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


Chapter 14: The Indivisibility of All Things

We were discussing the mechanisms which the mind employs for its protection, safeguard, and fulfilment of purpose. These psychological mechanisms are very subtle devices, subtler than even electronic equipment, and are invisible to ordinary perception. Often these devices get the upper hand over the very individual who utilises them, and as a servant can suppress the master under given conditions, the mechanism itself can prevent us from having any control over it. This is what they call Frankenstein's monster. These monstrous devices will be in a position later on to get into a friendly relationship with the entire apparatus of the personality, so that they can set up a revolution against the central government of the body. But in the beginning they are utilised, set up for particular purposes as a safeguard of one's own self.

These devices are very peculiar in their nature, and their very strength lies in their inscrutability. Many things become strong when they cannot be understood. The difficult persons in this world are those whom we cannot understand. If we can understand them, the difficulty will not be there. They are so very complicated in their make-up that we cannot know the way in which they will move and the purposes which will guide their actions. There are many types of mechanisms of this kind, all of which are listed in a graduated order in the science of psychoanalysis, and it may be difficult to enumerate every one of them here. I can only give some instances of how these mechanisms work.

One important device of this nature is what is usually termed 'the principle of regression'. This is a peculiar psychological term which has a great meaning behind it. Regression is a kind of withdrawal, a return from the main objective. The mind, with the help of the senses, keeps before itself the objective which it wants to tackle, contact and utilise for an ulterior motive. But we know very well that the conditions of life are such that every motive cannot be fulfilled. There are certain desires which cannot be fulfilled for obvious reasons – physiological reasons. Our body may be too weak and incapacitated to fulfil a particular desire. We may be financially incapacitated, or socially restricted, etc., so that the main objective of the mind may not be fulfilled. So, what is the alternative? One alternative is regression.

Where an enemy is too strong, withdrawal is wisdom. Where it is wise to attack, we will attack. Where it is unwise to attack, withdrawal is better. The mind too employs these tactics of armies in war. It adopts the principle of regression, and instead of asking for 'A', it comes down to a lesser degree of asking and asks for 'B', which is the next best thing. When it is absolutely certain that the objective cannot be gained under the conditions that are present, it would then follow the principle that whatever is available under the given conditions would be acceptable. If 'B' is not available or is, perhaps, too difficult to achieve, it would then ask for 'C', which is of a still lesser degree. Thus, the mind can come down to a very low level of asking, the objective getting circumscribed almost to a pinpoint, but with the background of the total pressure of the entire force of its asking for the original objective itself. The desire has not come down, but the nature of the object has been circumscribed. Instead of working in a wide circle, it has now taken to the alternative of coming to the decision that a smaller circle would be all right under these circumstances.

Sometimes, though very rarely, it becomes totally impossible to fulfil any desire whatsoever. It is then that the mind completely withdraws itself into its own cocoon of bodily individuality. It is here that people become neurotics. A neurotic condition is the limitation of a desire for an external objective that is then directed internally, to within one's own body, when every other alternative fails. It will try its best, of course. Nobody could be wiser in this world than a desire. Yet, when alternatives are not visible at all in the near future, there is a possibility that the mind may create a world of its own within itself. The mind can create a kingdom which it can rule without any kind of limitation from outside. We can have a city built for ourselves where we are the supreme masters, where everything will be done according to our wishes, and no law will operate against our wishes. We can create such a world for our own selves, and no one can pass orders against that world. This is the world of neurotics. Nerves are strained to create an inward condition of imaginary satisfaction, wherein external objects get identified with internal conditions, and concepts take the place of percepts.

These psychological states can be mistaken for virtuous and successful attainments, such as self-control. When a person is completely introverted within oneself due to forces of circumstances, the condition cannot be called one of self-control, because we have been forced to withdraw ourself into our own bodily circumstance – not because of our wish, but because of a force which has sat upon our nerves. It is the regression principle that makes people get attached to simple and silly things like a note-book, a walking stick, a cat, a dog, etc. There are people who have no possessions except a small puppy, a cat, or if not even that, a bowl or a walking stick which is their entire property. If we remove the walking stick they will pounce upon us like lions. The walking stick is their entire life because the whole force of their personality has been concentrated into a silly object for all outward appearances – but it is not a silly object for that particular person. When these objects are not available outside, they can be replaced by internal moods, whims, fancies and private outlooks on life.

It is then that people are vehement in their opinions and will not agree at all to any other opinion. It is not a virtue; it is a kind of neurotic condition where we are disagreeing with everybody's opinion in this world, and we do not know what has happened to us. We may be under the impression that we are very wise persons and that others are fools and, therefore, our opinions should have sway over everyone else's. But what has happened to us is that we are nervous, because our desires have been withdrawn and they have taken the upper hand. They have reinforced the ego and, therefore, the ego creates a world of its own, a world of self-mastery. When objects are not available for satisfaction, the ego creates subjective conditions which it wants to impose upon others as the only ruling principle of life. These unhealthy mental states which get identified with one's own individual self can be mistaken for spiritual attainments, austerities and even advanced yogic visions – which are not at all the case, and are far and wholly removed from truth.

