by Swami Krishnananda
You must have heard that there are four types of yoga. Actually, these supposed four are not like the four legs of a cow, each one standing independent of the other. The word 'yoga' suggests a harmonisation and union of all the facets of personality. The four yogas mentioned are four aspects of the working of your person. You are very active in your life. No one can afford not to be active, and this compelling aspect of your personality requires to be accommodated into the practice of yoga. You are a person with feeling, emotion and affection, you are a person with determination or will, and you are a rational, reasonable, intelligent being. Since the exercise of reason, will, emotion and the impulse to act are not four different, independent things taking place in you – they are there simultaneously in you – it appears there is only one yoga, as you are one single person and not divided into four things.
This aspect of your being a total individual highlights the importance of exercising great caution in the adventure of yoga practice. Immature minds – not properly tutored along the spiritual path – take a one-sided view and call themselves karma yogis, bhakti yogis, raja yogis, jnana yogis, and so on. You cannot segregate any impulsion of your personality; they have to be taken as a whole. You are all these things at the same time. Yoga is a total action of the whole of your being that is taking place.
In this context, I advise you to make a serious study of the Bhagavadgita. What does the Bhagavadgita tell you? All kinds of commentaries have been written. Some say it is pure knowledge that Bhagavan Sri Krishna is teaching. Others say it is work, activity; it is a karma yoga shastra. There are others who emphasise what may be called raga yoga – the Patanjali aspect. There are others, like Ramanuja, Madhva and others, who emphasise only the devotional aspect. If you read the original Bhagavadgita as it is, without having a predisposition to any commentary, and place before yourself the picture of the mighty Sri Krishna speaking to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra – looking at it with your own eyes and with your own mind – you will find it is none of these aspects as have been emphasised excessively. "Act, do work" – this seems to be dinned into the ears of the hearer, again and again, in the Bhagavadgita. But, what kind of work? It is not a political activity or a social welfare work that Bhagavan Sri Krishna is speaking of.
Every action that is done with a motive behind it will have a reaction and bind you. But, can you think of any action without a motive behind it? You work in the office because you want a salary. If you do anything else, you expect recompense from it. A non-recompense activity is unthought of by the mind. It will become a drudgery, like counting the leaves on a tree, which is to no purpose. Why should you count the leaves on a tree, though it is also a kind of work? What is the use, the utility, of counting the waves of the ocean? You do not like to do anything without a utility behind it. This utility is called the fruit of work in the language of the Bhagavadgita. "Expect not the fruit," is another injunction that follows the instruction that work is imperative and unavoidable. These two instructions seem to be very terrifying because you seem to be pushed into something with which you cannot really reconcile yourself. If you go on telling a person again and again, "Do this work", without giving him a chance to know why he should do it at all, what would be the condition of the mind of that person who is subjected to this kind of activity?
The whole Gita should be studied at one stroke, not chapter by chapter as if they are different limbs of its body. With great concentration of mind and analytic capacity you must study the verses of the Gita. You will find that every injunction is inter-linked with another injunction, which, independently taken, looks like a contradiction of something else that is said elsewhere.
Action becomes yoga. This is the great point made in the Bhagavadgita. Action becomes yoga only when it is non-motivated action. But such a thing is unthinkable to any one of us. Nobody will unnecessarily engage in a work which has no meaning whatsoever. Though there is meaning in work – it is, of course, very clear – it should not be a meaning connected with a result that is to follow remotely from it. Expecting the result of work is to expect something which is far away from the actual location of activity. There is a distance between the fruit accruing and the actual action, so it creates anxiety in the mind. The distance between your expectation and your performance causes distress in the mind: "Will I obtain what I expect from this work?" Secondly, there is an erroneous notion of how action produces a result. Mostly you have seen in your life that the expected fruit, or the result, does not follow from a particular enterprise. There is dissatisfaction and melancholy of the mind because the expected result has not followed.
An action is a kind of disturbance that you are creating in the cosmic process of nature as a whole; it is an interference. As nature abhors any kind of interference, it kicks up some dust, as you may call it, and produces a reaction equal in force to the force of the action that you have performed. Actions and reactions are equal and opposite. If you want to avoid the reaction following from an action, then you must know the art of performing such an action. You may ask, "Why should I not expect some reaction, which is, of course, very palatable to me. I expect a good result to follow from my good actions." But what do you mean by "a good result"? And how do you judge the nature of an action in terms of being good or bad? Nature has no ethics. It has no human morality attached to it. It is a pure scientific organism, we may say. The only law that operates in the cosmos is cause and effect. If something is done, something follows. Apart from this law, no other law exists anywhere. Other laws are manmade for the purpose of social solidarity.
