The Philosophical Foundations of Yoga
I shall endeavour to portray in simple terms what one may regard as the central objective of human life and the possible methodology that could be adopted in implementing this objective, and its realisation. You must have heard a lot about what is known as Yoga. And many a text book, many a discourse must have given you varied information on this mysterious technique known as the art of the practice of Yoga. In simple terms, without involving technicalities, if Yoga is to be defined, it can be called the system of harmony. What you call harmony in the English language, for example, Yoga is in Sanskrit. It is nothing mystifying or beyond the conception of human understanding. But there is a great proviso in this simple definition of Yoga as harmony. While it is true that harmony in every field of life is what we seek in our day-to-day existence, it is necessary to know what harmony, actually, means. And when the essential of that simple fact called harmony gets imbibed into our consciousness, our personality gets stablised. Stability of personality, equilibrium of consciousness, harmony in the walks of life, is Yoga.
Now, harmony implies an adjustment of oneself with an environment that is external to oneself. When there is no proper adjustment of one thing with another thing, we call it disharmony. When there is a proper adjustment, a smooth working of one principle, one fact, one object, one person with another, we regard it as harmony. Now, the question which may arise in our mind at the very outset is, why should harmony be the central objective; why should harmony be regarded as the essential of life.
The reason is the very strucrture of the universe. The universe is a system of harmony. We, as human individuals, form part of this universe. We form part of it in such a way that we are integrally related to it. Before proceeding further, it would be profitable to know what it is to be integrally related to anything in the world. I shall try to give you an example from common experience. You must have seen on the roadside heaps of stones. A heap of stones is a group of small units of inanimate matter put together in one place. In that heap of stones, perhaps, each stone is touching every other stone. Though each piece of inorganic matter called stone in that heap is connected by way of contact with every other stone in the heap, we cannot say that any particular stone is integrally related to every other stone in that heap. They are mechanically connected, not vitally related.
There is a difference between mechanical connection and vital, organic relationship. The contact of one stone with another stone in a heap is mechanical. There is no life in this connection. If you take one stone from that heap, the other stones will not be affected in any manner. They shall remain as they were. There shall not be any kind of harm done to the remaining stones or a diminution in their structure, if a few stones are removed from the heap. So, a mechanical group is that in which parts are so related to the whole that if some parts are removed from the whole, the remaining parts are not affected at all. That is what we mean by mechanical relationship. But organic relationship is something different. We can have the example of our body itself. You know very well that our physical body is made up of minute organisms called cells. These cells are so connected to one another that they give the appearance of a single whole called the body, similar to a heap of stones on the roadside, you may say, in one way. But what is the difference? While the removal of a few stones from the heap does not affect the remaining stones vitally, removal of a few limbs of our body will vitally affect the whole body. You know what it would be to an individual, a human being, if the limbs are to be amputated, the legs or the arms removed. You remove a portion of the body of a person–what a difference does it make! The very existence of the body is seriously affected. The harmony of the body is disturbed, to come to the point. That is what when a limb of the body is cut off, there is intense pain, agony and dislike towards it. We dislike any kind of interference with the limbs or organs of our body, because the limbs are vitally connected as a living whole in the system of our personality.
