by Swami Krishnananda
The path of Yoga is a journey towards the attainment of perfection. Students eager to tread this inner way of life are often found to be over-enthusiastic and incapable of judging the pros and cons of the steps they have to take in the proper direction. An uprise of emotional fervour suddenly takes it for granted that the realisation of God is the goal of life and that the one thing that they have to be after is to be wholly engaged in continuous meditation on God, or taking His Name, reciting His glories, etc., throughout the day. While this is precisely the ideal way of living the spiritual life and this is exactly what one is supposed to endeavour to achieve in one's day-to-day life, it will be realised, on a correct assessment of values, that the notion is misty and miscalculated, and it is not so easy as it might appear on the surface. As is the case with military operations; so with the practice of Yoga. A famous saying of the Mahabharata, that the Sannyasin engaged in Yoga and the warrior fighting in the field are the two heroes fit for the attainment of salvation, should confirm that the practice of Yoga is as many-sided and complicated a procedure as are the operations of the army in the war-field. Just as a soldier enters the field with an idea to win victory and not merely with an intention to die there, the Yogi takes to his practice with a will to succeed in the achievement and not with a diffident mood of the possibility of retrogression or failure.
The General of an army, who is acquainted with the facts of warfare, does not at once make a frontal attack on the enemy, though this is his intention in the end. The preparations for this final confrontation are many. The General has to know the extent of the military equipment and the moral courage of his own men. He has also to make enough provisions for emergency that may arise when the battle actually breaks out. He has to assess the strength of the enemy in a similar manner. He has to know the nature of allies on his side as well as on the enemy's side. Above all, he has to be fully up to date with the tactics that the enemy might employ as well as those that he intends to unleash, apart from being awake to the physical, strategic and armamental powers. The way of Yoga is hazardous and full of dangers. It would be sheer folly on the part of an amateur in Yoga to imagine that he would catch God by dint of mere will to meditate, with which he might be fired for the time being. For, the fire can cool down when the opposition forces rain down arrows of temptation as well as threat of many kinds. It is better to take more time to guard oneself with precautionary measures than go headlong into the thick of the array, unprepared.
The goal which one wishes to realise is not far removed from oneself. This marvel of being is everywhere and in everything, and hence the difficulty in coming to a direct experience of it. That which is everywhere seems to be almost like that which is nowhere. Errors in the operation of consciousness are mostly the gravest errors of mankind. One's own mistakes are seen in the faces of others. One detests and criticises in others the weaknesses and evils which are enshrined in one's own self. This is the psychological malady from which no one can easily escape. A thief always suspects others and cannot trust them fully, because of his simmering conscience which keeps him restless at all times. The student of Yoga is not in a better plight, for human foibles cannot leave him. The mistakes of the politicians, the warriors, the rulers, the heads of states and the institutions are also the mistakes of individuals, whether they be scholars, teachers, traders or even seekers of Truth. The universal law working everywhere, uniformly, does not spare anyone from the enforcement of its principles. The mistake of consciousness is taken for the mistake of the world. Here is the seed of world-problems.
If God is one, the Absolute is the only reality, the seeker of such an experience should naturally be included within its being. Then, where does the question of seeking arise? The very idea of seeking or endeavouring to achieve is the outcome of a split in consciousness itself. The necessity to find a medicine appears to have arisen on account of the disease being already there. Else, there would be no need for the remedy. This division of consciousness within itself is not detectable, for consciousness is already involved in it. If it were not so involved, anyone would have easily known where the problem lies. The whole of humanity seems to be no better today than it was centuries before, because its errors cannot be detected: the errors are, unfortunately for it, in its consciousness itself. It looks, for a moment, that there is no solution for this surprising situation. But the solution, too, comes as another surprise, perhaps a greater one than the problem itself. The wondrous solution to this universal problem of man is the great philosophy of life. No one can be a successful student of Yoga, who is not properly instructed in this philosophy.
