Yoga and the Mind – Part 2
Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati
We have seen how the reality of the Self is quite different from what we take ourselves to be. We are like the boy in the story of The Ten Boys, where the one who is searching for the 10th boy is the 10th boy himself. We are searching for happiness, immortality, knowledge and intelligence outside of ourselves, while all this is our very nature. It may sound unbelievable that the one who takes him to be mortal is, in fact, immortal. What do we love in life? We love immortality, intelligence and happiness. The general rule is that there is always love for one’s own nature. Therefore, whenever I find myself ignorant or unhappy and am faced with being mortal, I become uncomfortable with myself and want to get rid of that feeling. It is like a particle of dust in my eyes, or a little bug entering my ear, that I want to get rid of. This discomfort with unhappiness etc. also shows that it cannot be my nature. Had mortality been my nature, I would be comfortable with it. For instance, I am comfortable with the fact that I can see, and when I cannot see properly, I am uncomfortable. I am comfortable with the fact that I can hear and when I cannot hear properly, I am uncomfortable. I am comfortable being healthy, because that is my nature and if I am not, I become uncomfortable. Thus by analyzing situations that make us uncomfortable, we realize that we become uncomfortable whenever we are somehow dissociated from our own nature.
That we are comfortable with our own nature shows that immortality, happiness and intelligence is our nature. Therefore, let our lives become a process of owning up to the nature of our selves; let our lives be based on the reality of our selves. Various desires arise in my mind. These are desires for happiness, mortality and I go around fulfilling these desires. But then, every attempt to fulfill a desire is a denial of me. This is like the attempt to search for the 10th boy being a denial of the 10th boy, because his very attempt to search is based on the conclusion that he is not the 10th boy. It is only when he stops searching for the 10th boy that his mind is poised to see something, to discover something. He then discovers the fact that he himself is the 10th boy that he is searching for. So also, the orientation of our mind needs a shift from being involved in this constant searching.
When the mind shifts its focus, it is poised to see the reality of the self. I can then see that I am indeed what I am searching for. How do we slowly bring about this transformation in the disposition of the mind? So far, I have been living a life which is directed outwards and it has become a habit to search for happiness outside of myself. Every desire that arises in my mind is generally based on seeking happiness or security outside of myself and as long as I keep on fulfilling that desire I continue to deny the happiness that is me. Right now, my life seems to be a denial of myself. That is why there is so much frustration in my life because these desires cannot be fulfilled. Just as the 10th boy can never be found because he is not away from himself, so also, a lasting happiness cannot be found anywhere else in life because it is not anywhere. So let this process of searching be reversed. Because I am what I seek, let me look at myself. For this, the first step would be to create a disposition of mind which is conducive to discovering or knowing the true nature of myself. Rather than seeking to acquire, let my mind be engaged in the process of offering instead; offering happiness, love and goodness.
Yoga is an eight-step process, the first two being very important. Let us discuss those first two steps now. While yoga is generally associated with yogāsanas or various body postures, and prāõāyāma or breath control, these are only the third and fourth steps in the process of yoga. The first two steps, which are rarely talked about, are yama and niyama. These are prescriptive do’s and don’ts, so that I may stop doing things that hurt me and do things that will help me instead. This self-centeredness that we are talking about, is not selfishness. It is not an exclusion of others, because it involves a practice of not hurting, and endorses the process of actively helping. When I stop hurting myself, I stop hurting others as well, and when I start helping myself, I start helping others also. The first step then, is to stop hurting myself.
We have certain negative propensities in us, and the first one is anger. Whenever we act out of anger, our action is violent. We hurt the person who becomes the object of our anger. In the process, we hurt ourselves also. Our second inclination is dishonesty.
There is a tendency to be untruthful or dishonest. When I bend the truth or violate the truth, I violate the right of somebody else and in the process, I violate myself. The third inclination is stealing. There is a tendency we have, to take things that really do not belong to us. The fourth is indulgence, a tendency to indulge in pleasures. The fifth is possession. We are inclined to possess or hoard things, and to have much more than we require. These five tendencies are well recognized. Each of us is born with these propensities.
Anger arises out of intolerance. Dishonesty arises out of insecurity. I am afraid and therefore I violate the truth to hide some limitation in myself. Stealing arises out of a sense of deficiency. Somebody else has more than me and I find that I do not have the resources to achieve what I want to achieve. Therefore, I take recourse to shortcuts to achieve at any cost, even by means that are not fair. I indulge in pleasure because my mind wants more and more pleasure. The desire to amass arises because I feel so insecure that I surround myself with material possessions to feel a sense of security. Yoga teaches us how to become free from these five propensities, one by one.
