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True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 11: The Essence of Yoga Practice

Either we seek God fully or we do not seek Him at all. There is no halfway. This is an important aspect of our spiritual efforts, which we have to bear in mind. Most of us would like to have a small percentage of God in our lives, because one hundred percent of God is possibly not something that the mind can accommodate in itself. But it is very unfortunate that God will not allow Himself to be partitioned in that way. He would withdraw Himself completely if we try to belittle Him or try to take advantage of His grace upon us by exploiting it for baser motives, whose fulfilment the mind is subtly seeking—sometimes at the expense of God, and at other times by utilising God as an instrument for that purpose. This is a very serious aspect which one has to consider.

It is difficult for the mind to accept the greatness of God because the mind has its own yardstick of measuring greatness, and its measuring rod is of this world. It belongs to this world, so everything, even God, has to be measured with the values that are associated with the things of the world. What will it bring to us? This is the question, which is a commercial attitude. We are all business people in the sense that we expect something. “What will it bring to me? What is the profit that I gain by going to God, praying to God, meditating on God, or even accepting that He exists? What do I gain by saying that God exists? Let Him exist or not exist; what does it matter to me? It matters to me because it may bring some advantage to me, so it is better that He exists.”

Someone said, “If God does not exist, we have to create Him for our purposes,” because without the existence of such a being, some of the difficulties of our lives do not seem to be solved. So like an 'x' in an equation, we create a God—a non-entity for the time being—which will be helpful to us in our earthly joys, which we seek much more than God Himself.

This is not a joke; this is a matter-of-fact experience which we have to concede if we are dispassionate in our own self-analysis. We are not so much lovers of God as we appear to be on the surface, because to love God wholly is to die, almost, to the life of the world; and nothing can be more fearful than death. While we are not speaking of physical death here, it is something worse than that. Even physical death will not be so horrible as the death that we are expected to pass through for the sake of God. There are more painful forms of death than physical death—that is, the death of our ego and personality as a whole, which is more terrifying than even the annihilation of the body.

Now, all these are the repelling aspects of yoga which will turn us away from it when the whole truth about it is presented before us. “Good bye!” would be our final word to this wholesome advice, which would be the advice of Bhagavan Sri Krishna to a man like Duryodhana—which will be so bitter, unpalatable, repelling, and most unwelcome. Even God can be an enemy of man. Ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (Gita 6.5): The Self can be our enemy. This is most surprising, indeed. How can it be? But that can be. The Atman, or the Self, can be our enemy in the sense that the demands of the higher degree of reality are unpalatable to the lower levels in which we are living. Our immediate needs look sweeter than the requisitions of a wider realm of truth.

The more we think of and ponder over the details of the practice of yoga, not merely the outer introductions to it, we would find that we are unfit for it. Not even the best man can say that he is ready for it or prepared for it, truly speaking. We have subtle weaknesses, every one of us, and these subtle weaknesses are kept buried inside us without our knowing what to do with them.

But how long can we go on thinking: “What to do with them, what to do with them?” Something has to be done with them. Finally, what we do is we reconcile ourselves with them, because they seem to be more friendly than God Himself. This is the attitude of Dhritarashtra: “Well, my dear Lord Krishna, what you say is correct, what Bhishma said is correct, what Drona said is correct; but after all, what my son says, I must agree with.” This is what finally Dhritarashtra says and does. “Whatever anybody may say, let Parasurama say or the sages say, it is all very beautiful. I agree with it, but”—a great 'but' indeed—“my son, after all, is my son.” And so Duryodhana's words are final. Secretly they are effectuated, overriding all that wonderful advice of the masters, incarnations and sages. This is what everyone does, and one cannot help it. Finally, we have to okay our inner impulses which go hand in hand with our bodily needs and the impetuous callings of the senses.

It is embracing fire, as they say, to practise yoga. Who would embrace fire? But that is what it is. It is not drinking milk or bathing oneself in honey. It is the most arduous of conceivable endeavours on the part of the human being. It is because we are not prepared for this ordeal that yoga becomes difficult for us. The whole point is that we are not prepared, so how can it be practicable? The practice comes afterwards, the preparation precedes it.