As consciousness is spread out everywhere, it being universal, the problem also presents itself from every corner of the world, every walk of life, and every field of activity. However, in tackling this problem, a systematic procedure has to be adopted, with great caution and logical consistency. The usual method is to start from the external towards the internal, and then rise from the internal, gradually, to the universal. The reason for this procedure is that consciousness which is essentially universal seems to have got localised into individual centres of internality of concepts and then slowly moved outward into percepts of objective situations in a world of physical entities. The process of return to the original condition of reality has to be a systematic reversal, stage by stage, of the process of the descent of consciousness into its lowest forms. On a dispassionate analysis, psychologically and scientifically, we would realise that we have no troubles from persons or things but from certain states of consciousness involved in relationships with persons and things. Hence, an analysis of the world-situation and of world-problems would ultimately be an analysis of the universal involvement of consciousness in long series of objectivity.
The lowest form of this involvement may be said to be what is known as the political consciousness, by which we mean a network of mechanised relationships contrived to bring about a harmony among individuals. In every stage of development, the effort is to rise from a state of opposition to that of harmony. Thus, we have, in its crudest form, the human endeavour to rise from political opposition to political harmony. Even wars which are embarked upon have at their background the intention to bring about political harmony and stability. But this is only an extreme step which is taken when the more normal methods fail – methods such as promises of mutual understanding and cooperation based on humanitarian grounds. The political consciousness does not rise above the humanitarian level, for its standpoint is of the visible immediacy of the needs of human beings as individuals, or groups of individuals. But the visible is not always the real. The real man is behind what is seen with the eyes. Hence, political relationships of the nations promising a possibility of international harmony do not always end in the satisfaction of human minds, which remain still in a state of insecurity and anxiety, because political harmony can be broken up any moment, as pieces of glass glued together can never be said to form a real whole. The split forms of political consciousness have not been really united: they have only been temporarily welded together with the strength of the cement used to make them stick together. The unnaturalness of this unity is obvious.
Consciousness struggles to rise again from this state of affairs and we see people tired of political life taking to social work or social service as a way of being nearer to the truth of human nature than political activity. This stride of consciousness is now observed to be tending towards an inwardisation by one stage. But, here, too, dissatisfaction does not end. As political heads, though they may be in the height of their power, can have a sudden fall overnight, making them get disillusioned of all politically manoeuvred efforts, social workers, also, do not remain happy people. They realise one day, at their cost, that the society can never be satisfied, and it is like a dog's tail which cannot be straightened always. The defects seen in the field of politics are visible here, once again, as old wine in a new bottle. People cannot be made happy by any amount of service rendered to them, and one who has dedicated himself to social service stands dazed at the futility of his efforts, in the end. The reason is that peoples' happiness does not so much depend on what they get from outside as what they realise personally in their own minds and feelings. The impact of external events and objects upon the mind has much to do with the state of the mind at the given moment. Hearts which are aggrieved with psychological rifts cannot be happy even if heaven itself is to descend upon the earth. On the other hand, pleasures of people, within their own concerned circles, totally ignore even a state of chaos outside, if only it is not to interfere with these satisfactions with which they identify their whole life. The good that is done is not always remembered, while a small error committed is never forgotten. Man, being what he is, has proved himself more untrustworthy at times than those who follow the law of the jungle. It is only in one's maturity of age that one comes face to face with the startling discovery of the irrefutable position that no one can ultimately be satisfied, or even made friends with, for an indefinite period.
When this wisdom dawns, man betakes himself to the purely subjective arts and sciences as the only things worth striving after in life. People confine themselves to their academic circles or laboratories for the sheer satisfaction of knowledge for knowledge's sake. Study and research in the several branches of learning engage all their attention. We have, thus, had prodigies of knowledge, both in the arts and sciences, as well as masters in the technique of public oration. These, indeed, become highly revered personalities, and the infinitude that extends beyond what they know seems to be a source of their personal happiness. Study and teaching are innocuous pleasures. Yet, with all this, these geniuses of learning see a limitless expanse of the unknown yawning before them, and rarely does one die with a feeling of conviction that one has known what is really worth the while, as the secret of life.
