by Swami Krishnananda
Earlier I spoke about a very essential part of yoga practice which is mostly ignored. It is a mistake which people usually make, which should explain failures in the practice of yoga and an apparent defeat which people suffer in spite of arduous efforts undergone for years together. Yoga is a matter concerned with ourselves and not with our relations outside, and unless we are all right, yoga is not going to be all right with us. What we are in terms of human society is not going to be of importance here, because it is not society that will do yoga for us. It is we ourselves who have to do it. It is inaccurate to judge ourselves in terms of people’s considerations about us. These outer considerations have absolutely nothing to do with our internal relations in the practice of yoga.
We as individuals, independent units of consciousness having a status of our own, are concerned with the practice and not with our external associations of any kind. We have to give up that old habit of judging ourselves in terms of others’ vision of us and to not look at ourselves through the world outside, but directly in an apprehension that is immediate and non-relational. The practise of the moral law was what I tried to explain previously, but it is easy to think that the moral canon is not an essential part of yoga. Yet nothing can be more important and more concerned with yoga, because morality is what gives health to our personalities.
We can understand how essential health is to us. Whatever be our position in the world, if there is no health, we will find it hard to make our way in the world. All other things would become meaningless to us, if we are not healthy in our bodies and in our whole system. The moral sense, the moral feeling and the moral consciousness are the health of our personality—like physical health. If these are not present, everything will be “at sixes and sevens”, and there will be no yoga practice. It is necessary therefore to keep our system in order before we try to do anything with it or through it. Yoga is something which we are going to do with this personality of ours, and so it has to be kept in order, in balance and in tune with itself.
The personality often gets out of tune, and this is because of the immoral and unsociable attitude that many a time we adopt. The health of the personality is a little different from the health of the body. The health of the personality is the establishment of oneself in the moral consciousness. Just as health brings us strength in the physical sense, health also brings us strength in a wider sense. The moral strength is more than the physical strength. The stronger we feel morally, the more competent also we become in the practice of yoga, and then half the work is already done. “Well begun is half won,” as it is said.
If this is borne in mind carefully at the very outset, the practise of yoga is not a difficult thing. It is the preparation that is a difficult thing. To get ready is more difficult than to actually do, and all the time mostly goes in getting ready. To strike a match takes less than a second, but to make the match will take a lot of time. Many days will have to be spent in manufacturing a matchstick, but to strike it is a question of only an instant. The practise of yoga truly speaking is like the striking of a match. We need not be very much worried about striking the match, but to make this match is a little more of a difficult affair, as it cannot be done in a day. To make ourselves fit instruments for the practise should be a greater concern than what we are going to achieve through yoga, or how we are to sit for meditation, or any of the other routines. These things will take care of themselves of their own accord and need not cause us too much anxiety. We will find that the later stages become very simple and clear if the foundation has been well laid.
Many obstacles naturally present themselves in this attempt at the practice of yoga. However, even the attempt is something very sublime and praiseworthy. This is one of the great things we have to learn from the Bhagavadgita. Even an attempt at the practice of yoga is something superb, let alone its actual practice. But this attempt is beset with difficulties of various kinds and sometimes even dangers which frighten us and make us want to retreat. There is initially an unpreparedness of the whole personality, and when we take to the practice of yoga, the personality may manifest certain characteristics which exhibit its unpreparedness. In the beginning this unpreparedness may come in the form of a sense of diffidence and a doubt as to whether the practice is meant for oneself. “Can I actually do it?” and then later, “Is it worthwhile?” and further, “I hope that I am not under an illusion.” These are the ways, to mention only a few, by which a retardation of progress even in the initial stages may set in and we will not be allowed to take even the first step.
Often the first step is the most difficult step, but once we take the first step then it may become a little easier. Still though, we may not take the first step, but we will be brooding and contemplating even before taking the first step. All these are symptoms of the impurity of the personality which resents any kind of cleansing. This impurity lies dormant as a sort of psychological dirt and resists being cleansed thoroughly in the sunlight of the understanding. Many people are too conservative and would not allow any kind of innovation in life. “Everything is all right. What I am is perfectly okay. Don’t meddle with me,” is the retort of the mind to any kind of educational process that one may try to introduce into it.
