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Yoga as a Universal Science
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: Getting in Tune with the Universe

In one of the sutras of Patanjali, we are told that God is Pranava or Omkara, by which significant symbol God's presence, Isvara's existence, can be invoked in meditation—Tasya vachakah pranavah. The great mystical symbol Om is well known in all religious circles and mystical organisations. It is known as Omkara, generally speaking; otherwise, as Pranava. We chant Om in the beginning, as well as towards the conclusion, of any worship, satsanga or prayer meeting. This is considered auspicious. Omkara, we are told, is the best connotation of God's characteristics, and God is most effectively invoked in this divine symbol or mark.

One has to be able to appreciate the deep meaning hidden behind the symbol Pranava in order that one may utilise it successfully in meditation. God is omnipresence, all-pervading completeness. And a name of God, therefore, should have some similarity to the nature of God Himself. A name designates a form. In India, particularly, the name of a person is supposed to be a description of the characteristics of that person. The idea is that a name is a word-symbol or a sound-symbol of a form which it connotes or denotes. So much so, the utterance of a word or a name brings into one's consciousness or mind the form which it is supposed to indicate or designate. Every particular form, personality or thing in this world has a name attached to it. Besides name and form, we also have an idea of the form. So, we have these three components of internal cognition and external perception, namely, sound, idea and form.

The name designates a form. Every finite object has a name corresponding to it in this world, and therefore, the name also is finite in its descriptive capacity. We may carry this name and form relationship to its logical limits and bring to our consciousness the supreme idea of a universal name to connote the universal form. God is universal existence, or we may say, the universal form for all practical purposes of our conception. Whatever may be our notion of God, it has to be acceded that the term God signifies something which is everywhere, infinite and unbounded. Therefore, to designate such a mighty Being which is infinite, without limits of space or time, we must have a word-symbol which absorbs into itself every other language-symbol or word-symbol available in the world.

A Complete Symbol to Connote the Universal Form

There are letters in the alphabet in every language. And these letters are uttered by the functioning of certain parts of the sound-box or the vocal organ. When a particular letter is uttered, some part of the sound-box begins to vibrate, and the particular sound corresponding to that letter is produced. When a particular word or name is uttered, the sound so produced by the vocal organ is supposed to connote the object corresponding to that name. God being universality, His name also should have a universal comprehensiveness. This is the idea behind the teaching that Om is the name of God.

The recitation or the chanting or the pronunciation of Om involves such an operation of the vocal organ that the whole apparatus is set in motion. This is something which has to be examined carefully, each for oneself, either experimentally or by inward investigative perception. Right from the root up to the topmost and outermost part of the vocal organ, everything begins to vibrate when Om is chanted. Hence, Om can thus be regarded as a sound which includes every other sound. And, language is nothing but sound. Hence, in a sense, every language is invoked when Om is chanted. Whether it is Sanskrit, English or Arabic, it makes no difference. Inasmuch as all languages are only expressions of certain sounds or sound formulations, and inasmuch as sound production is complete in the utterance of Om, we may safely say that Om is a complete symbol, a super-linguistic symbol, as it were, which does not belong to any language. Om belongs neither to Sanskrit nor to any other tongue. It is an impersonal vibration that is set up by the sound-box or the vocal organ within us. Hence, the completeness that characterises the production of this impersonal sound called Om is what makes it the most appropriate designation of God, the Universality. When we chant Om, we ourselves will feel a kind of transformation taking place within us; but, to experience this, we should chant Om with a concentrated feeling and not like a mechanical routine.

