms of operation are the least aspects of the law that operates in the universe. The vital elements in nature are not direct objects of sense perception. People who are totally wedded to sense activity are likely to think that the world of nature is unconnected with them, which is not true.

One of the medical systems in India, known as Ayurveda – very ably propounded by a master physician called Charaka – begins with this interesting doctrine and principle of the organic connection of physical nature with the physical system of the human being. The illnesses of the body are attributed to maladjustment of the body with the world of nature. This maladjustment takes place on account of a physical affirmation of the individual as an independent something, unconnected with nature.

Earth, water, fire, air and ether may be said to be the basic building blocks of what we call the world of nature. Do you believe that you have nothing to do with them, that the five elements are left to their own fate, and we are lords of our own kingdom here? This is not so. This physical body of ours is nothing but a form assumed by certain parts proportionately taken from the five elements. We have in our physical body nothing but what these five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether are made of. These are in our body, and these are the substances of our physical body. So Charaka, the great physician par excellence, makes out that health – at least in the purely physical and physiological sense – is a harmony of the physical constituents of the personality with the physical constituents of the world outside. We sneeze, we have an ache, we have temperature, we feel excessive heat or excessive cold. All these difficulties are attributable to the difficulty of our physical and physiological system in feeling any sense of kinship with the world of nature outside. This is to say a few words about the medical or the health aspect of the relationship between the physical body and the physical universe.

However, our point here is a little different. It is not merely medical. It is something beyond the visible requirements of our physical personality. There is a necessity for you to maintain a balance with the world outside even physically, if you are to have peace of mind and what is called happiness of the psychophysical organism. You cannot quarrel with nature and be happy. Nature is not merely your parent, but an inseparable part of your larger physical dimension. There is practically no distance between your physical body and the world of nature outside. The mountain may look like a distant object, the Sun and the Moon and the stars are all far away from you, and everything is physically remote from the point of view of your sensory perception – but nature does not get exhausted merely with what you see with your eyes.

Nature includes even space, and you should not be under the impression that what you call space is a non-entity, that it is just a vacuum, a kind of emptiness in which the visible gross elements are contained as if in a cup. Space, so-called, is not a cup in which the world of nature is contained. This was the old classical view of scientists in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. Even Newton, the great man, believed that space and time have no connection with the world of nature, that the world of nature is the visible concrete substance physically felt – earth, water, fire, and perhaps air. But today we are awakened by these observant minds that space and time, which do not appear to have any related connection with the visible forms of nature, are involved in the very substance of physical nature. Space and time are not outside the mountains and the rivers; they are internally woven with the very substantiality, the very existence of what are called the visible elements, to such an extent that scientists are forced to believe that even these so-called hard earthy material objects such as brick and stone, table and chair, and so on, are only configurations of space-time. You will be flabbergasted to hear that a hard brick which can break your head is made up of only space-time. How is it possible? Well, this is a matter for you to go into detail as a sort of diversion, at least.

The idea is that subtle features are the causes of gross things. According to the Indian cosmological system also, space is not emptiness. It is only the child’s mind that believes that space is unconnected with physical objects and our physical bodies. Cosmological doctrines of Indian philosophy hold that there was an evolutionary process of the physical elements. Space was the first element, and time went with it. A vibration that was set up in what is called space became motion, and got condensed into what is called air. Space, time and motion are the original existences in physical nature. Motion does not mean motion of some physical object; it is a vibration, and it should not be connected with hard substances. Electricity is not a hard substance like a brick which you can touch and feel, but you know that it exists as something more powerful than even solid bricks and steel rods. Therefore, vibrations are not ethereal abstractions; they can produce stronger effects than even steel rods or nuggets of hard substances.

Space, time and motion are considered to be the original conditions of everything in the physical universe. Air is a concrete visible form taken by these vibrations, which are not visible practically. Friction produced by the movement of air became the cause of what is called heat, and heat has various potencies in itself. It condenses into various forms of visible substances. You must have heard from at least one school of astronomers that this Earth was once upon a time a part of the Sun. It was chopped off from the body of the Sun by certain occurrences, whatever be the cause of these occurrences. Some believe that a large star came near the Sun, and the magnetic influence that it exerted on the Sun was so intense that a chip was cut off from it; and there are others who believe that there was a gyrating motion of the Sun which caused a piece of it to come off. Whatever be the reason, the belief is that this Earth is a child of the Sun. And we know what the Sun is made of. It is tremendous, unthinkable heat, rising beyond 6000 degrees Celsius.

