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The Process of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: The Spirit of Life

Spirituality is the condition of the spirit. This definition would be indication enough as to whether we have to live a life spiritual or not. The nature of the spirit is, therefore, what we mean by ‘the spiritual'. And if we are to have a knowledge of the spirit, we shall also know whether it is necessary to be spiritual or whether it is possible for us to conduct ourselves in any manner other than the spiritual.

The spirit is what we generally call the essence or the substance of anything. We generally put a question: “What is the spirit of the whole situation?” “What is the spirit of what that person spoke?” and so on, by which we mean that the spirit of anything is the quintessential substance of that particular thing. The spirit, therefore, differs from the form, from the letter, and from the appearance.

While we try to investigate into the nature of the spirit in order to know what ‘the spiritual' is, we simultaneously get into the question as to where the spirit of a thing lies. Also, how many spirits could be there, inasmuch as we seem to be having many things, many objects, many persons in this world. If the spirit of any particular object or thing is to be something, and the spirit of another object or another thing is to be another thing, then there could be infinite spirits, infinite essences; and if spirituality is the condition of the spirit, we can have innumerable conditions of spirituality.

Hence, the question that we pose to ourselves should be pointed and should go to the core thereof. Any effort or any action whatsoever in any direction and in any field of life is always preceded by a knowledge, an understanding of the principles involved in the effort or the action. We have a theory and a practice in every kind of activity, profession, business or effort in life. We have an educational career precedent to the efforts that we put forth in life. The educational process is the period of scientific training in the art of the implementation of that very science in practical day-to-day life. And life is nothing but a tremendous effort on the part of the human being to live it in a profitable and proper manner.

Therefore, to live life would be our greatest effort. Every effort in any direction is only a form of the supreme effort to live properly and in the proper direction. Our profession or work we do in life matters little. All this variegated effort of ours in various fields of activity boils down to the effort of living the fundamental life: a successful, profitable, useful, meaningful and significant life. We do not want to vegetate, but we wish to live. What a human being aspires for is to live life in its highest quality, in its greatest intensity, and in its widest extent. Our aspiration is not merely to get on or pull through life. That is what we mean by vegetating – somehow getting on. But we are not satisfied with merely somehow getting on in life till we breathe our last. We have an inner longing to live life at its best, in the highest quantity and quality possible.

Now, this is a question that arises simultaneously with the question as to the spirit or the essentiality of life. The question we have raised before ourselves is, therefore, a very wide question. It is broad enough to bring within its gamut every other possible question, because the question of life is a single question comprehending every other question possible. Nothing can be wider than life, nothing can be more beneficial than life, and nothing can be more dear and significant than what we call life. Life is the spirit of the universe; and we enter into an investigation of the nature of the spirit of life. This question, when answered, will also answer the question as to what spirituality is. And together with this, the other question will also be answered as to whether it is necessary to be spiritual and whether we can live without being spiritual. All these questions are brothers and sisters, co-related among one another, and all point to a single question ultimately, a big question mark of the problem of life.

The spirit of life may be taken as the subject of our discussion today. What is life, and how do we manage to live our life? What should we live for? These are co-related questions. ‘Life' is a general term for the manner of existing, the manner of progressing and the manner of aspiring towards an end or a goal. From this point of view, life seems to be the general urge present in everything in creation. It is present in me, in you, and in every blessed thing in this world. Life is the meaning of creation. Life is the answer to the question of creation. Life is the beginning and the end of all aspiration. And life is a single term summing up everything conceivable in our minds.

Do we live? Yes. Does anything else also live? Yes. Is there a difference between my life and your life? This is a very interesting and significant question. Broadly speaking, I am giving an answer from the point of view of mere surface observation. My life and your life may not be identical in every respect because we associate life with various factors of experience. Physical existence, social existence, mental and intellectual existence are all associated with the definition and question of life. And as these levels of experience vary from person to person, life led by different persons and different entities in creation may be said to differ from one another. The lives of a plant and a human being cannot be regarded as identical in every respect, inasmuch as we see human beings living differently from the way in which plants in the vegetable kingdom live; and animals live in a different manner altogether.