So, now, you know the difference between mechanical relationship and vital relationship. What I mean to say is that we are vitally related to the cosmos, not mechanically connected. Our connection with the universe outside is not like the connection of a stone in a heap, so that we may do anything we like without affecting the world outside. That cannot be. Our connection, our relationship with the world outside is such that it can be compared to the relationship of the limbs of the body to the whole system of the body. Any meddling with the system is not warranted, nor called for. To conceive what the universe would be, you have to conceive what a human individual is. In Indian Vedic mythology, we have the concept of what is known as Purusha, the Supreme Being. ‘Purusha’ means man, the human individual. But when the Vedas speak of the Purusha in the cosmos, they mean the concept of the universe as a single individual, a Cosmic Individual, whose relationship with the parts of the cosmos is similar to the relationship of an ordinary limited individual to the limbs of the body. Can you imagine, for a moment, what it would be to remain as a cosmic individual? Suppose you are the consciousness animating the universe, how would you conceive this possibility? For that, again, you have to bring the analogy of the human body. Do you know that you are an Intelligence, or a centre of consciousness? You may put me a question, how do I know this? It can be known by an experiment. You know that you are a complete whole called Mr. so-and-so, Mrs. so-and-so, and so on. When you say, ‘I am such and such a person’. What do you actually mean? What do you refer to? To the hands, to the feet, to the nose or any part of the body, or all the parts put together? What do you mean by saying ‘I’, or the individual that you are? On a careful examination of the situation you realise that when you refer to yourself as so-and-so, you do not really take into consideration the limbs or the organs of the body. Because, if a hand is amputated, you do not say that a part of yourself has gone. You still remain a whole individual. If two legs are gone by any kind of medical operation, the individual is still whole. The individual never feels that a part of his personality has gone. He will say that a part of his body has gone, but a part of himself has not gone. He will still think as a whole being. Otherwise, if the limbs of the body were to be an essential part of the personality, then, when the legs are amputated, for example, a person would be thinking in a lesser percentage. There would be half-thinking, one-fourth thinking, thirty percent thinking, and so on. But that does not happen. There is whole thinking, whole understanding, the entire consciousness is kept intact, in spite of the fact that the limbs are amputated or cut off. This shows that you are not the limbs of the body. You are something independent of these limbs that constitute your external form called the body. You are a centre of consciousness which animates this body on account of which the amputation of the limbs does not in any way affect your personality. You are essentially consciousness.
Now, the concept of the Virat-Purusha or the Cosmic Being, which I mentioned as stated in the Vedas, is only an extension of this concept of the individual consciousness to the cosmos. Can you close your eyes for a few seconds and imagine that instead of your being a centre of consciousness animating this small body, you are a centre of consciousness animating the whole universe? Can you expand your imagination to this extent? How do you do this? It can be done with a little effort of the mind. I shall tell you the technique. The consciousness which you are, which animates every part of your body,–hands, feet, fingers, nose, eyes, etc.–this consciousness that you are, which indwells your individual body, is so uniformly present in every part of your body. You are present in your fingers, you are present in your toe, you are present in your nose, and so on. You, as a complete whole, are present in every part of your body. Now, can you extend this analogy, or comparison to the whole universe? Just imagine your consciousness is not merely in your finger or your toe, it is also in this table that you see in front of you, it is also in the chair, it is in the mountain, in the sun and the moon, in the galaxy, etc.
If you can extend your imagination in this manner, if your consciousness can extend the limits of your bodily personality, and if you extend this pervasive character of consciousness beyond the limitation of your bodily personality and concentrate it on every other object in the world, you become a Cosmic Individual. This is Yogic Contemplation, Meditation in the highest sense of the term. This is the apex which you reach after many stages of Meditation.
This is a difficult technique, because you will not be able, ordinarily, to extend your consciousness to other objects in the world. We have a prejudice, an old habit of thinking that the objects are outside us. But, do you know that your ten fingers are outside you? They are objects; you can see them as you see any other objects in the world. If these ten fingers (i.e. these objects) can become part of your personality, then why should not other objects in the world become part of your personality? They do not become, because you have limited your consciousness by an old prejudice of thought. Prejudice is irrational, it simply asserts itself, it is not amenable to reason. Why should you limit your consciousness to your small body? What do you gain? Why not extend it to other persons? Why not feel that all people seated here are part of a wider, social individual (just as you imagine you are a human individual)? Why limit your consciousness to people seated here, go further to the vaster world and imagine you are the world-individual! This world individual is what religion means by God.
People ask, “Does God exist?” This is a meaningless question. If the world exists, God must exist; because God is only a name that you give to the Consciousness that indwells the whole universe, just as consciousness indwells your own individual personality. You may ask, “How do you know there is Consciousness everywhere?” I ask you, “How do you know your friend has consciousness?” You know you have consciousness, but you cannot see consciousness in your friend. But you infer from his intelligent activity that he has consciousness. Likewise, from the activity of the cosmos, we can infer the presence of a Cosmic Intelligence.
