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The Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 11: Yoga Techniques

According to an important system of yoga that tradition usually follows, the course of consciousness through its ascent in the direction of the attainment of perfection usually follows the series which nature seems to have followed in its evolution; and often it is felt that yoga is the returning process of the soul to the source from where it has come down, and the track which it traverses in its ascent is in the reverse order of that which it followed in its descent. The effect returns to the cause, and the cause returns to its own cause, and so on, until ultimately the final cause is contacted in a communion where further ascent is not called for. Therefore, we have to remember here the various stages of the involvement of human consciousness in its coming down, as it were, until it has reached its present state, where we all are placed.

We have noticed that this human personality is constituted of certain layers which are, broadly speaking, the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the spiritual. These go by the name of the koshas in Sanskrit. How did consciousness happen to get involved in these koshas? What was it that covered it at the very outset? Because no one has seen what has happened and no one could visualise the way in which God operated, as it were, during the time of creation, no human being, no individual, can know what has happened to its own self, since returning back to one's own cause through the means of the effect will not be possible.

By way of study of the proclamations in the scriptures and by inference drawn therefrom, we may come to know that the involvement, which is also called the bondage of the soul, has been a gradual descending from more ethereal and finer forms into greater density and the concretisation of experience. These are philosophically forbidden areas and no one can probe into these divine mysteries, but there seems to be some point in the conclusions drawn by students of yoga from the proclamations of the scriptures and in the light of inferences so drawn by way of reason, that the physical body is the grossest development of this process of involvement of the spirit and, evidently, it is the latest formation. The inner circles are manufactured earlier, as it were, and the outer ones are formed later on. There is a blinding of consciousness, perhaps, which prevents its awareness of there being any kind of conscious relation between itself and the Universal whole. This blindness, this unconsciousness, this ignorance, may be said to be the so-called original sin, if at all we may call it by that term, whereby the individuality is officially sanctioned and becomes established on its own throne of imperialism, and the Universal – of which it has been ever a part, to which it owes affiliation and allegiance, from which it can never be separate – is forgotten totally.

This forgetfulness was the earliest stage of involvement, and this is confirmed in some of the statements we read in the writings of later masters of yoga such Patanjali, who mentions in one pithy aphorism that avidya or ignorance is the primal cause of bondage and everything follows thereafter. Avidyā, asmitā, rāga dveṣa, abhiniveśaḥ kleśāḥ (Yoga Sutras 2.3) is the sutra. Our loves and hatreds, our clingings and passions, and all the turmoil of life may be said to arise from an original ignorance. This is corroborated in Buddhist psychology also, where the ignorance of one's own essential nature, whatever be that nature, is supposed to be the cause of the involvements of individuality in external relations, leading to the necessity to invent in one's own self instruments – sense-organs, mind, intellect, etc. – to implement such relations.

The covering of consciousness is sometimes called anandamaya kosha, the causal sheath, or to put it plainly, a sort of cloud which envelops consciousness in an intensified form, such that it affirms an isolation of this bit of consciousness that is apparently segregated from the larger dimension of its own self. When this affirmation – egoism, so-called – is confirmed in a seed form, it then manifests itself in visible form as direct consciousness of personality, and the types of relation that have to be established with others – external persons and things – are also naturally confirmed, as a sort of corollary from a theorem.

Inasmuch as the Pure Consciousness that everyone is, was first driven out into the exile of self-conscious individuality by the action of an inscrutable ignorance whose definition is beyond us, and everything follows from that particular state until we reap human bodily consciousness and external consciousness, the yoga process considers the reverse process as the proper technique to be adopted in yoga. In the previous session I gave you a brief outline of the ways and means that one may have to adopt in yoga to free oneself from external involvements, which may be called social.

Therefore the yoga technique, in one of its principle forms, precisely considers the mathematical series followed in the process of the coming down of consciousness into this grosser existence of bodily individuality, and endeavours to retrace its steps backwards. Thus it is that the first step that a spiritual seeker normally takes, in religious parlance, is an attempt to free himself from outward relations. This is visibly manifest in the desire to live alone, uncontaminated, unrelated by human society or any sort of relation which may bring into highlight the sense of possession, love and hatred, and the like. People who live in families, in offices, and in such involved circumstances try to take leave of these conditions when the aspiration called yoga takes possession of them. The significance behind this feeling in an individual to free oneself from involvements of social types is the need of consciousness to extricate itself from the lowest of involvements at the outset, for the purpose of achieving higher freedom by further weaning itself away from subtler and subtler forms of involvement.

