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


Chapter 31: Intense Aspiration

Tīvra saṁvegānām āsannaḥ (I.21). It comes near to you when your wanting it becomes intense. This is a very small sutra of Patanjali. When we want it intensely, it will come to us – whatever it is. It may be a small pin, or it may be an elephant, or it may be anything; if we want it intensely, it will come to us – tīvra saṁvegānām āsannaḥ.

Wanting a thing intensely seems to be the condition for getting anything. "Ask, and it shall be given," said the Christ. Perhaps all great men think alike and say the same thing in different languages and in different actions. The only qualification is 'wanting intensely'. No other qualification is as important as this. Everything is a subsidiary, contributory factor to this central discipline, we may say - wanting it intensely. The word used is 'intensely' – tivra. We have been musing over the different aspects of it being necessary for one to be whole-souled in one's endeavours, in one's actions, in one's efforts, in order that there may be quick success.

This whole-souled attitude is what is meant by tivra samvegatva. If our asking is charged with an intensity of fervour, we shall get what we want. This is the secret of success, not only in spiritual life but also in material life, because the whole-souled surging of oneself towards the objective sets in vibration the atmosphere in which the objective is situated, and there is a sympathy or an empathy, an en rapport established between the seeker and the sought. The object that we are seeking – I am not speaking of a spiritual object, as it could even be a material object – the object that we are seeking is not located somewhere in a distant place. This is the secret of achievement of any kind. We have a wrong notion that things are situated far off in some place and, therefore, it requires a tremendous effort of travel, etc., in the direction of the object in order that it may be acquired. This is not the fact. Any object in this world, whatever it may be, is not cast off into distant space in the manner in which we think it is, or it appears to be.

There is nothing in this world which is spatially cut off by a long distance, ultimately speaking. The distance between the seeker and the sought is an apparent one – it is not a real one. If the distance is real, it would be difficult for us to achieve anything. If there is a real gap between me and somebody else, that somebody else will be outside me for ever and ever. The object that we seek is not really cut off by a gap of distance – spatial or even temporal. Even the time factor is not a bar to the achievement of the objective, because while space and time seem to be the principle obstructions to our achievement of anything, they are ultimately nothing if we come to the truth about them. These so-called terrific factors called 'space' and 'time', which on one side make the object appear far off in space and on the other side make it appear distant in time, are ultimately illusory vestments over the consciousness of what the truth is. The achievement of anything is a simple affair if the correct technique is known, because nothing can be simpler to understand and experience than truth. The easiest thing is truth, because it is truth after all, and what else can be as easy as truth? It will be difficult to catch untruth. But it should not be difficult to catch truth. We have said it is truth. It is real. It is a fact. It is what it is. How can we say that it is so hard to get it? To utter a truth is very easy; to tell a lie is very difficult, as we know very well, because we have to think deeply before we utter a lie. But what is the difficulty in telling the truth? It is a plain fact.

The whole-souled movement of consciousness towards the objective is not merely, or not necessarily, a spatial movement. The great teacher Acharya Sankara was never tired of removing this misconception in the minds of people – the travelling to truth does not mean travelling in a vehicle towards some distant place, as if it is a village or a town. In every commentary on every Upanishad and Brahma Sutra he mentions this point – that here, 'travelling' does not mean travelling in a vehicle, nor does it mean movement in space. It is nothing of the kind. It is a different thing altogether that takes place, because the object of our quest is ultimately connected with us – I would say, even now. But even if we do not want to accept that, at least ultimately it is connected with us. Therefore, finally, it is a movement towards our own self.

The achievement of an object, temporal or spiritual, is ultimately an effort towards achievement of unity with one's own self. Though in the beginning it looks like a movement of the seeker towards the sought, due to the individuality of the seeker and the consequent isolation of the seeker from the object that is sought, the more we advance towards the object, the nearer we seem to come to our own self. This is very strange. One's intention is to move towards an object, but what is happening is that one is coming nearer to oneself. The reason is that the object that we seek has some connection with us. So the nearer we go to the object, the nearer also we come to our own self, because the self of the object is somehow or other, at least remotely, connected with our own self. And finally, the intention is to unite oneself in the possession of the object. The ultimate success is union of oneself with the objective that has been sought. We are in complete possession of it; not an ordinary possession of an imaginary character, but an absolute commingling of oneself with that objective so that it is inseparable from our being – we have enjoyed it perfectly, to the utter core.