But, we are not enquiring into the nature of the form of life led or being lived by the beings in this world. We are questioning into the nature of life as such, and not into the nature of the way in which the life is lived. For example, we may put a question in regard to the nature of diet. The diet of one person need not be the same as the diet of another person. Perhaps we have as many kinds of diet as there are people in this world. But the question of diet is a scientific one. It is a philosophical question in the sense that it goes to the depth of the very nature of the question of diet itself. While the form of the diet or the food that we take may differ in different cases or instances, the purpose of the intake of diet, the scientific basis of the intake of diet, and the principle involved in dietetic discipline may not vary from person to person. The purpose of the intake of diet seems to be the same everywhere in creation. Whether it is the diet taken by a plant or the grub swallowed by a bird, the food taken by an animal or the lunch enjoyed by a human being – whatever be the form of the diet, the purpose behind it does not seem to be essentially different. There appears to be a basic common factor as a scientific principle underlying the intake of diet. Likewise, we may say that there appears to be a scientific, logical grounding of process behind the manner in which we live in the world, though we all live differently from the point of view of our variegated individuality.

How we live is one question, but why we live is another question. Why we should live at all seems to be behind the question of how we live in this world. Just as there is a difference between civilization and culture, there is a difference between the how and the why of life. It is easy to know how we live because that is our civilization in conformity with our national tradition, etc. We live in different ways according to our culture, tradition, religious background, and the faiths that we entertain in our minds in accordance with the social setup of our circumstance. In this manner we live – economically, politically, socially, individually, communally, etc. But why do we live? What is the purpose of our living? What does it matter to us if we do not live at all? Who is going to be the loser if we do not exist? These are more difficult questions to answer. It is the spirit of life into which we enter when we put the question: “Why are we living at all?”

While the form of life is given to us by the answer to the question of how we live, the spirit of life comes out when we try to answer the question of why we live at all. We cannot easily answer this question: “Why do we live?” We will close our eyes and scratch our heads, but an answer will not come. “I will live. I want to live.” That is all. Everything enters into this quintessence of our need for living, the necessity of life. When everything is taken away from us, we ask for life. “Save my life. You can take away everything else.” When political catastrophes and confusion take place in a rebellious atmosphere, people lose all their property. Sometimes they even lose their spouse and children, but they would not mind if all is lost, if only life is saved. They flee from country to country, from hot atmospheres to cooler ones, from difficult conditions to easier ones because, finally, life is a satisfactory answer to its own question. Life's question is answered by life itself. It cannot be answered by anyone else. We cannot answer the question of life through instruments, through association with properties, possessions, etc. The value of our life is that life itself. The value of our existence in this world does not depend upon the wealth that we possess, the associations that we have in society, the status that we occupy, or any such thing whatsoever. We have a value to ourselves. That is why we want to be saved, finally. Capital punishment is supposed to be the highest of punishments because it is the wiping of that which we regard as the dearest and the nearest to us. Even lifelong imprisonment is not regarded as so bad as capital punishment, because it is the wiping out of our existence. Our life itself is cut off; and what could be worse than that? Nothing is dearer than life.

But why life should be so dear, is our question again. We are entering into the spirit of all things. Why should life be so dear to us? We have many other things which are perhaps more endearing and more beautiful in this world. We have enchanting atmospheres, transporting beauties in the world. Why should we be prepared to give up all these wonders of creation and cling to this thing called life which we cannot see, which we cannot understand, and which seems to be nowhere within the ken of our perception? Why do we cling to life even if we have to lose everything else? This is the spirit of things, which eludes the grasp of our understanding. The spirit cannot be known so easily. We cannot know what life is because we cannot know what spirit is. Life and spirit are the same. We are so much engaged in the form of life, so busily entangled in its appearances and shape that we have found no time to go deep into the spirit of life. We have no time even to breathe. We are so busy, whatever be our profession. Everyone is so very busy that he or she has hardly any time to sleep. The moment one gets up, once again there is a busy tangle of life.

