by Swami Krishnananda
The grand destination, this wondrous structure of the Universe, the goal of life is not easy of approach. The Upanishad cautions us:
prᾱpya varᾱn nibodhata.
Do not be under the notion that you can get this blissful experience in a trice. Awake! Arise! Stop not till the goal is reached! Seek refuge with men of wisdom. Know it, then, by surrender to them.
kṣurasya dhᾱrᾱ niśitᾱ duratyayᾱ;
durgam pathas tat kavayo vadanti.
Subtle is this path, difficult is this way, hard it is to enter the citadel of this mysterious yoga. It is invisible, and hence hard in every sense of the term. If you can see the path, you can walk on it, but you cannot see the path of yoga. So, how will you tread it? This way of the Spirit is sometimes compared to the track of birds in the sky or of fish in water. You cannot see the track of birds in the sky, though they have a track of their own. You cannot see a beaten path struck in open space for birds to move on, nor can you see the track of fish in water. So is the path of knowledge. It cannot be seen, though it is there. It is difficult to know where one is being led tothere is no way to it. The Supreme Purusha who is beyond the Avyakta and the Mahat is not to be reached as we reach a city or a physical destination in this world. Inasmuch as there is no reaching or attaining to it in the physical sense, there is also no movement towards it; therefore there is no path leading to it. Thus, the whole of the difficulty is placed before us. When there is no way to it, how will we attain it?
This problem of finding a means to the realisation of the goal becomes especially intense when we are not morally purified. It is the morally torpid mind that sees difficulties on the way. On this point, the Upanishad tells us,
naiṣᾱ tarkeṇa matir ᾱpaneyᾱ.
By intellect or mere intelligence this goal cannot be reached. By mere human effort it is not to be attained. Sometimes it looks that the whole thing is absolutely impossible. Such a great Master as Dattatreya is supposed to have said in the very beginning of his Avadhuta-Gita,
Ishvaranugrahad eva pumsam advaita-vasana.
By Gods grace alone is the tendency towards the Absolute explicable. The great Acharya, Shankara, did not give a clear answer to the question, How does this knowledge arise in the Jiva? He merely said, It is Ishvaras Sankalpagrace of God. We have nothing else to say. The difficulty, the problem, the intensity of the hardship of the way is such that the less we say anything about it, the better it is for us. The turbid emotion cannot take to this path. Evil traits cannot approach this terrible mystery. One who is accustomed to unwanted ways in the world cannot take to the path of yoga. One who is a half-boiled personality from within, restless to the core, disturbed every moment even by the least occurrence outside, cannot take to this path. Any disturbance of any kind in any part of the personality of an individual will be a disqualification for this path. Any type of agitation is to be avoided. We have agitations of various kinds in our personality. There is bodily disturbance, pranic disturbance, sensory, mental and intellectual disturbance. All these urges have to be subdued. This is described in a single word, 'self-control'. The Upanishad will tell us later on what self-control is.
nᾱvirato duścaritᾱn nᾱśᾱnto nᾱsamᾱhitaḥ
nᾱśᾱnta-mᾱnaso vᾱpi prajñᾱnenainam ᾱpnuyᾱt.
A mind which is not composed cannot hope to touch even the lowest pedestal of this practice. Here you have a very important point to consider. Are we fit to practise yoga? Each one has to answer this question for oneself. There is no use gaining entry into institutions of yoga by filling up a form and remitting five rupees of admission fee. Are you fit? How do you judge your fitness? The fitness does not consist merely in thinking that you have to gain admission into an ashram. The fitness does not consist in a feeling of defeatism, frustration and grief at home. Sorrows are not necessarily the only qualification for aspiring after the goal of yoga. Yoga is the most positive of truths. Any negative pre-condition cannot become a qualification for its practice. Quarrels at home, demotions in office, loss of property, death of children, cannot become qualifications for yoga. But most people are qualified only in this way. That is the reason why they have no peace of mind even though they sit before a great saint. They come with an internal disturbance, sit before holy audiences with a disturbed mind, and also sit with no clear notion as to the goal. A composed personality is the qualified aspirant for the yoga of the Upanishad, or any kind of yoga, for the matter of that. The composure of personality consists in many forms of our conduct and behaviour. Self-assertion of any kind becomes a disqualification. None of us is free from this ailment called self-affirmation. We stick to our guns in every kind of argument and discussion. We always agree to differ. There is a pleasure felt within when we disagree with others, when we assert that the opinions that we hold are real and right. May it be pointed out that no point of view can be called absolutely correct. It is therefore futile and foolish on the part of any person to stick to ones own opinion wholly and unconditionally, without giving any credit to the opinions or feelings of others. If others may be untrue, you yourself are no better. All points of view are expressions of aspects of the manifestation of truth. Every expression of it is true in its own way. The disturbances within our personalities are mostly due to our disagreement with the circumstances outside. We hate conditions now prevailing in the world. We hate persons who do not think as we think. We have a thorough resentment in respect of every event that takes place, which is not conducive to the pleasure of our physical personality.
