A- A+

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


Chapter 5: The Practice of Being Alone

The Supreme Being, in mystical language, has often been referred to as the Alone, the Independent, or the Absolute. The aloneness of Reality is of a strange character, quite incompatible and incomparable with the aloneness that we as individuals feel when we are away from human society. The aloneness of a human individual is due to isolation from human society or society in general. But the aloneness of the Supreme Being is due not to isolation, but to all-inclusiveness. Because of an incomprehensible inclusiveness of the nature of the Supreme Being, it is symbolically and metaphorically designated as the 'Alone'. It is the Alone, because everything is in It – nothing is outside It. Inasmuch as nothing is outside It, It is not a social being. There is no society for God because God is the One, Single, Incomparable Existence.

This aloneness is reflected in the lower degrees of manifestation also, and on rare occasions we, too, like to be alone. When circumstances in life so arrange themselves that nothing pleases us, and when a time comes that we seem to be fed up with all things – we had enough of everything – then we would like to be alone. "Don't disturb me," people say. "Let me be alone." At the time when we are alone, we seem to be happier than when we are in the midst of people. The spirit of renunciation takes possession of a person under rare conditions, but such a spirit does not come to us when we are immersed in worldly activity and mistake social relationship for ultimate reality. Many a time we get caught up in the network of relationships to such an extent that our real nature is totally obliterated, for all practical purposes. What we really are gets immersed in what we are not, so that we can be said to be living a false life of external relationships, completely oblivious of the true life which is really ours. As I mentioned, it is on rare occasions, under extraordinary circumstances, that we like to be alone – otherwise, we always like to be in the midst of people.

The desire to be in the midst of things is due to a false sense of values; it is not our true nature. We get identified with the false bodily personality so intensely, its various kinds of limitations and shortcomings speak in such a loud noise, that it is impossible for us to exist without social relationships. It is our sense of intense limitation that compels us to be in the midst of society. The more we are limited and finite and inadequate, the more we require relationships with other people and things. But this state of affairs will not go on for a long time, because the truth will assert itself one day or the other.

It is not true that we are social individuals. It is not true that we are finite. It is not true that we are limited in any manner whatsoever. The sense of limitation is an imposition on our real nature due to various factors. The singleness and the unitary character of our being asserts itself sometime or other in each one's life. No one has been born in this world who was fully satisfied with human society. Each one has died with a curse and a complaint against human nature and society. Everyone thought that it is gold, but finally died with the feeling that it is rusted iron. This is the history of mankind right from creation to this day, and we do not know how long it will continue. The reason is that there is a miscalculation of values due to the weddedness of consciousness to the senses, and the dependence of our consciousness on the reports of the senses.

The practice of yoga takes into consideration, takes note of the essential character of 'being' reflected in some measure in one's individuality, and taking its stand on this pedestal, rises above to the next step of a more expanded condition of being. As it was pointed out, the stages of yoga are the stages of expansion in the dimension of consciousness which is, at once, a dimension of being. Consciousness is 'being'. They are inseparable. So the more we expand the dimension of our consciousness, the more also we expand the dimension of our being so that every step in the practice of yoga is a rising into higher levels of being – which means to say higher stages of inclusiveness, comprehensiveness, totality, and adequacy. Towards this purpose, the constituents of our individuality have to be disciplined. The various factors that make up our nature, as it is today, have to be brought into a focus of concentration, organised systematically, and arranged methodically for the purpose of an onward march into the higher levels of being and consciousness.

For this purpose, as it is in the case of a laboratory worker or a scientist, leisure is necessary. We should not be busybodies throughout the day. Leisure – time to think and freedom to ponder over the nature of things – is essential so that the necessary steps may be taken in the direction of a further achievement. We should not be always in a condition of muddle and confused relationships. We should not be like automatons or puppets which are driven by powers external to themselves.

Every step in the practice of yoga is a step towards greater and greater freedom – the freedom not imposed upon us by social contact, but the freedom that arises on account of inclusiveness in a larger and larger measure of our own being. So the freedom that we achieve here is not dependent on external factors. It is not like the freedom of a minister or a king, which is a false freedom tentatively erected by social factors which can fall down and crack at any moment when these factors disintegrate. Spiritual freedom, the freedom achieved through the practice of yoga, is another name for expansiveness of being itself, so that there is no question of its cracking or falling down. And it is a permanent freedom, whatever be the measure or extent of its realisation.

