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


Chapter 15: Consonance with the Essential Make-up of Things

Human beings, living in a human world, can think only in a human manner. This is, of course, something taken for granted. But many things are taken for granted and become part of our very existence in this world, and yet they may not be helpful when matters come to a climax. In the practice of spiritual life, in our undertaking called yoga, we are likely to make the mistake of introducing the human way of thinking into a system which is far removed from mere prosaic human thought. Even in scientific fields involving more generalised investigations, human ways of thinking do not apply. It is difficult to understand what the human way of thinking is, though we have understood the meaning of this sentence from a grammatical point of view. What is it to think humanly and to visualise things in a human fashion? This is a peculiar characteristic of our life, not at all commensurate with what should be called the scientific way of thinking; and yoga is a science – it is not a human tradition.

We have, apart from traditions, customs and routines of life, a certain peculiar characteristic called the human attitude. Even where a particular force is working which should be regarded as prior even to the manifestation of human modes, we apply the human modes themselves for defining and implementing these forces in our life. It is impossible for ordinary thought to divest itself from the notion that there is a chair in front of it, rather than a few pieces of wood. It is impossible for us to imagine that we are seeing only a few pieces of wood. We are insistently asserting through our minds that it is a chair we are looking at, and not merely a bundle of wood. I am giving an analogical method of finding out what it is we mean by the human way of thinking – the traditional, prosaic way of thinking, as distinct from the scientific way of thinking. To look at an object, to evaluate it in a purely personalistic manner, may be regarded as the human way of thinking, whereas to evaluate it by an observation from its own point of view, rather than from the point of view of a relationship that seems to obtain between itself and the observer, may be regarded as a more scientific way of looking at things.

What makes us feel a great difficulty in thinking scientifically is that there are things in this world which are called values, and these values cannot be dissected using the scientific method. For example, there is such a thing called beauty, but it cannot be scientifically analysed. No mathematical equation can understand, or point out, the significance behind a peculiar value-concept called beauty. Whatever be the extent of our imagination into the probing of this mystery, it will always remain a mystery. Just as we cannot touch the borders of the horizon however much we may proceed towards it, we will not be able to investigate into the structural basis of this peculiar significance of perception called beauty. What is science? It is nothing but mathematics and logic coupled with experimentation and inductive analysis. But no mathematics can explain what beauty is, and no logical deduction or induction can make clear what it is that is being perceived. Observation, of course, will simply make us come a cropper; it will not reveal any truth at all.

The reason is that there are very peculiar features which escape a purely temporal way of observation. This difficulty arises on account of certain characteristics interfering with our perceptions and experiences, which do not belong to the realm of pure sensation and empirical thought. It is difficult to distinguish between these interfering factors and the characteristics of things as they really are. Man is not used to impersonal ways of thinking, because man is a person. Every human being is a person, so naturally there can be only personal ways of thinking, and impersonal ways are far, far from one's reach. What do we mean by saying that certain perceptions can be impersonal? The meaning is that the general background of the make-up of a thing is taken into consideration in impersonal observations, rather than its shape or its present context, which need not be the whole of the context.

A judgement which is relevant only to a given context, completely ignoring other associations of this context, would be more a personal evaluation rather than an impersonal one. If a doctor examines a person, he does not see a brother in that person. He does not see a father; he does not see a friend; he does not see an enemy. The doctor sees a case for examination. The doctor's eye never sees these evaluations in the patient, because his observation is intended to be connected with facts which have gone to make up the physical personality of the case and not the values which may be associated with someone else by way of relationship.

In the analytical processes and the synthetic procedures to be adopted in the practice of yoga, we have to remember that we are not dealing with human realms, human beings, or things or objects as they are presented to the senses. Most of us find little success in the practice of yoga because we apply human values to things which are not human. Nothing that is connected with the principles of yoga can be regarded as human. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as 'human' in the whole of nature. It is only a concept of a particular type of mind that is called human. A particular characteristic of a specific type of mind is what goes by the name of 'the human way of thinking', 'the human way of functioning', etc.

What makes us think that we are human? This is only a way of evaluating ourselves. Our personalities are made up of certain physical substances – earth, water, fire, air and ether – which go to make up the bones, the muscles, the nerves, the marrow, etc., in various densities of structure, animated by certain forces. These forces are not human. The body is also not human, really speaking, because it is made up of the five elements. The earth element in the body cannot be regarded as human; the water element is not human; the fire element is not human; the air element is not human; the ether element is not human; the prana is not human. What is human in us? There is nothing called human, in the ultimate analysis. So, just as beauty cannot be understood in a scientific manner, the peculiar feature called 'humanness' also cannot be understood. But this inscrutable feature interferes with every type of observation and thinking, and it is this inscrutability that creates problems.