This resentment is sometimes expressed in speech and action, but oftentimes it is hidden in the mind itself. We are always in a state of resentment. We have a mood of our own, which is not compatible with inner satisfaction, not conducive also to the pleasure or the good of other people. We put on what Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to call a castor oil face, always. We are not pleased. We are never pleased with anything. There is always a complaint regarding every thing that happens anywhere in the world. If it rains, we complain, Oh, it is raining! If it burns hot, we say, Oh, the hell, how hot it is! You cannot go forward, you cannot go backward, you cannot speak low, you cannot speak loud. Whatever you do is subject to criticism. This is a subtle mischief which the personality plays to defeat our purposes, so that we may remain where we are. It is said in a biblical context that Satan asked God, Father, when will I have salvation? Because Satan was damned to hell, it appears that Gods reply was, When people will resist your temptations, you shall have freedom. So it is said that Satan weeps whenever we fall into his temptations. Oh, I have no hope, because people have fallen into the temptations which I have spread before them. Satans work is to spread the net of temptation all around us, and his salvation seems to consist in our resisting it by knowing it, by being vigilant about it. But it is unfortunate that the world as a whole is a temptation before us, and this field of temptation that we call the world is itself also a field of training for us, because temptations are also lessons. And this Satans force does not work only from outside. It has a place in our intellects. The central stronghold or fortress of the activity of Satan is the intellect of the human individual. Your rise or fall depends upon how you understand things. In the Mahabharata we have a passage:
na deva dandam udyamya rakshanti pasupalavat;
yam tu rakshitum ichhanti buddhya samyoj ayanti tam.
If the gods want to help us, they do not stand by us with a stick in their hands like a shepherd protecting his sheep. The blessings from the heavens come to us when our intellects are rightly directed. And, a curse is nothing but a misdirection of the understanding. When we cannot think rightly, that is the worst thing that can befall us. The assumptions of our personality may be regarded as the main obstacle to yoga. Our whole life is one of pre-conceived ideas. We are not and we cannot be free from these weaknesses, irrespective of our learning and our pedigree, etc. because this defect is ingrained in the very root of our personality. We are born with it. Perhaps this is what they call the original sin which is born with us, that with which we are born into this world and which is the limitation of our very being itself. Likes and dislikes are the common terms used to describe this defect in us. Misconception, wrong understanding, not knowing the truth of things before us is designated as ajnana, which is supposed to breed aviveka or the mistaking of one thing for another thing. Aviveka gives rise to ahamkara or egoism, the sense of importance of ones own self. Due to ahamkara there is the rise of raga and dvesha, or love and hatred. This pair, love and hate, like and dislike, breeds action, karma, of a selfish character, to gain what is wanted and to avoid what is not wanted. This karma, this selfish action, gives rise to future births and deaths in a series of transmigratory lives. This is the sorrow of life. This is called the chain or the linkage of the bondage of the individual.
The subdual of these impulses from within, leading us the wrong way, is called self-control. This is symbolically and picturesquely described in a passage of the Katha Upanishad. Here we have a presentation of the entire process of self-control, the pre-condition to the higher practices of yoga.
Our soul within may be compared to the Lord seated in a chariot. This body of ours, this individuality, this personality, may be regarded as a chariot in which is seated the soul- consciousness. The chariot is driven by a charioteer, a driver. The intellect in us is the charioteer. The reins are the operations of the mind. The horses which pull or drag this chariot are the sensesthe eyes, ears, etc. The roads along which this chariot is driven by the charioteer with the help of the horses are the objects of the senses. All this is made possible by a joint activity of the Atman, the senses and the mind. This is a very concise and beautiful description, symbolic, dramatic, full of meaning and profundity. This chariot is to be driven right to the Abode of Vishnutad vishnoh paramam padam. If the horses are restive, if they are tired, if they are unwilling, if they cannot see the road properly, they may dash down the chariot into a ditch. Sometimes, we see horses dragging tongas and going backwards! They will not go forward. Then the tongawalla gets down and catches hold of the reins. Either the horses are exhausted, or they are annoyed. Sometimes, these horses of our senses behave in this manner.
The chariot is also to be made of good material; otherwise it may get disintegrated by wear and tear of movement. The charioteer plays the most important part in this entire activity of the locomotion of the chariot. You know the role Sri Krishna played in driving the chariot of Arjuna. Everything was dependent on him. The driver of a car, even in your own case, is very important. You sit in the car comfortably, and doze there, but what is the responsibility of the driver? Your life is in his hands. If he also starts dozing, what will happen? So, the charioteer, the intellect, the understanding, the rationality in us is the primeval faculty which determines the extent of our progress in this effort, called the practice of yoga. Look at the various aspects of this movement of the chariot described in this passage. The roads are the objects of sense. The senses are the horses. The intellect is the charioteer. The rider is the soul. The body is the chariot. Everything is very essential. There is no unimportant part in this description.
The chariot may be considered first and foremost. What should be the nature of the chariot? It should be strongly builtna ayam atma balahinena labhyah. A weakling cannot attain to this Atman. Now, the strength or the bala that is demanded of the aspirant is not an elephantine strength of the muscles and the bones merely; otherwise, elephants would be the best seekers of yoga. What is required of a seeker is the strength of integrity and character. You should be sufficiently tough in your physical build also, though you need not be a sandow. Strength of the body is different from bulkiness of personality or the heaviness of the body. It is the capacity to endure hardshipthat is called strength. To what extent can you bear the pairs of opposites? From that you can know the strength of your personality. Now, the personality is not merely the body. This body that is described as the chariot in the Upanishad is not simply the physical body, but the entire vesture of the personality, the pancha-koshasannamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, and anandamaya. All this is the chariot described in the Upanishad. These layers have to be kept in unison and should be made of very hard timber. Also, the parts of the chariot should be well and harmoniously adjusted. Suppose one wheel moves this way and the other wheel moves that way, they are loosely connected; then, there would be no proper motion of the chariot. It should not be shaky. It should be systematically built, harmoniously constructed, strong in its make and fit to bear the wear and tear of the motion towards the ultimate goal of life. For this purpose, we have to observe what we call the golden mean of conduct, which is beautifully described in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Moderation in our conduct, balance in our behaviour, harmony in our activity, is a pre-condition to yoga.