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


Chapter 22: Practice of Yoga – The Life and Goal of Our Existence

In our discussions on the subject of the control of the modifications of the mind – which is the central function in yoga – we found it necessary to make abundant reference to the objects of the mind, because the restraint of the modifications of the mind is automatically a severance of mental relationships with objects. We were also trying to find out what an object is, what its nature is, and what are the various aspects of which an object can be constituted.

In this context, I am reminded of a very important verse from the Yoga Vasishtha which says: yathā rasah padārthesu yathā tailam tilādisu kusumesu yathā 'modas tathā drastari drsyadhih (Y.V. I.3.43): The object is in the subject in the same way as fragrance is in a flower, oil is in a seed, and taste is in objects. This is a very strange definition of an object. We usually have a notion that an object is a solid, substantial something staring at us from outside – something very hard, real, and tangible – such a thing is an object. But here, according to this definition, which is a little novel, of course, the object is in the subject as fragrance is in a flower. It cannot be said that fragrance is something standing outside the flower, staring at it, or even tangible in the sense of a separate object. The object is not a substance. This is what the Yoga Vasishtha wants to convey in this verse, and it is this confusion in the mind of not being able to understand the real meaning of 'object' that makes it difficult for anyone to control the mind. The object is not a substance; it is not a thing. The people who are seated in front of me cannot be called my objects. That idea arises due to some confusion of thought.

From one angle of vision, anything that is seen by the eyes may be regarded as an object, but the Yoga Vasishtha goes into a deeper aspect of this question and tries to remove the confusion in the mind concerning the true nature of an object which binds the consciousness. You, as persons seated here in front of me, are not my objects, because that which makes you an object is only from my point of view; it is in my head, my brain and mind, and not in you. This is very subtle and has to be carefully understood. Though you are a person seated in front of me, you need not be an object of my mind unless my mind reacts in a particular fashion.

The reaction of my mind towards you in a particular manner is what constitutes the object of the mind, and not you as persons in front of me. You may ask, "What do you by the 'reaction' of the mind? Are we not objects because you see us? Am I not an object to you because you see me?" No, I am not the cause of your bondage, and you are not the cause of my bondage, taking you or me independently as self-existent 'somethings' unrelated to externals, to which reference was previously made when a distinction was drawn between Isvara srishti, the creation of God, and jiva srishti, the creation of the individual. It was pointed out that bondage does not lie in the creation of God, but lies in the creation of the individual. By that is meant that the reaction of the mind in respect of something which it regards as outside it, is the source of bondage and the source of joy and sorrow, and the thing taken from its own point of view is neither a source of joy nor a source of sorrow.

Now, when it is said that the object is in the subject, something like fragrance is in a flower, it is implied that the object is inseparable from the subject. By 'subject', we mean the mind which cognises anything that is external. The cognition of an external condition is the objectivity involved in the mind – this is the cause of bondage. The substance itself is not the source of bondage. It cannot give joy; it cannot give sorrow. The attitude of the mind towards that something which it is obliged to regard as an object is the source of joy, and the source of bondage. These conditions of perception, conditions of cognition, are really the objects.

Emmanuel Kant, a very great German thinker, wrote 800 pages on this very subject – the distinction between a thing as it is in itself, and a thing as conceived by the mind. The thing in itself is outside the phenomenal perception of the mind. Kant made out that the thing in itself cannot be known at all, because it is noumenal and not phenomenal. It is the precondition of all phenomenal appearance, and it cannot be known through the apparatus that belongs to the world of phenomena. This is something like the distinction between Isvara srishti and jiva srishti – they are almost on the same level. The conditions of cognition are the source of bondage – this is our point. These conditions have to be distinguished from things in themselves and, therefore, it is futile on our part to blame other people or to regard other people as sources of our experiences, either positive or negative.

