by Swami Krishnananda
Spiritual life is the greatest of adventures. In that way we can compare it to a battle. It involves careful preparation, as in a war. And, when you engage yourself in a war you do not go there merely to get defeated and thrown out; the intention is to win victory. So the practice of yoga, which is the greatest project that a person can embark upon in life, is in a way comparable to a battle or an encounter, for the purpose of which one has to make an almost infinite set of preparations – for days and months and years perhaps – as a culmination of one's existence here, as the fruit of the tree of one's whole life in this world. Hence, great care and caution has to be exercised. In a hurry, in a bustle and in a state of emotional enthusiasm, we are not supposed to enter into this field called 'life spiritual'. It is not an entering into a new way of life; rather it is an embracing of all life together in your own life. You are not going to live an isolated, queer type of cave life psychologically, but you are going to broaden your outlook and your vision of things, so that all life is included in your own life and your life becomes commensurate with every other kind of living.
You have heard that yoga is a union with something. It is a union no doubt, but with what? There are endless answers to this question. With what are you going to unite yourself in that you call yoga? The difficulty in answering this question arises due to a misrepresentation of facts by our senses, which indoctrinate us into the belief that we are independent contents of this world – each person is independent and perhaps one has nothing to do with the other, finally. I have touched upon this theme to some extent yesterday. But the truth is that you are not so independent as you imagine yourself to be. You have a freedom which is constrained by the operation of a universal law. A kind of violation of this universal principle is perpetrated every day in our life when we cling to things as externals, either in love or in hatred. Whether you like a thing or dislike a thing, your attitude towards the thing is almost identical from the point of view of pure psychology. Like and dislike are two aspects of a single attitude which is totally erroneous. Life is a continuity and is not constituted of bits or shreds, with no connection with one another. It is impossible to define life, because it is itself a definition of itself. There are certain things which cannot be defined in words other than the ones we use to designate them or indicate them – 'life', 'consciousness', even 'mind' are indefinable peculiarities.
When we take to the path of the spirit, tread the way of yoga or in the true sense of the term we become religious, we do not shrink, but expand; we do not lose, but gain; we do not become disassociated but get more and more associated in a vital, true manner. Religion has many a time, through the process of history, been described as a passage to the other world, so that this world has no connection with religion, yoga, spirituality, or even God Himself. This interpretation of the religious outlook as an 'other-worldly affair' has insinuated itself into the blood of people, to such an extent that it has not left us even till this moment. There is always a tendency to look up to the skies when we pray to God as disassociated from our brethren around us and unconnected with the footstool of the earth. Why we are made to think in this manner is a question which takes us to psychology, perhaps psychoanalysis. We are born and bred in an atmosphere which, perhaps, we carry through many lives that we have passed through; and in addition to the atmospheric influence of society, the type of life of the parents, the kind of education we are imparted – in addition to all these, we also carry certain impressions of previous lives when we are born into this world. All these put together, errors piled over errors, prevent us from freeing ourselves from this common notion that the creator is an extra-cosmic existence and therefore life – spiritual, religious, or of yoga – has also to be extra-cosmic. This error is to be rooted out, and the Bhagavadgita has no other purpose to achieve. It is a recipe, like a medical prescription, and it is not merely a holy book that you have simply to worship every day. You do not simply worship a medical prescription – it has to be taken into action for the purpose it is intended for.
The yoga of the Bhagavadgita is a complete prescription for the maladies of life. It is a total panacea that we are provided with by means of a vision which we can best describe as cosmic. The one who imparted this knowledge and the one who received this knowledge were en rapport with each other; and the Guru-disciple relationship is precisely this much. It is the capacity of the receiver to raise himself to the level of the height from which this knowledge descends, or oftentimes the other way around - the Guru may have to come down to the level of the receptive capacity of the disciple, as it becomes necessary in the process of teaching in schools and colleges. You cannot always be on a high pedestal and look down upon the student, because the student will receive nothing when you are speaking from a higher level. So, the relationship between Guru and disciple is a mysterious one. We cannot easily say whether the Guru comes down or the disciple goes up. It is a miracle that is taking place. The Guru is a miracle, the disciple also is a miracle, who is able to receive this knowledge, and the process of this communication also is a wonder. Ascaryavatpasyati kascidena-mascaryavadvadati tathaiva canyah - says the Bhagavadgita. It is all a miracle! All great things in the world are wonders. They are not equations that you can solve almost instantaneously by calculus. Anything that you try to know deeply and carry it to the logical limits of its understanding – anything of this sort will elude your grasp because all our endowments of grasping are empirical, sensory, and even what we call logical understanding is conditioned by sensory operations.