Om Chanting and Its Benefits

The scriptures dealing with the subject of nada tell us that there are many varieties in the pronunciation or chant of Om. Upanishads, such as the Prasna Upanishad, speak of three types of intonation in the chanting of Om, as a mantra or as an invocation of Divinity—the short, the middling and the elongated. The different types of chanting of Om produce different effects, too. The Upanishad goes to the extent of telling us that a continued practice of this recitation of Om, as a sadhana by itself, can take the seeker to higher regions, even up to Brahma-Loka itself. The short modulation of Om is somewhat like this: “O..m, O..m, O..m.” The middling chant is a little longer: “O....m, O....m, O....m.” The elongated chant of Om, known as the Dhirga Pranava, is longer still: “O.......m, O.......m, O.......m.” In any of these chants, the sound can be seen to taper off gradually into thinner and thinner vibrations. It is the recognition of a system of Yoga, called Nada Yoga, that the sound actually starts from the region of the navel, where it has its root, and gradually rises up into more and more audible forms, until it is expressed through the physical sound-box and the lips, the tongue, and the mouth. These various stages of the manifestation or the development of sound, right from the navel onwards, are known in Sanskrit as para, pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. Para is a soundless seed, as it were, the very possibility of the production of sound. Pasyanti is a little more pronounced. And the more intensified form is madhyama; and the audible manifestation of it is vaikhari. Often, these stages are identified, in the cosmical context, with the four metaphysical realities advanced in the Vedanta philosophy, namely Brahma, Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat. We may identify the four stages of sound with other quartets also of the cosmological process.

When we chant Om in the proper manner, we set up an all-comprehensive, all-inclusive vibration in our system. By chanting Om, we do not create a jarring sound, but a harmonious sound which creeps into the entire nervous system slowly and soothingly. It is as if we smear all the ramifications of nerves with honey. In contrast, ordinary cries and shouts are distracting. The nerves are violently disturbed, kicked up, by cries and shouts which are rajasic in nature, whereas a very harmonious, all-inclusive sound like an Om chant, is sattvic in its nature. It sets up an all-inclusive vibration in the whole nervous system and in the pranas that flow through the nerves. It is almost like administering a gentle massage to the whole system of nerves and pranas. The pranas feel satisfied and one feels happy as a consequence. One has only to practise this Om chanting every day for ten or fifteen minutes to see what a difference it makes to one's well-being. The person who practises Om chanting regularly will soon become a calm, sober and controlled person.... automatically. He will not fly into a fit of rage, anger or outburst of any kind, because of the daily massage that he gives to the nerves and the pranas in a very, very affectionate manner through Om chanting. The harmonious vibration that is set up in the system has an effect upon the muscles, the nerves, and the pranas, and finally upon the mind itself—because all these are interconnected.

Setting Ourselves in Tune with the Cosmic Vibration

The Om that we speak of is not merely a sound in the ordinary sense. It is not some noise that we make. Om appears to be a sound only in its outermost expression, in its vaikhari form, but in its internal structure, it has a deeper relationship with things. The whole universe is vibration ultimately, and not made up of objects, segregated from one another. Modern science tells us today that the whole universe is energy. There are no objects. There are no brick walls. There is not even the sun, moon and stars. There is only a continuum of equilibrated, spread-out energy everywhere, a four-dimensional continuum, they say. What is all this but a vibration that they are speaking of? The universe originated from a vibration. The terms nada, bindu and kala which one hears of in Tantric and Hatha Yoga circles are only certain ways of mentioning the same process of the manifestation of this original impersonal vibration gradually solidifying itself, condensing more and more into concrete forms of visible objects, bodies and personalities. So, the universe is a vibration, and not a bundle of things, persons and objects. In the ultimate analysis, the universe does not exist at all as it appears to our eyes; because, ultimately, in the samadhi state, it vanishes like a dream. And great scientists today have gone even to that farthest limit of saying that the world is only a thought. It is not even a vibration in any externalised manner. The vibrations are only mathematical concepts. A terrifying conclusion, indeed, for a person who cannot understand what all these mean! Om is cosmic essentially, and it is not merely a sound produced through the mouth. The so-called sound that the Yoga student manifests, through his vocal organs as the chant of Om, is only an attempt on his part to set himself in tune with the cosmic vibration that is already there, even before he was born into this world.

All Yoga is nothing but an endeavour, on our part, to set ourselves in tune with things as they really are. In Yoga, we do not try to modify things, or change things, in any way whatsoever. Everything is perfect and all right in itself. The creation of God is complete in every minute detail. It does not require any change. But, the change is required on our side, because we are distracted individuals, completely severed from this harmony of the Whole; and, divinity, spirituality, religion, Yoga, whatever they may call it, is nothing but the art of our self-attunement with this universal set-up of things. By the chant of Om, we put forth an effort to subdue the distractions of our mind and nerves and our entire personality. The whole personality of the individual normally tries to run away from Reality. We are every minute running away from God in our perceptions of things and in our desires especially. And this running away is visible in the interest that we take in the forms external, believing that everything is different from everything else, so that we have got particularised ideals and ideologies and interests in respect of different persons and things. This externalising habit of the mind is restrained gradually by various methods. And all these methods constitute Yoga. And one method, among the many, is the chanting of Om.

