by Swami Krishnananda
Yoga is a gradual development of personality by way of ascending different steps of self integration, achieved by the adjustment and adaptation of oneself with the environment in which one lives at any given moment of time. There is nothing unimportant, and nothing that can be neglected in this world, from the point of view of the student of Yoga. Everything that is visible to the eyes, everything with which we are connected, and everything which we can even think of in our mind, is of great value in some way or the other. The value of a thing depends upon the very fact that we are able to think of it in our mind. If it is absolutely valueless, it will not occur to our mind at all. So, every precept or object of conception is a matter which requires some attention. Objects present themselves before us, because they require attention on our part. If we do not bestow this attention on a certain object today, the same object of thought or object of sensory perception will compel our attention one day or the other. So, if we close our eyes in spite of objects being presented before us, they will have a say in this matter one day or the other, and no one can escape this world unless he has paid his debts totally to this world. So, the system of Patanjali proceeds very carefully, stage by stage. And these stages, as we saw earlier, are the well-known limbs of Yoga or the Angas as they are known – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. We might have learnt much about these stages of Yoga by study of books and listening to learned people, but it is very difficult to believe that anyone can have a complete grasp of the significance of these things. Because, though they appear to be clear on reading the surface meaning of the Sutras or statements, their significance is so deep and so comprehensive, that the more we think of them the more will be their relevance that we will realise in our own selves in respect of the various experiences, through which we have to pass in our life.
The Yamas and the Niyamas are regarded as the foundation of Yoga. Together they do not constitute just an ethical discipline, as people generally say. And whenever we listen to such terms as ethics and morality, we think that they are all some children's talks about which we are well informed. We feel for sure that we know what ethics means, and what morality means, and that we need not go on listening to sermons on ethics and morality. This is what perhaps one would imagine in one's mind. But the Yamas and Niyamas that Patanjali speaks to us about are not merely ethics and morality. They are scientific requirements and logical stages; which are unavoidable in one's life, and we do not escape them merely by calling them ethical or moral. They are necessary requirements, because they are the means of self adjustment with the state of affairs in which we are placed at the present moment. Everyone sees a world outside and is obliged to maintain a sort of relationship with the environment or atmosphere, whatever be that atmosphere, whether it is perceptual or conceptual. Our attitude to the people around us is the principal theme, or the principal subject, of the Yamas so called.
Ahimsa-satya-asteya-brahmacharya-aparigraha yamah: The Sutra which describes the process of self restraint, known as the Yamas, touches upon five items of self-control. And Yoga is self control, to put it in one sentence. One of the stages of self control or Yoga is the practice of the Yamas.
Our attitude to people is classified by Patanjali under five heads, and perhaps, we have no other attitude to people except these five ways of self-expression. Either we love or hate; either we exploit or regard a person in his or her own status. The principal urges in man are mostly the deciding factors of the various types of attitude that he develops towards people. A person does not develop an attitude deliberately by thinking a hundred times every day. The attitudes of men towards others are spontaneous manifestations of themselves in regard to things. They are spontaneous, because of the fact that these human urges are powerful enough to have an upper hand in man's daily life. Man's personality is a bundle of these urges. All of us, human beings, are forces externalised, and other individualities are nothing but centres of externalised pressure. We are centres of stress, and these centres are the individualities. These stresses urge themselves forward for the experience of an externalised type, in the world of space and time. These urges forwarding themselves towards the objects, in space and in time, manifest their forms in the way Patanjali describes in the Sutra mentioned earlier.
The major urge in us is love or hatred. Everything else comes later on, as a consequence necessarily following. Principally, we either love or hate. There can be nothing else in us. While this is a broad division of our attitude towards things, there are sub-divisions of this urge; there are types of love and types of hatred. It is not a jutting out of ourselves in one direction only. We can have a variety of manifestations of love, and a variety of dislikes and hatreds. They are all summed up in the above Sutra. The desire to exploit is natural as an instinct in every person. We wish to exploit the world in some way or the other. Exploitation means utilisation of something for our purpose. This we do everyday, and we cannot avoid this situation, partly because of our own needs personally felt within ourselves, and partly because of some weakness in our understanding of the nature of things, we may say. The likes and dislikes tell upon us with such vehemence that we are, in a way we may say, bundles of likes and dislikes only, which clash between themselves and create a tension in our personality.
So, in another sense, we may say that we are centres of tension, in the same way as we noted earlier that we are centres of stress or pressure. We are always in a tension of some sort or the other. We are not so normal as to be free from every kind of impulse working towards externalisation in some way or the other. These externalising, tension-creating impulses have to be checked. This is the main intention behind the practice of the Yamas. If a man is not able to check these impulses, he becomes a puppet in the hands of these impulses, which drag him away from the centre, which is the Purusha of the Samkhya, the realisation of which is called Kaivalya Moksha or the liberation of the spirit. Bondage is the movement of the Purusha towards Prakriti, and Kaivalya or liberation or Moksha is the centering of the Purusha in His own Self. This is the essence of Samkhya and the essence of Yoga. And in every act of perception or cognition, in every process of love and hatred, the Purusha moves towards Prakriti, goes headlong towards its bondage. Therefore, it becomes very obvious that every love, and every hatred, is a movement contrary to the requirement of the spirit towards its liberation. Any sensible person will know how loves and hatreds are opposed to one's welfare on the basis of this great analysis philosophically made by the Samkhya and the Yoga. The Purusha has to establish itself in its own being. That is the purpose of the practice of Yoga. And Samsara, the so-called bondage, is the opposite circumstance of the Purusha, by which it loses control over itself, gets liquified in its being as it were, and spreads itself around outwardly, in space and in time.