There is another mechanism of the mind which is called displacement, where it substitutes one condition for another condition. This act of displacement may be a peculiar manoeuvre of the mind to find the object of its fulfilment in some particular physical object, or a mental state, which is nearest in characteristic to the thing that is desired. The characteristics of the object that is desired can be visualised in the immediately available object or condition. This displacement can take place externally, or it can even take place internally. Internally, it can take very atrocious forms of displacement. For example, an act of self-control may induce us to long hours of sleep and we will not know that it has something to do with self-control at all. We will be thinking that we are great yogis, fully restrained in our sensory and mental activities, but the mind has recoiled upon this condition by inducing sleep. There is also gluttony – immense hunger and a voracious desire to eat, which is the counterpart of sleep. They work together. An insatiable desire to eat food as often as possible, in larger and larger quantities, and to sleep as much as possible are negative conditions induced by an attempt at self-control. But no one would imagine that it has anything to do with self-control at all. They would say that it is something else and has no connection with their spiritual practice, though it has a very great connection, because the only purpose of the mind is satisfaction. It has no other purpose in life, and by hook or crook – by any method whatsoever, beg, borrow or steal, whatever be the way it follows – it must find the satisfaction it seeks. Either we directly fulfil our desire, or we indirectly fulfil it.

The mind can adopt both of these methods. Displacement is the trick of the mind played to postpone the act of fulfilment until a time when the conditions become favourable. Why do we go on sleeping, day and night? It is because sleep is a state of forgetfulness of all problems. If we have problems, the best thing would be not to think of them; but the mind, being active, will naturally think of them, at least subconsciously. It wants to wipe out the memory, or even a possibility of retaining a consciousness of the problem being there at all, by going to sleep. Or the dam can burst in some other direction altogether and there can be a desire of a particular nature which is regarded as innocuous by society. There are certain desires which society regards as harmful, but there are other desires which society, in its foolishness, regards as innocuous or harmless.

So the mind turns to those directions which the social rules regard as harmless – such as making money, for example. If we are greedy, thinking only of dollars and rupees, and have no other interest except making money somehow or other, we will be under the impression that we are going scot-free. It is a mistake of society that it has not understood what true morality is. We are going by traditions which are often wrong in the way of their working. There are fundamental desires in the human being which can take various directions of action, and society does not seem to be aware of these tricks of the mind. It has taken notice only of certain obvious ways of the action of desires, and forgotten the subtle ways in which it can work. Nobody condemns us for gluttony, for example. Nobody thinks that we are out of the way in our conduct because we are gluttons. "Oh, bahut khata hai." (Hindi for 'Oh, he eats a lot'.) They will simply make a remark and let it go. They do not think that there is something seriously wrong with it, because society is not wise enough to go so deep into psychological matters.

Society is foolish in many respects. It does not understand all the secrets; and we also follow that tradition. The greed for wealth, property, the desire to eat and the urge for sleep are as harmful, morally speaking, as any other desire which society regards as harmful. Also, a craving for fame – the expansion of the ego by its placement of social status – is as dangerous as anything can be in social life. When we are discussing ultimate principles under the auspices of yoga, we are not going to talk in terms of tradition, nor follow beaten tracks and insist that we have to drink water only from a particular well merely because our grandfather dug it. This kind of principle will not work when we are moving along the road to greater and greater impersonality of approach.

Among many other mechanisms of the mind, the mechanisms of regression and of displacement, which we saw so far, explain the method of the mind wherein one thing is replaced or substituted in lieu of something else, under the impression that it is doing something quite outside the vision of the restrictive laws, and, at the same time, it finds a venue, an outlet, for its own private satisfactions.

There is another mechanism called projection, where suddenly one begins to condemn people for the very same evils that one has. This is a peculiar trick of the mind where people suddenly become important by detecting the evils of others. When we have no importance of our own, the best way of becoming important is to criticise a great man – and then we suddenly become important. Social foolishness is such that it cannot understand that there is a trick behind this mental activity. Sisupala suddenly became great by criticising Lord Krishna. He was an insignificant person, yet his name is remembered even today merely because he insulted Lord Krishna in public. If we can neither write anything nor understand anything, we criticise a great author, write a contrary review of a great work, and become very important. "He must be a very great and scholarly man. He has criticised Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. He must be greater than H.G. Wells himself." He may be a stupid idiot who knows nothing, and yet he suddenly comes to acquire an importance, albeit of a negative nature, on account of the criticism that he passed on great geniuses.

