This article is sourced from https://www.swami-krishnananda.org/disc/disc_243.html
With due credit to The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, (Spoken on September 30, 1972)
As we have some Western friends today who have come for the first time, I do not propose to take up any subject in continuation with or connected with what we studied earlier, but would like to give an outline of the presuppositions of spiritual practice.
It is a well-known fact that any step, effort or activity requires an organisational spirit. We should not act slipshod out of sheer sentiment or whim and fancy. All activity directed to success of any kind is cooperative and organisational. While people have been very busy in achieving worldly success through the centuries, and are immensely busy even today in finding out ways and means of temporal success and practical convenience, it has now become clear to everyone that things are not satisfactory. Neither the individual nor the world taken as a whole is satisfying in spite of the fact that every country, every form of society and every individual is putting forth a herculean effort towards success, peace and happiness. But happiness is not found, success seems to be very far, and what we have is only tension, anxiety, and an insecurity even about tomorrow.
This is the reason why people have turned to a new outline of approach. An entirely different perspective of values has entered the minds of people, and today we have everywhere what is known as yoga. In both the West and the East, there is a hunger for what we call yoga, whether or not one knows what it actually implies or means. Somehow, without knowing its inner import, an idea has entered our mind that it brings something miraculous, something super-mundane and finally satisfying to the true man, the true individual, the true person.
Now, this is a hope and a very good aspiration no doubt, but while hope is always essential and is unavoidable in our life, it will not free us from a sense of insecurity about the future unless it is based on a rational background. What we are today is mostly what we understand and what we are convinced about. When we are convinced about any particular circumstance, we are free from anxiety and insecurity in regard to it. But where there is lack of understanding, insufficiency of knowledge and a doubt in regard to what things actually prevail, naturally we do not know what will happen to us the next moment or the next day, merely because we do not know where we stand.
So the asking for yoga is something like a child asking for the moon, which is something beautiful, and it would be wonderful to have it in our hand, but how are we to get it? Likewise, we find ourselves in a situation of ardent longing and asking for what we cannot get in the world merely because we do not seem to be satisfied with what the earth has given us, or promises to give. Also, we have a vague notion of an infinitude of future. Though we cannot intelligently substantiate this view or this opinion, we have a vague notion that we are bound for success and not failure. But for this notion in our mind, there would be no impulse from within us to ask for success or seek freedom. We do not know whether we shall be rationally able to prove the premise that we have in our mind, but there is some sort of a super-reason working within us that tells us we shall succeed, and we shall get what we are asking for, notwithstanding the fact that we do not know what we are really asking for. We ask for something indefinite, and perhaps unlimited. Our asking is vague, and our understanding is equally vague.
Yoga is nothing but definiteness of understanding, certainty of approach, clarity of action and a precision in the modus operandi in our life. Nothing of the vague can help us in the world. It is a new type of education and knowledge into which we are introduced where we are sure about things, and every step that we take is a step of understanding. We do not take a second step unless we have placed the first step very firmly, knowing very well that the ground is firm.
The practice of yoga, therefore, takes us from one stage of firmness and fixity and clarity to another stage of it. We do not move from doubt to doubt or uncertainty to uncertainty or lack of clarity, etc., but it is all perspicuity of intelligence and a definiteness of approach.
Now, as I said, all such intelligent effort in any direction involves a setup we call rational. A rational setup is called an organisation, while an irrational setup is called a crowd or a heap. When we have only a medley of people on a street, we do not call it an organisation. It is just a crowd of people moving as they like in any direction. The forces of the world do not move like a heap or a crowd of powers. The world as we understand it today seems to be constituted of certain essentials, principles and powers which do not seem to be thrown pell-mell but are organised in a very definite manner on the basis of a law that seems to be operating. This law usually eludes our grasp, on account of which we commit mistakes and blunders, and flounder in our life. We make mistakes because we do not know what the law is that operates behind nature and the world in its completeness.
