The Message of Yoga
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Satsang at Rocklyn Ashram, Australia, April 1995
I would like to mention some things in relation to our practice, our understanding and our approach to yoga. We believe that yoga is a set of practices, confined to asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, shatkarmas, and techniques of meditation. Apart from these practical aspects, the rest of yoga is purely philosophical, whether bhakti yoga, karma yoga, jnana yoga or any other form of yoga. We tend to start mental analysis of these different yogas. If karma yoga says this, how can I, with my present mentality and understanding, incorporate it? If bhakti yoga means this, then how can I, in my present environment, try to understand it? We fail to observe one very important point.
Yoga is not a philosophy, nor is it a practice. There is a part of yoga which is practice, but the other aspects of yoga only give us the message to think and live properly and get our act together. It is the nature of human beings to always think in terms of how we can derive the most benefit from something. Many times when we try to adjust and adapt the practices of yoga according to our nature and personality, we alter them so much that the main direction of yoga is missed. That is our nature. I will give you an example.
We believe bhakti yoga to be the yoga of devotion and devotion becomes an external activity. We believe karma yoga to be the yoga of action and it becomes an external activity. We believe jnana yoga to be the yoga of knowledge and it becomes a process of intellectual gymnastics. We know kundalini yoga is awakening the energy in the form of kundalini in order to experience the growth of human consciousness. However, we get caught up in our own psychological, mental and emotional experiences and never experience the actual awakening. The moment we become involved in trying to adjust and adapt the yogic practices to suit our mentality, we deviate from the direction of yoga.
Karma yoga: action, expectation and perfection
This is a problem I have come across many times in my own dealings and relationships with other people. We superimpose our ideas and our aspirations onto the practices of yoga that we are performing at present. If we hear somebody say that karma yoga is the yoga of action, not having any expectation and trying to do every action with total perfection, then immediately the 'me' aspect of our personality, the 'I' identity, begins to analyze what has been said. We begin to analyze how the 'I' identity, can understand the approach of performing an action without expectation, with perfection.
So I begin to think in three ways. The first aspect is action. I develop my own understanding of action. If I am an extroverted person, I will consider my actions to be working in the field, working in the kitchen, working in the office. If I am an introverted person, I will consider my actions to be my behaviour, my expressions, how I deal with people, how I relate with other people. And that becomes our concept of action.
Now comes the second aspect which is to have no expectations. The moment I say to myself, 'I must not have any expectation', the 'I' identity brings to the front the concept of desire, security, satisfaction, fulfilment. Then I begin to think, 'Well if I'm not supposed to have any expectation, then what am I going to get out of it? If I'm not supposed to have any expectation of the result, then how am I going to fulfil the gap which is being created within me by leaving what I wish to attain, what I would naturally and normally expect as the result?' We say, 'I live in the world where I have to deal with expectation. I can't practise karma yoga because I will have to leave everything.' This kind of thought and idea enters the picture.
Then comes the third aspect which is perfection. The concept of perfection is again distorted by the idea of perfection that we have in our minds. How can I make my every action a perfect action when I do not get support or encouragement, when I do not get feedback from other people around me? By developing these kinds of thoughts we create our own image and concept of what expectation, perfection and action are. Whatever does not suit our beliefs is not accepted. We simply reject it by saying, 'No, it is not possible for me to do that; I have many things to expect and attain in life.' This is one example.
The eight steps of raja yoga
The same thing applies with raja yoga. We know that there is a sequence in raja yoga, the eightfold path of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana leading up to samadhi. But how many of us have followed this sequence with sincerity? How many of us are trying to incorporate the aspect of yama and niyama in our life? Very few – they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. We believe that yama and niyama are moral aspects of yoga and do not relate to us because we are different. We start with asana and pranayama because they are good for the body. The body releases energy and becomes more flexible.
Then after going through the practices of asana and pranayama we say, 'Alright, now I am going to practise dhyana.' We move into a meditative state by creating certain images, fantasies and ideas of what dhyana should be or how we can practise it. We skip the practices of pratyahara and dharana. Only in times of difficulty, when we find that we cannot meditate at all, do we resort to the practices of pratyahara or dharana. Then we ask somebody, 'Look, I cannot concentrate properly. How can I overcome this problem?' That person tells us to practise trataka in order to develop concentration and so we leave dhyana and go back to dharana in order to start the practice of trataka.
After some time we say to ourselves, 'Okay I have done one month of trataka practice. It is not necessary to do any more, I will go back to dhyana.' When we start the meditation, again we confront our negativity and positivity, desire and repulsion, strength and weakness, which creates another movement. When we confront our weakness, we say to ourselves, 'I don't know why I am getting such results in my meditation. I should feel good, but I am becoming more and more depressed. I don't know why I am not having good experiences in my meditation; other people have very good experiences.'