Now, this Cosmic Intelligence, immanent in all objects, is what is called God, the Supreme Being. You call it the Absolute, because it is Complete Consciousness, and there is nothing outside it. When there is something outside it, you call it relative consciousness. When there is nothing outside it, and it is All-in-All, all-pervading, you call it Absolute-Consciousness.
Now, you are a part of the Absolute-Consciousness, because you are a part of the universe. You are an organic part of the universe, not a mechanical part (like a stone in a heap). You are vitally related to the whole cosmos, so that you are an essential part of the cosmos.
From this analysis we come to the astounding conclusion that the whole universe may be compared to a vast individuality. This is what the Vedas call the Parama-Purusa or the Supreme Being. When they use such terms in the texts, what they mean is that our salvation lies in being friendly with the universe as a whole. The health of a finger of your body depends upon the health of the whole body. Suppose the whole body is suffering from typhoid fever, can a finger be healthy? No, the finger also will be affected by the same illness, because it is vitally related to the whole body. Likewise, whatever the universe is, that you also are. The universe is a perfect balance of forces; and so, inasmuch as you are an integral part of this perfect balance of forces, which is the universe, you know how you have to conduct yourself in life. You cannot afford at any time in your life to violate the law of the universe. You have to abide by the law of the cosmos, which is Samatva, or equal distribution of attitude. Yoga is defined in the Bhagavadgita as Samatva. Harmony is Yoga. Bhagavan Sri Krishna, the Superman of the East, says : ‘Samatvam Yoga Uchyate‘ (Gita 2-48). This is a very simple, unambiguous and non-sectarian definition of Yoga. Harmony, balance, equilibrium is Yoga.
What is harmony? Harmony is nothing but your adjustment with the cosmos. If you are properly adjusted with the universe, you are said to be in harmony with the universe. But if there is maladjustment with the cosmos, you are thrown out as an individual. Now, the very fact that you are able to see objects outside with your senses as something cut off completely from your personality shows that you are not properly adjusted with the cosmos. You cannot see a cell of your body as something outside, because it is an essential part of your very existence. In this manner, if we are able, by dint of will and power of concentration, to visualise the world as essentially related to our consciousness, we would be automatically in a state of meditation.
The substance of the world is not matter or inorganic stuff. There is a misconception among most people that the world is made up of non-intelligent dead matter. This is not so. You cannot see consciousness with your eyes. You cannot see the consciousness or intelligence in another person. How can you see the Consciousness in the world outside? But, inasmuch as it is possible to infer the presence of consciousness in another individual by his activity, you can also infer the presence of Consciousness in the universe by an analysis of a peculiar activity called perception.
The analysis of the process of perception of objects will give you an indication that the world is made up of Consciousness, and not matter. It is only by inference that you can come to this conclusion, not by direct, visible, sensory perception. You look at an object, a mountain which is a mile off, in front of you, and say, “I see it”. I ask you, “What do you mean when you say that you see it?” You will reply, “Eyes are open, light rays which fall on the mountain travel from the mountain and inpinge on the retina of the eyes, and then I am given a picture of the existence of the mountain.” But I ask you, “Is light intelligent or non-ingelligent?” You know very well that light rays have no consciousness, they are inert; and the mountain is inert. A non-intelligent principle cannot create intelligence; because the principle of logic demands that the cause must be at least as rich as the effect. The perception of the mountain is a conscious, intelligent activity (i.e. effect). So, the cause, the movement of light rays, must contain Consciousness inherently, otherwise, it would be inferior to the effect and consciousness cannot be produced by the inferior effect which is the light rays.