Yoga, therefore, takes into consideration the fundamentals of human life, the fundamentals of life as such, so that we are in a position to come in contact with forces that are, and not forces that we imagine in our mind. The forces that are, that do exist, that operate, control us as they control everything else, and so unless we have a knowledge of these powers, we will not be able to have a control or a mastery over them. We become weaklings on account of a lack of power, and we have a lack of power because of a lack of understanding, a lack of knowledge. Where there is knowledge, there is power because there is control. Knowledge of a mechanism is naturally a sort of control that can be exercised over the mechanism. If we have not a good knowledge over the mechanism of a motor car, for example, we will not be a good driver. You know what will happen. Likewise, the world seems to be a good mechanism, a very beautiful organismic process placed before us of which we seem to be a part, a very, very intimately connected part, so that we cannot get on without it. We have to deal with the world in everyday life, which means to say, we have to deal with all phenomena.
Now, to deal with a thing is to know a thing; else, we have to suffer the consequences thereof. To meddle with any setup or fixture without a knowledge of what actually constitutes it would be to ask for trouble – as it is in science, as it is in society, as it is anywhere. The yoga technique is a science par excellence that is before us – science in the sense that it is precise in its methodology. Whenever there is a very well-coordinated system of knowledge which is precise in its approach and very mathematical and exact in its articulation, we call it a science. In that sense, yoga is a science. It is not science like physics or chemistry because while these sciences deal with only objects of sense, yoga as a science deals with supernormal objects that control the objects of sense which are at the background of objects of sense. So when I use ‘science' in respect of yoga, we have to distinguish clearly between the supernormal science of the world or the cosmos from the ordinary physical, chemical or biological sciences with which we are acquainted.
The science of yoga is, therefore, a masterly technique of harmonising life in its completeness. To put it in other words, yoga is harmony of approach, harmony of life. The Bhagavadgita, a great masterly scripture of yoga, tells us that yoga is harmony: samatvaṁ yoga ucyate (BG 2.48). It is a very simple definition given in the Bhagavadgita which has a fund of import within it. Samatvaṁ yoga ucyate: Harmony is yoga, and disharmony is mortal existence. Earthliness, or samsara in Sanskrit, the chaotic life that we are living, is due to the disharmony that supervenes in our day-to-day life. So we have to understand two things at least before we know what yoga is. One thing is, what is meant by this samatva, or harmony, with which yoga is identified? And the second thing is, what is the life which has to be in a state of harmony? These are two aspects of the approach to yoga that we can consider in a nutshell today.
While we have to know what balance or harmony is in order that yoga may be known, we also have to know where we have to bring in this harmony or balance. Naturally, harmony has to be brought into operation in our practical life. But what is life? Without going very deep into the structure of life, we may say, in quintessence, that life is an operational mood of our minds; on account of this, we have different attitudes towards things outside, and all this is based on a knowledge or an appreciation of a sort of relationship that we have with others. We have individual life, for example, a personal life that we lead. The daily routine that we observe is a sort of outline of our personal life.
But we are incapable of living in the world merely as individuals unconnected with others. You know very well how difficult and how impossible it is to live a completely segregated life of individuality. We are social beings. Aristotle called human beings social animals. While we are animals in one sense inasmuch as we have the instincts of animals, we are also social. We do not stray away in fields, like grazing cows. We have here the beginning of human organisation, or an intelligent bringing together of parts into a connected whole. What we call human society is not merely people sitting together and chatting, but a psychological organisation that we introduce into our mutual attitude among ourselves. We feel that this organisational attitude among ourselves is essential inasmuch as we find it impossible to live an isolated, individual life.
Likewise, we go on expanding this society according to our convenience, and today we have a large society called an international setup. Today our world is one for political and social purposes, even for cultural and spiritual purposes, on account of distance being obviated by the invention of modern planes, radios, etc., and people finding it convenient to travel quickly to distant places. We can say that the so-called physical distance of nations and persons today, on the earth at least, has been narrowed down to almost nothing. So we have a very large human society instead of having a village society or a family society or the small society of an ancient primitive culture. We have a large society of psychological units called mankind or the brotherhood of humanity. This is how we try to live and understand life. Our life is, therefore, connected with many other people, the large society of human beings, and we have to be intelligently related to them so that there is no conflict between our will and the wills of others. This is the law of humanity that we have introduced for the sake of practical convenience.
What is law? Generally it is defined as a mutual agreement among people where the free will of one person does not contradict the free will of another person. If I assert my free will, well, it is good. I have my free will, and I have to assert it. But you also have your free will, so you too will assert it. Thus, there is a likelihood of conflict of free wills of individuals. To avoid or obviate this conflict, there has been a systematic and mutual collaboration of free wills of individuals, and this established principle of mutual collaboration of individual free will is what we call law, whether national law or international law.
