by Swami Krishnananda
When we are walking in a thick jungle, it is possible that our clothes may get caught in a thorny bush, and many thorns may be pulling us from different directions. What do we do then? We stop and very slowly try to remove the thorns, one by one. We do not pull our clothes by force, lest they should tear. Perhaps we will remove the smaller thorns first, because their prick is mild; and we will try to remove the bigger thorns that have gone deep later on, gradually, stage by stage. This is exactly what to do in the practice of yoga.
Our entanglements are manifold. Our consciousness that has lodged itself in this body is entangled in many types of relationship – some mild, some intense, some proximate, some remote, some visible, some invisible, and so on. The entanglements are umpteen, inconceivable to the ordinary mind of the human being. The disentanglement of personal consciousness from its involvements and multifarious connections with the external atmosphere is done with great caution – not in a hurry. Every step that we take in yoga is a very cautious step, and the step should be taken in such a way that it need not be retraced.
In the practice of yoga, there is no point in being in a hurry. God is not going to run away. He is always there, though we may see Him tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and not necessarily just now. Also, we will not be successful if we are in a great hurry, because hurry is caused by a lack of proper understanding of the prevailing conditions.
I mentioned sometime earlier that correct understanding is the initial prerequisite of the practice of yoga. Viveka is proper knowledge of the entire conditions and circumstances of the case. Just as in a medical examination or a legal procedure all the circumstances of the case have to be known thoroughly before any step is taken in rectifying the issue, so is the case with yoga. Perhaps the rule applies more to yoga than to any other issue.
The entanglements of consciousness are such that they cannot easily be made objects of investigation because, as I pointed out several times, the involvement is not an object of consciousness; it is a part of consciousness itself. The involvement becomes a part of us. We are ourselves an embodiment of the involvements and, therefore, we cannot investigate into the nature of these involvements. When a person is angry, he becomes an embodiment of anger. Therefore, there is no question of investigating into the causes of anger when we are already in a fit of rage. We do not examine the conditions of anger, and then get angry. We are already possessed by a devil, and when we are in such a state of possession, our whole personality is lodged, sunk in that condition, and there is nobody to find out the causes thereof. Whatever be the condition we are in, that becomes a part of our nature. Therefore, disentanglement of ourselves from that condition becomes a practical impossibility. That is why the practice of yoga is so difficult.
Whether it is an intense passion or a desire, an ambition, an anger – any sort of intense form of relationship, whatever be its character – it becomes a difficult problem. Everything is a difficult problem for us when it becomes deep, intense, and very involved; and all the questions of life, when they are pushed to their logical limits, become unanswerable. Such is the hardship in the practice of yoga that ancient students, disciples, seekers, had to undergo a very severe process of discipline under a master. Such severity is associated with the discipline that most people would be regarded as unfit for the practice of yoga. The severity is intolerable. It comes as a great pain in the beginning, though its result later on is a great joy. We have only to read the lives of great saints and seekers of the past, whether of the East or the West, to know the difficulties involved in spiritual practice. It is like peeling our own skin, as I mentioned. It is like removing our own flesh, as it were, or breaking our bones. Who would be prepared to do that? It is not a diversion or a hobby that we are embarking upon when we take to the life spiritual or the practice of yoga. We cannot expect pleasure, satisfaction, joy or delight at the very outset. What we get in the beginning is a poisonous reaction, a painful repercussion, something very difficult to understand – something that will give us a kick and throw us out, and tell us, “Don’t come near me again.” This is yoga.
But our modern disciples are made of a peculiar texture. They are accustomed to a push button life. Everything has to happen immediately, instantaneously – now or never. “God must be seen just now, or I don’t want Him.” Everything has to be subjected to scientific observation, logical deduction and scrutiny in the empirical sense of the term. This is a tremendous prejudice into which we are born, which we are unable to get rid of.
All our learning, all our prejudice, may have to be cast out to the winds when we become students of true spiritual life. All our qualifications become dust or dirt, a meaningless accretion grown on our personality, because our learning becomes a part of our pride, a part of our egoism which has given us a social status – which itself is an unwanted growth like a mushroom on our personality. That which has given us status in social life is anti-spiritual because our importance, if it has come from external relationship with human society, cannot be regarded as importance. And if our education has a value only in human society, and if it is useless when we are absolutely alone, it cannot be regarded as learning, knowledge, or as important.
