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The Great System of Yoga Propounded by Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: The Importance of the Yamas and Niyamas

Why do you want to lead a spiritual life? Originally this idea arose in your mind because you want God, the vision of God, the realisation of God. That was the original intention – a very holy, pious and good intention. But later on it got diluted due to a persistence in the old way of thinking, and this social thinking got mixed up, and gets necessarily mixed up, with spiritual attitudes and the spiritual life in general which you have to live.

Spiritual life, even meditation, may become a means to an end other than itself. You may like to be a spiritual person in the eyes of people. Is it not worthwhile? It is a great thing: You are a great saint, a great mahatma, a great yogi. If everybody starts saying that, will you not be happy? This is a devil that is working from inside. Satan is working. He will start telling you, “You are a great man.” Satan started telling this to Christ, and he started telling this to Buddha also. “You are a great man, a great yogi. There is nobody equal to you.” In the beginning nobody will say this. You are just a beginner; who will tell that you are a great person? So at that time you will be really honest because you are a nobody. Nobody cares for you, so you are very honest and very sincere in your yoga, japa, meditation, etc. Something is achieved either by accident or by your own effort, or maybe by God's grace – let it be by anything – and you find that you are somehow or other recognised as a spiritual adept. Some people even think that they are spiritual giants, more advanced than other persons. It may be even among the few friends only, not the whole world. It may be a small monastery or a nunnery. There are only five monks or five nuns, and one is the head there. That head will have an ego. Why is the ego? “Because I am more spiritual than others.” What a pity! How can spirituality bring egoism?

Spirituality is the annihilation of egoism, but the desire to get recognition – that is, that old type of thinking in terms of social relationship – gets emphasised in a different manner altogether even in spiritual life, and you cannot bear a word that is uttered against you, or at least not complementary to you, which will entirely upset your spiritual life and meditation, and all your pious hopes.

So when you take to meditation and spiritual life, be very, very, very careful to make things clear to your mind. “Am I doing meditation for others' sake, or for some other purpose?” You cannot answer this question even if I put this question. Even if you put a question to your own self, a proper answer will not come. You will say, “It is all right, nothing wrong, I am quite all right,” because that is very necessary. Everybody has to say they are quite all right because if they start saying they are not all right, the world will not go on. The world will cease to be if everybody realises what the mistake is within oneself.

Very cautiously analyse yourselves, when you become spiritual especially. The spiritual attitude, the meditational attitude is the attitude of the soul that you are to the soul that is universal. Your relationship is with the universal soul, not with other persons and things in this world. What is spirituality? It is the attitude of the individual soul to the universal soul, not the attitude of one person to other persons. That is not spirituality. And what is the attitude of the individual soul to the universal soul? Can you tell me? Words are inadequate to describe this. Try to think as to what your attitude would be towards the universal soul.  Understand what that soul is. The Absolute Self, the all-pervading spiritual Reality, what is your attitude towards it? That attitude is called spirituality. It is not reading the Gita or the New Testament, ringing a bell, and so on. That is not necessarily spirituality. Your inner soul's attitude – not merely an intellectual attitude, not even an emotional attitude – the deepest soul's feeling for that absolute Self, that is spirituality. It has little to do with social relationships, etc.; therefore, the ordinary connection of a give-and-take nature we have with people should not interfere with our inward attitude towards the Supreme Being. Otherwise, you may live in an ashram for fifty years, meditate for forty years, and you will get nothing. You will say, “There is no God. I have lived in the Ashram for fifty years; I have seen no God. I am going back.” This is what you will say; that is all. Okay, all right, you can go back. Whose mistake is it? Well, you understand whose mistake. It is not the mistake of anybody else. It is your own mistake because you had no proper guide; you have no Guru. I was telling you yesterday, “Why do you start all these things without a proper competent guide before you?” If you go wrong, that guide will tell you that something is wrong with you, that you are not all right. You cannot find what is not all right with you. That is impossible because you always identify yourself with your mental condition; whatever the mind thinks is all right for you because the mind and you are the same, so who can find out your mistakes except the person whom you have taken as your spiritual director? So the Guru is necessary. Again I come to the point: The Guru is very, very necessary. Don't start this business without a proper guide.

