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


Chapter 10: Self-Control – The Alpha and Omega of Yoga

It has been discovered now, therefore, that perceptions are due to a segmentation of consciousness. This is the secret behind our life in this world. And inasmuch as our perceptional experiences are involved in a condition of consciousness which is inseparable from our own being, we cannot know the reason why we see things. Consequently, we cannot know why we like things or dislike things. Our knowledge becomes half-baked, inadequate, and erroneous when the conditions of all knowledge lie behind our capacities. Thus it is that often it looks as if we are completely under the control of pressures that are exerted from above and behind, from the right and the left, from every direction – a fact of which we cannot have any awareness. It is, therefore, useless to apply scientific methods of knowing or investigation in regard to matters which are the very conditions of knowing.

This is something which goes deeper than even psychology, because all knowledge – even of the mind, which is what we know as psychology – is gained by an observational technique employed by the mind in an objective manner, as if it is observing somebody else, and the only thing that the mind cannot do is to know itself or to know the conditions of its own functioning. The relationships of the mind and the conditions of knowledge determine the very existence and the character of the mind, and therefore it is that we find ourselves in a helpless condition. The practice of yoga becomes all the more difficult when it deals with conditions prior to our present state of existence, when it deals with causes rather than effects, and especially causes that lie 'behind' us which are precedent to our present physical and social condition.

What we call self-control, sense-control, mind-control, etc., is nothing but the attempt of consciousness to go back to its cause. When an effect puts forth effort to return to its cause, that would be self-control on its part. It becomes self-control because in order to understand the cause of an effect, the effect has to withdraw its ramifications of action, thought, feeling, and relationship. We may wonder why such a kind of withdrawal is called for on the part of the effect for the sake of the knowledge of its cause. If I feel hot, and the cause of this heat is the sun that is shining in the sky, and I have to know the cause of this heat as the sun, I need not withdraw myself to know the cause of this heat. I can simply look up and see the sun blazing in the sky and say, "Here is the cause of heat." Where then arises the need for self-control on the part of the effect when it has to know the nature of the cause of its very existence and action? The reason is something very peculiar. The cause of this effect we are speaking of is different in every way from external causes, such as the sun causing heat, etc. A wind may blow and cause chilliness, and a wrong diet may cause a tummy upset, etc. – these become causes of certain effects in the form of experiences. In the matter of all these causes, knowledge of the causes does not necessarily involve self-control, because all these causes are outside the effect and they exert an external pressure on the effect.

Therefore, it becomes practical for us to employ observational techniques of a scientific character where causes are outside the effect, or external to the effect. But here, we are speaking of certain other types of causes, where the cause is inherent in the effect, and not outside the effect. The cause, in this case, does not have a spatial existence outside the effect, standing externally like a master outside the servant. The master is not inside the servant; he is not inherent in the servant. He is absolutely an external cause, operating on the servant with no intrinsic force in respect of the servant, whereas here the type of cause we are referring to is intrinsically operative in the effect, and not merely extrinsic. That which is the cause of this effect is present immanently in the effect, and not merely transcendentally. This means to say that the very pattern, the structure, the existence, the make-up, the substantiality of the effect is constituted by the nature of the cause which has become the effect by a greater density of its structure.

When gas becomes water by a particular form of permutation and combination, or when water becomes ice, the water that has become ice does not stand outside the ice; it is inherent in the ice. The water which is the cause of the ice is not extrinsic to the ice; it is intrinsic, so that the water is the ice, we may say, in all respects. However, for practical purposes, and for explanatory reasons, we may say that the cause is the water, and the effect is the ice. Here, the cause and the effect are inseparable: we have to melt the ice in order that we may find the water there. There is a complete transformation or modification of the effect called for, in order to know the nature of the cause thereof.

