by Swami Krishnananda
The studies that we are going to make under this particular scheme may be grouped into three stages: the philosophical, the psychological and the practical. I shall try to take your thoughts stage by stage from the most initial concepts and ideals, which will culminate in the practice of meditation—which is true yoga, finally. This is a very detailed technique of the development of the mind, manoeuvring through various processes which are all very, very important. So, I will request you to attend to each description of the steps with attention because, as has been mentioned already, nothing can be regarded as totally unimportant. Every aspect will contribute finally to the superstructure of yoga, which is a completeness in itself. Yoga is not merely the last stage. It is the name given to the completeness or the total picture, which is present in the whole process from the beginning to the end, just as a human being is not merely the head, nor the limbs, nor the totality of all the limbs. We are not merely the mathematical total—we are the vital total. Likewise, not merely the last step that we take, but every step that we take is included in yoga. It is not the mathematical total of these steps that constitutes yoga, but something vital that is present in these combinations of parts. We are not merely a total of the limbs; we are something more than these combinations. Many parts put together do not make a human being. Likewise, the many stages of yoga put together do not make yoga, though they are essential in the beginning. Therefore, I will try to introduce the basic concepts that are presupposed by the progressive stages of yoga.
The question that, in the very beginning, arises in one’s mind is, “Where is the need for it?” The need, the purpose and the goal are the incentives behind every action. There should be a necessity. And in certain experiences that we undergo in life, we begin to feel that in every one of our experiences, and in our every activity, we seem to be lacking something. Due to this lack, there is a total dissatisfaction in life. We are not satisfied with the daily eating of our meals; we feel that there is something more than merely sustaining ourselves with food. We are not satisfied with mere dressing; we feel there is something more than the clothes. We are not satisfied with our mere office-going or mere factory work; we begin to feel that there is something more than all this. We are not satisfied with anything. We have an inexplicable feeling within that in everything we do there is something lacking. We may not be able to explain ourselves properly, but our hearts speak a language which ordinarily we cannot explain or understand. In everything that we do, there is a want. Something is left out in everything that we do, on account of which we feel a kind of lacuna.
This is the beginning of the higher life. While this kind of discontent is present in every person, literate or illiterate, it becomes consciously developed in the literate, the understanding, and the truly educated. In Sanskrit we have a beautiful term to designate this condition of consciously feeling this peculiar lack or want in one’s life. This term is viveka—literally it means discrimination. The capacity to distinguish between the necessary and the unnecessary, the true and the false, the real and the unreal are all the various translations of this term viveka. We begin to realise intelligently and consciously that in everything that we do there is something left out. We never feel that we are complete in our life.
This condition of conscious apprehension of a want in one’s life arises only in the higher stages of development of the human mind. Evolution rises, stage by stage, from matter to the organic condition. It slowly steps up to the plant or the vegetable kingdom, where inorganic existence shows signs of life. And it rises further to the level of the instinctive thinking of the animal, and then rises further to the level of the human being with the capacity to understand and logically decide. While we have all the characteristics of the lower levels—we have a body which is made up of inanimate matter, we subsist like plants and instinctively react like animals—all these features may be regarded as being in common with the lower states of life. We, as human beings, have a special characteristic of our own—the capacity of logical judgement—which cannot be found in the vegetable kingdom or even in the animal world. It is man, the human unit, that tries to think in terms of the higher. To judge the lower in terms of the higher is the speciality of the human way of thinking. The animals, for example, cannot connect the cause with the effect, and vice versa. That is why we say that their reactions are instinctive. They react only to external stimuli and then forget the whole thing afterwards, as if it had never happened. They cannot remember as we human beings can.