Up to this time we have been discussing the great canons of discipline and ethics—the principles of yama in their philosophical and psychological aspects, which are the preparations. They are not nothings or nobodies; they are everything. In fact, we will realise that when they are well understood and properly undergone, they are a major part of the success in our practice. The strength of the foundation is not in any way less important than the beauty of the edifice that is raised upon it; but we are always apt to forget that a foundation is necessary. We are always likely to keep an eye on the grandeur of the building on the top, the beauty thereof, and the comforts we can get out of it by living in it, rather than paying due attention to the technicalities involved in laying the foundation. What is the use of digging? Our idea is to raise the walls high, but what we do is go down by digging. Why do we go down when our idea is to go up?

Sometimes, it looks that our aims are not going to be fulfilled by the practices that are enjoined upon us in the name of yoga and spirituality. Mankind of today is, truly speaking, unfit for spiritual life. It is no use merely camouflaging or advertising; all this humdrum talk in the name of God and religion would finally end up in the dirt and dust. One has to be very, very cautious and unselfish in such matters because we are playing with God. Even playing with a snake is not as dangerous. Either we honestly say that it is not for us, or we take to it whole-heartedly. Why play a joke with Him, show our teeth before Him, and mock Him? This is not a proper attitude on the part of anyone who is genuinely honest. But this is precisely our problem.

The difficulty, then, is in an incapacity to understand and appreciate one's own inner motives. There is an element of hypocrisy in every person. This cannot be avoided because hypocrisy rules the world; otherwise, the world would go to the dogs. If truth triumphs, there will be no world afterwards. That the world continues shows that truth is not triumphing, because the world is made up of hypocritical nets which are the names that we give to artificial makeshifts of relations which we project forth in the external world in our daily routines, in our smiles, and in our round table conferences. All this will not work with God, though it may work with man because we can deceive man by various artifices. But no artifice will work with God; nobody can deceive Him. He is the only person who cannot be deceived, and everyone else can be deceived. But we are trying to deceive Him only! This is very strange and, therefore, the boomerang comes upon us like a bolt from the blue; and here we are what we are.

But it is never too late to mend, as the proverb goes. Even now it is not bad enough. Things are quite all right. We can set things right even now. While nobody can be as fierce as God, nobody can be as kind as God. While the blow He gives can simply smash us to smithereens, at the same time the blessings He can pour upon us can make us an emperor of emperors. Sometimes devotes call Him father and mother, judge, parent, grandfather, support, law and love combined. He is law and love both; the strictness of law and the lenience of love are both present in God.

So it is not impossible for us, even at this critical hour of ours, to make peace with God. And He can be easily conciliated. Sometimes we call Him Asutosh, 'very quickly pleased', because it is easy to please truth. We cannot please untruth so easily. As truth is the ultimate nature of things, we can please anything by a resort to the true nature of things. If I understand you properly in your essential being, I can pocket you; but if I cannot understand you, then it is difficult to reconcile myself with you.

The practice of yoga is the supreme effort that one is called upon to put forth—not as a so-called religious attitude of a monastic order, nor as a much-misunderstood and abused spiritual sense connected with an other-worldly experience of a paradise, but as an indispensable scientific and logical attitude called upon every person on account of the very law of one's own being, which no one can violate. The practice of yoga is the fulfilment of the law of our own being. How can we escape it? No one can.

With this introduction, which is practically the entire philosophical background and the psychological implication of the preparations for the practice of yoga, we take it for granted that we are honest with God and honest with our own selves, and take to the life spiritual in its real meaning and connotation. One should not be tired of emphasising that the life spiritual is not the duty merely of a sannyasin or a monastic disciple, but it is the law of the being of every person; and if we cannot understand this much, we have only to say that we need a re-education altogether, right from the beginning.

