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


Chapter 74: The Principles of Yama and Niyama

The indications which are given that the practice of the yamas and niyamas is successful are mentioned in the sutra that follows, which give one an idea of the extent of one's success and a consolation that the direction that has been chosen is the right one. In intense practice of ahimsa, which is a most comprehensive term, there is a natural reorientation of one's environment, and a change in the atmosphere in which one lives begins to be felt. The sutra in this connection is: ahimsāpratiṣṭhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgaḥ (II.35). Animosity, which is ingrained in the personality of a human being and in every living being, loses its sting, becomes diminished in its intensity, and its aura is felt by the very fact of animosity not being there.

Of all the vows or the principles of the yamas, ahimsa is the most difficult. The other ones are not so difficult. One can practise them, but this one is almost impossible because it includes every other thing. Therefore, it is also difficult to understand, since one can easily overlook the fact that the tendency to hate is the essence of himsa. It is not actually going and belabouring someone, or attacking physically. The very urge that is ingrained in oneself, even though unmanifest, to dislike another is the essence of himsa. And, who is free from it? Not one that is born is free from it. Therefore, it is also difficult to follow other rules, because this one vitiates everything else. But one can, with a great effort, suppress this tendency which asserts one's ego and cuts off the values of other egos, which is the background of dislikes; and then there is a manifestation of spontaneity in oneself.

Artificiality of nature, whatever be its character, is due to a pretended expression of personality, which is contrary to the essence of the personality. It is this artificiality that creates all the troubles of life – physical, psychological and social. It is impossible to see a human being who is natural in his behaviour. Always one is unnatural because it is impossible to live in this world by expressing one's nature wholly and entirely, for reasons which are very peculiar. In this spontaneity that is expected of a seeker, there is naturally an absence of selfishness, because the difficulty in becoming spontaneous is the presence of some kind of selfishness in the person. Who can express this selfishness? The other selfish centres, who are equally intense, will obstruct the manifestation of it, so it puts on an artificial atmosphere of concordance with other egos.

This will not work because the feel of nature has nothing whatsoever to do with the artificial harmony that we have apparently expressed in social life. What it is concerned with is the very structure of the inner individual, who is more important than the outer one. The social personality of ours is not our true personality, and so whatever affection we may express outside is not genuine. And, this has nothing to do with the requirements of natural laws.

Hence, ahimsa is the abolition of the very deep-rooted tendency to dislike anything, which spontaneously follows from the recognition of an equal worth in everything – which is called love. No one can have complete mastery over oneself, or mastery over anything in this world, unless there is a total absence of selfishness – which is the last thing that one can achieve in this life. The sutra says that the absence of the tendency to animosity in oneself opens up the gates of the system of unity behind things; and the force that is generated by the manifestation of this unity, which is automatically expressed in oneself in one's own life by the absence of selfishness due to the practice of ahimsa, has an impact upon others outside. Animosity, hatred, ill-will and discord of every kind get mitigated, and even abolished completely, in the vicinity of the person who has mastered himself by the eradication of selfishness.

The power that one generates in oneself is a spontaneous energy that speaks in its own language; and it is a language of all things, which can be heard and understood by everyone. Even inanimate things will know what this language is. It is the language of nature itself. It is not Sanskrit, or English, or Hindi. It is something else altogether. It is the feeling of things, which is different from psychological functions. These feelings, which are supernormal, are nothing but the vibrations that are produced in harmony with the natural system of things.

It is not merely that dislike and hatred are absent in the presence of such a person; there is something else much more than this that happens. There is positive love emanating from that person, and love coming to that person from everyone else. The Chhandogya Upanishad says, “As vassals offer tributes to an emperor, so do all directions offer tribute to this emperor of the world.” Everything flows towards this person, because this person is no more a person. He has become a centre of universal gravitation; therefore, there is a pull exerted by this so-called supernormal person. This is the goal of the practice of ahimsa, an achievement that has come merely by the eradication of selfishness which is the root of individuality and the cause of our likes and dislikes. This is the meaning of the sutra: ahimsāpratiṣṭhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgaḥ (II.35). Neither we will dislike anyone, nor will anyone else dislike us. That state of affairs will ensue if the personality is scrubbed of all personal feelings and subtle desires that are attached to this body-mind complex.

Satyapratiṣṭhāyāṁ kriyāphalāśrayatvam (II.36): If we stick to truth, our words will become true. What the great masters speak materialises itself on account of the correspondence between their speech and the truth of things. Speaking the truth is nothing but the maintenance of coordination between fact and what one expresses as a definition of that fact. Because of a continuous practice of this maintaining of harmony between the words that one speaks and the facts that exist, a result follows which is surprising indeed. Everything that they speak corresponds to fact; and so, when something is said, it happens.

Words which emanate from the mouths of these great masters are really forces that stimulate facts and stir the materialisation of values. The materialisation of the words that they speak is effected on account of the practice of this coordination that they have maintained between the words that they speak and the facts that are existing. They are accustomed to this harmony between their words and the facts of nature and, therefore, nature regards them as a friend. Then, everything is friendly, so that there is a friendly coordination between what is uttered and what exists.