When the higher begins to determine the lower in any stage of life, law comes into play. We have various kinds of laws—laws of health, laws of family, laws of society, laws of the nation, and so on. The laws are for determining the lower from the higher. The law is only a symbol of the higher principle, which we regard as more real than the social level in which we actually find ourselves. Social living, which is one level or one condition, is to be determined by a higher level of existence. This is why we have laws. If such a determination of the lower by the higher were not necessary, no laws would be necessary, and there would be no need for governments, no need of plans, etc. Any plan, scheme, system, proposal or law is only symbolic of our aspiration to determine a lower existence by a higher ideal which we have not yet been realised, but which is implanted in our minds.
If the higher would already be realised, there would be no need of determining the lower by it—the one need not be connected with the other. The ideal is there, weakly before the mind’s eye, but has not been materialised into the reality of experience. There is a kind of tension between the ideal and the real. So, we live a life of tension of various kinds, all of which boil down finally to the ultimate tension or conflict between the ideal and the real—the ‘ought’ and the ‘is’. Something ought to be, but something else is. The ‘ought’ is the ethical and moral value that we have introduced in our life. This is also the philosophical, the metaphysical and the scientific objective in life. Things ought to be this, but they are not. They are something else.
The real before us is in conflict with the ideal that is in our minds. Here we actually begin the true life of a human being, which is the reconciliation of the real with the ideal—a business which is out of the range of animals. They have no ideal, because they cannot think as human beings think. This is why we call them instinctive beings. This is also one of the reasons of our sorrow in life. “Oh, it ought to have been like this, but it is something else. What can I do about this?” People try to materialise ideals in many different fields of life. Politicians, social workers, humanitarians, philanthropists, even saints and sages aim to materialise into reality what has remains now as an ideal. Or, the future has to become the present. The ideal is a kind of future before us. It is not yet in front of us, but is somewhere in the future—in the remote, distant future. We do not know how far ahead of us it is, but we feel that it is so necessary in our lives that we cannot exist without it.
The ideal is not a mere concept in our minds. It is not just a dream which we can brush aside. If the ideal is just a concept in our minds, we can throw out that concept. This ideal which remains now as a concept in our minds has taken possession of us so vehemently that our lives have become a misery without its implementation. All of us are unhappy merely because of the simple reason that the ideal has not become the real, and we cannot live that ideal. If it would be possible to give up the ideal entirely, we would have done it, but we are finding that it is as dear to us as our own hearts or our own breath, and this haunts us day and night.
When I say there is a conflict between the ideal and the real, I mean that this conflict occurs in every type of life that one leads and in every stage of life in which one finds oneself. In our personal life we have this conflict, in our social life we have this very same conflict, in our political and national life we have this conflict, and in international life we have this conflict between the ideal and the real—what ought to be and what really is. This is also the theme of a subject in the West which one may be familiar with, what is called analytic psychology. We need not go into the details of its techniques as practised in the West, but I am just mentioning the basic principles implied in this science. If conflict is visible everywhere in life, and if this conflict must be resolved if man is to be happy, what is the way to resolve this conflict? This was a question that posed itself before the analytic psychologist. The ideal conflicts with the real—here we are confronted in life with the devil, as it were, and we cannot be happy in this condition. We may pose the question, “Why not resolve this conflict?”
We have some difficulties in this effort. To cite some small instances of this conflict between the ideal and the real, we could take our social life. We have secret ideals in our hearts which society may object to under its own laws and rules. If in public life we were to express every idea of our minds, we know that what we call society would not wholly accept it, because each person has a set of ideas not necessarily concurring with society, and if everybody brings their ideas and concepts into public life, it may not be desirable. So society has laws that certain ideals should not be expressed in public life. The society in which we are living is our reality, and we have to adjust ourselves to it—otherwise we cannot live in the world.
But what about our internal desires? Our wish to achieve something privately, and to achieve an ideal, is to naturally express it in public life, and society says, “No!” There is the conflict. Society, which is part of our reality, objects to the ideal that is secretly cherished by us in our hearts. What are we going to do about this ideal in our hearts? Are we going to cast it away? We cannot do it, as it is our hearts that are speaking, and we do not regard it as objectionable. Unfortunately, society is going to regard it as objectionable. If we thought it is objectionable, we would not keep it in our hearts. What the private individual feels is necessary, society thinks is unnecessary. Therefore there is a conflict between the individual and the social ideal.
