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


Chapter 24: Affiliation With Larger Wholes

Among the many recipes that Sage Patanjali prescribes in his system of yoga for the control of the mind, a masterstroke is given in a single aphorism as a prescription for every type of mental modification when he says, tatpratiṣedhārtham ekatattvā abhyāsaḥ (I.32): The practice of one reality checks the movement of the mind. It means that the movement of the mind is due to its weddedness to various realities, and not to one reality. Ekatattva is one truth, one being, one substance, one reality – anything that is single and comprehensive. The practice of one reality is the ultimate remedy for all psychological modifications. But, as far as the human mind is concerned, there is no such thing as one reality. The human mind sees many realities and, therefore, it has manifold approaches to the various forms of reality which it sees in the world.

The mind moves only to realities, and never to unrealities. There is no such thing as the mind getting attracted to unreal things. Anything that it considers to be real becomes the object of its consideration and action. The subsequent transcendence of a particular concept of reality does not in any way affect the mind from getting interested in whatever level of reality it considers valuable at a given moment in time. In every stage of life the mind is confronted only by realities, because should it be convinced that its perceptions or cognitions are unreal, it will not bother itself about them. A reality is that which can fulfil a particular need at a given time; whether or not it is is ultimately real is a different question altogether. A thing may not be ultimately real, and yet it may be real enough to satisfy a particular requisition of the mind under a given condition.

Sometimes we have false illnesses which can be set right by false remedies. The remedy and the illness should be of the same category. In dream, we may sometimes feel very hungry. It is possible that even after a heavy dinner, we may dream of hunger when we go to bed. Is this hunger in the dream real, or is it unreal? If it is unreal, we would not feel it. Why would we feel it if it is unreal? So when it is felt, it is real. We may have lunch in a dream. Is this lunch real, or is it unreal? If it is unreal, it cannot appease the hunger of the dreaming individual. We have a dream hunger, appeased by a dream lunch. The hunger in dream cannot be called real if we compare it with the waking state, nor can we regard the lunch that we have in dream as real when compared to the waking lunch. But that is a different matter; we are not asked to compare here. We have to take things as they are. The condition of the mind in dream, which makes it feel an intense hunger, is commensurate with the nature of the food that is given to it in that very same dream condition. The dream food can satisfy the dream hunger because they are in the same space-time level; they are not in different degrees of reality.

We should not compare the dream experience with the waking experience. There is happiness and sorrow in dream, as well; we can be overjoyed, or be in deep grief. Why should we be in joy or the state of grief in dream when the causes thereof are unreal? All the causes of experience in dream can be regarded as unreal, as we would all say, when comparing those experiences with the waking state. But if they are unreal, we will not experience them at all. The very fact that we experience them shows that we have drawn them to our consciousness and made them a part of our being.

So, the real is a peculiar set-up of affairs, a condition or an environment which acts upon a particular state of mind and produces a particular type of experience. If in great fright we jump over a piece of rope thinking it is a snake, we may start perspiring and have tremors in the body. A false snake can create real perspiration. Although on a later comparative experience the snake might have been found to be unreal, when we perceived something to be a snake, at that particular moment of perception it was real enough to create a reaction in our physiological and psychological system. The mind has so many realities of this type in the world of experience, and because different realities satisfy different needs of the mind, it goes to these realities. We should not ask here whether this particular reality is ultimately real, because we are not concerned with it, and the mind is not going to accept this argument. The mind is not concerned with ultimate realities. It is concerned with realities as it sees them, conceives them and experiences them. So we can understand the reason why the mind is drawn towards objects which it considers as real.

Patanjali's point is that as long as diverse realities are cognised by the mind, it is impossible to withdraw the mind from them, because the mind has already been convinced that they are realities and, therefore, it has to relate itself to these realities in a particular manner. There is no question of control of the mind as long as there are realities which are multifarious in character. The rays of the mind, which go out in the form of cognition, can be drawn back and the energy of the mind is conserved – but this can be done only when there is a flowing of the mind towards a single reality. Our difficulty is that there is no such thing as a single reality in this world. Where is that One Reality, of which Patanjlai speaks or advises? Every reality is as good as any other reality, under different conditions. The One Reality of which Patanjali speaks, and of which yoga speaks in general, is that transcendent comprehensiveness where the lower realities are subsumed so that the mind will not find a need to go to the lower levels because of the satisfaction it achieves through contact with the higher real.

The question may be asked, what is the higher real and what is the lower real? Here again, we have the analogy of the comparative reality between dream and waking. A beggar who has very little to eat in his waking state will not be sorry that he has missed his beautiful dinner in dream. Let us suppose a beggar was dreaming that he was an emperor, and a delicious meal was served to him in his dream palace, and suddenly he awakens to the discovery that he is a beggar on the street. Will he feel sorry and cry, "Oh, what has happened to me? I was an emperor. I was enjoying my life, but now I have become a beggar. It would be better to go back to that condition of emperorship." The beggar will not be grieved over his waking from dream. He will not think that he has lost something valuable, though it is true that he has lost a great thing – that he has lost his kingdom, wealth and joys and is now sitting on the street like a beggar. From a certain viewpoint, it is a loss. But the beggar would rather be on the street with a crumb of bread in the waking condition than to be rejoicing in emperorship in dream. This is because a higher degree of reality is experienced by his consciousness during waking.

