Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Key Yoga Teachings: Adhyatma Yoga

The Yoga of Self-Knowledge (continued)

Now a brief explanation of the teachings of this Yoga on the mind and its powers. We are told that man is born a builder. He must act and therefore he must build, and he will either build an invisible temple or he will build fetters for himself. It has been said that the craving for expansion was implanted in his heart in order that that which is within him might come into view, and so it is. He reproduces his inner activity, his thoughts and his desires in an outer form. If he fills his mind with cinema sins, he will inevitably become as artificial as they are, and if he thinks with imagination and identification on the lives of the great saints and sages, his life will become creative and change its rhythm. It is of course a platitude to say that thought is a most powerful and creative force, but one of the definitions of a platitude is that it is a statement which has been made so often, that the truth contained in it has been forgotten. Here are some words from the Mathnavi on the power of thought which are more compelling than any platitude:

When you see that from a thought, every craft in the world arises and subsists; that houses, palaces and cities, mountains and plains and rivers, earth and ocean, as well as the sun and sky, derive their life from it as fishes from the sea - then why in your foolishness, O blind one, does the body seem to you a Solomon, and thought only an ant? To your eyes the mountains appear great. To you thought is like a mouse, and the mountain like a wolf. The material world in your eyes is awful and sublime, you tremble and are frightened at the clouds, the thunder and the sky; while, in regard to the world of Thought, O lower than an ass, you are as secure and indifferent as a witless stone. From ignorance you deem the shadow to be the substance, hence to you the substance has become a plaything and of slight account. Wait till the day when that thought unfolds its wings without any veil. You will see neither the sky nor the stars, nor any existence but God - the One, the Living, the Loving.

The control and direction of thought, and therefore of action, results in what can be called 'introspective living', that is, a life which is based on the inner spiritual law. To live consciously is to have a sense of direction, a direction towards a goal. In Yoga this goal is liberation - liberation from the mortal nature and a recognition of the divine nature, and entrance into it. This conception is not purely an Eastern ideal; it is found in some Western mystics as well. Meister Eckhart in one of his Sermons, makes the Lord say: 'I became a man for you; if you do not become God for me, you do me wrong.' 'To become God' - this is the purpose for which man comes into the world, and he must fulfil that purpose.

The Yoga gives many practices which will hasten this end. It is recommended, for instance, that in order to free himself from the trammels of the world, a man should regard himself as a pilgrim throughout his life. A pilgrim sleeps, cooks his food, talks with his fellow pilgrims, but his heart is always set on his objective. Chaucer's pilgrims entertained each other with tales, but their real passion was Canterbury. So the yogi is taught to live among his fellows, mutually giving and receiving assistance, enjoying what comes, but using everything and every action he performs to help him towards his longed-for goal. The true pilgrim is a lesson in detachment and purpose, and so is the true yogi.

In order to become detached from anything, the mind, which is ever seeking expansion and fulfilment, must be convinced that it can obtain greater satisfaction from another source. Perfection is attained through a series of self-disgusts, therefore at the outset we do violence to ourselves, in the sense that we restrain the mind and the emotions from their instinctive play, and bring them to bear on those things which are of good report. To read about the spiritually great ones of the earth and to ponder on their lives, accustoms the heart to bear their finer rhythm, and reproduces in us the light with which their hearts were filled. In this way the focus is shifted and changes are brought about, which many think can only be produced by time and austerity. In one of the Upanishads it describes a disciple who has undertaken such a training:

Having settled down [meaning, having made his choice] let him study the Truth, and sacrifice for the Truth. Henceforth he becomes another, his fetters are cut asunder, he knows no expectation, no fear from others, as little from himself.

When you think of the postures, incantations and practices of some Yogas, such a discipline seems almost too simple; but this is a delusion, I can assure you!

A true teacher does not give information to his disciple; he effects a transformation in him, but only after that disciple has embraced the traditional discipline, and thus purified himself. When he first comes before his teacher, the world seems very real to him, and God, or Brahman only a name, a conception to which he clings in times of danger, or when there is something desirable to be obtained. When the teacher has finished with him, the position is reversed. The world now seems to be an appearance, a name, and God alone the reality. About such a transformation, Saint Augustine says: 'If you have received well, you are that which you have received.' In order to 'receive well', all pre-conceived notions of what is to be received, of how the teachings will be given and of what constitutes teaching will have to be abandoned. 'Come what may' is the watchword, and 'I will trust Thee even if Thou slayest me', the cry of the true disciple.