One of the interesting features of the principle of life is that it will not give us time to think as to what it is. Sometimes people call this maya, the inscrutable power that seems to be pervading all creation, preventing people from knowing what life is. It is inscrutable, indefinable. No one knows where it is, and yet it seems to be everywhere, equally grasping and controlling everyone and everything in creation. Life and spirit seem to be one and the same thing. And all our struggles, all our sweating and labour, all our efforts and aspirations seem to ultimately be directed to the goal of knowing what life is and taking the best of it.

To take the essence of life and live it at its best is also to know what life is. An ignorant person cannot be a happy person. The greater is our knowledge, the greater also is our happiness. This is something well known to us, having lived practically in this world. The wider and more intense is our understanding of a thing, the greater is our capacity and power over that thing. Our control over things increases in proportion to our knowledge of things. The lesser we understand a thing, the lesser also is our power over it, so that when we do not understand life, we cannot have any control over it. It will control us. We are puppets in the hands of nature, as it were. We are tossed hither and thither by fate and Providence, and we do not have any say in crucial matters in life, all because of the fact we have no knowledge of anything. We are ignoramuses of the first water, in matters final and crucial. We seem to be very wise in small things, in matters that are only on the surface, but we know next to nothing about profounder things.

Therefore, we have contented ourselves with merely a surface view of things. We neither want to know the depths of things, nor have the time to know it. We have no time because we are busy. We have no aspiration to know it because we have not yet been properly put into the right educational career in the university of life itself. We have been satisfied with our little earning, with our little paper degree, and we have been carried astray by the wind of public opinion which can drive us in any direction it likes, so that we have not known up to this time our own worth or the real worth of anything in life. Hence, whatever be our learning, we are unhappy persons. Whatever be the position we occupy in society, we are finally sorrowing hearts. We have some complaint to make about everything in life, whatever be our possession, whatever be our education and learning or status.

Why should this be so? Why should we be so poverty-stricken in the essentiality of our being? Why are we bankrupt in ourselves while we seem to be rich in the public eye? What is this mystery? Has anyone found time to question into this and find an answer to this question? Why should we be so grieved and agonised in our depths while we are looking beautiful outside? “The spirit of life has not been known,” is again the answer. “Life has not been understood,” is the answer. Why are we not interested in knowing it, entering into its spirit, and grasping it at its bottom? We have not been put in the proper direction. We have been misled right from our birth by social circumstances and public opinions, which is the ethics that we usually follow. Our ethics is social ethics. It is not metaphysical or spiritual ethics. If all people say, “It is all right,” we think it is good. Mostly, our moral standard is a social standard. We do not go into the scientific validity of the principle involved because the social standard seems to be the overwhelming majority, and we are afraid that going into the scientific depth may contradict public opinion.

Inasmuch as we are living on the surface of social morality, social ethics, social etiquette, social setup, and a social goal of life, we live as social elements and not as spiritual beings or something worthwhile in our own selves. But, when we leave this world, which is the fate of everyone one day or the other, do we go as social beings? Do people come with us? Does social ethics or morality help us? Nothing should be regarded as our association at the time when we are to leave this world. That quintessence of life follows us. The essentiality or the substance of things that we have seen and observed, and the life we have lived, follows us.

Thus, we are to be re-educated. We are still small children in the kindergarten level of education, small babies in the life process. We are unlettered, untutored from the point of view of life taken in its completeness. It is, therefore, pointless to imagine that we are well off in life. We will be taught a lesson to our bitter experience one day or the other if we are so complacent to think that we are well off in life. One day or the other we will be put to the necessity of eating the bitter fruit of life. No one has gone without tasting it, and we are not going to be an exception. Everyone has to pass through the same process of training and discipline in the school or the university of prakriti, nature in its completeness.

