by Swami Krishnananda
We should make it a point to collect our thoughts and make these thoughts a part of our personalities. Whatever we have learned, thought about or meditated upon has to be a little different from what people generally read in schools and universities. We know the difference, and I need not go into it at length. Generally, learning is a cumulative process. It is something like a property that one has, but this is not the real learning which will help us in our lives. It is said in an old proverb of India, that the food that is to be carried throughout the journey and also the knowledge that is in books will not help us for very long. Hence, our learning and knowledge should not be merely in books. Not only that, our knowledge should also not be a sort of property that we are carrying. We know that all property can leave us one day or the other. Anything that has been accumulated is likely to leave us.
Our learning or knowledge is not to be a kind of asset that we are carrying—something that is outside our nature—like the house that we have, the properties, the fields, the business or the money that we have. These are our assets, but these assets are not reliable, because we do not know how long they can be with us and when they will leave us. Our knowledge is to be a part of our being. This is the distinction between knowledge and wisdom, as it is generally stated. In an ashram, we seek out the presence of saints and sages in order to imbibe a type of knowledge which will not be easily forgotten. Similarly, we do not forgot our own existence, our own special inherent characteristics, our own name, that we have come from such and such a place, that we were born to so and so, or that we have a certain vocation, and so on. These have become so intimately related to our personalities that we cannot forget them.
So should be the knowledge or the wisdom of life that we acquire. It is this wisdom that has become a part of our nature that will indeed help us. When the need comes, we cannot just search for the knowledge in our pockets, as we will not find it there. Knowledge that is in our pockets or in the books or that remains merely a memory will not help us. The great distinction between spiritual insight and accumulated learning of the world is that while learning is tentatively helpful and workable in the pragmatic world, the insight of life enables us to be happy in this world. The essence of knowledge is happiness, and the extent to which happiness is rooted in our permanent nature will also be the test of our wisdom in life. It is difficult to be happy in the world. People who have lived in the world will know why it is so. There are obstacles of various kinds all coming to us unexpectedly—nothing comes to us with a previous notice! Nothing of the world will tell us that it is coming and whether it is for us or against us.
Everything will come when it wants to come. To take these things in their proper spirit when they come, whether they are for us or against us, is a part of the wisdom of life. Mere book learning will not help us in this matter, because the learning of a scientific or a philosophical character would give us only some sort of outward information about the characteristics of things. But this learning will not tell us how these things will act upon us. The things of the world may be studied in a scientific manner, but what counts more is not merely our understanding of what these things are superficially, but rather what they mean to us at any given moment of time. It is this knowledge that people lack. We always underestimate or overestimate things. We can never have a proper evaluation of things, because this is exactly the blindness that thwarts us, namely, that we lack the wisdom of life.
The spiritual wisdom which the scriptures and the sages give us is not a bookish knowledge. It is not a learning in the ordinary sense at all. It is something difficult to equate with the qualifications that we generally acquire in our institutions of education. A simple truth of the world is that to be happy in the world is quite difficult. Just as it is difficult to be happy, so also it is difficult to be wise in this world. Both mean the same thing. The unwise man is always unhappy, because wisdom is happiness, and knowledge is happiness. They are not only qualitatively related to each other, but one is identical with the other. In the ultimate sense they are the quality of God Himself—wisdom and happiness mean ‘chit’ and ‘ananda’ in the technical Sanskrit definition of God. He is consciousness and bliss, to put it in ordinary language.
He is wisdom and happiness, and any reflection of God in the world is a comparative reflection of perfection. Wherever there is a reflection of God’s presence in any manner whatsoever, happiness is revealed. It may be just a drop, it may be a most inconceivably small percentage—it does not matter—but if God is revealing Himself, then we feel a rapture and an ecstasy. Insight into life is another name for a minute reflection of God’s presence in human life. It is towards this end that yoga and the psychology of spiritual practice lead the mind of man. Every day it should be the duty of a student of yoga to watch his steps and to determine the extent of the progress that has been made.
How do we know that we have progressed? It is not a physical space that we have to count—it is rather a mental attitude. Most people cannot go to bed with a contented heart. There is something heavy weighing down on their shoulders when they go to bed at night. It is impossible for most people in the world to get a good sleep, because everyone is tethered down to unexpected, unforeseen and anxious situations. “Something may happen; something may not happen; something which I don’t like may happen, or something which I want may not happen.” These are the anxieties with which we go to bed every night. These are difficult enough to understand, and burdensome enough for any person. The purpose of the study of yoga is to free us from these tangles and not merely to give us some information. It is not for us to assume that we have learned something and that we have progressed merely because we think we know more. There has to be something in it more vital and significant that is crucial to us.