So, first of all, let there be a little leisure to think and to be with one's own self. This is a very important factor to remember. One has to be with one's own self for sometime every day. Mostly, we are with other people; we cannot be alone. We are always with some friends. This irresistible pressure to be in the company of other persons and things is a disease of the mind, ultimately, from the point of view of our real goal and purpose. How is it possible for a person to be so involved in externals that one forgets one's own self, loses oneself, and takes what one is not for what one is, so that one seems to be gaining everything and losing one's own self? "What does it avail you if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?" said Christ. The meaning of his teaching is that we may gain the entire world of objects and lose ourselves as the central subject. What does it matter to us? How does it benefit us? We will be like decorated corpses looking like human beings but without any life in them. When the subject is withdrawn from the object, it is a corpse looking like a living body – but there is no life in it, really speaking. So to depend on externals is to depend on a corpse for the values of life. The stages of yoga are stages in the rise of vitality and true living. We die to externals in some sense so that we may live in the Universal. Die to live. We die first and then live afterwards. We die to that which is false, counterfeit, makeshift, external, and then live in a percentage of the Eternal, which is inclusiveness, totality and indivisibility of being.

Every day it should be possible for any sensible person to find a little time to be absolutely alone. This is a very essential prerequisite in spiritual practice. People who are in a house of many members should also find time to be alone a little while, away from the house. We should not be always in the workplace – that is not advisable. We constantly live in a false, externalised atmosphere where there is always noise, always crying, always relationships, always saying something or the other. This difficulty should be obviated, to some extent at least, even in the initial stage. If we live in a house with many people, we should go out of the house for one hour in the day – somewhere a mile off, or at least a little away from the atmosphere of social conglomeration – and sit for awhile. Either we should close our eyes or keep them open, whatever we like, and think for a moment, "What is it that I actually need?" Philosophical questions arise in the mind by contemplation of possible future experiences, such as one being deprived of relationships. That one can be deprived of external relationships is a possibility, not necessarily remote. The study of human history will reveal that this is perhaps a condition through which most people have to pass.

There cannot be but very few people in the world who have not been deprived of something or the other. Suppose we are deprived of everything in this world – persons and things and property and what not – and we stand alone, unbefriended, uncared for, not being looked at by any person. What is our duty at that moment? When we were born into this world, we did not come with friends. Who did we bring when we came to this world? Who will we take with us when we go away from this world? How many friends will come with us? Not one will come with us. Not a needle will come with us. Not a strip of cloth will come with us. We will leave this world in the same way as we came to this world. And when do we leave this world? After five thousand years? One hundred years? It can be the next moment. The breath can stop. The heart can stop its beat. We know we have no control over these factors. It is futile to imagine that one can live for a hundred years, for two hundred years, and can rule the world. All these are the empty imaginations of an untutored mind.

If we are good students of history and psychology, we must be able to appreciate a condition which can befall us any moment of time. What happened to another, can happen to us also. If suddenly a circumstance takes hold of us where we are unbefriended and our life itself is totally in danger, what is our duty at that moment? It is difficult to conceive what our duty would be at that moment. We are totally helpless, confounded, and woebegone – awful is the condition. Why is it that we feel so awful and wretched in a state where we seem to be disconnected from all external values? It is so because all the while we have been living in a false realm of values, and suddenly we have been possessed now by reality which has come and stared at us: "Here I am. You have forgotten me for years together. Today I am coming before you to demand my share of your life." If reality begins to look at us and stare at us, we shall be frightened. We are happy because we are living in a false world. It is false values that make us happy and, therefore, our happiness also is false.

We are stupid people, if we properly analyse ourselves. We have no wisdom in ourselves, because our happiness, properly analysed, will be found to be based on erroneous notions, illogical conceptions, and untrustworthy factors. These things make us happy. But sometimes the earth gets shaken and the reality will come up and then we find that we are nobody – nothing. This situation arises on account of a manifestation of truth in the process of evolution. What is truth? As I mentioned, the sense of aloneness will come and press upon us one day or the other. The Supreme Being, which is the Universal Alone, will be reflected in us in a measure, calling for a sense of aloneness in our life, bereft of all the false relationships of society which we have been mistaking for truth and the real sense of values.

Yoga does not want us to be threatened like this; it wants us to understand things beforehand. It is better to quit a house honourably than to be asked to get out by force. Why should we be asked to get out? We ourselves should go honourably. "Yes, I am going before you say so." But if we do not understand this, we will be taken to task by powers which are the real rulers of this world. The rulers of this world are not presidents and ministers. The rulers are something else, of whom we have absolutely no knowledge, whom we cannot see with our eyes, and whom we do not want to think about even for a moment of time. The world is controlled by forces which are not human – human beings are only strings which are operated by other powers, of which human beings have no knowledge.

So yoga takes us by the hand, leads us along the path of right knowledge, and tells us where we really stand: "My dear friend, this is your situation." A real friend will tell us what our defects are. He will not go on praising us unnecessarily, that we are endowed with two horns and four eyes, etc. We have no two horns – nothing of the kind. We are bereft of horns. The friend will tell us, "You have no horns." Why do we think we have got horns? We have no tails. There are all sorts of things about which we will be taught by the lessons of life.

The wisdom of life is the practice of yoga in its essentiality, and every step in yoga is a discipline in this direction. By discipline, we should not understand any kind of imposed hardship or torture. Generally people are afraid of discipline because they think it is a kind of imposition of restriction upon oneself by somebody else. This is the usual definition of discipline or the working of law and order. This is because we are not used to discipline. We are always accustomed to a kind of life of abandon – license, rather than freedom – a kind of urge from within to live as one likes according to the whim and fancy of the conditions of the mind as it occurs, without any control over one's own self. But discipline does not mean that.

