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


Chapter 16: The Inseparability of Notions and the Mind

It has been accepted, universally and commonly, that the practice of yoga essentially consists of the restriction and adjustment of the modifications of the mind. This is perhaps the main stronghold of Patanjali's system of yoga, and perhaps any other system of yoga. But it is difficult to gain a control over the modifications of the mind without a knowledge of the location of the mind as well as its functions, together with a knowledge as to why these modifications have to be controlled at all. Even a child would not be amenable to instructions which are unintelligible to it.

A mere mandate or an order issued by a court, whether or not we like it, may have to be followed for fear of punishment. But such an order of a judicial type cannot be issued to the mind. It is not a court order that we are issuing to the mind: "You keep quiet, and if you do not keep quiet, I will do something to you." This kind of instruction will not work with the mind. But when nothing else seems to be possible, people generally resort to this method of suppression of the desires, thoughts, feelings and emotions of the mind, not knowing the consequences thereof. The danger of suppressing anyone by force is known to everyone; it needs no comment. One cannot suppress with force even a servant. Though supression can be tolerated for some time, it cannot be tolerated for all times, because there is a status of each person and it cannot be completely denied, root and branch, especially for a protracted period of time.

The status of every individual asserts itself in the required measure, at some time or the other; and the mind itself has its own status. Perhaps its status is much greater than we can conceive in our minds. Hence, ordinary approaches of a prosaic character do not work with the mind. Going to a monastery and closing our eyes, suppressing the modifications of the mind – seeing nothing, hearing nothing, and attempting to think nothing – would be a very undesirable practice. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the evolution that is effected by living a spiritual life is a healthy growth into greater forms of expansiveness and realisation, not at all connected with mere subjugation in an external sense.

The mind cannot be controlled unless one knows what the mind is, and also what our relationship is to the mind. Who is to control the mind? Who are we to control the mind? What is our connection with it? It is a very, very easy thing to say that we control the mind. But, where are we sitting, and who are we? Are we made up of the mind, or are we something other than the mind? We cannot deal with the mind as if we are playing jokes with it, because it is the mind that makes even this decision, "I shall control the mind." Often we have a very queer notion of the mind. Even good psychologists may have a wrong notion of it – such as, that it is a peculiar fluid vibration inside the body, or perhaps a kind of droplet, like a drop of mercury moving hither and thither inside the walls of the body. Or sometimes it is also conceived as a kind of centre of force located somewhere in the body – either in the brain, or the head, or the pineal gland, or the throat, or the heart, etc. – all of which are inadequate concepts of the mind. The mind is not any such thing.

It is not located physically in any part of the body, because the mind is not a physical substance. It is non-physical in its nature. Though it controls the movements of the physical body, and it has intimate relationships with our physical system, it itself is not physical. Also, the mind is not any kind of ethereal substance. It is not a fluid; it is not like mercury; it is not like the flame of a lamp. It is not even a centre of force, if we regard that centre as somewhere situated inside the body – at the top, or the bottom, or the centre, etc. – it is nothing of the kind. The mind becomes difficult to understand because of the appellation that we give to it. Our language itself is a defect, inasmuch as it sometimes contorts the significance of what it tries to explain. We have a grammatical way of thinking when we express ideas through sentences. There is a subject of reference in every sentence, and when we speak of the mind, we regard the mind as a kind of subject in a grammatical manner. And a grammatical subject is some 'located' something – it is some substance, some person, some thing, some object, this, that, etc.

But the mind is neither this nor that. It is neither a substance nor an object – not anything whatsoever imaginable in the ordinary manner. The mind is not anything that we have seen with the eyes. It is not even something that we can hear of anywhere in the world. It is not available anywhere in the world, and the likes of it are not seen anywhere. One cannot, even with the farthest stretch of imagination, conceive what the mind can be, because all conceptions of the mind fall short of its real nature. The mind, fortunately or unfortunately for us, is not any isolated existent object – it is neither physical in the sense of a solid object, nor non-physical in the sense of a gaseous or a liquid substance. It is a force. For the time being, we can accept this definition. But even this definition is subject to a little modification. It is not a force like electricity, for instance – it is something much more than electricity. It is an outward expression of what we ourselves are, to put it in a more appropriate manner.

