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In the Light of Wisdom
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 34: Longing for Realisation

The path of devotion is regarded as easier than the other ways of approach, the reason being that people are easily affected by feeling and sentiments more than by any other faculty. It is comparatively rare that we appeal to the reason of a person, because often a person is not in a position to exercise their will beyond a certain limit. We have seen in practical life that feelings get moved for or against something more emphatically than any other faculty. This psychology is at the background of the fact that most people take to the devotional path of religion. In fact, all the religions of the world are essentially bhakti paths. There is no totally philosophical religion anywhere. Though they have the background of philosophy in practice, everyone is fundamentally a devotee, because most everyone has a simplistic concept of God equivalent to the common man's notion. Whatever be our learning, when it comes down to practical affairs, we think of God basically in the same way as any other person in the world. This is the simple truth about religious consciousness. It is therefore more advantageous to approach the subject from the angle of vision which will immediately appeal to the human sentiments. I have already tried to give a broad outline of this path. It is a very vast subject of course, but the essence of it is that God can be adored, concentrated upon or worshipped in any symbol or image. Even a diagram would suffice for the purpose of concentration.

As there are degrees and stages of meditation in the systems such as those of Patanjali and Vedanta, we also have stages of approach in bhakti. In such great texts as the Narada Bhakti Sutras, these stages are described in detail. There are nine modes of devotion, five feelings or sentiments of approach, and various experiences through which the devotee passes. In the path of bhakti there are such emotional transformations as are described by Patanjali. These are regarded as evidence of the advancement of the soul in the path of devotion. When divine love receives adequate emphasis, loving things of the world becomes more difficult for a devotee, because the love of God has taken total possession of the soul. All the affections which usually get directed to persons and things outside—to family, to country and to other things—get withdrawn and fixed in the concept of God. This concept may be gross or subtle, external or internal, immediate or remote—whatever be the concept—but to the devotee it makes no difference. What is important in devotion is not the concept of God but the feeling for God, just as it is the feeling itself that is most important in all affections in the world. It matters little what specific object of devotion we are loving—it is rather the aspect of love itself that is important. We can be transported into ecstasies of love even in regard to a silly object of the world. What is of consequence then is the capacity of the object to evoke our love and not the make-up of the object itself. As a matter of fact, it is not very significant to focus on the form of the object here in the path of devotion.

The principle of bhakti is that when love inundates the heart and is in a position to engulf the object wholly, the mind gets automatically concentrated. The path of devotion therefore is also a path of concentration. All yogas culminate in meditation. The ways of meditation are different, but the aim is the same. One may meditate through love of the adored object, with the force of will, or with an analytic and philosophical understanding—but all this is essentially concentration. Wherever there is exclusive engagement of the functions of thought in a chosen object or a set of objects, there is yoga. Yoga is the union of the mind with its object. The paths of the different yogas are therefore finally not different yogas. They are only avenues of approach to culminate in the common experience of dhyana or meditation on God in whatever way we may conceive of God.

We may conceive of God as a universal existence, transcendent or immanent, or we may take Him to be present in an image. The bhakta (devotee) feels no difference, because even in this localised image he feels only the presence of the universal. Plato's philosophy has much to do with this great philosophical controversy of the relation between the universal and the particular, but in reading Plato we will realise that even philosophers who are averse to tethering their minds to particulars have recognised the presence of the universal in every particular. The universal is present in every particular, and we cannot deny this, because being present in every aspect of the particular is the essential characteristic of the universal.

God Present in the Image

This is how the devotee looks upon God—even in the image. It is not an image that he is worshipping. There is no such thing as an image for him—it is God the universal who is present there in the image. Just as the vast heat of the sun can be focused through a lens, the universal power of God is focused through the image which becomes the object of love of the devotee. It is futile to criticise the sentimental devotions of simple devotees who worship images in temples, because these criticisms arise on account of a misunderstanding of the efficacy of the devotion and the psychology behind it. We should know that it is not the body alone that we love when we love a person. We do not love any object merely for its own sake as a fragment, but rather as the universal present in that particular. The meaning that we find in a person is the universal presence in that person, and such is the case with the devotee. He reads a meaning in the object, but the faultfinders see only the object he is worshipping and feel justified in criticising him. He doesn't worship the object as such—he sees the significance behind it. Possibly he alone can see it, but not others.

This is a very important branch of study—as important, meaningful, significant and practical as any other in the world. Just to repeat what I said before, its importance can be realised from the fact that all the religions of the world are paths of devotion—whether it is Hinduism, Christianity or Islam. All are lovers of God and are not merely philosophical analysts. This is strictly speaking the import of the devotional path to God. Even when we scientifically and philosophically conceive of the largest idea of God, persisting within it is a fundamental longing. In fact, there is no yoga without longing. In one of the aphorisms of Patanjali, it is said that yoga becomes successful only when there is an intense and ardent yearning for it.

