Aspects of Adhyatma Yoga14 min read

There are many paths and Yoga’s, but the hall-mark of true Yoga is that it is spiritual in character, and teaches the way of approach, or rather of ‘return’ to God. No true Yoga has anything to do with the acquisition of psychic powers or with the occult.

There is more than one way by which a man can return to his source. Some take the way of knowledge, some, of devotion and others, the path of action, and there are Yoga’s dealing with each of these paths. Adhyatma Yoga is a synthesis of all three; according to its teachings, the pupil must perform study, devotion and service concurrently and it is as important for him to become proficient in the practical side as it is for him to master the philosophy and the art of meditation.

Adhyatma Yoga is a spiritual science and it claims to reveal to man the power within himself whereby he can purify and control his mind and then transcend its limitations, finally obtaining union with the Supreme Spirit— not after death, but during his life on earth. This divine power has its seat in the higher will or intuitive faculty (buddhi). Its existence is not recognized until the lower mind has been to some degree purified and stilled.

Wise performance of action is essential—not clever, but wise, performance. The inner equilibrium’ which is stressed in the Gita implies co-ordination of body, mind and spirit—the right relationship between the Spirit and its instruments. This balance is the secret of constructive living and it can only be attained when the pupil has learnt to live in his body and mind, and not as his body and mind.

This state is brought about by a method which involves purification, meditation, devotion and service of mankind, that is, inner preparation and outer practice.

It is the accepted opinion in the West that the beliefs held by Eastern peoples lead to escapism, lethargy and fatalism, that whenever a crisis occurs they start to pray and cease to act. If this is so the fault does not lie with the teachings embodied in their Scriptures. You will constantly hear O well, if their beliefs are so wonderful, why are the people in India . . . ? ’

I am sure if we were asked by an Indian why the West abounds in Insurance Companies, since Christ said Take no thought for the morrow ’, we should feel very misunderstood and rule out the question as irrelevant !

The fact is that hidden in all the great Scriptures of the world lie those truths and methods, which could deliver man from his bondage, if they were not almost forgotten. ‘The heights attract, but not the steps thereto’ says Goethe. Everyone wants freedom and happiness—freedom from fear, from the domination of the mind and the emotions— but as with everything else, spiritual or material, there is the price to pay and so the desired state remains unattained.

Every science has a technique, but it is only successful when its practice is based on the interior knowledge that produces it. So it is with the spiritual science. The quality of the outer life is determined by the quality of the inner state from which it springs. Action is the measuring rod with which we can assess the depth and reality of our spiritual convictions. No matter what we may affirm in our meditations, the acid test is how to meet the everyday happenings.

Those who know, testify that successful meditation is dependent on the quality of the life lived during the twenty- four hours, and certainly, no life can be constructive or progressive, which is not fed and based upon meditation and communion with God. A great Saint has said It is foolishness to bar your doors and windows against the thief for one hour and leave them open for twenty-three, for in this way you will surely lose your treasure.

It is in the tradition of Adhyatma Yoga that whatever the pupil receives, in the form of knowledge or spiritual power and enlightenment, what be offered back by him to his fellow men. The true Yogi is a worker among men and a participator in life. Should he wish to live a life of contemplation, he is only allowed to do so after he has lived in the world for a very long time. This rule is based on the psychological fact that there are very few hearts and minds which can remain at their best, if kept on one line without a break for a long time. The palate ceases to savour the same taste after a time; the digestive organs lose their power, if presented with the same food, day in, day out; so the heart and mind lose resilience, if kept on one line of action without interruption, be that line inner or outer. The monasteries of old were centres of industry as well as centres of prayer. Sheep farming, wine distilling, missal illuminating, writing, teaching and nursing—all these activities were carried out in addition to the spiritual activities.

Therefore, in order to live constructively, man must bring the same qualities to bear on his actions, as he brings to bear on his meditations and prayers. What are these?

Alertness: he must be awake to the significance of what he is doing.

