by Swami Krishnananda
Either we seek God fully, or we do not seek Him at all. There is no halfway. This is an important aspect of our spiritual efforts, which we have to bear in mind. Most of us would like to have a small percentage of God in our lives, because one hundred percent of God is possibly not something that the mind can accommodate in itself. But it is very unfortunate that God will not allow Himself to be partitioned in that way. He would withdraw Himself completely if we try to belittle Him or try to take advantage of His grace upon us by exploiting it for baser motives, whose fulfilment the mind is subtly seeking – sometimes at the expense of God, and at other times by utilising God as an instrument for that purpose. This is a very serious aspect which one has to consider.
It is difficult for the mind to accept the greatness of God, because it has its own yardstick of measuring greatness; and its measuring rod is of this world. It belongs to this world, so everything has to be measured with the values that are associated with the things of the world – even God, or even His grandfather, it makes no difference to us. What will it bring to us? This is the question, which is a commercial attitude. We are all business people – everyone in the world – in the sense that we expect something. “What will it bring to me? What is the profit that I gain by going to God, praying to God, meditating on God, or even accepting that He exists? What do I gain by saying that God exists? Let Him exist or not exist – what does it matter to me? It matters to me because it may bring some advantage to me, so it is better that He exists.”
Someone said, “If God does not exist, we have to create Him for our purposes,” because without the existence of such a being, some of the difficulties of our lives do not seem to be solved. So like an ‘x’ in an equation, we create a God – a non-entity for the time being – which will be helpful to us in our earthly joys, which we seek much more than God Himself. This is not merely a joke or a humour; this is a matter-of-fact experience which we have to concede if we are dispassionate in our own self-analysis. We are not so much lovers of God as we appear to be on the surface, because to love God wholly is to die, almost, to the life of the world; and nothing can be more fearful than death. While we are not speaking of physical death here, it is something worse than that. Even physical death will not be so horrible as the death that we are expected to pass through for the sake of God. There are more painful forms of death than physical death – that is, the death of our ego and personality as a whole, which is more terrifying than even the annihilation of the body.
Now, all these are the repelling aspects of yoga which will turn us away from it when the whole truth about it is presented before us. “Good bye!” would be our final word to this wholesome advice, which would be the advice of Bhagavan Sri Krishna to a man like Duryodhana – which will be so bitter, unpalatable, repelling, and most unwelcome. Even God can be an enemy of man. Atmaiva ripuratmanah (Gita 6.5): The Self can be our enemy. This is most surprising, indeed. How can it be? But that can be. The Atman, or the Self, can be our enemy in the sense that the demands of the higher degree of reality are unpalatable to the lower levels in which we are living. Our immediate needs look sweeter than the requisitions of a wider realm of truth.
The more we think of and ponder over the details of the practice of yoga – not merely the outer introductions to it – we would find that we are unfit for it. Not even the best man can say that he is ready for it or prepared for it, truly speaking. We have subtle weaknesses – every one of us, from A to Z – and these subtle weaknesses are kept buried inside us without our knowing what to do with them. But how long can we go on thinking: “What to do with them, what to do with them?” Something has to be done with them. Finally, what we do is we reconcile ourselves with them, because they seem to be more friendly than God Himself. This is the attitude of Dhritarashtra: “Well, my dear Lord Krishna, what you say is correct, what Bhishma said is correct, what Drona said is correct; but after all, what my son says, I must agree with.” This is what finally Dhritarashtra says and does. “Whatever anybody may say, let Parasurama say or the sages say, it is all very beautiful; I agree with it, but” – a great but indeed – “my son, after all, is my son.” And so Duryodhana’s words are final. Secretly they are effectuated, overriding all that wonderful advice of the masters, incarnations and sages. This is what everyone does, and one cannot help it. Finally, we have to okay our inner impulses which go hand in hand with our bodily needs and the impetuous callings of the senses.
