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The Great System of Yoga Propounded by Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: The Study of One's Own Personality

ōm saha nāvavatu,
saha nau bhunaktu,
saha viryam karavāvahai,
tejasvi nāvadhitamastu,
mā vidvishāvahai,
ōm sāntih, sāntih, sāntih.

The study of yoga and its practice is actually a study in the involvement of consciousness. It is not a practice in the sense of legal practice or professional practice in the economic sense of the term. Yoga practice is of a different order altogether. It is not a profession that we are undertaking, nor is it an activity in the usual sense. It is not a work that we undertake. It is an inward reorientation of the outlook of life, which cannot be identified with the usual activities of mankind. A transfiguration of the entire perspective of consciousness is the significance behind yoga.

We have been trying to analyse the social situation on earlier occasions, and attempted to discover some meaning in the human relationship in terms of society in its relevance to the practice of yoga. While the connection of an individual with externals may involve what is known as social relationship, there is an internal connection which subsequently comes to light, and that is the next step which is considered in the stages described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The yamas in the language of Patanjali pertain to social relation, the psychological involvement of personality in a spatio-temporal connection. But there is a more significant relationship which is internal, and that is the discipline of the personality which has to be taken up subsequent to the discipline of one's relationship with human society. Therefore, niyama comes after yama.

We will be able to recapitulate the points that we discussed on certain occasions previously, namely, that a relationship with outer persons and things is the first thing to consider, and this relationship is nothing but a psychological projection of the personality of the individual in terms of space and time. When we speak of social relationship in the philosophical sense of the term, we are not actually speaking of persons outside but the peculiar psychological reaction set up by the individual with relevance to the existence of other persons in the world. As far as any particular individual is concerned, a social relationship is a psychological reaction, and it is not merely an impersonal conception of people outside. We will have occasion to go deeper into this subject when we study the distinction that Patanjali makes between what he calls klishta vrittis and aklishta vrittis: painful psychoses and non-painful psychoses. What we may call indeterminate perception or impersonal perception is the aklishta vritti of Patanjali, but the determinant perception and the involved perception, which is mostly studied in abnormal psychology, not in general psychology, is the klishta vritti of Patanjali.

Therefore, it gradually becomes necessary on the part of the seeker to disentangle oneself from the networks created by the abnormal situations in one's psyche and turn to the more general ones. Questions may arise: Are we abnormal persons? Why should we have anything to do with abnormal psychology when we are students of yoga? From the point of view of the requirements of yoga, we have several abnormal traits. Now, the term ‘normal and abnormal' has to be explained before we can say whether we are normal or abnormal. To philosophers and masters of yoga like Patanjali, any tendency to move away from the centre of Reality is a tendency towards abnormality, and any tendency of the psyche to move towards the centre of Reality is a tendency which is normalcy. Loves and hatreds are regarded as abnormal reactions of the mind, at least from the point of view of yoga. For us people living in the so-called normal society of the world, loves and hatreds do not appear to be abnormal conditions. They are natural reactions of the mind. Everyone loves and everyone hates, so we are likely to regard likes and dislikes as themes to be discussed in general psychology, rather than in abnormal psychology.

But to Patanjali, and to his school of yoga, normalcy means an approximation of consciousness to the character of things as they exist in themselves, and not a tendency of the mind to read meaning into the objects, a meaning which is not inherent in them but read by the mind on account of a certain lacuna in it, or predilections of its own. To give an example, when you like or love an object, you are not actually perceiving it as it is in itself, nor do you perceive it as it is in itself when you hate it. The object is neither lovable nor hateable from its own standpoint. It is just an impersonal existence by itself, as anything else is. The character of attraction or repulsion is not an inherent quality of an object; therefore, to get attracted to a thing or repelled by a thing is not to have a normal perception of an object. Therefore, this subject is regarded as a part of abnormal psychology in the system of Patanjali. He groups them under what he calls painful psychoses, klishta vrittis, because loves and hatreds create pain in our minds, whereas an impersonal perception, such as the perception of a wall in front of me, for example, which neither belongs to me nor does not belong to me, is non-painful. No reaction is set up in the mind by the mere perception of a wall or a tree in a jungle, but a reaction of a different nature is set up when I look at an object which is mine or an object which I would like to disconnect myself from, for reasons of my own. Where an emotional reaction is involved, the activity of the psyche should be regarded as abnormal, so there is no person in the world who is totally free from abnormalcy in this sense, because no one is free from such emotional reactions. But they have to cease if one is to ascend the steps of yoga.

