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


Chapter 41: Becoming Harmonious with All

The reason behind the distractions of the mind in the midst of the practice of concentration is the inability of the mind to understand that the thought of objects is irrelevant to the nature of reality. This is, perhaps, the central problem. If this was not the case, there should be no reason why the mind should not concentrate on the ideal chosen. On account of certain pressing difficulties in life, the mind feels a sense of 'enough with things', and takes to the path spiritual, the way of yoga, and resorts to meditation.

It is not that people take to yoga by compulsion. It is a voluntary, dedicated aspiration that arises on account of a higher sense rising from within, simultaneously with the perception of defects in things of the world. Nevertheless, there is a dubious personality in the mind itself, which on the one hand aspires for a state of things which cannot be reconciled with the activity in which it is engaging itself, in the midst of this enterprise. There is an old saying that poison is not poison – the object is called poison, because ordinary poison destroys one life, whereas the poison of the object can destroy many lives. The poison of a snake may destroy one physical existence, while the poison of an object which enters the mind can create such impress upon the mind that it can become the cause of repeated incarnations.

The peculiar, inscrutable attitude of the mind in aspiring for the goal of yoga on the one side, and running after the objects of sense on the other side, can be ascribed to a peculiar pleasure it recognises or sees in its contact with the objects of sense. While there is also a subtle feeling inside that the goal of yoga is bound to bring a greater joy than all of the pleasures of the world put together, yet there is a state or a condition on the way where the ideal remains as a kind of future objective, unconnected with the present condition, and what is present is nothing but a consciousness of objects. Our difficulty is that the goal that we seek is not connected with the present moment. It is sometimes of the nature of a possibility in the future; and we are not satisfied with mere possibilities – we want actual experiences or realities.

Oftentimes, this possibility may even look doubtful, which makes matters worse because the pressure of the visible realities of sense-objects can overwhelm, for the time being, the effort at recognising value in a future ideal, which is the goal of yoga. It is not possible to visualise the joys of yoga when there is the immediate perception of the realities of sense-life and the pleasures thereof. What the mind seeks is pleasure, and nothing but that. It wants neither yoga, nor anything else. Even if it is yoga, it is only for the sake of the supreme joy which will overcome all limitations of space, time and mortality. But the joys of yoga, the delight of divine experience, is only a concept in the beginning stages, and ordinarily, from the point of view of the psychology with which we are acquainted, the concept is bifurcated from its object. A thought of the object is not the same as the object. So the thought or the concept of the goal of yoga cannot be equated with its realisation, or its experience, or coming in contact with it, while we have daily contact with the objects of sense and there is an immediate demonstration of the pleasures that one can gain by such sense contact.

This is the struggle that one has to pass through every day in one's meditation, in one's practice of yoga. Sometimes the senses gain the upper hand, because they are old friends and it is very difficult to give them up completely. And in the beginning the new friend, namely yoga, looks like a stranger with whom we are not well-acquainted, and we are not quite sure what this new friend will give us. The mind generally follows the doctrine that says, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." After all, yoga is only a bird in the bush and we do not know whether it will come to us or not, whereas the sense pleasures are a bird in the hand. This is quite understandable, and it is the great problem.

Superhuman understanding is necessary to overcome the tense situation created by the tussle between the senses and the great ideal – consciousness – which aspires for divinity and immortality. It is not humanly possible to do so single-handedly, because the powers of diversity and externality are not ordinary powers that can be trampled down by the power of intellect. They are the Kauravas, larger in number, and they cannot be faced even by an expert like Arjuna, unless there is divine sanction behind it as well as a continuous cooperation from the higher forces of divinity – all of which come after a long time. Even the Pandavas did not to get help in the beginning; they were tortured, almost to death. The assistance they received from persons like Krishna came much later, after they were already half-cooked. They had suffered enough, and it was only then that God's grace started making itself felt. Well, this is a mystery. How God works, only He knows. This is the case with everyone, A to Z, and not one is excluded.