Concentration: his mind must be one-pointed in performance.

Devotion: he must offer whatever action he performs to the Lord. Dependence: he must depend for his light and strength on a force greater than his own.

These qualities are not to be had for the asking. They are, like everything else, subject to cultivation.

Discipline is the way to cultivate them.

Discipline is not coercion, but the acceptance and following of certain rules, laid down by the wise, out of their own experience. An undisciplined man can do nothing lasting, inwardly or outwardly. He is constantly getting in his own way and is a danger to himself and to others. In a Sufi mystic classic, it is said Through discipline, heaven has been filled with light; through holy discipline, the angels became immaculate and holy’.

What are some of the preliminary rules laid down by the great Teachers, to guide their pupils in the way of constructive living? One of the most important is that the pupil shall concentrate his power on his own duty and on no one else’s. St. Francois de Sales says that God requires the faithful fulfilment of the merest trifle, given to us to do, rather than the most ardent aspiration towards things to which we are not called. The pupil is required to fight where he stands and not to try and change his circumstances into others which he considers would be more propitious. He performs the duty brought to him by his karma, but he performs that duty as an offering to the Lord and so makes it a fertile opportunity to learn the spiritual lessons of detachment, patience, equanimity and so forth.

Next in importance is complete harmlessness in thought, word and action.

Thought is put first because mental acts are much more powerful than physical ones.

Complete harmlessness is based on the acceptance of the spiritual law of the universality of consciousness—that there is One Spirit pervading the whole Creation, that the universe is one, and that consequently, all that live in it are of one family.

The Yoga teaches that man is a part of the great Whole and not an independent unit, that he is connected and interconnected with every atom, that what he does, does not affect himself alone, but has an universal significance.

Another pre-requisite is active enquiry, based on an urgent desire for knowledge, which leads the enquirer to seek out those who know and endows him with the willingness to learn from them.

To know does not mean to know theoretically, but to experience; it does not lead to conviction but to certainty; it does not mean to define but to divine.

It is written: “Endeavour to find out the commands of God from one who is united with God.

Not every heart understands the commands of God. Either you must have the touchstone within your own soul, or, if you know not the Way, do not go forward alone. Without need, Almighty God does not give anything to anybody; therefore quickly augment thy need, O Needy One that the sea of His bounty may surge up in loving kindness.”

Harmlessness, a sense of urgency to know, then the patient cultivation of reverence and devotion. Reverence is the ‘open sesame’ to any door. The true artist, scientist and saint, all reverence the object of their search and as reverence increases, egoity decreases.

Devotion can grow out of reverence. You may have every ingredient to hand necessary for a good meal, but if fire is absent, it is useless and no meal can be cooked. Similarly a man may be eager to know and to conform to the discipline, but without reverence and some instinct for devotion, he lies becalmed.

“Dost thou know’ says Rumi, “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 grow flowers of many a hue? Years hast thou been a heart-jagging rock; once, for the sake of experiment —be earth”.

It is for the aspirant to yield the fruits of the experience and knowledge that he gains to anyone in need of them. In order to give, one must have a surplus out of which to give. “No burdened one shall bear another’s burdens.” Surely the criticism so often levelled against spiritual training, namely that it is selfish and egotistical, is the reverse of true.

Spiritual wealth must be amassed, like any other wealth and should be freely given when acquired; a bankrupt cannot be a giver.

These are some aspects of the inner discipline, by which a man may become master of him and cease to be a slave of circumstance.

It has been said that the craving for action was implanted in the heart of man, in order that the inward consciousness might come into outward view. What a man thinks, that he becomes. Therefore if you fill your mind with the murders and other vices depicted on the cinema screen, you are likely to become as artificial as they are. It may be a platitude to say that thought is a great creative power, but that is only to say that it has been repeated so many times that its truth is forgotten.

