by Swami Krishnananda
The nature of one's aspiration for the ultimate realisation through Yoga is perhaps the most important conditioning factor in the practice. This is clearly stressed by Patanjali in one of his Sutras. If the aspiration is lukewarm and not intense enough, there would be a corresponding dampening of the speed with which one progresses towards the realisation of the goal. The greatest Sadhana or practice is the longing of the soul for God, the pressure which one feels from within one's self in the direction of the supreme attainment. To cite an analogy: In the case of a river, the greater the force of the waters of the river, the quicker does the river reach its destination. But, if the same river mellows and moves stagnantly and reluctantly, as it were, it will reach its end only after a long period. In the same way; quick success in the practice of Yoga can be had only if the aspiration is intense and burning inside. "Tivra-samveganam asannah": Quick is the result of Yoga, immediate is the realisation, if the 'Samvega', or the aspiration of the soul, is very strong and burningly intense. The word used in the Sutra is 'Samvega', a term which has its own peculiar significance. The words we normally use such as desire, longing, aspiration and devotion are inadequate to express what is implied in the term 'Samvega'. We have to stretch our imagination a little bit to understand the significance of the meaning hidden in the word 'Samvega.' It is a shaking up of the whole personality of ours from top to bottom, by the very roots, as it were, where our personality gets devastated by the urge of the spirit for ultimate perfection. Samvega is truly devastating. 'Devastating' is the only word which brings out the meaning of the term 'Samvega'. When Samvega arises in us for the great perfection, it breaks our personality to pieces, shatters us to shreds. It is difficult to translate this word Sarmvega, but its implied meaning should by now be reasonably clear. It is not the little devotion that we try to show to God in our daily routines of practice. It is not the so-called religiosity of approach. It is something unthinkable, an anguish of the spirit, a surge of the soul, raining of the entire personality out of its essence. We are never in this position at any time of our life. Such Samvega never takes possession of us. We may be devoted people, but even then, our devotion is mostly half-hearted, reluctant and lukewarm. Such lukewarm devotion cannot bring in success, and certainly not quick success.
Even in Samvega, Patanjali mentions three degrees – Mridu, Madhya and Adhimatra. Soft aspiration is Mridu, middling; a little more intense than that is Madhya; but, flaming like a conflagration of fire and unquenchable in its intensity is the aspiration called Adhimatra Vairagya and Adhimatra Samvega. People in our present-day world cannot imagine what this sort of Samvega could be. A person who does not feel the need for God cannot ask for Him, and a need is felt only when the world cracks under one's feet, and not before that. A time comes in everyone's life when such an experience is encountered. No one can escape this situation. It may be today; it may be tomorrow. And until that eventuality occurs, our soul will not actually cry from its bottom for that which it actually longs for.
One of the suggestions given again by Patanjali in regard to this Samvega or deep aspiration is worship of God or Isvara. The concept of Isvara is peculiar to the system of Patanjali. While we are all quite familiar with this term, Isvara, as denoting God, there is a peculiarity in the connotation of the word 'Isvara' as used in the system of Patanjali. While we are all familiar with the theological or religious concept of God, a purely pragmatic conception governs the idea behind Isvara in the system of Patanjali. It is pragmatic, because it is utilitarian, and it is regarded as an essentiality for the purpose of concentration of the mind. So, the reason why the concept of Isvara is introduced in the system of Yoga is that the mind requires some object to hang upon. Just as we require a peg to hang our coat, we require some target to fix our mind. Because, what can the mind think of if it has no object?
Now, what are the objects that are usually available to the mind's perceptions and cognitions? The objects are nothing but the things which the senses perceive and which are manifestations of Prakriti, isolated bits of matter, scattered hither and thither, and it is difficult for the mind to take any one of them as the supreme ideal of concentration. The ideal chosen for the purpose of practising meditation should be such that it will draw our attention wholly, and invoke our devotion and love. The love that is stirred up in our heart by our ideal is the power that will drive us towards that ideal, which is the object of love. We cannot take a pencil or a fountain pen and love it whole-heartedly as our dear brother or dear something because we cannot see so much value in a pencil or a pen as to make it an object of our utter devotion and love. The argument will hold good not only in the case of a pencil or a pen, but also in respect all objects of this world. That is why the concept of Isvara has been necessarily introduced by Patanjali as an ideal to be imagined and accepted for the purpose of concentration of mind in Yoga. The ideal presented here is such that it is free from the afflictions and the limitations that characterise the individual Purusha or the Jiva and the Prakriti with all its diversities.