The first principle that we are taught is the principle of nonviolence. Do not violate others, for the simple reason that you do not want to be violated. Nobody wants to be violated; nobody wants to be hurt. Each one of us is born with an intrinsic understanding of what we want, and know that others also want the same thing. Everyone has the love for life and for their well-being. That I want to live and live happily is the knowledge that I have about myself. And it is, that nobody wants to be hurt; nobody wants to be violated, nobody wants to be cheated and nobody wants anyone to trample upon their rights. I want to live and I want to live happily, and I do not want anybody else to come in the way of my pursuit of happiness and freedom. I also know that others want the same for themselves. They do not want me to come in their way of pursuit of their happiness and freedom either.
We are all, without exception, born with the knowledge that nobody wants to be hurt. The basic principle of nonviolence, is being aware of this and respecting other people, respecting their right to freedom, respecting their right to pursue freedom, and respecting their right to live and be happy. This is what is meant by not doing unto others what you do not want done to you. So at the physical level, I must refrain from hurting other creatures, I must conduct myself with alertness and sensitivity with respect to the feelings of other people, and I must conduct myself in such a manner that by my physical action, I do not hurt or violate other human beings or other creatures.
Speech that is pleasant and not hurtful, is another aspect of nonviolence. I can also hurt others by my speech. Very often, I utter sentences which hurt the feelings of other people. Therefore, may I be careful not to hurt the sentiments of others, and strive to speak that which is pleasant and not hurtful.
Yet another aspect of nonviolence, is at the level of the mind. Thus may I refrain even from entertaining unkind thoughts! We hurt others when we are overcome by anger. When I act out of anger, my action becomes hurtful, when I speak out of anger, my words become hurtful and when my thoughts arise out of anger, my thoughts also become hurtful to others. Sometimes the mind wonders how fitting it would be if something unfortunate happens to someone that we dislike. In my school days, I was supposed to be a bright student, and up to the 7th grade, was always ranked first in school. However, when I went to the 8th grade, a new student joined my class from another town, and he was brighter than me. From then on, I would get only the 2nd rank and not the first. So at the time of the examinations, I would think how nice it would be if this other fellow met with an accident, or broke his hands or legs, so that he could not take the exam. Why? So that I would retain my first rank! I was angry at that person. I could not accept the fact that I was not ranked first and started entertaining unkind thoughts about that person. Thus, when I think or speak or act out of anger, my actions are hurtful to others.
It is a universal principle that no creature wants to be violated. Somebody asked me whether these values are relative. They are not relative. Each one of us has a value for nonviolence. We know that even a violent person himself, does not want to be violated. When somebody commits a crime, he tries his best not to be caught. Why?
Because he does not want to be hurt.
If every human being values nonviolence, why is there so much violence in the world? Why do I myself violate this value? The answer is: whenever I act out of anger or jealousy or such passions, I commit violence. Therefore, in order for me to be nonviolent, I have to look at my anger, understand its cause and deal with it. Anger does not go away simply because we want it to go away. You cannot give it up, like you can give up smoking. If you are provoked, you will get angry.
Pujya Swami Dayanandaji invites people to do this exercise about anger. “I invite you to get angry. Come on, become angry”, he says. Understand that we do not decide to become angry. We do not have freedom when anger comes; we become helpless. Therefore, all violence that happens, is out of helplessness and not out of will. When I feel accepted or feel loved, I am kind, not violent. I get angry only when I feel hurt, rejected or insulted. Anger is a sign, not of strength, but of weakness. Therefore, I should have a value for becoming free from anger. Then alone I can become non-violent, and then alone I can possess the mind and enjoy composure. Otherwise the mind becomes disturbed.
What is the cause of anger? Is it outside of myself or is it within myself? The cause of anger is within me. Others only push my buttons. When I flick the light switch on or the fan switch on, the light has no choice but to light up and the fan has to begin to rotate. Similarly, I have a button called anger, a button called jealousy, a button called resentment, and so on. When somebody pushes my anger button I have no choice but to become angry. I have no freedom at all. Therefore, I have to work on it. That is why anger is compared to fire; the more I appease that anger, the more intense it becomes.