What satisfies us is not dinner, or lunch, or a kingdom, but the degree of consciousness that is experienced. This is a very subtle point which we should not miss in our analysis. If a kingdom, retinue, army, dinner, lunch and what not can satisfy a person, then a dream kingdom would be much better than a waking state beggarship – it would be better to go on sleeping and dreaming about emperorship than to live as a beggar in the waking state. But he would rather be a beggar in the waking state than be sleeping and dreaming of emperorship. The penury and hardship of the beggar in the waking condition does not in any way make that condition inferior to the dreaming state, notwithstanding the fact that in dream he had an imaginary kingdom to experience and enjoy.

The consciousness that is experienced in the waking state is superior in its degree or quality to the one that we are subjected to in dream. We are happy that we are awake, and what we are associated with is a different and secondary matter. The mere fact of getting up from sleep is a joy, because we feel that we are in a state which can be called a reality of a higher degree and inclusiveness than the lower one, which is dream. Ekatattva, or one reality, is that in which all of the lower values are included in a higher degree of comprehensiveness, just as the waking consciousness includes within itself all of the values of the dream world. Instead of contemplating upon the diverse values of the dream world, one would be content to restrict one's attention to the greater values of the waking life, because they include the lower values of dream. Although it is true that a comparison can be made between the dream life and the waking life and we feel satisfied that waking values are higher than dream values, there is no reality superior to the realities that are experienced in the waking world and, therefore, any further comparison becomes difficult. We are in a waking world, and we have not seen anything superior to this. This is the final thing that we have seen.

Thus, any further comparison to a still higher degree of reality – superior to the waking one – is unthinkable to us human beings. But we sometimes find ourself in moods which give us inklings of the fact that there are things higher than what we see with our eyes. If there are not things higher than what we experience through the senses, why is it that we feel restlessness in our life? Why are we not content with things in this world? What is it that makes us feel that there should be something else, something different than what we are experiencing at present? The universal restlessness and anxiety, and the hope that is experienced by every human mind should be indicative of the presence and the possibility of something superior to the present sensory experiences.

There cannot be hope or aspiration if something higher does not exist. It is the existence of something higher than all empirical life that draws us towards itself in a process called psychological aspiration or expectation of a better condition. Every day we expect a better state. Even a person sunk in sorrow imagines that tomorrow will be better, and that his condition may perhaps improve. It is rare to find people who are so pessimistic as to think that everything is dead wrong, and tomorrow will perhaps be worse than today. There is always a hope: "After all, tomorrow will be better. Conditions will improve, things will be better and I shall be happier." This hope is but a symbol, a significance of the existence of a condition superior to the present one. That superior condition is naturally inclusive of all the lower values. When we get something higher, we do not think of the lower – not because we have lost the lower, but because in the higher we have found all that was in the lower.

For the purpose of controlling the mind, we have to adjust ourself to the concept of a higher reality. That is what is meant by ekatattva abhyasah, by which there is pratisedha or checking of the modifications of the mind. The introduction of the concept of a higher reality into the mind can be done either by logical analysis or by reliance upon scriptural statements. Great texts like the Upanishads, the Vedas and such other mystical texts, proclaim the existence of a Universal Reality which can be reached through various grades of ascent into more and more comprehensive levels. The happiness of the human being is not supposed to be complete happiness.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and the Taittareya Upanishad we have, for instance, an enumeration of the gradations of happiness, which is a wonderful incentive for the mind to concentrate on higher values. In the Taittariya Upanishad we are told that human happiness is the lowest kind of happiness, and not the highest happiness, as we imagine. We think that perhaps we are superior to animals, plants and stones, etc., and biologists of the modern world are likely to tell us that we are Homo sapiens, far advanced in the process of evolution, perhaps having reached the topmost level of evolution. It is not true. The Upanishad says that we are in a very low condition.

Essentially, the Upanishad tells us that all of the happiness of mankind put together is but a jot – only a drop. Let us imagine the state of happiness of a healthy, young individual who is the king of the whole world. We know that there is no such person as a king of the whole world, yet let us imagine such a person who is the emperor of the whole world. No one is in opposition to this emperor. He is vibrantly healthy and youthful, and has all the powers of enjoyment. Everything in the world is under him. What is his happiness? The happiness of this emperor of the entire world can be regarded as the lowest jot of happiness.

One hundred times the happiness of the emperor of this world is the happiness of the pitris, another level which is superior to the physical world. One hundred times the happiness of the pitris is the happiness of the gandharvas, who are celestial musicians in a world which is still higher than that of the pitris. One hundred times the happiness of the gandharvas is the happiness of the celestials in heaven – the devas, as we call them. One hundred times the happiness of these celestials is the happiness of Indra, the king of the gods. One hundred times the happiness of the king of the gods is the happiness of the preceptor, the Guru of the gods – Brihaspati. One hundred times the happiness of Brihaspati is the happiness of Prajapati, the Creator – Brahma. One hundred times the happiness of Brahma the Creator is the happiness of Virat, the Supreme. Beyond that is Hiranyagarbha, and beyond that, Ishvara, and beyond Ishvara is the Absolute.