What is this yearning devotion? We may yearn for anything, but it is all some form of devotion. The longing is the devotional principle getting engaged. One need not merely dissect the object into its scientific constituents, but one must also have a feeling for the constituents, because feeling is more powerful than reason and rationality. Yoga at a particular level transcends reason. Reason is only a help in the beginning stages, but in the higher reaches of yoga one goes beyond the power of will, and here even love takes a different shape altogether. The understanding, the scientific attitude, the volitional activity and the affection that we have for the object of meditation in the last stages transcend the psychological functions. Finally these take the form of a longing, but it is difficult to say what kind of longing it is. It is the longing of the soul for God—we cannot say anything else about it. It is not one person longing for anything else. It is the impossibility of the river not merging with the ocean. It has to find its way to the ocean one day or the other. It is an impossibility for an integral part to rest contented within itself without completing itself.

The path of yoga has many branches, but the prominent ones are the path of knowledge and the path of devotion. All the other paths can be brought back to these two significant approaches. While untutored persons imagine that these are two distinctly divergent paths, under careful scrutiny we will realise they are only two aspects of a single path. They are two roads—if at all we would like to call them roads—which lead to the same destination. The concrete, the subtle, the conceptual and the spiritual are the normal stages of accent—whatever be the path or the approach. I have given some idea of the different stages according to Patanjali, but these apply to all the yogas. These stages are applicable to bhakti yoga as well as to the jnana path and to any path, because all these ways of approach are ways of the transcendence of consciousness from the external to the internal, from the gross to the subtle, and from the visible to the invisible. All lead finally to the Universal and the Absolute. We can't escape this whatever our own approach may be. The nomenclature differs and the feelings or attitudes also seem to diverge on account of the apparent differences in the faculties of the psychological organ. The psychical faculties are apparently different from one another but are actually ramifications of a single approach to the supreme Absolute.

When we hear or read all these things, and then when we close our eyes for a few minutes to try to understand what it all finally means and what we are supposed to do exactly, we may feel that we are at an impasse. We will be surprised that the understanding gets confused when it is asked to take a step. That is the actual practical implication of yoga, and please remember that it is the practice of yoga that we are concerned with and not merely an analytical understanding of its significance in life. The difficulty of the practice consists mainly in our not being prepared to take to it wholeheartedly. I have said many times that we should not approach yoga with an experimental attitude, because if we do, we will get nothing out of the practice.

The moment we try to experiment with nature, it is understood that we are suspicious of nature. If we approach anything with a suspicion in our minds, we will never gain sympathy from that object. This is the universal psychology that concerns anything and everything in the world. It may be God, it may be a simple object of the world or a human being—if we approach an object, a person or even God Himself with a suspicious attitude, we will receive only a limited response. Nobody wants to be approached with suspicion—our hearts should be open, candid and receptive. ‘Empty thyself, and I shall fill thee,' is a great psychological truth of the spiritual path. To empty oneself is difficult, because we have prejudices which are like conceptual idols for us. Whenever we try to approach anything, we approach it with a critical and preconceived attitude, and this is why yoga fails in practical life.

Concrete Advice in the Practice of Yoga

I should mention a few of the concrete facts of the practice of yoga which are of importance. The first and the foremost of all things is that a teacher is very important—a competent master and guide is crucial. The tradition is that we have to live with the master physically for some time and not merely be in correspondence with him. Physically we have to live with him for a considerable time until we imbibe in our personalities an understanding of the vital and practical steps to be taken in the practice of yoga. The second thing to remember is that we have to take yoga as our ultimate course of action. It cannot be taken as just one of many diversions in life, just as God should not be viewed as merely one of many things available in the world. He is all things, and yoga must mean all things to us.

But here again, we may be harassed by a doubt. “How can I take yoga as my all-in-all? I have got many responsibilities in life. I have got my wife; I have got my husband; I have got my job, and I have got this and many other things in the world to be done. How can I take yoga as a career?” We have this doubt because we do not know what yoga is. We have made the mistake of imagining that yoga is one of the things among the many things of the world. If it were only one of the many things, naturally it would be difficult to take to it wholeheartedly and exclusively. Fortunately or unfortunately, yoga is not just one of the many things—it must be the precondition of our approach to life as a whole. How can we say, “I have no time to do it?” If we have time to breathe, then we have time also to practise yoga, because yoga is a way of thinking and an attitude to life. How can we say, “I have no time to have an attitude to life?” It is meaningless to say that. Yoga is an attitude that we have towards the whole of our lives, so there is no need of time to practise yoga.