We should first of all be humble. We have to realise that we have learned nothing. We have to forget what we have learned in order that we may know something new and more valuable in life. The egoism or the arrogance of our learning has to go. The pride of our wealth and our status has to be shed. We should stand like a child, as one to be admitted to the first level of education in the school of nature. Let this humility be our qualification for our entry into this university of life, having forgotten all the pride of our original learning that we got from the social atmosphere of life. Life is not social, ultimately. It is something more than social, but we are accustomed to living only socially. From our childhood, from our birth onwards, we are in society. We live with father, mother, brother, friend, and so on, so that we are taught to think in terms of society. Everything is judged from the point of view of multitude – from the public point of view, from the point of view of the quantity of things. We have never been taught to live life from the point of view of its quality and worth.

Nature, creation, is not a social setup, though it has a social form. It is supernormal in its structure. It is also super-moral and super-intellectual, super-scientific and super-logical, ultimately speaking. It is not as we think it to be. All the while we have been under the impression that life is something; but it is not what we think it to be. We are misled even by people whom we observe in life. We develop a sort of relationship with persons under the impression that those people are something, but suddenly there is a change in their nature and we begin to realise, “I made a mistake. I thought this person is like this, but today I learned a bitter lesson. That person has turned a different pose altogether.” We are disillusioned almost every day, and then we become better persons by practical experience. But why do we have to receive kicks and blows in life and then learn? Can we not learn without receiving kicks? Why not learn voluntarily rather than be given a painful kick and be taught the lesson of life? If we will not learn of our own accord, deliberately and voluntarily, we will be taught by a whip and we will have to learn it by the pain of suffering. Mostly we learn by suffering because we are not prepared to voluntarily enter the school of nature's education. Why? Because we are proud of our social work and our social position, and a vanity has crept into our personality without our knowing what is happening. The vanity that spoils our entire career in life is a false notion that we are something worthwhile, while really we have nothing worthwhile in us. While we are hollow and empty within, we pose for something substantial and worthwhile. The truth of the matter is brought to the surface one day or the other. We cannot hide our nature always; the thief is caught one day or the other. Thus, may we gird up our loins to learn voluntarily under the tutorship of nature, under the fatherhood of God rather than be driven to disciplinary action on the part of nature for having not intelligently and honourably allowed ourselves to be educated in a progressive manner. The spirit of life is to be learnt through a process of right education.

Now we are on the borderland of the real problem before us. We are on the portals of the great university of nature. We have not yet entered it. We have just seen the notice board, as it were: The University of Nature. We are seeking admission into it. And our primary and essential qualification is a humility of character and an inward admission of the fact that we need to be educated rather than go with the vain and false assumption that we are already educated. Then we shall be admitted into this school or university of nature; and we shall be taken care of beautifully, as a mother would take care of her child.

This university is a place of teaching and training, and also a hostel where we can dwell. It is everything combined. We shall be beautifully trained, provided we are humble and obedient children; and there will be no dearth of teachers. Teachers will flow from all sides when the disciple, the student, is ready for the career of training.

But preconceived notions have to be shed first because a person who already knows things, or thinks that he already knows, cannot be taught anything. It is necessary to accept the position of a disciple and a student needing education, requiring to be trained and disciplined in the school of life.

In our day-to-day experience we come to realise that something is wrong somewhere, though we have not been able to find out what is really wrong. The fact that something is not all right comes to the surface of our experience when we experiment with things. We have to confront persons, problems and duties of various types every day in our life. And when we do our experiments with these facts, we find that something is essentially wrong somewhere because things do not go as we expect them to go. We do not always succeed in life. Mostly we are failures. We are given a rebuff from every corner of our experience and we return disappointed, not knowing what has happened – why we should have failed in spite of our having put forth our best effort. Mostly we complain that we have done everything within our capacity, so how is it that we have failed in our attempts? Why have things gone so badly? Why should we be in this miserable state of affairs in spite of our having honestly tried from the standpoint of the best of our knowledge and power? Well, we might have done our best, but it is not enough if we merely do our best. Our best has to be done properly, in the right manner. The technique of doing is more important than the amount of doing. What is the use of saying we have done a lot? Have we done it properly? The mistake lies here. It may be that we have all done a lot in this world, but very few might have done it properly, in the right spirit, in the right manner, knowing its technique.