The effect here, which is our own personality and individuality, is projected by certain conditions as causative factors which do not operate outside our individuality, but are the very constituents of our individuality; therefore, what is called for is a very unusual type of transformation on the part of the effect, for the sake of the knowledge of its cause. All logical and scientific methods fail here because of a completely new type of technique that is expected to be employed. The observing scientist here is not sitting in a laboratory with some instrument to observe the effect, or to know the nature of the cause of a particular effect. The observer is involved in the very act of observation, and herein is the difficulty. The observer is involved in the act of observation, so that the condition of the observer determines the condition of the observation and the nature of the observed effect.

The effect, which is this individuality of ours, is nothing but a spatial and temporal projection of a particular condition called the cause. The more we become externalised, the more we become spatial and temporal. The more we go towards the cause internally, the less is the pressure exerted on us by space, time and relevant conditions. But the more we proceed further and further in an external direction towards space, time and objects, the more we become automatons, more and more enslaved, more and more helpless, more and more puppets, as it were. We become more and more free and autonomous the more we withdraw ourselves from spatial and temporal conditions and tend to be what we are in our own selves. The causes of our existence as individuals are not capable of being known by the mind, because these causes drive even the mind in a particular way for its function in space and in time.

The whole of yoga is self-control – in one word, 'self-mastery' – in the sense that the rays of the mind and the senses, the projecting powers of individuality, have to be brought back to their source in order that there may be consciousness of the cause. There cannot be a consciousness of the cause as long as the cause is not the object of consciousness, inasmuch as the latter is involved in the externalised activity of the mind and the senses. We cannot know an object unless the consciousness follows this cognitive act and enlivens the senses, activates them towards the object which is seen, cognised or perceived by them. On account of this engagement of consciousness through the mind and the senses in respect of objects outside and in all acts of perception and cognition, it finds no time to revert to its cause. We have no time. The consciousness cannot find time to become aware of its own background, inasmuch as it is heavily engaged and is very busy throughout the day and the night in attending to the needs of the mind and the senses in their activity of projection externally to objects. So, to become aware of the cause would be to enable the consciousness to revert itself in that direction – inwardly – for which purpose it has to be withdrawn, tentatively at least, in an appreciable measure, from its engagement in objective perception through the mind and the senses.

All perceptions are, therefore, engagements of consciousness, which prevents it from knowing its own background and conditions of action, so that when we are busily engaged in the perceptions and cognitions through the mind and the senses, we cannot know our own background, and we look helpless. The necessity for self-control arises merely because of the fact that the object of our quest is inherently present in the very act of our individual experience, and it cannot be observed by the ordinary means of an academic character or a scientific nature. Here we need no instruments, no types of apparatus either for observation or knowledge, because the object here is the background of our own self. There are causes behind causes, extending one behind the other, and lying one behind the other in larger and larger expansiveness – one implying the other, and one inclusive of the other. The causes that are precedent are inclusive of the causes that are succeeding, so that when we go higher up we do not lose anything that is lower, but get everything that is lower in a refined form by transcendence.

Transcendence is different from giving up. When we transcend a condition, we do not reject that condition as something necessary or unnecessary, but absorb that condition into a higher nature, include it in our higher condition and make it a part of our experience, so that nothing is lost but everything is found in a more real form. So in the practice of yoga, nothing is lost. Nehābhikramanāso'sti pratyavāyo na vidyate (B.G. II.40), says the Bhagavadgita. There is no loss in the practice of yoga; always there is a gain. And no question of sin arises here. If we do it well, so much the better for us. If we cannot do it well, there is no sin in it; the only thing is, we have not got what we wanted. Such is the impartiality and the genuine character of this wonderful practice called yoga.