Generally, the word Ahimsa, which is a very well-known word, is glibly translated as non-injury and non-hurting. This is the dictionary meaning of the word Ahimsa, and we are all acquainted with this literal meaning of the word. But, it has a deeper philosophical meaning, which is the one that we have to concentrate upon in our earnest studies of Yoga. We are not so much concerned with the dictionary meaning. That is not very important. That is perhaps the outer shell of the connotation of the word. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word, which offers a negative definition of a situation. The opposite of Himsa is Ahimsa. So, the word 'Ahimsa' does not describe something positive. It tells us something negative. It tells us what we should not do, and does not tell us what we should do, perhaps with this idea that we will know what we should do, if we are told what we should not do!
We should not injure. This is the teaching which is available to us on the surface from the meaning of the word 'Ahimsa'. But, why should we not injure? One can raise a question within one's own self: "What is the harm to me if I injure another? Why do you tell me 'Don't hurt, don't inflict pain'? Should I follow this instruction merely because it is mentioned in a textbook?" Yoga is a science, and not merely an ethical teaching. To be told "Don't hurt" is to be given an ethical instruction. But, to understand why it is important not to hurt is to understand its philosophical, metaphysical, spiritual significance. If a person knows the philosophy of the Samkhya or the Vedanta or even the foundations of the Yoga of Patanjali, he will himself be able to answer this question why he should not injure another. Many a time we are not able to answer this question ourselves. We get confused in our heads. We go by textbooks always, – the Gita says, or Patanjali says, or someone else says. But, what have we to say? This is a very hard thing for us to answer. Because, many a time, we are in conflict between opposite situations, where our personal interests are involved. Where our interests are involved, we cannot make a judgement of things impartially. And why should this question arise at all, if our personal interests are not involved? So, it is a personal matter, and therefore, it becomes difficult to understand.
One does not hurt or injure impersonally. Hurting is the outcome of a personal attitude. Sometimes, it may look like a highly judicious or righteous attitude also. As the devil also can quote a scripture, even that which is contrary to one's well-being can appear as something in conformity with one's well-being. The attitude of injury is what is condemned in Yoga, and not merely the outer cloak under which it appears. Ahimsa or non-injury, which we are thinking of, is not a physical action. It is an attitude of the mind. The intention behind the performance of an action is the deciding factor in coming to a judgement whether a particular action violates the canon of Ahimsa or not. This point is very important to remember. When a person engages himself in an action, what is his intention? That must be noted. What is the difference between a surgeon and an assassin? The difference is only in the intention, and not in the outer act. The outward acts are the same and cannot be differentiated. Both the surgeon and the assassin do much the same thing, but their intention is different, their motive is different, and they aim at different purposes altogether. So, the term 'Ahimsa', from the point of view of Yoga, has to be considered in the larger context of cosmical relationship of things, and not merely in a social, political, of even a personal sense.
Unless a person has a desire to exploit, he will not have a desire to injure anybody. So, the desire to exploit goes together with the desire to injure. Exploitation itself is an injury. It is perhaps the major injury that we inflict upon people. Because, it is a philosophical attitude finally. The desire to utilise someone, at the cost of that person, for one's own advantage, is the root of the further manifestation of it in the form of hurting, either verbally psychologically or physically. But then, can we exploit anything in this world? Are we authorised to do that?
Two other canons, which follow in the above Sutra, namely, Asteya and Aparigraha, touch upon this problem of exploitation. One cannot appropriate anything which does not really belong to him. Asteya is non-stealing. All these definitions have a negative connotation, and so; we have to read between the lines and see the positive attitude hidden behind them. Non-stealing, roughly speaking, may look like non-burglary or non-theft; but, people are not always burglars, and yet, they can be thieves. To be a thief, it is not always necessary to break the walls of somebody's house and take away his treasure-chest. Inwardly one can be a thief, in a different sense altogether. A thief is one who has the intention of using somebody for his purpose at the cost of the latter person. This is very important to remember. Even if one entertains this intention in the mind, it is a theft. Neither breaking of walls is involved here nor entering into somebody's house. And, exploitation also means the desire to possess more than what is actually required under the exigencies of a given situation. If a person possesses more than what he is expected to possess, under the circumstances in which he is placed, that becomes theft. So, theft is a very difficult thing to understand unless we go very deep into its meaning. In a very general sense, most people in the world are thieves. Because, this desire to exploit is an instinct, a natural expression, in the majority of persons. It is the common weakness of man in general. As every person is selfish, every person also has this desire to exploit. The attitude of exploitation is nothing but the expression of this inherent selfishness in man. Under the system of Yoga, whose aim is the realisation of the Purusha, which is infinite in its nature, whose intention therefore is the establishment of itself in the infinitude of its existence, these subtle manoeuvres of the mind in the form of exploitation and meting out injury to others appear to be totally out of point. They are just absurdities to the core. They carry no meaning whatsoever. And we need not even be told that they are undesirable things, just as when it is day, one need not be told that it is not night. It becomes obvious.