The Yoga of Self-Knowledge
From Self-Knowledge Autumn 1988, and reprinted as
The Inner Discipline of Yoga in What Yoga has to Offer
published by Shanti Sadan
The great philosopher Shri Shankara defines the word Adhyatma as 'that which is at first known as the soul in the body, but which, in the end, is found to be identical with the supreme Reality - God'. The word 'Yoga' means a 'yoke', not in the sense of something which restrains, but which joins. Adhyatma Yoga is a metaphysical Yoga, having as its goal the realization of man's identity with God or Truth. In the traditional Yogas, there is no training given in occult or psychic practices, for the goal is always a spiritual one. In fact, a true Yoga may be said to be a science which teaches the way of approach, or rather of return, to God.
There are many paths by which a man may return to God. Some take the path of knowledge, some of devotion and others of disciplined and selfless action, and there are Yogas which deal with each of these paths. Adhyatma Yoga gives training in the three paths of devotion, action or service, and knowledge. According to its teachings, the pupil must aim to become proficient in all three, and it is considered important that during his training at least, he should look on them all with an equal eye.
In the Bhagavad Gita, which is a mine of wisdom about Yoga, it is said that Yoga teaches inner equilibrium - that is, perfect co-ordination between the Spirit and the instruments. In this balance lies the secret of right and constructive action and it can only be attained when the disciple has learnt to live as a guest in his mind and body, so to say, and does not allow himself to be imprisoned in them and subject to their fluctuations. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, but it is an important aspect of the teaching, inasmuch as it paves the way to detachment and gives freedom from the burden of likes and dislikes.
In this Yoga, the outer life of action and the inner state of meditation are looked on as interdependent. The quality of meditation which lasts one hour is largely determined by the quality of the life one lives when not in meditation. Conversely, the daily life will not be vital and constructive unless it is fed and based on meditation and communion with God. A modern Rishi has said: 'It is foolishness to bar your doors and windows against the ravaging thief for one hour, and to leave them open for twenty-three. You will surely lose your treasure.'
In order to live constructively, a man must bring the same qualities to bear on his active life as he brings to his meditation and study. What qualities must he try to cultivate if he is to gain the mastery over both worlds in the end? To begin with, two fundamental ones, the second growing out of the first: desire and devotion. Somehow or other he has got to awaken an ardent and sustained desire to know, to experience, and to transcend his work-a-day self. If he can awaken this desire, devotion will come of its own accord. This is the fire which cooks the meal; without it, all the virtues will remain tasteless and useless. This desire is really present in man from the beginning; it is evidence of his divine nature, but while he is in the elementary stage of development, it manifests as the instinctive urge to expand materially, to acquire possessions, wealth and fame, and to experience all the worldly pleasures. The first evidence of inner growth comes, when, as a result of repeated disappointments and painful experiences, this urge ceases to be instinctive, and becomes a conscious decision to make inner instead of outer explorations.
Once he has reached this stage, let the man seek association with the spiritually mature, or at least, with those who are more advanced in the search than he is. Saint Augustine says that 'one loving spirit sets another on fire', and it is very true. If he cannot have association with spiritual men, then let him read the words of the saints and think over their lives, for the mind takes on the colour of what it thinks upon, and in time, its rhythm changes also.
Dr Shastri used to say that man has two ways of learning open to him. One is to be taught slowly, by nature, and the other is to be taught quickly by the saints, teachers, and scriptures. When the Truth or spiritual knowledge is given by the teachers, it is not imparted by the tongue; it passes most secretly and swiftly, and its reception is attended by great inner changes. Indeed, only by results is its presence made known. The fact that the Truth has been grasped by the mind, is no evidence that it has been received into the inner being. In the Chandogya Upanishad, a teacher, speaking of this passing of knowledge and the transformation it effects, says: 'If you were to impart this to a dry stick, branches would grow and leaves spring from it.'
