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The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 2: The Foundation of the Discipline in Yoga Practice

Once upon a time, people were under the conviction that parallel lines can never meet. But today, some extraordinary people say that under extraordinary conditions parallel lines can meet. Also once upon a time, Euclidian geometricians, the geometricians of the world, were cocksure that the three angles of a triangle make two right angles, and that nobody can controvert this truth. But today, this is not regarded as ultimately true. Under other conditions than conceivable by the ordinary mind, the three angles of a triangle need not make two right angles. Likewise, yoga is something which will take us by surprise and require of us to cast aside our usual workaday notions – even the notion of God, the notion of things, and the world, and persons around. When yoga comes in its true form, it will be a marvel to the tradition-ridden mind. We will be required to cast aside all the ideas of God which we have been holding in our minds up to this time. We will be required to cast aside our idea of society and the world. We may be required to dispense with the idea of our own person also. Whatever we have been regarding as worthwhile will become worthless before this great knowledge. Whatever has been regarded as usual, ethical and moral may become meaningless before this great requirement. Whatever we have been regarding as sacred will become absolutely devoid of significance before it. All this will come, one day or the other, before the seeking soul.

Nobody imagined that the earth goes around the sun. It is difficult to imagine that the earth goes around the sun. Everybody thinks that the sun is going around the earth because we can see the sun moving; so naturally, why should not the sun move? Can we not believe our eyes? And may I ask a question to you? If you cannot believe your eyes and say that the sun is moving, how can you believe anything else in this world, including myself sitting here and yourself sitting here? If you cannot believe one thing, well, perhaps the same rule may apply to many other things. If we cannot believe our eyes for a commonly accepted phenomenon like the rise and set of the sun every day, how can we believe that there is a tree in front of us, or there are people in front of us, or there is anything at all meaningful in front of us.

Why I state all these things is because we have been rooted in prejudices – ethical and moral prejudices, social prejudices, personal prejudices, philosophical prejudices, and religious prejudices. We are born in prejudice and we will die in prejudice. Yoga is a cleansing medium which will rid us of all this dirt of prejudice. Even the prejudice of the most sacred and holy has to be cast aside.

I told you even the idea of God may have to be thrown away when true yoga comes in front of you. You may be wondering how I can cast out God. Well, you are not casting out God; your idea of God must go because yoga has come, and must come, to give you the necessary medicine to cure the illness of the soul. The soul's illness is more terrible and more difficult to understand than the illness of the body or any other type of malady.

In the Katha Upanishad, the great master says that this knowledge cannot be imparted by an ordinary person. Rather, a person cannot speak this knowledge. The person who teaches this, or expounds this knowledge, cannot be regarded as a person at all – ananya-prokte gatir atra nāsty aṇīyān hy atarkyam aṇupramāṇāt (Katha I.2.8). Extremely subtle is this point, beyond the comprehension of even the subtlest understanding. Human thought cannot comprehend it and, therefore, human beings cannot teach it. Even one who receives this knowledge, a disciple, cannot be regarded as a human being, really speaking. Neither is the teacher a human being, nor is the disciple a human being when we come to the actual point on hand.

Yoga is a superhuman principle working for a superhuman purpose, through a superhuman medium. We cease to be ordinary persons before this masterly science. When we enter the field of this knowledge of the ultimate science of the mystery of life, we do not enter it as a man or a woman; we do not enter it as a human being at all. We enter it as a principle. We know that there is a great difference between a person and a principle. We are always fond of persons and not principles because we cannot see principles; we see only persons and things. But persons and things do not exist, to tell the truth. It is principles that exist. It is a law that exists. It is an order of things which ultimately is the constituting factor of even things. We are told even today that things do not exist, but only forces exist. What we call things and persons are only forces. There is no such thing as things and persons. But yet, we are wedded to this notion of persons and things to such an extent that we will die hard, indeed, in clinging to this notion of persons, things, and located objects. There are neither located objects nor persons and things – there are only powers, significances, meanings, which are impersonal ultimately and not abstract in the sense of what our understanding may regard as abstract.

To us, the concrete is that which we can sense – what we can touch is the concrete, and what we cannot touch, or cannot see, is abstract. This is not true; on the other hand, under certain conditions it will be seen that what we cannot sense is the real. What we sense is not the real. What we touch, what we see, is only a reaction produced by the operation of the forces in a particular manner. Can we regard a reaction as a substance? The tangibility of an object, the visibility of things, cannot be regarded as substantial from its own, or their own, point of view. These things are illusions in the sense that they are certain experiences caused by contact of certain types of located force with certain other types of force in the world. Yoga now comes as the revealing science which opens up the portals of a knowledge that is super-mundane.