The whole of samsara, as it is called in Sanskrit, is a bundle of involvements, layer after layer, heaped one over the other. These are also called the knots, granthis, by which the soul is tied to bondage, and the knots have to be untied gradually, one after the other. One adequately frees oneself from social and political or even economic involvements, and feels a sort of strength in one's own self to stand by oneself, not in a foolish and haphazard manner but in a consistent way, being sure that one can stand on one's own legs. Here again, caution is to be exercised; discretion is supposed to be the better part of valour. Then it is that the desire to be alone takes possession of oneself, pre-eminently. A truly spiritual seeker feels happy when being alone and feels miserable in the midst of people, while the worldly person feels miserable being alone and runs to shops, cinemas, circuses in order to feel satisfaction in the world. There are people who can never sit alone, even for a few minutes. They feel miserable, wretched, as if they are in hell. They run in search of friends with whom they can shake hands and chat so that the boredom of being alone is obviated for the time being at least. For them it is death to be alone, whereas it is death to be in the midst of relations for the truly religious consciousness and the spiritually seeking soul.

But here, to repeat once again, we have to be very careful that we really have a desire to be alone. Often we are driven into a consciousness that we have to be alone due to the difficulties of life. The situation in which Arjuna found himself, as described for us in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita, should not overtake us. The desire to be alone is very good, very holy and expected of everyone one day or the other, but the motive behind it is equally important – perhaps more important. Why do you want to be alone? Ask this question to yourself. Is it because the police are pursuing you? What is the reason you want to be away, somewhere in a corner? Have you lost everything? Has everyone in the family died and there is nothing worthwhile? Is everything bitter? Do you want to hang yourself psychologically? Is this the reason behind your desire for being alone? Or, is it something else? This has to be investigated into very carefully. The motive behind this desire to be alone is very important because, after all, it is the mind that creates bondage, and it is also the mind that will lead you to liberation.

You have to examine and analyse yourself very carefully, threadbare, as to the genuineness of this spiritual element that is present in this desire to be alone. Is it because you have been suffering pain? The desire to be alone should not be a desire to be free from the pains of life; it should be a positive longing, caused by a pull of the higher spirit. The higher joy is pulling you, and it is not the lower pain that is driving you out. If this is clear, the path is also clear to you, and then God Himself will take care of you. The world is no longer necessary. It is not necessary because God is larger than the world. You have not renounced the world; you have caught hold of something which is bigger than the world. Hence, the positivity of spiritual aspiration is confirmed. It is not a negative withdrawal; it is a positive attunement with a larger dimension of truth which includes the whole world. It does not exclude the world as a wretched evil.

Thus, being sure of your genuineness in the aspiration that is manifest in you spiritually, religiously, along the line of yoga, you can live a solitary life. You do not need anyone's help. You do not need anyone's help because you have the help of everyone, from every corner of the world. It is not that you are bereft of all support and you are thrown into the winds of fate – nothing of the kind. Spirituality is a positive achievement, and not a negative losing. You lose nothing by treading the path of the spirit, though to an untutored mind it may appear that you have lost your father, mother, wife, children, property, land, and everything has gone. This is a foolish idea that may enter into an uneducated seeking spirit. You do not lose anything; you are gaining. Otherwise, who would want to lose anything purposely and deliberately, unless they are idiotic? The path of the spirit is the path of gaining larger realities in their originality, and freeing oneself from the illusion that shadows are realities.

This why true religious seekers, spiritually-oriented students, like to live alone. Again I repeat, you must understand the reason behind this desire to be alone and the significance of one's being alone. It is not a geographical aloneness but a spiritual aloneness, and the distinction between the two has to be very carefully drawn. Spiritually-oriented aloneness is not the same as a geographical, astronomical or political aloneness.

Then, what happens? The spirit has gone above the lowest of involvements. It has transcended one barrier and feels that it is granted a sort of freedom, at least in one percentage. The physical body, as I mentioned, is the lowest of the formations of bondage; and when the consciousness peeps through the sense organs of the physical body for the purpose of the fulfilment of desires, it becomes a social unit, a political individual, etc. When this is overcome, the consciousness need not anymore depend on the sense organs to get satisfaction. It can withdraw itself, for reasons already known. Then it finds that it is stationed as an integral part of this bodily individuality, this physical frame which is constituted of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether. This is not a small achievement. Though actually this looks like an initial step in the yoga practice, it is a really great achievement, and you yourself will know what an achievement it is if it has been effected adequately in your own personality.

