by Swami Krishnananda
Yoga is the rise of consciousness from the lower to the higher degree of reality, by stages. The universe evolves by stages, and yoga is a process of the reversal of the diversifying creative activity of the universe. If creation is the coming out of an effect from the cause, yoga is a movement of the effect towards the cause, a recession of the particular into the universal, in greater and greater degrees. The effects have to be understood in order that we may know what their causes are. Also, in this attempt of the effect towards its cause, it should not try to jump to the third or the fourth level, or the ultimate level, at once. In yoga, there is no double promotion. You have to pass through every stage, though due to the intensity of the practice it may appear that you have achieved the goal at once, in a short time. How this happens is sometimes illustrated by a homely example. Suppose you have one thousand petals of lotus, kept one over the other. You pass a needle through them. How much time would the needle take to pierce through the thousand petals kept one over the other? The needle will come out immediately. Though the act of the passing of the needle looks immediate, it has passed through every petal, one after the other. It has not suddenly pierced through the petals, at one stroke, without any passage of time involved. Similarly, advanced sadhakas, seekers of a high order, may seem to have achieved success quickly, sometimes even in a few days. But they have to pass through all the stages, without omission. The stages, primarily, are those of the objects of sense, the senses, the mind, the intellect, the Mahat-tattva, and the Supreme Atman, or the Paramatman.
While the raw material of sensory operation may be said to be what we call the mind, the intellect is superior to it in the sense that it has a greater power of judgement. The mind is more instinctive, the intellect more ratiocinative. The mind is a bundle of instinctive stimuli that are invoked into ourselves in respect of things outside. But the intellect is superior, because it does not act merely on stimulus or instinctive urge, but understands things by a consideration of the pros and cons of a given situation. This means to say that our activities, whatever they be, should be an outcome of understanding and not mere instinctive reaction. This is a higher step in the practice of yoga. Never act without understanding the total involvement of any step or action. We are used to go headlong in a particular direction, not thinking properly as to what we are doing. The Bhagavadgita gives us a warning about this matter, in its eighteenth chapter. Action is not a simple movement of the mind towards its target. It is an involved process. The whole of our life is an involvement, as we observed earlier. It is not a movement along a beaten track, where we can walk by closing our eyes. It is an involved process, and therefore we have to keep ourselves vigilant always, even when we take a single step. Action should be based on understanding—then life becomes yoga. Otherwise, life is a bondage. The verse of the Bhagavadgita in this connection is this:
adhiṣṭhᾱnaṁ tathᾱ karta karaṇaṁ ca pṛthag-vidham
vividhᾱś ca pṛthak ceṣṭᾱ daivaṁ caivᾱtra pañcamam.
You are not the only conditioning factor of your actions. Do not say, “Everything depends on me; I shall do it in this way”. Everything does not depend upon you, unfortunately. The action that you perform is not conditioned merely by what you think at that moment of time. This is why we are caught by our own actions. While we are under the impression that good will follow as an outcome of a particular deed of ours, suffering becomes the consequence, and then we beat our breasts and weep silently. No one can understand all the implications of an action. This verse of the Gita points out that several personal and super-personal factors contribute to the character of an action, and these, together, determine the result thereof. As fire is covered with smoke, all initiatives that we take in life are stifled by an ignorance of their involvements and implications. The bodily condition, the fitness of the personality, the nature of the mind and the character of the motive behind the action, the powers of the senses at that given moment of time, the various aspects of even a single action that we are going to undertake, and, above all, the centrality of the factor of a universal reality operating behind every action—all these are the conditioning factors of action.
The ultimate principle determining everything is the universal law—providence working. Human effort, while it is very essential, is not all. It becomes successful only when all these different elements are borne in mind. This is enlivened, illumined, conscious, deliberately directed activity—activity based on right understanding. This is a higher step than merely the work of the withdrawal of the sense into the mind. This is the state of dhyana or meditation in practical life. The first stage described in the mantra of the Upanishad corresponds to pratyahara or abstraction, and dharana or concentration, the fixing of the understanding, the vijnana or the buddhi, corresponds to dhyana or meditation. But meditation here is directed to a higher end.
This is the beginning of spirituality in the proper sense of the term. Up to this time, it has only been a preparation for it. Virtuous deeds, good actions, moral conduct are all an introductory necessity in the practice of the higher yoga. The spiritual element in the practice comes into relief when the intellect, the buddhi or the jnana-atman, is attuned to the Mahat-atman or the Universal Intelligence. This is not an easy affair, but this is, precisely, meditation proper. The attunement of the intellect to the Mahat, the establishment of the jnana-atman in the Mahat-atman is possible only when we have an adequate understanding as to what this Mahat-atman is. We hear of this term ‘Mahat’ several times in the Sankhya, and also in the Vedanta. It is said that Mahat comes out of prakriti and the Mahat is superior to the individual intellect, and so on. But what is this Mahat? What is our relation to it? What are we supposed to do about it, especially in our spiritual practices?