The life spiritual is not the prerogative of any religious mendicant. It is not a prescription of  Hinduism, or any kind of 'ism', for the matter of that. It is the science of life, and anyone who is alive has to be awake to this need that we call the attitude that is spiritual; and the implementation of it in life is called yoga. Such a broad meaning it has, and so necessary it is for the very existence of everyone.

Now we come to the actual thing that has to be done. I may only recapitulate what I was trying to hint at for the past few days: that every one of us, if we are true to the ideal that we are pursuing, and honest with ourselves, has to find time to think about it; and that all this requires a little of aloneness in our personal lives. It is no use being too busy with things unconcerned with our lives.

First of all, it is necessary to make a distinction between what is necessary and what is unnecessary. Often, even unnecessary things look necessary, so this is the time for us to exercise our viveka, or the power of discrimination. Is everything necessary that we call necessary, ordinarily speaking? We want four coats and five wristwatches, ten transistors, a huge bungalow, and millions of dollars in the bank. Can we call all these necessities of  life? One who has these will say they are necessities, but this is a bungled way of thinking because we cannot call them necessities. A necessity is that without which we cannot exist; and if we can exist appreciably without untold discomfort with the facilities that are provided to us, with that we have to be content. Contentment is a great virtue of a spiritual seeker. Yadṛcchālābhasantuṣaḥ (Gita 4.22), says the Bhagavadgita: We have to be content and satisfied with whatever comes without too much of exertion—though a little of exertion, of course, is unavoidable. The exertion should not outweigh the benefit that accrues from it, because our exertion should be more in line with our spiritual attunement with God than in line with the acquisition of material goods and physical comforts—in regard to which, we should not exceed the limits.

It is necessary that we live a very simple life because the need for living a simple life arises on account of a simple logic of life: we are not supposed to enjoy what we have not earned with the sweat of our brow. If we have not earned it with our effort, we cannot enjoy it. This is not merely a social law or an economic law, but a spiritual law. We are not supposed to enjoy anything which we have not honestly earned with our personal effort, whatever be the nature of that effort. It may be physical, it may be social, it may be intellectual, it may be something else. Are we convinced from the recesses of our heart that the facilities of life that we are enjoying are the real outcome of the effort that we have put forth, or are they the consequences of some sort of exploitation? If that is the case, it is undesirable.

Exploitation is not the law of life, and it will not succeed. Though in the beginning it may appear to succeed for some time, later on it will produce a tremendous reaction; and that reaction will be so painful that we will not be able to bear it. If we keep this in mind, we will find that our efforts are so little that we can enjoy only very little in this life. How much effort are we putting forth for enjoying the facilities of life? Let everyone weigh the efforts that they put forth. Let us see: What have I done from morning to evening to deserve the comforts of life? We cannot ask for any facility even from God unless we have done something for it, paid a price for it.

If this essential factor of spiritual economy, we may call it, is not borne in mind, there will be a reaction in the form of rebirth, and there will be no God-realisation. Rebirth is the outcome of having enjoyed things which we do not really deserve, which do not belong to us. We cannot take more than what we have given; this is the law of life. We have to give as much as we take from the world; otherwise, we cannot take it, and if we try to take more than what we have given, rebirth is the result. No yoga can help us.

Therefore, simplicity of life is called for. We have to be as simple as possible in our lives. He who is low fears no fall. Climb not too high under the impression that you are powerful. And so, it is better to give more and take less, and have a greater credit thereby, than take more and give less and deserve the discredit of the debit that would be struck against us in our life's balance sheet.

These are not unconnected aspects of the practice of yoga, but are very much connected. We always think that yoga means sitting in a posture, breathing deeply, and thinking something. This is not yoga, though that may be a part of the misconstrued idea we have of the higher reaches of yoga. In the practice of yoga, we are not doing something silently in our rooms; we are interfering with the powers of the world. This we should not forget. The practice of yoga is not a silent working of some peculiar technique inside one's room. We are operating upon the powers of the world when we are practising yoga. It is like a telephone operator: though he may be sitting in a small room, he has connections with so many things. Or, it is something like the operator of a central powerhouse which has connections with innumerable centres outside. We are operating upon the switchboard of the cosmos when we enter into the practice of yoga. All these things are difficult for most people to imagine. We only think in terms of a little deep breathing, and standing on the head for a few minutes, and chanting something. All this little practice that we do in our own misconstrued way will not shake even a hair of this world.