As it was said, usually yoga is defined as 'union', and we are, again, traditionally bound to the idea that union means one thing coming in contact with another thing; but, no such thing is yoga. It is not one thing coming in contact with another thing. It is a union in the sense of transcending the lower in the higher. A dream-object getting united with the waking consciousness cannot be regarded as a union of one thing with another thing. It is an overcoming of the impediments to a real expansion of consciousness. It is impossible for two things to come together in real union, because that which is dissimilarly constituted cannot come in contact with another thing which is also characterised by conditions different from its own constitution. We cannot come in contact even with God if our nature is different from that of God, because the principle is that dissimilar features cannot unite. If our characters or features are different entirely from those of God, there is no question – there cannot be any possibility – of our uniting ourselves with God. That there is such a chance, that such a possibility seems to be there, implies and ought to indicate that there is implanted in one's own heart and soul something which is characteristic of God Himself. It is very strange, indeed, to understand this. So, it is not real union even with God. It is a manifestation of the potentiality that is in one's own self.

Lastly speaking, we may say that it is a union in the sense of a child uniting itself with the adult that it is going to be. When a baby becomes an adult, can we say that the baby has united itself with the adult? Is there union of the baby with the adult? Nothing of the kind. There is only a growth and a maturity – an expansion and a becoming of a more profound reality. That is what is going to happen in yoga. We are not coming in contact with anything; we are growing into a wider perspective of our own lives and becoming something larger, not in the sense of an absolutely new thing altogether, but that which is already rooted in our own selves, like a seed becoming a large banyan tree. The seed does not unite itself with the banyan tree – there is no union. It has become the banyan because it is the banyan. So likewise, we become the Reality because we are the Reality.

This is an introductory remark that I make, which is usually regarded as startling to common understanding. But, all medicines are bitter. They do not come as honey and milk, because they are forces which are intended to rectify a deep-rooted, erroneous thinking and, therefore, a hard effort is necessary to become ready for the reception of this knowledge. Apart from the actual realisation or experience, even to be prepared to receive this knowledge we have to undergo a tremendous training. Even to become a disciple, a great training is necessary, and I am not talking of becoming a master or a yogi.

Religious texts, scriptures on yoga, have pointed out the necessity of these preparatory disciplines, again and again, to which most of us are likely to turn a deaf ear, because we are more concerned with the aim rather than the means. This is unfortunate, because while the goal is important, the means to the realisation of the goal cannot be regarded as less important. But we are not prepared to undergo the necessary discipline which is the means for the manifestation of the goal in one's experience.

Truly speaking, the goal is nothing but the evolution of the means. They are not two different things. If the destination of our journey, say a place like Delhi, is to be reached by a means, namely, vehicular movement along a road, we may say the road is not identical with the destination. Delhi is something; the road is another thing. While this is so under ordinary circumstances, it is not so in the spiritual field. The goal and the path are inseparable. It is the goal that is manifesting itself as the path. And the path that leads to the goal is nothing but an indicator of the nature of the goal itself. So, one who seeks the goal has to live a life which is to become a means commensurate with the nature of the goal.

What is the nature of the goal that we are aspiring for through the practice of yoga? What are its characteristics, its definitive features? Those features have to be seen in an adequate measure in the means that we are adopting, in the life that we are living, and the attitude that we are holding in regard to all things - including God, world and soul, and individual and society.

I was quoting a passage from the Katha Upanishad: ananya-prokte gatir atranāsty. There is no hope of achieving anything unless it is taught by a superhuman person – this is what the Upanishad says. No amount of study is going to help us, because knowledge that we gain by study of books is something like drinking water from the Ganga seen on the atlas. The atlas also contains Ganga. We have got Mississippi and Amazon and Pacific and Atlantic – we can see them in the atlas. But our ship will not drown in the atlas-Atlantic and we cannot drink the waters of the atlas-Ganga. Though we have got tremendous knowledge of the entire physical features of the world by the study of geography and have a wonderful Ph.D. in geography, we cannot drink a drop of water from the Ganga that we have studied in our books.

Likewise is the knowledge through books. It is all wonderful, no doubt, but it is of no use when we come to the question of the practice of yoga. For this the Upanishad mentiones: ananya-prokte gatir atra nāsty – we cannot have the means of quenching our thirst for real knowledge unless it is imparted by one who is ananya. This is a very peculiar term used in the Upanishad. A person who is united with Reality alone can teach, because, as the Christ said in one context, "It is not words that I speak; it is Spirit that comes out." The words of Christ were Spirit manifest – energy, force of divinity that was revealed. They were not merely sounds that he made in the sense of language.