This is the condition of tamas where the mind will not allow any kind of interference with its old habits. The second is the work of rajas—the desires getting activated. The very frightened state of the mind itself may activate its desires. For instance, if we find out that we will be fasting tomorrow, we will feel hungry today. The very thought of tomorrow starts some work in the mind today. It is purely psychological. The thought of having a trouble tomorrow is enough to have a trouble today itself. Through this example we can know how mysteriously the mind works. Through its projection of ignorance, the instinct of tamas prevents our intervention in the mind’s old ways of thinking. Rajas tries to stimulate desire in a slightly intensified manner and would not allow us to take any positive step in yoga. Tamas and rajas are obstacles in yoga, and all the obstacles in yoga are forms of tamas and rajas. We may have a thousand obstacles in yoga, but all these are ramifications of the functions of tamas and rajas. Tamas works negatively while rajas works positively. Tamas prevents us from doing anything, and rajas sidetracks us into erroneous channels of action.
This activity of tamas and rajas starts even at the very outset in the moral preparations that we try to make as a limb of the practice of yoga. Self-complacency, a sense of self-perfection and an honest feeling of one’s being complete and all right—though it may be wrong—are the ways in which tamas works. “I need no teaching, I know everything very well, and there is nothing more to learn,” is a conscious manifestation of the tamasic instinct of self-complacency coupled with wrong living. Because no person with any sense will say, “I need no teaching. I am all right, I know everything.” This is the work of tamas. Rajas makes matters worse by adding desires to these ways of the mind’s thinking. Small desires are projected outwards by the rajasic nature, and though these may be relatively small in scope and actually quite silly to outward observation, they may take such proportions that the mind may be entirely absorbed in them.
The mind can get totally absorbed in an engagement even if it is silly and small, if it is not allowed to engage itself in anything else. If we block out all the activities of the mind, it will engage itself in foolish things, and they can absorb the mind totally and wholly. The mind follows what is called the method of regression. It is a regressing of steps by the mind to lower and lower levels of satisfaction when the higher levels are unavailable. “If I can get five apples it is all right, but if I cannot get five, I will take at least four, and then if not four then three, or two or even one. If not even one is available, then at least let me have the remnants.” This would be the attitude of the mind in regard to every kind of satisfaction. It may get attached to things which are so small that it would be difficult for a normal mind even to understand.
These are the regressive processes of the mind, and these obstacles occur in the very beginning despite attempts at a proper recourse to yoga. There are various odd types of obstacles which prevent us from going in the proper direction. Doubts of various kinds harass the mind, and we become so sceptical about things that we do not know where we actually are. There are suspicions about people around us, suspicions about the teacher whom we have chosen, suspicions in regard to the atmosphere in which we are staying, and suspicions in regard to our own competency of practise. Everything seems to be mired in suspicion, doubt and vacillation.
The mind will not fix itself on anything. Later, the mind tries methods of substitution by changing the poles of action and approaching things in a way quite at variance to the earlier intention. The mind would then be lost in rationalisations and specious arguments, not knowing that it has gone astray, and only realising the true situation after many years when it is too late. This process may end in a condemnation of human society and finally questioning the very justice of God’s creation.
These are not exaggerated circumstances; they often become the fate of sincere seekers—sincere, but not discriminating and understanding. In the practise of yoga it is not enough that we are merely sincere. We also have to be understanding, discriminating and capable of proper judgement. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used to say that the devotee of God need not be a fool. He must also be a person of understanding. Devotion does not mean mere sentimentalism, emotional outbursts and a loss of control of oneself. Yoga is an all-round discipline of oneself and especially of the psychic mechanism of which emotion is only one aspect.