The mind is what we ourselves are; only it is expressed spatially, temporally, objectively or externally. It is not someone thinking through the mind – "I think through the mind." We do not stand apart from the mind when we think through the mind, and so this linguistic expression, "I think through the mind," is not a proper way of expressing the fact. It is not 'we' thinking the mind in the sense of someone thinking something else, or through some other instrument. We ourselves are the mind, and the mind may be said to be a temporal form taken by us. Now, the difficulty is simply this much: it is we ourselves who are the mind, and so it becomes a little difficult for us to define it.

How will we define ourselves? We are the persons who define things, and we have to define our own selves. Also, when I said that it is we ourselves expressing ourselves in a temporal manner, I have to explain what is meant by 'temporal' which goes, of course, along with the concept of the spatial existence of things. We are a spatial and temporal something, and that is what the mind is. That the mind has different instruments of action, such as the body and the limbs, etc., is another matter, and we need not concern ourselves with those at present. Just now we are merely concerned with the central issue, namely, what is it that motivates action or impulse, or any attitude towards a thing? It is a peculiar situation in which we have found ourselves, or rather, we have created for ourselves. The mind is only a situation, a particular condition in which we are finding ourselves. Therefore, when our condition changes, our mind also changes, because we change ourselves. When we are defining the mind, we have to take into consideration our own selves, naturally, because it becomes difficult for us to isolate ourselves from the mind, and we ourselves seem to be the mind itself in a particular state.

I used the terms 'temporal' and 'spatial' to explain what it means to be a mind in an individualised form. To be temporal is to be conscious of a successive series, or to be aware of a relationship with conditions that pass, events that take place, or processes in which we seem to be involved. We are perpetually aware of this state of affairs. We cannot extricate ourselves from the notion that we are caught up in a flux of events, in a process that takes place, which is what we call temporality, or rather, the condition of being in time. We are always conscious of something called 'time', though we do not know what time is.

Time does not mean the movement of a clock, because the clock is only a material mechanism which we have created to calculate a peculiar process that takes place in nature, and which we call time. Time is not a physical event, because it is somehow or other connected with a state of mind or consciousness. There are conditions under which time alone can be the object of our understanding. Events have to take place, and there should be relative motion of things, such as the movement of the earth round the sun, or the solar system round the galaxy, etc. If everything stands still and there is no motion whatsoever anywhere, the consciousness of time would be impossible.

But more important than all these aspects of time-consciousness is a peculiar sensation in ourselves that we are involved in a process, a kind of a sensation in us which we identify with, which is called 'duration'. We are aware of what is known as duration. We cannot define it even to ourselves, but we are instinctively aware of something which we express in language as a process of duration – the consciousness of there being a gap between events that take place, and on account of which we make a distinction of past, present and future. The idea of past, present and future is also connected with the procession of events; and our peculiar involvement in what is known as temporality is connected with another factor called spatiality.

We are in space, externalised in an objectified form, and we are involved in this condition. We cannot extricate ourselves from this condition. We are a part of space, we are a part of time, and we think only in this way – there is no other way of thinking. So space, time and individuality are the essence of our existence. Thought process, or the function of the mind, is a condition of ourselves which is inextricable from what we call space, time and individuality. We are simultaneously aware of all three aspects of one particular condition, namely, space-time-individuality. We do not think of these successively, one after the other – first space, then time, then individuality, or individuality first, etc. All three come into our minds at one stroke. The moment we wake up in the morning, we at once become conscious of three aspects of our being – of being spatial, of being temporal and of being individual. Therefore, the way of thinking is inseparable from this threefold limitation of our existence. So the mind is a limited condition of consciousness, and for the purpose of our present analysis, we can say that this limitation is spatio-temporal and individual.

When we talk of mind and its control, we have to take into consideration its background. It is not something that is outside us. It is the very condition in which we are involved, and that is what we are trying to control. Understand the difficulty. We are not controlling, or subjugating, or restraining someone or something outside us – we are trying to become aware of a peculiar state of affairs which is inseparable from our very existence itself, and which we are trying to modify now for a better state of affairs. This is the implication of the control of the mind. So we are controlling ourselves when we are trying to control the mind. When we talk of ourselves in relationship to what we know as 'mind', we come to a new type of difficulty – we cannot understand ourselves in the same way as we cannot understand mind and its involvements, because we have various layers of our self-consciousness, and these layers of self-consciousness repeat themselves successively, one after another, under different conditions of our life, so that we are not always the same every day and at all times.