Persons and things outside are harmless existences created by God, and they should not be regarded as tools or instruments for our experiences, and we should not foist upon them conditions which arise in our own mind on account of a reaction that we set up due to peculiar situations in which we find ourself. If we carefully go into it, we are in a subjective world to a large extent, though we seem to be in an objective world for practical purposes. We have made a mix-up of things; we have mixed up the real objective world with subjective reactions and have made this world to be what it is today – a source of anxiety for us. We are not happy with things, not because there is something wrong with things, but because we are unable to tune our cognitive conditions to the existent conditions of things as they themselves are.

I am again reminded of another famous verse from the Isavasya Upanishad which says, yathātathyato'rthān vyadadhāc chāśhvatībhyas samābhyaḥ (Isavasya 8): The Supreme Being has created the world in the way it ought to be created. So it is futile for us to make complaints against it, and to think, "It ought to have been something else. The whole mountain should be full of honey. Why is it full of thorns? God in His wisdom could have smeared it with milk or honey so that we could go and lick it every day. Why has God created thorns so that they may prick our feet when we walk? Why has He created mosquitoes? Why has He created snakes?" One funny man put this question to Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj: "Why has God created mosquitoes? What is the purpose? How do they serve any benefit?" Swamiji laughed and said, "It is to punish you people. Otherwise, you will become very proud; so, there is somebody to punish you." He gave a jocular answer to a jocular question.

We are unable to appreciate the significance of things on account of our inability to attune our conditions with the conditions of things outside, and we have our own set of preconceived notions which we try to project into the existent nature of things. This projecting process is called objectivity – that is the real object. If we go into more philosophical aspects of this question, space and time are the objects. This is the final answer to all these worrying questions. A man is not an object; a woman is not an object; a thing is not an object; a dog or a cat, a tree or a mountain are not objects. Space and time are objects. It is these that create in our mind the notion that there are objects. If space and time were not there, perhaps we would all fuse together into a single existence. But for the existence and operation of space and time, we would not be individuals seated here.

If there are devils, these are the real devils – space and time – and they are such atrocious factors that they have entered into the structure of our brain and our mind, and our understanding of every blessed thing in this world. The conditions of knowledge called space and time are ruling the whole world. The rulers of the world are not presidents or prime ministers. Space and time are the rulers of the world. Space and time make everyone dance to their tune, and it is to space and time that everyone has become slaves, puppets and subjected themselves wholeheartedly. We not only act and work in accordance to the demands of space and time, but we even think and understand only according to space and time, so that our brain itself is in space and time. Who, then, will save us from these subjections.

Ordinarily speaking, there is no remedy for this illness, because the illness has gone into the brain of the doctor himself. So, who will to cure the disease? But there are mysterious techniques of self-adjustment. They have to be called mysterious, indeed – not to be understood in academies and colleges. Even the great thinker Kant concluded by saying that there is no solution to this problem. His work, Critique of Pure Reason, ends in a kind of agnosticism, because when we try to understand things purely through reason, we find that problems are insoluble. Problems are insoluble because reason, which is the tool for solving problems, is involved in that which causes the problems – space and time.

Space, time and cause are the conditions of objectivity. The necessity to think only in terms of magnitude, extent, three-dimension – that is subjection to space. We cannot think for a moment of anything that is not possessed of magnitude. Everything has the three dimensions – length, breadth and height – so it is impossible to conceive of anything that has not got at least one or two of these three factors. This is the three-dimensional way of thinking. Minus these three factors, there is no thought. Also, we are always in time; we cannot conceive of timelessness. We are in the past, we are in the present, and we are in the future. Can we think in any other manner? This idea will never leave the mind. Why is it so? Well, they are the conditions of knowledge.

Also, everything is connected to something else – something comes from something. There is an effect from a cause – a cause produces an effect. Something depends on something else. This hanging of one thing on another is the causal relation, and the necessity for anything to exist in a particular point of duration is due to subjection to time, and that which makes it impossible to think except in terms of magnitude is the subjection to spatiality. It is this subjection of the mind to these conditions of knowledge that is really the object, so that the object is a kind of disease in consciousness, and is not a substance. This is why the Yoga Vasishtha says that the object is inherent in the subject, like fragrance is in a flower, like oil is in a seed, like taste is in an object, and rules out the concept that the object is outside somewhere. The conclusion is that the object is not outside, but is only inside the head. This is why we are worried so much. All of the objects that are harassing us are inside our brain, and not outside. So there is no need of making complaints. We cannot complain against anything in this world, because if we make a complaint, we are complaining against our own way of thinking.