On the path of the spirit which the seeker of Truth treads, the maladies which characterise these strata of human life are not really absent. One may enter the field of spiritual life, wanting to make an honest enquiry into the nature of reality, but the human side that expresses itself through public relationships and private hopes as in politics, sociology and the academies, seeps into the interior of one's efforts, even without one's knowing what is happening. It is this general pervasive character of human nature that makes even those who thought they heard the call of God succumb to the involvements and attractions of public life and assume roles of leadership in political and social circles, or immerse themselves in ponderous tomes, and make scholarship a career in their lives. These are lurking foes on the path of the sincere seeker, which appear in the front due to his not having been vigilant enough to detect the entanglement of consciousness in the artificial satisfactions of the phenomenal world. It is only with the hard effort of thinking and experience through the passage of living that one stumbles upon the central pivot of all problems, viz., the psychological structure of man.
It is these seasoned souls who get tired of the mere outward pursuit of perfection that turn to seek it in inward austerity known as Tapas or restraint of the total personality from its external ramifications through the society and the ego-principle. In this effort at self-restraint, the powers within get revealed. But the powers which initially come out into the surface are the urges of the lower individual nature, such as the passion for sex, the greed for wealth, the craving for name, fame and authority, and a hidden susceptibility to the sensory lure of the fine arts. While the treasure may be hidden deep inside the earth, what one sees coming out on digging the surface is stone that hurts and dust that blinds the eye. Consciousness gets identified again with this situation and there is the fear of a fall, once more, into undesirable circles. When the mind is pressurised by efforts at restraint of self, it releases energies which tend towards the object of sense. Often, it is seen that the chances of retrogression into the older moods and instincts are greater in those who try to control the mind than those who give a long rope to it. A satisfied enemy is less likely to offer an attack than the dissatisfied one. The love for God can easily flow along channels of name, fame, power and material gain. The majority of even sincere souls goes this way, on account of indiscretion and overestimation of one's capacity to understand oneself in a dispassionate manner. The effort either ends in physical mortification continuing till one's bodily death, mistaken for a genuine practice of Yoga, or in a side-tracking of one's interests along the lines of sensory and egoistic gratification. One can see the world abounding in many such instances of those who 'know not, and know not they know not'.
But there are more fortunate ones who 'know not, and know they know not'. These are people who have a hope of being saved through instruction and by example. These rigorous souls on the path of Yoga rise up to the occasion and quickly realise where exactly the trouble lies. They come to grasp the secret that these instincts which press themselves forward through the senses and the ego cannot easily be overcome by mere pressure exerted on them, even as a disease cannot be cured by the use of suppressive drugs. The instincts are only the outer symptom of an inner error of consciousness, which has all along been there without being diagnosed as the root-disease. Fasts and vigils, fierce penances of the body and starving of the senses and the mind are not remedies for the upsurge of instincts of the lower nature. These practices merely suppress them and make them more violent in their efforts to come out with a vengeance. True Yoga begins when this essential of human psychology is known and turned towards a higher self-analysis and contemplation of a purely spiritual character.
The pressure that objects exert on the consciousness which observes them is weighty enough to cause an organic involvement of the latter in the set-up of the former. There is a mutual determination of form and character between consciousness and its objects. This is almost like two contending parties influencing each other in such a way that neither of them can think or work independent of the other. In some such sense as this we call the world a relative phenomenon. Due to this factor of consciousness and object operating as the warp and woof of every kind of experience, the individual remains for ever a fluctuating centre of perplexity and indecision in regard to the ultimate truth of life. Until the consciousness-aspect and the object-aspect in experience are separated from each other and judged correctly, from their own standpoints, there would not be freedom or independence, deathlessness or eternal life. The purpose of Yoga is to achieve this difficult analysis and experience and come to a definite conclusion, valid for all times. The revolutionary character of the instinctive urges in human nature is due to the influence of objects on consciousness and the interest which consciousness has in objects, a situation which has arisen on account of the mutually dependent character of these two factors in experience. Here is, indeed, a hard nut to crack, and Yoga becomes really difficult when one comes to this stage of the effort.