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


Chapter 4: Individuality and Consciousness

Contact with the Eternal, being the aim of yoga in its successive stages, requires non-contact with temporal things simultaneously. This is something very essential, and is perhaps the main feature of all practice. Contact with the Eternal necessitates non-contact with temporal things. The reason is this: the character of the Eternal, which is supposed to be reflected in the practice, as it was pointed out earlier, is such that it cannot be reconciled with any type of externality, isolation, physical location or separation of any type. The Eternal is not something external.

The Eternal is a very peculiar something which what we call the normal human mind cannot comprehend, and therefore it is so hard to concentrate one's consciousness on its Being. But whatever may be the intrinsic structure of the Eternal Being, it calls for a non-contact from particular features visible to the senses, because the one very important character of the Eternal is that it is not an object of the senses. So anything that presents itself as an object of the senses has to manifest characters different from that of the Eternal. Eternality and externality are not identical; they are two distinct characters of the realm spiritual and the realm temporal.

The concept of the Eternal does not enter the mind because of the attachment of the senses to externality. The mind follows the senses. It is only a servant of the senses, and though often we think that the mind is superior to the senses and a master of the senses, that is only in theory. In practice, it is a servant – it is a slave. It only decides cases according to the reports of the senses – like a judge who is, of course, expected to exercise personal discretion, has to depend on evidence from external sources. He cannot use his discretion quite contrary to the reported evidence. Something like that is the condition of the mind and also of the intellect. The intellect merely decides a case upon the particulars gathered by the mind in terms of sense-perception. So our entire life in this world is something non-eternal, in its internal nature as well as outward form.

Yoga is a process of turning the tables around, as we may call it – a revolution to be brought about in our perceptive consciousness, and an effort to insist upon the presence of the Eternal in the non-eternal. Yoga is the persistent attempt of consciousness to interpret everything in terms of the Eternal, though this is done in various stages. But, even at the first stage, the fundamental requisite for a non-externality in attitude is demanded. This is a very simple fact to state, but a very difficult thing for the mind to accept and for the personality to take up for practice, because life is nothing if it is not external. Everything is external. Even our body is an external object because it can be seen in space and time. The individual perceiver or the seer, the bodily personality, is as much an object of sense in space and time as any other object of sense. So we live in an objective world, in a very uncomfortable situation, really speaking. Everything is an object; and if everything is an object, then who is the subject? This body is an object and everything that is outside also is an object. Who is the subject? The subject is missing. It is like a drama without actors; the actor is missing but the drama is going on.

The real deciding principle, which is the knowing subject, seems to be missing in this world of perceptions, and this is the reason why there is struggle and infinite effort on the part of people to achieve something whose nature is not clear to their minds. What we are trying to achieve in life is nothing but the realisation of the subject which we have missed in the world of objects. We see only objects, including our own body, and we cannot see the subject anywhere. Yet, we know there cannot be objects without the subject. The subject is absolutely necessary in order that it may give meaning to the very perception of objects. But it is eluding the grasp of the mind since the subject cannot be grasped by any means, because the subject is the grasper. Just as we cannot see our own eyes, we cannot know the subject. "Who can know the knower?" – is the question of the Upanishad. Who can see the seer, and who can know the knower? Nobody can see the seer, and nobody can know the knower, but this is precisely the great question of life. How can there be meaning in anything unless there is somebody who knows things and sees meaning in things.

So, the practice of yoga is an attempt at self-recognition in various degrees. It is not a contact in the sense of one thing impinging on another, but a self-awakening, by degrees, of the subject who has missed itself in the conglomeration of perceptions of objects which it has mistaken for realities. They are not realities, because their reality, their meaning, their significance or value depends upon their connection with the subject, whose absence will remove all significance from life. Sometimes it is said that any number of zeros makes no sense, but if we put one figure in front of them, it may become millions. All zeros assume a tremendous importance the moment we put one figure in front of them; otherwise, they are an empty series of zeros. Likewise, all these wonderful objects of the world are like many zeros without any sense. They are millions and millions in number. They are like millions of zeros. What is the use of millions of zeros? They mean nothing. But if we add one figure in front of these zeros, we will know how vast is our wealth. Such is the meaning that objects assume, the world assumes, when we add 'one'; and that 'one' is the subject. But where is the subject? Great poets like Kabir Das have sung, "People search for it in Brindavan and search for it in Ayodhya, and find it nowhere." We search for the subject in all places, and it cannot be found anywhere. It cannot be found anywhere because it is not any object.