To be free from external relations is not an ordinary achievement. You have to be superhuman in some way in order to attain this trait. Ordinary human nature will not permit this. The five elements will be your friends, and no other friends are necessary in this world when you are rid of the desire to be in relation with external persons and things. The whole world is constituted of the five elements only. All that you see, this grand universe that is before your eyes, is nothing but a permutation and combination, a configuration of these five elements. Whether it is beautiful or ugly, whether it is gold or iron, it is all the five elements, nothing more, and even your body is just that. You feel a sense of belonging to the five elements when you realise that in the state of freedom from external relations you stand united with the cosmos of physical manifestation.

The true significance of these thoughts cannot enter people's minds unless certain stages have been passed through earlier. The usual physical posture, called asana, that is closely associated with yoga practice is the first step that is taken in your attempt to set your physical frame, and everything connected with it, in tune with the physical elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. It is believed that when this has been effected properly, the elements do not torment you as they would torment an ordinary individual. Hunger and thirst become diminished in their intensity. You do not feel like gorging yourself as an ordinary hungry person would. Desires become diminished because desires are the psychic pressures felt by us as the result of this vehemence felt by the body in its affirmation of individuality, and when we are free from this pressure that is exerted upon our psyche by this physical affirmation of one's own individuality, then desires naturally become diminished in their intensity because a desire is nothing but a psychic pressure originated by the affirmation of individuality which requires external contact, possession of persons and things, and so on.

Yoga asana is something well known. People generally believe that yoga asana is something that anyone can do, that it is just bending the body in a particular way and the yoga exercise is over. But yoga asana is a spiritual technique, not a physical exercise. It is not a feat of the body. It is an inward communion that you establish through the physical manifestation of your personality in terms of its relation to the five elements because of the fact that the body is constituted of the five elements.

Now, at this stage of realisation of the experience, your physical individuality realises that human relations are not important because there are higher relations. It is the five elements – not people – that are the rulers of the world, and befriending them is more important than befriending living organisms, because they too are constituted of the visible frame only. This is a stage which is very much emphasised in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, but in other forms of yoga so much stress on the physical posture is not laid, for other reasons. Though it is not absolutely necessary that one should always attempt a physical communion of the bodily or psychophysical frame with the five elements, it is a great assistance. You may walk without a walking stick, but if you have one, it will help you in some way.

When the spirit assumes immense strength within itself and its ardour, its spiritual longing is overwhelming – it has inundated you in and out, and your love for God has broken its bounds and you cannot stand on this Earth continuously for even three minutes because of this anguish you feel in your soul of your isolation from God – if this superior spiritual possession becomes your experience, you become a saint in one second and no yoga asana or physical posture is necessary. You will be taken care of by the higher forces. But inasmuch as most people are not in this condition of an overwhelming longing for God-realisation – they cannot be flooded like that so easily – it is always suggested that it is better to be cautious and humble, and remember where you stand. There is no harm in being seated in a disciplined posture, though this requirement is not a uniform mandate for everyone in every stage.

The process of asana and pranayama, so much spoken of, is a very great assistance in the practice of yoga, but it is not essential where the spiritual seeker is made in a different way and devotion to God takes the upper hand. If the longing of the soul for the Infinite preponderates, there is no stress laid on these initial requirements called asana, pranayama, etc. They are taken care of by themselves by the powers that be. I am not going to enter into great detail about asana and pranayama, because you all know something about it.

In this series of lessons I am trying to confine myself only to certain broad outlines of the principle issues of yoga practice, namely, the spiritual and the religious side of it especially, culminating finally in a sublimation of sense consciousness and a focussing of this consciousness on that ideal which is called the object of meditation. All yoga is meditation finally, whatever be the adjective that is attached to the practice.

Here, as we have observed earlier, a word of caution may be administered. The sublimation spoken of in yoga is similar to the sublimation that is involved in renunciation, austerity, Sannyasa, self-abnegation, living alone, etc. All spiritual sublimatory process is a gaining of a higher position by a transcending and not a rejecting or an isolation from the lower. In every higher step you gain what you have transcended; there is no loss on the part of the spirit. Even a single step that you take in this direction is a positive gain. In this path, no loss is involved. You may not gain, but there is no loss; and perhaps you will gain positively. The spiritual connotation of yoga practice is always to be considered as more important than its outer forms, which are also sometimes necessary, but they are like the legs on which we stand, and the legs are not the whole body.

Even rituals have a place in religion, and are not just idiocy or totally redundant. As legs are necessary for the body to stand and yet it cannot be said that the leg is an essential part of the body, so is ritual, devotion, worship, etc. One should not be foolishly overenthusiastic, as many times people are, in imagining that they have outgrown the need for ritual, worship, etc. One cannot easily overcome all these things. We are living in a world of ritual; we are living in a world of image worship. We hug idols of various types. A passport is an idol, a currency note is an idol, and everything that we consider as valuable in this world in its configured form is only just an idol. Any affection, any regard, any value attached to any particular thing in the world is idol worship. Therefore, one cannot easily be free from it, though in some unnecessary enthusiasm people imagine that idols are not necessary. We are only just idols, and no one can be free from them.