Once the desire and enthusiasm for knowledge has been awakened and the man is actively seeking out those who know, one may almost say that they will seek him out, and when the two sides meet, the transference will begin; drop by drop at first, and then in a steady stream. Discipline and fixity of purpose will help him at this stage, for discipline can develop most things. Discipline is a word much disliked and out of fashion today, for it suggests restraint and involves obedience. In reality, discipline is not coercion; it is the passing of a technique by one who recognizes that authority and is obedient to it. This recognition must be present, otherwise discipline is Dead Sea fruit.
There are certain other qualities which the teachers of all spiritual schools have considered to be essential in a pupil before he may receive the higher teachings. Our teacher gave first place to complete harmlessness in thought, word and deed. This attitude springs from recognition of the spiritual law of the universality of consciousness, which lays down that one Spirit pervades the whole creation. Consequently, all living beings, having this Spirit as their substratum, are interconnected. Man is not an independent unit and what he does will affect not only himself, but will have a universal significance. Before he has achieved a partial recognition of this truth, even spiritual power can be a source of danger in his hands.
After harmlessness and the desire and enthusiasm to know, there must be patient cultivation of reverence and devotion. Reverence opens man's shut doors. The true artist, the scientist and the saint, all reverence the object of their search, and as reverence increases, the taint of egoity decreases, and the transmission of beauty and knowledge is made more possible. In the great Persian classic, the Mathnavi, it says: 'Dost thou know why the mirror of thy soul reflects nothing? It is because the rust is not cleared from its face.' The rust is egoity. 'How should a rock be covered with verdure by the Spring? Become earth, that thou mayest grow flowers of many a hue. For years thou hast been a heart-jagging rock. Once, for the sake of experiment, be earth.'
Reverence precedes devotion and will produce it. Our teacher has said that both reverence and devotion can be consciously cultivated like any other qualities. Many say: 'Oh! I have no devotion, so these things are not for me.' But in this Yoga devotion is not synonymous with emotion; it is recognized to be that which causes you to bring the mind again and again to the target, and love, when it is born, manifests to the yogi as a recognition of basic unity with the thing sought. If you learn to reverence and recognize the essence of anyone, or anything for that matter, you will come to love its form in the end. Thus, unless the essence of the Vedanta is sensed and reverenced, you will never achieve a living relationship with its outer structure.
To love a physical form, you do not need to be an expert anatomist, nor do you need to be a philosopher or a logician to love the fundamental tenets of Adhyatma Yoga. What you do need is a selfless and devoted attention and a willingness to be transformed by the object of your attention. In one of his works, Saint Augustine puts these words into the mouth of the Lord: 'I am the food of the full-grown. Grow, and then thou shalt feed on Me, nor shalt thou change Me into thy substance as thou changest the food to thy flesh, but thou shalt be changed into Mine.'
Harmlessness, a sense of urgency to know, the cultivation or reverence and devotion, and only after all these have been achieved comes open-handed giving of the fruits of experience and research to anyone who is in need of them. In order to give - to do what is called 'good' - one must have a surplus out of which to give. 'No burdened one shall bear another's burden', says Rumi, the author of the Mathnavi, and surely the criticism of egoism and selfishness which is levelled against those who undertake a spiritual training, to rid themselves and others of their burdens, is unfair. Spiritual wealth has to be amassed like any other wealth and should be freely shared when obtained; but a bankrupt cannot be a giver.
This is, in broad outline, the inner discipline of this Yoga or of any other spiritual school. What is the purpose of it all? That a man shall cease to be a slave of circumstance and become master of himself and live according to the divine principle within him, which will only reveal itself when he has acquired a pure enough vision - that is the purpose. The Lord does not need any assistance from us in order to permeate our being, but man must refine his senses if he is to become aware of this communication and this is the purpose of the yogic training. Music is permeating the atmosphere all the time, but the would-be listener will only hear it if he manipulates his wireless - the mind.
In order to live a dedicated life you do not need to retire from the world, but you do need to live a retired life, by which I mean, an unattached life. Retirement is a question for the mind, not the body. It has always been the hallmark of the great Adhyatma yogis that they can live and work in the world concealing their spiritual eminence from all except their equals and their personal disciples. Shri Dadaji, the Guru of our teacher, was a railway official, and his fellow-workers simply knew him as a good man; only his disciples knew him for what he was - an illumined man.