So, this intensity of asking, the profundity of the soul's aspiration for the object that is being sought, mentioned in this sutra of Patanjali, tīvra saṁvegānām āsannaḥ, is the crux of the whole matter. We are also told that mumukshutva is the most important qualification of a spiritual seeker. All other things, even viveka, vairagya, shatsampat, come afterwards. Mumukshutva – intense longing – swallows up every other thing. What qualification did the gopis have? They were not qualified MA's, graduates from Oxford. They had no viveka or vairagya in the sense that we describe academically, in philosophical parlance. We should not even apply these technical aspects to them. It was simply a surge of their souls. They wanted it and wanted nothing else, and there ended the matter. "You don't tell me anything else. I want it, I want it, and I don't want anything else." This kind of aspiration was in their hearts, and we should not bring any other argument here – either philosophical, or academic, or logical, or scientific. We do not want to hear anything else. When these arguments were brought in an academic manner by Uddhava, they said, "You bundle up your knowledge and go from here. We want Him, that is all, and we do not want to hear anything else." This wanting is something which is inscrutable, though it is very easily said.

Well, we may say, "If it is such a simple matter, then this is what we want and we won't want anything else." But, my dear friends, this wanting is almost everything; there is nothing which it does not include because this tivra samvegatva – this wanting, this intensity of asking – is of a very strange character. We have never been accustomed to this kind of wanting in this world. We cannot want even our father and mother with the intensity that is expected here. What is the dearest object in this world? Perhaps it is our parents; we cannot think of a dearer thing than father and mother, for instance. We cannot like even them so much, unless certain conditions are fulfilled. Even our love for parents is conditional; unconditioned love is impossible. Certain conditions must be fulfilled – only then we love. Otherwise we say, "Good bye, I don't want to look at you." But here it is not like that; this is unconditioned asking. It is not limited by space, time, causality, or any kind of qualification from outside. Whatever may happen, and whatever be the difficulties on the way - whatever be the obstacles and whatever be the temptations – we shall not yield to any of these but move straight towards the objective that is before us.

Another peculiar attribute which Patanjali uses is samvega. It is very difficult to translate it into English – tivra samvega. Tivra is intense, very forceful, vehement. Samvega is impetuosity, if we would like to put it into English. We know what impetuous movement is – it is turbulent, uncontrollable, vehement, powerful, revolting – such is the kind of asking that is implied in this sutra. That is samvega – like a violent tempest, a forceful wind that is blowing, uprooting all trees and blowing buildings. We know how forcefully the wind can blow off even the top of buildings. That kind of aspiration is called samvegatva, where we do not care for anything else. Let heaven go to hell or hell go to heaven, it makes no difference. The soul is simply revolting against any kind of limitation which has been imposed upon it by any factor whatsoever, even if it is a so-called virtuous factor of the traditional world. Everything is broken to pieces, cast to the winds, crushed under the feet, and the soul simply asks and asks and asks. This is the tivra samvegatva that Patanjali is referring to in the seeking of the great Reality, which is the object of our quest.

Such an asking, such a kind of aspiration, this kind of longing is unknown to us. Neither can you understand it, nor can I understand it. It is impossible for any human mind to have such an aspiration for anything in this world. We have tentative longings; we have conditional desires and limited loves, but unlimited love is unknown to us. Nevertheless, this is what is needed if we want success. Unfortunately, as the mind has been tethered to conditions of various types right from its birth in this physical world, this kind of aspiration has been a strange phenomenon even to the farthest stretch of imagination. But now we have come to a field of a new type of training where such an old prejudice of thought is to be abandoned and a new understanding is to be awakened in ourselves, which has nothing to do with the factors which may condition this asking in any manner whatsoever. Bondage is of two kinds – that which looks bad, and that which looks good. There are two types of bondage in this world. There are certain things which everybody appraises as valuable, considers wonderful and praiseworthy; that is one kind of bondage, and it is as powerful a bondage as the second kind – that which we call 'bad' in this world. This is because the idea of bad and good is, again, conditional in respect of circumstances, conditions and stages of evolution. What is bad at one time may be good at another time, and vice versa. So in this unconditional asking of the soul for its supreme object, it gets rid of the shackles of conditional factors either in the form of virtue or in the form of vice.