The universe includes us. We are not outside it. So, in our chant of Om, we try only to set up a vibration within ourselves, at the root of our personality, a vibration corresponding to that which is already there in the universe outside, so that in a very accurate pronunciation of Om, deeply conducted with profound feeling, we become one with all things for a second, as it were. That is why we feel such a joy. Joy is the outcome of unity with objects, and when we are outside them, we are in grief. So, we feel a sensation of identity of ourselves with the subliminal realities at the back of all things by this profound and feelingful chant of Om that we have to conduct every day, for a protracted period, as a very regular sadhana, as a very essential part of our sadhana.

Tasya vuchakuh pranavah: This is a small sutra of Patanjali. It means that the designation of God or Isvara is Pranava or Om. In another sutra, Patanjali says: Tajjapas tad-artha-bhavanam. The contemplation of the meaning of Om is to follow the chant of Om. When we recite or chant Om, it does not mean that our mind will be remaining idle. No, it concentrates itself; it feels the presence of a harmony with the whole universe. One can do japa of Om itself in any of the forms mentioned. It is the highest of mantras, and all the mantras are included in Om: all languages themselves are inside Om. So, in one place, the great author says that when we go deep, very deep into the structure of sound, we may be able to know every language in the world, even the languages of animals and birds. These are all very difficult to achieve, but not impossible, if we are persistent and are able to go beneath the level of our outer, physical and psychic personality.

Concentration on an Object of Our Liking

That concentration of the mind can be conducted, and has to be conducted in various ways, is a repeated instruction of Patanjali. One should not go on taking to one method only right from the beginning, because it is possible that the mind may get tired. So, as a very, very compassionate mother speaking to a child which does not want to go to school, and which resents any kind of educational step, Patanjali tells us that we may concentrate our mind on anything that we like, on anything that is pleasing to us, that attracts us. The object of concentration may be even a cow, the only property that a person may have, whose milk sustains him, without which he cannot exist. He goes on thinking of his cow. Even that cow is a fit object of concentration for him.

A devotee went to see Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and requested to be initiated into meditation. “What is it that you love most?” asked the great master. The devotee thought for a while and said finally: “Well, I have my granddaughter. I am always thinking of her.” “Well, meditate on your granddaughter,” advised Sri Ramakrishna, “There is nothing else that you can do at this time... For you, meditation on your granddaughter is a Yoga practice by itself.” There is a lesson in this. To wrench oneself or try to wrench oneself from that in which one's mind is stuck, would be like trying to peel one's skin, which is not possible and which is not advisable also. The person who tries so may go crazy one day. So, one should not be too anxious about Yoga, and one should not try to be too pious a man or too holy a man, when his mind is not prepared for that at the particular stage of evolution in which he may be. “Go slowly” is a good rule in Yoga practice.

Sthiti-nibandhini, says Patanjali. This is something very pertinent to the mental condition of a beginner in Yoga. When the mind is grossly concentrated or fixed upon some external object of perception for some reason or the other, a psycho-analytical study of this connection has to be conducted with the help of a teacher, and then the mind has to be withdrawn from that object gradually. It is not possible to run away suddenly from that which one loves deeply in one's heart. Otherwise, one might go mad. So, the Guru's instructions, advice, or personal guidance is again necessary here, when the Yoga practitioner is drowned, as it were, in a state of emotion, which he feels is something undesirable, but from which he cannot extricate himself.

If a person is fond of tea, it is better to drink tea than take to sudden austerities and say, “I drink only cow's milk.” As long as the desire to drink tea is there, tea should not be cut off. It is better for the person to continue with tea for three months, or even one year, until he is able to understand that something better is there. Smoking is a wretched thing, but even smoking cannot be cut off suddenly. Many wretched things may be there in the world, but how can anyone run away from them when one is in them?