Sometimes, even thoughts will materialise. It is not merely words that are spoken, because there is a connection between words and thoughts. We may not speak, but we may merely think – that is enough; it is equal to speaking. If there is a feeling in our mind, that will take effect. If we think something, that will happen, merely because of the same reason – that the thoughts, which always maintain a connection with words, have been accustomed to a harmony between themselves and facts. Therefore, when thoughts are generated in the mind, they always correspond to facts, and so they compel the manifestation of a fact corresponding to the nature of the thought. Thus, thoughts materialise and become true, and words take effect due to the practice of truthfulness. Such is the great, wonderful consequence that follows from the practice of ahimsa satya.

Asteyapratiṣṭhāyāṁ sarvaratnopasthānam (II.37): Everything comes to us if we do not appropriate things that do not belong to us. One who wants nothing will get everything. It is the asking for things that is the bane of life, because asking for a thing is the restriction of our demands to certain things alone, and eliminating other things as if they are good for nothing. Everything is equally valuable in this world. And the asteya which is mentioned here is not merely a gross form of stealing as we understand it, but an inclination of the mind to appropriate; that is called stealth. We need not actually carry anything physically. There may be even a tendency, a feeling, a like, a longing: “Let me have it!” That is stealth, because mental stealth is real stealth. We may not have taken it, nor we can be punished for it; but some other law will work because we must always remember that thoughts are more powerful than physical actions. Thoughts are real actions.

We will be rewarded or punished for the thoughts that we entertain, not merely for the movements of hands and feet. Our feelings, our volitions and our thoughts are what determine our personality and our future. Non-appropriation, even in thought, and not expecting anything from anyone, is a power which stimulates sources of wealth everywhere – again, for the reason that this practice of the vow implies an abolition of selfishness, because such an attitude of non-appropriation cannot be present in a person unless that person is utterly unselfish.

Always there is a desire in the mind to have something, to get something. Who can be free from such longing? But if this can be achieved, we will empty ourselves in such a way that things will automatically flow to us. “Empty thyself and I shall fill thee,” said Christ. If we empty ourselves, everything shall flow unto us. Asteyapratiṣṭhāyāṁ sarvaratnopasthānam (II.37). Everything comes to us. All wealth, jewels and all property in the world will be ours if we do not ask for anything. Do not ask for anything, even in the mind, even by feeling. That is important. It is not only more important – it is the only thing that is important. If we do not say anything with words, but mentally think that it would be good if we have it, then we have asked for it. Then there will be a limitation of our thoughts to certain things, and other things which are not contained in these thoughts will be eliminated. There will be love and hatred, and the whole thing is spoiled. Again, it is very necessary to be cautious in the understanding of these principles. When they are properly understood and practised in their spirit, these consequences follow. Everything comes to us, provided we expect not anything from anyone. This is the meaning of the sutra.

Brahmacaryapratiṣṭhāyām vīryalābhaḥ (II.38). Adamantine energy comes to a person who is self-controlled – like Hanuman's strength, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of conceivable energy. This comes not by dieting, or exercise, or any such extraneous means, but by an inflow of energy which is perpetual in nature. Brahmacarya does not mean ordinary celibacy, or continence, in common language. It is a very difficult thing to conceive because it is the conservation of energy by the blocking of passages of the senses from channelising themselves towards objects outside. Humanly, it is impossible for ordinary people; but once it is achieved, these consequences will follow. We become adamantine in energy, indefatigable in our work, and tireless in our efforts. The mind and the body become strong, and we feel a sense of lightness and buoyancy in our spirit.

The virya labhah that is mentioned here is not an ordinary energy, but a conservation of the energies of all things which are usually regarded as objects of sense. The withdrawal of senses from objects is not merely a negative action, as one would wrongly imagine. It does not mean that we merely cease from thinking of objects and that there the matter ends, and nothing else is happening. This is not the case. When we cease thinking of objects but yet maintain consciousness, the energy that is diverted to the objects gets driven back to oneself and something surprising takes place. Instead of our energy flowing towards the objects, the energy of the objects begins to flow towards us. We can imagine why we must be strong.

The strength of personality that is referred to here is consequent upon the converging of objective forces upon oneself due to the withdrawal of the senses from their functioning, which otherwise divert the energy of the body to objects and deplete one's strength completely by indulgence. Hence, brahmacaryapratiṣṭhāyām vīryalābhaḥ (II.38). Automatic strength manifests itself in one's system due to this practice of the spirit of the withdrawal of the senses from objects; and it is then that the object becomes friendly with us.