Equally important is understanding. The head and the heart, which are usually supposed to be the principal limbs of our system, represent understanding and feeling. These two have to be combined in any approach in yoga. We have to be careful that we do not go to an extreme either in too much rationalism or too much sentimentalism. Too much logic is bad, but too much emotion is equally bad. We will have to combine a logical approach with feeling, and then our practice becomes a proper instrument. It is easy to accept that reason and feeling should go together, but in practise it is difficult. We always go either to this extreme or the other. We are either too much critical about things or too submissive. It is rare that we find a proper proportion of these two elements in our personality. We either start weeping as if there were nobody to help us, or we twist our lips in a critical attitude, as if everything in the world is wrong and we alone are right.
The humility of the student of yoga is not weakness of any kind but is a flower that blossoms due to a great understanding which is rare to find in this world. The student of yoga is always in a state of understanding which is combined with an appreciation of things. It is not merely understanding; it is reinforced with appreciation of things, and when appreciation goes with understanding, we become firm in our personality and nobody can do anything to us. It is not the toughness of obstinacy but the toughness of confidence, understanding and the capacity to adjust oneself with the realities of life.
The student of yoga does not react to surroundings but rather absorbs circumstances into him or herself, and the capacity to absorb circumstances is itself a proper reaction. It is not an ordinary reaction that we will find in a sincere yoga student. It is difficult to explain what it is actually. It is an all-encompassing confidence in one’s position. Understanding and appreciation are the supreme virtues of the world. Sometimes we understand but cannot appreciate, and sometimes we appreciate but cannot understand. To bring these two together is difficult enough, but this is true goodness—it is the crown of all virtues. All virtues are like attendants of the simple virtue of the capacity to blend understanding with the appreciation of things.
Here it is that we become a super-person and not an ordinary human being. We cannot be ordinary human beings in this condition, because we combine the qualities of all humanity, which is summed up in appreciation or feeling and understanding. There is nothing in a human being except these two factors—the feeling for a thing and understanding of a thing. We as persons are nothing else but this, and all other things follow these two. In the judgement of our own selves, as well as the judgement of the world, these two principal elements of our psychological make-up have to get blended properly.
This would at the same be a caution that one has to exercise in yoga. The caution has to do not with danger impending from outside, but rather the caution that must be exercised because we may forget to blend these factors in proper proportion, and therefore lean in one direction alone. It is this blend of factors of understanding and appreciation that makes us feel happy within ourselves. Nothing can make us as happy as confidence, and no happiness can be present if these factors are not properly blended in our personality. We then become independent, and we feel a strength of an unusual kind. Only through this can we step into the true realms of the practice of yoga. It is in this sense that the Upanishads say, “Weaklings cannot practise yoga.” It is this strength that we are called upon to have in yoga practice. So this is, by way of a recapitulation of the ideas that I tried to present earlier, the preparation for the practise of yoga. For all purposes we should regard the preparation as more important than the very practise itself, because everything that we are going to do in the future depends on this fundamental groundwork.
Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has prescribed three methods of self-discipline, which I always advise to be followed in daily routines as a kind of a personal check-up. The first is the spiritual diary, the second is the resolve form and the third is the daily routine. Sometimes people used to call this the “trisul” of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. Trisul is a trident with three prongs, and Lord Siva is supposed to be holding this Siva’s trisul. We may call it Swami Sivananda’s trisul—the spiritual diary, the resolve form and the daily routine. The spiritual diary is a series of guidelines which can be modified according to our own needs, temperament and particular practice. One should consult these guidelines and question oneself as to how able one has been in following them. One queries one’s own self and by answering the queries in the spiritual diary. Through the maintenance of this diary, we will be able to check our progress every day and also know where we have gone wrong or failed. “How many times have I done this, and how many times have I not done this,” and so many other questions are there. From this we can have a good review of what we have been yesterday and previously, and what we ought to be in the future. A good stocktaking of our conduct, our strengths and weaknesses, etc. is the regimen of the spiritual diary.