This also applies to the worship of emblems. The worship that is conducted in churches, temples, monasteries, holy shrines, is also very important because it is a worship of symbols, and symbols are not unnecessary; they are also some sort of idol. The worship of the national flag is nothing but idol worship. It is a worship of a symbol. Keeping a photograph of some person in our pocket is symbol worship. When we bow our head before someone or something, it is idol worship.

Here again we have to be realistic in our approach. Religious practices which involve these elements of devotion are to be considered as very valuable in their own way, in their own place. Charity is the greatest virtue. We have to be very generous and charitable in our attitude towards the various modes of worship and ritual, as performance in the various faiths and cults and every stage of religion, is after all, a stage of religion. We do not condemn a child because it blabbers, as we were also babies once upon a time and it was a necessary stage through which we had to pass. Every stage of religion is a necessary stage, and there is no unnecessary form of religious worship or performance.

There are people who are prone to this direction of devotional worship of God in a symbolic form, either visibly or conceptually, which is the main course followed in what is known as bhakti yoga. Who can resist this temptation to love the infinite? We will go mad if we think of the magnificence of God. Saints dance in ecstasy like crazy people because of a superphysical, superhuman, super-individual possession, under whose sway they are. Love, which is a word with which we are very familiar in this world, assumes its true form in this ecstasy of divine possession. No one can help running into a state of ecstasy, of emotional feeling of love, if only they are clear about the notion of what God is. It is because of an egoistic conception and an ultra rationalistic idea of God which is ridden with a bit of egoism of human individuality and an incomplete notion of what the Ultimate Reality is, that we are unable to appreciate its grandeur and magnificence. Once we are able to feel the majesty of it, we will be crazy in one second; and that craze is that which everyone longs for one day or the other. It is these crazy ones who are finally the children of God, because when the soul takes possession of us, all rules and regulations of society, and physical relation or any kind of relation, is stepped over because of a higher law operating. This is why the path of bhakti yoga is not a name to be attached to one kind of emotional behaviour. In the Bhagavadgita particularly, the word 'bhakti' is repeated several times, and it often appears that it has been emphasised as something far superior to every other approach.

Here, we are asked to understand that bhakti means that longing of the soul for that which is the Oversoul. In this particular path of what is called divine love, the stress laid on externals is not considered as so very essential because when I love you wholeheartedly, I know very well no formality is necessary in regard to you. We have formalities, etiquettes of behaviour, when our friendship is not whole. When it is clear that I am one with you and you are one with me root and branch, right from the bottom of the soul, there is no formality. The love of the Gopis for Sri Krishna or the love of any saint, for the matter of that, was under such possession, and was free from all etiquette. They ran naked, caring not for the etiquette of human society, because they were possessed by a law which could take care of them.

The yoga techniques, therefore, are variegated. The love of God that I referred to, which frees one from obligations to any kind of external performance, is not an ordinary love in the sense of a psychic operation as we see it in human relations. The love of God is not love for an object and, therefore, it is not mere emotion. It is the flood tide of the ocean of the spirit. Just as the whole ocean rises up during flood tide, the whole being that we are rises to the occasion. It is not emotion and, therefore, it is not human affection. Human love, human emotion is directed to an outward object, whereas divine devotion is the rising of the soul to its own self in its wider form. Love of God is not loving another person, because God is Paramatman, the higher soul, the Supreme Spirit, the supreme Atman, the larger manifestation of what we are in our essentiality. It is the flowering of what we are basically. A distinction has to be drawn between what is called a metaphysical element in divine love and the psychic form of human affection. This is one aspect of the practice of yoga, which concerns itself wholly and solely with the ardour which is called love of God.

The sublimation to which I made reference is the returning of the consciousness from its contact with things due to tasting a higher experience in which the delights of sense are included. The pleasures of life are our obstacles; they pull us in the direction of things. This difficulty is naturally overcome without much of an effort on our side when we sense a taste of higher delight, as a person who has woken up from dream into this world experience does not anymore wish to go back to the dinner that he had in the dream palace.

Thus it is that sublimation is a higher delight, and not merely a physical austerity or a painful experience that we impose upon ourselves. It is a natural positive step that we take in the direction of a higher possession. Sublimation is, therefore, to mention once again, a larger gain which keeps us satisfied within ourselves, and we are no longer pushed in the direction of external contact.