How practical is the Yogic teaching ? If put into practice with faith, perseverance and complete one- pointedness, it has the power to bring us peace, happiness and a realisation of the highest knowledge, which will lead us into a life of constant devotion to the Lord.
Sri Shankaracharya, the most brilliant of Eastern philosophers, has given fifteen steps, which will take the spiritual aspirant to the ultimate goal. The first is Yama, a Sanskrita word meaning control of the senses, and the last is Samadhi, which means absorption of the mind in the Eternal Brahman.1
In this article we are only concerned with the first step- Yama.
So important is it in our Yogic life, that we can never enter into the other practices fully, unless we have made some progress in the first.
Kabir, one of the best known of the Eastern classic poets, has said : “ Where there is sense-pleasure, Rama 2 is absent.” The holy Teacher constantly tells us that the mind must be educated in the suffering-producing nature of sense experience, and that wherever there is an impulse for sense- enjoyment we should see a fresh invitation to suffering. So it is wise to cultivate a habit of mind, called shama, which means calmness. It has been defined by Sri Shankaracharya as :
“ The resting of the mind steadfastly on its goal (Brahman), after having detached itself from the manifold sense-objects, by continually observing their defects.”
In “ Confessions of a Fair Saint ”, part of the book Wilhelm Meister, Goethe tells us how this spiritual woman was oppressed by the knowledge that all was not well with her materially and spiritually.
Fatalities accumulated and oppressed her more and more, and she says : “ I often went to bed with tears, and after a sleepless night arose again with tears : I required some strong support and God would^ not vouchsafe it me, while I was running with the cap and bells.”
It is this ‘ running with the cap and bells ’ of ” worldly joys and sense pleasures, which prevents us from turning full face to the sun of Eternal Truth.
Through sense perception—sound, sight, touch, taste and smell, we perceive the outer world, but it is the lowest form of knowledge we can have. If man remains wholly in this knowledge, he remains incomplete and un – creative. Man is the only creature who can consciously change himself for the better, bringing all his scattered forces together into one integral whole. The world is full of people who live the life of the senses, and they are frustrated, egocentric and unhappy. They blame their poverty, their work, their family—anything but themselves.’
Epictetus has said : “ The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person is that he never expects either benefit or hurt from himself, but from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is that he expects all hurt and benefit from himself.” ‘ ,
During our evolution, the senses have become very strong and we can be made conscious of them at every turn. They have, as it were, got above themselves, like an ignorant person who gradually gets too much power, and it is our task to put them back where they belong. How can we do this ? Must we mortify the senses as the saints and ascetics have done in the past ? Yogic methods are more suitable for our active, life. The devotee learns sjiama through meditation, devotion, the saying of mantra 3, holy study and in the company of the Teacher and the Sangha. 4
The allurement of the sense life is gradually replaced by absorption of the mind in higher things. We cease to pay attention to the senses—only according to them just what is legitimate and that without love or hatred. Our enthusiasm for worldly matters becomes less and less, and we learn that most necessary quality of a Yogi—Vairagya (dispassion).
The Bhagavad Gita, one of the chief scriptures of the East, has a great deal to say about the sense life, and we would do well to be constantly using it as a spiritual textbook and guide. Arjuna, who was the Lord’s disciple and a warrior, and received his Yogic instructions on the battlefield, is a symbol of our own life. Like him, we are searching for the Changeless, Immutable Self, and have the same lessons to learn before we find It.
Whilst everything attracts our attention and sets our mind working,’ we will be always looking, seeing and listening. Gently we need to train ourselves in ‘ not looking ’, ‘ not seeing ’, ‘ not listening ’. Constant recollection of the name of the Lord is the only remedy. Let the energy we waste in sense perception be conserved and transformed into the higher consciousness.
“ The senses are controlled by the mind, the mind by the buddhi (purified reason) and the buddhi by the Lord. His reflection is cast into the buddhi as the sky is reflected in a pool of water.” –
In a book called The Way of a Pilgrim, there is a poor Russian pilgrim, who goes in search of a teacher who is able to tell him the meaning of the words—“ Pray without ceasing.” He finds that it is the interior prayer of Jesus, which synchronises with the beat of the heart. Mantra may be said in this way, as a constant background to the work of our everyday life. In this manner we maintain a state of unbroken consciousness.
An Indian saint has said : “As a fly slowly but resolutely cleans its legs and wings of honey in which they have been caught, so does a Yogi detach himself from attachment to sense objects.”
Levels of consciousness are poles apart in the lover of sense objects and the saint. The one sees a stone, the other can kneel down and worship it, because in it he sees the Lord Omniscient and Omnipresent. Wisdom flees from the one who lives in the life of the senses. In the Song Celestial which is a poetic translation of the Bhagavad Gita, Sir Edwin Arnold has expressed it so beautifully :—
“ The mind
That gives itself to follow shows of sense
Seeth its helm of wisdom rent away,
And, like a ship in waves of whirlwind, drives
To wreck and death. Only with him, great Prince !
Whose senses are not swayed by things of sense—
Only with him who holds the mastery,
Shows wisdom perfect.”
We have the testimony of the saints of all ages that, however beautiful is that which we see with the physical eyes, it is only a shadow of what we see when the spiritual eyes are open to the real vision. May we have that sight, whereby we can see Him. May we taste the heavenly nectar and may our hearing be tuned to the music of the spheres.
With St. Johnt of the Cross, we say :
“ O Ocean of Love, stillness profound, light of life
of all who come to Thee, draw us into Thy still peace,
that all the noise of things be stilled and the
music of the soul be all One Note, Thyself Alone,
my Lord, my All”.
1. Brahman: God, the Absolute. Existence, Truth and Bliss.
2. Rama: An incarnation of the Lord in ancient times, who lived as Emperor of a large part of India.
3. Mantra: In the East, spiritual aspirants made use of a formula or revealed sayings, called mantra. They were based on the laws of sound and inspired devotion in those who repeated them with reverence.
4. Sangha: A spiritual group or community.