We know the story of ten people trying to cross a river, and afterwards they tried to find out if all had crossed the river or if someone had drowned. One of them started counting to see whether all ten were there or not. He made all the people stand in a line, and he began to count: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine – the tenth was not there. He forgot that he was the tenth man, that the counter himself was the tenth man. He said, "Only nine are there. Oh, one is gone!" Then he said to someone, "You count, you count." So, another man came forward and the previous man stood in the line, and the other man also said, "Only nine are there. Oh, one is gone!" So he said to someone, "You count, you count." A third man came forward and the second man stood in the line, and again it was found that only nine were there. So everybody said, "Nine." They started weeping, "Oh, one brother has gone. One of our brothers has been drowned in the river." They hit their heads until blood started flowing and they were in pain, and cried, "My brother is dead!" They shaved their heads for sorrow of their brother's death.

Then one gentleman passing on the way said, "Why are you all crying?" They said, "One of our people is dead; he drowned in the river while crossing it." "Is it so? How many were you?" "We were ten." "Ten? But you are ten." "No, we are nine," one man said. "Now see," he said and counted again; and again there were nine. "My dear friend," said the gentleman, "you are the tenth man. You have forgotten to count yourself!" "Oh, I see. Now it's okay." The bleeding and pain had gone, and he did not cry any more. He recognised that the counter had to be counted as well; he could not be excluded.

This person who comes like a good Samaritan and says, "You are the tenth man," is the Guru. We are unnecessarily crying, "I have lost everything!" We have lost nothing, because what we have lost is ourself only. That we have missed, and we have forgotten that we have lost ourself under the impression that we are one among the many things in the world. The awakening, therefore, is of the subject, by the subject, for the sake of the subject – a principle which is impossible for the logical intellect to understand or the common mind to comprehend, because this subject is not a grammatical subject. The grammatical subject is different from the metaphysical subject or the spiritual subject, which we are speaking of.

In Indian philosophical parlance, this subject has been referred to by various terms such as the purusha, the atman, etc. But these are, again, only words for us which cannot be understood unless their connotation is properly explained and grasped. What is the use of chanting purusha, or atman? We can chant anything, but it makes no sense. These are only explanatory devices to convey the meaning of what the real subject is. As I mentioned to you, it is not a subject in grammatical sentences, but a principle that determines the significance of all perceptions and experiences. Our experiences have no meaning if the subject is absent. The whole of philosophical studies may be said to be an unravelling of the nature of the subject of knowledge, whether it is of the East or the West. And the various schools of thought and philosophy are only systems of discovering the characteristics of the subject from different angles of vision, from various standpoints.

Yoga takes up this subject and girds up its loins to solve this mystery of the lost tenth person. The tenth person, to give the analogy already cited, is the very same person who observes, calculates and experiences the world of objects. The meaning that we see in the world is due to the presence of the subject reflected and focused through these objects of the world by means of the media of space and time. The light of the mirror does not belong to the mirror – it belongs to some other shining object. The mirror does not shine. If we keep the mirror in darkness, we will not even know that it is there. But if we keep it in the sun, it will shine and we cannot see the mirror at all. There will be only a reflection and a tremendous piercing light emanating from the mirror. The mirror will be invisible due to the glare which is reflected through the mirror.