This is another trick of the mind, and we practise it every day – we are not above it. We have nothing to do other than this. Morning to evening we criticise people, under the impression that we are doing great justice and are practising virtue, not knowing that the devil is working within to put us outside the track. By a peculiar mechanism of projection, our shortcomings are seen. Whatever we lack, we see as lacking in others, and this is how we get on in life. This kind of projection can be either positive or negative. Where it is positive, our desires appear to be fulfilled in the context of other people's existence. Where it is negative, we see our own shortcomings in other people. In whatever manner we work, we will find that the mind is a mischievous imp and it cannot be easily brought to the point of real and positive self-control.

Yogis are very rare. If we very carefully investigate into the truth of things, we will find that almost no such person exists in this world. We cannot find Gurus, masters and adepts easily, because many seekers get waylaid due to the impossibility of understanding what is happening to them. This is because consciousness gets identified with every condition that one passes through. The difficulty in understanding one's own self lies in the fact that whatever be the stage that we are in, and whatever be the condition that we are passing through, it becomes a part of our nature. We become the very object that we are investigating, and so we fail in our attempts. There are countless devices which the mind manufactures for the sake of getting on in a temporal state as a substitute for a particular higher conduct that we are demanding of it, simply because the mind refuses to see meaning in the principle behind the higher conduct that we are asking it to follow.

Again we come to the point of the necessity for higher education in the field of practical life. The impossibility of the mind to read meaning into things makes it also impossible to approach them and take them as its guides or friends in life. The principles of yoga practice are the principles of the higher life, and these principles must become part of the nature of the individual so that they become instruments of higher progress. But friendliness with these principles cannot be established as long as they are not understood. Therefore, it becomes imperative on our part that every principle that we are asked to follow in our higher life is understood thoroughly and made a part of our being.

In spiritual life, 'knowledge' cannot be isolated from 'being', though in the practical life of the empirical world, such a bifurcation is seen. Our knowledge has no connection with our 'being' and, therefore, it becomes a useless burden when actual difficulties are to be faced in life. Professorial and academic knowledge is of no use in life, because it is something bifurcated from our 'being'. Our life is different from what we know. But here, in spiritual life, the contrary is the case. Every step is a step in 'being', and not merely in 'knowing' in the sense of an isolation of oneself from the object known. The ultimate aim of spiritual life is Universal Being, and every step that we take towards it also is a higher form of integrated being, tending towards Universal Being.

Now, 'being' cannot be isolated from 'knowing'. All philosophies, both of the West and the East, have racked their heads, even to the present day, in finding out the relationship between thought and being. Is thought different from being, or has it a relationship with being? There are at least three types of philosophies in the world which regard thought as separate and completely isolated from the object of its knowledge. These are the materialistic theories, or what they call 'realism' in modern philosophical epistemology. The object of knowledge is completely different from the process of thought, which knows the object. There are others who follow an intermediary course by accepting that contributions are made both by the object and the subject in an act of perception. There is an element of objectivity in the knowledge of anything, and also an element of subjectivity. But there are others who have come to the conclusion that there cannot be any kind of distinction, ultimately, between the objective condition and the subjective condition in the act or process of knowledge. Traditionally, these are the schools of Dvaita, Vasishtadvaita and Advaita. They follow the gradual stages of intellectual comprehension of the relationship of the subject with the object. But it goes without saying that the soul cannot keep quiet until it becomes possessed of its object in an inseparable relationship.

We cannot be happy unless we are in possession of the object in an inseparable relation. We feel insecure if there is even the least chance of our being divested of the object that we have possessed. Even when we are in possession of what we have been asking for, there can be a subtle fear inside that one day we will be deprived of it. This fear can be obviated only if the possession is complete. The possession of wealth, for example, is not a complete possession, because no one can become one with wealth – wealth is outside us, so there is no such thing as a real secure possession of wealth. Therefore, every rich person is insecure and unhappy due to the fear that one day he can be deprived of all his possessions. As long as the object stands outside the subject, there is insecurity on the part of the subject and a lurking fear on account of the possibility of one being divested of one's possessions, one day or the other.

All this difficulty arises on account of an extrinsic factor still persisting in the intrinsic, imaginary possession of an object. We are aiming to understand that as long as ultimately there is a distinction made between thought and being, consciousness and its object, there will be a subtle insecurity and unhappiness subtly working from inside, for the simple reason that being cannot be divided. There cannot be a division of what is really indivisible. It is the indivisibility of things that asks for its realisation through the possession of objects. The asking for an object by the subject is an externalised projection, a symbolic manifestation, a representation of the subject asking for unity of being.

In the practice of yoga, at every level through which we have to climb there is a rise from a lesser state of being to higher state of being, where knowledge becomes identical with the existence of the object. It is this principle of the identity of knowing and being that should guide us in our practice of self-control. Where the object lies outside knowledge, self-control would be a failure. And, therefore, the positive principle of this identity of being, even with its minutest form, should be followed in order that we tread the path of wisdom by means of self-control for higher achievements in yoga, rather than getting caught up by the mechanisms of the mind which is ready to deceive us at every step of our practice.