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The Yoga System
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: The Moral Restraints

If pramana, viparyaya, vikalpa, nidra and smriti may be called the painless functions of the antahkarana, which are studied in general psychology, the other functions, viz. avidya, asmita, raga, dvesha and abhinivesa may be regarded as the painful ones, because it is these that cause the unhappiness of all beings, and these form the contents of abnormal psychology.

The painful functions create pain not only to oneself but to others as well, because we have a tendency to transfer our pain to others. A personal affair becomes a social problem and the personal ego becomes a social assertiveness. One's likes and dislikes may seriously affect others in society. The yoga psychology takes this fact into consideration. Hence, before contemplating any method to free the mind from its painful functions, it has first to be weaned from society and brought back home from its meanderings outside. Like a thief who is first arrested and then suitably dealt with, the mind has to be made to turn away from the tangle of the external world, and then analyzed thoroughly. Social suffering is the impact of these psychological complexities mutually set up by the different individuals through various kinds of interaction. Social tension is the collision produced by individualistic psychological entanglements. This is the reason for everyone's unhappiness in the world. No one is prepared to sacrifice one's ego, but everyone demands the sacrifice of the egos of others. Yoga has a recipe for this malady of man in general, for this internal illness of humanity. It asks us to bring the mind back to its source of activity, and if all persons are to do this, it would serve as a remedy for social illness, also. Thus, though yoga is primarily concerned with the individual, it offers a solution for all social tensions and questions. Yoga alone can bring peace to the world, for it dives into the depths of man. Yoga is, therefore, a means not only to personal salvation but also to social solidarity.

The mind is to be brought to its source. Unfortunately, we cannot know where the mind is unless it starts working, like the thief whose presence is known from his activities. The outer problems are manifestations of the inner fivefold complexity. Ignorance is the first cause. But it is a negative cause when one is merely ignorant or stupid. Man does not stop with this acceptance. He wants to demonstrate his ignorance, and here is the root of all trouble. Affirmation of egoism is the first demonstration. When one wants others to yield to the demands of one's ego which goes counter to the egos of others, there is clash of personalities and interests, and this circumstance breeds unhappiness in family, in society, and in the world. Yoga makes an analysis of this situation. Avidya affirming itself as ahamkara and clashing with others produces the context of himsa or injury. As himsa is an evil which begets social grief of different types, ahimsa or non-injury is a virtue. Ahimsa is akin to the Christian ethics which teaches us to 'resist not evil.' If even a single ego would withdraw itself, the friction in society would be less in intensity to that extent. Himsa is born of asmita, raga and dvesha, and hence ahimsa is a moral canon. Ahimsa, or the practice of non-violence, is not merely a rule of action but also of thought and feeling. One should not even think harm of any kind. To contemplate evil is as bad as committing it in action. Contemplation is not only a preparation for activity but is the seed of the latter. 'May there be friendliness instead of enmity, love instead of hate,' is the motto of yoga. By love we attract things and by hatred we repel them. Love attracts love, and hatred attracts hatred. This great rule of yoga ethics extends from mere avoidance of doing harm to positive unselfish love of all, with an impartial vision, love without attachment (raga) or hatred (dvesha). Ahimsa has always been regarded as the king of virtues and every other canon of morality is judged with reference to this supreme norm of character and conduct.