So we find that life is large, and is not limited merely to bodily individuality. The more we respond, the more we are happy. Where was the necessity for you to enter into a relationship of human society? Why should you concern yourself with the international system, and so on? It is because you find that the larger you expand your attitudes and relationships, the more secure is your life and the more happy you are. Well, this is the beginning of the expanse that the mind of the human being feels the need for, and this need has been felt on account of a desire for perpetual happiness in life. We feel that if the whole world has only one United Nations army, and there is no conflict between nations, there will be no wars. Therefore, we are trying for a universal government of all humanity, a United Nations with one army, one government, one law, one humanity, with no distinction of west and east, south and north, etc. It is a very beautiful hope that we have.
But yet, with all this possibility of achievement of a world government, “Can we really be happy, ultimately?” will be a question that will arise in the mind of every person because while we can tentatively be happy with bread and butter, milk and honey perhaps, without wars among nations, death will overtake us. We cannot be saved from death, a situation which will come upon us any moment, any day, any time, any hour, any minute. We do not know when. This will shock us. With all the world government that we have set up, there is a snag underneath our whole effort, namely, that we are subject to destruction by the operation of other laws which are not made by man. While the world government is a very good setup, there is another government which has a law of its own and which will have a say in everything in this world; and according to this law, we may be called back to other realms which we call death. How can we conquer death?
Apart from this mystical difficulty of the destruction of our physical individuality, called death, there is a possibility of astronomical disaster. Even if we have a world government, the United Nations, there can be a collision of planets, which is not in our hands. A world government and a single army and a common table for dining of all humanity together will not be safe if the planetary constitution is not cooperating with us. The planets should move as they are moving today. The sun should not come near the earth, or the earth should not go a little nearer to the sun. Some such catastrophe should not take place. Yet, it can take place because these things are beyond human knowledge and control.
Hence, yoga envisages a vaster cosmos. The world government of the present political system is not what yoga envisages. It has a larger perspective of life – the universe taken as a whole. Unless we are in harmony with the universe as a whole, a mere harmony with society and the international government is not going to make us happy.
The catastrophes of life are of three kinds, as they say. We call them in Sanskrit the internal, the external and the astral, or celestial. We call them the adhyatmika, the adhibhautika and the adhidaivika tapa, which means problems or difficulties that come to us from within our own selves, such as disease and death, problems that come from outside, such as from other people, animals, etc., and problems that come from above such as from thunder, lightning, etc., too much heat, too much cold. These are all beyond our control.
The science of yoga is, therefore, the science of all things existent. Yoga studies the relationship of the human individual with all the forces that constitute the universe. It is not merely a political peace that yoga is asking for, not even a social peace, but an eternal peace, an eternal happiness, which means to say, an undying joy which will have no end. Can we achieve such a state of experience? Is it possible? Though we have not thought well about this possibility, there is something telling us from within that such a thing is possible. We have not seen it, and there is no chance of our seeing it in the near future. Nevertheless, an invisible voice speaks from within us that perhaps such a thing is practicable. That is why people come together, ask for Gurus and enter into institutions of studies of higher culture, yoga, spirituality, etc., with the hope that something superb and unheard of, even magical, will manifest itself, and their life will become blessed. While this is a wonderful hope, it is also a practicable science. This is yoga.
I mentioned that yoga is harmony. It is a balance that needs to be introduced into our life. I also gave an idea of what our life is like. It is not merely political, though it is also political. It is social, and yet not social. It is something more than all these things that we can conceive. It is universal, cosmic. Our relationship is with all things, including what we cannot even see with our eyes. We are connected with the cosmic force. The far distant stars are connected with us. The rays of light that emanate millions of light years from a distant star control us, determine us, and have an influence upon us. Everything is mutually connected. As family members are related to one another, everything, every bit of thing in the world is mutually related, even physically connected, not to mention the psychological relationships.
Physical rays travelling from vast space influence and even determine our thoughts, feelings and moods. Such being the case, we cannot say that we live in an isolated world. We live in a cooperative world where forces collaborate with each other. We live in a house not divided against itself, but in a house in which the members of the family are integrated. The whole creation can be regarded as a family of members who are organically related to each other, so we can be happy if we mutually cooperate. A mutual cooperation of forces in all the levels of being is what is called for in the practice of yoga. This is what we mean by the introduction of harmony into life.