Discipline is the arrangement of our thought or consciousness according to the laws that operate basically in life – the laws which are not imposed upon us from outside, but rather the laws which constitute the nature of the world itself. The world is ultimately made up of laws and principles rather than things and objects, and we are a part of that. So, to obey a discipline, a principle of order or regulation, does not mean subjection to somebody else. The following of a discipline does not mean becoming a slave of somebody, but an acceptance of the true values of life - which means to say, the value of our own being. Ultimately, discipline is alignment with one's own personality, and not subjection to somebody else. We are not being threatened by somebody else when we are asked to follow discipline. It is our own true nature that calls for adjustment of our self with our Self. Ātmaiva hyātmano bandhurātmaiva ripurātmanaḥ (B.G. VI.5), says the Bhagavadgita: You yourself are your friend, and you yourself are your enemy under different conditions.

We can be our own enemy when our real nature cannot be reconciled with the false nature in which we are today living. When we have identified with our false level of being, which is not the truth of things, naturally it comes at loggerheads with the higher order of life which is our higher nature. So there is a fight between one's lower nature and one's higher nature; there is a war in one's own self. This is what is called psychological tension. A tension, psychologically felt, is nothing but a battle that is waged between our own higher nature and our lower nature. It is not somebody else fighting with us; we ourselves are fighting with ourselves inside, in the two levels of our existence. When we are intelligently educated in the lines of the higher nature of our own being, we do not merely subject ourselves like servants to its laws, because we cannot be servants of our own selves. It is a voluntary acceptance of the true sense of values. It is recognition of what we really are in our fundamental nature.

Yoga is, therefore, also a process of education. There cannot be a greater system of education than yoga. There is no greater psychology than yoga. There is no greater science than yoga. There is no greater philosophy than yoga. There is no greater system of living than yoga. Therefore, to set one's foot in the line of the practice of yoga would be to step into the realm of being as such, the realm of reality, the realm of truth or satya, which is supposed to triumph or succeed in the end. The discipline that we are called upon to undertake – voluntarily of course, not as an imposition from outside – is to be exercised at every level and at every stage.

As I said in the beginning, the first discipline would be to find leisure, to find time to be alone. I requested you to find time, at least to the extent of an hour every day, when you will not be likely to see anybody, you will not talk to anybody, you will not have dealings with anybody, and you will not even think of anybody. Can you find one hour like that? That would be your first achievement in yoga. Sit alone for one hour every day, not seeing anybody, not talking to anybody, not having dealings with anybody, and not even thinking of anybody. If this can be done, you have stepped into the kindergarten stage of yoga. But even this much is difficult for most people. "Oh, I cannot find one hour – even five minutes is very difficult. I am always busy." Busy in heading towards death – what a pity. We are all busy towards that end only, heading towards our doom. This is the world, and it is made up of this nature. We have no time to be alone a little, to find out what is our aim in life and what is our real duty.

After having been blessed with this rare opportunity of finding at least one hour in a day to be absolutely alone, seat yourself in a comfortable posture. By comfortable posture, I do not mean crossed legs. It can be any posture which is easy and free from muscular, nervous and psychological tension. You can even sit on an easy chair. You can even lie down on a bed for a few minutes in the beginning if you are very tired. You can occupy any kind of physical posture which would not necessitate your thinking of the body at that time. The meaning of a comfortable posture is that position of the body which will not demand thought of the body. Suppose you sit in a distorted position – you will feel some kind of muscle strain, or pain somewhere in the body, and so you will be thinking about a part of your body. The point here is that you should be in such a mental mood and condition where it is not necessary for you to think of the body. You are poised in such a way that the harmony introduced by that physical posture will free you from the thought of the body, for the time being at least – at least for an hour. So be seated, or be occupying such a physical posture which would not necessitate thought of the body. And then, what do you do.

For some days you need not do anything or even think anything. Let there be at least a satisfaction that you are able to sit alone for an hour every day. Even if you are looking at the empty space or the open sky, or gazing at the stars, it does not matter. For a few days, do not think about anything. After some days you will find that the mind becomes accustomed to this kind of aloneness and freedom from, or subjection to, false relationship with externals, and then the power of concentration will gradually develop. The mind is unable to concentrate on anything because it is always used to a life of distracted perceptions. We see a hundred people and a thousand things, and think many a thought every day, so that we have never had the occasion to think of any one particular thing for a consistent period.

This chance given to the mind to be alone for some time enables it to adjust its ideas in such a way that thoughts begin to flow in a particular direction, rather than in a hotchpotch manner in all directions. The purpose of sitting alone, being alone, is to learn the art of concentration of mind, channelisation of thought in a given direction, and thus energising the mind for the purpose of the higher practice.