We have been mentioning, again and again, that what cannot be understood becomes a source of fear, and when it is intelligible, it then appears to be capable of mastery. We are dealing with the world in the practice of yoga, and the world is not a human being. Even the so-called human beings are not as they appear to be. They are parts of the world, projections of natural forces, and they partake of those characteristics which are present in their causes. Merely because we call a hard lump by the name 'ice', it has not ceased to be what it is; it is nothing but water that has taken a particular shape. The human being, with human attitudes, is a peculiar structure evolved out of causes which themselves are not human. The human being has not come from human characteristics, but those which are more general in their comprehension and application than the personal attitudes and needs of the human individual.

As we go higher and higher, even in our way of thinking, we have to become more and more non-human. I deliberately avoid the word 'superhuman', because it looks very frightening for a beginner. We have to become non-human in our way of thinking as we become more and more spiritual. Neither should we look upon ourselves as men or women, nor should we look at others with this eye, because there are no men and women in this world. There are only certain structures, certain configurations which are constituted by powers and not by things. These powers are not male or female. They are not even human, as I mentioned, and they are, to put it in intelligible language, impersonal. But because of our stereotyped way of thinking right from childhood, we are unable to think in this fashion. Just as we cannot see wood in the chair but we see only the chair in the wood, so too we see only a man in a peculiar structure of forces and have a peculiar attitude towards that structure, which we ourselves will not be able to understand if we go deep into it. These are our difficulties.

We have certain inborn traits which obstruct every progress on the right path, and these inborn traits are the pressing urges of the individual nature. It is impossible for one to forget that one is an Indian, or an American, or a German; or a white or a black; or from the south, or the north, or the east or the west. These traits are deeply hidden in the smallest particle of our nature, but we know how far removed they are from the truth of our nature. There is no meaning in saying that we are Americans or Indians, etc., because these are only certain nomenclatures, certain ways of deciphering persons, certain epithets employed for practical convenience in daily life, and these need not necessarily be part of our nature. There is no such thing as American hunger and Indian hunger – they are equal. Even thinking is identical. These are only to give examples of the lowest category of impersonality which is at the background of personalities. But as we go higher and higher, these impersonalities become more generalised, and more difficult to grasp.

Very powerful analytical thinking is necessary to go to the causes of the names and forms that we see in this world as constituting the real meaning of our life. The names and the forms are not really identical with the substances, but we mix up the two. The name-form complex is identified with the substance, and vice-versa, so that we commit mistakes in every act of perception and relationship, not knowing whether this perception or relationship is in respect of a substance, or merely a name-form complex.

As in the analogy mentioned earlier, when I look at a chair, what is it that I am looking at? Is my attitude one of relationship with the wood that it is made of, or the name and the form which is what is called the chair? The chair is only a name-form complex. It is not a substance, because the substance is wood. There is no such thing as a chair, substantially. But when we touch the chair, we are touching only wood. We are not touching a chair, because if we remove the wood from it, the chair will not be there. Though wood is what the chair is in substance, we have associated a name with this structure of wood and imagined it to be almost as an independent something, though there is no independence of chair from the wood. Though this may look very simple to think about and understand, it has become a prejudice in our thinking, and that is what sets up reactions in our minds.

What is the difference between a table and a chair? The difference is very clear, and everyone knows what it is. The impersonality, which is the truth behind these names and forms, is the wood that is in the chair and the table. But the personality is that this is a chair and that is a table, and they are two things which are quite different from each other. So things that are self-identical can also be assumed to be different for the purpose of dealing with them. That they are different is only an assumption and not a substantial truth. The same erroneous logic is applied by us in respect of everything in this world. Otherwise, there would be no attitudes at all. We cannot have an attitude towards anything if we start looking at the substance of things, and yoga is the art of probing into the substance of things.

Our attitudes become more and more impersonal and less and less palpable as we go higher and higher, and our stereotyped, ingrained traits gradually drop off like scales from the body and our way of perception becomes reoriented. To define this new way of thinking would be difficult, and for want of sufficient words which can connote its true significance, we can only say that this is a scientific way of thinking. A scientist cannot think as a human being, though he is a human being, because he sheds his human characteristics for the purpose of impersonal observation. Otherwise, the nature of things cannot be seen.

We can never understand the difference between the substantial or the impersonal way of thinking, and the other side of it, namely, the way of thinking connected with the name-form complex and with the peculiar relationship that we have with things. Yoga has nothing to do with these subject-object relationships, ultimately. As a matter of fact, it is there only to remove the bondage created by this sort of relationship. So it is necessary, first of all, to give up the old way of thinking and start a new, refined form of thinking altogether, which will be in consonance with the nature of things.