In order to know what harmony is, it would first be profitable to know what disharmony is because that is more patent in our life than harmony. Disharmony is disagreement. The structure and constitution of a particular person or an object does not agree with the structure and constitution of our personality. This is lack of harmony between two persons or two objects. When my way of thinking and your way of thinking will not agree with each other, there is psychological disharmony between us, and when my physical constitution is entirely different from yours, we differ from each other physically. There is no harmony.
In our personal life, to take it as a unit of life in general, we have a physical constitution, we have the constitution of our sense organs with which we perceive objects, and we have the constitution of our mind or the psychological setup. All these also determine our relationship in human society. What we call society, or an international organisation, whatever it is, is nothing but the extension of the psychological moods, attitudes, understandings and appreciations of individuals. So when we cannot agree with each other, we seem to be in disharmony between ourselves. If forces that constitute me can enter into the forces that constitute you, or they are not repelled by the forces that constitute you, we would be in a state of harmony: I think as you think, and you think as I think. Truly speaking, when thoughts concur, everything else concurs because things are ultimately determined by the processes of thought.
To introduce harmony into life, then, would be to try to gradually bring this system of balance from easier forms of organisation to more and more difficult forms of it. The practice of yoga is always from the lower to the higher stage, as an ascent. It is a gradual unfoldment of values, a manifestation of power from within us, so that at every step we are nearer to a larger reality. The easiest of forms of psychological attitude are connected with other people. In our activities and in our movements in society we are mostly connected with other persons and things. This is why yoga philosophy tells us that at the very outset, as an initial step, rather, we should try to live in harmony with other people. This is the first step of yoga, which is known as yama according to the sutras of Patanjali, a self-restraint introduced into our mind by which we do not revolt against human society. We are friendly with other people. This is not yoga in its ultimate reach, but it is a very essential first step because harmony is to be introduced into all stages of our life, and not merely in one stage. It is not that we are immediately asked to meditate on some supernormal concept. That is not how we are taught yoga. We have to prepare ourselves morally and ethically as a foundation for the yoga practice so that the higher reaches will become easier of approach.
The first difficulty is social difficulty. We have social problems and political problems: visas and passports, unfriendly neighbours and nations threatening one another, and so on. These are the external problems that we have. Unless there is external peace, there cannot be internal peace, and vice versa. But we try, first of all, to introduce a kind of mutual understanding among people by sacrifice. Sacrifice is self-abnegation, giving up our pleasure or personal satisfaction for the sake of others. If we are greedy, passionate or angry, we cannot be in harmony with human society. We do not like passionate, greedy or angry people. These are anti-social attitudes, psychological moods which are opposed to the welfare of society and humanity.
So first of all, what we have to try to cultivate would not be to suddenly meditate on the concept of God or the Absolute, though it is ultimately to be done, but to see whether we are morally prepared and ethically equipped. What are the emotions in the mind? Are they cultured or uncultured? Are they animalistic? Are they human or anti-human, social or anti-social? With these forms of analysis of the psychological attitude towards human beings, we can be good citizens of the world, and good at heart. We can be good persons, ethically and morally appreciated.
This is the first thing that you have to do in yoga. First of all, try to find out if you are good at heart. Have you a sympathetic and appreciative attitude towards people outside? And are you self-subdued, self-controlled, and capable of making a sacrifice of your pleasure for the pleasure of others? This is the first step: moral, ethical discipline. Then you can, after you are convinced of your being morally sound and ethically satisfactory, slowly ascend to the next step of control of your own personality because while society is made up of individuals, yet there is a group psychology, apart from an individual psychology. Group psychology is different from individual psychology, though group psychology is nothing but a form of the psychology of individuals working in a particular fashion.
After you are appreciably satisfied with your conduct and behaviour in human society, you come to a control over your own self, which is the real start of yoga. That is to say, you begin to have some sort of a control over the constitution of your own personality, the body and all that is inside it. Now, what is your constitution? What are you made of? Unless you know what you are made of, how you are actually placed in this world, it would be difficult to have a knowledge and mastery of your own self.
