by Swami Krishnananda
According to an important system of yoga that tradition usually follows, the course of consciousness through its ascent in the direction of the attainment of perfection usually follows the series which nature seems to have followed in its evolution; and often it is felt that yoga is the returning process of the soul to the source from where it has come down, and the track which it traverses in its ascent is in the reverse order of that which it followed in its descent. The effect returns to the cause, and the cause returns to its own cause, and so on, until ultimately the final cause is contacted in a communion where further ascent is not called for. Therefore, we have to remember here the various stages of the involvement of human consciousness in its coming down, as it were, until it has reached its present state, where we all are placed.
We have noticed that this human personality is constituted of certain layers which are, broadly speaking, the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the spiritual. These go by the name of the koshas in Sanskrit. How did consciousness happen to get involved in these koshas? What was it that covered it at the very outset? Because no one has seen what has happened and no one could visualise the way in which God operated, as it were, during the time of creation, no human being, no individual, can know what has happened to its own self, since returning back to one's own cause through the means of the effect will not be possible.
By way of study of the proclamations in the scriptures and by inference drawn therefrom, we may come to know that the involvement, which is also called the bondage of the soul, has been a gradual descending from more ethereal and finer forms into greater density and the concretisation of experience. These are philosophically forbidden areas and no one can probe into these divine mysteries, but there seems to be some point in the conclusions drawn by students of yoga from the proclamations of the scriptures and in the light of inferences so drawn by way of reason, that the physical body is the grossest development of this process of involvement of the spirit and, evidently, it is the latest formation. The inner circles are manufactured earlier, as it were, and the outer ones are formed later on. There is a blinding of consciousness, perhaps, which prevents its awareness of there being any kind of conscious relation between itself and the Universal whole. This blindness, this unconsciousness, this ignorance, may be said to be the so-called original sin, if at all we may call it by that term, whereby the individuality is officially sanctioned and becomes established on its own throne of imperialism, and the Universal – of which it has been ever a part, to which it owes affiliation and allegiance, from which it can never be separate – is forgotten totally.
This forgetfulness was the earliest stage of involvement, and this is confirmed in some of the statements we read in the writings of later masters of yoga such Patanjali, who mentions in one pithy aphorism that avidya or ignorance is the primal cause of bondage and everything follows thereafter. Avidyā, asmitā, rāga dveṣa, abhiniveśaḥ kleśāḥ (Yoga Sutras 2.3) is the sutra. Our loves and hatreds, our clingings and passions, and all the turmoil of life may be said to arise from an original ignorance. This is corroborated in Buddhist psychology also, where the ignorance of one's own essential nature, whatever be that nature, is supposed to be the cause of the involvements of individuality in external relations, leading to the necessity to invent in one's own self instruments – sense-organs, mind, intellect, etc. – to implement such relations.
The covering of consciousness is sometimes called anandamaya kosha, the causal sheath, or to put it plainly, a sort of cloud which envelops consciousness in an intensified form, such that it affirms an isolation of this bit of consciousness that is apparently segregated from the larger dimension of its own self. When this affirmation – egoism, so-called – is confirmed in a seed form, it then manifests itself in visible form as direct consciousness of personality, and the types of relation that have to be established with others – external persons and things – are also naturally confirmed, as a sort of corollary from a theorem.
Inasmuch as the Pure Consciousness that everyone is, was first driven out into the exile of self-conscious individuality by the action of an inscrutable ignorance whose definition is beyond us, and everything follows from that particular state until we reap human bodily consciousness and external consciousness, the yoga process considers the reverse process as the proper technique to be adopted in yoga. In the previous session I gave you a brief outline of the ways and means that one may have to adopt in yoga to free oneself from external involvements, which may be called social.
Therefore the yoga technique, in one of its principle forms, precisely considers the mathematical series followed in the process of the coming down of consciousness into this grosser existence of bodily individuality, and endeavours to retrace its steps backwards. Thus it is that the first step that a spiritual seeker normally takes, in religious parlance, is an attempt to free himself from outward relations. This is visibly manifest in the desire to live alone, uncontaminated, unrelated by human society or any sort of relation which may bring into highlight the sense of possession, love and hatred, and the like. People who live in families, in offices, and in such involved circumstances try to take leave of these conditions when the aspiration called yoga takes possession of them. The significance behind this feeling in an individual to free oneself from involvements of social types is the need of consciousness to extricate itself from the lowest of involvements at the outset, for the purpose of achieving higher freedom by further weaning itself away from subtler and subtler forms of involvement.