This is another important thing that we have to remember. Yoga is a reconstruction of our ways of thinking. It is rethinking our lives and a wisdom of life that we have to try to cultivate so that this wisdom has an impact upon every one of our actions. We may be in any vocation in our lives, but we can be a yogin in that particular context. We may be an office- goer or we may be a sweeper—but we can be a yogin, because yoga is an attitude of the mind and of the whole of our consciousness. Why can we not be a yogin—whatever be our vocation? Whether we are a worker in a factory, a professor, a teacher, a student or a businessman—again, it makes no difference. Yoga can reconcile itself with any vocation, because it is a principle behind all activity—and not merely activity—but all ways of thinking. The logical precondition of our way of thinking, feeling and understanding is yoga.

If we think of yoga as an Eastern concept, as a mystical approach or as a religious attitude alone, then we may have a doubt in our minds as to how we could practise it. It is however not an Eastern concept, not a mystical approach and it is not merely a religious attitude. All these are false ideas that we have. If I must put it succinctly in one sentence, yoga is the way in which we have to think, and we cannot escape it. If we want to be successful in any walk of life, we cannot but think in terms of yoga; otherwise we will experience only failure. We cannot say, “I don't want yoga.” We have to like it and we have to want it—we cannot want anything else, really speaking. The question is not whether we want yoga or not; the question is whether we can want anything else. We cannot want anything else in this world but what I am calling ‘yoga', because without it everything becomes lifeless and devoid of vitality. Like a saltless curry, we wouldn't like it—so would all of life be without this yoga-essence behind it.

Our attempt in these talks has been to understand what the principle is behind the ideas, the notions, the understanding and the practice of yoga. What people suffer from these days is a thorough misunderstanding of the essence of life. It is not that people don't want God, but they don't know what He is—that is their handicap. There is no man who cannot want God, but there are apparently people who do not want Him on account of not knowing what it means. When we say, “God does not exist”, or, “I don't want God”, we only betray our ignorance of what God is. What is essential is for us to chasten our thought, re-educate ourselves and try to be cultured and aware of the true sense of the term. Then it is that life becomes a joy. With an understanding of this attitude, we have to engage ourselves in a daily practice, because this re-thinking is not an easy task. We cannot re-think ourselves like that, because we have had the same superficial background of old thinking for many years—perhaps for many lifetimes.

A daily schedule has to be prepared, and we have to stick to it systematically like the motion of a clock. What ensures success in the practice of yoga is the system of practice, method, consistency and tenacity. Every day we have to be at it in a systematic manner, otherwise it may slip out of our hands. The routine that we have to pass through should be of a uniform and harmonious nature, which means to say that we should not change our ideas every day. To constantly be changing the concept would be like digging a few feet down in twenty different places each day to get water. On the other hand, we will definitely find water if we persistently dig in one place a few hundred feet down. Again, if we dig only five feet in a hundred different places, we will not get water. To change ideas, concepts and attitudes so blithely would be like digging a few feet down in search of water which we will never find. We must go deep through one way, and we must choose one path, one method of meditation and one way of living. We must then go very deep into it, and when we break through, then we will see something wonderful. So it is that yoga insists upon tenacity, an exclusive approach and method, and consistency in the choice of the path and in the practice.

We have to first of all see clearly who we are and what would benefit us. As I said earlier, if we cannot do this analysis for ourselves, we have to take the assistance of a guide for the time being. To take to the path of extensive meditation exclusively at the outset would be difficult, and we cannot sit for meditation for hours together. We should therefore be wise in using some variety to engage our minds in meditation. We have to take to various types of approach in this particular case. Another important item is japa, which is the repetition of a mantra. A mantra need not necessarily mean a Sanskrit formula. It may be a formula that we choose for our own selves in our own language, because it is supposed to be a symbol or a formula with an idea hidden behind it that is meaningful for us. Meditation being ultimately an emphasis of an idea, the formula may help us in comprehending this idea. With a vehicle like this, we will be able to remember the idea. The mantra is nothing but a vehicle of thought, and so we may choose a mantra even in our own language, if we cannot understand any other. We formulate a symbol of thought for our own selves which may be our own mantra. Go on repeating it again and again—in the beginning verbally, but later mentally.

