by Swami Krishnananda
The true significance of these thoughts cannot enter people's minds unless certain stages have been passed through earlier. The usual physical posture, called asana, that is closely associated with yoga practice is the first step that is taken in your attempt to set your physical frame, and everything connected with it, in tune with the physical elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. It is believed that when this has been effected properly, the elements do not torment you as they would torment an ordinary individual. Hunger and thirst become diminished in their intensity. You do not feel like gorging yourself as an ordinary hungry person would. Desires become diminished because desires are the psychic pressures felt by us as the result of this vehemence felt by the body in its affirmation of individuality, and when we are free from this pressure that is exerted upon our psyche by this physical affirmation of one's own individuality, then desires naturally become diminished in their intensity because a desire is nothing but a psychic pressure originated by the affirmation of individuality which requires external contact, possession of persons and things, and so on.
Yoga asana is something well known. People generally believe that yoga asana is something that anyone can do, that it is just bending the body in a particular way and the yoga exercise is over. But yoga asana is a spiritual technique, not a physical exercise. It is not a feat of the body. It is an inward communion that you establish through the physical manifestation of your personality in terms of its relation to the five elements because of the fact that the body is constituted of the five elements.
Now, at this stage of realisation of the experience, your physical individuality realises that human relations are not important because there are higher relations. It is the five elements – not people – that are the rulers of the world, and befriending them is more important than befriending living organisms, because they too are constituted of the visible frame only. This is a stage which is very much emphasised in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, but in other forms of yoga so much stress on the physical posture is not laid, for other reasons. Though it is not absolutely necessary that one should always attempt a physical communion of the bodily or psychophysical frame with the five elements, it is a great assistance. You may walk without a walking stick, but if you have one, it will help you in some way.
When the spirit assumes immense strength within itself and its ardour, its spiritual longing is overwhelming – it has inundated you in and out, and your love for God has broken its bounds and you cannot stand on this Earth continuously for even three minutes because of this anguish you feel in your soul of your isolation from God – if this superior spiritual possession becomes your experience, you become a saint in one second and no yoga asana or physical posture is necessary. You will be taken care of by the higher forces. But inasmuch as most people are not in this condition of an overwhelming longing for God-realisation – they cannot be flooded like that so easily – it is always suggested that it is better to be cautious and humble, and remember where you stand. There is no harm in being seated in a disciplined posture, though this requirement is not a uniform mandate for everyone in every stage.
The process of asana and pranayama, so much spoken of, is a very great assistance in the practice of yoga, but it is not essential where the spiritual seeker is made in a different way and devotion to God takes the upper hand. If the longing of the soul for the Infinite preponderates, there is no stress laid on these initial requirements called asana, pranayama, etc. They are taken care of by themselves by the powers that be. I am not going to enter into great detail about asana and pranayama, because you all know something about it.
In this series of lessons I am trying to confine myself only to certain broad outlines of the principle issues of yoga practice, namely, the spiritual and the religious side of it especially, culminating finally in a sublimation of sense consciousness and a focussing of this consciousness on that ideal which is called the object of meditation. All yoga is meditation finally, whatever be the adjective that is attached to the practice.
Here, as we have observed earlier, a word of caution may be administered. The sublimation spoken of in yoga is similar to the sublimation that is involved in renunciation, austerity, Sannyasa, self-abnegation, living alone, etc. All spiritual sublimatory process is a gaining of a higher position by a transcending and not a rejecting or an isolation from the lower. In every higher step you gain what you have transcended; there is no loss on the part of the spirit. Even a single step that you take in this direction is a positive gain. In this path, no loss is involved. You may not gain, but there is no loss; and perhaps you will gain positively. The spiritual connotation of yoga practice is always to be considered as more important than its outer forms, which are also sometimes necessary, but they are like the legs on which we stand, and the legs are not the whole body.
Even rituals have a place in religion, and are not just idiocy or totally redundant. As legs are necessary for the body to stand and yet it cannot be said that the leg is an essential part of the body, so is ritual, devotion, worship, etc. One should not be foolishly overenthusiastic, as many times people are, in imagining that they have outgrown the need for ritual, worship, etc. One cannot easily overcome all these things. We are living in a world of ritual; we are living in a world of image worship. We hug idols of various types. A passport is an idol, a currency note is an idol, and everything that we consider as valuable in this world in its configured form is only just an idol. Any affection, any regard, any value attached to any particular thing in the world is idol worship. Therefore, one cannot easily be free from it, though in some unnecessary enthusiasm people imagine that idols are not necessary. We are only just idols, and no one can be free from them.
