by Swami Krishnananda
The moral code is the placement of oneself in the position of others. This, in one sentence, is the whole of the moral code. While this takes a purely psychological shape in the ordinary obedience of people to the moral law, it takes a little more difficult form when it becomes yoga morality. I have mentioned something about this distinction between ordinary morality and yoga morality on some other occasion. The moral sense which yoga requires of us is more personal than merely a conformity to social rules. It is not human society that we are taking with us when we enter into the portals of the practice of yoga; we take ourselves as representatives of humanity, as symbols of mankind as a whole. The whole human nature gets concentrated in us when we enter into the realm of the practice of yoga.
In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita for example, Arjuna represents mankind in its essence – not merely one individual in the historical past. The student of yoga is the quintessence of mankind, and he is not just one human being facing God. When we, as seekers of truth, students of yoga, stand face to face with the realities of the universe, we represent or symbolise the whole of mankind, and the entirety of human nature gets reflected in us. We become an exemplification of universal human nature and whatever be the final end of mankind will also be reflected in us at that time.
As a centre of humanity, in the practice of yoga we place ourselves before the mystery of the cosmos. It is not Siva Kiekens practising yoga, or Swami Shankarananda or Swami Krishnananda practising yoga – there is no such thing. It is a unit of concentrated human nature that faces the might of the cosmos, and here the whole of nature reflected in the microcosm gets related to nature in its macrocosmic aspect. It is nature studying nature. "The proper study of mankind is man," is a famous line of Pope, the great poet. When we study ourselves or try to know ourselves, we try to know the nature of that of which we are a symbol or a specimen. The study of ourselves is not the study of our individuality or of our personalities. "Know thyself" is the dictum, but what is this "thyself"? It is not a person who is studying himself. It is the nature behind the personality which becomes the incentive for study, as well as the object of study. The whole universe gets reflected in us in its aspect of microcosm. Thus, in yoga morality we find a necessity to rise higher than mere conformity to law and rule.
The Yamas and Niyamas
The yoga system has two layers of the practice of morality. These are called the yamas and the niyamas. While yama is a kind of restraint voluntarily imposed upon oneself – underline the word "voluntarily" – in order that one's personality may be set in tune with the regulations of society outside, niyama is restriction voluntarily imposed upon one's individuality, rather than the outer personality. While yama has a social connotation, niyama has a purely personal connotation.
The practice of the yamas becomes a necessity on account of inescapable relations with human society. We cannot but have some sort of relations with people. Even a saint has some sort of connection with the outer world, what to speak of a beginner in yoga. Our difficulty with the world, for all practical purposes, is our difficulty with people outside. The astronomical world does not trouble us so much; it is the human world that becomes our concern. Our pleasures and pains are more related to the people around us than the mountains and rivers or the solar system. The yamas then are a kind of adjustment of values of oneself in relation to human society outside.
There are various stages of the adjustment of oneself with reality. There are at least seven stages of preparation in yoga, at least seven stages of meditation and seven stages in the transformations that take place in the process of meditation. If we know all these, we will have studied the whole of yoga. The seven preparatory stages, especially according to the school of Patanjali and accepted by the other schools of yoga also with a slight modification of import, are respectively: adjustment of oneself with society which is yama; adjustment of oneself with the needs of one's personality which is niyama; adjustment of the body which is asana; adjustment of the pranas and the senses which is pranayama and pratyahara; adjustment of the mind which is dharana, and adjustment of the intellect which is dhyana. Then come the more complicated and the wider adjustments which we will look into a little later on.
Gradually, the mind is sublimated rather than withdrawn in these processes of self-adjustment. There is no such thing as a pure withdrawal in yoga. It is not a withdrawal of ourselves from society, or from the objects of the world that we are called upon to do in the practice of yoga. The question of withdrawal arises only when there is a connection. Most people, especially immature people in yoga, think that we are required to disconnect ourselves from human society. But something more than a mere disassociation is implied in these stages of adjustment. The connections which we have with the outer world are not merely mechanical links, such that we could snap them at our will. It is not an iron chain that connects one person with another person in the world. If that would have been the case, we would have snapped that link at one stroke, and there would have been no relation between us and the others.
However, the relation that we seem to have with people outside is not such a mechanical connection like one with an iron chain or a rope. Our relations with people and also with the other things of the world are a little more fundamental and vital. Hence, it is so hard for us to disassociate ourselves from society. Try to do it, and see how hard it is! If we are tied with a rope, we will easily snap that rope and go away, as there is no difficulty in doing it. But we cannot so easily disconnect ourselves from our relations with people around us, because we have certain personal relationships with various things in the world. If suddenly we were asked to snap these relations and go a thousand miles away from that place where we have things constantly with us, there will be a tremendous upheaval in our thoughts and feelings. We have been internally related to these things, and not merely outwardly. Our connections with people outside are internal, not outward. We are secretly related to things in a manner invisible to the physical eyes, and these relationships are purely personal. They cannot be seen from outside, except when they manifest themselves in concrete action. The yoga system has instituted a very methodical technique of not merely snapping ties, which would not be a wise step, but a sublimation of these ties.