The Mahat is the great, the large, or the big, literally translated. But what is this largeness or the bigness or the vastness of it? The largeness of the Mahat consists in the fact that it is inclusive of all other particular units which go to constitute it. The Mahat is the ocean, while the buddhi is a drop in the ocean. As many drops make the ocean, we may say that all the intellects constitute the Mahat in its completeness. So, if the intellect or the Mahat in its individual form is to stabilise itself in its own nature, if the jnana-atman is to unite itself with the Mahat-atman, the drop has to understand its relation to the ocean. For the jnana-atman to contemplate the Mahat-atman, the intellect has to rise to the Universal. The prerequisite is to understand its relation to the latter. If the drop is to meditate upon the ocean, supposing that the drop has consciousness of its own, what would be required of it? What has the drop to think when it meditates on the ocean? You know very well what the drop would think in the ocean in order that it may contemplate the ocean. What is the relationship between the drop and the ocean? Analogies should not be stretched beyond their permissible limits. While the intellect of the human being, the individualised understanding, is a part of the Universal or the Mahat-tattva, like the drop in the ocean, this analogy again is not complete. It is only a partial illustration. When we say the world is superimposed on the Absolute as a snake is superimposed on the rope, we do not mean that the Absolute is long like the rope. The aspect of the illustration here is only one of superimposition and not of all the other characteristics. The intellect is not exactly like the drop in the ocean, though it has some sort of a relationship with the Mahat-atman as the drop has with the ocean. While in quality the drop is the same as the ocean, the intellect is not in quality the same as the Mahat-atman. This is the difference. Otherwise, we would be small gods sitting in this hall. We are not that. We have something else in us, other than the element of the Mahat-tattva. While the Mahat is imbedded in our hearts, while the Mahat-atman is the soul of our intellect itself, it is the background, the presupposition of all our thoughts and understanding. Yet, our understanding is not an exact fraction of the Universal Understanding. Our will is not a direct part of the Divine Will. It does not mean that if all the people would think together, they would think like God. Not so! Qualitatively we are inferior. This inferiority in quality is brought about by the illustration of reflection. We have what is known as the avachheda-vada and pratibimba-vada in Indian Philosophy. The individual is an avachheda and also a pratibimba. Avachheda means ‘a limited part’. Pratibimba means ‘a reflection’. While the drop is a part of the ocean, it is not a reflection of the ocean. It is an exact part of the ocean. Qualitatively it is identical with the ocean, though quantitatively smaller. But suppose you begin to see the reflection of the sun in several pots of water in a manifold way, you will not see in the reflection of the sun all the qualities of the original sun, though there is a refraction of light and luminosity present in the reflection. We have in us certain characteristics of the Mahat-atman, and yet we do not have all the characteristics of it. Because of the fact that we have some quality or characteristic of Mahat-atman in us, we are aspiring for it. If we had been totally cut off from it in every way, then, there would have been no longing for moksha or liberation. Something of the eternal speaks even in the mortal frame of our personality. Hence we struggle and writhe to get out of bondage. And a lot of effort is involved in it, the reason being that we are refracted, distorted, limited parts of the Mahat-atman—parts, no doubt, but reflected ones.
In the practice of yoga, therefore, we have to perform a double function—to enlarge ourselves in our quantitative make-up, and also deepen ourselves in our qualitative nature. We do not merely become wide in the perspective of knowledge, but also profound in the quality of our experience. There is a simultaneous movement of the soul outwardly and inwardly, in the practice of yoga. You become wide and also deep at the same time. It is not simply like plunging into the bottom of the ocean, which is merely going into the depths of it. It is also enlargement of the personality into the size of the ocean, gradually. The pratyahara process, the practice of dharana and dhyana, are not merely methods of the enlargement of the personality, but also the increase of the quality of our knowledge and power. Yoga changes us completely and makes us gold, as it were, out of the iron that we are. We become different in substance itself. There is a transfiguration of personality. We grow in every sense of the term. It is not like the growth of a baby into an adult, but like the growth of the plant into the animal, the animal into man, and so on, where there is a qualitative increase of knowledge and power. When the child becomes an adult, there is not much of a qualitative change in the species and the way of thinking of the individual. Man is man. He does not change. The human way of thinking does not alter merely because we have grown from childhood to the adult stage. But when one grows from the animal to man, there is a change of perspective and understanding and the way of thinking itself. The attitude to life changes. The practice of yoga is an evolutionary process and not merely a physical growth or a quantitative expansion. ‘Evolution’ is a very significant term. It is growth of a very novel type. It is a change in the very substance of what we are. It is a growth from humanity to Divinity. From world-consciousness we rise to God-consciousness, step by step. Just as we cannot have at present a clear concept of what God is, or the goal of life is, we cannot also have an idea as to what stages of yoga are ahead of us. We have only a slight inkling of what is immediately above us, and not of what is far beyond us. The identification of the intellect or the jnana-atman with the Mahat-atman, the union that is to be established through yoga between the individual understanding or buddhi and the Universal Intelligence, is constituted of many subtle inward conscious processes. From now onwards, yoga becomes a purely internal affair, a growth of consciousness, properly speaking, from its lowest involvement to the stages of its higher freedom.