The whole of samsara, as it is called in Sanskrit, is a bundle of involvements, layer after layer, heaped one over the other. These are also called the knots, granthis, by which the soul is tied to bondage, and the knots have to be untied gradually, one after the other. One adequately frees oneself from social and political or even economic involvements, and feels a sort of strength in one's own self to stand by oneself, not in a foolish and haphazard manner but in a consistent way, being sure that one can stand on one's own legs. Here again, caution is to be exercised; discretion is supposed to be the better part of valour. Then it is that the desire to be alone takes possession of oneself, pre-eminently. A truly spiritual seeker feels happy when being alone and feels miserable in the midst of people, while the worldly person feels miserable being alone and runs to shops, cinemas, circuses in order to feel satisfaction in the world. There are people who can never sit alone, even for a few minutes. They feel miserable, wretched, as if they are in hell. They run in search of friends with whom they can shake hands and chat so that the boredom of being alone is obviated for the time being at least. For them it is death to be alone, whereas it is death to be in the midst of relations for the truly religious consciousness and the spiritually seeking soul.
But here, to repeat once again, we have to be very careful that we really have a desire to be alone. Often we are driven into a consciousness that we have to be alone due to the difficulties of life. The situation in which Arjuna found himself, as described for us in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita, should not overtake us. The desire to be alone is very good, very holy and expected of everyone one day or the other, but the motive behind it is equally important – perhaps more important. Why do you want to be alone? Ask this question to yourself. Is it because the police are pursuing you? What is the reason you want to be away, somewhere in a corner? Have you lost everything? Has everyone in the family died and there is nothing worthwhile? Is everything bitter? Do you want to hang yourself psychologically? Is this the reason behind your desire for being alone? Or, is it something else? This has to be investigated into very carefully. The motive behind this desire to be alone is very important because, after all, it is the mind that creates bondage, and it is also the mind that will lead you to liberation.
You have to examine and analyse yourself very carefully, threadbare, as to the genuineness of this spiritual element that is present in this desire to be alone. Is it because you have been suffering pain? The desire to be alone should not be a desire to be free from the pains of life; it should be a positive longing, caused by a pull of the higher spirit. The higher joy is pulling you, and it is not the lower pain that is driving you out. If this is clear, the path is also clear to you, and then God Himself will take care of you. The world is no longer necessary. It is not necessary because God is larger than the world. You have not renounced the world; you have caught hold of something which is bigger than the world. Hence, the positivity of spiritual aspiration is confirmed. It is not a negative withdrawal; it is a positive attunement with a larger dimension of truth which includes the whole world. It does not exclude the world as a wretched evil.
Thus, being sure of your genuineness in the aspiration that is manifest in you spiritually, religiously, along the line of yoga, you can live a solitary life. You do not need anyone's help. You do not need anyone's help because you have the help of everyone, from every corner of the world. It is not that you are bereft of all support and you are thrown into the winds of fate – nothing of the kind. Spirituality is a positive achievement, and not a negative losing. You lose nothing by treading the path of the spirit, though to an untutored mind it may appear that you have lost your father, mother, wife, children, property, land, and everything has gone. This is a foolish idea that may enter into an uneducated seeking spirit. You do not lose anything; you are gaining. Otherwise, who would want to lose anything purposely and deliberately, unless they are idiotic? The path of the spirit is the path of gaining larger realities in their originality, and freeing oneself from the illusion that shadows are realities.
This why true religious seekers, spiritually-oriented students, like to live alone. Again I repeat, you must understand the reason behind this desire to be alone and the significance of one's being alone. It is not a geographical aloneness but a spiritual aloneness, and the distinction between the two has to be very carefully drawn. Spiritually-oriented aloneness is not the same as a geographical, astronomical or political aloneness.
Then, what happens? The spirit has gone above the lowest of involvements. It has transcended one barrier and feels that it is granted a sort of freedom, at least in one percentage. The physical body, as I mentioned, is the lowest of the formations of bondage; and when the consciousness peeps through the sense organs of the physical body for the purpose of the fulfilment of desires, it becomes a social unit, a political individual, etc. When this is overcome, the consciousness need not anymore depend on the sense organs to get satisfaction. It can withdraw itself, for reasons already known. Then it finds that it is stationed as an integral part of this bodily individuality, this physical frame which is constituted of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether. This is not a small achievement. Though actually this looks like an initial step in the yoga practice, it is a really great achievement, and you yourself will know what an achievement it is if it has been effected adequately in your own personality.
To be free from external relations is not an ordinary achievement. You have to be superhuman in some way in order to attain this trait. Ordinary human nature will not permit this. The five elements will be your friends, and no other friends are necessary in this world when you are rid of the desire to be in relation with external persons and things. The whole world is constituted of the five elements only. All that you see, this grand universe that is before your eyes, is nothing but a permutation and combination, a configuration of these five elements. Whether it is beautiful or ugly, whether it is gold or iron, it is all the five elements, nothing more, and even your body is just that. You feel a sense of belonging to the five elements when you realise that in the state of freedom from external relations you stand united with the cosmos of physical manifestation.