We have plenty of things within us. To mention only a few of the constituents of our personality, we have the physical body constituted of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether. These are the five material elements which form the physical body of every individual, organic or inorganic. Now, inside we have the vital energy or the force. The life principle permeates through the physical body. The distinction between inanimate matter and the physical body of a human being, for example, is the permeation of a vital force, a prana-shakti, as we call it, an energy, a vitality. This energy or vitality within us is not visible to the eyes because it is a power like electricity working within the muscles, the nerves and the physical system. This prana, this vital energy, this shakti within us is the operator of the sense organs. Just as there can be activity only when there is an impulse or a push from within, the senses can operate only when there is an impulsive force or a motive power behind them. The motive power of our sense organs is the prana within us. If we see, if we hear, if we taste, smell or touch as an activity of the sense organs, it is because the prana is active. And if the prana is withdrawn, as in death of the physical body, there is no sensory perception.
So we have the physical system of the five elements, and the ethereal electrical force which is subtler than electricity, we may say, called prana; inside that we have the master or the ruler of our body, the psychological organ. This is the most difficult of things to understand because the mind is the understander, so who will understand the mind? How can we analyse the mind? How can we study it? While we can study objects, we cannot study the subject. The subject is the student. How can the student study himself? Therefore, most people come a cropper when they begin to self-analyse and investigate into their own mind and intellect, and here it is that people are likely to go wrong in their explanation because self-condemnation and self-detection is not easy. There is always a tendency to self-approbation and self-appreciation. Hence, while self-analysis is absolutely essential in the practice of yoga, and that is real yoga, nothing can be more difficult than that.
While this is the practical constitution of our personality – the physical body, the vital force, the sense organs and the psychological organs – transcendent to all this we have something in us, the pure Spirit. That we really are. The pure Spirit, which is the nature of consciousness, is the essence of the human being. This is supremely transcendent. We call it the Atman in Sanskrit. In its universal operations and universal reaches, we also call it Brahman. It is the absolute Reality that twinkles like a star within our own heart, and that is the reason why we are intelligent, that is the reason we are sometimes happy, that is the reason why we ask for unlimited wealth, unlimited power and unlimited life. It is because the Spirit within us, the Atman or consciousness within us, is unlimited in every respect. Its knowledge is unlimited. Being universal, it knows everything. And because of its universality, it is eternal. There is no death for that which is universal, and because it is unconnected with objects it is free from desire; therefore, it is supremely happy. We are really That, the Supreme Spirit, the Atman.
This is the setup of our personality, and there is a corresponding objective setup of this very same organisation within us. Just as we have the individual setup of the different layers of our personality, the physical body, the vital force, the sense organs, the mind, the intellect and the pure spirit, there is a counterpart in the objective universe as the universe of physicality that we see. The astronomical cosmos, the whole physical universe is the objective counterpart of our physical body. But what is inside the physical world, we cannot see. Just as we cannot see what is inside our physical body, we cannot see what is inside the physical world. That is why we are sometimes in a state of despair and despondency, doubting the existence of the Ultimate Reality, and turning materialistic, atheistic, and purely inorganic in our approach.
We see only the physical world, and we see only our physical body. Nothing inside is seen, either subjectively or objectively. How can the internal subjective principle behind objects be seen unless we cultivate those characters within us which belong to the subject?
Now we come to another very important aspect of the practice of yoga. While yoga is harmony in society and in the personal constitution of the various levels of being, it is also a very interesting process of knowing higher and higher realities by approximating ourselves to the subjectness of truth. Yoga practice is difficult because it is a gradual movement of objectivity to universal subjectivity. We can study objects, but we cannot study subjects because the subject is incapable of being externalised as something that can be analysed in terms of space, time, relation. The subject gradually becomes independent of space, time, relation, while the object is involved in the relation. To approximate yourself to the characteristic of the subject would be to approach the goal of yoga. The goal of yoga is, therefore, ultimately truth, universal subjectivity. This is a philosophical term with which we can define the nature of God or the Supreme Being. God is Universal Subjectivity, which is difficult for our mind to conceive because our mind has never seen what is universal; it has never experienced what is pure subjectivity. We are involved in a discrete objectivity, a limited relationship with the objects, from which we have to gradually free ourselves in order that we may enter into the higher realms of inwardness and gradual expanse of our personality. Thus, harmony, which is yoga, is a system to be introduced simultaneously into the levels of life outwardly as well as inwardly.