The ego tries to work out its likes and dislikes by various methods, one of them being the uttering of falsehood in order to escape opposition from others. The insinuating of falsehood in society is regarded as a vice. Satya or truthfulness is another virtue. Truthfulness mitigates egoism to some extent. Dishonesty is an affirmation of the ego to succeed in its ways in the world for its own good, though it may mean another's harm. Truthfulness is correspondence to fact. Yoga stresses the importance of the practice of truth in human life. There are dilemmas in which we are placed when we find ourselves often in a difficult situation. Sometimes truthfulness may appear to lead one to trouble and one might be tempted to utter falsehood. Scriptures give many answers to our questions on the issue. Truth that harms is considered equal to untruth. We have to see the consequence of our conduct and behaviour before we can decide whether it is virtuous or not. But, then, are we to utter untruth? A most outstanding instance on the point is narrated in the Mahabharata. Arjuna and Karna were face to face in battle. Krishna mentioned to Arjuna that Yudhishthira was very grieved because of his combat with Karna on that day, on account of the severity of which he had to return to his camp, badly injured. Krishna and Arjuna went to Yudhishthira and greeted him. Yudhishthira was happy to see Arjuna particularly, because he thought that he had come after killing Karna in battle. He exclaimed his joy over the good event, but when Arjuna revealed that Karna was not yet killed and that they had only come to see him in the camp, Yudhishthira curtly told Arjuna that it would have been better if his Gandiva bow had been given over to someone else. Arjuna drew out his sword. Krishna caught hold of his hands and asked him what the matter was with him. Arjuna revealed his secret vow according to which he would put to death anyone who insulted his bow. Krishna expressed surprise at the foolishness of Arjuna and advised him that to speak unkind words to one's elders is equal to killing them and Arjuna would do well to abuse Yudhishthira in irreverent terms rather than kill him and incur a heinous sin. Accordingly, Arjuna used insulting words against Yudhishthira in a long chain. But Arjuna drew his sword again, and Krishna demanded its meaning. Arjuna said that he was going to kill himself because he had another vow that if he insulted an elder he would put an end to himself Krishna smiled at this behaviour of Arjuna and told him that to praise oneself is equal to killing oneself and so he might resort to this means rather than commit suicide. Arjuna, then, praised himself in a boastful language. One can well imagine the consequence of putting Yudhishthira to the sword for keeping Arjuna's promise. Morality is not a rigid formula of mathematics. No standard of it can be laid down for all times, and for all situations. Even legal experts like Bhishma could not answer the quandary posed by Draupadi. If keeping a vow conforms to satya, killing one's brother in such a predicament or committing suicide is contrary to ahimsa. Scriptures hold that truthfulness should not invoke injury. Manu, in his smriti, observes that one must speak truth, but speak sweetly, and one should not speak a truth which is unpleasant; nor should one speak untruth because it is sweet. The general rule has been, however, that truth which causes hurt or injury, to another's feelings is to be regarded as untruth, though it looks like truth in its outer form. Our actions and thoughts should have a relevance to the ultimate goal of life. Only then do they become truths. There should be a harmony between the means and the end. 'Has the conduct any connection, directly or indirectly, with the goal of the universe?' If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, the step taken may be considered as one conforming to truth.

Brahmacharya, or continence, the other great rule, is as difficult to understand as satya or ahimsa. In every case of moral judgment, common-sense and a comprehensive outlook are necessary. Many students of yoga think that brahmacharya is celibacy or the living of an unmarried life. Though this may be regarded as one definition of it, which has much meaning, yoga morality calls for brahmacharya of the purest type, which has a deeper significance. Yoga considers brahmacharya from all points of view, and not merely in its sociological implication. It requires a purification of all the senses. Oversleeping and gluttony, for instance, are breaks in brahmacharya. It breaks not merely by a married life, but by overindulgence of any kind, even in an unmarried life, such as overeating, talkativeness and, above all, brooding upon sense-objects. While one conserves energy from one side, it can leak out from another side. Oversleeping is a trick played by the mind when we refuse to give it satisfaction. Overeating and overtalking are, results of a bursting forth of untrained energy. Contemplation on objects of sense can continue even when they are physically far from oneself. Brahmacharya is to conserve force for the purpose of meditation. 'Do you feel strong by the conservation of energy,' is the question? Brahmacharya is tested by the strength that one recognizes within. The virtue is not for parading it outside, but for the utilization of the conserved power towards a higher purpose. Unnecessary activity of the senses wastes energy. The Chhandogya Upanishad says that in purity of the intake of things there is purity of being. In the acts of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching, we have to contact only pure things. Any single sense left uncontrolled may nullify the effects of control over the other senses. As the Mahabharata points out, we become that with which we associate ourselves, which we serve for a long time and which we want or wish to become, by constant thinking. Brahmacharya is therefore an act of all-round self-control. The brahmacharin is always cautious. And no one should have the hardihood to imagine that he is wholly pure and safe.

The practice of brahmacharya as a vow of abstinence from all sense-indulgence, particularly in its psychological aspect, and a rigid fixity in personal purity, generates a unison in the vibratory functions of the body, nerves and mind, and the brahmacharin achieves what he may look upon as a marvel even to himself. Brahmacharya is often regarded as the king of principles, which embodies in itself all other virtues or moral values. In its observance, care has, however, to be taken to see that it comprises not merely avoiding of sense-indulgence and mental reverie but also freedom from the complexes that may follow, as well as satisfactions which one may resort to as a consequence of frustration of desire.

The yoga system mentions two more important canons viz., asteya or non-appropriation of what does not lawfully belong to oneself, and aparigraha or non-acceptance of what is not necessary for one's subsistence, which, in other words, would mean non-covetousness. These may be considered to be two great social restraints imposed on man, apart from their value in yoga practice, and, when implemented, they become healthy substitutes for the irking regulations invented in the social and political fields of life. Nature resents any outer compulsion, and this explains the unhappiness of humanity in spite of its legal codes and courts of law. One cannot be made to do what one does not want to. Law has to be born in one's heart before it takes its seat in the judiciary or the government. The yoga morality as asteya and aparigraha acts both as a personal cue for spiritual advancement and a social remedy for human greed and selfishness. The yoga student is asked to be simple. Simple living and high thinking are his mottoes. He does not accumulate many things in his cottage or room. This is aparigraha or non-acceptance. In advanced stages, a whole-timed sadhaka (aspirant) is not supposed to keep things even for the morrow. One need not, of course, be told that one should not appropriate another's property. It is simple enough to understand, and this is asteya or non-stealing. The student should not only not take superfluities but also not accept service from others. Some hold that to keep for oneself more than what is necessary is equal to theft. These are the fundamental virtues in the yoga ethics. That conduct which is not in conformity with the universal cannot, in the end, be good.