The right manner of action is the technique of action; and the technique of action is to be known. If that is not known, even though our action might be continued for years and years and even aeons, we will find ourselves in almost the same condition, stagnating. Why? Really it is true that we have done many things in our life. We have passed through various incarnations. Can we say that we have not done anything? Every one of us has done much, not merely in this life but in many lives that we have lived. But where are we today in spite of all that we have done? We are nowhere better. We all have a common complaint. My complaints are your complaints also. Whatever is my difficulty, essentially, is your difficulty also. Ultimately, it is all universal suffering and disappointment in spite of everyone having done one's best through ages and ages of incarnations.

This is all because of the fact that this immense amount or quantity of activity has been channelled in a wrong direction. Knowledge was lacking, while effort was plenty. It is like a large engineering feat of building a bridge a few miles long across a wild river. What can a child do, though it may put forth years of efforts to build a bridge across the wild Godavari, Narmada or the Ganges? The child is very honest about it. It wants to build a bridge, and is working for days and days. But it will not succeed in spite of the fact that it has worked hard for days, for months, for years. Nothing will be achieved, because knowledge is lacking. The necessary engineering knowledge is lacking in a child or in a person not trained in that technique. So there is no use merely saying we have worked hard. We must also work hard qualitatively, and not merely quantitatively. Rather, the quality is more important than the quantity. In everything in life, quality supersedes quantity. In the life spiritual, in the life of sadhana, in the life of spiritual effort – more prominently, we should say – quality comes first and quantity afterwards. Quality is the knowledge; quantity is the effort.

Now, what is the knowledge that we are required to possess? Let us enter into this question. The knowledge that we are to attain is the knowledge of the structure of life. What is life made of? How is it constituted, and how is it that we go on repeating the word ‘life' without appearing to know anything about it? Who goads us to this fulfilment of the urge to live, though our knowledge of life is next to nothing, almost a nil or a zero? The structure of life, if known, will give us an idea as to the spirit of life and why and how we should live it. And when this is known, we would have known what spirituality is and whether spirituality is to be lived at all – whether it has to become a part of our life at all.

The structure of life is the crux of the matter. What is life made of? It is made up of many things. We open our eyes and cast a wide glance over the ten directions, and see what life is made of. We look up and see the Sun, the Solar System. We look around and see the horizon, the mountains and the rivers and the cities. And we cast a glance nearer and see our people, our family relations, our society, our government, etc. This is life. Things as they themselves are in their own individual status do not constitute life. Life is the relationship that is there among things. Mr. so and so, Mrs. so and so, that particular thing, this object, taken by itself, himself, herself, is not life. That would be the existence aspect of objects, persons, things, etc. But what matters most is the relationship among things. I suffer or enjoy life in accordance with the qualitative character of my relationship with persons and things. People allow me the advantages of the joys of life or inflict pain on me exactly in accordance with what sort of relationship I have with them or they have with me. So for practical purposes, we should say that life is a sort of relationship rather than the existence as such of persons or things. If everyone and everything is to be merely without any kind of internal relationship, life would be a different thing altogether. But that state of affairs is unthinkable. We have never seen a state of life where relationships are absent. We cannot just be, without establishing some sort of a vital contact with other persons and things.

But what sort of relationship is there between ourselves and others? This relationship among persons and things in life is what we mean by life, because for us life is experience. Life is identical with what we know as experience. Whatever I experience is life for me. “Oh, what a life!” When I make a complaint like that, I mean that the experiences I had are not satisfactory. So my life is my experience. Your life is your experience. Life is experience in its essence.