This was the beginning of the psychoanalytic technique. Some people went crazy, not being able to realise their ideals in life due to the taboos of society. “Don’t do this, don’t do that.” We have ‘don’ts’ everywhere! Well, if we go on multiplying the list of ‘don’ts’ like this, what are we going to do with our cherished ideal? The theory in analytical psychology was that these ideals must be realised somehow or the other, or otherwise the mind could not be happy, and it might become sick. There are mental sicknesses of various kinds, more serious than physical sickness, all caused by this conflict between the individual ideal and the social ideal. Society says something and we say something else—we say this, society says that—and, unfortunately, we are not independent of society. As a part of society, we seem to be incapable of living without it.
Where can we run away to in this world? Wherever we go, we will still be in human society, and society has its own peculiar notions or etiquette. It may be right, it may not be right—that is a different matter. Society is there, and we cannot escape it. We find it impossible to adjust ourselves to these laws and rules for a long time. So, the individual ideal rebels against the social etiquette and law. Society has its own strength, and it will put us down with its own powers. The fight between the individual ideal and the social ideal is social tension, and nobody can be happy.
One may wonder what this peculiar society is; after all, it is itself made up of many individuals. What is society, if not all of us put together? Why not permit the individual ideal, inasmuch as society is only all of us put together? There is no society independent of individuals. But there is another peculiar trait of the human mind, which is studied in the field of group psychology, different from individual psychology. Each one of us may individually agree to one thing, but when we are all put together, we may not agree with it. This is what happens in parliaments, for example. If we would approach each parliamentarian individually, they would say, “Yes, it is supposed to be so,” but if they are all put together in the parliament, they may not agree with it. Strange! Individually, each person seems to be something, but when brought together they think altogether differently.
We can tackle a problem by approaching people individually, but not by approaching them as a group. Each parliamentarian can be satisfied individually, but not the total parliament. This is the peculiar mystery which lies as a distinction between the truth behind individual psychology and group psychology. There is something present in the group which is not in the individual, though, as I mentioned earlier, we may say that society is truly a total of individuals. It is not merely the total—there is something else in it. Many bodies put together do not make a society. The mental element is involved in society, and the total of individual minds assumes a peculiar emphasis when it becomes what we call a society.
This difficulty sets a barrier between society and individuals. On account of the existence of a peculiar mysterious principle called the social mind, as differentiated from the individual mind, it becomes difficult to resolve this conflict between the individual ideal and social law. So, individuals start to become unhappy, and where it is not possible to resolve this conflict they may even rebel and become antisocial. They become antisocial beings because they rebel so much, and are undoubtly antisocial elements. Society does not want them, and it is these persons who later become criminals. They become mentally sick and do not know what to do. Well, this is not possible always—we cannot always be a rebel. We find that it is a monstrous world that is before us, a world that is not able to understand us. We start cursing the world, “What a pity! Where am I standing in this world?” Nobody seems to understand us, and so we go on murmuring and complaining against the realities of life which do not seem to appreciate our ideals. So we surpress our ideals, bury them in ourselves. We go to bed earlier, that is all; we cannot tolerate this any more. We go on sleeping with these ideals, as if they are our children. But they will not sleep. The children will not sleep; only the parents are asleep. The children will go on crying, “What about us? What have you done with us, my dear friend?” We say, “Please, go back, do not talk, do not talk.” But how long will they listen to us? They will not sleep. These ideals of ours are our children. They are born of us, and we have to do something with them. Psychoanalysis thought that these naughty children, whether they be right or wrong, have to be dealt with in some way—otherwise they would make their parents crazy, that is all. We will go mad with these ideals. There are mental disorders detailed in psychoanalysis which they also try to treat by various methods, but that is a different subject altogether, with which we are not concerned.