Spiritual aspiration is a non-ethical movement of consciousness where it becomes superior to all conditions either of morality, or ethics, or law, because it has a law of its own. The law of divine love is different from the law of the world. It cannot be appreciated by ordinary minds, nor can it be understood, because every desire, every wish, every effort, every longing, every love in this world has an ulterior purpose. Whenever we love something in this world, it is with an ulterior motive. We want to achieve something out of it, so the love is not an end in itself. It is the means to the achievement of something else and, therefore, we cannot understand the nature of that love, which is a law unto itself. We are acquainted only with that love which is conditioned by other laws. What are those laws? They are the laws of achievement of an ulterior object, for which purpose love is used as a means or an instrument. So, we are not really unselfish lovers in this world.

Unselfish love is unknown, because love is used as an instrument for the achievement of something else. How then can we call it unselfish? But here, love is a law unto itself in the sense that it has no object outside it – it is itself the object. We may ask how it is possible. Here the divine aspiration, or the love of the Supreme Reality, is not an emotion. It is not merely a psychological function. It is not the mind thinking of something, or feeling in respect of an external object. It is a rising up of the soul towards a higher condition of itself. This is a great differentiating factor between ordinary objects which are sought in the world, and the spiritual object which is the goal of yoga or spiritual life.

While in the acquiring of objects of a temporal nature in this world, the movement may look horizontal - a movement of one individual towards another individual, or a group of other individuals, in a spatial direction. Here, in this case, it is a kind of rise from the bottom to the top. It is like waking up from dream, where we are not moved from one place to another place. When we wake up from dream, there is no movement; and yet, there is a movement. As there is a transformation, we can call it a movement. But it is not an ordinary kind of movement, like moving from Rishikesh to Delhi; it is not that kind of movement. It is a reshuffling of the constitution of one's own mental conditioning and the whole set-up of consciousness – a reorganisation of one's own individuality. It is a complete reordering of one's true being for the purpose of a reawakening into a wider order of reality, about which I have been mentioning again and again. And here, in this awakening into a higher order of reality, the object that was originally thought to be outside in space is now visualised as something nearer to oneself than it appeared to be earlier.

The whole thing is made still more difficult by another condition which Patanjali puts in a subsequent sutra:mṛdu madhya adhimātravāt tataḥ api viśeṣaḥ (I.22). Even in this tremendous aspiration, this impetuous asking, there are degrees of intensity. There can be mild asking, there can be middling asking, and there is the most intense type of asking. Firstly, it was said that our wanting, or asking, or our aspiration should be turbulently vehement – unconditionally forceful. Now, here he says there can even be degrees – all which make it appear that perhaps we are unfit for the practice of yoga or the attainment of God. It looks terrible – better to bid goodbye and go and have lunch. Sometimes it looks as if it is not meant for us. But the difficulty of the whole matter is also the worth and value of it. It is difficult to get gold and diamonds, and yet we know the value of them. Once we get them, they will support us for our entire life.

The attainment of that higher reality is difficult merely because of its inseparability from us. Everything that is connected with us is most difficult to understand. We can understand everything connected with others. We can be masters in the psychology of others' minds, but about our own minds we are the biggest fools – we cannot understand anything. Likewise, we may be very clear about all things in this world, but completely idiotic about things connected with our own self, and so the difficulty has arisen. The object of the quest is somehow or other subtly connected with our self – that is the difficulty of the whole matter. If it had been really far off, unconnected with us, that would be a different thing altogether. But it is connected with us, and so there is a necessity to reorganise our way of thinking.

I can give a certain practical suggestion as to how this can be achieved in our daily routines of sadhana. What makes it difficult for us to generate such a genuine aspiration within us is our habitual association with hackneyed factors outside. We are used to living in a certain type of atmosphere, and we are continuing to live in that atmosphere – we have not changed that atmosphere. Merely because we have left Rameswaram and come to Kasi, it does not mean that the atmosphere has changed; it is the same atmosphere. We see the same people; we breath the same air; we drink the same water; we have the same hunger and thirst; we sleep in the same manner; we have anger; we have irritation, perplexity, and prejudice of the same type, and we think in the same way as we thought in Rameswaram – there is absolutely no difference. So, what is the difference? What change has been brought about? What is necessary is that this change of location that we have effected becomes helpful in bringing about a change inwardly also. Otherwise, why should we move from place to place, as if we have no other work? We can stay in one place, wherever it is.