As relationships seem to be what we mean by life, it is necessary to know what sort of relationships we have – or rather, that we seem to have – among ourselves. We can have two sorts of relationships. One is a scientific relationship, and another is an ethical relationship. When we have a very pleasurable ethical relationship among ourselves, we say, “Life is satisfactory. It is good. It is quite okay.” If we think that life is satisfying, it means the ethical relationships are in harmony with what we would like to have for ourselves as our personal experiences. But other than this, there are relationships among the truth or the essentiality behind persons and things. Ethical relationships are not necessarily scientific relationships, because the ethics of life do not always go into the depths of things. The ethics and the morality of life change from time to time in accordance with the existing conditions at the given moment or time, but the scientific relationships among things cannot change. For example, the relationship of the Earth to the Sun is a scientific relationship. It is not an ethical or moral relationship. Though the planet Earth has some sort of relationship with the solar orb, or the Sun, this relationship is essential to the constitution of the Sun and to the constitution of the Earth, and it has no relevance to moral considerations or ethical concepts. This is to give one among the many instances of what a scientific relationship can be. But the moral relationship is what we are familiar with in human society – the etiquette, the demeanour, the conduct that we exhibit in our practical lives so that there may be a harmonious relationship among ourselves – though in our essentialities, we may differ.

For example, political relationships may essentially be in conflict with one another, but may be practically in harmony with one another, so that there may not be wars every day. That wars are not taking place every day does not mean that there is a harmonious relationship among nations. There is a practical harmony, but an essential discord can be there at the bottom of this apparent harmony. In human society, a similar relationship can prevail – even in families, let alone in wider circles of the society. In a small house people may dislike one another in their heart of hearts for reasons of their own, but somehow they can dine at the same table every day, and even smile and shake hands and enquire, ”How do you do?” while inwardly disliking one another. This is social harmony with a disease of inward scientific discord.

We are not merely concerned with ethical or social etiquette in our attempts at understanding what life is. We are concerned with the fundamental essence of life itself, the scientific basis of existence. The laws of the planets – the planetary motion, for example – will not listen to our moral standards or etiquettes of society. If we ask Mother Earth, “Dear Mother, please withhold your force of gravitation for a few minutes until my child safely climbs down from the tree,” she is not going to listen to us. “It may be your child or it may be an emperor, I don't care. My law of gravitation will work. He will break his leg if he falls,” she says. Scientific laws do not care for etiquette or ethical standards of human society; and life, taken in its wholeness, is a scientific principle. Therefore, we should not be satisfied with a smiling complaisance with the notion that we have understood it because we have wealth to boot, and we are apparently living a life of social approbation and public votes. This will not help us.

Scientific principles govern the world, transcending human morals and ethics. And human ethics and morality assume a meaning and significance only when they are in conformity with the scientific laws existing and operating in the world. We cannot have our own morality and ethics every day, changing from time to time. They have to be in harmony with the existing scientific principles of the cosmos; and then our morality will succeed, and we will be successful in life. But if that conflicts with scientific principles, we may be always smiling, but will be sorry in our hearts.

Hence, we have to be a little serious from now onwards, if we have not already been serious earlier. We should not take life to be a mere joke or a kind of hobby which is at our command and beck and call. Life is a science by itself. And science is impersonal in its operation. It has no friends and enemies. Scientific laws are equal everywhere, uniformly operating whether in the east or the west, whether in the north or the south, whether on the top or on the bottom. They make no distinction. So, when we understand life, when we try to educate ourselves in the principles of life, we are undergoing a process of education in the highest of sciences conceivable. What can be more serious than a study of science?

Thus, we have paved the ground, as it were, for training the mind for receiving a higher education, a higher knowledge for the highest purpose of life – to be fulfilled, if possible, in this span of life itself so that we shall never once again live unhappily and sorrowfully, as we have been living up to this time. We will not mistake things for what they are not. We will judge things from their own point of view, from the point of view of what they really are, rather than take appearances for reality and live a life of sorrow or samsara. Samsara is a life of suffering, of tension, of grief in our hearts. Samsara may be a show of satisfaction and pleasure outside, but it is essentially a life of grief inside. This is what we mean by samsara. It is not that we are crying every moment. We do not see people crying and sobbing every day; yet inwardly they are all unhappy, though they are not wiping tears outside. Therefore, samsara can be an outward show of satisfaction and beauty, but inwardly it is bitterness, thorns and suffering. This thorny, tense situation that is inwardly gnawing into our vitals has to be averted by a knowledge of the scientific principles of life, which alone can be called real knowledge – a little outline of which I shall try to give in the few days to come.