by Swami Krishnananda
We saw that the practical side of yoga is founded on moral and personal discipline. As a matter of fact, this process of purification and training is as important as anything that follows. On analysis it was discovered that the process of preparation—the setting in tune of the equipment—is the essential prerequisite of the practice. The practice of yoga is impossible for unpurified instruments. It is not that anyone can practise yoga, because the practice is not undertaken by a person or a personality in general, but by a condition of mind. It is our mind that practises yoga more than anything else, and that mind should be prepared for the necessary transformations that yoga requires. It was thought that in the process of alchemy that iron could be converted into gold, but wood could not be converted into gold. In the same way, it is not so that all minds in whatever condition are to be regarded as capable of this practice.
It is said that there are three kinds of disciples: the gunpowder type, the wood type and the plantain stem type. We know what gunpowder is. To set fire to it takes very little time. In a second after the match is lit the gunpowder catches fire. Wood takes a little more time to catch fire. We may have to blow hard on the wood to catch the flame gradually. Sometimes we have to pour kerosene on it, and so on. A little effort is needed to make the wood catch fire, while gunpowder requires no such effort. But the plantain stem will never catch fire—however much we may roast it, it will remain cool.
These three comparisons are supposed to be exemplary of the three types of yoga students—the first class, the second class and the third class. The first class is the one who immediately catches the point of teaching. At once, like fire that ignites gunpowder, the mind that is purified receives the instruction. Not only does it understand what is said, but it also catches the spirit behind the teaching. The students who are of the wood type require hard blowing, being told again and again many a time—sometimes for years. But then there is the plantain stem type which will not understand anything. They may be taught throughout their lives, but nothing will enter the brain. These three kinds of students mentioned in the analogy as gunpowder, wood and plantain stem are the sattvic, rajasic and tamasic types of disciples. Even among many students of the same class we find a distinction.
It is more difficult to catch the import of the teaching of yoga than its outer implications. It is more difficult to catch the spirit of yoga than the meanings of the arts and sciences that are studied in colleges and universities. We know the difficulty about yoga—it does not merely give us information, as is the case in history, geography, physics, chemistry or biology. Yoga does not give us information about things, and this is the difficulty with it. Yoga is not a study about something; it is a study of something. A study of something is the study of a thing directly and not merely gather facts connected with it.
All our studies, generally speaking, are facts related to a thing, so it is indirect knowledge that we gather in colleges. This is information, facts and related circumstances rather than the very substance of the object concerned. In this system we become no wiser after our education, and life remains as complicated as before. Conversely, the spirit of yoga infuses itself into the mind of the student from the very beginning. We have to be, at least in one sense, a yogin from the very outset. We do not become a yogin merely at the end. Even at the first step we are a yogin in one degree of its understanding and practice, because whatever be the step that we have taken in the practice of yoga, whatever be the stage—even if it be the most initial of stages—we will realise that the whole of us has gone into it.
This is the speciality about the learning of yoga, as distinguished from other types of learning or branches of knowledge. The whole of us is in it. It is not just understanding or feeling that merely react in the study of yoga—it is us as a complete personality. This is something very difficult to understand. We have not been initiated into these ways of thinking, and we do not know what it actually means. What do we mean by the whole of personality? We have never been taught this. We have always been taught to understand, to act, to do, or to feel and react. But for the whole of our personality to keep in unison with everything in the world is something untaught and un-understood by us.
As a matter of fact, we find that the whole of our being cannot be in unison with anything at any time. We give only partial attention to things, and never in our lives have we seen the whole of our being set in unison with things. This means that we can never appreciate anything wholly. There is only a partial appreciation of things. There is no use merely listening, trying to analyse intellectually, or reacting sentimentally. This is the case with learning in the world, but yoga is quite different. The practice of yoga is not a function of the intellect, it is not a function of the emotions or the feelings, and it is also not a kind of action that we are doing in this world. It is altogether different from what an ordinary person in the world can conceive.
Yoga requires a completely new type of approach to life, a new way of thinking into which we have to be initiated—free from all prejudices of the past. We have to set aside all our old ways of thinking, and we have to be reborn altogether, as it were. Saints often say that we have to become like a child—reborn into a new world altogether—forgetful of all the old complexities and memories of the previous life. We become a clean slate when we become students of yoga, otherwise the old impressions will be there to blur and mar the impressions newly created by the study. We should never come to this practice as a ‘wise person’. This sort of wisdom is of no use because, as a matter of fact, the wisdom of the world becomes a hindrance in the reception of this new wisdom of yoga.
When a student approaches a master, he doesn’t go like a learned person. The learning has to be set aside first, because this learning is not going to help us in any way—it is rather going to hinder. This prior knowledge becomes a kind of preconceived notion with which we approach a subject, as if we knew it already. This ‘as if’ is a dangerous attitude. When we approach a master of yoga or a teacher, we must go with an open heart and an open mind and open intellect, to receive rather than to react. We are not supposed to react to the master or the teacher. Our duty is to receive, because the capacity to receive is a greater virtue in a student of yoga than the exhibition of learning.
Suffice it to say that all learning is accumulation of information about rather than of a thing, and this knowledge is not of any utility to us. It helps us as a means of approach to the various things of the world, but it does not help us to live. Yoga is living rather than acting, understanding and reacting. This life of yoga is a life of our total personality. Again I have to emphasise this aspect, lest we should forget it, because it is very essential. Right from the very beginning up to the pinnacle of yoga, it is the whole of our personality that undergoes the process of training, and not our minds, brain, intellect or feeling. These functions of the psychological organs are, after all, functions; and they are functions of something—we must know that. But this something of which these are the functions is what studies and practises yoga. The very background of the psychological functions is the substance of our personality.
