It is very seldom that anyone can teach himself satisfactorily. One may acquire a certain proficiency, but there comes a time when you must receive not only instruction, but protection and encouragement from others. The search for knowledge calls for partnership between the one who knows and the one who desires to know. It is an inner circulation as important to the venture as is the circulation of the blood to the body, and it calls for high qualities on both sides.
Knowledge is not the only commodity which passes between the two. Guidance and the sense of security through not being alone grows out of the alliance.
When Rachmaninoff, the pianist and composer, was a young man, he had a nervous breakdown, brought on no doubt by the strain of composing, studying and playing, day in, day out. He became convinced that he would never compose again, that his creative power had died. At this point he turned to a man he trusted and laid his fears before him. The man listened, sympathised and upheld him, and finally persuaded him to try to compose something—anything—just once more. Rachmaninoff obeyed him, and the result was one of his greatest works, the Second Piano Concerto. He had been guarded and supported in a time of weakness and he could not have saved himself by his own efforts.
Now Yoga, as most people know, is a spiritual science and not the name of an occult secret. It is a great teacher. It teaches how the finite may be yoked to the Infinite, and its aim is to bring the knowledge and power which is hidden in the higher mind down into the lower mind. Its goal is union with the Supreme Spirit (and in some Yogas, identity with It) and its technique is the ancient practices whereby this may be effected.
The old teachers first sought to make their pupils conscious of the WORKING of their mind and its REACTIONS, thus giving them their first glimpse into the yogic meaning of the word ‘detachment’. Then they taught them how they could, while standing back from the mind, DIRECT its workings and CONTROL its reactions, thus giving them a further and deeper understanding of ‘detachment’, and finally they initiated them into the traditional methods of meditation and contemplation.
In the Gita Shri Krishna says: “I agree that the end of Yoga is hard to attain by one who is not self-controlled, but it IS attainable by strivance through the proper means”.
The ‘proper means’ are the traditional methods of meditation, study and self-discipline, which were given by the teachers of Yoga and the same methods are taught in the traditional schools to-day. In some cases the end may not be achieved for many incarnations; sometimes, owing to past effort, it may be realised in this life.
We have used words such as ‘expansion’ and ‘effort’. What do they imply? Reality, the Self of man, is not subject to expansion, for it was, is and ever will be immutable. The possibility of expansion lies in the faculty through which Reality is cognised, and the aim of Yoga and of the efforts of the Yogi is to unveil that faculty of spiritual intuition and direct perception of truth. It is hidden in the Buddhi or higher mind and is the property of every man who comes into the world. Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice likens it to a heavenly tune and says:
“Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”
The ‘muddy vesture of decay’ is fashioned out of desire, egoity and the senses.
From his birth man employs his senses in preference to reflection. All our knowledge of this world is based on sensible observation. Most people remain, for a time, well satisfied with the evidence supplied by externals, and they regard the senses as the only legitimate or indeed possible avenues of knowledge. But again and again from every spiritual quarter is heard the affirmation that intuitive, direct perception is man’s highest power, and that it is a FACT. But, although direct experience may be the basis of true knowledge, rational experiment is the proper way to attain it, and the recognised systems called Yogas provide the technique for such rational experiment.
Now if we have made a case for turning to Yoga for training, there is a final point to be made. The spiritual Yogas do not countenance the theoretical acceptance of their teachings only —they must be carried out in practice. Anything which remains theoretical is stunted. Just as repressed emotions are dangerous, so knowledge must not remain confined to the mental region. If not carried into practice, it can become a canker and foster egoity.
I was once watching the crowds in Piccadilly with Dr. Shastri. One of the party said: “This is a noisy unyogic place! If only we could retire to the Himalayas and meditate there for a while in peace! Afterwards we could come back and live in harmony with these people”. Dr. Shastri said: “You are quite wrong. If you lived the life of a recluse in the Himalayas it is by no means certain that you would be able to maintain your equilibrium if you returned to Piccadilly. But if you can carry out the precepts of Yoga in Piccadilly, then I promise you that you will be able to continue to do so if you retire to the Himalayas”. Until we descend into the arena and try out our act, we shall never know whether it is a part of ourselves or only a part of our mind.