Truly speaking, in the true sense of the term, yoga is that imponderable activity of our mind by which it tries to associate itself with every centre of power in the world. It is not merely something that is happening within our own body, because what is within our body is subtly connected with everything else in the world. Even if we are merely trying to rouse certain powers within our own body, there will be a simultaneous rising of the counterparts of these powers in the world outside; and if we cannot be equal to the nature of the powers that are roused thus in the outside world, there will be a fall in the practice of yoga. Many people even go crazy because they cannot face the powers that are roused thus.

Hence, an utter dispassionate attitude and an abolition of all unwanted cravings inside should be regarded as a great necessity before we sit for pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, etc. We need not worry too much about these things called asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana; they are such simple things when the prerequisites are properly fulfilled.

All the time is taken in manufacturing the matchstick, and striking the match takes only a few seconds. Then why are we bothering about striking the match? That is a simple affair: we simply strike it. But how much time have we taken to manufacture it? This we forget, and we are worrying only about striking the match, which is called meditation. There is no difficulty about it; it is the most simple of things, but the difficulty is in preparing oneself for it, making oneself ready for it, and in understanding what it really means.

Having said all this and understood this much, we take whole-heartedly to this great call of life called yoga. It is the great call of life, the call of God, the call of Eternity, the call of the Infinite, the call of the Ultimate Reality, which we cannot resist, and which we should not try to resist. When we try to listen to this supreme call, every other sound of the world is shut out. We become impervious to the entry of external forces which appear to go counter to this supreme call; and then it is that we are firmly seated in an asana. Even to sit in one posture is difficult because of the fickleness of the mind. Fickleness of mind has much to do with the inability to sit in one posture.

A rajasic and tamasic mind—filled with desire, and agitated with frustrated feelings within—cannot sit in one posture. Even this much we cannot do. We cannot sit even in an asana, let alone do other things. Ask anyone to sit quietly for three hours. It is not possible. He will get up and go away after a few minutes. What is wrong? The whole body is agitated: the nerves, the muscles, even the bones are shaking, and he cannot sit. Very strange! We cannot even sit quietly, and we are thinking of meditating on God!

All this is because we have a disturbed mind; we should not forget this. It is not that there is something wrong with our body. We may be a healthy person, but something is wrong with our mind. We are thinking a hundred things in our mind—and in a very chaotic manner, not in a consistent way. The whole thing is a hotchpotch in the head; therefore, we cannot sit quietly without a sense of uneasiness.

Even sitting in one asana, or posture, is a great achievement. It is not an ordinary thing. It is wonderful if we can sit in one posture for three hours continuously. We may go to satsang and see how many people sit continuously from beginning to end, without getting up and going out. They get up and go out, as if something is wrong with them; or they look this way, that way, do something, touch something, say something. It is horrible, really speaking. Why do they speak, why do they look this way, that way, touch this and touch that, do this and do that, get up, and go in and go out? What is wrong? And where is the question of the practise of yoga? It is all nonsense, if even a little of this initial practise cannot be done.

That is, we are totally unprepared, and this sort of attitude is not good for us. Otherwise, we will die in this very condition of sorrow. We would have achieved nothing, got nothing either from this world or from the other world. We started showing a sort of disinterest in the things of the world under the notion that the heavens will descend upon us but the heavens are not coming, and we have left the world. So we are caught in the middle, and we are more wretched than the man of the world, if that is to be our fate.

Therefore, let there be an honest effort to fully prepare oneself for this great ordeal. Though it may look like an ordeal in the beginning, it is a movement towards the greatest of joys conceivable. Let us be prepared for this, and let us be confident that success, when this preparation is properly done, is bound to come, and not in the distant future.