Hence, when you take to meditation, be very cautious, and if you are careful in the beginning itself, success will come to you in a trice. In three days you will know the success in meditation. It does not take months and years. You must be very careful in the beginning itself. Don't make mistakes in the beginning and then start scratching your head. Why waste your time like that? So every step that you take should be a very carefully taken step. Don't take two steps; take only one step, and take that step as a very firm step so that you may not retrace that step thinking that it is a mistaken step.

With this clarified understanding you take to spiritual life, whose consummation is meditation. Meditation is the crowning glory of spiritual life. It is the last step almost. It is the last step. I had emphasised this. It is not the first step. When you take to meditation wholly and soully, you have reached the climax of spiritual life. But to reach that climax, certain preparations are necessary. You cannot reach the last stage in the beginning itself. Certain initial steps have to be taken in order that you may reach this last crowning glory of achievement called meditation.

The initial steps are a disentanglement of your tangled personality. You know what is a tangled personality: a personality that is caught up like this in various confused relationships. In Hindi they call it janjat. Some janjat you have entered into, a kind of mess. Your personality is involved in a psychological mess. It has to be disentangled gradually before you take to meditation; otherwise, in a confused state of mind meditation cannot be done, and there will be no purpose in trying to meditate in such an unprepared state of mind. So you have to clear the path by freeing yourself from unnecessary tangles in which you might have got yourself.

But you must understand what these tangles are. How will you extricate yourself from these unnecessary tangles unless you know what these tangles are? In order to take such a determination in your mind not to do a mistake in future, you must know what mistakes are already committed and what is wrong with you. Then you can know: “This is the mistake I am doing. I should not do this from tomorrow.” But you must know what it is at least; otherwise, how will you rectify yourself? So you must know what are the mistakes you are committing every day, what are the entanglements.

The entanglements are mostly psychological. All our troubles are psychological because our life is psychological. We are minds, rather than bodies. Our thoughts affect us, and we act according to our thoughts and feelings. You know all these things. So it is necessary to clear up the relationships of the mind with its objects. The mind has its connection with what are called its objects. An object is that which the mind thinks. It need not necessarily be a physical thing; it can even be merely an idea or a concept. That also is an object of the mind. Anything that the mind thinks is its object.

Now, what I called a tangle or a confusion of mind is nothing but a thoughtless relationship that it has developed with its objects. An untenable – illogical, you may say – relationship which the mind has developed towards its objects is the psychological mess. The mind has its objects, and these objects are either physical or psychological. You can think of a physical object, or you may think of a mere idea. As I said, these are also objects. Hence, your relationship is twofold. Your mind has a relationship with the physical things and persons, and it has also a relationship with certain notions it has in the mind. It may have an external tangle or confusion due to wrong relationships with physical things and persons, or it may have an internal confusion due to wrong relationships with its own imagined objectives, aims, etc., which are only inside itself. They are not visible outside.

So to repeat, a tangle is a wrong relationship of the mind with its object, either physical or purely psychological. This has to be cleared up before anything else is done. For that you must also understand what are these objects with which the mind is connected. Yesterday I told you it would be good for you to make a list of your desires, and these desires are the same as what are called the mind's relationship with the objects. The mind's relationship with the objects is called desire, positive or negative. When you like it, it is called love and when you don't like it, it is called hatred, but it is a kind of desire, positive or negative. Either you desire to have something or you desire not to have something; anyhow it is a desire only. So, as I mentioned yesterday, it would be good for you to have a private diary of your own, just as we have what we call the spiritual diary in the Ashram. You can have your own diary, questions put to your own self by yourself: What are my weaknesses?

Now again I come to that point of the Guru. Some people who are very honest, deeply honest, may find out their own weaknesses. It is not very difficult. But some people will not find it easy to find out their weaknesses because they get identified with the weaknesses themselves. You are the weakness; how can you know that it is there? So then you must go to the Guru again: “Master, am I on the right path? Would you give me any proper advice if it is necessary?” He will tell you if it is all right. If it is all right, ok, you go on. Otherwise, he will say that this is not all right and you must rectify your procedure and attitude in such and such a manner. So the Guru's role in your spiritual life is to be repeated again and again. You cannot avoid it.