The astronomers’ conclusion is that the Earth was a boiling mass that was gyrating in space in this terribly heated condition for some millions of years; and even today the centre of the Earth, called the barysphere, is fire, molten mass, due to which we feel more and more heat as we go nearer and nearer to the centre of the Earth. When we go above the Earth, we feel chillness because we are away from its centre. The centre of the Earth is said to be boiling even today, and this sometimes becomes the cause of eruptions such as earthquakes, etc. The original heated condition of the Earth had to take an immense, almost immeasurable extent of time to cool down, and it became a liquid mass – which are our oceans, and everything that is liquid. Earth came afterwards. The liquid portion, the watery element, is the consequence of the cooling down of the heated stuff of the physical element. Water condenses into ice, and it hardened into what is called the crust of the Earth.

The Indian cosmological scheme to which I made reference also believes in the dissolution of the cosmos – that as things came, so also they will have to go. We have to return to that place from where we came. Astronomers believe that the principle of entropy, a cooling down of the cosmos by an equidistribution of heat, will mean the end of all things. Whatever be these doctrines, the Indian cosmological scheme mentions that a day will come when the drama of the universe will cease, whether by entropy, as physicists tell us, or by any other reason such as the will of God or the cyclic motion of nature. Whatever be the reason, the Earth will get dissolved in water.

We know that water is nothing but hydrogen and oxygen, and a proportionate mixing up of hydrogen and oxygen becomes water. And we know there is hydrogen and oxygen in space, in air. Fortunately, they do not mix in the proportate combination required to produce water. Perhaps the entire gaseous element will get mixed up in this proportion, and the whole thing will become water. Nature has mysteries that we cannot even contemplate in our minds. Earth gets dissolved in water, water gets dried up by fire, fire will be extinguished by air, and air will be lost in space.

Now, space is not an emptiness. This is the point that we have to understand very clearly. Thus, even our body which is so heavy, weighing so many kilograms, is ultimately space-time. It is a puckered kink of space-time, as it were, which looks like a heavy substance, and just because it is heavy it need not be solid, because heaviness is a feature felt by the pull of gravitation. Otherwise, there will be no heaviness at all. Therefore, heaviness is not a criterion for the substantiality or solidity of an object; it is an illusion produced by the power of gravitation. And even solidity is supposed to be an illusion created by electrical repulsions produced by the contact of that of which our body is made and that which we touch. Well, these are interesting things into which we can research in more detail.

The point, finally, that comes out of all this analysis is that the physical body is not outside nature. It is pointless for us to imagine that we are outside nature, that we can go scot free: let anything happen to the world, let anything be taking place in the natural physical world, and we can still be happy. No! What does yoga tell us here? What does Patanjali, at least, speak to us? Yoga, as you all know very well, is a communion that is expected to be established between ourselves and Reality.

From a purely psychological or psychoanalytic point of view, reality is social existence. When psychoanalysts tell us that mental illnesses arise on account of conflict with reality, they practically or entirely mean the irreconcilability of our ideas, our desires, our passions, our emotions, with the norms prescribed by the society of people outside. Whether they are right or wrong, or you are right or wrong, is a different matter. The question of ethics does not arise here. It is a principle of irreconcilability between what you think is proper and what society thinks is proper which causes illness. As you have not the strength to fight with society and its regulations, you try to be submissive to these forces exerted upon you by society; and in this assumed submissiveness of yours, you drive your passions and inclinations, your desires and longings, and all your impulses into the subconscious and unconscious levels of your psyche. You become an embodiment of tension, craziness, erratic behaviour, and complexes of every type, and you are no more a normal human being. This opinion of psychoanalysts is a great truth on one level of analysis. Hence, according to psychoanalysts, reality is social existence with which you have to be in harmony. This is a fact that is established and accepted by the yoga system also; and by yamas we mean nothing other than what Freud, Adler and Jung have said.

However, this is not the end of the matter. The Reality that we are speaking of, with which you have to set yourselves in tune, is not merely social law – though it is also a very important thing, and you know what will happen if you fight with human society. You do not want to do that, because you will not exist afterwards. But, there is something more than all these things. The yoga system prescribes a rule or a norm by which you have to be in harmony with the reality not only of human society, but also of the world of nature. Can you believe that you can be happy merely by being in tune with human laws but being opponents of natural laws? They will kick you out, and you will not be there. You will cease to be.

Therefore, the yoga exercises or asanas, which are not very complicated from the point of view of Patanjali’s system, imply an attempt on your part to keep your physical and physiological system – your muscles and nerves – in tune with what nature outside will expect from you. Though in the hatha yoga system many types of asanas are prescribed – sirsasana, sarvangasana, and so on – Patanjali does not feel the need for all these complicated exercises. He has a simple recipe: you have to be seated. This is because there is something that you will be expected to do after you are seated.