Likewise, the knowledge that comes from a spiritual master is not information that is gathered from books, but a vitality that is issuing from himself on account of his contact with Reality in his personal life. The Upanishad is emphatic that no other hope is there: gatir atranāsty – no other alternative. We cannot find an alternative, and there is no hope of success unless this knowledge comes to us from a living being who is rooted in contact with Truth. All this is a great difficulty, no doubt; but naturally, yoga is a difficulty. How can we have another difficulty greater than this? All difficulty is nothing before this difficulty. This is the master-difficulty we have in life, namely, the reception of the knowledge of Reality. We have no other difficulty; this is the only difficulty we have. And when this difficulty is solved, every other thing also gets solved automatically, because this is the root-malady, the root-illness, so when that is obviated, everything else vanishes.

This is the caution that has to be given to every sincere student of yoga, that one may not take it slipshod, in a casual manner, as if everything will drop from the skies. It will not drop from the skies unless there is strenuous hard practise, as if we are melting our flesh, which is something unthinkable for the human being. Who can boil one's own flesh? But this is what will happen to us when we actually enter into this strenuous army discipline, as we may call it if we like; something worse than that or more difficult than that, is the practise of yoga. There is an old saying that one who is in search of knowledge has neither sleep nor happiness. He neither wants to eat nor sleep, because his mind is concentrated on how to acquire this knowledge. And, as the Bhagavadgita again and again reiterates, it looks very bitter at first, hard and impossible to stomach in the initial stages, because all training is a painful process in the beginning. Nobody likes to undergo training of any kind, because training or discipline implies the restricting of the movements of the human individual, the ego-ridden individuality, which is, of course, very painful. The ego does not wish to be limited, restricted or disciplined in any manner whatsoever; but this is precisely what is called for. Bearing in mind that the means to the goal is to be of the same character as the goal and cannot be divested of its nature, it is to be kept in view that a commensurate discipline is to be undergone. For this, a place is necessary, conditions are necessary, the Guru is necessary, and a willing, yearning, aspiring, seeking spirit in the disciple is necessary. All these conditions are obligatory.

Again, it has to be pointed out that this is the supreme science of life. It is not one of the branches of learning, like physics or chemistry, where we can choose any branch of learning that we like in our educational career. This is not a branch of learning which we can choose at our discretion. This is the master science which is the root of all other branches of learning, from which ramify every other form of knowledge; and therefore, when this knowledge is acquired, we have known everything. In the Upanishad the query is raised, "What is it, by knowing which, everything else can be known automatically?" It is this. If this is known, everything else follows. Everything automatically follows – we need not go after other sciences. Every other science is included in this science, because this mystery includes every other mystery. And this power that acquires, that comes to a person due to the practice of this discipline, is inclusive of any other power that we can think of in our minds.

With this clarified perspective before us, we have to gird up our loins and take to it with the determination – do or die. This is the final decision that we have to take: either we do it or we die, that is all. There is no halfway between. As a saying goes, there is no such thing as half-living. Either we are living, or we are not living. We cannot say, "I am half alive." Likewise, half-yoga is unthinkable; either it is, or it is not. To take to yoga is to dedicate one's whole being to it. Even at the initial step, the first stage, we are confronting Reality in its totality. Even in the fundamental, the first, the most initial stage of yoga, the whole of our being is confronting the whole of Reality. It is not a part of our being facing a part of God – nothing of the kind. The density or the degree of manifestation of God may be less in the initial stage, and likewise, the degree of the manifestation of the totality of our being may be of a lesser degree, a lesser category – that is a different issue. But our total being is manifest for the purpose of confronting the total Reality that is the universe. So totality or wholeness is imperative, though the degree of manifestation of these two may be less. It is a rise from a lower degree of totality to a higher degree of totality, but totality is there. It cannot be partial, so that we cannot give half of our mind to it, or a portion of our mind. Even if one is not a genius and is in a lower state of understanding, it does not matter; the whole of whatever one has must be given, and it should confront the whole issue and not only a part of it.

So, this is the foundation of the psychological discipline necessary and called for in the practice of yoga. It has, truly speaking, endless stages of ascent. One cannot visualise, now itself, how many stages of ascent there are, though mystics speak of a certain limited number of stages, broadly outlined before us. The experiences and the disciplines one passes through also vary in detail from person to person, according to the structural peculiarity of the constitution of the individual, though, generally speaking, we can lay down certain broad outlines of the features of the experiences and disciplines that one has to pass through, wherever one is and whatever one be. Yet the minor details are so complicated that it is impossible to tread this path without a Guru; and our preparation for it also should be whole-hearted.

With these few remarks I close today, and request you to ponder over these meanings of yoga that I have placed before you, and take to it in right earnest.