The third thing is to keep as our guide one of the great texts for study. We have to read this text again and again until the ideas of the text become part of our nature, and we can begin to think exclusively in that way. We have to be saturated with these ideas. If we truly become saturated, then it should be possible for us to think only along these lines and no other way. Just as we at present have one particular way of thinking, this new and more elevated way of thinking should become our new way of thinking. When we open our eyes in the morning, we should think only along these lines. That should be the extent to which these ideas get saturated into our personalities. This is of course a very advanced stage when we can think only in yogic terms and in no other way. Then it is that we become not merely good but also divine and spiritual. To repeat,  japa of a mantra, study of texts conducive to the development of these ideas, actual meditation coupled with analysis—'vichara' it is called—and daily introspection are all very important. Apart from these, we may also maintain a diary of our progress. I mentioned this earlier, because it is very important to note down every day or every week the progress that we make or the difficulties that we are confronting on the path. Knowing whether the difficulties are repeating themselves or whether we are having newer difficulties is a means to keep a watch on our progress. Is there any progress at all? This is what we have to watch out for. This is why we keep a spiritual diary. If there is no progress, we need to be able to detect the reason.

Our Hearts Must Be Present

We will realise later on that the whole difficulty is that, when there is no progress, the reason is that our hearts are not there—they are somewhere else. Sometimes when we do japa our minds may not be there, and we may have completed a whole japa rosary, but we have not been at all present. Just as when we mindlessly walk along a road, the fingers may be automatically rolling the beads, but when we have completed one round, we may not even know what we have been chanting. The reason is that the mind was elsewhere. We may be thinking that we have completed ten rounds, but what is the use of the ten rounds if we have been completely oblivious? The mind is the important element in the rolling of the beads—not the number of rounds. We will realise that this is the difficulty.

The mind will escape, because the mind does not like monotony. That's why we prefer to go to a movie rather than do japa or attend kirtan (devotional singing). The mind cannot tolerate the monotony, as it is not accustomed to think just one thing. We do not like the same food every day; we don't like to see the same persons throughout our lives, and likewise, monotony of any kind is detested by the mind. This habit intrudes itself even into our spiritual path. The mind dislikes any sense of being tied down. That is why people want to travel from place to place. They will go to some other place because they are fed up with staying in one place.

These are all obstacles. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say that we must have ‘stickability', which means to say sticking to one place. We need not be moving from place to place. These are all distractions, because we will be seeing various persons and things, and we will need to adjust ourselves to different circumstances, and this is an unnecessary waste of time. Stick to one place, stick to one master, stick to one mantra, stick to one text, stick to one method of meditation, stick to one way of living, and have one aim in life. We should not go on changing our aims—today one thing and tomorrow another thing—because this is not good. We must keep a watch over the progress that we make with a spiritual diary, and keep contact with our guides until we are able to stand by ourselves. God Himself will guide us if we are honest, and we will be brought in contact with the necessary master. Nature itself will work when the longing is there. “Ask, and it shall be given” is the law. If our hearts really ask, it shall be given, but our hearts should ask and not merely the lips. If the longing comes from our deeper feelings, then we will see that the doors are open for us. We will be surprised that the resources of nature are at our disposal.

The spiritual seeker need not be despondent or melancholy. They are the blessed souls; they are the salt of the earth, and they will not be deserted at any time. The whole world will help them. The whole of nature will be at their beck and call. But there is once again that one most difficult condition: let the heart be there, let the love be there, let the longing be there, and let there not be any other want. There is nothing else that we are required to do except long for realisation. At the conclusion of the eleventh chapter of the Srimad Bhagavadgita, the Lord says that nothing can enable us to reach Him except a deep longing. All these sacrifices, all the charity, all the austerities, all the study and all these efforts of the will do not enable us to see this tremendous form that Arjuna has seen. Only one thing will help us—a deep longing. If we want Him, we will find Him, otherwise all our efforts will be of no avail. This is the simple secret of all paths of yoga. As I have said many times, the longing is not merely an exclusive devotional or sentimental path. It is the longing of the whole soul of our being. It is this that is referred to by mystics as “the alone flying to the Alone”. The more we think of it, the more we will start liking it, and the more we will get absorbed into it, and the path will become very easy.

I think that what we have heard and learned here is quite enough to keep us active and refreshed in our lives, provided of course that we have really understood all that has been said in its true spirit. Different things have been spoken about, but they are not discrete or isolated ideas. They are all integral parts forming a whole. We have to be able to bring these thoughts and ideas together to constitute the single edifice of the yogic way of life. Again, may I reiterate that yoga is not a way of life, it is the way of life, and we cannot but follow that way. This is the difficulty many people have, because they cannot understand what it means. They think that yoga is for the old man, for the monk in the monastery, for a particular section of people, or for just a part of life. It is not so. All these misconceptions should go. There cannot be any other way of living, there cannot be any other way of thinking, and there cannot be anything else that we can want in this world. With this, I think, I have stated the quintessence of the approach to yoga.