We should not identify ourselves with the thinking process as if we are that. We are not a process, first of all. How can we say that we are a process of becoming? We are not, and we know it very well. So no process—even if it be the process of thinking—can be identified with us. We are different from thinking, understanding, feeling, action and reaction. This ‘we’ which is the presupposition of these functions of the psychological organ is what is going to practise yoga. This is hard to understand. This simple thing is difficult enough for the mind to grasp, because this is a new thing that we are hearing and an entirely novel way of approach—not merely to the things of the world, but to our own selves. Up until this time we have been under the impression that we are thinking beings.
Aristotle said that man is a thinking animal—but he is an animal, after all. This is very interesting, this definition of Aristotle. The human being seems to be an animal, though he is rational. We exhibit this animalistic character many a time. But there is something in the human being which is different from rationality, because rationality is a process and the humaness in us is not a process. We can never believe that we are merely a process. It is beneath our dignity to see ourselves only as a kind of process of transformation or change. We may be the perceiver, the observer or the experiencer of a process, but we cannot be merely a process. Earlier in our studies, we discovered that we are a centre of focused consciousness beneath the so-called process of rationality and psychological functions.
Through a careful and regular practice of this understanding, the great moral canon of yoga will become a part of our personality. The moral life becomes a spontaneous expression of our being, and yoga morality ceases to be a struggle. Morality becomes a difficult thing on account of our incapacity to understand our relation to things. People are unmoral, amoral or immoral due to a psychological difficulty in which they get involved. This difficulty is purely due to lack of understanding. We have been taught the wrong knowledge right from the very beginning, and we are brought up in a circle of society which only caters to this erroneous approach to things. To be right and good should not be very difficult. To do wrong should be difficult, really. How is it that it is so difficult to be good? Very strange and ironic indeed.
How is it that people regard immorality and an antisocial attitude as easier to practise than goodness of behaviour? We can imagine how far mankind has moved from its centre, that the wrong appears to be easy and the good appears to be difficult. This itself is enough indication of how far away we have traveled from our own self. We are moving about in a dreamland with blindfolded eyes, and that is why ugliness looks beautiful, and wrong takes the shape of the right. Morality, which is nothing but the practice of the right, is an expression of what we truly are. The expression of our true personality or nature in life is called morality. Why should we need to read many books to know what morality is? To act according to our true nature is morality; to act contrary to what we are is immorality.
There is no need to study in detail the many words that the yoga teachers use: ahimsa, satya, brahmacharya, asteya, aparigraha, saucha, santosha, tapas, swadhyaya, ishwarapranidhana, etc. These are all many terms which describe a single attitude, which we are called upon to manifest as a spontaneous ray emanating from our nature. If yoga ends in union with our own spiritual being, it commences with a demonstration of our character consonant with our true nature. Right from the beginning till the end, yoga is consonance with our nature. Wherever we find that we move away from ourselves, we become a worldly person. To judge ourselves and judge things in terms of what is not true—in terms of accessories and associates rather than the principle—would be immorality. Morality does not merely take the shape of the recognition of our true nature, but it is also the recognition of a similar nature in other people.
There are two aspects of the practice of morality. The first is judging from the standpoint of our true nature, rather than from a view based on illusions, and the second is judging others also as beings similar to ourselves. There are no ‘adjectives’ in this world. Everything is a ‘noun’, in the sense that all persons and things are substantives in their own status. We know in grammar what a noun is, as distinguished from an adjective. A noun is also called a substantive. A substantive is what is qualified by something else, and that which qualifies a noun is called an adjective. That which stands by its own nature, that which has its own status, and that which is an explanation of its own self is known as a substantive. It does not need a qualification to explain itself, but to enlarge its scope of meaning an adjective can be added.
We try to do the same thing in our practical lives. We act as substantives and use others as adjectives. When other persons or things in the world mean something to us, then we are using ourselves as a noun or a substantive and others as an adjective—they should qualify us. To use the world as a kind of qualification to the self is to utilise it for one’s purposes, and this is the beginning of immorality and unrighteousness. To regard ourselves as normal and others as subnormal is the commencement of all antisocial attitudes. What makes us think that we are normal and others are not normal? It is not a fact. Maybe there are others who are superior to us in understanding and experience, or at least they are equal to us. The moral consciousness is therefore an expression of a twofold attitude in life, and this is the spiritual, psychological and the philosophical background of the yamas and the niyamas of Maharshi Patanjali.
The two attitudes I mentioned were, on the one hand, where we judge ourselves independently and not in terms of qualifications, and we judge others as we judge ourselves. This seems to be the meaning behind the great saying, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” We should not judge others, because we can also be judged in a similar manner. If we say that so-and-so is this and that, then we can also be said to be this and that. Why not? We cannot take the position of a judge and others merely as subordinates, because just as we judge, so too will we be judged.
Yoga morality is simple to understand. People have been frightened many a time by the words ahimsa, brahmacharya, satya, etc. One should not be frightened of these words. These ideals are necessary because they are the fundamental things of life, and if we truly recognise what is good for us, we will not do anything contrary to it. The good is that which is in conformity with our intrinsic nature. What our true nature is, we have tried to understand to some extent in our lessons. The body, the sense organs, the psychological functions and those objects and persons related to these functions from outside are all adjectives—they are all functional qualifications to something else which we are at a deeper level. When we stand by this true nature of ourselves, we stand as a unit of moral expression.