The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART I: THE SAMADHI PADA
Chapter 25: Sadhana – Intensifying a Lighted Flame
In the practice of one reality, ekatattva abhyasah, mentioned by Sage Patanjali in one of his sutras for the purpose of restraining the modifications of the mind, there are, again, grades of approach. The one reality is not necessarily the Absolute Reality, though that is the aim, ultimately. As was mentioned previously, a reality, for the purpose of practice, is that condition which can fulfil a particular need of a specific state of mind under a given condition. So until the Absolute Reality is reached, all other realities are relative realities. Every reality, as far as we are concerned empirically, is relative – subject to transcendence. Nevertheless, it is a reality to us, which only goes to prove that we are also only relative realities. We, as individuals, are not absolute realities and, therefore, we are satisfied with what is relative. We are not in daily contact with the Absolute; what we are in contact with is a relative reality. And inasmuch as the subject experiencing and the object experienced are on the same level or degree of reality, it goes without saying that the empirical subjects that we all are come under relative reality, and not the Absolute Reality.
In the concentration of the mind on one reality, ekatattva, what is intended is that the attention should be focused on a system or order of values which is immediately superior to, or transcendent to, the current state of affairs, the present state of experience, and the conditions through which we are passing through at this moment. Anything which can include particulars in a more organised whole can be regarded as a higher reality for this purpose. There are tentative realities created for the purpose of practical convenience by organisations, associations or systems which we have created for the purpose of subjugating the individual ego and compelling it to affiliate itself to a larger body to which also it ought to belong and is made to belong.
I can give you examples of quantitative systems which we create in our practical daily life for the purpose of overcoming the urges of the ego and connecting it with wider or larger wholes. A physical individual, or a bodily person, is the lowest unit of reality as far as our experience goes. An utterly selfish individual is one who looks upon the body as the ultimate reality, and the only reality – there is nothing else. Now, this is the grossest form of egoism, where the bodily individuality is regarded as the only reality and everything else is completely ignored. This is the animal's way of thinking, to some extent. The tiger has no concern for anything except its own personal existence, and it can pounce on anyone for the sake of its own security and existence.
The animalistic way of thinking persists in the human level also, and often – many times, in fact – the urge to assert one's bodily individuality vehemently gains the upper hand, though rationally it would not be possible for anyone to justify the exclusive reality of a bodily personality. Such was the primitive condition of people in prehistoric times, or Paleolithic times, as they say, when human beings were not yet evolved to the present condition of social understanding. In the biological history of mankind, right from creation as far as the mind can go, it is said that the evolution of the human individual, right from the lowest levels, included certain conditions of human existence which were inseparable from animal life. The caveman, the Neanderthal man and such other primitive types of existence point to an animal mind operating through a human body, where cannibalism was not unfamiliar. One could eat another, because the animal mind was not completely absent even in the human body, and there was insecurity on account of it being possible for one man to eat another man. As history tells us, it took ages for the primitive mind to realise the necessity for individuals to come into agreement among themselves for the purpose of security. If I start jumping upon you and you start jumping upon me, both of us will be unhappy and insecure, and you would not know whether you will be safe and I cannot know if I will be safe. This sort of thing would be most undesirable.
It is said by anthropologists, historian's of mankind's evolution, and political historians, that a state was reached when it was felt necessary to organise people into groups, and this was the beginning of the governmental system. A government is nothing but an agreement among people in order that there may not be warfare among individuals and attacks every day. Otherwise there would be chaos and confusion, and anyone could attack at any moment, for any reason whatsoever. Therefore, an agreement was made, an organisation was set up, a rule was framed and a system was brought forth under which it was obligatory on the part of individuals to obey certain principles laid down by groups, of which some people were made leaders. It does not mean that these leaders were kings or autocrats; they were the governors of law, the dispensers of justice, and the instruments for the maintenance of order in the group of people who found it necessary to bring about this system.
Here we have a higher reality than the individual, quantitatively speaking, though qualitatively we cannot say that there was an improvement. While there is a quantitative improvement in an organisation or a set-up such as a government, in the sense that an individual is made a part of a larger body so that the egoism of the individual cannot operate as forcefully as it could have operated when it was left alone and given a long rope, a consideration for the welfare of other individuals in the system becomes obligatory on the part of every individual on account of the presence of this order and system. So far, so good. From the point of view of the quantity of the reality that has been introduced into life – the mathematical measure of the order that has been set up – we can say that a society is a larger reality than the individual. A nation is a larger reality than a community, and the entire set-up of mankind, the international system, may be regarded as a still larger reality than a single nation. This is a quantitative evaluation of the reality toward which the human mind seems to be aiming, for the purpose of bringing peace on earth, happiness, etc.