You may ask what is meant by being seated, and why you should be seated rather than standing or lie down. The standing posture is not possible for a long time, because the very reason for this prescription of maintaining a balance in the system is that you should be able to concentrate your mind on what you consider as the final reality. If you begin to concentrate the mind on reality while in a standing position, you will withdraw your attention from your body and from the effort of standing, and you know what happens if you are not conscious that you are standing; you will collapse. Therefore, a standing posture is not suitable for concentration of the mind in yoga.

Why not lie down? This also is not suitable, because you are likely to relax so much that you may become unconscious and sleep. Yoga is not sleeping, though it is not a consciousness of external objects in a distracting sense. Thus, the yoga prescription strikes a via media. It says do not stand, because it is not proper; and do not lie down, because that also is not good. The via media is sitting.

Even when you are sitting, you may feel aches. Your knees will give pain, and you cannot bend your legs properly; and you will find the greatest ache will be in the spine. You cannot sit erect for a long time. Why should you sit erect? You may ask why you should not crouch, or lean backward as you do in a dentist’s chair. This is also not suitable.

Again, you have to understand the purpose of this seated posture. It is not because somebody is ordering you to do it. It is not because Patanjali says “sit” that you are sitting. There is a science behind this seated posture, and I have already tried to mention what it is. The muscles, the nerves, and everything that your physiological system is made of, is connected to the physical nature outside, and nature maintains a balance. Nature does tolerate any kind of imbalance that is introduced into it. There is a possibility of a certain catastrophe arising in nature – it may be even a cataclysm, or a whirlwind, or a cyclone – if an imbalance of any kind is felt by natural forces, because nature is a balance. The whole universe is an ultimate balance, and if it is necessary on your part to maintain a balance between yourself and the world of nature – and everything that the world is made of, finally – you have first of all to be balanced in the constituents of your body. There cannot be non-alignment of your personality in any sense of the term, because you cannot be in harmony with others or with anything outside you if you are not in harmony with your own self. You cannot be a friend of another if you are an enemy of your own self. When you have sorrow caused by the dismembered quarrelling attitude of your own internal constituents, how can you have a wholesome attitude towards others? “Be good. Do good,” is what Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to tell us again and again. You cannot be good to others unless you are good essentially, good in your make-up itself; and doing good is only an external expression of what you are as a good individual.

However, the point is, again, the maintenance of a balance in the inner constituents of your personality as a preparatory step to maintain a balance with the world of nature; and yoga will expect from you much more than these little prescriptions because yoga will end in meditation and samadhi – which is not merely your tentative feeling of attunement with nature, but a total absorption in it, such that nature becomes not merely your friend, but inseparable from your existence. The Yoga System, as propounded by Patanjali, goes into such ecstatic reaches of experience that your inner layers get tuned up with the inner layers of the cosmos in such an intensive manner that you begin to feel that you are not any more a human being, not a man or a woman, not ‘this’ or ‘that’, but a particle of nature, a wave of nature, a vibration of nature, a pressure point of natural energies.

You are not a human being as you are imagining yourself to be. In the ultimate reaches which are called samadhis, you cease to be a human being. You become something which is a part of the cosmic setup of things. You cannot regard a part of nature as a human being. The humanity that you are speaking of is only a social interpretation and understanding of that which is super-social and super-individual. The particles, the atoms, the waves, the energies, the vibrations, are not human. They have nothing human in them. They are impersonal energies like electric energy, which cannot be called a man or a woman, and yet it is more than what you call humanity.

Thus, natural forces are impersonal laws with which you have to attune yourself in what yoga calls samadhis – and as you move higher and higher in yoga, you become more and more superhuman, impersonal, and no more an individual looking at the world as a mass of humanity, as a sea of people. You will see that you are in an ocean of powers, forces, vibrations, and perhaps what people today call the space-time continuum. This is what is awaiting you in the finale of yoga.

So, Patanjali tells you to be seated in a very equanimous position, in which you will be so equanimously posed that you will not even know that you have a body. Sit in a very calm posture for a few minutes without feeling any ache or pain in the body. Sit for five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes; you will not know that you have a body at all. You feel a sense of buoyancy of spirit. The intense feeling that you are the body arises on account of your non-alignment with the objective world, and even at the stage of yoga asana, at least from the point of view of the system of Patanjali, begin this meditation. Even the yoga asana itself is a meditation, because it requires a great power of concentration of mind to be seated in such an equilibrated position.