When we are faced by a ferocious tiger in a jungle, how is our learning going to help us? We may be an Oxford PhD, but what is the use when a lion is standing before us with a yawning mouth? Can we tell the lion, “I am a PhD, sir. Don’t come near me!” He will care a hoot for our PhD; he will swallow us immediately. In any catastrophic condition, our learning will not help us out. The wrath of nature cares not for our education. Even social anger, which sometimes comes to the surface, does not care for our education. Hunger and thirst, sleep, passion and anger – all these care not for our education, whatever be our learning.
We have got small weaknesses which loom large in our life, and which control the entire activity of our social existence. Here we will find that whatever we have learnt is meaningless. What have we learnt? We have learnt nothing. We have only counted the items of the different material presentations in our physical life. We have only acquainted ourselves with the outer connections and relationship of things, which we call scientific knowledge; but that is not the wisdom of life.
That which can help us when we are absolutely alone and when we are in utter danger is real learning. We are in utter danger, danger of life itself perhaps, and we are absolutely alone. There is nobody around us; at that time what will help us? That is our knowledge and our learning; and anything else cannot be regarded as learning. In the practice of yoga, the usual learning of the world will be of no use, because whatever we have studied has a utilitarian value in the sense of physical and social relationship, but it has no spiritual significance. That which is spiritually significant is that which is connected with our soul, and not with our body or its social connections.
The practice of yoga is an endeavour of the soul, and not merely of the sense organs or even our psychological constitution. It has nothing to do with what we regard as meaningful and valuable in the ordinary walk of life. So when we step into the realm of yoga, we are new persons altogether. We are reborn, as it were, into a new setup of things, and we cast out our old, outdated, worn-out knowledge and learning, prejudice, ego, importance, status, etc., and become humble in the presence of the master who is going to initiate us into the technique of yoga.
The disciple is no more an independent individual. The first condition of discipleship is surrender to the Guru, which means to say he has abolished his individuality, cast out his learning and intellectual curiosity, and becomes a receptacle for the entry of the wisdom of the Guru. For this purpose, one has to be prepared to undergo the necessary disciplines in the practice of yoga. While the whole of the practice of yoga may be regarded as a discipline by itself, there are certain preliminary disciplines which have to be regarded as equally important – as important as even samadhi – for God-realisation. No step in the practice of yoga can be regarded as unimportant, just as in a ladder no rung can be regarded as unnecessary. The lowest rung in a ladder is as important as the highest, because we have to climb on every rung of the ladder. We cannot say, “It is so low. I am concerned only with the top.” That would be a foolish argument. In every step, at every stage, we will find that this step or stage is very important – even the most initial and beginning step.
So, it is necessary to start with the outermost entanglement of our nature, and gradually go into the internal steps – as has been suggested by masters like Sage Patanjali in their aphorisms and sutras, to which I made reference yesterday. Our outermost entanglement is social, and then comes the personal entanglements; higher than that is entanglement with the physical nature; lastly, there are inscrutable entanglements which are transempirical, which are supernatural, to which we have to stretch our arms later on. We should not suddenly try to jump to the skies, as if everything could be achieved in a single moment. Though the aspiration might be regarded as very pious and holy, that cannot be regarded as a part of wisdom. Everything in nature grows gradually. The child grows slowly and gradually in the womb of the mother. The tree grows gradually from a seed. Food is digested in the stomach gradually, slowly, systematically, methodically. Everything takes its own time, and there is a meaning in the time anything takes for working out its purpose.
So, the outermost of our entanglements is the first consideration. Many a time, as I mentioned, we cannot know what our entanglements are. We are so very complacent, generally speaking, that we regard ourselves as spotless in our character and perfectly okay in every sense of the term. This is one of the weaknesses of our personality. We regard ourselves as free from all blemish, fault, and defect – morally, intellectually, and spiritually. We have to be very dispassionate in our analysis. We have to be thoroughgoing, and we have to be true to our own conscience; that is very important.