Previously we were touching upon the nature of perceptions of objects, and these were explained as the reasons behind our attachments and aversions, our love of individual physical life and dread of death, etc. It was also discovered that self-affirmation or egoism becomes a necessary link, an intermediary between the external acts of cognition, perception, attachment, aversion etc., and the ultimate cause of the appearance of this phenomenon, of which we have no knowledge. This phenomenon was explained also as having been caused by a vast multiple manifestation of the Ultimate Reality in the form of what we may call 'located individuals', as if one is not connected with the other, so that each individual – which was originally an inseparable part of the Ultimate Truth or Reality, enjoying the status of pure selfhood or subjectivity – got distorted into an object of the cognitive act and perceptive action of the senses, so that it is possible to regard any person and any object in this world either as a subject from its own point of view, or as an object from another's point of view. It is this peculiar double character, or dual role, of persons and things in this world that has made life difficult. Which is the correct attitude: to regard things as subjects, or regard them as objects? Well, the correct attitude would be to regard everything as it ought to be regarded from the point of view of what it really is.

Can we look upon anything, any person, any object for the matter of that, as something which is to be utilised as a kind of instrument in perception or cognition, or has it a status of its own? What we mean by a status of one's own is a capacity to exist by oneself, independent of external relations and dependence on others; this is the nature of subjectivity. Everyone, you and I included, has a status of one's own. It is this status that gets distorted later on into what they call egoism, pride, etc., what is called ijjat in Hindi – a kind of stupid form which it has taken, though originally it was a spiritual status. Our status as pure subjects is incapable of objectification, and it is not intended to be used as a tool for another's activity or satisfaction. It is not in the nature of things to subject themselves into objects as vehicles of action and satisfaction for somebody else, because every individual, judged from its own real status, enjoys subjectivity. It is an end in itself, and not a means.

That is why everyone is egoistic, and everyone wants satisfaction for one's own self. When we analyse all our actions, we will find that there is no such thing as unselfish action, finally. Every action is selfish, if we very closely define the principle of selfishness. The element of self is present in every act, every perception, every cognition and every effort, because when the self is isolated, all things lose their meaning – the whole world looks empty. What we call unselfishness is only the presence of a higher type of self as an element in our act of perception, cognition, etc. It does not mean that the Self is absolutely absent – that is not possible. We only mean that a higher, more expansive kind of self is present rather than a lower self. What we call selfishness is nothing but the interference of the lower self in our actions, and what we call unselfishness is the presence in the same way of a higher form of self, but Self is there – it cannot be absent. There is nothing in this world where the Self is absent. The whole universe is invaded by the Self. It is present in everything, and nothing can exist without it, because that is the only existence.

The act of self-control is the return of consciousness to a higher selfhood from a lower one. It is a rise from self to self, we may call it – from the self that is involved in externality and objectivity, to a self that is less involved in this manner – a return from objectivity to subjectivity through higher and higher degrees of ascent. But this process becomes extremely difficult on account of our weddedness to the senses. We have been habituated to look at things only through the senses, and we have no other way of knowing or judging. We immediately pass a judgement on anything that is seen with the eyes – it is there in such-and-such a condition, it has such-and-such a value, it is real in this percentage. Our judgement of value and reality depends, therefore, unfortunately for us, on our sense-perceptions, so that external relationships are mistaken by us as realities. A reality is not a relationship; it is an existence by itself. So, self-control is a return of consciousness from its life of relationships, to a higher form of life where relationships become less and less palpable.

The whole difficulty is in self-control, and this is the alpha and omega of yoga – everything is here. It is practically impossible for ordinary people, because consciousness is involved there. If anything else had been involved, we would have done something. We ourselves are involved – that is the meaning of consciousness getting involved – and if we are involved in mistaken activity, how are we to rectify this activity? We are involved in this wrong action, and who is to rectify this wrong action? Not someone else – that someone else cannot do anything in a matter where we are involved. This is the difficulty of self-control. It is not control by somebody; it is control by the self. It is control of oneself by oneself, and nothing can be more difficult in this world than this effort. But once we taste the joy of self-control, we will not like to taste even milk and honey in this world.