It is therefore necessary to repeat, again and again, this important aspect of practice, which is that it is impossible to practise yoga in Piccadilly or Connaught Place where there is plenty of distraction, and it is futile on the part of a novitiate to imagine that he can take to complete abstraction of consciousness in the midst of the din and bustle of physical and social sense activity. It is true that inner strength should always become superior to all external temptations. This is the ideal, no doubt; but it is an ideal, and cannot be taken literally, at least at the commencement of the practice. The power of yoga is far superior to any other power in this world, without question; it is true, and yet it becomes true only when the power manifests itself. When it is not manifest, we should not imagine that we can go scot-free, and that the powers of the world will leave us unscathed.

The homely analogy given by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is that although it is true that fire can burn ghee, and any amount of ghee can be poured on a fire and be burned up because fire has such a power, but if we take this very literally and pour one quintal of ghee over a spark of fire, what will happen to the fire? The fire will not be able to burn the ghee, and will become extinguished. So we should not be under the impression that, "I have the power of yoga, and I am a spiritual seeker; therefore, I can be in the midst of umpteen temptations." This is not advisable, because we are misjudging our situation and misconstruing the circumstance in which we are really, realistically placed. Therefore, one has to live in a sequestered place as much as possible, and not deliberately run towards difficulties or purchase trouble under the wrong assessment of one's own powers or strength achieved in spiritual practice. Not even saints can be so confident as to be able to face the powers of nature because, ultimately, the stages through which one passes in the spiritual field are mysterious processes which cannot be calculated mathematically, even by the best of brains.

We cannot say what will be ahead of us in the next moment, and what will be our condition at that particular time of confrontation. Therefore, it is necessary to take as much care as possible, and there is no harm in erring on the right side. We may be over-careful, because the powers of the senses, especially when the vehemence of the will is attempting to subjugate them, are likely to be lying there in an unsublimated condition – a fact which may not be known even to the most acute of understandings – and there is every chance of these potential sense-powers germinating into active participation in diverse activities, which will be the ruin of spiritual effort.

Therefore, the practice should be a double process in the beginning – outwardly guarding oneself against all powers of temptation and opposition, simultaneously with an inward discipline of regular sitting for japa, svadhyaya, meditation, etc. So much of our energy is wasted in thoughts of objects, and this is partly the reason why we are unable to concentrate on the ideal. It is something that is difficult to understand, because the ways in which our energies get depleted through consciousness of objects are not visible to the eyes; they are subtle processes. We are secretly being drained of our energies by sense-contact – a fact which cannot be known easily, and we also cannot know why we suffer thereby.

Therefore, the principle of ekatattva abhyasah, as mentioned by Patanjali, though it is the last remedy that can be thought of in the practice, can be conceived of as an attempt at fixing the mind on any given point to the exclusion of the thought of anything else. When the mind is engaged in concentration, there is, on the one hand, an effort at allowing in only those thoughts which are in consonance with the character of the object to be meditated upon; and on the other hand, there is an attempt to obviate all extraneous thoughts. This is a difficulty, no doubt; but practice makes perfect, and one day or the other we have to succeed.

When the attempt at obviating extraneous thoughts becomes unnecessary, and the positive aspiration of the mind for the spiritual goal becomes overwhelming and superior to every other thought, the difficulty of having to get rid of other thoughts does not arise. The mind gets wholly absorbed in the object of meditation. Love becomes superior to hatred, so that there is no time for hatred at all. Our love for a thing is so much, we are saturated with it to such an extent that we have no time to hate anything, to feel the necessity to get rid of anything, or to bestow thought on anything external to the object on hand. This is an advanced stage of concentration, where the object takes possession of the thought completely, and we begin to feel a satisfaction, a joy of a positive nature, which pulls the mind towards itself with a greater force than can any other object in the world. Then it is that we begin to love the object much more than anything else, as the more is the pleasure in an object, the more is the love for it.