The moral code of yoga is also a rule of sublimation of personal values. We know what sublimation is, as distinguished from disconnection or separation. To sever our affection from an object is different from not having affections for an object – we know the difference. Snapping affections, that is one thing, but having no affections is another thing altogether. Yoga wants us not to snap affections, but to have no affections. The foundation of psychological analysis has been laid already by carefully seeing that, because of the light of understanding, affections do not rise at all in the mind. Once they arise it will be difficult to get disentangled from them.
The affections can become harder than iron chains, because our personal ties with things are internal in nature and are a part of ourselves moving to the object, as it were, and to snap the ties would be like snapping a part of our own bodies. It is as if we were cutting our own limbs when we sever our affection for things. There have been uninitiated, untutored students of yoga in
Affections are not always hidden from view, but they can be hidden. We cannot understand what affections we have for the things of the world because of our being habituated to certain formalistic ways of thinking. We have our usual meals every day, our chit chat, our good sleep, our recreation and our walks – what do we lack? In these circumstances of ease we cannot study ourselves, because the mind is accustomed to these normal ways of thinking and acting. Because of an enthusiasm for the practice of yoga, when we try to practise what we call detachment, we think that detachment should be a sudden stopping of all these routines. There are people who have made certain routines of daily life out of the canons of yoga morality. They will not speak for certain hours of the day, they will wear only one or two pieces of cloth, and they will restrict their diet and live in isolation. These are all very good and are even necessities, no doubt, but there is something more needed to make these routines meaningful.
We should study the lives of many students of yoga and even yogis and saints who have passed through this struggle. They had to undergo hard periods of internal upheaval because the mind was merely withdrawn but not properly sublimated. Withdrawal is another kind of suppression, and suppression and substitution are the methods that we usually employ, rather than sublimation. It is difficult to know what sublimation is, though we have heard this word very many times. We mostly substitute, if not suppress, but neither of these is going to help us much.
To suppress something is to act forcefully by the power of will, driving into the unconscious the impulses that seek manifestation outside in the world. To substitute would mean to give to the mind something quite different from what it is seeking, with the notion that the mind will forget the original longing. We know that children start crying because they want a toy, but when we give them a sweet, for as long as the sweet is there in the hand they will stop crying. But when the sweet is eaten, again they will remember the toy and start crying. With intervals the children start crying again and again for the same object. Though there is a temporary cessation of the crying, because some other thing has been given to them which has diverted their attention, the crying will not stop.
Likewise are our feelings. Sometimes they seem to stop their cry when we give them something else, and we have been trying to do this, without much benefit. What we need in our relations with our minds is not merely curtailment, but education, and yoga is a system of education. An uneducated person cannot be satisfied in any way whatsoever. This sort of person may look satisfied, but he will again be craving the same thing, and it is difficult for us to understand the ways of thinking of that person. The mind that is uninitiated is uneducated. An example of this sort of mind might be a coiled spring which when pushed down stays down, but once the pressure is released, the spring pops right back up again to its natural position.
The process of sublimation is a combination of analytical understanding and concentration of mind on higher values. The moral consciousness implies not merely an attempt at the weaning oneself away from the clutches of the lower nature, but also the regulation of the laws of the lower in terms of the laws of the higher. In every stage of the practice, the higher comes into play and exerts a tremendous influence. We live by hopes, we know very well. If hope is not present, we will not be able to live in this world. "The next moment will be better for me," is the feeling that we have in our minds, whatever be our suffering. Whatever be our agony and anguish, we always have a feeling that the next moment would be better than the present. Though there is no rational ground for this feeling, we are given this hope in our hearts. It is so deeply implanted in us that it is a fundamental belief that keeps us alive in this world. Otherwise we would have been dead and gone by this time.
The hope that we entertain in regard to the betterment in the future is an instance of the determination of the lower by the higher. This is the way of sublimation. It is so powerful that it is able to keep us alive. Suppose we know that we are definitely not going to succeed in this life and that we are going to fall down at every step and be crushed. In that condition we would not be able to live in this world. But we do not think like that. "That will not be my fate," is an unconscious feeling of every person. "I shall be better, for some reason or the other." This is the symbol of a higher determination in the lower aspects of life, and when it is consciously practised it becomes real yoga.