Question: Is not Yoga unnatural? It tries to restrain instincts such as eating and sex. As contrary to human nature, such enforced control will always be fragile, and in fact fruitless.
Answer: This question comes up again and again in slightly different forms, like the Chinese dragon which appears now as blue, now as red, or again as white, green or other colour, but with the same claws and tail. The questioner has assumed that what is natural to animals is also right for man. A moment’s reflection shows that this is not so. It is natural for cats, for instance, to hunt for sport, and to postpone killing the prey. This so-called instinct is found in small boys who amuse themselves by pulling the legs off beetles. This is an animal inheritance, and it can be transformed. There is a deeper nature, which seeks to express itself as fellow-feeling and sympathy. The residual impulse to cruelty may still be activated, as for instance with the crowds at the Roman arenas, where thousands of helpless prisoners were killed piece-meal by wild beasts and other agencies. But the great orders of service such as the Red Cross are not staffed by people desperately trying to control their own instinctive cruelty, but by men and women who want to relieve suffering. Religion has played a big part in cultivating this spirit: most of the hospitals in Britain are named after saints – St. Mary’s, St. Bartholomew’s and so on.
The instinctive is not the deepest layer of human nature: the yoga doctrine is, that it is a superimposition imposed by a sort of general failure-to-see-clearly. To transcend it is not a constant strain, but relief itself. As Socrates said of the falling away of the sex drive in age: “I feel like a slave who has been released from the dominion of a cruel master, and is now free.” This is not the fashionable view today, but fashionable views are not always beneficial in the long run. As with the supposedly harmless social cigarette smoking, they may conceal great harm. Looking back on that habit now, it seems extraordinary that they did not notice the consequences.
© Trevor Leggett