But in the beginning this pleasure will not be seen, because we have been accustomed to diversity of experience and pleasures that are born of contact, rather than of union. The aim of yoga is union with the object and not merely contact with the object, while in ordinary empirical experience, there is only contact and not union. We cannot have union with anything in this world, but we can have sensory contact, and we are used only to this kind of experience. The negative satisfaction which one enjoys by contact with sense-objects has been regarded by us as a natural thing, as if nothing is superior to it or transcending it. So, there is a feeling of doubt and pain in the beginning when a different method altogether is adopted in the practice of a technique towards union with the object.

Union with an object is possible, but not by the action of the senses, because the senses are powers which draw consciousness outwardly in space and time, and as we have observed, as long as there is the intervention of space and time, there cannot be union of one thing with another thing. It is space-time that is the obstruction between the subject and the object. As a matter of fact, it is this element of space-time that is responsible for the division that we observe between subject and object. And so, there cannot be a union of these two; and yet there is a struggle for union with the object, and so there is a war perpetually going on, without any success. But peculiar psychological conditions which attend upon this attempt of the mind to come in contact with objects of sense bring about a negative satisfaction, which we regard as the joys of life.

The goal of yoga is a different thing. It is possible of achievement only by an introversion of the senses, rather than by their extroversion, because the union that is called yoga is an entry of the subject into the structure, the pattern and the being of the object, which is ordinarily impossible by any amount of sense activity. And so, we are taking to a path quite contrary to the ways of the senses. Hence it is that there is a vehement resentment of the senses to any kind of spiritual practice. There is pain in feeling that the joys of life have been lost, and that the joys of yoga have not come, and are not likely to come. So we are in a state of suspense, having lost everything and having found nothing.

This condition may persist for any length of time, and for any number of reasons – such as the circumstances of the case, the intensity of one's prarabdha karma, the intensity of the practice of meditation itself, the extent of one's understanding of the technique of meditation, and so on and so forth. It is not necessary that one should go on suffering like this, provided the methods are known. If one is an incompetent engineer or drives a vehicle ineptly, one knows one's difficulties, but if one is an expert, knowing well all the mechanisms of the process, the difficulty will be mitigated to a large extent. Again, the emphasis is placed on the necessity for a correct understanding of all the techniques of practice, so that it becomes easy to tackle these problems when they come.

Though the joys of union are superior to the pleasures of contact, the intervening period between the time of withdrawal of oneself from contact with things, and the future attainment of union with things, becomes one of endless difficulties. It is at this juncture that Patanjali mentions all of these obstacles: vyādhi styāna saṁśaya pramāda ālasya avirati bhrāntidarśana alabdhabhūmikatva anavasthitatvāni cittavikṣepaḥ te antarāyāḥ (I.30). We do not have these difficulties when we have actually merged with the objects of sense, nor do we have these difficulties when we are in union with things through the power of yoga. But in the middle there is a lot of trouble because there we are, like a voter about to cast his ballot, but the party does not know for which side we will actually vote. We are very valuable, no doubt, but we do not know to which side we will swing.

The senses also want to pull us to one side; and our aspirations are there, of course, pointing us in another direction altogether. In a like manner, the canvassing agents of vote pull us from this side to that side, so that we do not know where to go, and they start promising us all sorts of things. Everyone gives us a promise. The senses also give us a promise: "If you come with us, you will get so many things. Come with us. Why this yoga? It is a stupid thing." But the inward consciousness, which has already understood the problems of life to some extent, tells us another thing altogether – that we are on a dangerous road if we take that step.

The main recipe of adepts in yoga, to novitiates, is the practice of tapas – physically and verbally, as well as mentally – to the extent that is practicable under the circumstances in which one is placed in human society. The circumstances should gradually get refined, as the externalised forms of relation are thinned out as much as possible by continued practice. We should not allow things to take place of their own accord and imagine that something will happen suddenly. For a long time, at least for years together, it will be necessary to intensely and deliberately attempt to safeguard oneself from the onslaughts of sense, and to tend to this little plant of spiritual aspiration that has just begun to show its head into the daylight of understanding. Patanjali gives various techniques - philosophical, metaphysical, spiritual and ethical – for gaining mastery over the mind. All that we have said up to this time is of a metaphysical character. But it is the opinion of Patanjali that there are other methods which should also be coupled with this practice, such as one's day-to-day behaviour in social life.