We are faced with the problem as to the exact condition of our real self. Are we physical somethings in space and time? If that is the case and the truth of the matter, then the whole question of life would be a physical one. If we regard ourselves merely as physical substances located in space and time, in relation to physical objects outside, including physical personalities, and if this is the truth, then all of the problems of life would be only physical problems. There would be no other problem in life. But that does not seem to be the whole truth of things, because life is not merely physical.

We have other peculiar desires, wants, needs and what not, which cannot be regarded as purely physical, because even if all the physical requirements are provided, we can be unhappy for other reasons which are perhaps more important than physical conditions. I can provide you with all the physical needs, and yet make you unhappy. Then, what is the reason for your unhappiness? Unhappiness is a peculiar state in which we have found ourselves, in spite of the fact that we seem to be well-placed physically.

So, our 'self' is not merely the physical self. We have another layer of self which can take the upper hand and make us unhappy or happy under different conditions, as if it has no connection at all with the physical set-up of things. While it is true to some extent, in some percentage, that our life is physical, that our self is physically involved and our needs are physical, it is not the whole truth. So the self that we are speaking of is something more than the physical, because our joys and sorrows are not physically connected, entirely; they have some other thing restraining them inwardly. For example, our ideas about things, and the ideas others have about us, may contribute largely to our joys and sorrows, despite the fact that we have food to eat, that we have clothing, property and money, that we have a building – that we have everything. Yet, the idea that we have in our minds may make us sorry, and the idea that others have about us can also bring us to the same condition. So we have something peculiar in us called the idea, or the mind; and ideas can sometimes rule the destiny of people, independent of physical relationship.

We have a layer of self which is a little different from pure physical relationships. Not only that – even if the physical relationships and the ideational contexts are all taken into consideration and are well provided for, some third factor can interfere in our life and then make us happy or unhappy for other reasons. There are fears and insecurities which are a little transcendent to the present idea that we have in our minds, either physically or ideationally. We have unknown fears which will suddenly grip us by surprise, such as the fear of death and the insecurity of life as a whole – not knowing what will happen tomorrow.

This has little to do with our idea about things, or the ideas that others have about us. People may think of us as very great. One is perhaps the greatest of people in the whole world, but that does not prevent one from being unhappy about impending death and the insecurity of life caused by catastrophic conditions of natural forces. One may be the world's emperor, but one can be unhappy for other reasons than social causes, even if one is well provided for physically.

What is it that makes us unhappy? We have got another condition, another situation, another layer of self which can speak in a language of its own, independent of physical, psychological and social aspects. We have different strata of self, and at different times we get identified with one or the other of the strata, and then we are this or that in different conditions. The mind is a condition in which we find ourselves, temporally and spatially. This condition goes on changing according to the concept of self that we have, or rather, the layer of self in which we find ourselves at any given moment of time.

The control of the mind, which is the principal function in yoga, is a tremendous affair. It is not a little trick that we play, like turning on an electric switchboard. Rather, it is a very tremendous act that we are embarking upon, which is a manipulation of patterns in which we are involved, the world is involved, things are involved - not in a very intelligible manner, but in a very complicated manner. So even the concept, even the idea, even the first effort of controlling the mind becomes something which requires of us a very deep analytical background.

The very initial advice of Patanjali is that yoga is to be practised as a control of the modifications of the mind. I have only given a very, very faint outline of the various types of involvements which we have to take into consideration in our adventure of controlling the mind – not taking it as a mere hobby, or an easy joke, or an act, but as a great encounter of a complex situation, not merely connected with our isolated individual state but also connected with many other factors, even outside. Even space-time gets included here when we control the mind, because the mind is inseparable from the notions of space and time. When we take into consideration space and time, every blessed thing comes, because everything is included under these concepts. So to tackle the mind would be to tackle a tremendous universal problem before us. When we face the problem of yoga, we are facing the world and not merely a little dot inside our bodies, as we may wrongly think.