We cannot concentrate on any human being. We cannot love a person wholly, because every person has a limitation. We begin to see defects. While we may be drawn towards any particular person or thing, for the time being, under certain circumstances, for reasons of our own, this pull cannot continue for a long time. Because, it will be there only as long as the emotions overwhelm us for their particular purpose. But, when this purpose is fulfilled, we will begin to see defects in the person or the object, rather than the beauty that we saw earlier. Because, the beauty and the value were seen only temporarily on account of the preponderance of a particular emotion. When that subsides on account of the satisfaction of its designs, then the usual sensory and mental activity begins to see the limitation or the finite in persons and things.
So, Patanjali thinks that no human being can be an object of adoration, ultimately. We must therefore have a concept of personality which is supreme in its very nature – a Supreme Person who is not an ordinary human person, and who is free from the afflictions consequent upon the operations of Karma. Neither sorrow nor joy affects that person. The Karma Phala or the nemesis of action does not affect that person. Not merely that. That person is omniscient all-knowing. The need to place before the seeker such a concept of Isvara arose, because it was difficult to explain how action produced reaction, how justice was possible in this world. Because of the limitations of the personality of every individual in the form of selfishness, one cannot be expected to do justice to one's own self. For example, one would not like to punish one's own self in the name of justice. And one would like to reward oneself even under circumstances where one is not actually deserving. So, the law of action or the law of Karma cannot operate where the agents of act only are present, and nobody else is there as a superintending principle, superior to the agents who are responsible for the activities or Karmas. Good is to be rewarded, and that which is not good is to be punished. This cannot be done by the agent himself, in much the same way as a client cannot be the judge. So, the one to reward actions cannot be any of the Purushas, any of the individuals, because each one is an agent of action. It cannot also be Prakriti, because Prakriti is unconscious. There has to be something quite different from these finite Purushas or individuals and the unconscious Prakriti; that third thing which is inevitable under the consequences of logical thinking has been designated, as Isvara. This Isvara is no other than God, for all practical purposes.
In this way, the principle of God or Isvara has been introduced into the system of the Yoga of Patanjali under the pressure of necessity, under the pressure of a logical requirement. It is a requirement, because it is only on such a perfected individual as the Isvara that the mind can easily concentrate itself as a source of its own satisfaction. Apart from this pragmatic necessity felt for the concept of God in Yoga, there is the usual theological attitude, which is that with which we are all familiar. God is not merely a hook on which we can all hang our coats. He is not merely an instrument that can work out our purpose. He is not a servant. God is not a tool or a lever that we use sometimes, during our practice, for working out a purpose, quite different from Isvara Himself. The theological concept of God or the highest religious concept is different from this pragmatic notion of Yoga. The highest concept of God requires God to be recognised as the goal, rather than as a means. While God is a fit object of concentration, He is also the goal of aspiration and attainment, which point is not emphasised in the classical system of Patanjali, but can be combined adequately and suitably for our own practical purposes.
It all depends upon what we mean by God. Every person has his or her own definition of it. One of the definitions is a necessity of logic. "If God were not there, we will have to invent one" said one philosopher. Because, we cannot get on without Him. So, we will have to choose one God, just as we choose a prime minister or a president. The necessity is so pressing and so stringent that we cannot live in this world without such a supreme existence. But this is a mood of philosophy and logic, and not a need felt by the soul. The soul asking for God is a different matter altogether; it is asking for its own Supreme ldeal from which it cannot separate itself. In our daily practice, Upasana or the worship of God may play a very important role. Karma, Upasana and Jnana are generally accepted to be the stages of ascent of the aspiration of the student.