Likewise, the light of the Supreme Subject – which is consciousness reflected through the medium of the various things of the world, including the mind and the intellect – creates a kind of confusion, just as there can be confusion between the light and the mirror. One cannot see the mirror at all, because so much glare of light is passing through the mirror. The subject, which is consciousness, permeates the world of objects through and through, from top to bottom, so intensely that one thing is mistaken for the other. The object is mistaken for the subject and the subject is mistaken for the object. This is called adhyasa in Sanskrit terminology, or the superimposition of one character upon another, mutually exclusive of each other. When we say, "I am tall, I am short, I am happy, I am unhappy," etc., what happens is that we transfer the characteristics of the body and the mind to the atman. The atman or consciousness cannot be tall or short, nor is it happy, nor unhappy. Some characters which do not belong to it are transferred from the bodily encasement and the world of objects to consciousness, and then we say, "I am such-and-such, I am so and so," etc., etc. Conversely, we transfer the character of consciousness to the body, and then we say, "I am here, I am conscious, I exist." When we say "I exist", we transfer the consciousness aspect of our being to the body aspect.

Existence and consciousness are not the qualities of the body; they belong to something else altogether, which is the real subject. But that is transferred to the body and we then say that the body exists, that the body is conscious. The body neither exists, nor is it conscious, but the mutual interposition of characters has created this confusion called world experience. The practice of yoga attempts to carefully distinguish between these two factors of subjectivity and objectivity in experience and analyse these threadbare, to the root, until the true nature of both these aspects is carefully known.

As we proceed higher and higher in the analysis of the nature of the subject, we will realise that two things happen – two events take place, two types of experience begin to manifest themselves. Number one: the subject slowly expands its ken of perception and experience beyond the limits of the body and intensifies itself in quality, simultaneously widening the perspective of the jurisdiction of its knowledge. Secondly, the objective world slowly diminishes in importance, because the more the subject expands, the more also the object diminishes in quantity. Why does the world look so big? The world looks so big because we are so small. Suppose we become big – the world will look small. As the subject goes on expanding further and further, the world of objects will become smaller and smaller comparatively, so that when the subject becomes all-comprehensive, the world will vanish altogether. There will be no world at all, because all of the objects will be comprehended within the subject. This is a far, far end in view, to be reached after very much effort. The purpose, the central aim of the practice of yoga, is to make one absolutely independent – almost omniscient and omnipotent, deathless, immortal, as the scriptures have been telling us again and again.

The practice of yoga requires us to undergo certain disciplines – disciplines that are necessary in the light of the vision that we have in front of us. The vision is of the Eternal, and as it was pointed out, all characters of externality, which have assumed such an importance in our present-day life, have to be seen through to their true colours. It is the perception of externality that is responsible for the distraction of the senses and the agitation of the mind. Yoga, therefore, attempts primarily at a subdual of all distraction and a removal of agitation of every kind. There are various types of agitation, and in systematic expositions of yoga such as the one given to us by the Sage Patanjali and exponents of that nature, we are told that the agitation is of various types and of various degrees, and that every agitation has to be subdued.

Agitation is the cause of restlessness, unhappiness, and even birth and death, ultimately. We have to subdue all types of restlessness, distraction and agitation – right from the bottom to the top. Immediately, what we observe is that our body is restless. We cannot sit at any place for even five minutes – this is our main malady. No one can sit for half an hour or one hour at one place. The body jumps from one place to another place due to restlessness. Sometimes we do not know why it is that we are moving from place to place. We are simply driven by a habit and an incitation of the muscles and the nerves. Muscular and nervous agitation has to be subdued. Internal to the physical structure of the muscles and the nerves, we have the senses and the pranas; they are also restless. There is agitation of the pranas. There is an upheaval which causes arrhythmic movements in the flowing of the breath. Simultaneously with the agitation of the pranas, the muscles and the nerves, there is agitation of the senses. The eyes want to see many things, the ears want to hear many things, and they want variety. We do not want to go on seeing the same thing for the whole day. The eyes also want variety, so we look here and there in twenty places as we walk; that is agitation of the senses. Why do we look in twenty places? What is the purpose? We gain nothing – it is a kind of habit of the distracted senses. So, the senses are agitated; the mind is agitated; the intellect is agitated. Finally there is an agitation of consciousness, which is the cause for all these lower agitations. The master himself is agitated – the commander-in-chief is restless, and therefore the whole army is restless. Yoga takes up this matter in right earnest and wants to control these distractions and agitations perfectly, to the very core. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse the types of agitation which makes us unhappy.