Also, take another aspect of this very problem. The mountain which is outside you does not jump into your eyes. It is far off. How do you come to know that there is a mountain in front of you? Your eyes do not touch the mountain and the mountain does not touch your eyes. Both are far from each other. There is a connecting link between the mountain and your eyes. That is the reason why you are able to know that there is a mountain. But what is the connecting link? You may say, light-rays. No. Light-rays are inert. Inasmuch as inertness cannot produce an intelligent perception, we cannot accede that the light-rays which are inert can be the connecting link, really. The connecting link between an object and the seeing consciousness can be only one of two things, because there are only two things in this world, consciousness and matter, there is nothing else. Now, the connecting link between the mountain and the perceiving, consciousness would be one of the two–either it is consciousness or it is matter. If you say that matter or any thing material is the connecting link between the mountain and your consciousness, there will be a gap between consciousness and the object. Because consciousness cannot become matter and matter cannot become consciousness, they being characterised differently, just as milk cannot become stone and stone cannot become milk. Thus, if the connecting link is matter, there would be a gap between matter and consciousness and there would be no connection between the two, and you cannot know that there is mountain in front of you. So, that cannot be. And, naturally, the other alternative is that the connecting link is consciousness. Consciousness can mix with Consciousness. By this inference we come to the conclusion that consciousness must be hidden behind even material objects; otherwise perception itself would be impossible. Just as we infer the presence of intelligence by the activity of people outside, we infer the presence of intelligence in the world by the analysis of the activity of the individual known as perception.
What we are driving at with all this analysis is that world is ultimately Consciousness in its nature, it is not matter. You are also not matter, because your whole personality remains unaffected even though the limbs are cut off. You are Consciousness. You are not a body. You are something far more than a body. Likewise, there is an immanent principle of Consciousness in the whole cosmos. This immanent Consciousness is what is called the Absolute, or Brahman, or the Atman. We call it the Self (i.e. the Atman), because it always remains hidden in the individual as the seeing principle, and not the seen object (because Consciousness cannot become an object which you can see with your senses). So, the Universal Consciousness, being incapable of being converted into an object, remains ever as a subject, as the Self. The Supreme Consciousness, which is the Absolute, is the Self of everyone.
If you can retain this state of mind for a few minutes that the universe is a sea of Consciousness and you are like waves in this sea of Consciousness, and that these is nothing like matter or inorganic stuff in the world,–this is universality of perception, as different from individual perception of objects. This is Meditation.
What I have told you upto this time is the philosophical background. Now I shall give you some practical hints, in stages, to attain the state of Meditation. Otherwise, the mind will jump from one object to another, because it is used to think of objects only. To bring the mind to this state of awareness of meditation, stability or harmony has to be practiced in every walk of life. Harmony is of various grades.
- You must be harmonious in your relationship with other people in the world. You should be friendly; you should have no hatred towards anyone. You should not harm or deceive anyone. You should not steal or appropriate what does not belong to you. You should have no disgust for any person or thing; you should have affection for all persons and things. All this constitutes harmony in outer relationship with the society and the world. You should not take from the world more than what you have given to it by your service.
- You must be harmonious within your own personality. The human individual is often out of balance with himself. You should take care of the minimal needs of the body: e.g. cleanliness, a bath regularly, to eat only when you are hungry – i.e. eat only if your tongue waters when you see a dish of food. Treat your body as your friend. Live in ventilated places; breathe fresh air; spend at least two hours a day in open air. Adopt simple living and high thinking.
- You must have harmony of muscles and the nervous system. We are generally in a state of restless activity and agitation. So we are asked to practice Asanas or physical postures, for the stability of the body. Though for the health of the body you may practice many Asanas, you should sit in one Asana alone for meditation. By staying in one, single, steady, comfortable posture, you bring about a harmony in the nervous system and the muscles.
- Bring the breathing process, Prana, into harmony. Pranayama is a normal state of breathing. Usually we are not in a normal state of breathing. And we are not happy when we breathe disharmoniously. The Pranas are disturbed because you long for objects in the world. And to desire an object is to be out of tune with the law of the universe, because the object is not outside the law of the universe; the object is an integral, vital part of the cosmos. So, when you imagine anything is outside, consciousness is disturbed, agitated, unhappy. So, this harmony is achieved not merely by control of breathing through the nose, but by reduction of desires. If you entertain too many desires in your mind, Pranayama will be useless, or may be even harmful. A person with no control over desires should not practice Pranayama. First, you must be ethical and moral in your conduct.
Why is this posture prescribed? Because some energy, you may call it electric power, is generated in the body when the mind is concentrated in meditation. Now, if the extremities of the body are left open, the electricity that is produced in meditation will leak out. So, the purpose of posture is to lock up the fingers and the toes so that there is a circulation of energy throughout the body, and there is no leakage of energy outside. Also, to prevent leakage, you are asked to sit on some nonconductor of electricity, e.g. deer skin or mat, not an iron seat (that will give you a shock). Sit there, locking the fingers and toes, and keeping the spine, neck and head erect, in one straight line. If you cannot sit straight in the beginning, sit straight leaning your back against a wall.