But, this is not the type of reality which Patanjali had in mind, though this type of reality cannot be completely ignored. While it is true that a social system is a quantitatively higher reality than an individual body, because for obvious reasons life without it would be impracticable, it is not wholly true that an ordered society is qualitatively superior to the individual, which is the reason that insecurity within society still persists. Even with the best government there can be insecurity and unhappiness because, after all, individuals are behind this quantitative system called this ordered whole. A hundred million thinking people cannot always be qualitatively superior to one thinking man. After all, it is man who is thinking, and not God. We must know that. A hundred million people thinking, means only people are thinking – only man is thinking. So qualitatively, it is only human thinking, though quantitatively it has a larger force on account of the inclusion of many individuals.
This is a very interesting subject in political science, where political thinkers differ in their opinions as to whether there is a total absence of improvement in quality when there is social order, and there is only a quantitative increase, or whether there is also an element of an increase of quality in thinking. This has led to divergent opinions among statesmen and political philosophers – right from Plato and Aristotle onwards, through to Chanakya and other thinkers in India - where the opinion swung like a pendulum. One side held that there is absolutely no improvement in quality, though there is a large improvement in quantity, and the other side thought that there is an element of qualitative superiority. We are not going to discuss this subject at present, as it is outside the jurisdiction of our current topic.
However, the point on hand is that a larger reality should also be qualitatively superior to the discrete particulars from which the mind is supposed to be withdrawn for the purpose of the practice of yoga. Though it is somewhat easy to bring about a quantitative increase in the concept of reality by methods such as the ones I just mentioned, it is a little more difficult to introduce a qualitative increase into the concept of reality. This is the main difficulty for everyone. However much we may concentrate on God, we will not be able to improve upon the human concept, even when there is a concept of God. So we feel unhappy even when we are meditating on God, because we have not improved the quality but have only increased the quantity, so that we may think of God as a large human individual – a massive individual, as expansive as the universe itself, for example. That is quite wonderful, but still this human thought does not leave us.
Even when we think of the Creator as a transcendent father, the anthropomorphic idea still persists and stultifies the aim at introducing a higher quality of thought into the concept of God. That is why we are unhappy even in meditation, even in our highest spiritual exalted moods. Even when we are exalted, we are quantitatively exalted; qualitatively, we are very poor. We are unhappy in some way or the other, and no one can make us happy. A tremendous effort is necessary to introduce a superior quality in the concept of reality. The difficulty lies in the mind being the only instrument that we have for doing anything whatsoever, and who is it who will introduce a higher order of value or a greater quality into this concept, other than the mind itself? But how can we expect the mind to conceive of a higher quality of reality other than the one in which it has found itself at the present moment? How can we jump over our own skin? Is it possible? How can we expect the mind to think of a reality superior in quality to the one in which it is living at present, and with which it is identified wholly? An immediate answer to this question cannot be given. However, there is an answer.
Sadhana is a very mysterious process. It is not like the ordinary efforts that we put forth into our workaday life. Every effort, even the first effort in the practice of sadhana, brings about an improvement. The impetus that is created by the first step that we take will carry us forward with a greater impetus towards the next step by the generation of a force which is superior to the powers of the mind in its ordinary operations. Also, there is a peculiar something in human nature which is called 'aspiration'. It is difficult to understand what it actually means. It is not merely a hoping for something in the ordinary sense. It is a surge of the soul's force from within, and we must underline these words, 'soul's force', for it is not merely the mental faculties. The soul's force rises up, wells up within us in a totality of action, drawing forth the whole value that we are at present, and pointing to something which is wholly other than the present whole from which the soul is being drawn.
The meritorious deeds that we performed in previous lives, the good karmas of our past produce a force called 'apurva' in Mimamsa parlance. The good karmas of the past are present in the mind even now as a kind of prarabdha, and when the prarabdha is of a sattvic nature, it permits the rise of a novel type of asking by the soul, which is called spiritual aspiration. It is this peculiar context - which is inscrutable, of course, to anyone's mind – which brings a person in contact with a Guru. How we come in contact with a Guru cannot be understood. It is worked up by mysterious forces from within that are associated with the good deeds of our past lives, etc., and which permit good actions in this present birth. Such forces make it possible for us to think divine thoughts and to take the initial step in the practice of yoga. It is this initial step, as mentioned, which is capable of generating a peculiar potency, enough to carry us forward to the next step. Like the chain reaction of an atomic bomb burst, every step is automatically an urge towards another step.