This is a very important issue before us, where we are ready to take up the practice of yoga in its aspect of the restraint of the modifications of the mind or vrittisyogaḥ citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ (I.2). The citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ, or the restraint of the modifications of the mind, is really the regulation of the modifications of the mind in respect of what the real object is. A particular modification of the mind is nothing but the shape that the mind takes in respect of an object which it perceives or cognises. So, a modification or a vritti is a shape of the mind, a mould into which it is cast, a particular structural pattern of thinking. This is called a vritti. Why is it that we are so worried about vrittis? Why should we restrain the mind? Why does the necessity arise to control the modifications of the mind.

The necessity arises on account of a vritti, or a modification of the mind, is a particular shape into which the mind is cast, and to which that mind gets attached as if it is a very real, substantial something. Attachment is the immediate consequence of the mind having been cast into a mould. Why the mind gets cast into this mould is a different question. It is due to previous samskaras, impressions of previous experiences, the prarabdha that operates now as the result of previous actions taken in the many lives through which we have passed earlier, etc. Umpteen reasons exist as to why the mind takes such a shape at all, although this is not the point. Rather, the point is to know how we can prevent the mind from taking these shapes and getting identified with them. Every time the mind takes a shape, it gets identified with that shape and puts on a mood.

We have various types of moods. At times we are melancholy, and at other times we are drooping; sometimes we are sinking; sometimes we are happy, and so on and so forth. All of these moods are nothing but the identification of our consciousness with a particular mould or shape into which the mind has cast itself for a particular reason, at a given moment of time. The difficulty is that as long as the consciousness goes on getting identified with these moulds at every moment of time, its attachment to individuality gets hardened, gets intensified more and more, and it is made to wrongly believe in the reality of a physical body and everything that is externally connected with it, so that the true nature of consciousness, which is universality, is always hidden, submerged beneath the waves of mental modifications. The waves are so many in number that we cannot see the ocean at the bottom.The ocean floor cannot be seen, owing to these waves which are themselves the modifications of the mind. They are so small, of course, compared to the depth of the ocean, and yet they can simply cover the surface to such an extent that the ocean may become invisible for all practical purposes.

Thus, the restraint of the modifications of the mind is a very technical affair and, therefore, it is also a very difficult affair. It is not physical isolation in the sense of a physical distance between one thing and another thing that is called withdrawal of the mind from objects. When we are physically away from someone or something, it does not follow that we have withdrawn ourselves from the object. We have concluded that the object is not a substance and, therefore, the physical distance of the substance does not amount to much. What is important is the state of mind in respect of that which it regards as an object. Even if the substance, which it erroneously regards as an object, is millions of miles away, the mind can still cast itself into the mould of that shape, and nothing can prevent it from doing so. We can get attached to something which is thousands of miles away, or we may not bother about a thing which is immediately in front of us, if it is not of any consequence to us. So, physical distance is not of great consequence here; it is not important. What is important is the interest that the mind takes in the particular thing which it calls an object, or regards as an object.

So, it seems that the restraint of the modifications of the mind is an internal adjustment that we have to make, and not merely a physical running away or a physical isolation from the object, which will not mean much because something is happening inside us of which we are mostly unaware. We are totally unaware of what is happening inside us, but we are always conscious of foisting these conditions on outside substances and imagine that these conditions arise from outside substances. This is called projection in psychoanalysis – a very diseased condition; it is not a happy thing. We project internal conditions on external substances, and then evoke those conditions from those imagined objects and then have attitudes towards the objects as if they are the causes of our joys and sorrows. It is this projection of the conditions of the mind on external points in space and time that is called samsara, that is called bondage. This is called earthly existence; this is the source of mortality.