Yoga is search for Truth in its ultimate reaches and above its relative utility. Adequate preparations have to be made for this adventure. We have to become honest before Truth, and not merely in the eyes of our friends. This openness before the Absolute is the meaning behind the observance of what yoga calls yamas, as a course of self-discipline which one imposes upon oneself for attaining that moral nature consistent with the demands of Truth. Yoga morality is deeper than social morality or even the religious morality of the masses. Our nature has to be in conformity with the form of Truth. As Truth is universal, those characters which are incongruous with this essential, should be abandoned by degrees. Any conduct which cannot be in harmony with the universal cannot ultimately be moral, at least in the sense yoga requires it. Does the universal fight with others? No. Non-fighting and non-conflict, or ahimsa, therefore, is a virtue. Injury to another is against morality. Does the universal have passions towards anything? Will it steal another's property? Does it hide facts? No, is the answer. So, sensuality, stealth, falsehood are all immoral. By applying the universal standard, we can ascertain what true morality is. Apply your conduct to the universal, and if it is so applicable, it is moral. That which the universal would reject is contrary to Truth. Ahimsa, satya, brahmacharya, asteya and aparigraha are the yamas for freedom from cruelty, falsehood, sensuality, covetousness and greed of every kind.

Lust and greed are the greatest hindrances in the practice of yoga. These propensities become anger when opposed. Hence this fivefold canon of yoga may be regarded as the sum total of all moral teaching.

Self-control needs much vigilance. When one persists in the control of the senses, they can employ certain tactics and elude one's grasp. One may fast, observe mauna (silence), run away from things to seclusion. But the senses are impetuous. Any extreme step taken might cause reaction. Not to understand this aspect of the matter would be unwise. Reactions may be set up against prolonged abstinence from the normal enjoyments. Hunger and lust, particularly, take up arms in vengeance. It is not advisable to go to extremes in the subjugation of the senses, for, in fact they are not to be subjugated but sublimated. After years of a secluded life, people have been found in the same condition in which they were before, because of tactless means employed in their practices. It is not that one is always deliberate in the suppression of one's desires, but this may happen without one's knowing it. Caution in the pursuit of the 'golden mean' or the 'middle path' has to be exercised at all times. As the Bhagavadgita warns us, yoga is neither for one who eats too much nor does not eat at all, neither for one who sleeps too much nor does not sleep at all, neither for one who is always active nor does not do any work at all. The senses should be brought under control, little by little, as in the taming of wild animals. Give them their needs a little, but not too much. The next day, give them a little less. One day, do not give them anything, and on another day give them a good treat. Finally, let them be restrained fully and harnessed for direct meditation on Reality.

One of the methods of the senses is revolution, jumping back to the same point after many years of silence. Another way they choose is to induce a state of stagnation of effort. One will be in a neutral condition without any progress whatsoever. There may even be a fall, as the ground is slippery. A third way by which one may be deceived is the raising of a situation wherein one would be trying to do something while actually doing something else in a state of misapprehension. The senses hoodwink the student, he is side-tracked and he may realize it when it is too late. A fourth tactic used is frontal attack by threat. The Buddha had all these experiences in his meditations. Temptation, opposition, stagnation and side-tracking are the four main dangers of which students are to be wary. The Upanishad uses the term apramatta, 'non-heedless', to denote this state of perpetual caution. The student of yoga watches every step, like a person walking on a thin wire. A tremendous balance is required to be maintained in the operation of one's thoughts. No action is to be taken unless it is weighed carefully. The direction of movement is to be well ascertained before starting on the arduous journey.

The yamas are the moral restraints. If the moral nature of the student does not cooperate with his efforts, there cannot be progress in yoga, because morality is an insignia of one's nature. If we remain contrary to what we are seeking, there will be no achievement. To be moral is to establish a concord between our own nature and the nature of that which we seek in life. Yoga is our interview with the Supreme Being, and here our nature corresponds to its highest reaches. Morality is not dull-wittedness or incapacity; it is vigilance and all-sidedness of approach. It is not sluggish movement but active advancement. The moral nature also implies subtle memory and buoyancy of spirit.