In the beginning, do not practice technical methods (like alternate breathing); just practice normal inhalation and exhalation. Take in a slow, full, deep breath and exhale slowly. Generally, you do not take a slow, deep breath, you take a fast, shallow breath.
The purpose of Pranayama is to reduce the rate of breathing. And, when the Prana becomes calm by this process of slow breathing, the mind also becomes calm. The Prana is connected with the mind. When the Prana is reduced in its activity, the mind is also reduced in its activity. Between the Prana and the mind are the senses. The senses are the meeting point between the Prana and the mind. The senses become active, whether the Prana works or the mind works.
- So, the fifth harmony is the control of the activity of the senses. The senses cannot be controlled so long as you live in the midst of attractive objects. So, in the beginning stages of Yoga practice, you should try to live for at least some time in a year in such places where objects are not tempting to the senses. This is the reason why seekers of Truth try to live in Ashramas, monasteries or secluded places. When you try gradually to abstain from sense indulgence, by living in such holy atmospheres, the senses get automatically subdued. As the senses are in contact with the mind, control of the senses also involves a little control of the mind.
When the mind is accustomed to a life of seclusion and solitariness, and the senses do not ask for tempting objects, you are ready for concentration and meditation. This is really the field of Yoga. All the stages earlier are only preparatory. From concentration onwards is proper Yoga.
- Now, concentration is of three forms:
A. Concentration on External Points:
The mind is accustomed to think of external objects only; so, it would be dangerous to suddenly cut off the mind from external objects. You should not try to concentrate on internal centres in the beginning of your practice.
You must pick an external object that you have an interest in, that you have a love for. Believers in God usually try to concentrate on an external picture or symbol of God. You may keep a portrait of Lord Krishna or Jesus Christ in front of you, and gaze at the picture with open eyes. Where the eyes are, there the mind also is. You are not looking merely at a painted picture, but at a symbol of a living personality. So, when you gaze at a picture of Christ or Krishna, you immediately feel in your mind the qualities that these personalities were endowed with.
After three or four minutes of gazing at the picture, close your eyes and mentally imagine the picture. Concentrate on the form you saw. Continue this internal concentration as long as your mind is not disturbed. If, after a few minutes of closed-eyes meditation, you feel that the mind is wandering, then again open the eyes and look at the picture. After, again, gazing the picture for a few minutes, close the eyes again to habituate the mind to internal meditation.
Practice this process for a few months until you can concentrate without a picture. When you can concentrate, merely by closing the yes, on the form of the portrait, without the external support of a painted picture, you have achieved the first success in meditation.
Feel that this internal picture is not merely in one place, but is in every place. When you begin to feel a uniform presence in all places, the mind ceases from all distraction. The other method to bring about this harmony of mental perception is to think of the vast space. Inasmuch as space is everywhere, you try to concentrate on all directions at one time. You can also concentrate on the light of the sun pervading the whole space. Or you can concentrate on the vast ocean which is everywhere. You can gaze at the flame of a candle or a dot on the wall.
When you gain success in this, you can change your object of concentration; you will have such mastery of mind that you can concentrate on any object. The purpose of this concentration is to make the mind think only of one thing, and not think anything else. So, ultimately, it matters little what object you choose for concentration if the purpose is served, i.e. to think only of that thing and nothing else.
When you are accustomed to this external meditation, you can turn to internal meditation.
B. Concentration on Internal Points:
Internal meditation means concentration on certain centres (Chakras) of the body. The most important and most favourable Chakras (for beginners) in meditation are the Chakra between the eyebrows, and the Chakra in the heart.