Then we consult somebody who tells us, 'Look, if you are finding these difficulties in your practice you should go back to the practices of pratyahara.' Practise antar mouna, antar darshan or hamsa dhyana and observe what is happening inside. Once you have a complete picture and are able to deal with the arising of emotions, feelings and thoughts, then you can go back to the practice of dhyana.' So again we come back to pratyahara.
There are certain things which we believe are unimportant or unnecessary for us, and there are other things which we give great importance to, but we do not have the right preparation for them, kundalini yoga or kriya yoga, for example. After practising hatha yoga for one year we decide to move on to kriya yoga. We feel a tingling sensation in the spine and convince ourselves that our kundalini is twisting and turning, that it is awakening from its dormant state. We get a very fiery sensation in the stomach and convince ourselves that manipura chakra is awakened. We get a funny sensation in the heart and convince ourselves that anahata chakra is awakened.
It is quite possible that they are awakened, but then we are unable to channel the energy that is manifesting in the chakra. Not only are we unable to channel the energy, but we cannot even handle the changes that are happening in our own thoughts, in our own consciousness due to it. We want to awaken everything yet remain the same outside, without any change. If you want to take a bath or jump in the river but do not want to get wet, it is not going to be possible. We become wet when we jump in the river, but we think, 'Oh no, I don't want to change my clothes now, I want to stay dry!' Yet the desire is still there to swim in the river.
Follow the steps
Many such situations arise in life because we tend to jump from one stage to the next. However, yoga says, 'No. If you want to derive the full benefit from yoga, then please follow the steps as they have been defined.' The yogis who evolved this path were not idiots. They were great thinkers, psychol-ogists and psychiatrists. They understood the nature of the human mind and the difficulties which one can go through in the course of life. To avoid problems they created a system in which we must perfect the first aspect, then the second aspect, then the third aspect, then the fourth aspect.
The moment we begin to follow a sequence in yoga and integrate that sequence into our life, a very beautiful experience takes place. As Paramahamsaji says in his own words, 'Life is a flowering mystery and every unfoldment is beautiful.' We do not know how a flower actually unfolds from the bud; it is a mystery of life, a cosmic mystery. Every unfoldment in life is beautiful. Nature follows a system, God follows a system, the whole universe is based on a system. That system is positive, it is not negative. It is a positive system which leads one through the process of evolution to the total experience of enlightenment.
Enlightenment is the opening of consciousness, it is not the closing of consciousness. Many people in the course of yogic practice tend to close their consciousness, to restrict their vision. That is not the aim. The moment you begin to restrict yourself, a negative state is experienced, not a positive one. I am not talking of a system in the form of an organized structure which can create some form of change in life. I am talking of a system in the sense of a progression. This yogic system is already there. You do not have to create it; you only have to move through it. In the world we can create a system, but in the path of evolution we cannot create a system because it is already there. The path is already laid out; it is only a matter of continuous walking. This is the message of yoga.
Living in harmony with the whole
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali it is stated that through discipline it is possible to channel the emotions and the fluctuations or modifications of the mind. After channelling the emotions and activity of the inner mind, it is possible to reach a stage where one can experience the sattwic nature of the Self, the nature of light, of sattwa. However, because of our pre-conceived ideas, discipline becomes a structure which we create in our life. In yoga we do not create discipline; we become aware of the discipline which already exists. That structure, is the unifying aspect of the whole cosmos and the individual being. We are part of a greater whole and we have to live, to play the role. But that role is not me only, it is me in relation to everything, to the greater whole.
A contingency plan
We make plans for our lives without trying to change ourselves when we encounter a new situation. As Paramahamsaji says, we do not have a contingency plan. These are the words that Paramahamsaji always uses. We act in life without a contin-gency plan. There has to be planning as well as preparation to meet the arising situations of life. If I am going somewhere and during the journey it begins to rain, then what will happen? So I need to take an umbrella or a raincoat. If that planning is not there and it begins to rain when I am out, then my trip will be spoiled.
There is a saying, 'Dig a well if you are thirsty, otherwise forget about the well, it is not needed.' When we feel thirsty, we try to dig the well, but we don't follow the proper process, because we wish to avoid certain stages which we consider unnecessary at present. However, yoga says, 'No. Think of the approach that you have to take and follow it in the correct manner, because life is too precious to be wasted away in trial and error.