Now, ‘subjectivity' is a very important term that we have to define before we know what the practice of yoga would imply. Subjectivity is free from passions of every kind. You cannot have a passion for your own self. You cannot be angry with yourself, you cannot have greed for yourself, which means to say the subject is free from passion of every kind, free from greed and anger and all anti-social elements. You cannot hate yourself. Therefore, subjectivity is free from hatred of every kind, free from passions of every kind, free from anti-social attitudes of every kind, and therefore, to enter into the realm of pure subjectivity, you have gradually to shed these exterior moods that you have incorporated into your personality, such as moral passion and anti-social feelings.
Finally, when we go deeper and deeper into the subjectivity of our personality, we simultaneously also enter, parallelly, into the subjectivity of the outside world. To know the inwardness of our personality would be to simultaneously know the inwardness of an object outside. Object and subject move parallelly in the universe. They are two parallel movements of truth: the object and the subject. So when we advance along one line, there is an automatic parallel advancement made along the other line also. The more you know yourself, the more you know others also, and the more you have knowledge of the world. And the more you know yourself, the greater is the control that you have over yourself and, simultaneously, parallelly, the greater also is the control that you have over others, so that when you enter the deepest layer of your being, you also enter into the deepest layer of the cosmos. The Atman within is the deepest reality within us, and when that is entered, you have entered the deepest level of the cosmos, which is the Absolute. So to know the Self, the Atman within you, is the same as to know the Brahman or the Absolute outside.
This is the ultimate philosophical or metaphysical background of the practice of yoga, for which various techniques of gradual self-control have been prescribed. All stages of yoga are stages of self-control. In one term, one phrase, one word we can say yoga is self-control. Atma-vinigraha is the way to atma-sakshatkara. Self-control is the way to Self-realisation. The lower self is to be controlled for the sake of the realisation of the higher Self. The lower self is what we identify ourselves with in relation to the physical body and the localised personality. When we control it by the control of our passions and the perceptive apparatus, we gradually get into an insight of the realities that are in the world also.
So the first thing to be done by a student of yoga is to subdue oneself morally and ethically. The second stage is to subdue or control oneself physically by regulation of diet, regulation of sleep, regulation of the ways of living generally, and having a healthy lifestyle from the point of view of nature as well as from the point of view of human society. A healthy form of living also implies a healthy way of thinking, a healthy way of feeling, and a healthy attitude towards people. Health is yoga.
Now, ‘health' is a very vast term which, again, means the balance of forces. As we can say that samatva is yoga, we can also say that the health of the personality in all its reaches is yoga. It implies all the levels of health – physical, social, vital, sensory, mental, psychological, and ultimately spiritual. Therefore, when we take to the practice of yoga, we have to go gradually, slowly, and not in sudden jumps and bounds. We should not take a step in which we have no consciousness or awareness. Everything should be clear. Just as we would not like to tread a path in pitch darkness and we use a torch to see what is ahead, everything that is ahead of us is to be known at least one step earlier so that we place firm steps on the ladder of yoga.
Social adjustments, moral disciplines, ethical equipments, physical disciplines, diet, and personal behaviour, sleep included, would be the preliminary practices of yoga. Also, there is another important aspect in the practice of yoga, namely, the choice of environment and the choice of the subject of study for practice. The environment for the practice of yoga should be very conducive. That means to say, it should not be anti-spiritual. Anti-spiritual attitudes are the attitudes of material elements and attachment for objects. You should not live in the atmosphere or in an environment which is likely to sidetrack your mind, make you lose control over yourself, or tempt you with desires which are subhuman. Every person has a desire, or many forms of desire. They can be controlled when you are in a particular atmosphere. For example, you are here in a holy atmosphere, in the Bhajan Hall, listening to a discourse. Your passions are subdued, desires and anger are controlled, because the atmosphere is such. But when you go out into the street, the passions may surface because there is an atmosphere which is not conducive to the subdual of your personality. This is why masters of yoga have given this very essential advice that a student of spiritual practice should always try to live in a conducive atmosphere which will contribute to the subdual of human passions. Passions do not surface in a holy temple or church, because the atmosphere is such. You do not speak vulgar words before a holy man, because the atmosphere is such. So it is essential that you live as much as possible in the midst of people who are elevated, enlightened spiritually and culturally, whose vision is expanded, who see through things rather than merely see things, who have the highest aspirations. The company of such people will help you not only with your study, but will also help you indirectly by the aura that they spread around themselves, which is the principle of life in ashrams, institutions, gurukulas, or in the holy vicinity of a master, adept or a Guru. So the atmosphere is to be conducive, as your diet and sleep and physical conduct and social moods should also be conducive.