As we have said, it is a tradition of Adhyatma Yoga that knowledge must circulate, that the teachings must not remain mere theory, but must be tried out in practice. Very detailed are the instructions on how this is to be done and on the point at which the pupil is ready to perform it. In the Masnavi, the great Sufi classic, Rumi says: “No burdened one can bear another’s burdens”, and the pupil is taught that he must change himself before he tries to change others.
Man carries within himself the elixir of life, that treasure sought by the alchemists of the past. It has the power to change base metals into gold and also to give immortality, but it will only perform these miracles when the crucibles and substances through which it works are pure.
According to the spiritual law, we must first be lit by another’s fire, then we may attempt to light the torch of our fellow man; but it is as vital to the spiritual health of an individual to be in a position to pass on his knowledge as it is that an electric charge shall be earthed, and Walt Whitman has said in one of his poems:
“Dazzling and tremendous, how quick the sun-rise would kill me, If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.”
Now, given that we have established that most men are capable of change and that Yoga is a good transmuter, what, speaking very generally, is the method by which it achieves its purpose?
Whatever heavy weather, pain or grief a pupil is determined to extract from his training, the Teachers, being good psychologists, did, and still do, map out the discipline to suit individual needs. When a snake-charmer is dealing with a snake, he does not hold it motionless by main force; he plays a melody on his flute, which it recognises and loves, and it dances obediently to and fro. The Teacher plays the time-old song of the Spirit, subconsciously known and loved by every man, but he knows many variations of that tune, popular renderings, dirges, descants, dances, and he plays whichever will charm and subdue his snake—the egoity of his pupil.
In Chapter XII of the Gita there is a conversation between Shri Krishna, the divine Incarnation, and His pupil, Prince Arjuna, on the subject of training, and I think it should shame everyone who maintains that the teaching methods are arbitrary or unworkable. I will condense it, and you will see what concessions are made by the Teacher, who is well aware of the psychological peculiarities of his pupil. Shri Krishna is speaking and he says:
“Set thy heart on Me, enter into Me with thy soul. If thou art unable to fix thy thought exclusively on Me, then by the Yoga of constant practice seek to reach Me. If thou art unequal to practise either, then be intent on doing action for My sake, for through doing action for My sake thou shalt attain perfection. If thou art unable to do even this, then, taking refuge in devotion to Me, do thou abandon the fruits of all thy actions to Me.”
An old Commentator on these verses, Jnaneshvara Maharaj, interprets them as follows:
“Direct your intelligence to Me and fix it there; then there will be no room for the feeling of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’. While the mind is directed to Me, egoism abates; then you will be all-pervading like Myself. If you are not able to fix your mind on Me all the time, do it for some of the time at least. During the time that you are with Me, the desires of the senses will not trouble you. If however you have not the strength to engage in this discipline, then go on acting as you are doing. Do not give up the enjoyment of things, do not abandon the pride of family, carry out your obligations, only never think: ‘I am doing this’. Remember that only the Almighty, who controls the Universe, knows truly who is doing what. If something you intended to do is completed only in part, do not worry. Your mental attitude should be that water will flow wherever the gardener directs it. But whatever you do, whether satisfactory or incomplete, MUST be dedicated to ME. If your mind has not the firmness to do this, then try to control the senses, abandon all idea of receiving any result from your actions and be indifferent to these results. Either think of Me, or dedicate all actions to Me, or be indifferent to their fruits. The performance of action, without any desire for results, may appear very simple, but it is the highest Yoga. Therefore devote yourself to discipline, for through it you will secure wisdom”.
These are the words of a Saint who lived hundreds of years ago. His interpretation of the verses and the three methods he gives may help those who have as yet no Teacher and yet who wish to start a discipline for themselves.
To sum up: the innate nature of every man is spiritual and the aim of life is to reveal this divine principle; and no man is truly satisfied until he has done so.
There exists a clearly defined technique to guide the aspirant, which does not vary very much in the different schools or down the ages, and in the East this training is called Yoga. It is calculated to accelerate the development of the pupil and to safeguard him from errors and dangers while he is training.
The technique embraces mind control, which is another name for conscious living, repetition of mantras, meditation and contemplation.