Yoga is an ascent of the soul, and not merely an ascent of a fraction of the personality in the form of a psychological function. The soul is a totality of being. We had occasion to refer to this point earlier. When we ascend from one level of yoga to another, the whole of our being rises from one level to another. It is not merely the intellect that moves or the emotion that moves. So it is not possible for the total personality to get integrated, as required in the ascent, while there is an emotional movement towards an object positively in the form of love or negatively in the form of hatred.

Now, social relationship is nothing but this. It is an involvement in likes and dislikes. Hence, a thoroughgoing incisive analysis was made in our studies under the section of niyamas, but this is not enough. Mere freedom from the klishta vritti, or the painful reaction of the psyche, is not the whole of yoga or even an important step in yoga. It is supposed to be the initial step. The worse condition that we could find ourselves in is the emotional reaction which we set up in regard to objects. That which agitates our mind, that which hurts our feelings, that which keeps us restless in our moods and makes us out of sorts and not normal either in our thinking or feeling, that sort of situation is an abnormal situation, and it is the thing into which we are thrust automatically either when we turn towards an object in affection or turn away from an object in hatred. Either of these things are uncalled for and unwarranted in an earnest seeker of Truth because the search for Truth is a search for integration of personality. It is the attempt at bringing together, or mustering in all the forces of one's being, into a concentrated focus so that I, as a whole being, move towards Reality. I do not merely think of Reality or feel Reality as a psychological being. As a metaphysical individual I move upwards, not spatially but logically, and this is the attempt in yoga.

Now we come to the point of the practice of the niyamas which follow the yamas, a discipline which is personal, superior to the discipline which is social and merely external or spatio-temporal. When we deal with our connections outwardly, we deal with spatio-temporal relations. Patanjali uses the word chitta advisedly to signify the total psyche in us, and the chitta of Patanjali includes the whole of the psychic nature: conscious, subconscious and unconscious. It is not merely the mind thinking outwardly at the conscious level.

This is the subject that comes to high relief when one enters into the next stage of yoga, the practice of the niyamas. Self-discipline is the meaning of niyama. It is not discipline of something else; it is discipline of one's own self. Questions may arise: What do you mean by discipline of your own self? What have you to do with your own self, and why should you discipline your own self as if you have gone out of order? Yes, one's own self is out of order. It is out of order in the sense that it has been moving along the track chalked out by the senses, which run in the direction of the objects outside.

Thus it is that the empirical self has been always a sensory self. It is not even the rational self, let alone the spiritual self. We have been living a surface-life, a life of sensory reaction, of likes and dislikes, of a pursuit of the pleasant, etc. This is a centrifugal movement of the personality out of the centre of one's own self in the direction of space, time and objects. Self-discipline here means a bringing together of the various ramifications of the psyche which have been moving in terms of various objects of sense, and centring them in certain ideals, which means to say, tethering the various rays of the mind to certain pegs fixed forever, at least until this stage is transcended.

For this, a deep study of one's own mind is necessary. The habit of foisting the feelings of oneself upon external persons and things has to cease. The rationalisation of instincts and the displacement of personality by way of projection of oneself upon others has to cease before one can study one's own self. We are at present looking at our own selves in terms of other persons and other things. Love of another object or hatred of another object is a positive or negative reflection of the feelings of the mind inside, which lacks some substance in itself and which it seeks in outer things. The displeasure that one feels in one's own self on account of a gap felt in one's own self is reflected, as it were, in the external objects.