In our lifespan, whether it is sixty years or eighty years, we have many things to do, not only external and social but also in relation to our inner nature. We make plans for our external life, let us also make a plan for our inner life. We make plans when we go on a journey, let us make a plan when we practise yoga. The planning has to be there, and this planning already exists. It is only a matter of following the sequence as it has been defined.
Picture taken from http://www.athensyoga.gr/indexen.html
Yoga is not only a physical practice, it is also a changing of attitude. Many times when we encounter certain difficulties in the course of our own sadhana, we ask for help. That is perfectly valid. We have to ask for help. We need some guidance, some instructions on how to get out of that stage. But when we need to ask for that kind of help, it simply means that we have not perfected the previous stage of yoga. We have not been able to change our attitude, our perception, our performance. We are not practising in accordance with our own ability. We have no knowledge of our strengths.
For this reason, I have evolved the SWAN theory. It is the theory of pratyahara. The word SWAN represents our Strength, Weakness, Ambition and Need. We all have certain strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs, but we are not aware of what they are? We do not know what we are, what is contained inside our head. We are not aware of ourselves. We cannot even develop our awareness to an extent where observation becomes a force. Our observation is restricted to the direction, to the area which our consciousness is seeing at the present time.
Our awareness is limited in the same way as our sight. If I look ahead, I cannot look back; if I look to one side then I cannot see the other. We are only aware of what is happening in the field of our consciousness. However, by developing the power of self-observation we can become aware of a larger area. We can become aware of the whole picture, not only that part where we are presently directing our consciousness.
Yama and niyama
In order to develop this power of self-observation, to realize the nature, the inner structure, to understand the dimensions of human experience, we do not need to practise concentration or meditation. We only need to follow the guidelines as set out in the practice of yama and niyama. They are very important aspects of yoga. Yama and niyama are not disciplines. They are ways to overcome the limitations, the restrictions of our mind and ego.
Shaucha means cleanliness. What does cleanliness mean to us? A clean body, a clean environment, a clean house, a clean room, clean air. But cleanliness here means a clean mind. There should be no rubbish, negativity or conflict inside the head. There should be total clarity of thought, ideas and knowledge, not confusion. The concept of cleanliness is not external or superficial. It is harmony of the mental, emotional and psychic experiences.
Santosha means contentment. It is very easy to say, 'I am happy as I am', but are we really happy as we are? If we are happy why are we fighting with ourselves, with our egos? Why are we struggling to find further happiness in life? Why can't we just 'be'? Why do we have to put on different masks at different times? Why can't we simply remain without a mask? Why can't we accept that we are what we are with all our shortcomings and faults? Why can't we realise that we have shortcomings and faults. Why do we have to hide from our shortcomings and faults? The moment I try to hide from myself, I lose the state of contentment.
Satya is truthfulness, the awareness of how we express ourselves in life. Are we able to express ourselves in a positive, creative way? Are we sincere in what we do? This kind of awareness has to develop in regard to the actions which are being performed externally and internally. Satya does not mean that we speak the truth but that we are truthful to ourselves. It means observing the sincerity within ourselves. Do we hide from ourselves? Do we hide from our weaknesses? Do we avoid confronting them? If we do then we are not true to ourselves. That is the concept of satya.
Ahimsa means non-violence which relates not only to the expression of anger, hatred, jealousy or animosity. Rather it is the removal of the limiting, restrictive, negative awareness, the absence of animosity, absence of conflict from thought and feeling as well as from action. These are certain ideas which have been beautifully defined in the practice of yama and niyama, so that by their practice we can alter the structure of our inner personality and experience inner growth and freedom. Each one of us has to evolve an understanding of yama and niyama.
So we should remember that if we want to derive the full benefit of yoga, we should not impose our personal ideas on the yogic practices or concepts. Rather we should try to incorporate the teachings of yoga into our lives to the best of our ability and apply them in all situations and at all times. In that way we can attain wisdom. Knowledge is an intellectual process, but the moment we begin to apply knowledge practically in our life, that knowledge becomes wisdom. Knowledge becomes wisdom when it is applied in life. Knowledge remains knowledge when we know something, but we do not apply it due to our situation or circumstances.
As a yoga aspirant, as a student of yoga, as a yogi, as a sannyasin, whatever our role may be in the world of yoga, our efforts should always be to apply what we know, and not to cram ourselves with different views and ideas and miss or lose our own direction in life. This has been the message that Paramahamsaji has been giving. I have found this inspiration in his satsangs.
The practices of yoga, whether asana, pranayama or meditation, are very good. We should try to do them but, along with these practices, we must also try to understand the reality behind the external appearance. All that glitters is not gold. How do we know that it is not gold? We have to look behind the appearance and only then can we become a true yoga sadhaka.