There is an old story which tells how a teacher and his disciple were on pilgrimage, and in the heat of the day they sat down in the shade to rest. Soon the disciple fell asleep with his head in the lap of the teacher. While he was sleeping peacefully, the teacher saw a large and poisonous snake approaching and preparing to attack his sleeping pupil. He begged the snake to show mercy and the snake, as is the custom in legends, understood his words and promised faithfully to depart, if he could have a drop of the pupil's blood, drawn from the throat. Quickly the teacher drew his knife and poised it over the throat of his disciple. At this moment, the boy opened his eyes and saw his teacher with the knife pointed at his throat. Looking at him with love and trust, the disciple smiled, closed his eyes and fell asleep again, and the snake departed, having received its toll of blood.

In the Ramayana, which is a great spiritual epic, a devotee named Hanuman, addresses his Lord and Master, the great avatar Rama, thus: 'O Lord, when I think of myself as the body, I am thy servant; when I think of myself as an individual soul, I am a spark of thy fire; when I think of my real nature, I am one with thee, I am even as thou art.'

In this short speech are set out three main stages on the spiritual path. They are three states of awareness, three aspects of the yogic life. First: 'When I think of myself as the body, I am thy servant'. The disciple sees himself as an apparently free unit, an independent body, but since he has already entered on the spiritual quest and it is his discipline to serve, he serves with that body. Next, he realizes that he is not independent, but a spark of the divine fire, an emanation from a Source, dependent on that Source and impelled by it, and, as that spark, he says he will burn and shine. Lastly he knows, by direct experience, that he is one with that Source, that he himself is the Source of all light, and as that Light he will cease doing, he will simply be. The first two states are preparations for the third. In fact, Yoga is the preparation made by man to enable him to reach this state of certainty. When it is reached, then Yoga is laid aside, for all systems have been transcended, I and the man has become what is known as a jivanmukta, one who has realized his Godhead in this very life - one whose highest activity is now being, not doing.

When the disciple has reached his goal, how does he live? Does he cut himself off from the world and retire into a cave to meditate? In the tradition of Adhyatma Yoga, these enlightened ones become as torches in the darkness to light their fellow men. Shri Shankara travelled all over India, teaching, dictating his commentaries and founding the great monasteries in the four corners of India. Shri Dada, Swami Mangalnath, Swami Nirbhyananda - all modern jivanmuktas of this Yoga - worked and taught until they passed from this world. In the words of a Zen text: 'None knows of their inner life; they go into the market place and consort with winebibbers and butchers, and light the light under which all become Buddhas.'

Many think that the supreme consummation of life is union with the Lord Incarnate as Rama, Krishna or Christ or with a saint of God. This may be the consummation of experience, but the true consummation is other than this. It is a direct knowledge that there is no power outside yourself with whom to unite, that there is only One without a second, no other, and that 'That Thou Art'.

Some imagine - perhaps one should say, fear - that when this stage is reached - a state where all individual progress is at an end and fulfilment has produced inner stillness and waveless consciousness - man enters a void, and that what is known in the Buddhist scriptures as nirvana, and in this Yoga as nirvikalpa samadhi, is in fact a nothingness. One can be certain that this state would never have been called 'the highest state' if it were a void, a vacuum, or a nullity. The illumined sages have testified that it is a fullness and a fulfilment.

The supreme Consciousness ever pervades all, and is the support of all multiplicity and unity, being and becoming. The apparent emptiness is in fact fullness, and forms the ground for the play of the world-drama, maya. The teachings of Vedanta affirm that this seeming emptiness is the hub of the three worlds and the cause of their fascination and power. Here description and words must end, for this state is hidden from our reason and the senses. Still, the Great Ones, who have realized it, are compassionate, and try to give some indication of its nature through stories and symbols. In the Chandogya Upanishad a Guru is trying to reveal to his disciple the fact of this supreme state. He tells his pupil to fetch him a fruit from the nyagrodha tree. When the boy has brought the fruit, he is asked what he sees within it. He answers that he sees extremely fine seeds. He is then told to break one of these and describe what he finds within. 'I find nothing at all, Venerable Sir.' The teacher says: 'My dear, that subtle essence which you do not perceive, verily, my dear, by reason of that very essence does this great nyagrodha tree exist. Believe me, my dear, that which is the subtle essence, in it the whole world has its Self. That is the true; That is the Self, and That thou art, O Shvetaketu!'

In the West they also use symbols to describe the indescribable. 'There is in God (some say) a deep, but dazzling darkness', writes Henry Vaughan, and that mystic who is called Dionysius the Areopagite talks of the 'radiance of the divine darkness' and says: 'We pray that we may come into that darkness which is beyond light; and that we may see and know, without seeing and knowing, that which is beyond vision and knowledge.'

Reason turns away here, but at the point of contact in the high samadhi, or at the moment of grace, the soul of man intuitively recognizes that the end of its quest has come, and knowing this One-without-a-second to be its own Self, in that moment loses its finitude in identity.