Then after having decided all these factors, take to the actual method of practice, which is the direct control of your inner apparatus – the pranas, the sense organs, the mind, the intellect and the spirit. The pranas are subdued by regulated breathing. While physical discipline is essential, physical discipline alone is not sufficient because the internal forces within us will upset all our external effort if they are not simultaneously controlled. This is why you are asked to sit in one steady posture and see that the muscular system and the nerves within are placed in a proper mood of receptivity; when you do so, the pranas automatically move gradually, calmly, and in a symmetrical manner.
The symmetrical forces of breathing are called pranayama. Usually we are breathing without any rhythm or system on account of errors of thought and irregularities in our life. When these irregularities are rectified, the pranas become very subdued. As a matter of fact, Patanjali prescribes in his Sutras a method called kaivalya kumbhaka, or sudden stoppage of breath, without alternate breathing, because when your body and the nerves and the muscles are in a very controlled posture, the pranas automatically tend to subdual, and that tendency is the tendency to kumbhaka, or the retention of the breath. You need not hold your breath and struggle hard with suffocation to control your breath. That is not necessary. If you place yourself in a very conducive atmosphere and sit harmoniously in a physical posture, you will find you are automatically tending to a subdual of the pranas, and it becomes more accentuated when the mind starts concentrating. When the mind concentrates itself, the pranas also automatically get subdued. You can help the control of the mind, or the concentration of the mind, by an easy practice of kumbhaka, or retention of the breath, for a few seconds in the beginning, during which period you can mentally chant a mantra or a formula, conceive the object of your meditation, which is the goal of your life, and so on. Then the very practice of the regulation of the breath implies the control of the senses.
We are mostly at a disadvantage with the senses because we see, we hear, we touch, etc., and desire is generated in our mind on account of the contact of senses with the objects. A gradual attempt of the mind to wean the senses from contact with objects is what is known as pratyahara in yoga, the first step in the internal court of yoga. Close your eyes if you can, so that you may not be directly, physically in contact with perceptional objects, and chant a mantra so that you may also have a holy mood created within yourself; simultaneously, concentrate your mind.
The choice of the object of meditation is as important, perhaps more important, than the choice of the atmosphere of your practice. This choice of the object of meditation is called initiation into yoga. Go to a Guru, an adept, a master who has practised yoga for years and knows the pitfalls and difficulties and the turmoils on the path, and get introduced into the correct method of thinking in yogic terms and in yogic principles. This introduction of your spiritual life into a new way of approach altogether, which is supernormal, supermental and spiritual, is called initiation, which is a very essential step in the practice of yoga. When you are thus initiated into the method of meditation, you know how to conduct yourself psychologically and spiritually, and you fix your attention on that concept or the form or the notion into which you have been initiated or introduced, and place yourself in that mood perpetually. That placement of your conscious mood perpetually in the chosen object is called concentration and meditation. This has to be practised for a very long time, for a protracted period, because we have been leading a very irregular and distracted life, which has to be overcome by a newer method of approach.
Success in yoga cannot come so quickly, but it will come. It cannot come easily or quickly because of the subconscious impressions that are already embedded within us, which have to be brought to the surface and cast out so that the spirit within may reveal itself in its brightness and profundity.
This is the philosophical and the psychological background and the practical outline of the science of yoga, which is a cosmic science of approach – cosmic in the sense that it applies to everyone at every stage of life – and it is most essential for a happy and perfected life of every individual. It is not a religion, it is not a creed or a cult or a code or an attitude connived by a person or a group of persons, but it is a fundamental fact of life manifesting itself inexorably in all stages of life. Thus, it is a must and is unavoidable. It is the ultimate principle of the cosmos manifesting itself in the human individual as a scientific approach to things, which is the background of the practice of yoga.