The more we practise sadhana, the stronger we become and the greater is our capacity to understand, to enlarge our perspective of thinking and to contact reality in deeper profundity. Many factors operate in spiritual practice. The good deeds that we did in the past is one factor. The other factors are the associations that we have established in society with wise people in this present birth, the practical experience that we gain by living in this world, the initiation that we receive from the Guru, and the wisdom that we acquire from the Guru. Finally, the most mysterious, of course, is the grace of God Himself, which is perennially operating, perpetually working, and infinitely and most abundantly contributing to the onward march of the soul towards its goal.
The practice of yoga is nothing but a conscious participation in the universal working of nature itself and, therefore, it is the most natural thing that we can do, and the most natural thing that we can conceive. There can be nothing more natural than to participate consciously in the evolutionary work of the universe, which is the attempt of the cosmos to become Self-conscious in the Absolute. Evolution is nothing but a movement of the whole universe towards Self-awareness – this is called God-realisation. Our every activity – from the cup of tea that we take, to the breath that we breathe, from even the sneeze that we jet forth, to the least action that we perform, from even a single thought which occurs in the mind – everything is a part of this cosmic operation which is the evolution of the universe towards Self-realisation. Therefore, the practice of yoga is the most natural thing that we can think of and the most necessary duty of a human being. Nothing can be more obligatory on our part than this duty. It is from this point of view, perhaps, that Lord Krishna proclaims, towards the end of the Bhagavadgita, sarvadharmānparityajya māmekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja (B.G. XVIII.66): Renounce every other duty and come to Me for rescue – which means to say, take resort in the law of the Absolute. This is the practice of yoga, and every other dharma is subsumed under it and included within it, as every drop and every river is in the ocean. In this supreme duty, every other duty is included. There is no need to think of every individual, discrete and isolated duty, because all duties are included in this one duty, which is the mother of all duties.
This peculiar feature of spiritual practice, sadhana, being so difficult to understand intellectually, cannot be regarded as merely an individual's affair. Sadhana is God's affair, ultimately. Spiritual sadhana is God's grace working. Though it appears that is individual effort, it only seems to be so, but really it is something else. Not even the greatest of philosophical thinkers, such as Shankara, could logically answer the question, "How does knowledge arise in the jiva?" How can it be said that individual effort produces knowledge of God? Knowledge of God cannot rise by individual effort, because individual effort is so puny, so inadequate to the purpose, to the task, that we cannot expect such an infinite result to follow from the finite cause. The concept of God is an inscrutable event that takes place in the human mind. Can we imagine an ass thinking about God? However much it may put forth effort and go on trying its best throughout its life, the concept of God will never arise in an ass's mind or in a buffalo's mind. How it arises is a mystery. Suddenly, it comes.
It has been said that all great things are mysteries. They are not calculated effects produced logically by imagined causes, but are mysteries, which is another way of saying that all of this is unthinkable by the human mind. Knowledge somehow arises. One fine morning we get up and find that we are fired with a love for God. What has happened to us? Why is it that we suddenly we say, "Oh, today I am something different." Why we are something different today? From where has this inspiration come? Nobody knows what has happened. If we read the lives of great masters, sages and saints, we will find that they were all suddenly fired with a longing which they could not explain, and no one can explain ordinarily. That knowledge, that aspiration, that love of God has not come from books. It has not come from any imaginable source. It has simply come – that is all. How? Nobody knows.
Inasmuch as it is a super-logical mystery, there would be no necessity on our part to investigate the causes thereof and the methods thereof, logically or scientifically, beyond a certain limit, though logical and scientific thinking is a help to corroborate the presence of this aspiration. The aspiration is already present within us. It is not created by logical thinking and, therefore, such logical thinking is only a bulwark that we create to reinforce the aspiration that is already there. We already have a faith in God. We already believe that God-realisation is the goal of life. This belief has taken possession of us already, and now all that we do is only an ancillary process which is contributory to strengthening this aspiration and enabling it to become more and more potent and influential in our daily life. We cannot create a concept of God by any amount of effort.
Sadhana is nothing but the intensifying of this flame that has already been lit up in us by God Himself, ultimately. You have been led to this study due to God's grace. It is not because you have money to purchase a book. It is not money that has brought you these discourses, it is not your effort that has brought you to these discourses – it is nothing of the kind. It is a divine mystery that has operated in a very inscrutable and marvellous manner for a purpose which is cosmic in significance, and not merely individual, as we may imagine. You have been led to this study for a cosmic purpose, and a divine purpose, which is a coincidence and a collocation of factors which can be understood only by the Cosmic Thinker, God Himself. I have always been holding that, ultimately, it appears to be God who is doing sadhana for God-realisation, and nobody else can do it; and meditation is nothing but God thinking God.