by Swami Krishnananda
As it was pointed out some time back, it is not merely the conditions of our mind that tell upon the nature of the success that we achieve in our efforts, but also the nature of the atmosphere in which we are living. Both these factors are to be taken into consideration. There is an old saying: “Tell me the books that you read and the company that you keep, I shall tell you what you are.” This is a very wise saying, full of meaning.
What is in your bedroom? From that we can find out what sort of person you are. Search through your bedroom. What is on your bed? What is around? What pictures are you hanging on the walls? What books are you keeping? What is on the shelf? What is in the almirah? All these will be an indication of the nature of your mind and the nature of your involvements.
From the point of view of spiritual life or the spirit that we are, these things are not silly or unimportant, because there is nothing insignificant in this world. Every little thing is taken into consideration in a very appropriate manner. To God, at least, there is nothing unimportant; and the way spiritual is the way of God. So, every little bit of thought, feeling, action, and atmosphere is a matter for deep consideration because as a little finger held before the eyes can obstruct the huge sun from being perceived, or as a minute sand particle can irritate the eye and prevent us from seeing anything, a so-called insignificant event, a so-called unimportant thing, something not cognisable by the public eye, can become a terrific obstacle on our path. Even the smallest thing can assume a large proportion when the time for it comes. A little incident can separate thick friends, and even an international war can take place on account of a little incident that happened somewhere, in a corner of the world. Hence, there is nothing unimportant or meaningless if we deeply consider these aspects of our life.
A spiritual seeker is a person who takes everything very seriously; he does not cut jokes with anything. And the most serious thing for him is his own personal life and his connections with things, even if they are inanimate. The things that are around us need not necessarily be animate in order to disturb us. It is not merely human beings that can disturb us; even inanimate inorganic substances can disturb us, because money itself is an inorganic substance. Can it not disturb our mind? So, the atmosphere in which we are living is not merely a human atmosphere necessarily; it is anything and everything.
In the Svetasvatara Upanishad, and to a certain extent in the Bhagavadgita also, we are given some sort of an advice as to what kind of an atmosphere we have to select for the purpose of the practice of yoga. It should be free from every kind of distraction. The place for our stay, for our lodgement, for our practice, should be completely free from avoidable distractions. And what are the distractions? Anything that can stimulate the submerged desires.
It is not that we are free from desires when we are in a lonely place. Even inside the holiest of temples, the desires can work. But the things around may not be such as to be capable of digging up the inner feelings within us. There are objects outside which can evoke certain feelings and reactions from within us. Though the feelings are always there – the condition of our mind does not change essentially, even if we physically move from one place to another place – yet, nevertheless, there is a possibility of their getting accelerated or accentuated and pronounced, and made to manifest themselves concretely outside by objects of sense.
An object of sense is anything that we can see with our eyes, a sound that we can hear, something that we can touch, something that we can smell or taste, and so on. These objects can rouse up the hidden feelings of even a distant past. Impressions created in our minds by experiences of twenty or thirty years back can be roused up into action by a counterpart in the world outside. Everything is inside us in the form of a subtle groove – like the groove of a gramophone plate or like the impression formed on a photographic film. It can be duplicated, triplicated, and so on. It can be replayed at any time. It is waiting for an opportunity.
The purpose of the spiritual seeker is not to give an opportunity for these grooves to get relayed into action or the films within to be duplicated, etc. They have to be kept unused for a long time. Now, to keep a thing unused is not necessarily to destroy it. It can be there for a very, very long time without actively disturbing us. The purpose of seclusion is not so much an attempt at dealing a death blow at our old impressions suddenly – which is an impossibility – but at least mitigating the intensity of these feelings within, and making us pass at least a little time in peace. This peace is tentative and is not real peace, because as long as enemies are lying hidden within, ready for action at any time, we cannot be said to be really in peace. Yet, when the enemy is not taking action, it is a kind of peace.
In the place of sequestration to which the yoga student resorts, many types of effort may have to be put forth. It is not merely a stereotyped routine of action that will help us much because, while we are under the impression that the enemy is not visible in front, he can strike us from behind.
There is nothing visible in front of us, so we go headlong on the path with the notion that everything is clear. The path is open; there is no problem, no difficulty. But the difficulties are created by certain placements of forces of nature which are spread out everywhere, and they are not always in front of us – physically speaking, at least. The forces which we have to confront in the practice of yoga are in all ten directions. They cannot be said to be only in front of us so that we can see them with our open eyes; and we cannot say that because they are not visible in front, they are not there at all. An all-round action has to be taken in the practice of yoga. All the avenues have to be blocked, so that there is no chance of an entry of these inimical forces at any time. How many passes and bypasses are there through which these forces can gain an ingress into us? These have to be known first.
There is no use taking a sudden step because, as we have learnt earlier, the taking of the active step is not the real problem. The problem is the equipping of ourselves with all the necessities for taking that step, and that takes all the time – almost the major part of one’s life. But that is not a loss of time or a waste of energy. It is a necessity, because when we have properly strengthened ourselves and we are confident of our strength, then to take the needed step would be very easy.
What are the avenues or the channels through which the inimical forces can attack us? Broadly speaking, these are the senses – though this is not a complete answer to the question because there are more things to be said about these things. But generally, for practical purposes, we can say that the channels of approach for every kind of force are the channels of the senses. The mind has hidden potentialities, which can be roused into activity through these avenues called the senses. The mind acts through the senses. Sometimes it can take direct action also, but it does so very rarely. Mostly it acts through the senses. It waits for an opportunity for the senses to act; and the senses act when they find an object which can stimulate them into action. Any sight can stimulate us into manifesting a hidden mental potentiality – and so on in respect of other sense organs also.
So, the student of yoga chooses to live in such a place or an atmosphere where objects are not in the immediate vicinity to rouse the senses into action. This step that the yogi takes in the beginning is, no doubt, not a solution to his problems because, as we know very well, the submerged desires of the mind are not going to keep quiet for long merely because they have no opportunity to express themselves. Yet, this is one necessary step. What is to be done with these submerged desires when they are not actively working, we shall see later on. The system of yoga prescribes methods for dealing with them in an effective manner later on.
But, to live in a place of isolation for a long time requires some sort of strength. A very weak person cannot live in isolation. The weakness of our personality is mostly due to our dependence on many factors outside, especially social factors, without which we seem to be incapable of conducting ourselves in our life, or even existing. We have many needs of our body and mind, and these needs cannot be provided if there is no proper social atmosphere. That is why most people cannot live in seclusion. We cannot get even a cup of tea in seclusion, not to speak of other things. It is a horrible state of affairs to contemplate the condition of a mind that has been starved for a very long time, which will feel as if heaven has come upon it even if the least satisfaction is provided. A drowning person is ready to catch even a straw that is floating on the surface of water, though he knows that the straw cannot save him.