What do I do? Let me become an accepting person. Anger comes because I am not tolerant. I cannot accept other people as they are. I want them to be different. I have a prescription for everybody’s behavior, my spouse’s, the children’s and even the neighbor’s. Rather than prescribing how others should be, let me accept them for as they are. Because they are created this way. Let me accept the creator for creating them this way and not demand that everybody should be agreeable to me, not demand that everybody should respect me and not demand that everybody else should love me. Let everybody have the freedom to be what they are.
The way to deal with anger, therefore, is to accept that the world is not in my control; the world has its own agenda. Everyone has his own mind, his own personality, and his own agenda and therefore, let me accept them for what they are as best as I can. Let me also enjoy the freedom to be what I am, accepting things as they are, as best as I can. It does not matter how the person is. Accept the person, even if he is hurting or insulting. His behavior is his problem. He must be himself suffering from some hurt or guilt, and perhaps that is manifesting as this behavior. Thus, anger can be dealt with by forgiveness. Can I become larger than I now am to forgive and accommodate that person? Can I be more compassionate and large-hearted than I now am? I cannot expect to remain as I am and hope to become free from anger. Anger draws attention to the fact that I am not large enough, that I am not accommodating enough.
Whenever anger arises in me, it tells me that I am not kind enough or accepting enough. Let us use every occasion of anger to learn something. Let us not get angry at anger. Let me be kind to myself also. Just as any pain that arises in our body draws our attention to something that needs to be done, when anger arises in my mind, it draws my attention towards something that needs to be done. It challenges me or demands that I should become more large-hearted. Let me take on that challenge and try to win. It does not happen right away; it is a process. If you have a value for becoming free from anger, in course of time, anger will go away. We will be able to accomplish this by growing in maturity and becoming larger than we now are. In this manner I grow to be nonviolent.
The second principle to follow, is truthfulness or becoming free from dishonesty. It is out of our own inner insecurities that we violate the truth. Therefore, we have to make a commitment to truth, that whatever I speak, may it be true. I don’t have to always speak what is truthful, but when I do choose to speak, I will speak only the truth. People say that the truth is always bitter. Very often, in the process of speaking the truth we end up hurting other people. So when you speak, try to speak in a manner that is pleasant.
The third principle to abide by, is non-stealing. In a civilized society, we do not steal and therefore we generally do not have to worry about this value. However, there is a subtler level of stealing which takes place sometimes. We don’t steal by shop-lifting etc. But sometimes we do not fulfill our own responsibilities. Let us say that I am employed in a place to work for so many hours, at a certain salary. Sometimes we steal time from our work and are not quite honest about our duties and responsibilities. That can be equated to stealing. Therefore, non-stealing calls for being a responsible person.
The fourth principle to practice, is non-indulgence. Life is meant for enjoyment, but sometimes in the process of enjoyment, we lose ourselves. We become controlled by the objects of pleasure. Let me retain my control and freedom whenever I am enjoying things. There is a statement which says, ‘May you eat food; let food not eat you. May you drink something, let not that drink you.’ Sometimes when I am at a dining table and the food is delicious, food starts eating me. I know what my stomach can handle, but sometimes I lose control. I go in for a second helping, a third helping, a fourth helping and so on. In the process I become controlled by food.
We also get addicted to pleasure. Everything is there to be enjoyed, but the enjoyment becomes a blessing only if we can retain our freedom and not lose it in the process of enjoyment. For many years I never drank tea. When I started working in a factory, I saw that many others were sitting and enjoying drinking tea. To be with them, I also started drinking tea — one cup in the morning, one cup in the afternoon, and one cup whenever somebody visited me, and so on. Soon I was drinking 5 to 6 cups of tea a day. One morning when I did not get my cup of tea at the usual time, I found that I had a severe headache. I had a stomach upset and threw up. I realized that I had become addicted to tea. No more was I drinking the tea; it was drinking me! Similarly, when I start smoking, the cigarette soon starts smoking me. When I cannot do without something, it means that I am controlled by it; that I have lost my freedom to it. So when we enjoy the object, let us retain our freedom and our control by not getting addicted to the object. I do what is conducive to my well-being, in moderation, and in keeping with a certain discipline. I thus maintain my freedom. This is freedom from indulgence.