How are we going to start the technique? How are we going to control the mind under these conditions? One of the methods is to educate the mind, disillusion the mind from these misconceived notions it has about objects. We have a thoroughgoing wrong notion about things, and this notion has to be set right first before we try to do anything with the mind, because as long as there is a particular conviction in the mind, it is difficult to get out of it, since conviction is a deep-rooted feeling and experience that it is real, and one cannot run away from the real, as we know very well. So, first of all, what is essential is to know whether our convictions are real, or whether they are unfounded. Mostly, they are unfounded. By a critical analysis of the perceptual and cognitional process, philosophically, we come to a startling conclusion that conscious relationships, which are projections of the thinking mind like rays emanating from the sun, are responsible for the experiences that we are undergoing every day.

Our experiences are nothing but the processes of the mind which we are undergoing from morning to evening. So all of our experiences are internal because they are conditions of consciousness. They are not coming from outside. Experience is nothing but a state of consciousness, and if it is dissociated from our being, it would cease to be an experience. Whatever is inseparable from our being becomes our experience. Inasmuch as our being is one with the conditions of thinking, feeling, willing, etc., and these very conditions are the objects of our experience, they constitute experience by itself. All of these subjects are very beautifully dealt with in such scriptures as the Yoga Vasishtha, the Tripura Rahasya and such other mystic texts where we are taken to another realm altogether, different from the imagined realm in which we find ourselves. The adhyasa, or the superimposition of attributes, which we wrongly bring about by transference of qualities from the subject to the object, and vice versa, is the cause of a confused sort of experience which becomes difficult for us to analyse critically.

We have come to a certain level of understanding about this subject, and it should be easier for us now to tackle the mind in a more appreciable manner. This is the reason why students of yoga, advanced seekers of Truth, content themselves in being absolutely alone. They want to be left alone to themselves. People go to caves and mountains, to isolated kutirs, etc., unconcerned with anything in this world, because they have now understood that the problem is inside only – it is not outside. There is no use moving from place to place and contacting things for the purpose of inner reformation. Such a reformation cannot be brought about by any kind of spatial or temporal travel, because the problem is inside, like a disease inherent in our structure, and a disease cannot be cured however much we may move physically from place to place or contact things outwardly. Ultimately, yoga is the digging out of the roots of this disease and adjusting our existence with the existence of things in such a way that there is harmony between the inside and the outside.

The stages of yoga are stages of establishing harmony between the within and the without. The more harmony is felt and experienced between the within and the without, the more universal we become in our comprehension and experience, because when this harmony is established perfectly, there remains nothing to differentiate us from the outside world or creation. When this imagined distinction between the inside and the outside is lifted up totally, the outside fuses into the inside and the inside fuses into the outside. Then, there is neither an object nor world outside, nor is there a 'you' either. The word 'you' is dropped out completely. There is no 'I', and there is no 'you', because the 'you' is the object and the 'I' is the subject, and the distinction between them is completely removed by a gradual tuning of the conditions of knowledge to the conditions of the object.

This is a very strenuous process because, on the one hand, it requires a complete shedding of all previous notions about the things to which we have been wedded as if they are ultimately real; and on the other hand, it requires a strenuous practice every day so that the old impressions may not come and invade us, again and again, and stultify all the little good that we have done in a few hours of meditation. If we do some four or five hours of meditation today in a good mood and imagine that we have come to a very stable understanding of the true nature of things, and then do not do this practice for another five days, all these five days of the absence of practice will throw mud on the little success that we have achieved in three hours of meditation today.

To repeat the great admonition of Sage Patanjali, the practice is to be continuous. It should be unremitting. It should be strenuous. It should be endowed with immense ardour and affection. And, it should be the life and goal of our existence, so that it is our father and mother who shall take care of us, and we cannot forget it. Such is the practice of yoga. When it is continued for a protracted period, the flower shall blossom, and the sun of Knowledge shall rise.