The constituents of our personality are not human, as I mentioned; and yet we call ourselves human. Nothing that is in us can be called human. Everything has come from certain other factors, certain other forms of existence which cannot be called human. Chemically, physically and scientifically analysed, we have nothing human in us. It is all impersonal right through, from beginning to end. Nature is impersonal. The sun, the moon and the stars are impersonal; the wind that blows is impersonal; the water that we drink is impersonal; the air that we breathe is impersonal; the food that we eat is impersonal; and our own body is made up of impersonal features, so that the whole existence is impersonal. Yet, we cling to personalities.

This is a peculiar prejudice, and it is the first thing that we have to shed. On account of this attachment to individualities and the personal notions attached to these individualities, we have fears of various sorts. Fears arise on account of relationship with persons like us, and these fears would not be there if we regard ourselves as certain forces impinging upon other sets of forces caused by certain conditions, all of which are impersonal. This is a frightening way of thinking for the type of mind that we have right from birth, but it is better to be frightened in the beginning of our spiritual practice than to be frightened afterwards, in the end, when we are about to jump into a new realm of existence altogether.

The teacher of yoga should be regarded as a very uncanny individual, indeed. As I mentioned previously with a quotation from the Katha Upanishad, the teacher of yoga, and even the student of yoga, should have an element of impersonality in order to absorb these characteristics of the goal of life, which is the highest thing that a person can conceive. We never move from person to person or from personality to personality. We move from one stage of impersonality to another stage of impersonality. Even in the lowest condition we are in a condition of impersonality, though it may be just the initial stage of it because, as I tried to point out, there is nothing in this world which can be called personal. Neither the atom is personal, nor the molecule is personal, nor the electron is personal, nor the cells of the body are personal, nor the blood is personal, nor breathing through the lungs is personal. Nothing is personal; everything is impersonal.

How does this personal attitude come, then? From where does it come? This is a crotchet in the head. We identify principles with personalities. This is a mistake everyone commits, and then there is unhappiness of various sorts. There is an old saying: "You may dislike sin, but not the sinner" – but we mistake one for the other. When we dislike a sin, we start disliking the sinner himself even though the sinner is different from the sin. A sin is a peculiar condition, and when the condition is obviated, the sinner is no more a sinner. But we cannot identify the background of this condition.

We superimpose one on the other, and when I dislike a peculiar attitude of yours, I dislike you yourself. What I dislike is not you, but your attitude. If your attitude changes, it becomes all right. But I cannot distinguish between these two factors in your personality. Your attitude is identified with you. The substance and the quality get jumbled up, whereas the substance is not identical with the quality. The quality is a peculiar condition of the substance, and this quality can go on changing as the substance evolves. So, our attitude should be a permanent understanding of the substance behind these attributes which are the causes of relationship, rather than a clinging to the attributes themselves. It is this inability to think in this fashion that creates attachments, aversions, loves, hatreds, wars, prejudices, heart-burnings, sleepless conditions, and sorrows of umpteen types.

The system of yoga can cut at the root of all problems merely because of a single base on which it stands, namely, the impersonal attitude; not an attitude which it has created of its own, but an attitude which is the character of being itself. The being of anything, for the matter of that – your being, his being, even the minutest conceivable object – the being of anything is impersonal. So as it is true that we rise from a whole to a whole in wider and wider comprehensions, it is also true that we rise from lesser types of impersonality to higher types of impersonality.

The idea of something being in relation to us rather than something in itself, is to be given up at the very outset. Whenever we look at a thing, we always look at it as something of meaning to us, of what it signifies to us, and on the basis of that imagined significance we develop an attitude and take an action in that direction. But if this wrong notion can be given up with a little bit of hard thinking and a little effort on our part, then many of our difficulties can be obviated.

But a person immersed in the workaday world, who is always walks along a beaten track and never exerts to think independently, will find this very difficult. Great leisure is necessary to reshuffle thought and to make it a new system of understanding. It may take years to develop this sort of thinking, but once this stand is taken on the impersonal background of everything in this world, there shall be neither sorrow nor grief, nor insecurity, nor fear of anything, because the world will take care of us when we understand it as it is. But when we misconstrue it and treat it in a way in which it should not be treated, then the cause of our fear is, of course, obvious. We have, therefore, to think, to feel and to act in a manner which is not dissonant with the essential make-up of things, and when we succeed in this way of thinking, we have also succeeded in living a true life. Success in life is nothing but success in our developing a permanent attitude commensurate with the essential nature of things.