In the waking state, the mind functions in the brain, in the dream state it works near the throat, and in deep sleep it goes to the heart. In deep, objectless meditation also the mind goes to the heart. So, the ultimate purpose of internal meditation is to bring the mind to the heart. This is done in three stages: the mind comes from the external object to the head (i.e. the centre between the eyebrows), then the mind comes to the heart. Meditation on the point between the eyebrows is in two stages:
(1) external gaze at the centre of eyebrows, and
(2) to close the eyes and think of the spot alone (as a spot of light). Slowly, you begin to feel that the mind descends from the head through the throat to the heart. When you do this, you will fall asleep if you are careless. You must do this with caution and alertness; otherwise you will sleep and mistake it for meditation.
The other method of internal meditation is to directly meditate on the heart. You can imagine a blossoming lotus in the heart, or the light of the rising sun in the heart. The best form of meditation on the heart is to feet consciousness as seated there. From this internal point of meditation on consciousness in the heart, you can slowly proceed to the universal.
C. Concentration on the Universal:
Just as Consciousness is in your heart, it is in the heart of everybody. Try to meditate on this Consciousness as present everywhere, in everything (outside and inside) uniformly. This is the absolute form of meditation, i.e., the Supreme State.
To help achieve this Universal of Meditation, you can chant Om (Pranava) in a methodical manner. There are three types of OM chanting :
- short – about one second, i.e. 30 in 30 seconds;
- middle – each chant for five seconds, i.e. 6 chants in 30 seconds;
- long – each chant for fifteen seconds, i.e. 2 chants in 30 seconds.
The elongated process is the best form of chanting. It makes the cells of the body subside in their activities; the nervous system becomes calm. You need not take any tranquilizers. If you are disturbed, chant this elongated way for fifteen minutes. The whole system will become calm and quiet. When you chant like this, feel also that you are expanding slowly into the Cosmos.
OM is not merely a sound that we make, but a symbol of a Universal Vibration. This is really the Vibration that was made at the beginning of the creation of the world. This Universal Vibration (of creation) is the controlling force behind everything in the world. So, when you chant OM and create this Vibration in your system, you set yourself in tune with the Vibration of the Cosmos. The Forces of the Universe begin to enter into your body; you will feel strong and energetic; your hunger and thirst will decrease; you will feel absolute happiness even if you have nothing (i.e. no material possessions) and are absolutely alone, unknown and unseen by people. You will have no desire for anything in the world, because you have become one with all things.
When you become the friend of the Universal Forces, then the world will take care of you in times of difficulty, and you will have no fear from anywhere. Then it is that you become a Saint or a Sage. In this state, if you have any desire, it will be immediately fulfilled, because you have become the friend of all Forces in the world. In this state of Ecstasy of Bliss, great Saints sing and dance (because they possess everything in the world). Here it is that you will realize that you are a Child of God. God Himself will perpetually take care of you and you will have no fear, just as the son of a King has no fear because the King protects him always and everywhere in the kingdom.
This is almost a complete outline of the essentials of the practice of Yoga. But, when you actually begin to practice it, you will find it is very difficult. So, you have to be very honest in your pursuit. Swami Sivananda taught us that Sadhana has three prongs, like a Trisula (trident):
- A Daily Routine of Practice.
Have a fixed procedure of practice every day. One must keep fixed hours and discipline his personality. In daily routine, three items should be very important:
- JAPA – chanting some Mantra over and over to maintain the same consciousness (this is often useful when meditation is difficult);
- STUDY – reading scriptures or texts on Yoga, e.g. Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, The Sermon on the Mount, The Imitation of Christ;
- MEDITATION – should be performed at a fixed time and in a fixed place every day (you should not change the place); face the same direction daily (either the East or the North) and sit in the same Asana (i.e. posture) every day.
- An Annual Resolve.
Vow to give up bad habits like harming or hurting others, telling lies, and incontinence; these three must be given up (slowly) by degrees. Ahimsa, Satya, Brahmacharya are to be practiced. If you break this resolve, you should fast one day. Because of the fear of fasting, you will be careful not to break the vow.
- A Spiritual Diary.
When you go to bed every night you should review what you have done since morning. This diary may consist of questions you may ask yourself, e.g. “How many times have I forgotten God today?” “Did I get angry today?” etc.
With these methods, you can take to serious Sadhana, or practice of Yoga. And when your efforts are followed with earnestness of purpose, you shall achieve success in this very life.