It is embracing fire, as they say, to practice yoga. Who would embrace fire? But that is what it is. It is not drinking milk or bathing oneself in honey. It is the most arduous of conceivable endeavours on the part of the human being. It is because we are not prepared for this ordeal that yoga becomes difficult for us. The whole point is that we are not prepared; how can it be practicable? The practice comes afterwards, the preparation for it precedes. Up to this time we have been discussing the great canons of discipline and ethics – the principles of yama in their philosophical and psychological aspects, which are the preparations. They are not nothings or nobodies; they are everything. In fact, we will realise that when they are well understood and properly undergone, they are a major part of the success in our practice. The strength of the foundation is not in any way less important than the beauty of the edifice that is raised upon it; but we are always apt to forget that a foundation is necessary. We are always likely to keep an eye on the grandeur of the building on the top, the beauty thereof, and the comforts we can get out of it by living in it, rather than paying due attention to the technicalities involved in laying the foundation. What is the use of digging? Our idea is to raise the walls high, but what we do is go down by digging. Why do we go down when our idea is to go up?
Sometimes, it looks that our aims are not going to be fulfilled by the practices that are enjoined upon us in the name of yoga and spirituality. Mankind of today is, truly speaking, unfit for spiritual life. It is no use merely camouflaging or advertising; all this humdrum of talk in the name of God, and religion would finally end up in the dirt and dust. One has to be very, very cautious and unselfish in such matters – because we are playing with God. Even playing with a snake is not as dangerous. This is something unbecoming on our part. Either we honestly say that it is not for us, or we take to it wholeheartedly. Why play a joke with Him, show our teeth before Him, and mock Him? This is not a proper attitude on the part of anyone who is genuinely honest. But this is precisely our problem.
The difficulty, then, is in an incapacity to understand and appreciate one’s own inner motives. There is an element of hypocrisy in every person. This cannot be avoided because hypocrisy rules the world; otherwise, the world would go to the dogs. If truth triumphs, there will be no world afterwards. That the world continues shows that truth is not triumphing, because the world is made up of hypocritical nets which are the names that we give to artificial makeshifts of relation which we project forth in the external world in our daily routines, in our smiles, and in our roundtable conferences. All this will not work with God, though it may work with man because we can deceive man by various artifices; but no artifice will work with God. Nobody can deceive Him. He is the only person who cannot be deceived, and everyone else can be deceived. But we are trying to deceive Him only! This is very strange and, therefore, the boomerang comes upon us like a bolt from the blue; and here we are what we are.
But it is never too late to mend, as the proverb goes. Even now it is not bad enough. Things are quite all right. We can set things right even now. While nobody can be as fierce as God, nobody can be as kind as God. While the blow He gives can simply smash us to smithereens, at the same time the blessings He can pour upon us can make us an emperor of emperors. Sometimes devotes call Him father and mother, judge, parent, grandfather, support, law and love combined. He is law and love both – the strictness of law, and the lenience of love – both are present in God.
So it is not impossible for us, even at this critical hour of ours, to make peace with God. And He can be easily conciliated. Sometimes we call Him ashutosh, ‘very quickly pleased’, because it is easy to please Truth. We cannot please untruth so easily. As Truth is the ultimate nature of things, we can please anything by a resort to the true nature of things. If I understand you properly in your essential being, I can pocket you; but if I cannot understand you, then it is difficult to reconcile myself with you.
The practice of yoga is the supreme effort that one is called upon to put forth – not as a so-called religious attitude of a monastic order, or a much-misunderstood and abused spiritual sense connected with an other-worldly experience of a paradise, but as an indispensable scientific and logical attitude called upon every person on account of the very law of one’s own being, which no one can violate. The practice of yoga is the fulfilment of the law of our own being. How can we escape it? No one can.
With this introduction, which is practically the entire philosophical background and the psychological implication of the preparations for the practice of yoga, we take it for granted that we are honest with God and honest with our own selves, and take to the life spiritual in its real meaning and connotation. One should not be tired of emphasising that the life spiritual is not the duty merely of a sannyasin or a monastic disciple, but it is the law of the being of every person; and if we cannot understand this much, we have only to say that we need a re-education altogether, right from the beginning. The life spiritual is not the prerogative of any religious mendicant. It is not a prescription of Hinduism, or any kind of ‘ism’, for the matter of that. It is the science of life, and anyone who is alive has to be awake to this need that we call the attitude that is spiritual; and the implementation of it in life is called yoga. Such a broad meaning it has, and so necessary it is for the very existence of everyone.