Self-control is not a pain; it is not a suffering, as people may imagine. The moment we talk of self-control, people get frightened. They think it is a kind of tapasya that is being imposed upon us contrary to the joys that we are expecting in life. Not so is the truth. The joy of self-control is greater than the joy of sense contact - very important to remember. The joy of sense-control is greater than the joy of sense contact with objects. One may ask why. The reason is that in sense contact an artificial condition is created, whereas in sense-control a real condition which is commensurate with our true nature is generated. In sense contact a condition is generated which is not commensurate with our true nature. We become sick in sense contact, and a kind of illness takes possession of us. And the distorted joy (distorted is the word to be underlined), the perverted joy – reflected, limited, and distorted joy – which we are supposed to acquire by every kind of sense contact, is far, far removed from the true joy of which it is the reflection, distortion, etc – a state of affairs which can be known only by direct practice. There is a vast difference, as between health and disease. How unhappy one is when one is sick, and how happy one feels when one is healthy. But if we are perpetually sick and we do not know the joy of health, it is difficult to make it clear to us. What health is cannot be explained, because we have not seen what health is.

Sense-control, or self-control, is causative of a greater happiness than anything conceivable in this world, because it is a return of consciousness to its own self that is motivated by this effort. The more we return to ourselves, the more are we happy. The more we are away from ourselves, the less we are happy and the more we are miserable. So, in all externalised perceptions and contacts, likes and dislikes, etc., we are in a diseased state of mind and consciousness. We are not what we are. We are other than what we are: asvastha-not in our own self. We are outside ourselves when we perceive anything. Svastha is one who is healthy-one who is situated, located and rooted in one's own self. One who is established in one's own self is svastha, and that condition is called svastha-health. When we are outside ourselves, we are asvatha.

Self-control is yoga, and that is the return of consciousness to its own cause, which is nothing but its own higher nature. This cause that we are searching for is not another thing outside consciousness. It is a higher expansive condition of its own being, so that we rise from our self to our self in a more expanded form. When we rise to the cause from the effect, we do not grow from one thing to another thing, or rise from one state to another state as if they are two different states. We grow from a lower condition of inadequacy to a higher state of greater adequacy, greater comprehensiveness and reality. It is like rising from lesser and lesser abilities of cognition and knowledge to higher and higher abilities. It is like waking up from deep sleep to the dream state, and from dreaming to waking. We are not rising from one world to another world, but from one condition of consciousness to another condition of consciousness. So it is, after all, a treatment of one's own self by one's own self. Here, another person, another thing or any external instrument is of no use, and so great caution and persistence in practice is necessary.

If we miss the practice even one day, we will miss the link of action, because it is easy to follow the course of the senses and difficult to control them and act in a reverse order. The senses have a peculiar habit – if we do not allow them to act according to their whims and fancies even on a single day, the next day they become more powerful and vehement, like a servant who has not been paid his salary and will not do his work. He will murmur, grumble, and he will say all kinds of things because we have not paid his dues. He will say, "I'll go. I will do this or that." Likewise are the senses. They are like servants who have not been paid their dues because of our act of self-control, so they murmur, grumble, and threaten us and tell us, "One day we will do something to you"- and they may even do that if we are careless. They may finish us and see that we are done for ultimately, if as masters we are careless with the servants. So, even for one day we cannot miss the practice.

It is dangerous to miss practice even for one day. Why is it so? It is dangerous because the senses will revolt, and once they revolt we cannot control them. They will gain the upper hand and we will be finished, and all the good that we have done for months and years will be in dust. We are warned that carelessness is equal to death. It is better to die than be careless in this practice. It is like touching dynamite. One has to be cautious. So why is self-control necessary? It is necessary because that is the return of the mind and consciousness to its own healthy condition of higher expansiveness. It is also necessary that we should not miss the practice. If we miss it for a period in the middle, the controlled senses gain the opportunity to revolt and exert a pressure with such vehemence that our whole personality will be driven by a blast of wind in a direction which is contrary to what is expected.

So while self-control is extremely difficult, to miss the practice of self-control is extremely dangerous. Hence, the guidance of a Guru is called for, and earnestness of practice is also requisite. Conducive atmosphere, suitable company, activity commensurate with the nature of the goal, and the presence of a competent master or a Guru – all these are indispensable requisites in the practice of yoga.