Sri Krishna's emphasis in this connection is that you have to apply reason before you set yourself to any action or work. Buddhi yoga, the yoga of understanding, is expected to be at the back as a determining factor of every enterprise or work. It is not only work that is mentioned there; it is a rational work – action based on buddhi, or understanding. An unintelligent action is not action in terms of yoga. What is the understanding that is required before you embark on doing something? In the Bhagavadgita there is a gradational rise of thought from the first chapter to the eleventh chapter. You are taken stage by stage, step by step, until there is what may be called the apocalypse, or the final answer to every question, which is the eleventh chapter.
The bringing of your entire personality together into a single focus is something which is not known to you, to which you are not accustomed. Every day you may do something, think something – but fractionally. You cannot think and do anything in a total fashion. That is, you ignore certain aspects of your person when you are interested in certain other aspects. You are involved in certain types of conflict every day, from moment to moment, as it were, and the Bhagavadgita is an answer to this great conflict of life. You have to face something every moment. It is a war in which you are engaged. You are engaging yourself in a battle every moment of your life because you have to confront something. If there is no necessity to confront anything, there is no need for work. Your struggle to overcome the stress and strain of a confrontation in terms of conflict is the battle spoken of. You can never have peace of mind even for a moment in this world because you are always anxious about your future – the next moment. To see that the next moment is palatable and comfortable, you struggle hard to move earth and heaven to do something in order that a result may follow which will free you from the untoward reactions of your action. But, this is attempted in an unintelligent manner.
You are buffeted, to speak briefly, in four different ways. There is a push that you feel from human society outside. You can never ignore, even for a moment, that you are a unit of human society. In a mood of despair, agony or anger you may feel, "Who cares for this world of society? I am totally independent. I would like to be in an anarchical atmosphere." You do not want to be controlled by anybody. This is only a word of despair that sometimes comes unintelligently from the mind of a person. You are not only an individual with a certain amount of freedom which you seem to be having through the activities of your body and mind, but you are also a unit in society. What is society? Great studies have been made along this line, by specialists, to find out if there is really such a thing as society or if it is only a bundle of individuals. Do you regard society as a heap of individualities? Or, is it an organised system of operation for the welfare of each and every person? Society can give you comfort; it can also give you discomfort. You have seen this in your practical life.
This instance will reveal the fact that you are vitally connected with the existence of other persons. There is a community feeling, an interpenetrating influence exerted by one person on the other. You know very well that you cannot independently get what you want without the cooperation of other people. How will you get on with human society, which is often seen to be a wretched thing which is harassing people? Let us take for granted that society is a harassing medium which has no sense, sometimes. Yet, you have to live in the midst of this wilderness of human cooperation. You cannot discard this location in which you are placed. Your duty is dependent on the nature of the location in which you are placed.
A great thinker, Francis Bradley, wrote a tome – a huge book itself – on this subject: My Station and My Duties. Your duty arises from the circumstance of your life, which means that there are different aspects of duty. It is not that everyone will do the same thing. Everybody is a merchant, everybody is a warrior, everybody is an officer – it cannot be like that. The circumstance in which you are placed, personally as well as socially, conditions the duty that is called upon you. This is to briefly tell you the connection that you have with human society, of which you have to be very wary, and you cannot ignore it. There is no total independence from social circumstance. Aristotle said that a human being is a social animal. A human being is like an animal, and this will come into high relief if total freedom is given to all people. Give a hundred percent freedom to every individual – let anyone do as they please – then you will see what follows. The subliminal potencies of the lower species through which they have passed will come up to the surface of action, and they will behave like wolves, as the great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes made out in a huge book that he wrote on this subject, called Leviathan - monster. He considers government as a monster because it can act like a monster if it so wishes – though it is not supposed to be like that if it is taken in a Platonic sense.
The Bhagavadgita is a way to find a recipe for being in perfect harmony with human society first and foremost, before you take a step in any other direction of yoga. The yamas – ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacarya and aparigraha mentioned in the sutras of Patanjali – are a recipe for how to act and behave in such a manner that you do not come in conflict with other people. You should not take anything for granted. Niyama is necessary though not so important, but yama is incumbent. Yamas – the five mentioned ways – are only ways in which you have to behave with people, and perhaps behave with yourself also. The yamas are nothing but ways of self-restraint, social as well as personal. You can be a friend of all people if you like, if you are intelligent enough to adjust yourself to the conditions prevailing in the world. There is no necessity to create enemies. The adjustment of personality with society is necessary even on the path of yoga, because otherwise if the society presses you in some direction not comfortable to you, your meditation will not take place.