We have peculiar traits in our minds which create unhappiness in our day-to-day existence. These traits cannot easily be overcome. For example, we cannot tolerate another person progressing or enjoying any kind of facility; we are jealous. Patanjali says that this is an unnecessary trait in the mind, and it brings us sorrow. How is it that we cannot tolerate another person's progress? We do not want another person to be richer than us. We do not want another person to sleep better than us. We do not want another person to have any kind of facility that we do not have. This is a very peculiar feature of the mind. How is it that we think in this fashion? Do we not want another person to progress at all? We then try to throw mud on the face of that person, who has some God-sent gift and facility provided by virtuous conditions. The result of this reaction of jealousy is going to be sorrow for the person from whom it is generated. It is not going to affect the person on whom it is thrown. It is going to rebound on the person from whom it originated, because all evil will bear fruit ultimately, in the very same place from where it began.

Every action is like a boomerang – it will come back upon the person who has caused it. There is a feeling of intolerance when we observe someone being held in high esteem in society, and we then try to cast aspersions on that person. "Oh, who is this?" said Sisupala before the great Krishna. "Who is this cowherd, this idiot of a fellow who is being worshiped in the midst of all these emperors like us? Shame on Yudhisthira. Shame on Kshatriyahood." All such manner of things did Sisupala blurt out there, in the royal assembly. As the poet says, there is no easier way of becoming great than to cast aspersions on great ones. So, this is a very cheap method that we are adopting in becoming important in society - criticising everyone and anything. We do not like anything. Everything is bad. Everything is wretched. Everything is wrong – which means to say, by implication, that we are better off. This is how we are trying to become important in society. Is it good? Is it not the way of purchasing sorrow for ourselves.

To obviate these difficulties and get out of these muddles created by psychological torpidity, Patanjali prescribes methods in a very interesting sutra: maitrī karuṇā muditā upekṣāṇāṁ sukha duḥkha puṇya apuṇya viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaḥ cittaprasādanam (I.33). If we want peace of mind, if we want cittaprasada, calmness, happiness, peace, and an undisturbed state of mind, we must adopt certain reasonable attitudes, and not be unreasonable in our attitude. We must be friendly, rather than unfriendly – this is one prescription. Maitri is friendship. Is it disadvantageous to be friendly with people, and is it advantageous to always poke one's nose in others' affairs? Is it advantageous to cow down others, to look down upon others and look upon everything with contempt, as if there is nothing good in this world, and the good is only in one's own mind, and in one's own self, and in one's own life? Is it true that we are the only important and worthwhile person? Is it true that we are the only person who is right, and everyone else is wrong? How is this attitude justifiable?&nbsp.

Knowing that everyone is subject to foibles, and everyone lives in a glass house if it is properly investigated into, knowing the subtleties of the human mind and the inscrutability of natural forces, understanding that nothing finite in this world can be perfect, and that everything has some good element in it – with this knowledge, let friendliness be developed towards all beings. It is impossible to take the stand that anything in this world can be wholly bad or wholly evil. It is not true. Even if there may be a large percentage of erroneous movement in any kind of finite centre in this world, there is also an element of rectitude simultaneously. "Every cloud has a silver lining," as the saying goes, because an absolute viciousness is unthinkable, and absolute evil does not exist. If we want to develop friendliness with any thing or any person, it should be possible for us to discover the virtuous and beneficial elements in that person or thing which, when evoked or invoked, is perhaps capable of manifesting its powers more and more with our help, and by which act we would be helping that person much more than by detecting the evil present and trying to create a difficulty, both to ourselves and to others.

So, one of the methods is friendliness – sarvabhuta ite ratah – and such an attitude should extend not only to animate, but even to inanimate objects, so that we become in our nature harmonious with the existence, pattern and structure of things.