Ordinarily we cannot know that we are agitated at all. We say, "I am perfectly all right, what is wrong with me?" because we have become one with the agitation. As our minds and consciousness have got identified with the restless condition which we have mistaken for our real being, we cannot detect that there is some mistake in us. When we have become one with the mistake itself, how will we know that it is there? We are an embodiment of blunder, mistake, error, misconception, miscalculation; and how are we to know that such a thing has happened unless there is somebody to observe, point out and tell us something is wrong with us? Here is the necessity for a spiritual guide, a master, because one who is involved in agitation, restlessness, and illness of this character cannot recognise that such an event has taken place. It is, therefore, necessary to find out circumstances and conditions which are conducive to the scientific method of discovering the character and the nature of these agitations which constitute, ultimately, what we call the flux of individuality.

Our so-called individuality is not a static being, just as a flowing river is not static. The river Ganga is not a static body of water; it is a moving series, and yet it looks as if it is there permanently. Just as we do not see a single picture in a film in a cinema but see a series of passing pictures – which we cannot know because of the incapacity of the eyes to catch up to the speed of the movement of the pictures – the consciousness has got identified with a transitional movement of the structure of this body, and so it is unable to discover that there is a movement of the constitution or structure of this body. The whole individuality is nothing but a bundle of agitations. This is true not only from the point of view of science and physics, but also from the point of view of psychology. The great discovery of Buddha was nothing but this: that everything is a set of agitations, movements, transitions, and it is all phenomena – there is nothing noumenon in this world, but we cannot discover this truth because we got identified with the phenomenon that is the world.

It is necessary to find the circumstances under which we have become identified with this set-up of transition, process. The individual body, which is a little bit of the process of universal movement, is mistaken for a located, centralised, physical object because of the selective habit of consciousness which excludes certain characteristics that are not necessary or relevant to its attachment to this location called the body, and centralises or pinpoints itself on a group or set of agitations and considers that as its own body. If we put blinkers on both our eyes and do not see either side of the river, and see only a little bit of the river, it looks as if the river is static. We cannot see the motion of the river. We see only one inch of the river and cannot see the movement even though there is such a big torrent flowing, due to the blinkers that we have put on, which is the limitation of our consciousness to a pinpoint in the vast process which is called the flow of the river.

Likewise, the consciousness has got tied up to a pinpointed location of this entire process of universal evolution, and that pinpointed location is this body. But this is a big mistake. A set of agitations has been mistaken for a static object, a reality by itself, which is 'being'. 'Becoming' has been mistaken for 'being'. The true Being is something different from what we mistake for being. The world of objects is not static – not even this body is static, as it has been analysed. Nothing in this world is permanent. Everything moves. Everything is in a state of hurrying forward to a destination which the mind cannot comprehend at present. This universal movement of forces towards a destination is not grasped by the consciousness on account of its tethered condition to a location called the body or individual objectivity. Then there is a consequent transference of property from object to subject, from subject to object, etc., by way of adhyasa.

The control of this entire process, the mastery one gains over these agitated conditions, right from the body up to the spirit, is the process of yoga. Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi are only technical names that yoga mentions for these techniques of subduing the agitations of imagined individuality by a consciousness that gains control, gradually, through a process of discrimination and concentration. Therefore, it will be clear now that yoga is a very scientific process, calling for intense discipline in right earnest, with a wholehearted ardour of dedication and surrender to the cause, which, when it is achieved, is supposed to solve all the problems of our life.