We have to go with a contented heart. We have to go with a feeling that we have achieved something which is meaningful to us. What could be more important to us than our own Self? Can we count upon anything else in the world as more consequent, momentous and meaningful than our own Self? What is the use of gaining the whole world, if we are losing our own soul, as Jesus phrased it? If we are to lose our own soul and gain the whole world, what does it avail us? Ultimately then, what is the most valued thing? Our own Self is the most valued thing. If we are out of tune, out of track, out of order, and have got drowned in the ocean of life, then what value could the world have for us? What is all this glory of the world, and what does it mean? It is nothing, it is trash, and it is a straw for us if we have lost our own soul.
If we read Goethe’s Faust, we will know what it is to sell one’s soul, and what calamities can then come as a result. Every one of us has sold himself to some extent at least. It is selling one’s soul that keeps us in slavery to the world. We have sold ourselves; so naturally, we are slaves. To sell oneself is to be a slave of others or of the world. What is it to sell oneself? To sell oneself is to fix one’s affection in things which are untrustworthy and in a world where things will deceive us. In these ephemeral things we pin our faith and affection, and so we sell ourselves to phantoms of the world which will immediately react upon us in their own way. To guard ourselves against this onslaught of the world is the yoga that we practise. I’m now giving here certain practical workaday outlines of what yoga is, along with the deeper implications about which I have spoken earlier. Sometimes it is easy to understand big things and difficult to understand small things, and it may be possible that we will fail in the small things, while we may appear to be successful in the larger things.
Up to this time it was my endeavour to speak on the profundities of yoga, but now I want to discuss some things that are very simple, but which are also of great importance. What makes us unhappy in not our faithlessness in the existence of God. We may be a very good churchgoer and temple worshipper; we may be faithful to God and believe in the existence of God, but nevertheless we may be unhappy. While the larger, general perspectives of religion and philosophy are good enough, they may not help us in the small things in life, because the knowledge has not entered into our personality. This knowledge has remained a commodity that we are carrying, like a load on our backs, and no material or psychological commodity can help us. This knowledge should not become a commodity that we are carrying. Knowledge is our own Self, and where it becomes our own Self, we blossom like a flower. Then we will feel that we are a true human being with some meaning in us.
Otherwise, many a time we ask despondently, “What is the meaning in life?” Many people do not understand why they were born at all. There are certain circumstances in life which make us cry, and we feel that it would be better to be rid of this world. Such situations are extremes of reaction set up against people. Against these difficulties we have to guard ourselves, but not with a drawn sword as if we were confronting an enemy. Yoga tells us not to be an enemy of anyone. We are not to come with drawn swords, because this is not the way to happiness. Hatred does not cease by hatred. Hatred ceases by love, says the Buddha.
This is not an instruction to us merely as regards our neighbour. Rather, it is in regard to all things in creation. This is the simple, outer, social and personal meaning of this attitude to life. Yoga has to come down to the practical level and be in our own homes as it were, and not remain merely in the heavens. Yoga is not merely a matter of our puja room, or the monasteries and churches. When yoga comes down to the street, to the shop, to the bazaar and to the workaday world, then it is that we can say that God has entered into our lives. To reiterate, the purpose of yoga is to make us happy human beings. It is only then that we can think of becoming a God-being. Every step that we take in the path of yoga is a path to happiness. From freedom to freedom, from happiness to happiness, and from broadness to broadness we move in the path of yoga. Our movement is from one whole to another whole. The ‘small whole’ we may say is the beginning, and the ‘larger wholes’ are the subsequent stages. There was one philosopher who wrote a book on what is called ‘whole-ism’. He said that everything moves from whole to whole. It is not a part that moves to the whole, as generally people think. Even a part is a whole in itself. A cell in our bodies is a whole and therefore complete. If we ask a biologist, he will say that any body is complete in itself and is a whole. It may look like a part, but in itself it is a whole.
We are told that we are a part of creation, but we think we are a whole by ourselves. We never regard ourselves as a part, because it is almost impossible to think so, but even a cell of our bodies is a whole by itself, if it is analysed. Many wholes make a larger whole—like cells becoming a body for instance. Wholes are concentrated into other wholes and are ultimately consummated in the supreme merger of all things, which is the Absolute. Such is yoga in its principle and practice—easy to understand, something very happy and most delighting when it comes into our hearts. In broad outlines, the outer aspects of the practice of yoga are possibly more important than our metaphysical understanding of it. This is because we are likely to be disturbed by small annoyances, and at the time that we experience them, they may be of greater consequence than anything else in the world. What disturbs our lives are the little pinpricks of life and not the larger aspects of maya or the cosmic prakriti. These are not really our problems. Acharya Sankara’s concept of maya as the universal attribute of Ishwara is not out problem. Our actual problems are very small ones, and if we carefully think about our own personal lives, we will find that our wants are small.