This is a mysterious process that is taking place without the knowledge of any person who is subject to this process. It is not easy to understand why a person likes or dislikes anything. A glib answer can be given, but a rational answer is difficult. The like or dislike of any object is a highly mysterious process. You may call it a psychological process, but there the matter does not end. It goes deeper still into a new type of psychology which you will not find easily described in any books or textbooks of general psychology. How the personality gets transferred to an object outside, and then that object appears as a target of love or hate – how this process takes place is beyond one's understanding. We cannot even understand how a picture that is in a cinematic film moving through a camera is projected out on a screen through the media of space, away from that film. How it travels, we cannot understand. The picture is somewhere, and we see it somewhere else. How does this picture travel to the screen which is many, many yards away from the camera? Something happens. A mysterious transformation takes place in the ether of space in combination with the effect of life, etc., and the projection is seen there on the screen. The picture is not on the screen; it is in the film, but you see it on the screen. Likewise, perhaps, to some extent at least, is the process by which the emotions and the needs of the psyche within are cast upon objects outside in space and time, and they are looked upon as either desirable or undesirable.

The process is mysterious, but a study of this process is obligatory on the part of any student of yoga if he has to rightly practise self-discipline, because self-discipline is a stage where one has already overcome the need to entangle oneself in external relations. It is not merely social discipline that we are speaking of, but self-discipline; that is niyama. The layers of one's own personality are also to be studied. We are not merely the physical body. The Vedanta, the Upanishads and the Yoga System all tell us that within the body are forces. There is a vibratory motion of the prana which is not visible to the eyes but which works every activity of the physiological system. There are the senses which cognise the presence of objects, senses which are different from the organs we call the eyes, the ears, etc. The sense of sight is different from the eyeball, the sense of hearing is different from the eardrum, etc. There is a faculty or a capacity which cognises the presence of things in a particular given manner; that is the sense, which is present inside. It is internal even to the prana. It works in conjunction with the mind, and the mind works in collaboration with the senses. In a way we may say the senses are the rays of the mind itself. Like the rays of the sun moving from the centre of the sun, the senses move outwardly from the mind through the avenues of the organs, or the apertures of the organs.

We have the intellect, which is always in coordination with the mind which thinks. Some persons make a distinction between the mind and the intellect as faculties of indeterminate cognition and determinate cognition. The mind becomes indistinctly aware of things, and the intellect becomes distinctly aware of things. The senses give the report that something is there. The mind confirms the existence that a particular thing is there. But what kind of thing it is, and what one's reaction to that object will be, is decided by the intellect. While the senses give information in regard to a particular object outside, and the mind synthesises the various reports supplied by the senses into a coherent whole, the intellect passes a judgment on this information gathered from the mind in terms of the senses. A very complicated process takes place through the muscles, through the nerves, through the mind, through the intellect, etc.

The psyche is not merely the mind and the intellect. It is a very gross sense. There are faculties such as feeling. Feelings of hunger, of thirst, of survival, of fear, of like, of dislike, of action, of reaction, and many other kinds of psychic function are discoverable. All these are the building bricks of our personality. We are not made up of mere flesh, blood and bones. In fact, when we speak of ourselves, we are not speaking of this body. We always refer to something other than the body when we refer to our own selves. “I like it, I do not like it, I want it, I do not want it, I am happy, I am unhappy, I go, I sit, I do this, I do that” – all these statements do not refer to the body. They refer to something else which is the psychic individuality, and this psychic individuality is constituted of various functions of the psyche, even as a building is made up of various structural items like brick, mortar, etc.

Thus, the study of one's own personality is incumbent upon oneself before one studies the art of self-control. How can you control yourself without knowing what you are made of? What are you going to control, and who are you to control what? The whole question will look like a muddle, a mess and an impossible thing before any person who has not made an analytical study of the structural pattern of one's own psychic personality. This is an important thing to be discussed in the yoga of Patanjali, and one cannot be established properly either in the discipline of the yama or the niyama, much less in the higher stages, if one is not to understand the structure of one's own psychic makeup. As I mentioned earlier, one has to be a very good psychologist of one's own self, and one has to be very dispassionate in the study of one's own mind and the various layers. To this subject we will move later on.