Vishayavati va pravrittir utpanna manasah sthiti-nibandhini: A very interesting instruction is contained in this sutra of Patanjali, an instruction which cannot be found in many other Yoga texts. Mind can be tied down to concentration even by thinking of an object which a person loves most. That is the essence of the meaning of the above sutra. We do not enjoy the objects of the world in order that we may indulge in them forever. The purpose of enjoyment of things is to get control over them, and to transcend them finally. The idea behind any kind of relationship in this world is not to perpetuate that relationship, but to free oneself from that relationship through that relationship itself, like the action of a homeopathic medicine. That which is going to kill can also save, provided the drug is administered in the proper proportion and in a particular manner. In fact, the whole of the Tantra Sastra can be summed up in one sentence: “That which can make you fall, can also make you rise.” But this is a very difficult thing to understand, and here again, comes the repeated injunction that the student of Yoga has to be with his Guru all the time.

The mind can be concentrated on that object which we adore as the most divine of things: Vita-raga-vishayam va chittam. When we think of great minds like Vyasa, Vasishtha, Krishna, Rama, Suka-Deva, or Dattatreya, our mind is transported into a mood of intense spirituality and holiness. The very remembrance of these great Masters brings our mind into concentration in the required manner. The emotions of the mind get stimulated in particular directions, depending upon the objects on which the mind may concentrate. The thought of a policeman may swing the mind in one direction, while the thought of a Chief Justice may sway it in another direction. Remembrance of Hitler and Gandhi may evoke totally different moods in the mind. Different ideas stir up different types of emotion, on account of the association of those ideas with particular objects and their characteristics. This being so, if we think of great sages, or of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, or if we meditate on the Father in Heaven, the Almighty Creator, we will be shaken by our roots at the very thought of the Almighty. So, Vita-raga-vishayam. Any object that can stimulate in our feelings a concentration on desirelessness, consequent upon inclusiveness and holiness due to spirituality, will be an aid.

Concentration on Dream Experiences

Svapna-nidra-jnanalambanam va is another sutra whose meaning is a little difficult to understand. We can concentrate on dream, or the effects of sleep, or anything that hangs upon them, says this sutra in a very pithy manner; and the meaning of the sutra will not be very clear merely by a grammatical translation. Literally speaking, we may take it as a sort of attempt at concentration on things which we saw in dream and which we liked most. A person might have become Emperor Akbar in dream. It is a very happy thing. At the time he dreamt, he must have felt very happy. That person can go on thinking, “I am Akbar! I am Akbar!” That thought might produce an elevation of spirit, and a certain concentration, because of the affection and love entertained for that particular status of emperor. Or, one might have had a vision, a superb and very absorbing vision. One might have seen his Guru in his dream. Or he might have seen his Deity, his Ishta Devata in dream. The happiness of the vision might continue to persist in the waking state: “Oh, how happy I am! I saw my Deity, Ishta Devata, yesterday in my dream.” True, the dream is over, but one can collect one's mind back. One can try to re-live the dream experience, so to say. “Yesterday what I dreamt was very beautiful. It was Lord Krishna. He appeared to me in such and such a way. Oh, how beautiful, how grand, how absorbing!” One can go on recapitulating. The mind will be happy. In this way, the objects that one sees in dream, which are pleasant to concentrate upon, can be taken as aids in one's meditation in the waking state as well. But, the deeper, philosophical meaning of it all is that the whole world is a dream. The world should be thought of as a dream, and not as a real object. The world is as real as a dream, and as unreal as that. Is our dream world real or unreal? It is real as long as it is experienced, and it is unreal when it is not experienced. So is this world. It is comparable to the manifestations of the mind in dream. The space, time, causation and the particularities that one sees in the dream world, including oneself as the dream subject, are all the drama enacted by one's own mind as a trick. Sometimes, one is pursued by a tiger in dream. The person runs and climbs a tree for fear of the pursuing tiger. This tiger is manufactured by the mind of the dreamer; the running process also is an action of the mind. The dream person who runs for fear of the tiger is a production of the mind. The tree which he climbs is also made by the mind only. Even the distance of space between the tiger and the tree is a creation of the mind of the dreamer. The whole dream is a mental complex. But yet, to the dreamer, the dream looks so real that in his dream, he cries in fear of the terrific beast that pursues him. In fact he may fall down from the tree and break his leg in his dream. He may feel the consequent pain also. The dream is so vivid that even on waking up, he sees if his leg is all right. He looks at it again. It is all right, thank God. His leg is not really broken!