So where are we in this scheme? What is our happiness? It is the happiness of a cup of coffee, cup of tea, or a sweet – which has no meaning compared to these calculations of astounding existences which are transcendent to human comprehension. When I say a hundred times, it is not merely a mathematical increase of the quantity of happiness; it is also a corresponding increase of the quality of happiness. As mentioned earlier, the quality of happiness in waking life is superior to the happiness in dream; it is not merely quantitative increase, but is also a qualitative increase. The joy of waking life is greater and more intense than the quality of joy in dream. So these calculations given in the Upanishad mean an increase of happiness one hundred times, both in quantity and in quality, so that when we go to the top, we are in an uncontrollable ecstasy of unbounded bliss.

The mind can be brought to concentrate itself upon higher degrees of reality through the reading of scriptural testimony, which can be corroborated by the inductive logic and deductive reasoning, etc. of our own analytical power. Sruti and yukti, as the great masters tell us, should both come to our aid in bringing the mind to a point of concentration on a higher reality than what it is experiencing now through the senses.

The urge that we feel from within to acquire more and more things, and to enjoy greater and greater degrees of happiness, is an insignia of the existence of such states where we can have that type of experience. An intellectual urge, moral urge, spiritual urge and aesthetic urge are all indications of the presence of certain values which cannot be comprehended at present by the powers of sense and reasoning. There is an irresistible desire to ask for more and more, and we cannot ask for more and more unless this 'more' exists. We will not ask for an empty thing. The idea of the more cannot arise in a mind which has not sensed the presence of that 'more' in some subtle manner. The mind has various levels of perception. Although through the conscious level it cannot directly perceive the existence of these higher levels of reality, it can sense the presence of these higher realities through other forms of apparatus that it has within, and it is due to the action of these inward sensations that it feels agonised and restless in any given condition of lower experience.

If we are not possessed of even the least tendency to recognise a higher value of life, we will be happy – we will be perfectly contented. It is the impact of a higher state of life upon the present condition of existence that is the cause for our unhappiness and restlessness. If that impact were not to be there at all, there would be no contact between the present state of existence and the future possible state. When this contact is not there, there will be no asking for it, no aspiration for it, no feeling about it and, therefore, no unhappiness about the present state of affairs. So, we should be perfectly contented, but we are not; we are unhappy. We do not want the present condition to continue because we feel that there is inadequacy, shortcoming and all sorts of ugliness which we want to overcome and rectify, but which we cannot execute and achieve unless a higher condition does exist, and becomes practicable.

This is the conclusion arrived at by certain faculties of prehension which are operating in the subtle layers of the mind, invisible even to the mind itself in its conscious level. In our own six-foot bodily individuality, we have possibilities of the whole cosmic experience in a minute, microscopic form. The seeds of universal powers and achievements are hiddenly present in the cells of our own individual body. The vast tree of cosmic experience, the blossoming of universal realisation, is latent as a seed in the very fibre of our present individual existence. It is this that occasionally makes us brood over the possibilities of higher achievements in life and never allows us to rest contented with what we are at present. So, by these methods of self-analysis and study of scriptures, etc., we should be able to bring the mind back from its concentration on diverse realities of the sense-world and fix it upon a higher reality so that its distractions get lessened as much as possible.

A distraction is the attention of the mind on diversity. Concentration is the withdrawal of the mind from diversity, and its attention bestowed upon a more unifying system of values. As we go higher and higher, the diversities become less and less. They all get included in a more comprehensive system, which includes all of the diversities which the mind originally perceived as independent existences. This is how the mind can be brought from its usual meanderings in the world of sense and made to concentrate itself on higher realities. By educative methods it has to be told, again and again, that a higher plane does exist and is implicit in one's own experience. It is not outside; it is hidden, latent potential, and it can be manifest by proper methods.

Infinity is hidden in every grain of sand. It can be directly contacted by the mind, by the application of suitable methods or techniques. These techniques are nothing but the affirmation of Reality in every particular form of reality, which in ordinary life is mistaken for an absolutely independent existence. These so-called absolutely independent existences called realities, which attract the mind in different directions, are aspects of a more comprehensive system which includes these realities.

Therefore, it would be profitable for the mind to pay attention to this higher system, rather than to pay attention to a single, isolated individuality which it has misconstrued as a whole reality by itself. No particular individual, nothing that is isolated, can be regarded as an entire reality. It is only an aspect or a face of reality and, therefore, it is not advantageous to the mind to engage itself entirely in any kind of action in respect of that particular form of reality. It is disadvantageous, because a part cannot give the whole.

It is, therefore, essential for the mind to affiliate itself with the characters of larger wholes, so that in these larger experiences it not only gains greater control over the environment and its own self, but also experiences a greater intensity of happiness, which follows automatically with the experience of larger dimensions of being.