Finally, we have to work for freedom from possessing or hoarding. People are in the habit of acquiring things, clothes, shoes, hats etc. Someone even has 36 pairs of shoes! Nature has given us resources, but the resources are limited and they are meant for all creatures, not just for me. Therefore, I may take only what I require, and must leave the rest for others. Animals take only what they require and leave the rest of the resources for other creatures. They do not have a freezer to stock their food! They don’t have closets or warehouses either! They have trust in the scheme of things and therefore, take only what they need. We don’t have that trust and wind up collecting and storing lots of things. In the process, we deprive others who may be needier than we are. My eating more food than I require, may deprive others who may be needier. Consuming anything more than I require is depriving others who may need it. This requires us to be alert and conscious about our consumption. We are a consumer society and there seems to be a value for consuming more and more. But there are people in this world who are needier than us. Taking from nature only what we need and no more, is a discipline to be cultivated.
We have to make the effort to espouse these principles. The first principle is nonviolence, the second is truthfulness, the third is non-stealing, the fourth is nonindulgence, and the fifth principle is non-hoarding or non-stocking. Because we have the propensity to go against these values, we have to deliberately begin to deal with them.
Yama is giving up the five negative propensities of violence, falsehood, etc. Niyama is the five virtues that we should acquire. The first is purity or cleanliness, the second is contentment, the third is austerity, the fourth is worship and the fifth, is a life of service.
Cleanliness is being clean on the outside as well as within. With reference to inner purity, let my intentions be pure, let them be as honest as possible. We do so many things formally, whether we mean them or not, like the smile we offer to strangers, or words like ‘Dear friend’ while writing a note or letter. There are many things that we say and do, which we may not even mean. Like saying, ‘I love you’, whether or not we do. The idea is that the thoughts we entertain in the mind are quite different from what we let somebody see. There is a disparity between the two. Therefore, let there be cleanliness or purity. Let my thoughts be true to my word, and let my words be true to my thoughts. Let my intentions be clear, let my intentions be honest and let my intentions be kind. This is purity within.
Contentment is a virtue. Let us be content or happy with what we have. Very often I am a dissatisfied person, always complaining about things that I don’t have. It looks like my mind seems to always be centered on what I do not have. Therefore, very often, I do not value what I do have. A poor man once went to a saint, and asked for help.
The saint asked, “Do you have nothing with you?” “No.”
“I see that you have two eyes. Can you give me one eye? I will give you a million dollars for it.” “I can’t do that.”
“You have two ears. If you give me one of them, I will give you half a million dollars for it.” “No, I can’t do that.”
“You have two arms. Can you give me one? I will give you two million dollars in exchange.” “I can’t do that.”
“You have two legs. Can you give me one for three million dollars?” “No.”
“Look, you already have thirteen million dollars with you.”
This story illustrates how we do not value what we may have, when we conclude that we do not have something or the other.
Yoga asks us to appreciate what we have. Count your blessings and be appreciative and grateful for what you have. What we have is very precious. We take it for granted that we can talk, see and move. Let us recognize that this body is a gift. That I can see, I can hear, I can walk, and I can talk, all these are gifts. That I can think, and I can learn, is a gift. That I can do things, is a gift. These are all gifts that are given to me. That I have a family, and I have a job, are all gifts. These may not be as great as what somebody else has, but I have them. Therefore, let me appreciate what I have; let me be content and be happy with what I have. If I think it is necessary, I can go ahead and acquire more. Contentment means a sense of gratitude for what I have, and the ability to enjoy what I have. My garden may not be as big as my neighbor’s, but I do have a few flowers. My house may not be as big as my neighbor’s, but I do have a house where I can sit and I can be quiet. My car is crummy, but it does not matter; it still takes me where I want to go to. Therefore, let me not look at somebody else, let me not try to become somebody else. Let me honor myself, let me honor all that I have been given, and let me enjoy that. This is contentment and we have to develop this value.
Austerity is letting my life become as simple as possible. Let me become as non-demanding a person as possible. Let my needs be as minimal as possible. Let my food and clothes become as simple as possible.
