The yogi is not asked to give up anything real4 min read

The Sanskrit word is sanga, which often has an intensified meaning of ‘sticking association’. But basically it is just taking things together. Our teacher used to illustrate its force in yoga practice by an incident at the court of the intelligent Emperor Akbar of Moghul India. Akbar took a crayon and drew a horizontal line on a wall in the courtroom. Then he challenged anyone to make that line shorter, without touching it. Finally a minister, Birbal, picked up the crayon and drew another, longer line below the first one. The Emperor accepted that he had succeeded: Birbal had made the first line a shorter line, by associating it with a longer one. And when he rubbed out the longer line, the original line would lengthen. We know that such changes are unreal. Still, they happen: the first line does come to look shorter.

One of the commentaries on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali remarks that the business of the whole world goes forward resting on ‘the prestige of unreal things’. How is this? Suppose I am offered a job at a rather good wage: I take it happily. While I am working, occasionally the thought crops up: ‘This is a good rate for the job; I’ve been lucky.’ Later on, I hear that someone in another part of the town is getting rather more than I am, for a very similar job. At once I feel dissatisfied, even somehow exploited. It isn’t a good rate after all, and I haven’t been lucky. I find myself working sulkily. I just manage to stop myself complaining to the boss. Still later, I am glad I did not. It turns out that the other man’s working conditions are so bad that he often feels ill. The extra money was to get anyone to work there at all. I feel better again. I have a good job, and I am lucky. Perhaps I begin to think: ‘After all, what does money matter?’ This is the sort of ‘association’ that a yogin has to practise giving up.

The job was a good one – Akbar’s line… then by association, it became not so good – association with Birbel’s line. Then, the better pay was illusory-Birbal’s line rubbed out. The yogin tries to see a thing as it is, neither made better nor made worse by imagined associations. He does not himself project lines to make things seem larger or smaller. Dictators often surround themselves with mediocrities, because it makes them feel more talented themselves, and more strong. If the mediocrities begin to acquire some political skills, the dictator may kill and replace them, as Stalin did.

The yogin is not being asked to give up anything real. He has to give up imaginary associations. But he will not be able to do it without practising meditation. Without meditation, he may control outward behaviour, but the inner conflicts are not resolved. They show themselves in indirect ways. If at times a yogin loses control of the mind, and finds himself slipping into envy for example, he can use the method of thinking the opposite. If he is lame from an accident, and resents the free stride of his fellows, let him remember those millions who cannot walk at all. If he feels his house is small, let him remember the innumerable refugees who have no home at all.

People depressed at being unappreciated and ignored should consider how the successful and famous are targets for jealousy and spite. Such thinking can give relief by creating balancing associations. It can make people realize their good fortune, and energize them to practise yoga to help to change the level of consciousness in the world. But it is only a piece of first-aid in a crisis. The true yoga practice is to throw off all associations, bad and even good and see clearly beyond associations. Does the experienced yogin, then, no longer see Akbar’s line as shortened by the nearness of Birbal’s line? He does see it as apparently shortened, but he knows that it is not so. And further, by concentrating attention he can isolate it, and see it as independent of all other lines. To do this last requires real skill in yoga practice.

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© Trevor Leggett