Similarly, in this world, time, space and objects are all productions of a single universal mind, and therefore, this world does not exist to that universal mind in the same way as the dream world does not exist for the dreamer. So, there is something superb and transcendent and beyond this world, on which we have to concentrate in order to wake up from this world-dream. We are still sleeping, compared to another waking which is cosmical or universal in its nature. Contemplation along these lines will help us a great deal in the Yoga Path.

A Medical Treatment to the Sickness of the Soul of Man

The system of Patanjali is often called the Ashtanga Yoga. This is the usual name by which it is known. Ashtanga Yoga means the Yoga of eight limbs. Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi—these are the eight limbs or eight stages of Patanjali's system. These classifications are very carefully done by the great author. It is not just a whim and fancy of his mind. One can imagine ten or twelve or fifteen stages or twenty stages. But why only eight? Patanjali has considered carefully the process of the evolution of the universe, and also our involvement in the various evolutionary stages, and thus concluded that eight would be a proper number of the stages of descent as well as ascent.

This is a highly scientific technique discovered by sage Patanjali; it is scientific and logical because it has a direct connection with our daily experiences in life. Every morning, when a person gets up from bed, there is one kind of waking from one kind of temporal dream in an individual capacity, but the person's waking experiences also are a kind of dream only. Our experiences constitute our bondage, and the freedom from bondage that we are after is nothing but freedom from certain experiences in the world. A good psychologist will know that we are involved in various stages in this world of experience. A person may be immersed in the waters of the Ganga, but when he descends into it, he descends touching the top layer of water first and the bottom layer last, though it may appear that he has sunk suddenly. If we have several petals of a rose flower kept one over the other, and if we pass a needle through them, the needle goes through them so quickly that it looks as if it does not take any time at all to pierce through. But, in truth, it does take some time. Surely, it does not go at once through all the petals. It goes through each of the petals one after another, though it looks as if it takes no time at all, due to the quickness of the action. Likewise, it may appear that we are drowned in samsara wholly, and everything is chaos and a confusion, and we do not know where we are standing. This is a layman's perception of things, just as a sick man may say that he is sick, while not knowing what his sickness is. But a very good biologist or a medical specialist will know that the man's sickness has come upon him gradually by stages, from cause to effect. One does not fall sick suddenly. Sickness does not descend like a bolt from the blue. It is also a gradual manifestation. So, there is a difference between a specialised scientific approach to matters and a layman's crude approach. We are laypeople, crude men. We do not understand anything. We only cry that something is wrong, that everything is at sixes and sevens, that we are helpless. It is like the sick patient weeping: “I am sick, doctor. Help me. I don't know what has happened to me.” An intelligent examination will prove that the patient has fallen ill slowly, gradually, stage by stage. Therefore, the treatment has to be of a similar character, a gradual purging of the toxic matters of the body, a systematic relieving of the patient's tension by medicines which the doctor knows how to administer, stage by stage, every day, for a protracted period.

So is the practice of Yoga. Yoga is, as it were, a highly medical treatment to the sickness of the soul of man, effectively administered by the master-physician Patanjali. We are not drowned suddenly in samsara in a chaotic manner, though it is no doubt true that we are drowned. We have come to this level of suffering slowly, gradually. There is a coming down from the universal to the particular individual form of ours, and a greater and further involvement of this particularised individuality of ours in social relationships, and attachments and aversions. The implications of this involvement are well known. We live in a society. We are family people. We have our father and mother. Each one of us is a husband or a wife, a son, a daughter or a sister. Each one is a boss or a subordinate, or a minister or a peon. The least of us is something in society. Now, these ideas that everyone has about himself or herself in the mind are not unimportant things. An individual should not say that he is a spiritual seeker only and that he has nothing to do with these ideas. The idea that he is a son or a father cannot leave a person so easily, though he may be aspiring for God. So, the spiritual seeker should not be too enthusiastic and certainly not foolhardy. He should exercise his intelligence. How can a person forget that he is a son to his father? How can he forget other relationships? And there are so many of them. Likes and dislikes are there.