The inner constituents of your personality, to which I was referring again and again, are also to be understood properly. What is meant by the inner constituents? As I mentioned, the physical body is ultimately constituted of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether. The bones, flesh, nerves, marrow, blood, and whatever is in your physical body, is nothing but the result of the permutation and combination of earth, water, fire, air and ether. But there is something else; there are energies. The prana, which takes the form of breathing, is also an essential. And the breathing process, which is the expression of the energy we call the prana, is the generator which pumps strength into our body, due to which we are able to move, walk, lift our hands, and perform the physical and physiological functions. If the prana does not pump energy, we cannot even move; there will be no life in the body. The body has no vitality of its own. It cannot move, just as a brick cannot move or a cart cannot move unless it is pulled. This dynamo that pumps energy into the physical body and makes it move, as railway carriages are made to move by their engine, is the prana sakti within us – the energy, vitality, force, vibration, or whatever we may call it.

You must know what is inside your body before you can go further. This physical body is made up of the five elements. Then there is the prana which performs various functions, and it assumes various names on account of the performance of these functions. Prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana are certain Sanskrit terms used to describe the functions of the prana. We are not very much concerned with these functional differentiations now. Suffice it to say that there is a vibrating force within us which is vitality, energy, prana, which expresses itself as the breathing process through the nostrils. But you have also a mind which thinks. You are not merely the physical body, the physiological system and the prana. You know that when you are fast asleep, the body is there, and the prana also is there. You are breathing, no doubt, but the mind does not think, so you do not know that you are existing. Hence, whatever you know is an act of the mental faculty. The mind is a general term we use to describe everything that is called ‘psychic function’.

In the Sanskrit language there are special names for these operations of the psyche. In western psychological parlance, the word ‘mind’ generally includes everything that is called the psyche. In a general way, we call everything that is psychical as ‘mind’ or ‘mental’. Well, that is all right for all practical purposes, but in the system of Indian psychological analysis, what is called ‘mind’ in the English language may be regarded as that particular faculty which indeterminately thinks. ‘Indeterminate thinking’ means just being conscious that there is something, without actually knowing what it is. This is general perception. When you just look at something, you know that something is there. This especially happens when you are just getting up from your bed and not fully awake. You wipe your eyes, and then begin to see what is around. There is something, and you know that there is something. This knowledge that there is something around you is an indeterminate cognition of the mind, called manas in Sanskrit. Then you become awake more acutely, and get up from the bed and begin to see things and people standing in front of you. It is not just ‘something’. This is determinate understanding, where the intellect begins to operate.

The mind is manas, the intellect is buddhi. The manas, mind, performs the function of indeterminate thinking, and the intellect decides and determines that it is such and such a thing. And there is a will, sometimes called volition – buddhi sakti in Sanskrit. The power of the understanding is the will force – the volition, so-called. When you merely think that there is something, it is manas, or mind, knowing that there is something; when the understanding or the intellect operates, you decide that it is something. Then the will says, “Oh! It is a snake!” Now you understand it is not merely ‘something’. It is decided by the intellect that it is a snake. Then the will orders an action – ‘Quit this place’; and the prana is ordered – ‘Take action’; and the prana urges the leg – ‘Run!’; and you know what you do when you perceive a snake in front of you. Or, if you see something very pleasurable – “My dear friend has come! Oh, my dear, you have come after a long time!” – you embrace. This is the action of the will as a consequence of a determinate understanding of the intellect, superior to the general thinking process of the manas or the mind.

So, as I mentioned, apart from the body and the prana, you have the mental process of thinking, the understanding process of the intellect, and volitional activity of the will. There is a fourth something which is called ‘ego’. This is a very difficult thing to understand, and in Sanskrit it is normally translated as ahankara. Thus, the psychic function includes manas, buddhi, chitta, ahankara – wherein we have to include the buddhi sakti, or the volitional process. Manas is indeterminate thinking, intellect is determinate thinking, will is buddhi sakti, which is the power of action. Then there are the principles of ego, and there is chitta, which is a Sanskrit word which cannot easily be translated into English. Some people regard chitta as the subconscious – the principle by which you have a memory of things. For the time being, you may just be satisfied that chitta means memory or the faculty of remembrance, and that is something directly connected with the subconscious. You have to know what this subconscious is. Sometimes we are even told there is something called the unconscious. And there is the ego.

These things have to be very properly understood in order that you may know what you are expected to do in yoga practice as a step towards the freedom of your psychophysical personality and the freedom which you hope to attain in the sense people generally call Liberation, or the attainment of Eternal Life.