Thus, Arjuna was confounded, as any one of us can be. In this adventure of spiritual life, which is metaphorically presented before us in the form of the Mahabharata, we are likely to be faced with certain doubts and difficulties. While in the earlier stages it may appear that the whole sky is very clear, when you move onwards you'll find that heavy, thick clouds are hanging above your heads, and there is darkness in the front. This is the darkness of the spiritual aspiration. The first chapter of the Bhagavadgita is a chapter of sorrow of the seeker – Arjuna Vishada Yoga. It is the weeping of the seeking individual. However, you will be surprised to note that the colophon or the concluding line of the first chapter is designated Arjuna Vishada Yoga. It is a yoga, and not merely a weeping after a bereavement or a loss. A crying and a weeping, despondency and a melancholy mood cannot be called yoga in any sense of the term. A confounding of the mind is not yoga; but the Bhagavadgita ends with this term 'yoga' even in regard to the first chapter, which is nothing but the weeping of Arjuna and a presentation of various kinds of doubts and difficulties which seem to harass his mind. Why is it called yoga? Why is such a sanctified name attached to this melancholy chapter, the first one in the Bhagavadgita? This is something which is important for us to understand. You know medical men give vaccination to prevent you from having an illness, and you are in a state of temporary illness after the vaccination. If you are given an anti-illness injection, that injection itself will produce a sort of illness. Notwithstanding the fact that the inoculation or the vaccination produces a sort of sure temperature or illness in your body, it has to be considered a process of cure and it is not to be considered an illness really in the true sense of the term – otherwise, you would have had a real illness which would have been more devastating.
The complacency of a happy person in this world is really a danger to the individual. This was the complacency of Arjuna and the foolhardy heroism that he manifested before he entered the battlefield. A person who may be appearing to be healthy and very pleasant in his life may be attacked by an epidemic tomorrow, and this possibility cannot be prevented merely by a precedent happiness a day earlier. The tentative illness that you seem to be in, psychologically, when you tread the path of yoga is the one in which many of us find ourselves – a sense of having lost oneself and a feeling that one does not know where one is standing, which feeling you would not have had before you took to the spiritual way of living or the path of yoga. People are happy in this world. They are travelling all directions and eat well, sleep well, they go to clubs – there is no trouble with anybody in the world. But the trouble arises the moment you turn to the spirit and take to a religious life or what you call yoga. You are confounded in a new manner altogether, a confusion which might not have presented itself before you when you were a happy bird in the free world outside. Why is this? How are you going to explain this new difficulty that you are facing when you are moving in the direction of God, even if you are to be honest in this pursuit? Every spiritual seeker may be said to be uniformly in this condition of difficulty – a kind of reaction that is set up by the very idea of taking to yoga.
The first chapter, which is a yoga no doubt, is yoga in a very, very specific sense. Difficulties and doubts of the type expressed in the first chapter are not likely to arise in the minds of people who are normally happy in the work-a-day world. When you investigate deeply, philosophically, into the structure of things, you'll have doubts which would not have occurred to your mind normally. Nobody bothers about how the world came in, why the sun is rising always in the east, and where does it go in the night. These questions do not arise in the minds of anybody; everything is taken for granted. But when you start probing into these difficulties, mysteries – why the planets are going round the sun, and what is it that is happening when we have seasons and when we are feeling heat in summer and cold in winter – though these questions are never put by anybody and they are all taken for granted, yet when you put these questions you have to scratch your head three times before you answer them. "What is happening? Why is it cold in one place and hot in another place even in the same season?" etc., etc. These are to give you only some gross instances of problems that you may have to face when you question anything; otherwise, everything is fine.
Without going into large details, since we have not much time before us, I sum up this principle of a problem arising before a spiritual seeker as put forth by Arjuna in his own words in the first chapter. When you take to the path of yoga, certain difficulties will arise in your mind. Some questions will arise. One: "Is it really going to be a successful adventure on my side? Am I really going to get anything, or am I a fool?" This question will not arise in the beginning. These questions will arise after some time, after years of practice, because you will find that you have achieved nothing, for some obvious reasons. Then the question will arise, "Is this a profitable adventure or is it merely a will-o'-the-wisp that I am pursuing? There is no surety that I'm going to succeed when I've achieved nothing for the last many years. If for the last twenty years I have achieved nothing, what is the certainty that I'm going to achieve anything in the future, tomorrow onwards?" This question arose in the mind of Arjuna: "Is it certain that I will win victory, or will the other side win victory? Am I going to conquer the world, or will the world conquer me? Is it wisdom on my part to face this world, or will I return shamefaced?" This is a question which will harass your minds. The other question is, "What will be the consequence of my having achieved a success in this adventure – even if it be a success? If I attain to the heights of spirituality, what happens afterwards? What is the consequence? What for is this pursuit? If the pursuit of yoga implies a disassociation from sense contact, an involvement in things of the world, and a restraint upon the usual social attitude of the mind – namely, like and dislike, etc. – when I restrain myself in this manner, by the senses as well as by the mind, I may lose all the values and the pleasures of this world. I will have no connection with anything, which is tantamount to saying that I have lost everything. What is the use of going to the kingdom of heaven, even if it be a possibility, by losing all the wonders and the beauties and the pleasures of life? What am I going to eat in the kingdom of heaven, if all things that we have here are to be abandoned in the name of God? If all the army of the Kauravas is going to be destroyed, and all my kith and kin are not to be here, what for is this success even if I am going to win victory in this battle? If everybody dies in the name of justice, what for is this justice – for whose purpose?"