The point is that you have to understand what are these objects with which the mind is connected externally or internally so that you may know whether it is necessary to bring about a change in this relationship. Have you any attachments? That is one question that you have to put to your own self. Do you love something? You may say that “love” is a very strong word. Do you like something? Then you will not mind it so much. Yes, of course, so many people have got so many likings though they may not call it a love. Do you like something? Make a list of these things. What are the things that you like? Are there things which you don't like? Make a list of those things also: I don't like these things. I like these things. This is a very important step that you have to take in self-analysis. Now look at the list of those things which you like. What are those things? Now, is it proper on my part to develop a liking for these things? That is another question: Spiritually, as a sadhaka, as a seeker of God, the ultimate Supreme Being, am I justified in liking these things, having a special love for them? Your mind will tell you. An honest answer will come. In the eyes of God will this attitude be justified? Your conscience will answer this question. In the eyes of God this may not be justified. Then I shall not have this from tomorrow.

But certain likings may be a necessity. You may like to have one blanket because it is so cold in winter. You may like to have an umbrella because it is raining and you cannot go out to have your lunch or meal. Are these likings? You may call them likings, yes, but these are not harmful likings. To have one pair of shoes for your feet or an umbrella or a blanket, well, these are pardonable, excusable, perhaps necessary likings. But other likings are there which are not necessary for your spiritual life. They are to be cut off by self-analysis and proper understanding. And when you do not like a thing, also put the same question: Am I justified in hating these things? In the eyes of God, will this dislike be justified? No, in the eyes of God this dislike may not be justified. Then you must remove this emotion from your mind. You must develop a little more impersonal attitude towards those things which you are likely to dislike. This would be the first step that you take in freeing yourself from tangle.

In the Yoga System of Sage Patanjali, he has laid down certain rules of discipline for disentangling yourself from this confused relationship with things. They are called the yamas and the niyamas. The yamas are the disciplinary measures that you take to free yourself from unwarranted relationships with other people and other things in the world. These are the yamas. Niyamas are personal disciplines in respect to your own self, whereas yamas are connected with your relationship to other things and other persons. Your relationship to other people should be straightened, disciplined, polished, and given a spiritual touch, and personally also you must be disciplined. Externally and internally you have to be disciplined in such a manner that you become a fit instrument for the entry of the universal force into this personality. Otherwise, how will it enter? In confused, muddy and shaky water, the sun does not get reflected properly and its reflection is not seen. In placid water, which is still, the brilliant sun is reflected. Likewise, the universal Absolute will be reflected in your own personality if this confusion is removed from your mind externally by yamas and internally by niyamas. All these things are known to you. I do not want to repeat them: Ahiṁsā satya asteya brahmacarya aparigrahāḥ yamāḥ (Y.S. II.30). You will think, “These are all for children. I am an advanced yogi. You are telling me yamas, niyamas. What is this? I am above pranayama and pratyahara. I am now in dhyana stage, meditation. These are all children's disciplines – yamas and niyamas.” You may think like that, but don't make this mistake. They are not instructions for children. It is for you and me, and everybody. Every step in yoga is a necessary step. Every step is necessary. Even the first step is as important as the last step.

You should not develop attitudes which are contrary to the universality of God. That is the meaning of yamas, without going deep into the details of these things. The opposite of the yamashimsa, untruth, etc. – these are attitudes which are contrary to the universality of God. When you do not follow the principles of yamas, you are denying the essential nature of God in your practical life, so how can you say it is an unnecessary instruction and a child's instruction? A very important thing it is – most important, I should say. Hurting other things, himsa, whether it is in action or word or thought, untruth by which you try to deceive other people, incontinence of the senses, stealing or taking things which do not belong to you and hoarding things which are not necessary for you – these are all things which do not conform to the accepted truth that God is the Ultimate Reality, which is your aim and for which you are trying in meditation.

I am not going to tell you what are these yamas and niyamas because you all know them. I am only giving the inner significance of these things, how important they are and why they are important. If you don't follow them, you are denying the existence of God in His essential nature, and contradicting Him. Then what is your spirituality when you contradict God? So by denying these yamas you are contradicting God himself, God's law. This is the importance of yamas. Niyamas are personal self-disciplinary measures physically, verbally and psychologically.