Why do we travel from place to place, as if we have nothing else to do? The reason is that we want to bring about a corresponding change in our own self, and the external movement has been used as a kind of assistance. But if that change has not become an assistance, the whole effort is futile. Another thing – why does it not become helpful? How is it that this imagined external change of condition does not become helpful in bringing about an internal reorientation of living? The reason is that we have not been very honest and sincere. There has been a kind of bungling in the whole attitude of our mind towards what we are seeking, and a kind of confusion – a self-deception, we may say. This, again, is due to a lack of proper training from a competent master. Again, I come to this point that a Guru is necessary. We cannot tread this path with our own legs. Our legs are very weak, because there are millions of obstacles that can simply shake us from our roots and throw us into the pits, even with all our understanding, which is of no use in the face of these obstacles. The obstacles are violent winds, and our legs are like sand which will be thrown in any direction by these violent movements of winds of desire, and what not.

In the external change that we bring about, which is the first step in vairagya, as people generally understand it, we leave the homestead and go to Badrinath or Uttarkashi, or somewhere. This initial step that we regard as vairagya or renunciation is to be converted into an internal discipline and change of attitude, for which proper guidance is necessary. Everything is a system of thinking, a change in the attitude of consciousness, and even the first step that we take is only towards that end. Unless there is a corresponding transformation inside, external movements have no meaning. If proper care is taken, an external discipline has some effect upon the internal character. But proper care has to be taken; we have to be very vigilant, and we cannot be vigilant if we give a long rope to our old ways of thinking. We can change anything, but our ways of thinking cannot change, because that is a part of us – part of our nature.

What we should do is, together with our effort at change of physical atmosphere, also try to bring about a gradual change in our internal atmosphere by resorting to certain spiritual disciplines, such as the utilisation of the time on hand for certain definite chosen purposes. When we live in a particular place – we have left our homes and have come to Uttarkashi, for instance – how do we use our time? Do we go about from place to place, chatting? Then we should go back to our home and stay there. Why do we come to Uttarkashi? We have to utilise the time for a purpose which is more intimate to the object on hand than the way in which we lived earlier. Generally, people take to mantra purascharana – a disciplined type of chanting of the mantra that has been given to them by their Guru – and sacred study of scriptures, such as the Srimad Bhagavata or the Ramayana, or any other holy text which is conducive to pinpointing the mind on the liberation of the soul, which is the ultimate objective.

Another great helpful factor is observing mouna or not talking, or at least talking only when it is necessary. Talking only when it is necessary means we will talk only when it is absolutely impossible to avoid talking; otherwise, we will not talk. Why do we go on talking with everyone? There is no necessity. We should regard ourselves as real seekers and not merely as jokers with truth, and try to open our mouths only when it is necessary, and otherwise not open our mouths. It is necessary to open the mouth only when it has some connection with the purpose for which we have come here. When it has no connection, why do we talk? We should keep our mouths closed. This is not only a spiritual discipline but also a very helpful method of conserving energy, because much of the energy is lost in talking. If we do not speak for three days continuously, we will see what difference it makes. We will feel that there is so much of strength in us that we can walk even long distances without any feeling of fatigue. All our energy goes in speaking unnecessarily to anyone and anything that is in front of us, on any subject whatsoever.

This is, perhaps, a major obstacle in the practice of yoga. Do not speak for some days. Take this vow: 'For any reason whatsoever, I will not speak.' When speaking is necessary, condition it by a principle that: 'I should regard it as most unavoidable; otherwise, I will not speak.' This is the discipline of speech, which is a very, very important discipline. There is also mental discipline in the form of japa and svadhyaya, with a little bit of meditation to the extent possible under the condition in which we are seated initially. And, there is physical discipline. These three disciplines should go together, by which what is intended is a total restriction of the movement of the mind towards extraneous factors which may distract the attention and diminish the intensity of the aspiration. The more we restrain the mind from its movement towards extraneous factors, the greater is the energy that is generated within, and automatically the aspiration becomes strengthened. When the energy is not allowed to leak out through other avenues or channels, then that energy naturally gets conserved, and the conserved energy increases the force of the aspiration. Energy is not destroyed. The principle of conservation of energy states that energy is indestructible – it cannot be destroyed, but it can be increased or decreased by channelising it in different ways. It may appear that we have no energy at all because we have channelised the energy in some other way – it has gone somewhere else. Not that it is absent – it is there, but we have let it out, and so it looks as if it is not there.

Therefore, we should block the avenues of the distraction of energy the channelising of it in various ways, in an unwanted manner and then conserve it so that this centralised force within us, which is the conserved energy, will give such a push to the aspiration within that the soul will rush to the Absolute like a bullet that has been fired by a gun. That kind of aspiration is referred to in this sutra of Patanjali – tīvra saṁvegānām āsannaḥ.