On this subject the Masnavi says: “When you see that from a thought, every craft in the world arises and subsists; that houses, palaces and cities, mountains, plains and rivers; earth and ocean, as well as 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 and thunder, while in regard the world of thought, 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 and pinions without any veil. You will see neither the stars, nor the sky, nor any existence, except God, the One, the Living, and the Loving.”

The mind is like a sponge, if you put it in milk, it will absorb milk, if in vinegar, vinegar. If you interest the mind in gross things, it will bring forth crudity and grossness.

If you immerse it in God, it will mirror the thought of God. It is a very delicate instrument and a moment of anger, greed or fear, tears its fabric. For the mind to discover the spiritual truth, it must live in devotion, for it is not only creative, but imitative. It takes on the quality of whatever it identifies itself with, in the same way that the crystal assumes the colour of the object near it.

But the mind must be purified and stilled, if it is to reflect the pure light of God. If you wish to hasten this process, seek out one who has purified his mind, and learn the spiritual science from him.

As St. Thomas a Kempis says: “Enquire willingly and hear in silence the words of holy men”.

In the West, we tend to think that if a man is clever enough, he can understand anything. In the East, they think that if a man is pure enough, he can understand everything. This is the right view, for it is only the purified and detached mind that can intuitively grasp the significance and essence of the Truth. That action which is disinterested and performed as an offering to the Lord, is the initial purifier.

In order to become detached from anything, the mind must be convinced that it can obtain greater satisfaction elsewhere.

Perfection is only attained by a series of “self disgusts”.

So we do violence to ourselves, in the sense that we restrain the mind and the emotions in their instinctive play and bring them to bear on those things which are of good repute. To read about the spiritually great ones of the earth, and to brood ‘upon them, produces in the heart, the substance of which their hearts are made.

Now although the inner way of controlling the mind is a science in itself, there are some simple hints which can be given here, which may prove useful.

You cannot control anything unless you stand apart from it; in the same way you cannot control the mind as long as you identify yourself with it.

Force and repression will do no good; if you use repression, you are tacitly acknowledging the strength and reality of the thing you are trying to disregard, and it is not disarmed, but only kept in check. Therefore instead of attempting to repress the mind, one must learn to control it by realising the significance and truth of the spiritual teachings, by recognizing what the mind is, and treating it accordingly. If you acquire the habit of witnessing the mind, you will observe that it delights in chain thinking, you will find that it loses its lightness by loading itself with desires, fears and false imaginings and runs continually from one thing to another.

In the Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, a well-known Eastern classic, it is said: “If the mind strays ever so slightly from the Ideal, it becomes externalized and bounces like a ball, inadvertently dropped on a flight of steps”.

Chain thinking is as vicious as chain smoking and can only be cured by giving the mind a worthy focus, and keeping it constantly employed. We have said that the mind is like a sponge and should be immersed in beauty and in those things which will bring it a wider knowledge and range, such as poetry, music, literature and, if you are fortunate enough to possess an alert mind, philosophy.

Everyone may experience difficulty in making these efforts at first, due largely to want of alertness and torpidity of will, but there are many simple exercises for training the will, as, for example, resolving to use the left hand for two hours daily. You will be surprised how many excellent reasons you will find for giving it up, after a few moments.

Another exercise is to set oneself to read a passage, or to keep the mind concentrated on a particular subject for a specified time, which, however short, is rigidly adhered to. There are many other exercises of this kind, apparently childish but of great value.

In the Ramayana, a great spiritual epic, there is a devotee of God called Hanuman. On one occasions he addresses his master as follows:

“O Lord, when I think of myself as the body, .1 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—even as Thou art”.

These are the three aspects of Yoga and of man’s nature. He is the servant of the Lord, when he acts, a spark of His fire when he adores and worships, and one with the lord when he knows. This is the way, according to the teachings of Adhyatma Yoga, that the constructive life, progressing towards liberation is to be lived. To this state the Yoga is leading the pupil, to a life of balanced recklessness, lived for man and to the glory of God.