The mind is difficult to control. Therefore, a very discreet and tactful technique has to be adopted in its restraint. One cannot hit the mind and control it, just as one cannot strike a wild bull and control it, or even ride a horse when it is unwilling to accept one as its rider. On the other hand, just as the animal tamer controls a lion or an elephant, a tiger or a wild bull, by means which are identical with a graduated process, the mind has to be restrained gradually. In doing this, the student must take note of the fact that the mind has got its own desires, and that no desire of the mind can be turned a deaf ear to. True, the mind has to be controlled, has to be sublimated, has to be destroyed. This is the ideal and the goal, no doubt, but it cannot be done at one stroke, even as we cannot control the body ignoring the fact that it has hunger and thirst and a desire to sleep. The body cries clamorously and affirms its existence violently when it is hungry, thirsty or sleepy. When it does that, we cannot say, "You devil, you body! I do not care for you. You are an obstacle in my Yoga practice. I cannot feed you. I cannot quench your thirst and I will not allow you to sleep". This kind of attitude towards the body will be a ruin of the spiritual aspiration itself. Because, the body is so intimately connected with the mind, and the mind with the spirit, that none of these can be regarded as an absolutely non-essential item. The need for each phase of experience has to be attended to with great wisdom, under the guidance of the preceptor. As is the case with hunger, thirst and sleep, so is the case with every other desire, which has its object either internally or externally. We have social requirements. We have psychological longings. Which of these can be regarded as unimportant, notwithstanding the fact that we are asking for God-realisation? Therefore, we have to disentangle ourselves slowly from these tentacles, which connect us with the external things and internal limitations of our finitude. It is for this purpose that Sadhanas known as Karma, Upasana and Jnana are prescribed.
Karma is the attitude of servicefulness, the practice of Seva, the surrender of one's ego in the interests of a larger area of action known as human society. Upasana is a higher state than Karma. When the mind is sufficiently purified by service, the seeker is ushered into an arena of divine worship. The Guru requires to be served, attended to, and followed implicitly for a protracted period, as a necessary training, indispensable in the case of every student. In ancient days, the service of the Guru was carried on for years together, and sometimes even for a lifetime. The blessing of the Guru was regarded as divine grace itself. When the Guru is satisfied that the mind of the student has been purified sufficiently, he introduces the latter to the methods of concentration. Concentration in Yoga means the adaptation of the mental atmosphere to the atmosphere of reality, again by gradual stages. Meditation or concentration is the attempt of the mind to unite itself with its concept of reality at any given moment of time. As the concept of reality changes and goes on expanding and improving itself as one progresses higher and higher in the practice, so does Upasana also get intensified gradually.
What is our concept of reality at present? Each one may have his own answer to this question. Anything that is unavoidable in our life is a reality for us. We cannot say that the Creator who is beyond the seven heavens is the only Reality and everything else is unreal. As a theoretical assertion this may sound all right, but Yoga is not a theory. It is intense practice. So, anything without which we cannot get on is our reality, even if it be the silliest thing that one can think of in one's mind. A reality is that which, to us, is an indispensable necessity under a given circumstance at a given moment of time. It cannot be ignored. It has to be taken into account and paid its due, even if that reality be a devil. One cannot get out of the situation merely by calling the reality a devil. When the devil ceases to be a reality, when it becomes an unreality, that is a different matter altogether. But it does not become that. All the little agonies and anxieties and pin-pricks of our life are all our realities. They are not unrealities and we should not try to get away with the illusory notion that they can be ignored completely. That is why it is only gradually that the mind is led in Upasana from the lowest concept of God to the higher concepts.
In the Bhagavad Gita, reference is made to various types of worships and sacrifices, where the great Master tells us that, in the earlier stages of Tamas, we have a very poor conception of perfection and God. And when Rajas begins to preponderate, we have a better perception; and in Sattva alone we have a perfect conception of God. There are people who worship stones, trees, snakes and totems, imaginary hobgoblins and all sorts of spirits, which are supposed to be pervading the atmosphere. We may be tempted to laugh at these animistic notions of religion and deity as inadequate, but they cannot be laughed at so easily. Because, when the mind is capable accepting only that idea of deity, it can unite itself only with that and with nothing else. The education of the mind is a gradual process. It is carried on, it is conducted, gradually. And, as we go deeper and deeper in this educational career, we have broader and broader conceptions of our involvements in life, and our concepts of reality also get enlarged slowly. At a very early stage itself, we will not able to meditate on the Father in Heaven as the creator, preserver and destroyer. This is not possible. Who can think of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva while yet a spiritual neophyte? This is not possible. It is hard for the mind to entertain such thoughts. In the early stages, we have only such poor titbits of notions of a deity that is somewhere in front of us, like a human being, almost like us, in height and girth and capacity. This is our idea of God. Let it be. Even then it is an acceptable concept, provided we regard this deity as something superior to us. In Patanjali's system, he gives suggestions for different types of concentration. These include concentration even on human beings of a superior nature, contemplation on whom will purify the mind in some way.