This also applies to the worship of emblems. The worship that is conducted in churches, temples, monasteries, holy shrines, is also very important because it is a worship of symbols, and symbols are not unnecessary; they are also some sort of idol. The worship of the national flag is nothing but idol worship. It is a worship of a symbol. Keeping a photograph of some person in our pocket is symbol worship. When we bow our head before someone or something, it is idol worship.
Here again we have to be realistic in our approach. Religious practices which involve these elements of devotion are to be considered as very valuable in their own way, in their own place. Charity is the greatest virtue. We have to be very generous and charitable in our attitude towards the various modes of worship and ritual, as performance in the various faiths and cults and every stage of religion, is after all, a stage of religion. We do not condemn a child because it blabbers, as we were also babies once upon a time and it was a necessary stage through which we had to pass. Every stage of religion is a necessary stage, and there is no unnecessary form of religious worship or performance.
There are people who are prone to this direction of devotional worship of God in a symbolic form, either visibly or conceptually, which is the main course followed in what is known as bhakti yoga. Who can resist this temptation to love the infinite? We will go mad if we think of the magnificence of God. Saints dance in ecstasy like crazy people because of a superphysical, superhuman, super-individual possession, under whose sway they are. Love, which is a word with which we are very familiar in this world, assumes its true form in this ecstasy of divine possession. No one can help running into a state of ecstasy, of emotional feeling of love, if only they are clear about the notion of what God is. It is because of an egoistic conception and an ultra rationalistic idea of God which is ridden with a bit of egoism of human individuality and an incomplete notion of what the Ultimate Reality is, that we are unable to appreciate its grandeur and magnificence. Once we are able to feel the majesty of it, we will be crazy in one second; and that craze is that which everyone longs for one day or the other. It is these crazy ones who are finally the children of God, because when the soul takes possession of us, all rules and regulations of society, and physical relation or any kind of relation, is stepped over because of a higher law operating. This is why the path of bhakti yoga is not a name to be attached to one kind of emotional behaviour. In the Bhagavadgita particularly, the word 'bhakti' is repeated several times, and it often appears that it has been emphasised as something far superior to every other approach.
Here, we are asked to understand that bhakti means that longing of the soul for that which is the Oversoul. In this particular path of what is called divine love, the stress laid on externals is not considered as so very essential because when I love you wholeheartedly, I know very well no formality is necessary in regard to you. We have formalities, etiquettes of behaviour, when our friendship is not whole. When it is clear that I am one with you and you are one with me root and branch, right from the bottom of the soul, there is no formality. The love of the Gopis for Sri Krishna or the love of any saint, for the matter of that, was under such possession, and was free from all etiquette. They ran naked, caring not for the etiquette of human society, because they were possessed by a law which could take care of them.
The yoga techniques, therefore, are variegated. The love of God that I referred to, which frees one from obligations to any kind of external performance, is not an ordinary love in the sense of a psychic operation as we see it in human relations. The love of God is not love for an object and, therefore, it is not mere emotion. It is the flood tide of the ocean of the spirit. Just as the whole ocean rises up during flood tide, the whole being that we are rises to the occasion. It is not emotion and, therefore, it is not human affection. Human love, human emotion is directed to an outward object, whereas divine devotion is the rising of the soul to its own self in its wider form. Love of God is not loving another person, because God is Paramatman, the higher soul, the Supreme Spirit, the supreme Atman, the larger manifestation of what we are in our essentiality. It is the flowering of what we are basically. A distinction has to be drawn between what is called a metaphysical element in divine love and the psychic form of human affection. This is one aspect of the practice of yoga, which concerns itself wholly and solely with the ardour which is called love of God.
The sublimation to which I made reference is the returning of the consciousness from its contact with things due to tasting a higher experience in which the delights of sense are included. The pleasures of life are our obstacles; they pull us in the direction of things. This difficulty is naturally overcome without much of an effort on our side when we sense a taste of higher delight, as a person who has woken up from dream into this world experience does not anymore wish to go back to the dinner that he had in the dream palace.
Thus it is that sublimation is a higher delight, and not merely a physical austerity or a painful experience that we impose upon ourselves. It is a natural positive step that we take in the direction of a higher possession. Sublimation is, therefore, to mention once again, a larger gain which keeps us satisfied within ourselves, and we are no longer pushed in the direction of external contact.