Our asking for the object is really not a manifestation of love for the object. It is a kind of hatred, metaphysically speaking, because if the object is not different from us, why do we ask for it? To regard anyone as different from us is not love; it is a subtle dislike. If I always consider you as different from me, would you like it? You would like me to consider you as one with myself; that is real friendliness. But my asking for a thing, loving a thing, craving for a thing is a subtle indication that it is different from me. Thus, hatred is the undercurrent of love and, therefore, there is bereavement and a running away of objects from oneself – a consequence which is most unexpected. Hence, loves end in bereavements and the senses are defeated in their purpose. Foolishly they run after things, thinking that they will get the things. The way of getting the thing is not by asking for it or going towards it, but by withdrawing oneself from it, because then alone the natural laws are allowed to operate – wherein the objects stand in harmony, in tune with the self of a person. Then it is that the strengths of nature flow towards the person, and energy automatically effloresces. That is the essence of the meaning of this sutra: brahmacaryapratiṣṭhāyām vīryalābhaḥ (II.38).

Aparigrahasthairye janmakathaṁtā saṁbodhaḥ (II.39). When we do not keep things with us which are not expected to be contributory to the maintenance of our life, we are supposed to be living a life of austerity. This austere living, which does not allow the entry of thoughts regarding things which are unnecessary, releases the tension of the system. Our lack of memory of previous lives and our not knowing the future is due to a tethering of the mind to the body to such an extent that it does not allow the reflection of anything in itself other than this present body. The love of the mind for this body is so much that it does not allow anything to enter it except this bodily complex. The sutra tells us that when the mind is free from this attachment to the body by eliminating ideas of appropriation, gathering of things, accumulating of goods, etc., the attachment slowly gets loosened; and the loosening of attachment to the body is simultaneously followed by a reflection of other things with which the mind is really connected.

The mind is really connected with everything in the world. It is not connected merely with this body; that is a false notion. Because of this false notion of the identification of the mind with this present body alone, there is a complete lack of knowledge of one's relationship with any other thing and every other thing. Thus, we are like ignorant people knowing nothing of the past or the future. But when this attachment to the body is loosened, it eliminates itself automatically, and things begin to reflect themselves in the mind – all things with which it is really connected, even the past. Even the previous lives through which one has passed will become objects of one's awareness, says the sutra: aparigrahasthairye janmakathaṁtā saṁbodhaḥ (II.39).

Śaucāt svāṅgajugupsā paraiḥ asaṁsargaḥ (II.40). The purity that one is expected to maintain, which is known as saucha in this sutra, enables the mind to be perpetually conscious of the true nature of the body. Again, this ends in a detachment of the mind from the body. It is an improper understanding of the nature of the body that causes attachment to it. We have a wrong notion about this body; therefore, we love it so much. If we begin to know what it is made of, how it has come, how it is maintained, and why it looks all right – if all these things are properly known, we will find that the mind is automatically detached. The defects of the body get revealed. It has to be maintained every day by bath, by cleanliness, by scrubbing, by diet, by sleep, by rest, by exercise, and so many other things. If any one of these is withdrawn, we will find that the body loses hold over itself, like a house that is not maintained properly. It will begin to collapse.

The body has no stand of its own; it stands on something else, and it is this 'something else' that makes it appear as if it is all right. This is the nature of this body, and it is the nature of every body in this world. If we know the structural defects of the body – its origin, its maintenance, and its eventual dissolution – if all these things are brought before the mind's eye, one will feel that attachment to it is something unthinkable. We will neither be attached to ourselves, nor will we be attached to others. We will get fed up with this body. “How many days I have to bathe it? One day, two days, three days – endlessly!” It will show its real nature and start stinking if we do not bathe it for some days.

The body is not fragrant; it is not beautiful. If we ignore it or neglect it, it will show itself: “This is what I am, and what others are.” Thus, due to this realisation of the inner structure of the physical organism, one feels a sense of “enough with it”, and a sense of “enough with everything else”. We neither get attached to others, nor do we have any fondness for our own body.

Sattvaśuddhi saumanasya aikāgrye indriyajaya ātmadarśana yogyatvāni ca (II.41). These are some other things that follow from purity of oneself. The mind becomes lustrous due to the realisation of the transitory nature of things and the defective character of objects of sense, including the physical body. That lustre of the mind is what is called sattva suddhi. We are despondent, melancholy, brooding, and unhappy constantly on account of the presence of rajas and tamas in the mind. The presence of rajas and tamas means, in other ways, the presence of desires for the body as well as other bodies connected with this body. When they are eliminated by the absence of desire and the detection of the evil in things – the defects of objects in general – there is sattva suddhi and also saumanasya. There is peace of mind. Peace of mind is the manifestation of sattva in the mind – the absence of rajas and tamas. Distraction and torpidity are eliminated – at least in a large measure, if not totally. Then, there is a beaming of the light of sattva, which is what is called saumanasya, or serenity, or tranquillity of the mind.

Then comes concentration of mind. Concentration becomes difficult on account of the presence of rajas and tamas. But when, due to the detection of evil, transitoriness, etc. in phenomena, desire gets diminished, there is also an elimination of rajas and tamas to that extent. There is, therefore, a consequent manifestation of sattva, and immediately concentration of mind follows because sattva and concentration mean one and the same thing. This leads to complete mastery over the senses – withdrawal of the energies which are centrifugal, or tending away from the centre. And then, a tendency to universality manifests itself automatically – which is the condition for the manifestation of Self-knowledge, atmadarsana yogyatvani.