It may be said that if Realization is a natural thing, surely initial enthusiasm should not fade.. But again, if we consult our everyday experience we shall see that when a man has adapted himself to an unnatural condition, the process of readapting to the natural condition follows the same laws. An habitual drunkard cannot suddenly stop drinking without grave discomfort; an opium addict cannot stop suddenly at all. If he does it causes serious illness. When an embroiderer is bent over a piece of work for a long time, there is only a mild discomfort, but when she straightens up she may feel a severe pain. If she still keeps the natural upright position, and reinforces recovery by stretching, she soon feels a deep relaxation and the satisfaction that goes with the natural state. Those with experience know how relaxation follows the straightening up, and to them the momentary pain is even pleasurable because it is consciously felt to be part of the return to relaxation.
The law of action and reaction holds on higher spiritual planes also, and it should be carefully marked by aspirants. It is symbolized in the attempts of Herod to kill the infant Jesus, and the parallel attempts of King Kansa to kill the child Krishna. In each case these are thwarted by the vigilance and self-sacrifice of those whose duty it is to protect the child.
When a new insight is born, the forces which have hitherto ruled the mind and character often attempt to crush it. It is the business of the spiritualized will to protect the spiritual inspiration. Often as in the case of Herod an ostensible purpose is to honour the divine child; the egoity attempts to join forces so to say with divine intuition. “I will honour you”, it says, “and I will be your proclaimer to all the masses of ignorant ones. I will proclaim your message to the world sunk in ignorance”. By such means the egoity hopes to ride to power. Beginners believe sincerely that all they desire is to help the world, but the real motive is clear.
We can see the same thing in beginners at anything. People who come up and begin talking compulsively about the importance of understanding psycho-analysis, or Marxism, or the influence of Shakespeare on Strindberg’s historical plays, are mostly people who have only a flimsy knowledge of these subjects. They believe that they believe the theories important, but in fact the purpose is to make themselves important. Real experts are much more sparing with their information, which they give to keen enquirers.
The progress of a student is nearly always the same: at first the subject is merely an adjunct to the individual, serving to enhance his prestige and profit, psychological or material. There is often a mania for teaching and propaganda for the truth (as he understands it). Gradually, if he keeps on, the subject and his own individuality alternate in importance. Finally, if he is sincere, his individuality is devoted to serving the subject, without any selfish aim. Nevertheless, advanced students who are mastering their subject, by that very fact, are exposed to temptations of unusual strength, because their chance of personal advantage is correspondingly greater. In Yoga the help of a teacher is an inestimable advantage in such crises.
A great attempt by the passions is to react by appropriating Yoga to themselves. To do this, the mind searches for and finds texts which can be made to confirm its present attitudes, ignoring those which run counter. For instance, timid people will stress the texts on detachment, overlooking the clear fact that Arjuna at the beginning of the Gita quotes just such passages in favour of retiring from the battle, and his teacher Shri Krishna specifically rejects them and says he must fight.
Krishna points out that Arjuna is only taking this attitude because he feels events too much for him. Similarly, beginners often preach “renunciation” in order to escape unwelcome obligations; but they have no intention of renouncing their habitual amusements, except “mentally”. In other words those parts of life which are distasteful are to be physically discarded, whereas those parts which are pleasant are to be enjoyed, but renounced “inwardly”.
It is very easy to analyse out such attitudes in others to their ultimate absurdity, but no student elementary or advanced should imagine himself immune to this kind of mental sleightof-hand. For this reason it is much better to practise Yoga in a group, because the mutually incompatible attitudes do something to correct each other. Best of all is to have a teacher who will directly treat the sore point that is being protected.
Yoga must be studied as a whole; it is useless to try to extract certain portions as “the highest truth” and expect to take the rest as read (and practised). Sometimes, students excuse themselves by spurious humility: “I perform the menial tasks and in that way serve. I have no talent for study or meditation”.
Others persuade themselves that their circumstances are peculiarly unfavourable and no progress can be expected. Such professional martyrs speak of unprecedented sufferings, though to an outside observer they often appear rather well-placed. Others again take the view that life is to be enjoyed now while the sun shines, and Yoga will come later when “necessary”. They do not realize that they are exhausting the vitality which was the material to be converted into yogic illumination.
Childish though all these reactions seem to be, they are mighty assaults, and every Yogi has to practise himself in recognizing and dissolving them. Yoga is not a confirmation of the mental apparatus as it now exists. Yoga properly practised brings into play faculties which are latent. The test of yogic progress is the fundamental changes it brings about in fixed attitudes, external and internal. Throughout the yogic career the aspirant comes to certain “corners” when he has to give up his present understanding and throw himself into a new view. It takes courage to give up something of proven value in favour of what is as yet unknown, but it has the same significance as when the baby gives up crawling and tries to walk for the first time.
© Trevor Leggett