Our Relationship with Human Beings

Our external social relationships have to be considered first, because above all problems, the social problems are the most predominant. We have other problems, no doubt. Perhaps they are very deep. But the social problems are immediate pinpricks which we feel every day and we have to get out of them. Every day, we see people. Well, we see trees also. We see buildings too. But trees and buildings do not trouble us. The immediate, palpable pain that we feel is from human beings, not even from tigers and lions, snakes and scorpions. The latter also can trouble us, but we do not bother about scorpions and snakes every day. We bother about human beings only. Our concern is with human beings primarily, though the world is not made up only of human beings. So, Patanjali takes his stand, first and foremost, in the circumstance in which the human being is placed, namely, the social circumstance. Our conduct, our attitude, our outlook, our duties and obligations—all these are included in the term “relationship with human beings.” We should be able to move tactfully with people and adjust with them; otherwise, we will feel like fish out of water. The problem can arise in one of two ways. Either other people cannot adjust with us or we cannot adjust with the others. Anyhow, this would be a sorry state of affairs, a dread disease almost, requiring remedial action. The subject is a difficult one and is generally extensively discussed in the sociological sciences, in psychology and psycho-analysis, and even in political science. But, Patanjali has his own way of looking at things. For him, all these social problems boil down to a few categories.

Our reactions to things are our relationships. And our reactions evoke return reactions from people in a corresponding manner. The world is something like a complexity of the tit-for-tat attitude. Whatever we do to others, that will be done to us. We cannot escape this situation. Now, we have to be very carefully analytical about our social position first, before we take to Yoga. It is no use for anyone to say, “I have left everything, I have nobody, I am all for Yoga.” One should not make such an abrupt statement like that. After all, it may not be true that a person has nobody to call his own. Somebody may be there—a friend, a relation. The Yoga student who says outwardly that he has nobody to worry about will be grieving inwardly about his old mother, or poor father, or thinking about his boss from whom he has run away due to some fear or misunderstanding. And then, everyone has other problems personally, connected with human society.

Patanjali tells us that human problems arising out of human relations can be called, in a way, the conduct which people manifest among themselves by way of self-adjustment. The whole of human society is a large area of co-operation. Society is nothing but a co-operative complex. Otherwise, we do not call it a society. If in a place there is no amicable, intelligible, coordinating relationships between one another, we do not call that a social complex. It can only be described as a chaotic congregation of individuals. Whenever we form a society or an organisation of any kind, even if it be a small family by itself, there is inward co-operation and co-ordination, based on a kind of understanding among the members of that society or organisation. The understanding arises on account of a common aim that motivates the individuals forming the organisation, called the family or the society. If we have no common aim among ourselves, there cannot be any kind of amicable relationship, and we cannot form a society. We cannot be members of a single family if such understanding is absent. When we work together as friends, there is always a common purpose to serve. If three people have a common purpose, then the three of them become friends. If a hundred or a thousand people, or ten thousand people, have a common purpose, they become friends; why, they become a party, a society of some sort. Now, the whole humanity can be regarded as a society of this nature. The Yoga student should consider the whole of humanity as one single organisation for the purpose of framing his attitude towards others. Patanjali takes his stand on human relationships in general, which include the smaller forms of this relationship such as family relationship and communal relationship. We need not separately mention them, because humanity includes everything.

What is our attitude towards another person? This we must try to understand within our mind every day. When I see a person, what do I think about him? We may not be analysing our mind in this way every day, because we are too busy with our daily routine of life. We run to the shop, or go to the office to type something, or we have to do this or that thing, and so we have no time to think in the above manner, namely, “What do I think about this man?” But, it is necessary to think that because even our little typing, or writing an address in our office, has something to do with our opinion about another person. It cannot be said that the latter is irrelevant. The relevance of it may be known later on, when the time for it comes. So, everything hangs on this, namely, “What is my general outlook to things around me? What is the opinion that I hold about people around me?” This is a type of analysis that we can conduct within ourselves. Do we hate something? Do we have a prejudice against anything? If so, we must make a note of it. “I curse this; I hate this; I would like to be rid of this person.” When feelings like these arise in the student of Yoga, he must make a note. And he must ask himself, “Why do such emotions arise?”