There is a principle or power called God, who is the creator of this world. Let there be recognition of God in my life. Let me remember the grace that I enjoy in life. The universe is created so as to provide for the needs of all creatures. When I look around, I find that the creator has done things out of care and concern. Whatever I needed in my life has been given to me. It is true that many of my desires are not fulfilled, but then many of my desires are fulfilled also. Very often I find that it is good that certain desires were not fulfilled because, if they had been fulfilled, I would have felt regret later on. If we look at our lives, we can find that we are enjoying the grace of the creator all the time. How wonderful is the functioning of the heart! If it stops functioning, life would be over. That is the grace. When we breathe, the breath goes out and comes in. When it goes out, but does not come back in, our life would be over. Thus we are enjoying the Lord’s grace all the time, when we breath, when we walk, etc. If I don’t get hit by anybody when I am crossing the street and reach my destination, it is due to grace. If I eat food and it gets digested, it is due to grace.
We will find that we are indeed enjoying a lot of grace in our lives. We must remember this with a sense of gratitude, “Thank you Lord, for all that you have given. Thank you also for having not given me a few things.” I do not know what will be, if all my desires were fulfilled. If they were, would I be happier? Is it not that a desire arises from a mind which has very little knowledge and very little understanding of life? Therefore, there is no certainty that just because my desire gets fulfilled, I will be happy. Many years ago, I went to an amusement park with some of my friends. The cost of the roller-coaster ride was $10 and there was a long line of people waiting. I was shocked that they were charging so much for a 2-minute ride. Finally, my turn came to go on the ride. We went up slowly and I was enjoying the scenery. But soon the ride picked up speed and we were being thrown downward. Those 2 minutes were the longest 2minutes of my life! I was being thrown this way and that way. I prayed for it to stop and was relieved when the 2 minutes were over. I wished I had not gone on that roller coaster ride!
Very often, we regret a desire, once it is fulfilled. Let us recognize that there is a universal intelligence which decides what is good for me and what is not. Therefore, this universal intelligence gives me only what is good for me and, in its wisdom, refrains from giving me all that I want. Do we always give our children whatever they want? When a child gets more than its share of candies, the mother stops giving it more and the child thinks that the mother is miserly despite having a box full of candies. Just as in a car there is an accelerator as well as a brake, sometimes our desires are fulfilled and sometimes they are not. In the same way, just because we love somebody, we do not do whatever they want. Sometimes we do what they want and sometimes we don’t. Let us give the universal wisdom the benefit of the doubt, as to why our desires are fulfilled and why they are not. Both are the grace of the Lord. Thus, if I have something, that is grace. And if I do not have something, that is also grace.
Life of Service
One should practice a way of life based on the recognition that I am the recipient of this grace. Therefore, let there be a sense of gratitude in me. Let me perform my actions with a sense of gratitude. This is called self-less action, an action performed with a sense of gratitude. Let me not always be a beggar, “I want this. I want that.” Let me start giving. I have always gotten things. I have always been given things without my asking. May my life, therefore, become a process of giving or offering, out of a sense of gratitude!
These are the five things we should practice for our inner growth. In this manner, the first two steps of yoga prepare the ground for the subsequent steps. This way of leading life enables us to slowly cultivate a mind which enjoys poise, quietude, tranquility and leisure. Very often, what we lack is leisure. “I have a beautiful house with a garden and flowers, but I can’t enjoy it, as my mind is not available.” We don’t enjoy them because we are too restless, too preoccupied and too concerned. To enjoy life, what we need is leisure. We have taken for granted that to be happy we require many things. But even if I have many things, there is no assurance that I will be happy. So not only do I require the things or objects of enjoyment, I also need a capacity to enjoy them. Good food alone is not enough; I should have the capacity to enjoy that food. I should have a frame of mind to enjoy the beautiful nature around me. What is that frame of mind? It is leisure. Only if I have leisure can I appreciate flowers, music, food, other people and life, and practicing yama and niyama slowly leads to leisure of mind when I can enjoy myself. Even to enjoy myself as I am, I need the leisure of mind.
The first step in yoga is to acquire the leisure of mind which will slowly culminate in an abiding mind which enjoys what I have. Yoga is enjoying myself, and discovering that the enjoyment of the wholeness that I am seeking, is my own nature. It is not that it will happen someday. It is happening all the time. The progressive discovery of happiness and freedom being my nature is a process, not an event. That is yoga, a process of life based on the fundamental reality of myself, the world and life. Only then can I recognize the fact that I am the person, and that this personality is a gift. My personality is a beautiful thing, but I am not confined to my personality. The personality is small, mortal and insignificant. But I am immortal. In spite of the limitations of the personality, I the person, am free from all limitations. This discovery is the final consummation or final goal of life. The culmination of yoga lies in this discovery.